Sunday, March 20, 2011

A: Film by Upendra

Please be warned that it’s necessary to include some small spoilers in the discussion of this film but I will not give away most of the plot. Part of the fun of A is watching events unfold and I wouldn’t ruin that for anybody.

Also, please be warned that
A is NOT appropriate for all ages and has some extreme examples of violence against women. If that bothers you, I would advise against watching the film – although you might want to read my piece first and then decide because the violence is not gratuitious – but if you are a sensitive soul who dislikes even artistic violence, then this is not the film for you.






After reading the very enthusiastic comments from some of my Kannada-speaking friends, I was prepared to enjoy
A. Written by, directed by, and starring Upendra as the actor and director Soorya (got all that?), A is a like a gaping wound of raw emotion.



I didn't enjoy A, I had my mind blown.

(Note: My mind was blown in a
good way…)


The action beings in a mental hospital at midnight – an auspicious beginning. Some first person
shaky cam footage sets the mood by filming the escape of a madman from the perspective of the madman. He eludes capture and ends up at a temple.





Our first glimpse of the madman reveals Our Hero – Upendra – covered in the bright powder of the temple, as if God himself has marked him.


He’s got crazy eyes.


And is none too impressed with God, who he claims only put evil into the world so that good people would be forced to ask him for help.

After literally chucking God down a well, the madman continues on his rampage – passing judgment on all and sundry while shouting (in all caps): I AM GOD; GOD IS GREAT.


An elderly man is rewarded with the favors of two women who are being punished.


(I don’t know if you can tell but he’s biting her ears off.)

The action builds and builds to frenzy of fire and blood and really fast cuts between shots. I can’t keep up and we’re only 20 minutes in.



(Note: I fell for the fake-out - to the extent that I actually checked the DVD to make sure it wasn't skipping around before I saw these titles for "A.")


Yes, the first 20 minutes or so of
A: Film by Upendra is actually A: Film By Soorya and wouldn’t you know it but a loud, foreign lady wants to buy the film to distribute it overseas. There is just one problem – the censors chopped the ending of the film so badly that it no longer makes sense and they need to re-shoot. Actually, there are two problems – Soorya is not in any condition to shoot anything.


(It’s a nice touch that Soorya is conscious of manners even in his stupor – his lips do not touch that whiskey bottle.)


And the heroine of the film – Chandni playing Chandni – will not have anything to do with Soorya anyways.


I can tell you right now, if you think you know where this film is headed, you are wrong.

A blends songs, switched points of view, flashback, film-within-a-film footage, and seemingly real life footage into a twisted and really emotional narrative that will keep your head spinning.


(A still from some eerie footage that had everybody’s faces blacked out – were they filmed without permission? Is this real footage? Why doesn’t the
Criterion Collection get on making us a beautifully remastered edition of this with a director’s commentary? Oh, right… because if it’s not by some white guy, they don’t care.)


What holds the narrative together is the glue of love and power – men exert powerful forces and violent on women in the name of love and lust. And love itself has the power to destroy lives. This isn’t the soppy love of a thousand Yash Raj films but the immolating love of Layla-Majnun, Romeo-Juliet, and (if I may) Edward-Bella.



Who has the right to love? Can you force somebody to love you back?

Love can turn you into a madman – the type who escapes from a mental hospital at exactly midnight.


Since the Soorya, as the Hero, is our main point of view character, we are inherently sympathetic to his feelings. Playing the enigma is much harder and I want to give a shoutout to Chandni, who is magnificent as Chandini. Her character is a difficult one to play and a difficult one to pin down. The viewer never quite knows how she is going to react or what her true motivations are – until the very end.

I hope it’s not giving too much away to say that Chandni’s final speech at the end of the film was the first time in this whole delirious film that the action paused long enough to let the emotions catch up to me. I cried.

But
A isn’t all self-destructive love and violence – this is a masala film at its heart and we are treated to such delights as…


…an item song featuring this lovely lady. Can anybody tell me who she is?



… a very funny and clever song that compares film shooting to a cricket match.



… and this song. Which just… I think you should probably watch it.



This alone should refute any charges that song-dance is all happy and romantic and dancing around trees.

