Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Casino Royale

This is an aberration - I'm reviewing Hindi movies, not English ones. However, was moved enough, almost compelled to write what I think is going to be a very polarising review ! Here goes...

Casino Royale made me think of why I watch Bond movies…I’m sure the reasons are different for every individual, but mine came out something like this…

  • At a primal level, I love Bond movies for the beautiful women, the gorgeous clothes (or lack of them), the brilliant humour / one-liners / pick up lines and the action – which was always cutting edge…you saw things which made you marvel, were ahead of their times, wonder if that could actually be so?
  • At a slightly more cerebral level, I always found Mr Bond very aspirational…he could do with a touch of class, without getting flustered, things which would have normal people going ‘Mommy’ ! He was a guy’s guy…he made everything look easy – he could naturally, instinctively figure out how gadgets / machines operate, how to charm the socks and other garments off every woman he met and also…he always won !

Now we have Casino Royale, Daniel Craig (the 6th Bond’s) debut movie.

Firstly, the fact that I had the above thoughts during the movie is not a good sign. In Bond movies, you’re neither supposed to have the time nor the inclination to think, damn it!

Secondly, we can go through the above list

  • Gorgeous women: conspicuously absent…We had Eva Green (Eva who?). She probably won’t even figure in the top50 most beautiful women of Pune. What a comedown after Sophie Marceau, Halle Berry, Honor Blackman, Britt Ekland et all.
  • Gadgets : again, missing in action, like Q. Most current Bollywood movies have more in the name of hi-tech than this Bond film. Even cars – while he does get a DB7 very briefly towards the end - in one scene he’s even shown driving a Ford (Nooooo! Even my butler wouldn’t drive a Ford. This cannot be!)
  • Humour: some good lines, (example: “Vesper :Am I going to have a problem with you, Bond? Bond: No, don't worry. You're not my type. Vesper: Smart? Bond: Single”). But otherwise severely dialled down as well. No idea why? Compare with the following lines from Goldeneye and you’ll see what I mean: “Xenia Onatopp: You don't need the gun. James Bond: Well, that depends on your definition of safe sex.” Or even “James Bond: I must say, I've had a lovely evening. Xenia Onatopp: Well, once again the pleasure was all yours.”

Third, we can discuss Mr Craig.

I didn’t like him – didn’t think he fit the bill.

He’s different – he’s the fittest Bond, with rippling muscles and superb upper torso. However, for me, Bond’s appeal was that you could be great / cool without having spent half your life in a sweaty gym. He is the least sexiest…working class kind of face & behaviour, probably more at home drinking beer rather than Martini’s. There’s quite a telling exchange with a barman in the middle which illustrates what I’m saying – “Bartender: Shaken or stirred? James Bond: Do I look like I give a damn?”

He’s good in fist fights but doesn’t seem to inspire the same credibility around mechanised stuff (and at some point in time that’s going to be tested!). Also, if they keep showing him getting cut / bruised / bloodied in every fight, the man’s going to look like a wreck after just two movies. I mean, the beauty of Bond was that he could save the world, beat all the baddies, destroy 2-3 buildings and then just casually brush a few specks of dust from his tux before landing up at the casino. But apparently not anymore…

Finally, the plot. Mr Bond spends 30% of his time in the movie playing cards. He also spends 80% of the movie chasing Le Chiffre, who is a banker to the terrorists, playing the stock market with their money…I mean how ludicrous – I don’t mean from a logic point of view as that way all Bond plots are ludicrous – but what a come down from the days when the Bond villains wanted to rule the world or the moon or monopolise the world’s oil supply etc. An example of the ‘small thinking’ - Le Chiffre hires a terrorist (one terrorist who dresses as a cop) to ram a oil tanker rigged with an explosive (again, one explosive) into a new airplane prototype of a company – so that the company’s stock price will fall and he will make about $100mn or so…Guys, show some imagination…by this logic, even Harshad Mehta could be a Bond villain….And Pierce Brosnan / Sean Connery / Roger Moore would probably not even bother foiling the plot for $100mn or so…they would want to save billions…that’s more like it.

I came out from the movie not at all sure I had seen a Bond movie. Also, as an aside, I didn’t even particularly enjoy the one that I saw…No exhilaration, no thrills…just a pale imitation of James Bond, 007.

