Monday, April 30, 2012
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
It's a bit tragic that a film that could've explored say, the roots of martial arts in Tamil culture, gets bogged down in fantastical science and Tamil jingoism so much that even the good stuff (mostly comprised of Surya's performance and the handsome action) gets shadowed by the sheer wasted opportunity.
I read an article somewhere that Aamir Khan was once again so impressed by this Murugadoss film (as he was with the 2005 Ghajini that I reviewed here) that he's planning to remake it in Hindi. Oh, Mr Khan, please stay away from this one, or at least radically reform it.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Some films are simply unapologetic star vehicles.
There's another theory I've got on Rajapattai, and it goes something like this: after Raavan(an) and Deiva Thirumagal, all of them serious, involved, challenging and lauded roles, maybe Vikram just wanted a day off.
But, being the kind of actor he is, this is him on a day off.
I'll explain further: I'm sure some people on-set took the making of Rajapattai very seriously. Some of the plot does attempt the same sort of socially conscious message that most Tamil action masalas chuck at their audiences. Still, at the core, Rajapattai is a mix of comedy that spoofs the film industry and various excuses for Vikram just to be Vikram - from being funny to being a badass, to being a romantic hero at some Italian locale. That's really all this film is, when it comes down to it.
The plot goes a little something like this: Vikram plays a gym boy (that extra who plays a rowdy in Tamil film action scenes, and usually gets beaten by the hero pretty easily) who dreams of becoming a villain. He can talk the talk, he can walk the walk. He saves an old guy from some real life goons and the old guy tells him what's up: his son is trying to destroy the orphanage the old man and his late wife built. As you might have guessed, this turns Vikram's character into a real life hero. The heroine Deeksha Seth is sympathetic but given a role that is criminally underwritten - she is almost literally just there for the songs and to get into trouble. Also note-worthy is the fact that the villain, a corrupt politician naturally, in this is a woman.
Perhaps one problem with the film is that it doesn't quite commit to its spoof elements, nor the serious underpinnings of its thin storyline. It's a Vikram vehicle, and it's just kind of a silly one, but it's not to silly that you would laugh your head off, if you weren't in the right mood. It kind of walks a very, very fine line in this department.
I always said that Om Shanti Om's greatest problem was that it tried to be serious during its second half, when the first was spent in Goofville, Population: Hilarious. I suppose you could lob the same accusation at Rajapattai, but I forgive it, because it's just not trying very hard. It's a dumb film with elements of spoof, elements of self-referentialness, and in many ways it does feel like Vikram's day off. He's not lazy with his acting here, but he is having a ton of fun with it, and that shows. Maybe some would call this a missed opportunity at delivering a solid, every-genre-delivered-upon masala, in the style of Anniyan or something. But call me easy to please - I enjoyed the hell out of this silly movie. To me, it just fulfilled its purpose.
There are things that make you wonder, to be honest - is Vikram's painfully obvious "youthful look" stylist taking part in the spoof hijinks or just a major fashion crime? Regardless, I laughed my head off at his designer facial hair and silly dyed faux-hawk. If nothing else, the hilarious action scenes are worthwhile, and for all the serious plot the movie throws at us, the climactic fight scene also features Vikram's character just kind of playing around with his opponent.
So maybe to some, this film isn't worth the hairdye spent on its main star, but for me, it was just a terrifically fun ride.
Friday, April 20, 2012
I think the year 2013 was never anticipated to be as special for Indian movies as it ended up being. I was certainly surprised, after 2012's batch of both good and bad films, for 2013 to be filled with such incredible and incredibly bizarre films! So it's good to recap, isn't it?
