Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Originally published on NOWRUNNING.COM
One of the most treasured memories of my childhood is perhaps listening to the story of Krishna and Sudaama from my mother every night before going to sleep. There indeed is something truly magical about this legend that stands as a timeless fable of true friendship, and no matter how many times I heard it, I could never have enough of it.
Watching Priyadarshan’s retelling of the story in Billu (which itself is a remake of the Malayalam film Kadha Parayumbol) instead reminded me of the khichdi my mother would forcibly stuff in my unwilling mouth as a child. Billu is simplistically told, and justificably so- but it lacks the heart-tugging warmth and charm that makes the mythological story so irresistable (it is inevitable that I wonder what wonders Ashutosh Gowariker could have done with this material).
Anyway, the fairy tale turns into a hairy tale, as Priyadarshan can’t have enough of the farce-feeding. So the usual suspects- Asrani, Om Puri, Rajpal Yadav (all immensely talented actors, no doubt)- are yet again (under)utilised as they try in vain to provide er, comic relief, as you squrm watching the stunning unfunniness unfold in disbelief. Meanwhile SRK (Shahrukh/Sahir- what’s in a name, you ask? Maybe the Salon and Beauty Parlour associations will tell us.) cavorts in tacky spaceships and Bentleys (evidently, this Krishna likes variety in vehicles) and indulges in some pretty dheela Raas Leela with his cohorts (VLCC advertisements Kareena, Deepika and Priyanka). He also occasionally tells us about the workings of the film industry (which of course is one big family) and how tired he is of all these silly controversies about him that go on and on. Yawn. OK, SRK- we’re tired too, of watching you waste yourself playing these over-the-top caricatures of your grand self.
What we ultimately have left is an extraordinary actor (Irrfan Khan, take a bow again) trapped in the silly, frilly trappings of this eminently ordinary film. He is a wonderful picture of dignity and quiet resilience, and every emotion on his face rings true. Sadly, that can hardly be said about the film itself- and in this day and age when new filmmakers are trying their best to break the shackles of moribund mediocrity- it must be said that as far as films go, it is definitely no longer special to be ordinary.
Run to your mommas and grannies and hear it from them. Trust me, some things are best told the old-fashioned way.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Originally published on NOWRUNNING.COM
First things first. I hate 'rating' films. And though I don't know if this really matters, but I do feel terribly obliged to explain exactly how I have arrived at my rating (a meagre ***, considering Kashyap's awe inducing audacity) for this film- for it was certainly something that posed a great dilemma to me. It feels cruel to reduce this bravura attempt by Anurag Kashyap to calculating a silly score, but ultimately, I decided I had to go with simple good ol' arithmetic- simply put, four stars for the first chapter of the film and minus one for the rest.Needless to say, Dev D-rails terribly in the second half, and excuse me for wanting to get it out of my system before I talk about what I loved. So here goes:
CHAPTER 1: Why, Anurag, Why
Emotional Atyachaar. Nothing but the cracker of a song (composed by the awesome Amit Trivedi who creates an exceptional soundscape for the film) can describe the pain you feel as you see a potential cult film wreck itself right before your eyes. In a surreal turn of events, you see film become the man, as Dev D turns self-destructive, directionless and seemingly senseless. You look for a spark somewhere, a small shard that you can hold close and perhaps connect to, but it all gets lost in a purple-blue haze of smoke.
Speaking of which, even No Smoking, for all its indulgence and magnificently bizarre twists and turns, never completely lost the plot this way. It held together, because there was some innate method to the madness, which is hard to find here. What could have been a poetically tragic, bittersweet tale of two wounded, lost souls finding momentary happiness together becomes an exercise in futility and for the viewer, often sheer frustration. Kalki Koechlin, who plays Chanda, has an endearing fragility and waif-like presence, but she falls woefully short, and her labored accent and patchy characterization (even after Kashyap painstakingly sets up a sad and unnecessarily long back-story for her) makes it impossible to relate to her.
