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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RamLeela – A Review

Sanjay Leela Bhansali directs Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in the “goliyon ki Rasleela – Ram Leela” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. And after the directorial misstep that was Guzarish and the producing abomination that was Rowdy Rathore Bhansali retreads the familiar paths he etched with “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” and “Devdas” and the result is a richly layered and textured visual masterpiece that manages to strike a balance in catering to the masses and appealing to the classes as well.

Ram as played by a mustard-oil drenched Ranveer Singh and Leela as played by the statuesque Deepika Padukone play the Romeo and Juliet belonging to the opposing clans of a village in Gujarat whose rivalry goes back 500 years. The ill-fated lovers lay eyes upon each other on holi-day and what unfolds is a tragic romance that has found innumerable adaptations and countless influences when it comes to love stories.

The story by Siddharth and Garima and also the screenplay steers clear of the clichéd and predictable tropes for most parts and manages to even surprise once or twice with you holding your breath as what unravels was so far away from the expected that the result is spectacular. I wish they had worked on giving the opening sequence a bit more dynamism than a person relaying the backstory and context to someone else via a telephone call. Also the second half really needed to be cut short to drive home the impact even more effectively but these are minor grievances.

Bhansali and Ravi Varman capture stunning visuals that are nobody’s business. There is no better visual auteur in India today who understands how to frame a beautiful shot than Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Every shot is a painting that can be hung up on a wall. Every scene is visual poetry. The dance sequences are framed and shot with such throbbing vibrancy that you cannot help but take a sharp intake of breath as the set pieces unveil and the scenery is laid bare before you to soak in.  No one does water reflection shots like Bhansali does – from the glittering havelis of the tavayafs of chitpur from devdas to that one tracking shot in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam from the song “Dholi Taro” and here to Udaipur become Jantara and the lights of the city palace reflect like precious jewels in Lake Pichola. STUNNING! Another spectacular shot is that of Kesar running away from her pursuers and the rolling of the pot along with her – like I said visual poetry.

All this visual artistry would be wasted if it wasn’t for the solid acting chops on display. Ranveer who always makes me cringe with his off-screen presence (interviews et al) still manages to strike a balance between playing a playboy and transforming to the titular Ram (yes of the mythic Ramayana). Deepika just takes your breath away every time she is on screen with her beauty but she has grown in the acting department and how! This is perhaps the best she has ever been and she manages to carry most of the movie on her shoulder while Ranveer is focusing more on thrusting his pelvis every chance he gets.  Richa Chaddha and Barkha Bhisht who play the daughters- in – law of the Saneda and Rajadi clans respectively are brilliant in their respective roles. Supriya Pathak Kapur who plays Dhankor the clan-mother of the Saneda clan is power personified. She plays the lioness like Dhankor with such aplomb that I was going into giddy fits every time she appeared on screen. I would pay top dollar to watch Supriya Pathak’s Dhankor vs Shabana Azmi’s Santok Jadeja the fight of the godmothers would make Brando blush.

Another very important element of the movie is the music and the songs. Every song with the exception of Ishqiyaon Dhishkiyaon is perfectly suited to the movie and given that the lyrics were written by Siddharth and Garima who share story credits as well every song helps in furthering the story. The background score by Monty and the actual music by Bhansali himself infuse Gujarati Folk songs into every note that the movie pulsates with a rhythmic frenzy that can only be witnessed during the final notes of a Garba dance. The costumes deserve a special mention because utmost care is taken to champion the traditional handloom techniques of the different regions of Gujarat, from the Kutchi-threadwork to block prints, Patola-weaving to many other exquisite techniques that only act to enhance Deepika’s beauty.

While this is not a perfect movie and the opening sequence and the second half needed more care from Bhansali and the character of Ram didn’t need those many pelvic thrusts, this is a movie that must not be missed. Watch it for Bhansali who makes a triumphant return to directing epic love stories like only he can. Watch it for Deepika Padukone. Watch it for the visual artistry that does not rely on exotic foreign locales; watch it for set pieces that are unparalleled in Bollywood today. Watch it for this is a beautiful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet