Saturday, February 27, 2010

Karthik Calling Karthik

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 26th Feb, 2010
Time : 155 minutes
Director & Writer : Vijay Lalwani; Music : Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy
Starring : Farhan Akhtar, Deepika Padukone, Shifaali Shah, Ram Kapoor, Vipin Sharma, Vivan Bhatena
Am trying unsuccessfully to think of any other art form (apart from books), where a bad ending can spoil the entire performance. Coz that’s what happened here. Very good performances from foxy Farhan & the delectably dimpled Deepika and some excellent humour gets almost completely wiped out by an end that makes you feel limp as you walk out of the hall.

Karthik (Farhan) is a loser. Tormented by guilt over his brothers death when he was a kid. Stuck in a demeaning job under a demanding, abusive boss. Hounded by his landlord. Unable to even tell Shonali (Deepkia), who works in the same office, what he feels for her (he’s written hundreds of emails to her but they’re all in the drafts folder). In fact, she doesn’t even know that he exists. Then, one day, when things around him seem to have reached their nadir, he gets a phone call.

The caller claims he is also Karthik. Has the same voice. Knows his innermost secrets. And promises to help turn things around. And he does. He injects confidence into Karthik, changes his look, instils in him a jaunty swagger. And makes him successful in his job, with the landlord and also with Shonali. The caller calls everyday at 5am. Asks for nothing. But there is one condition – Karthik shouldn’t tell anyone else about the call. But Deepika doesn’t want any secrets in their relationship. Who is the caller ? What will happen ?

The lead pair and the sense of humour is what keeps you glued to the screen, for the highly enjoyable first half anyways. Farhan alternates between wimpish doormat and a cavalier, confident character with ease. Deepika has never looked as lovely and yet so accessible – no dolling up here, no Armani’s – just a very good looking girl who works in your office. And just wants a guy who’ll be straight with her. Both seem to have fun with each other too – their sense of humour exemplified by the way he asks her out for coffee (the best one being the wada pao message on the photocopier – wish I’d thought of that in my courting days) or how she responds when asked ‘yeh kya hai’ after one drink too many. Both manage to keep a straight face consistently so it adds to the fun.

Farhan & Riteish’s (the producers) movies always have good music and excellent contemporary styling and this one is no exception, a v nice background score being hummable and enjoyable while the transformed Farhan gets this really cool pad, threads and office.

I wish they’d thought of another, less predictable, more innovative and less flawed ending (my wife actually came up with one that wasn’t too bad). I wish when we walked out of the hall we did so peppy, upbeat like most of the first half. I also found an issue with the transformation of Farhan – I found it too easy. Life never is. And a sense of humour can be the toughest thing to acquire. Yet Farhan seems to acquire it almost magically. I wish the message of the film had not got confused and instead had been ‘stand up for yourself’. As someone in the hall sniggered at the end ‘moral of the story : never tell women the truth’. The film brought this upon itself.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Up In The Air

Rating : 8/10
Release Date : 23rd Dec, 2009
Time : 109 minutes
Director & Co-writer : Jason Reitman; Co-Writer : Sheldon Turner; Music : Rolfe Kent
Starring : George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride, Melanie Lynskey

I could’ve been George Clooney. His character, Ryan, in Up In The Air, I mean, not in real life (I wish !). All frequent air travellers will identify with the comfort of business class travel, the familiarity that awaits us when we take to the skies, the rhythms that guide us as before and after the journey. The film evocatively, delightfully and touchingly lets us travel with Ryan, get inside his head and judge for ourselves would we want to be him…

Ryan spent 43 miserable days last year staying at home. The rest of the time he was comfortable in his preferred environment, travelling his preferred airline, staying in his preferred hotels and driving his preferred Rent a Car. He has priority cards for all of the three and life would be very inconvenient if he couldn’t jump the queue, or get the special treatment he’s accustomed to. He fires people for a living. Walks into an office where he knows no one. And tells them they’re not needed anymore. He does this with a degree of honesty and a touch of bull-shit / spiel. At conferences he delivers a talk that he has patented, about a backpack. Which reflects his policy in life. Of carrying no baggage – no relationships, no commitments, no emotional baggage. No clutter.

