Friday, February 27, 2009


Rating : 4/10
Time : 121 minutes
Director : Bryan Singer; Writer : Christopher McQuarrie & Nathan Alexander
Starring : Tom Cruise, Kenneth Brannagh, Tom Wilkinson

This film is a true story about a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler during the end of World War II. It’s kind of well put together film, keeping the tension going, with a lovely background score. But there are two crucial flaws for me

First, you never feel anything for the characters. There is no build up / proper story around any of them, no empathy built up and Tom Cruise as Colonel Stauffenburg is also very cut & dried, grimacing, scowling, almost like Abhishek in Drona.

And second, even more importantly for me, I am supposed to feel sympathy for people, who, almost at the end of the war, when its clear they’re about to finish on the losing side, suddenly decide to jump ship and assassinate the guy who brought them that far ? Adolf Hitler came into power in 1934, started WWII in 1939 by attacking a peaceful neighbour (Poland), and also, in the same year began two of his genocide programs killing millions of innocent children in a plan called Action T4 and also the infamous concentration camps devoted to racial cleansing. And it took these conspirators so long to figure out that this guy was bad ? They decided to kill him almost when all was lost and the enemy was at the gates ? There’s another word that exists for such people – cowards / turncoats / rats leaving a sinking ship (the last is actually 5 words). All the grandiose talk (in the film) of showing ‘we will show the rest of the world not all Germans are the same’ was, for me, too little too late. It just didn’t make me feel positively towards these guys. But then I’ve read a lot about Hitler / the concentration camps and WWII – so maybe I am biased already.

There are other points which jar - for example a distinctly British sense of humour amongst people who are supposed to be Germans. But they're small issues in comparison to above.

Watch only if you want to see a tight movie where WWII / Hitler etc mean nothing to you…but in that case you may wonder what its all about…

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Billu Barber

Rating : 4/10
Time : Too long
Director : Priyadarshan; Writer : Shrinivasan; Music : Pritam
Starring : Shahrukh Khan, Irrfan, Lara Dutta, Om Puri, Rajpal Yadav, Asrani, Manoj Joshi

Too implausible. Too long. Too painful. Especially towards the end. A simple story of an alleged ‘friend’, Billu, of a famous film star, Sahir Khan, who actually lands up in Billu’s village for a shoot and unleashes mayhem as all people try to beg the previously ignored Billu to put in a word for them. With some hilarious and some tragic consequences. But it’s a story stretched with too many songs, at least 3 item numbers, one very desperately wannabe rock number, tears, and other emotional atyachar etc which lays to waste the humour of the no-nonsense variety displayed by Irrfan and some other funny scenes like Inspector Choube’s attempt at being a star.

Shahrukh is his usual ‘emotional’ hammy self, Irrfan was very good, fit his part brilliantly & Lara - it was good to see her again after a long time, especially in those low cut blouses – I wish village belles really wore such stuff.

I’m going to be politically incorrect and call it Billu Barber – if someone gets offended by being called by their professional name, they need help. As do the people who liked the film.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Delhi 6

Rating : 7/10
Time : 140 minutes
Director & Co-writer : Rakeysh OmPrakash Mehra; Co-writers : Kamlesh Pandey, Prasoon Joshi; Music : A R Rehman
Starring : Abhishek Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor, Waheeda Rehman, Om Puri, Vijay Raaz, Rishi Kapoor, Pawan Malhotra, Divya Dutta, Supriya Pathak, Tanvi Azmi, Prem Chopra, Deepak Dobriyal, S K Raina

Delhi 6 is full of well defined characters, intriguing sub-plots, good cinematography and snappy dialogue. It’s a simple story by itself, but it’s the little twists and turns, watching how the different characters interact with each other and how the little plot elements suddenly become big, quite realistically at that, which makes the film engrossing. I didn’t like the end though, I know where he’s coming from but it became a bit too filmy, a bit too moralistic for me

This is a film of an NRI (Abhishek Bachchan), born and brought up in USA, finding his way in India, in the by-lanes of Chandni Chowk, when he bring his grandmother (the ever graceful Waheeda Rahman) back from USA as per her desires. I liked the way the decision to return was taken, in a nice, no-nonsense, unemotional way – none of the drama that you normally expect and most other film makers would’ve dragged this bit out for half an hour while here it took only five minutes.

Chandni Chowk is an eclectic mélange of colours and characters. You have Rishi Kapoor as a shayar who runs an internet café cum pool bar, Deepak Dobriyal as the sweet shop owner who never lets either Abhishek or Waheeda pass without giving them a hot jalebi, a cynical and dominating Om Puri and a gregarious and flashy Pawan Malhotra as the two squabbling brothers, who’ve now built the classic wall to divide their house into two parts, along with their respective wive’s and children (Sonam and two very natural, endearing boys) who refuse to let the wall get in their way. And you have three things running through the film – one is Ramlila, which helps bring some timeless points home (brothers quarreling in real life vs the Ram-Laxman relationship, for example), the other is the amazing ‘kala bandar’, a yeti-like creature who is ostensibly stalking the streets of chandni chowk, and providing fodder to the numerous tv news channels desperate to scare us for extra TRPs. And finally, the excellent music (A R Rahman and Prasoon Joshi), which helps maintain the mood and fizz for most of the film.

Abhishek’s homecoming is full of cliché’s but still makes you smile. The cow holding up traffic, the rickshaw being used as the fastest way to get to hospital, the purification ceremony when he touches someone of lower caste, the tiff with the slap-happy cop played by Vijay Raaz. There are several other moments, the type which can only happen in India, which add to the charm of the film. The Ramlila getting interrupted by vote chasing, saffron clad politicians, the character named Jalebi (well played by Divya Dutta) and the two kids who walk upto her with a ‘hammein mard bana do request’, the many discussions about Kala Bandar (including the brilliant short circuit theory of Pawan), who is a 8 foot human-like creature one minute, an alien the next and a gorilla a bit later, Sonam’s fascination for Indian Idol and her amazing slightly over the top transformation for it. And finally the hilarious sex scene with the remote accidentally changing the channels which describe the various stages of passion.

I liked the way different characters were portrayed – each of them fit their part well and everyone has a purpose. What I liked even more is how skillfully Rakeysh brought things together for the climax, how Sonam and Abhishek’s relationship is shown developing at the same time as his relationship with her father, Om Puri is shown deteriorating. How suddenly the Kala Bandar ‘explodes’ into prominence and acquires religious undertones. Two special mentions in terms of acting for me were Atul Kulkarni (played the character named Gobar and there’s this really funny by-play about 2 coins vs 1 note) and Sonam, who finally breaks through with a very nice, feisty, well-rounded performance. What I didn’t like was the ending itself – too simplistic and too heavy handed for a film which had been so subtle till then. It definitely gave a sense of anti-climax and kind of made you feel you were being lectured to. I liked some of the broader points he wanted to make – religion / gullibility / greedy politicians etc and I even liked the gentle way he made them (on caste, for example), in the first half. But the second half was too melodramatic and just too far fetched.

There were two comments from the audience, which made me sit up. The first was when a semi-exasperated woman, who, just as the mood of the film changed from being fun / light hearted to serious / tense, hissed ‘this is Rakeysh Mehra’. And the other was, while we were exiting, one of the jean clad aunty’s drawling in her kitty party voice to her friend ‘but the end was too preachy, yaar’. And I just couldn’t help agreeing with both…

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dev D

Rating : 7/10
Time : 172 minutes
Director & Writer : Anurag Kashyap; Co-writer : Vikramaditya Motwane; Music : Amit Trivedi
Starring : Abhay Deol, Kalki Koechlin, Mahi Gill, Dibyendu Bhattacharya

“Do you know what is pain” asks one character of another in Dev D. The film is actually a master class on the subject, touching upon topics like drugs, alcoholism, the BMW scandal, prostitution, the MMS scandal etc. This education, on pain, is highly stylized, very cool, grungy, almost India’s answer to ‘Trainspotting’ but to be crystal clear, is not palatable for everyone. Its ‘A’ and deservedly so. My parents will probably be offended by the film. I, though, enjoyed an experience unlike any other in Indian cinema.

The story revolves around an errant son, Dev, London-returned, who’s mantra to life is drink, drugs and damsels. He has a childhood sweetheart, a very feisty Paro, and they seem destined for each other. Till unrequited love Act 1 happens. Someone else has a crush on Paro and when he realizes he can’t have her, he spreads a malicious rumour claiming that she sleeps around. Dev D, suitably poisoned, spurns her (in one of the cruelest ways possible) and begins his own private journey to hell, going deeper into the world of drink / drug / prostitution till it seems he can’t sink any lower. Then he meets Chandramukhi / Lenny, more popularly known as Chanda.
She is an Indo-Canadian by-product, who made one bad error of judgement – she let her boyfriend film them having sex – and is paying for the consequences for the rest of her life. She is now a prostitute, a diva in the world she inhabits, can talk dirty in several languages and is Lolita by another name. What do Paro, Dev D and Chanda make of their lives is the hazy focus of the second half of the film.

What makes Dev D special is obviously not the plot but the stylization as evinced by the posters / photos of the film. The clothes, the sets, the cuts, the whole atmosphere is real but at the same time surreal. The earthy, simple language of the characters and the realistic locales are mixed with psychedelic colours, grungy jeans and T’s and an ultra modern soundtrack where Emotional Atyachar alone is worth the ticket price. And the humour, including moments like Paro’s use of the handpump as part of a novel anger management technique, Dev’s fathers confusion at how his son has been spoilt by London (preferring fish to chicken, vodka to whiskey etc), an aunty’s utter bewilderment at Dev in a hilarious bus sequence and the Haryanvi song which features synch break dancing help ensure that the central, darker themes of jealousy, intoxicant abuse and prostitution are made more palatable.

The length of the film is a bit of an issue, almost touching three hours. The second half drags a bit. And I always find it difficult to watch a film in which I know the humans are going to make wrong choices, I cant help squirming uneasily all the time. The acting is universally good, with Abhay, who apparently also conceptualized the film, being a notch above everyone else. The man is now officially a superstar as far as I am concerned, as big as any in Bollywood.

I was reminded of two songs while watching the film. One was ‘doob ja mere pyaar mein’ from Johnny Gaddar as here the lead character almost literally follows this advice. And the other is Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’. Dev D uses the same camera technique a few times and the film has a similar shock value. Maybe you can watch the video and if you like it, it may be a good idea to go for it. Else, just stay at home.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Rating : 3/10
Time : 155 minutes
Director & Co-writer : Ajitpal Mangat; Co-Writer : Kannan Iyer; Music : Anu Malik
Starring : Hurman S Baweja, Amrita Rao, Anupam Kher, Dalip Tahil, Gulshan Grover, Tinnu Anand

Victory, the story of a boy who makes it big in Indian cricket and then has an equally rapid fall, is not worth watching for the following five reasons

Predictable and clichéd : There is a sense of déjà vu throughout the film, we’ve seen it all somewhere, the whole plot is clichéd. It got to the point where we’d given up on the film (just too predictable) and were trying to guess / predict the next scene and weren’t doing too badly at it.
The screenplay / dialogues : the screen-writer seems to be stuck in a time warp and gives us gems like ‘yeh mera mandir hai’ (Hurman describing the cricket pitch), or ‘yaad rakhna tumhara naam vijay kyun rakha hai’ (Anupam exhorting his son to go for it during a trial) or ‘isse hamesha seene se laga ke rakhna’ (while giving the Indian flag to his boy when he’s going for his first tour) or even Hurman’s ‘main bahut akela hoon’ when everyone has abandoned him. We’re used to such dialogue’s while watching films from the 60’s and 70’s but not anymore

Shallow characters : no character is built up sufficiently for us to care about him, including the lead character. The makers seem so intent on showing us what is happening to him, we never really know whats going on in his head. What about being successful was so attractive to him, is it the fame, is it the women, is it the money ? What is going on through his head when he sends his Dad away ? I have no idea.
Unrealistic : I wish the Indian team had a coach who could walk up to a Ranji selector and order him to put a player in the team. I wish players (who were not even in the Ranji team) could walk up to the coach and after an impassioned plea (again using 60’s dialogue) could get a net session with the Indian team. I wish players after just one Ranji match could get fast-tracked into the Indian team. And this is just a sample – there are too many instances which are so implausible, it just ruins the overall film, makes a mockery of cricket.
Hurman S. Baweja : probably slightly unfair, but Hurman (check out the new spelling BTW) is too overly made-up throughout the film to look real. He of the designer sideburns (even during his struggling days) and hennaed hair looks too pink (too much foundation, methinks) to look like a cricketer. Acting is ok, he tries really hard and while he fits in easily while playing bad boy, he never really fits in the part of a struggler. I predict a long list of roles as hero’s partying friend.

Amrita puts in an honest effort, is the only decent thing in the movie, though even that was ruined somewhat by naming her Nandu. Who names a heroine Nandu ??!! Everytime her name is mentioned, all you can think of is ‘do chai leke aana’, which I don’t think is the desired response. Also, like the previous film I reviewed, there are a horde of current and ex-cricketers, along with cricket related people like umpires, commentators etc to attempt to make it more real. As per my wife, my kids really enjoyed it so there is a target audience for this after all, the under 12’s. The 'Balla Utha' song is quite peppy, locales are nice hence making up the three rating for the film.

I know it is hard work making a sports movie. I know there are very few really good ones. But I do wish they had tried a different tack to the film. What if the movie had been about a boy who in his debut match (like Shahid Afridi in real life or even the more recent David Warner) makes a huge impact by blasting a blazing 50 or a 100. He then encounters a lot of failures, getting out going for big shots and at this stage a lot of people (coaches, cricketers, commentators etc) offer him different, even conflicting advice, urging him to change his game, technique etc. He is left out of the team as he’s an obvious failure when he tries to change, play defensively. How he then fights back and rediscovers his form then becomes the core of the film. Would you pay to watch this film ?