First off, I know I am not backed by many people on this, but I think the DDLJ sequel Dilwale Dulhania Phir Le Jayenge was actually one of the most brave, unconventional films of recent years. This is no RGV ka Aag, but nearly as classic as the original. Aditya Chopra's idea to have Raj and Simran (same names, nothing to do with the original characters) to be stuck together at the US border for days on end was a fascinating portrayal of the NRI community dealing with racism in the US. Kajol's performance as the tough-as-nails FBI agent just doing her job was absolutely something to witness, and her interactions with Raj, the journalist suspected of being a terrorist under a fake identity, painted a very complex picture of what it means to be a person of Indian descent in today's North America. The guest appearance by the famous cowbell was a special touch, but what really gets to you is the post-interval plot - where Raj discovers Simran's arranged marriage to a Hindu nationalist, set up by her US politician father, and decides to crash the wedding - for justice. How about that shoot-up on the mustard field? Brilliant.
A lot of people harped on this movie for its mutilation of the classic original, but to me this was the perfect case of something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Shahrukh and Kajol shine in these drastically re-written roles, and Aditya Chopra peels back the harmony of both the NRI experience and his idealistic Punjab imagery for a chance to really talk about something real. The romance takes the backseat, but I was in tears by the end all the same; the ending gave enough promise that these two might find happiness together. For that, DDPLJ is my movie of the year.
What didn't work as well was Dhoom 3. I was all set for a goofy good time and some action scenes, with Aamir as the villain, but some of the turns the story took were just too out there. While I appreciated holographic Guru Dutt for making an appearance, SPOILER - Katrina turning out to be just a clone of Aamir's villain character was a little disturbing to say the least. So what, was he romancing HIMSELF in the sexy picturization of The Thong Geet? Are you kidding me? Of course, some people claim that post-credits we get a clip where it turns out Aamir's clone was actually Salman's character, leading up to the next film in the series, but I won't believe it until I see it on the DVD!
Still, I've heard people praise Aamir's performance in this film, so maybe I just need to rewatch it. Another praised performance was of course Abhay Deol in the much discussed but not that widely seen dialogue-free art film Mere Ankhon / Me, also known as the "Abhay Deol stares at the camera for 4 hours" film. A lot of reviews just asked "why was this film made?" while I have a feeling I'll like it, so I'll ask - why wasn't this film made earlier?
On the Southie side, I hear good things about the Tamil Sridevi-Siddharth "switcharound" film Nee. Maybe it'll start a trend of older heroines with young heroes? I have some serious catching up to do..
My favourite comedy was definitely Akshay Kumar's Tere Liye Kuchh Bhi (I enjoy Akki's brainless comedies every now and then but this film was positively brainful!), but I really appreciated Sriram Raghavan's puzzlingly quickly-made tribute to modern cinema, the absolutely stellar, clever breaking-the-fourth-wall comedy, I Hate Imran Khan Luv Stories, in which Imran Khan meets himself from the future, chewing over his past and future career, its mistakes and how to fix them. Who would have guessed that Sonam Kapoor was so good at playing Imran Khan from the future? Some people thought this film was trying too hard, but I loved it.
Then there were some bad films, like Gooli Gooli Maar (why Abhishek, why?) and Emraan Hashmi's Teeen!!! (yes, three exclamation marks), which had the actor play three generations of characters, much like his character in The Dirty Picture. Whoever thought that was a genuinely good idea? And just when I was beginning to like Emraan! Vidya did great in her films this year, but that much is to be expected. Her and Madhavan teaming up again in Vishal Bhardwaj's short film Skirt about gender discrimination in the urban workplace was not flawless, but a good effort nonetheless.
As you can tell, I've still lots of films to watch, but out of this year's batch I'd recommend all of the films I've discussed - even the bad ones are special for the WTF factor! What did you love and hate in 2013? Is there anything I missed?
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
I watched Raavan, the Hindi version of Maniratnam's take on the epic Ramayana, on the big screen in autumn 2010, with a film festival audience and a friend of mine. After the film, we discussed it together, and concluded it was visually spectacular but could've used more coherence and honing of the plot and the structure. I told my friend about the Tamil version, Raavanan, where Vikram plays the lead role, as opposed to the role of the "Ram" character, as he did in the Hindi version. My friend commented, "I'd be really interested in seeing that, considering he was the better actor of the two in this film."
