Posted in Movies - General

Vikram Vedha – A Story of Choices

The two lead characters of Pushkar-Gayatri’s Vikram Vedha have one thing in common. They both are devout to their chosen profession with an obstinate belief in their respective approaches. The confidence they have in their approach with which they go about conducting their business pretty much provides them the drive they need and it also helps them define their moral compass ..a compass that gives them distinct clarity between black and white, in a world full of several shades of gray.

Vikram Vedha

Why Vikram Vedha turns out to be one of the best Tamil movies in recent times is not because of the philosophies and the above principles that define the two lead characters. But because of Pushkar and Gayatri’s screenplay that quite intricately builds the plot for the viewer, leading up to a climax which works in the most cinematically engaging way possible. The element of suspense, when revealed during the climax makes the audience connect all the dots. The hallmark of a great movie & a brilliant screenplay is how much it makes the viewer think about the movie after he or she walks out of the movie hall. I was thinking about the intricate plot for a few hours after I walked out of the movie.

Both Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi carry their roles with aplomb. Vijay’s character is a more relatable one for the Tamil audience. They have seen him in similar roles (not in a negative shade, but Chennai slang speaking, casual mannerism wielding, etc. etc.) and have cheered for him for his ability to breathe life into these roles. And yet, there was something more intense in this role and Vijay scores big in every opportunity he gets in the script.

Vikram’s role on the other hand was a bit more difficult for Madhavan to fit in and he pulled it off quite brilliantly. His character demanded balancing multiple relationships, each with a different set of nuances. Be it with a attorney wife, who is actually on the other side of the criminal case he is dealing with OR be it during his personal encounters with Vedha, the mobster whose downfall has been his mission and also the person who intrigues him the most by making him look at the gray side OR be it with his colleagues, with whom he shares his ideologies in the most pragmatical way possible with some kind of naiveté – These are some of the different shades of Vikram’s character that Madhavan had to carry on his shoulders.

Vedha is that introspective criminal, who was thrown into the mix due to circumstances. He is fully aware of what he is doing and hence keeps himself detached from other people, except perhaps for his love for his brother, a matter in which he had no choice. He deals with situations in a practical way, weighs his choices justly and sticks with his decision. He is smart and is persuasive.

The Vikram-Betal structure has been used to frame this intricate plot of what otherwise is a simple story. Pushkar and Gayatri have shown their humorous side in the past through their earlier outings and their penchant for brilliant one liners continue here as well but in a more unassuming way than you could imagine in a plot like this. Even though Sam CS’s background score is bright and energetic for this movie, providing the much needed gusto, he also overdoes it to some extent (would have preferred a softer approach in some sequences). The main theme chant inspired by the powerful “Aigiri Nandini” stands out and bodes well with the overall momentum of the movie.

In Vikram Vedha, we get to witness two characters from two sides of the socially dictated moral spectrum of “Right vs Wrong”, pitted against each other and making choices based on their instincts.  When one of the two characters offers the other a different perspective and the other character agrees to accommodate a different perspective, the choice making is no longer instinctive but analytical.

And the buzz of “Oru Kadha Sollattaa Saar?” (“Shall I narrate a story, Sir?”) continues to ring in my ears.

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Posted in Movies - General

Dunkirk – An Act of Survival

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For the American movie audience, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk will come across as an educational experience because this historic event from 1940, albeit being one of the major chapters of the British WWII history books, is hardly talked about in America.

Nolan, the man known for his quirky and yet intelligible signature style of creating temporal melee of events, like in movies such as “Memento”, “Inception” and “Interstellar”, doesn’t fail to stamp his style on Dunkirk as well. His signature style involves telling a story through multiple timelines, sometimes overlapping through his tense screenplay , but eventually synchronizing them all in the only way he can. His audience often walk out of the movie halls thinking or analyzing what just happened, but with Dunkirk he manages to achieve much more. The audience walk out with a sense of trauma relief. A trauma caused by some intense and realistic 107 minutes of being part of the largest evacuations in WWII history and surviving some ruthless enemy attacks.

