The 13th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival began in Dubai last evening in a burst of stars, which included the Indian diva, Rekha. Receiving the Life Time Achievement Award, the actor -- who looked dazzlingly young in a brocade sari and who had once distinguished herself in movies like Umrao Jaan, Silsila, Khubsoorat and Utsav -- got a thunderous applause as she walked up to the stage to be honoured by the Dubai ruler, His Highness Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the festival chairman Abdulhamid Juma.
In an acceptance speech where Rekha could not stop talking -- punctuating her sentences with “I know this is not the Oscars, and the bell will not ring -- she said her connections with Dubai were deep, and one could sense here a trace of nostalgia. Interestingly, while she said that her mother, Pushpavalli, was the one who had pushed her into the world of cinema, she scrupulously avoided talking about her father, Gemini Ganesh, who along with Sivaji Ganesh once ruled the Tamil screen.
The other legend who was feted with a Life Time Achievement Award, Samuel Jackson, said that he would love to do a movie in Dubai. “I am keen on building relationships,” he averred. “But do I have to learn Arabic,” he wondered.
Also, on the evening’s list of Life Time Achievement Award winners was the renowned French-Lebanese music composer, Gabriel Yared, who won an Oscar for The English Patient.
For the innumerable Indians in Dubai, the presence of Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor -- whose set-in-Paris film, Befikre premieres at the festival this evening -- on the Red Carpet was a point of excitement. The movie opens in India this Friday.
The inaugural function concluded with a screening of John Madden’s Miss Sloane, starring Jessica Chastain -- who plays a ruthless Washington lobbyist taking on the almost invincible gun lobby in America.
A tense political thriller where Madden relies more on Sloane’s verbal missiles (fiery monologues and sparring) than cinematic nuances, the opening work was a trifle too heavy to get the festival on a note of high. The ending was particularly disappointing.
The plot, nonetheless, about a lobbyist who mucks up her career and reputation for a cause she firmly believes in, is engaging -- given the kind of bloody shootouts one has been seeing in America, especially its schools.
Placed somewhere between Michael Clayton and All the President’s Men with strong traces of Erin Brockovich (where Julia Robert’s character takes on a devastatingly polluting gas and electric company), Miss Sloane is set in shady parking lots, and zeroes in on morally corrupt power players. They are vicious and manipulative.
Chastain essays Madeline Elizabeth Sloane, a copper haired, iron woman -- whose brightly painted red lips spell danger to her opponents rather than a sign of feminine beauty. She is always one step ahead of her ‘enemies’, and is lucky enough to find an unlikely friend in a male prostitute she frequently hires. In a crucial courtroom scene, he does not spill the beans. Turning down a lucrative offer to represent a gun lobby, she crosses over to the other side of the fence to fight those who want to keep the deadly gun culture in the US alive.
Chastain’s role in Miss Sloane reminded this writer of her unforgettable performance in Zero Dark Thirty, helmed by Kathryn Bigelow. There Chastain is a CIA intelligence analyst, and much like this, Sloane’s vulnerability is also apparent even as she goes about battling some of the most powerful forces in America.
Miss Sloane is admittedly engaging, but is a little too heavy to be a festival opener.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Dubai International Film Festival.)