A different ballgame
The Damned United
Sony/BBC Films, Rs. 499
Those of you who like football, especially the English Premier League, will love this film because it’s based on the life of Brian Clough, the manager who in the late 1960s and 70s took lowly teams such as Derby and Nottingham Forest to their greatest triumphs. And all those of you who loathe football may also like this film because, rather than fetishising the sport or the laddishness around it, it’s an off-pitch drama about a driven man who learns some leadership lessons the hard way.
The film by Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech, is a fictional account of Clough’s 44-day stint as the manager of Leeds United, the unlikely team from England’s poor north-west that rose to the top of the country’s football in the 1960s. When Don Revie, the manager responsible for the success, had to leave the club to manage England, Clough was chosen his successor despite having been a loud critic of Revie’s style. Clough’s faithful assistant Peter Taylor, the canny backroom man behind the charismatic manager, did not join him on this stint as a result of a fallout. The result was a disaster for Leeds as well as for Clough.
Michael Sheen, who looks like a body double of Nicolas Sarkozy, gives us a Clough full of bluster. Timothy Spall, recently seen as Wormtail in Harry Potter, portrays Taylor, who keeps his head under pressure. Toget-her, they make the players look like small cogs in a giant wheel. If you want to know what made such an unlikely duo tick, watch The Changing Game, an 18-minute DVD feature that shows how the 1970s changed the game forever.
Bored of the Bard?
Sony Pictures, Rs. 499
German filmmaker Roland Emmerich has made some Godzilla-sized duds: Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 — oh, and Godzilla. So things could only have got better when he decided to make less special effects and more political thriller-historical drama. Of course, the FX junkie can’t give it up and he does use the latest VFX CG technology in Anonymous to very decent effect, giving the whole film the ambience of a shadowy Rembrandt painting.
In this film of (too) many characters, we get a Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy set in the literally cloak-and-dagger world of the court of Elizabeth I. And what could be more mysterious in the Elizabethan age than, well, William Shakespeare. The story is a fictionalised version of the life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) who, is presented as the real author of Shakespeare’s plays. In an atmosphere rife with anti-Elizabethanism and a rebellion underway, de Vere is shown playing the role that gladiatorial entertainment played in ancient Rome: as a propaganda-cum-safety valve for the masses. Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Bess looks stiff, but one supposes that such a description would be a compliment for the role. The Da Vinci Code-like narrative can be a bit annoying. But it should satisfy Eng Lit boffins, who can spend their days after watching the movie trashing it for so many other reasons than I can think of.
Paan Singh Tomar
UTV/The Walt Disney Co, Rs. 299
It’s not too often that you get a movie which is a taut, riveting drama and a ‘Jyoti Bane Jwala’-style story as well. Tigmanshu Dhulia’s film is about a star runner from a small village in Chambal who joins the army and then, after returning to his village and facing one injustice after another, becomes a law unto himself in the form of a dacoit. Written by Sanjay Chouhan and Dhulia, this is a fantastic biopic of Paan Singh Tomar, a seven-time national steeplechase champion in the ’50s and ’60s — he represented India at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo — who went over to the Dark Side to become one of India’s most notorious Chambal dakus.
Irrfan Khan is simply brilliant as Tomar in his best performance till date. Shot on location in the Chambal region, the film bears an ‘authenticity’ that adds to the movie’s visual no-frills beauty.
Each character — especially Mahi Gill as Tomar’s quiet but strongwilled wife Indra and Jahangir Khan as Tomar’s vicious cousin Bhanwaar Singh — plays her or his role with a controlled sense of drama that uncoils through the film. This elegant, surprisingly rousing film is a masterful example of where Hindi cinema outside the ramparts of Bollywood is these days. It also quietly points to how India’s many varieties of baaghi (rebels) — Tomar prefers this nomenclature to describe himself than daku — are created whether in 70s Chambal or 21st century Chhatisgarh.