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 !