There's some of Kashyap's trademark witty dialogue here too, and a few scenes that sparkle in between- my personal favorite (and especially topical in a way, with the recent incidents of moral policing) is one where an old lady launches into a lecture for the protagonist whose side-splitting reaction nearly made me fall off my chair. But with the absence of any propulsive narrative force, Dev D almost begins to torture, and the repetitive onslaught of montages (all of which are brilliantly shot by Rajeev Ravi) takes this part beyond redemption. In the end, it's another of Trivedi's mind-blowing tracks that perhaps echoed my sentiments: Nayan Tarse, Nayan Tarse, Daras Na Mile, Nayan Tarse...
CHAPTER 2: Wow, Anurag Wow!
The sarson ke khet are in place, and her dupatta does flutter, but trust me, this Paro is hardly one to melt like ghee and butter. The sacred Yash Raj idiom is turned on its head, with Kashyap's heady and cleverly concocted cocktail. The esoteric filmmaker springs a surprise and even a few pleasant shocks onto us, and discovering each moment of this wonderfully quirky take on the classic novel is a delight.
Frankness and candor like this has perhaps never been seen in mainstream Hindi cinema. Even as the director cheekily and sincerely references the novel and its adaptation by Sanjay Bhansali, he contemporarises it like perhaps only he could have- and turns romantic icons into flesh and blood people. Set against an impeccably detailed and colorful Punjab, Dev and Paro's love story comes alive like never before, because Kashyap has the balls to acknowledge them as sexual creatures without making a fuss over it.
A landmark film in the way it portrays youth and young love, and superbly etched with irony and humor, Dev D marries Kashyap's typical stylistic flourish with multi-layered substance, and this is truly a match made in heaven.
Deol is perfectly cast here, and the actor (who conceptualized the film) drips coolth and 'typical Indian' male chauvinism in equal measure. The attitude and arrogance of the spoilt Punjabi lad is brought out with astounding realism, and once again the courageous young actor packs a solid punch.
But the real knockout here, without doubt- is Mahi Gill, whose fiery, spunky presence commands your attention in each frame she is in; her raw earthy charm wins you over and the sheer poignancy that she brings to Parminder is truly heartbreaking. Gill, who has earlier acted in Punjabi films, is a far cry from our delicate, virginal heroines, and I am compelled to say that I haven't fallen in love with an actress this way since Vidya Balan made her debut. Whatever she stars in next, my tickets are already booked. Needless to say, Mahi Naal Mainu Ho Gaya Pyaar.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Originally published on NOWRUNNING.COM
At a time when (more often than not) all you take back from a movie is a splitting headache, the director of Luck By Chance gives you something to treasure in the very first few minutes that form the film’s opening sequence. The sweat, the dust, the extras, the spot boys, the posters, the grease and the paint- Zoya Akhtar makes you smell the celluloid in a magical montage that is as much a tribute to the movies as it is to those people behind them who we mostly overlook, by chance.
Zoyaji, you have made me chew my hat, and thank you so much for that. Admittedly, the ‘from the makers of Rock On’ tag had me a bit wary, for the slick but sanitized brand of cinema was truly beginning to suffocate, but for those who shared my odd apprehensions, the good news is that this debut director is as much a chip off the old family block as she is an Akhtar of a different feather.
Gibberish aside, Zoya Akhtar shows class, edge, polish and poise in her confident first feature displaying a rare and distinct stamp of her own. Luck By Chance is compelling cinema, satirical yet sensitive, and Farah Khan and Madhur Bhandarkar can learn a thing or two here about kicking a** without being crass- and with malice towards none at all.
Caricatures give way to characters, and clichés, while avoided as much as possible, are tastefully underplayed. Zoya Akhtar’s look at the industry may not be unsparingly ruthless, but is admirably humane, honest- and not to mention hilarious- as Javed Akhtar’s pen rediscovers its razor sharp wit.
Even as the film drags a bit at about 160 minutes, Zoya keeps us hooked and booked- and not with silly gimmicks, but with genuinely solid storytelling. She may have an array of stars- from Aamir to Shah Rukh Khan- at her disposal, but this is no vulgar ‘look-how-many-stars-appear-in-my-film’ display, and each one is used thoughtfully and to maximum effect- Sourabh Shukla, Anurag Kashyap and Mac Mohan (in the best one-line role ever) in particular, are sidesplitting. On the other hand, Akhtar makes sure that every character that could otherwise have been reduced to a one-dimensional template comes alive as a flesh and blood person, without ever compromising on the central story of the two protagonists, resulting in an array of terrific performances by the supporting cast comprising Rishi Kapoor, Sanjay Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Isha Sharvani, Hrithik Roshan and Juhi Chawla among others.
