Monday, March 31, 2008

Tamil masala 101. Dhool & Arul.

Take one brave and brawny villager. Add a societal injustice, a corrupt politician, a handful of mob connections, spice the mixture up with a love story, songs and a comedy track, stir and serve in DVD format. Congratulations, you have just made a typical Tamil masala film.

This is exactly what Dhool, my first Tamil (or Thamizh as the South-Indian language would more correctly be spelled) masala film, is. But thankfully for my sake, Dhool was a good one. Maybe to the general public it's merely a solid film, but to me it's really special, perhaps being my first, perhaps just being that good. I love it to pieces.

And of course, it has these two. If the prejudice about chubby, unattractive old guys in Southie films had been strong in my head to begin with, Vikram would've negated that pretty quickly. Vivek, right in the above picture, on the other hand made for a safe landing into the comedy tracks of Tamil films; his comedy is language-based but aided by his fabulous acting that makes him funny to even me, who didn't know a single word of Tamil (of course, his comedy uses a lot of English, too).

Vikram plays Arumugam, a villager whose village's water has been polluted by a nearby factory. The villagers decide that taking the issue up with a minister who originates from the village should help matters, so Arumugam, Eeswari (Jyothika) and Eeswari's grandmother travel to Chennai to confront the minister. In Chennai they room with a friend of Arumugam's (Vivek) and are introduced to a second heroine, the glamorous model Sapna (Reema Sen). The water issue naturally isn't solved without a can of whoopass being released upon the baddies, and on the lighter side of things, a romance between the bickering Eeswari and Arumugam develops.

Dhool was one of those films I watched and couldn't get enough of afterwards; Vikram-Jyothika chemistry is just so cute here, the songs are catchy and goofy ("Kundu kundu" especially is one crazy picturization), the violence is entertaining enough and Vivek kills me with his comedy.

I knew I had to eventually get my hands on the other Vikram-Jo starrer, Arul. Again, there is a corrupt politician or rather an unjust system vs one man who kicks ass, and I'll admit that once you've seen this plot feature enough times, it does get tiring, kind of like the college-love-opposed-by-parents in Bollywood gets dull after a few movies. However, Arul's not a bad example of it - the songs are again delightful ("Ottiyanam sai" is the glitziest song I've ever seen!), Vikram-Jo chemistry works and Vikram's performance as Arul, whose father disapproves of him despite the good deeds that he has done, is a lovely one. The character has an utterly ridiculous complex about people swearing, though.

Not that I didn't mostly buy the DVD for the eyecandy, to be honest. I'd say Dhool's a better film of the two, with the caveats that if you've seen the plot too many times and the film doesn't make you a fan of its leads, you might consider it merely okay. And let it also be said I've never been alienated by film violence, unless it's particularly cruel (torture, for example). If you're one of those who cannot stomach any, you might want to give the mass entertainer portion of Tamil cinema a miss.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Snark mode on, review in 3.. 2.. 1 - Race!

People of the Hindi film following world! You can all rest easy now. Stop holding your breath in, just exhale slowly, and breath free once again. The future is secured.

I ought to specify. The future of the long-standing tradition of bad movies made in the beautiful language of Hindi/Urdu is secured. That's right. All is once again right in the universe. Dumb dance routines, insultingly bad lyrics, awkward try-hard plots and characters you forget as soon as you leave the theater – Race has got it all.

The film works on the premise that if you have something that isn't anywhere near as good as anybody involved in the making of it hoped for, you can flip it around in hopes that the audience will find the constant plot twists exciting instead of predictable and (by the time we get into the last third of the movie) just plain boring. I've got news to the makers; whichever way you decide to flip a turd, it sadly still looks brown.

Race isn't really that bad. And that's another tragedy right there – it doesn't get the crown of being the worst film ever, nor does it gain the honor of a fun “so-bad-it's-good” trainwreck. It's just unexcitably sucky. Not that they don't try. There's enough Bipasha skin to call it Dhoom 2 and enough Saif skin to call it Fangirl Hook Collection 2008. The songs go from bad (South-African white cowgirls shaking ass along with some of the cringeworthiest moves I've witnessed in a while) to worse (Zara Zara Let's Keep a Safe Distance, Okay Katrina and that other song with Saif cleaning his face against Bipasha's chest – ugh). This is one of the few times even I denounce English lyrics in songs. And the theme song? Annoying as heck.

About individual performances, well, did it have any? Akshaye, as much as I champion him, had the most unlikable character here and Saif was not too sympathetic himself. The ladies weren't worth much. Quite frankly all of the leading four were just so forgettable, which leads me to..

I cannot believe I'd prefer a whole three hour movie about Anil Kapoor's character to rewatching Race, but hey, there you go. This was seriously the best part of the movie.

A special mention to the dialogue writer who came up with Saif's infamous “I celebrate losses” (You should, yaar, because this one? Not a winner! Also? 1993-2000..) as well as this one, which I shall leave as my parting wisdom, as voiced by Akshaye Khanna: “All a man needs in a weather like this is a cold beer and a hot chick!”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tashan is slowly killing me. Emphasis on "slowly".

