2013 – A Review

Pop that bubbly and kiss 2013 good bye and bring out those notepads to make the resolutions for 2014! I am not the sorts to make resolution and even unlikely to keep one all through the year. But 2013 must be an exception to that rule and what I am hoping is a turning point for me. Back in jan 2013 I made a resolution to write about every movie I saw and as a result I started my blog. Since its inception the blog has generated 4600+ hits and given me many a joy as a result.

There were many highlights like when Ashok Banker posted my review of his 8-part Ramayana series on his facebook page! That was the push I needed to convince myself that I was onto something good. But even before that the blog’s very first post was a fresh and refreshing movie which has continued to be the benchmark against which all other movies I saw this year were compared to – Kai Po Che.

In a year of 100 crore plus blockbusters which required as many aspirins to overcome the headaches they caused there were little indie gems ( can’t believe I am using the word Indie in the indian cinematic context!) which made the year a lot more bearable.

Summarized below are my top 10 picks , my bottom 5 and the 3 biggest disappointments. This is not the whole catalogue of movies released in 2013 – just the ones I made an effort to go watch, there are still Oscar heavy hitters like 12 years a slave, August Osage County , The Wolf of Wall Street  which I am yet to watch and review.

Top 10 : (in alphabetical order) top 10

Bombay Talkies : a first of sorts where 4 mainstream big-name directors came together to present 4 short stories which celebrated the 100 years of Indian Cinema. Each story holding its own and neither director trying to one-up the other  but rather trying to tell an earnest story. Incidentally this is also one my most shared reviews and some people commented that they didn’t immediately see the connect I made between the four stories but did definitely agree afterwards.

Fukrey : A serious rib-tickler thanks to the antics of Choocha and Bholi Punjaban. And featuring the song of the year “Ambarsariya” this one was the most surprising as we went in expecting very little and came out clutching our sides which hurt from laughing out loud. A comedy that did not depend on physical gags and potty humor – my pick for the best comedy of the year!

Gravity : the opening 12-minute sequence is an experience that cannot be compared to any that we have had in theaters ever. A trip to space that we had only imagined so far but was brought life in glorious IMAX by the visionary Alonso Cuarón. Sandra Bullock should trade in her Oscar for best actress for blind side and ask for a new one for this one.  The magic of cinema as it was meant to be.

Go Goa Gone : A zombie movie made in india? You have got to be kidding me! And no Ramsay-fication of the same? Get out of here! This was a close second to the comedy of the year pick. Again went in with very little expectation came out with goosebumps from the gross zombies and a hurting jaw from all the laughing.

Kai Po Che :  I hate Chetan Bhagat and his brand of Indian-English Lit. but to take his story “3 mistakes of my life” and to make it into a sensitive, humorous and realistic tale of friendship, politics and redemption is not mean task.  This introduced us to 3 promising actors and redeemed a director after his overrated RockOn debut.  My personal favorite of the year, and a movie that will only get better with time.

Madras Café : this almost made it to the most disappointing because of the over simplification and the lack of cloak and daggers that I wanted from a smartly crafted and a beautifully shot political thriller. But I cannot take away from the fact that sujoy ghosh made a smart movie with believable performances from 2 of the worst actors.

Prisoners  : comparisons to Zodiac and Se7en are always going to bode well for any movie in my book and this dark and violent thriller about a man on rampage after his little girl goes missing is something that still gives me the chills when I recall the look of abject hatred on Hugh Jackman’s beautiful face. My pick for the best ensemble acting of the year, Jackman, Melissa leo, Paulo dano, viola davis, maria bello all bloody brilliant and I don’t hate Jake Gyllenhall anymore!

RamLeela :  This one is a controversial pick I know. Many people have written off Sanjay Leela Bhansali as a director more consumed with erecting humungous set pieces and working in monochromatic mode than concentrating on the story and character development. I disagree, and strongly at that. RamLeela , a Shakespearean adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in rural Gujarat between warring clans of Rajadi and Saneda and a opulent multi-hued visual spectacle is the best Bhansali has done in years. This is devdas and HDDCS good. Most definitely the best soundtrack of the year with every single song a win in my book. Give it a watch without preconceived notions against Bhansali and you will be happier for it.

Rush :  Nothing – the answer to the question what can Ron Howard not do? To a person who detests Formula one this was definitely one of the best sporting movies ever made. The rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt captured beautifully without playing the sympathy card for either of the protagonists. Daneil Bruhl turning in one of the best supporting acting all year. Beautifully shot, exquisitely scored – this was a highlight of the year without a doubt.

