The Hateful Eight–the Review

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The “program” handed out at special roadshow engagement that I attended

The word “self indulgent” is often used to describe Tarantino, and whether that “fuck you I will do movies the way I want” is actually Quentin or a carefully-cultivated counter-culture-pandering persona I know not, because I have heard compelling arguments on both sides. I am a big fan of QT myself, because high art or not, his movies are always enormously enjoyable in the most unconventional of ways(I mean who would ever think that a conversation about “Royale with cheese” would be that memorable?) and though he has spawned an army of followers and me-toos (some of them in our Hindi film industry), he has remained pretty much un-inimitable.

I correct that. He is now imitated. By himself. The Hateful Eight, which I was fortunate to watch in 70mm as part of the limited release “roadshow”, is like a greatest hits of Quentin Tarantino recorded on bad-quality tape. You have seen everything in this film before, from Quentin Tarantino himself. Except he has done it better before. The exact same sequences. In order to keep this review spoiler-free, I am deliberately not going into the details, but for any QT fan, you can almost take every significant sequence and theme and narrative “trick” of the Hateful Eight and map it back to a previous QT film, and every time you would feel (at least I did) that it was done way better before. The quirks are all there, and the sudden surprises, and the bursts of action, interspersed with deliberation, but this being the eighth Tarantino(a point he announces in his trademark grandiloquent manner straight at the beginning),  the extreme-shock devices, both dialog and action, have been blunted through over-use. Even the politics, and Hateful Eight often has the subtlety of a propaganda video, is regurgitated from “Django Unchained” and, even there, Django does a better, more entertaining job, of getting the point across.

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Star Wars The Force Awakens—The Review

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When you are given the responsibility of re-energizing one of the world’s most famous movie franchises, they aren’t going to be happy with something that just makes millions at the box office. No. They want you to set the foundation of something much bigger, much more long-term. They want you to engineer a perpetual motion cash-cow that can be milked for a series of million and billion grossers, and then even more revenue through sale of T-shirts and toys and video games and official cheese snacks and theme-park-rides.

It’s easy for very smart people, and JJ is one of the smartest people in the industry today, to get this wrong. I might eat my words later and I hope I do but he and his team have taken the Star Trek franchise, particularly after that horrendous second installment, in the wrong direction. In trying to make Star Trek reach out to a global audience that goes beyond nerds who live in their parent’s bedrooms, they have put in a lot of explosions and space-battles, and, for some strange reason, lens flairs. That has ruined the experience for older fans like me, who cannot get over the abandonment of the deep themes that were the hallmark of the original series, the lack of chemistry between the protagonists, and, worst of all, the canon-busting re-imaginings of iconic characters. It is like someone taking a dump on my childhood, watching Spock and Uhura kiss on the bridge of the Enterprise. To the generation of movie-goers not connected with the original lore to the extent we are this might seem quite cool, but the problem for them is that Star Trek is not sufficiently differentiated from the Avengers, Transformers or any of the other similar franchises that pack movie screens during the summer.

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Bajrangi Bhaijaan—A Comment

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Bajrangi Bhaijaan is the best-Bhai vehicle ever but that’s like saying that the seventeen Venkatesh Prasad scored in Cuttack was his best batting performance. It’s not a high bar.

The cinematic quality is of course not really what held me in awe.

It was something else.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a stupendous exercise of image-engineering,one from which everyone, from PR gurus to husbands who have been caught sexting by their wives may draw lessons.

Bhai is a golden-hearted Hindu fundamentalist, the kind of half-man half-child that Aamir Khan plays in every film (no wonder he carried a towel to cry in, this should have been him), someone who never lies no matter what the consequences, so pure that he makes Yudhishtir look like Suresh Kalmadi. This portrayal of an orthodox Hindu as a saint, novel as it is in the annals of mainstream Hindi moviedom, is a marvelous way to placate the group that has traditionally not been his hottest demographic, and this is not just because he needs their business.

No that’s not the main reason.

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Baahubali The Beginning–The Review

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Once upon a time, there lived a lad.

