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Sarkar June 6, 2008

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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In anticipation of the release of Sarkar Raj this weekend, I watched Sarkar once again.

Director Ram Gopal Varma’s tribute to The Godfather isn’t his first film inspired from that source. He earlier made Gaayam (co-written by Mani Ratnam) in Telugu (and even his debut film, Shiva had some traces of inspiration) where many commercial constraints were adhered to but the film was good in its own way and was a success at the box office too. He reuses some parts of that film here but makes a more intense and largely superior film.

Though the content might have been inspired by The Godfather (and Bal Thackeray), this is a completely different and much more taut film. A few scenes and some themes may be similar but this isn’t a faithful remake. And anyone who wishes to judge this film by comparing it to The Godfather or its various inspirations should strictly sit out.

The screenplay of the film is credited to Manish Gupta but Varma, no doubt, had considerable inputs here. But it isn’t so much the script as it is the direction that defines this film. Ram Gopal Varma’s genius is visible in every frame that is so meticulously shot and his style is what makes this film remarkable. And he is greatly helped by his technicians (cinematographer Amit Roy and editors Amit Parman and Nipun Gupta).

The most striking aspect of this film is the brilliant use of extreme close-ups. A large part of the film doesn’t have any dialogue. Varma uses the expressions of the actors captured so minutely through these close-ups to convey the emotions as well as the subtext. The film depends on it completely. And when the characters do speak, they deliver some zingers.

The accompanying background score by Amar Mohile, tries to elevate every important moment and succeeds (some might not care for such dominance by the music but I do). It is interesting that the Govinda chant that has become quite synonymous with this film was originally composed for Varma’s telugu film Govinda Govinda, which belonged to a completely different genre.

With such close scrutiny of the actors in close-ups, acting becomes an extremely important part of the film and each actor needs to deliver. RGV extracts the required performances from Amitabh to Kay Kay to Katrina Kaif and Tanishaa. Amitabh Bachchan, in the titular role, brings out the required intensity with the right expressions and tone. You can almost feel the same reverence towards his character as his supporters in the film show. On the other hand, he makes the vulnerable side of his character thoroughly identifiable in the scenes in the hospital and home after the attack on him. The way Abhishek is portrayed as an obedient son who does not speak out of turn when the family is discussing business matters in the first half and his transformation when he takes the responsibility upon himself to fill in for his father and take over (note the black shirt that Abhishek wears when the transformation is complete towards the end) is superb. And Bachchan Jr is spot on in his portrayal of Shankar. Kay Kay is possibly the best actor on display in this film and he brings out the vices of Vishnu, the bad son, to perfection.

The supporting cast is great too. Despite many supporting players and limited scope, everybody gets noticed. Supriya Pathak is the best choice for the role of Sarkar’s loving, caring and reticent wife. The little known Rukhsar is very likable in a role where she has almost no dialogue. Even Katrina Kaif and Tanisha who, at the time (or even now) had not delivered any noteworthy performances slip nicely into their roles. Zakir Hussain makes a capable antagonist. Kota Srinivasa Rao, who brings out the sliminess of Silver Mani (or is it Selva Mani?), also serves as the comic relief in the film’s most loquacious character. Ravi Kale, who plays Sarkar’s right hand man also impresses but the same can’t be said about Jeeva’s performance as the wigged over-the-top Swami.

Another interesting aspect is the love triangle. The same triangle was also part of Gaayam as also another film inspired by The Godfather, the Kamal Haasan penned Thevar Magan (Kshatriya Puthrudu in Telugu, remade in Hindi as Virasat with Anil Kapoor). All three films have similar characters involved in a similar conflict (the situation is somewhat different from The Godfather) but each gets its own treatment in keeping with the setting, regional and commercial aspects as well as the focus of the respective films.

This is probably the closest RGV has come to making a family drama. The overachieving father who wonders, like any normal father would, what sins he might have committed to have borne a kid that has taken the wrong path. The bad son, whose need to come out of his father’s shadow ultimately drives him down a path that leaves no redemption. The good son, whose respect and trust in his father bears more importance to him than anything else and his willingness to follow in his father’s footsteps and take over the family’s responsibility. The obedient and caring mother, who easily melts over her son’s apparent repentance, like any average mother, and asks her husband to let her son back into the house. The daughter-in-law who has become such an integral part of the family that she prefers to stay with her in-laws instead of her wayward husband. There is so much here that makes this as much a tale about a family as it is about politics (or politricks as Silver Mani would say). Varma clearly conveys to the audience that this is a family like most others. I especially loved the use of the kid (playing in the background, asking for an ice cream) to bring in the aspect of normalcy. A similar effect is achieved through the game of Carroms, the dinner table conversations, the discussion in front of the television and more.

Different individuals might find different flaws in this film. Some might even hate the very things that I’ve loved. Nevertheless, this is definitely a film that is worth watching multiple times to observe the minutiae. It is the detail that makes this film special. It is the interpretation, focus and execution that makes this film different from the others based on similar material. Watch this once if you haven’t yet. If you have, watch it again to observe the detail that you missed out the first time.

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We Own The Night October 11, 2007

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Set in 1988, the film is about Bobby Green/Grusinsky (Joaquin Phoenix), who is the manager of a nightclub in New York. Born in a family of police officers, Bobby doesn’t follow in the footsteps of his father (Robert Duvall) or brother Joseph (Mark Wahlberg). He even changes his last name to hide his relationship with the family. A drug investigation brings Joseph to Bobby’s nightclub in search of Vadim Nezhinski (Alex Veadov). Soon Joseph and his father are targeted by the Russian mafia and it is up to Bobby to help his brother and father using his inside knowledge and connections.

The film has satisfying performances but this isn’t the film for outstanding work. When you watch the promos of this film, it seems like this would be a thrilling movie about the conflict between two brothers on opposite sides of the law. However, those promos are misleading. The film really revolves around Joaquin Phoenix’s character. Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes and Mark Wahlberg play convincing supporting parts. I was expecting the film to revolve around Wahlberg and Phoenix but Wahlberg gets very limited time and little scope for histrionics. This isn’t the right role for him after The Departed. Mendes’ character (Bobby’s girlfriend) doesn’t get a suitable sendoff but she does get some scope to perform.

Director James Gray (Little Odessa, The Yards) clearly knows how to create an atmosphere. He creates the right mood for the film and narrates the story at a leisurely pace. Despite a competent helmer, the film doesn’t make a great impression, mainly due to the writing. At the end of the screening, I had two words to describe this film: “nothing special”. The screenplay, also by Gray, seems too convenient at times. One big question that one asks at the beginning of the film is about how Bobby is able to hide his identity effectively from the gangsters despite still meeting his family every once in a while. Similar questions keep popping up. In spite of the logical flaws, the main drawback is that the film doesn’t offer any thrilling moments and avid filmgoers could easily predict the events that unfold.

Overall, this is a well made film that could appeal to those who enjoy crime dramas. However, it has nothing new to offer. Michael Clayton, which is also releasing this weekend, is receiving rave reviews from critics and might make a better watch.