Saturday, January 31, 2009

Luck By Chance

Rating : 7/10
Time : 156 minutes
Director & Co-writer : Zoya Akhtar; Co-writer : Farhan Akhtar; Music : Shankar Ehsaan Loy
Starring : Farhan Akhtar, Konkona Sen Sharma, Rishi Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Hrithik Roshan, Dimple Kapadia, Isha Shervani

Is your success due to luck or your hard-work ? As in real life, this film does not provide a definitive answer but showcases how both have a significant role to play. The acting is excellent and there is a lovely understated sense of humour through the film. And the story, set in the Hindi film industry, provides enough engaging characters to keep you completely engrossed from start to finish.

Farhan & Konkona are struggling actors, both having taken different routes to get even to this stage. Farhan left his father’s shop in Delhi, went to an acting school, very interestingly run by Saurabh Shukla, lives with his rapidly running-out-of-patience masi, and is relying on a friend of his to get him his first breakthrough. Konkona walked out of her parents home and life in Kanpur straight into the arms of a producer who promises to cast her as second lead in his next film. Three years later, she’s doing bit parts and starring Bhojpuri films, while still waiting for the film launch.

In another interesting story line, Rishi Kapoor, owner of Rolly productions, a successful veteran producer, is trying to get his film underway. He’s appointed his brother, Sanjay Kapoor, as director. He has Isha Shervani, a new face and daughter of yester years superstar Dimple Kapadia, as his heroine. And he has an increasingly reluctant superstar, Hrithik Roshan, as his lead male. How all these plots come together comprises most of the film…

What the film does brilliantly is provide a good, semi-realistic look at the hindi film industry and the world that exists behind the silver screen. A world of fragile ego’s, petty jealousies, silver spoons, intense backbiting, never ending gossip, small white lies and ceaseless in-fighting, all in a effort to get ahead and get the next hit. It’s a world where big names and banners count, true talent frequently takes a back seat and yes, luck can play a very important role.

The sense of humour through the film keeps the mood light hearter. Whether its Saurabh Shukla’s ticking off Farhan (art imitating life here ?) for being understated vs the normal exaggerated male actors, Hrithik’s reaction when he learns that Karan Johar’s lead actor has broken a leg, his argument with Sanjay Kapoor on the song sequence and their subsequent reactions, Farhan’s realizing whom to butter and then playing the mother daughter team of Dimple and Isha like a guitar, the whole grandfather clock sequence, the ‘bahut tension ho rahi hai, thodi vodka aur daalo’, ‘she’s a crocodile in chiffon’, and Kareena’s ever so sweet ‘you can come over anytime’ to a struggling actor, followed very quickly by a deadpan ‘I’m just kidding’, it makes sure you keep smiling.

Farhan elicits a few ooh’s and aah’s from the female audience for his shirtless poses and dance steps, during the first part of the film. He is understated as usual, some of the jokes, when he gives Isha a horse statue instead of flowers and then follows it up with a ‘no more horsing around’ when the director protests or even his ‘you live in a cake’ remark, seem completely like him in real life. Konkona is brilliant, effortlessly playing a character going though the highs and lows of life, remaining grounded, emotive and looking lovely. My admiration for Farhan (is there anything the man can’t do – write, direct, sing, act, look good ?) and konkona (is there any role she cannot fit completely and naturally into ?) just grows with every film of theirs. A cherubic, curly haired Rishi Kapoor and an graceful Juhi Chawla look good together, Dimple looks every inch the ex superstar and dominating mother, with her vehement description of her early days in the industry providing an insight into the struggle that normally awaits most newcomers. Isha also gives a very good portrayal of a spoilt, foreign accented star daughter (the khoon / murder rehearsal was very funny, as was the ‘log kitne narrow-minded hote hain’ while she slyly slips her hand in her co-stars).

For a change, we have a very well thought through story line which is made a lot more convincing due to the number of guest appearances. Aamir Khan, Raju Hirani, Anurag Kashyap, Manish Malhotra, Kareena, Abhishek, Shabana, Javed Akhtar, John Abraham, Dia Mirza, Ranbir Kapoor, Akshay Khanna, Rani Mukherjee all add to the realism. There are several serious themes which are touched upon – the prevalence of looks vs talent, the star mom’s, the casting couch, the dominance of big names in India, the lack of original content / storylines. And both Karan Johar and Shahrukh say something quite apt, which is given added credibility because its them, with their real-life background, saying it.