Now, I'll admit Vikram bias any day of the week, freely, but my friend had never seen him in anything but Raavan. And after finally watching the Tamil version, I'm absolutely forced to compare the two versions, similar though as they are, and conclude that one lead performance can make all the difference.
The good points of Raavan are all present in the Tamil version, naturally. The visuals are spectacular and the film occupies its own strange jungle milieu perfectly. Aishwarya Rai puts in a solid performance as a version of Sita who doesn't merely resign to her fate as a kidnapped wife, but struggles with the sort of independence and strong-headedness that I think a lot of people desired in the character. The soundtrack is not Rahman's strongest, but accompanies the visuals very well.
There are as many versions of the Ramayana out there as there are people, I'm sure, but for what it's worth, this one is a very engrossing take, portraying the villain as the hero, and the hero as the villain, and while it never makes this puzzle difficult for all viewers to assemble, it is a set-up worth remembering.
So what makes this version better? For me, I'll admit it was two things. First, when you've already seen one version, you know what to expect from the other one. This is why I began to forgive some of the narrative niggles me and my friend had when we dissected Raavan together, post-viewing. I kwow precisely where the story was going, and I no longer expected it to blow my hair back. In a sense, my expectations were a lot fairer to the film's intentions.
The second part was Vikram's performance as Veera, the "Raavan" character (also heavily inspired by the real life dacoit Veerappan). It's not difficult to say why - after all, he's not only a favourite but probably also the favourite actor of mine. However, from the stand-point of pure comparison between the two versions, I'm not quite sure why precisely I prefer his take on this character to Abhishek's. Is Vikram more subtle in his performance? Perhaps, but surely that's not all of it? Is Vikram's strength just pure versatility, the fact it seems that Veera can seem like a slightly unhinged brute one minute and a thoughtful, driven but completely rational man the next? His face alternates between these two sides of the character in a way that never feels unbelievable or comical.
SPOILERS FROM HEREON.
That's what makes the comparison so jarring with films like these - the two roles are so identical, yet so different. The dialogues are the same, every scene and every action. It's very interesting, and completely puzzling. In my review of Raavan, I mentioned how I thought that Beera as a character seemed under-written - we see all the different facets of what makes him, but they don't come together in a very believable manner.
With Veera, I get a better picture somehow. There's this guy with a strong sense of justice for his local people, solving problems his own way (as opposed to strictly legal ways). The enmity towards Dev, it's implied, is essentially one Dev has himself produced, in blind and rather brutal search for his version of justice.
Another thing I perhaps didn't entirely like about Raavan was the fact that even though Sita here gets a better characterisation than in many versions of the original story, she is still just a pawn in a chess game between two men. But seeing the story play out for the second time, I realise I was wrong about this. Ragini is a pawn to Dev, because to him she's less important than taking down Veera (this comes as a shock to viewers near the end, because the joy of being re-united with his wife seems to vanish within seconds from his face - and then you understand he's all about catching Veera and nothing else). To Veera, however, the focus shifts considerably when he falls in love with Ragini during the 14 days she's kindapped. It's no longer as much about avenging what Dev did as it is staying in Ragini's good books.
It's as if I missed this radical character development in Abhishek's performance altogether: Veera changes, even though he doesn't necessarily want to, because of Ragini. The feeling between them is not mutual - I think Ragini still has reservations about him in the end (and any feelings she has for him might be tinged with Stockholm Syndrome, mustn't forget!), even though she has more reservations about Dev at that point - but it is important. The moment when she jumps is key: by taking charge of her own destiny, she irrevocably changes Veera's. Whether she wants to or not, in some ways she is now in control of him, despite being captured by him.