In Finnish there's an expression, "to wait [for something] like the rising moon" (odottaa kuin kuuta nousevaa - originated, I think, in a song). I've never waited for the moon to rise but I'm pretty sure it can't be worse than waiting for Yash Raj Films to start finally promoting their up-coming masterpiece by the name of Tashan.

The above picture is one of the few released stills we have of the movie, aside from paparazzi snapped shots (those we have two of, and they don't tell much). With the release of the Saif film Race, there were two short (and I do mean short, maybe little over 10 seconds in length) promos put out, which give us instrumental clips of the songs, with some groovy, over-the-top shaking done by the movie's three leads; Saif and Kareena in one promo, Akshay in another.

If you've never followed a Bollywood movie coming out, they usually let the film sink into the consciousness of Indian people for a month or two with the release of the soundtrack, hoping it'll catch on. They'll have song promos, dialogue promos, trailers running on television to make sure people not only hear the film, but see glimpses of it, and remember the release date - so they may drag themselves to theaters. But Yash Raj Films, perhaps having too much faith in this hyped movie starring BO king Akshay Kumar and the hottest 'it' jodi of the moment, Saif-Kareena, is letting the promotion be of the more "intriguing" kind.

The sad fact? I really doubt it'll work.

But who knows. The main reason I'm annoyed and impatient is because It looks like it was made while on crack, then rolled in crack, deep-fried in crack and served with crack on the side. It looks fantastically insane and self-awarely goofy, and even if the goofiness is unintended, I will roll on the floor laughing and loving it, for certain. And the soundtrack, based on the pathetic little promos they've given us so far, sounds very ace indeed.

And come on, just look at it. Words simply fail to describe my enthusiasm, and my growing frustration with every day going by that there seems to be no development around this movie. They're trying my patience and killing me and succeeding in it, too.

If there continues to be no news about the soundtrack, come April 1st, you can see me going commando on this film banner. I'm going to knock them out like Bebo shadowboxes here ..and worse!

Oh, and the film releases April 25th - since it seems I have to do YRF PR office's job for them.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Introducing Sakshay, part 1: Tu Chor Main Sipahi.

So while waiting for my favourite money-hungry (but in their defence, they do greed in style) banner, Yash Raj Films, to get off their bums and release the soundtrack of Tashan, my most awaited movie 2008 (and perhaps ever), I thought I'd do reviews for all of the five previous Sakshay movies in here.

In true Sakshay tradition, I begin from the worst and work up to the best.

Tu Chor Main Sipahi is a cringeworthily bad movie. I mean, it is just so unexcitedly unterrific I would only recommend it over driving yourself off a cliff as far as ways to spend time go. The title sums up the plot; Saif is a thief and Akshay is the cop who abandons rules for the sake of justice, hunting down the hard-to-catch thief that is Saif. Add a village, a villain, awful songs and the awkward presence of Tabu (poor girl!) and you've got Tu Chor.

Whatever good things my Sakshay-biased brain might delude itself into seeing, the boring badness of the film completely brings everything down. There is simply no campy so-bad-it's-good factor to make the film enjoyable. None. The usually delightful Sakshay dynamic is poor here - the two as enemies might be interesting but the script is simply hopeless.

The best thing about the movie is that it ends, and that it ends like this. No, I don't mind spoiling you the whole movie. Anything to make sure you don't watch it. I'm usually of the view people ought not to be spoiled movies, any movie, unless they so wish themselves. This time, I will make an exception.

Don't see it. And if you must defy this humble request, at least don't pay for it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why brothers suck, and other woes of a girl. Doli saja ke rakhna.

I was going do another "Let's talk about ...!" post about my favourite underdog Akshaye Khanna, but then I got to thinking how little Akshaye movies I've actually seen and how few of them I've really appreciated, even though I often consider him a favourite. It's truly a puzzle; the man is picky but picks crappy roles.

So instead I will talk about one of the Akshaye films I found worth mentioning. Doli saja ke rahkna I knew I had to see mainly for its jodi: the North-Indian actress Jyothika/Jothika debuts here before she moves to the Tamil cinema (and whose work there I adore), and of course, Akshaye showing off his puppy eyes.

So the story's old as time itself; they meet, fall in love, we get a couple of fun songs and then things generally go to hell because Jothika has three brothers who oppose the match. Oh and naturally Akshaye's rich parents aren't too fond of the less wealthy girl he's mad about, either.

It starts out a fairly cute romantic movie, but the dramaticness of the latter half simply drags the whole thing down. I also found myself disappointed with Jothika; the girl is full of life and energy in her Tamil roles, even when her characters aren't all that. But in here she's a subdued figure, dull to be frank and almost annoying in her lack of expressiveness. However, this was her debut performance. I forgive.

Even if on the whole the film is nowhere near spectacular and might even fall short of 'okay', there are highlights, too. The A R Rahman soundtrack is one of my favourites of his, and I find myself revisiting the song picturization "Boli sajni.." where Jothika reads a book and envisions herself and Akshaye as its characters. Akshaye does a lovely job and even with Jothika's lack of just about everything, the chemistry is good.

