Tag Archives: review

PK after thodi si peeke

Have the reviews and counter-reviews for PK died down? Because, in that case, now would be a good time to write down my thoughts about the movie. For starters: I did enjoy the film and here I will try to delve a little into why I was motivated to do so, amongst usual blog-like meanderings.

On a side note (that did not take long), I have come to notice the stylistic aspects of Bollywood cinema: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opulent, colorful, glitzy sets, choreographed dance dramas, the earthy sounds of thumping dhol and bold matriarchs. The celebrate-your-Indian-family even outside India, Manish Malhotra-esque sob sagas, return of the prodigal sons of Karan Johar. The rustic, gutsy, dusty landscape of Vishal Bhardwaj, complete with ethnic sounds and dialogues, from globalize to lets localize. The friends, journeys, finding your own light in the midst of many others, the disco, urban accounts of the Akhtar siblings. The light-hearted, tropical, catchy beats, slick intertextual (references to other films) tales of Farah Khan, and, now I can add to that the social-phenomena-motivated stories of Raj Kumar Hirani. In a Hirani movie we must have a female media person, a down-to-earth funny hero who turns things around, a national chant for change and waltz numbers with scooters or cycles.

I enjoyed the meta texture in PK. For example, the picture of Gandhi only holds value when it is linked to economics; the only images – on calendars, notebooks, posters – are tossed away. While I’m no Gandhian like Hirani is, and I do understand the nature of currency and markets, I could see the inherent philosophical nature of that scene. That cultures develop to associate value to otherwise meaningless things – white for the bride, white for the widow – that it is indeed a human attribute to start constructing social rituals – it was intriguing, humorous, and ironical to watch it in the Indian context.

Jagat Janani, the meaning of that particular name intrigued me, who is Jagat Janani? Mother Nature or is this a reference to the Mother Goddess. She is female. In relationship to her is the alien character, a male, who questions the social formations – of religion and culture. The juxtaposition of the male as being otherworldly, and Jaggu as that which gives birth to the ‘jagat’ or world was quite a gripping proposition and if one were to explore this further I am sure we could work on a layered referencing to this within the text of the film. It is Jaggu who notices the odd one out in ‘her’ world, it is she who helps him understand strands (firki and otherwise) that PK has missed. And, above all it is she who is kind (gender trouble – ahem!). She is given an identity, a name by the ‘bad guy’ is this an urge to rethink (for who has dictated how the world should proceed) how we have thought and defined the origin of the world and the nature of living.

The music of the film is lovely. I have enjoyed each song on the track, the robust Rajasthani sounds in “Tharki Chokro.” I was repeatedly reminded of Parineeta while listening to the numbers – “Chaar Kadam” like “Piyu Bole” and “Bhagwan Kahan” like “Raat Hamari” and when I was looking up information about these two films I found that these songs shared the same music director Shantanu Moitra, same lyricist Swanand Kirkire and in the case of “Chaar Kadam” and “Piyu Bole” they were sung by Shaan and Shreya Ghoshal. Quite the coincidence!

As expats, and migrants, we meet Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, who are mistaken as Indians, or (unfortunately) clubbed together as Indians. Sometimes, (again very unfortunately) the larger section of the populace misses the point that these are countries with varied cultures, influences and they have rich, heterogeneous heritages. This point gets beautifully put across by Sushant Singh Rajput who plays such a subtle and lovable role. An Amitabh-loving, Urdu poet, studying, working a part-time job at the embassy, humorous, shy, well-mannered, respectful, what a wonderful way to re-think the manner in which we perceive. Finally, who betrays is not so much the guy who we have been taught to suspect but our own narrow-mindedness. Perhaps, it is naïve to think this way, maybe the third generation of Indians (for this is an Indian film) post the independence have softened their views on partition, however, and as part of that generation, and the descendant of grand-parents who have lived through the living nightmare that 1947 was, maybe it is time for a rethink. And, if we as human being lose the ability to challenge and question, to learn and move on, then maybe this “gola” is truly “lul.”

The question of religion or the religion question, whether within – worship the small idol, or the big one in the temple, is “daan” a fees, of gurus and their gyaan, or between religions – Hindu and Muslim is a tricky one to handle – given the matchstick-striker ratio that operates within the world’s largest democracy. To the credit of Indian cinema and Bollywood, it has addressed these issues in a manner that has been ‘acceptable’ – here acceptable means getting released with least (sort of) amount of disarray within makers of the film, audience and censors, here least is used in a rather liberal (sort-of) fashion – Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995), Shyam Benegal’s Mammo (1994), Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) immediately come to mind but I am sure there are many more. PK offers a critique of religious dogmas, giving a bitter spoonful with ample gloss and sugar. To make such a film you need a decent amount of conviction in what you want to say and how you want to say it – any imbalance could spell disaster. PK manages the tight rope well with the message of a direct contact with the maker and no wrong numbers.

I don’t view PK as a catalyst to change; I view it as the start of a conversation, quite in the manner that 3 Idiots and Taare Zameen Par required for us to at least glance at the education system that we have been put through. For change to come through it will take something far more intense, radical, and even bizarre, in the meantime, “Dil ko behelane ko Ghalib yeh khayal achcha hai.” For all the movies you could have made Mr. Hirani – you made a good one.

Why is Bollywood film PK controversial? by Vikas Pandey
Parineeta (2005) – the movie
PK (2014) – the movie

YouTube has an extensive collection of “Making of PK” videos – a must watch if you want to see how the movie comes together.

