Friday, September 21, 2007

Dhoka: Posters could betray

Genre: Drama
Director: Pooja Bhatt
Cast: Tulip Joshi, Muzzamil Ibrahim, Gulshan Grover, Ashutosh Rana, Aushima Sawhney, Anupam Kher
Storyline: A Muslim cop tries to understand why his wife turned a terrorist and diffuse a terrorist plot.
Bottomline: Don’t say the title didn’t warn you

Please don’t step into the cinemas to watch Tulip Joshi just because she’s in the posters of Dhoka. If MTV produced this film, they would’ve called it ‘Bakra’.
This movie is largely about Pooja Bhatt’s experiments with dead wood – an inanimate, inarticulate object called Muzzamil Ibrahim. How do you make a wooden puppet believable?
She tries all the tricks in the book.

1. Underplay: Muzzamil says all the lines like he’s reading them off a teleprompter during a script reading session.

2. Lights On: This is a tactic Pooja employs within 15 minutes of the film knowing underplaying alone will not help. She puts him in an police interrogation room and throws harsh light on him to make him squint and say his lines from a teleprompter.

3. Silhouette: This is a smart one probably offered by the cinematographer Anshuman Mahaley. Shoot his scenes in silhouettes so that nobody knows what on the planet his face is trying to tell us.

4. Distraction: Get a co-star with a squint (Aushima Sawhney) so that it intrigues the audience on who is she talking to. Always make sure she has a new excuse to show her shoulders in every single scene in the film because her stock expression – the stare – does give them a scare.

5. Wood-cutting: This is a technique the editor came up with. The best way to deal with a wooden actor is to cut him off so often and focus on the better actor in the scene – Gulshan Grover, Tulip Joshi, Manish Makhija and the fat guy/girl with the lipstick and long hair to keep the audience guessing about his gender identity.

6. Music Cues: The overdone orchestral background score suggests the mood of the scene lest you can’t decipher it from Muzzamil’s look. This is a serious film even if the lead actor looks like a joke.

But it’s not just bad acting that’s the bane of this film, it is extremely slow-paced with an obvious lack of conflict until the cop finally meets the man who brainwashed his wife into becoming a terrorist at the end of the second act. The crucial revelation earlier (the backstory on why she became a terrorist) is predictable and been done to death many times before, with the only twist in the tale apart from the mandatory rape is that the bad cop Ashutosh Rana also took an MMS clip.

The only thing intriguing about the film is that shot in the poster of Tulip Joshi emerging out of a dip in water. It appears as a split-second wet-dream sequence that Muzzamil has before waking up in fright. Or was it was happiness? Or excitement?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Apna Aasman: Super-natural and intelligent

Director Kaushik Roy’s intentions are noble, characters believable and this thought-provoking plot can’t be more relevant in a plastic world on the brink of technological breakthroughs.

The multi-layered narrative replete with references from mythology and literature begins slowly and steadily… The story of a family that’s become dysfunctional after the father Ravi (Irrfan breathes so much life into his role as a plastic salesman) drops his son Buddhi (Dhruv is the find of the year) as a child, causing brain damage.

After dwelling into the resulting angst in the lives of the parents (Shobana slips under the skin of the mother with unbelievable conviction), Kaushik sets it up as a psychological thriller of a mythical quality when the father comes across a miracle drug – a ‘brain booster’ that could help Buddhi overcome autism and transform him into a genius.

Since such things happen only in fables, Roy employs cinematic techniques to connect us with the surreal and the larger than life – psychedelic dreams, metaphorical montages and heightened exaggeration from the sensational TV camera point of view – while keeping the emotional core credible, rooted in the realism of the fast food and quick-fix solutions.

The only stumbling blocks are product placements and an overdose of blatant referencing – Like the moment when Rajat Kapoor, the voice of the conscience in the film, quoting Kahlil Gibran, hands over a copy of the book to the parents to find their peace.

Yes, we understand the director’s predicament of ensuring a politically correct resolution for the film to drive home his message to other parents with differently-abled children but the quick fairy tale ending here is simplistic. It comes across as too convenient and seems forced on to an otherwise intelligent film.