Friday, November 24, 2006


( My son, inspired by Dhoom2, shortly after the movie)

This is a fun movie…everyone has fun, the director looks like he enjoyed making the movie and most importantly, even the cast look like they’re having fun, they’re enjoying being the characters they are portraying, enjoying being in the locations they’re in. There's a scene where Uday / Bipasha do a spoof of Baywatch and another where Aishwarya says enough of health food and asks for a juicy burger ! So its only natural that the fun rubs off on the audience !

This movie is not about the plot, even though it isn’t all that bad. There are shades of the Saint (Val Kilmer) and the Thomas Crown Affair. And it does ask for some suspension of judgement as some details are not totally believable,. It’s a not so standard cops (Abhishek & Uday Chopra, as in Dhoom) chasing a robber (Hrithik) story – with some predictable and not so predictable twists along the way. The action sequences are fantastic – some breathless stunts that well…make you gasp & hold your breath. And for a change, even the disguises are good – this has consistently been a weak point of Hindi movies as usually the disguises are laughable – here, though, in a couple of places even we (and not just the cops in the movie) struggle to spot Hrithik…

However, as I said before, its not about the plot or the action sequences…this is a movie about the stars ! So here goes

  • Hrithik : OhMiGod ! Hunkalicious ! Simply outstanding…I’m running out of superlatives here. For me, he towers above everyone else in the movie and that too on almost every dimension – action / looks (I want his wardrobe !) / coolness / emoting/ credibility. And when he enters the dance floor – Wow ! Everyone else better move aside ! Hrithik rocks and rules !

  • Abhishek : He’s good, he’s cool (floral suits him), does justice to his part, but for me doesn’t set the screen on fire. The role is a simple one – so I guess, to be fair, there wasn’t much more he could have done.

  • Aishwarya : imagine a perfectly bronzed Ash, dressed either as Lara Croft or in the kind of clothes that most Dad’s would never allow their daughter to wear, the kind that only moth’s on a diet could eat. I readily admit I have a bias, and I’m going to use this movie as evidence in all further debates about her looks. She is paired with Hrithik in the movie and I think there are very few couples on this planet who make a better couple in terms of sheer looks. One slight issue was that she was given a part ‘tapori’ character – I think her role & the movie could have been better served if she was made more suave (like Hrithik & Abhishek), perhaps with some idiosyncracies, kind of like Rene Russo in Thomas Crown Affair (the Pierce Brosnan remake)

  • Bipasha : she brings a lot of oomph in the early part of the movie – looks great, acts well. However, her role is extremely limited, but on whatever we do see of her is extremely promising / she deserved more.
Uday was good – he has a full 'tapori' role, as in Dhoom, and he continues to evoke the easy laughs. However, more interestingly, there is another level of jokes / conversation as well in the movie – the one liners, slightly more subtle jokes / dialogue, the kind you get in Hollywood movies. This is done through Abhishek and Bipasha in the early part and Hrithik / Aishwarya in the latter part. One disappointment for me were the songs – not the music, the sets, the dance / choreography but more the lyrics & the playback (especially for the women) – they didn’t seem to match up to the characters. The best song remains the remix of Dhoom Machale which is also used as background music through the film.

This is a movie which is overtly about being cool. Even Hrithik is described as a ‘cool chor’ by the cops in the movie. But pleasantly, it succeeds. While Dhoom made biking cool, I was trying to think of what things would become cool due to the sequel
1. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil – one of my favourite cities in the world and amongst the most beautiful ones I’ve had the pleasure to visit. I can just see the spate of Indian’s choosing to go there now (even if its too far), thanks to this movie.
2. Bandana’s – the pirate style, as worn by Hrithik
3. Roller-blading – while there is only one sequence, its great…

For the last word, I’m going to take refuge in my son once again. He’s at the kind of age where he picks up one word and then starts using it for anything and everything. So when I asked him ‘how was the movie?’, he used his current such word, a word which I totally agreed with as a one word summary of Dhoom2 : ‘Awesome!’.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Apna Sapna Money Money

This is a movie created to cash in on current trends, to purely make money ie ensure revenues are greater than costs, without having much to do with the art form of making movies. I’m going to go through a hypothetical checklist that I’m sure the producers / directors / scriptwriters of such brainless comedies go through

