May 25, 2019
We’re back for our final review of the week, another Netflix Original from the Indian subcontinent in the Marathi language. It’s important to specify the language, as India has 22 official languages recognized. Netflix has been expanding their Netflix Original distribution choices to include more than the most dominant language, Hindi. For a few other Netflix Originals from the subcontinent, check out the Hindi language films “Love Per Square Foot” (Episode #052), “Lust Stories” (Episode #168), “Brjj Mohan Amar Rahe” (Episode #220), “Rajma Chawal” (Episode #344), and “Soni” (Episode #389). You can also check out the Marathi language film “Firebrand” (Episode #429) and the Tamil language film “Sometimes” (Episode #136).
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “15 August”, the Netflix Original drama directed by Swapnaneel Jaykar and written for the screen by Yogesh Vinayak Joshi. The film follows the events in a tenement building on August 15th, Indian Independence Day, when Jiu and Raju, two lovers forbidden by their families from marrying, are considering their options. When the ring which Raju intends to propose to Jiu falls into a hole, a young boy attempts to retrieve it, and finds his hand stuck. Now, as the tenement community attempts to free the boy’s hand, Jiu is considering another arranged marriage proposal, and time is running out for Raju.
Bollywood seems to specialize in these slice of life films that are a mélange of various characters and themes. Hollywood often takes a very individualized look at storytelling, focusing on one character or group as being separate from the other characters. Bollywood, however, has a more community-minded approach to storytelling, with fuzzier lines between characters, and can take some getting used to. I’ve often said that I enjoy the opportunity to peer into the lives of other countries via their films, and today’s film is an excellent example of doing just that.
Now, the viewer has to take “15 August” with a grain of salt. The entire film has the feel of an ensemble stage show, complete with the use of the tenement as a single stage, a cast of characters playing to the audience, and a variety of plots and subplots loosely centered around the date. For Jiu and Raju, the date was significant to their parents’ shared disapproval of their relationship. For Ninand, whose hand is stuck, it seems like any other holiday. For the other characters, their own social, cultural, political, or economic beliefs about what the date means. And when taken together, what it means to be Indian through these various metaphors.
It’s really more of an experience than a story, even if our focus returns to Jiu and Raju’s star-crossed relationship. The mélange approach to storytelling, however, also comes with some major struggles. The score seems to be the only consistent portion of the film, with each scene varying widely on the emotional spectrum. Comedy smashed up against anger, farce smashed against realism, the genuine against the melodramatic.
I also feel like there was a lost opportunity to turn the boy’s stuck hand into a larger metaphor about letting go. There’s the famous story about a monkey with his hand trapped in a bottle, because he won’t let go of what is inside the bottle. I think there was even a “Simpsons” episode about it. Sadly, it ends up being merely a MacGuffin to tell community-wide stories and perspectives.
“15 August” is a slice-of-life story set during Indian Independence Day, centered around a love story between forbidden lovers, and surrounded by a community’s attempt to aid a young boy in distress. While the film has a nice diversity of characters and themes, they are loosely drawn together, and often clashing with one another in tone. Fans of Bollywood and slice-of-life dramas should definitely check this one out. And if you love a good old-fashioned tear-jerker of an ending, this film will definitely hit that spot.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 7.2/10
“15 August” (2019) is rated TV-14 and is currently playing on Netflix.