Friday, December 30, 2011

Lifeu Ishtene or Diganth Gets A Haircut

1. Introduction

As you all know, I’ve been a fan of the Kannada language film industry since about 2008, when I happened to get invited to a press event for a
Kannada language film called E-Preeti. I was charmed enough by the lead actor, a handsome young man named Diganth, to go and check out his previous film - superhit Mungaru Male and the rest is history. The honey-dipped melodrama of Mungaru Male was so affecting and the visuals so lush and the music so beautiful that I was hooked for good. And, well, you can read my boat load of Kannada film reviews.

I didn’t know then, but that film, Mungaru Male, was the breakthrough for director/producer Yograj Bhat, who is one of the most interesting filmmakers I’ve ever stumbled across. His films capture people in between two states - adulthood and childhood; sanity and insanity; love and not-love. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s a fan of the great Japanese director of Rashomon, Kurosawa Akira.

One of the biggest challenges of being a fan of regional cinema when one doesn’t speak the language is procuring films with English subtitles and unfortunately, it was a year before I could see Yograj’s 2010 film Manasaare, the story of a young man who accidentally gets sent to a mental institution. (Is he crazy or sane or both?) This film was written by another fascinating talent working out of Bangalore, Pawan Kumar... who just so happened had a film coming out himself. And that film was Lifeu Ishtene. It immediately went on my radar.

Since that time, I’ve been tracking the film via Pawan’s website and after the huge journey through production, troubles with the Censor Board, the euphoria of release, and basking in the glow of audience appreciation, I was extremely pleased to see that a couple of weeks ago, Pawan had decided to put Lifeu Ishtene available to stream (legally) on his website. With English subtitles. And since I had some free time this week, I decided to be the guinea pig for my lovely readers (though I’m not sure how many follow Kannada films) and test it out.

2. Online Streaming With English Subtitles

[Rashmi and Vishaal]

Let me walk you through the streaming process first.

[Click here to get to the movie.]

Pawan is using Movie Locker to make the film available, which is not compatible with Mac computers. If you speak Kannada, you may find that the film will play in Google Chrome or in the Movie Locker player without subtitles but I’m not 100% positive that it will be seamless. You are better off just watching on a PC.

[I repeat - DO NOT try to watch on a Mac. It will work for like 5 minutes and then crash your browser. Repeatedly. I tried it on multiple browsers before giving up and digging out my sister’s old PC from like 2005 and it played perfectly on it.]

Once you click on the “play” button of the video, you will be taken in a pop up window to Paypal, where you pay for the film. It’s US $5.00 for the HQ version (go ahead, treat yourself.) After you pay, go back to the page with the video player and wait for it to authorize. Once it does, click on the “continue” link in the bottom right of the screen of player to get to the movie. You can activate the subtitles by clicking on the “CC” button on the player control panel.

The quality of the audio and video are great and while the subtitles could have been better, I’ve definitely read much worse.

3. The Film

[Nandini and Vishaal]

Lifeu Ishtene is the story of Vishaal (Diganth), an aimless (and jobless) young man living with his parents. When we meet him at the beginning of the film, he is on his way to the barber. He is depressed.

If you’ll allow me to paraphrase from memory:

“Break-up, huh?” asks the barber.

“How did you know?!” asks Vishaal.

“You young people with your love affairs... why get so worked up?” The barber shrugs. He’s married.

“I have food and money; I’m not involved in politics; I need something to worry about or how do I know I’m alive?”

With that one exchange, Lifeu Ishtene leaves every other film I’ve seen on youthful romance in the dust.

Because it’s true.

Vishaal leads us on a flashback of his romantic affairs from sepia-toned childhood to his college days to post-college to now and we see how his love affairs become a part of his personal history and of the man he becomes. That’s the meat of the narrative. The delicious, delicious gravy is in the character details.

First of all, Vishaal is completely charming. I knew boys like him in college (and long after college.) He’s supported by his parents and is enjoying stretching out his dreams of rock stardom for as long as he can. The responsibilities of work, family, and community mean nothing to him because he doesn’t realize how the

There are Vishaal’s hilarious parents who treat his emo wangsting over his love affairs with just the right amount of kindness and amusement. And who give a nice counterpart point-of-view for over-30s like myself.

There is Vishaal’s friend Shivu (Neenasam Satish) who is from a small village and finds Vishaal’s big city love affairs amusing and just oh, so slightly intriguing.

And then there are the two main lady loves - Nandini (Sindhu Loknath) and Rashmi (Samyukta Horanadu.)

Nandini and Vishaal’s relationship is the perfect portrait of college romance. Everything is fine in the hot house environment on campus but once real life starts to intrude, differences in temperament come out, and qualities that seemed exciting when they had no consequences become unappealing. Nandini is a regular girl who wants a regular life. You know girls like her - maybe you are a girl like her. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting an ordinary life - unfortunately, it just happens to be not what Vishaal wants.

