Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Favourites: Best of 2007!

Hindi Top 5

We’ve never had 25 films worth talking about in a single year in a very long time. 2007 has yielded a rich harvest for Hindi cinema.

While rating these films, I’ve not only taken into account the primary function of Indian cinema – that it has to entertain a diverse audience, but also factors such as intention of the filmmaker, originality, repeat viewing and fatigue, grammar of cinema, quality of writing, inventiveness of story-telling, devices employed, experience of the filmmaker, scale of production and star appeal.

Since different people look for different things from cinema, it is impossible for any two people to agree on the same list. With that disclaimer in place, let’s start from the bottom.

Jab We Met:
This is Dilwale Dulhaniya’s sequel in spirit. If Dilwale tried to define Indianness in manufacturing parental consent for love, Jab We Met goes deeper into the heartland of the country and tries to understand relationships in the context of a highly self-centric India where love blurs right and wrong. With fine writing, top-rate performances aided by the Shahid-Kareena chemistry, this has to be among the top five films of the year despite its rather slow second half.

Om Shanti Om:
Has there been a more irreverent film in the history of Indian cinema? One that does not take anything, including itself, even a wee bit seriously while sincerely paying tribute to an era of implausible plots, melodrama and revenge themes. Just by sheer quantity of laughs and goofs and quality of style and choreography, Om Shanti Om, in spite of the silly twist in the tale towards the climax, is a colourful musical that is shamelessly entertaining as a celebration of cinema.

Chak De:
Because Shah Rukh Khan is not Shah Rukh Khan, only for the third time in his career after Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and Swades. Because, the girls are amazing. Because Jaideep Sahni has written a kickass script that combines girl-power, women’s liberation and the importance of team-spirit in a plausibly convincing underdog drama with authentic sporting action, gorgeously shot. Near flawless but for the predictability associated with the sports genre.

Johnny Gaddaar:
Here comes a quality suspense caper after ages. What’s more, it’s slick and stylish. It’s a rollercoaster of a mind-game. And it’s one hell of a trip for the movie-buff. Never has a tribute film been this exciting with all the cheeky referencing. Not only is it unpredictable, it has a brilliant ensemble cast who score off each other. Also, because it has Dharam Paaji show us what a fantastic actor he is even today. A perfect film.

Taare Zameen Par:
This one’s hardly perfect but it is so full of life and innocence that it makes you laugh, cry, reminisce and re-look at life and children, quite effortlessly. Films are where reality meets fantasy and fact meets fiction and no other film in a long while has walked these two worlds at the same time, often blurring the lines associated with the distinctively different genres while also tripling up as effective social commentary. No Indian film has ever captured childhood like this before. Outstanding effort.

The Others:
No.6: Ek Chalis Ki Last Local – A rare whacko neo-noir comedy
No.7: Life in a Metro – A ‘Closer’-like candid look at relationships
No.8: Loins of Punjab – Have you ever laughed more this year?
No.9: Honeymoon Travels – A refreshing, modern look at marriage
No.10: Cheeni Kum – But for the climax, this offbeat romance ought to rank higher.
No.11: Apna Aasman – Promising debut conveniently resolved.
No.12: Manorama – If this weren’t a remake, this mystery would rank higher.
No.13: Khoya Khoya Chand – Soha’s miscast in this time machine to the 60s
No.14: Black Friday – Though authentic, loses pace structured like the book
No.15: Dharm – Pankaj Kapoor, you are God!
No.16: Water – Talk of bad casting and location ruining a great script
No.17: Eklavya – The cinematography is sheer poetry
No.18: Namastey London – A surprisingly endearing Katrina-Akshay rom-com
No.19: Bheja Fry – But for Vinay Pathak’s brilliance, a shameless rip-off
No.20: Partner – Govinda-Salman work their magic in this Hitch remake
No.21: Salaam-E-Ishq – This mushy overdose worked for Valentine’s Day
No.22: Apne – This boxing drama has Dharam Paaji’s heart
No.23: Saawariya – Strictly for world-class cinematography and some of the music
No.24: Dil Dosti Etc – A daring gutsy anti-thesis to Dil Chahta Hai
No.25: Aaja Nachle – For Madhuri Dixit alone

