A Street Cat Named Bob, Movie, Amazon Prime

There’s a new word I know – Busking – it’s those singers on the streets who sing or play musical instruments for money. In India this would be called begging. Busking on the streets of London will require licence. But there are many folks there who do it without official permission. This fact should be known before you watch the movie, “A Street Cat Named Bob” because you will be surprised why was the man arrested for just standing on corner of a street and stringing the guitar and singing.

If you love cats, or at least love watching their antics, you will like what you see on “A Street Cat Named Bob.” And the cat, Bob, has performed well. Also, there’s a mouse, obviously.

Story is about a recovering addict in rehab who makes a chance encounter with a street cat. Cat seems to adopt the man and together they perform on the streets, the man doing the singing and the cat does what cats do best. Anyway, the cat becomes the attraction to many and envy to some and this partnership gets good money till luck last. Luck comes, then goes and then comes again. That’s the story in the nutshell.

What is notable is the filming with the cat. Also with the mouse, to some extent. Working with animals (and toddlers), I believe, must be a separate school of movie making. I mean, how will one communicate to a cat what expressions are required? Probably techniques, like creating a situation to get a desired effect. And waiting, patience.

After the cat makes an entry, many of the human interactions, like romance, love, hate, is either shown “through the eyes of the cat” or “mirrored on the cat.” The camera and the story gives the cat top billing. And “he” has not disappointed.

And the actors are good too. The shots filmed of the human characters are kept short in duration. One gets an impression that the director may have said, “whatever you do, do in 5 seconds.” Many of the scenes have a “clipped” feeling, an attempt, I believe, to limit the scope of melodrama. Which is good. Because there is a great scope for melodrama: recovering addict, penury, father-problem, girlfriend problem, so-called friend problem etc., all dealt with in succinct 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Coolie No. 1, (Movie 2020), Amazon Prime

Shakespeare had remarked pretty aptly – “It takes a wise father to know his own child.” But “Putra-Moh”, (पुत्रमोह) – blind love for first born male child, is for real. In India, two Hindu epics, (Ramayana and Mahabharat) are based on this.

The common thinking is that, David Dhawan, the father, has money to waste on his son. But David Dhawan may not be using his own money to finance his son’s venture. It seems, David Dhawan enjoys tremendous goodwill among the film fraternity. Despite his other movie failures in recent years, he could raise money to remake two yesteryear’s blockbuster hits starring his son.

In 2017 he made “Judwaa 2”, a remake of a 1997 Salman Khan double role starrer, “Judwaa.” The movie was a crap. Varun Dhawan couldn’t match the star power of Salman Khan. Yet movie earned good money thanks to Theatres. Next, film director David Dhawan upped the ante and remade “Coolie No. 1” which pitched his son against super hit “Coolie No. 1” (1995) and against Govinda, who not only has star power but is an exceptionally good actor. Sadly, theatres are closed. On OTT this movie will tank.

What is the father trying to achieve for his son?

There are many song programmes on TV where participants sing songs sung by well known yesteryear’s movie playback singers hoping they would click too and someone will pick them up for the real thing. There are even dance shows on the same theme where participants dance to old songs also emulating old dancing stars. Again, these are all done to reach for the real thing.

Why is David Dhawan, a successful film director, not giving his son, Varun Dhawan, the real thing? Why is he making video portfolios for his son? Is it intended for other casting directors?

It’s not the first time that David Dhawan is making remakes. He has done this with other stars with lukewarm success. What makes his remakes with his son significantly different is that, sadly, his son Varun Dhawan is not a star material and is a so-so actor. This fact should be obvious to the director who has worked with megastars and exceptional actors in his long career.

Does David Dhawan think that by repeated exposures to remakes of blockbuster movies, his son will come out tops? Is he challenging his son with difficulties which will hone his skills and stardom?

Yes, there are people like Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan who in their initial attempts into movies were washouts. Nevertheless they ploughed on and few failures later emerged as megastars. Will Varun Dhawan be such a find? Can we see the promise now? Will Varun Dhawan surprise us with the remake of “Biwi No.1” (1999) ?

With the coming of several streaming apps – Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar, Jio,..- it’s pretty obvious that movie business has changed. And COVID has precipitated changes. It remains to be seen how theater going public react post Covid.

