Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Confessions of A Shopaholic

Rating : 4/10
Release Date : 13th Feb ‘09
Time : 104 minutes
Director : PJ Hogan; Writer : Tracey Jackson, Tim Firth, Kayla Alpert based on the novel by Sophie Kinsella; Music : James Newton Howard
Starring : Isla Fisher, Hugh Dancy, Krysten Ritter, John Lithgow, John Goodman, Joan Cusack, Kristin Scott Thomas, Leslie Bibb, Robert Stanton

It reminded me of Legally Blonde and Bridget Jones Diary, only it was slightly less funny, more corny / predictable and more vacuous (if that’s possible).

Shopaholic journalist, in search of her dream job in a fashion magazine, lands up working for a financial magazine instead, and begins to write a column which describes financial instruments using fashion metaphors (for example : A store credit card is like the cashmere dress you bought in a sale). She becomes very famous, the toast of the town and especially of cute boss, till her run-ins with her debt collector lead to things falling apart. Will she manage to come back on top ? Will she and cute boss get together or will he succumb to the wiles of her long legged competitor, Alicia, whose mere walk makes handbags pop open in a phallic reaction ? Will she eventually get the job in the fashion magazine ?

Most of the answers above are predictable as are most of the jokes – some innovations though – one was the whole tequila with bills concept, definitely worth trying, the other was the shopaholics anonymous idea, which has huge potential in the West I feel, and finally the frozen credit card, again a thought worth imitating in real life. However, the jokes which make you smile and the moments where you cringe at the sheer empty headedness of it all dead heat by the time the film ends. The financial metaphors she uses actually make sense but too little time is spent on that vs other sillier moments. Kristin Scott Thomas is wasted, especially with that fake French accent, John Goodman and Joan Cusack look haggard and Isla Fisher is decent but looks unnervingly like Elisabeth Shue. Hugh Dancy is probably the only one who comes out fine.

Most women in the audience, though, couldn’t stop giggling and seemed to enjoy the film. Treat it as a time-pass chick flick, take your wife/partner / girlfriend and earn major brownie points…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

200th Review

BTW, have just realised that I've posted my 200th review...

I think its amazing how this has developed as I now find myself in a job which also is in the entertainment sector

Someone, in one of the comments or emails, commented that my average rating is very high - I dont seem to be discriminating enough / I seem to like most films. I think that observation is bang on. I hate being called a critic, am more a reviewer who posts his reviews because I like movies and I enjoy writing. My default rating is 5 and a movie has to do something bad for me to go lower. I feel my job is to point out what the film is about, what are the thoughts it made me feel and what were the good / bad points. If I do that well enough, it can help you decide whether to view the film yourself or not...

And the more films I watch, the more I'm enjoying it. I continue to have readers in over 250 cities across the 6 continents and this is still a great source of personal pride. Thanks to everyone for your feedback / comments / support, hope it continues.


Little Zizou

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 20th Mar ‘09
Time : 101 minutes
Director & Writer : Sooni Taraporevala; Music : Bickram Ghosh
Starring : Jahan Batlivala, Imaad Shah, Boman Irani, Zenobia Shroff, Shernaz Patel, Sohrab Ardeshir, Kurush Deboo, Dilshad Patel, John Abraham, Cyrus Barocha, Kamal Sidhu, Tknow Francorsi, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, Iyanah Bativala

I love the way comic book illustrations, as seen through the eyes of one of its main protagonists, Imaad Shah, consistently merge in and out of the film. I loved the way the Russians invaded Parsi-land in the opening sequence. I loved the way each character is totally immersed in his/her own world – be it preparing for a new world order, running a small newspaper or building a 747 simulator. And I loved most of all the little eccentricities shown, the kookiness of this sect, kind of the way Parsi’s are stereotyped to be, their own language, their own sayings. And it extends to way beyond the silly shallow ‘eh dikra’ and the dresses most Hindi films have shown so far. And given the reaction of a few Parsi’s sitting near my wife as she watched the film, who were cracking up constantly during the film, this one seems to have hit an authentic sweet spot…

The movie is narrated through Jahan’s eyes, a kid who’s obsessed with Zinedine Zidane (hence the nickname) and football, which he plays either in real life or on his brothers laptop or in cybercafe’s (hilarious scene where he’s playing it sandwiched between two guys surfing porn who keep requesting him to lower the volume as they cant concentrate…). He’s also obsessed with the thought of whether his mother (who died during childbirth) saw him or not and whether she continues to watch over him or not. He’s also rarely in school and milks the fact that he doesn’t have a mom with some kind neighbours, much to consternation of the neighbours daughter.