Did I just completely miss these facets of these characters on my first watch, because it was my first watch of the film, or was it that the performance of Vikram allowed me to interpret all these nuances? It's impossible to tell, really. (Though in all honesty, I didn't feel like the film was all that subtle about what it was trying to say.) Maybe any film like this requires those two viewings minimum to really get the hang of what is important to the story, and what isn't. In the end, the film is incredibly intimate - it centers around three characters, and almost everything else is window dressing for their story, and their story only.
That's of course not to undermine other performances in the film, but rather to say they never really get a chance to shine.
Prithviraj's version of Dev is rather straight-forward, as was Vikram's role in the Hindi version. This is a cop, this is a man on a mission, but there are some differences, too. It seemed to me that there was a certain ambivalence to Vikram's character longer through the movie until the ruthlessness of Dev slowly began to emerge. He was more determined and humorless.
Prithviraj is easier to identify as a "any means necessary" type of cop, who would go precisely the extreme lengths that the backstory told by Veera eventually elaborates. The scenes where that backstory finally reaches its tragic climax, by the way? I was incredibly moved by it during this viewing, to the point of getting teary-eyed.
All I know is this: I loved Raavanan, and merely liked Raavan. The first is a film I'd love to show friends - the latter I might not recommend at all. And that is rather strange, considering how downright identical the two films are.
The fact I'm not the only one with this preference tells me it's not just my Vikram-bias talking here. And so, while finishing with a small picspam of this visually gorgeous film, I'd like to recommend that everybody seek out Raavanan, even if - or especially if - you've seen the Hindi version.
Thank you for reading!
Saturday, April 14, 2012
A Facebook site called Tamil Film Updates posted this folder of promotional images for Shankar's "Robo", with the following description:
Years back, Shankar started "Robo" with Kamal Haasan & Preity Zinta to play the roles of Rajjinikanth & Aishwarya in the present Enthiran. But the project didn't take off at that time due to some issues. These are the exclusive pics from the photoshoot.
This was in 1998. I imagine the film would not have been half as epic as special effects, Shankar's greatest love next to a good social message, weren't exactly fully developed in the late 1990s, but I would've enjoyed this pairing, if nothing else, in these roles. In my Enthiran review I didn't give very high marks to anybody in this film for acting, including Rajnikanth. Aishwarya's lack of acting could largely be blamed on the abysmal writing for the character. Regardless, it's an interesting "what might have been"..
I recommend you check out the rest of the album, if nothing else than for the late 90's sci-fi get-ups.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
The title for this review comes from the boast written on my VCD's cover - one that was sent to me by Ramsu, who I am indebted to for telling me about this film in the first place and later providing me with a copy.
The boast is about right, for Singeetham Srinivasa Rao's Pushpak (occasionally going by its full title Pushpaka Vimanam) does manage to convey volumes without any dialogue. It's a black comedy with a social conscious, and though it contains a couple of symbolic moments that aren't precisely subtle, it all the same manages to entertain and provoke thought. The title card comes up in Telugu, as do the credits, but as the film is silent, it's essentially without language, relying on background music indicating certain things and gestures to work as primary communication between characters.
The title also has a Hindu mythological meaning, for pushpaka vimanam or "flowery chariot" is the flying chariot that Raavan stole and eventually rode on. Inside the film, there's a titular luxury hotel with the same name - a hotel whose owner used to just run a tea stall, the film seems to imply.The nameless unemployed young man (Kamal Hassan) seems rather fed up with his existence when he stumbles upon a drunkard millionaire. In a rather twisted turn of events, he holds the millionaire captive in his small apartment while he lives it up at the Pushpak hotel, in room 3035, using the millionaire's money to make himself more presentable to a girl he likes (Amala), a magician's daughter. He's blissfully unaware that a hitman has been hired to kill the man who rooms in room 3035 of the Pushpak hotel..
Young Kamal is in this as I usually find him: absolutely effortless in his acting, rather likable and charming, but still not quite to push him into the category of favourites in my eyes. He is perfect for the role, though - starting out a little pathetic, then flamboyant in his rich turnabout. The romance with magician's daughter rather adorable, but the best part is the magician himself, whose little tricks kept me laughing out loud. The killer was also bizarrely hilarious. I won't name his weapon of choice, but it's really quite priceless.