Plot : Half Done : keep it loose, don’t worry about logic, coherence or other such minor details. A girl fetching diamonds worth 50cr for a broke gangster is inexplicably asked to travel by train from Goa to Mumbai. Enter a cop, who has been trying to nab them for four years (but failing spectacularly), another small time con-man who is running away from Goa and then literally anything is possible
Sub-Plots : Over Done : Include several, trying to cover all possible movie segments and target audiences. So we have a Christian mechanic trying to marry a Hindu neighbour but is stalled by angry father, a young girl who has a hole in her heart and needs lots of money for operation, a milkman wannabe don who worships Amitabh’s ‘Sarkar’ etc etc
Item Girls : Done : use 3, just in case someone doesn’t like the personality of one…quite innovatively, give the item girls some bit-parts as well, not just a song, to ensure that there is plenty to see throughout the movie for the average testosterone fuelled red-blooded Indian male viewer.
Make fun of some disability : Done : here the nominated disabililty is near blindness
Make fun of some community : Done : instead of the regular Sardarji’s, this movie has gone for Nepali Gurkha’s
Dress up a Man in drag : Done : always works – raises a few laughs and also gives opportunity for the man to watch a girl undress…
Vulgar jokes : Done : just enough to avoid alienating the crucial family audience
Other Jokes : OverDone : the scriptwriter here has diligently saved all the forward email jokes and sms jokes that he got for a year. Everyone will find at least five funny…
Arshad Warsi / Boman Irani / Paresh Rawal / Anupam Kher : Done : All successful hindi comedies over last five years have had at least one of the above. Here its Anupam Kher and if it was me, they couldn’t have paid me enough.
No major stars but side-actors who cant act : Done : Neccessary to keep overall costs low, here Ritesh Deshmukh heads this list. Also include a couple of have-beens, who logically should have retired, to add to star appeal. Here Chunky Pandey (honestly though, he wasn’t that bad) and Jackie Shroff are prime members of this list.
Rap song : Done : Mandatory after Bluff Master. Again, in true value for money mode there are at least two or three (I lost count).
Its the very definition of a time-pass movie and if you go with an open mind (pun intended), there will be a few laughs and precious little else. Watch (only if free) and forget !

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I would probably not have watched this movie were it not for a persistent younger cousin brother who wanted to watch it for a third time, my liking for Preity Zinta & Akshay Kumar and some intrigue generated by the songs, which seemed good fun.

The movie is not as bad as I had thought – I’ve seen many worse ones. With a few fixes, it could have even been good.

The songs are very nice – really vibrant, beautifully choreographed with some nice touches. There’s one where Salman and Preity are shown romancing and everything seems to rise to welcome them – the stairs pop out and then light up, then a table and chairs pop out from the ground, then the railing comes up and then finally two illuminated trees come up to provide the backdrop. In another, Akshay and Preity are walking through central park and everyone around them is in operatic ballet mode – all couples are sashaying around, pirouetting, twirling…quite beautiful.

It’s a pretty standard love triangle, where Salman (divorced husband of Preity) decides to help Akshay (NASA astronaut, ex-nerd and ex-college mate & chief secret admirer of Preity) to get married to Preity so that he can escape alimony payments. Preity is in NY so both fly over and since Akshay is nervous around women, Salman dictates what he has to say, when, where etc. Suddenly there is a twist in the tale – albeit a predictable one – and surprise surprise – Salman now wants to win her back for himself but then what about Akshay ?

The plot is quite severely intellectually challenged. The twist is something completely implausible / the timing just doesn’t make sense. Wish I could say more but then it would give the twist away. All I can say is that the ‘twist’ cannot be what its made out to be for anyone with half a brain ? The circumstances of their divorce were also funny, to say the least. The movie also refuses to get into any sort of depth – we don’t understand any of the characters – what they are like, why do they do what they do, what are they thinking etc. They are just there to keep the story moving. Finally, the way Salman is shown to be a stud with women – the way he talks (fake, irritating American accent) / his pick up lines etc (especially in a scene with an air hostess) would have most modern women reaching for their can of mace / insecticide.

