2014 A year in review

Aren’t you bored of the multitude of all the insipid “It’s been a great year thanks for being a part of it” video montages on Facebook already? Was 2014 really that great a year? Is it really worth looking back with nostalgia? For me, personally, it was a defining year – from getting married to moving to a different country but movie-wise it was one of the most lackluster years in history of the blog lifein70mm). When a Christopher Nolan movie doesn’t automatically make its way to the top of my year end list, then it is telling of what sort of a year it has been! But looking back does have its benefits – it can surprise even the most jaded of individuals of that glimmer of happiness that released early on in the year and still sits in a special place in your heart glowing with tiny but incessant warmth. Thanks for staying with lifein70mm and thanks for letting me know that you like my reviews more than some of the most celebrated critics who write for the leading newspapers. It makes me want to see more, and write more and that is all I can ask of you!

Top 10(ish) of 2014 (in alphabetical order)

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Boyhood: Richard Linklater defies the boundaries of imagination. Just think about the commitment it would be required to shoot each year over 12 years to document the life of a boy and to tell the simplest of stories of growing up, the dysfunctional American family, and the bonds that tie us together. A movie so unique, that it can only be classified as the space that exists between a coming-of-age tale and a documentary. I have loved Linklater Before series and it is two of my favorite writing, I was really looking forward to reviewing Boyhood and even after watching it twice I am unable to pen down my thoughts on it. To say I loved it would be a gross understatement.

Finding Vivian Maier: I love documentaries and the ones that are done well are most often better than fictional stories because you don’t need to imagine that it can happen but marvel that these things did indeed happen. A writer stumbles upon a cache of old photographs from a lot that he bought on a whim at an auction, the photographs are of such high quality and tell such a vivid story of the life in the 60s that the writer is pulled into the intrigue of the artist who took these photographs and he documents his search in this documentary. One of the most beautiful and poignant documentaries I have ever seen and images that will stay with you a lot longer than the duration of the film. Vivian Maier’s rise to posthumous fame is incredible. She even gets a mention in the opening credit of this year’s best comedy on television Selfie alongside Freda Kahlo and her self-portrait.

Gone Girl: Nobody does dirty sick and twisted quite like David Fincher. To take what was essentially airport fiction and to turn it into a catharsis of a marriage is laudable feat. This movie features the best use of voiceover I have ever had the pleasure of watching and when done in the breathy voice of the enchanting Rosamund Pike it takes creepy to a whole new level. An enormously enjoyable and infinitely rewatchable movie with one of the best soundtrack this year.

Haider: Vishal Bharadwaj, Shahid Kapur and Shakespeare’s Hamlet are a potent combination. Setting the movie in Kashmir should have been a staggering achievement in storytelling, but by wavering on taking a stand, Bharadwaj ends up with a technically beautiful and intensely acted movie which stumbles a little with its plot. This could have easily ended up as a disappointment for me had it not been for Shahid Kapur and Tabu. I accord this movie half a spot on the top 10 to be shared with a movie down the list.

Kick: I know there will be many of you who will be shaking your head in dismay at the inclusion of this movie in this list. But this was the only 100 Cr movies this year that had any modicum of entertainment value. It takes the histrionics of Salman to make nonsensical an art form. With the gorgeous Jacqueline Fernandez by his side the king khan takes us on an adrenaline rush that was unmatched this year.

Mardaani : I dislike Rani Mukherjee with a passion that is only matched by my dislike of Aamir Khan but in Pradeep Sirkar’s able hands Rani turns in what is one of the best performances of her life. A skillfully crafter thriller with a very unusual and non-stereotypical antagonist, a movie with a message which it delivers masterfully without hammering it on your head; this was the perfect example of a movie which India needs. If ever there was a need for sequels then this is a movie that richly deserves it.

Nightcrawler: The Renaissance of Jake Gyllenhaal continues unabated. After last year’s top-10 lister Prisoners Gyllenhaal returns in this dark comedy about a man with a drive to succeed and an absolute lack of moral inhibitions. Taking the world of 24-hr breaking news cycle and making a social commentary on what drives the people who blur the lines of journalistic ethics to feed the public greed for sensationalized news or perhaps even the paparazzi fueled celeb-obsessed culture of ours.

Pride: A quiet and unassuming British movie about the coming together of two opposing factions of the society to achieve a common goal. With the playbill stacked with the who’s who of the British cinema this is a complete treat to watch. Sensitively handling the subject of labor strike and the rise of the gay rights movement and the eventual pride parade, this movie has many high points and many standout stars. This reminded me of the underappreciated The Boat that Rocked/Pirate Radio or maybe that was just because Bill Nighy was in both and I love Bill Nighy!

