Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Manorama Six Feet Under

Rating : 8/10
Running Time : 138 minutes
Release Date : 21st Sep ‘07
Director : Navdeep Singh ; Writer : Devika Bhagat, Navdeep Singh ; Music : Jayesh Gandhi, Raiomond Mirza
Starring : Abhay Deol, Raima Sen, Gul Panag, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Vinay Pathak

I don’t care that this film is ‘inspired’ by Chinatown (Btw, you can see a clip from this film during the movie), that it isn’t completely original. I think Navdeep Singh, in his directorial debut has done a great job of ‘Indianising’ a very complex plot and, especially if you haven’t seen Chinatown, keeping you glued to the end of the film.

Satyaveer (Abhay Deol) is a failed writer of detective stories, a la James Hadley Chase. His first book, Manorama, sold only 200 copies and he doesn’t even keep a single copy of his book in his own house as it reminds him of his own failure. He is now a site engineer in a very small town, called Lokhat, in Rajasthan – and even suspended from that job on suspicion of taking bribes.
He enjoys a love-hate relationship with his wife, Nimmi (Gul Panag). They clearly love each other but she doesn’t waste any opportunity reminding him of his failure to achieve anything. Throughout the movie they continue to have a running conversation about the people they’d met for marriage before they got married to each other. Their humdrum existence however, is infinitely spiced up when Manorama (Sarika) walks in unannounced and hires Satyaveer to spy on her husband, P.P.Rathore, the MP, ex-king and prominent personality of the town. She suspects him of having an extra-marital affair and wants Satyaveer to photograph / catch him red-handed. But as in most JHC novels / film noir’s, nothing is what it seems and one twist is topped minutes later by another revelation. The plot is further enlivened by Brij Mohan (Vinay Pathak), a local cop and Nimmi’s brother and Sheetal (Raima Sen), who works in an orphanage run by PP Rathore / is Manorama’s room-mate.

The brilliance of the film lies in combining the steamy, constricting nature of the plot with some lovely Indian touches – both in terms of language (ages since I heard words like ‘KLPD’ or even ‘zara si savdhani, zindagi bhar aasani’ for example) and in terms of the scenery (beautiful shots of the desert, great expanses of nothing, where the emptiness of the landscape is combined with lots of action). And I loved the way the film is paced – moments where nothing is happening are suddenly followed by frenetic action, peace and calm replaced by threats, intimidation and brutal violence. The performances are great as well. Abhay Deol is a revelation – I didn’t think he had it in him to do such a role, manage the different nuances required from him, plus it was an inspired decision to have him with a moustache / stubble, totally transforming his look. Gul Panag is very, very good (as you would expect) and Raima Sen & Kulbhushan Kharbanda do all that is required of their characters. The other revelation is Vinay Pathak as a rogue cop, who cannot utter a single sentence without mixing it with three profanities, who thinks nothing of beating up prisoners with a belt in front of his young nephew, who is good friends with his brother –in-law and even advises him about his marital problems (with his sister). I’ve realized that one of the things that makes Vinay such a good character actor is how he varies his body language and voice to totally blend in with the role he’s playing.

I like film-noirs and I’m thrilled there were two decent ones in Bollywood this year (Johnny Gaddar being the other). Navdeep Singh shows great promise with his deft handling of this very complex subject. And in fairness to him, he hasn’t copied Chinatown, scene by scene but just taken the essence and transferred the locale masterfully to rural Rajasthan (kind of like Vishal Bhardwaj transferring Othello to Uttar Pradesh in Omkara). You will enjoy this one whether you’ve seen Chinatown or not, it’s a good film in its own right !

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Taare Zameen Par

Rating : 9/10
Running Time : 165 minutes
Release Date : 21st Dec ‘07
Director : Aamir Khan ; Writer : Amole Gupta; Music : Shankar, Ehsaan & Loy
Starring : Aamir Khan, Darsheel Safary, Tisca Chopra, Vipin Sharma, Sachet Engineer

Have we ever thought about how easy it would be for a Pied Piper to come and steal all our kids away ? It wouldn’t take much, would it ? What do we really offer them, right now ? A life full of discipline and homework, an unyielding drive for progress, bound to timings, curriculum and the ever pervasive rat race ? Even when we do extra-curricular activities, we make it as bad as work - are we on time, are there special classes, how good are they, will they be successful ? When do we really let them just be kids, with their own special time ? Can't we just let them enjoy childhood, before they enter this big bad world of grown-ups and of adult rules ?

Such are the thoughts that flit through the mind as you watch this Aamir Khan masterpiece, borne out of a lovely story woven by Amole Gupta and his wife Deepa Bhatia through their work with children over the years. Its about a eight year old kid, Ishaan Awasthi, who finds it difficult to focus on letters or numbers, to catch or throw a ball, to generally do the things we expect children to do. He has failed in the third standard, which is a major source of misery to his middle class parents, whose other son, Yohan, is a topper. The school is now threatening to throw him out since everything points to his failing again. He is a misfit, preferring to live in his world of dreams, finding solace in the company of animals or anything else that catches his fancy. He loves to paint, is good with jig-saws etc but these things of course, will not help you pass the exams. Borne out of frustration, as a kind of punishment, and also with a intent to help him improve through greater discipline, he is put in a boarding school. The discipline, rules and punishments there though, break his spirit instead, making him retreat into his shell. He stops communicating, stops painting, stops talking to his parents. And then a temporary art teacher joins, Ram Shanker Nikumbh, who has his own theories on how to teach children.

I think the only flaw in the movie is that it’s a bit one-sided – it directs you a bit ruthlessly to its point of view and doesn’t totally give the perspective of other characters, like the mother, who just weeps silently in most of the second half.

However, I gave it a 9 rating because it beautifully reminds us what is it like to be a child again without hiding the thorny side of being young ! It brings back the innocence, the simple things that make us happy, the way we could play for an hour with just a little piece of wood, the way anything was possible in our imagination. It also points out how kids can be ruthless and unmerciful when they gang up, how 'survival of the fittest' applies aptly to school classrooms and playgrounds, how most schools and teachers of today have no time to hold the hands of children who are laggards and will not improve the grade point average of the school etc. Of how parents love their children but don’t have time in this stressful world to truly understand their needs. They just push them to fulfil their own unmet dreams and want them to achieve what they define as success – ie winners in the never-ending rat race… (as Ram Nikumbh says in the film, maybe they should breed horses instead ?)

It is intense, this movie (my wife’s one word description) and at quite a few moments tears can well up (mine) or even flow non-stop (my wife). However, it is enlivened by beautiful songs, lovely animation (for a change, including one inspired by Calvin and Hobbes 'Spaceman Spiff') and brilliant performances, which never allow it to become heavy, gloomy or sombre. The song 'Jame Raho' is a hilarious description of our current middle class lives, while the title song is extremely touching. Aamir Khan is great (as always), managing to get his point of view across very credibly, seamlessly fitting in to Ram Nikumbhs skin without a false step. Darsheel Safary is outstanding as Ishaan, making us fall in love with him and the private world he inhabits, empathizing with his predicaments, delighting in his naughtiness and drawing joy from his little successes. The mother is very well played by Tisca Chopra, caught between a square husband (well portrayed by Vinay Sharma) and a non-geometric son. Don’t miss the credits at the end as well, the montage of children alongside the credits make it worth waiting for.

This is outstanding heart-warming stuff, hats off to Aamir for once again taking on an off-beat topic and bringing it to life in his directorial debut. As he says in his note on the official site, to children and to childhood....

And if they dare send another movie to the Oscars, they’ll have to deal with me !

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Rating : 3/10
Running Time : 157 minutes
Release Date : 21st Dec ‘07
Director & Writer : Anees Bazmee ; Music : Sajid-Wajid, Anand Raj, Himesh Reshammiya
Starring : Akshay Kumar, Anil Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Katrina Kaif, Feroze Khan, Malika Sherawat, Paresh Rawal

I know timepass movies / comedies are 'in' this year in Bollywood, but this one takes brainlessness and slapstick to a new extreme. It may sound familiar, but it combines a non-existent plot, very silly gags, a considerable star cast, trashy item numbers and what scares me is that they might still succeed at the box-office.

Akshay is a bit wasted in his role as a bachelor in Dubai, where his uncle (Paresh Rawal) is trying his best to get a suitable girl for him. Katrina is the sister of a mafia Don (Nana Patekar) and both he and his trigger-happy friend (Anil Kapoor) are trying their best to get her married as well. Thats it, thats the whole plot but they manage to stretch it, twist it, add unneccessary characters, stupid sub-plots till you plead for mercy. The ending has to be one of the most farcical, contrived & unrealistic ones in recent memory. The songs are terrible, forced and intrusive, apart from the title song (which only appears during the end credits by which time all you want to do is escape). The only reason it even reaches a 3 rating is because the acting is decent and some of the jokes make you laugh (almost despite yourself).

It was supposed to be a comedy but I left with a heavy head, feeling cheated. A sad waste of my and the actors time...

