Photograph (2019)

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Direction: Ritesh Batra
Country: India

From the director of The Lunchbox, Photograph doesn't feel so distinguished as its predecessor. Indian director Ritesh Batra makes a demure tribute to love by leisurely depicting a romance that brings as much good intention as naivety to the screen.

Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui - also starred in The Lunchbox) is a serene, if struggling, street photographer now living in a constant pressure after his grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar) has decided to find a woman for him to be married. While she sets out running the vivid streets of Mumbai in searching for a good match, Rafi becomes the talk of the town. Sort of embarrassed yet unwilling to do something he doesn’t want to, he asks a humble middle-class accounting student, Miloni (Sanya Malhotra), to lie to his grandmother while pretending to be his fiancé. The fact that Miloni isn’t happy with an arrangement made by her conservative parents to meet the son of some friends, who is departing to the US, made her take an attentive look at Rafi, understanding his reasons and tribulations. Against all odds, the fake couple actually falls in love, acknowledging that sacrifices are to be made in the interest of a happy future together.

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The story was written by Batra in a thoughtful way but fails to succeed in many aspects, opting for gimmicky subtle procedures for tackling a typical love story. The director pushed aside any tear-jerking scenes, but perhaps he was too permissive in an unconscious way for the film’s own disadvantage. Even making us rise and shine with an impeccable smart conclusion, this wasn’t enough to make Photograph a special love story.

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Hotel Salvation (2017)

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Directed by Shubhashish Bhutiani
Country: India

Thoughtfully written and directed by debutant Shubhashish Bhutiani, “Hotel Salvation” can be considered last year’s peak international drama of the Indian cinema, just like "The Lunchbox" was in 2013.

Playing father and son, Lalit Behl and Adil Hussain are Daya and Rajiv, respectively. Haunted by a recurrent dream, 77-year-old Daya truly believes his time has come. He announces his intention to live his last days in the holy city of Varanasi at the Mukti Bhawan Hotel, a guesthouse where people can attain salvation for their sins and die in peace. The one accompanying him is Rajiv, who reluctantly leaves his job for an undetermined period of time. Besides being confronted with pressures from work, also his wife, Lata (Geetanjali Kulkarni), shows some impatience with the absence, wanting him to return and perform his duties at home. Only his daughter, Sunita (Palomi Ghosh), who grew very attached to her grandfather, seems to completely understand and accept the situation.

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Once Rajiv starts taking care of his father, he grows crankier. Firstly, he’s not used to the new routines, and secondly, he doesn’t think his father is about to die. He’s neither comfortable far from his wife and daughter, nor leaving his stubborn father alone. Confused and divided, he dwells in this dilemma for some time. In the meantime, Daya gradually slips away this state of melancholy and blooms again, especially due to the presence of a new friend, Vimla (Navnindra Behl, Lalit’s real wife), a 75-year-old widow who keeps waiting for the death for 18 years.

Managing to escape the traditional melodramas, Bhutiani leans on the arthouse, which doesn’t hamper him from capturing the warmth and simplicity of the characters, as well as the colors that illustrate the magnificence of the Indian landscapes. However, not every scene was perfectly framed and a few shots were in need of aesthetic improvement.

Engaging in a different kind of tension, he crafts a modest yet spiritually inspiring story where duty, friendship, family ties, and loss are subjected to a dignified meditation. The subtle humor also fits well and the film, culturally enriching, ends up celebrating life, exactly as it should be.

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Thithi (2015)

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Directed by Raam Reddy
Country: India

For many, the cinema from India is automatically associated with the local film industry, known as Bollywood, the main source of numerous tear-jerking dramas and cheesy romances. However, this is an unfair assumption since a few high-quality movies have been released throughout the years. 
The sweet-tempered “The Lunchbox” and the incisive “Court” are two examples of success, to which is now joined the brand new “Thithi”, a sagacious drama of jocular tones directed and co-written by the 26-year-old newcomer, Raam Reddy.

Mr. Reddy, despite so young, already shows a beneficial maturity that made him boldly embrace a great story focused on three generations of sons that dwell in a small village located in the South of India. By working with a non-professional cast he confers a luscious rawness to a sort of pastoral tale where the modern (cell phones, motorcycle) counterpoints with the ancient (traditions, the pasture) in a peculiar way.

The film opens with the death of an ancient, Century Gowda, at the age of 101. Before falling lifeless, we observe this elder scolding every single person who passes by the tortuous dusty roads. He apparently does this with no reason at all, adopting a scornful posture. His death draws distinct reactions from the members of his family who, without wasting time, start the preparations for the typical funerary ritual known as ‘Thithi’.
Our eyes are then turned to Century Gowda’s son, Gadappa (the Beard-Man), who doesn’t have any other occupation beyond wandering throughout the village while smoking second-rate cigarettes and drinking strong liquor. Detached from everyone, he shows an intriguing indifference toward his father’s death.
In turn, Gadappa’s son, Thamanna, who plays the villain, manifests a contemptuous greediness when planning to sell his grandfather’s land and keep the money to himself. Obviously, an illegal action since his father is still alive. Notwithstanding, the impulsive Thamanna already has a dirty scheme in mind: sending his dad on a bus trip so he can forge his certificate of death. The problem is that Gadappa doesn’t go far, hanging out with a family of shepherds from a neighboring village.

Progressing at a cadenced pace, we stand before a sympathetic comedy-drama that holds our attention from the very first minute. In a playful way, it kind of summarizes the good and the bad of the world, the choices each one of us is confronted with at some point, and also the natural course of life.
Mr. Reddy, resorting to the use of formulas that are as much elementary as efficient, and exploring the natural qualities of the cast, creates an ode to the life itself. 
His breezy direction helps to convey the message in an easygoing way, turning “Thithi” in an endearing experience. To be discovered!

