By Gautaman Bhaskaran
M Night Shyamalan’s ninth film, The Visit, will hit American theatres on September 11. It is not yet clear when the movie will arrive in India, but happily many of his films have had their releases here. So, one presumes — or at least hopes — that The Visit will pay us a visit.
For, after all, Shyamalan is an Indian, having been born in Mahe and spent the first few weeks of his life in Puducherry.
The Visit — coming as it does after a series of Shyamalan’s flops — may well surprise us, if one were to go by the first impressions of those who have had a chance to watch the film. They have described it as the best horror movie they have seen in a long time. William Bibbiani, a critic at CraveOnline, wrote on Twitter, “M Night Shyamalan’s best film in a very, very, VERY long time.”
The filmmaker’s first four studio films, beginning with The Sixth Sense in 1999 — followed by Unbreakable, Signs and The Village — were hits. However, they were followed by four box office bombs — Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth.
The Visit holds out the promise of a better day for the director. It does have the Shyamalan signature of a shockingly surprise ending. And the plot, a comedic thriller, is all about two teenagers who go visiting their grandparents.
Nana (played by Deanna Dunagan) scratches walls at night, and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie) has a shed full of secrets. It seems like Little Red Riding Hood visiting her grandmother on the other side of the forest to find the wolf in the old woman’s clothing, and indeed in one of Shyamalan’s works, The Village, there is a girl who goes about wearing a red hood.
Also, The Visit — unlike the flops — is based on a story written by Shyamalan. He has directed and also produced it, spending about $5 million of his own money.
This may be a huge risk, but Shyamalan has now started to resemble Woody Allen, the auteur-director, in that respect. He creates what goes inside his head, and the ticket-paying masses be damned. One supposes Shyamalan — after all his failures — has now begun to feel a little easier in terms of his craft. And, as they say, one’s best creativity emerges only when one is relaxed.
The Visit seems to convey this. The teenage girl is an aspiring moviemaker and she is constantly recording with her camcorder, striving hard to create beautiful art. But in the end she says, “You know what, let us just have some fun”. Shyamalan at 45 appears to have understood this. Good luck, should we say.
Talvar in Toronto
Meghna Gulzar’s third full-length feature, Talvar or Guilty, will be screened at the Toronto Film Festival — which will run from September 10 to 20. Part of Special Presentations, Talvar will be play along with 35 other movies in this section.
Meghna, the only daughter of renowned lyricist Gulzar and once-upon-a-time star, Rakhee, has dared to walk into a crime story that even seasoned helmers like Milan Luthria (known for helming the Silk Smitha biopic, The Dirty Picture with Vidya Balan, and Once Upon A Time In Mumbai with Ajay Devgn and Emran Haashmi) feared to take on.
Talvar is based on the recent — and, as some perceive, “yet to be solved” — murder mystery of 14-year-old Aarushi, the only child of the dentist couple, Rajesh Talwar and Nupur Talwar. She was not the only one to have died that night, when the couple slept in an adjoining room, oblivious of the bloody drama that was being enacted. The 45-year-old servant of the house, Hemraj Banjade, was also found dead on the rooftop, his body highly decomposed when it was found by a bumbling police force that had been careless in examining the scene of the crime.
After many twists and turns, the father and mother of the teenager were found guilty and sentenced to a life in prison. They have now appealed against the verdict.
Admittedly, the Aarushi murder has been one of the most vexing cases in India’s crime history. The moot point is, how is Meghna going to lead her film version. Not an easy task, for the legal case, for all one knows, may not have seen the end of the day.
Irrfan Khan, who plays an investigating officer in Talvar, said recently that it would have three different versions of the murder. Can we call this the Rashomon effect? Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 Rashomon narrated a murder plot in varying ways through many characters. This was probably the first celluloid work with such a novel treatment.
Talvar’s impressive cast also includes Konkana Sen Sharma and Tabu.
Khan is an actor par excellence who has carefully guided his career into a multitude of directions. We have seen him as a steeple chase runner-turned-dacoit in Paan Singh Tomar, as an office clerk in The Lunchbox fighting love and romance, as a taxi operator in Piku, as the millionaire owner of an entertainment park in Jurassic World, as a brilliant intelligence officer in A Mighty Heart, as villainous Maqbool in Maqbool and as barber in Billu. Variety thy name is Irrfan, admittedly the best of the Khans, who would leave the rest miles behind in the race to be called an actor.
Sen Sharma has also shown a fair degree of her mettle on the screen: some of her performances in movies like Traffic Signal, Page 3, Omkara and 15 Park Avenue have been raved about. However, as the Tamil Brahmin woman in Mr and Mrs Iyer, stranded in a bus during communal riots, she was marvellous, conveying angst and cunning with panache.
Tabu dons the khaki in Talvar, a re-enactment of a part she did in Drishyam. Sadly, Bollywood’s obsession with glamour had her all jazzed up in Drishyam, and hopefully Meghna would steer clear of this pothole. But Tabu could be riveting as we saw in Haider, in Maachis, in Chandni Bar.
With such an A-list, Meghna could not have asked for more, and going by the pulse in the festival circuit, there appears to be a demand for Talvar with the Cairo International Film Festival in November evincing an interest in it. Will Talvar sail along the Nile?
♦ Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing on Indian and world cinema for over three decades, and may be e-mailed at [email protected]
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