Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Black Friday

This is a very well made movie. It grips you from start to finish, the characters are very nicely fleshed out, the acting is very good, its gritty, its real and a good behind the scenes look at the Mumbai blasts of 1993 based on a book by Hussain Zaidi. However, I would never recommend for anyone to see this film.

I’m sure some people will find my approach shallow but I’ve never seen the point of recounting cinematically a real life tragedy – whether it is the Mumbai blasts or the 9/11 attacks. Why relive the event ? If I force myself to think very long and hard there can only be two reasons for doing this – either you’ve got some new ‘footage’/ news / different perspective to the event itself or you want to show to the world how wrong it was – with a view to stopping people from perpetrating any future attacks. Neither seems to be the objective of the movie – it’s a simple look at the events which led to the blasts (the planning behind them) and the police investigations which helped nab some of the culprits (the minor fish, the real big guns are still roaming free).

In fact, in an interview to Rediff.com in 2005, Anurag Kashyap (the director) states that “While making this film, the idea was to achieve objectivity, not point fingers. It is time to explore how and why things happened”. But I don’t understand why…why is there a need to do so ?

As said before, there are a lot of good things about the movie. The fact that despite knowing how the movie will end (kind of like Apollo13) you still are engrossed speaks for the powerful screenplay and cinematic treatment. Also, in terms of the cast, the four people who really stood out in the movie were Kay Kay Menon who plays the central character of Addl Commissioner of Police, Rakesh Maria, the person leading the police efforts, Aditya Srivastava who plays the role of Badshah Khan, one of the terrorists, Pawan Malhotra playing Tiger Memon (needs no introduction, I think) and Kishore Kadam as Dangle, one of the policemen who becomes the chief interrogator. Each of them manage to showcase the different emotions and feelings their respective real life counterparts would have gone through extremely well, extremely realistically.

However, I’m by nature a happy, cheerful person and this movie takes me where I don’t want to go, makes me want to do things to the perpetrators which I don’t really want to do. I also feel this movie could easily incite further communal disharmony. Even though it openly cautions people against being made fools of in the name of religion, there are some scenes which can very disturbing to Hindu’s or Muslims. I can imagine, for example, an argument about this movie becoming heated in the matter of seconds. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I only want to see things which are sweet and honey or are frivolous – Omkara is a tragedy but I loved it and Abhimaan (Amitabh Bachchan, 1973) is a very serious / heavy film, but for me remains a timeless classic and I’ve watched it many times over. But for Black Friday, I’m sorry, I just didn’t see the point at all - life is too short (as dramatically depicted in the film) to spend three hours on this one !

Monday, February 26, 2007

Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd

I defy you to watch this movie without a silly / goofy grin on your face. It’s a lovely topic for a film – honeymooning – either you’ve been on one (and usually they’re fun), or you’re looking forward to when your time will come. And this one delivers with a nice, bittersweet, humorous look at this unique and (for most Indians) once-in-a-lifetime event.

Its about six unrelated couples who board a bus to Goa for a group honeymoon. While most couples are the age you would expect there is one exception in terms of Boman Irani / Shabana Azmi who are 50+. As the journey progresses there are flashbacks about each couple to tell us their background / how they met etc. The rest is all about watching the different relationships unfold - each couple by itself or when interacting together as a group.

What I’ve liked about the movie are the ‘realistic’ portrayals of the different couples – in each one you’re able to spot something which you’ve seen in someone or the other in real life. And even more than the realism, I liked the twists given to each couple’s story – be prepared for something different here…it may not always be logical but its good fun ! Also, as there are no superstars in the movie (unlike Salaam-e-Ishq, for example), the director is not forced to spend too much time on any one couple but truly manages to give us a flavour of each different story. The one song in the movie is a fantastic foot tapping number which is picturised extremely well and for a change there is a reason behind the song and the picturisation as well.

I’m hesitating to say anything more as I may give something away inadvertently…I thought all the cast were very good. Boman Irani continues to amaze me – how does he manage to get inside the skin of so many varied characters in such a short time span ? Shabana brings her usual competent, dignified, calm presence. I really liked Sandhya Mridul (I thought she was great in Waisa Bhi Hota Hai as well) and I hope she gets more movies. The true surprise for me was Raima Sen – she plays half of a very conservative, Bengali couple who gradually sheds her inhibitions and she manages to do this very naturally, slowly moving from being prim and proper to free and sensuous in a very convincing fashion. I’m going to not take anymore names else this para will become as long as some of the Oscar / Filmfare thank you speeches, but I truly didn’t find anyone whose performance was below par or felt out of place.

The movie thankfully does not try and preach to us...there is not much serious stuff here and dont look for any answers to the great mysteries of life or marriage. It merely showcases some very different couple's and what they go through and does it in a very fun, irreverent and quirky way. You can draw your own lessons.

