Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hollywoodland, Flags of our Fathers & Heroes

I'm not sure if it's a co-incidence that the last three things I saw with my buddy D turned out to be about heroes and what they are made of.


Based on the true story of George Reeves, the guy who played Superman and shot himself, the film examines a very basic question, which incidentally, also turned out to be the starting point for my own That Four Letter Word: What do we want from the rest of our lives?

The guy everybody likes to watch on TV, George (Ben Affleck), does not want to play Superman ("I look like a damned fool," he says seeing himself in costume, later wondering: "You can't see my penis, can you?"). He wanted to be a real actor. He would chase this dream to no end. But the big question was: Was he capable of being a great actor?

The guy investigating his death, Simo Louis (a fictional character created by cinematic licence played by Adrian Brody) the guy who watches over people's lives, wants to be the greatest detective. But the big question was: Was he capable of being a great detective?

We all want to be heroes, don't we? But were we meant to be? Do we have it in us? How do we know unless we've tried? When and where do we stop?

These questions fascinate me. Because, these in many ways, captures our deepest insecurities and fears. With two weeks for release, I keep telling myself: If I don't turn out to be a decent filmmaker, I'm not quitting till I become one. I'm raring to go with my second.

Anyways, the next film I saw right after Hollywoodland was:

Flags of our Fathers:

This one's puts heroes under the microscope. Do real heroes see themselves as heroes? What makes them heroes? Did they start out trying to be heroes or did a set of incidents put them on a pedestal?

Clint Eastwood delves deep into the minds of a bunch of unlikely heroes -- American soldiers who shot to fame because a photograph of them hoisting a flag in enemy territory made it to the headlines.

Thanks to a picture, people perceived them as heroes but these are guys who've been traumatized by the war, seen their friends die and fought hard to stay alive. The fact that they were being celebrated when many of their friends died sudden explosive deaths doesn't help that trauma.

As the son of one of these heroes later says in the movie:
"I finally came to the conclusion that maybe he was right, maybe there are no such things as heroes, maybe there are just people like my dad. I finally came to understand why they were so uncomfortable being called heroes. Heroes are something we create, something we need. It's a way for us to understand what is almost incomprehensible, how people could sacrifice so much for us? But for my dad and these men, the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that for their buddies. They may have fought for their country but they died for their friends. For the man in front, for the man beside him, and if we wish to truly honor these men we should remember them the way they really were. The way my dad remembered them. "
I can't wait to see Eastwood's take on the Japanese side of the war, 'Letters from Iwo Jima.'

If 'Flags of our Fathers' got two Oscar nominations for the year and 'Letters from Iwo Jima' has got him four nominations including Best Director, Best Picture and Best Screenplay this year. You can imagine my excitement.

I saw the first two movies last night. Tonight, in the middle of my colour correction (yes, I did manage to brighten up a couple of scenes which people found dark in That Four Letter Word), I watched:


It's a new TV series D downloaded off the net because he heard a lot of good things about it.

After watching the pilot, I'm hooked. It's super promising if you are a comic book lover and also if you like what the film versions have done with Spidey and X-Men: Exploring the human side of heroes.

The reason for the post is because somewhere in the middle as one of the key characters Mohinder (supposed to be from Madras of all places) tells his class in University of Madras (wearing a suit and all, speaking to sethji type extras):

"Man is a narcissistic species by nature. We have colonized the four corners of our tiny planet. But we are not the pinnacle of so-called evolution. That honor belongs to the lowly cockroach. Capable of living for months without food. Remaining alive headless for weeks at a time. Resistant to radiation. If God has indeed created Himself in His own image, then I submit to you that God is a cockroach. They say that man uses only a tenth of his brain power. Another percent, and we might actually be worthy of God's image. Unless, of course, that day has already arrived. The Human Genome Project has discovered that tiny variations in man's genetic code are taking place at increasingly rapid rates. Teleportation, levitation, tissue re-generation. Is this outside the realm of possibility? Or is man entering a new gateway to evolution? Is he finally standing at the threshold to true human potential?"
Soon, we find him getting profound:
"Where does it come from, this quest? This need to solve life's mysteries, when the simplest of questions can never be answered. Why are we here? What is the soul? Why do we dream? Perhaps we'd be better off not looking at all. Not doubting, not yearning. That's not human nature. Not the human heart. That is not why we are here."

And a coupla scenes later, he has this for an answer:
"Some individuals, it is true, are more special. This is natural selection. It begins as a single individual born or hatched like every other member of their species. Anonymous. Seemingly ordinary. Except they're not. They carry inside them the genetic code that will take their species to the next evolutionary rung. It's destiny."

Now, is there anything at all called co-incidence?

Oh, yes, it does seem like one big co-incidence that I've been watching movies/TV series about heroes. And, I just remembered that in a few hours from now, I have to go for the press preview of 'Rocky Balboa'!

To wrap up this post on heroes, their insecurities and the need to keep fighting, I leave you with the punchline from Syl Stallone (from Rocky Balboa):
"Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done. Now, if you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain't you. You're better than that!"

Friday, January 26, 2007

Salaam-E-Ishq: Overdose of Mush & Corn

Watching Saalam E Ishq is like trying to eat a jumbo-sized Mushroom-Cheese-Corn Burger, with a lot of masala for flavour.

First, be warned that you need a huge appetite to do finish it.

Besides, you need to be able to digest huge amounts of mush, cheese and corn - the staple diet of Hindi cinema lovers.

So if you're looking at it as a meal for two, it is the perfect date. It is long enough for you to get cozy, get to know the characters and catch up with their lives, share a laugh with them, relate to the issues of love and commitment and see them find themselves and in a way, yourself in them.

