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A family moves into a new flat,and immediately,everything that can go wrong,does: a pregnant young wife has a bad accident...

Published: March 8, 2009 10:21 pm

Home alone
13B,Fear Has A New Address

A family moves into a new flat,and immediately,everything that can go wrong,does: a pregnant young wife has a bad accident,an electrician nearly gets fried,a mobile phone camera begins behaving erratically. Strange things happening in strange houses,is one of the oldest ploys horror films use: 13 B scores in keeping it slick and suspenseful,and almost-fresh.

Why a film like this,which needs to make every minute count,shoves in a creaky dream sequence with hero-and-heroine-singing-a-song,is beyond us. So here’s Manu (Madhavan) labouring up to the 13th floor (of course,the lift mysteriously refuses to move for him),here come his shoes up the steps,and here-you lean forward,all prepared to squeal-and there go Madhavan and Neetu Chandra,cavorting on the beach. Oh,the horror.

Like all debuts,Vikram K Kumar’s longer than it should be. While the going’s good,though,13 B piles on the chills,working hard at not making them obvious. You can spot influences from famous Japanese horror flicks (the TV set becomes the repository of old evil). And some American ones which were in turn influenced by those Japanese ones. But 13 B manages to come off almost-new (doors do not creak! owls do not hoot! white-robed ghosts do not roam the corridors!),with just enough desi schlock to keep things bouncing,and a couple of interesting twists.

It also helps the film is fronted by an efficient ensemble cast,led by the eminently believable Madhavan. Neetu lends him able support,and Poonam Dhillon,still looking good,makes a welcome re-appearance as a TV serial addict-cum-petrified-grandmom. But the one who really blows you away in a tiny cameo,is Deepak Dobriyal,playing a mentally-challenged murder suspect.

Forget the irritating item numbers. Stay with the film,and you will come to a smart little end,and leave half-smiling,half-wondering: is this what the future holds?

Where’s the plot?
Dhoondte Reh Jaoge

A PenniLess film producer,a crooked chartered accountant,a wannabe actress,a floundering star,and Rs 100 crore. Good plan,with a hopelessly lost plot: Umesh Shukla’s Dhoondte Reh Jaoge is an apt name for a film which makes you labour long and hard,in search of something to watch.

Paresh Rawal is the producer,who is about to hang himself in the first shot. You wish he had. Kunal Khemu is the jobless fellow who is so fond of telling the truth that he gets fired all the time. Soha Ali Khan is dowdy and hopeful: why do heroines playing the girl-next-door always wear such ugly,thick spectacles? And all poor Sonu Sood is required to do is to mimic Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. And Dharmendra.

A line in the film goes thus: “Yahaan par 99 per cent logon ko film banana nahin aata”. Out of the mouths of.

Fussy and frivolous
Karma Aur Holi

A Plush American suburban home becomes,over a Holi weekend,the site where everything happens: The apparently well-off host begs for funds to keep afloat,his sexy missus swishes her thick hair,her sister’s strained marriage comes unhinged,her teenage nephew discovers that He Has Needs. Other dramatis personae include a repressed wife,a potential filmmaker whose Muslim Identity Becomes A Problem,a rich Indian doctor who is Frisked Because He’s Brown,an attractive girl who Just Might Be Lesbian,and so on,and on.

So many issues make for confusion and incoherence. And an opportunity to bung in as many stereotypical Americans and NRIs as the script could accommodate: A dodgy Black neighbour,and a White cigar-chomping visitor have accents which belong in bad plays. Manish Gupta’s Karma Aur Holi also boasts supermodel Naomi Campbell,who spends her time looking lost and forlorn. And one much-publicised lovemaking scene between Sushmita Sen and Randeep Hooda,more awkward than steamy.

So what’s all the fuss about?

SHUBHRA GUPTA

Boredom of suburbia
Revolutionary Road

A Decade after he made American Beauty,Sam Mendes peeps into the lives of another family living in the suburbs,playing at being happy as the path of least resistance.