I’ll close with a couple thoughts. First of all, from what I read about
A online in the few English-language sources that I could find, the impression I had was that it was a film about the sleazy side of filmmaking, kind of like Page 3. Let me clear that up – A is on a completely different planet from Page 3. Where films like Page 3 sanctimoniously revel in the muck they dig up, A is not about scandal or shame. A is about raw human emotion – something mostly missing from Madhur Bhandarkar’s productions (Kangana Ranaut in Fashion is the exception.) The topic matter may be similar but if you found Page 3 preachy and unrealistic, don’t worry - A is nothing like it.

Secondly, from what I read about
A, there were some accusations of misogyny towards Upendra and according to him, he lost female audiences after A. Now, I did see some violence against women but I didn’t see the misogyny nor did I see any of my most hated of female tropes – the helpless heroine. I really don’t want to give anything away but I will say that Chandni does goes beat up BUT later she also does some serious (and fatal) damage to the men who attacked her. And Chandni is never subjected to the leering camera – Upendra is very respectful of his actress, even as she is suffering some terrible torments.

Any misogyny in
A comes from the society that Upendra is trying to capture in his film and not from Upendra himself.

(At least as far as I could tell – I want to emphasize that I do not speak Kannada and have to rely on subtitles. If I missed something, please let me know! I’m not afraid to be wrong.)

A is a remarkable film and solidifies my view that some of the most vital and meaningful cinema is coming out of Karnataka right now. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into more Upendra films. I have H20 ready to watch but I may need a few days to really let A sink in.

In the words of the madman played by Soorya played by Upendra: I AM GOD; GOD IS GREAT.

9 comments:

aham said...

Finally the review is out,I was waiting for this,and I must say that you hit the bull's eye, and thank you for not putting in any major spoilers the whole movies is like a roller coaster ride,people have to watch it to really feel it.There are a few thing I wanna say, yes 'A' was one of the most controversial films of that time(1998)because of its portrayal of women in it,and I am glad that you didn't just look at the surface and reacted like most people did,its not anti-woman the hero is angry at something and he takes his anger on everybody around if he was only angry at woman then it could have been misogyny,thank you for understanding it,its feels good that you reading just the sub-titles understood the essence of the movie when people here misunderstood it(this was one of the reason Uppi's stopped directing for 10 years). About the seemingly real life scenes at the end i dont think its real but shot like its real,but i can tell you one thing it is inspired by real life incidents,for example in one scene there is man shown hiding his face with and Uppi is saying some dialogue as 'what did you say? I am answerable only to my wife' that person is believed to be a look-alike former chief minister. Page 3?? seriously I thought the movie was OK but kind of pretentious please dont compare it with 'A', 'A' came way before Page 3 and still we dont have anybody even trying to make 'A',however there was a movie soon after 'A' released called 'Z' to counter 'A' it had Prakash Rai(Raaj) in it and it bombed, I didnt see it but it showed the movie from the heroine's perspective,maybe I will watch it soon and finally Uppi's has a lot of guts to make a movie like this, a movie that nobody has tried in Indian cinema till date and that is why we have a different genre of movies,Upendra movies.


P.S;H20 is not his best work till date(as its not his direction but his Story/Screenplay) but is miles ahead of other movies,also I must warn you it has a hell lot of symbolics relating to the Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu,so I am not sure you will completely get the movie because of that,but watch it to find out.

Also A was released in 1998 and after that came 'Upendra' yes the name of the movie is his name,no no its not narcissistic or anything but if 'A' blew your mind then 'Upendra' is multi level mind blowing movie,it came in 2000 which was his last directorial venture till Hand symbol in 2010,watch Upendra if you have understood the essence of 'A' you are in the right direction for'Upendra', the movie that according to me is the greatest India movie ever,and it became peopular in Japan those days and Uppi was honored in a film festival there.

Filmi Girl said...

@aham Thanks for the great comment!!

Let me clarify about Page 3 - from what I had read about A before I saw the film, it was talked about as if it were like Page 3. I think one of the descriptions I read said something like "A is about the casting couch" - which is SUCH a fundamental misunderstanding that I thought I should bring it up in case somebody thought it was like Page 3 and decided not to watch.

It's so sad that Uppi stopped directing after the negative response to A - it was such a brave film. One question - in the song about the sacrifice, there are some crowd scenes with Uppi being led through and garlanded... do you know if those were real or "reel"?

Thanks for the tip on H20, I'll be sure to look up the real life events before watching. Even we have water disputes in the US, so hopefully it will not be too confusing for me. :)

And I will definitely order Upendra and (hopefully) Super in my next batch of DVDs. I think Kannadastore.com must think I am a crazy girl!! :D

aham said...