Because, movies like “Coolie No. 1” (2020) if released in theatres will get some opening revenue because of “Captive Audience Model”. At release of new movies, the distributors book all screens all day for days. They only spare one screen per theatres for regional movies. The theatre going public is presented with only one movie option which they have to take at least to enjoy flirting their girls and air conditioning.

Contrast this with streaming apps on smart phones and TV. Here Coolie 1995 resides alongside Coolie 2020 and Judwaa 1997 alongside Judwaa 2017. Also there are many other choices. The competition for attention is immense. Unlike theatres where one pays to watch one show, on the apps, one pays and gets access to watch many.

So, here is a catch. David Dhawan’s many movies are floating on several streaming platforms. These movies are earning OTT lots of revenue. OTT – ‘over the top’ business model works on buying the airing rights of a movie plus more. (Click links) Which means, even though many viewers would have switched over to watch something else within few minutes of “Coolie no. 1” (2020), David Dhawan may still have recovered his cost.

Movie making is a laborious process. And makers do get exhausted. Attentions flag, judgements dim. David Dhawan has had a long and illustrious career. He doesn’t need to make such waste. But it seems that no one else is signing on Varun Dhawan. This implies that he doesn’t have it in him. And this may be a bitter pill to swallow for the father who in his fits of ego is dusting out his old hits, removing old stars, and trying to fit his son into that notch. But the son doesn’t fit but caves in.

Why not go for the real thing!

Coolie No.1 (1995) is on Hotstar and JioCinema. Judwaa (1997) is on Amazon Prime and Netflix.

Both are wholesome entertainers.

Colossal, Movie, Amazon Prime

Colossal is a science fiction-ish movie with nothing to be colossal about. But the story is tempting enough for one to tag along till the end. It has a texture of a good forgettable movie.

Some scenes don’t make sense. Yet it does not cloud over the main storyline. This is because the central story concept has some meat. The problem of the story is its development which is not strong to justifies the core concept. By this I mean, as a viewer when I reach the climax I should feel it too. But, in this movie, when I reach the climax, I felt bad for the story which brought me there.

There is dissonance in the story. The story pursues too many emotions. It seems that the writer was in multiple minds in what direction to take. There is a relationship story. There is it a psychotic story. There is a debauched and wasted girl story. There a delusional story. And also, there is negative Superhero masquerading as Science Fiction. Too many storylines spoil the climax.

One of the redeeming part of the movie is Anne Hathaway. She has a very mobile face and acts with her entire body. Her persona gets the empathy. One feels bad for her, wants her to get well, get out of all the bad relationships and fall in love with someone true and real. Anne Hathaway’s star quality has carried this movie. It fails at the point of delivery just because of its erratic story.

Watch ‘Colossal’ if you want to see how a good concept fails due to apathetic story.

THE B-SIDE, Documentary, Netflix

Elsa Dorfman was a “Polaroid” photographer. And this documentary is about her profession till “Polaroid” lasted.

What is striking with this documentary is the rhythm and the narration. The filming is done with low tone, almost calm. There is not much movement. The filming camera is fixed and the queries about the various photos comes as a voice over. Most of the documentary time is spent on the creator – Elsa Dorfman. Most of the voice is hers.

This is a documentary on a photographer and her camera. And her pictures. Yet, the documentary is free from any talks on technicalities. No jibber jabber about F-Stops, shutter speed and Contrasts and white balance etc.. It’s refreshing to come across a subject of photography without jargons, without big talks by a person with a camera.

What this documentary deals with is the life of person spent in pursuing profession with an unique camera. The film documents those thoughts and circumstances which led her into the profession, held her to it, with successes and mistakes over time. There is a distinct approach attempted in this documentary. It’s not formulaic. But very poetic. It also feels truthful. She says, “she was always last on the list, still she ploughed on.” Well, this documentary takes her out of her obscure life and puts her on top of the list of unique personalities.

The period of growth of Elsa Dorfman is handled with care and devotion. The documentary is not “TimeLine-ish” :- ‘this is father, this is mother, this is me, this is family, we lived here, then moved there, then this happened and then that.’ Instead, the passage of time is shown thru photographs and notes scribbled on the margins, the white borders of photos. And as Elsa Dorfman speaks, the documenter catches the period of her work by showing the ‘year-stickers’ on the cabinets and albums in her room.