Ship Of Theseus :  The redemption of Bollywood in its 100 years of existence which has been marred by either blatantly plagiarized Hollywood fluff or story-less superstar billed histrionic orgy. Ship of theseus took a Grecian paradox ( had people googling what the hell a paradox is ) and turned it into poignant moving cinema which proved to the masses that you don’t need a small country’s GDP-equivalent budget or big-name stars to make a beautiful and technically adept movie. You need a brilliant director, a strong script and absolute dedication to your craft. Karan Johar rightly said – this movie makes every other filmmaker feel inferior. This should have been India’s entry to the Oscars’ foreign language category.

 

Bottom 5 ( In alphabetical order)

bottom 5

B.A. Pass : what promised to be a sensual Noir film ended up being a one-note repetitive mess which went no were and failed because the director was more consumed by trying to make a stylized movie which tried to touch upon every cliché possible rather than to make a simple story told in layers.

Bhag Milkha Bhag : the trailer set the pulse racing with a buffed up Farhan Akhtar running with a tyre tied to his waist against the stark ladhak landscapes. What was promised as a sporting bio-pic ended up being a boring meaningless mess. I had  such high hopes and I was left clutching at straws trying to find any redeeming factors about this movie.

 Chashme Baddoor : how can you take a Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval classic and butcher it so that it bears no resemblance to the original movie from which it was adapted from.  Chashme Baddoor is how.  

Dhoom : 3 : I knew this was going to be bad – but so bad that I had to take notes for my review! Every single thing about this movie was an absolute stinking turd. The only saving grace? The world now is in on the secret I knew for years! Aamir Khan is a conman who in guise of perfectionism is a hack who has only gotten lucky with a few good films and is essentially a worthless actor.

Satyagraha : Amitabh is good the rest is bad and Prakash Jha is  quickly become a tiresome director to sit through and when the new channels rehash the same political conundrum the nation is going through better than a national award winning director there is something definitely wrong with the movie.

Biggest Disappointments:

disappointment

 Lunchbox :  the end product failed to live up to all the hype surrounding the release of the movie and the hue and cry that followed afterwards when this movie was not selected as India’s official entry to the oscars. sure it is a cute little story but it did not live up to the potential that it held and ultimately the biggest disappointment for me for the year.

Man Of Steel : Snyder sullied the name of Nolan by making this mess of a movie. The perfect choice for superman Henry Cavill was not given enough to do in the movie which was more Snyder & Goyer  and less Nolan (chris and jonathan both) . a BIG disappointment all around.

 Nautanki Saala! :  the rising star of the last year Aayushman Khurana fails to entertain and the movie overall is just a giant mess. Less than catchy tunes and a story that had the potential but fails to deliver is the reason why this movie makes it to my list of big disappointments.

 

So there you have it – I wish I had seen more movies this year than I did and that is a resolution I am certain to make for 2014 and as a result more reviews to write and read. I will try to add more variety than just movie reviews and there is an exciting prospect under development which when accomplished I will be very very very happy to share with all!  Here is wishing all you readers of my blog a very happy new year and good luck with those resolutions! Make a resolution because it feels great at the end of the year when you sit down to look at what you have accomplished!

 

 

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Ashok Banker’s Ramayana Series

Indian Authors are finally having their moment in the sun where they are big news and attracting the attention of the publishing houses, production houses and the readers in general.

Chetan Bhagat’s novel “3 mistakes of my life” was beautifully adapted into a poignant and moving motion picture Kai Po Che by Abhishek Kapoor. Bhagat’s previous novel was adapted into one of the highest grossing Indian movies of all times 3 idiots. I am neither a fan of Bhagat nor of 3 Idiots but Kai Po Che was a wonderful movie.

Couple of days ago, Amish Tripathi was paid a whopping 5Cr. an amount unheard of as an advance for his future books (which Amish says he hasn’t decided on the subject matter). This is due to the hugely popular Shiva Trilogy which reimagines the myth of Shiva and concocts a thriller-like story. Amish is being heralded as Indian Literary scene’s newest pop star.  Something akin to a Lady Gaga if I may draw that comparison – because while entertaining the Shiva Trilogy’s first two books are a disappointment when it comes to the prose. The story is gripping but big reveal of the second book was visible to me from a mile away – was still good but pop-star ish.

Now let me come to the reason why I set out to write this piece. When I read about the pop-star comment being made I immediately made the Lady Gaga vs. Adele comparison. And in this case Ashok Banker is analogous to Adele. A person so talented that their work will live on for decades to come.

I recently finished the 8-part Ramayana Series and am presently a few pages into Krishna Coriolis Series. What follows is a summary of the 8 books of the Ramayana Series with my overall review of the books.

