Saturday, September 28, 2013


Release date:
September 27, 2013
Ashish R. Shukla


Chandan Roy Sanyal, Elena Kazan, Mayank Kumar, Arfi Lamba, Sonia Bindra
Hindi, English, a bit of Czech and Russian

I watched Prague for the second time this week to refresh my memory of the film for this review; the first time was at the Cinefan film festival in Delhi in 2012. That I could enjoy it again despite knowing the climax is a mark of how cleverly director Ashish R. Shukla has stitched together this psychological thriller about a mentally troubled young man.

Through a narrative travelling between Europe in the present and India in flashback, we see what brought this 'normal'-looking chap to this pass. Chandan is/was an architecture student, too shy to approach the girl he liked. Shubhangi is/was that girl. Arfi is/was his friend. Gulshan is/was his often crude, obnoxious yet well-meaning classmate. Chandan and Gulshan bag a trip to Prague to do their thesis. Once there, they meet a pretty local girl, the dancer Elena.  

Guilt+jealousy is a combustible combination. I won’t reveal the cause of Chandan’s guilt here. What I can tell you is that his insecurities seem to stem from an underlying conviction that he’s not good enough – for Shubhangi or Elena. When did he metamorphose from the cocksure fellow cruelly indifferent to Arfi’s cries to an under-confident youngster? Has his over-active imagination been triggered by the green-eyed monster, or by his psychological frailty brought on by guilt, or perhaps even by substance abuse? What came first? We must find out.

The fulcrum of Prague is theatre and film actor Chandan Roy Sanyal whose calling card with Bollywood audiences so far has been the supporting role of Mikhail in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey in 2009. Between then and now, he has made several appearances in Hindi, English and Bengali films, some that have effectively tapped his tremendous talent (F.A.L.T.U., D-Day) and others that have terribly shortchanged him (Hema Malini’s Tell Me O Kkhuda). It’s a joy then to see him play the lead in Prague, delivering a performance that’s only possible when a man invests his entire body, mind and soul in a complex, demanding role. India has woken up to the remarkable Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the past couple of years. Hopefully soon, the spotlight will fall on an equally deserving talent going by the name Chandan Roy Sanyal.

His co-stars have all been well-chosen. Elena Kazan was seen earlier this month playing Randeep Hooda’s alcoholic girlfriend in John Day. In Prague she’s a woman desperate to help Chandan although his inordinate curiosity about her past loves leads her to tell him with disgust that he’s “a typical Indian man”. The German-Russian actress’ proficiency with Indian languages is charming, her on-screen journey from carefree soul to heart-broken lover seems effortless. Arfi Lamba as Arfi and Mayank Kumar as Gulshan are equally natural performers.

The other star of this film is its music featuring old and original compositions in Hindi, English, Bengali and Czech, some in their entirety, some in snatches. The standout elements are the haunting Czech number Kap kap kap which the subtitles tell me translates into “Drip drip drip”; and that scene in which Gulshan starts singing Meri bheegi bheegi si palkon pe rah gaye from the 1970s Hindi film Anamika at which point Chandan cuts in with the original Bengali song from which it took its tune, Mone pore Ruby Ray. Lovely! The soundtrack, Elena’s stage performance, the streets of Prague, its history and landmarks, the snappy editing and Udaysingh Mohite’s disturbingly intimate camerawork come together to build up the ever-on-the-edge, ever suspicious, never-completely-happy mood of Prague and its protagonist.

The film’s screenplay (credited to Sumit Saxena, Ashish R. Shukla, Akshendra Mishra, Vijay Verma and producer Rohit Khaitan) is complex but never convoluted. The one sore point for me is the writing of the character Shubhangi, which has touches of that cliched women-get-into-relationships-to-take-advantage-of-gullible-men trope that some gentlemen propagate. This is not a thought emerging from Chandan’s imagination but hinted at by the tone of a couple of scenes. In retrospect that puts a whole new colour on the use of the song from Anamika in which you might recall that the lyrics at one point went thus: “Aag se naata, naari se rishta / Kahe mann samajh na paaya.” Perhaps this was unintentional, but it’s an issue worth raising. As it happens, some of Shubhangi’s English dialogues sound slightly stilted, which is surprising considering that all the other lines in the film flow naturally.

I’m not sure I agree with the choice of title for the film, but the choice of foreign location is apt. Unlike Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’s tourist-brochure-like tribute to Spain, Prague is not used in this film merely for its beauty. Chandan doesn’t go abroad simply to illustrate how hard it had become for him to escape his demons. There’s that point too, no doubt, but Prague in particular becomes a metaphor for the game of self-deception his mind is playing with itself, as Elena explains to him that locals took advantage of the Nazi-run concentration camps in Europe for Jews, using them as a cover to run similar camps to finish off gypsies during World War II, later blaming this travesty on the Nazis. For art, architecture and history buffs, there are moments like this scattered throughout Prague. In fact, one of the film’s nicest scenes has Elena and Chandan before the city’s statue of The Cloak of Conscience, trying to decipher it.

Prague is a thoroughly engaging, highly engrossing film. It demands every ounce of the viewer’s attention, but in the end it’s an intriguing, rewarding experience.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
1 hours 49 minutes
Photograph courtesy: Team Prague

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Hello everyone,

This blog is an ongoing experiment for me. As you may have noticed, once every few months, I’ve been putting up a poll here on sundry film-related subjects. But now I’ve decided use the poll element on this platform more actively and frequently as a tool for research for various articles. Sometimes I may quote the poll in an article, sometimes I may just use it for my reference. Thank you in advance to those of you who enthusiastically participate.