English Top 5:

Considering that some of the best films don’t release here the same here as they do around the world, this is a tough list to compile since we are limited to films that actually released here in India – and that includes all the sequels, the tri-quels and mass-based action entertainers with tons of visual effects. Not that they are silly or easy to make, but lavish assembly-line productions get by with a microchip-thin script being just an excuse to unleash a spectacle. Besides while the likes of Babel, The Prestige, Apocalypto, Pursuit of Happyness, Beerfest, Little Miss Sunshine released only this year, they’re too old to be part of this year’s madness.

Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End:
Yeah, Gore Verbinski and team seemed to have made it up as they went with the convoluted twists and turns but then, we are so fanatically obsessed with the world that harbours Captain Jack Sparrow that we don’t mind this spectacular improvisation show with possibly the best finale sequence ever this year. Yup, even better than Spidey’s.

Die Hard 4.0:
Yippi Ka Yai Bleep Bleep! Good old John McLane’s came back to do some serious butt-kicking taking on the big villain of our times: Technology. Why is it surprising who kicked whose in a brain versus brawn match? This was among the best of comebacks, ranking right up there with Rocky Balboa.

A Mighty Heart:
Maybe because this is closer home and since we all followed the Daniel Pearl case with great concern, A Mighty Heart sucks us into the turbulent aftermath of the disappearance, putting us right into the shoes of his widow. Plus, the performance of her career from Angelina Jolie.

The Namesake:
Tabu and Irrfan Khan show us once again why they are world class. In a shrinking global village, how do you arrive at what your identity is? How do you find out who you are? Mira Nair’s The Namesake tries to give us some serious answers in one of the most moving films of the year.

No. 1:
Bourne Ultimatum:
Paul Greengrass gave us a reckless chase film that moves at breckneck speed, every bit living up to the high standards set by the first two in the Bourne franchise. We watched two hours evaporate in no time and were blown away by the splendor of cinema.

The Others:
No.6: I am Legend - Moody apocalyptic drama with eerily real visual effects.
No.7: Superbad – Because ‘Knocked Up’ didn’t release here this year.
No.8: Oceans 13 – Danny Ocean and crew return to form
No.9: Ratatouille – Nearly flawless animation of a deliciously wicked script
No.10: Zodiac – Seen a better serial killer movie this year or in recent times?
No.11: Disturbia – For keeping you hooked with all of one room (for most parts).
No.12: Beowulf – For the brilliance of animation and Angelina’s Golden Globes
No.13: Transformers – Visual effects, fun and action.
No.14: Shrek The Third – More the mayhem, the merrier.
No.15: Music & Lyrics – For being the only decent romantic comedy this year

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Taare Zameen Par: Return to Innocence

Genre: Drama
Director: Aamir Khan
Cast: Darsheel Safary, Aamir Khan, Tisca Chopra
Storyline: A dyslexic child gets a little direction from a caring Art teacher to tackle his difficulty.
Bottomline: Five stars for Taare, simply out of this world!

It doesn’t take more than the first 20 minutes of the film to establish that Aamir Khan has arrived as one of the finest filmmakers in mainstream Hindi cinema today.

At a fundamental level, there are at least three possible paths he could’ve chosen from right at the start.

1. This is a film he could’ve made for the Oscars. But he didn’t. Because making a films for awards and acclaim at the international level means keeping the focus on cinema than the issue itself. Clearly, Aamir made this because he believed it was a story that had to be told to as many people as possible.

2. This is a film he could’ve milked exploitatively for melodrama pretty much like Bhansali did with Black. But he didn’t. Because a dash of melodrama would create a larger-than-life disconnect with the issue rooted in the reality of a competitive, contemporary world. After all, Aamir is the guy who once asked Ashutosh how would his character Bhuvan (from Lagaan) have time or inclination to be clean-shaven in times of drought.

