Posts Tagged ‘Indian arthouse’

Namdev Bhau in Search of Silence (2018) **** LFF 2018

Dir/Writer: Dar Gai | Cast: Namdev Gurav, Aarya Dave, Zoya Hussain | India | Drama | 84min | Subtitles

Filmed on the widescreen and in intimate close-up by Aditya Varma (Manto), this visually stunning arthouse drama is a simple tale but a transcendent one that will chime with audiences sick and tired of the endless noise and commotion of the modern world. Elderly chauffeur Namdev is at the end of his career and his tether as he slowly goes mental forced to endure the cacophony of Mumbai, one of the noisiest cities in the world. In this stylishly framed low-budget indie Ukrainian-born Dai Gai quickly establishes the cacophony of the city as ambient sounds drift through the house Namdev shares with his extended family. Exhausted by his wife’s endless banter and his brother’s religious chanting, he escapes from the kitchen to the privacy of his taxi, but his regular customers are soon fighting over a fare.

Desperate for calm Namdev packs his wheelie and heads north to the fabled mountain retreat of Silent Valley, where he hopes to find peace at last. However, on arriving in the Himalayas, Namdev discovers ‘silent’ has nothing to do with this busy religious centre where the locals and pilgrims are just as rowdy as back home in Mumbai. The film then takes an intriguing turn into buddy movie territory when Namdev meets a young boy called Aaliq (Dave) who is on the run from his parents. Darkly comic and contemplative, Dar Gai’s well-paced and compelling second outing seems to find gentle humour in every frame as Namdev travels through spectacular landscapes in search of that most prized treasure: Peace. With Andrea Guerra’s beguiling occasional score giving proceedings a Mediterranean twist and sensitive performances from Namdev Gurav and Aarya Dave, the irritating boy who hides a tragic secret, this is a refreshingly beautiful portrait of a man who’s tired of the city but not yet of life. Watching it, you can actually feel the wind blowing through your hair. MT


Tumbbad (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Critics’ Week

Dirs: Rahi Anil Barve, Adesh Prasad, Anand Ghandi | Horror Fantasy | 104′

This 19th Century set fantasy thriller is the first Indian feature (out of competition) to open Critics’ Week at Venice Film Festival, the arthouse sidebar that this year features nine films by first time directors from across the world.

TUMBBAD is a mythical story that has its roots back in Hindu folklore where the ‘Puranas’ (told primarily in Sanskrit, but also in regional languages) were often linked to deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Devi.  Six years in the making and directed by Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad the stunning Pune-set parable story revolves around three generations of a Brahmin family exploring the roots of human greed. 

Blue-eyed mega star Sohum Shah is impressive as the stubbornly conniving bastard son of the village lord in the dank backwater of Tumbbad where he lives with his long-suffering wife and family. Obsessed with a mythical ancestral treasure, he suspects the secret of its whereabouts lies with his great-grandmother, a cursed witch who has been comotose for centuries in a damp underground sewer. Confronting her in this foul sunken pit puts him face to face with the guardian of the treasure, an evil fallen god. What starts with his lust for a few gold coins, quickly spirals into a reckless, perpetual yearning, spanning decades. Vinayak’s greed escalates until he unearths the biggest secret of all, something more valuable than the treasure itself.

This fast-paced parable contrasts elegant 1920s settings with ghastly, spine-chilling scenes that unravel in the remote monsoon-drenched location imbuing in its characters a sense of quiet desperation and tortured misery as they fight for survival spurred on by their quest. Jesper Kyd’s ominous orchestral score adds depth to this magical horror mystery. Kyd composed the music for Assassin’s Creed and Darksiders series.

TUMBBAD is one of a new generation of arthouse titles coming out of India. With its spookily crafted set pieces, convincing performances and imaginatively scripted folklore-based narrative it easily competes with the best titles currently on the fantasy drama stage. MT


Garbage (2018) * * | Berlinale 2018 | Panorama

Dir: Qaushiq Mukherjee | Cast: Tanmay Dhanania, Trimala Adhikari, Satarupa Das, Gitanjali Dang, Shruti Viswan, Satchit Puranik | Drama | India | 105′ | World premiere

Bengali director Q, best known for Gandu, pushes forward a punishing political and societal agenda in this narratively slack but stylishly filmic story of exploitative hatred in a lush paradise of Goa.