Here’s to the arrival of a promising, sensitive filmmaker.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dhamaal: It's a mad mad mad remake!

Genre: Comedy
Director: Indra Kumar
Cast: Arshad Warsi, Riteish Deshmukh, Javed Jaffery, Sanjay Dutt
Storyline: Four friends and a cop in a Rat Race of a Road Trip to find money buried under the big W.
Bottomline: It’s a mad mad mad mad retake

Dhamaal is one of those movies you so want to hate, right from the minute you hear of the plot of the big W – stolen from ‘It’s a mad mad mad mad world’ with a formulaic line-up of Hindi Cinema’s funny men and plenty of recycled PJs (Phaltu Jokes) and sequences lifted straight out of Road Trip and Rat Race.

Yet, somehow, it all strangely works – at least in the first half of the film. And that’s a good enough reason to watch the film. Ninety minutes of entertainment.

Put off completely by Adnan’s Sami’s dated ‘slipping-on-a-banana-peel’ score – a set of stock comic instrumental cues from the low budget comedies of the seventies, I braced myself for a torturous two and a half hours.

Instead, I found myself laughing at the stupidest of jokes, the lamest and the oldest of them, in spite of the silly score and the stereotyped characterisation of four jobless losers unable to afford rent.

That’s what good actors can do. Arshad, Riteish, Javed, Aashish, Sanjay Dutt, Asrani, Tiku Talsania have probably done these roles many times before but with brilliant comic timing and delivery, they make the stalest of jokes refreshing.

There’s this bit in the early portions when a dying criminal (a hilarious Prem Chopra) kicks the bucket, quite literally. That’s the point you completely surrender to the madness, put your brain on pause mode and decide to smile, forgiving the unapologetic, irreverent lack of originality. The means justify the ends. Entertainment.

The second half tumbles downhill as the friends split up providing you a few laughs along the way, nevertheless.

But by then, your brain’s gone numb to the insanity and you just decide to recover cost of tickets by way of jokes that come your way.

‘Dhamaal’s a mast-watch, goes perfectly well with pop-corn and cheese balls.

Darling: Another grave mistake!

Genre: Thriller
Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Cast: Fardeen Khan, Esha Deol, Isha Koppikar
Storyline: When married man Fardeen accidentally kills his pregnant secretary after an affair, she comes back to haunt him
Bottomline: Blink. It’ll be gone.

When Darling wants to seduce her boss, he warns her “Log Dekh Rahe Hai.” And she asks him to close his eyes so that he can’t see them.

Ram Gopal Varma doesn’t need to worry about the first part. People aren’t watching. Darling is certainly not a word they would want to associate with him. Not after ‘Aag.’

Take a cue from the film and close your eyes. It’ll go away in no time.

The good bit first.

Darling is way better than ‘Aag’ because it does not have decent raw material to begin with. The horror show includes a fat chap hero with a butt-shaped chin, one heroine who looks like a man trapped inside a female’s body and another that looks like woman in a man’s.

No prizes for guessing who’s who. And hey, none of them can act to save their life or Varma’s. Which is what adds a spark of comedy to this grave spooky tale.

In spite of this flush-worthy line-up, Ram Gopal Varma does manage to keep things engaging, thanks to some seriously haunting cinematography in the first half. The bits before the ghost arrives, when all you see are the bhooth’s point of view remind you of the director’s class in setting up the stage for the film to take off.

Smartly crafted because that segment focuses on the psychological after-effects of a man guilty of causing his secretary’s death. This would’ve worked with a better actor. But Fardeen can’t manage close-ups for he does not understand underplaying. He’s Bollywood’s fat answer to Keanu Reeves.

Once the ghost makes an entry, even the cinematography can’t save the film. So what does he do for pay off? Realising he can only do so much with bad actors, he turns the second half into a comedy packing it with laughs. Some you laugh with, many you laugh at.

Like his recent films, Darling at least in a couple of scenes, flickers with the promise of a debutant director with potential.

What’s scary is that Varma has become the ghost of a filmmaker he once was. Sometimes there in the film, sometimes gone.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Aag: Bh-aag!

