Friday, January 26, 2007

Salaam-E-Ishq

This is a classic chick flick. There’s love, there’s laughter and there’s tears. Add plenty of melodrama, and generous doses of nonsensical, implausible stuff and you complete the heady potion.

If you’ve been lucky enough to miss the non-stop marketing juggernaut of the movie in the last few days, its about 6 couples, (well, 5 and a half, if you consider the screen time one of them gets), who are all at different stages of life.

  • John Abraham and Vidya Balan are madly in love and celebrating their first anniversary. He’s a Hindu who married a muslim girl, against his parents wishes. She has an accident and that changes their lives forever. They are clearly the mushiest couple and I think there were only about five frames where we don’t see John / Vidya with tears streaming down their cheeks.
  • Akshaye Khanna is a playboy bachelor (exact, and I mean exact, copy of Hugh Grant in Nine Months), who is about to get married to Ayesha Takia (I thought she looked gorgeous) but is going through last minute nervous pangs…make that several last minute nervous pangs…
  • Priyanka Chopra is a hot item girl who wants to be a tragedy queen, star in Karan Johar’s next movie. To make the transition, she tries to reposition herself and get taken seriously by declaring she is in love… with a fictitious person…. and is going to London to meet him. Enter Salman Khan who…well, I’m not even going to try to explain this one…
  • Anil Kapoor has been married to Juhi Chawla for fifteen years, lives in London and has two lovely kids. However, his life is a boring routine and is completely dull and colourless. The hours become anonymous days which in turn become bland months… Suddenly, he finds some spice, some excitement and colour via a chance ‘encounter’ with a young woman, Anjana Sukhani, in the train. The most realistic couple by far, except for the melodramatic end.
  • A very bloated and old-looking Govinda is a Delhi taxi driver waiting for his ‘gori’ dreamgirl. Enter Shannon Esra, who comes to Delhi to stop her desi NRI boyfriend marrying an Indian girl as per his parents wishes. We get the most laughs from this couple with the maximum coming from a delightful Shannon’s attempts at Hindi, including a speech that she prepares for the time she will meet her boyfriends parents.
  • Sohail Khan has just gotten married to Isha Koppikar and cannot wait to consummate his marriage. We see about 5 attempts of theirs, 2 very funny and the rest average / silly…

If you think of how long it took you to read the above, you begin to get an idea of the issues while watching it. Its very long – I think it went well over three and a half hours. Also, you don’t get enough time to really get into the skin of any of the characters or couples – just a very broad brush sketch – and in some cases not even that.

There are also a lot of very good things in the movie. The whole idea is interesting; each of the couple’s stories could almost be a movie in itself, the issues the couple’s face in most cases are genuine / real and all of us can identify with them. The songs are very nice, catchy (maybe a couple too many). And there are some very fine performances in the movie – Akshaye Khanna, Shannon Esra, Sohail Khan, Anil Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Juhi Chawla all do very well. The editing is very good, you flick from one couple to another quite easily, the movie runs at quite a decent pace except in the second half where the pace slackens and I noticed a lot of squirming in the seats. And there are some fantastically hilarious moments that really have you laughing out loud.

However, for me, the movie was more about the concept / the marketing idea than real substance. Its easy to create interesting storyline threads, but the true artistry lies in being able to tie them together…and the extremely melodramatic, over the top, unrealistic second half just didn’t work at all. Most of the genuine issues raised in the movie were brushed under the carpet or solved with one line clich├ęs and platitudes.

Nikhil Advani (the director) used a thick paintbrush to paint very broad strokes, while what this picture really needed was some subtlety, delicacy and calligraphic thinner, lighter strokes. He’s used a blow torch when possibly (considering the central theme of love), candlelight would have been a better idea !

Friday, January 19, 2007

Risk

I saw this movie only because it had Vinod Khanna. That’s sad in a way as I preach about breaking the star system or making commercially successful movies without big stars but I find my own behaviour also influenced by the stars….

Risk is about the police – politician – underworld nexus. About an honest cop trying to make a difference and becoming a sort of police executioner. He’s trying to bring down a Bangkok based Khaled Bhai (Vinod Khanna), who runs Mumbai rackets by remote control. Khaled Bhai has his own share of problems (apart from the cop), with a former partner now trying to set up his own business and joining hands with a rival politician to the one linked with Khaled Bhai. Does all this sound familiar ? That’s the problem of the movie…

It has a nice narrative style, its gripping in parts, it’s a tightly knit story (almost no songs) and the casting is excellent with a very fine ensemble of character actors. But. There is a huge but…its all been seen before…the twists are predictable…the story meanders a bit in the second half and we all know how its going to end. Plus there is a lot of mayhem…the body count is over 30 and they showed enough blood to keep a blood bank in business for a year.

Its also kind of sad, that a movie about corruption, showing police bowing to politicians and politicians bowing to toughies only provokes apathy and a sense of ‘ho-hum, show me something new’…not a terribly good state of affairs for the country to be in. But I guess that’s another story.