Whether it’s Rishi Kapoor as the jolly Romi Rolly- the old-school formula filmmaker struggling to keep up with the changing industry, or Dimple Kapadia who he describes amusingly as a ‘crocodile in a chiffon sari’ or even Hrithik Roshan as Zaffar Khan, the vain star trapped in his ‘image’- there is more to each of them than it initially appears, and the actors play out the Akhtars’ (Zoya and Javed) layered and clever writing with relish.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy have done better work, but their eclectic soundtrack works pretty well for the film, and in Sapno Se Bhare Naina, they create a haunting melody that transports you right into the anxious mind of a struggler waiting for luck to strike. And Carlos Catalan’s cinematography is truly amazing, the keenly crafted frames evocatively capturing the essence and ambience of the film.
Against the pitch-perfect backdrop of Big Bad Bollywood, the two leads Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sen Sharma stun with potent performances, effortlessly controlled yet remarkable in the emotional heft they command. Farhan Akhtar plays Vikram Jaisingh, the wannabe actor determined to make his own destiny even if it means selling his soul, and Konkona Sen Sharma is Sona Mishra, the naïve starlet who waits for her ‘patron’ producer to give her a big break, as she makes ends meet doing B-grade films. Akhtar surprises in his role, and charms his way to success, incredibly retaining audience empathy even as he mercilessly manipulates and cunningly connives to achieve his ends. Konkona Sen Sharma is well, needless to say- brilliant as usual- her eyes speak volumes, and she breaks your heart as we see her character’s love and dreams dashed to the ground. Their roller coaster ride cruel world of show business is riveting and the brave, bittersweet ending leaves you reeling with its impact.
There are many memorable moments in Luck By Chance, and as much as I would love to recount them in vivid, awed detail, I’d rather not spoil them and let you discover them for yourself.
‘Yahan talent ke saath saath luck bhi bahut important factor hota hai’, a character says in the film. Zoya Akhtar is clearly blessed with both, and yet, how refreshing it is to see a director who never takes the audience or medium for granted-and clearly, leaves nothing to chance.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
All the talk of the film's 'poverty porn' and obsession with garbage and faeces is just that- crap. Not nearly a masterpiece, Boyle's film is uplifting, buoyant and celebrates life and Bollywood
Is there anything really left to say about Slumdog Millionaire? It's been described in every way possible, from extraordinary to exploitative, from masterful to mundane. Slumdog Millionaire, to me hardly remains as much a film as it is a phenomenon, and admittedly it does feel silly adding my two insignificant cents to the million.
Well, if you ask me, here's my humble take. Did I like it? Yes, very much so. But I would be lying if I said it blew me away, and even more so if I didn't admit that I was a tad underwhelmed- but you could blame it on my great expectations from this Dickensian tale of adversity, adventure and unswerving love.
Danny Boyle brilliantly crafts this rags-to-riches tale treating the subject with humility, respect and dignity, immersing him in the milieu and yet maintaining his uniquely kinetic style without forcibly imposing a 'foreign' style on the film, and this is no ordinary achievement. Boyle's enthusiasm and spirit is difficult to resist, and even harder not to admire.
This is undeniably a pure masala plot that feeds of the most classic of Bollywood themes, and I can't help but wonder if the ingredients that make up this film would have been better handled in the hands of say, a Bhardwaj instead of a Boyle, of what a masterful Indian filmmaker could have made of this material... but well, I guess I'll just let that thought be, for the rueful fact is that no big producer in India would touch this film with a bargepole.
Boyle, along with his exceptional cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle don't look at slum life with lingering pity, instead what we get is a celebration of life and the sheer spirit to survive and win, against all odds. Set to AR Rahman's music, the images create an oddly beautiful, even poetic landscape that throbs and pulsates with life.