Court (2014)

Court (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Chaitanya Tamhane
Country: India

Movie Review: It’s quite impressive how “Court”, a befitting satire on today’s Indian judicial system, has been collecting prizes all over the festivals it participates. Venice, Viennale, Mumbai, Singapore and Hong Kong are only some of them, which recognized the subtle but well-outlined assessment behind the first work of filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane. The film is a long, cogitative and well-observed exercise centered in an absurd case of prejudice and bureaucracy involving the multiple arrests of the people’s folk singer and poet, Narayan Kamble. Accused of inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide, the fragile singer has no other option than relying on his dedicated lawyer who will have a female public prosecutor as a fierce (and often irritating) opponent. There’s also a somewhat superficial look at the family lives of the ones involved in the case, meaning the two lawyers and the judge, but curiously not the dauntless Kamble who turns out inflammable with a microphone but is becoming weary of the harassments he’s subjected to. This is a courtroom tragicomedy with so many good things – vivid imagery, admirable performances, a strong representation of Indian social status, and witty dialogues; however, on the other hand, it shows some difficulties flowing, especially when the camera lingers too much time on other small court cases, which aim to reinforce the stupidity of the legal system in cause, but deflects the story from its central point. Therefore, some editing would be valuable here. Mr. Tamhane has opted for a formal execution, which sometimes counterpoints with the confrontational jokes that are caustically being thrown in the air. “Court” is worth seeing for its pungent examination and clever observations.

The Lunchbox (2013)

The Lunchbox (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ritesh Batra
Country: India

Movie Review: “The Lunchbox” is a generous drama about life and its problems, presented in a light and sporadically funny atmosphere of a long-distance romance, and marking a promising debut by Ritesh Batra on direction. Ila is going through a big crisis in her marriage, passing her days alone and only speaking through the window, to an elderly aunt who lives right above her flat. Every day she makes a lunchbox that a carrier was supposed to deliver at her husband’s office, but instead he was delivering at a wrong address and the beneficiary was Saajan, a solitary and taciturn widower who is about to retire and lives unhappy since his wife died. Both of them start a strange correspondence by letter (hidden inside the lunchbox) where they speak about their lives and concerns, making them better tolerate the difficult situations they were going through – she didn’t feel so lonely and anguished, while he became more cheerful and open at work, helping his future substitute, Sheikh, a friendly and smiling orphan who turned out to be his friend. I took some time to really enter in this letter game, but the more the film moved forward, the more I got involved, becoming curious about what these two common and grieving souls had to say. Even though, I expected some more from “The Lunchbox”, which being unable to utterly enchant or shake my emotions in its plenitude, certainly did it with my stomach, every time I imagined the smell and taste of Indian food. Simple, warm, and direct, it leaves us with an open ending and provides us with a few pensive reflections on life.

Hit The Road: India (2013)

Hit The Road: India (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Gor and Mushegh Baghdasaryan
Country: India / Armenia

Movie Review: In this travel documentary, directed by Armenian brothers Baghdasaryan, Richard Gazarian and Keith King arrive in India to make a 12-day trip rickshaw rally from Mumbai to Chennai. They will compete against other five teams, crossing 2000 km without any maps or GPS. Along the trip they will have to face adverse weather conditions and beat their increasing exhaustion, as days go by. The not infrequent mechanical problems that take a lot of time to be fixed, dangerous roads, intense traffic, lack of visibility, and the constant stress and tension that participants are subjected to, could very well have made this documentary more appealing that it was. As a viewer, I didn’t feel any real sense of danger, and all the excitement or frustration coming from the participants never reached me in a satisfying way. That’s why I didn’t feel involved and for me the experience of following this adventure had its enjoyable moments but was far from being completely rewarding. Some nice images of a unique country as India were presented at the sound of a great alternative rock score (despite the sound leveling issues detected), maybe the same music the men listened in their wireless music system mounted in the rickshaw. They also had time to visit a school and stop by a McDonalds where, unfortunately, no juicy cheeseburgers were being sold. Salutary sportsmanship was observable in a grueling trip that required more intense incidents to achieve higher relevance.

Sandcastle (2012)

Sandcastle (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Shomshuklla Das
Country: India

Movie Review: “Sandcastle” is the first film written and directed by Shomshuklla Das (also poet and singer), resulting in a personal vision about the role of women in Indian society. The film starts to introduce us Sheila (Shahana Chatterjee), a successful writer, exposing her thoughts by a long monologue about freedom and how to find the ideal man. That's when Maya (Malvika Jethwani), created from Sheila’s imagination, gained life of her own. In the next scenes we understand that Sheila is disappointed with her marriage; she starts taking advices from her brother, the fictitious Maya, and also from her real friend and publisher, Koushik. With constant social pressures, what will Sheila decide to do about her private life and work, which is always under judgment? Despite the valid idea, the film gives the answers to this question in a disjointed way, using long, dense, and unsatisfactory dialogues that made me disconnect completely from the characters. This aspect was reinforced by the constant changing of chapters (in a total of 20), breaking down the flow of happenings. Repeated close-ups of feet, food, and hands, were used in an attempt to approximate viewer and protagonists, but this tactic only distracted me from the central point of the debates. With theatrical tones and an almost amateurish style, “Sandcastle” weighs tradition and emotion without a favorable outcome, losing itself in spiritual and literary considerations that were never exciting or even inspired.