A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

Okuribito (Movie Review) October 10, 2009

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 Released as Departures in the English speaking world, Okuribito, the entry from Japan, won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The movie is about the story of cello player who in search of work goes back to his birthplace and lands an odd job. The job of Okuribito – a person who prepares the departed for their final journey.

Poignant in parts, funny in others, the movie had a sense of calm to it that I found endearing. It is also a nice peek into Japanese society. Daigo Kobayashi, the young out of work cellist, comes across as a shy, and yet strong willed person. His travails are honestly captured by Masahiro Motoki. Look out for his portrayal of disgust and sickness on his first assignment to prepare a rotting old woman’s body, the breakdown scene where he tears through his docile wife’s clothes, and the many scenes where he is preparing the departed. Other characters are well fleshed out, specially that of Daigo’s wife Mika Kobayashi (played by Ryoko Hirosue) and his boss Ikuei Sasaki (played by Tsutomu Yamazaki).

This is probably my first truly Japanese movie and I enjoyed the freshness of seeing great performances from unfamiliar artists and the slow and beautiful poetry which I believe represents the society. The background score holds up well and thankfully never disturbs the on screen calm. There is some allegory thrown in, for example the scene where the characters are feasting on meat in an almost animal like manner.

The subtitles in the theatre version I saw were well worded and timed, and so, I had no problem in keeping up with the mood or pace of the film. I would go so far as to say that I enjoyed the sounds of Japanese dialogue though I did not understand a single word.

Okuribito is worth a watch for many reasons, not the least of which is the message that the dead deserve respect and grace, that the departed soul must be given a loving goodbye. I recommend this movie for a quiet evening watch.


Juno (movie review) March 22, 2009

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If you think you are getting too old for Love, I’d recommend a American teenager silly, sweet movie. And if you are wondering which movie could that be, let me point you towards Juno.



The Los Angeles Times describes Juno as ” hilarious and sweet-tempered, perceptive and surprisingly grounded”, and I would say well said to that. This is not a movie that will leave you thinking for days or stun you with artistic excellence, but it has its sweet moments and these will stay with you for some time.

Juno (Ellen Page) is a high school teenager who gets pregnant and the movie is about how she handles her pregnancy, gets her boyfriend back, and in this process learns and educates about commitment. The soundtrack is hummable and has some very fresh and very young songs there. I will sign off with a poignant scene between Juno and her Dad (which reminds me, I so adore her Parents in this movie):

Juno: I need to know that it is possible that two people can stay happy together forever.

Dad: It is not easy. That’s for sure. Look, in my opinion, the best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly what you are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you. The right person is still gonna think the sunshine’s out your ass. That’s the kind of person worth sicking with.

Happy viewing!


Revolutionary Road (Movie Review) February 27, 2009

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Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road


Amazing. Stunning. Spectacular.


It has been some time since I saw a movie that so carried me. And it has been even longer since I saw a movie with dialogues that make you want to pause and replay.


Sample this: “If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t care if we are completely insane.”


There is no grand story line and yet the movie scales great heights. It is a peek into the life of a married couple (The Wheelers), who must go through internal turmoil to come to grips with their expectations from Life, their spouses and most of all, themselves. It is about truth and how beautifully expressed in this dialogue between Kate Winslet (April) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank):

“Tell me the truth Frank. Remember that? We used to live by it. And you know what is so good about the truth? Everyone knows what it is howsoever long they have lived without it. No one forgets the truth, Frank. They just get better at lying.”


All characters in the movie are baked to perfection. In just one or two scenes, the director takes you into the mind of the character, and you start feeling their thoughts. Kate and Leonardo and well supported by a fine ensemble of actors who play their parts down to perfection. And there are so many shades given to each person that they appear completely real. Like you and me. Like the neighbours who cannot come to terms with the courage of The Wheelers to live the life they want to. Like the estate agent who wants her neurotic son to meet nice people. Like Leonardo’s office mates using sarcasm to hide their disappointment with their own lives. And finally, both Leonardo and Kate. Both deeply in love with each other. Both struggling to walk the tightrope of love for another and love for their own self.


With a movie such as this, you have scenes that explore a vast range of human emotions. If I have to chose one kind that this movie excels in, it has to be the scenes where Kate and Leonardo are fighting it out. And there are quite a few of these. What makes the scenes special is that you are always reminded that they love each other. The arguments presented are so cogent that you sway back and forth between the two, depending on who is talking. One moment you feel for Kate, the next you connect with Leonardo. Amazing, absolutely stunning.


