Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) – A Simple Premise Delivered with Careful Purpose (Spoilers)

When one hears Yash Raj Films, titles such as
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Mohabbatein, Veer-Zaara and Fanaa spring to mind. Feel-good, tragic, warmth-inducing icons of Indian cinema. So, when I read the synopsis for Dum Laga Ke Haisha, I had to double-check the production company. Here’s the trailer with English subtitles.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha couldn’t stand out more from the crowd. While couples in the films mentioned appear to overcome the odds, Prem (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar) really don’t look like they have a chance at all. Firstly, they’re drawn into an arranged marriage that Sandhya appears to look forward to, at least. Secondly, and the stickiest point, is that Sandhya is “plus-sized”. Bollywood (Hollywood, too) heroines, even if they’re oddballs, are still too glamourous. There’s pressure for viewers everywhere to conform. That’s why Dum Laga Ke Haisha is an important film: it dares to be different. It may subscribe to Bollywood’s slice-of-life, feel-good style at times, yet it has an independent film feel.

The beauty of the film lies with Sandhya, which is an ironic statement to make given the film’s premise. She knows she doesn’t live up to standards looks-wise but she carries herself with confidence. A lot is asked of prospective brides: certain caste, educated, social-standing, culinary skills,
beauty, fair skin and obedience. It’s Sandhya’s prospects as a teacher that’s a large draw for Prem’s family. Notice how I said family. Practically the minute after their marriage, his family nit-pick at Sandhya, mostly behind her back but Prem’s aunt is catty enough to fling insults Sandhya’s way about her weight. Thankfully, Prem’s father counters this by highlighting his son’s less-than stellar qualities. She could be – is – a good-natured woman with her head screwed on right. Also, even with her figure, Sandhya is quite lovely – especially with her hair out. Unfortunately, her husband and his family aren’t willing to realise that. Until the climax of the film, she takes what they deliver, illustrating her inner strength.

The most heartbreaking moments of the film are in scenes involving the married couple. Not only is Prem visibly displeased during the marriage ceremony, he avoids being seen with Sandhya in public. She clearly relishes exploring local streets on the arm of her husband but he finds every opportunity to put space between them. He goes on about her weight, worst of all: he bursts out loud that he finds her physically repulsive to sleep with. Viewers feel a punch to their own stomachs, especially as she witnesses this. She smacks him (many would say right on) and he retaliates. At this point, things are spiraling leaving viewers wondering if there is any going back after this. The scene that evokes the most emotion is when Sandhya is forced to explain why she’s back at her parents’ home. She has to not only re-live the awful moment she was publicly insulted, but is forced to admit that society finds her undesirable. This once again emphasises the pressure Indian women are under, especially as carriers of their family’s honour. The delivery of this brings tears to viewers’ eyes.

With a family such as his, it is easy to understand why Prem just can’t get going. His father is overly-strict, pushing him into a box Prem doesn’t fit in, while his mother and aunt spoil him and overlook his flaws. That’s not to say he’s not responsible for his actions in the film, it just explains why he is so. It may be difficult to witness his lacklustre life, however Prem’s depressive state and his father’s treatment of it opens eyes. The message is to try to look beneath the word lazy and examine what has caused it. Prem’s family represent how not to handle mental health problems.

There are comedic moments that leave the audience either snickering or full-on cackling. Moments such as Sandhya putting on an erotic film to get her new husband in the mood, to his aunts overhearing his eventual bedroom exploits. ‘My son has become a man’ his mother declares. It’s difficult not to lose it at that point. Moreover, Sandhya’s brother is a little brat with his insensitive remarks towards his sister. Sandhya gives as good as is delivered, which adds to the humour.

A few more unsavoury actions from Prem towards Sandhya and he finally demonstrates some change. He accepts she deserves better than him and wakes her up to his family’s deceptiveness. While his transformation towards loving Sandhya during the couple’s race seems a bit sudden and out-of-the-blue, it’s definitely satisfactory to watch them both reach a level of happiness. After a struggle to adjust to marriage to each other, Prem and Sandhya are finally happy. The song and dance sequence during the end credits is an example of Bollywood conventions done right: the focus has been on the storyline, now that it’s resolved, it’s time to celebrate. Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a film to be celebrated, itself.

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The Mystery of Rey: Clever Marketing from Disney

Following the revitalisation of the Star Wars franchise with Episode 7: The Force Awakens, one question emerged out of many: who is Rey?

Scores of articles appeared on Google daily, litigating Rey’s parentage. Some championed Luke Skywalker as her father, attributing similarities in character arcs, while others suggested Han Solo or even Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or some other theory entirely. The debate borders on fierceness, but one thing has gone unnoticed. The question of Rey’s background has sustained our interest in the upcoming Episode 8, and the franchise itself.

