Monday, August 15, 2016

Movie Review: Eagoler Chokh

Shabor Dasgupta is cynical, tired and more than a little bit angry. It's not an anger that lends itself to explosive rage, however, except in rare, short bursts. It simmers under the surface, red hot and only sometimes visible through the cracks on the surface. At other times, it just fuels the wry and unsentimental engine, carefully calibrated to plumb the depths of human nature.

Too romantic? A tad purple, even? Well, Eagoler Chokh is that kind of a movie. At the centre of the maelstrom is the stoic Shabor, but all around him are emotions painted in the broadest of strokes and colours. People scream, weep and cackle. The relationships are toxic and the players are deeply broken. This is not a crime of passion, it's a crime of PASSION, with emotions writ large in letters of blood on the canvas of the city. It's a damn good time at the movies.

I don't know how popular Shabor Dasgupta was before "Ebar Shabor" was released, but his popularity has certainly skyrocketed, in no small part due to Saswata Chatterjee's portrayal. Shabor is different. He's a cop, for one, and not a private detective like most popular sleuths in Bengali detective fiction. He's also in-your-face. Rude, even. When the husband says he has to visit his comatose wife in the hospital, he shoots back with "Send someone else, you're going to be here for a while." What's masterful in Saswata's portrayal is the fraction-of-a-second pause before he says it, the slight change in expression, when you can almost see the professional take over.

The story is too twisty to succinctly summarise, but here goes. Entrepreneur Bishan Roy comes home after a weekend of debauchury to find his wife's friend Nandini dead in the landing, shot through the heart. His wife Shivangi has been shot as well, but is still breathing. Enter, the detective (and his trusted assistant Nanda) to navigate the twisty pathways of dysfunctional relationships and murky truths. Bishan is a man trapped within himself, tortured by his own lack of morality and yet, a slave to his compulsions. Shivangi hates him for what he is, and hates herself for the attraction she still feels for him. There's always more to things than meet the eye, just like there should be in any good, pulpy, blood-spattered detective story.

Saswata is the perfect Shabor, all business and clipped tones (although, for the love of god someone teach him how to run without looking like an absolute dork). His performance is a welcome counterpoint to the high-strung, emotionally overwrought nature of almost all the others. Don't get me wrong, High strung and overwrought is absolutely the right tone for this kind of movie, but it made me appreciate the quiet moments between Shabor and Nando as they discuss the case or the peculiarities of the English language. The other character the movie hinges on is Bishan, and Anirban is good here, if not great. I didn't really need so many scenes of Bishan telling us over and over again how he doesn't believe in love and how "shorir" is everything. Joya Ahsan as Shivangi doesn't have much to do except look weepy, and Payel Sarkar is somewhat one-note as Nandini, but it's hardly her fault.

The script is pacy, and it's clear that the original story had interesting characters, but the exploration of said characters is not done expertly. Ideally, a movie should work by itself, but a lot of niggling questions get answered only if one reads the original story. The plot has quite a few holes in it and sometimes, characters behave in ways that have no compelling explanation. Ultimately, these are the flaws that keep Eagoler Chokh from rising above its pulp roots, although within the confines of its genre, this is a fantastic example of how pacy, exciting detective stories can be made. Someone please tie Srijit down and force him to watch this several times in a row before he can start on the next Kakababu.

Oh, and  Jagabandhu School has to be one of the best running gags in Bengali cinema, period.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Undying

I was supposed to die yesterday.

The clock ran out sometime during the afternoon. I had cleared my calendar, finished everything up, even turned in my library card and paid my bills. Then, I sat on the living room sofa and watched the little numbers go down, down, down until they hit zero.

I have seen how it works, of course. Dad didn't want me during his last hour, but I caught a peek through the curtains, mom by his side. They were laughing, and talking, he was giving some last-minute instructions about money or my school schedule or something like that. Suddenly, there was this strange, sucking sound, and dad slumped back. It wasn't like he was tired and leaned back for a rest, it was like whatever was holding the strings had just let go. Mom sat there transfixed for a while, covered him with the shroud she was holding, and called us.

