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#TheCrow’sEgg: The little film inspired by a £10 slice of pizza.

Despite the surfeit of insipid mega-blockbusters advancing “traditional” values and commentators going gaga over box office figures, the Indian film industry – a vast behemoth with little in the way of uniformity – continues to produce little films that tell compelling stories and showcase India warts and all. The likes …

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#Inspiration: ‘Modern Suffragette’ Malala inspires London Film Festival.

Malala was the name on everyone’s lips this week at the London Film Festival where a documentary about the youngest-ever Nobel Peace laureate had its European premiere.

“He named me Malala” is an intimate portrait of Malala Yousafzai and during the festival even the biggest stars seemed humbled by the teenager and her aspirations.

American actress Meryl Streep hailed her as the worthy heiress of the suffragettes who battled for the right to vote in Britain in the early 20th century.

Filmed over 18 months in Britain, Kenya, Nigeria, Abu Dhabi and Jordan, the documentary by American David Guggenheim recalls how Malala’s father chose her name in honour of Malalai of Maiwand, a heroine who rallied the Pashtun army against British troops in 1880.

“When I was little, many people would say, `Change Malala’s name. It’s a bad name, it means sad.’ But my father would always say,`No, it has another meaning. Bravery’,” Malala said.

On screen, the 18-year-old is seen at her home in Birmingham, central England, explaining to her father in the family living room how Twitter works, or squabbling with her brothers, Atal and Khushal.

“She’s fighting for human rights but at home she’s so violent,” complained Atal after being beaten in an arm wrestling match.

The film follows her at school, in the streets of New York, at a refugee camp, spreading her optimistic and determined message on the right to education.

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world,” she proclaimed.

The documentary also shows Malala’s life in Swat valley where she decided, aged 11, to write a blog for the BBC — “Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl” — in which she denounces Taliban violence.

Guggenheim turns to animation to bring to life these years before the attempted assassination in October 2012, when Taliban gunmen opened fire on then 14-year-old Malala on her school bus.

The cartoons, matching photos from the family album, also evoke the childhood of Malala’s mother, Toor Pekai Yousafzai, who recalled her own brief education on Friday at London’s Women in the World summit.

“I left school because I was the only girl in a class full of boys. I just wanted to play with my cousins who were girls,” she said in Pashtun, adding that she is now trying to learn to read and write in English.

Of her daughter, she explained that, despite the anguish, she could not “stop a girl like her from talking or speaking up”.

“Sometimes when I worried she would tell me `I can’t stop going to school, I can’t stop talking, because I am a girl and we cannot go back to the ages when they buried girls alive. I want to progress. I want to speak’.”

The film also shows the months of hospitalisation and re-education of the girl who wants to become prime minister of Pakistan, as well as her close relationship to her father.

“We are one soul in two different bodies,” said Malala in the documentary.

To silence the critics who see her as her father’s mouthpiece, she added: “My father only gave me the name Malalai. He didn’t make me Malalai. I chose this life.”

Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, meanwhile told of his astonishment at the Taliban attack, saying, “they had never killed a child, I never expected that”.

On occasions in the film, Malala is just a normal teenager: she looks at photos of Brad Pitt, speaks of her favourite book, “the Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, and shares her passion for cricket.

But she recognises the difference between her and her British classmates who “all have boyfriends”. And she shares her dreams of one day returning to the Swat valley.

“He named me Malala” is released in Britain on Nov 6.

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#Love: ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ – What does it all mean to the film’s stars and creators?

Twenty-two years is a long time to ruminate on an idea, even in the film industry where ideas can take eons to come to fruition.

But that’s the precise amount of time director Sooraj Barjatya has taken to bring his latest film to the big screen and if first impressions are anything to go by, it’s all set to set to eclipse the glow emanating from billions of diyas this Diwali.

‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ is the first film in nine years by Barjatya, the man responsible for some of the most iconic romances in Bollywood.

Having ruminated for more than two decades, Barjatya cast none other than Salman Khan to star and it’s a partnership that’s sure to whet fan’s’ appetites no end.  The partnership between Barjatya and Khan has, after all, given the world such unforgettable romances as ‘Maine Pyar Kya’ and ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’.

After bashing his way through innumerable baddies in a string of mega-blockbuster hits, Salman returns to his romantic roots and it all, just seems to...fit.

The film tells the story of Prem ‘Dilwala’, a carefree man who does ‘Ram-Leelas’ in Ayodhya, India. 

He knows all the Shlokas (Vedic songs) by heart and the purity of the scriptures resonates in all his pranks and fun. 

All that he earns, he donates to a charitable fund which is run by Princess Maithili.  He is enchanted by the simplicity of her nature, her leading a normal life and yet being brave enough to save people in the middle of floods, and sets out to meet her.

‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ is about Prem’s journey to meet the Princess and the purity of the bond that they share.

As befitting his name, Prem embodies all that is simple, innocent and traditional about his world. 

But what does it really mean to those involved in creating what is set to be another Bollywood romance for the ages?

Here’s a taster:

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#Suffragette: New film by ‘Brick Lane’ helmer Sarah Gavron is a must-watch for all women.

2015 has been declared ‘The Year of the Strong Woman’ at the London Film Festival. 

With 46 films by women directors and some of the best creative talent on show, it’s only appropriate that the opening film is about the movement for women’s voting rights in England.

A chapter of little-known British history brought to the screen by a British woman, Sara Gavron’s ‘Suffragette’ is a compelling and deeply stirring piece of cinema. 

Tracing the early feminist movement when women fought for the right to vote, the film follows Maud (Carey Mulligan) a young laundress who is gradually initiated into the movement.

She is the archetypal everywoman, a working girl from East End with a loving husband (Ben Whishaw) and child. 

However, her world is upended when she defends the rights of her co-worker or protects a young girl from the factory owner’s sexual abuse.

Maud joins new friends in the Sufragette meetings and one evening in a secret location, the iconic Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) appears to make an inspiring speech for the girls.

Further empowered, Maud joins the ranks and is first hounded by government security and then jailed.  Her idyllic world crumbles as her husband throws her out and her child is put up for adoption.

The British suffragettes had to employ violent and non-violent means as part of their civil disobedience movement.

After years of lobbying for the women’s vote and facing government betrayal at every turn, the Suffragettes strike the warpath.

They stone window dressings, bomb post boxes and cut electric cables.  They even bomb a minister’s country home.   The movement is splintered at this time by the debate over the use of violent and non-violent means of civil protest.

Maud joins her friend to reach the King at the Derby races.

The event ends tragically when Emily Davison (Natalie Press) throws herself in front of George V’s horse.

Historically this incident at the 1913 Epsom Derby generated images and headlines that shocked the nation, a staged suicide that no one was really prepared for.

The film ends with documentary footage of Davison’s funeral.  That women’s rights is a continued struggle is borne out by a list of dates from countries around the world.

At the turn of the twentieth century, British laws did not offer much dignity or protection for women. 

Women had no right over their children or property after marriage, working women were exploited and paid much less than men, there was no protection against exploitation, sickening abuse, pregnancy and illness. 

Girls went to the laundry factory as early as twelve, they could even get married at that age.

At the heart of the film is an ordinary working girl who grows aware of the injustice around her and then joins a movement to fight it.

Carey Mulligan lives the role in its many shades, playing out the many nuances of a deprived mother, rejected wife and homeless woman who becomes a foot soldier for the Suffragettes and gets enmeshed in the larger politics of the time.

With focused energy she is at once frail, convinced, empowered. 

Mulligan is flanked by powerful portrayals by Helena Bonham Carter as Edith Ellyn and a single, iconised appearance by Meryl Streep.

In a press meet at the Lanesborough, Meryl Streep endorsed the narrative of the ordinary woman with whom today’s audience can connect rather than look at the story as a thing from the past.

“These women were written out of history and the important thing about film is that you can take a closer look at a lesser known story in great detail”, the Oscar-winner said.

Director Sara Gavron, actor Carey Mulligan and writer Aby Morgan all confessed they had never been taught this chapter of history in schools.

Indeed the prison records relating to the time were released only in 2003 which made the construction of the story a bit of a detective game and a wonderful amalgamation of fact and fiction.

Mulligan, making an appearance three weeks after her first child was born, connected the empowerment and bonding in the film to the need for education and empowerment in todays’ world.

“It feels like a film about today.  I always felt its resonance is about where we are now, and its achievement is to mark what these women did.  We still live in a sexist society, but the film allows us to see the journey and where we are today.”

For director Sara Gavron, ‘Suffragette’ has been a ten-year journey. 

I had previously worked with her on ‘Brick Lane’ and know her as a determined and conscientious filmmaker. 

Gavron worked with writer Abi Morgan (who also co-wrote ‘Brick Lane’) for six years on the story which was enabled by many other women, including Fay Ward and Alison Owen from Rubu Films and an early green light from Tess Ross at Channel 4.

A photo shoot of the crew wearing t-shirts with the line “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” sparked off controversy as African-American women took offence suggesting the contribution of black or coloured women was being ignored.

While it is true that the women’s movement in America had huge contributions from women in colour, it would be out of context to place that argument in this section of British suffragette history.

Hence the choice to not make a film on Mrs. Pankhurst but on Everywoman, a frail laundress who finds power, makes the narrative more credible.

‘Suffragette’ is a well-researched piece of history and a grippingly executed film by an ensemble of women.

