Friday, August 31, 2012

Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbona, or: Bengali Bust.

I'll just say this: I've had no luck with Bengali films. My first, the artsy Antarmahal starring Soha Ali Khan Jackie Scroff and Abhishek Bachchan against some more regional actors, was quite a fine film but nothing that enticed me to watch more. Then I thought I'd picked a winner for my multi-lingual DVD purchase: a rock musical film featuring some of Bengali rock's oldest names, plus it had won a National Award for the best Bengali feature-length film just last year.

And yet, this one turned out one of my most groan-worthy film experiences from the past year or so. 

Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbona (Ranjana, I'm not coming back) is the tale of an aged rock legend (played by the director Anjan Dutt himself) beginning to mentor the new hopeful talent Ranjana (Parno Mittra). The cast also includes a bunch of Bengali rock's biggest names (Amyt Datta, Kabir Suman among others), all of whom I'm largely ignorant of, but to fans of the genre will surely mean a lot to have in the same frames, jamming. The music is melodic, classic rock, punctuated by what I can only assume are poetic Bengali lyrics. 

So why did this film annoy me so much? I'll begin with the positives. Parno Mittra delivers an effective performance considering this is her first film, and the older rock stars in the side cast are all likable, if clearly not trained actors. The music is also very good, even if the type of genre of rock played here is not my most favourite sort.

Where the film fails is the simple realisation that its main character doesn't have to do despicable things in order to be understood as a wreck of a human being. Anjan's character is a drunkard on the highway to a lethal heart attack, for sure - but where he crosses the line into having no favourable feats in my eyes is when upon bringing Ranjana back into his house for promises of recording a song with her, he drugs her and later sexually advances on her despite repeated no's from her. It's about as close to attempted rape as a depiction can get without plain attempted rape, and it's just sickening. We didn't need to be shown this in order to understand the character brought Ranjana to his home under false pretenses; a simple flirtation and a clear no was all that would have established that. It just makes the character out to be, not just a wreck of a human being, but also a potential rapist and it's just appalling.

This coloured by viewing of the film, but I think even without it, the film would've been lukewarm in my eyes. It's not exactly a fresh spin on an old story and seems to offer up little of interest: the mentorship between the two lead characters is not particularly fascinating, especially considering his creepiness and her inability to just walk away from the mess that he is, and while the side characters are interesting, we don't spend half as much time when than as we could. The ideas about music, lyrics and poetry are also all rather stale, and any characters that emerge as villains are blankly just that, with no discernible shades of grey.

The Eagle DVD I got also nearly disintegrated before getting to the finale, freezing in some scenes - so even if I wanted to rewatch it, I doubt I could. So I wouldn't recommend this film, unless you happen to be a huge Bengali rock aficionado. I don't hold this against the film maker; he seems to be a big deal, and I'm sure he's done films better than this. Even so, I won't lie - this film annoyed the hell out of me. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Let's talk about .. Abhay Deol!

Dear friends,

I write to you at a very difficult time in my life. The fact is, for months now, there's been a deficit in my life I've not been able to face for what it was. Little by little, this need has consumed me.

You see, for months there has been a film with Abhay Deol in it that I've not yet seen. 

I hear you ask, "But what about those twenty-odd years in your life when you hadn't seen a single Abhay Deol film? Did you live those in spiritual poverty?", and I must reply, "No, not in the least, but then I knew not of what I was missing; so blissful was my ignorance."

But you've read my story before. You know how it all began, and how it continued. It's not an uncommon one, as there have been others before me, and there will be new ones after I'm gone, so long as pictures like this one keep circulating the internet:

It's perhaps not that I've not yet seen Shanghai, that I find so tragic, but the fact that it feels so long since I've seen anything new from the man. Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara I watched around a year from right now, but it feels like the longest year. And it's times like these that I really start to long for rewatches of his films, to re-ignite those memories, because it suddenly hits me just how much I truly love Abhay Deol.

I could take a step back and try to phrase some praise for his acting abilities, dimples or choice in roles; the man seems to know his strengths and plays to them, and while you could perhaps criticize the upper middle class, smug but adorable Delhi boy role he seems to be mostly occupying in his films so far, you can't really fault him for such a stunning filmography. There's not really a single bad film in the mix, and even the ones that didn't impress me much have numerous fans.

So what do I like about him so much? It's hard to say.