Most of the documentary is filmed inside a “not so long” narrow room filled with photos shot by Elsa Dorfman over the years. As she takes out photos from several cabinets and removes the protective sheets to display her shots – she speaks about them in a homely fashion. Her simplicity of words and voice shows her keen observation about the life and times and the characters in those photos.

THE B-SIDE, is the biopic documentary with a soul.

Assorted thoughts on education and jobs.

  1. India talks big on demographic dividends. India’s population is second only to China and in few years we’ll beat them, population wise.
  2. But what is the quality of people India produces. Most of them are fit only for menial labour. There are innumerable reports. Students who pass out of plain colleges or engineering institutes, the statistics say, the “percentage of unemployability” range from 50 to 80 percent.
  3. Abdul Kalam, once India’s Brainy President, was rare first to put his finger on India’s abysmal education policy at topmost level. Few politician have guts to do that. But after all who would call Kalam a politician.
  4. Kalam said, only 25% of graduating students are “employable.” His statement is pretty wide ranging and includes all, plain and engineering graduates. And this was in 2007. Thirteen years plus we would be safe to agree that number is less than 25.
  5. Despite the new education policy by the present government, one would be safe to think that new education of the oncoming world is not in government’s hands. Students have to be born and brought up with attitude and mental skill sets for DIY – Do it yourself.
  6. Here is a thing. Schools and Colleges will not suffice to scale the capability standards required. Schools and Colleges are “Fixed Learning”. A syllabus of a Three Year degree course are set a couple of years in advance. By the time the kid’s start a three year degree or engineering, it’s already outdated. The Knowledge thus acquired is not worth a spam.
  7. The solution for future education has already arrived. It’s called MOOC – Massive Open Online Courses.
  8. But “Open” and “Online” does not imply that it’s “Easy.” Self learning is not easy. The discipline required to complete one module of a course is enormous. Many will fail to complete. I have.
  9. But, what will win? Obsessiveness.
  10. Like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For example, one is learning to “Set up a Tab on a Web Page.” Pretty Simple. But no, it’s not. The effort might take you on a tailspin for hours. And in the end you will discover that “It’s one Comma”, that spent your day. And, believe me, after you spent those hours, you will feel exhilarated.
  11. If the effort does not excite or exhilarate you, the work is not for you. Don’t waste your time carrying on. Because it’s not only once you’re going to face the problem but everyday. You have to love the obsession that the work brings in order to carry on with it.
  12. If there’s no obsession there won’t be any expertise.
  13. Most of online studies are online/offline mixed. There will be some Ten to Fifteen minutes of videos and the thereafter there will be links or a reading list. Download the PDF to study and then the PDF contains words and phrases so one goes online again to search and know. And everything has to be done all alone and by yourself.
  14. Contrary to many peoples beliefs, the technology world will not reduce the workforce, but it will raise the capability bar of white-collar jobs. And vastly increase low paying menial jobs.
  15. Ironically, India is well prepared for this scenario. Our faulty education policy has brought us to this sorry state.
  16. Twenty years back a basic knowledge of computers and a college degree would have sufficed to get a well paying desk job. Now and the henceforth, one needs to know more than just computers.
  17. Same goes with online work. There is no eight hours, ten hours, morning, afternoon shifts. Once started there may be no end. Same with online studies.
  18. People who don’t meet the “capability” standards will still get jobs in technology companies but as “Delivery Agents.” Most of the Online companies, like Food, Grocery and stuff, all call themselves “Tech-Companies.” You have folks from good families riding scooties delivering Zomato, Amazon, Flipkart etc.. These jobs will never be high paying. So young people who are entering the workforce will remain with their parents because they cannot afford loans for houses, at least not in metros or even tier 2 or 3 towns.
  19. Urban kids are falling out of the workforce or stuck with terrible low paying jobs and, on the other side, semi-urban and village kids are joining the workforce. The village kids may have degrees and even a software training, but their social context will not deter them from going house to house with shoulder bags of delivery.
  20. So, there will be competition for “menial” jobs at the entry level itself. Village kids will work for less and urban kids can’t make ends meet on a “Zomato” salary.
  21. These all, mixed with India’s internal migration between states, a toxic mix of fratricide may be brewing which will raise its head in times to come.