Thanks for replying, and no I am not sure if the scenes in the song where he is garlanded are real,but they look real also before 'A' Uppi had made a huge huge splash because of his previous directorial ventures especially 'Om' which was an unimaginable hit in 1995,it was a such a big hit that word blockbuster looks pale in comparison,so he had some fan following just as a director before he became a hero with 'A'.

H20 was a controversial movie as Uppi used both Kannada and Tamil languages in the same film, Uppi speaks Kannada and Prabhudeva speaks Tamil and that was the reason that many pro kannada organisations protested against it,the story is brilliant but maybe if Uppi directed it himself it would have been even better.


and nobody knows why Uppi stopped direction after 'Upendra' its a big big mystery though Uppi gave many reasons but they were not justifiable and not big enough to stop what he loved the most,but might be that with 'Upendra' he did the unimaginable that he thought whatever I do next will not match 'Upendra' so maybe thats why he took a break.anways at least he has started directing again and has promised he will make more movies under his direction now.


and about the movie 'Upendra' dont watch it too soon, let your mind settle with 'A' because the concept of 'Upendra' in unimgainable,I dont think any film maker in thw world has even attempted what Uppi did in that movie concept wise. About Super you wont get the dvd for another year as its still running in cinema,however the Telugu dubbed version released on March 12 and got tremendous response so chances are it will release in the US(hopefully) also there are plans to release the original Kannada version in US too, will let you know if I anything happens.

S said...

It's always a delight to read your Kannada movie reviews filmigirl. I love to get an outsider's perspective of an industry which is undeservedly much maligned by even locals. A sounds like an interesting film but i most likely won't be watching it because my tolerance for filmi violence is very minimal.

One question aham - is Uppendra (the movie) very violent or disturbing? I am interested in watching but won't if it is violent. And thanks for the recommendation of H20. I was in Bangalore during the dispute so I am very interested in the issue.

@filmigirl - I saw a Kannada movie called "Ganesha Subramanya" (check sp) and enjoyed it a lot. It's a VERY farcial comedy. You might like it. it seems to have been very popular but since it's a pretty old film I don't know if you will find a subtitled version of it. I also saw a 2010 movie called "Erdane madhuve" - not brilliant but good for a timepass laugh.

S said...

And finally another recommendation since I can't seem to concentrate on my papers today.

Milana - it should be easily available on DVD. It stars Puneet Rajkumar and Parvati Menon. Again, it's not going to blow your mind but it's a nice, sweet, sometimes funny movie to watch and I highly recommend it. It's just pleasant and the music is GORGEOUS. It's like my comfort movie.

:) and now I run out of excuses to not do work :P

Filmi Girl said...

@s Thanks for the recommendations!! I'm actually not much of a fan of Puneet - I don't know what it is about him that turns me off. He seems kind of... prickly? Maybe I should give him another try, though.

I do love farcical comedy, so I'll definitely check out Ganesha Subramanya if I can find it.

And I'm glad you enjoy my reviews!! For whatever reason, Kannada language cinema just seems to push all the right buttons for me. Maybe because there is much less irony and self-consciousness than in other cinemas. Sometimes a scene demands push-in shots on 5 characters to emphasize something and Kannada directors aren't afraid to go for it... ;)

aham said...

@S ,Upendra movie is violent but believe me after you watching the movie and ponder about the things shown and the concept you will realize that the violence shown was needed for the story, well it depends on you yes I found some scenes a bit disturbing but at the end realized that to reach the audience Uppi had to use such tactics,but since you say that you have low tolerance for filmi violence then I dont recommend it, but still feel that its a must watch movie for the creative concept and dialogues.

I am not a big fan of Puneet but I loved Arasu,excellent movie and yes Milana and Jackie are good too and about h20, if you have a background about the Cauvery water dispute you sure will understand the movie,compared to 'A' and 'Upendra' the violence is much lesser in h20,by the way have you seen Super? Uppi latest?

S said...

@filmigirl I am not much of a fan of Puneet either but this movie tries it's hardest to make you like him. His character is way too likeable and hence I liked this movie, despite Puneet. He's not handsome but his average looks give him a "real guy" persona.

Haha yes Kannada movies, especially in the early 1990s were delightfully corny and heartfelt. Now they still tap into the feelings of the common man a lot but the quality of film making has improved.

bogglingnotjustblogging said...

I landed at your blog, searching for review of A. I saw it long ago and your depiction of the movie was good. I think you will enjoy super too. I watched the telugu version

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