Something about the combination of talent, looks and of carving out his own niché that doesn't really rely on his family relations (though the fact no doubt eased things for him - I'm no nepotism apologist). He's captivating and convincing, even in fairly forgettable films like Road, Movie (and let's face it, most of us did forget that one). He's just good.

So, so good.

In the end, that's all I've really got to say.

How about you?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Old Hema Malini pictures, part two.

The eyeliner in this is just gorgeous.

The Radha to Krishna?

Somewhat rare picture of Hema with her hair open.


Archery is awesome. Just awesome.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Free Advice to Bollywood - from a fan who cares.

(Anushka Shetty, looking as good as I like to imagine I look while blogging.)

So hopefully I'll never be one of those people who selfishly expects Bollywood or Indian films on the whole to conform to my personal likes, or how I think the films should develop. I'm never going to be the one berating the lack of Urdu poetry lyrics or the shortness of skirts, or say that more family-centric films are in order. I like what I like, and I like a lot of things, so I'm typically one to like anything if it's executed well enough.

However, there's some advice I would like to give.

1. Alternative financing models might not be your enemy.

This is an area where admittedly, I don't know everything about everything. However, as I understand it, it seems that a lot of Indian films finance themselves like this:

You begin with a director, who's got a story of some sort. Maybe this story comes from their own brain, or they've collaborated with somebody else to get this story. Then, they seek out stars - aiming big, but trickling down to smaller stars as the bigger stars turn down the film, or agree to do it. Once you've got the star, you're seeking sponsorship - after all, a Salman Khan film is more likely to get financiers interested than one with a newer, less successful star.

What's wrong with this model, you might ask. Technically speaking, nothing - and nobody can claim there is a guaranteed way to finance a good film, so it isn't like the quality of the film is directly linked to it's financing model. On the other hand, it does lead to certain issues. What if your film doesn't get the star you aim for? Can you scale back the budget appropriately?

It also largely limits your potential pool of talent. Since the process is not a director auditioning a cast, but the cast (or the main star) auditioning the director, the idea of casting a new face, or even giving a bigger role to somebody who's mainly done side roles, usually goes out the window to begin with. There's also the gender angle - typically the "star" in this context is thought of as male, and while there are some actresses that are as sought after as the heroes, they still remain few and far between.

Would a more open-minded casting/financing approach wield better results? There's no way to be sure. Hence my cautiously phrased advice: it might not be your enemy. The only way to be sure is to try.

2. Don't ever, ever fall into the trap of Hollywood's franchise-thinking.

There's an article on this phenomenon simply titled: The Day the Movies Died. The idea is simple: afraid of investing on a new idea in hopes that it would be made into a good box office success, movie studios in Hollywood are no longer interested on your new stories, new heroes, new ideas. Even when you're an established, big-hit churning film maker, they're not really interested.

However, if you repackage your idea and slap a label on it that people recognise, they're listening. You want to make a sci-fi film? Why don't we just rework that into a "reboot" of The Blade Runner? You want to make an action film? Why don't we have boats in it and call it Battleship, after the board game? Let's make a Monopoly movie! What else was popular? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hasn't been re-visited in a while..

The idea of franchise replacing story, the re-boots and re-makes and re-imaginings are where it's at. Is there any going back? Who knows? My point is, we don't want this to happen to other commercial cinema.

I'm okay with sequels -  I'm actually quite anticipatory of Dhoom 3 - but those have to remain the minority, not the majority. When they become the majority, you can see that whatever creativity was left is quite obviously gone. And this at a time when Hindi films were gaining a lot of very good, very interesting variety, to chuck that all away for boring re-hashings of old names (just because people recognise them), that'd be a very sad thing indeed. You can on occasion filmmakers in Bollywood play around with this idea, and tangle the promise of re-making a classic or re-imagining a famous film that people recognise (nobody has yet used the word "reboot", thank heavens), and people typically respond negatively. Liked Kuch Kuch Hota Hai? Rewatch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, then! Nobody is going bananas over a cartoon version where the characters are all dogs, for crying out loud!

So I hope that even in a world where regional remakes and sequels are gaining ground, Hindi films won't stop believing in stories. There are still many new ones to be told - and sold!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Youtube gems.

Precisely what it says on the box.

Nyan cat Indian film version:

This just makes you smile.

Vikram vs Vikram in Raavan / Raavanan (SPOILERS FOR BOTH FILMS): (there are other versions similar to this on youtube but I daresay this is the best-edited version)

Just... what more could you want?