The film is based on a prize-winning novel written in 1961 by Richard Yates. Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds himself in a job in the same company where his father worked 20 years ago. He and April ( Kate Winslet) moved to the Revolutionary Road in the suburbs for the kids,telling themselves it was a temporary move,telling themselves they would never be like their neighbours,telling themselves they were special,“wonderful in this world”.

Till one day he comes home and April raises the possibility of rediscovering a life they had tucked away as the “past”. They will sell everything,cash in their savings,she says,and move to Paris—a city Frank loves. She will get a well-paid job as secretary and he can stay at home,figure out what he wants to do with life.

Initially hesitant,Frank is quickly brought around to seeing “the hopelessness,emptiness of their lives”. However,even as April starts making the preparations,Frank—now actually having to discover “what he always wanted to do” —recedes in the background. A surprise promotion doesn’t help. The new romance in their marriage leaves April pregnant. Will he let it come in the way? Her tentative suggestions of an abortion suddenly put question marks over her motherhood. Does Frank really want that child,she asks,or does that give him the excuse he needs? As their disagreements crack the myth of “the Happy Wheelers on Revolutionary Road”,their life hurtles towards tragedy.

2008 was Winslet’s year,with this being her other award-winning performance besides The Reader. Her April Wheeler has a quiet storm brewing inside her; hints of it visible in the sweat on her forehead,her desperate one-night fling,her stillness in the middle of a heated clash,in the way she beats an egg,and finally in the organised way she goes about her final act.

DiCaprio,the excellent actor that he is,is the observer of this film. Note the spring in his step as he gleefully breaks the news of their France sojourn to colleagues — as something he always wanted — and how this changes to trepidation every time he watches April. He is unsure of what she will require of him next,and we know he is afraid she knows that.

SHALINI LANGER

Loss of innocence
The Reader

The Reader is a scrupulously tasteful film about an erotic affair that turns to love. The film would have us believe it’s about,though mostly it involves Kate Winslet,her taut belly and limbs gleaming under the caressing light. Directed by Stephen Daldry and fussily adapted by David Hare from a slender novel by the German author Bernhard Schlink,the story opens in 1995 Germany with Ralph

Fiennes as a lawyer,Michael Berg,bidding an uncomfortable goodbye to an apparent one-night stand.

From the cool,sleek surfaces of his carefully appointed apartment and the downward curve of his mouth,it appears that Michael either lives an ordered if unhappy life or that Daldry has no fear when it comes to embracing stereotypes about chilly Germans. Both turn out to be true,as the nominal reasons for Michael’s pained smile are excavated through fluid flashbacks and somber revelations.

The first flashback occurs shortly after the doleful opener,with Michael staring out a window at a passing train,an image that transports him to 1958,where his 15-year-old self (David Kross) sits hunched inside a streetcar in obvious pain. The young Michael rushes into the rainy streets and retches inside a building vestibule. A woman (Winslet) materialises,as if from nowhere,briskly cleans the mess and they soon fall in love.

In time the lovers separate,and the story skips to the 1960s,with Michael wearing sideburns and attending law school. One day a professor (Bruno Ganz) takes him and a few other students to a court where some women are being tried for Nazi war crimes,which is how Hanna re-enters Michael’s life. During the proceedings he comes to realize her secret,her shame,which has nothing to do with her being a Nazi prison guard: she’s illiterate. She goes to prison,years pass,and Fiennes takes over for Kross. Eventually a Holocaust survivor (Lena Olin) living in a swank Manhattan apartment delivers a stern lecture to Michael about exploiting the Holocaust,an admonition that arrives too late for this fatuous film.

Although the commercial imperatives that drive a movie like this one are understandable—the novel was a bestseller and an Oprah’s Book Club selection,for starters—you have to wonder who,exactly,wants or perhaps needs to see another movie about the Holocaust that embalms its horrors with artfully spilled tears and asks us to pity a death-camp guard.

MANOHLA DARGIS/NYT

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