Friday, May 25, 2018


Been a few months since my last Indian movie (just when the heck is 2.0 coming out, anyway - are they saving it for Diwali?), though not quite so long since I've been to Fresh Pond for a movie, and I was kind of surprised that they've pretty much entirely redone the lobby. The circular concession stand in the middle is gone, as are the video games and one of the staircases heading upstairs, and from the way what used to be the main ticket counter was closed, I suspect there's more work to be done on that side. It's now wide open in the center with self-serve concessions along the left wall, and some computer screens toward the right that I suspect function as ticketing kiosks. I suspect it's much less chaotic on a busy night than the old layout was, and when it's not busy, you can probably run a ten-screen multiplex with just two people.

I don't want to be too nostalgic about the way this theater was a couple of years ago - I've worked in them and sat in crappy seats in them and felt claustrophobic waiting for my show in them despite the building being a big cinder block. In some ways, it doesn't seem to fit - moving to this self-service paradigm in a place that was built for people to wait and work creates an odd conflict between form and function but not one that makes the experience worse. Just different, and maybe adapting to the needs of a younger audience not so used to full service and one with different needs - teaching a ticketing machine to communicate with someone whose primary language is Telugu is probably much easier than teaching a teenager to do so.

It's one more place that doesn't give me the same sort of sense memory as the theaters I went to when I was younger, and I kind of wonder whether there's anything to that.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 May 2018 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge/Fresh Pond #5 (first-run, DCP)

Raazi is something of a weird one for people used to Hollywood spy movies, which tend to either be bigger or more morally ambiguous; this opens, at least, with some unequivocal flag-waving, and doesn't spare the talk of duty and straightforward setting of goals early on. For someone with an arm's-length interest in the India-Pakistan conflict, it can play somewhat dry. Of course, espionage is a dry business on the planning side, and writer/director Meghna Gulzar does all right when things get dangerous on the ground.

It's arguably always dangerous on the ground near the Indo-Pakistani border, but in 1971, war is neither far behind nor far off. Pakistani Brigadier Parvez Syed (Shishir Sharma) regularly receives intelligence from Hindu merchant Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapoor), unaware that Khan is a double agent working for the Indian Intelligence Bureau. Khan knows he is onto something big, but also knows that his cancer will kill him before he can find out what, so he proposes something radical: Arranging a marriage between his daughter Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) and Syed's youngest son Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal). Sehmat is a clumsy university student, but as patriotic as her father, and after a few weeks of training with handler Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat), she's ready to discover that Iqbal is actually quite sweet and respectful, and the person she has to keep her eye on is Abdul (Arif Zakaria), who has been serving this military family since before the Partition.

Spying can be dull-but-dangerous in real life and it can be even easier to fall victim to cliché on-screen, especially when the filmmakers have a fair amount of running time and limited quantities of ambiguity, as is the case here. So, not only is there a bookend with a stirring speech about honoring the bravery of the nation's spies along with its soldiers on the deck of an aircraft carrier, but a fair amount of time establishing the Khan family's history in that business before Gulzar and company give the audience the inevitable training section of the film, with Jaideep Ahlawat flashing a scarred, stone face to intimidate Sehmat until it's time to see her get better at various things via the training montage. It doesn't help that this section and the wedding are where the songs show up - even Indian movies without lip-syncing and dancing are expected to sell soundtrack albums - and going by the subtitles, they are rote recitations of of what's happening on-screen, although those translations could very well be simplified to give the non-Hindi-speaking audience the gist

Full review on EFC

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