Vinod Khanna intro:

I'm sure the Hindi narration on this is cheesy as hell, but still! Vinod! I find it enjoyable.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Story first: Traffic, a Malayalam gem.

Even from the outside, looking in, before I'd seen a single Malayalam film, I had a strong sense of their character. Despite not being the most prolific Southie regional film industry, nor the one bursting with the biggest budgets or the most recognisable stars (while Mammootty and Mohanlal are known outside Kerala, too, I would rate Hindi stars or Rajnikanth above them in pan-Indian recognition), Malayalam films had the reputation of having good stories. Why else would the other industries borrow from them so much? It seemed like fresh ideas and interesting characters in solid stories was Malayalam industry's USP - unique selling point.

Of course, not every film can be amazing, so the generalisation is never without exception, but I have to admit that my blind purchase of the 2011 film Traffic hit jackpot - it crafts something marvelous and character-focused out of a rather simple premise, and through slow reveal, keeps its viewer constantly on the edge of their seat.

The film, directed by Rajesh Pillai, introduces us to its rather varied, big cast of characters, all going through the inevitable grief of ordinary life: traffic. The introduction lasts as long as need be, and once you're settled into the world of these characters, the first big event occurs - an traffic accident that touches them all, one way or another, through the course of the film. There is the central character of a police officer, marred by corruption allegations (Sreenivasan). There's the famous actor, realising his family life is less than the ideal (Rahman). Abel (Kunchacko Boban), a surgeon listening to his best friend flirt with a girl on the phone. A young journalist (Vineeth Sreenivasan), on his way to his first job.

To say too much about the plot would be to ruin it. Even if you never decide to seek out this film itself, you might be able to catch its Tamil and/or Hindi remake in the near-future, and I wouldn't want to spoil you the biggest twist of the film, which makes the plot considerably more interesting.

The best thing about Traffic, I think, is the way it doesn't even try to reach for the stars, or aim for an epic scale. It's story is told simply, but through interesting choices, and cleverly not revealing everything to the viewer at once, the simplicity comes into full bloom. The performances all around support the story, and it's difficult to pick who are the best ones; Sreenivasan is mostly in focus, but all the others seem to do great as well. There are only a couple of songs, but they provide perfect little lulls to an otherwise intense story. 

If you have a way to get a hold of Traffic, I would recommend it - if you have to wait for the inevitable remakes, so be it, I'm certainly waiting eagerly myself. It's a positive surprise that certainly confirmed all the positive stereotypes I had about Malayalam films as character-driven, story-driven solid films, and I hope to catch other Malayalam films as good as this one. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Let's talk about ... Lara Dutta!

The "Let's talk about" series is typically one where I just get to ramble about my favourite actresses and actors for a post, and feature some lovely pictures of them to boot. But I can't quite honestly claim I consider Lara Dutta a favourite. Or do I?

The fact is, this former pagent queen is a consistent positive surprise in my books, but her filmography is filled with movies I just don't really want to watch. I first saw Lara in No Entry, which was the biggest hit of 2005 (yeah, bet you didn't remember that fact, did'ja?). The film itself is an absolutely unbearably unfunny Salman Khan comedy that also has Anil Kapoor and Fardeen Khan (remember him?) as two hapless husbands and one cheating playboy (can you guess who Salman plays?) in another one of those "oh ha ha isn't cheating-except-not-cheating hilarious?" genre comedies. Lara is a gross stereotype of a mistrusting wife of Anil's character, and yet she won me over.

Then there are films like Jhoom Barabar Jhoom which is fairly unpopular (depending on who you talk to), but which I absolutely loved her in! Chalo Dilli is a nice smaller film, too.

Billu Barber gave Lara a fair opportunity to showcase her acting alongside the always magnificent Irffan, and she was definitely good in it. (Overall the film is my favourite from Priyadarshan, the only Hindi film he seems to have actually put some thought and effort into.)

However, about 80% of her career seems to be special appearances or random big cast dumb comedies, or just horrendous flops like Blue and Zinda. I have to wonder, as I do with many actresses and actors who just can't seem to catch a break no matter how much I personally enjoy them on-screen, what gives? Is she just not an actress good enough to be seriously considered for more substantial roles? Is she unpopular in B-town? Or is she, now that she's married, just actively cutting down work to focus on raising a family? Does she just enjoy making big cast dumb comedies where she forms a mere fraction of the insanity?

