Friday, September 12, 2014


Fri, Sept 12, 2014


Learning to Drive

Running themes at Toronto’s ten-day overload of close to 400 films are on the vagaries that overtake the human psyche in the course of life. The subjects vary from family and gender confrontations to identities being eroded by today’s impinging technology. Here are three examples.

Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet’s  “Learning to Drive” is on life  in New York city when two completely different beings are brought together in one of life’s quirky juxtapositions.  One is a classy lady who is a reputed critic and writer. The other is a down-to-earth, upright Sikh taxi-driver leading a lonely and thin-line existence in the city. They meet when the lady and her husband have a huge marital fight in the back-seat of his car. The distraught woman has just found out that her husband is leaving her for a younger woman. 

Painfully adjusting to her single status, she decides to learn driving from the Sikh in order to be able to visit her daughter in a distant suburb.  Their trysts on driving extend further into imbibing healing lessons on life for both. She finds succour in the Sikh’s unshakeable belief in religion and tradition. He learns from her open transparency and vulnerability as a woman and also her sophisticated mind and upbringing.  When his arranged marriage brings a small-town woman from India into his life he finds himself distanced from her. However, he learns to cope from looking at how his driving student has come to terms with her own domestic upheaval. 

The film’s witty dialogue and brisk script keeps the audience chuckling and responding to the couple’s strange bonding.  However, Ben Kingsley as the Sikh taxi driver and Sarita Choudhury as his home-spun wife lack conviction in their Indian roles and surrounds,  whereas the American social scene is scintillating, enhanced by the sparkling performance of  Patricia Clarkson as the stricken ex-wife.

From Chile, “I Am not Lorena”, directed by Isidora Marras, is on how a   wrong telephone number can stalk, threaten and destroy lives of ordinary people. The film centres on the young girl Olivia, an aspiring actress, who is rehearsing for a play.  She begins to worry when she gets increasingly persistent calls on her mobile for a woman called Lorena.  The calling party insists that she is Lorena and when she protests, the voice  on the other end says that she is trying to bluff  her way out of trouble.   Lorena  then tries to validate her identity but  the intractable records in the computer networks of the administrative  institutions she visits corroborate that the number is that of Lorena. Completely cornered, Olivia knows she has to unravel the mystery if she wants to lead a normal life. What ensues is an eerie web of debt and accidental imposters in the dark, shady underworld of Santiago.  The play that Olivia is rehearsing reflects the tortuous psychological space she is in and serves as comment on what the film is saying.

From France, “The New Girlfriend” directed by Fran├žois Ozon, is a complicated and many-layered study of gender preferences and breaking social taboos and how both affect our behavior and choices in life. Claire and Laura have been the closest of  friends since their childhood. They remain bonded until they both marry. When Laura dies after giving birth to a daughter, Claire reaches out to her grieving husband, David.  She then discovers that David likes to dress as woman, and that Laura knew about this.  Claire then secretly becomes a party to David’s need and masquerades him in his woman’s gear as her girlfriend, Virginia. They go out together as women and Claire derives a certain satisfaction from this subterfuge. But then, David in every other way and sexually as well is a man. He begins to fall in love with Claire  and she with him.  The two then live together as girlfriends. They together raise David’s daughter and Claire is pregnant with his child.  This film is masterful and convincing as it unravels  its emphasis  on femininity and the masculine role model in many different ways. 

Courtesy: - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014.reproducing Uma da Cunha's column

India Shines in Toronto!


Thu, Sep, 11, 2014



Emraan Hashmi Ayan in Danis Tanovic's 'Tigers'

In the international festival arena the trend in Indian films selected and screened is finding a fine balance. The films selected from India are also being equated with these made abroad that relate one way or another with India, either  in content,  location or professional talent and skills.

2014  Toronto showcases  four strong films from India –each with a different stamp. Omung Kumar’s Mary Kom  has a Bollywood  aura  to it because of its lead star Priyanka Chopra  and its big production values.  Shonali Bose’s Margarita, with a Straw has an aura of  experienced and sophisticated  independent filmmaking attached to it. Manikandan M’s The Crow’s Egg is a regional language film (Tamil) which almost flaunts its art-house trappings but enlivened with a defiant, no-nonsense  base  to it. In documentary, there is Megha Ramaswamy’s Newborns on one of India’s major social issues – in this case,  women subjected to acid burning.  

Films in Toronto that came from abroad but linked with India are in number – four of them -  and as weighty in comparison and even more varied.

