Wednesday, June 8, 2011

FILM REVIEW: Ashes by Mark Donovan

Mark Donovan

 FILM REVIEW: "Ashes," by Mark Donovan

Ajay Naidu has acted in 64 different film and television roles- though he is primarily known for his role as Samir in Office Space- and it is clear that his time in front of the camera has also taught him a good deal about working behind the camera.
In Ashes, Naidu plays a small time drug dealer in New York, nicknamed Ashes, who sells weed, and only weed, in order to support him and his mentally challenged brother (Faran Tahir, Iron Man). His luck starts to turn around when he associates himself with a group of small time drug dealers from India, lead by a man called Pinky (Firdous Bamji). As is the way in films like this, things then start to fall apart.
While the drug deal portion of film takes up a good bit of the run time, it’s the story of the two brothers that seems to be the focus of the film. As Ashes, Naidu plays a man struggling with the responsibility of looking after his older brother and trying to fulfill his own dreams of wealth. Meanwhile, the older, more troubled brother, Kartik, is dealing with Manic Depressive Schizophrenia, and the knowledge that he is no longer in charge of his own brain. As Kartik, Tahir manages to play a deeply troubled man without overplaying his cards. Sometimes all it takes is a slight gleam in his eye, or a minor change in his expression. The bit players are also quite good, from Piper Perabo as Kartik’s love interest, who is also dealing with her own mental illness, to Peter Macon, who gives a very genuine and natural performance as Ashes’ friend and fellow drug dealer.
The idea of a low level drug dealer who deals only weed may lack verisimilitude, but Naidu, as director, makes up for it with subtle realism; from the apartments that the characters live in, to the little details, like when Naidu and Macon share some Nutella straight out of the jar, with their fingers, for lack of spoons or bread. There is a gritty realism to the way these characters live.

Though the movie was made on a shoestring budget, with a cast comprised mostly of his friends, Naidu manages to make every penny count. The cinematography incorporates a great deal of natural light, yet every scene looks professional, if not picturesque. And while the direction may lack flash, it is obvious that Naidu has picked up a few tricks from watching Darren Aronofsky. Had I not known this was his first time directing, I would not have known this was his first time directing.

Ashes is, artistically, a success, overall, but there are a few missteps along the way. Ashes is a primarily male-centric film, leaving the women solely underused. While Piper Perabo does a fine job as a mentally unstable love-interest, she spends most of the film unseen and unheard, mentioned only by the older brother. Reena Shah fares worse as Ashes’ love interest. Her character is rarely seen, and, in the end, we know so little about her that she just seems like an afterthought. Heather Burns is the most egregious, however. While her character is supposed to be mysterious, she is given so little to say or do that the audience doesn’t really care who she is or what she is trying to do. With a few more scenes thrown her way, Burns character could have provided the film with a good deal more mystery or tension.

These problems are minor when considering how well the movie has been constructed, overall. Hopefully Naidu will be given more chances to direct in the future. If this film is any indication, he should have a bright future ahead of him.

Film website:

Written by Mark Donovan
Editor: Rod Webber

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