3. This is a film he could’ve made as an insightful social awareness documentary on dyslexia just like how Revathy made a touching Phir Milenge on AIDS awareness. But he didn’t. Maybe because when people go to watch an Aamir Khan film, they expect mischief, light-hearted fun, singing and dancing.

Aamir Khan’s filmmaking is calculatedly flawed because it is all-heart. While it is world-class in terms of sensibility, craft and performances (almost), it does feel the need to reach out, please and educate a mass. While it is sensitively nuanced and subtle (again, almost), it still feels the need to moist your eyes just a little to drill home its emotional depth and remind you of the power of cinema. And though painstakingly researched, it feels the need to simplify and entertain.

Very few filmmakers have had the conviction to make a film that balances aesthetics and art, social relevance and entertainment to bring about a change in the way we as a nation raise children in an extremely competitive standardised world. This is as close as any filmmaker in India has come to achieving perfect harmony between what a creator wants as someone who loves cinema, what people as an audience want from cinema and what the system needs from cinema. Imagine a three-circle Venn Diagram with the common subset area amounting to nearly 90 per cent of total area of the circles.

Ishaan (Darsheel) is the life of the film and we see the world through his eyes as we share his dreams, laugh at the mischief, feel the ache (try holding back your tears during the song his parents leave him at the boarding school) and snap out of it the very next moment, distracted like a child, thanks to Aamir’s flair for changing mood. The first half of the film is an emotional roller-coaster of a time-machine that instantly refreshes memories and takes you back to the days you cried in school. The pangs of home-work and the bliss of innocence.

Dyslexia apart, Ishaan has been part of our past… childhood has never seemed more real on screen, full credit to the filmmaker Aamir Khan and writer-creative director Amole Gupte. Especially, for showing us how differently Ishaan sees the world as he bunks school one day after not doing home-work: He does not see uniforms, he sees individuals making their lives out of their own hands, painting their future… that drop of paint falling on his cheek, accompanied to Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music is a touch of genius.

Movies are where reality meets fantasy. So at the halfway point, enters radical Arts Teacher Ramshankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan) to the rescue of our little hero, with the fairytale song and dance. Yes, he is too much of an angel when he goes out of his way to discuss the issue with the parents, who are representative of the average Indian middle-class with advice bordering on preachy but starting this dialogue with a diverse mass audience is the function of responsible mature cinema.

So even if it does seem out of the way for the father to come back to resume the discussion, you let it pass because the intent of the filmmaker is noble and in fact, remain impressed with the effective indirectness of the advice. In fact, these are the most crucial parts of the film, even if a little divergent from the core narrative (to the extent that this advice has no bearing on the outcome of Ishaan’s journey) simply because they are relevant and contemporary as social commentary.

The film though rich in sub-text as much as it is in colour, imagery and detail (researched and edited by Deepa Bhatia) for those with the eye, remains rather simplistic at its core as a story of a child with a problem getting the right kind of encouragement, love and support.

By far, Taare Zameen Par is the movie of the year. One that is likely to sweep awards for Darsheel, Aamir and team all around the world. It’s not just out of the box, Taare is simply out of this world.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dus Kahaaniyan: Bas… Stop stealing, Mr.Gupta

Genre: Drama
Director: Sanjay Gupta, Hansal Mehta, Rohit Roy, Meghna Gulzar, Apoorva Lakhia, Jasmeet Dhodi
Cast: Sanjay Dutt, Suniel Shetty, Arbaaz Khan, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah
Storyline: Ten short stories – stolen, adapted and some credited – with a twist in the tale.
Bottomline: Film students make more original films.

Sanjay Gupta is a thief and an obsessive, compulsive kleptomaniac at that.
After recycling Reservoir Dogs (Kaante), modifying U-Turn (Musafir), plagiarising ‘Old Boy’ (Zinda), he turns to books this time. Thanks to Shilpa for letting me know about the source stories.

For the first short story, Sanjay Gupta rips off Roald Dahl’s ‘Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat,’ calls it ‘Matrimony’ and takes the writing credits for the story about cheaters.