Looking up at the mountain of water towards the misty horizon, he felt inside an indomitable mysterious force, calling him upwards and over. So he enrolled in Physics and Maths coaching classes in Class eight, to get an early start, then Ramaiyya classes at five in the morning to get an even earlier start and correspondence courses to get problem-sets he could crack while on the loo. He would try, one problem after another in Irodov, and then the sequence of solved problems would be broken and he would come tumbling down back to Exercise one. It would have broken lesser men, that fall, but he merely smiled, dusted away his failure, and went back to Newton’s Laws.

His mother (or the one he knew to be his) asked the Gods what they were doing wrong, because the neighbor hood kids were doing just fine. It had become an obsession, this wanting to scale the wall of water, and his muscles grew, till he was moving smoothly through Khanna and Khanna, but still the mountain stood, untamed and proud, and our boy toiled away.

Till one day, in his hand, fell a torn picture.

It had fluttered in from somewhere up the mountain of the water, washed away and grainy, but distinguishable only as a female face.  Our lad would keep the face on a piece of paper, and then lovingly, with his protractor and compass draw boobs around it, of different diameters, for he know not the dimensions of this lovely lass. There was no female in his life, and together with the need to scale the wall of water, attaining the girl in the picture became the focus of his life.

Till one day, while scaling the wall of water, he saw her.

Water-droplets cascading down her perfect spine, there she was, looking at him with come-hither eyes, in a bikini that revealed beauties grander than he could have imagined. In the throes of great passion, he danced up the wall of water, swallowing semesters in epic gravity-defying leaps, while she flitted ahead, through his books, and exam papers, and his programming assignments, turning her head ever so a little, as blue butterflies flew around, or neelachalachitram as he called them,  till one day he did it, he scaled the wall.

And found himself in the United States of America. But where was that bikini-clad goddess of beauty who had inspired him? She was not there.

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Of Potty and Parenthood and Piku

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[Has spoilers]

Piku is a good film. No this is not me trying to damn with faint praise. Piku *is* good. Even more than good, I would say it is courageous. In a world of  cookie-cutter behemoths , to invest in a film that is paced slow, driven by characters, and set in a non-Oye-Oye-Shava-Shava socio-cultural milieu, requires commercial cojones, and props to everyone associated with Piku, from the big B and the Choice P to the director to the guys who actually put money behind it, for providing us with something that I would not hesitate to use the term ‘risky” to characterize.

However it is not great. But it could so very well have been. It comes  very close, several times as a matter of fact, to touching something that is deeper and darker and universal, but almost, whether intentionally or not I cannot say for sure, it draws back into a comforting, crowd-pleasing but ultimately unsatisfying green zone.

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Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!—The Review

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[Spoiler-Free]

There was a time when detectives were…I don’t know..detectives. There would be a crime, a murder or perhaps a few, there would be suspects, and there would be a resolution. Now with Moffatt and Ritchie’s reinventions of Holmes, detectives can no longer just recover a missing will or bust through a carefully constructed alibi or solve a particularly intractable conundrum. Now they have to tango with maniacal super-villains with evil designs to alter the course of history just to keep their detective certification active.

It indeed is a tough world.

When I heard that Byomkesh Bakshi was being “rebooted” by Dibakar Banerjee, I was excited. The cinematic adaptations of Byomkesh had, almost all of them, been extremely tepid, and that includes Satyajit Ray’s “Chiriakhana” which, despite the genius of its maker, could only scratch the surface of the darkness of the original source-material, and Rituparno’s last film “Satyaneshi”, which looked like it was not totally the finished material when it was released, thus setting the bar of expectations for a Byomkesh movie extremely low.

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MSG– The Review

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In his seminal work “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, the great German philosopher Nietzche gave the world the concept of Übermensch or “over-man”. Widely misinterpreted through the ages, Hitler for instance used it as the philosophical underpinngs of Aryan superority, Übermensch is a notional anthropomorphization of “ultra-humanism”, a supreme being who while being infallible and possessing the power to create not just worlds but also values, is still not a God, because he is, by definition, human.

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