This isn’t just because they can’t cram everything into one film, this is because they want to hook us and keep us hooked. And it’s worked. Not only do we look forward to finding out what culminates following the drama of the Solo family, we itch to receive more hints (because we know the writers wouldn’t just have a character blurt out that they’re someone’s Father – oh wait…hehe) about Rey’s backstory. They have fed us tidbits in the form of the lightsabre discovery scene, which tells us that Rey was left with Unkar Plutt for her own safety. That entire montage has inspired countless minds to go into thinking overdrive.

In this way, Disney can be rest assured that this unrelenting ‘Who is Rey?’ question carries most of the marketing weight. All they need is a tantalising teaser and an exciting official trailer, and they’ve ensured that the Disney coffers will always be filled up. Conventions also provide the opportunity for fans to present their questions and theories: those end up making news.

Still don’t believe that story-crafting is more than just creativity? I present Exhibit-I’ve-forgotten-which-number: J.J. Abrams’ Mystery Box. In Abrams’ view, the mystery box symbolises opportunity; it’s imperative to keep it closed until the right time. Think delayed gratification. Whether you think the mystery box is gimmicky or lazy, in the case of Star Wars, it has worked. The number of articles, blog posts and youtube videos attests to that.

So, don’t have much money for promoting your film? Hold back on key details and promise to unveil them at the right moment. Then the reveal pays off. That applies to novels, too. Don’t worry about boring your readers and stuffing exposition all at the beginning. Toss a meat drumstick with the promise of a massive feast.

We Need to Talk About The Keeping Room (2014)

Racking up just 2 1/2 stars on Netflix (as of 10th January 2016), The Keeping Room‘s quiet, unappreciated presence is puzzling given its hook. Three young Southern women left to defend their land against, well, anything, during the American Civil War. Two sisters and their slave. That in itself should prove a draw for some positivity as American Civil War films tend to focus more on the men going to war and the effects on their families, rather than isolating the story on female survival. To be fair, Gone With the Wind does feature Southern women coping while the men are at war, however it is overshadowed by the tempestuous relationship between Rhett and Scarlett. The fact that Augusta (Brit Marling), Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and Mad (Muna Otaru) are the sole focus of the film, allows us to hone in on their situation without distraction.

Thankfully, their dynamic isn’t rosy; it’s raw. Augusta is the elder daughter who has taken charge and is calmly dominant, Louise is a teenager who wants to be Lady of the Manor rather than get her elbows dirty, and is bigoted towards their slave Mad, who carries out her tasks as she has always done. Mad always appears as if she wants to spit some truths out, but is unsure despite the somewhat equal status the three are beginning to share. An heiress (by lack of men), her demanding teenage sister and their slave sounds almost like “they walk into a bar”. It’s rather fascinating that without the backdrop of the Civil War, there’s little possibility of the trio being so united despite their positions in society.

The film, being independent, is in no hurry to press on with the plot, savouring everything going on in the scene: the pace matches the slow, hostile surroundings. This shouldn’t put anyone off from viewing, as  For such a barren land, danger hangs over them like a promise. It’s almost apocalyptic. The region is tense and the viewer becomes absorbed in that the-keeping-room-1tension. Uneasiness settles into the audience when they await the masculine violence on the horizon. On the hunt for medicine for Louise’s raccoon bite, Augusta is warned by a tavern owner that it’s not safe for her to be there, cut to two Union soldiers in the corner drinking and eyeing her up. With hardly any men present (the tavern owner seems to be the only man in the area), any woman is fair game. Any traditional gender conventions are non-existent at this point.

In the opening credits, William Tecumseh Sherman is quoted: ‘War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.’ There’s a hardened statement if ever spoken; a justification for all-out violence. Moses, one of the Union soldiers, parrots this in a stand-off with Augusta to explain his thirst for pain and destruction. They’re both right: war is cruelty, yet I can’t agree with the level of cruelty dictating its status. The heavier the atrocity, the more likely the retaliation. Retaliation doesn’t necessarily result in finality. Well, in order to survive the three women have to resort to delving into violence.

The Keeping Room itself provides warmth, food and domestic cohesion (which ends up being cathartic), however it’s not immediately considered as a place to arm and guard themselves. Despite being associated with female domesticity, it doesn’t serve as protection against masculine violence, therefore they can only seek sanctuary by barricading themselves in the house once belonging to men, and arming themselves with the guns of their menfolk as well. Additionally, the women don men’s clothes knowing full well that they will be able to carry out their subversive duties with little harassment.

