18 July 2011

Cinemascope: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - 2

My Sunday Guardian film reviews this week:

Airbrushed Spain is strangely lifelike
Director: Zoya Akhtar
Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Katrina Kaif, Kalki Koechlin, Abhay Deol

The trailers of this film had me expecting a three-hour-long Spain Tourism advertisement, with some of our very own beautiful people thrown in to tailor it to the Indian market. I can now vouch for the fact that ZNMB is indeed the perfect Spanish guided tour, moving from stunning underwater coral reefs and green patchwork countryside to now much-touristed traditional events, like the Tomatina festival – a town-wide mock-battle with tomatoes – and the famous Running of the Bulls, where young men race through the streets of Pamplona followed by a bunch of bulls. And the beautiful people, of course, appear even more so in this sunkissed, carefully careless avatar.

If you don't have an allergic reaction to the airbrushed sun-and-sand fantasy-world quality of this whole set-up, or to the underlying premise that to discover themselves, these young Indian men must first leave India for a place that, as Zoya Akhtar said recently, "is just like India" (except it's squeaky-clean and entirely white), to let their hair down in a festival that's "just like Holi" (except that it's firang, therefore fashionably exotic) – then this film can be fun to watch. Really. Akhtar and Rema Kagti have written a rather decent bromance (though it is not clear why Zoya Akhtar chose, of all the things in the world she could have done, to make a Dil Chahta Hai redux). Farhan Akhtar as the attractive prankster Imran plays nicely off the way-too-seriously-ambitious Arjun (Hrithik's most convincing performance since Zoya's own Luck By Chance). The initial tension between them (rooted, of course, in some long-ago girl) actually seems real, as does the sense of an old camaraderie slowly resurfacing.

The women, perhaps as is to be expected from a male bonding movie, are more metaphors than characters: Kalki Koechlin plays high-strung possessive fiancee to Abhay Deol's laidback nice guy (read: confinement), while Katrina Kaif gets to be the free-spirited Carpe Diem girl who'll teach uptight Arjun how to live (read: liberation).

But what's truly admirable about ZNMD is that it manages to take a contrived script involving scuba-diving, sky-diving and bull-running, punctuated by a few truth-or-dare moments, and make it feel – just a little bit – like life.

Era ends, at Hogwarts, and for us all
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint

The final film in the Harry Potter series is a fittingly grand finale to a decade-long cinematic adventure, providing much-awaited closure to the story of Harry's long-standing war against the evil wizard Voldemort. Like with any epic battle, though, there's never any doubt who will win. So much of the pleasure lies in allowing ourselves the luxury of seeing how it happens, with all the emotional charge provided by identification with our heroes. The fresh-faced 11-year-olds of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (2001) – Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) – are now in their twenties: still fresh-faced but now marvelously familiar. And there is something indescribable about watching a film with characters whom everyone in the hall is not just cheering, but watching out for.

The plot is simple. Harry must destroy the Horcruxes: magical objects in which Voldemort has hidden fragments of his soul. After a deliriously vertiginous descent into Gringotts to break into the evil Bellatrix Lestrange's vault (watch out for Helena Bonham Carter playing Hermione playing Bellatrix), Harry, Hermione and Ron return to Hogwarts to begin their search for the last Horcrux, whose form they do not even know. Voldemort discovers Harry's presence, and launches an attack on the school which must be held off by the combined magical efforts of all the good professors, including the wonderful Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith).

In the middle of this relentless array of magical acts of war – blazing fires, self-destroying bridges, grotesque creatures sent either to defend the school or destroy it, from soul-sucking Dementors and foot-thumping giants to Voldemort's hissing python Nagini (unfortunately pronounced N'geenee rather than Naaginee) – is Harry's final realisation of the real roles that Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, Voldemort – characters we've been seeing from the beginning of the series – played in his parents' lives and deaths, and in Harry's own life as it has since played out. The realisation flashbacks are nicely done, but it is Harry's meeting with Dumbledore in a heavenly version of King's Cross Station that steals the show, with Dumbledore summing up in a single line the power of fantasy itself: "Of course it's happening inside your head, Harry? Why should that mean it's not real?"

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