Small-town India shines in these movie gems, says J Jagannath.
The media keeps peddling numbers that two-thirds of the people lining the pockets of corporations and e-commerce giants come from sleepy towns, but Bollywood keeps treating them shoddily on screen.
I happened to watch three movies in the recent past that were quite disparate thematically, but they had one common thread that was given proper respect: The ethos of small town India.
G Kutta Se
Rahul Dahiya's grittily made Haryanvi movie is about three girls who get caught in the antediluvian vortex of supposed family honour.
Shot entirely with new cast and a sensibility that would make Jean-Pierre Melville proud, Dahiya made a movie that will resonate hard with the viewer.
Most of the movie is set in the boonies of Haryana where two girls, one in her early teens and another in adolescence, face retribution from their families for acting on their sexual impulses.
There is a heartrending, thought-provoking sequence where a girl is murdered by her family and the pet dog dies in a parallel moment.
The follow up scene is of the girl and the dog being burnt in the same pyre.
The movie is a scathing indictment on the kind of medieval mindset that still besets the country's growth: That boys are far more desirable than girls as progeny.
The movie's dialogue does get stilted at times, but it sends out an important message to these needlessly macho men to work less on their biceps and more on their intuition.
This delicious Malayalam movie with the pork industry backdrop in a town close to Kochi might just be this year's best Indian movie.
Told partly in flashback, the movie starts with a beautiful bar fight, almost like a Caravaggio painting, among two rival gangs, one of them led by the movie's protagonist.
The post-interval portions get a tad jarring, but the beautiful pas de deux between Prashant Pillai's fresh background score and the irrefutable sublimity of the acting talent (a whopping 85 newcomers) ensures the pace doesn't dip too much.
Antony Varghese as Vincent Pepe, the protagonist, is an assured debut.
Lijo Jose Pellissery's direction and Chemban Vinod Jose's script is rooted and very aware.
It might look like an amalgamation of the schlock of Kammatipadam and Premam, but the story's subtle gravity soars in its own way once the characters and the conflict is established.
Girish Gangadharan's cinematography and Shameer Mohammed's editing creates a force field around each scene, even in the most mundane instances.
The interval and the climactic scenes are a minor piece of art considering they are such long takes but never seem gimmicky.
A Death in the Gunj
It might not be set in modern-day India (1979 to be precise) but the milieu of this Konkona Sen Sharma directorial debut suggests that McCluskieganj is very much a part of our current fabric.
The movie unfolds over a week's time when an extended family of nine goes to rural Bihar for an outing.
Vikrant Massey as Shutu drives the narrative as the pained 20-something reclusive relative in the Bakshi household.
Massey's disposition of someone being consumed by his unending torment is perfect.
He finds solace in the intimacy with Mimi (an electrifying Kalki Koechlin) but his joy is short-lived as he is vying for her attention along with Vikram (a smarmy, ridiculously masculine Ranvir Shorey).
Sen Sharma's deft use of natural lighting and sounds makes one wonder why she waited all this while to be behind the camera.
The movie is leavened with beautiful moments like the one where Shutu tries his best to beat Vikram in a game of kabaddi that soon turns bloody or the one where his existence is forgotten after the only child of the household returns home.
The dialogues, however, are quite off putting.
Barring Massey, the rest of the cast talk as if they are in a coffee shop in the Versova of 2017 than being the Anglicised Bengalis of the early 1980s.
That quibble aside, we should be grateful that Sen Sharma brought two acting powerhouses like Om Puri and Tanuja together as the big couple of the house.
It's a crying shame that their wonderful chemistry can never be spun off into a movie by itself owing to Om Puri's untimely death.