Could the film benefit from a little more backstory? Of course. I also felt that, despite voicing their reasons for committing their appalling acts, Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller) are never fleshed out. Villains are villains, and yes, their actions speak for their thought processes, but even villains need some backstory. Although we know the-keeping-room-2they’ve broken off from the impending Union Army to forge their own path, we never really get a sense of who they are. The subtle difference: Henry is a drunkard who enjoys the company of women (whether they like it or not), but is also unpredictable. As for Moses: he’s composed and more controlled. He has the ability to mess with your head in the way that you don’t know whether you’re safe or in danger in his presence.

Thankfully, The Keeping Room has received positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes,  as it deserves. Its indie status shouldn’t deter lovers of fast-paced, action thrillers (guns, cars, international gangs and the like): this can invoke the same thrills felt watching the latter. At (reaching) 1 hour 50, a further 10 minutes could’ve been better spent with the villains in order to increase our fear of them even more, thus making their presence more devastating on the viewer. A 2 hour film would undoubtedly not be taxing for audiences.

Star Wars Rogue One (No Spoilers)

Everyone likes a rebellion, don’t they?

I viewed Rogue One believing certain aspects of the storyline, costuming, locales and particular scenes (grenade porn, anyone?) relate to elements of the world today. Freedom fighting or terrorism? Science and technology or ethics? These binaries were certainly appreciated and prevented the film from being a pointless action film reliant on CGI and action sequences. I can safely say that the global mood at the moment is gloomy, unsure and weary, with only those benefitting right now prancing around on a high. The very first Star Wars film achieved nationwide success based on word of mouth before heavy marketing campaigns and social media existed, then creating enough stir to capture the rest of the world. It also helped that the US population was discontent with the war in Vietnam and demonstrated that throughout the 1970s. It may be Christmas 2016, however we’re currently witnessing tragic waves from Syria and other areas of the Middle East which were conjured in my mind when I watched rebels fighting against the Empire. Having said that, the conflict in the Middle East is far more faceted and difficult to draw the lines. Of course, a film doesn’t need to be released during major conflict, and viewers don’t need to bring their own “baggage” if you will, to enjoy it.

Disney has the unenviable task of simultaneously appeasing original Star Wars fans and drawing modern children into the franchise, so they went to great lengths (as did The Force Awakens) to emphasise Rogue One’s link to the Original Trilogy. The Force is maintained as a vital theme, with Donnie Yen’s character Chirrut Îmwe filling the void of Yoda by providing Jedi-related wisdom. Every perilous narrative needs a grounding character who provides serenity in the chaos. Robots still exhibit quirkiness and know it all. Alan Tudyk’s comedic timing as K-2SO was perfect. C3PO can’t be the only sassy (mouthy) android in the galaxy; K-2SO is quite obstinate at times, yet he has more warmth. Yavin 4 comes out of retirement, as does the Death Star. There are some departures from the original films we all love. A sweeping, urgent John Williams soundtrack is noticeably absent, and with little opportunity to emotionally connect with the characters a powerful soundtrack can assist in forcing a few restrained tears. Additionally, there’s less cutesiness in Rogue One that Star Wars usually leans towards to counter the peril. Rogue One is dark, possibly darker than Empire and Force Awakens.

I’ve read a complaint that there wasn’t enough chemistry between Felicity Jones and Diego Luna. I certainly noticed chemistry, only once the plot had developed mid-way. It’s important to remember that their characters exist in uncertain times. They are both guarded and occupied with their own goals: one to rebel against the Empire and the other to locate her father and feel like she has some family in the galaxy. They have to be closed off to each other because they’ve experienced such cr** in their lives respectively that they’re hardly going to start making eyes at each other within minutes of meeting. Any overspilling romantic feeling would overcast the plot; they have a mission and their thoughts centre around it. When the two characters overcome their clashing, they warm to each other and that’s when the lingering looks and charged energy commences. Not every opposites-attract couple are going to be like Han and Leia, and I appreciate the way they handled the pairing.

Problems: the beginning jumps from one location to another which makes the pacing chaotic. The exposition is the most important moment in the film as it makes or breaks audience reception. It takes a while to understand what the hell is going on, especially jerking us away from attaching ourselves to the characters and their individual situations. I do wonder if a novice screenwriter would’ve gotten away with that when soliciting an agent. Rogue One eventually calms down and we’re afforded the chance to get to know characters, but still at some distance. I’m not sure what the purpose of Forrest Whittaker’s character was (apart from his relation to Jyn). I’m also not quite satisfied with the ending: I feel like they were trying to avoid accusations of predictability, yet I still felt like a bit of a presant needed to be thrown my way. Maybe I’m a romantic/too soft; the bittersweet ending was leaning a little heavier on the bitter side.

Alan Tudyk as K-2SO steals the show. Reception of his character was far superior to any other human character. The audience loved him and he provided much-needed humour in such a dark film.