Simon Beaufoy's screenplay, skillfully adapted from Vikas Swarup's novel Q&A is taut and never less than gripping, and while it might be easy to nitpick and point loopholes and accents, this is clearly not a film about the tiny details and complaining about them is pretty pointless. The English and Hindi mix is handled pretty darn well, especially in the first half, and while it compromises on the authenticity, the writers have clearly done their best. If there is a weak spot in the film, it would have to be the central love story which did not come across as affecting enough to me, and I would perhaps blame some of that on Frieda Pinto who came across as a little lackluster despite a reasonably attractive presence. The rest of the cast is pitch perfect- right from Dev Patel as the pure-hearted Jamal and Madhur Mittal as his street smart brother Salim to the other supporting players- Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and Ankur Vikal.
But the actors who really shine and give the film its most touching and endearing moments are without doubt the youngest- Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, and Rubiana Ali who play Salim, Jamal and Latika in the earliest parts of the film- the innocence they bring to the film is undescribably incredible, and for me, these little unsung heroes alone warrant that you watch this film.
In the end- of course- it's Danny Boyle, who like Jamal doggedly and devotedly jumps into a cesspool of s**t, and emerges wonderfully triumphant, even as some accuse him of 'cheating'. And thus, even as Slumdog didn't quite make it from exciting and compelling to exhilarating and magical for me- I don't for a second grudge the film its glory. After all, maybe the answer behind its success is simply (d).
Destiny, that is.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Originally published on NOWRUNNING.COM
Dear Mr. Ghajini, if you are reading this, please consider my earnest plea. If you do have some special iron rod that can erase the last few hours (I don’t remember the length of the film, but it felt like eternity) of my memory, please come and bonk me hard on the head with it and I promise I would be forever in your debt.
Don’t be mistaken folks, for I am no masochist. I have just had the misfortune of seeing Nikhil Advani’s punishing disaster of a film, and I have to say I haven’t felt such an unbearable urge to run out of the theatre in a long, long time.
The concept of Chandni Chowk to China apparently sprung from its teaser poster- Rohan Sippy showed Akshay Kumar the poster featuring him in a Chinese robe, carrying a sword-kebab, and decided to develop a script from the concept. He should really have stopped right there.
For if there is one thing that Chandni Chowk To China does successfully, it is reinforcing the fact that ultimately, the script is king. An Anees Bazmee may be able to pull off the sheer badness and crudeness of a film like Singh Is Kinng and turn it into a success, but Nikhil Advani is clearly a much more polished craftsman, and it is no surprise that he doesn’t quite know what to make of this material, or the sheer lack of it. Having said that, the writing here (surprisingly by Shridhar Raghavan along with Rajat Arora) is such an incoherent mess, that it almost makes Singh Is Kinng seem worth studying in film school.
Terribly paced, Chandni Chowk To China moves so arbitrarily and randomly that none of the characters are established well enough for them to form any emotional connect with the audience. Even that could perhaps have been forgiven, if the film didn’t take itself so seriously. Not content with being a zany, spoofy comedy (in which case it might have even worked) it expects us to be involved with unbelievably lame attempts at drama and ultimately amounts to pure emotional atyachar. The masala mix that CC2C may have sounded on paper, translates as bland and boring on screen.
Even the much-hyped action fails to excite despite a few well-staged sequences, and the overtly flashy editing often dilutes the impact of action, as it often does here. Himman Dhamija’s cinematography is vibrant and fetching, and the fact that the film’s technical team has clearly put effort in it is heartbreaking, for how painful it is to see good work gone waste.
The acting isn’t exactly awful- Akshay Kumar is admirably enthusiastic considering the fact that another actor might have become tired of doing roughly the same role for what seems like the millionth time now, and Deepika Padukone while lacking personality, admittedly does a great job in the kick-a** department. But the actor who really seems to be having a blast here is legendary Chinese star Gordon Liu, who plays the archetypal cardboard bad guy with a relish that’s difficult to resist.
Nikhil Advani is much smarter than this film, and his attempts to cater the lowest common denominator in this film fail miserably, only making it more tedious than it already is- here’s hoping that he finds a script soon that he can do justice to, as well as one that justifies his presence.
The film ends with the scary prospect of a sequel (set in Africa, no less), and on that dreary note, I invoke thy name once again, Mr. Ghajini- and fervently beseech you to also pay the producers of this expensive mistake a visit in due course. Surely you can spare us from more of this Chinese torture.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Originally published on NOWRUNNING.COM
As I walked into the movie hall, the same two questions that made me, and perhaps, many others so eager to watch Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was bouncing and ricocheting in my head with alarming velocity. Will Aditya Chopra pull it off superbly? Or will he botch it up unforgivably?