Claire Stewart, Director of the London Film Festival, remarked about how appropriate it was to offer the opening platform to this film, as a gesture to amend the gender inequality in the film industry itself.

Crossing cultures and histories, the silent grit of the revolutionaries evoke the stoic stance of a Gandhi or Mandela. 

It is a journey not far from the ones we witness today, certainly close to Malala Yousufzai, the subject of another film during the Festival.

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Want to be credited on a film produced by Anurag Kashyap and Ridley Scott? Here’s how.

Three very fine filmmakers have been roped in by search giant Google for a unique and complex film project that aims to capture the essence of life in India.

‘India in a Day’ is a collaboration between Google and British director Ridley Scott – the man behind epics such as ‘Alien’ and ‘Gladiator’; Richie Mehta, the talented Indo-Canadian director of ‘Siddharth’ and Anurag Kashyap, the Indian indie king.

The project is appealing to everyone with a camera across India and film what goes on during an average day on 10th October.

Participants can shoot their footage and upload it on indiainaday.withgoogle.com.  Those whose footage makes it into the finished film will be credited as a “co-director,” getting a chance to feature in the first user-generated feature-length documentary shot in a single day on life in India.

The film is scheduled for release in 2016.

“India in a Day offers a unique opportunity for anyone and everyone across India to grab a camera or a phone and  .get out there and capture something.  It doesn’t matter how small or personal it is - from riding a bike to calling your mum.  It just simply needs to bear witness to what life is like in today’s India - that’s magical enough”, said Scott, who is back in cinemas this week with ‘The Martian’.

Kashyap adds: “We want to tell the story of India in a single day, and we want you to help. You can grab your camera and capture anything and everything around you.  Film anything.  But most of all, make it personal.  Make it your point of view. Tell us what you love, what you hate, what worries you, what you hope for, what you want to change.”

The film will be directed by Richie Mehta with Scott and Kashyap executive producing alongside Shekhar Kapur and Zoya Akhtar.

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#Court: This compelling film may just be the one to break India’s Oscar jinx.

A slow-burning and utterly compelling film about India’s creaking legal system has been chosen as the country’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film in next year’s Oscars.

Chaitanya Tamhane’s ‘Court’ has won widespread acclaim at film festivals around the world – including at this year’s London Indian Film Festival and many believe the film offers India its best shot at going home with a statuette.

As has been traditional with choosing a film from India’s vast and disparate film industry, Wednesday’s vote by a committee set up by the Film Federation of India, was also marred by controversy with a committee member resigning moments before the final announcement, accusing committee chairman Amol Palekar of corruption.

The committee member, film director Rahul Rawail, told Reuters that Mr Palekar had been “corrupt” although he insisted that Court was his choice too.

Palekar has refused to comment and said Court’s choice had been unanimous.

Filmed in English, Marathi and Hindi Tamhane’s film depicts India’s lumbering justice system through the eyes of an aged folk musician Narayan Kamble who is arrested on charges of "abetting suicide" following the death of a sewer-worker.

Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game between Kamble’s lawyer Vinay Vora and his scrupulous foe, the state prosecutor. 

Kambel and Vora have to battle not only a government with a propensity to lock away anyone who doesn’t appear to toe the line but also relies on outdated, often medieval, laws to do so.

It’s a remarkable film for many reasons, not least the gifted Tamhane who had never made a feature film before. 

The film won India’s national film award this year and writer-director Tamhane picked up the “Lion of the Future” award for debut films at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.

“Ever since we started making the film, we kept our expectations low,” Tamhane said on Wednesday. “Especially in this case, since these results tend to be so unpredictable, it just felt like a wise thing to not expect too much.”

An Indian film has never won the best foreign film Oscar, but “Lagaan“, “Salaam Bombay” and “Mother India” were shortlisted for the award.

Aamir Khan’s colonial-era epic “Lagaan” was the last to make the cut back in 2001.

Controversy erupted in 2013 when a little known Gujarati film named ‘The Good Road’ was chosen as India’s official choice over Ritesh Batra’s festival favourite ‘The Lunchbox’, sparking uproar on Twitter.

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#Riposte: A R Rahman responds to Fatwa issued against him over Prophet film. It’s classy.

 

Slumdog Millionaire composer A.R. Rahman says he has no intention to offend any religious group after a fatwa was issued against the Oscar and Grammy-winner over his role in a new film about the life of Prophet Muhammed.

The Mumbai-based Sunni Muslim organization Raza Academy, has condemned ‘Muhammad: The Messenger of God’, a £20 million Iranian film directed by Majid Majidi and scored by Rahman.

The film shows Muhammad as a teenager and as a baby – depictions which are seen as taboo by many Muslims, in particular Sunni Muslims.

One cleric also criticized the fact the film has many non-Muslim actors.

