Pras on WorldFilms: LION (Australia)

lion-1Based on Saroo Brierley’s best-selling memoir, “A Long Way Home,” the film tells the true story of a 5-year-old Indian boy who fell asleep on a train and ended up in Kolkata, thousands of miles from home. Lost and unable to tell authorities the name of his mother or hometown, he is ultimately adopted by a couple in Australia.

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Five year old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty five years later, Years later, Mr. Brierley searched for his family back in India armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, to finally return to his first home.

Tagging along with his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) one night, Saroo falls asleep on a decommissioned train, which travels some 1,600 miles before letting him disembark in Calcutta. There, everyone speaks Bengali, rather than Saroo’s Hindi dialect, making it doubly intimidating for a boy so far-removed from his family. Saroo can’t speak the local language—Bengali as opposed to Hindi—and he can’t even pronounce the name of his village correctly. Eventually, he is reduced to sleeping in tunnels and stealing food from public shrines. But somehow his innate street smarts kick in, allowing Saroo to survive long enough to be happily rescued from a potentially dire fate.

The director Garth Davis deftly conveys the desolation of Saroo’s situation without wallowing in it, and the 5-year old newcomer non-actor Sunny Pawar gives a terrific performance. The first-time actor is able to transform from a happy, rambunctious adventurer into a dejected soul, both mystified and terrified by the world around him. Saroo is a chatty kid around his family, but when he loses the ability to communicate, he grows introverted. His identity has been ripped away from him, just as his home has.

lion-2Strong emotional scenes arrive at several points in the film.

First, when Saroo somewhat guiltily confesses to his Australian adoptive mother, Sue (Nicole Kidman in an impressive parental role), that he has been spending countless days doing research while seeking out his birth family via Google Earth. The reason for his secrecy? He did not want to hurt the two incredibly generous and supportive people (his adoptive parents) who rescued him from a Dickensian existence filled with poverty, hunger and potential abuse after being taken to a big-city facility for homeless street children.

The second is during a revelation shared by Sue (a presence of maternal tenderness and  devotion). She finally explains to Saroo exactly why she and his father, John (David Wenham), decided to adopt him. Kidman, herself an adoptive mother of two, delivers her words with a nakedly honest emotion.

The final moments in the film when Saroo finally pinpoints his village in India and makes that voyage of rediscovery to a country he is an utter stranger in, especially the emotional scene of reunion with his aged mother surrounded by the entire village celebrating are ones where the film will leave few eyes dry.

LION may be by far the best film to be selected for the 2017 Academy Awards, and I expect atleast a few major Oscar wins for this film. Not the least of which may be the Best Actor choice for Dev Patel’s breakthrough performance.

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Director: Garth Davis. Screenplay: Luke Davies, based on the book “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley. Camera (color, widescreen): Greig Fraser. Editor: Alexandre de Franceschi.With: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman, Abhishek Bharate, Divian Ladwa, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sunny Pawar. (English, Bengali, Hindi dialogue)

 

Pras on WorldFilms: PIKU

The film explores the relationship between an old father and his daughter on whom he completely depends.  A father who introduces his 30-year-old daughter to her suitors as a “financially, emotionally and sexually independent, non-virgin woman” and a daughter who scolds her dad for his obsession with his imaginary poor health and tells him it would have been better if he actually had some disease.

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The dad is Amitabh Bachchan’s Bhashkor Banerjee and Deepika Padukone essays the role of Piku, the daughter, in this Shoojit Sircar’s directorial venture.

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Bhashkor (Amitabh) and Piku (Deepika) are Bengalis living in Delhi. In Bhashkor’s Delhi household, everybody is uptight for one reason or another; the dietary discomfort of this widowed hypochondriac is rivalled only by the burden borne by his architect daughter Piku (Deepika Padukone). While Bhashkor spends his days obsessing over his bowel movements, Bhashkor’s harried daughter, Piku is a wonderful multi-tasker who manages the whole household, trying to hack life as a professional at an architecture firm and balancing personal life trying to minister to her demanding father, while also trying her best to maintain an active sexual life.

We are never told Deepika Padukone’s actual name in Piku. A Bengali nickname is an all-conquering wonder, a sticky and stubborn two-syllable sound that a person is straddled with when too-young-to-object, and one that follows us to our graves.

piku 3Another tradition legendary among elderly Bengalis is of hypochondria. What goes in one end, comes out the other. Any mention of human excretion usually elicits an expression of disgust. Polite society demands euphemisms, especially when it is about adults and their digestive tract functions. But as is universally known and acknowledged, the exception to this rule is reserved for Bengalis, in whose households conversation about ablutions is conducted in excruciating detail—did it happen, the quantum, the quality, the colour, is all up for animated discussion, and everyone at the dining table or the drawing room will nod sagely and jump in with their two bits of advise. The crusty Bhashkor (Amitabh Bachchan) will remind you of your dyspeptic uncle whose life revolves around his `motions’, and his `box’ of homeopathic pills which is lugged wherever he goes.

Director Shoojit Sircar gleefully establishes how father’s bowels impact upon
daughter’s career (pungent status updates disrupt her meetings) and love
life (such potty talk repels potential suitors). Piku’s immediate outlet for her frustration is the cab she takes to work everyday. This results in perpetual taxi wrecks.  She retains one
unlikely admirer: Rana (Irrfan Khan).  Rana Chaudhary (Irrfan) is the owner of a taxi service company that is reeling under the onslaught of Piku’s arrogance. While several of his drivers have left because of her attitude, many have caused accidents when faced with her wrath.

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Rana’s character brings sanity to the eccentric lives of Piku and her dad, but not in a way that they would welcome. He is as much an outsider to this freaky family as the audience – a non-Bengali caught in the middle of a Bengali family so obsessed with their domestic problems that they involve him in their arguments and when he presents a rational viewpoint, they ask him not to interfere in ‘family problems’.

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It is a film with tremendous heart. The beauty of Piku lies not in the story but the way it is told. Script-writer Juhi Chaturvedi’s dialogues are some of the best, most fearless writing one rarely sees in Hindi cinema. Director Sircar chooses not to get cinematic in his use of visuals. The camera ignores all opportunities of classic outdoor shots during the road trip and instead stays close to the characters, in keeping with the intimate, personal drama at the heart of the story.

piku 4Amitabh Bachchan’s delivery of his constipated Bengali bhadralok jumps between a couple of notes, his accent occasionally slipping. And because most of Deepika Padukone’s scenes are with him, she comes off same-same too. To Sircar’s credit, we don’t glimpse Bachchan’s iconic dialogue delivery or playing to the gallery ways even for a second. All we see is a kurta pyjama-clad, almost disgusting Bhaskor.

The story deals with a sensitive issue of grownups taking care of ageing parents. Piku’s harried life is somehow mirrored in Rana’s life at home, with a mother and separated sister.

Another refreshing thing about Piku is that it does not obsess about romantic relationships. But instead of clichéd Bollywood romantic moments, the romance in Piku is real and endearing, mainly because it is subtle and understated.