Prince of Ayodhya: This is the kick off to the big adventure and Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana being my only exposure to the great epic of India I was a relative novice to the various nuances and supporting characters outside of Ram, Sita and Laxman. The story begins with the arrival of Vishwamitra to Ayodhya to ask Dashratha to send Ram with the Rishi to provide protection to his ashram from the demoness Tataka in the feared Bhayanak Van. Banker takes liberties with many elements from the “accepted” version of Valmiki/Tulsidas versions of Ramayana but the end result is a 70 mm rendering of the story that deserves the histrionics on display. Ram is not the god we have come to know him of. But he is on his way of reaching mythical status.  The story ends on a cliffhanger with Vishwamitra announcing their departure for mithila to attend a wedding – when Ram asks whose wedding The Rishi answers matter-of-factly “Yours”

Siege of Mithila: The second novel starts off shattering the damsel-in-distress image of Sita. Sita is as formidable an ally for Ram as Lakshman is. The delicate bond that forms between Ram and Sita on their journey back to Mithila while Sita is incognito is beautifully written. The Introduction of the demonic Ravana, his plans to invade the Aryan nations, his appearance at Sita’s Swayamwar are stuff of magic. There is a lot of Magic also on display. A chapter of great note is the rescuing of Ahilya from her banishment as a stone at the bottom of the river and the vetal attacks. This book is dark and only a precursor of things to come. The story ends with the Ram & Lakshman unleashing the Bramha-astra to annihilate Ravana’s advancing armies.  And the newly married brothers and their consorts proceed to Ayodhya.

Demons of Chitrakut: the story picks up as the wedding party that left from Mithila for Ayodhya is stopped by Parshuram, the legendary Axe-wielding avatar of Vishnu who is incensed that Ram broke the bow of Shiva during the Swayamwar with Sita. The passage about the wedding party’s arrival at Ayodhya the very visual description of the Raag Deepak that was specifically created to welcome Ram home comes alive in front of your eyes as you read each word.  What follows is perhaps the second most famous scene from Ramayana, the banishment of Ram for 14 years by the treacherous Kaikeyi. Here too Banker takes liberties in firmly establishing the good vs. the evil and painting Kaikeyi as the hapless tragic heroine under the sorcerous spell of Manthara.  Once in exile the story slows down with a few brief incidents of high drama, the shaming of Surpankha, the fight with the last surviving group of Rakshaasas who are goaded by Suparnaka to fight Ram. The story jumps a decade of living in exile in a few paragraphs and finishes with Ram making the final stand at Janasthan.

Armies of Hanuman: Hanuman is perhaps more loved than his Idol Ram. Banker spends considerable time lovingly and carefully building up the character of Hanuman. The story sees Ram, Sita and Lakshman retire to Panchvati after their battle with the Rakshaasas, Ratnakaran – the bear killer retires to meditate and will return later in the story as Valmiki himself.  Armies of Hanuman also features the most retold bit of the Ramayana story – the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana in the pushpak vahan. The way it is described is intense and thrilling. There is something almost voyeuristic about being outside and watching the story unfold.  The Story ends with Ram making the journey to Kishkinda to kill Vali and reinstate Sugreeva as the king of the vanar kingdom. This is military strategy at its best – Rama not having finished 14 years in exile does not want to ask Ayodhya for her army to rescue Sita from Lanka and instead tries to bring in the Vanar Army. It is here that Ram is anointed Siyavar Ramachandra – and the scene leading up to it is brilliantly written, wherein you wait on every word that ram utters urging the vanars to help him rescue his beloved.

Bridge of Rama: This story takes place 2 weeks after the events of Armies of Hanuman. Ram having successfully killed Vali and gaining the trust and respect of Sugreeva and his kingdom starts on a journey to the Lanka to rescue Sita. Thanks to Sugreeva and Hanuman vanar armies of other kingdoms also join Ram’s cause and each of the vanar species is described in exquisite detail. Hanuman goes from being a loyal Vanar friend of Ram to becoming the Vanar-Deva hybrid – the son of Vayu the god of wind. With his super-human powers Hanuman is able to accomplish spectacular fetes which form the most thrilling part of the novel. Hanuman through his great meditation in the cave  summons Jambvan to his cause and the bear armies. This rag tag army proceeds to the southern tip of the arya nation to build a bridge. When at the behest of Ravana the sea god Varun wreaks havoc and destroys the bridge Rama unleashes the arrows of celestial power given to him by Ansuya and causes Varun to line up Whales to allow Ram’s army to pass to land ashore Lanka.  This novel also features the devastation of Lanka after Hanuman’s tail is set on fire. The novel’s pace slackens a bit and there is a lot of talking that is going on and not enough action, but the beauty of Banker’s prose lifts the tedious passages several notches and delivers such moving moments as the point where Ram is anointed Maryada Purushottam .