Tech knowledges acquired in today’s world is valid for six months, at most a year. If knowledge is valid more than that, it’s either outdated, wrong or the work is menial.

True Story – Movie, Netflix

“True Story” is true to some extent. The character played by Jonah Hill, Michael Finkel, is a sacked journalist of the New York Times (NYT). And the character played by James Franco, Christian Lego, is a convicted criminal serving time in jail. And there is actress Felicity Jones, as wife of Jonah Hill, who is not pivotal but significant, not as character but as an actress in her role. Much on her later.

The movie is led by two very good actors, Jonah Hill and James Franco. The movie has several scenes of conversation between them and it’s here that both show their mettle. When good actors confront, there’s chemistry, and there’s anatomy too. Chemistry between two actors is ethereal, the viewer can only sense it, feel it, the desire to catch every word in the dialogue, to be present in the moment to do so.

Good acting can cure ADHD till good acting last.

Besides chemistry, anatomy is also major player in acting. Particularly the eyes. It’s amazing to see a simple conversation being heightened by clever use of the eyes. Jonah Hill as journalist is interviewing James Franco the criminal and what’s said in the scenes is complemented by how their eyes react to the answers and questions.

The eyes and anatomy and chemistry also fail. They not only take down one but both the actors. It’s because Felicity Jones is miscast in the movie. Or she has no contribution, scriptwise. Or, to be brutal, she is a bad actress.

In most of the scene she is shown roaming around with “questioning eyes”, and “pained expressions”. What she is questioning or on what she is pained, she can’t make clear, acting wise. Her expressions and presence in scenes only cast doubts and the viewer is left guessing the rest. Many of her emoting are misfires.

Felicity Jones eventual fall comes when she confronts James Franco. Now Franco is playing a character who has murdered his wife and three young children. And he is impersonating as if he is Jonah Hill. Felicity Jones as Jonah Hill’s wife is confronting James Franco who denies murder. Here, one can see the complexities of this scene and the difficulties in projecting the predicaments on screen. These are extremely difficult scenes. And difficult shots. What other actresses could have shouldered this performance?

Felicity Jones and James Franco scenes fall off the performance table and breaks into many pieces. James Franco also goes down in his scenes with Felicity Jones, his acting resembling a caricature. He is basically left squinting. It’s plain, chemistry and anatomy and “eyes”didn’t work with these two onscreen.

The movie, “True Story” is not the movie which the promos projects it to be. Some of the epithets used to describe the movie are; “a true crime thriller”, “some mysteries are beyond belief”, “a fix for true crime addicts”, etc., I had difficulty searching a correct photo to attach with my blog. In the end I got one. My reaction after watching the movie was “FelicityJones-ish.” You have to watch the movie to know what I mean.

Yet, True Story has many great moments and it is these that maketh the movie.

Two characters with reputational loss meet, each knowing the vulnerabilities of the other and each feeding off each other and none getting the better off each other.

First Reformed-Movie, Netflix

Ethan Hawke is a clergyman whose job is to service his community by communicating Gods words to people and people’s words to God. In the end he finds that none of these matter but what wins is just plain old love, principally – love between a man and a women.

The story begins with him counselling a disturbed husband who wants to abort his child because of – “Climate Change.” The clergyman has lots of wise words for the messed up husband. Nothing works. Thankfully, the husband shoots himself. This, at least, spares the wife much of a bother. Also Ethan now has a love interest which in the end redeems him.

Ethan Hawke successfully plays a character who is an introvert, reticent and withdrawn. He pours his troubles onto his diary. His dialogues with people trails off into monologues, as the character disconnects with whosoever he is conversing to writing the diary with all that’s left unsaid.

It’s an intuitive narrative with lots of thoughts, pauses and self-talk but the flow of the story maintains a tempo which never lags. And contrary to fashion these days of mobile camerawork, the camera here is pretty static in the screenplay. The camera waits “in front of the house”, “one corner of the room” etc., so the viewer also waits, in a way. To experience this change is refreshing.

The movie, First Reformed, is subtle comment on powerlessness of humans against agencies. Those agencies could be big energy companies polluting the earth, or Churches which depend on donations from big businesses or even ones own body or habits. Sermons, counselling, advice etc., are just empty words. They don’t matter.

What matters is what moves people towards support.