The Hollywood based producer Ashok Amritraj presents the highly-touted  film 99 Homes directed by Ramin Bahrani that is totally American in style, subject and pacing. It created a buzz when it premiered in Venice prior to Toronto. The film a minute-by-minute pitched exposure  of the  mortgage on houses where the court favours the bank.  The sizzling thriller  unveils layer by layer how a victim  can be drawn into the very same ruthless money game that has rendered him homeless and bankrupt.

The international production Tigers by the reputed Bosnian director Danis Tanovic,  gives top billing  to  the well established production company Shikya Entertainment headed by Guneet Monga and Anurag Kashyap. The film, set in Pakistan but shot mostly in Delhi, is on the self-seeking, inhuman  greed with which leading western pharmaceutical companies exploit the gullible millions living in the Third World. India’s Emraan Hashmi casts aside his usual flamboyant screen persona and plays a humble middle-class man entrapped in his desperate need to make a living for himself and his joint family.

The  American  production Learning to Drive is made by Spanish director Isabel Coixet   It stars Ben Kingsley and American actress Patricia Clarkson. Ben Kingsley plays a Sikh taxi driver in the film which is set in New York.

Finally there is the feature-length documentary Monsoon by the celebrated Canadian filmmaker Sturla Gunnarsson.  The film is a stirring, dynamic presentation of  the onset of the monsoon and what it means to the body and souls of the Indian people as a whole.

The Toronto collection of films with an Indian touch to them points to an India that has an over-whelming cinematic  reach to corners of the world. In a sense, Indian cinema is becoming truly international, mainly because India as a country has such an amazing role and appeal in today’s multi-culturally attuned way of filmmaking. The added dimension coming in from abroad enriches and broadens the cinema that is intrinsic to India.

Spot News !   Rare standing ovation for “Margarita”

A radiant Kalki Koechlin jetted  into Toronto two hours before world premiere of her film Margarita, with a Straw directed by Shonali Bose.  The film played to a packed house. There was  a line-up of people of all ages in wheel chairs.  Not surprising as the film is a warm and heartening story of a young girl who has cerebral palsy and faces her condition and her future life with zest, courage and determination.  The Toronto audience, fed the best of cinema throughout the year and more so at TIFF,  are low-key about their appreciation responding with a polite applause at most. Margarita got a prolonged standing ovation. The response all round has been overwhelming.   Kalki gives a muted, deeply expressive and affecting performance that makes her a sure-fire contender for best actress at any venue the film is screened.

Courtesy: - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014.reproducing Uma da Cunha's column

Thursday, September 11, 2014



clip_image002Al Pacino, a brilliant performance in The Humbling

The persona of the tortured genius has always been a subject that has fascinated writers and filmmakers.  The fallen prodigy is the subject of many films featured in Toronto this year. Robin William’s recent suicide adds a raw edge and poignancy to watching such films. 

The  film Turner, featuring two greats in cinema, director Michel Leigh and actor Timothy Spall, on Britain’s master of landscape,  impressed in Cannes when it premiered there, winning  the Palme d’Or for Best Actor. It is in Toronto now creating waves yet again. The visually stunning and classically-styled film deals with the last inglorious 25 years of the painter’s life. Then there is the more modern-day telling of a prodigy who is a drummer in Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle. The film provides a frightening examination of artistic drive and the manic ways of driven teachers,  which the film indicts and in a way also justifies. The film stars Miles Teller as a young  jazz drummer who attends one of the best music schools in the country under the tutelage of the school’s fearsome maestro of jazz.

However, a tour de force on the fallen mighty comes from Al Pacino in the film The Humbling.  Based on  Philip Roth’s novel, the film  opens with a long  mesmerizing solo scene in which Al Pacino as the much admired stage  actor Simon Axler faces his stage-room mirror and obsessively recites the All the world’s a stage soliloquy from "As You Like It".  It is clear that the actor’s mind is in a state of decay – he cannot remember his lines – and that he is now timorously aware of it.  He then makes a bizarre entrance on stage and in a flash dives headlong  into the orchestra pit, to the amazement and consternation of the audience. He earns notoriety  for this crazy act by being nicknamed  “Shakespeare’s Spider-man”.  

The actor then moves into a mental health facility  and when that fails, to his spacious  and secluded Connecticut home.   Unbalanced and woolly,  he is suddenly confronted  with the  lesbian daughter of an old friend. She had a crush on him when she was eight years old and now wants that puppy love to mature into a full-blooded relationship. She sets about seducing the befuddled and aging man. From here on the film escalates with rising tension as he gets increasingly embroiled in whacky and hilarious   incidents involving a neighbour and also his increasing dependence and fondness for the girl.  All this chicanery finally leads to the actor  ultimately  staging his own suicide as he renders one of his finest performances as King Lear.

