96. Taare Zameen Par (2007): Not another brick in the wall

It seems like more than a coincidence that I read this shattering news about 2-year-old Mohamad Daniel (and he’s not the only one) just before watching this Aamir Khan directorial effort — an earlier effort in the same socially conscious vein as 3 Idiots. Watching the first scene of the movie shot though the eyes of a curious young boy, it felt unbearable to see such thirst for life on screen, when we live in a world where parents can put a death wish in their child.

TaareZameenParBut thankfully, Taare Zameen Par is not that kind of movie. There are real parents who are true monsters, but the parents in this film are just misguided. Yes, Aamir Khan’s art teacher is too neat in his amazingness for knowing exactly what to say (“Thank you for telling me you think you care”) and how to save the day, but I must say he has never appeared more handsome and heroic and human to me than in this movie, when he simply empathises (to me, this is his Swades). (Fans of his tendency towards clownish antics in a dance will not be disappointed by his introduction, though.)

But no, Aamir Khan is not the brightest star of this movie. That would be young Darsheel Safary (who’s 10 years older now!), who plays little Ishaan Nandkishore Awasthi, a dyslexic child fighting against the world. I was asked recently by a dear friend about the worth of consuming media (i.e. film, TV) these days; is the outlay worth the returns? There’s just too much, and so much of it is … not worthy. How can a limited lifespan deal with unlimited Internet access?

I think Taare Zameen Par gave me the answer. There are works of mindless escapism, which is just running off to worlds that do not (and will never) converge with your own, draining your finite hours and focus away. Then there are works like this, that create worlds inside your heart, so that your imagination and compassion and limitations for how you can contribute to the lives of others have to gorgeously expand to take them in.

When you look into Ishaan’s eyes through the camera, when you see him run and roar and rage, snuggle up to his father, yearn for his mother, wilt inside, and thrive again — you understand. And his thought world is absorbed into yours, and your heart wraps around his and every child who has had to fight to be seen, heard, and understood. Safary is an epic unto himself in bringing Ishaan to life for us, through every season — it’s actually sad when he gets less screen-time after Aamir Khan jumps into the fray.

Aamir Khan also wants to draw our hearts to special needs children — the subtitle to the movie is “every child is special”. This may seem like a sideshow to the message of the movie — we are to care for each child where they’re at, and be wary of forcing our failed dreams upon them. But I think he’s trying to show something that a friend in a special needs school once observed: that families receive such blessing when they are forced to expect absolutely nothing from their children, and can only love and care for them as they are.

This is an absolute must-watch.


95. Fan (2016): That I am

“And I hate transparent imitation of SRK! I hate overacting by anyone except him!”

Those passionate words, my friends, were from the me of October 2005. Reading through my not-quite-a-century of Hindi film reviews, I am honestly surprised at how much I’ve changed/aged/matured since then. No wonder though. There’s been innocence tossed. Grief comprehended. Hope lost. Heft gained. Migrations of careers. Renovations of the heart. I’m now on a path that would have astounded, confounded, but surely delighted the young-me. Am on my second theological degree, for goodness’ sake!

But the many, evolving reviews show something has remained the same — I am a fan of Shah Rukh Khan. Yes, am much more weary and wary of any old thing he gets involved in, but when he’s good, he still gets under my skin, still moves me, still makes me root and worry and cheer for him, and offer yet another chance to entertain me however middling the last attempt might have been. His movies, I realise now, have diverted me from real misery, whether it was the time between jobs, or right after my grandma’s diagnosis.

So I was happy to go into this movie blind as a bat with Sayesha, in whose Bollywood debt I am forever beholden. All I knew was her tiny slip of there being not one but two SRKs … which was not too weird a thought for someone who’s consumed umpteen films and TV dramas. But then the strangely bloody font of “Fan” actually cracked during the opening credits. And I was horribly reminded of early SRK’s Darr, which I refuse to watch because he’s basically leaking with blood in the movie screencaps I’ve seen. Achtung, baby!


Note the cracked and blood-red title!

The movie began all happy-go-lucky, but then unfolded into possibly the most surreal, stimulating, profound SRK movie I’ve watched in my 95-film-old Bollywood life. Only SRK could have made it, with his history, his filmography, his public image, his personality, his inside-outness, his outer-inwardness, his troubles, his triumphs, his reputation, his fame, his fortune, his fans. With no one else could this movie be quarter-way believable. It was all so incredible, but all so credible — so easy to believe he’s had to deal with more than one of these so-called fans (known as sasaeng or 私生 fans in Korea, as they deem fit to invade the personal lives of their idols).