The eccentric cinematography, crisp editing and the grainy grading once again proves that Gupta is technically competent, so much that you are hooked to the story-telling than what his actors Mandira Bedi and Arbaaz Khan can do by way of histrionics.

Hansal Mehta’s ‘High on the Highway’ too is stylistically shot to suit the mood, with a non-linear narrative that seemed intelligent until you learn that Jimmy Shergill is supposed to be passing out of college. Masumeh’s presence more than makes up for the casting mistake and the silly plot.

Meghna Gulzar’s ‘Pooranmasi,’ is also about sexual choices. Set in a rural milieu, this short has very little going for it and makes you understand why Minissha Lamba jumped into the well. I switched off halfway watching a middle-aged Amrita Singh wake up in the fields in the arms of her half-naked lover.

Sanjay Gupta then returns with ‘Strangers in the night,’ an excuse to Neha Dhupia strut her stuff, with suggestively phallic imagery. Erotic no doubt, by why these porn-movie metaphors if the story was not about lust but about nobility? Oh, okay, that’s the twist.

His ‘Zahir’ that follows next, credited to Rajeev Gopalakrishnan, packed a nice twist towards the end – the only story to have actually caught the fancy of the audience. Manoj Bajpai acquits himself pretty well too. This short story made in Tamil, I’m told, played on Doordarshan many years ago, with what seems to be a much better twist.

After five stories woven around different excuses to set up sex scenes, Jasmeet Dhodi’s ‘Lovedale’ post Interval, tries a supernatural spin bordering on incest. With Aftab doing the chunk of acting, this is as boring as it gets.

Apoorva Lakhia’s ‘Sex on the beach’ is just a showcase for Tarina Patel’s golden bikini. Dino Morea evokes a few laughs but this is seriously the kind of fare you don’t mind from film students.

Rohit Roy’s ‘Rice Plate,’ a reworking of Jeffrey Archer’s ‘Broken Routine’ (again, uncredited) has Shabana struggle with a Tamil accent but this is clearly among the more watchable stories of the lot, especially with her facing off Naseeruddin Shah. A pretty decent debut for Rohit Roy.

‘Gubbare,’ written by Gulzaar is a beautiful tale, completely misdirected by Sanjay Gupta. What should have been a well-concealed twist that tugs at your heart-strings turns predictable half-way in spite of Nana Patekar’s heart-breaking performance.

Sanjay Gupta’s ‘Rise and Fall’ is spectacularly shot, highly stylised and inspired by Matrix Revolutions with Sanjay Dutt and Suniel Shetty doing what they do best: fight in slow-mos.

With no common thread running through the films (no, different excuses for sex and violence cannot qualify as a theme for an anthology film), nothing original about these stories, ‘Dus Kahaaniyan’ is not half as good as shorts made by film students with much lesser budgets.

Wait for a cheap DVD copy.

Khoya Khoya Chand: A voyeur's take on the lost world

Take a sneak peak of what went in behind the scenes of the Hindi cinema of the fifties and the sixties, from a voyeuristic, insider point-of-view.

Right from the moment Vinay Pathak as Shyamal, an assistant director, takes the spotlight to tell us how a struggling writer Zafar (Shiney Ahuja) first met the central lady of the piece, the emerging starlet Nikhat (Soha Ali Khan), we know this is going to be an insider’s account of the love story.

Though the narrator disappears, the quirky, restless hand-held camerawork suggests that this thirty-party account is possibly as much we would know about the truth. After all, we are not being told the story from Nikhat’s or Zafar’s point of view.

This is the film’s biggest plus and biggest minus point. Plus, because, it does gives us a more or less objective account of how flawed, human and vulnerable they were.

The lack of specifics makes this story applicable to the closely-knit film industry of the period that used to comprise of starry-eyed Nikhats, who, seduced by promises of stardom by the Prem Kumars, were unable to balance their passion and idealism, represented by emotionally turbulent writers like Zafars and the populist demands of the Khosas (producers), only to end up becoming the suicidal Ratan Balas of the tale.