Jahan’s elder brother, Imaad, the comic book illustrator, is a pretty chilled guy, who cares for his kid brother in a non-intrusive, non-possessive way. And its his obsession to make a 747 simulator, along with two other crazy guys, one of whom is always eating and the other, who is a half Russian / half Parsi, ‘lovingly’ called half baked lemon soda by one member of the fanatical force run by his Dad. Jahan’s and Imaad’s father, Sohrab Ardeshir as Khodaiji II, is probably one of the craziest of the lot, fancying himself to be the next messiah, doing chanting, exhorting his force to spread the word, more blunder than buss and with a devoted secretary (Shernaz Patel), who drinks on the sly, but then as Jahan points out, his father could drive anybody to drink.

Khodaiji’s arch enemy is the full of life Boman Presswala (Boman Irani), who is also the neighbour giving solace to the two kids. His wife Roxanne (Zenobia) is a loving, maternal woman, their house is full of music and love and laughter, and they have two daughters – the elder one is an object of affection for Imaad, while the younger one resents the attention Jahan gets from Zenobia and enjoys putting her little nose in everything. When trouble hits them, with the battle between Khodaiji and Boman intensifying as Boman exposes the nonsense that the group is upto, then its Zenobia who has to try and sort things out with her mom, a Mrs Havisham style character excellently played by Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal.

I can go on and on about the characters, they’re reasonably well fleshed out and they’re fun to get to know. I can go on about the jokes – there’s one a minute – ‘meet Yassir, he’s thin so the opposite of Yassir Ara’fat’’ and even Imaad’s hilarious password for his laptop. Or Jahan’s character descriptions – ‘she was one of those people who hated people but loved animals’. Or the whole ‘PLO : We want you’ ripoff of the Uncle Sam stuff. And the music is lovely, in one sequence Indian classical music is amazingly synched with a football game and in others it provides a little energy to the characters being shown. And, finally, the comic illustrations by Sarnath Banerjee were brilliant – the ones about the Russians, Kamal Siddhu and John Abraham will linger in memory for a while !

Its sweet, its funny, a little bittersweet in parts. As Boman Presswala says in a speech during the film, “these three boys had a crazy dream. Its good to be crazy sometimes and its always good to dream”. I have a feeling this crazy little film is Sooni Taraporevala’s dream and it made for an engaging watch on the big screen…


Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 20th Mar ‘09
Time : 101 minutes
Director & Co-writer : Nandita Das; Co-Writer : Shuchi Kothari; Music : Rajat Dholakia, Piyush Kanojia
Starring : Shahana Goswami, Naseeruddin Shah, Tisca Chopra, Deepti Naval, Paresh Rawal, Sanjay Suri, Raghuvir Yadav, Mohammad Samad

Firaaq, as its opening screen says, is a work of fiction, inspired by a thousand true stories.

Rather than focus on the actual riots (the Hindu-Muslim carnage in Gujarat in 2002), it depicts, sometimes in gruesome detail, the impact & aftermath approx one month later on different people across all income classes. It shows how very few people are left unscarred, how one woman (Shahana Goswami) begins to view her best friend with suspicion. How a middle class housewife (Deepti Naval) is haunted by her failure to give sanctuary to someone fleeing from a mob.

How a ‘mixed’ couple (Tisca Chopra as the Hindu wife and Sanjay Suri as the Muslim husband) is packing up and leaving for Delhi after their store is ransacked during the violence. How a handful of Muslims are plotting revenge. How an elderly Muslim music teacher (Naseeruddin Shah) is shielded from the horrors happening around him by his faithful servant (Raghuvir Yadav), but then reality slowly dawns on him. How the entire state / govt machinery seems to be anti-Muslim during this period. And how a young, endearing Muslim boy (Mohammad Samad in a heart rending performance), with his big innocent eyes, has seen more horrors in two months than we would wish anyone, young or old, to have seen in a whole lifetime.

