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…

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Rang De Basanti

I’m going to break a rule and talk about the story here – the assumption is that even if you haven’t seen the movie, you would already be aware of the plot (as I was before I saw it this week). Also, this is going to be a long review as the movie provokes a lot of thoughts.

The Story
Sue (Alice), inspired by her grand-father’s diary, written while he was a jailor to Bhagat Singh and co, comes to India to make a documentary about them / their role in the freedom movement. Her friend in India, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), introduces her to her friends circle - DJ (Aamir Khan), Karan (Siddarth), Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) and Aslam (Kunal Kapoor). Part of the modern, westernized youth of India, they are hardly aware of the freedom struggle or its heroes and definitely do not share the same ideals. Relcutantly, after much persuasion from Sue, they agree to act as the revolutionaries in Sue’s documentary along with a fiery saffron brigade youth politician, Pandey (Atul Kulkarni). As they read the diary and the script, they begin to think about their country, their mission in life (or the lack of it) and gradually they begin to immerse themselves in their characters parts – reality and their screen parts almost begin to blur into one.

Suddenly, the death of their friend Ajay (Madhavan), an ace pilot in the air force and Sonia’s fiancée, in a plane crash, jolts them back to reality. There is a corrupt defence minister, a scandal affecting the MiG’s that Ajay was flying but the official response is swift and brutal, instead branding Ajay as a impetuous learner pilot, brushing aside any questions and crushing any sign of protest ruthlessly with force. Seeing no alternative, they kill the defence minister, but even that does not bring the issue of corruption to the forefront, with ‘foreign hands’ being suspected of the murder and the usual platitudes / paeans of praise being sung for the 'honorable' minister. They announce their hand in the murder and their reasons during a radio broadcast and decide to surrender to the cops, but are instead killed by the corrupt machinery.

The Review
First : The movie is extremely well made, beautifully crafted, I don’t think Rakeysh Mehra (the director) puts a foot wrong in the whole movie. The acting of each and every character (I thought Aamir was outstanding but then so was everyone else, its almost unfair to single him out), the songs, the cinematography (especially the way they capture the heart and flavour of North India) is brilliant. The movie manages to combine the past and present and also rural and urban India all together without confusing us or losing any authenticity.

Second : Few things provoke me more than visuals / stories of the British Raj. Blame it on my sheer inability to reconcile myself with that shameful part of our history – how we let a few people from so far away, take advantage of our foibles and rule over us. How could we have been so stupid ! Any shots of the British ordering Indians around or mistreating us invariably makes my blood boil and I get an even worse reaction when I see Indian soldiers, acting on orders of the British, attacking other Indians. Why ? I had to be restrained from walking out during the first 30 minutes or so of Lagaan and here too, there are parts where I just couldn’t bear to watch…Lala Lajpat Rai get beaten, Jallianwala Bagh etc. If you're like me, be prepared to suffer...

Third : Unlike most movies which sit on the fence, this one makes choices, its characters are sufficiently provoked by the apathy and imperfections of the system to stop the usual idle intellectual debate and actually do something about it. They actually decide to take law in their own hands, to murder someone. They come to this option gradually, naturally, almost logically - its not a classic Bollywood hero seeking revenge and beating up / killing the corrupt neta. Its realistic enough for you to be able to put yourself in their shoes.

Fourth : I disagree completely with the choice made by the central characters – taking law into their own hands / killing the minister etc. Almost every terrorist in the world today is fighting for some cause. If his cause succeeds / comes to fruition, he will become a freedom fighter, else continue to be a terrorist – it’s a fine line. Bhagat Singh is a freedom fighter today only because India gained independence. Hamas is a terrorist organization because Palestine hasn’t. There are some distinctions - killing of innocent people vs killing people in office etc, but they are very intellectual distinctions - both get the death penalty in most nations.

Fifth : However, I agree with the ethos of stop cribbing and do something. There are lots of other things the characters could’ve done – gone to a news channel / kidnapped the minister and made him confess / gone to the air force and found a ‘smoking gun’. There are always options / things you can do, to help make your country better. And in today’s day and age, with the power of media / internet etc, it’s a lot easier to make an impact.

