Punjab 1984 – The story of a mother

If I had to encapsulate the theme and emotional power of Punjab 1984 in a few words, I’d never be able to ace these couplets from the movie’s soundtrack :

Haadh Diyaan Paindeyan Ch Vichchdi Hai Chaan Bann Ke Bedard Haakma Tu V Vekh Kade Maa Bann Ke Mudh Aa Ve Laadleya Ghare Ammi Udeekdi

Mere Pind Di Oh Paun Nu Suneha De Dyo Mainu Lorriyan Sunaave Kitte Maa Banke Ni Main Kujhe Wich Aunga ‪‎Swaah‬ Bann Ke Ni Main Kujhe Wich Aunga ‪‎Swaah‬ Bann Ke

That’s all Anurag Singh’s Punjab 1984 is, and all it had to be, a story about a mother looking for her son. The film opens with a brilliant scene during the attack on Golden Temple, a scene so poignant, I’d have to look long and hard to find anything which matches its simplicity and sincerity while depicting such an important and sensitive event for millions of Sikhs around the world.

The movie then movies to a year and a half later, with Kirron Kher as the main character of a mother looking for her son. Like she says, she used to be worried that he returns home in time, and she still is. The opening credits carry a serene sense of  her morose life, her daily routine, as she visits the police station daily, and waits for news about her son. This is of course not a unique or isolated case. It is the story of upheaval in the lives of countless families in Punjab during the period of the Khalistan movement. It is the true story of thousands of mothers, whose sons went out on a day as ordinary as any, never to be seen or heard from again.

The methods used by the police to suppress insurgents during this period, and politics of the situation is well documented and well known(Click here & here to read more). Family feuds, and personal grudges intertwined into the political war that was underway. Many policemen misused the sanctioned power. As the general sentiment goes, who watches the watchmen?. Our protagonist’s story is one such incident, with a land hungry neighbour, and a power hungry policeman. The mother’s powerlessness in the situation is reflective of our own impotency in face of political power even today, especially today.

The backstory moves briskly, with the serviceable blend of a happy go luck protagonist, loving mother, strict father, ‘love at first sight’ song and dream sequence before getting to the actual meat of the plot. Of course the mother is portrayed as righteous as any can be found in the breadth of the hindi or punjabi film industry, without any flaws or intricacies of a human. She is perfect, kind to any and all, even to those who have wronger her. The only humanizing characteristic she possesses is her loss, and her resolve to find out what happened to her son. But Kirron Kher’s acting truly liberated the character and saved it from crossing over to the territory of melodrama.

The moments chosen to elucidate the mother’s situation are a step away from the cliche’d moments we’re used to witness in movies. Here, they’ve used small moments, dialogues, to evoke the sense of loss and frustration. A moment that particularly stood out for me was when she has to go through the pictures of boys recently killed in Police encounters and shootings. The camera lingers on her face as she is handed the album, and it is kept steady, as we feel her hesitation. She slowly starts to look at the album. The camera still lingers but zooms in a little, as we feel along with the mother, the fear before the turn of each page, and the small respite before gathering enough courage to turn the page again. The scene transitions to reveal a few glimpse of some of the victims. As the mother reaches the end of the album, she hides a smile of relief behind her chunni. The acting by Kirron Kher is top notch in this scene. The direction and photography is particularly masterful. Frankly, I was surprised with this level of finesse in a punjabi movie.The film is so engaging that when the words ‘intermission’ appear on the screen, I had to check my watch to confirm that 90 minutes had indeed slipped by.

The second half starts strong with an incident inspired from real life, and a terrific scene, where the mother learns that her son might have died. Her son’s friend informs her that her son might not be bound anymore, he is finally free. The agony and restlessness is brilliantly depicted using the mother’s reaction. The director might have overstayed to milk the scene for some extra tears, nevertheless, it’s a very powerful scene. Why couldn’t it have stayed that way? The movie changes gears and the story starts to falter, like the writers were unsure where they should go from here. Then scenes start to fall flat, emotions and melodramatic dialogues start to fly high and it completely derails in the last thirty minutes.

Spoilers

The plot shifts to the going ons of the present day as the drama and body count starts to rise. There’s some unnecessary resolution of the land acquisition plot. Granted, it did set the whole plot in motion, but the follow up and resolution fell flat, and frankly, felt unnecessary. Also, the romantic sub plot overstays its welcome and acts as a distraction sometimes. But it still adds to the realness of the movie, and works to a certain extent. The depiction of the ‘movement’ is cheapened to cheap ploys of a couple of power hungry politicos. But of course, our hero saves the day, and how.