If you are going in a gang, like I did, it could spell disaster. Your friends are likely to ruin it for you with their impatience and restlessness. More so, if they are single.

First, things to consider while booking a ticket to Hindi movie, especially, if its running time is known to be 200 plus minutes at least:

Why bother if you don't have the patience to sit through four hours? Did Nikhil Advani personally insist with you that you catch it asap? Don't all promos suggest that it atleast, structurally, resembles "Love Actually"? Then, why go for it if you don't have the tolerance for a desi take on it?

Maybe it is time to get over your Hollywood fixation, at least while watching our cinema.

It's not like Hollywood is all original anyway. 'The Departed' was among the best last year by one of their best directors but see 'Infernal Affairs' and you'll see even the master rips off scenes, lines and even shots.

BTW, I still love 'The Departed' for the language, attitude and energy with Scorcese adding value to an already explosive script. That's exactly what Nikhil Advani does here too.

He adds plenty of value and roots many Hollywood script-devices in the Indian mainstream genre. And in a way that you can barely find any resemblances with the original source of inspiration. Unlike, The Departed.

Since I knew just what to expect here, I wasn't let down at all.

I loved every bit of the film.

Even the bits when it just dragged and dragged and dragged towards the end, with the mandatory pathos song in the end in no mood to end, inter-cutting between the climax for each story in what is the among the longest Last Acts seen on screen. (Everytime the song re-started, the crowd went Ohhhhh No! I, on the other hand, didn't want it to end!)

Yes, Saalam E Ishq borrows plots from Hollywood romantic comedies quite liberally, but infuses it with what is at the heart of Hindi cinema: A sense of sentimentality that nobody in the world does better than us. And it does this across the vibrant spectrum of desi characters: starting from an old-fashioned God-fearing/trusting taxi driver (Govinda) waiting for his 'Dreamgirl' to the new-age post DCH Indian commitment-phobic single male (Akshaye plays Akash this time) who develops cold feet before his wedding (with Ayesha Takia), from a flashy item queen (Priyanka), faking a romance with a mysterious Rahul (Salman), desperate for a change in image to a sober forty-year old (Anil Kapoor married to Juhi) nursing a crush on someone half his ag and from a happily married couple (John and Vidya) whose world is shattered by an accident to another 'Just Married' couple (Sohail and Isha) whose honeymoon is jinxed and kabab is filled with haddis.

In between all the light-hearted moments, feel-good and irreverence, Nikhil shows his brilliance and mastery over the craft, the true test for any Hindi cinema filmmaker, with his control over melodrama, punctuating it with sensitivity, lacing it with humour, underlining it with detail, spiking the sad moments with the sweet, taking a cue from his ex-boss Karan Johar, and also cheekily paying a fine tribute to Hindi cinemas new master of mush.

The film also works as the most comprehensive tribute to love stories seen on screen over the years presented with contrastingly different styles. I mean watch Govinda regain his lost touch, especially when he says "Yeh Shaadi Nahin Ho Sakti" and you'll know what I mean. Nikhil confidently struts through various moods and stories with some of the best scene transitions seen in recent times, though the film does stroll around leisurely, the narrative taking its own time to unfold.

Half an hour less would've done miracles for this film and saved it from the savage criticism it is likely to generate, but for those who like mush, this overdose is just perfect for the Valentine's season.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Guru: Mani Re-Mixed!

I'm not going to attempt a review because I've read far too many by now and so have you.
Some quick thoughts that race through my mind after watching Guru this late in the day. Spoilers galore.

1. Mani Ratnam pays tribute to his own earlier works. How weird is that? In a lot of ways, it does look like a rehash of his scenes and techniques from his earlier films but I would credit the filmmaker with more intelligence. He has made only one film before in Hindi, a language still alien to him. And given that Dil Se bombed because of its radical ending, Mani probably decided to play it safe and stack up his best from his earlier films, all into one movie.

What do you get if Nayakan (1987) met Roja (1992), moved to Bombay (1995) and had twins, played Godfather to a terminally ill Anjali (1990, instead of spastic, he makes her a patient of multiple sclerosis), had an ideological clash that broke a friendship between Iruvar (1997) that results in the all-powerful hero challenged by a young and honest cop (Nayakan)/IAS officer (Thalapathy, 1991) and now reporter (Guru) married to someone he loves? You get a Mani Ratnam showreel. Guru is exactly that.

The storyline is just an excuse to unleash some superlative moments, especially the ones that underline the director's sensitivity in handling relationships (Guru's relationship with his old friend, the relationship between Madhavan and Vidya, the relationship between Guru and Mithun, his relationship with his father, his relationship with Vidya and his relationship with his wife): super sensitively crafted.

2. The movie introduces to mainstream Hindi cinema a genre rarely seen. The biopic. That too, a biopic of not a necessarily honest man but of an ambitious man who had a vision and won. Mani Ratnam revels in showing us the greys of his protagonist.

He marries for dowry, he has no problem bribing or evading taxes and later tells the hearing commission that he's only a product of the system that was not considerate to the poor. He only did what it took for a poor man to run a business in an environment not conducive for business.

You can't help feeling that Mani has bought into Guru's ideology and sacrificed the objectivity he maintained all through the film. But if a columnist has a right to take sides, why not a filmmaker?

3. Abhishek Bachchan, as even people who hate the movie agree, is certainly among the finest actors we have today. This is HIS film. Yes, he does deliver the role of a lifetime. I don't like Aishwarya at all, but I thought she did manage a few scenes quite well towards the end. For once, they look like a couple in love. Having said that, an actress like Rani Mukherjee would've taken the same character to new heights. The rest of the cast is first rate and never have I seen these many top class performances all in one movie.