King Of Ayodhya : upon landing in Lanka Ram’s army is surprised to find lanka to be a lush green paradise and not the hell that myths and legends proclaimed it to be.  But soon with the use of Maya Ravana raises a 1000 ft. wall to box in the army of vanars and bears and manages to kill scores of them. This novel makes up for the lack of action in Bridges by setting the stage for the final confrontation between Ram and Ravana. Many characters are introduced to the mix and each is beautifully fleshed out. This is the hallmark of Banker’s writing style where he goes to great detail to describe the physical attributes and the mannerism so that you are not merely reading about a character you are actually watching the army general vajradant charging at Ram’s army. Kumbhkaran, Indrajit, Mandodari are all fleshed out in the greatest of details possible.  The battle scenes, the final killing of Ravana, Sita’s return to Ram, the Agnipariksha and the return to Ayodhya after Vibhishena is appointed as the king of Lanka are magical under the penmanship of Banker.

This is where Banker decided to leave the Ramayana series and goes on to extol the reasons why. His forewords and the afterword to King of Ayodhya are so beautifully worded that it feels like a personal conversation with the author. When he tells you that he cannot bring himself to the idea that the Ram who waged a war to save his beloved Sita would so cruelly banish her based on rumors you tend to nod your head in agreement or want to argue with him that it was Dharma that compelled Ram to do so but it is because all through the 6 books Banker like a wonderful story teller has brought you in to this magical fantastical world that he has taken meticulous details to bring to life.

However like Valmiki added the Uttarakand, Banker goes on to write two more books to explore the circumstances in which Ram could go from the Siyavar to Sita banisher.

The Vengeance of Ravana: This 7th book of the Ramayana series appears to be mostly imagined as none of the events from this book come to mind when I try to remember the TV series from an age gone by. This is more sci-fi than mythology but still a gripping read. There are threats that are coming to fruition as part of some master plan that Ravana set in motion even before Ram was born. Here the notions of Fate and Karma are explored; here Ram is made aware that he is in fact a Vishnu-avatar. Banker in his foreword mentions that this book may leave you frustrated because it will not give you any answers but leave more questions – I tend to agree with him because there are several parallel threads which seem to going on without any connection to each other. While seemingly incomplete the book is not without its thrills. The story of Aatikeya a character I was completely unaware about is interesting; the part where they see parallel universes through the vortal is mind-bending sci-fi.

Sons of Sita: The unavailability of this book had me going from bookstore to bookstore asking to be put on the list to be notified when the book became available, finally after not being able to find the book I bought the book off Amazon for my Kindle app on my iPod and it starts off with a Ram so unrecognizable from Banker’s earlier books that it takes a while to fully comprehend how much time has passed and how changed Samrath Ramachandra is. This book introduces us to Luv and Kush the twin sons of Sita borne in exile at the ashram of Valmiki. Their youthful exuberance and childish innocence is the perfect foil for the events that will soon unfold as Ram embarks on an expansion campaign via the Ashwamegha Yagna. The Ashwamegha Yagna takes perhaps the most distant route from the versions in Valmiki’s version but it also adds a sense of adventure on a grand scale. The subsequent reconciliation of Ram and Sita, the final Agnipariksha that is asked off Sita, her sense of betrayal and the vanishing act by urging her mother earth to swallow her all bear the Banker Trademark that of detailed descriptive writing which paints more pictures than most authors. my favourite line from the book that still runs a chill down my spine is uttered by Sita ” Then be forever a broken god”  just before she is swallowed by the earth … and this is also perhaps the reason why Ram is a flawed god.

While Ashok Banker takes many liberties with the Ramayana Series he does acknowledge them at the very outset. I wasn’t affected in the least because I had no history of having read Ramayana earlier and only patchy memory of watching the Ramayana on Sunday morning as a kid. As someone who loves movies these novels are like reading screenplay, each scene is vividly described and comes alive in front of your eyes, you feel like you’ve known every character intimately and are invested in the outcome of each of their journeys.  This Ramayana series was the reason why I am now obsessed with the Indian mythology as a store of fantastic stories, and the fact that Banker has a personal mission of writing a 65 book library of everything mythology is making me salivate as to when I will be able to get through reading all of it. Mr. Banker Thank you for all the wonderful adventures in Ayodhya and Lanka and everywhere enroute, I’ll see you in Dwarka and then we shall proceed to Hastinapur.