Friday, November 30, 2007

Aaja Nachle? Na Ja! Bach Le!

Aaja Nachle is the kind of film that makes you shudder to think about a Hema Malini comeback. Imagine the Dream Girl in Iyengar-meets-International Airport twang, fat-ass figure-hugging denim, sleeveless blouses pouring out Mommy-cleavage… okie, let’s stop right there.

The kind of film that makes you thank God and Dr. Nene that Madhuri didn’t wait a couple of more years to wear her dancing shoes again.

It’s the kind of film where change-of-heart happens as often as change of underwear should. Or maybe musical as a genre gave Jaideep Sahni, an otherwise reliable screenwriter, the licence to keep changing tunes.

There are over half a dozen instances:

Time taken for politician to undergo change of heart after having his boys destroy the theatre: The time it takes to order lassi.

Time taken for jilted lover nursing a grudge to undergo change of heart after tearing her poster down: One night’s sleep.

Time taken for casting Miss Runny Nose as Laila who can’t dance to save her life or the worn-down structure’s: One sobbing piece of dialogue.

Time taken for half the town to turn receptive towards the idea of reviving theatre: A song.

Time taken for best friend to turn against Dia: Ummm! None

Time taken for her to repent: Ding! None.

Time taken for best friend’s evil scheming husband to undergo change of heart after watching the very show he didn’t want: Duh! None.

Let’s not even get started about time taken for change of art. Not even drop of a curtain, because there is none.

The ruins of a community centre turn to an amphitheatre that can host even Bombay Dreams, the kind that can conjure up an array of fountains, a revolving stage and suspended swings that make you believe you are watching David Copperfield and not a desi-Dixitised version of Honey.

What is it with Yash Raj Films really?

If you have so much money, why not subsidise ticket prices for improvisation shows like these.

After all, why should we pay when Aaja Nachle is the kind of fare we are used to in Nach Baliye and Jodi No.1, with an excuse of a plot, the plot being: What happens when Madhuri makes people dance?

What’s extremely tragic is that Aaja Nachle ended up being just about a dance show (which no doubt is spectacular, in fact too spectacular for our own discomfort) when it promised much more in terms of sub-plot and sub-text with its motley crew of characters and context of art in a world-run by commerce.

But that seems to be the price you have to pay for making a film centred around your superstar. Would the audience like it if the diva-like Goddess found true love in the form of a chai-wala who looks like Ranvir Shorey?

Madhuri just has to play herself and bank on her natural charm while Ranvir, Vinay, Konkana, Kunal, Irrfan and Akshaye Khanna come up with performances you will remember for a long time to come. The kind that will give make your heart glow.

Too bad it just remained The Vaibhavi Merchant Show.

Especially in the Hindi fillum context jahaan naach-gaana raita hota hai, puri biryani nahin.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Goal: Great players, bad match

Genre: Drama
Director: Vivek Agnihotri
Cast: Arshad Warsi, John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, Boman Irani
Storyline: An underdog Asian football team must win a championship to save its club.
Bottomline: The Gadar of sports films

Goal is not half as bad as you think it is.

It only suffers in comparison to the other three great films made in the sports film genre in the last decade.

So there, we’ve seen sport as part of folklore (Lagaan), sport as part of an underdog’s triumph with a sensibility that appealed to the multiplex audience (Iqbal) and sport that appealed to the critics and the classes – refined, gender-sensitive and restrained yet dramatic (Chak De).

In comparison, Goal is just your average Hindi masala film. Only that here, the dishum-dishum happens on the field. The sporting action per se is not bad at all and the cast too is pretty solid.

Then why do the critics hate it?

Goal has no clue how to dribble sensibilities.

It wants to be subtle and restrained as Chak De, but it also wants to be overtly patriotic as Lagaan and it also wants to lighten up the mood like Iqbal but it does not have the ball-game that is considered a religion or one that wears the National Sport tag to reignite lost passion.

So Goal, right from the word Go, comes across as a wannabe trying to embrace an foreign sport and fumbles in trying to forge a credible context for us to go gaga over football in the UK.