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Rating : 2/10
Running Time : 100 minutes
Release Date : 15th Dec ‘07
Director : Anand Rai ; Writer : Gaurav Sinha, Himanshu Sharma ; Music : Vinay Tiwari
Starring : Kay Kay Menon, Jimmy Sheirgill, Nandana Sen, Sonali Kulkarni

The main premise is borrowed from 'Strangers on a Train' by Alfred Hitchcock . 2 strangers meet in a train, realise their lives are miserable due to their respective spouses, for both divorce is not an option (understandable in one case but not really in the other). The obvious solution is for them to do each other a favour and knock them off, and since there is no motive / its random, the police will never find out. At least thats the theory.

I found the movie very forced and a waste of KK's considerable acting talents. The dialogue, the setting, the plot - I think made sense in a different era - not in todays day and age. I also got the distinct impression of the script trying to be too clever and there were too many stop start moments. KK, as mentioned above, looked uncomfortable. Jimmy was a complete misfit - his character requires him to be an actor, an artistic type who is spontaneous / creative etc. I dont think he was right for the role - he suited the role in Hum Tum, where he plays a solid, successful, marriageable type guy, but not here. Nandana Sen was good, looking adequately sultry and conveying what her character is supposed to feel though too many tears / weeping scenes for my liking. This is yet another movie set in London - Bollywood film-makers are ensuring that I never miss London by constantly showing the familiar scenery - here you got an eyeful of Osterly tube station, a glimpse of Richmond, the inside of Spearmint Rhino (the last one not that familiar personally).

It could've been very good, but due to lack of imagination, adaptation and character development, is instead very ordinary. Waste of a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Khoya Khoya Chand

Rating : 5/10
Running Time : 132 Minutes (I think its longer in India, but can’t be sure)
Release Date : 7th Dec ‘07
Director & Writer : Sudhir Mishra ; Music : Shantanu Moitra
Starring : Soha Ali Khan, Shiney Ahuja, Vinay Pathak, Rajat Kapoor, Sonia Jehaan

It’s a period movie, set in the 50’s and relates the story of the off and on romance between a budding writer Zafar (Shiney) and an upcoming actress Nikhat (Soha). Both rise in their respective professions with more than a little help from the superstar of that era Prem Kumar (Rajat). Prem is also sleeping with Nikhat in return, and professes to love her. However, when his marriage is announced, Nikhat and Zafar stop being secret lovers and Prem’s finds out. What happens next is the subject of the second half of the movie.

The start is really nice, keeps you engrossed, as the ornate Urdu dialogues of the films being shot of that era are mingled with the crude Punjabi jokes of one of the characters, a producer named Khosla (well acted by Saurabh Shukla). However, the movie soon begins to lose steam when we stop understanding the motivations behind the actions of the lead actors – the movie then just moves from one situation to another without us being able to fathom the internal demons which are driving Nikhat and Zafar to do what they do. So the second half really drags, the movie seems like it will never end.

There are some very interesting moments through the film – some interesting threads of thought which aren’t really probed fully – one such was the ‘main itna haramzada kyun hoon ?’ (why am I such a bastard ?) train of thought by Prem Kumar, in one of his rare honest moments. Another is ‘umeed hai yeh karke tumne kuch haasil kiya?’ (I assume by doing this you’ve achieved something ?) by Nikhat to Zafar, when his love for her begins to waver. However, the movie doesn’t really go deep, but just satisfies itself with a rose-tinted sepia look at the industry of that era.

The movie though, is rescued by a very exuberant title track and some very good performances. I thought Soha was outstanding in the film, she combines the old-world, regal charm of her mother with the impishness and freshness of today’s youth. She acts very well in a very natural way, without seeming to try too hard. Vinay Pathak, in yet another character role as Shyamol, an assistant, still seems to bring a certain fresh enthusiasm to his role, as he does to all the myriad roles he performs. Sonia Jehan was great, she looked and behaved every inch the part of another actress of that era. And Rajat Kapoor, in his own understated way, brings the smooth-talking, dishonest, power hungry superstar Prem Kumar to life. Shiney – I thought he overacted but maybe it was the role which needed such a performance. I think there will be a split verdict on him.

I enjoyed it, in a very perverse kind of way, but I can assure you its not everyone’s cup of tea. I enjoyed being transported to that era, to witness the power plays, the casting couch, the sheer irresistible magnetism that the film world casts on all those who enter it. Like a moth to the light, all the people remain in this world even though they know it will ultimately consume them. As they say, some things never change...

Dus Kahaniyan

Rating : 5/10
Running Time : 128 Minutes
Release Date : 7th Dec ‘07
Directors : Sanjay Gupta, Rohit Roy, Meghna Gulzar, Apoorva Lakhia, Hansel Mehta and Jasmeet Dodhi

There are 10 completely distinct, individual stories, by six different directors and different cast. The stories are slickly done, with great attention to detail, most having a twist in the tale and some nice touches but not all will appeal to the whole audience because of the themes they deal in. Also, most stories were predictable, with even the ‘twists’ obvious a mile away and in some you struggled to see the point.

After much debate, I’ve decided to list all stories with their theme / cast / director but only expand the ones I liked.
1. Matrimony : I thought this one was the nicest story, simple, slightly predictable, touching upon infidelity with the corporate husband the bored housewife theme, slick and well enacted by Mandira Bedi (I’d forgotten she could act) and Arbaaz Khan (I hope he gets some meatier roles in Bollywood, he’s v good when given a chance).
2. High on the Highway : Terrible, stars Jimmy Sheirgill, its about drugs, the rest is just a blurry haze….
3. Purnmashi : starring Manisha Lamba and Amrita Singh, its nice, once again about infidelity though this time in a rural setting.
4. Strangers in the Night : The one twist which was not really predictable. Again, slick, well done and very well acted by Neha Dhupia who describes an erotic encounter on a railway station.
5. Zahir : Starring Manoj Bajpai and a very fresh looking, tanned Dia Mirza, about two neighbours in a Mumbai flat, nicely done yet predictable
6. Lovedale : It was nice to see Anooradha Patel after years, even if it was for 2 seconds. Anupam Kher also has a bit part in this with the key roles going to Aftab Shivdasani and Neha Uberoi, describing how a chance encounter can change your life. Very predictable and I found it quite corny.
7. Sex on the Beach : Terrible, starring Dino Morea
8. Rice Plate : stars Shabana Azmi and Naseerudin Shah, I don’t quite know how to rate this one – there definitely is something to it, with Shabana playing a South Indian Hindu who is prejudiced against Muslims. Some nice little touches but it doesn’t really sparkle.
9. Gubbare : nice, sentimental stuff about a couple traveling by bus and having an argument, with the wife (well played by Anita Hansdani) changing her seat and having a conversation with an elderly gentleman (Nana Patekar), who describes his own fights with his wife.
10. Rise and Fall : Sanjay Dutt and Suneil Shetty, its slick, gritty but pointless action.

The opening credits are very nice, with an intriguing, kaleidoscopic effect and an Enigma inspired soundtrack. Title song is nice as well. However, this one is a flatliner, with no spikes in the ECG. I wish they had managed to connect the stories or even have them all around the same theme (imagine 10 different takes on infidelity). Unfortunately, nothing really makes you sit up and go ‘Wow’ in any of the stories.

MP3 Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar

Rating : 6/10
Running Time : 112 Minutes
Release Date : 8th June ‘07
Director : Robby Grewal ; Writer : Robby Grewal, Sameer Kohli, Arshad Sayed ; Music : Dhruv Ghanekar and Ashutosh Pathak
Starring : Ruslaan Mumtaz, Hazel, Kanwaljeet Singh

There is something about first love that makes most of us, grown-up men and women, a bit goofy. Its something soft, makes us slightly irrational and its something most of us have been through, that special once in our lives.

This is a story set in a school, where a young boy (Ruslaan) slowly but irretrievably falls in love with a girl (Hazel) in the same school. His friends do their best to dissuade him (including via a hilarious song) but to no avail. The boy and girl fight, make-up, fight again, then make-up again (you get the drift ?). After Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, it’s the first movie which has managed to recreate the magic. I don’t think its as good as QSQT, but its nice.

The lead characters are good, well played. I think we will for sure see Ruslaan again. Kanwaljeet plays a nice cameo of the boy’s father we would all love to have. Ruslaan’s friends also play their parts well. The music is ok-ok, good in some parts but ordinary in others.

There is nothing here that you’ve not seen before, nothing you will see that will change your life forever. But I think where the movie succeeds is that just for those few minutes, you’re reminded again of what it was like to be young, in love, to be spontaneous, excited and nervous all at the same time. And that surely is worth the price of the DVD ?

Blue Umbrella

Rating : 7/10
Running Time : 90 Minutes
Release Date : 10th Aug ‘07
Director, writer & music : Vishal Bhardwaj ;
Starring : Pankaj Kapoor, Shriya

Endearing – that’s the best one word description I can think of for this movie based on a Ruskin Bond novel of the same name. Its unfortunate that adults in India shy away from going anywhere near something which is classified as a children’s film. This is a simple movie, set in a very small, sleepy hamlet in Himachal Pradesh, it is not dramatic, meanders at a leisurely pace, nothing really happens but yet there is a story in there, showcasing the greed of humans, the innocence of children, the strict social customs of small village’s but above all the charming simplicity of its inhabitants. This is yet another marvelous, authentic character study by the director of Omkara.