In many ways, Nikhat’s story is more or less the same as her senior, Ratan Balas. In many ways, the Zafars, the Prem Kumars, the Khosas and the Shyamals of the era would have used the Nikhats and the Ratan Balas to further their interests and yet have come together at some point, to make a film that immortalised all of them forever.

This bird’s eye view of the era also is the film’s minus because, the filmmaker stops just short of giving us a peek into their individual minds, fears and dreams. Exactly, what would have made us feel the pangs of filmdom and the angst of incompleteness each of these characters faced.

Something, which a flawed ‘Factory Girl’ did brilliantly by sucking you into all that Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) went through. Edie and Nikhat are not too different. But Factory Girl was hard-hitting, intimate, voyeuristic and gut-wrenchingly depressing.

Khoya Khoya Chand fails to do that in spite of the potential presented and the role sexual politics played during the tumultuous times the film industry went through.

Soha Ali Khan, though an exciting promising actress who turns in her best role of her career, in spite of the time the movie spans, continues to look like a girl, hardly the battered woman Nikhat would have been in her self-destructive last phase of life. Sonya Jehan (who plays Ratan Bala), on the other hand, is pure magic.

Shiney Ahuja’s intensity sees him through as Zafar and it is impossible to believe that he’s the same guy who began his career as a wooden porn-star (Sins) and the ever-reliable Rajat Kapoor manages it with a wig, like a natural.

The writing in the film is top class, a true homage to the era, just like Shantanu Moitra’s haunting music that transports you almost instantly to the era of mujhras, pianos and cabarets.
Vintage cinema like this needs your patience for it is no easy task to set the mood, make a completely constructed era breathe life, and have characters spouting lines of great literary value in staged settings, with archaic music and yet, never look like a spoof.

Sudhir Mishraji, your passion for cinema shows.

Beowulf: Angelina gets Golden Globes!

Cast: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, John Malcovich
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Genre: Drama
Storyline: A warrior comes to the rescue of a town traumatised by a monster, only to find himself succumbing to temptation.
Bottomline: Take the train to Hyderabad, catch it on 3D IMAX

First, dear parents, this is not a movie to take your kids to unless you want to expose them to Angelina Jolie’s animated Golden Globes-worthy performance in all its glory and all other things gory. Imagine the ugliest of monsters and dragons spilling their guts out, not to forget the effects of debauchery and alcoholism of yore.

Beowulf is for wicked adults who like their movies playful. Beowulf (pronounced to rhyme with Werewolf) is full of edge-of-the-seat thrills and cliffhangers but unfortunately, those of us in Chennai, do not get to experience half the action because this is a film best enjoyed in 3D IMAX, like Zemeckis’s last trip via ‘The Polar Express.’

Zemeckis once again employs the miracle of motion capture to bring to life characters created by hours and hours of painstaking animation. For a large part of the movie, you are never sure how much is animation and how much the actors have contributed to the shapes and speech of the characters they are playing. Like his previous works, Zemeckis intentionally exaggerates the animation so that it is not too life-like, just to keep your willing suspension of disbelief intact.

Like most fairytales, Beowulf is about the titular warrior who has come to Hrothgar’s (Anthony Hopkins) kingdom to slay the monster Grendel, who often gatecrashes the meat-house parties for his fill of human meat. The scenes of gore are delightfully wicked and keeps the child in you thoroughly entertained, especially when Grendel chews the head of one of the warriors.

But there’s a twist to the tale. Beowulf is not just about the hero in human form, it is also about the vulnerability of being human no matter how big a hero. All it takes is Angelina to seduce your sanity.

We forgive you Beowulf. Even the Gods couldn’t have resisted such a beautiful monster.

By all means, make your trip to the cinemas.

Better still, book tickets to Hyderabad to get your glimpse of the marvel that Angelina Jolie is, in 3D IMAX.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Brave One: Angry young woman misfires

Genre: Drama
Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews
Storyline: A woman attacked goes on a termination spree.
Bottomline: Jodie kills Bill, Tom, Dick, Harry and shoots every other bad guy in town.

