Madras gets off to a clunky start, with some lengthy exposition explaining the history of a political rivalry in a north Chennai neighbourhood. The rivalry is centered around a large wall, where one of the political parties has painted a mural of their deceased leader, while the other political party plots to paint over it with their own propaganda. After introducing numerous neighbourhood characters during the opening credits, we finally meet our hero Kaali (Karthi) an educated young man with a white-collar job and a short temper. Kaali’s best friend Anbu (Kalaiarasan Harikrishnan) is active in one of the political parties and as a result Kaali gets drawn into the rivalry between the two parties over the wall.
Tigers is the latest film from Bosnian director Danis Tanovic, who won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for his first film No Man’s Land back in 2002. Tigers is based on the true story of Ayan (Emraan Hashmi) a Pakistani salesman who gets a coveted job selling baby formula produced by a (thinly-disguised) multinational corporation. But when he learns that babies are dying due to misuse of the formula and the corporation is turning a blind eye, he turns whistleblower, putting himself and his family in danger.
Margarita, with a Straw – the second feature film from writer/director Shonali Bose after 2005’s Amu – is truly excellent. It is the story of Laila (Kalki Koechlin) a young woman from Delhi with cerebral palsy. It follows her over about a year in her life as she experiences her first heartbreak, moves away from home to attend university, has her first alcoholic drink, falls in love, and other milestones that I don’t want to spoil for you. Margarita, with a Straw is remarkable because it is a coming-of-age movie about a girl with cerebral palsy, not A Movie About a Girl With Cerebral Palsy (if that makes sense).
Kaakkaa Muttai (The Crow’s Egg) is the story of two young brothers who live in a Chennai slum with their mother and grandmother. Their father is in jail. Their mother (the lovely and expressive Aishwarya Rajesh) works in a small factory that produces metal bowls. The boys have been pulled out of school and spend part of each day collecting coal along the railroad tracks to sell. The film festival description says the boys first see pizza in a television commercial, but this isn’t quite the case (although I understand why this was massaged for film festival audiences).
Mary Kom is only two hours long, but it feels much longer. The morning after, and I still can’t decide whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. I went into the movie with extremely low expectations, and ended up being pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it is that, as with Mardaani, I’m able to forgive a movie a lot of flaws if it features a Strong Female Character.
The basic plot of Mardaani goes something like this: a heretofore unknown sex trafficking ring makes a fatal error when they kidnap the adopted daughter of an uncompromising Mumbai cop. As a result, the cop relentlessly pursues the sex traffickers, eventually following them to Delhi. There, at the climax of the film, the cop beats up the head of the trafficking ring and frees all the girls. Sounds like a fairly pedestrian police thriller – and it would be – except the cop is a woman, Shivani Shivaji Roy (played by an at-the-top-of-her-game Rani Mukerji).
Bangalore Days is the new film from writer-director Anjali Menon, whose first film, Manjadikuru, was quite successful on the film festival circuit. It is the story of three cousins, Kuttan (the really, really, ridiculously good looking Nivin Pauly), Arjun (the also easy on the eyes Dulquer Salmaan), and Divya (cutie-pie Nazriya Nazim). Kuttan is a traditionally-minded young man whose more aspirational parents have sent him to Bangalore to work in IT. Ambitious Divya’s dream to pursue an MBA is crushed when she is hastily married off to corporate executive Das (Fahadh Faasil) and moves with him to Bangalore. With both his cousins living in Bangalore, Arjun, who has the only-in-the-movies profession of graffiti artist/mechanic/motocross racer, elects to join them there. The movie follows their lives and loves over the subsequent months.
Although it wasn’t on purpose, I can’t help thinking that it’s appropriate I spent March 8, International Women’s Day, watching two women-centric Bollywood movies – Queen and Gulaab Gang. That being said, Queen was by far the best of the two, although Gulaab Gang is not without its merits. Regardless, it’s so great to have more women-centric movies coming out of Bollywood, and I hope there will be many more to come.
During the first few minutes of Highway, Dolce Namak leaned over to me and whispered, “nobody does an opening sequence like Imtiaz Ali,” and I couldn’t agree more. If the title hadn’t tipped you off already, the opening sequence makes clear that in Highway Imtiaz Ali continues his fascination with journeys, both literal and emotional. Expectations were high going into Highway, since Imtiaz Ali’s previous film Rockstar is one I love quite fiercely. However I was not disappointed by Highway. In fact I loved it so much I’m having trouble expressing myself, but I have tried my best. It’s tempting to compare Highway to Rockstar, since both films have elements in common, but they are in fact very different films. While Rockstar had a very epic feel about it, Highway, in contrast, feels very intimate.