A young girl, who is the ‘gang-leader’ of a rag tag bunch of kids, gets her hands on a beautiful blue umbrella from some tourists. Its one of the Japanese umbrella’s, vividly decorated, and as one of the village characters describes it, ‘it’s as if a piece of the sky itself has come down in the form of the umbrella’. As with all favourite toys, it becomes the girl’s constant companion and kind of like Mary’s lamb, it went everywhere the girl went. Pankaj Kapoor, plays the part of a small shopkeeper in the village, who sets his heart on the umbrella. As he describes it to a small boy, who is his man Friday, ‘there is a strange attraction I have for the umbrella, almost as if its from a previous life’. He tries to buy it from the girl, tries to bribe her with grand promises of a sweet everyday but to no effect. His boy offers to steal it for him but his offer is declined. He even goes to a vendor and tries to buy one, however it has to be brought all the way from Delhi and costs a princely sum. He can afford it but is undecided as to what to do next….

Both the lead charcters – the young girl and Pankaj Kapoor acted out of their skins, with faultless performances. As in all Vishal Bhardwaj movies, the supporting cast is also equally good and seem to be tailor-made for their parts.

I enjoyed watching it on a flight, the events unfolding at a relaxed pace and it got my undivided attention despite the distractions of business class travel, like food, drink, over-solicitous flight attendants etc. It was a refreshing change from all the overly hyped big budget releases of recent times and I wish it had received a wider audience.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Aaja Nachle

Rating : 6/10
Running Time : 145 minutes
Release date : 30th Nov'07
Director : Anil Mehta ; Writer : Jaideep Sahni ; Music : Salim-Sulaiman
Actors : Madhuri Dixit, Konkona Sen Sharma, Kunal Kapoor, Raghubir Yadav, Vinay Pathak, Akshay Khanna and Ranvir Shorey

This movie needs two things for you to enjoy it : one is a healthy suspension of logic / reality and the other an ability to enjoy despite the sheer predictability of it all. If you can manage the two, you will be entertained...

The plot is simple enough : Madhuri is taught dancing in a small town in UP, Shamli. She leaves amidst a scandal to marry an American boyfriend and move to New York. She loses contact with parents etc who have to leave town due to the scandal. Many years later, out of the blue, she gets a phone call that her guru, who taught her dancing in an arena called Ajanta in Shamli, is dying and wants to see her. She immediately, along with daughter in tow, comes over but is too late. However, he does leave her a recorded message : basically the govt is taking over the land and selling Ajanta to a mall developer, she alone can now save Ajanta. When she meets the local foreign educated MP (delightful cameo by Akshay), she is made a deal - if she can put up a performance with local Shamli artistes and get a crowd for the show before the demolition date, Ajanta will survive. The rest of the movie deals with her 'struggle' / the selection of the cast for her dance show / the trials and tribulations etc.

What lifts the movie are some great performances and some great dialogue. Jaideep Sahni (the same guy who did Khosla ka Ghosla) hits several home-runs once more with very authentic yet slightly over the top conversations. The 'Amavasya ki raat pe maggi noodles' (Maggi noodles on top of a full moon night), 'Can you write this in 3 copies on Rs 20 stamp paper' and 'yaar, tu jalebi hai' (you're a jalebi, an indian sweet), will linger long in memory. Kunal and Konkona were good without really shining through, Jugal Hansraj was decent though unrecognizable from the Masoom boy, but the people who really stood out were Akshay, Vinay Pathak and Akhilendra Mishra in their respective cameos as the MP, the govt officer and the local chaudhri. Also, special prize for Dalai for being Madhuri's truly endearing daughter.

You have to ignore minor practical thoughts like how can she (an aerobics teacher in NY) decide to happily stay back for 2 months (what happens to her job back home / she doesnt seem rich enough to be able to just chuck it all), how does a govt officer attend rehersals in the middle of the day while keeping his job going, how does the final show itself have lavish multiple sets that would put Broadway to shame. And how come none of the real irritants to doing things in India - the govt, the excise, the cops, the bureaucrats from the MCD etc never bother her ? Small things, but they can be explained and it irritates me that they aren't.

And what of Madhuri ? She clearly still has the spark, is good-looking, can still light a thousand screens with her smile and can out-thumka any current Bollywood actress. However, she cannot hide her age, looks old and clearly uncomfortable in the flashback sequence where she played a student. Also thankfully, despite my fears, this movie was not all about music / dancing and Madhuri but has several nice touches of modern day UP - albiet one viewed through rose-tinted glasses - real but not real enough to show the grime of everyday life. Special mention of the song 'Show me your Jalwa' which lifted everyone through its sheer exuberance.

I enjoyed it despite its predictabilty, despite the songs (they get better in the second half as then they're part of the story progression), despite the irritants detailed above. I guess I'm still a sucker for happy endings !

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Rating : 4/10
Running Time : 145 Minutes
Release Date : 23rd Nov ‘07
Director : Vivek Agnihotri ; Writer : Rohit Malhotra ; Music : Pritam
Starring : John Abraham, Arshad Warsi, Boman Irani, Bipasha Basu

Let me begin with the obvious. Goal is not Chak De, it has a different theme (racism in Goal vs redemption in Chak De) and tries to be more emotional, though both did definitely choose a sport (football and hockey respectively) as their central thread.

Goal is about English football – about a club named Southall United. Southall, in case you didn’t know it, is a real-life small area in London where the joke goes that ‘Englishmen need a visa to enter Southall’. Its dominated by Sikhs and other Asians and is the closest place to India you’re likely to find in UK. The football club though, is near the bottom of the league, also near bankruptcy and under pressure from the city council to vacate the ground, needing a miracle to stay alive. Its captain, Arshad Warsi, decides to get a coach and the only one he can think of is an ex-Southall football player Tony Singh, who has now fallen on bad days. However, after not much persuasion, he begins coaching the motley crew which form the team and then brings in a star striker, a British born desi, John Abraham, who’s dreams of playing for a better, bigger, whiter football club are shattered by some racism. John has never got along with the typically ethnic Southall crowd and this spills over into the field as well. For additional spice add Bipasha Basu in a very sidey role as a physio to the team, and Dilip Tahil in an equally sidey role as the traitor, helping the English to ensure Southall doesn’t win and there you have in a nutshell the plot of the movie.

Goal is an ok movie, not even nice, just ok. I found a lot of things mediocre in it –the plot (full of holes, the team didn't look close to a football team and that really stretched credibility, some inexplicable relationships including John and his father), the dialogues (very unnatural / heavy, incidentally by Anurag Kashyap, director of Black Friday and No Smoking), the football action (quite clumsy / leaden, especially the last match, choreographed by an ex-English League footballer Andrew Owasu Ansah), the songs (forced in terms of situations and the quality), the humour (none of the jokes really made you laugh, very few even made you chuckle) and even the characters (too many stereotypes, including the large hearted Sardar, the evil English, the captain with the heart of gold etc - no real depth to any of them).

I appreciated the racism angle - I've faced some as well during my years abroad - and its good to make it clear to the Indian public that its not all rosy abroad. However, seriously, how worked up can you get about Southall United winning or losing ? Despite all the rah rah about how its not just about the club but about where we are from accompanied by abundant visuals of the tricolour, the Bangladeshi flag etc, its far less fun vs watching / cheering for the Indian team and none of the characters are built up sufficiently to make you really care.

I think every movie with even a touch of sport in its theme is going to now suffer in comparisons with Chak De. Even the normally unbiased Wikipedia couldn’t resist a line saying ‘Goal is the second sport based movie to be released in 2007 after Chak De’. The sheer adrenalin of the football is actually what saves the movie from being a disaster, along with some decent performances by some of the cast and a catchy title song.

I can compare Goal to two movies. One is 'Bend it Like Beckham' - which is also about sports and Southall (to a great degree) and Goal pales in comparison, especially in terms of freshness and sheer exuberance. The second, another movie which deals with the twin topics of racism and sport, – is Remember the Titans, starring Denzel Washington amongst others…watch that one if you really want to see how such topics should be dealt with ! Agar aapne us picture mein Titans ke liye naa cheer kara, to mera naam badal dena ! I wish Vivek Agnihotri (director) and Rohit Malhotra (writer) had gone to the trouble of painting some of the characters / the debates / the choices and even the sport strategies as vividly in Goal as this one. Then I would've cheered with a lot more emotion for Southall United !

Monday, November 12, 2007


Rating : 2/10
Running Time : 142 Minutes
Release Date : 9th Nov ‘07
Director : Sanjay Leela Bhansali ; Writer : Prakash Kapadia ; Music : Monty
Starring : Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Salman Khan (guest appearance)

I’m going to have to restrain myself from getting personal, but what was Sanjay Leela Bhansali (the director) trying ? All his fancy sets (including a Moulin Rouge inspired Champs-Elysees, a Peter Pan inspired London /Big Ben, and Venice complete with canals, gondola’s and Henry’s café), all the fancy details where the walls are painted with flowers and Godly images instead of grafitti, all the extremely fancy costumes which vary from the silly (the red suede Red Riding Hood look) to the downright ridiculous (the French mime dress), all the fancy foreign fancy hotel names (Windermere café and Clifton hotel), all the Raj Kapoor references (RK café, the use of ‘ji’, some other hints), all the blue / indigo / turquoise (whatever the colour in the poster above is called) thematic styling, all the fancy cursive, spidery writing of Saawariya….All of the above doesn’t hide the fact that there is no plot, no story, absolutely no substance to the movie.

