So should Hindi movies be categorized here as 'foreign films'? How ridiculous. Still, anything not from Hollywood might be classified as such, logically. So I'll just sit on the fence for this one until I come up with a clever, alliterative category name. Filmi Friday might just have to do it, though.
Parched: Director Leena Yadav's story of friendship and freedom set amidst the deserts of rural Gujarat was interesting. Mainly because it's a story of women, and this was a great delight in the usually testosterone-heavy world of Hindi cinema. Parched tells us about the lives of four friends. There are plenty of charming, un-self conscious vignettes of everyday life that resonated for me. (Why are so many other Indian filmmakers immune to the little things?) And then there's the grand, over-arching theme of aching for freedom-- and doing something to obtain it, even if through a combination of circumstance and choice. The film feels glorious in its saturated colors, the abandonment felt in the company of female friends, and the ultimate bid for freedom that is an affirmation of life itself.
Let me also take a moment here to talk about the moments of intimacy portrayed. Wait, bare breasts? In a Hindi movie, that too without the context of a slavering male performing a 'rape scene'? An actual moment of human need, told without the need for a conclusion or an apology? For this alone I am stunned.
All in all, a quartet of memorable roles. Hitherto unknown to me were Surveen Chawla as the unapologetic showgirl Bijli and the reluctant child-bride Janaki portrayed by Lehar Khan. This kind of cinema gives me hope for more such stories coming out of that impossibly intriguing country of mine.
Ungli: I'm a bit of a latecomer here, since this Renzil D'Silva-directed movie is actually from 2014. Still, the premise is attractive: ordinary Indian citizens rising up to set straight the rot of corruption and apathy that besets much of the country's political and bureaucratic system.
Told with the belief that many Indians hold, "They understand only one language," the story moves quickly with four young people taking it upon themselves to pull daring, dangerous and eye-opening pranks on certain of the corrupt officials or public servants in Mumbai. They come to be known as the Ungli gang...brilliant, since 'ungli' means 'finger' in Hindi. Well-publicized by the gang themselves, the stunts or capers, for lack of a better word, have the advantage of resonating so deeply with most Indians that this alone is satisfaction for watching the film. Never mind that this 'corruption' or whatever one calls it, is being perpetuated by us, against us. We are the enemy, yet we must rise up.
The two nascent romances seemed rather perfunctory in the larger scheme of things, though. A more skilled weaving of character arcs and backstories might have helped with this angle, failing which we didn't need the romances at all. Then Kangana Ranaut's role felt a bit underwhelming. Indeed, besides Randeep Hooda as the leader of the Ungli gang, no one really stood out for me. Sanjay Dutt is the main policeman character mercifully playing his own age here and even letting his gray hair show, a positively courageous choice, I thought.
Overall, Ungli is interesting. If only it had gone through a few further rounds of bashing in the editing room, it might have come out a more finely-polished end product.