You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Hungry’

William Shakespeare's revenge play 'Titus Andronicus' gets a modern-day Indian twist in Bornila Chatterjee's muddled reworking.

Bornila Chatterjee
Naseeruddin Shah, Tisca Chopra, Neeraj Rabi, Arjun Gupta, Sayani Gupta, Antonio Aakeel. (Hindi, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6354784/

William Shakespeare’s first tragedy, “Titus Andronicus,” has never been among his most revered plays, but there’s a primal appeal to the raw, blood-caked nastiness of its plotting and the themes of revenge and political treachery that would resurface in later works. Julie Taymor’s conceptually audacious 1999 film version collapsed multiple eras into a Grand Guignol epic about the savagery at the heart of human history, but made few changes to the text. For “The Hungry,” writer-director Bornila Chatterjee tosses out the dialogue and updates the story to an estate in modern-day India, where a marriage of convenience around a business partnership turns into an all-consuming internecine battle. Yet the conceit is narrow and banal, losing not only the poetry of Shakespeare’s work but its populist charge, too, which is weakened by yawning gaps in the storytelling. Ultra-violence and incoherence stand to make a fraught marriage in worldwide markets.

Photographed with the glossy lushness of a fashion-magazine spread, “The Hungry” opens with a prologue so confusing that it takes multiple flashbacks to clarify the action. With the Ahuja and Joshi families poised to unite through a marriage with corporate implications, the scion of the Ahuja family, Tathigat (Naseeruddin Shah), throws a New Year’s Eve party that goes tragically awry. The son of the bride-to-be turns up dead in a bathtub, wrists slashed, in an apparent suicide attempt. But the staging of the scene, combined with peculiarities in the suicide note, lead the young man’s mother, Tulsi Joshi (Tisca Chopra), to suspect foul play.

Two years later, after Tathigat returns from an unrelated prison sentence for alleged financial chicanery, the wedding between Tulsi and Tathigat’s dim-witted son Sonny (Arjun Gupta) is back on, but Tulsi’s intentions have darkened considerably. With her other son Chirag (Antonio Aakeel) in reluctant attendance, Tulsi and a secret confidant begin carrying out revenge on the Ahuja family, but their plans are complicated by various miscues and a growing awareness on Tathigat’s part that she knows more than her placid smile suggests. Thus begins a grisly confrontation in the shadows that contrasts sharply with the flowery splendor of a wedding weekend — and a decadent feast that Tathigat is preparing personally.

The minor twist on Shakespeare is that Tulsi, a stand-in for the diabolical empress Tamora, becomes a more sympathetic figure in “The Hungry.” While Chatterjee reveals the corrosive and self-defeating effects of Tulsi’s plans for revenge, there’s no question that her cause is the relatively righteous one, compared to Tathigat’s more ruthless assertions of power. Whatever nuance can be gleaned from her moral struggles is negated, however, by on-the-nose dialogue like “I’m fighting the darkness. I’m losing.” For Chatterjee to pull off her upending of Shakespeare’s play, it’s critical for Tulsi’s revenge to register as a tragedy of the soul as much as the bodies of those she loves, but the film never gets beyond surface machinations.

As Tathigat, Bollywood veteran Shah (who had a key role in Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding”) relishes the opportunity to give his gentle, avuncular screen presence a sinister edge. Tathigat nurses the image of a benevolent patriarch and captain of industry, but the rottenness at his core surfaces with little provocation. When he suddenly lays into the staff for their paltry display of marigolds, Shah plays the answer to this minor offense with a distinctly homicidal edge. “Titus Andronicus” thrives on villainy, and Shah seems to relish the opportunity to soak in it.

Yet one delectable performance cannot make up for the thinness of Chatterjee’s reconsideration of Shakespeare or the hiccups in the staging, which makes even this pared-down adaptation seem needlessly muddled. Chatterjee and her DP, Nick Cooke, supply plenty of beautiful colors and shafts of light, but whole scenes have been cut together without much care about how one shot relates to the next. The multiple revenge schemes in “Titus Andronicus” require the sort of clear, careful articulation that “The Hungry” never manages from the start.