I was reminded of Pretty Woman’s ‘This is Hollywood, Whats your Dream ?’opening and closing statement. For a change, even in Bollywood (apologies to Dimple for using this term), Zoya Akhtar, in her debut film makes it seem like every dream is possible !

Friday, January 16, 2009

Chandni Chowk to China

Rating 3/10
Running Time : 154 Minutes
Release Date : 16th January, 2009
Director : Nikhil Advani ; Writer : Rajat Arora, Sridhar Raghavan; Music : Sneha Khanwalkar
Starring : Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Ranvir Shorey, Mithun Chakraborty, Roger Huan, Chia Hui Liu

This is a great movie for those who’ve had 6 beers (or an equivalent amount of alcohol), or for kids (and those similarly intellectually inclined) or those who are fans of the mindless timepass genre, where you leave your brains at home, land up for the movie and then giggle aimlessly for the next three hours.

All others, like me, will find this movie a disaster. And the sad thing is that they had an interesting premise – a Chinese village, suffering from a tyrant, finds out that they can be freed by an ancient warrior who has been reborn in India. But then its almost as if the ‘brains’ behind the film decided to see how much they could dumb it down, how much unneccessary slapstick & nautanki they could throw in, how complicated (actually that’s too soft a word, convoluted is probably better) they could make the plot. How many films could they ‘borrow’ from – there are shades of Mr Natwarlal, Goldfinger and most old Hindi movies, with the whole twins separated at birth, amnesiac father et all. And in general, how far away from reality could they go…

If it weren’t for Akshay, who still comes through with at least his acting reputation intact, if not his judgement, the rating would be even lower. Deepika is ok, looks good as always. Most others, well actually I’m being unfair on the actors as they were probably doing what they were told. And the songs were in keeping with the rest of the film. Effects, scenery and cinematography is decent. Fight sequences are ok ok - again too far away from reality for me to enjoy, they've almost created a real-life version of Kungfu Panda.

I actually had high expectations from this one (because the premise was interesting) and maybe that’s why I’m so disappointed. I laughed only once or twice throughout the film, most other times I was cringing, or holding my head in my hands. The audience was 50-50, a few walking out in the interval, despite having paid Rs 260 per ticket and some others laughing everytime the director intended them to. They’re actually planning a sequel to this, but despite being set in Africa, a herd of wildebeest couldn’t drag me to that one…

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Rating : 8/10
Running Time : 120 Minutes
Release Date : 12th Nov, 2008 (USA)
Director : Danny Boyle, Lavleen Tandan (India) ; Co-writer : Simon Beaufoy; Music : A R Rahman
Starring : Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Saurabh Shukla, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar

As a movie, this one is engrossing and well-paced, a story nicely told, well-acted and well packaged. However, for a die-hard, 'India Shining', almost chip-on-my-shoulder patriot, it makes for slightly depressing viewing, raises a lot of uncomfortable questions.

I hate the fact that there are still so many people in my country, without food, water and sanitation (~600 million). I hate the fact that law and order doesn't exist, its almost the prerogative of a privileged few. I hate the fact the exemption list for our toll roads / highways takes 2 hoardings to list and the VIP list at airports expands every year. Both these things pointing again, towards a few people with all the power. I hate the fact that there is still a class divide, even in metro's, a clear division between the have's and have-not's, and that the have-not's are almost resigned to their fate. I hate the fact that all this is changing too damned slowly. And I hate the fact that there are still slums.

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of a slum dweller, Jamaal (Dev Patel), who, on a gameshow, answers all the questions and wins the jackpot (about $500,000). And for that, he gets tortured by the police, who cannot believe that an ordinary slum boy can do what a lot of other more deserving people couldn't. He gets harrassed, mis-led and belittled by the game show host (played with great hubris by Anil Kapoor), who also cannot believe that someone who serves tea is sitting in front of him. Slumdog is also the story of how Jamaal knew the answers - the life experiences that had painfully taught him the answers.

And its the story of his affection / bonding with Latika (Freida Pinto), another slum orphan, who criss-crosses his life regularly and his relationship with his elder brother Salim (Madhur Mittal), who's always been the bigger brother, more street smart, more aggressive...

There is nothing that is shown in the film that is not realistic - I think all that is shown could've really happened. You can almost touch the grime, smell the faeces and feel the tension. And I think Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy got the balance just right, it never got too depressing / too sordid, the story moved at a very good pace, the flashbacks here helping to change the mood ever so often. And most of all, I felt it was the casting that was spot-on. The young Jamaal and Salim (engagingly played by Ayush and Azharrudin respectively)
are so innocent, so frail, they get your sympathy straight away, despite the various things they try to steal. And the elder Jamaal exudes just the right mix of naivity, honesty and resignation, makes you warm to him and trust him completely. And Freida is just right for the elder Latika, with eyes that seem to have seen it all, yet looking young and innocent.