Tight close-ups, warm living room settings, and personal angles all add up with the surge of emotions from the protagonists to deliver what I found to be a wave after wave of high quality story telling. Like gems strewn over the floor of a dense forest, the movie is full of nuances, small things the actors do, the way they look up, the way they turn their head, or the way they hold hands, or move their body.


If you have been itching to see a movie that will take your breath away, I recommend you go down this road at the first opportunity.


ps: YC, thank you for making the movie available to me. 


Aamir (Movie Review) July 4, 2008

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Aamir, movie poster


Stunning for the most part, Aamir is a movie you should not miss. When a director shows so much promise and yet slips in a few places, you can only wish how much further he could have gone. I give it a clear 3.5 out of 5.

The movie belongs to two people – Raj Kumar Gupta (director) and Rajeev Khandelwal (lead actor). You know what is in store even before the starting rolls are midway. The shots are real and the camera seeks to capture it all with breathtaking reality. If you love that kind of cinema, Aamir will live up to your needs.

The story revolves around a young doctor named Aamir (Rajeev Khandelwal) who returns to Mumbai from UK and finds he is sinking into an almost outlandish weird situation. And he seemingly has no control. Yet the end defies (to some extent) the idea that one has no control over one’s destiny.

How real is the movie? VERY. Take the scene where Aamir has to fetch a phone number from a lavatory. 10 more seconds and I would have gone sick from the stench which the actor is shown to be in. The streets are real, the chase is real and the hotel rooms are real. No oxymorons of poor people wearing expensive designer clothes, no fresh painted staircases or rooftops. This is Mumbai’s underbelly shown up close and personal.

There are some irritating flaws but they do not snatch the movie away from being good. The red briefcase is completely out of place. Maybe the director wanted to highlight the briefcase, but then who goes around carrying secret stuff in such a conspicuous bag? The always sullen attitude of the bad guys is another repeated to death angle in Bollywood, so no freshness there. And the end could have been tighter. The last few minutes seemed to stretch beyond need and were a little predictable.

But all said there is no denying that Aamir is top class and probably the best to come out of Bollywood in this year. No songs to dilute the edginess, no female leads swooning and exposing. Just hardcore cinema.
Rajeev makes a superb portrayal of a young suave doctor, who, till the very end is unable to comprehend what is happening to him. His delivery of anger, exasperation, exhaustion and freedom leaves little to be said. The camera spans not too close and not too far. There are quite a few refreshing new angles. There are enough of mannerisms to give you a ringside feeling.

If you enjoy movies that leave you speechless for some time after you come out of the theater, then Aamir is a must.


Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic (Movie Review) June 30, 2008

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Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic

This movie could have been aptly named “Thoda Bakwaas, Thoda Aur Bakwaas”
I give it a very generous 1 out of 5. I sincerely believe it is not possible to have made a more trashy and stupid film than this. See it only if the choice is between the movie and 6 months in jail with Shakti Kapoor.

Nobody, just about nobody acts. Throughout the movie I got this strong sense that the dialogues are forced and actors are pushing them out simply because there is a director standing in front with a cheque in his hand. Rani Mukherjee (who plays an angel) needs to rethink about her acting career. A few more movies like this and she might have to take-up a career as “extras”. All her movies in the recent past seem alike and I cannot recall when she last gave a performance that moved me.
Saif is just about OK, but a shadow of his own self from recent successes like Omkara.

The kids are a complete pain in the ass. Sorry for being so harsh on the little ones. But since the director did not discount the movie ticket because he has kids in it, I see no reason why I should discount a honest feedback. Not one single scene looked natural and the poor younglings made no impact.

And please do not get me started on Rishi Kapoor and Amisha Patel. I feel like breaking some glassware just thinking about the movie.

All of this tells me that the director did not do his homework. When you have not one character whose part is memorable, not one scene which makes you sit up and not one frame that makes you go “Wow!”, there is no one to blame but the director.

Indian cinema is still very incapable of getting children to act natural. Most of the time you have over the top caricatures passing off as children. Darsheel in Tare Zameen Par being an exception. The four kids in the Thoda Pyaar go from one cooked up nonsense scene to another.