Look at the challenges: First, why would anyone here root for an underdog football team there? The team can’t possibly be full of Indians living in the UK. That wouldn’t be realistic at all.

Hence, the filmmaker’s compulsive need to manufacture pop-patriotism by adopting an all-inclusive pan-Asian identity grouped together by colour, so that rivals can be classified as Us browns (Hindustani, Pakistani, Bangladeshi) versus Them (the whites) using racism as the context for conflict.

This, Vivek Agnihotri achieves by blurring the lines between the Indian, Pakistani and the Bangladeshi identity. He makes the Pakistani run a joint called Little India, he has the Indian being called Paki by a rogue white racist player and includes in the team, an affable Sikh and an emotional Bangladeshi whose identities extend beyond geographical boundaries.

What stands to be lost here is the pride of Asian football – the Southall United Football Club – that also resembles the state of the sport in Asia with lack of funds, facilities and infrastructure.

Setting this context is an achievement by itself but Goal but is more ambitious. It does not stop at letting us buy this already contrived context, it wants to add more drama, trigger tragedy and orchestrate your sympathy. This is where Goal starts going horribly wrong.

I cringed in my seat when the father figure of the Club dies of a heart attack after hearing the news that the City Council will take away the land because of its inability to pay the lease. Just a moment before that, Arshad with tears escaping his eyes, keeps referring to the Club as their “zameen”. Fighting for your pride and space is one thing, fighting for “desh ki dharti” in foreign land is not just contrived, it is stupid.

The first act is ridden with such cringe-inducing clichés and devices of convenience employed in the narrative. They need a coach, they find one, he is initially hesitant, one scene later, he’s game. They need a strike player, they find one, he doesn’t give a hoot, two scenes later, he’s game too. They need a bus, three scenes later, they get one.

Sports films as a genre have a predictable arc and the only way you outplay those limitations is by making the seemingly predictable developments difficult and interesting.

Goal is full of lazy screenwriting.

What’s the game-changer then?

There is this speech somewhere in the middle when the coach (Boman Irani) breaks down out of helplessness and frustration. Unlike Chak De, he’s no Tuglak. Boman’s Tony is a soft-spoken coward. It is impossible to ignore such sincerity in performance.

Even John Abraham seems at home having a ball. One of his best, most natural performances, simply because he seems to be enjoying all that he’s doing – playing ball, stealing kisses from Bipasha and looking bratty enough to fit the role. Raj Zutshi as the Sikh, with the best lines in the film, always manages to score.

But it is Arshad Warsi who carries this film. He breathes life into cardboard and manages to inflate his Shaan into a 3D character – whether he’s in the shoes of the player, the brother or the husband, Arshad’s a natural, a delight to watch. When the otherwise level-headed leader of the pack (he waits till he scores two goals on the mark before making his mates cheer for him) loses his cool seeing John on the field, his team-mate gently reminds him: “If we had to play like this, why ask Tony to coach?”

Or later in the film when without a word being spoken, a two-shot reveals that the rival heroes make up with a simple gesture of putting their arm around each other before taking the field.

With this team of actors at play giving earnest performances, you are tempted to forgive the umpteen number of melodramatic twists slapped into the film. Like the sub-plot about John’s father. These moments seem to belong to a completely different movie. That’s how inconsistent the sensibilities within the film are.

But for a while, just for a minute, forget Chak De or Iqbal or Lagaan. Goal, in spite of its patchy playing ground of a screenplay, manages to make you take note of a few talented blokes who are having fun passing ball.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saawariya: The fairy's tale!

Since it's impossible for me to review the film in my current frame of mind, here's my interpretation of how Sanjay Leela Bhansali interpreted "White Nights" with Saawariya, the first Indian movie to pay tribute to fairies. Will put up a more serious review later in the week...

Like Rani as Gulabji tells us right at the beginning, the movie is all about a rockstar fairy.

Soon enough, the fairy with pink lips (Ranbir) comes to Blue Light Area, turns down the hottest hooker (obviously, duh!) and bonds with the sisters before telling old hag, silly Lilly (Zohra Sehgal) that he will do the Full Monty to pay his rent. Soon, music director Monty sets up an appropriate number for him to drop the towel. In America, since it’s not unusual for fairies to show their ass on screen, he got to flash. Here, apparently the Censors took it.