Into this peaceful, content life, enter two women. He bumps into one, Alex (Vera Farmiga in the role of her life), in the bar of a hotel. She can match Ryan status card for status card. She travels like him, their schedules enough to test the programming algorithms of most PDA’s. She seems to be like him and seems happy to be with him. Make love, conversation, sms, talk on the phone without asking any questions. Ryan seems to be happier when she is around.

The other woman is Natalie. Young, bright, sincere. She works in Ryan’s office. She wants to introduce firing through videoconferencing. Save the enormous travel cost. She really believes it can work. Ryan’s boss seems to think so too. And grounds all his people. Ryan protests, insisting that Natalie doesn’t know what firing is about. That it cant be done via VC. He’s then told to take Natalie around, teach her how to fire. And then they’ll decide. So now he’s kind of stuck with her. And she’s not used to travelling.

Ryan’s life is about to change…big time…or is it ?

The movie works at several levels.

Depicting the beauty of air travel. The processes. The ways frequent travellers do it vs the occasionals. Till today, despite the many miles I’ve clocked, I still feel awe at watching an airplane take off. A big steel bird, weighing several tons. Ferrying people to & fro. Routinely, comfortably. This film captures this experience beautifully.

Its simple humour. From the flight attendants ‘would you like cancer?’ to the Maestro vs Hertz debate. From the discussion on ‘why do men love to put their name on things’ to the ‘flexibility’ of Alex. The honeymoon cutout. Little incidents dotted all over the film. Natalie telling her boyfriend over the phone that Ryan is older, she doesn’t think of him that way. Prompting a quick look in the mirror by Ryan. Etc etc.

It raises several broader questions. The nesting urge and how some men fight it or aren’t suited for it. The boredom of frequent travel. The empty hotel room after a long day. The lack of a familiar face in an unknown town. The refuge of drinks. The whole question of ‘why do kids love athletes?’. The cold ruthlessness of laying people off. The impersonality of it all, of such a job.

George Clooney is in top form in the film. Is likeable, smiling, understandable. Simple, uncomplicated. Looks and feels touchably real. Guy next door, not the Martini model or Mr Danny Ocean. Vera Farmiga looks every part the traveller having a fling. Looks lovely, desirable. The perfect antidote to every travellers boredom. Anna Kendrick stands out for her sincerity and her earnestness. Ill at ease at first, slowly gaining confidence. Peppered with self-doubt throughout as she tells people they’re not needed anymore.

The background music is excellent. Sets the tone for much of the film. The cinematography outstanding. Shooting cities from 30,000 ft up in the air can truly provide different perspectives. And even the most concrete of urban jungles can acquire a strange beauty from up there.

One of the ways I judge a film is how quickly do I want to show it / recommend the film to my wife. Loved ones. Family. Friends. And get their reactions. I cant wait with this one. It’s a must watch. Amazingly layered. Made for multiple viewing.


Rating : 1/10
Release Date : 19Feb, 2010
Time : 125 minutes
Director: Sangeeth Sivan; Writer : Harish Nair; Music : Shamir Tandon
Starring : Shreyas Talpade, Sada, Sneha Ullal, Rehan Khan, Chunky Pandey

There was a serious debate internally about whether to give this film zero or one. Very generously, have been nice and given it 1/10. Hammy, terrible, amateurish, jerky acting and a juvenile, pathetic plot give me no scope to go higher. I have no explanation on why I stayed till the end – most other people in the hall exercised their democratic rights and walked out halfway or even earlier.


