White Helmets documentary crew heads to Oscars for ‘Last Men in Aleppo’

Syrians walk along a damaged street in Aleppo's Tareeq Al-Bab neighborhood on January 18, 2017, a month after government forces retook the northern Syrian city from rebel fighters. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2018
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White Helmets documentary crew heads to Oscars for ‘Last Men in Aleppo’

CAIRO: Members of the the White Helmets are heading to the Oscars to be held on Sunday, where Syrian film ‘Last Men in Aleppo’ has been nominated in the Best Feature Documentary category.
The film documents the efforts of the Syrian White Helmets volunteer civil defense group that operates in rebel-held parts of Syria.
Described by its director Firas Fayyad as “a big shout out to justice” that lays bare the horrors of the war in his native country.
The movie describes the daily war atrocities through the eyes of volunteer rescue workers.
“We were very happy to be nominated,” Khaled Khatib, a member of the volunteer emergency response group and one of the film’s producers, told CBC News in a Skype call from Istanbul earlier this week.
A British documentary called ‘White Helmets’ aired on Netflix and scooped an Oscar last year in the Best Short Documentary category. It earned the online streaming service its first Academy Award.
Due to complications with their travel visas amid the Donald Trump travel ban, Khatib and others on the crew were barred form entering the US, and therefore would not have been able to attend.
However last-minute visas have been approved and they will attend the ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.


‘Kaala,’ first Indian film in Saudi cinemas, gimmicky at best

Updated 17 June 2018
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‘Kaala,’ first Indian film in Saudi cinemas, gimmicky at best

  • Rajinikanth remains a man who has to fall back on gimmicks
  • At 167 minutes, the film could have been liberally trimmed as the story has little novelty on offer

CHENNAI: A film with Tamil actor Rajinikanth is a like a carnival, but unlike a conventional one, there is more reverence here than just fun. The superstar, who is respectfully addressed as “thalaivar,” or chief, is not just an icon, but a phenomenon. Last week, Pa Ranjith-helmed, Rajinikanth-starrer “Kaala” became the first Indian film to open in newly re-launched Saudi cinemas — it sees Rajinikanth appear as an underworld don called Karikaalan.

Invariably dressed in a black dhoti and a black shirt, Kaala is not evil personified — as the color is often meant to denote – but goodness glorified. Playing godfather to his tribe of Tamils in Dharavi, the second largest slum in the world after one in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, he is provoked into a battle when a huge corporate, headed by a gangster-turned-minister Hari Dada (played by Nana Patekar), tries to demolish Dharavi and evict hundreds of its inhabitants.

In the war that ensues between Karikaalan and Hari, the star’s wife, Selvi (played by Eswari Rao) and eldest son, are killed, leaving a heartbroken husband and father, who does not choose a path of revenge, but merely carries on as a good Samaritan.

At 167 minutes, the film could have been liberally trimmed as the story has little novelty on offer. The movie follows a beaten track that is strewn with dead bodies and covered with blood and gore. A confrontation between the protagonist and Hari takes on various hues, but ends up presenting little that can be revelatory or surprising.

Rajinikanth remains a man who has to fall back on gimmicks (earlier it was flicking a cigarette in the air and catching it between his lips, and this time it is playing with his dark glasses) to keep his fans interested.

But, yes, if the film falls rather flat because its lead actor looks tired — he is 67-years-old — and is unable to think of different characters (unlike Bollywood’s Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor, who have given themselves a complete image makeover). Fine pieces of acting by Patekar infuse sparks of excellence into the narrative, however.

Unless Rajinikanth steps away from the gimmicks to take on more substantial roles, his movies may continue to be less than impressive.