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Cinema Scope

The pursuit of hope

5th Jan 2013

The Impossible

Director: Juan Antonio Bayona

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Tom Holland and others

It's tricky to recast a real event on celluloid but trickier to keep the audience hooked, when people know – or think they know – what they're going to watch. The Impossible claims to tell the "true story" of a family of tourists caught in the tsunami of 2004, and I expected a mash-up of the visuals we've seen hundreds of times over on television. I'd gone in without a notion of the look of the film, and the scene left me stunned.

The filmmakers skirt the problem of old-story-new-cast by narrowing their focus to a single family of tourists. Those of us who live in the countries that were hit by the tsunami can't quite relate to the things they do, or the way they think. But those of us who've seen a reunion between people who thought they'd lost each other forever; those of us who've known the fear of never seeing a loved one again, do find ourselves drawn into the lives of these characters.

It's family drama, and even though we're told right away that this is headed for a happy ending, there's a sense of unease all through. There are, after all, grades of happiness. If you have three children, and find two, do you feel blessed or wretched? When you've suffered deeply, do you seek out your fellows-in-distress to offer solace, to commiserate, to reach out and help, or to gain brownie points with karma?

Though the authenticity of the setting, and the way in which the tsunami is shown, are magnificent achievements of CG, the film makes tremendous demands on its actors. Ewan McGregor excels, especially while delivering the line that has the most universal appeal – "You know when I was most afraid? When I came up". Because what fear can be greater than that of having lost everyone you care about? Perhaps the fear that one may have to choose between the two of them. Naomi Watts carries the burden of looking beautiful while looking miserable. She's had plenty of training in that department, of course, and I'm guessing this will get her an Academy Award nomination. The most impressive actor, though, is young Tom Holland, who acts so well with his eyes that his lines seem redundant.

The downside to the film is that the theme is all too familiar – gritty determination to survive, when the odds are stacked against you. The dialogue does get clichéd at times, and there's a tad too much of the so-much-beauty-and-yet-such-cruelty sentiment.

The Verdict: You could call it formulaic when you leave the cinema, but the film does affect you for as long as you're in your seat.

Discordant mating calls

Table No. 21

Director: Aditya Datt

Starring: Rajeev Khandelwal, Paresh Rawal, Tena Desae

The trailer told us just about everything – a couple (Rajeev Khandelwal and Tena Desae) get to go on a dream holiday, flying business class, making out on beaches, and being offered yet more money if they agree to go to Table Number 21, which has only one rule: You lie, you die. Huh? Is that even legal in a game show? But, I suppose if the likes of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and Survivor are on television, it just might be.

The problem with this "thriller" is that parts of it are so off that even an over-the-top Paresh Rawal, playing a weird hairdo sporting Abdur Razzaq Khan, can't save the film. Of course, there's an obvious nudge-nudge-poke-poke in making Rajeev Khandelwal the protagonist of the film, fresh out of his tryst with Sachh Ka Saamna. At one point, I was wondering whether the movie was trying to spoof the show, since the central preoccupations of both game shows appear to be adultery and abortion.

You could impose intellectual interpretations on the film, and call it social commentary, given that no reality show seems inconceivable today, with sanctioned voyeurism reaching the levels it has. However, if you do, the screenplay will let you down sooner than later. The film does have its complex moments, but these are undermined by mundane staples. And there's little to justify the twist at the end, which only leaves us feeling annoyed, like we've been cheated just for the heck of it.

In its attempt to keep us hooked, the story misleads us a little too deliberately, a little too often. Naturally, there are red herrings scattered all over the place, and no one bothers to pick them up. The whole film appears contrived in retrospect, and we're left gaping at the loose ends the filmmakers have slammed the doors shut on.

Poor Tena Desae appears to have been used only to titillate the audience. Though Rajeev Khandelwal does a decent job of acting, the characters don't make us care for them, leave alone empathise. I mean, folks who're dumb enough to think people will give them twenty-one crore rupees for telling them the "truth" deserve all that they deal with, methinks. A chap clever enough to come up with, "What's the catch?" ought to know there's a trap.

The Verdict: The film feels both familiar and bizarre, which isn't a particularly healthy mix. But if you're willing to buy tickets at weekend rates to smirk and snort, go ahead.

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