By now, we so know Bhansali’s sensitivity towards the mentally ill. Tired of being attacked for his melodrama, this time he shows us with sublime subtlety without never ever directly mentioning that this fairy is mentally ill (check out the Prison Break 'Haywire' expression when fairy does Masha Allah) and sometimes stalks random chicks with backless blouses waiting at the bridge.

One night, the fairy thinks he has met his twin when he spots Sakeena waiting under an open umbrella when it’s not raining. Though initially hesitant, Sakeena soon recognizes him to be a fairy and thereon, feels safe with him. In no time, they are hopping over patterned potholes and bonding like sisters.

Sakeena: Fairy likes that name so much that he wants it. He practices signing her name in all the walls of Blue Light Area before climbing the pipe to get home to sleep on top of the piano because he can’t find his football. Yes, we forgot to mention this fairy likes to use balls for a pillow.

Fairy wants to bond some more with Sakeena too but she prefers to wait at the bridge for her lover appropriately called EMan, the virtual lover who in spite of his absence turns her on and makes her sleep-row her boat to the bridge.

When fairy learns about EMan, he’s consumed by jealousy. Sakeena had a boyfriend. He didn't.

Fairy turns evil and burns the letter Sakeena writes for EMan and then secretly goes to find EMan himself with the hope of tracing him in the hotel she had mentioned. But no such luck.

He returns without getting laid. Feeling lonely, fairy tries to pick up regulars at the club as he teaches Sakeena to dance to Saawariya with the hope of brainwashing her to forget EMan. No such luck either.

Fairy then goes back to hook up with hooker Gulabji who has played his conscience all through the film. She kicks him out hoping that would help him get over his denial and come out of the closet.

Sakeena ends up with EMan.

Fairy, on seeing EMan finally, is heartbroken.

It was love at first sight for the fairy. But Sakeena bitch finally got her EMan.
All she left back for him was her umbrella.

And, now Fairy continues to wait at the bridge for his EMan.

Om Shanti Om: Om-My-Gawd! Nothing's Sacred!

Genre: Comedy
Director: Farah Khan
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Arjun Rampal, Shreyas Talpade
Storyline: A junior artiste from the 70s is reborn as a superstar to avenge the death of his lady-love.
Bottomline: Time Machine! Gets you past 150 minutes in no time.

They call it the climax for no ordinary reason.

Because, by definition, it is the single highest point of the film’s glory, the culmination of all the great moments generated, including the resolution of conflict and the point where boy finally gets the girl.

That’s probably where Om Shanti Om stumbles.

The climax of OSO is anything but the film’s glorious high, the culmination, though via a cheeky twist, works out to be an anti-climax and the ‘Happy Ending’ that we have been promised isn’t as happy as we would have wanted it to be, especially at the end of the most hilariously entertaining moments of political incorrectness in the history of Hindi cinema.

Om Shanti Om is a light-hearted tribute to Hindi cinema the way we know it and love it, in spite of its flaws, improvisation and implausibility. It is also a premeditated celebration of willing suspension of disbelief, as one of the characters reacts to SRK when he tells her she won’t believe it if he told her about his rebirth. She talks for most of us Hindi movie buffs when she says: “I believe you when you say you can beat up ten guys, I believe you when you say you can jump from top of the building… Why would I then not believe you when you tell me this?”

Believe it or not, you better buy this tale if you want your popcorn to disappear before you know it.

Right at the very beginning when Rishi Kapoor in silver pants dances to the original ‘Om Shanti Om’ from Karz, Farah defines where they are coming from. From the audience. As fans, seeing the song and dance routines of the seventies and picturing themselves right there, taking nothing seriously.