That was my first time. I was there when mom went, and Greg as well. Greg was my best friend, but his timer was always low, and we knew he wouldn't last very long. Naturally, his family was rich, all his grants having been paid up before it ended when he was seventeen. Unlike mom, Greg specifically asked for me to be there. I sat on their patio and held his hand. We didn't talk much - just some chitchat about my plans for the weekend. I wasn't even looking at him when he went. I was talking about hitting the new pancake place when I felt his arm go limp and heard the familiar, sucking sound again.

I didn't ask for anyone to stay for mine. My relationship with Diana had ended a while back, and it was pointless to get back into something for just a few months. So there I was, sitting on my lumpy, sofa, waiting to feel...well, anything. I won't deny I was just a little bit excited and maybe even scared, but mostly, I was glad to be done with it and move on. But then, the numbers had hit zero, and nothing had happened. I was still there, sitting in my sofa, waiting to die. The upload had failed.

For a while, I thought this was how it was supposed to be. That the simulation would be an exact replica of my final moment, so I could pick up where I left off. But it didn't make sense. It was supposed to set me down on an empty canvas, a world I could build on my own. It was supposed to snatch my consciousness in the last micro moment of my existence and jack me in a world that I would build based on my wildest dreams and fantasies. This didn't seem like my wildest dream.

I didn't dare take off the neural uploader. After all, it could happen at any moment, and then, I wouldn't just die. I would be deleted. Wiped from existence. My consciousness, having nowhere to go, would cease to exist. Fear gnawed at the pit of my stomach. I curled up, and decided to wait.

It's been 24 hours. I don't know how long to wait. I don't know what else to do. I don't know when it will happen. I was supposed to die yesterday, but I didn't. I am terrified.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Stranger in a Strange Sea

 "Yeah, the water's salty, it burns, and it'll get in your eyes and mouth. But don't worry, you get used to it." As soon as the scuba master said this, I decided diving wasn't for me. Unfortunately, at that point I was treading water, a belt of lead weights around me, looking as ridiculous as only a fat man in a skintight wetsuit can look. We were 20 minutes away from a decent shoreline. There was no backing out.

He was right. it burns, and you feel like you'll never stop blinking. The shampoo they wash your underwater goggles with to ensure they don't fog up, stings. But you do get used to it. One minute, you are sputtering and gasping, trying to get used to the strange sensation of breathing through your mouth, and only through your mouth. The next, you know exactly what Dorothy meant when she realised it wasn't Kansas anymore.

This is a world where the normal rules don't apply. Nothing works like it should. Light doesn't. Nor does gravity. The plants don't flutter in the breeze, they sway to the gentle ebb and flow of the currents, or the silent probings of the marine life that cuts through them. It's wet, of course, but it's wet all around, so it doesn't feel wet anymore. Instead, it just is....a slow motion world where you are the alien invader. Bug eyes peek at you from within creamy white bulbous shoots that gently float in the water. It's their world. You are just a visitor.

You're told not to touch anything, and your instructor makes sure you obey, firmly guiding you away from arm's reach of every interesting, spiky, gelatinous, shimmering, sparkling, crusted or just plain weird object you see (magnified 2.5 times thanks to your underwater goggles). It's the world's scariest "look, don't touch" policy, because you don't know which little sting gives you a mere 7-hour itch, and which one puts you in a hospital. The presence at your shoulder does, of course, but he would't tell you even if he could. Which he can't. So you drink in through your eyes, while hoping you don't drink anything in through your mouth. Yes, he showed you what to do if your breathing apparatus comes off. It's just that you are 30 feet underwater, and you'd really rather not check if you remember all the steps in the correct order.