I would’ve loved to be in the script reading session of this one. “We will base the story in no era, no place, a kind of realm of dreams. Then the lead character will go from set A to lavish set B and sing a song. Then he will dance to even more lavish set C and sing another song. Then he will cavort to obscenely expensive set D, where he will be joined by 2 more artistes and they will all break into spontaneous song. And when, out of nowhere, his lady love materializes, they will gush forth at least 3-4 songs capturing whatever forced emotion they are feeling at that moment (happiness, sorrow etc)”. I really would be hard pressed to come up with something more lucid than that.

Ranbir Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) swiftly befriends Gulabji (Rani Mukherjee), a prostitute with a heart of gold. She then passes him on to Lillian (Zohra Sehgal, who speaks in a British accent tinged with a pure pind Punjabi accent)and Ranbir proceeds to use even more corny, mushy lines to befriend her and become her tenant. He sights Sakina (Sonam Kapoor) one night and proceeds to attempt to befriend her as well, succeeds, and then tries to make her fall in love with him. Alas, she loves another one, Iman (a scary, over-dosed-on-kajal-eyed Salman). What happens next ? Go through 11 songs lasting 50 minutes (Source : Wikipedia) and thou shalst knoweth the answer ! Suffice to say none of the characters are built to any depth and hence we don’t feel anything at all for any of them !

Ranbir and Sonam, the newcomers, both have good points and bad points respectively. Ranbir shouldn’t try to dance or try and act ‘crazy’, he’s good when baring his tush or smiling cutely or just being cute. Sonam also has good looks on her side, dancing ability is ok -ok and emoting (crying / displaying other serious emotions) are best avoided altogether. However, given their star parentage, I think we will see a lot more of them – and maybe with a better movie their talents could’ve been made better use of. I would also really love to know what the stars really truly thought of the movie – I cant believe they didn’t spot its numerous flaws ?

We, most of the audience, walked out of the movie as if in a trance. The overall mood of the movie is depressive anyways, because of the somber lighting (its all night shots – I think there was maybe half a shot of partial daylight as Sonam dusts a carpet) and the excessive use of blue/indigo throughout the whole film. You walk out asking existential questions like ‘What was this ? What happened ? Why did I see this ? What was the hype about ?’.

And the sad thing is Sanjay Leela Bhansali does not get it. BTW, he is not only the director but also the producer, editor, the co-music director, is co-credited on the screenplay (apparently inspired by White Nights by Fyodor Dostoevsky) and also, just to while away his free time, designed the costumes for Ranbir Kapoor. I saw him on TV yesterday night, calling himself a poet, calling the film a work of art. I’m sure when the audience drops by 90% in week 2 he will call us illiterates or some other such terms. I remember a similar reaction when one of his earlier films Khamoshi (a terrible, terrible film) had flopped disastrously, he had ranted forth on how the audience doesn’t have the sensibility to appreciate true art and his sensitive love story. I think its time for him to wake up and smell the coffee ! With apologies to Shakespeare, the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars (and in our audiences) but in ourselves…

PS - Pls read the comments section as well - some interesting differences of opinion !

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Om Shanti Om

Rating : 7/10
Running Time : 162 Minutes
Release Date : 9th Nov ‘07
Director & Writer : Farah Khan ; Music : Vishal-Shekhar
Starring : Shahrukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Shreyas Talpade, Kirron Kher, Arjun Rampal

Ismein action hai, drama hai, emotion hai, tragedy hai, stars hain (kuch zyaada hi hain, ek gaane mein hi 31 !), sex hai (well actually nahin hai, par kehne mein kya jaata hai...baaki sab kuch to double double hai !). In the not so old days, Manmohan Desai used to make movies like this - thorough entertainers where you could park your brains, go with the flow and come out smiling at the end of a well spent 3 hours. It was fun, it was enjoyable, it was predictable but no one minds as the right people win, good triumphs over evil and everyone lives happily ever after.

In case you're one of the few Indians on the planet who've managed to escape the marketing blitz behind OSO, then i can safely let you know that the movie for the first half is set in the 70's - primarily about the unlikely aspirations of a junior film artiste (Shahrukh) which include romantic feelings for a famous film star (Deepika Padukone). The second half, inspired hugely by Karz, follows the theme of reincarnation and revenge, and gets a little serious...

The first half entertains like only Farah Khan can - full of exaggerated emotion, spoofs of the 70's stars, their clothes, their mannerisms (Rajesh Khanna & Manoj Kumar get special attention). Its great and it keeps you in splits - there's one romantic song between Deepika and SRK where they take off on everybody including Jeetendra & Leena Chandravarkar in 'Dhal gaya din...thak...ho gayi shyaam...thak...'. Kirron Kher excels as SRK's mother and ex-film junior film artiste herself, over emoting at every opportunity. Shreyas Talpade is outstanding as SRK's friend, beavering quietly away in the background.

The second half is quieter, calmer but only to a degree. There is the over the top awards function where there are spoofs on current actors including Abhishek and Akshay, amazingly performed by the stars themselves and there is the famous 31 star song + the almost as famous SRK bare chested complete with new 6 pack song !

Its tough to imagine anyone other than Shahrukh in the lead role - I can't think of anyone else who could overact so credibly...Deepika looks much better on screen than in her stills - she carries of both indian dresses and western dresses quite well and matches SRK dimple for dimple.

I really have to take my hat off to Farah for this one - its very much in the mould of Main Hoon Na, her previous film (BTW, if you didnt like it, you're well advised to stay away from this one as well). Its way over the top, mindless in parts but still hugely entertaining from start to finish. I like someone who can make fun of her industry, its foibles, its stars and even herself - just for that alone its worth a watch !

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Loins of Punjab Presents

Ha ha ha ha haha ha ha haaaaahaaaa……the sound of unadulterated laughter…. the most common sound heard during this movie, apart from the soundtrack, of course. Brilliant, simply brilliant and a must watch – definitely one of the best movies of the year.

Its about a ‘desi idol’ contest set in New Jersey, where as varied a group of participants as you’re likely to see, join in to win the $25,000 prize. This includes, in no order of priority

  • Preeti Patel - young girl, great voice, with a personal cheerleading squad of 10 or so including papa patel, mummy patel, mama patel etc. This group provides some of the most entertaining moments of the film, showcasing all the foibles we associate with the Patel’s of this world (clannishness, their vegetarianism, extreme desire for value for money which is also known as stinginess and finally also their penchance for home cooked food).

  • The Turbanatorius B.D.G.– an aggressive, bald yet turbaned bhangra rap singer who’s language / liberal use of the F word would put most rappers to shame

  • Joshua Cohen – the only white contestant who keeps getting mistaken for a hotel employee, an indophile, who has an Indian girlfriend and despite his accented hindi, wins hearts over.

  • Sania Rehman – she doesn’t know Hindi but that doesn’t stop her from singing seductive filmi songs, complete with the ‘thumka’.

  • Vikram Tejwani– who’s banking job is about to be outsourced to India, who relies heavily on statistics / preplanning to guide his life.

  • Rita Kapoor – the queen bee, a big time socialite who’s in this only to better Bubble’s and she wont let anything get in her way from winning.

All the characters are beautifully sketched, including the judges and other hotel employees. As you can imagine, this whole group is crazy enough individually, but put them together and they’re dynamite. Some of the more memorable moments include the ‘mere paas maa hai’ debate between Joshua and Rita, the interaction between the hotel and the Patels on the ‘no food from outside’ policy, Sania and Vikram’s confusion over ‘mujhe saaf kardo’ and the price negotiation between the lap dancer and one of the Patel’s.

The dialogue is outstanding, with some very sharp incisive insights into reality show contestants / NRI’s. Everyone fits into their roles magnificiently including Shabana Azmi (the only truly known face) as Rita.

Kudo’s to Manish Acharya (debut director, co-writer and also starring as Vikram) for giving us this 90 minute laughathon which I wish could have lasted longer.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mumbai Salsa

Its predictable, a bit B-grade in terms of execution (slickness, overall performances etc) but has a fun first half and some truly naughty one-liners. Its definitely an adult oriented theme – about eight people, four of each sex, each with their own philosophies, values, personalities and their quest for love / companionship.

It’s definitely a multiplex movie – it is about and caters to a very upmarket audience. Most of the jokes are about relationships, sex and yet more sex. The characters are the type who have high paying corporate jobs, believe in living for weekends, partying hard, having one night stands (or ‘sits’), lots of alcohol (beer, cocktails and red wine all feature prominently) and generally living the good life.

There are some genuinely nice one-liners, some characters (particularly Maya’s) were nicely sketched and there are some nice warm moments. However, nowhere does it go beyond nice – it kind of remains at that level throughout and the predictability of the end robs the movie of much of its steam. Also the pace of the movie and the performances are both a bit uneven, you feel it stretch out a little and while it’s a decent watch, you’re not all that disappointed when it ends.