But the script’s layers and weaves — and most excellent direction (and startling special effects! That nose!) — won’t let you dismiss this movie as a thriller or Gaurav as another crazy fan. In the quiet, panicked, painful, poignant moments between the always-draggy man-thrills on crumbling walls, roofs and ladders, there’s a constant guessing game.

What cards about himself is SRK actually revealing? (I can’t tell you how much I loved the facial mist spraying, was troubled by the birthday-wishing crowd, and eye-rolled at the police-commanding.) How complex and daring is this meditation on a culture that not only idolises but deifies its top-tier actors, of whom SRK is indubitably a beneficiary? Isn’t Khan/Khanna, for all his protests, admitting at the very end that he might not understand or agree with the fanaticism of his followers, but he does acknowledge it and respect them? He didn’t trample on the masses to get to the summit, but he has certainly been borne upwards by them.

I cannot praise SRK enough in his dual roles. It’s so easy to take him for granted when he’s SRK-ing (i.e. overacting), but check out all his nuances and differentiating between Aryan and Gaurav! I’m not sure if I can watch this again — though I would love to revisit the wistful, happy, marvellous memory-lane stage performance by Gaurav and his parents (and the room of memories in maybe-Mannat!). Gaurav got into some really dodgy business I couldn’t bear to witness. (A man’s reputation is his everything … how could you do that!) But I will always remember the movie’s eyebrow-raisingness and thought-provokingness, and the animated conversation that went on and on between Sayesha and myself afterwards. (I agree with everything in her review!)

This is a must-watch for anyone who’s ever had a heart-string tugged or smile charmed out by SRK! Let yourself be surprised by the man.

English Vinglish (2012): The eyes have it


Cutest Hindi movie poster in the world

94. English Vinglish (2012) — I’ve only ever watched Sridevi on celluloid in Chandi, a movie I remember as mostly boring (maybe I was still too new to the Bollywood idiom), but was happily exposed to her brilliance here, even without her going full-on dancing queen (Thank you RV and Sayesha for alerting me to her remarkable ability! Crikey!).

I guess the only hint of dishonesty about her whole performance is … how could her husband and daughter not have doted on her completely from the very beginning?! Ah, but even this reveals the key change in our heroine.

Beyond the naturalistic and exuberant depiction of a woman’s journey out of her fixed place in the household to finding her own place in the world, our heroine doesn’t actually change who she is (strong, resourceful, quick, loyal and compassionate), but blossoms as she is affirmed by friends of other cultures who see her qualities as strengths not embarrassments, who as fellow beginners are aware of how much they do not know as well. Would that all of us meet such companions on our journeys, to help us see ourselves with new eyes.

Many thanks to RV, VV and Sayesha for enjoying this engaging picture with me. :)

The poignancy of potential

Saturday evening to Sunday next, I’ve been keeping to a Sabbath pattern again after a (probably) stress-induced medical scare, and tasting the goodness that is time not taken, but given …

Finally made the last, sweet, sorrowful parting with Diana Wynne Jones through her final story, The Islands of Chaldea, completed seamlessly by her sister Ursula. DWJ was truly one of the greats, faithful to her gift of weaving tales that wound their way into you, and that kept to truth both merciless and merciful.

Followed this up by finally watching Inside Out — I won’t say it met my every over-blown expectation, but it’s definitely fodder for thought, a turn for the perspective, a kindle to fiery conversation (even if it’s in your own mind). Brought ever so alive 1 Corinthians 13:11.

Finished off the month of rests by finally leaping into The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (on All Hallows’ Eve!) — definitely choose the UK Bloomsbury edition illustrated by Chris Riddell — and remembering the good work of the very best “children’s books”:

Bod shrugged. ‘So?’ he said. ‘It’s only death. I mean, all of my best friends are dead.’

‘Yes.’ Silas hestitated. ‘They are. And they are for the most part, done with the world. You are not. You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.’

So easy to get bogged down by tasks at hand and forget there are so many mountains, volcanoes, deserts, islands, seas, rivers, lakes, undulating forests and sinuous jungles left to traverse; there are so many people left to befriend, and friends to plumb the depths with; there is so much potential as long as there is breath and heart, even if I don’t dare to dream quite so big right now, and don’t like to be in a plane for quite so long anymore.

Sometimes the doubt-cloud is over whether I’m already far along the adventure, or only at the tenuous beginnings — how much ‘pushing’ is there yet to be done to birth ‘the next phase’, if there is one? I don’t want to overstep, or undermine, or puff up, or self-destruct; I want all that life in Christ has to offer, and I believe it’s not a cut-and-dried picture postcard. And I’m just grateful — for all the toil and trouble I bring on myself, the speed at which the present becomes the past no longer makes for dour despair.