Queen: I know at the outset I said the list was in alphabetical order just so that I don’t have to rank all the movies. But if I were to rank them I am more than certain that Queen would be my 2014 topper. I have not seen a more honest attempt at story telling than this story of a simple girl from Rajauri who gets dumped just before her wedding day and decides to go on her honeymoon by herself, on a  journey of discovery and revelations which up to this point were the tightly held domain of male dominated road-trip movies. Kangana Ranaut is spectacular as Rani – the eponymous Queen and with Amit Trivedi’s brilliant music this movie is an instant classic. I cannot wait for what Vikas Bahl has to offer next and I hope he continue to be this honest about his story telling, because the results are fantastic.

The Imitation Game: as mentioned earlier it was hard to choose between Haider and this one as both movies had their merits (stand out performances by the leads) and its pitfalls. But when a story this important is being told, it almost doesn’t matter if there are a few minor glitches. Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing is incredible and does well to show the vulnerable side of his (and Turing’s) genius. In that final scene towards the end after undergoing chemical castration, Cumberbatch’s performance breaks my heart and you feel for Turing who suffered such indignation at the hands of the society he gave so much to.

X-Men : Days of Future Past:  Of all the multi-super hero universes out there ( the avengers, the justice league and the X-men) the X-men feel the most organic, they don’t feel like a money grab where you throw a wide variety of superheroes together in an all-you-can-eat style buffet. With the foundation that was laid with a very strong X-men First Class the return of Bryan Singer at the helm righted the wrong of X-men: The Last Stand by essentially rewriting the timeline and setting it up for future adventures. Having perhaps the best assemblage of young Hollywood talent in form of McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Hoult I have tremendous faith that the Superhero franchise is far from dead. Bring on the apocalypse I cannot wait!

The Bottom 3 (In alphabetical order)

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Bang Bang: to take two of the most beautiful human beings ever created and to turn them into absolutely unwatchable crap is the claim to fame for Bang Bang. An official adaptation of Knight and Day, this vapid movie should have never been made. Its stupidity was a new low for Bollywood.

Singham Returns: I stayed away from Singham despite people claiming how it was a good-masala-movie with very good acting. But being married to a Kareena-aficionado has its pitfalls. After a surprisingly good Kick my faith in the ability of 100cr movie to be bearable was renewed. But it was dealt a deathly blow with this loud brash and crass attempt at storytelling.  Rohit Shetty is the Michael Bay of Bollywood and I am staying as far away from his exploding cars as possible.

The Amazing Spider-man 2: I loved Marc Webb’s directorial debut 500 days of summer and I loved the Andrew Garfield as the amazing Spiderman. If you bring these two together and throw in Emma Stone I am bound to be excited. But alas that excitement was misplaced and I no longer look forward to any more spidey adventures.

The biggest Disappointment of 2014 was hands down Interstellar. It is not that Interstellar was a particularly bad movie; it’s just that I have come to expect a certain level of intelligence from Nolan and the choice of Matthew McConaughey thoroughly baffled me. While the science in the movie was fascinating and accessible at the same time, the stoner drawl of McConaughey and Hans Zimmer’s obnoxious soundtrack were entirely off-putting.  Hopefully, this is only law of averages and Nolan can get back to doing what he does best this will just be something he will look back and laugh while scratching his head thinking what the hell was I smoking when I offered this role to McCoughMyName.

There you have it! 2014 all wrapped up with a bow on top. Here’s to 2015 and a wonderful year at the movies. Do write to me and let me know what you think of my assessment of the year 2014 at the movies, if you agree or disagree or have a suggestion for me to watch. I will be back very early on in 2015 with a review of a much-anticipated Birdman and many more exciting movies to come. Happy New Year!

Haider – A Review

 Vishal Bharadwaj directs Shahid Kapoor and Tabu in Haider an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This is Bharadwaj’s third attempt at adapting the noted English playwright’s material after Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello). Bharadwaj has a knack for contemporizing Victorian stories in the Indian context and doing so very effectively. With Maqbool he set the story in the Mumbai underworld and with Omkara he exploited the criminal-political nexus of the heartland by setting the story in Uttar Pradesh. With Haider he takes the troubled prince’s story and sets it in the strife ridden state of Kashmir and the words that begin Hamlet “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark” couldn’t ring truer.

Kay Kay Menon plays Khurrum (Claudius) who marries Ghazala (Gertrude) played by Tabu after the “disappearance” of Haider’s (Hamlet) Father Dr. Hilal (king Hamlet). Shraddha Kapoor plays Arshee (Ophelia and also Horatio as Hamlet’s friend). Irrfan Khan plays Roohdar (the ghost of Hamlet’s father) delivering a message from his father about the deceit of Khurrum.