Rating : 5/10
Release Date : Dec, 2008
Time : 120 minutes
Director: Shivam Nair; Writer : Uttam Gada (based on Gujarati play of the same name by Pasresh Rawal); Music : Shibani Kashyap
Starring : Paresh Rawal, Neha Dhupia, Naseeruddin Shah, Boman Irani, Om Puri, Tara Sharma

The fatal flaw in this film is that we dont like, identify or understand any of the characters. Else it has an interesting plot, middling to good dialogue, a decent dash of humour, a stellar cast and enough twists and turns to keep us interested till the end.

A smalltime conman (Paresh Rawal) is befriended by a rich ex-film producer (Naseeruddin Shah) in gratitude for saving his life. He is given a job as a driver and room to stay in the outhouse. All this despite severe opposition to this by the producers lovely, desirable, young wife (Neha Dhupia). And healthy scepticism by the trusted lawyer friend (Boman Irani). Naseer is no longer rich now but has a huge insurance policy on himself. 24 crores. Enough to make anyone dishonest… death, deceit and intrigue follow very quickly….

Somehow, it didn’t fit all together all that well. No glaring loopholes in the plot but still didn’t make complete sense when it ends, seems too pat…the combined acting talents of the excellent cast help keep you engrossed. But it seems to lack magic or spark or zest. Something to make the movie come alive.

This one disappeared with hardly a trace. Deserved a bit better, probably, but only just…

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Name Is Khan

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 12th Feb, 2010
Time : ~160 minutes
Director: Karan Johar; Writer : Shibani Bathija; Music : Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy
Starring : Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, Yuvaan Makar, Sonya Jahan, Jimmy Shergill, Pravin Dabas, Arjun Mathur, Vinay Pathak, Zarina Wahab,Sugandha Garg, Arif Zakaria, SM Zaheer, Katie Keane, Kenton Duty, Benny Nieves, Christopher Duncan

A noble message, a simple point about how not every Muslim is a terrorist is stretched, dragged and repeated over 160 minutes, till the point we really stop caring. Shahrukh acts very well (though not worthy of hyperbole), Kajol is very good, better than a lot of the heroines currently out there, there is an eye-catching performance by Sonya Jahan as SRK’s sister-in-law and a nice cameo by Yuvaan as Kajol’s son. But in the second half, the film seems to lose its plot, becoming melodramatic, emotionally manipulative and totally unrealistic.

SRK plays Rizvan Khan, an autistic child, loved and adored by his mom (Zarina Wahab), who also teaches him valuable lessons about humanity, such as the all important “there are only two kinds of people in the world, good and bad. Nothing else matters”.
After her death, Rizvan goes to the USA to his resentful brother, Zakhir (Jimmy Shergill), who’s always grudged the attention lavished on Rizvan. His wife (Sonya) however, is affectionate and caring, making sure he settles in properly. When Rizvan, after an interesting courtship, decides to get married to Mandira (Kajol), a single mom with a 7 yr old son, Zakhir promptly severs relationship with him as she’s a Hindu. Then 9/11 happens and their world is never the same again.

Even though there is a sense of foreboding throughout the film, the first half is nicely balanced and enjoyable. Moments of humour, the courtship, Rizvan’s innocence and endearing ability make us sail through. The second half ruined the film for me, I actually thought it had ended at least thrice before it actually did and towards the end Rizvan almost becomes a superhero, an icon of sorts, doing incredible things and almost becoming a typical Bollywood hero

I wish Karan had made this film only for the international audience. He would have kept it much tighter then, not populated the film with numerous characters and sub-plots which were not really essential to main plot line. The central message of the film then would’ve truly flowered and the performances of the central characters stood out even more. There is an example of that in the film, one relationship that did touch me and it was shown without any histrionics, was the one between Kajol’s family and her white American neighbours…it was kept simple and totally real and hence was all the more enjoyable.

My abiding memory of the USA, esp in visits after 9/11, is of the number of flags that cropped up in every home and office and you were almost a traitor if you didn’t join in. How good-natured folk became tense and suspicious. How the Asian community was targeted in several places. And how this has still not completely gone away. So while I’ve no disagreement with the films intent, I do feel it could’ve been delivered in simpler and better fashion…