I haven't got the slightest clue, but the point is, I like her. And I really wish she was in more things I actually wanted to watch. But if she's moving to family life (and seems to get replaced by younger actresses, because that's sadly the way the world works...), I of course respect that choice, but can't help but feel a little annoyed. Something about her choices in films makes me feel like she never got her fair due.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Everything I didn't know to ask for: Ko.

I'd heard the Tamil political thriller Ko (translates Leader according to Wikipedia) was good, but had no idea just how good until I sat down to watch it. Immediately the film was engrossing - the story unfolds quickly, contains a couple of interesting twists and is accompanied by fun songs. It's just a great watch, and simultaneously entertains and makes one think about the establishment of politics, the corruptive nature of power, and the cynicism in all of this.

A photographer (Jiiva) and a journalist (Karthika) begin to uncover the corruption and immoral behaviour of both the opposition and the government, and also discover a new political party rising from obscurity into inspiring masses of people, both young and old. As the story progresses, the two also fall in love - this romantic strand of the plot is probably the film's absolute weakest link, but lends itself to some really gorgeous songs, so I can't fault it too much.

The biggest find of the film was its lead Jiiva (or Jeeva, if you prefer). The young star is well-cast into the role of the brave but idealist photographer, and he's not a bad dancer, either. I've only seen him in this and in the 3 Idiots remake Nanban, but I anticipate watching more of him, as I hear he's also done some rather off-beat roles.

The second delightful thing was just the clever way the story unfolds. It starts off with a bang - an action scene where Jiiva chases down some bankrobbers to snap pictures of them for the cops, and then retreats to the main story. Journalists once again get to be heroes, which interests me. In some other contexts, it seems that journalists would be the villains - anybody who has followed the United Kingdom's phone hacking scandal and the Leveson inquiry into press ethics and behaviour that followed the scandal would know the way in which journalists will occasionally do anything to get the inside scoop.

In  here, the journalists go rather far sometimes, but it's all for a good cause, and they don't break the law or anything. However, the politicians themselves will stop at no length to get what they want - to cast their opponent in horrible light, or to gain more votes. The corruptness of the politicians is almost comical here.

Ajmal (or Ajmal Ameer) plays a young idealist graduate who begins his own party and movement called Wings to counter the two corrupt main parties in the upcoming election. Due to certain events, the Wings party gains followers who are inspired by the goodness and the change that this new movement entails.

The portrayal of the popular new movement is very interesting - it seems to harp back to other popular movements of recent history, like the Obama 2008 presidential campaign, which employed inspired volunteers and iconic campaign slogans (Yes We Can) very effectively. I won't discuss the Wings movement any further as to not spoil anything ... but it is highly interesting, and multi-faceted. Ajmal also does great in the role.

Karthika as the heroine could have been a fantastic role and performance. She's a capable young woman who is good and passionate about her job as a journalist. So how come she ends up being the thing I like the least about this film?

Well, first - look at those eye-brows. They're plucked and shaped to give her a permanently glowering look, which serves as no advantage when you're trying to play a character who shouldn't come off as a stroppy teenager. Even when she smiles, she looks slightly disdainful. As for acting, Karthika doesn't pour a lot of personality into the role. She's just there, pretty and a bit flirtatious at times, but mostly just there, a complete vacuum where a good performance should be.

The script doesn't help by giving the love story a slight love triangle flavour by having a friend and colleague (played by Piaa Bajpai) also have feelings for Jiiva's character. None of it really works as well as it should, and even though Jiiva tries to inject some acting and emotion into the whole thing, it's just something to serve as lead-in to some of the (admittedly really good) songs.

Such as this one.

Speaking of songs, they are really crisply shot and for the most part absolutely awesome - almost worth the DVD purchase alone. Whether filmed in gorgeous locations such as this one, or a club number with a bunch of Tamil star cameos (Surya, Karthi, Tamannah, even the composer Harris Jeyaraj himself!) they're worth rewatching. The only one I was irked by was the obligatory foreign locale song, with the equally obligatory awkward white dancers.

Oh, and Jiiva is thankfully a good dancer, joy of joys!

So if Tamil films are available to you at all, seek out Ko - it's a solid film where the pacing makes sure that three hours of film just fly by, and especially for anybody who is curious about political films in India. This is the best one that I've seen so far, and it's surprisingly thought-provoking for a mainstream film!