Tallulah – Movie, Netflix

The “Inception” star Ellen Page is now Elliot Page – A Transgender. This is real news.

But, in the movie – Tallulah – she is still a “she.” And I find this awesome and amazing that a face which is placid can project such wide range of emotions. I’ve seen this with Irrfan Khan and Johnny Depp. I’ll add Ellen Page to this list of the few blessed people who just have to “be” on camera to enact the whole story effortlessly.

Tallulah, I found, has couple of meanings. Check here. Some say “Leaping Water” and some, “Princess of Abundance.” In the movie both are relevant but in opposite ways. The character Tallulah played by Ellen is both destitute and “leaps” into troubled waters.

All the characters are messed up in some ways. Including the toddler. And when the two messed-ups meet, things go haywire. That’s the strength of the story.

Margin Call – Movie, Netflix

Netflix gives this movie – Margin Call- 56% rating. Rotten Tomatoes, a review website, rates it 87%. This is closure to “my” truth. Probably no good folks are watching – Margin Call or are they intimidated by the name of the movie?

Firstly, the movie does not require the viewers to possess any knowledge of finance or economics. It needs just a sense that if your money is in someone else’s hands it will not come back to you if some of their shit hits their own fan. It’s often said, the financial market runs on fear and greed. I disagree.

Financial market does not run on fear and greed. It runs on hatred, dislike, distrust and utter contempt of the people who hand over their money to money multipliers.

The movie – Margin Call – is nothing about technicalities of trades. It’s about people who buy and sell horseshit packaged as some high flying words. It’s about people who know “it’s going to crash someday” but keep mum. It’s about people who are a pack of wolves with a pack of lies. It’s about people in one team and one jersey and one goal. The game works best till nothing is moved or disturbed.

Then one day there enters an unknown quantity. The character is uninitiated, unbrainwashed. Worse, and this is for the trade, the character is not even a financial guy. He is a rocket scientist, really.

The movie shows that except people who are low down the hierarchy, most higher ups don’t know or understand numbers. They all want to know things in “Plain English.” The topmost brass even says, “speak to me as if I’m a child or a dog.” (paraphrase mine) This is not bad. They demand to know things at its simplest. Contrast this with fools who give them money after listening to jargons. No doubt they are looked down with contempt.

The movie shows a business of buying and selling duds. Imagine circulating duds and reaping brokerage. And then one day they sell off all the duds. Imagine people who bought duds on that day which they can’t sell now. So, in a way, the company saved itself by using people under them to sell duds and then sacrificing the same people to protect the masters. No doubt, the people laid off got millions, but spare a thought for people who together paid billions but are then left holding the duds. This can be you.

The movie also shows how people tell truths and yet the underlying intention is bad. Like, one speaks truths to the other and then other turns around and lie to the rest. Why? Because, “he was pretty straightforward”, “I liked his openness”, “he spoke like he’s a genuine person”. Bullshit!

Truths are passed on. If someone tells truths but expects to lie to others in return, then that means, it’s a lie in the first place.

Share – Movie, Hotstar

A School girl has a night out with friends, gets punch drunk and later, finds herself prone on front lawn of her house. As she comes to her senses, she finds she can’t recall the interluding moments or able to explain several injuries to her body.

Next up, there are videos and text messages circulating within her faculty showing boys filming her as they try to uncloth her. The voices in the film are sexist and show their glee and mirth as they take advantage of her unconscious state.

The character Mandy, played by Rhianne Barreto, then goes into introspection where she tries to retrace and recall those fateful moments to find out, “what happened? and “who all did that?” Her supportive family then press charges on one who they think is prime but in the end the reality turns out to be something else.

The subject line is thin yet the treatment is interesting. There are no scenes of rape, or nudity in the movie. And no melodrama. No #metoo. The story is low tone and restrained. The idea is to get the viewers invested in Mandy’s predicaments as she goes through emotional turmoils of being defiled by her friends, humiliated online and later being told “it’s not a big deal.”

Also, the casting in the movie is very apt. It’s a mixed race parents, Poorna Padmanabhan is the mother and white father. Rhianne Barreto (Mandy) has Indian looks.

The story is intuitive which requires the main character to project emotions without speaking much and Rhianne Barreto has shouldered this. This twenty something actress needs a special mention.