Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Pool
Rated: Not Rated

Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins

Genre: Dramas

Theatrical Release: Sep 5, 2008 Limited

Starring: Nana Patekar, Venkatesh Chavan, Jhangir Badshah, Ayesha Mohan

Starring: Nana Patekar, Venkatesh Chavan, Jhangir Badshah, Ayesha Mohan

Director: Chris Smith

I happened to catch this movie at the local art house cinema (TheaterN). This is a beautifully crafted, contemplative, drama about have and have-nots told in a quiet understated manner that resonates with the viewer. The story behind this movie is almost as interesting as the move itself. The director Chris Smith, made it after reading a short story about an Iowa graduate student who becomes obsessed with a local swimming pool. Prior to that Smith had been to India, where he met a hotel boy Raju, who despite his long, hard hours had the most wonderful disposition. Reading that short story Smith decided to port the short story to India. It is a self-financed movie, shot mostly with actors off the street. The hand held camera gives this movie a documentary like feel and captures local color and flavor in a way that Wes Anderson’s “Darjeeling Limited” did not, and trust me on that, having lived more than a couple of decades in India, I can tell when a movie captures the local ambience in an authentic fashion.

“The Pool” is about Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan) a room boy at a hotel in Panjim, Goa. A transplant in to the city, from the neighboring state of Karnataka, he earns his keep by doing multiple jobs at a hotel, mostly cleaning and room service. One of his routines is to perch himself up atop a tree near a hilltop bungalow, one that overlooks a swimming pool on that property. It is a shimmering, calm oasis in a world that Venkatesh can only aspire too but not have. The pool represents not just class and affluence but also something else. It will become a place that ties all the characters together, some bonds formed from the presence, while others from a past shrouded in sadness and tragedy.

Venkatesh has a buddy, a younger Jahangir (Jhangir Badshah), an orphan who is also illiterate and who like him works, but at a restaurant. Together on the side they have a business, selling plastic bags for shoppers in the street markets around town. Venkatesh has a strong desire to swim in that pool, and he slowly works up the courage to approach the owner of the house with the pool played by the Bollywood star Nana Patekar. A quiet, brooding father often seen sitting silently by the pool or gardening barely conversing with his teenage daughter played by Ayesha Mohan. She actually detests him. There is a back story here.. a family estrangement, a broken heart and something sad from their past. Venkatesh is hired by the father to work in the garden and the slow bond that develops between the two as they work in the garden together is worth watching. There are no big lines here just two people conversing. Nana Patekar as the stoic father is remarkable as is the chatty Venkatesh as he talks about his life and family back home and his desire to get to a better life by going to school although he is eighteen.

The development of the friendship between Venkatesh and Ayesha and Jhangir is also well handled. The girl recovering from a broken heart is in to young adult novels is initially indifferent to the two, but things change slowly despite the gulf between their statuses.

Ayesha and her dad’s stay at the bungalow is short and as the time for them to depart comes close, the father has taken a liking to Venkatesh and offers him a chance to go with him to Bombay where he will get to go to school and also work for him. Venkatesh has a tough choice to make, move farther away from home, leave behind Jahangir to whom he is like a older brother and friend for a chance at a better life. And what is the secret behind the pool which sits there unused, does Venkatesh get to use it?

You have to see the movie for this and the unexpected twist at the end.

Other things I loved about the movie..

Some great long takes, some wonderful crumbling Portuguese architecture, lush green Goa. I also loved the sounds of the street, simple things like the sound of a street sweepers broom, a busy market and shots from every day life. The scenes of Venkatesh and the father gardening are also well done and for me were a pleasure to watch including the simple act of cutting down coconuts from a tree and then breaking them open to drink the coconut water from the fruit. A act of pleasure which I can attest to having done it myself ages back, as is throwing stones at mangoes hanging from a tree to bring them down to eat, something the 3 kids in the movie indulge in as well.

There may be one critique about this movie, that despite dealing with issues of poverty and class it does so without any conflict, in the sense that there are no bad people in this movie. There is no outrage here but that may be an issue for those who do not know Indian society and how the various contradictions there exist side by side.

This is a warm, unhurried movie, and it at its heart it is also a story about giving and the joys of giving, that are revealed in layers as the movie progresses from one who has a lot in life and someone who has nothing.

If you are interested in the story behind this movie here is the podcast of an interview with the director Chris Smith. The movie also has a great website with a trailer and pictures and a lot more. The movie also won the special jury price at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.


starry nights said...

thanks for the review, looks like an interesting and good movie,have to check if netflix has it.

Lotus Reads said...

What an excellent review Sanjay, truly! As you know, I am always on the look-out for good movies (and even better if they have to do with India) and your ringing endorsement of this one gets me very excited to see it.

I love when a director takes his or her chances on actors off the street. I think Nair did this in "Salaam Bombay" and as you know, it was a huge hit. Not sure if the same was done by Danny Boyle in "Slumdog Millionaire", but I will read up and let you know. Street actors (especially when it comes to children) have a freshness and rawness that is hard to capture from someone who has been to film school.

About your comment that despite the poverty there is no conflict, yeah I find that admirable too. The disparity in wealth that one sees in India it's surprising that the poor don't organize mass rebellions, but I think it all comes down to the fact that Indians are fatalistic by nature. They take their poverty as their due in life (as a punishment for sins in a past life maybe) and don't think much about rebelling against their situation. It is an attitude that I both admire and abhor.

Looking forward to the twist in the tale...

Here's wishing you a wonderful w/end ahead Sanjay!!!

Sanjay said...

Starry, thanks for your comment. Netflix does not have it yet, as it is only recently released. But do add it to your queue. I am sure you won't regret it.

Sanjay said...

Hey Lotus.. how are you? Thank you for your kind words about the review.
Yes you are a true Indophile. :) I think you will like this movie. It talks about class, poverty and the concept of giving in such an understated manner and yet makes a wonderful impact on the viewer.
Also Chris Smith does not speak Hindi and some of the actors did not speak English, and one would not know that watching the movie!

I think you bring up a wonderful point about a director taking chances with actors off the street!
Salaam Bombay completely escaped my mind when I was writing up this review. You are so right.
I do want to see "Slumdog Millionaire". Thank you for telling me about this wonderful film. I added it to my netflix queue.
Yes of course how could I have forgotten about the fatalistic nature of some Indians. It cuts both ways doesn't it?
Yes the twist in the tale is quite emotional yet that is not how it plays out on the screen. That was my reaction to it.
You have a great weekend ahead as well!

sandhya said...

I hadn't heard of this. It seems like a really good movie plus it features Nana Patekar who is one of my favorite Indian actors. Thanks for the heads up. I'll check on Netflix if it's available.