I also have to admit a bias – I have never understood how as terrible an actor as Salman became a star and continues to get gainful employment in Bollywood. And this movie only reinforced my opinion. He overacts, has a wooden / blank face most of the time and has a repertoire of not more than 3 expressions throughout the movie. The emphasis is purely on his dresses which are all designed to provide multiple exposures of his pectorals and bulging biceps. Both Preity and Akshay’s roles are dwarfed by Salman’s and not developed enough to make us feel any sympathy for them. I truly cannot fathom why either of them accepted the roles since both are capable of so much more. We don’t understand at all why Preity chooses who she chooses at the end and also how / why the unlucky third party behaves the way he does.

There are some interesting bits early on in the movie, showing Anupam Kher as a dwarf, who’s sensitive about his height, and how all conversations seem to constantly refer to his height.

My recommendation though, would be to not watch the movie unless, like my cousin brother, you can’t get enough of Preity, or like some hopeless women (none that I know personally), you can’t get enough of Salman. If that’s the case, then based on his dresses in the movie, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Umrao Jaan (2006)

This is clearly not a movie for everyone – based on just the genre’s that it straddles. First, it’s a period movie, set in mid-nineteenth century Lucknow, which I think cuts the total potential viewers in half straight away. Next, it’s a tragedy, and I’m not giving the story away as the movie is told in flashback and you know this from frame one. This probably reduces the remaining viewers by another half. Finally, it’s a slow paced movie, with a pace more akin to a test match (if Australia is not playing – they only seem to play at one pace !) rather than a one-day international. This probably knocks off another half of the remaining viewers.

Those potential viewers / current readers left though, are probably going to enjoy it!

If you’ve not seen the previous Umrao Jaan (1981 / Rekha)
The movie is set in mid-nineteenth century and relates the tale of a courtesan – her rise and fall, her search for a life outside her profession, her attempt at finding true love and also her search for her own identity and her roots. It is a story told quite beautifully – the settings, the dresses, the bright colours stand out as a nice contrast to the sorrow unfolding in front of us.
It’s a very real story – there are no mercies given nor asked. There are no sugary characters, no cloying sweetness, no fake lovey-doveyness – but real emotions. Its quite a change from the normal Bollywood movie, where only good things (at least eventually) happen to the hero / heroine.

If you have seen the previous Umrao Jaan
The newer version tells the story better – the older one in parts seem a bit disconnected / fragmented. The characters, apart from Umrao Jaan herself, are also fleshed out better.
Also, the Rekha movie shows a very bleak side of Lucknow / Faizabad – the houses are very dark, the building dilapidated. This movie, on the other hand, shows beautiful palaces, rich people, a cleaner, more prosperous city.

However, the earlier version was more authentic – the urdu / language was better, more ‘true’. In some places here you feel the language is a bit forced, not natural, the characters are being forced to speak urdu.

For all
Finally, I think the biggest difference is the quality of songs / the lyrics. In Rekha’s movie, the songs are classics, they give soul to the movie, and are popular even 25 years later. I seriously doubt any of the songs of UJ’06, with one exception, are going to be played even 25 months later. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good songs, nicely sung, beautifully choreographed, lovely sets etc but they’re just not in the same league. I was actually shocked to find Javed Akhtar is the lyricist, since I expected more from him – but things became clearer when I read his comments on the official Umrao Jaan website – he claims he was trying to bridge the gap between the nineteenth century and the current generation. I feel he would have been better off being authentic and staying with the era the movie is set in!

The one exception though, is the haunting, heart-rending ‘Agle Janam’, excellently sung by Richa Sharma, and poignantly used as background music during the latter half of the movie.

Aishwarya is very good, stunningly beautiful in some scenes (as you would expect) and also very emotive, fitting the role (as perhaps you would not expect) and doing justice to it. Abhishek is nice to look at but some how his expressions, his demeanour does not fit the movie – I feel he needed some more gravitas in his role, his body language some how still comes across as a 21st century playboy, rather than a nineteenth century Nawab. The real jewel, though, in the movie is Shabana Azmi – she is brilliant ! Here there is no artificiality, no forced urdu. She is effortless and imparts a very human edge to her role as Khanum, the owner of the brothel.

Net, if you enjoy the genres that this movie straddles, you will enjoy it. However, it is not a classic, as Rekha’s Umrao Jaan was. This one is more beautiful as a spectacle but lacks the soul !