I sometimes also wonder why only such films, which showcase violence or poverty or project an unflattering view of India are the ones which win awards in foreign festivals ? But then, as I walk the streets of Kolkotta from one pub to another, where the average price of a pint of beer is higher than what 800 million of my fellow country men earn in a day, and I see the signs of poverty all around me (people sleeping on the streets, pulling rickshaws, bathing on the pavement or in filthy pools etc), I realize maybe these are the films which, unlike the glam world of Bollywood, actually represent the true India, and the world I live in is the superficial one.
After all, which is the city in India which can claim to never have suffered from communal violence ? Or not have very poor people within its limits ? And as over-educated, born-with-a-silver-spoon, idiots like Varun Gandhi have demonstrated recently, this has still not stopped political parties from attempting to whip up communal frenzy / hatred.

I guess we should be glad that our media is free, that we are allowed to create, air and view such films. I sometimes wonder what is the point of such films ? But then maybe that is the point of such films, to simply remind us that there is a point, that if it can make even one person reject this cycle of communal hatred, religiously cultivated (pun intended) by political parties for narrow minded short term gains, then its worth it.

Barah Aana

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 20th Mar ‘09
Time : 97 minutes
Director & Co-writer : Raja Menon; Co-Writer : Raj Kumar Gupta: Music : Shri
Starring : Arjun Mathur, Naseeruddin Shah, Vijay Raaz, Violante Placido, Benjamin Gilani, Jayati Bhatia, Tannishtha Chatterjee

A strange friendship between a waiter (Arjun Mathur), a security guard (Vijay Raaz) and a driver (Naseeruddin Shah), all of whom live in a sprawling slum and have very different motives in life, is the focus of this film

Arjun dreams of a better life, dreams of a foreigner who is friendly with him in the coffee shop he waits in and thus ignores the outspoken affections of Tannishtha, who lives in the same slum and is his landlord’s daughter.

Naseeruddin Shah has been hard done by his family members and now is content to while his days away in silence, rarely speaking, even when the mistress of the house he drives for, hurls unprompted & unjustified abuse at him. He is happy to be amongst the world’s living dead, pun intended.

The show stealer of the film is Vijay Raaz, who is underconfident, bumbling, a bit of an idiot, struggling to make ends meet and is trying desperately to make sure he is able to send to his village the Rs 5000 needed to make his son alright. One slap, though, changes all this and its lovely to watch the ‘new’ Vijay Raaz, authoritative, full of beans and how this rubs off on his cohorts. And how the three of them cope with the twists and turns that life throws at them

Contrary to what some rich people like to believe, the poor still do find ways to have fun, so there are plenty of light hearted moments. Even some of the tragic moments are shown in a ‘funny’ way, Vijay Raaz again coming to the fore. Either when he is being made to climb up and down three stories in a power struggle between the self-important secretary of the society and the unrepentant owner of an wrongly parked car or when he bemoans the lack of humanity amongst the society dwellers and their inability to lend him the money he needs for his son’s medicines, despite their spending more on necessities like pizza’s etc and despite his having gone out of the way to care for some of them in their hour of need.

The film moves along at a nice clip, has enough sub-plots to keep you interested and they all come together neatly and tie up towards the end. It is full of little insights – someone has observed with minute detail how most of us mistreat, abuse and humiliate our servants on a routine basis, the kind of non-issues we blow up to find a reason to perhaps vent our frustrations on these helpless souls who usually have nowhere to go. And I think, the fact that this film gets this message through without making moralizing or preaching, and still makes sure you leave the movie hall chuckling, is what makes this a very good film…

He's Just Not That Into You

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 6th Feb ‘09
Time : 129 minutes
Director : Ken Kwapis; Writer : Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein based on the book of the same name by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo; Music : Cliff Eidelman
Starring : Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Connolly, Justin Long, Kris Kristofferson

This movie gives the inside info of the male and female perspectives of relationships and also tries to bust several myths or stereotypes at the same time reinforcing some others. It succeeds in being reasonably funny and a reasonable watch, but has too many characters and lacks depth or true new insights to be anything more than that….

