Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Movie Review: Noor (2017)



Even though certain statements have only grown in relevancy over the last few months, feelings of real discontent with one’s surroundings have existed for as long as we have. Whether it’s down to the nigh-on impossible task of being a true populist or just voter’s remorse, no matter how much we try to back the people who have our best interests at heart, there will always be irritation at how the higher-ups run the world. Raging against the machine is a thriving industry, bleeding out of the real world into all forms of art or really anything that involves creative input. Journalism, in one form or another, fits into this category as well, giving people that single bullet to blow the kneecaps off the world as they see fit. I bring this all up because that idea of voicing dissent against the injustices of the world is a major aspect of today’s film. So, with that in mind, how does this fluffy rom-com turn out? If that sounds out of place, it’s only because it is. This is Noor.

The plot: Journalist Noor (Sonakshi Sinha) is finding herself discontent with her lot in life. Maybe it’s got something to do with how she is stuck doing borderline-viral human interest stories, rather than real hard-hitting news. However, when she discovers that a friend of a friend went into a job interview and left missing a kidney, she soon uncovers an organ-trafficking conspiracy happening right on her doorstep; this is the kind of story she’s been looking for. Of course, given the sensitivity of the story itself, Noor has to be careful when it comes to reporting it, or else bad things might happen.

Now, in spite of that rather heavy plot synopsis, the film initially looks like this is going to be the kind of ‘woes of the modern woman’ rom-com that would honestly fit right in with most Western releases. Hell, Noor herself feels like a younger version of a character that Tina Fey would portray in a film nowadays. In that capacity, the film actually starts out rather well. Noor is shown as a rather accident-prone (a common staple of modern romantic leads) and dissatisfied journalist and her musings on her own life and her lack of self-esteem feels a far sight more genuine than I’m used to seeing in these kinds of films. As the romance angle starts to set itself in stone, with Ayan in the suitor role, this gets oddly appealing. Maybe it’s because Sinha and Dandekar are as cute as they are together but, for the tone that the film starts out with, it fits. This in spite of that general feeling of waiting for the plot to catch up with the audience, once again something unfortunately common in this genre, and one of the more abrasive and generally annoying musical numbers I’ve seen yet in a Bollywood film. Aside from being out-of-place, even considering the events that will occur later on, the music itself is pretty bad as well.

Then the tonal shift happens, and by “shift”, I of course mean “where the hell did this intensity come from?” Suddenly, this rather light romance story morphs into a plot about medical conspiracy and journalist ethics. To call it jarring would be to overstate my own inexperience with discussing Bollywood films, but it definitely starts to bring up rather unsettling notions when merged with a story about someone this pessimistic. To be fair, her actions that lead to this convergence are rather questionable but, at the same time, the events that she gets herself involved feel like the sort of thing most wouldn’t be biding their time to get to the bottom of. It’s basically the flipside of last year’s Spotlight, or to be more accurate an Indian version of Truth, in how it shows the want to expose evil against the need to ensure that the accusations are secure to avoid backlash. Of course, even though this ends up bringing out the worst kind of meltdown in Noor herself, there are points where I can’t tell just how much of the blame she should put on herself. Again, she didn’t exactly go about her assignment in the best way possible, but the amount of flack she gets for it is both understandable and overreacting. Add to this how the film even seems to be trying to distract itself from its own heaviness, manifested in a small retreat to London to get away from everything, and the tonal shift starts to shake the film’s foundations in a way that it might not survive.

However, once the aftershock has worn off and the two sides of the story start to fit together a tad more naturally, things start to look up again. The reason why is pretty simple: As off-beat as the first act was, it ends up bolstering the rest of the film because it showed that Noor, for all her faults, is only human. When your average person hears of great injustice happening right on their doorstep, especially if your occupation consists of fluff human interest pieces, the need to voice outrage can become overwhelming. But then the logistics kick in, involving real-world repercussions that go much further than just the person talking, and that need to lash out is forcefully tampered. This comes to a head when Noor once again tries to report on the story, which quickly evolves into her basically speaking out against the many injustices that are happening in Mumbai. Said scene, which is a monologue in every sense of the term, is exceptionally powerful in how Spider Jerusalem “I Hate This City” it gets. Besides, she’s someone who is voicing her mind about what she sees as being wrong with the world to whoever will listen; it’d be a tad hypocritical if I didn’t relate to this on some level. From there, as those repercussions once again echo out from her actions, it turns out a bit aimless in how it progresses for the rest of the finale, but at the same time resonating in a rather down-to-earth way. I mean, hell, fear of speaking out about the bastards of the world is something that is very prominent in the West; considering the bastards in question, from the U.S. to the U.K. to Australia and beyond, maybe we need more people talking.

All in all, while tonally jarring in more places than I would like, Sonakshi Sinha’s acting combined with a mostly level-headed script results in a rather moving work. Maybe it’s my own interest in journalism and general cries of anger from the proletariat but, even through the unfitting musical moments (which bleed out into the end credits, so be sure to exit once they show up) and splashes of rom-com clich├ęs, Noor’s arc of responsibility and coming to terms with what she is capable of is quite inspiring. It’s better than Loving, as the very involved nature of the characters here make for a more engaging watch overall. However, even with its faults, I still consider Personal Shopper to be a more rewarding experience as a film, between its writing peaks and phenomenal lead acting.

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