Manjari Fadnis and Vir Das as the ‘lead couple’ both turn in decent performances, I thought Neelam Chauhan as Xenobia was the weakest in terms of acting ability, the music was ok…everything is ok. I think the film would’ve benefited from more sharply defined characters – some more meat behind the broad sketches they drew of each of the eight people. All of them end up being too goody-goody, doing the right thing which I guess is what makes everything so predictable…

It needed a little bit of madness…continuing on the cocktail analogy of the previous review, while it was tasty, this drink was a little weak – it lacked a little alcohol, lacked some punch or a secret ingredient which gave it some zing. It went down smoothly but you never really felt it and when it was over, you didn’t grieve that it was over. Probably not a drink that you would order in a second round…

Bhool Bhulaiyaa

This one’s kind of unique – a horror comedy. I take back all that I said about Priyadarshan’s formulaic comedies. This ones good…actually better than good…and so what if it’s a remake of a Malayalam movie Manichithrathazhu

Akshay rocks ! He’s becoming better with every movie with his trademark deadpan delivery and excellent timing. However, this movie is not just about him as everyone deliver great performances.

The plot isn’t all that bad either – it has a few holes and is definitely not completely logically coherent. But it works. In a small village in India, a young man (Shiney Ahuja) and his newly wed wife (Vidya Balan) return from America and decide to live in their supposedly haunted haveli (palace) as they don’t believe in spooks and such stuff. Their whole family (chacha, phupha and their kids etc) are based in the same village and completely against this idea. Soon there are some strange going-ons, and against the explicit advice of the elders, Vidya Balan opens the forbidden door, beyond which the ghost(s) are locked away. Now there is a quantum leap in the strange going-ons and the whole family decides to move into the house as Shiney/Vidya still refuse to move out. Then various people are called in to help sort this out, including Akshay Kumar who is a psychiatrist and a close friend of Shiney’s from America.

The first half focuses more on the comedy angle – the fear setting in, the strange happenings and even more fear. Akshay enters after around a third of the movie and the comedy factor goes up a couple of notches – he’s an unusual psychiatrist, a bit of a kook himself. Then, kind of midway through the second half, the story becomes a bit serious – we begin to understand what is happening, why etc. I would not recommend watching this part with kids as it can be unnerving for them.

Vidya Balan and Manoj Joshi (as the head of Shiney’s family) were very good in their roles, truly good performances. The rest were good – I don’t think there was anyone who was a weak link. But the true star is unmistakably Akshay - the cheers from the audience, the applause as soon as he enters are fun to watch - its been a long time since a star had that much impact. The songs were quite ordinary except for Mere Dholna (very nicely performed) and the awesome title track, which comes right at the end, along with the credits but plays in the background through the film.

It’s a really nice cocktail, this movie – a heady mix of horror, comedy and pure zani-ness which refreshes, cheers you up and gives a little ‘high’. When you walk out of the hall you’re rocking to the sounds of the title track and smiling. Cant ask for much more from either a cocktail or a movie…

Sunday, October 28, 2007

No Smoking

The first fifteen minutes are brilliant but are followed by a descent into hell – full of the most pretentious, senseless, pseudo- psychoanalytic ‘Freudian’ imagery ever to grace Indian cinema.

The start is very promising. John Abraham as K, is a die-hard smoker (pun intended), with his wife (Ayesha Takia) amongst several people trying to make him quit. He has a group of friends as well, who share his passion and their conversation is hilarious in terms of how they defend their habit. The beginning is full of extremely stylized Italian chic imagery – the suits, the look, the sunglasses, the home décor - all looking like they’re straight out of a Martini / LV ad. The dialogue is also extremely witty – a sample
(Phone conversation)
‘You’re leaving me ?’
‘I’ve already left you’
‘How can you leave me ? nobody leaves me ?!’
(Pause) ‘I am nobody…that’s why I left you…’

However, as K joins a Quit Smoking program called ‘Kalkatta Karpets’, the movie literally and figuratively begins to spiral downwards. What follows is weird, senseless, unnerving and even gory in parts. There is hardly any redeeming feature of this section (apart from the stylization and some small touches of humour- we find out K's elder brother is named 'J', for example). The end comes as such a relief that it receives a standing ovation for the wrong reasons (from the film makers point of view). I’m shocked and saddened that the combined formidable writing & directorial talents of Vishal Bhardwaj (Omkara) and Anurag Kashyap (writer of Water, Yuva, Satya, director of Black Friday and this film) led to this indisputable turkey.

This one gives RGV’s Aag a run for its money…another case of ‘Oh, what could’ve been !’ To use one of the favourite lines of my parents ‘Na sir, na pair’ (literally means ‘no hands or feet’, figuratively ‘neither head nor tail’). Both meanings fit perfectly.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Jab We Met

It’s a slightly implausible rom-com (romantic comedy) which has a few very good moments, is light and easy to watch, doesn’t tax the brain too much and is good clean fun (has no vulgarity, slapstick or violence). However, this is balanced by no real depth to the story or characters, an uneven pace, some uneven acting and too many stereotypes….

Shahid Kapoor is the rich son of a big Mumbai industrialist who is going through a crisis, the specifics of the crisis are explained only later in the movie, but its clear that he’s completely shaken up. So much so that, kind of in a trance, he abandons his car, his mobile phones etc, and walks aimlessly before ending up in a Mumbai to Delhi train where he sits, probably looking for some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, he is joined by an extremely talkative, Punjabi, bubbling Kareena Kapoor – who ensures that within a few minutes Shahid is privy to all her life details (she’s going back to Bhatinda, intends to run away to get married, hates Mumbai, loves to talk etc).

Soon, after a series of events, they’ve missed the train and are stranded at Ratlam station, Kareena is moniless hysterical, and since she is very clear that all this is Shahid’s fault, it is equally clear that he is responsible now to get her home to Bhatinda. And it doesn’t matter what Shahid thinks (he’s obviously reluctant about the whole thing). He has to drop her or she’ll beat him to pulp…After the mandatory song and dance they reach Bhatinda and what happens next is basically the focus of the remaining 75% of the movie which contains more item numbers, wedding songs and dances, romantic confusion and a reasonably predictable ending.

There are some very nice moments – Kareena’s ‘I’m a karate brown belt’ or 'aap convince ho gaye hain ya main aur bolun ?' (are you convinced or should I talk some more ?) or ‘tainu ki fark painda hai’ (what difference does it make to you) logic when it comes to running away from home, Shahid’s change of attitude when he goes back to work, the whole conversation about running away to get married as a foursome and finally the check-in in Hotel Decent – all stand out in memory. Kareena varies from being very good to ordinary both in terms of acting and looks, the vivacity and feistiness comes through but not consistently, in some cases almost looking like stupidity. Her Punjabi Bhatinda family is stereotypically Punjabi – loud, garishly dressed, over the top and willing to break into Bhangra steps at the click of a finger. Shahid is very good, though a bit predictable. There is also this unintentionally hilarious train / car sequence which is filmed with blatantly obvious model trains / cars which look like they're made of plasticine – a clear case of cost cutting I think…

This is thankfully not one of the new breed of formulaic comedies, a la Priyadarshan, which usually involve a lot of young guys chasing a lot of skimpily clad young girls. There’s more to it than just that – unfortunately though, not a whole lot more. Good for one viewing, if you’ve nothing better to do but avoid advance booking the DVD.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Laaga Chunari Main Daag

Funny how something as mercenary as prostitution, always manages to arouse a variety of emotions, especially when it’s the subject of a movie. This is an ok film – its lifted up by certain performances and authentic characterizations but let down by a certain brooding weightiness (thanks to its topic), a plot that becomes increasingly filmy, ‘sobby’ and ends a bit unrealistically, almost with a whimper as none of the expected fireworks materialize.

‘Laaga’ tells the tale of a simple XIIth pass village girl (Rani Mukherjee) who leaves her family in Benares and goes to Mumbai to earn a living due to monetary pressures. When she can’t get a job and the pressure from home to send a money order increases, Rani has to make some choices – to sleep with a guy who promises her a job in return or to return home. The movie then details the repercussions of her choice, including the impact on her parents (Anupam Kher and Jaya Bachchan) and her sister (Konkona Sen).

The Benares part of Rani’s / Konkona’s life was very realistic – each member of the family was well-sketched out. Anupam Kher is a retired professor, clearly a mis-fit in today’s commercial world, a crabby recluse who hates that everything is about money yet flowers when the money orders from Mumbai begin to arrive. Jaya is a behenji home-maker but wears the pants in the family, takes care of the house, the money and sews petticoats to make up for the shortfalls.

Rani is pretty much what you would expect – very good if you’re a fan and ordinary if you’re not. I’m tending more towards the latter camp. I feel she is doing too many similar ‘weepy’ roles and is in danger of becoming typecast. She transitions easily from the village girl to the cosmopolitan mumbaikar, cries a lot, broods a lot but does all of this without any real spark or brilliance.

All the sparks, the bubbliness and energy comes from Konkona who, for me, was the life of the film. Her character, as the tomboyish younger sister, introduced some much needed vibrancy and lighter moments in the film. She studies and joins an advertising agency in Mumbai, blissfully unaware of the choices her sister has made. It doesn’t take her long to make her mark in the firm she works in – and her stint in the ad agency provide some of the more interesting moments in the film.

The music is decent – there are a couple of songs I want to listen to again – including one picturised on Rani as she is making up her mind on which road to travel. I did not like the message though that this movie is sending out, that its easy to achieve success as a high class working girl. For every one girl who achieves her materialistic ambitions, there will probably be thousand failures who rot in the seedy by-lanes of Mumbai or in police lock-ups. I also think there was a gross over simplification of the route to becoming a call-girl and there is a danger that it spawns a few imitations.