So even if she’s getting a Manoj Kumar duplicate chased around with a lathi, or in all probability mocking Bhansali with a spoof showing a lover with multiple disabilities of eyes, ears and speech on a wheelchair with no arms to push it, using his mouth to spit out the flowers on his unrequited lover’s wedding or coming up with digs at Abhishek Bachchan for his ghost appearance in Dhoom 5 or poking fun at SRK for doing the same thing in different movies and getting nominated, Farah also neatly ties it all up right in the end sparing not herself either. She walks down the red carpet at the end of the movie to find the audience has already left the hall.

That’s what irreverence is all about. The ability to laugh at everybody, including yourself.

Nothing is sacred, anything goes. As long as it can make someone laugh.

This is a film that works so well because of the free-flowing improvisation, the way scripts used to be written in the seventies (in fact, scripts are still improvised and made up as they shoot for a majority of the films produced). But that’s also why the final act seems like an after-thought.

It’s almost like Farah got this great idea for a twist in the tale and just slapped it right at the end after setting it up for the great glorious revenge saga we are anticipating with all the Karz references.

Honestly, we as the audience don’t care too much about how the bad guy gets his cheeks kicked as long as the love story is neatly wrapped up and the ‘Happily-ever-after’ follows. Which is why we are bound to be a little let down at the abruptness and the drama in the end. Revenge does not dish out the feel-good factor. Love does.

That’s why we go to such movies, especially, the ones where SRK does the same thing over and over again.

That apart, the movie is a hell of a party, a bits-and-pieces blockbuster strung together with a series of laughs, songs and dances. And, stars of course.

SRK shows us why he’s the rockstar of our era. Deepika is the next hot thing. Shreyas with little to do is still an endearing performer and Arjun Rampal should’ve got a meatier role. Kirron Kher with horrible make-up in the second half gets to reprise her Maa role and even says exactly the same line from ‘Main Hoon Na’ (Yeah, yeah… we noticed the movie poster in the room when she does that!).

The score gives you goose-bumps and Farah shows Bhansali what a musical really needs apart from great music: energy, style, soul, drama and the laughs surely help.

Don’t take this review seriously, Farah sure as hell is not fishing for compliments. Like Om Kapoor would say reading criticism: What the fish!

Go dancing with the stars. Go Om Shanti Om.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Jab We Met: Return to Innocence

Genre: Romance
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Dara Singh
Storyline: Suicidal boy meets chirpy girl on a train and change each other’s lives forever.
Bottomline: Sweet little love story

How good can a Shahid Kapoor movie possibly be?

You will be surprised watching ‘Jab We Met.’

It not only gives Shahid a break and a role that helps him out of his Shah Rukh Khan hangover, it also exploits Kareena’s bubbly persona to make an author-backed role one of the most memorable characters in recent film history.

In spite of its predictable plot, the film is refreshingly natural and full of life (with plenty of help from cinematographer Nutty Subramaniam), with director Imtiaz Ali having a flair for dialogue, especially in bringing out larger-than-life elements from relatable characters set within a realistic sensibility, in a way that it reminds you of what the Chopras used to be, till they made Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and eventually deteriorated to assembly-line productions.

Coming to think of it, Jab We Met is even what Barjatyas used to be: With great emphasis on writing, creating beautiful bonds that developed into love, milking the emotional connect and feel-good from a sense of family and friendship, drenched in the innocence of every day life and the warmth of simple people with simpler needs: love.

The first half is completely The Shahid-Kareena Show as they brilliantly anchor the film with their natural chemistry of the opposites, reminding you of Linklater’s ‘Before Sunrise.’ She meets him on the train on the verge of suicide, infuses some life back into him with a little humour, optimism and infectious dose of energy (déjà vu Elizabethtown?), before continuing her adventure of a life whose sole mission is to run away with the man she believes she loves.

The parts immediately after interval slow down proceedings but the film does find its way back to the plot eventually when the couple connects back with each other.

It is a delight to watch this young couple be themselves.

Shahid does a great job when he’s underplaying his suicidal depressed mood though his chirpiness still seems a little awkward and forced while Kareena pulls off the role of her career with her chitter-chatter chirpiness to the degree of likeability – the way Hema Malini did as ‘Basanti’ or Sonali Bendre did in ‘Sarfarosh’.

Can’t wait to watch more from Imtiaz Ali.