After this point, the movie goes from being a grounded representation of the reality of Punjab to generic masala fare. The last thirty minutes might be inspired by any number of the mainstream ‘100 crore club’ bollywood movies. I literally cringed at the Salman Khanesque moment when the ‘hero’ challenges the arresting officer (the villain in this case) and throws away his gun to have a hand to hand fight.

At first, I balked at the writer’s poor choice to go this route, but then it occurred to me, that perhaps the writer had was so deeply emotionally invested in these stories and so frustrated with the powerlessness of the common man, or even his helplessness as a writer, that it was a chance for him to let off some steam, to exact some revenge. It was a masturbatory exercise by the writer, where he was literally bashing the shit out of such policemen and the system and the movement who were responsible for such mishaps. Whatever the reasons were, in my opinion it nullified all the respects and dedications it wanted to pay off to the victims and their families, a message so explicitly stated at the end. It was almost an insult, that those boys weren’t strong enough to change their fate, or fight to survive… only if they’d been heroes. Anyway.

The film climaxes when our protagonist finally returns home with his head and chest held high, just as he had envisioned it. It should have been a touching and a much needed emotional payoff, but I was still barfing from the last fight scene. The movie ends with such a weak and tailored scene, that it seemed like they cobbled it together at the last minute when the writer finally gave up on the story. The only saving grace of the climax was the acting of Diljit Dosanjh and Kirron Kher, which supplied some much needed emotionality, and grounded it to a certain extent. The haunting lyrics of the song ‘Swah bann ke’ also help.

Apart from the acting, the cinematography and editing are considerable well done. The movie has a bleached look with a yellowish tinge used effectively to illustrate this bleak period in Punjab’s history. The frames, shots, and length of scenes are mostly perfect with the camera lingering just long enough to leave an impact. The music of the film is very strong, especially the songs ‘Sawah bann ke’ and ‘Ammi udeek di’. It’s the first time I’ve seen music so well used in a Punjabi movie. Here it’s not a distraction, but helps further the story forward and acts as a beautiful supplement to help effectively portray the emotions of the characters. Overall, I would say that it’s a must watch, even if for the beautiful first half.

P.S. If you want to listen to the songs, click here.

P.P.S. For a political analysis/review of the movie, read this.

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Movie review marathon…

Warning: There will be spoilers.

A Clockwork Orange

What can I say about this masterpiece that hasn’t already been said? The theme is the most interesting there could be, that whether it’s right to be bad by choice or to be forced to be good…. tackled beautifully by Anthony Burgess, the author of the novel it’s based upon. And Kubrick has done justice to the book, like I assume he always does with every movie of his.

The story is set in the future, well, atleast the future as perceived by the people in the 1970s. The setting is the work of a genius, and slowly consumes you into it, like you are a part of it. Beethovan’s music is used wonderfully here, and gives Alex’s universe a distinct feel. The language is not exactly the english we speak, infact some words are the author’s invention, but you slowly become accustomed to them, as if you knew them all along. The story is about Alex, a 16 year old boy and his gang of “droogs”. We see in the start how Alex and his friends enjoy a bit of the old “ultra violence” and the old “in-out” a la they are naturally evil. But, the best thing is that it isn’t shoved into our faces and is developed as we see their acts and their reactions. Anyway, Alex becomes the undeclared leader of his group which his friends can’t digest, and betray him thus leading to his capture by police. The scientist’s have come up with a new way to drive “wrong doings” out of prisoners and Alex is picked as the prime candidate and he undergoes the treatment. Now, Alex feels sick whenever violence or sex occur to or around him. But can he really survive in the real world like that.. what happens when his past crimes come face to face with him? You can’t help but be confused, as to how you can feel sorry for such a man! Watch it to find out the whole deal.. I’d spoil it but it’s too good to be spoiled.

The best aspect of the movie is Malcolm McDowell who plays Alex. The man who’s performance is the biggest inspiration of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Joker in the Dark Knight. A great actor of the likes of Al Pacino I’d say, or even better than him at least in this movie. Others have played their part well too, except a few who seem to be a little misfit in Alex’s universe like his mom. Even though she didn’t have much to work with, my face cringed every time she came on screen.

My judgement, watch it to feel it. Believe me, it will be worth your time. It’s a film that gets you thinking, um.. and humming(seriously I can’t get that song “I am singing in the rain” out of my mid). In Satish’s words, it was to the seventies what fight club is to our generation.