The movie features 2 excellent performances. First, by Randeep Hooda, who plays the lead role – the tough honest cop – very believably and credibly. Despite being a Jat, he looks very Maharashtrian in the movie, and easily seems to fit his surroundings. He manages to show a lot of inner turmoil quite effectively with just a few expressions and has a nice, though rarely seen, smile.

The second is by Vinod Khanna. He doesn’t disappoint his fan following and like in his hey-days, looks like the only one who can give competition to the Big B, though now as a grey beard…The man can act, has a screen presence, a charisma that comes through and, like Amitabh, an amazing ability to convey emotions effortlessly, almost without seeming to act. I’m glad he is back…
I just wish he had chosen a better vehicle for his return. This one is just about so-so…

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Guru

Why would anyone want to watch a barely fictionalised / semi-biographical account of one of India’s most successful businessmen ? Is it to ‘learn’ how to dream ? Or would it be to ‘learn’ how to make the dreams into reality ? If it’s the former, you’re going to love the movie. If its the latter, then, like me, you’re going to be disappointed…

Guru is an enjoyable story, at least in the first half. But its enjoyable only because of Abhishek and Aishwarya – I thought both really excelled in the movie…the plot / the story moves fast, too fast for me and without really developing any of the characters. I got the sense of someone trying to show us a big picture, a vision but without any attention to detail.

The first half focuses on how a good-for-nothing boy (Guru Kant Desai, played by Abhishek Bachchan), who has failed his exams, still dares to dream. How, in chasing the dream, he first goes to Turkey and then returns to set up a business. His father, a simple school teacher and failed business man, is completely opposed to the idea of doing business. But with the encouragement of his mother and his own self-belief, he sets about his task. He gets the seed capital by marrying Sujata (Aishwarya Rai), who is not very marriageable as she had tried to elope and hence now has a sizeable dowry as encouragement. He then goes to Bombay and tries to get into the clothes business – but finds it a ‘closed club’, with entry barriers at every step. With a never say die spirit, he triumph’s over every obstacle and starts to become big. He makes friends with a independent newspaperman, Nanaji (played by Mithun Chakrabarty), and enlists his help in tearing down some of the barriers.

The second half focuses on the kinds of issues he faces post-growth. How his rapid rise leads to many enemies. How Nanaji turns against him and with the help of a reporter starts publishing reports about his various wrong-doings (excise evasion, export scams, political nexus, general corruption etc). How the once grateful public turns against him. And how, thanks to his never say die spirit, he still continues to fight….

While it is established quite quickly and quite well that young Guru has a lot of spirit and big dreams, we never get to see any of the business sense behind him that actually propelled him forward. We never understood why he chose to deal in polyster instead of the cotton that everyone else was trading in. We never understood how / why he decided to get into chemicals, or started going to the people for money instead of banks (public issue instead of debt via banks) or why he chose to do the scams that he did get involved in (what was his logic ?). Which is why at the end it is not clear at all, either to us or to the commission trying Guru in the movie, whether we really saw a visionary or just a guy who was at the right place at the right time and just got lucky. Was he a genius or a thug ?

The movie also has several threads, a few of which were completely unnecessary and several of which are left loose at the end and not tied up which I found quite ironical for a movie about someone in the cloth business. There are several characters / relationships that are not explained / understood at all – for example, Guru’s brother in law, who leaves the business quite abruptly, Nanaji’s daughter, Meenu (Vidya Balan), a handicapped girl who thinks the world of Guru etc.

And something else I don’t get is this pussyfooting around whether it is about Dhirubhai Ambani or not ? The movie begins with the standard ‘work of fiction’ disclaimer and the official website also does nothing to clarify the point. However, if this is a work of fiction, then it borrows too many things from Dhirubhai’s life (Gujarati, dealing in cloth, polyster, enemies named Contractor who are too similar to the Wadia’s, an AGM in Wankhede stadium etc) …and I don’t like this inherent dishonesty / ambivalence. Perhaps this is what also contributed to the unravelling of the second half.

Abhishek carries the movie quite well – his smile, childish enthusiasm, his spirit comes out quite beautifully. He also manages the quite melodramatic ending well. Aishwarya has a role devoid of any glamour, and for me settles the argument once and for all that she is quite a talented actress, not just a pretty face. However, her role is extremely short changed in the film and there is a stark difference between the conception and the execution of the character. One of the most telling indicators for me is the official website’s description of Sujata which begins with the following words ‘I hated my father for forcing me to marry Guru. I was sent away to Bombay to live with my unwanted husband and my anger in a one room chawl’. As someone who has just seen the movie, this is not true at all – that’s not what we saw ! She actually asks Abhishek to take her with him to Bombay ! And we see none of the anger against her father etc.

R Madhavan, as Nanaji’s ace reporter who leads the crusade against Guru, also excels in his role. The others do their roles, which are quite limited, as well as they possibly can. The songs are nice by themselves and are also nicely picturised but are completely unnecessary to the plot – they are all quite forced. For me, they even detract from the main story by making us lose the intensity of the film and of its central character.

For me this is a movie which has a lot of spirit but very little substance. It asks us to fly without giving us the wings. It shows a vision but without the path leading to it. I left the hall disappointed…it could have been so much better.