Some of the statements the film makes
Most men are looking for extra-marital affairs : I will leave you to decide whether its true or not
Sex frequency declines after marriage : probably a cause of the above, again you need to decide whether it fits your experience of the big ‘M’.
Women are obsessed with cleaning : There’s a lovely scene where Jennifer Connelly breaks something in rage and while still sniffling goes out of the room and returns with a dust pan. I would list this one as a given.

Women talk about everything to each other : men usually talk about women (in general), sport and work / money (in detail). Women generally talk about the men in their life, fashion, relationships at work or otherwise (in detail) and the rest is a general blur.
Men become less attentive after marriage : for women, this is quoted as cause of point two above, which in turn, remember, is cause of point one. This is too delicate a topic for me to even begin. In the context of the movie, lets just assume it to be true and its well depicted via the Jennifer Aniston / Ben Affleck relationship when compared to the spouses of Jennifer’s sister and assorted relatives.

Women don’t have any clue on how guys really think : Ginnifer Goodwin, the cute as a button (have never understood how this phrase came to be but am going with the flow) central character / narrator gets lessons from Justin Long. Stuff like ‘if a guy wants to meet you, he will call, never call back’ or ‘if a guy says I’m going to be out of town and wont be able to stay in touch, run…’. Needless to say, this is all news to Ginny.

All this is interspersed with some fun and games. Scarlett Johansson skinny dipping in the pool was one of the highlights, as was the blunt, call a spade a spade advice handed out by Justin Long, Drew Barrymore’s descriptions of her dates (including ‘we had coffee yesterday, actually we both video-chatted while sipping coffee’) to her gay colleagues and the story of the woman with three husbands.
The movie itself is broken up into different parts like ‘if the man is not sleeping with you’ or ‘if the woman is not sleeping with you’. As I said above, don’t look for something life changing or deeply insightful, watch the movie in a group, same gender or mixed, either can provoke some debate and you may actually enjoy yourself despite the multiplicity of characters and the sheer predictability of it all.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Street Kings

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 3rd April ’08 (USA) / 13th March ’09 (India)
Time : 109 minutes
Director : David Ayer; Writer : James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer
Starring : Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, Naomi Harris, Chris Evans

I didn’t know James Ellroy had written the story till the end-credits were rolling. Essentially this is a watered down version of LA Confidential (he’s the author of the novel and writer of the screenplay), a sort of imitation which uses all the success elements of the former. You have corrupt cops, a cop who is battling internal demons and is currently being used as a battering ram, you have a plot that keeps on thickening till its as solid as cement, the grittiness of the streets, some action and you have the denouement / the climax, where things kind of fall in place.

Yet, throughout the film, it fails to grip you or instill any sense of excitement. It basically lacks human characters whom we are able to identify with and then cheer or vilify. Keanu Reeves, while doing a decent job of the role he was given, is not built up or made appealing to the audience. And they keep referring to his past without clarifying it. The others are wall-paper. The bit about his partner’s wife was potentially interesting but not built up. And the action has a dated feel – there is nothing you’ve not seen before – and actually that’s true for the action and even the plot.

We’ll reserve this one for the boys with toys brigade, the guys who get off on car chases, guns and bullets. But even in that genre, this one is of a paler hue compared to what else is out there…

Monday, March 16, 2009


Rating : 9/10
Release Date : 13th Mar ‘09
Time : 170 minutes
Director : Anurag Kashyap; Writer : Raja Chaudhary, Anurag Kashyap, Rahul Maharya; Music : Piyush Mishra
Starring : Kay Kay Menon, Mahi Gill, Aditya Shrivastava, Piyush Mishra, Deepak Dobriyal, Ayesha Mohan, Raja Chaudhary, Abhimanyu Singh, Jesse Randhawa

“Tera bhai paidaishi hi ullu ka patha hai, ki koi course kiya hai ?”

