Category Archives: Crime fiction and film from India

MIFF report back #2: Sunrise


A key question for me from Partho Sen-Gupta’s second feature film, Sunrise, which played as part of the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival, is how does one make a gripping crime film out of a pervasive social problem like child trafficking? If this was indeed Sen-Gupta’s intention, I’m not sure he has entirely succeeded. That said, there is a lot to recommend it.

The narrative spine of Sunrise is fairly straightforward. Joshi is middle aged Inspector working in a poorly resourced unit of the Mumbai police. His life has been in tatters ever since a person or persons unknown kidnapped his young daughter, Aruna, in front of her school years ago. The crime has destroyed his wife’s sanity and threatens to do the same to him. Compounding his trauma is the fact that the unit he works in deals with other parents who have had similar experiences. Joshi and his colleagues are largely unable to help these people, usually because their resources and methods are no match for those of the criminals responsible for the disappearances.

Joshi spends his nights obsessively searching for Aruna. He thinks he sees her everywhere. One night he stumbles out of the torrential monsoon rain into a nightclub called Paradise. Through the crowd Joshi spies Aruna amongst a group of young girls dancing on stage.… Read more

My 10 anticipated films of the Melbourne International Film Festival

The Duke of BurgundyThe Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is almost upon us and, this year, I am seeing more than my usual quota of films. I won’t go into detail regarding everything I’ve booked, but here are the ten films I am most excited about.

The Duke of Burgundy

Confession: I missed this in my first pass of the MIFF program and, thankfully, was alerted by a friend to the fact it was playing. Despite some problems with the last quarter of the film I adored Berberian Sound Studio (2013), Peter Strickland’s tasteful, authentic non-Tarantinoesque homage to Italian giallo films of the seventies. So The Duke of Burgundy, a tribute to the Euro sleaze films of Jess Franco and Walerian Borowczyk has me very excited.


My search for a decent Indian neo noir continues with Partho Sen-Gupta’s 2014 feature, Sunrise. In 2012 I sat through all six hours of Gangs of Wasseypur, the sprawling saga of two rival crime families in the Indian state of Bihar. It held together well for the first half before degenerating into a Spaghetti Western-like shoot ‘em up. In 2013, it was Monsoon, a Mumbai based crime drama about a rookie cop and his corrupt older partner. It showed promise but I felt it was too focused on achieving the right aesthete at the expense of story.… Read more

MIFF 2013 progress report #1: Manila in the Claws of Light & Monsoon Shootout

ManilaA couple of weeks ago I posted on the films I was planning to check out as part of the Melbourne International Festival. Yesterday I ticked off my first two choices, the Indian noir Monsoon Shootout and Manila in the Claws of Light.

First up, Manila in the Claws of Light (or as it is otherwise known as, The Nail of Brightness). This 1975 film is considered one of the classics of Philippines cinema. I’d heard a lot about and I wasn’t disappointed.

Julio (Bembol Rocco) is a young man who leaves his idyllic life in a small rural fishing town and travels to Manila to find his childhood sweetheart, Ligaya (Hilda Koronel), who has been trafficked into the city’s sex trade. Finding himself flat broke after he is mugged and all his money is stolen, he has no choice but to take a job working on a high-rise construction site.

The conditions are brutal, he sleeps in a wooden shack next to the half finished building, and workplace deaths are common. He also has to deal with the foreman, who regularly rips the workers off for a portion of their wages and sacks anyone who complains.

He eventually loses that job and ends up homeless on Manila’s streets, where he skirmishes with criminal gangs and meets a male prostitute who tries to induct him into the world of sex work.… Read more

Pulp Friday: spy pulp part 2, Assignment Asia

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of James Bond, last week’s Pulp Friday was a selection of spy themed pulp covers.

This week’s post takes us to one of the main battlegrounds for pulp spies in the sixties and seventies – Asia.

The Cold War was in full swing and those Reds were getting up to all kinds of nefarious activity behind the bamboo curtain, everything from kidnapping, sabotaging America’s space program, developing bubonic plague, drug running, to assassination.

And secret agents like Mark Hood (The Bamboo Bomb) Butler (Chinese Roulette) Death Merchant (Chinese Conspiracy), Joe Gall (The Star Ruby Contract) and Drake (“The man with nobody’s face” in Operation Checkmate), Nick Carter (The Defector) and Sam Durell (the Assignment series, over 48 of which were written), were in the thick of it.

They usually committed a lot of violence, had a lot of sex, and travelled to exotic locations. The books below are set in China, Singapore, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and Sri Lanka.

And, of course, there were some great covers. My favourite is the Robert Mcginnis illustration for Scott S Stone’s The Dragon’s Eye. But I’m also rather taken with the sleazy eighties feel of the photograph on the cover of Assignment Bangkok.… Read more

Melbourne International Film Festival progress report part 2: Rampart, Gangs of Wasseypur

This week I caught two of my must see crime films at the Melbourne International Film Festival, Rampart (2010) and Anupama Copra’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012).

Rampart is latest in a long line of movies that combine two of crime cinema’s great thematic strands, bad cops and the idea that policing is little more than military occupation. Training Day (2001), Colors (1988), Q&A (1990), Copland (1997) Narc (2002), Cop (1988) and television series like The Shield are just a few examples of this genre. But if you thought Vic Mackey was bad, he’s got nothing on Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown (played Woody Harrelson).

Rampart was directed by Oren Moverman who did the 2009 movie, The Messenger, a hard hitting story about two US marines whose job is to deliver death notices to the loved ones of US service men and women killed in action. Moverman collaborated on the Rampart script with crime writer James Ellroy.

The late 1990s, the Rampart Division of the LAPD is already investigation for fabricating evidence, police brutality and a string of other offences. Into this shit storm walks Brown, a 24-year veteran of the force. While on patrol his car is involved a collision. Brown chases down the other driver and savagely beats him. It’s routine brutality on Brown’s part, except this time, unknown to him, someone has filmed it.… Read more