On Monday, Rahman – who was brought up Hindu but later converted to Islam, his mother’s religion – took to his Facebook page to defend his decision to create the music for the film.

He said: “This letter is for all those people, who have been aware of the recent events concerning me.  I'm not a scholar of Islam.  I follow the middle path and am part of traditionalist and part rationalist.  I live in the western and eastern worlds and try to love all people for what they are, without judging them.  I didn’t direct or produce the movie 'Muhammad (PBUH), Messenger Of God.'.  I just did the music.

“My decision to compose the music for this film was made in good faith with no intentions of causing offence,” he added.

Rahman also cited Indian democracy:  “We are indeed fortunate and blessed to live in a country like India where religious freedom is practiced and where the aim of all communities is to live in peace and harmony sans confusion and violence.  Let us set a precedent in clearing conflict with grace and dignity and not trigger violence in words or actions.”

‘Muhammad: The Messenger of God’ chronicles the prophet’s life from birth to his early teen years and is believed to be the first part of a trilogy of films.

Have a look at the trailer for the film:

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#LFF2015: Check out the amazing South Asian line-up at this year’s London Film Festival.

It’s set to be another extraordinary year for South Asian cinema and films inspired by the region and its people at the London Film Festival 2015.

Here are some of the highlights.   

Beeba Boys

Acclaimed director Deepa Mehta kicks down new doors with this energetic gangster movie that also explores South Asian family values.  Set in Vancouver’s Sikh immigrant badlands, it finds young kingpin Jeet Johar (Randeep Hooda) and his sharp-suited gang the Beeba Boys on the rise.  So far, they’ve left a trail of blood in their attempt to take over the local drugs market.  However, when Jeet isn’t managing his cadre of dapper toughs, he’s doing his best to be a respectful son to his mother, to follow his religion with as much diligence as his profession will allow, and to hold his crumbling family together. 

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#HeNamedMeMalala: New film shows Nobel Prize Winner’s personal struggles and triumphs.

Most people know teenage Pakistani education campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai but few have heard of the 19th century Afghan heroine she was named after.

According to Pashtun tradition, Malalai of Maiwand spurred her countrymen to victory against British troops in 1880, taking to the battlefield to rally a demoralised Afghan force with a verse about martyrdom.

She was later struck down and killed.

The legend is recounted in "He Named Me Malala", a new documentary about Yousafzai, now 18, whose attack while riding a school bus shocked the world.

"You named her after a girl who spoke out and was killed. It's almost as if you said she'd be different," director Davis Guggenheim tells Yousafzai's father, Ziauddin, in the film.

"You're right," he replies.

Filmed over 18 months, the intimate portrait shows a teenager more at ease on the world stage - speaking at U.N. headquarters in New York - or addressing students in Syrian refugee camps than with classmates in Britain where she was flown for surgery.

"In this new school, it's hard," she says, admitting a lack of shared experiences with the other girls.

While much is known about the advocacy work carried out by Yousafzai – who was shot and almost killed by the Pakistani Taliban in October 2012 for calling for girls to go to school - the documentary lifts the lid on her family life in Birmingham with much humour generated by her two brothers.

"She's a little bit naughty," says Yousafzai's youngest brother, who she introduces as "a good boy" in contrast to her other brother who she calls "the laziest one".

She giggles when asked if she would ever ask a boy on a date.

Using archive footage and voice recordings of Islamist leader Fazlullah, the documentary captures the steady crackdown on freedoms in Yousafzai's native Swat Valley, including schools destroyed by bombs and music CDs burned.

Encouraged by her teacher father, Yousafzai began blogging for the BBC at the age of 11. Writing anonymously, she described life under the harsh edicts of the Taliban, bombed-out schools, executions under the cover of dark and girls' education limited to reading the Koran.

She later made public appearances in Swat Valley, calling for girls' right to an education.

"My father and my mother both inspired me to believe in myself. In a society where women's rights are not respected, my parents gave me examples," Yousafzai said at a screening of the documentary in Washington DC this week.

"There's a moment where you have to choose to be silent or to stand up," she says in the film. "My father only gave me the name Malala, he didn't make me Malala. I chose this life and now I must continue it."

Ziauddin Yousafzai said the film was not the story of one family but millions suffering because of war and conflict, adding that millions of Syrian children had been deprived of an education.

"When you meet these girls, their passion and taste for education it is remarkable. They want to learn," he said in Washington.

"In the global south, in developing countries, most of the children fight every day to get educated. Many families have sold their whole property – their cows, their farm and everything to get their children educated."

Yousafzai's Malala Fund, which supports girls' secondary education, wants the film to be shown in schools to inspire students to stand against bullying, racism and human rights violations.

The movie opens in theatres in the United States from Oct. 2 before it is released in Britain on 6 November.

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