Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Craig Gillespie

“I wish I had a woman that couldn’t talk”


Lars And The Real Girl

When almost all of filmdom was heaping praises over Jason Reitman’s refreshing flick Juno (2007), another quiet little independent film had made its mark. Craig Gillespie‘s Lars and the Real Girl (2007) is a little treasure in independent cinema and is as good as the former, if not better. Sadly, the judging panel for the academy seemed to overlook the film and give the nods to Juno. Regrets apart, meditation on modern alienation and urban loneliness has never been so amusing!

Lars (Ryan Gosling), as the title suggests is the lead in the story. He lives in the garage of the house where his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and his wife Karin (Emily Mortimer) live. He is everything that the word “loner” stands for. He speaks economically and eludes from attention. He never comes out of his closed structure except for the occasional church visit. The human touch burns him and he wears multiple clothes to avoid one. Additionally, he works in an office one of whose employees Margo (Kelli Garner), an enthusiastic female in search of love, tries to win his attention, in vain. Meanwhile, Gus and Karin are also trying to break Lars’ self built shell.

One fine day, Lars receives a parcel from one of the internet sites that sells adult toys and lo! – It is a life size (and anatomically correct!) female doll. He gives life to it and starts treating “her” with respect. We feel as creepy as the characters even though the title of the film has made us cautious. Lars seems to open up to the world after the arrival of Bianca (that’s what he calls the doll). She is everything he is and isn’t. Lars bestows her with everything he likes and everything he dislikes. She is his opening to the real world and the conduit of his suppressed emotions and troubled past.

Gus and Karin decide to consult Dr. Dogmar (Patricia Clarkson) in the pretext of treating Bianca so that Lars visits the doc regularly. Here is where we slowly learn that Lars is fully aware of his situation and Bianca is his method of shedding his shell. She is not a product of his frustration but a tool that clears it. As it becomes evident that it is Lars who is responsible for his own cure, everyone decides to play along till the golden day arrives.

The film’s biggest asset is perhaps Ryan Gosling’s quiet brilliance that is definitely a shining bullet in his résumé. It looks like he is leading the race among the young crowd of Hollywood, all of whom seem like tailor-made for teen comedies. His restrained performance as the titular character leverages his critically acclaimed role in Half Nelson (2006) that fetched him a nomination for the best leading actor and makes him the most promising young actor in industry now. Scenes such as the teddy bear rescue and the dinner table conversation give a glimpse of this handsome young man’s talents and he can rest assured that he is going to be around for a long time.

Though it can be categorized in the conventional feel good flick category all of which are instant hits, Lars and the Real girl avoids all traps that films of its kind usually succumb to. Primarily, with a plot line as bizarre as the one it has, any director would be tempted to flood the script with a deluge of raunchy jokes and the target audience would have drastically changed. But Gillespie eschews all that and yet makes the film light-hearted all the way.

Also, and most importantly, Gillespie never begs for sympathy for Lars. It is easy for a director to paint the screen with the protagonist’s helplessness and hence gain unwarranted attention towards the characters. But Gillespie appeals to the audience to accept Lars as he is. Lars is just another person in the village though the rest of the public start giving excessive attention to him for his condition. One of the characters in the film says “These things happen” and that is all what it is.

Hyderabad Blues 2 (2004)
Nagesh Kukunoor

“If divorcing you was the only way to get you back, I would do it all over again”


Hyderabad Blues 2

“Indie Cinema” and “Indian Cinema” – Totally unlike the way they sound similar, the two terms have come to bear quite an adversarial relationship to each other. Undoubtedly, Nagesh Kukunoor forms a vital milestone in the history of Indian Independent cinema and stays in the cream of my list of most important contemporary film directors from the country in spite of his recent debacle Bombay to Bangkok (2007) whose elusive charm eluded most of us! Nevertheless, his films like Rockford (1999), Hyderabad Blues (1998) and its sequel still have the potential to inspire anyone to take up a camera and have taken the esoteric world of Independent films into the households.

And I felt Hyderabad Blues deserves an article in spite of the flak it faces regularly from the lovers of the earlier film. The central character Varun (Nagesh Kukunoor) has already been introduced to us as a broadminded, level-headed and immensely cool gentleman who has been charmed into staying in India by his bold and independent wife, Ashwini (Jyoti Dogra). Varun hangs out with his group of friends consisting of married and single men but most importantly with Sanjeev (Vikram Inamdar) who warns Varun about all the difficulties in having a baby that he has learned the hard way. Ashwini, meanwhile, hangs out with Sanjeev’s resourceful and cunning wife Seema (Elahé Hiptoola).

All is fine with the lead couple until the wife wants to have a child. Varun, however, is totally unprepared and tries to avert the matter. Things don’t help when Varun’s employee Menaka (Tisca Chopra) is found wooing him in the office by another resentful employee and the issue promptly goes to Ashwini. And just like that, they land up in court debating divorce and eventually getting it. Hyderabad Blues gets all the characters right. Be it the consciously flawed Varun or his voluntarily subordinating mother, you see them all in everyday life. And herein lies Kukunoor’s keenly discerning eye that penetrates into the real workings of the society, without the regular mainstream makeup.

I always thought Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (1973) was a great idea (with performances of a lifetime by Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann) overstaying its welcome. But after watching a series of films on the subject culminating with Hyderabad Blues 2, I have come to realize that divorce, in most cases, is itself a very precipitous event and to portray one, the film’s runtime has to be suitably long in order to highlight the impulsive nature of the decision. And Hyderabad Blues does that without making the film once gloomy or overly melodramatic. All this apparent lightness never takes the solemnity of its objective and only aids the film to move closer to reality.

Hyderabad Blues 2 bears a relation to its predecessor somewhat in the same way Toy Story 2 (1999) is linked to its path breaking prequel (1995). In both cases, arguably the sequel is better in terms of the production values and the wholesomeness of the film. However, it is the prequel that is revered unanimously since they are the ones that gave birth to the sequels and they are the ones that changed the way people looked at films of their kind. Hence, the prequels naturally become close to heart and their successors easily dumped. When Hyderabad Blues came out, it was an instant hit. It captured, with near perfection, the way how anyone in the position of Varun feels, trying to cope up with the increased moral and cultural standards and decreased technological advancements.

Hyderabad Blues 2 is as hilarious as it is outrageous. Though most of the dialogue is in English, they never once feel contrived or out of place. Be the typically American wit of Varun or the bumbling acts of Sanjeev (“Pardon my wife. She has a problem with truth. Always speaks it out” is a knockout), they put one instantly at ease even if the sudden dose of iconoclasm as compared to the first film catches one unawares. By iconoclasm, I do not refer the film’s reflections on the society but on the country’s cinema itself. I wonder if the film would have been so open had it been made under the big banners. And thank god that wasn’t the case.