Drugged by its own breath-taking beauty this is a lurid thriller full of livid anger and pain revolving around two women who are humiliated by men, and then get their revenge. We are made to feel nothing for these empty characters, they exist merely to represent Q’s hatred of social media, right wing politics, religious extremism and pretty much everything else. GARBAGE has us believe that in contemporary India all relationships are exploitative and nobody wins in the end; although the finale provides a cinematically sickening masculine takedown. GARBAGE is another sorrowful snapshot of strife from a nation where female status lags far behind male, despite burgeoning economic growth and rapid technological advancements. But the saddest character is actually a submissive and sexually-repressed taxi-driver Phanishwar (the sultry sylph-like Tanmay Dhanania) who keeps a female maid (Satarupta Das) chained to his kitchen wall. He doesn’t abuse her sexually, as he’s impotent due to testicular cancer and more preoccupied with pleasuring his own master, the religious extremist guru Baba (Satchit Puranik) whose radical rants he promotes on social media, where he also salivates over salacious porn videos. One of these features Rami (Trimala Adhikari), who by a strange coincidence gets into his taxi the following day. A deja-vue moment leads Phanishwar to obsess about having sex with her, but he’s too low on self-esteem to manage it. But Rami (Trimala Adhirkari) is having none of his lust. Being a victim to revenge porn is not what she has in mind as a highly savvy medic, but she doesn’t shy away from a lesbian love-in with the alluring Simone (Gitanjali Dang). Lakshman Chandra Anand is a real wizard behind the camera creating some impressive scenes in lush tropical landscapes with expert precision. Sadly his images are wasted on this empty vessel of style over substance. Q has a great team behind him and some laudable thematic pretensions, but his angry bile makes this a toxic experience, poisoning a picture that could been impressive in the right hands. MT



Jonaki (2018) * * * * | Rotterdam International Film Festival

Dir.: Aditya Vikram Sengupta; Cast: Lolita Chatterjee, Ratnabali Bhattacharjee, Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Jim Sarbh; India/France/Singapore 2018, 97’.

Director/writer Aditya Vikram Sengupta follows his impressive debut Labour of Love with another love story set in a decaying world after the British left India and featuring a great comeback from 81 year old actress Lolita Chatterjee in the title role. Elliptical structure JONAKI (meaning firefly in Bengali) incorporates episodes from the life of beloved grandmother whose arranged marriage at the age of sixteen ruined her life.

Lying on her deathbed in hospital, Jonaki is lost in memories recalling the love her life, a young Christian man (Sarbh) she was forbidden to see by her strict mother (Bhattacharjee) and father (Chattopadhyay). Her parents want her to marry a rich man who runs his own business, and owns a local cinema. During British rule, Kolkata was made the capital of the “Jewel in the Crown”, that lead to the Indian upper classes in the city becoming quite wealthy: The magnificent locations featured in the film now look like a mixture of Buñuel’s Viridiana and Mrs. Havisham’s mansion in Great Expectations. But the old glory is gradually falling into decay, and Jonaki feels imprisoned in her home. Sengupta acts as his own DoP, creating ethereal and otherworldly images underlined by a unusual casting choices: Jonaki’s parents seem to be the same age as she was in her teens and early adulthood – whilst she is now eighty, and is criticised and often punished by much younger protagonists. Only her lover is the same age as she is, accentuating their spiritual bond.

There is a surreal and eerie quality running through this distinctive drama: In the dormitory of a girl’s Christian boarding school, the girls’ sleeping patterns sleep are synchronised, we also come across an orange-loving scientist who dreams of England and grows a horn on his forehead, which he later burns off. The local cinema is destroyed by fire, and is then replaced by a modern version – without seating. In the boarding school, oranges roll out of the rooms into the corridor; Sengupta partitions these rooms with glass walls and coloured windows, to allow the action to unfold simultaneously. At one point, we see poor Jonaki listening to her parents discussing her difficult behaviour in a room next door.

Jonaki falls between genres; the  viewer is drawn in and memerised by the ravishing images, the continuously changing lights and shadows. The episodic narrative is stringent, working like memory itself – meandering, reminiscing, leaving threads and picking them up again later. Sengupta offers his own cinematic vision, unique in todays’s so often predictable film landscape – and is all the better for it.AS




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