And two instances in the movie tell me the director is either a strong supporter of the Communist or an escaped madman. Not that there is any difference between the two. The way the children treat Amisha Patel is nothing but rude and devilish. They torment a woman who goes out of her way to make them comfortable. Her only crime is she is not sophisticated and loves shopping. The other instance is how the kids treat the children of this businessman in LA who is trying to negotiate a take-over by Saif. The American shouts at Saif’s kids and this triggers a very strong reaction from Saif, which in turn makes the kids realise how much he loves them. Yuck!

And then there is the mother of all problems that plagues most of Indian cinema. The director truly believes, you, the viewer, are an idiot who has no brain and thus will make the characters say EVERYTHING he wants the movie to say. No message is given subtly through acts, references, glances, etc. It is like sitting in a classroom for 5 year olds.

Neither is there the defense that this movie is for kids. I refuse to allow the director to hide behind that excuse. Children films demand no less cinematic excellence and acting. The children in this film do real damage to people around them; good people around them. They also lie a lot. They are never reprimanded for their acts. The angel makes a promise to God (to not use magic openly) and then breaks it so many times I lost count. The poolside song sequence is very very sleazy. Where is the innocence and message of goodness one would expect in a Children film? “Makdi” and “Blue Umbrella” are children’s films. This movie is not.

However, Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic is surely a film for many grown up Indians. Specially the ones who cannot count beyond 10.


Freedom Writers (Movie Review) November 23, 2007

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 Freedom Writers


I like movies with hope. I like movies with stillness. And with movement. Of the Heart.

Freedom Writers is one such movie. I rate it at 4/5.

The movie left me with that very important thought which needs constant replenishment. That there is more to Life than worrying about oneself.

The film follows the true life story of Erin Gruwell, a freshman and sophomore year English teacher at Long Beach who, when faced with the onerous task of managing a class waiting to be ripped apart by inter-racial hatred, is “foolish” enough to believe she can bond them, forge them as one and make them seek their true potential.

Hillary Swank is a fine artist. I fell for her in “Boys don’t cry” and again in “Million Dollar Baby”. In this movie she does a good job of etching the character of Ms. Gruwell. But that is not what makes this such a fine film. The actors playing the students have their moments of greatness. But that again is not what makes the movie what it is.

For me, the movie is great because of the dialogues, closing remarks to conversations and the telling spaces. To prove my point, I would like you to watch for the kid who reads out from his diary at the “Toast for Change” occasion. His words moved me. They sure did. And I was crying and laughing in one moment of human bonding. I have seen kids like that and I know what he was talking about. And unless you’ve lived with your eyes closed, there is a fair chance you’ve seen kids like that too.

The story of a school teacher struggling to manage a class refusing to behave is not new. But how does that make another good film on that topic any less good? It’s like I have hugged my mother many times in the past, but how does that make it any less lovely to hug her once more? Some people need to be hugged as frequently as we can. Some stories need to be told (and heard) as frequently as we can.

Go hug yourself. See “Freedom Writers”.

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Reviews of the book “The Freedom Writers Diary” can be read here.


Om Shanti Om (Movie Review) November 12, 2007

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Farah Khan has her finger on the masses’s pulse. Her latest venture is not going to win any critics awards, but there is a fair chance it will pay her back handsomely and leave a large fraction of viewers happy. Me included.

This movie gets 2.5 out of 5. The fun factor in it probably deserves a good 3/5 but since there is no new path broken by the movie, I had to rate it overall at 2.5


Om Shanti Om


The first half of the movie is more fun than the second half. The last 30 minutes drag and could have been done way better. But what lifts the movie are the many great moments of comedy and young love. The comedy is rib tickling, a little roadside but never vulgar. I specially liked the Manoj Kumar sequence. And yes, Akshay Kumar throwing the gun in the air, catching it in the groin area and shooting bullets with each pelvic thrust was way too funny.

Sharukh Khan does complete justice to his role. I am no fan of SRK but have starting respecting him a lot more after Swades and recently Chak De! He looks his part here and pairs very well with Deepika Padukone, who looked dazzling, poised and very camera confident. She carried the 70s look well enough and I would not be surprised to see a surge in sales for that fashion.

The songs are placed well and never tear you away from the story. The lyrics are catchy and you might find yourself humming them as you walk out. The song with Bollywood’s who’s who is loaded with bonhomie and great fun to watch.

Shreyas Talpade and Kirron Kher look OK but nothing great there. Arjun Rampal looked better as the young Mukesh Mehra but a little unconvincing as the aged Mukesh Mehra.

 If you are looking for over 2 hours of fun without burdening your mind with “deeper meaning”, go watch Om Shanti Om.

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