“Baaki sab hain pitte huay doot, bas Rananjay hi asli Rajput”

“Jaise door desh ke tower main ghus jaaye aeroplane”

“Jaise sare aam ghus gaye Iraq mein Uncle Sam”

“Jaise bina baat ke Afghanistan ka bajgayo band”

While the last three are refrains from a song towards the end, all the above still give an idea of the language and fierce satire that awaits you as you watch this masterpiece unfold. Almost every piece of dialogue makes a statement by itself. Its bizarre, intense, colourful, surreal, rustic and crazy all at the same time.

This is a story which is not linear at all. It’s the story of people feeling betrayed by their politicians, the story of a kid who comes to law college just to study but finds himself reluctantly in the thick of things, it’s the story of the son of a Rajput king who doesn’t want to be serving tea to foreign ladies who come and live in his palace which is now a hotel. It’s the story of a female teacher who is ragged brutally. It’s the story of a person leading a separatist movement for Rajputana. The story of a man who tastes love and the pleasures of sex for the first time and then becomes infatuated. The story of a pair of illegitimate siblings trying to gain their father’s name or at least some of his fame. The story of the obsession behind being a 'true' Rajput and the macho-ness that goes with that territory. But most of all, it’s a commentary on the sad state of affairs in this country – corruption, politics, education et all.

How this all comes together, without ever losing sight of the main narrative, without flagging or boring the viewer is the brilliance of the film and its dialogue. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, out will come another rustic gem. Or another satirical or excellently appropriate song. Or another outlandishly dressed character. Or another out of this world locale. The ability to constantly surprise you is yet another strength of this film. The soundtrack is eminently ownable, with almost no song there just for the heck of it. And while the acting was excellent overall, Kay Kay dials up the intensity as only he can for this one. Abhimanyu Singh was a show stealer as was Piyush Mishra as the crazy singer and the self appointed conscience of Kay Kay. And Ayesha Mohan fitted the part of an innocent seductress perfectly.

There are shades of Dev D here – Anurag Kashyap may even have used some of the sets – the Hotel 69 with its democracy beer, neon-lighting, Che Guevera posters was as out of place in Rajastan as possible. There are shades of Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam as well, especially in the relationship between Kay Kay and his wife. But the film is inspired and ends quite fittingly with the haunting classic song from Pyaasa, which coveys passion and frustration, like no other

“ye mahalon, yeh takhton, yeh tajon ki duniya
yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye, to kya hai”

P.S. For a passionate perspective on how Gulaal came to be read this article written by Anurag Kashyap

Gran Torino

Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 9th Jan’09 (USA)
Time : 116 minutes
Director : Clint Eastwood; Writer : Nick Schenk Dave Johannsen
Starring : Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her

I would like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra to watch this film just to learn how to deliver social messages without getting too emotional(like Rang De) or heavy-handed / preachy (like Dilli 6). Don’t get me wrong, I liked both the films but they would have been far better if they had the naturalness and authenticity of Gran Torino, a wonderful slow moving drama of an elderly widower who’s life hasn’t turned out exactly how he would have wanted it.

Clint Eastwood is the very personification of a man who is frustrated. For starters, in the opening frame itself, he has lost his dear wife. He’s bothered by the kind of clothes his grand kids are wearing and what they’re doing (smoking, sms-ing, joking among themselves – the last even applying to his own kids). He’s upset by the number of foreigners who’ve moved into his neighbourhood – Orientals / Blacks etc. He’s upset at the way his two sons have turned out and he struggles to have a conversation with them. He’s upset that his next door neighbours are Oriental, noisy, clannish and always having people over. And the young boy who lives there is a bit of a wimp. So, when due to unusual circumstances, he begins to bond with his neighbours, its almost as much a surprise for the audience as it is for his character.

How this bond develops and the lessons of life this crochety old man is able to teach (without trying to) those around him, including a priest who had promised his now deceased wife that he would make him confess, is then the focus of the rest of the film. The film is extraordinarily foul-mouthed and full of racist jibes – slopes / dragon lady / gook head being probably the mildest forms of address used for the orientals and quips like ‘how do you like your dogs ?’ being the softer of the racist jokes.

