Because the Movies Demand It

Because the Movies Demand It

Lion, 2016

I don’t suppose I’ve ever made the claim to have cried through an entire movie – not because it was horrible, but because it was so very good – until I saw this beautiful story called Lion.

So stricken was I at the many facets of the film that captured so very skillfully multiple stories spread across continents, that it is truly difficult to pinpoint which pieces of the story appealed to me the most.  How does the universe sometimes conspire to align the stars in such a way so as to allow for us mere mortals to see with the aid of hindsight how the trajectories of our lives have intersected here and there, at this place and that, with this one and that one, and has finally caused us to be alive to reflect upon where we are today.  How does that happen?  Is that Providence? The hand of God?  There is no other explanation.  At least not one that is as convincing to me as that.

This is a film that prompts us – sometimes gently, other times violently – to reflect on the underlying existential themes of the human condition, and leaves us in awe of the inexplicable.  How does the human heart have the capacity to love and yet to turn away from love, nay, to nurture evil in one’s hurt? How does the human heart long for learning of one’s biological origins and doesn’t stop seeking it out? How does the human heart have the capacity to love not one but two women so much that the line between birth and adopted mother are truly blurred?  For these and the very many other heart wrenching issues of social evils in India deeply-rooted in poverty that were highlighted, I raise a glass to the creators of this thoughtful film.

And if you’re wondering about the title of the film and what it stands for, I’m afraid you would need to be a native speaker of Hindi to begin with, and even then, would need to wait until the very end of the movie to truly understand.

This was a lovely Christmas Day viewing in the company of my family, and other than crying my eyes out, never before did I walk out of a movie theatre feeling so very privileged to be alive.  And loved.  And whole.

lion

Dangal, 2016

It’s long.  But that’s how Bollywood operates.  In a long and drawn-out way.  Only there are times when the story and style of the movie mercifully outshine the length of the movie, and you walk out feeling not-so-bad about the three hours of your life that you’ve just given up and know you will never get back.  That’s the kind of movie Dangal is.  You walk out feeling a small sense of pride in the realization that perhaps nothing is really impossible; that if you really want something, there’s nothing to stop you from getting it; and that hard work, determination, and the support of family are perhaps the true ingredients for success.

And so, you sit in the dark of the movie theatre, and if you’re a woman who has followed Aamir Khan since his debut some twenty-five years ago, you sit and you smile, and you think of how very talented Aamir truly is, and how well he has aged, and how secure he is not basking in all the limelight, but instead in letting the women in this story shine even brighter than himself.  And you take in this sports-drama set in a small village in Haryana, just miles from where you grew up yourself, and you marvel at the odds that had to be truly beaten – by the father of these two young women and the young women themselves – to train to compete and win in one of the most masculine of all sports worldwide, but especially in India:  wrestling.

This past year must have certainly been the year of the woman and the girl-child in Bollywood, because this film came soon upon the heels of yet another similarly themed story starring another Khan of Bollywood.  But let it not be said that if you’ve seen one sports-drama, you’ve seen them all, because this is not so much a story of women excelling in a man’s sport, nay, a man’s world; this is a story of the power of family that holds up through thick and thin, and refuses to give up despite lacking all the accoutrements one assumes are necessary for success.  Things such as education, wealth, connections, and the like.

Kudos to all the other actors who deliver convincing performances.  True to form, there’s a lovely soundtrack to the movie as well, and I will affirm that the Haryanvi countryside was familiar and authentically portrayed.  There were some sections of the story that I personally found a little troubling, but I shall not draw attention to parenting styles as I have not walked in the shoes of the father whose intense belief in his daughters and even in himself ultimately bring about success and satisfaction beyond belief.

Great job, Aamir, you’ve proved you can play a variety of characters over the years.  To the two young women:  Brava, and thank you for portraying true grit that will undoubtedly inspire many a young girl in India.

dangal

 

 

 

“Mommy, this new Jungle Book movie ain’t too bad!”

“Mommy, this new Jungle Book movie ain’t too bad!”

Catching a Matineé: The Perfect Indulgence During a Staycation

Catching a Matineé: The Perfect Indulgence During a Staycation

Ben-Hur, 2016

The bar is set high – and why ever not – because if you’re going to remake a film that is American canon, you need a very good reason to do so.  And while it might not be too challenging to explain the failures of this classic motion-picture – that predominantly consist of a somewhat lackluster script and regrettably wooden performances – the real problem is almost spiritual.  Because while the filmmakers of this retelling demonstrate superb technical prowess, they woefully fail at providing a good reason for why this story needs to be retold.  And retold in a way that perhaps rivals if not exceeds the spectacular drama of the original.

For starters, the set-up is laborious and taxing, and I remember turning to my firstborn seated next to me to actually say, “this is taking forever…!”  Imagine that.  But John Huston as Judah is no Charlton Heston, and he unfortunately does not possess the emotional intensity nor the range to pull off the emotional transformation from wealthy Jewish citizen in Roman-governed Jerusalem to galley slave who beats the odds of survival and trains to ride the chariot to beat his nemesis, Messala.

And what of the chariot race, you ask?  Well, it is what you’d expect, I suppose, only, it fails to overwhelm, which is what you’re hoping for.  You’re hoping for the race to leave you breathless and speechless and exhausted, not to mention to propel you from your seats to cheer along with the crowds for Judah.  But, alas, you sit there, waiting for what you know to be the inevitable end just around the corner which couldn’t come a moment sooner.

The only parts that truly moved me were the cameo appearances of Jesus who is true to character in appearing at all the right times to overwhelm and perplex you with his style and words.  What manner of man is this? How can one forgive? What does he mean? Is this what love truly is?

And yet, despite these brief moments of satisfaction, the whole is not always a sum of its parts.  If the casting and the script is lacking, so is the cinematography and the dialog.  And in the overzealousness of the remaking, by altering certain fundamental pieces of the story, the filmmakers have done a disservice to the purist in the likes of yours truly who has read both the book and seen the original movie multiple times to deeply frown upon the license taken in this regard.

Final verdict: nice try, but I’m afraid I can’t give it a full thumbs-up.  I guess you win some, and then you learn some…

benhur

 

All My Peeps with Me, and Something Else to Go with the Raisinets

All My Peeps with Me, and Something Else to Go with the Raisinets