But it just sucks that it's such a rare movie where I don't have to continue "good Akshaye role" with "but kind of a sucky movie". And this is just one of those; I would not recommend it to you unless your name is Beth (in other words, have a profound affection towards Akshaye Khanna) or you have a girlcrush on Jothika.

Do give the soundtrack a spin, though.

All your epos are belong to us. Jodhaa-Akbar.

I use the word 'epic' in stupid internet slang a lot because I'm an idiot. But it's every now and then that I discover the true meaning of epic, and no, it's not by picking up Kalevala or the Iliad, but this time, by sitting down in the enormous warmth of Manchester's Trafford Centre to watch Ashutosh Gowariker's historical epic Jodhaa-Akbar.

The film is long enough to make sure you really do feel like you're living in the world of the legendary Mughal ruler Akbar. The main character is naturally glorified in order to make him a true Bollywood hero; in the same way Mangal Pandey is credited with the 1847 uprising in The Rising, or the same way history is ignored in Asoka. Of course, the polemic will happen and has happened, but I personally decide to shrug and move along. I know the facts, I know the arguments; now let me enjoy the movie.

Even if Jodha never existed, it's a lovely tale within this epic. I saw zilch of Hrithik-Aishwarya chemistry in Dhoom 2, but in here, they were really something (even if Hrithik is again doing most of the work). I enjoyed the course of the relationship, and the few key scenes (especially the one picturized above) they had were simply terrific and loaded with hotness.

Aishwarya's acting is sufficient, and sadly that's the only word I can use to describe it. She captures Jodha's determinism but is hardly amazing. With Hrithik I'm slightly more at odds. He makes an incredibly intense romantic hero. He also has the presence of a Mughal ruler. On the other hand, I've never been in love with his more dramatic acting. Combined with the constant dramatic sound effects, it lends to a certain over-the-topness that becomes more amusing than believable.

The long movie is not without slow moments but thankfully avoids being the dragged out film Swades was. On the other hand, who can complain when the movie is this pretty? The visuals make you feel at home in your seat, even though I also had moments when I was wondering what time it was, and how I would probably faint, not thanks to Hrithik but to starvation, before the credits roll.

But back to epicness. My friend and I discussed during interval how the movie was so epicly dramatic that it sometimes felt like the air was too heavy to breathe. Dun dun dunnn! More positive aspects of Jodha-Akbar's epicness are the crowd scenes, the sets, the battles. While they in no way rival those of Lord of the Rings, on the Indian scale they are very impressive. Plus, elephants. You simply cannot go wrong with some elephants.

While I didn't love Jodhaa-Akbar, it was quite the ride, and definitely one of those films Bollywood fans at large should make sure to watch. I will also offer tons of sympathy to everybody who, like me when I'm not travelling the globe, will not be able to see this on the big screen.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Tamil Nadu politics, let me show you them. Iruvar.

How much do Indians love their films? Enough to promote their favourite stars into their political representatives. I know my favourite Bollywood actress Hema Malini busies herself in the Parliament nowadays (I don't pay much attention to her political beliefs; based on what I've heard about BJP, her party of choice, I doubt I'd agree with them) and she's not alone, far from it.

In the South-Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the relationship between films and politics is undeniable. Iruvar, one of director Maniratnam's best works, draws from this relationship - it depicts the lives of two men, who start out as friends working in the film industry (Prakash Raj plays the writer Selvam, Mohanlal the actor Ananda) and end up as political rivals. The story is loosely based on MG Ramachandran and R. Karunanidhi - two big names in Tamil Nadu's political history.

It's a little confusing, watching Iruvar without being aware of this connection. The film would end up as quite a vague whole without knowing the history of it, and the complications and controversies that rose from Maniratnam making the film.

Regardless, the film is definitely worth the watch even for those of us not too versed in the political history. It's a fantastic piece of cinematography, has a memorable A R Rahman soundtrack, as well as a star whose face the whole world would come to know; Aishwarya Rai makes her debut in the film. And while I'm far, far from being a fan, she is quite lovely in this. She's surprisingly sufficient in the role based on the actress-politician Jayalithaa (who marries MGR and carries on his political legacy, too). Her pairing with Mohanlal is far from believable (not to mention perhaps just plain gross), but Aishwarya does good for a debut performance.

Prakash Raj is an actor who belongs to my secondary top ten of actors, but this is without a doubt the best I've seen of him. He's nowadays seen mostly playing father roles or villain-y father roles in Tamil/Telugu flicks, and he's very good at that, too. But in here? He's intense in every single way; as a lover to Tabu's character, as a spirited politician, as a passionate poet. If I ever buy the DVD, he will be the reason.

It's difficult to analyze whether Iruvar's greatest shortcoming is really a flaw at all. It ties closely to reality, it probably makes a statement of some kind, and the implications of the last monologue by Prakash Raj's character are up in the air.. Is it great cinema only if you've done your homework? The texts of history basically shape the film into a cohesive one; without them, it's slightly difficult to grasp certain things about it.

Whatever your education level regarding Tamil Nadu history is, this is one film you shouldn't miss out on.