I was convinced the answer could lie only at one of the two extremes- and why not? This is Aditya Chopra's first film after eight years, and this film had to be big- even if it meant a gargantuan disappointment- something we have almost come to take for granted from the Yash Raj banner of late.
Well, you know what? Aditya Chopra just managed to pull the carpet from under my feet. And while this review may make some feel like the subsequent 'fall' has made me lose my head, frankly, my dear- I don't give a damn if this Rabs them the wrong way.
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi isn't even a ‘great’ film, but it gave me a feeling I had long forgotten- of soaring out of the theatre, having watched a film that swept me off and won me over, so much that I didn't really care to nit-pick. Now that is precisely what 'Yash Raj films' were meant to do in the first place, isn't it?
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi does just that. I didn't care that it was overlong, or that it was packed with those terribly cheesy references to the banner's own films and more than a dozen of those syrupy scenes. All I know is that it was a jolly good Yash Raj Film, one that finally left me feeling really good. For that simple fact, I think it needs to be loved for just what it is, quite like its immensely endearing lead character.
And what a lead character- Surinder Sahni is as hard not to like as WALL-E- one look into his eyes, and your heart melts. It's difficult not to feel for Suri as this unattractive, timid, bespectacled bloke earnestly yearns for his wife's elusive love. He wants her so much that he transforms himself into another person, but will she ever love him for what he really is?
The much-guarded story of RNBDJ was leaked quite a while back- and yes, it pretty much plays out the way you heard it- Mr. Sahni becomes Raj Kapoor and plays the double role of husband and dance-partner, and yes, the wife never spots the difference. While it sounds implausible, it's really a tale about multiple identities, suppressed desires, marital incompatibility and above all- pure love- that almost verges on magic realism. The strokes, expectedly though are pretty broad- and while I would be kidding myself if I expected finer details and nuances in this movie- but RNBDJ also often surprised me with its depth, something that Chopra did earlier this year too, in the much lighter and sillier Bachna Ae Haseeno which he wrote.
It all works, through all the hiccups and howlers, simply because at its center lies a rare honesty and an all rounder charmer called Shah Rukh Khan. As Suri, he wonderfully creates an instantly lovable, relatable and real hero, and how you root for the proverbial guy with a heart of gold. And as Raj Kapoor, he is equally delightful, as he mocks and lampoons himself with wry disdain, strutting around in those tight, colorful t-shirts and denims- totally unafraid of making a fool of him - and in the process, he and Chopra have fun deconstructing and reinventing the 'Raj' persona. Shah Rukh constantly treads a fine line, making Suri extraordinary and special within his ordinary exterior, precariously balancing flair with restraint, and yet he goes out on a limb to give us a really good time without making a big deal or ham sandwich of it.
Meanwhile, Anushka Sharma makes for a very believable Punjabi kudi, and compliments are in order for sheer confidence, strong screen presence and a dazzling smile- as Taani, she does an admirable job of creating empathy for a character who's not really particularly well written. And here is a 'virginal' Yash Raj heroine who shouts 'b**ch!' without as much as a twitch, as she makes a bike swerve with astonishing spunk and verve. Dhoom to that, I say.
Yes, there's a terribly gimmicky and needless Bollywood-through-the-ages song (with the customary guest appearances) that Farah Khan has done earlier and better. Yes, the music reaches a crescendo ever too often, and while decent, it could have been better. Yes, it occasionally lays it on real thick with emotion and endless talk about tujhme/usme/kisme Rab dikhta hai. And yet, for those 2 hours and 40 minutes I was pretty enthralled, and what's more- I enjoyed a Hindi movie in a way that I had not in a long time- elated, enraptured and exhilarated.
I won't go into details and spoil it for you. Watch it, make sure you watch it with your heart, and more likely than not, you'll love it. And for once, I won't be cringing when I see a big Bollywood film become a super-hit. That’s why I’m going to really stick out my neck here- simply because, yes, Messrs Chopra- this time, I think you've really earned it.