Dunkirk starts off in quite a fiercely animated way, with a group of six soldiers trying to chart their way out to the sea from the middle of the town, where they were hiding when flyers from the Nazi Germany had been dropped — Paper flyers giving them a dire warning of having no way out. That intensity that sets in the first minute is not lost almost till the end credits. In fact, it only escalates during various sequences in between. The overall cinematic experience is beyond anything you may have seen in war movies. Hoyte Van Hoytema with his vivid shots, Hans Zimmer’s tension filled background score, the editor, the sound engineers, etc. who managed to keep that immersive experience till the end deserve credit for aiding Nolan with creating a masterpiece of cinema.

Having not been warned prior to watching the movie, it took me a few minutes to understand the three timelines cryptically set by Nolan at the very beginning. Not that I am spoiling a surprise here, but it may help you watch the movie and enjoy the experience if you knew it ahead of time. With these three timelines being editorially intertwined in a skillful way, Nolan still manages to tell three different stories (and their backstories) with a common meeting point.

Land, Sea and Sky — Those are the three different timelines.

With a naval commander on land, who is coordinating the evacuation through minimal resources, we get to experience the story (and the events during that one week timeline) through a fumbled escape route taken by Tommy, a thin soldier, whose emotions are as raw as what Nolan wants us to experience, nothing too personal and nothing too painful, but simply as raw human instinct for survival.

On sea, the story and the timeline of that one day unfolds through the experiences of a private small boat owner (played by one of my favorite actors Mark Rylance), who is being called for this mission, along with a civilian fleet ranging from tug boats to steamers and ferries, all sailing through the English Channel, to help evacuate as many English soldiers as they can from Dunkirk. Mark Rylance’s character, Mr. Dawson and his son end up taking a shy lad, who happens to be the son’s friend in their mission. As they navigate the waters, with Luftwaffes (german fighter planes) dominating the skies and with other troubled English ships on the water, they eventually manage to rescue more than what they may have set out to sail for.

Meanwhile, on air, we have three Royal Air Force pilots taking off in their Spitfires to give cover for the fleet and also in an attempt to shoot down the Luftwaffes. As they battle the bobbing clouds and blinding sun, they need to somehow survive the relentless attacks from the enemy planes. We get to experience the story and this timeline of an hour unfold through Tom Hardy, piloting the only plane that eventually makes it to Dunkirk successfully. As he walks out of his plane, he shoots it in order to avoid it being captured by the Germans. That sight signifies the sentiment of the war.

Christopher Nolan’s brilliance for juggling different timelines and his amazing ability to show them all through a vision that can only be described as elastic (made into reality with the help of Lee Smith, the editor), makes this movie work big time. The intensity and the rawness captured through a wide angle 70mm format and Hans Zimmer’s brilliant score with a sustaining hum of a metallic noise throughout the film along with intermittent string outbursts to ratchet up tension and anxiety pretty much take you to the middle of the combat zone.

Nolan manages to avoid showing gore which we are so used to in war films, and instead chooses to show the rawness of the action as it unfolds. We don’t get to see wounds, we don’t witness blood gushing, we don’t get to see zoomed broken legs or arms, and we certainly don’t see too many traumatic injury filled faces. Nolan doesn’t hide the reality of these combat scenes, so you do feel all of the above in passing. What’s more, Nolan doesn’t even identify the enemy here as Nazi Germany, as if letting us know, there was no point in telling us the obvious. Even Churchill, an integral figure behind the evacuation is never more than a passing reference who gains relevance (in the movie) only through a newspaper article which Tommy reads after he gets home, towards the end.

Wars may not be won by evacuations, but this evacuation was truly a victory for the human will to survive. Dunkirk is an experiential movie that leaves you with an impact that very few war movies manage to achieve.

Bring on the Oscars!!