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.