When I went to watch “The Hundred Foot Journey”

Has the study of literature made me lose the ability to enjoy an ordinary film? Has it? Has it?

I went to watch “The Hundred Foot Journey”. The film promised the agreeable mingling of food and diaspora. Purab laughed, “Are you watching the diaspakoda?”

I wanted the movie to move me. It had Om Puri. Helen Mirren. But, I returned so deeply disappointed.  For days, I mulled over what to write, what to not write, in the shower I constructed sentences: “I had hopes.” On my walk back from work I deconstructed them: “I had hopes.” I hemmed the subject. I produced analogies, “It was like a collapsed soufflé.” That did not work. “It was a thick mousse.” And, that too did not work. Then I gave up. I gave up on trying to come up with something stupendously smart. This is my last resort: Honesty.

I think that over the years of studying characters, scenes, speakers, stereo types, paradoxes, irony, sarcasm, wit, and other such devices, I have lost the ability to enjoy an ordinary film. This applies with the assumption that ordinary film can offer some form of enjoyment, which I did not experience.

This is an ordinary film that I did not like.

The Kadam family owns restaurants in India. With escalating communal tensions they find themselves caught in a frightening evening of riots that leads to the death of Mama Kadam (Juhi Chawla). Little Hassan’s (Rohan Chand) love and aptitude for food lies deeply entrenched in his love for his mother. Uprooted, dislocated and depressed as refugees in UK they find it difficult – weather wise, the open grills are shown to be a disaster.

Eventually seeking a better fate they relocate to a small village in France with Papa Kadam (Om Puri) dictating every move and open an Indian restaurant called Maison Mumbai. Helping them along the way is Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) – a sweet French girl who offers them food, hospitality, openness, warmth – she is maternal and safe – an indulgence the Kadams miss. Clearly, French girls ride cycles with baguettes in their baskets, and are hopeless romantics with Juliette-esque balconies, picnic spreads and …other such contrived contraptions – a rant I shall not embark on today.

The hundred-foot journey in the title is the distance between Maison Mumbai and the French restaurant opposite them the Michelin-starred Le Saule Pleureur where Marguerite is a sous chef. And, in a Cruella de Ville avatar we have Helen Mirren as Madame Mallory the owner of the French restaurant. She and Om Puri share a special chemistry. As much as I enjoyed watching these two amazing actors what kept being a constant niggle was the gender bits (I will come to that eventually). So while Papa Kadam enjoys his kitschy glittery over-the-top flavors, Madam Mallory basks in subtle nuances, discreet manners, and a disdain for the grotesquely garish neighbors. It is also a clash of class. Somehow, being across the road, in a manner of speaking highlights differences, let me here assert that this isn’t India and France. Though the movie seems to allude to that, not all of India is the Kadams and not all of France is like the Mallorys. However, the gravel road between is rather accurate and poetic. As people come and go, visitors, evening walkers and vehicles the serpentine path becomes a living thriving being.

Some sub-plots are cute – the Mayor’s getting caught in the middle, the shopping strategies, the removal of wall scars (paint). Mirren’s comic timing is impeccable. But, the movie fails. The beautiful panoramic shots of France, the haunting sounds of the kitchen do not manage to grab. What bothers me the most is the gender depiction. It is the men who cross-over. Hassan (Manish Dayal) now all grown up gets involved with Marguerite. He moves to the next door kitchen. He masters both crafts – Eastern and Western cuisine. He is the hero — the guy who understands what it is like to come from a culture and integrate into another, without losing himself and displaying an appreciation for both. It is Hassan. Not Mahira (Farzana Dua Elahe) (the daughter, Hassan’s sister). What would have happened if Mahira was the one crossing over? Would Papa Kadam be as generous? Would he have given his blessings if Mahira was the one having an affair with the French chef? What if it was Papa Kadam who had died and not Mama Kadam? And, what about Madam Mallory – the restaurant becomes her life after her husband’s death – the narrative demands our sympathy for her hard-heart – she has lost her husband.

What I write is not the story. It is my reading of what I watched. And, I admit critical thinking has become a deep seated boil in the middle of my forehead. I love movies with food in them: “Ratatouille”, “Julie & Julia”, “No Reservations”, I even enjoyed “Chef”, which most my friends debunked. But, this one, I will have to pass. Because it’s problematic. Hassan’s success has baggage, Marguerite’s acceptance of him has issues, and I can’t look past the gender trouble (thank you Judith Butler) within the script.

I watched “Happy New Year” last week and enjoyed it — the song, dance, humor and massive scale were impressive. I accepted the genre with all its follies, some of which I have come to expect and enjoy. What troubles me is that while I could accept that a bunch of nit-wits from nowhere could win the world dance finale in Dubai in “Happy New Year” I could not digest that a bunch of Indians chefs could land up in the middle of France, start a kitschy Indian kitchen in front of a renowned French restaurant and make a success out of that story in “The Hundred Foot Journey”. My only explanation I can offer as of now (I am still dissecting this within my limited head space leisure time) – is that while “Happy New Year” only pressed my gender switch in one scene in the song “Manwa Laage” where Deepika is shown serving tea to the men who chat, “The Hundred Foot Journey” riled up the entire dashboard.

The question I want answered is – what happens to Mahira? Till then it remains a kebab that went too dry. Dammit still does not work!!!