This is becoming a rare genre – the emotional family tear-jerker – there was a time when Hindi cinema abounded in such films but now they are mercifully far and few in between. Life is too short to spend weeping or watching others weep.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Johnny Gaddar

It’s a rarely witnessed category in India, the film noir. Even rarer is something like Johnny Gaddar, a well made one (‘Red’ springs to mind as a recent terrible example) though Hollywood is full of good ones ( like Maltese Falcon, Body Heat or even LA Confidential). The genre is a tribute to James Hadley Chase and some old Hindi movies like Parwana, both of which flash across the screen frequently as the obvious inspirations behind the plot.

The plot, like all movies in the genre, is too complicated to elaborate but has enough twists and turns to keep you engrossed till the last frame. There are tough cops, no good guys but good guys who are actually bad and bad guys who are actually good and the inevitable sensual babe. There is money, greed and a tangled love affair. Basically there is a gang of 5 criminals, there is a huge deal happening and then there is a double cross. All of this happens in the first 20 minutes or so. The rest of the movie revolves around whether the other gang members catch him or not.

I thought Zakhir Hussain, Vinay Pathak were excellent as two of the gang members as was Govind Namdeo as a very tough, finger chopping, wisecracking cop (‘in my life only duty, no beauty’ is his memorable response when asked if he’s married). Neil Mukesh is good, shows potential, Dharmendra is decent but is it my imagination that he seems to be slurring his every dialogue, as if he’s still high on his Bagpiper whiskey commercials. Rimi Sen and Ashiwni Kaslekar are very good as well, everyone fits their part and does justice to their roles, the movie is compact, slick and well edited. The music is decent and the only other thing that could be improved is the ending – it’s a bit incomplete and hence leaves you a bit unfulfilled. Also, there is a little bit of unnecessary gore.

Its unlikely to ever be nominated for an Oscar (after Eklavya’s nomination though would hesitate to say impossible) but is definitely worth the price of a ticket and succeeds in keeping you on the edge of your seats. Its fast, racy and provides cheap thrills – and wasn’t that what a James Hadley Chase was about ?

Lets Talk (2002)

Radhika is having an affair and is pregnant from her lover. She now wants to tell her husband of ten years, Nikhil, about it and starts thinking about how he will react, playing out different scenarios in her mind.

That’s it, that’s the whole movie.

I think there were 6 different scenario’s played out and its amazing how much you can learn about a couple from just their conversations on this topic. The only other actor we see is Radhika’s friend – else its just Radhika and Nikhil. The movie is a very true depiction of middle class India. Everything, right from the language and expressions, the décor, the clothes and even the camera and lighting (it was shot digitally to ensure there were minimal set-up times and interference with the actors), enhance its realism.

Boman Irani as Nikhil is brilliant – it’s a very difficult task to play the same character in 6 different ways but he rises to the occasion (in one scenario almost literally). Maia Khatrak is very good as Radhika – stuck in an impossible dilemma between a rock and a hard place – she has to make a difficult choice and soon. The marriage itself is like most marriages – has lost some of its spark and sheen and is now almost boring and is probably the reason behind her going astray.

The topic is extremely provocative as you can imagine and sparks many conversations at home while you watch it. You’re forced to take sides, identify with some of the characterizations, disagree with some of the statements. There are moments when you squirm uncomfortably and others where you smile.

Its good stuff, original, courageous (especially since it’s the debut film of the director and most of its crew) and imaginative. Great stuff, hats off to the cast and crew.

Mumbai Express (2005)

Delightful timepass. Not likely to enter any top 10 list but a great way to spend a couple of hours with a good non-slapstick, non-vulgar comedy.

Three small time crooks plan to kidnap a land grabbing businessman’s son for ransom. However, everything that can go wrong does and soon they have to hunt for a replacement. Enter Avinash, a motorcyclist who is also affectionately known as ‘Mumbai Express’, who rides in the ‘Well of Death’. He is roped in to join their gang against his desire to do anything illegal. What then happens is pure mayhem and we get one interesting situation and character after another including a corrupt cop, his mistress, their illegal son, the businessman and a horse with a craving to eat any paper / anything that comes in its vicinity.

Vijay Raaz is outstanding as Digamber, one of the would-be kidnappers. He has truly been wasted in most his recent slapstick roles after great performances in this and as Dubeyji in Monsoon Wedding. Kamal Hasan is very good but doesn’t sparkle.

It’s a movie which leaves you with a nice warm feeling. There are some excellent comic touches, dialogues. However, this is a good movie which somehow doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of greatness. I think it does as much justice to the plot / script as is possible but it’s a movie which can make you smile without really making you laugh aloud.

Its something different, though, it does have an endearing charm to it, an impishness and innocence that is refreshing. Definitely worth a look-see.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Nanhe Jaisalmer

It’s a little bit of a fairytale, a little bit ‘preachy’ but beautifully made, supported by great acting and some well-sketched characters and so connects with the audience very easily.

Nanhe Jaisalmer is the story of a ten year old boy, the primary bread winner of his family, who cannot read or write but can converse with tourists in four languages. When he was four, Bobby Deol, the film star, had picked him up during a shoot and called him his friend. So Nanhe calls Bobby his ‘dost’ (friend), has a room full of his posters, watches his every film and writes countless letters to him. Suddenly, there is news that Bobby’s latest film is going to be shot in Jaisalmer…and Nanhe just knows that he will come and meet him. Does he ? Watch and you’ll find out.

There are some interesting sub-plots regarding his sister’s wedding and also about the ‘Madamji’ who forces all the elders / young to attend night school to become literate. What lifts the movie though are the rustic touches – the simplicity of the lives of the different characters shown – the paan wala who reads the newspaper to Nanhe, the drunk who asks Nanhe to shield him during night class whenever he wants to take a swig, the bespectacled folk singer, the shop owner etc. Dwij Yadav is great as Nanhe – his dimples and enthusiasm are contagious. And the mom and sister also act beautifully.

Only disappointments were the music (I thought it was ordinary), a slightly prolonged and unnecessary opening sequence and a little, just a little heavy handed preaching during the movie. It was a bit like Aesop’s Fables with a moral after most sequences in the second half.

However, its nice, good, clean fun. Even if life in small towns is no longer really as simple or nice as depicted, it’s a lovely portrait of how we would like it to be. Definitely worth a watch, with or without the kids.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Its juvenile, descends into brainless slapstick often but still manages to make you laugh, that too very loudly and almost uncontrollably in a few places. A good example of a good timepass movie.

Four friends are told about Rs10 crores being buried in a location in Goa. They are forced to tell a cop on their tail about it as well. After a few unsuccessful attempts to settle who gets how much, they decide its every man for himself and each chooses their own zany way to get to Goa first. The ending is somewhat senti / mushy but the rest of the movie does not deviate in its steadfast reolve to make the audience laugh.

In the process you get quite a few PJ’s (the blank 'horse & grass painting' springs to mind), a few decent ones and a few great ones (the ‘Sholay’ rip-off, the whole aircraft scene, especially the bit with the aircraft controller were memorable). The acting was decent (Aashish Choudhary, one of the four, overacts too much though and Arshad Warsi looks disinterested overall), the music was standard (2-3 item numbers where people dressed in cool clothes in cool clubs, make cool gestures while surrounded by hot babes in skimpy outfits….you get the picture ?).

The one jarring note for me was Javed Jaafri’s character, who is shown to be the dumb one amongst the four friends, is also shown to be someone who lisps. From a plot point of view, there was absolutely no need for him to be lisping and it irritates me when people associate physical disability with something like stupidity just to raise a few cheap laughs – he could have been speaking normally and in fact I think the movie would have been better off for it

We went, we saw, we had a good time. Nothing more, nothing less.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Aag (the review)

Ridiculous, pathetic, terrible. Add over-hyped, shoddy and poorly written and you begin to get an idea of how bad it was. All the points made in my preview hold true and then some. This is a new genre – unintentional comedy leading to unintended horror amongst the audience.

It sucks big time as a movie

  • Camera angles : RGV (Ram Gopal Verma, the director), delights in weird camera angles that only enhance the feeling of nausea and detract completely from the characters / movie.
  • Bad Acting : Nisha Kothari is the worst of the lot – cant act, cant talk, cant emote. I hope for her sake she has a good figure and is willing to bare all as that is her only hope for making it big in Bollywood. Prashant runs her close in terms of overall badness and everyone else compete for 3rd place.
  • MohanLal as Narsimha : his southern accent jars and makes you laugh. The man can act, but is wasted. I kept thinking there may be a twist, which justifies him being from South India but no such thing.
  • Completely disjointed, undeveloped / rushed story : we don’t understand what the movie is about – since it shifts to the Mumbai underworld. If it weren’t for the orginal Sholay, like most of the actors, I would have been groping in the dark. We don’t feel for any of the characters here since they are woefully undeveloped.