Stray Observations:

  • Someone came into the screening room as a Jawa. You can’t beat that.
  • I feel like I’ve been weaned on the 20th Century Fox logo. I expected it at the opening and it was greatly missed. Although: the opening shot felt like it was harking to the opening shot of A New Hope, so you’re immediately sucked back into the Star Wars universe.
  • In the press and promotion of Rogue One, the cast seems so tight knit, more so than TFA (I feel). They’re just like a family; perhaps because Rogue One is an indie film.
  • God bless Donnie Yen. He was a breath of fresh air; his action sequences rescued the film when it felt like the characters weren’t developed enough at that stage or the scene was floundering. Did it feel like I was watching a Kung Fu film? Hells yeah. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not.
  • Diego Luna: you’ve earned yourself a new fan.
  • Peter Cushing. Carrie Fisher. That is all.
  • Darth Vader.See above point.
  • Audio. Audio. Audio. Please don’t elevate sound effects and space battles whilst allowing dialogue to be so muted. The actors were at times difficult to understand and I only found out about some of the names when I went onto Wikipedia after the screening. Not great when you’re trying to relate to them.
  • What I was thinking throughout the climax: I can’t wait to see this in Lego.
  • THAT ENDING WITH THE LIGHTSABRE THOUGH (I did promise not to spoil).

The Secret Life of Pets- Review

If you’re an animal lover, and wonder what your pets get up to when you’re at work (without the foresight to set up cameras), then The Secret Life of Pets (2016, dir. Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney) answers your questions. Slightly. The film’s exposition relies heavily on every single joke and stereotype about pets. Dogs are supremely attached to their owners, cats are aloof, sometimes snooty, and exotic animals are . . .typically zany? In fact, the stereotype about cats was, apart from the case of Chloe (Lake Bell), is prominent throughout the film and is rather dismaying for cat fans. In pet films cats always draw the short straw regarding representation. They are the bad guys, dogs are the good guys. While Chloe the cat is on the side of good, she still retains a superiority. Yes, that’s what we love about cats (and find humour in), however it reinforces the notion that they don’t show affection. Each cat is unique; some are indifferent and others won’t leave you alone at all. The initial peril Max (Louis C.K.) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are thrown into involves a terrifying cornering by hundreds of ratty-looking street cats. Thankfully, the real villain becomes a fluffy, adorable and tiny white bunny rabbit, so cats are now off the hook. Sort of.

The bunny, Snowball (Kevin Hart), as a villain, is literally current. Let me explain: Snowball becomes the antagonist because he was abandoned and thus desires to destroy humans. His actions in the film are anarchic. He is like someone who wants to take the man down for treating loyal companions like consumer items. These inferior animals want to take down the established hierarchy. As of July 2016, this plot is relatable (not that we would hijack animal control vans and establish a hideout in the sewers). I would be interested in reading an essay about this.

The animation was wonderfully whimsical; large eyes and heads on smaller bodies undoubtedly elicits the “aww” reflex. The way that the animals bob along in the shots adds to their cuteness. Even if you’re not a fan of a certain species or breed, in The Secret Life of Pets convinces you that you want them. In fact, the animators really made New York City, the setting, extremely attractive. Clean, green and stylish. Until the pets explore the underbelly.

Max’s introduction in the film is rather amusing. He narrates a brief outline of his life, only he does so as if he’s in a relationship with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper). He was looking for a roommate and so was his owner, apparently. The notorious friendzone is invoked within the film when Max is forced to share the apartment (and his owner’s love) with his new “brother” Duke, a humongous Newfoundland who eats up the screen. Because we see things though Max’s perspective, we’re encouraged to dislike Duke, despite Duke’s even temper and attempt to bond. Although, I doubt I’d be happy to share my bed if I were a dog. I don’t even like doing it as a human. Another friendzone is that between Max and Gidget (Jenny Slate). The moment she’s first introduced in the film, her eager questions towards a preoccupied Max scream infatuation. When Max and Duke aren’t returned to their apartment by their unprofessional dog walker, she is the one who leads a campaign to rescue her love. And his frenemy.

The plot is a bit thin; while many occurrences keep the main storyline running without a breath, apart from Duke’s backstory, there doesn’t seem to be a subplot. The pacing does well until the climax, where steam begins to run out and the animals seem to be just running around. What saves this is the nail-biting last couple of minutes of the climax. Nevertheless, this film is highly entertaining and, much to your unwillingness to admit, will have you chuckling at nearly every line. The funniest scene is hands down the sausage factory. I don’t need to tell you to be on the lookout for it because it’s in-your-face. The scene-stealer is the heavy-metal loving poodle. Its owner believes it’s a refined character – much like its environment – but this poodle is a closeted head banger. You will choke on your food and drink.