Sunday, July 18, 2010

Short Notes: Udaan, Lamhaa and Inception

I apologize for this long delay, but the sidebar to the right should tell you why I couldn't muster up enough enthusiasm to write about the several films that were released during this time. Bollywood delivered dud after dud -- and Hollywood gave us only Toy Story 3 -- but thankfully the movie gods have heard our prayers and given us the best films of the year (so far) from both worlds in a single weekend. My brief thoughts on this week's releases:

Udaan (Vikramaditya Motwane)
Bollywood's "Coming of Age" films often end up in a world of their own construct -- one that may bear traces of isolated moments we may have experienced, but never come close to mirroring the real lives we lead and emotions we feel during the turbulent teen-years. In his debut film, Vikramaditya Motwane works with a new template -- Udaan is tinged with the bitter-sweet emotions of life as we know it. This moody, freeflowing film explores the claustrophobic life of a teenager stuck in a small-town with a tyrannic father, dreaming of becoming a writer (his father, of course, has other plans for him). Their relationship is complicated enough to register as completely believable -- and even the most dramatic exchanges between them ring true.

Motwane has a beautiful eye for details: the lived-in feel of the places these characters inhabit, the languid pace of small-town life, and those heady nights spent dreaming of the future. Udaan is anchored by superb performances from Rajat Barmecha, Ronit Roy and Aayan Boradia and boasts of another wonderfully atmospheric score from Amit Trivedi. More than anything, the screenplay -- colored with Motwane's own experiences -- never loses focus or betrays its complicated characters. Bollywood believes that estranged father-son relationships always end with emotional reconciliation -- Motwane and Kashyap understand that sometimes, in real life, walking away and finding your own path is the best solution. A-

Lamhaa (Rahul Dholakia)
Where Udaan becomes universal despite its specificity, Lamha suffers by eschewing individual plot threads in favor of a macroscopic viewpoint about a subject that yearns for a fresh perpective. It crumbles under the weight of too much crammed into too little space -- there's a mish-mash of filmmaking styles and decades of issues fighting for survival in this tale, and unfortunately none of them get fully formed, leaving a half-baked product that may be commendable for its subject, but not much else. Rahul Dholakia made a brilliant debut with Parzania, but bigger stars -- and possibly bigger studio money -- have made him lose his individuality as a director. He can't decide if this film should be a masala thriller (slo-mo, electric-guitar scored star entries) or a documentary. It's not like these two disparate styles are impossible to mix (ask Paul Greengrass), but Dholakia's attempt feels disjointed and pointless -- and the jarring background score doesn't help the narrative. The performances range from a sleepwalking Sanjay Dutt to a hysterical Shernaz Patel, who isn't given enough time or backstory to earn those dramatic line deliveries. Disappointing. C

Inception (Christopher Nolan)
Surrounded by deafening pre-release hype, Inception has generated unexpectedly divisive reactions from the critical community. Count me among its huge fans -- it may not, outright, be Nolan's best product (a case could be made for The Dark Knight or Memento) or his least flawed (The Prestige), but it is easily his most ambitious. The film is helped, more than anything, by Nolan's enhanced ability to compose action sequences -- a skill that he has certainly improved upon, compared to his earlier films -- that jaw-dropping anti-gravity sequence is going to be talked about as much as the freeze frames or the bullet sequence from The Matrix. The core themes are not entirely original -- Mulholland Drive, eXistenZ, Vertigo, Waking Life and this year's Shutter Island immediately come to mind -- but the screenplay manages to distinguish the film from those mentioned by moulding those ideas in the shape of a heist movie.

The chemistry between the ensemble cast stands out more than individual performances here, though Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent (as always, even if this is almost identical to the character he played in Shutter Island) and after being a staple on the indie circuit for the past few years, Joseph-Gordon Levitt finally gets introduced to the mainstream movie-watching world in spectacular fashion. Lee Smith edits the hell out of this thing -- especially post-interval when four different worlds fight for screen-time and audience attention. That the film never sags and the audience never loses interest is testament to both his and Nolan's ability for being able to juggle with so many balls up in the air all at once. The film is not without its flaws -- after two viewings, I feel that the film explains too much through exposition, but that is a minor quibble in what is otherwise an exhilarating movie experience. A