Friday 25 August 2017

Indian Film Festival 2017 - Barrie Pattison finds three films of interest including the blockbuster BAHUBALI 2 (S S Rajamouli)

Well that’s three times in three weeks I’ve seen a sequel which is the biggest earner for its national film industry and we’re not talking Myanmar or Barbados or any of those other locations that seem to fill holes in the Film Festival schedules.

In the wake of Iran’s genial Sperm Whale 2 (Saman Moghadam), I got Jacky Wu in his own Wolf Warrior 2, followed last week end by Bahubali 2 (S S Rajamouli) in the Indian Film Festival.

You didn’t know there’d been an Indian Film Festival - but there was a poster in a grocery store window and a difficult to navigate web site. I can’t say how they did at Blacktown but they averaged three and a half people at the sessions I attended at Fox Studios and I had a part of An Insignificant Man run for my exclusive benefit.

Bahubali 2’s earnings have passed previous Indian box office champ Dangal. It comes from their little exported Telugu language industry and features those unfamiliar personnel in a splendidly confidant mythological/digital piece with a booming score.

From stylish titles with the background figures as statues in arrested motion (ponder that) we get into the plot with the Mahishmati Kingdom’s queen mother, a pot of blazing coals on her head, doing the ritual circling of the pyre offering to Shiva where she must not falter, only to be menaced by thirty-foot tall elephants which are diverted by her national hero son, bare chested Bahubali /Prabhas, to the rapturous enthusiasm of the crowd. The pachyderm he uses as a step onto the podium appears to be real.

We get a marvellous bogus aerial shot that takes the camera into the immense multi-layer palace where there’s tension among the royals.

To better understand the people, Prahbas goes off on his travels in disguise and spots Anushka Shetty, warrior princess of the smaller neighbouring Kunthala Kingdom - instant erotic charge when his hand lands on her bare midriff  halting the runaways. He passes himself off as an unskilled peasant and is put in the hands of her comic uncle for training.

However, a (digital) invading army attacks the palace and Prahbas has to step forward, showing her how to loose four arrows at the same time while taking down hordes of attackers - great scene. Prahbas’ cover is blown and Shetty sets fire to his clothes revealing the armour underneath. This pair are clearly going to be an item. However Shetty’s twelve foot portrait has been sent back to Mahishmati where Prahbas’ brother is enamoured when the (digital) rose-shade satin curtain falls away. He has his mum send an offer of marriage.

Determined to sort it all out, the leads set out for his home on a ship where she is able to colour the sea and he has the sails turn into wings to avoid a storm. They enter under the bridge supported by the giant stone elephant - fabulous imagery. We get one of the few songs with Shetty’s eyes appearing through the slashed gauze.

The second half is less compelling.  The film gets grimmer, much less fun. They lose the (mainly digital) animals which were a welcome element of the spectacle - the rogue elephants, the white Brahma bulls racing through the river, the menacing boars running the cultivated rows or the carrier pigeon owl.  I’m not familiar enough with the Mahabharata to know how much their story has been contaminated by the Nibelungen, 300, Zorro and Ivan the Terrible, a favourite in these.

Also the overpowering 4K imagery becomes less flamboyant, though I do cherish the troops being catapulted over the walls from winched down palm trees (think Gary Cooper in The Real Glory) in arrow proof shield formations or the severed head of the dead tyrant’s giant golden statue washed over the falls.

Imposing and all as it is, possibly the best ever use of the new imaging technology, you can still spot cost cutting in the motionless dot distant crowd figures. The cast just about carry the load though unsmiling Shetty is not all that involving as the royal heroine Kremhild character.

Whatever faults this piece may have, it would be sad not to see it playing to a wide audience which would delight in its exotic flamboyance.

Also screened was Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy’s Billion Colour Story, a heart on its sleeve attempt at a serious English language art film, which only briefly manages any impact, mainly in its finale switched to colour from Satyajit Ray-style B&W.

In this one the Muslim-Hindu film maker couple back from an Australian (!) film school try to make a movie about religious division in an India currently torn by those tensions, meeting predictable frustration at every turn.  The film is not without interest, as in it’s probably drawn from life scenes of meeting film industry figures in an attempt to finance their high significance project or the friend resolving to abandon her head scarf, asserting that she is a better Muslim than most.

Starting by showing the Australian educated narrator son correcting his teacher’s English, impact is undermined by the self-conscious Indian-English dialogue coming complete with English sub-titles.

An Insignificant Man
Last film was Khushboo Ranka, & Vinay Shukla’s An Insignificant Man, an unexpectedly involving Hindi feature documentary, along the lines of  the Wolper Making of a President series, using actuality to follow the rise of whistle blower Arvind Kejriwal and his The Common Man's Party, which to everyone’ surprise toppled the long ruling Congress party in Delhi with an anti-corruption program, the promise of 700 litres of free water per family and halving power bills.

Varying texture with mainly video material backed by an unobtrusive continuous score, at this length the piece is of specialised interest.

Well, showing Bahubali (at $28 a seat) added some brilliant two projector Imax to the 70 mm and 3D films running in town at the same time. If you do an inordinate amount of work you actually can get some kind a handle on world film activity from Sydney. It would be nice to find people taking advantage of the opportunity.

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