Dil Dhadakne Do (2015): Tinsel and truth

Ensemble aboard!

Ensemble aboard!

93. Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) — At this clip, I might just hit 100 Hindi movies before kingdom comes! Anyway, this is another one of those utterly modern, utterly stylish Bollywood films, but with a most winsome approach to its fluffy dialogue, family drama and manufactured conflicts. Below the comfortably cosmopolitan polish is a willingness to go raw at the edges, giving us a wry look at divorce, infidelity, daddy issues, etc. — the same old stories made new in every family. At least, in Bollywood billionaire families.

I enjoyed the DIY touches, with the cast given free rein for parts of the choreography, for example, and the endearing ensemble, who were inevitably shunted aside at the end for the main cast. Ranveer Singh, who impressed me muchly in Band Baaja Baaraat, is here, as are the supremely confident Priyanka Chopra and the fearless Rahul Bose. Why did Farhan Akhtar have to play a perfect man? Because his sister directed the film?? I appreciate and understand the apparent rise in feminism in the Hindi films I’ve been watching, but am a bit wary of lip service — still, the arc here was done quite well. The cruise ship itself was quite a character — and what’s up with the ever-increasing number of folk heading to Turkey and Greece for the hols?

Apologies for ending in a complaint … or really an old observation. I didn’t really buy the romance between Ranveer Singh’s and Anushka Sharma’s characters. So full of artifice, their first meeting — think there was more chemistry between her and Priyanka Chopra. Even the subplot between the pseudo Romeo and Juliet was sweeter, as was the could-have-been thing between the Poor Boy and the Rich Girl. Didn’t really buy the swift reformation and reconciliation for the Anil Kapoor and Shefail Shah couple either — I think it’s more the writing than the acting though. This movie was entertaining enough, but would have edged closer to gold if that certain frission you get from watching SRK and Kajol had been there. Or am I disgruntled because I don’t believe in love based purely on feelings (anymore or have never, I don’t know), but equally on honesty, loyalty and service?

Piku (2015): More than words

Life’s in the waiting. I love how real this is.

92. Piku (2015) —  I have not laughed so hard and so honestly at the movies for a long time. Enough said? How about Irrfan Khan, who can do no wrong in my books, being delightfully dry (love that white shirt, khaki trousers and brown bomber jacket outfit); Deepika Padukone acting her socks off (wow); and Amitabh Bachchan genuinely impressing me for what feels like the first time? More than all that, I found a lot of pleasure from the whole supporting cast, the thoughtful plot and pacing (took a bit longer than I expected to get to the road trip!), and every set-up of the mise en scène (though the actual scenery during the drive was a little disappointing — India has more to offer!). Go watch the movie!

Ah, what a sea change has happened since I started watching Hindi movies. SRK didn’t kiss women-who-were-not-his-wife on the lips. Virginity ended only at marriage. Elders were always right. Now we live in a world where SRK has broken that taboo (with an actress a bewildering fraction of his age), and here we have a film that flouts the second assumption with aplomb, and the third with a remarkable frankness and even a joyful resignation. The father is painted as a progressive, but can’t avoid the charge of selfishness; the daughter is sketched as a shrew, but can’t escape notice as a dutiful daughter. The driver is depicted as being somewhat disagreeable, but can’t hide the growing hold that the wacky family has on him. All I can say is — I’m not always comfortable with it, but I’m glad for filmmakers willing to tell the truth about life.

Anyway, I’m still not sure what Piku means in Hindi (Sayesha says it’s just a nickname), but for my non-Chinese-speaking friends — it’s the hanyu pinyin for backside. There’s life again for you, with its delicious irony. Go watch the movie.

Words to read by

In what sense is it ever possible to answer a great work of the intellect? It is possible to go through it point by point, indicating inaccuracies or errors in detail. Such demonstration is usually tedious; and for the most part it is ineffective, because it leaves the main structure unshaken. A principle may still be valid, even though the working out in detail of its applications may leave much to be desired. … there are only two possibilities. Either it must be shown that the method adopted is inappropriate to the material to be considered, or, granted that the method is not illegitimate, it must be shown that the application of the method has been vitiated from the start by concealed presuppositions and prejudices, by the neglect of relevant evidence, or by the failure to see what kind of conclusions really follow from the evidence adduced, and what kind of evidence must be produced if certain conclusions are to be maintained as tenable.

— From The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861–1986 by Stephen Neill and Tom Wright (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988), 18–19.