The movie is amazing because it engrosses, charms and provokes you, makes you think, choose a side. And it is laced with extremely funny moments, very strong characters and haunting music / lyrics.
I’m a great believer in the ‘starfish story’ – where a young man on a beach finds thousands of starfish stranded in the sand and starts throwing as many as he can back into the water. An older man walks by and questions what the young man is doing and asking him what difference it will make since there were too many starfish for him to throw back. The young man responded simply by saying that at least what he was doing made a difference to the starfish that made it back to the water. Too often we don’t do something but sit and complain. The beauty of this film lies in the fact that at least its a call to action if not a call to arms. We need more films like these.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I wish there was a way to make sport-centered movies less predictable. That is probably the only flaw in this simple, rural, heart warming tale of a deaf & dumb boy who dreams of making it to the Indian cricket team.

Nagesh Kukonoor, (he later on made Dor), once again weaves his magic and transports us to a small village in south india, where Iqbal spends his time amongst his buffaloes, all named after his favourite bowlers, practising cricket and trying to find his guruji. Girish Karnad takes him under his wing for a while but later caves in to star-power / deal making / richer students and throws him out. Iqbal now turns to the village drunk, Naseerudin Shah, an ex-cricketeer and finally persuades him to become his coach. What happens next ? Will he make it, will he fulfil his dreams ? What do you think ?

There are only two sports movies I can recall which gripped me from start to end – one was Tara Rum Pum and the other was Chain Kulli ki.

No…just kidding of course, they’re both disasters….one was Lagaan and the other was Remember the Titans (starring Denzel Washington, I seriously recommend this relatively unknown film). Both revolved around sport (cricket and American Football respectively) but dealt with much bigger issues (the British Rule and the Black-White racial relations respectively). The sport, while important and central, becomes a means and not an end – it therefore keeps the suspense going as there is a plot bigger than the sport itself.

Iqbal features two brilliant performances – one by Shreyas Talpade in the lead role. He has a blank face that becomes the perfect canvas for the array of emotions and feelings that pass through his character’s mind. He is endearing, spontaneous, persistent, frustrated, kiddish, mature all almost at once. The other is by Shweta Joshi, who plays his sister and main source of communication to the outside world. She doesn’t have that much screen time but is outstanding in her matter–of–fact, yet emotive delivery. Prateeksha Lonkar and Yatin Karyekar deliver very solid, real performances as the parents, often at war amongst themsleves, Naseeruddin Shah plays a nice cameo as the drunk/coach, while Girish Karnad makes us hate him as the wheeling dealing coach – proof of his good performance.

There is a beauty in the movie, there is a lesson, there is emotion and simplicity. In some ways, I think this is more inspiring than Guru – you can see the effort that goes into making his dreams a reality, the disappointments, the frustrations that have to be taken in one’s stride. I only wish there was a way to make it less predictable – I have no ideas, no suggestions to offer, but that would have truly been the icing on this otherwise very lovely cake !

Monday, July 16, 2007


I’m as disappointed with this movie as I am with the Copa America final that was going on in the background while I saw the film. Both spectacularly failed to live up to their hype – Brazil is up 3-0 with 10 minutes to go in the match and there has scarcely been a murmur of protest from the Argentinians. Like the mercurial, talented Pakistani's in cricket, you never know with Argentina which side will turn up – the world beaters or the club cricket version. And as far as Fanaa goes, well where do I begin ?

I think the fact that the movie grossed over Rs50cr is a tribute to Aamir Khan – there are few people in Indian cinema who can play the lovable rascal, the endearing rogue, the charming heart-stealer as well, as naturally as him. Shahrukh can do this as well but only by going over the top. Saif, despite an Omkara, primarily can work only in upper middle class, rich boy roles. But Aamir can play in all those worlds – he can play the spoilt rich kid (Akash in Dil Chahta Hai), the tapori in Rangeela or the street smart, shayari spouting tour guide in Fanaa with equal ease, equal élan. I enjoyed watching him in the movie – though here too I felt that he has started to look old, the face was a little too puffed up and the make-up struggled to hide the years.

The rest of the movie was terrible – too filmi, too melodramatic, with a plot riddled with more holes than all the cheese in Switzerland. And it wasted a lot of very good, first rate character actors in bit parts which did them no justice. Tabu, Shiney Ahuja, Lillete Dubey, Kirron Kher – all were wasted. Even Kajol deserved better – her character deserved to be richer, have more meat, more real choices. From being the weak-kneed indecisive blind girl just waiting for her prince charming (does that still happen ? do mom’s actually still tell their daughters that ?) to well, being the indecisive, I love him or I love him not girl in the second half was a bit too much to swallow.

Watch it, only for the first half shayari and Aamir – the rest isn’t worth the price of the DVD. Argentina just missed a sitter, gifted to them by the Brazilians, its definitely the club side which has turned up today. It’s a day for mediocrity, of failing to live up to hype...