Genre: Horror
Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Mohanlal, Ajay Devgan, Prashant Raj
Storyline: A cop hires two buddies to capture the dreaded gangster Babban Singh.
Bottomline: Miracle cure for insomnia.

When Asif Ali, a music director and the eldest son of the Prince of Arcot, bought a new handycam, he got together his family and friends and remade about 20 minutes of Sholay – as a home video. All they did was re-enact the scenes just the way they had been shot, with the same frames that had been used in the classic, with even the same original audio track. So we had Ramgarh transported to Amir Mahal. He hired horses, extras, costumes, quite a bit of detailing for someone who just wanted to learn how his handycam worked. He had never shot anything before.

We're talking about Asif Ali's Sholay because it's worth more space than Ram Gopal Varma Ki… [Insert appropriate cussword, if you are a fan of the original]. Also, because its only fair to compare one remake with another.

What Asif Ali did was a tribute, even if it was just to test out his new toy.

David Dhawan made ‘Jodi No.1,’ as a cheeky tribute to Sholay.

Though irreverent, that was true homage. Unpretentious, it interpreted the classic effortlessly, confident in its own skin and consistent with the director’s style.

Ram Gopal Varmaa Ki… [Insert appropriate Hindi ‘gaali’, if you are a fan of the original] is an insufferable eighties potboiler about a bad ass bandit called Gabbar.

The kind of film that makes turkeys like ‘Daag – The Fire’ look infinitely slicker.
There’s no stopping Varma’s ‘Aag,’ especially, after he cuts off his editor’s arms (in the original, Gabbar cuts off Thakur’s). The film agonisingly runs for over two and a half hours, unleashing its sadistic streak with bursts of Babban (Bachchan playing out his childhood fantasy, just like a child possessed) and we find ourselves at the butt of all cruel jokes: Nisha Kothari’s “performance”.

It’s difficult to review ‘Aag’ because I kept nodding off to sleep, waking up to be occasionally frightened by the name mothers will drop in the coming weeks to scare kids crying in the cinemas: “Soja, nahi to Nisha Kothari aa jaayegi.” She makes ‘Su-side’ sound like a good idea.

Hema Malini should be granted anticipatory bail and Presidential pardon for it will be no crime if she shoots Nisha in the face on grounds of self-defense/pain-relief.

Sholay was way ahead of its times with elaborate set-piece action sequences of an epic scale – remember the painstakingly shot and orchestrated train-being-chased-by-dacoits sequence in the original? ‘Here, when Ramu on a Lazboy, rents out run down ruins of a fort and let’s his Steadicam operator run amok.

Deserted ruins instead of a speeding train crashing into timber for an impact? The metaphors can’t be more definitive of the respective narratives or the audience response.

Watching stuntmen who’re shot fall down animatedly, you let it pass thinking maybe he’s just recreating the seventies feel all over. You may have forgiven him for that too, if it were consistent.

‘Aag’ is a confused product with conflicting sensibilities for an identity crisis.

Just as you think it’s recreation of a bad eighties (come on, the seventies were way too classy and stylish) film, it opts for the slickness and subtlety of Company. One moment, you have the remix of 'Yeh Dosti' and the next moment, Ramu remixes 'Ek Pal Ki Zindagi' (from D) as 'Do Pal Ki Zindagi.' He wants to marry his realistic sensibility to the stuff legends are made of. Mythology. One moment, you see a healthier Mohanlal reprise his role from 'Company,' and another, you see him prance around doing the 'koothu' with unflattering wide-angle extreme close-ups.

Sholay came across as a seamless narrative, in spite of the motley crew of unforgettable characters. Here, in spite of its attempt to trivialise, simplify and omit key moments and lines, the screenplay is terribly disjointed, at times even making you forget characters who exist in the film that it is impossible to connect with the caricatures.

There are all of three scenes to write home about. Veerendra Saxena as A.K.Hangal is heartrendingly good. Two, Bachchan as Babban when he saws off the Inspector’s fingers is psychotically effective and the third, I forget but that Prashant Raj chap isn’t half-bad.

There’s so much to bitchslap Ramu for but this film isn’t even worth talking about.