What happens when you try to explore the angry-young-man-angst towards a near-dysfunctional inefficient system, through a woman protagonist? You get ‘The Brave One’.

Conventionally, in the movies, women are only known to avenge personal wrongs. Or kill husbands who abuse or boyfriends who cheat. People they love, as a detective in the film observes.

This film’s only stake to your 200 bucks is that it marks the arrival of the female vigilante with a grudge against the system.

Jodie Foster kicks it like nobody’s business. Now, if only the storytelling matched the earnestness in her performance. It never seems like a film anyone would take seriously.

That’s primarily because in spite of the dark moody narrative and constant rambling through hushed voiceovers that remind you of a ‘Night’ Shyamalan film, this script relies too much on co-incidence to take the story forward.

How much disbelief can you possibly suspend when a wronged radio jockey goes back on air live to pour her heart out, emotionally connects with the man who seems to be investigating hers and every other case in town, and instinctively narrows her down to be the killer because of an elevator bell he heard when she hung up the phone while talking to him one night when she didn’t get sleep. This is too easy, man.

Minus the pretentious blabber that tries hard to sound profound and meaningful, this might have actually worked as a hardcore racy action film or a tight psycho thriller. But the makers are more ambitious.

They want to make it a meaty socio-political thriller. Hence, the screenwriters load it with gender politics by empowering a feminist angry-young-woman out to cleanse the system of evil lecherous men and then add to it the dimension of gun-culture and morality of vigilante executions associated with the genre.

Apparently, it was Jodie’s idea to be a radio host, compared to the journalist the writers wanted her to be. We don’t know what else the star brought to the table, but ‘The Brave One’ is just another trigger-happy Hollywood assembly-line revenge film, one that Vijayshanthi would have done in the nineties. Or maybe did.

A Mighty Heart: Heart-breaking

Genre: Drama
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Dan Futterman, Irrfan Khan, Archie Panjabi
Storyline: As her journalist husband goes missing, Ms. Pearl has a long agonisingly arduous wait.
Bottomline: Hits you hard with what it does not show

When was the last time your heart actually went out to a person on screen that you actually shed a tear, shared her grief, felt her agony and hoped against hope waiting for the man who you right at the beginning of the film know will never come back?

A Mighty Heart transports you right inside the mind-space of Mariane Pearl in Karachi after her husband Daniel Pearl went missing as she, friends and the investigating team try to put together all available information and follow leads in their attempts to find the missing journalist.

The film plays out like a documentary with a hand-held video feel starting from the day of his disappearance, pieced together from various accounts of people who had seen him or heard from him during the day.

At no point in the film does the director ever show you things you could not have known. Like, how he was taken, where he was kept, how he tried to escape or the execution itself.

That, precisely, is what makes the canvas utterly credible and brutally realistic, yet remaining immensely sensitive. What they don’t show scares you more in this thriller that makes you forget the various lanes you traveled in search of a man who seems to have been taken by a ghost.

A Mighty Heart is that journey that leaves you shaken, choked and feeling extremely scared of the world we live in, yet comforting you in its final moments with the brave, steely resolve of the spirited woman who refuses to be terrorised.

Is it Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl? We forget. The actress wears the heart and soul of Ms. Pearl in the performance of her career, one that makes her Academy Award winning ‘Girl, Interrupted’ feat look like an out-take.

Is there a more natural actor on this planet than Irrfan Khan? Quite possibly, none. In one of the most understated performances of his career, Irrfan breathes so much credibility and authority in his role of the investigating officer. It is one of those roles that will never be considered for an award because it never, even for a fleeting second, looks like a performance.

The ensemble cast, with first-rate performances, makes that entire horrifying episode come alive in front of our eyes.

Disturbing, gut-wrenching, with a flicker of hope that deceives, only to die.

This film terrorises you. And yet, asks you not to be terrorised. Are you as strong as Ms.Mariane Pearl?

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.