Rashmi is a bit different. She doesn’t want a job and family, like Nandini, she specifically wants to be journalist. Rashmi is bold and somewhat impulsive but also very guarded... and the walls she puts up protect a tender heart. In a lesser film, Rashmi would have been a Manic Pixie Dream Girl but this is a Pawan Kumar film and Rashmi is very, very human. I should add that Samyukta’s dialogue delivery is a bit stiff but she is absolutely as cute as a button.

Lifeu Ishtene is rooted in these wonderful characters.

For most of the run time, the film drifts along from delightful set-piece to delightful set-piece. Vishaal having a heart-to-heart chat with a security guard; Shivu and Nandini giggling at Vishaal’s rock band practice; Vishaal and his dad watching movies; Rashmi racing around late at night looking for a good scoop; and (in a scene that had me dying with laughter) Vishaal tries to “casually” buy some condoms. And it’s all done with that quintessential Kannada magical-realism that I love so much.

Is Lifeu Ishtene a perfect film? No, but few films are. There are a couple narrative threads that don’t quite tie together the way they should and the song placement felt a little off but that is small potatoes in such a wonderful movie.

If you are tired of dreary youngistani rom-coms that are more about six-pack abs and shopping than real life, I highly recommend you check out Lifeu Ishtene as an example of what the genre could be... even if you’ve never seen a Kannada film. Especially if you’ve never seen a Kannada film. This might just be the one to hook you.

[I probably sound like a cheerleader but I don’t care. I want to fully support both legal online streaming of smaller budget regional films with English subtitles and, specifically, these wonderful little pocket of Yograj Bhat produced Kannada language films.

But if you aren’t fully convinced, check out the condom buying scene for yourself... with subtitles.]


aham said...

I loved this movie,its fresh and interesting, though i did think that the ending could have been better it felt a little abrupt and sudden, i dunno which version they have put online as Pawan later added 5 mins of extra scenes and some change in the ending(and thats why he got in trouble with the censors as he didnt ask them permission for this), but its heartening to see people coming more to the cinemas again, though a lot has to change but Kannada films are going in the right direction, I have high hopes for 'Aarakshaka' directed by P.Vasu(who directed Aaptamitra and Chandramukhi),Uppi is the hero and its has generated a lot of interest,its realsing possibly Jan 2nd week.

Pessimisissimo said...

Great review, Filmi Girl. I've wanted to see Lifeu Ishtene since you posted the song "Yaarige Helona" a few months ago, but it's difficult for us to track down even mainstream Hindi films, much less Kannada or other regional films.

Unfortunately I'm Mac-dependent, so it sounds like I won't be able to stream Lifeu Ishtene. When Pawan Kumar puts it on a Mac-compatible platform, I'll be first in line.

Thanks so much for the introduction to Pawan Kumar, Diganth, and Yograj Bhat -- I'll be looking out for their work from now on.

Filmi Girl said...

@aham Yes, I agree about the ending... that last plot thread could have used more time. I would have cut some of the college stuff to get their faster... but then the college bit is what establishes the friendship, so... yeah. I'm not sure if there was a better solution.

The credits had a funny bit where Rashmi "interviews" audience members coming out of a screening of the movie. Did you see that part? The line about the audience not leaving until the wedding cracked me up!!

I think Kannada films are going in a really cool direction. There seems to be more willingness to experiment and less obsession with the gloss than other industries.

@Pessimisissimo Oh, that's a bummer! But, yeah, unfortunately it just doesn't work on a Mac. I tried for like 45 minutes and 4 browser crashes before giving up... I'd love to see films like this getting more recognition! Forget stale fare like Ekk Main aur Ek Tu - this is where the creative stuff is at!

aham said...

@filmigirl I dont think that audience reaction was part of the movie end credits as I saw it in 2nd week,maybe they put it later after 4th or 5th week,will have to wait for DVD to watch that,the good thing that came out of this is that Kannada movies are coming on DVD/Online much earlier i hope every1 follows this,else we have to wait for more than a year for a Kannada DVD release,for ex Jackie which was a major blockbuster last year came on DVD a couple of month ago and Super which even bigger and released in Dec last yr hasnt come on DVD yet so I would like to see this change as far as Kannada films go.

Filmi Girl said...

@aham Oh!! You are in for a treat because I thought it was a great way to end the film! It made it feel more complete somehow.

I agree that it would be amazing if we could get films on DVD sooner. I wonder why there is such a delay? There must be some demand for them (even with English subtitles) or they would put them out at all...


A remains one of the most mind-blowing films I've ever seen... ever.

aham said...

When I saw A way back in 1998(in its 12th week or something) i told myself that no film maker can go beyond this in terms of creativity and originality, but i was wrong then in 2000 the movie Upendra came along, Uppi went way way beyond where he treaded in A, i dont think any indian film maker and as far as my knowledge goes no international film maker has gone where Uppi has in that movie,so in a way Upendra is the pinnacle(for me) as far as Indian movies go,some people might think i am going overboard but you have to watch it to know, even Uppi said in many interviews that one of the reason he didnt direct any movie for 10yrs after Upendra was because even he felt he has created too much to sustain it.
Super DVD probably might come in Feb as i heard they will put the movie on TV for Jan 26 Republic day special,so lets see

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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