Film Review: 'The Hungry'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 7, 2017. Running time: 100 MIN. 

Production: (India-United Kingdom) Cinestaan Film Company and Film London presents a Free Radicals production in association with SUMS Film and Media. Producers: Kurban Kassam, Tanaji Dasgupta. Executive producers: Ben Bond, Andy Brunskill, Rohit Khattar, Orion Lee, Declan Reddington, Sunny Vohra, Maria Walker.

Crew: Director: Bornija Chatterjee. Screenplay: Chatterjee, Kurban Kassam, Tanaji Dasgupta. Camera (color, widescreen): Nick Cooke. Editor: Jamie Kataky. Music: Benedict Taylor.

With: Naseeruddin Shah, Tisca Chopra, Neeraj Rabi, Arjun Gupta, Sayani Gupta, Antonio Aakeel. (Hindi, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Berlin Awarded 'Tess' Sells to Multiple

    Berlin Awarded 'Tess' Sells to Multiple Territories (EXCLUSIVE)

    Berlin-based sales agent Picture Tree Intl. has sold Steven Wouterlood’s coming-of-age film “My Extraordinary Summer with Tess,” which received a Special Mention from the jury of Berlin Film Festival’s Generation KPlus section, to distributors in several territories. Among the buyers are Les Films Du Preau in France, Proview Entertainment in Taiwan, Angel Films in Denmark, [...]

  • China Box Office: ‘Wandering Earth’ Reaches

    China Box Office: ‘Wandering Earth’ Reaches $557 Million in Second Week

    The winning films from Chinese New Year remained on top of the Chinese box office in their second normal weekend of release. Locally-made sci-fi film “The Wandering Earth” advanced its score to $557 million. “Wandering Earth” earned $88.8 million between Friday and Monday, according to data from Asian film industry consultancy Artisan Gateway. That was [...]

  • Nuno Beato’s ‘My Grandfather’ Part of

    ‘My Grandfather Used to Say He Saw Demons’ Marks Sardinha em Lata’s Animation Build

    Portuguese animator-producer-director Nuno Beato, whose credits include “Emma & Gui,” “Híssis” and the multi-prized “My Life In Your Hands,” will pitch a new project, currently in development, “My Grandfather Used to Say He Saw Demons” at Bordeaux’s upcoming Cartoon Movie, the leading European animated feature forum. Cartoon Movie runs March 5-7. More Reviews Sundance Film [...]

  • DF-10193 – L-R: Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor),

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Leads MPSE Golden Reel Awards for Sound Editing

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” followed up love from Cinema Audio Society sound mixers with a pair of honors at the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ 66th annual Golden Reel Awards Sunday night. The musical biopic scored wins for dialogue and ADR as well as sound editing in a musical. The film is nominated for sound editing at the Oscars [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" in

    Writers Guild Makes It Official: This Is the Most Wide-Open Oscars Race Ever

    For the record, we’re in uncharted territory this Oscar season. While we still have the costume designers’ ceremony to get through on Tuesday, the Writers Guild Awards put a bow on the major guild kudos circuit Sunday night. The results have yielded what is, unequivocally, the most wide-open Oscar field in history. More Reviews Sundance [...]

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and

    WGA Awards 2019: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?,' 'Eighth Grade' Win Screenplay Awards

    In a pair of upsets, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” has won the Writers Guild of America’s adapted screenplay award for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty and Bo Burnham has won the original screenplay award for “Eighth Grade.” The major television trophies went to “The Americans,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Homeland” and “Barry” for the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' No Match for China's 'Wandering Earth' Overseas

    Hollywood movies like “Alita: Battle Angel” and “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” are doing respectable business overseas, but they’re proving no match for foreign titles at the international box office. The Chinese New Year is bringing in huge business in the Middle Kingdom. China’s sci-fi epic “The Wandering Earth” pulled in a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content