Tamil cinema gets a rare outing in Hong Kong with this life-affirming story of two Chennai slum kids and their efforts to taste the exotic and seemingly unattainable pizza sold at a flashy new eatery. Buoyed up by charming, naturalistic performances and a catchy soundtrack from G.V. Prakash Kumar, The Crow’s Egg is that rare family film that eschews big budget effects and animated antics in favour of relatable characters and home truths.
This modest Indian drama was put on my radar by Twitch editor Todd Brown, who named it his favourite film of 2013, and it’s easy to see why. It’s the story of a poverty stricken family in Delhi, who send their 12-year-old son Siddharth off to work in a factory, only for him to go missing.
His father, Mahendra (Rajesh Tailiang), makes it his mission to find him, but as a humble chain-wallah he has neither the means nor resources to do so effectively. Along the way he hears persistent horror stories about young children being abducted, maimed and put on the streets of Mumbai to beg, as well as facing dishonest businessmen and bureaucratic officials who seem unwilling to or disinterested in helping him.
Richie Mehta’s direction is simple yet incredibly effective, particularly the way in which he uses his younger actors. We never get a good look at Siddharth in the film’s opening scene, before he is sent packing by his father, who also doesn’t have any photos of him. As a result our memory of what the young lad looks like is hazy at best.
During the course of the film, Mahendra meets many young boys in his search for his son, as Mehta deliberately casts a number of young actors who look remarkably similar to Siddharth, and even uses the same actor – Irfan Khan – in a few of the roles, to further mess with us. It works brilliantly.
The result is an incredibly powerful and moving film, an odyssey into the unknown, both for the characters and the audience, as we see an entirely different side of India than is normally put forward in its mainstream Bollywood Cinema. However the naturalistic performances, and the ever-growing sense of tragedy and dread, ensure Siddarth is an effecting and traumatising piece of work that is not easily shaken off.
Originally released in 2001, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham opened to record breaking box office sales in India and went on to achieve the highest international gross of any Indian film. Coming at the peak of Bollywood’s new wave, which began with films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dil Se in the late 90s, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham was released in the same year as the international hit, Lagaan and like a number of films at the time, had a more contemporary visual and musical style and a focus on issues of interest to younger Indians and those living outside of India.
Directed by Karan Johar and starring Shah Rukh Khan, with choreography by Farah Khan, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham continues the style developed with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, a spectacularly successful and much loved coming of age dramatic comedy. And, while the film has a modern polish to it, much of the melodrama, obsession with family politics, and stunning set piece dance moves hark back to the golden age of Bollywood (late 50s to early 70s). In many ways, the appeal of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is down to its ability to be both old and new, camp and serious, modern and corny, all at the same time.
Shah Rukh Khan plays Rahul Raichand, the eldest son of wealthy industrial tycoon Yash Raichand (Amitabh Bachchan). Rahul has just come home from studying overseas to take up a role in his father’s business and soon confronts his father’s desire for him to marry Naina Kapoor (Rani Mukerji), the socialite daughter of a family friend. But, Rahul’s heart is taken, in a chance encounter in Old Delhi, by Anjali Sharma (Kajol). While Rahul’s mother Nandini (Jaya Bachchan) is sympathetic, his father does not approve of the match at all.
Up to the intermission, the film plays out this drama with some of the best Bollywood film-making of its generation. In its first acts, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is just so beautiful and stylishly well composed, with an infectious and moving music accompaniment, one can’t help but be carried away by the visual and emotional roller coaster ride.
After the intermission, the story advances ten years and we meet Rohan (Hrithik Roshan), Rahul’s younger brother, as he returns from boarding school. The family is now living out the consequences of Yash’s refusal to accept Rahul’s true love and soon Rohan is collaborating with Anajli’s younger sister, Pooja (Kareena Kapoor) to try and bring the family back together.
It’s here, as the action moves from Delhi to London, that the film really drags. There’s at least one, maybe two dance scenes too many involving Rohan and Pooja and much of the London based action is petty and absurd. By the time the final act comes along, the drama and pace do pick up, thankfully, but it has taken far too long for viewers to get there.
Still, it’s worth remembering Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham was made at a time Bollywood still felt compelled to give cinema-goers “good value” not just in terms of entertainment, but in terms of length and musical numbers. So while we might pine for a better, more tightly edited version of the film, it’s just not something film-makers at the time would have aspired to.
And, despite these frustrations, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham still manages, in its best moments, to be wonderful entertainment. The film is essential viewing for those wanting to understand the context and development of contemporary Indian cinema and for the rest of us, it’s just a wonderful, nostalgic, melodramatic saga, to be savoured for all its memorable, absurd and delightful excesses.
Wali Khan (Irrfan Khan) was planted nine years ago in Karachi as an Indian polio spy, using the cover of being a hairdresser to track the movements of India’s most wanted man, “Goldman” (Rishi Kapoor). When the opportunity arises to try and capture Goldman, Khan and a team including Rudra Pratap (Arjun Rampal) and Zoya Rehman (Huma Qureshi) are brought together to lead a daring raid.
This semi-realistic police action drama is well acted and has great action scenes. But, all too often the film is let down by aggressive editing and a less than compelling score. D-Day feels long and the third act is unnecessarily drawn out. Yet, despite these issues, D-Day is an exciting experience.
Madhabi Mukherjee is luminous in Satyajit Ray’s film about a Bengali housewife who experiences her first taste of freedom and financial independence when her husband (reluctantly) allows her to get a sales job to help subsidize the family income. A social talking point in Calcutta at the time, women across the emerging middle class were disrupting the traditional patriarchal family unit, and Ray brilliantly captures this quiet moment of rebellion, and the tiny – yet hugely telling – ripples of disquiet within the household.