If I had to level a criticism at the movie, it's slow-moving at times. This is probably a feature of the era more than a deliberate choice, though.
The social consciousness that the film possesses is of a world where money matters. We see Kamal's character hopelessly seeking a job in a market where there are only a few available, and a mass to vie for those available positions. Money buys him temporary status, but it's a rather hollow one. The character of the beggar, pictured here, is central to this motif. Much like the other well-remembered 80's black comedy with a social consciousness, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, this film lives in a rather grim world.
The dichotomy is strange, but interesting: the film pushes you to consider all these things, but at the same time provides pure entertainment.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Now that we've got that clear, welcome to ...this whole thing. It's not really a review. It's a bit like therapy? For full effect, please listen to the theme song while reading!
At first we get a scene from the conference of the biggest criminals in each country, and some cops talking about blowing it up. Do they ever? Of course not. The criminals are selecting a boss. Democratically, via vote. You know, as you do, when you're members of the underworld. You're all about democratically elected representation. Who gets picked? Who d'you think?
Meet Devraaj, our International (get it?? because they made him boss of crime world over!) Khiladi!
Then there's a cop who discovers a dead body in Devraaj's place and they also find Payal, the sister of the dead person, played by Twinkle Khanna, who in court accuses Devraaj of rape, but says they were also in love. At this point you're thinking, "Wait, it's that kind of movie? Well, he is a bad guy, but goddammit, really?"
The backstory tells us that Amit (played by Rajat Bedi, ie THAT GUY WHO REALLY LOOKS LIKE SHAHRUKH KHAN), the cop we saw earlier, is friends with the dead guy (pictured here, not yet dead). And he's really in love with Payal. Payal dances, he watches with that ridiculous almost-Shahrukh face of his.
Then we enter a god-awful "comedy segment" where Payal and her colleague Focus (YES REALLY, oh wait he's played by Johnny Lever so surely that makes sense? not really) want to interview Devraaj. Comedy hijinks! You know, if this wasn't the WORST criminal on the planet, who could easily get you killed.
Still! Comedy hijinks! (Just kill me.)
Oh yeah, Gulshan Grover plays Thukkral, who is the criminal boss of Pakistan and has got bit of a beef with Devraaj. Colour us all surprised. He speaks in the most ridiculous English/Hindi mix, and I mean ridiculous. He says "I-ko" instead to "mujhko". He says things like "mere dil toh garden-garden hota hai". I just can't even.
And of course he's got some Western female bodyguards who wear golden bikinis and kick ass.
..and whose ass Akki is forced to kick. He doesn't want to. So they have a bit of a tumble in a padded pool.
(Yep, this film is quite weird.)
Payal stalks Devraaj some more for an interview as all ethical journalists are willing to do, even to the point of staying in the rain for three days without any food. Devotion!
So he finally gives in and comes out to chat to her, and of course ends up falling in love with her journalistic integrity. They never actually end up doing the interview, it's almost as if it doesn't matter. (There is a song, though. Of course there is!)
Then Amit goes and tells Payal about all the murders and crimes Devraaj has committed, putting quite a damper on this fledgling romance. Back off, Almost Shahrukh! We don't want you here!
Payal confronts Devraaj about this, so he is forced to bare his TERRIBLE BACKSTORY of woe and death and how basically he is the most noble, ethical person there is, and really the cops are the ones going around raping and murdering, under the protection of corrupt politicians. In a world like this, aren't the criminals really the good guys?
Of course they are!
So Payal believes him and they have a ridiculous song together!
Joy of joys! (Do you remember the rape part from the beginning of the film? No?)
Something happens I didn't pay attention for about 3 minutes and they're on a boat that explodes (?) but Devraaj saves Payal, hurray!
