Saturday, February 28, 2009


"My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you". Milk, nation's first openly gay elected official to a major office, often used that as his opening line in public speeches. But he intends no pun there, he wants to recruit people into the politics of democracy.

The movie traces the life of an insurance salesman who moved across the nation from New York to San Francisco, only to be in the right place and right time to rise up to the occasion. Sometimes that is all it takes for a Tsunami to build up and unleash. Be it a Rosa Parks not vacating her seat or that defiance by a wiry advocate on a South African train near Pietermaritzburg.

Milk may be many things: funny, charming, politically shrewd but he is also inherently kind, as portrayed by Sean Penn. Both Mr.Penn and the director Gus Van Sant take up the cause of equality of men not just with rebellion spirit but with a mounting sense of righteous anger. They gradually build up such empathy and an inner sense of 'Can you believe they are being denied their basic civil rights?" very effectively through Milk's speeches and debates. The director uses an activist point of view for his camera, i.e. for all of Milk's speeches, the camera tries to unsteadily peer through at Milk amidst other listening heads of the audience.

Milk understood the politics of democracy and tried to used them effectively to advance his cause - equality of men (in the great sense of phrase as used in the declaration of independence.) He was willing to loose battles and trade votes on the city council to win the war. He made his state and city the battlegrounds by brining home the battles from other states and cities.

The greatest strategy he uses is, not surprisingly, empathy which leads to an interesting tension between privacy and political power. If you want political power, reveal who you are. Make your friends and family know that you are not an alien entity, not sick and cannot be fixed up by psychiatric voodoo. This coming out of the closet, Milk believes, leads to acceptance in a bottom up fashion and eventually making your voices heard. The movie avoids potentially painful scenes of coming out of closet before parents, may be not to undermine the power and potency of the strategy or may be assumes audience awareness of the pain and thus leaves it to the imagination making it even more powerful.

The movie benefits from a very moving and engaging soundtrack by Danny Elfman and of course a host of very effective cast. Some of the scenes have been re-enatced on the streets of San Francisco by people who had been personally affected by these historical events, most notably a candle-light vigil which is very moving. His name is Harvey Milk and he is very effective in recruiting audience to his cause. But not so much with members of academy who were unfairly candied away by Slumdog Millionaire.

Highly Recommended.

- Written by Kesava Mallela

Monday, February 16, 2009

Luck By Chance

Zoya Akthar is probably one of those kids who ate, drank and slept Bollywood and oddly this daughter of Javed Akthar and Honey Irani, cousin of Farah Khan and hence a friend of a zillion leading stars and other figureheads of the hindi film industry[1] does a good job of (re-/de-)constructing the filmistan world for outsiders [2].

An debutant outsider, Vikram JaiSingh (played by Farhan Akthar), hits the jackpot and turns into an overnight star, thanks to a series of fortunate events -- thats the pretty much the gist of the story. But what makes this movie interesting is the crumbling fourth wall, great performances and a bunch of ironies that go along with the casting.

Crumbling fourth wall [3] and self-mockery have been on the rise in the recent years as seen in Om Shanti Om and other movies. This one takes a sharper tone by casting big stars in edgier roles instead of celebrating their starfdom and pomposity (as in Om Shanti Om or Billu Barber). The stars play loveable but marginally flawed characters with great skill making most of the movie a delight to watch. As an additional treat, the director sprinkles the movie with little vignettes like Roshan's car-window play with street kids and Kapadia's bitch-slapping phone call with a magazine editor.

What was also delightful was intrinsic ironies in casting some of the roles. Farhan Akthar plays the debutant with out any film-family background who goes on to preach about inner strength and not letting focus off the goal. Konkana Sharma plays his girl friend who is denied lead roles because of her average looks and a non-filmy background. Both Akthar and Sharma are in the movie business mostly because of their families. It is hard to believe Konkana would have gained any of her stardom with her looks with out Aparna Sen inspite of her talent as an actress. Her character in the movie has to suffice herself with TV serial roles making a decent living for herself and thats the high note the movie chooses to end with. The rolling credits made me wonder how many of those people ended there by chance and how many of them had higher aspirations but ended up as many many worker bees.  Yet many of them must be happy, as they have not done too shabby a job for themselves. Not a masterpiece of movie, but had fun watching it.

Rating: Recommended.

Written by Kesava Mallela, with many inspirations from across.
[1] One of the characters of the movie hates the term Bollywood, although the character doesn't really explain why.
[2] Outsider - one who doesnt have a Khan, Kapoor, Bachchan, Akthar-Azmi, Dutt, Devagan, Deol or a Mukherjee lastname. A more comprehensive list here at: