Friday, January 29, 2010

Ishqiya


Rating : 8/10
Release Date : 29th Jan, 2010
Time : ~120 minutes
Director & Co-writer : Abhishek Chaubey; Writer : Vishal Bhardwaj & Sabrina Dhawan; Music : Vishal Bhardwaj
Starring : Arshad Warsi, Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah, Salman Shahid, Rajesh Sharma, Adil Hussain, Master Alok Kumar



Gaaliyon ki bauchhar hai
Kahani ki teekhi dhaar hai
Chutkaliyon ki bharmar hai
picture mazedar hai,
bhai, picture mazedar hai



Arshad looks incredulously at the boy in front of him. “Tu kaise jaanta hai itna saara hathyaron ke bare main?”. The boy, deadpan, with no suggestion of humour, responds “Yahan pe chuttad dhone se pehle, tamancha chalana sikhate hain”. Welcome to a madcap roller coaster ride through a world that most Indian netizens are not very familiar with, the India that we’ve kind of forgotten exists, the badlands of UP and its small villages, their on-going caste wars, con-men and utter lawlessness. Using the colourful, invective laced language that characterizes the region, it proceeds to poke fun at the madness that passes for everyday life in most such places. And it simultaneously makes us laugh and think, to feel for characters so nicely etched that we cheer for them even when they’re breaking the law.


Arshad & Naseer, mama and bhanja, both con-men, are on the run from Naseer’s jijaji, for what exactly we’re not sure but it seems to involve some money and some ice. Due to a mix of circumstances which include an unwanted pregnancy and a jail term, they land up at the home of one of their ex-cellmates, who as it turns out has expired, leaving behind his widow, Vidya Balan. Unsure and hesitatantly at first, Naseer & later Arshad develop feelings for our spunky but quiet lady. However, the jija returns. And then the game heats up…


The situations and characters that we encounter are beautifully drawn. The sense of humour or wry prespective that we’re offered, remains intact through the film. The dialogue is witty and makes you chuckle non-stop. And the songs, the background music is of exceptional quality. Right from the number of classics liberally laced in different situations ('Dhanno ki aankhon main, pyaar ka surma' at a brothel, 'Ae meri zohra jabeen' as a ringtone for the jija) or the semi-classical song that Vidya sings in the beginning or the two flagship songs : the zany, peppy ‘Ibn Batuta’ or the lyrical, romantic ‘Dil to bacha hai’. After a long time in a hindi film, it was worth the price of a ticket just to see the songs.



Arshad Warsi and Vidya Balan light up the screen with their effervescent performances, while Naseeruddin Shah, true to character, remains the stable one. With his surma ringed eyes, ready wit, goofy grin, angry stare and lovable roguishness, Arshad delivers a performance we’d forgotten he was capable of. Vidya doesn’t put a foot wrong, playing on the emotions of both the men like a taanpura, sad, melancholic at times and smiling, alluring, teasing at others. For both of them, this film will feature prominently on their CV for some time to come. And Vishal / Abhishek continue their knack of picking an ensemble cast that looks like they belong to the villages…each of the characters we meet look comfortably at home in their rural setting.



One thing I cant get out of my head is the dialogue…
“kaisa lag raha hoon ?” he asks. “Bilkul chutiyam sulphate” she replies
Inaction is berated by saying “yahan baithe baithe sone ka anda doge kya?”
An eager “yeh plan kaisa laga ?” is met by the measured “gutli ki tarah tentua main atak jayega”

The other thing I cant get out of my head is the whole seduction scene in Gloria Beauty parlour…the ‘main mamta ko dhokha nahin de sakta’…their filmy way of calling out for one another and also a slight confusion about phone numbers that happens towards the end.

And finally, I cant get the soft as air, “Dil to Bacha hai” song out of my head. So kind of appropriate that I sign off with words to be sung to this tune.



Film to acha hai ji
Thoda kadva hai ji
Kaafi maska hai ji
Dekhne main halka hai ji
Ho, film to acha hai ji

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rann


Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 29th Jan, 2010
Time : ~120 minutes
Director : Ramgopal Varma; Writer : Rohit G Banawlikar; Music : Amar Mohile, Bapi-Tutul, Sanjeev Kohli, Jayesh Gandhi
Starring : Amitabh Bachchan, Riteish Deshmukh, Paresh Rawal, Sudeep, Rajat Kapoor, Neetu Chandra, Mohnish Bahl, Gul Panag, Suchitra Krishnamoorthy, Rajpal Yadav


For once, I thought the content was good, the message noble, the performances credible and noteworthy but the packaging was gimmicky, the camera angles too wanna-be and almost nausea / headache inducing and the soundtrack loud and irritating. Both the camera work and music actually detracting from the film.

Amitabh Bachchan plays one of the most respected news presenters, a man of integrity, who lives by his principles and runs his now declining news channel by the same. His son, Sudeep, just back from USA is hungry for success, is nervous, twitchy, short-tempered and also game for some shortcuts. Rajat Kapoor, his brother in law, is an industrialist who dreams big and has aligned himself with a politician, Paresh Rawal, who also dreams big, is tired of being in the opposition. Suchitra Krishnamoorthy works for Amitabh’s channel, Mohnish Bahl used to but now has his own channel, which is the number one channel in TRP terms. Enter Riteish Deshmukh, who idolises & is inspired by Amitabh, to join the world of news….

All the dilemma’s presented are real, tangible and identifiable. We all face them in our own ways. To go for the inconvenient truth or the happier compromise…where no one but the faceless public gets shortchanged ? Everytime we break a queue, bribe an official, shut our eyes at an injustice around us, we’re falling into the same trap…the trap of a thousand cuts. And, God help us, but what if there is this fundamental value misalignment amongst members of a family ? What if the son-in-law, the son and the father seem to believe in different things, have different objectives ? We can then easily understand how someone like Amitabh feels as the edifice he’s built around him begins to show cracks. And what someone like Riteish feels as he see’s truth being sacrificed at the altar of the highest bidder.


All performances were credible, Riteish (very believable), Paresh, Rajat, Sudeep (slightly over-strung) but Amitabh Bachchan for me continues to mesmerize…there is a dignity, a believability that shines through in his every expression.


Now to the disappointing bits. Its almost as if the film makers felt the subject alone wasn’t good enough and so decided to go for cutting edge camera angles and really loud background soundtrack to mask the film, heighten the tension. It actually was not needed, the subject matter and performances were good enough, they didn’t need gimmicks like this or the abandoned national anthem. There were some obvious flaws. You would probably keep your helmet visor down if you were trying to follow someone incognito nor follow so closely. And maybe you would put your phone on silent when in the vicinity of someone you’re trying to ‘sting’ ? Also, I felt the women characters were sadly shown as mere puppets throughout the film…inconsequential pawns in the hands of the men who controlled their destiny. Surely more could’ve been made of the combined acting talents of Simone, Neetu Chandra, Gul Panag and Suchitra ?


Its definitely worth a watch, Amitabh’s performance alone worth the price of a ticket. And there is food for thought…now if only the damned music wasn’t cluttering up the mind….

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

All About Eve



Rating : 9/10
Release Date : Jan, 1951
Time : 138 minutes
Director & Writer : Joseph L Mankiewicz; Music : Alfred Newman
Starring : Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Gregory Ratoff, Marilyn Monroe, Thelma Ritter



Innocence, greed, charm, ruthlessness, simplicity and raw naked ambition. We see them all, in a story succinctly, skilfully and superbly told.


Eve (Anne Baxter) is from a small town, dazzled by the performances and brilliance of Margo (Bette Davis), the theatrical superstar. So much so that she comes to New York and watches every performance of her ongoing play. She strikes up a silent friendship with Karen (Celeste Holm), Margo’s friend. One day they finally do speak and touched by her story, Karen introduces her to Margo, who is also similarly touched by Eve’s naivity and small town sweetness. She takes Eve under her wing, has her move in with her and lets her become a sort of manager / companion. Things are great at first and then gradually, she and we realise things are not exactly as they seem.


Other well etched characters include Bill (Gary Merrill) as the director and boyfriend of Margo, who is witty, tells it like it is and is determined to remain untouched by the hoopla of showbiz. Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe), the gifted playwright and Karen’s husband, writes plays keeping Margo in mind but without doing her any favours. Addison De Witt (George Sanders) is a theatre critic and poison pen columnist who ensures he sees all that is happening and partakes of some of the temptations on offer. There is also a bit part by Birdie (Thelma Ritter) as Margo’s caustic maid and an interesting one scene cameo by Marilyn Monroe as an upcoming artist.

The screen though belonged to Margo and Eve, with the former playing the tempestuous prima donna with the flashing eyes and tossed hair, the heart of gold, heaving emotions and a brooding self awareness of her growing age and of how things really are. Eve plays the backstage, almost invisible character at first and then slowly, we discover that still waters run deep. We fall for her innocent face, her eagerness to please, her bliss and joy at being a companion to her stage idol. And then slowly realise whats behind it all.

The screenplay is taut, pulls no punches, acts like an expose of the theatre world, is funny / laced with sarcasm yet is a moving, gripping human story at the same time. The issues, the people, the industry, all exist even today as described…nothing seems to have changed…and that perhaps is the ultimate accolade for this timeless classic.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sherlock Holmes


Rating : 8/10
Release Date : 8th Jan, 2010 (India)
Time : 128 minutes
Director : Guy Ritchie; Writer : Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg; Music : Hans Zimmer
Starring : Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Geraldine James, Kelly Reilly


The true measure of the genius behind this film is that it borrows a mere skeletal outline of Conan Doyle’s Holmes, infuses an overall raw physicality, concocts a new case, gives its characters a fresh outlook to life and yet, does it all without totally alienating people born and brought up (like me) on Jeremy Brett and / or the 56 short stories / 4 novels preceding it.


The case is engaging, different to most that Holmes faced previously (involves the black arts) and has sufficient twists and turns to keep us glued. Holmes arrests a Lord Blackwood, who’s butchered 5 women to death, and he is sentenced to death. Yet it is not the end. As Lord Blackwood says, just as he’s about to be hanged, “Death is only the beginning”. And so it proves. (Didn’t Imhotep say / scribble the same thing in ‘The Mummy’ ?)


The delight comes from watching the familiar characters : Holmes / Watson / Irene Adler / Mrs Hudson : in totally new personalities. Holmes is very talkative, effusive, quite an extrovert with a mischievous sense of humour. He has lost none of his famous deductive powers but has also acquired a rugged physicality, a person who loves to box, wager, drink, loves a challenge and to fight, get into a scrap.
Watson, is more taciturn, is no longer the understudy or under Holmes shadow but almost as strong / intelligent a personality by himself. One interesting aspect through the film is the resentment Holmes feels towards Watson as he is about to leave 221 B Baker Street and take up residence with Mary Morston. On many occasions, he’s trying to lure Watson back, to get him to accompany him on his adventures once more, and a couple of times he’s even trying to split Watson & Mary up. I enjoyed watching this relationship, the easy banter, and the sense of humour between them.

Irene Adler, is an attractive rogue woman, imbued with a sensuality and motives not fully explained. Again the relationship between Holmes and her is beautifully shown, that of equals once again, matching their wits against each other. And Blackwood proves a worthy adversary, testing the combined skills of the three individuals mentioned above.


The action is of course, set in 19th century London, which resembles more Dharavi than the largely pristine city we know today. It is grainy, smelly, crowded and filthy. There is something about the dark underside of a city that seems to fascinate Guy Ritchie, as all his movies seem to be set in such locales. The performances were really good, very quirky, very apt, Robert Downey Jr, an actor I’d kind of given up on, delivering a very interesting take on the most famous detective of all time.


Its dark, even brutal at times. But mesmerizing. Its an interesting point of debate whether remakes should stay largely true to the original (Sabrina, The In-laws) or take just the broad outline and reinterpret them (Don, Sherlock Holmes). I love the fact that, as in life, there is no one true answer. There is a sequel built into the plot and for me, it cant quite come fast enough.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chance Pe Dance



Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 15th Jan, 2010
Time : ~140 minutes
Director : Ken Ghosh; Writer : Ken Ghosh, Mupur Asthana; Music : Adnan Sami
Starring : Shahid Kapoor, Genelia D’Souza, Parikshat Sahni, Mohnish Bahl


For a movie that is supposed to be around dance, this one is no great shakes. Shahid is a struggling actor / dancer. Really struggling. He encounters nepotism, un-professionalism and we encounter some irritating sub-plots involving an itchy landlord, an ungrateful friend, a school dance competition with overly saccharine kids and the Delhi Municipality shutting down his fathers shop. The main story line has him meeting cute choreographer, Genelia and then him participating in a dance reality show.


Genelia is cute, Shahid cuter. There are nice dollops of humour – Shahid’s days of penury emphasised via his toasting bread and storing clothes innovatively, his ability to make a scooter start, the lungi ad and Genelia’s scooty driving habits. All enhance the cuteness. But then the weak storyline, excessive songs and ordinary dance moves more than make up the irritation quotient.

I missed a twist or two, and for a dance based movie, I missed seeing some dancing that would ‘blow your mind’, some really innovative moves. What we saw up there is stuff we see everyday – after the movie we came home and co-incidentally chanced upon a dance contest on Mahua TV and they were doing similar stuff to the film. And a nice, interesting plot would’ve helped too…

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pyaar Impossible


Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 8th Jan, 2010
Time : 143 minutes
Director : Jugal Hansraj; Writer : Uday Chopra; Music : Salim-Sulaiman
Starring : Priyanka Chopra, Uday Chopra, Dino Morea, Anupam Kher, Rahul Vohra


This one is for those who believe in fairy tales, Mills & Boons romances (same thing actually), Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or that the meek shall inherit the Earth. Its cloyingly sweet, oversimplified and far removed from reality.
Uday Chopra is the geek who worships Priyanka from afar while in college with her. He’s the type who does your homework, is brainy but very much in the background. Seven years after passing out of college, he lives with his Dad (Anupam Kher) who is a software developer by profession but seems to specialise in global clich├ęs in personal life. Uday also develops a software, has it stolen, goes to Singapore to recover it, meets Priyanka again (she’s a single parent now) and then, through a mix of circumstances and his continuing crush on her, he becomes the household nanny, managing her 'monstrous' 6 year old daughter while she works. Will he manage to make Priyanka see beyond his geeky exterior ? Will true love surface ? Will he get his software back ? are Bengali’s theoretical and Punjabi’s show-off’s ?


On the brighter side, Priyanka looks amazing as always, don’t think she ever wears a dress in the film where the hemline goes beyond mid-thigh. She does as much justice as possible for her character, which, as all other characters are quite shallow, under-developed. There is a huge change in Uday, from the beefy tapori in Dhoom2, to the shy, shuffling geek here and he again does it reasonably well. I thought the Anupam Kher character was unnecessary, the daughter was a bit too grown up for a six year old and Dino’s character bore too much resemblance to Pierce Brosnan’s in Mrs Doubtfire.

There is probably an audience for this film (there were some chuckles in the near empty hall) but unfortunately it’ll almost be as limited as those who fit the description of ‘we only give credit to those over 80 years old, if accompanied by both parents’…

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Julie & Julia



Rating : 8/10
Release Date : Sep, 2009
Time : 95 minutes
Director & Writer : Nora Ephron (based on Julie Powell’s book of the same name; Music : Alexandre Desplat
Starring : Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Edmond, Helen Carey, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jane Lynch


Some movies make you smile from frame one. This one not only does that but charms and endears you too, warming up your heart, as two women in different era’s find meaning in their lives via the kitchen. Also, for a movie which is merely about cooking, it’s amazing the number of larger perspectives / thoughts it provoked.

There are two parallel stories running here.

One is about Julie (Amy Adams), petite, sweet, stuck in a govt job going nowhere, who, in 2005, finds herself moving to Queens, to a small apartment above a pizzeria, overlooking a busy road. And finds life not entirely a bunch of roses. Her friends make fun of her, dominate her (really funny lunch meeting between them). Then, her husband Eric (Chris Messina) encourages her to start a blog and then they hit upon the idea of going through the recipes of a famous cook of yesteryears, Julia Childs, all 524 of them, in a period of a year. That now becomes the focal point of her life as she rapidly moves from beef bourguignon to learning how to cope with live lobsters or how to strip a duck. And her life is transformed.

Parallely, we learn about Julia herself, how her foray into the world of cassoulets and bouillabaisse happens. She is married to Paul (Stanley Tucci), a US Govt employee (was he a secret agent ? or not ? anyways, its not really important), recently posted to Paris, France. They arrive in France without knowing much of the language but then Julia, with all her positivity, optimism and charm, proceeds to make friends with all and sundry around her. To keep busy, she first tries hat-making lessons. Then tries the French language and the results aren't pretty. Tries an amateur cooking class but then realises (as she already knows how to boil an egg, which was lesson one) that she must try for the slightly more advanced professional course, the Cordon Bleu, which is populated by unsmiling male chefs only. Despite the constant discouragement of Madame B and the icy reception in class one, her natural competitive spirit provokes her to cut onions as fiercely and quickly as any of her peers (I loved this scene and the delicate fist pump after) and slowly she begins to enjoy what she does, learning how to cook the French flavours and delicacies almost to perfection.

Both stories move on, sweetly but surely, intercutting each other with the practiced ease of a chef’s knife. And funnily enough, that’s what the whole movie is about…the lives of these two women, united over the years with their new-found love for cooking. You didn’t need and thankfully there weren’t any silly sub-plots. And you know what…it was enough, interesting and absorbing by itself.

For a change, for both women, their husbands are shown to be tremendously supportive, caring and loving, in a very natural way, without being mushy or overly sentimental or over the top. Also, Julia, has a very healthy relationship with her sister, both of them, tall, with curly auburn hair, towering over the other women around them. In a world where most couples / siblings seem to share slightly fractured or dysfunctional relationships, this was pleasant to see and ‘learn’ from.


Also important was how their fast growing love for cooking, uplifts them, enables them to overcome some setbacks in their day to day lives and ultimately, becomes the definition of what they do / become. Is there a message here for all the kitty partying housewifes in India, to similarly find a focus and to seek their true calling ?
You enjoy and live through their little adventures. How Julia makes sounds like an orchestra when she is busy cooking, much to her husbands delight. How Julie goes through more than a few meltdowns. How she celebrates each comment on her blog with the girl in the cubicle next to her. How Julia joins hands with two other French women who are determined to make French cooking understandable to Americans. And their struggle to find a publisher. Or Julie’s struggle to cope with her job, sceptical mother, boss, husband (who proclaims loudly at one point that ‘I’m no saint’ as the sex dries up) and the cooking.


I chose to watch this film only because Nora Ephron, who helped shape my thoughts via her screenplay in ‘When Harry Met Sally’, has written and directed this one. Its lovely, delightful and keeps you glued to the screen for the entire length. Watch it, if not for anything else, then just to experience the smell of the culinary delights being conjured up almost succeed in wafting over from your TV screen.

Surrogates



Rating : 5/10
Release Date : Sep, 2009
Time : 88 minutes
Director : Jonathan Mostow; Writer : Michael Ferris, John D Brancato (graphic novel by Robert Vendetti & Brett Weldele); Music : Richard Marvin
Starring : Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe, James Francis Ginty, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames


This is yet another film about machines slowly taking over, with a greedy corporation leading & fuelling the charge. What gives it a little more credence than most is an ageing Bruce Willis, with the same sad, soulful look as he had in ‘The Sixth Sense’.

VSI corporation starts the development of prosthetics which move via sensors linked to the wearer’s brain. Soon that leads to robots and later, surrogates, human look-alikes, controlled by the humans who sit inside the house and let the surrogates go out and do the work. All this is shown by the time the opening credits end.

Bruce Willis is an FBI detective, investigating a rare homicide in this surrogate pervasive world. His case leads him to corruption in high places, corporations obsessed with profits, a disillusioned inventor (James Cromwell) and also to question the whole idea of surrogates….

A couple of subplots which were novel involved a weapon which when used on a surrogate could actually harm the human controller and the settlements which are declared surrogate-free, where only humans are allowed.
Unfortunately, the rest is all old hat, old wine in a new bottle etc, nothing here that we haven’t seen before. The plot meanders along expected storylines and ends exactly as you would guess.

Some interesting thoughts though. Are we as humans relying too much on too many machines ? There used to be a time when I had 20-30 phone numbers memorized. Now, I struggle with 5, relying completely on my mobile phone and God if that’s lost. If our server shuts down, we now treat the day like a holiday, as who can work without computers ? And life is unimaginable without the internet, already there are people who have more online friends and spend more time with them vs those in real life.

All the technologies shown in the film are possible. Maybe it will be a long while before its as pervasive but its possible. Is that really then the future mankind is heading towards ? Sobering thought….