In Vidya Balan do you find a carefully studied, thoughtful portrayal of a wife and a mother packed away amongst millions of others like her in the far-flung city suburbs, rushing through the morning routine to pack off her husband, Ashok (Manav Kaul) and son Pranav (Abhishek Sharrma, portraying all the angst and fun so naturally), adrenaline pumping, high steam pressure stewing to ensure they get their breakfast on time, and everything else ready for them to scoot out the house. In her act do you find the sudden listlessness of a mid-morning, the heartbeat quieter, the pace languid, the clew of her life sliding into a routine that could turn foggy with despair. Sulu, thankfully, is made of stronger stuff, and spends her day participating in dial-in radio contests, and actually winning along the way, an assortment of household items that may be useful or back-up as giveaway presents.
Note the exquisite scene at the table when Little asks Juan what the word faggot means. Ali’s act is so tip-toeingly delicate - his deep voice down to a silky route - so poignant here, as he explains to the child what it means; and to his next question if he’s gay, Juan tells him, “You can be gay, but don’t let anyone call you a faggot”, and that is such a quiet, beautiful embrace of humanity in all its diversity.
The director fails to capture the stifling, terrorizing claustrophobia of the coach, making it look all very simple and straight-forward. Even the top shots inside the carriages that he shoots are more distracting, taking an almost detached view of the goings-on below, you wondering what to make of all the heads you see. With the result, the breathtaking scenery is memorable, the mystery less so. Is that why the denouement, weak by any detective movie standards, takes place outside the train - all the passengers lined up on chairs, as if guests of honor at a valedictory event – instead of inside of the dining car, where the tension in the book and the 1974 movie was unbearable?
As the protagonist on the qui vive, Isabelle Huppert is the movie’s stunning lighthouse, plunging you into her character’s darkest and deepest desire, while using her binoculars; or when she realizes who the rapist is, and walks a razor-edge line between fantasy and a terrifying roleplay. Huppert is why Elle is the crepuscular triumph it is. You want to give her a cinematic salute for this brave-heart-stopping performance. She trapezes with such strength, whipping out a searing act, exploiting and being exploited at the same time. She’s fiery, all fire as she burns with desire, and then all ice as she plots her revenge.
Every passing interview, Holden and Tench change too – their strengthening bond suddenly frayed, as Holden discovers an almost devious delight in manipulating his interviewees with empathy and sympathy, both at first forced, but as they go deeper, the line between analyzing them to joining them in verbal jousts that speak their language, shattering the sanitized questionnaire into shreds; straining the team’s tenuous ties to the point of breakdown. And in a brilliant turn, as Holden gets manipulative and pushes the boundaries of ‘accepted procedure’ he gets better and abrasive, even.
Director Amit V Masurkar proves there’s hope. And he does this with a movie that’s unarguably carved its place in the rarefied group that will adorn the top of the list of 2017’s best movies. Newton is a stunning cinematic achievement, eschewing the high-ground or low-browed paths, choosing instead, to a take delightful path of rib-tickling, witty walk-around, not wearing anything on its sleeve, and yet making you cogitate on so many issues it highlights with the warmth of a friendly glow-worm.
Lucknow Central’s biggest problem is that director Tiwari and co-writer Aseem Arora try to straddle too many tracks – combining Prison Break with Happy New Year to make another The Shawshank Redemption. Except for the music competition, every story and subplot traces its genesis back to this all-time cinematic classic that’ll forever continue to warmly generate life’s lessons even as it ponders over human nature and failings via Morgan Freeman’s soothingly powerful voice.
The spark and fire generator is Kangana Ranaut, who comes through all shining and emotional armor. Her act as the thieving Praful is nothing short of brilliant. The first time she robs a counter and races away in her car, her expression betrays the sheer shock she feels running through her being, stunned by her own audacity. And then, she configures her expression into a magnificent dissolve of triumph and thrill, realizing that she can get away with it.
Director Ashim Ahluwalia’s Daddy unwaveringly and unequivocally fails on all counts, leaving you stunned at the enterprise and its unhappy achievement. Which is a bit of a surprise, really. For, based on Mumbai’s underworld gangster, Arun Gawli, you’d have thought the man’s life story and his rise and fall would have automatically made for some spiffy and crackling material onscreen.