The way the movie builds up is quite amazing – the pace always remains gentle – yet there is increased tension towards the end. And the situation that is created at the end and how Clint Eastwood resolves it is brilliant. The acting is very good as well, from him and form the support cast. Sometimes, we are dealt a set of cards that don’t leave you with many choices. How we play in that situation is probably as best a test of character as we’re likely to find and Clint Eastwood’s characters choice fills you with respect and admiration. At the end of the day, all I can say is ‘it made my day, punk !’

13 B

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 6th March ‘09
Time : 148 minutes
Director & Writer : Vikram K Kumar; Music : Shankar, Ehsaan & Loy
Starring : Madhavan, Neetu Chandra, Poonam Dhillon, Sachin Khedekar, Deepak Dobriyal

How would you react if in the house you moved in, strange things happen. Like the lift never works if you press the button, the phone takes distorted images of you if you’re in the house, there is a wall that seems un-drillable and promptly at 1300 hours, the TV switches itself on and shows a serial, which kind of predicts whats going to happen to you and your family and which only appears on your TV. Spooked ? Intrigued ?

Not bad as far as Indian horror films go. An interesting, novel and, to the best of my knowledge, original plot where the supernatural seems to blend with science. I saw this film, approx 15 minutes after it started and in Tamil, a language I don’t understand at all, yet was impressed. So while I cannot comment on the quality of the dialogue, I can commend on the way they keep the viewer intrigued, and the ending being ok / satisfactory – it explains some of the stuff which happened while maintaining a discreet silence on some other. They overuse the tense, impending doom, scary music but find ways (judging by the audience laughter) to crack a few jokes in between. Madhavan acts really well, not a facial expression out of place and I hope he now doesn’t get typecast into horror films.

Its not gory but it’s the type of film which will have most of the females cringing and later clinging to the ‘brave’ male’s accompanying them. Just another incentive for you to watch the film ?

Dil Kabaddi

Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 5th Dec ‘08
Time : 130 minutes
Director & Co-writer : Anil Senior; Writer : Vivek Anand, Leslie George Sparkx; Music : Sachin Gupta
Starring : Irrfan Khan, Soha Ali Khan, Rahul Bose, Konkona Sen Sharma, Rahul Khanna, Payal Rohtagi, Saba

Men will be men and will chase anything in skirts is kind of the premise of the film. Watch this just to see some very good characterizations by the lead foursome, to see the sparks fly as they interact with each other and to see an above average first half. In the second half, things sort of taper off, drag a bit (just a bit) and the ending while not entirely predictable, is a bit unsatisfying.

The film is about two couples – Rahul / Konkona and Irrfan / Soha and their various ups and downs and ‘outside’ dalliances. The conversation is funny yet realistic, most couple’s will see glimpses of themselves at some point in time or the other and the four of them enact their roles very well and even a cameo of Konkona’s ex-boyfriend deserves kudo’s. Rahul Khanna, in a small part, also does justice. For me the show stealer was Soha, in a role which required her to be all fire and brimstone vs the cute girl roles she normally does.

The film is replete with images like Irrfan wearing a pink santa hat, a silver eye mask and a sports bra (all at one time), or Rahul Bose getting his bare ass whipped by his sex crazed girlfriend or even the whole conversation when Konkona decides they will have sex tonight and requests Rahul to shower or the phone conversation that Soha is having with Irrfan while she’s on a date. Its good fun, makes you smile and surely, in these recessionary times, that’s worth the price of a DVD…

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pink Panther 2

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 6th Feb ‘09
Time : 92 minutes
Director : Harald Zwart; Writers : Scott Neustadter, Michael Weber; Music : Christophe Beck
Starring : Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, Andy Garcia, Yuki Matsuzaki, Alfred Molina, Aishwarya Rai, John Cleese, Molly Sims, Jeremy Irons

It makes you laugh in a few places, half of the humour being slapstick and the other half, slightly but only slightly more cerebral. But it misses for me, as someone who’s seen most of the Peter Seller’s versions, the sheer madness that infected the earlier films (like the whole sequence around Kato attacking his master) and also the sheer lovability and sympathy that Peter Seller’s brought to the character of Inspector Clouseau.