Vs the original Sholay (maybe I shouldn’t even honor this tripe with a comparison to Sholay, but I cant resist, I love the original too much)

  • The relationship between Amitabh / Dharmendra : One of the highlights of the original was the chemistry between the two – how two characters so different to each other got along and functioned beautifully as a team. Amitabh, as the strong silent type paired with the ebullient, emotional, extrovert Dharmendra. Here, there is no difference between the two – they are the same, both ambling aimless idiots vs the men of steel they were trying to emulate. As if to rub salt in the wound, they even become police informers in the beginning.
  • The senti / mushy, romantic ‘I love you’ crap : Neither with Dharmendra nor Amitabh along with their leading ladies, was there any romance. Their characters were too macho to allow any of this shit. Here you have both their replacements getting into ‘I love you’. ‘No. Really, I really love you’ stuff.
  • Prashant is, looks & acts half Sushmita’s age !! This pairing doesn’t work, is a non-starter, while the Amitabh-Jaya pairing was one of the most touching things in Sholay.
  • Of psychotic vs menacing villains : I don’t think, with all due respect to Pran, there has been a more intimidating villain than Gabbar Singh in Sholay. And amazingly it is done without any hint of gore, over the top violence. Here Babban comes across as a stark, raving bonkers – he is sinister, creepy and sleazy. Little touches like the slithering tongue or the ‘poof’ further confirm RGV’s colossal errors of judgement in the movie.

I don’t know what forced him to remake Sholay without any fresh ideas – the darkness (as communicated in the preview) is all pervasive, gets to you. I think I’m going to not watch any more RGV movies as he’s completely lost it. Cant think of a worse way to have spent Sunday afternoon. I want my money back !

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Aag (the preview)

I haven’t seen Aag yet, will be doing so tomorrow. And I assume everyone who’s reading this has seen Sholay or at least knows the story.

I’m one of the biggest fans of Sholay- not the biggest, I know a couple of people who’re crazier about it – but crazy enough to stop channel surfing if I see it somewhere on TV despite having seen it 50+ times

I’m also not one of those who think it shouldn’t be remade – I think a fresh interpretation can always be interesting, and Don is a good example of how a classic could still be re-invigorated.

However, having seen the trailers / promo’s, I feel there are some fundamental errors RamGopal Verma has made. I will of course, confirm this once I see it tomorrow but here goes

1.The Cast : Why would you choose newcomers to play arguably amongst the meatiest / most high profile roles in Hindi cinema ? Compare the talent on offer in Sholay, which starred already established, great actors like Amitabh, Dharmendra, Jaya, Hema, Asrani etc vs Ajay Devgan, Nisha Kothari, Prashant who ?
2. The characters : The true beauty of Sholay was that every character was unique and made their mark – whether they appeared for 5 minutes or 50, they were all unforgettable. Surma Bhopali, the Angrezon ke zamaney ka jailor, the old servant in thakur’s house, AK Hangal in the village, Kaalia / Samba, Jaya’s character…I can go on and I haven’t even mentioned the main stars yet…they were all endearing, appealing and made an indelible mark in our memory. Based on the trailors, the sheer commercial nature of the project as evinced by the hype & PR around it, I feel Aag is going to focus only on the main actors and make caricatures / a mockery of the others. For me, this would rob the movie of its soul.
3. The music : not a patch on the earlier soundtrack, no further comment needed
4. The darkness : Every promo / poster I’ve seen of this one is very dark, very indoors. One of the amazing things about Sholay was that it showed menace and intimidation amongst bright, sunny, and very picturesque settings.
5. Regionalism : Just based on how the guys talk etc, I feel he has made the characters very tapori / mumbaiya, rather than kept it free of regional bias as in the original – Sholay / Ramgad could have been anywhere – Maharashtra / MP / UP…

If it truly suffers from the above flaws (and I will know for sure by tomorrow afternoon), then RGV has copied a classic without understanding what made the orginial tick in the first place !

Monday, August 27, 2007

Heyy Baby

This is a movie which does a decent job of combining good comedy with `heart-rending’ emotional drama. Taking my kids as a barometer, there were moments when they were shrieking with laughter, doing serious damage to their seats by jumping up and down with delight. And others when they were crying, literally, with tears streaming down their cheeks, upset at some of the things happening to the baby.

Three Casanovas, Ritiesh Deshmukh, Akshay Kumar and Fardeen Khan, are fast friends and flatmates. Their free-wheeling lifestyle comes to a shuddering halt when a baby is left outside their house one fine morning, with a cryptic note asking them to take care of their offspring. For the next half haour we’re treated to classic ‘Three Men and a Baby’ stuff, as they struggle to cope (as most new parents do) with a creature that sleeps, eats, pooh’s and repeats the cycle until infuriation sets in. Then something happens (and I hesitate to say more for fear of giving the story away), they fall in love with the baby and reform their life to take care of the baby but then mom comes in to reclaim the baby (all this is the emotional phase of the movie) and finally, the rest of the movie revolves on how they try to win the baby (and mom) back.

The comic scenes are very good – a little slapstick (and over the top stuff) is combined with great situations and comic timing to allow plenty of laughter from the audience. It actually gets better in the second half, when they’re trying to win the baby back, and there are a couple of surprises to ensure our interest is held throughout.

The emotional stuff – I felt they should have toned it down a bit (maybe even eliminated it altogether) – there were some disturbing scenes involving the baby, which I felt were inappropriate for a family movie (with young kids present in the hall). My kids were really upset when they happened, and although they left the hall in smiles at the end, I didn’t enjoy watching them get worked up. BTW, don’t miss the beginning or the end, the opening song sequence has the most starlets I’ve ever seen in a movie and the credits are good fun.

Akshay Kumar was outstanding – his timing has always been excellent and he manages to do it with a deadpan expression that provokes laughter. In my opinion, he is a true superstar who can handle any genre (action, comedy, drama) and has much better acting skills than some ahead of him in the box-office/publicity pecking order. Fardeen was very good as well, he has really improved in recent times. I think Ritiesh always overacts and this movie didn’t help change my opinion. Vidya Balan was ok, I felt she wasn’t the right choice for her role, while Boman Irani was his usual impressive self.

This is a good example of a good time pass movie – doesn’t stretch the mind too much, has a few slapstick / mind-less moments to prevent it from being a classic, a little emotion, some good songs and a lot of fun. Its like a karela wrapped in sugar coating. Or vice versa. Can taste surprisingly good but unlikely to become a regular / anyone's favourite…


How do they do it ? How do the guys at Pixar keep coming up with concepts like this, creating endearing stories where you could swear none exist ? I mean this is about a rat which can cook and quite amazingly becomes the inspiration behind a famous French restaurant. Yet we cheer the rat all the way through, we root for the restaurant itself (which is being ruined by an ‘evil’ chef) and we feel for the other characters in the kitchen. And this is accompanied as usual by the most beautiful animation / special effects.
On the con side, there are no rolling-on-the-floor-laughing moments, its not a classic which will bear repeated viewings (or in the case of my kids several, multiple repeated viewings) like Jungle Book / Finding Nemo etc.

However, it’s a great day out for all those who are young at heart…

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Budha Mar Gaya

The first time I walked out of a movie in a long time – and boy, did this movie deserve it ! Decent idea (rich man dies, however family has to pretend he is alive for a few days else they would become bankrupt) and decent cast (Anupam Kher, Paresh Rawal, Ranvir Shourie), totally & utterly ruined by the crassest execution possible – full of sexual innuendo, crude jokes, the worst kind of slapstick possible – and all done at the highest decibel level possible. All the cast possibly descend to the worst levels imaginable and if they have any shame / pride, they will cringe when they see themselves on screen.

Easily the worst movie I’ve seen in the last year with not a single redeeming feature…

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Chak De India

This is not a sophisticated film – its simple yet rousingly entertaining. It unabashedly cashes in in the wave of patriotism sweeping through the country, a sort of pride where we are increasingly comfortable with who / what we are rather than just blindly ape-ing the west. The movie brings you to your feet in quite a few places – but only if you’re the type who enjoys watching India win in sport, the type who can take off your shirt to celebrate a la Saurav / Freddie etc.

What makes this movie different is that it weaves its story around a rather unlikely vehicle, womens hockey, and there is more to this movie than just sport. There is a story in there about the shallowness of our tv media, its insatiable appetite for concocting news, while adhering to the worst standards of yellow journalism. There is another about the pathetic nature of the officialdom, the politicians and bureaucrats who run our sports. Yet another about the soft nature of our sportsmen, their limited ambition where they are content to become something in India rather than internationally, their inability to focus on fitness or slog it out and even their desire to be treated as superstars, whether worthy of the status or not. And, finally, it is about women – do they belong exclusively in the kitchen or is there a world beyond that ? Shouldnt they get the same attention / money / sponsorship as their more feted male counterparts ?

Shahrukh is a disgraced men’s hockey player who returns after a 7 year self-imposed exile to coach the Indian women’s hockey team. A team which is so faction ridden, that even the hockey association has no faith in them and brand them absolute no-hopers. The team itself is composed of clearly defined, stereo-typical characters, some fighting their own personal battles, whether with their parents, their in-laws or even their husbands / fiancee’s and others just there for the ride. How he gets them to become one team is the focus of the first half. The second is about what they try to achieve.

In what I think is more a commercial decision than a creative one, it’s the north Indian, hindi speaking characters who get most of the meaty parts. However, all the characters act out of their skin, matching Shahrukh every step of the way. SRK himself is refreshingly understated, saving the histrionics for only the beginning and the end. The only song is the chest thumping, energetic Chak de India, used throughout as the background music.