I enjoyed the film. There are some scenes that are burnt in my memory (the whole clip about how he knew the answer to who wrote the bhajan 'Darshan do Ghanshyam', for example) and there were others which made me squirm. It reminded me of a small passage in Khaled Hosseini's Kite Runner, where it almost seems like you're a guest in your own country. But overall, as I've experienced in reality as well, in India, whatever your circumstances, there is always more hope than despair. And this film is a lovely depiction of that...

PS : I would leave kids at home for this one

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Rating : 6/10
Running Time : 165 Minutes
Release Date : 26th Nov, 2008 (internationally)
Director & Co-Writer : Baz Luhrman ; Co-writer : Stuart Beattie; Music : David Hirschfelder
Starring : Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Bryan Brown, David Wenham, Brandon Walters

The movie is one big cliché and so quite predictable most of the time. But Baz Luhrman’s masterstroke was the angle of the aboriginal kid, endearingly played by Brandon Walters, which made sure we were kept hooked right through the film.

The first half an hour or so, though, relentlessly shows us all the cliché’s, the things we would expect. An English woman (Nicole Kidman), who’s come to Australia to sell her land and bring back her husband, who’s totally out of place there, traveling with a wagon load of bags, being told that the bar doesn’t allow any women / the hen parlour is next door. The rugged, Crocodile Dundee style, horse riding, tough talking man (Hugh Jackman), who works only for himself. The ruthless businessman, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants (Bryan Brown). And an assorted crew of beefy, ruddy, cussing, beer-swilling blokes, who seem to spend all their time in the bar.

We also see some magnificent landscape, showcasing the beauty of the Australian continent, herds of bulls, horses running by, pounding hooves, crystal clear streams, red rock cliffs. And, of course, we see kangaroos hopping by.

And we see the aboriginal kid, the half caste, called ‘Creamy’ by most of the white folk and Nullah, by those who love him. Grandson of King George, who has given him some of his mystic powers. Who lives in mortal fear of being caught by the coppers and taken to the mission (part of Australia’s infamous policy of resettlement). Who is torn between his desire to please Mrs Boss (Nicole’s nickname) and stick to his traditions and do the aboriginal walkabout with his grandfather.

While the first story (of Nicole / Hugh / Bryan) pans out as you would expect, it’s the story of the aboriginal kid which is more intriguing, provides the real emotional connect for the audience. And the film is almost two movies in one, as the first half deals with the business end of the story, while the second is more about the relationships between Nicole / Hugh and the kid and the impact of the World War II on Darwin and the rest of the Northern territories.

While it tries to be an epic, it lacks the depth (character wise or time wise) to truly be one. It’s a fair watch, though, a chance to check out Australia’s history and raw natural beauty. And their shameful Aboriginal past from not so long ago. Its an interesting film, without ever being enthralling. A good watch, rather than a must watch…

Oye Lucky Lucky Oye

Rating : 6/10
Running Time : ~ 131 Minutes
Release Date : 28th Nov, 2008
Director & Co-Writer : Dibakar Banerjee ; Writer : Urmi Juvekar; Music : Sneha Khanwalkar
Starring : Abhay Deol, Neetu Chandra, Paresh Rawal, Archana Puran Singh, Manu Rishi, Manjot Singh

I don’t think I’ve seen a better picturisation of Punjabi Delhi than this film. The narrow, small houses, the class barriers, the divide between those who speak English and those who don’t, the early morning fog, the people sitting on their charpoi’s soaking in the winter sun. And the language, with the whole film being Hindi tinged with Punjabi or Hindi tinged with very rustic Haryanvi accent. However, I also think the story meandered and lost steam in the second half. In his first film, Dibakar managed to keep us engaged with the objective of seeing how Mr Khosla built his Ghosla. Here, he just lets it kind of peter out, without that definite ending, and that weakens the whole film.