The story mostly plays around the themes of Hamlet and tries to be as faithful an adaption as possible under the constraints of the geo-political hotpot of Kashmir. Any movie based on Kashmir is sure to be divisive as you cannot take a neutral stance over the militant insurgency and the mistrust the people of Kashmir feel towards the militarization of what is essentially heaven on earth. Bharadwaj tries to tackle the AFSPA issue and that is where the movie stumbles. Bharadwaj tries to rely on AFSPA as a plot device allowing Khurrum to get his brother captured by the military and eventually killed. By trying to rely too much on AFSPA and to almost demonizing it is where the movie’s narrative pace fails. It becomes cumbersome and does not yield the results Bharadwaj might have wanted it to, however kudos to him and script writer Bashrat Peer for trying.

Shraddha Kapoor is a revelation as Arshee and playing Kashmiri comes naturally to her. Kay Kay Menon who has phenomenal talents to play the bad guy fails to excite me with this outing. He plays Khurrum with a degree of menace that is so on the nose that it becomes parody of the Claudius as intended by Shakespeare. The prayer scene where he is supposed to appear contrite ends up being even more contrived. Irrfan Khan is slowly become more unbearable with every outing and seems to have lost the earthiness that made him great in Paan Singh Tomar. There is nothing worse than an actor who thinks he knows he is better than everyone else and that is the vibe I am getting from Khan ever since his Hollywood foray. His Roohdar is unconvincing and for reasons best known to Bharadwaj or the editing team the whole plot with militancy is rendered under developed. Tabu does what she does best. She lights up the screen every time she is on it. Her physical presence is so commanding on screen that everything else shrinks in comparison. Her earnest Ghazala is another addition to an already overly impressive resume. She crafts her character so beautifully that every time she calls out to Haider as “Jana” it makes you think of your own mother (albeit less deceitful). Everything except Shahid Kapoor shrinks in Tabu’s presence. Shahid Kapoor delivers what is arguably the best performance of his career. This is the Shahid that we all know and love and was lost somewhere in the 100 cr race. The first time I ever took notice of Shahid was also in a Bharadwaj caper – Kaminey (also the first ever review I wrote so the partnership is special for a personal reason). His Haider is restrained and insane at the same time. The vulnerability and intensity in his eyes as he searches for his father and then avows to avenge his death is electric.  My favorite Shahid moment is during the song Jhelum when he exchanges photos with a woman looking for her missing son, it gave me chills and made me tear up for him.

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Bharadwaj, as legend has it learnt to be a music composer during college days to woo Rekha Bharadwaj. Here he provides the background score for Haider and it couldn’t have been done any better. His reliance on single instruments, be it the cello, the violin or even the stray strings of Sitar to underscore the uneasy silence that enfolds the valley is fantastic. There are places where the music rises with the rise in tension but then at the climax the strings fade from the concerto and the emotions alone drive home the point and this is the restraint that only a very self-assured story teller is capable of. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is beautiful as it captures the beauty of the Kashmir valley in all its snowy glory. The only misstep is the inclusion of unnecessary songs; the only songs that deserve any place in the screenplay are the Jhelum re Jhelum and the acapella song by Shraddha Kapoor as she mourns the loss of her father. The song with Haider and Arshee frolicking in the snow and the gravedigger’s song are jarringly out of place and seem to be paying mere lip service to Hamlet. The song bismil bulbul is the strongest argument in favor of giving a personal flavor to an adaptation, the famous play in a play from hamlet is adapted to a dance performance commemorating the marriage of Ghazala and Khurrum and is written, sung and shot so beautifully that it defies comparisons.

Hamlet and other work of art are always open to interpretations and I believe that Bharadwaj has also tried to add a layer a subtext to his adaptation that leaves the audience to interpret the story based on their own prejudices. How I see it is as an allegory to the contentious Kashmir issue. If one were to supplant Hilal (Haider’s father) as King Hari Singh Bahadur and Ghazala as Kashmir itself then based on your point of view you could argue for either Haider as India or Pakistan and khurrum as the other . I know I could be way off but to me it is essentially why this movie is more than just a mere adaptation and the reason why Vishal Bharadwaj is regarded as one of India’s best and most original directors.

Haider in many ways seems incomplete or entirely too slow and meandering and by the end it seems to have gone nowhere, but that is the nature of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which unfolds as a tragedy with many time lapses and moments of insanity and introspection. Haider is a beautiful made film which unfortunately isn’t without a few flaws, but these flaws are easily overlooked when Tabu and Shahid Kapoor set the screen on fire with their brilliant acting.