Rating: 8/10

Singh is Kinng

I know, its seems like a crime to me to mention this movie(if it could even justify to be called that) on the same page as the clockwork orange. But, I have to do this crime cuz if I didn’t, most of you would have assumed the post was over and would have left, without noticing the “more” sign at the end of the post…

Anyway, moving on with the review, the film has no story, seriously. It’s just a bunch of crap put up together with a few “bollywood thinks are funny” lines and sidetracks and a pinch of sikhism.

Lucky(Sonu Sood) is the kinng of Australia and rules it with some men very close to him, which also involves Mika(Jaaved Jaafri), his deaf and short sighted brother. Happy(Akshay) is happy go lucky guy who has a habit of playing the hero and helping everyone, even if he destroys half the village doing it. The villagers device a plan to drive him out of the village by convincing him that Lucky’s father’s end is near and he would like to him before dying. He vows to get him back, and is sent to Australia, along with Rangeela, his “langotia yaar”, who knows a little english. They land up on Egypt when their boarding passes get exchanged with some people at the airport. In Egypt, Happy meets Sonia(Kat) while trying to help her catch a thief, and they sing a song. Happy falls in love with her, and decides to come back for her after completing his vow. In Australia, Happy meets Lucky, where he denies to go back. But in a strange accident in which Lucky gets hurt, it is declared that Happy will be the kinng until Lucky is OK. Happy wants to help the lady who fed him when he was lost and hungry in Australia. She had lied to her daughter about them losing their wealth and so, Happy goes onto pose as her manager along with his closest men playing the servants while the lady’s daughter(Sonia), comes back with her fiance Puneet(Ranvir Shorey). Happy and Sonia’s friendship grows, a little of this a little of that..boom! they are married in the end. Everyone’s happy, and Happy and Sonia return to their village along with Lucky, Mika (who turned against him and had a change of heart at the end), and all the other goons.

Seriously now, the characters are very underdeveloped, their motives and actions are unexplained. But, I am ready to overlook that if the film has some bloody comedy. I was seriously counting man, and there was a gap of 30 minutes before I laughted at anything at a point(what could I do except count minutes?). The first half was nice, went by like a breeze, but the second half seemed like Welcome part 2 with the director bent on changing the heart of all the gangsters in every movie of his. Akshay Kumar is the man here, he carries the movie on his shoulders, it would have been worse without him. Katrina is there just to look pretty, which pretty much covers up for her acting(seriously man, she is hot.. or according to one of my friends “kudi tabahi aa”). Sonu Sood is seriously a good actor and carried his role responsibly. Jaaved Jaafri is a talent which does not need to be spoken about, everyone recognises it. Anyway, every one else does their role ok, but bad script and no story don’t help them. And I seriously want to raise a question.. why sikhism? because there is whatsoever no reason for it being there, except maybe for the title.

Man, I had hopes from this movie. Aneez was bad enough with his Welcome but I expected something of Vipul Shah after Waqt and Namastey London.. well seems like I was wrong, but still I’m waiting eagerly for London dreams. Only watch if nothing better is on…

Rating: 3/10 – 1 for Akshay, 1/2 for Katrina, 1/2 for Jaaved Jaafri, 1/2 for Sonu Sood, and 1/2 for the goons

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Race – A Review

So, I went to watch the new movie Race today, starring Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Bipasha Basu, and Akshaye Khanna. The biggest plus point of Race was it’s script and it’s twists and turns. But, it is also it’s weakest point.

race.jpg

The film begins wonderfully and keeps you glued to your seat trying to think what will happen next. There are many twists and turns in the first half. The basic story is about two brothers who try to outdo each other and the girls just get tangled in their rivalry. As good as the first half was, the second half goes up and then down and further down and down. There are just so many twists that we get bored of them and want the movie to end.

The acting by Saif is superb, Akshaye is also very good. Bipasha is OK, but our Kat needs some acting lessons. I have always noticed that she is mostly in a movie only to look pretty which she does well, but she must learn some good acting. Her dialogue delivery isn’t good, but expressions are good. Anil Kapoor is good as always and never goes out of the skin of his character, with Sameera being there just to look stupid, which she does well. Their Karamchand-Kitty act keeps going on and extracts some laughs out of us, which is not made dominant on the thrill and action at any point. It’s very difficult to keep a balance and I think that Abbas-Mustan have done it very well.

The music isn’t so great. I just like the title song and the “sexy lady” song. At some points, the song seems to be well in it’s place, but at some points, it just slows the pace of the film. The background music is also good, as heart thumping as it was required to be.

It is a good movie, but could be a great movie. It’s at least worth one watch, cuz its a typical Abbas-Mustan film, and a good time pass+entertainer for 2 and a half hours.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10…worth a watch in the theatre on a weekend.