I was going to make a joke about the trilogy of depression, but it’s not like this is unexpected, right? There is a ebb and flow to the release schedules, there is a gap between Independence Day and Diwali, with a bit of a burst at Gandhi Jayanti, and that’s when you bring out your depressing low budget and low box office movies.
Pataakha first, the least depressing and kind of fun one. I’m excited about this movie, no big stars, no big songs, no big concept, just two sisters in a village who hate each other and fight constantly. This is the kind of thing that makes me optimistic.
I am happy about newcomers getting a chance and women getting to play something so unfeminine (especially if it ends with some kind of sororal loyalty down deep inside). But I am mostly optimistic because it shows that out of bad things, good things can come.
This film is the result of the terrible terrible Rangoon disaster, Vishal Bhardwaj shot high with a 3 star film, massive budget, massive images, and so on and so on. And he ended up with an empty soulless film that was all image and no substance. And which was a massive flop at the box office, taking down careers with it. And now he has no money and no credit in the industry and is making a movie that has to be all substance because image costs money. And it could be really good! See, sometimes you have to be brought low in order to rise again.
And then there’s Love Sonia. Misery, darkness, revealing the tragedies of Indian society, etc. etc. Oh, and Demi Moore and Greg Duplass! I remember back when this movie was first announced, it’s an American production, they came at the story originally from the other end. The director/writer was involved in human trafficking rescue operations in LA, one of the places where young 3rd world women are sent. While this movie starts at the other end of things, in the village where they are taken.
I’m not sure how I feel about this movie. I am happy Rajkummar Rao is getting another international connection. And it’s always nice when people talk about human trafficking. But I still have the same problem I had when it was first announced, that somehow this is a film about human trafficking and is serious and so on, and yet Sadak, Umrao Jaan, Baaghi, even Bajrangi Bhaijaan, are not. I don’t like that, I don’t like the sense that those films don’t matter because they used songs and love stories to tell a story about forced prostitution.
I guess what it gets down to is that this feels like a human trafficking film for people who are outside of the cycle, to reveal it to them as a horrible nightmare they can’t imagine. While Sadak and others felt like a film for people who live with it as an every day part of life and don’t need the horror shown to them, they need hope.
But there is one thing I really really like about this movie, that it pulls no punches (based on the trailer) in showing that Anupam Kher straight up sold his daughters. Unlike Laage Chunari Main Daag, where the film comes close to implicating him through his disinterest in caring for his family, but then pulls back. This not only contradicts the usual hero worship of the patriarch, but also points to the the connection between human trafficking of young girls and the general way they are seen as disposable and a burden on the family instead of a blessing. So that’s nice!
And then there’s Paltan. JP Dutta always satisfies. If you describe his films, they sound like the usual jingoistic thoughtless kind of things. But he is really truly focused on the story of the soldiers. It’s not about India Over All, it’s about respecting the stories of these particular individuals. In a very unemotional literal way.
And he picks good stories! These aren’t the “we are so much better than the rest, we will certainly win” stories, these are the “we were outnumbered and outgunned and struggling and thought outside the box” stories. Dutta likes to keep things at the human level. And this story is perfect for that.
I just did a quick look at the original incident. India’s first war as an independent country, which they lost, was the 1962 Sino-Indian War. The war ended with the borders redrawn and China moving further into what had been Indian territory. Troops from both sides were stationed along the border, facing each other. And then in 1967 there was a tiny scuffle over that border, a handful of men on both sides face to face with each other over a line in the dirt, the most basic vision of a border dispute.
That’s what this film is about (based on the trailer), the strange incident of two small groups of men starring each other eye to eye and waiting to see who would blink, out in a lonely forgotten stretch of border. And, my favorite part, it’s not about “booo, evil China!”, it is specifically about Chairman Mao and his aggressive tactics. There’s even a big billboard of Chairman Mao that goes up on the Chinese side.
And I believe this is all a valid historical interpretation! That there was a lot of hero worship of Mao and a general attitude of confidence and aggression, and it was that spirit which was part of this particular conflict. And isn’t it nice for a film to look at a historical moment in isolation instead of trying to make sweeping universal judgments? To look at the Indian army as individuals doing individual acts and making individual decisions? To look at India as made up of varied people from varied places who come together for collective goals?
Oh, and Arjun looks really cute in his army fatigues, there’s that too.