The plot, as in most of the Pink Panther movies, is largely irrelevant. They manage to find a way though, to put together a very impressive supporting cast of Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, Andy Garcia and John Cleese, who plays the frustrated boss. And, of course, our very own Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. It felt good to see her in such exalted company – I didn’t find her wooden, thought she handled herself well & admirably, though I felt she didn’t look as good looking as she can, even sporting dark circles in some scenes (your make-up man is slipping up, Ash, he needs his socks pulled up a bit). But then my bias towards her is well known and well documented in previous reviews.

One of the negatives of having such a stellar cast is that it gives less time to build Inspector Clouseaus character or even that of his boss and of their relationship. So at the end of it all, you have a fun movie, a decent way to end the day but its just a string of gags. Nothing with the spark and zest and sheer exuberance of the earlier films. Worth a one time watch but if would still rather buy the DVD of the Peter Seller’s movies.


Rating : 5/10
Release Date : 7th Nov ‘08
Time : 117 minutes
Director : Shashant Shah; Writer : Arshad Sayed; Music : Kailash Kher, Paresh, Naresh
Starring : Vinay Pathak, Rajat Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Neha Dhupia, Ranvir Shorey, Svetlana

It’s a slightly clichéd story of a man who has always been dealt the short end of a straw discovering he has 3 months left to live and then deciding to do all the things he wanted to but never got a chance. The list he makes (buy a new car, foreign trip, learn the guitar etc) is for the most part predictable, as is the film but what redeems it, partially at least, is the excellent acting by all the actors and some nice humour.

For example, Saurabh Shukla, as the boss is always shown eating (actually wolfing is probably more accurate) and always has a request like ‘throw it in the dustbin’ or ‘bring water’ etc. Or Sarita Joshi, as Vinay’s mom, is always shown struggling with the remote. Or the choice of song, when the cute thing switches on the radio while being driven home in Vinay’s new car. Or even how life has always dealt Vinay the middle seat, whether in the shared taxi or even on his foreign trip. The Neha Dhupia sequence was cute, as was the Russian thing – though naming the whole film for a sequence which lasts 5 minutes was a bit misleading.

While its not entirely a soppy film, it does try to invoke pathos in parts. That and its predictability let it down. Bitter sweet, with the potential to make you and stop and think what would you do if faced with the same situation, makes it an ok watch.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Rating : 7/10
Release Date : Dec ‘04
Time : 195 minutes
Director & Writer : Ashutosh Gowariker; Music : A R Rahman
Starring : Shahrukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi, Kishori Balal, Daya Shankar Pandey

Swades is more a fable, less a film. In what is sure to strike a chord with every NRI, it describes how India, despite all its problems / infrastructural glitches and the thousand other issues we are familiar with, still manages to make a powerful call to return to all those who live outside its shores.

Mohan (Shahrukh), doing well in NASA, starts to miss / feel guilty about not having done enough for his Kaveri Amma (Kishori Balal), his beloved nanny who looked after him during his childhood. He travels to India and finds her living in a small village in UP, playing surrogate mom to siblings Gita (Gayatri Joshi) and Chikku (Smith Seth). Gita is an idealistic, opinionated school teacher, who is trying to ensure all kids come to school and study, and at first she resents Mohan’s attempt to whisk Kaveri Amma away to the USA. Kaveri Amma herself is torn between her obvious love for Mohan and also her love for Gita and her comfort in the village they live in. Who will she choose is the main plot of the film.

Several other sub plots include will Gita win the battle to retain the school in its present location (the villagers want her to shift) ? Will Mohan succeed in getting more people to send their children to the school or even in extracting rent from a tenant of Gita's who hasn’t paid in ages ? And towards the end, will he succeed in convincing the villagers that they can actually do something about their fate, they can change things on their own steam instead of always blaming the govt or 25 other assorted people for their ills ?