Its tough to really criticize this film as, despite a few logical flaws, it achieves what it promises. I liked the way the movie focused on a few of the hockey players, rather than all 16. Better to get to know a few well rather than all marginally. I liked the way most of the hockey sequences were handled and the editing of the entire film– the action and drama was gripping and you didn’t want to miss a second. I loved the way they played shamelessly to the audience, getting the desired response – for example there is a scene where SRK is shown watching someone pull up the Indian flags at a championship. When asked what he is doing, he simply says “bahut din ke baad, ek gore ko dekh raha hoon tiranga uncha karte” (after many days, I’m watching a foreigner pull up the Indian tricolour), or something to that effect. If I remember correctly, that dialogue alone got a 2 minute ovation. I also really liked the realistic scenes in the beginning, where the myriad news channels gracing the TV screens are shown for what they really are (especially in India) - rumour mongering, pompous, self-praising garbage.

Its pure adrenalin, this one. Best to watch it with a triclour draped around you, face paint applied liberally, and preferably in a group. Its flag waving, fist pumping, jingoistic, in-your-face patriotism, losing no opportunity to blow a raspberry at our opponents kind of stuff. This is the ‘you don’t win a silver, you lose a gold medal’ territory. And it was great to watch all the kids in the audience get excited, go ‘Yessss’ whenever India scored a goal. We need something like this to make sure our next generation is more assertive. We, Indians, are normally quiet people, accustomed to 'taking it' since the days of Gandhi. If this movie is a reflection of the mood of the nation, then we’re changing. Its time to give it back – and with interest.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Gandhi, My Father

I didn’t get it. Why would anyone want to see a film about a guy who was a failure in almost every facet of life ? He failed in the metric exam thrice, wanted to become a barrister but obviously didn’t have the brains for it, he tried starting a business (twice), failed both times, defrauding his business partners, employer and innocent investors. He changed his religion once, flirted with another before switching back to Hinduism. He spent his last few years as a constantly drunk homeless beggar, who resisted every attempt his father made to reach out to him. Sounds boring, depressing, right ? The movie is no different. Just because the above person happens to be Gandhi’s son doesn’t change anything.

One of the interesting things was watching Gandhiji trying to deal with this issue – imagine you’re the father of the nation, trying to come up with a way to bring down apartheid in SA or the British rule in India – and suddenly you have to find time to deal with a rebellious, indecisive son who obviously is not in the same league as himself. Not easy, and based on the movie I didn’t feel we are able to truly take sides or decide who was in the right or wrong.

Acting was ok throughout, direction / camerawork was good. However we were stuck with a film that lacked appeal or a story that failed to provoke.

Every family has its own black sheep – in this case, a sheep which refused to change colour or fade into the background. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes for a good movie – for most of the movie you’re squirming, wondering what idiocy Harilal Gandhi is going to do next. I remember, just a month or so before my son was born, my wife asked me what would I do if he turned out to be an inactive, passive, dunce ? it’s a terrible thought – am thankful to God this never happened – but watching this movie was a bit like watching your worst nightmare come true. I don’t think that could be enjoyable viewing for anyone.


There was an old man from Peru,
Who dreamt he was eating his shoe.
He awoke in the middle of the night,
In a state of terrible fright,
And found it was perfectly true !

I walked in with a lot of trepidation, thinking it was going to be a movie which was desperately trying to be cool, a kind of B-grade rip-off of Dhoom2, a film more about the marketing / hype than substance. And, like the old man in the limerick above, I found it was perfectly true !

It’s set in Cape Town (a stunningly gorgeous city), it casts people who are lesser stars (and less talented) vs D2, has slick action sequences, too many characters, but crucially, no story. None at all. Also, in another desperate attempt to appeal to the young, they’ve tried to incorporate animation sequences in the middle of the action shots – I failed to understand why ? Usually its used when real shots would be impossible to execute – but that’s definitely not the case here as the two (real-life and animation) are interspersed. There are a few funny moments (the whole Ajay Devgan / yatch scene springs to mind), but for most of the while you don’t really get whats happening / there are too many silly sequences / unrealistic things shown and the whole film comes across as very disjointed.

I thought Ajay Devgan wasn’t bad – he has this lazy style which really suits his role here. Dia Mirza also can probably walk out feeling ok and maybe Shamita too. Everyone else will have to really question what they were upto. One of the few things that made me watch the movie was that it was directed by Anubhav Sinha, the guy who gave us Dus (nice, slick, kind of Bad Boys mixed with Usual Suspects, with really nice music). Based on this movie now, he may have trouble finding takers for his next project. I wish he had focused on a fewer characters / relationships, and probably having a plot / story would have helped too !

Sunday, July 29, 2007


I’m sure there are those who feel this was a good movie – great time-pass – but I felt it was terrible. Partly because of its over-reliance on slapstick and on actors (Salman & Govinda) who are incapable of anything else (imagine someone like Akshay Kumar in either of the main roles and you may understand what I mean). And more because, with a little more thought and care, it could have been fantastic.

The characters are shallow, uni-dimensional and flawed. The plot stretches our imagination, credibility and patience and is full of unnecessary characters (like chotta don, or Lara Dutta’s son or Puneet Issar’s character or even Katrina’s father). These guys needn’t have been there – the movie would have been simpler, more focused without them.

Govinda is no longer the same – there are splashes of humour, but its drowned in too many forced moments. The spontaneity from his ‘Ankhein’ days is sadly missing and his face / body reflects his passing years. Salman is his usual self – great if you’re a fan, terrible if you’re not - again not losing any opportunity to showcase his pectorals. Katrina and Lara Dutta actually don’t do that badly – both look good, act well but are constrained by their weak characters.

If you’ve seen Hitch (good film despite its filmi ending), you’ll weep through the movie as I did, wondering what could have been…

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mr and Mrs Iyer

Religion is probably the most abused phenomenon in India today. What should be a personal and spiritual experience is instead used to cloak personal prejudices, hatred, ‘a might is right’/ ‘mob rule’ kind of approach and an easy way to inflame people to do unspeakable atrocities.

Mr & Mrs Iyer, Aparna Sen's 2002 release, showcases an interesting story of a growing friendship between two diametrically opposite people amidst the all too familiar carnage of communal frenzy and bigoted prejudices. Its another provocative film, and I’m enjoying watching them at home on DVD, enjoying pondering over the questions they raise.

Meenakshi Iyer (Konkona Sen Sharma) is an orthodox, Tamil woman, married, traveling on her own (with her one year old son) by bus to Jalpaiguri to catch a train to Calcutta, where her husband awaits her. Raja (Rahul Bose), a Bengali photographer, who is also on the same bus, turns out to be a friend of a friend of her father's and is asked to take care of her / help her through the travel. Their bus is forced to stop midway (along with several trucks) when communal riots flare up nearby. A hindu mob visits their bus as well, looking for muslims to butcher. To save Raja, who is a muslim, Meenakshi pretends he is Mr Iyer. The rest of the story revolves around how they and the different passengers fend for themselves, how they try and find ways to return home.

The whole bus journey, prior to the mob coming in, lasts about 30 minutes and is a fascinating study of how different people pass their time. It is so real, so normal that its almost boring until you realize you’re smiling as you observe the individual foibles and character traits of the different passengers.

Meenakshi is as pure a Tam Brahm as you get – vegetarian, unwilling to eat something cooked by a stranger as you never know what caste he may be, living a secluded / dull homemaker existence, wrapped up in her cocoon which includes her one year old son, Santhanam. Raja, is the photographer who travels to exotic places, lives life on the fly, a complete cosmopolitan. When he tells Meenakshi he is a muslim, she is taken aback and replies ‘I thought you were a Bengali’. He looks at her quizzically and replies ‘Yes, I am but I also happen to be a muslim’ with body language saying ‘whats the problem here’.

Konkona Sen Sharma is outstanding in the movie – it’s a virtuoso performance in her mom's movie, where she behaves like a true Tam (the body language, the intonations are amazingly real). Proof of her great performance is that we were constantly reminded of our very good friends who are also Tam Brahms. Rahul Bose is his typical understated, expressionless self – it suits only certain types of roles and this is one of them. Good performances from the rest of the cast as well and a special mention of the soundtrack – composed by Ustad Zakhir Hussain. Soothing tunes that seem to enhance the madness of the mobs and their artrocities.

I know the partition was a terrible life changing experience for many of us, but the sooner we can put it behind us, the better. The movie is full of remarks like ‘why don’t these muslims go to Pakistan where they belong’ and the sad reality is that a lot of Indians still continue to feel this way. Learning from other cultures suggests that we will not be cleansed of such thoughts till a generation which has not witnessed or been scarred by the event, become the decision makers in the country’s political and socio-economic landscape. I somehow doubt it, I think the older generation has managed to pass on their prejudices very well and its going to take longer till we realize we’re all human beings with a right to practice different faiths / different traditions, to just be different. And the sooner we find a way to make religion less of a badge, less ostentatious and more personal, more private, the better…

Its not easy watching, some sequences are very disturbing and like RDB, I doubt I’ll watch it again. However, the relationship between Mrs Iyer and Raja is beautifully handled (I was reminded of ‘Bridges of Madison County’ a bit) and I’m delighted to have ‘discovered’ this little gem in my DVD collection…