(I'm really sorry but I have to) .. so they dance!
Look at them go!
So happy and in love! (Remember the rape part?)
Well, it turns out Devraaj finds out that Payal's brother is an undercover cop infiltrating Devraaj's organisation, so he tortures the brother and then despite loving Payal, molests her in front of her brother and then kills him and then (the implication is) rapes her.
..yeah, good times.
And thus concludes Payal's testimony in court (oh, you didn't realise 80% of this movie is flashback? silly you!), and Devraaj gets sentenced to death and all's well ends well, right?
Almost-Shahrukh really wants Payal to live in his creepy Payal-worship shrine (read: house) but Payal cannot stop thinking about the fact how they dragged her brother's dead body to Devraaj's house and then framed him for her rape.
...allow me to repeat that.
Amit (Almost-Shahrukh!) dragged her brother's body to her house and told her that Devraaj's men killed him, so they must make sure that Devraaj's gets the death penalty for this crime, and Payal was like, okay, what's the harm in a little framing the man I love for rape that never happened when my beloved brother is dead, probably killed by the man I love.
Except she cannot give her heart to Almost-Shahrukh because she still loves the man who killed her brother!
So he gets a woeful song.
Devraaj escapes jail because even the police know now that he is the Good Guy and does a cool press conference, essentially saying he will find Amit and Payal and give a reward to whoever tells him where they are, and then somebody calls him, and says "They're in Toronto," so being the INTERNATIONAL khiladi that he is, Devraaj flies to Toronto.
But instead of killing Payal like he said he would, he just confronts her at a picturesque locale. And basically says that there's no way he could have killed her brother, because he loves her.
And also? He loves her.
Doesn't she get it? He loves her.
She does get it. Hurray! Happiness and flowers and faked rape!
.. so they dance!
Then we enter the climax of the film, which is ..quite something else. First Amit shows up, wanting to kill Devraaj. Payal protects him. Thukkral shows up to tell everybody that he killed Payal's brother! Shock of shocks!
Amit is heartbroken that Payal loves Devraaj but accepts this fate.
Oh wait, Devraaj has to fight Thukkral's gang of women in bikinis.
And some random martial arts guy who he then has to stab in the back.
And some random black guy in the forest.
You think this would be a fitting climax to an action film? You think fighting a bunch of random enemies would suffice?
No, no, and no.
Turns out Amit is NOT okay with Payal loving Devraaj and anyway, he's the one who killed her brother (we're told in flashback) and then just asked Thukkral to work with him and say he's the one who killed the brother in front of Payal and then he shoots Thukkral and wants to kill Devraaj and run off with Payal but this does not quite work out.
But he does get to kidnap Payal and put her on a cargo plane! (Are you still with me? Doesn't that whole rape thing feel like a millennia ago? I know, right?)
Luckily Devraaj grabs a pair of rollerskates (YES REALLY) and is off to save her! From a moving plane.
His success is varied.
But somehow they still end up here.
.. so they dance!
Actually, they don't, I'm just kidding. But this climax is far, far, oh so far from being over.
So then they fight inside the plane.
And then Payal ends up falling out of the plane, with no parachute (though she is wearing a mysterious backpack but apparently did not plan to fall out of a plane, that silly girl!), and so Devraaj jumps after her, with parachute, and Amit heads to the cockpit to turn the plane around so he can kill them both WITH THE PLANE.
I don't even know.
These the faces of two people about to get hit by a plane.
Look at the International Khiladi.
It's like that song, "Getting hit with a plane toh darna kya", isn't it?
So they do actually get hit with the plane (well they crash against the nose and DON'T DIE) and end up on the wing, holding on for their dear lives.
And then the plane crashes but they somehow survive and Amit gets killed and they get married I guess?
I think it'll take me about a lifetime to digest this viewing experience.. I thought I was made of such strong stuff, and then. Fake rapes! ROLLERSKATES! Plane fights. Plane crashes to the face! Happy ending!