The film, despite being predictable, manages to hold attention primarily due to the time it spends building different character sketches. Whether it’s the panchayat head, the postman, the dhaba owner, the woodcutter or even the tenant, each person, despite being clichéd is endearing enough to strike an empathetic chord. They may not be entirely real but are real enough.

However, what contributes to the fable-like quality of the film is that nothing bad happens. The lower caste people are treated shabbily but know their place in society and never revolt. Communalism never rears its ugly head. Nor does politics. When the villagers actually try to build a turbine of their own, no govt officials land up asking them where they got permission from. It shows how people suffer but through sepia tinted lenses.

I liked watching SRK devoid of his usual glamour and antics – a much more sober, restrained performance, wearing clothes that are normal rather than over the top. I think people forget sometimes what a good actor he is, since it gets hidden behind all the veneer around him, and this film is a timely reminder of his talents. Gayatri Joshi makes a very assured debut. She is very good when asked to act or emote, completely out of place when asked to dance around trees or pretend to be a hopeless romantic (BTW, this whole bit was out of place in the film as well). I’m surprised she hasn’t appeared in more films subsequently. The character actors are very good, including Kishori Ballal

I get frustrated quite easily ever since I’ve returned to India. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been happier as well but there are too many ills plaguing us. There are some obvious solutions and a chance for the country to really progress, yet we’re stuck almost in a time warp outside the major metros. This film suggests that the solution is to take matters in our own hands and to be constructive rather than retreat or disengage – something the Indian middle class has perfected. Just for that, I recommend this movie…I hope it strikes a similar chord with you as well…

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Rating : 7/10
Time : 166 minutes
Director : David Fincher; Writer : Eric Roth
Starring : Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng

An intriguing concepts brilliance is partially dimmed by an extremely slow moving tale, but still manages to provide an interesting watch overall. There is a little story, right at the beginning of the film, which sets the tone for what is to come – a famed watchmaker creates a watch which is rolling back time – ie moving perfectly but backwards. In much the same fashion, Benjamin is born ‘old’ – as a baby, he is wrinkled, suffers from arthritis and has cataract in his eyes. He is abandoned by his father (mom dies during childbirth) in front of an old peoples home, and that actually turns out to be a great choice, as little Benjamin, wheelchair bound, with white hair, and all the characteristics and demeanour of a 80 year old during his infant years, feels very much at home there. And as he becomes older, Benjamin becomes younger – from wheelchair he moves on to crutches, then a walking stick, then a limp and then, around the time he’s 50 years old, he can run, ride the bike etc.

This story, of Benjamin's reverse ageing, is overlaid with three others. One is about his relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Daisy (Cate, who plays a tough role just right), with whom he has an on-off affair over a long peroid of time. The other is with a lady in Murmansk, shown below, a married Brit,
with whom he spends most of his nights just sitting up, chatting and dancing. The third is the relationship with his father – who, without revealing who he is, tries to befriend Benjamin.
The movie reminded me of two other films – one was Forrest Gump, for the slow drawl in whch Benjamin speaks and for its attempt to use world events around it to shape the story (World War II, Hurricane Katrina etc). And the other was Bridges of Madison County, for the nature of romance between Daisy and Benjamin and how it is discovered by Caroline.

There are enough nice moments – the flag raising ceremony at the old people's home, the Wagner loving old lady, the guy who’s struck by lightning 7 times, the private ballet performance by Daisy,
there was the correction around ‘most’ beautiful vs just beautiful by someone on her deathbed. The transformation shown in Brad Pitt is remarkable. And Cate Blanchett steals the show from Brad Pitt, for me, never looking more beautiful,
showing just the right degree of free-spiritedness and arrogance along with a perfect ballerina-like posture to go with her acting. However, there are huge empty spaces, long pauses in the film as well and the 166 minute length doesn’t exactly fly through.

It is a very unique concept – something I really envy Hollywood – there are just too few concept movies in India. It does make you stop and think, what if life was like that. I remember once someone remarking to me when we’d just started working that the salary system should be reversed. The young guys should get the directors salary and vice versa, as they are far better placed to enjoy it / spend it with no worries / diet restrictions / health issues etc. A movie like this one makes you wonder if there isn’t a point in there after