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).