The film is directed by Barry Levinson  who has worked with Pacino before. The  74-year-old star is at his best in this role of an actor  caught between reality and fantasy and his own blurring confusion about his sanity and fading abilities.  He sees life as an actor – role to role – person to person – as a performance to be evaluated and judged.  As a result he has no connection with his own life or reality.   He has an inbuilt mordant humour that keeps him afloat and alert.  Al Pacino’s  intense, watchful  eyes and his ability to debunk himself with every scene makes this film both entertaining and incisively telling and relevant. 

Courtesy: - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014.reproducing Uma da Cunha's column

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Priyanka And Mary Kom Charm Toronto

Tue, Sept 9, 2014


Mary Kom Press Conference 2014 Toronto International HFiScLrHbP4l

Priyanka Chopra addressing a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)

The film Mary Kom screened on the opening day of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), heralding the festival’s very first Press Conference. It was attended by its lead actress Priyanka Chopra and first-time director Omung Kumar.  The two jetted in for just a day, which in the evening included a packed gala red carpet followed by TIFF director Cameron Bailey introducing the two to a delighted full-to-the-brim fans of Priyanka (she was centre-stage at the festival in 2009  when Ashutosh Gowariker’s  What’s Your Raashee? was screened). Priyanka first apologised for keeping the media waiting,  disarming everyone by saying  “Our flight was late and then the traffic closer to this venue was so bad that we left the car and ran the rest of the distance to be here."

Extracts follow from the Press Conference which went on longer than the prescribed time

Why was Toronto chosen for the film’s world premiere with the film opening the next day in India?

The culture of India, I feel, is so tremendously interesting that it’s pulling a lot more of an audience . . . globally  it’s opening up. Besides,  TIFF is a foremost world festival and a window to distribution within Canada and the United States. So it was a conscious decision . . . to come to TIFF.  I have attended TIFF before – I love the festival and I love the city.

You seem to choose unusual and demanding films to work in – why is that?

I like to push the envelope when it comes to my roles. I veer towards roles that are different and challenging – roles that change the rules of the game. I started very young – I was 18 or 19 -  and I had no idea of  career manoeuvres involved in working in films.  I have a short-term memory – I need variety to evolve as a person and as a performer.  I have always read scripts very carefully and if it tells me that it is one that I myself would like to watch on screen, I end up taking it.  You have to come to me with a whammer!

What drew you to Mary Kom and its true-life story on the famous Boxing Champ and Olympic bronze medallist who grew up as the daughter of a rice farmer in Assam and faced discrimination in her determination to be a boxer?.

In a country where cricket is the sport and movies about athletes, let alone female, previously unheard of, Mary Kom’s story is inspirational and uplifting, specially to women. Sports in India is something that boys do. She proved that for a woman no idea, no goal, should be a deterrent, something I deeply believe in.   Besides, there are very few woman-centric roles for women, specially in India. I hope the film will open doors for such films and for aspiring, talented women actors.

How did you prepare for such a difficult role?

It was extremely tough. Such a role - which  involves learning boxing-  needs three years preparation. I had six months when I was doing other work alongside. I trained with world experts and also from Mary Kom, and Mary Kom’s own teachers to imbibe her particular style. I never dreamt it would take so much out of me.  After hours of training  my body would hurt in places I never knew existed.  Besides, I had to learn the specifics of the region, Manipur, where Mary Kom was raised and trained.  The film is also very personal to me. My father was ailing throughout the film's making and he died four days after the shoot was completed. I poured all my grief into the film.

Omung, as a first-time director, why did you chose this film?

I wanted to start with a subject that was one apart, strikingly different from the mainstream offerings.  And Mary Kom was a beacon here.

The settings although low-key are so authentic, so natural, How did you manage that?

That credit goes entirely to my wife Vanita - she is the Production Designer . The film was re-created in Manali and Dharamsala – it was not shot in Manipuri. Whole structures and scenes were built and set up afresh.

Is the film true to life, to what really happened?

Everything you see on screen is factual – the only slight liberties are those a filmmaker has to in order to condense twelve years into two hours.

What is important is that Mary Kom loves the film (Priyanka interrups here to say “She calls it her photo album!”).

And was it difficult to pin down Priyanka?

Not at all – one reading and she was all for it!

Courtesy: - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014.reproducing Uma da Cunha's column