The disappointments started before the stars even rolled into town: my trusted friend and fellow Bo/Ko/Tollywood aficionada, Larissa (@elegnt_hedgehg on Twitter), had to break it to me that tickets for the much buzzed about Breakaway (about which I blogged briefly here) were sold out in less than an hour and that I would have to wait just like the rest of them until September the 30th to see it.
Just as I was falling in love with the soundtrack. It's hard to say if that was a blessing in disguise since reviews for it have been rather unkind, but what can I say, I must be a sucker for marketing because I really wanted to see it.
Despite this... um... thing. Whatever it is...
Or maybe all the more because of it!
And for crying out loud, they brought in an elephant on Yonge Street on the day of the premiere!!
But you know, I missed the elephant because of another film: Azhagarsamy's Horse. The Tamil movie at TIFF this year.
Azhagarsamy's Horse is one of those films that are perfect educational material when one wants to explain the concept of "first half" and "second half" in Indian films. I would imagine it's hard for people who don't watch Indian films to understand how a movie can be excellent in one half and terrible during the other. Hollywood films are either good overall or bad overall. Azhagarsamy's Horse falls under: awful first half, brilliant second half.
The first half sets up the scene in a poor village where agriculture (and by extension rain) is the only lifeline for some hundred villagers. When it hasn't rained for a few years, unlike the resourceful bunch in Lagaan, who knew exactly what gods to pray to (the gods of cricket, obviously!), the villagers resort to all kinds of solutions, one more pathetic than the other. They all involve white magic, or better said crooks posing as priests or messengers of the Gods. And of course, they all involve the villagers rounding up what little money they have left to pay these crooks or to make sacrifices for the gods.
I think I may be a little tired of these types of shenanigans and of the side plots with the priest whose job consists of fooling the poor innocent villagers. They seem to show up in all kinds of Tamil and Telugu films, often as the comic relief, and I find it neither funny nor sympathetic. So a whole hour of these clowns parading around on the screen sure made the prospect of going out and seeing the Breakaway elephant terribly attractive. Add to that some 20 minutes of technical difficulties before the second half started and you can just about picture my long face before the second half of Azhagarsamy's Horse.
But then this little guy shows up.
And all of a sudden... we have a movie! We have a beautiful, touching story, actually several of them, we have some character development, we have some charming surprises, we have love, we have justice, we have compassion, we have forgiveness, we have friendship, and just about everything that makes for a lovely film. Truly lovely. All thanks to this one character, played superbly by Appukutty.
My next adventure was Vimukthi Jayasundara's Mushrooms (Chatrak), a French production shot in Calcutta and spoken for the most part in Bengali.
It's a very slow paced film (we're talking "2001: Space Oddysey" slow here!) about the consequences of industrialization and about the downside of progress. The grey majesty of Calcutta is shot in a masterful way which lets you ponder in between short scenes of plot development. I can't say I liked the movie, though I am certain I would have felt very positively about it had it been a 20 minute short film instead of a full feature, but it did leave me with some brilliant imagery and some profound symbolism that I am not likely to forget any time soon.
After having to revise my choice for "most awaited film at TIFF" twice, I finally defaulted to Michael, as the only much awaited film I did actually see at TIFF. Anurag Kashyap's newest production, directed by the very amiable newcomer Ribhu Dasgupta, is a psychological thriller about a former police officer who is struggling with progressive myopia. Protecting his 12 year old son and maintaining a relationship with him is the force that keeps him going and as we watch Michael fall apart we begin to experience some of that over-protectiveness ourselves, shifting our empathy from Michael to the little helpless boy.
Michael works as a thriller up to a certain point, when it becomes all too clear what is happening, but by then we are already caught in the web of curiosity so we continue watching in awe at what may or may not happen. The ending was changed by the director upon receiving feedback from people in the industry, and that in itself is sad, because they were probably right. I always have to keep in mind that us festival going audiences are not the same as the audiences in India, so where we would love to see ambiguity, other audiences would probably not. But except for this little disappointment, Michael delivers a very tender emotional story that sends the psychological aspect to the back seat which is why it worked for me.
As always, Naseeruddin Shah shines in a role that exploits his tremendous talent to its fullest and he is beautifully complemented by young Purab Bhandari (whose talent we had the pleasure to appreciate before in the heart-melting Tahaan).
Unfortunately, even this film came with its own frown, perhaps the saddest of them all: the film is dedicated to the late Somak Mukherjee, the brilliant cinematographer who gave us Pankh and Iti Mrinalini (which I have yet to see) before Michael. A very talented man whose work in Michael deserves every praise: a film that was shot mostly at night, in a decaying Calcutta, and yet its quaint beauty shines through in every frame. Such was this man's talent. I am truly sad that I have to praise Somak Mukherjee in past tense.
Of course, the most dramatic frown of the festival was reserved to the cancellation of Mausam, a day before its world premiere. I have spent far too much time expressing my displeasure with many of the details of this fiasco, so for this post I will remain peaceful and use the paragraph to give props to the organizers at TIFF for the extremely professional way in which they handled this disaster. We got our money back the very next day and they were in excellent crisis management form. I'm sure vases were broken behind closed doors, and I can only hope TIFF never has to experience this again, but they did make me proud.
Speaking of frowns, I should mention my greatest disappointment this TIFF: I didn't get to see Salman Rushdie in a conversation with Deepa Mehta about Midnight's Children. Poor timing, and it sold out quickly, so I suppose it wasn't meant to be. Now I don't like Deepa Mehta and find that her skills as a film-maker are always overshadowed by her bitterness as a person, but I still await Midnight's Children with trepidation because, you know, I adore Salman Rushdie. Since he was involved in the script writing, there is hope for this movie still.
Of the three films I did manage to see so far, only two of the directors showed up, and none of the cast. Truly a shame to not see Naseeruddin Shah at the premiere of Michael after that fantastic performance. I am sure the audience would have been off their seats!
Last on my list for TIFF this year: Trishna - Michael Winterbottom's interpretation of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, set in modern-day India. But barring a sensational performance from Freida Pinto, I doubt I will find anything to blog about since Tess is definitely not one of my favourite books. Sorry, was that too subtle? Ok, I hated this story, so there!