Here are the results of the poll conducted last month soon after the release of Chennai Express. The question I asked was:


Not “the biggest star”, not “the one with the most box-office success”, but the “best actor”.

Here’s how you voted:

37.5% of you voted for Aamir Khan as the best actor of the three Khans

37.5%, that’s an equal number, voted for Shah Rukh Khan

25% voted for Salman Khan

The question that intrigues me is this: does this mean that a majority of online film-goers think Aamir and SRK are better actors than Salman? Or does this mean Salman’s fans are less active on the blogosphere, or on Facebook and Twitter where I announced the poll? Interesting.

Thank you for being part of my effort to understand my readers, the film world and the blogosphere better.

The next poll is already up. Do cast your vote.

Warm regards,


Saturday, September 21, 2013


Release date:
September 20, 2013
Ritesh Batra


Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bharati Achrekar
Hindi with a bit of English

The Lunchbox is a mellow film that could get even a staid, sobre cine-phile into a riotously celebratory mood. The sort of mood that makes me want to jump out of a hoarding above a busy street aping the star of the other film release this week and yell out: Phata Poster Nikhla Hero, Toh Khulla Lunchbox Nikhla Rishtaa and other un-sobre things. When people aren’t assuming that film critics have a “fun…easy job”, they ask: Why do you opt for a job which involves watching lousy films week after week? Answer: For weeks like this, when you catch a gem the mass audience is not scurrying to see, and you want to stand on a rooftop and shout out to them that they should give this one a shot because there can be such beauty in simplicity.

We’ve seen food films. We’ve seen romances. This one’s a fromance. Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) is a diligent, unsocial widower who quietly goes through his busy workdays at an insurance company followed by evenings in solitude at home. On the eve of his retirement, he is tasked with training his successor, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who is an irritating young man. At another end of bustling Mumbai lives Ila, a young housewife and mother like millions of others in this world, pouring love and passion and planning into cooking meals for her indifferent husband. The only break in her boring, monotonous routine comes in the form of conversations through her kitchen window with the spirited Aunty upstairs (Bharati Achrekar). Then one day, Mumbai’s famously efficient dabbawaalas slip up: the lunchbox she sent to her husband’s office accidentally lands on Saajan’s desk. Circumstances lead to an exchange of notes between them over a period of time, and through those missives they become fast friends sharing their innermost secrets with each other – her unhappiness, his plans, his memories of his wife, her fears about her marriage, they all come pouring out to a faceless stranger.

Most of this you would have figured out from the trailer. What you couldn’t possibly guess is what comes afterwards or how layered this very basic story turns out to be in the hands of director Ritesh Batra. If you’ve lived in Mumbai (I’ve not) or travelled there repeatedly on work (I have) then The Lunchbox will offer you added nuances that may escape a rank outsider to this fascinating, exasperating city. What each person wears, the accents in which they speak, the localities where they live, what they eat and those surreptitiously written letters all tell us so much about life in this metropolis but also any metropolis, about social divides in Mumbai, loneliness in marriage, contentment in seclusion, the human spirit, hope and hopelessness.

The casting is brilliant, the performances even more so. I spent most of The Lunchbox wanting to reach out and hug Irrfan, Nimrat and Nawaz, because their character had either done something so wonderfully loveable or human, or simply because I wanted to comfort them and tell them that all would be well. That’s how much this film draws you in. Irrfan is superb as an old man who may not even have known he was lonely until he discovers renewed interest in life via that lunchbox. A glance, a slight twitch of the lips, a hesitant hand is all it takes for this great artiste to convey an ocean-full of emotions. It calls for the skill of the always-excellent Nawazuddin to draw attention even while Irrfan is in such form or for that matter to make the irksome Shaikh likeable…but as the film rolls on, he manages both. That the two of them are fabulous performers is something we all already know, but it requires a film maker with vision to have seen his Ila in newcomer Nimrat. Should the credit for discovering her go to Ritesh or casting director Seher Latif? I don’t know. So here’s a salaam to both for presenting to us this tremendously talented woman most of India recognizes only from her Cadbury ad so far.  

Those who love cooking will understand what a sensual and equally meditational experience it can be. Director of Photography Michael Simmonds seems to know that well, taking Ila’s kitchen to a different realm altogether with those close-ups of her hands rolling koftas, gently slipping them into boiling oil, then dunking them in a gravy so delicious-looking that I hope the producers of this film release Ila’s Recipe Book as part of the post-release promotions. Complementing Simmonds’ work are Michael Kaczmarek and his sound design team, who turn that kitchen into a haven of pops and fizzes, of hot liquids bubbling on a stove and the crackling ingredients in a pan while the city goes about its business outside.

Everything about The Lunchbox is delectably low-key: the conversations, the presentation style, the acting. Yet within each deceptively calm person is a churning that we all can identify with. Through the film, I was aching and smiling for all three principal characters and even for that ever-positive upar-waali Aunty. The only scene which seemed contrived was the one involving Ila’s mother, not just because the brief chat they had at that point popped up just too conveniently there to add another dimension to the narrative on relationships, but also because Lillette Dubey in the role didn’t fit the overall picture. While looking back at the film though, that’s a barely noticeable fumble. 

The Lunchbox is seemingly simple yet as complex as all human beings are. It’s sad yet throws up humour when you are least expecting it. It’s not larger than life, it’s just as large as life always is. This film is truly sensational.

Rating (out of five): ****1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
1 hours 49 minutes (courtesy
Photograph courtesy: UTV Motion Pictures