But lets first focus on the good parts. Abhay Deol, is magnificent as Lucky, the small time crook who yearns to strike it big. He lives by his wits, is not too planned or organized, has a short temper and is unwilling to align himself totally to Gogi Arora (a well-connected fence who buys stuff from crooks, one of Paresh Rawal’s three roles in the film) or anyone else. His home is his car (aage drawing room, peeche bedroom), he’s left his family and doesn’t have too many friends. He’s this way right from childhood, always up for a dare, stealing a scooter to show his girl a good time, getting her to come for a ride with him with the memorable ‘aaj mera happy budday hai, saal mein sirf do baar aata hai’. And he retains that sense of humour in his later years, along with that lovely dimpled smile of his. One of the highpoints of the movie was the theft of the red Mercedes. And having lived in that part of Delhi, I can assure you that it can really happen this way.

The film essentially focuses on the rise and rise of Lucky – who remains solo except for his ‘friend’, Bengali (Manu Rishi). And goes national. And soon also becomes the topic of the national news, those crazy crime shows where the only objective is to scare you and use big, really big Hindi words (like sansanikhez…). And on the side, he courts Neetu Chandra, a shy girl (‘ye sharifon ka mohallah hai’ ya ‘main is tarah ki gaadiyon main nahin baithti’…), who finds herself being easily charmed by this lovable rascal.

The sound track is good, though a bit one dimensional. And where this film really lost out for me was in the second half and the ending. It dragged a bit. It just lacked the wonderful focus Dibakar’s previous film had.

However, watch it just to relive the sights and sounds of Delhi. The fights over the parking places, the Modern school kids and the girls in their short skirts, the tendency of showing off, the difference clothes make, the farmhouse parties. And the humour. Because, everyone in Delhi can be funny. Either intentionally or unintentionally….

PS : This is the first movie I saw on Tata Sky Showcase and I must say I was disappointed in the quality of the film, rather like a jerky DVD

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The President is Coming

Rating : 8/10
Running Time : N/A (~100 minutes)
Release Date : 9th Jan 2009
Director : Kunaal Roy Kapur; Writer : Anuvab Pal; Music : Goldspot
Starring : Konkona Sen, Ira Dubey, Satchit Puranik, Anand Tiwari, Vivek Gomber, Namit Das, Shernaz Patel, Shivani Tanksale, Imran Rasheed

Why do women fake orgasms ? Because they think we care…

A message flashes on the screen, before the movie starts, stating that the film is a documentary and that the makers do not regret its lack of credibility. However, what this message doesn’t do is prepare us for the madness that is unleashed upon us. 6 young Indians vie in a reality TV style contest for the honour to be the young Indian to shake President Bush’s hand on his visit to India.

I think it’s the surprise element that is most amazing about the film – you’re caught unawares a lot of times, most of the jokes and situations being completely unpredictable. And the surprising thing is that the characters are also built up well, we actually start to care about them and feel for them.

Anand Tiwari plays Kapil Dev, a stockbroker who wants to become more famous than his namesake, who is so obsessed about stocks that “the capital of USA ?” for him is “Dow Jones”. When impressed with another contestant, his compliment is “If you were a stock, I would buy you”. And his display during the talent show was brilliant. Vivek Gomber, “you can call me Rohit or Tom or whatever”, has lived in the USA for a short while and now runs an accent training school. Ira Dubey, daddy’s girl, runs a lipstick “5 crore empire, which she started with a 3 crore capital”. Satchit Puranik is an MBA from IIM-A, a khadi wearing social activist who teaches kids in villages using buffaloes as a blackboard. Konkona is a Bengali authoress, the coldest, most sane of the lot, or at least that’s what we think. And finally, we have Namit Das as the programmer from Bangalore, who’s seduction techniques (I’m Ramesh S. S is private) border on the insane (“lets have some late night HBO type of fun ?”)…

We also have two PR persons who are running the contest – Shernaz Patel playing an ultra-aggressive, ball-busting person while Shivani Tanksale is the sensitive person who actually does all the work.

And once the contest begins, so many skeletons tumble out of the closet that you wonder whether it was a closet or a doorway to a graveyard…

Though like I said the best ones are the surprise / lateral ones. Dharmendra’s photo, for example, turns up in a completely unexpected place. There is a statue of Bush in a gaudy sherwani, at the entrance of the embassy. And a poster adorning the contest room saying ‘Don’t hassle the hof’.

All the jokes mentioned above are truly just a sample – there’s many many more, its almost non-stop craziness. In fact, during the interval, there was an ad for a program called “Indian Pagalpanti League” on some TV channel. And I thought how apt – we’ve just seen it already !

