October – A Review

Related imageShoojit Sircar directs Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu in October. Juhi Chaturvedi, who wrote Sircar’s Vicky Donor, pens the story, screenplay and the dialogues. Vicky Donor broke new ground tackling a taboo subject but I think October might be the writer-director duo’s most ambitious project yet.

October is the story of Dan played by Varun Dhawan and his group of friends who work as the staff in a swanky hotel in Delhi as part of their hotel management course. Dan isn’t the brightest bulb in the bunch, his juniors overtake him and his nonchalant behaviour has him being relegated to the menial tasks of cleaning and laundry.  Among the juniors, who have overtaken Dan, is newcomer Banita Sandhu who plays Shiuli. A tragic accident and a casual question just prior to the accident leaves Dan wondering why Shiuli was asking about him. Dan abandons every aspect of his personal life and devotes every free minute to Shiuli who is rendered incapable of responding.

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Devolving any more of the story would not do the story any great harm but if the trailer is the only thing you are going by, like I did, the slow reveal will have a more lasting effect. Sircar and Chaturvedi have crafted the movie in an almost Indie-film vein, not something you see prominent commercial directors and actors be a part of in Bollywood. This could have just as easily been a Sundance film festival darling.

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While the bravery of Sircar-Chaturvedi is second to none, Varun Dhawan continues to defy expectations and pulls further away from the pack of young actors. Dhawan, who first burst onto screen in Karan Johar’s frothy yet delightful high-school drama Student of the Year, has gone on to deliver incredibly nuanced performance in Badlapur and cemented his commercial appeal in Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya, Badrinath ki Dulhaniya and Judwaa2. In my book Dhawan hasn’t put a foot down wrong. Every time he is on screen, he lights its up with his honesty and unintentional humour. Here, too, you believe him every time he chimes in when not required and urges Shiuli’s mother to give her time to recover. You feel his pain when he finds out that before the accident Shiuli had asked about him. He is extremely easy to watch on screen and every emotion he embodies effortlessly.  Dhawan achieves something improbable in that he is at once part of the scenery and yet he stands out even without trying. His scenes with the hospital guard, the nurse and the scenes with his friends are all absolutely incredible. This does not feel like a star vehicle but like a debut of a staggeringly gifted actor.  He may have flexed his six-packs in almost every other movie but here he really gets to flex his acting muscle and when he does it it’s a thing of beauty.

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Avik Mukhopadhyay uses his lenses to capture every scene in the most unobtrusive of ways. There is a melancholy to the way he frames each scene yet there is a beauty to it as well. His close-ups of Shiuli are splendid.  The editing by Chandrashekhar Prajapati is exquisite, the pace never once slackens nor does any moment feel rushed. The fantastic script and the very competent direction would have been rendered unintelligible in the hands of a lesser editor.

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The slow burn narrative, the focus on the human interactions and the humanity of its subjects rather than the story itself, the no-rush story telling are all brilliantly tender and organic. The reason why I said that this movie feels their most ambitious is because it feels free of any commercial compulsions. Every film with a reasonably well known actor/director is only measured by one parameter these days – how quickly does it reach the 100-cr mark? This film is the furthest thing from it, but because of it, this might be the most poignant and original film of the year and dare I say almost 4 months into the year perhaps one of the best of the year.

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The Theory of Everything – A Review

James Marsh directs Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. The movie is an adaptation of the book by Hawking’s first wife Jane Hawking and looks at the remarkable life of the noted theoretical physicist, his staggering achievements in the face of a debilitating disease. But make no mistake this isn’t a movie about science and the black holes and gravitational singularities but it is a love story, an intimate look at the nearly 30 years of Stephen and Jane Hawking’s marriage and the ups and downs that they go through.

James Marsh is known more for his exhilarating documentary Man on Wire and the equally fascinating documentary on a chimpanzee that was snatched from his mother and raised in a human society. But his control on the subject matter at hand here is adept and he infuses warmth and genuine human emotions in the relationship dynamics between the lead pair. From the very first frame to the very last this is a celebratory picture of the love that undoubtedly saved Stephen Hawking from would the doctors in 1963 predicted to be a heavily crushing defeat in the face of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The lead pair turns in phenomenal performances which carry the entire film. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking is full of wit, charm and charisma first as the lanky geeky Cambridge PHD student and then as the wheelchair bound yet iconic theoretical physicist. It is almost impossible to separate the Redmayne Hawking from the public persona of Hawking himself. He comes off as someone who is not bound by the limitations of his disease and someone who is a source of inspiration for millions around the world as a person who overcame an impossible hurdle and contributed so greatly to the world of science. Even behind the prosthetics and the Equalizer program to relay his voice via a computerized program Redmayne never ceases to amaze. He is as fiercely independent and alive from the inside that one would expect a man like Stephen Hawking to be. Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking couldn’t be any more perfect. She is the sweet and loving as the Cambridge student who catches the fancy of Hawking and strong willed and formidable as the partner who refuses to walk away when Stephen breaks the news to her of his illness. She underplays the dotting wife who is herself struggling to keep pushing through the difficulties in such a believable manner that you do feel for her even when you know it is Stephen who is going through much worse. Her vulnerability around Jonathan played by Charlie Cox and the restraint with which she manages to push back the feelings she has for Jonathan are beautifully portrayed. The dynamics between Stephen, Jane and Jonathan are very telling in two scenes in particular the first one where they meet for the first time at dinner and the second when Stephen goes to Jonathan to ask him to continue helping Jane. It is a sensitive subject matter dealt with dignity and gravitas.

Visually the movie is plush in sepia tones and it lends itself beautifully to the love story being told. The music by Johann Johannsson is a beautiful companion to the story. The screenplay by Anthony McCarten who adapted Jane Hawking’s book “Travelling to Infinity : My Life with Stephen Hawking” is rich with humorous undertones and the final scene where we see a flashback of the events of Stephen’s life in reverse order coming to an end at the first instance he laid eyes on Jane is a stroke of genius as it ties in with the theories of Hawking and how he believes that there should be one elegant equation which can tell us of the moment of the beginning of universe or the beginning of time itself.

To me this is beautiful movie which tells the story of a very real struggle and the thumping triumph that the love between two individuals enables them to overcome insurmountable odds. It features two of best performances of the year. Felicity jones is a revelation and Redmayne is an absolute joy to watch as Stephen Hawking. This is a small movie by a relatively small player in the politics of awards but if there is any justice it should be Redmayne who should walk away with the best actor award this year and not Cumberbatch or Keaton. Do not miss this movie.