In fact, you're quite helpless, being pulled and pushed and occasionally tapped on your shoulder if there's something interesting you might be missing. Your dive master points at what seems like an surprisingly even, jagged split in a rock before disturbing the water with a wave of his hand. The opening snaps close, and you realise it was a gigantic clam, so crusted with corals and mud so as to be indistinguishable from the bedrock. A fish wiggles by, paying you scant attention, every colour of the rainbow and then some playing on it's gleaming surface, Sea cucumbers, one and a half foot long and nearly as wide rest on the ocean floor, barely registering as living creatures. Schools of fish show more coordination than a Chinese regiment, moving as if controlled by a singular, erratic, and above all, lightning-quick puppet master.

And then, just like that, it's over. A quick visit to the sea bed to experience the novel sensation of walking 30 feet underwater, and you are pulled back to the world of noise and motion, away from the comforting, insistent pressure of water all around you. Suddenly, you realise you are wet, you are cold, you are hungry because you didn't have breakfast, and your throat is parched. Time moves. You clamber back into the waiting boat. Waiting to take you away from this world of blue and green dreams. Back to reality. Back to the familiar. Back to where you belong. Back to where the water is sweet and the eyes don't burn and the plants move like they are supposed to. So why, as I sit on the swaying deck and look at the emerald water below, do I want to slip quietly back in, and be an alien once more, in a world that isn't quite mine?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

At one point during the movie, we have our intrepid heroes being chased by a giant angry alien in Cloverfield cosplay AND the alien ship "2 minutes" away from drilling completely into the molten core of the earth AND alien soldiers swarming into a room with an alien robot (that can only be called the iBall) crucial to the survival of the galaxy AND more alien fighters about to overrun the final outpost of human resistance.

Yeah. If you judge the quality of a movie by the number of "people in peril" scenes, this is

This movie is almost defiantly by-the-numbers, no trope left behind. The aliens are creepy, tentacled and in spite of developing galactic travel, no more sophisticated than grunting heavies. The heroes are square-jawed American patriots (except the requisite Chinese representation - gotta have something to market the movie in the second-largest global market) who must resolve their conflict and learn to work together before the end. Of course a mother and her newborn baby need to be rescued and of course there's a bunch of adorable kids, and of course the smallest has an equally adorable puppy and of course the puppy will have to be rescued and of course the big bad alien queen will chase them and of course some of our heroes will lose loved ones and finally, of-frigging-course the Americans Army will stare down the alien menace for a last stand but not before the American President makes a rousing speech that the rest of the world listens to while sucking their proverbial thumbs because all non-American soldiers have died or are off visiting their grannies or something. I don't know. The movie sure as hell doesn't give a hint.

I won't even try to go into the story, because there is none. The setup takes way too long to establish that, surprise, the aliens are returning for round 2. Since that's the entire premise of the movie, I don't know why we had to wait for a good 40 minutes. It's not a good sign when your audience is begging the world conquering aliens to get here already. Meanwhile, we are supposed to be invested in some pointless conflict between the two leads, but because Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher together have less charisma than a life-size cutout of Will Smith, it doesn't work.

The Fresh Prince isn't but some of the other alumni are back. Bill Pullman is now a crazy old man with PTSD who warns us that the aliens are coming. Jeff Goldblum is, well, pretty much the same. He's also warning us that the aliens are coming. Brent Spiner's crazy Dr. Brakish Okun was clearly killed off in the last film, but people loved him so even he's back with the laziest hand-waving possible. In fact, with so much of the old cast back and a gaggle of new characters, the film is a bloated mess, and if it actually had a story, it would be quite difficult to follow. Fortunately, once the aliens show up, they are divided into precisely two camps - people who shoot at the aliens and those who are shot at, so it's all good.

I don't hate Independence Day 2. It's a big, dumb movie that's fun in parts, usually when those parts are exploding all over the screen. Sure, the dialogue is as juvenile and stupid (At one point, the alien AI/Robot says it is "thousands of years more advanced") and Bill Pullman delivers another "inspirational" speech that looks and sounds as spontaneous as a cards and chocolate on Valentine's Day, but the visual effects are impressive and the performances by the old-timers are sincere. It's a fine way to kill a few hours, especially if you liked the previous movie and are ok with nostalgia carrying you through. If you didn't, though, eh, give it a miss.