I saw this movie at a very late show (2245 hrs), after having spent the whole day in a factory and then being driven for four hours on a not very good road. I had a terrible cramped seat in the theatre and was sleepy when I went in. However, nothing mattered - I left the hall with a smile on my face as did the rest of the audience. I think you’ll be doing the same as well.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I’d forgotten the beautiful story which is the genesis of the movie’s name. The movie begins with Amitabh Bachchan’s rich baritone recounting the story from the Mahabharat, where a tribal archer goes to Dronacharya and wishes to learn from him. Dronacharya refuses – he is after all the guru of the kings and this boy is a lowly tribal ! The boy returns to the jungle, makes a statue of Drona and begins to practice / teach himself. One day, when Dronacharya goes for a walk in the jungle, he is accompanied by his dog, who is barking incessantly. Suddenly the dog becomes quiet, its mouth kept open by 7 arrows, shot and placed so delicately that there is no blood / pain felt by the dog. Drona is impressed by the young boy archer but remembers his promise to the prince Arjun, to make him the best archer in the land. He proceeds to ask the archer for guru-dakshina – as it was his statue under which the archer practiced. The archer humbly bows before him and requests him to ask for whatever he wants. And Drona asks for his right thumb – without which he would no longer be able to use the bow and arrow, rendering his years of practice useless. The Archer immediately cuts of the thumbs and lays it on the feet of the Guru. The archers name was Eklavya. Did he do the right thing ? Did he feel pain ? What would you do if in the same situation (silly question actually in todays world, isn’t it ? )?

I thought this start was sensational. It evoked for me all the grandeur and brilliance of the Mahabharat, which along with the Illiad, ranks as one of my favourite stories. It brought back to my mind the flaws of human nature, our petty jealousies and arrogance, which are so beautifully captured by this classic Indian epic. And while the rest of the movie does manage to evoke some of the atmosphere, part of the ethos, it fails to build into anything substantial. The dramatic ending for me, the big ‘secret’, didn’t make me gasp…

Eklavya (Amitabh Bachchan), named after the above archer, is the royal guard of a Rana (king) of a present day village in Rajasthan. Eklavya’s father had died saving the Rana’s father, several generations of Eklavya’s clan have served the family etc and he has been brought up with the same motto as the archer – no price is too high to give for your master. The Rana (Boman Irani) comes across as half-crazed, a bit hysterical, his wife (Sharmila Tagore) is ailing, his son Harshvardhan (Saif Ali Khan) is in London and his daughter, Nandini (Raima Sen) is confirmed to be fully crazed. The other characters include Jyotiwardhan (Jackie Shroff), the Rana’s younger brother and Udaywardhan(Jimmy Sheirgill), his son. To complete the cast you have another old faithful servant, the driver, who has a young daughter (Vidya Balan) who dreams of marrying Saif. And you have a police inspector (Sanjay Dutt) who gets called to investigate the various deaths that happen in the household.

I cannot tell you much more about the plot as that would give away some story details which may spoil your movie experience. The whole mood of the film is very sombre…we rarely see any of the characters smile, its almost as if they know whats going to happen next and are afraid. Also, as a kind of contrast, the setting is gorgeous, the landscape beautiful - not a studio here but a genuine, real life location.

Amitabh Bachchan is sensational as Eklavya – his eyes convey his emotions beautifully, its quite an understated performance. Even though his character is uni-dimensional (‘I’m a wall of this fort, my purpose is to protect its inhabitants. Full stop.’) he manages to bring depth and emotion to it. In one scene where he is upset, angry at his own inability to prevent misfortune from falling upon the house, all we see is him pacing up and down in his room and then, eventually, venting his anger on some furniture. He speaks few words but we manage to understand his psyche quite perfectly. I thought Saif was outstanding as well – quiet, brooding, lonely…carrying the burden of some secrets, looking every bit the troubled prince.

However, what prevents the film from being great is the uneven pace of the movie – there are quite a few stops and starts, a few cuts which jar…and we never understand any of the other characters are thinking, apart from Amitabh and Saif and possibly the Rana. The equations between the different characters are also not fully explained. How long has Saif been away ? What does he think of the Rana’s brother ? How is Eklavya regarded by those plotting against the king ? Is he a sort of Luca Brasi (from the Godfather), a major impediment or is he now more decorative due to his age ?

You get the awe, you get the grandeur, you get the different world that its characters seem to inhabit. The story itself though feels fake... even though the characters and locales seem real. And because of the cuts / uneven pace, you don’t get the sense of being in a free-flowing river but more a man-made canal which has several locks and dams. And because of the ‘weak’ ending, you get the sense of having done the countdown (10..9…8…) but not achieving lift-off ! Its nice, the movie, I can equate it to a beautiful, authentic local artifact/painting that you you would buy in Rajasthan...but, its not a masterpiece.