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Madagascar2 : Escape to Africa

Rating : 7/10
Running Time : 89 Minutes
Release Date : 7th Nov 2008
Director : Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath; Writer : Etan Cohen
Starring : Ben Stiller, Alec Baldwin, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith

The penguins provided some of the best moments in this one for me. Right from the start, beginning with their assault on the Dreamworks logo, their ‘Damn you, Darwin’, when they have to cajole monkeys to help them because of their opposable thumbs, the whole carjacking sequence and even the ‘We have some good news and bad news – the good news is that we’ll be landing soon. The bad news is we’ll be crash landing.’, they are simply hilarious.

Else, we have all the usual crazy characters in a plot which doesn’t really matter. Zuba’s son, Alex the lion, goes to New York and then returns with the zebra (Marty), giraffe (Melman) and hippo (Gloria) where, even though he re-unites with his parents, he finds it difficult to adjust to life in the non-concrete jungle, especially with Makunga, who wants to be the alpha lion in Zuba’s place, playing the villain. On top, we have the regulars, including the whacky King Julien, the monkeys, the penguins and some new ones, including the feisty Nana, the tough old lady from New York, who becomes the scourge of the lions.

Most memorable moments for me included the fight between Nana and Alex, the first time Moto Moto (a giant hippo) walks up to Gloria and delivers the classic ‘I’m Moto Moto, you like it so much, you say it twice’. King Julien, with his ‘first class travel’, the interaction between Gloria and Melman and finally the moment when Alex presents a handbag to the slightly effeminate Makunga, who’s reaction is ‘ooh, wow, a shoulder strap ! Does it adjust ?’

Its not that long, but it feels even shorter. Another proof of ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’ philosophy…We can apparently expect a third in the series in 2011 and it can’t come soon enough…

Monday, January 05, 2009


Rating : 5/10
Running Time : 181 Minutes
Release Date : 26th Dec 2008
Director & Writer : A R Murugadoss ; Music : A R Rahman
Starring : Aamir Khan, Jiah Khan, Asin, Pradeep Rawat, Tinnu Anand

If I had to choose three words to describe this film they would be ‘gory, implausible, predictable’ with just a bit of ‘interesting-ness’ thrown in. Its a more pulpy copy of Memento (I was laughing when I read about the case between the original producer vs Murugadoss etc as both have essentially copied an English film anyways). I know Ghajini is a huge hit, but I was disappointed in the end-product – with a little more effort, it could’ve been much better…

Aamir plays a man who suffers from short term memory loss, where you cant remember anything for more than 15 minutes – so he has to rely on polaroids etc to remind himself of his house, his friends, his bus etc. And in Aamir’s case, he’s also got tattoo’s all over, which remind him that his fiancée, played by Asin, was killed by a man named Ghajini, whom he has to find and kill. While all this is made obvious in the first 15 minutes (the director fearing that the audience may also be suffering from short term memory loss perhaps), the rest of the movie then describes how the ultra rich Aamir and the poor-ish Asin fell in love, what led to the transformation of the smooth, rich tycoon to the muscle bound, tattoed, crew cut, near monster we see in the posters. And Jiah Khan plays the most underworked medical student I know, who has oodles of time to try her luck as a crime investigator and help put together what happened to Aamir.

I don’t like films where you kind of give it all away in the first few minutes and then explain how in flashbacks – it takes away the suspense for me and makes my viewing experience poorer. Here, they gave away too much – there was no need to do so and you then watch the entire film with a sense of grim foreboding, waiting for the bad stuff to happen. The songs were kind of weird – the mix of the South Indian grandeur and beats with Bollywood kitschiness. The fight sequences were a throwback to the good old days where the hero could single-handedly beat up 50 thugs, without a mark on himself, no matter that they were bigger, beefier etc. Also, in keeping with the theme of the ‘good, old days’, the thugs also shunned guns / knives but relied on wooden clubs, iron bars etc.

Aamir acts very well – even the implausible bits – but then you expect nothing else from him. Both Asin and Jiah were lukewarm for me, not entirely convincing in their roles, missing the spark a bit. The best part for me was the opening credits with the CG shots of the brain and its nerve endings provide a surreal background canvas. I also liked the way where in parts they used the fast forward technique of describing the story. However, the movie drags quite a bit, you feel most of the latter half of its three hour length go by.

I hope this wasn’t the case, but there did seem to be an element of Aamir saying to Shahrukh, whatever you can do, I can do better – the six-pack abs, the romancing chocolaty hero, the vengeance seeking fighter etc. Aamir, for me, is in a different league and stands for something different. I wish he had stuck to being himself or at least been more involved in the story - we would surely have seen a better film then.