Bollywood steps up

Taapsee Pannu in Thappad

Hollywood’s studio system was declared dead in the past month. It was the end of an era in which big budget movies were released solely to paying audiences in cinemas. 

Famous studios names such as MGM, Fox, Warner, Paramount, Columbia and Universal may live on in various forms, but their business models will not. 

The last to go were Paramount and Warner, which, until last month, also included HBO and CNN. These are now just cogs in AT&T, a verticallyintegrated broadcaster and telecommunications company. 

Similar changes have reduced the others to mere production units, as the entertainment giants morph into streaming services that are directly linked to their subscribers. 

Netflix set the pace, as it realised the only way to survive, once it could no longer access studio-made movies, was to make its own. 

The result is that cinemas are no longer the industry’s central focus – a fact underlined when Disney decided that Mulan, a big budget ($US200 million) movie, which was made in New Zealand, would go straight to its streaming service at a premium price. 

Part of the reason was the closure of cinemas worldwide, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

But it also reflects the emergence of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple as movie producers. 

Netflix is by far the biggest, because it operates in virtually every country, and offers much more than just English-language movies. 

For example, it is now the largest exhibitor of movies made in India, Latin America and elsewhere in Asia. Filmmakers in these places can now aim at global audiences, rather than be restricted to brief festival opportunities. 

Thappad (Amazon Prime Video) is Bollywood’s latest attempt to put Indian movies on an equal footing with their international peers. The story seems derivative – comparisons with Netflix’s Marriage Story are inevitable – while the title (Hindi for slap) recalls Australian author Christos Tsiolkas’ 2011 eight-part TV series, which was remade in Hollywood in 2015. 

The eponymous event occurs at a party, where a Delhi advertising executive (Pavail Gulati) is celebrating his promotion to a job in London, that his wife (Taapsee Pannu) has long desired. They have no children, but she is devoted to supporting her husband. This contrasts with the rival careers at the centre of Marriage Story.  

She pulls him away from an aggressive argument after he learns from a colleague that the position will still make him answerable to a British boss. He reacts violently, and her response is to go into lockdown, rather than accept his forgiveness. 

The downward spiral in their relationship worsens when divorce lawyers are called in, reminiscent of Marriage Story and its antecedents, Intolerable Cruelty and The War of the Roses. Indian social mores add to the complexity as the wife withstands peer pressure, and copes with a legal system where saving face triumphs over spousal rights. 

Writer-director Anubhav Sinha has won Indian awards for two previous movies, Article 15 (2019) and Mulk (2018), with more likely to come as his reputation spreads abroad. 

Amazon rating: All ages. 142 minutes.    

 

CLIPS  

Hope Gap 

(Transmission) 

Last year’s British Film Festival continues to deliver quality goods this year. Bill Nighy and Annette Bening play an intellectual couple living in the picturesque East Sussex coastal town of Seaford. The film is based on The Retreat From Moscow, a play by William Nicholson, who also directs (his screenplay credits include Les Misérables (2012), Gladiator and Unbroken). The source is his own parents’ breakup, after 33 years of marriage, and its realism is, therefore, telling. Nighy is a teacher, whose main interest is Napoleonic military history, while Bening is immersed in anthologies of poetry. The third player is Nicholson himself (Josh O’Connor), who is trying to make a life of his own, while caught between loyalties. The dramatics recall the intensity of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, as the audience is tempted to take sides over an act of adultery and its devastating outcome. 

Rating: Mature audiences. 100 minutes.  

 

The Hater (Sala Samobojcow: Hejter) 

(Netflix) 

The Polish title indicates this is a sequel to Suicide Room, a 2011 Internet thriller from director Jan Komasa. The young protagonist is led into some dark areas. A similar, but slightly older, character (Maciej Musialoski) in the follow-up has a chip on both shoulders. He has been thrown out of law school for plagiarism, but he gets his own back by joining a progressive politician’s campaign, while also being paid to subvert it. Other targets include a snobbish intellectual couple who have financially supported his studies, but who consider him unsuitable for their daughter, on whom he has a crush. Like other recent Polish movies on Netflix, some of the characters verge on the nihilistic, while few in the societal elite have redeeming features. Before this, Komasa made Corpus Christi, which has an equally bleak view of humanity, and was one of the standouts at this year’s NZ International Film Festival. 

Netflix rating: 16+.135 minutes.  

 

The Crimes That Bind (Crimenes de familia

(Netflix) 

Two based-on-fact court cases involving a single family are the basis for this absorbing drama from Argentina. At the centre is a middleclass Buenos Aires matriarch, Cecilia Roth, whose 80-odd screen roles include Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother (1999) and last year’s Pain and Glory. In the family court, she is backing her son’s case for custody against claims of abuse and abandonment from his spouse. This is despite his obvious flaws and drug addiction. The other case, in criminal court, is a charge of infanticide against the live-in domestic help, whose child is treated like a grandson by Roth. 

 

In evidence, the matriarch turns against the maid (Yanina Avila), who has only partly recovered from her abusive upbringing in a remote country district. The legal outcomes lead to unexpected twists that will keep you engaged until the end. A hint of this is in an end credit quote from German dramatist Bertolt Brecht’s poem on another real-life infanticide. 

Netflix rating: 16+. 99 minutes.    

 

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Nevil Gibson

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