Sunday, September 25, 2011

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara - audio review.

I decided that instead of writing an incredibly rambling review, I'd record one.

Whether this was a smart move on my part is anybody's guess, but here's the review link:

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD/LISTEN. You can listen by pressing "play", or you can download. It's 11MB, around 12.5 minutes long, and in MP3-format.

I say "um" a lot, but I also edited a ton of "ums" and "ers" out..

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Robot or Endhiran - no rest for the lithium-powered.

I was psyched, absolutely psyched to see Robot at my annual film festival blast of Indian films. Usually they only have Hindi films on display, usually only one, but this year they delivered big time with this, 7 Khoon Maaf and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which I'll review once I've seen it. I'd been anticipating Robot for ages - it was Shankar, it was big budget, it looked like it'd be crazyfun, so to see it in theater was a dream come true.

The audience certainly delivered, as did the surround sound in the theater. I think most Finland-dwelling Tamil speakers made the showing and put up an impressive display of whistling and cheering for the Superstar, and of course at every mildly naughty suggestive line of dialogue. No, it wasn't seeing the film open in a packed Madras cinema, I'm sure, but it was the closest we could get to such an experience in this cold country.

So what about the film itself? Well, it was Shankar alright. Rajni pulls triple-duty for the joy of his fans, as he's both the titular robot Chitti as well as his creator Vaseegaran, and even the version 2.0 we see on the second half. The big budget allows Shankar to go all out and I really do mean ALL OUT - besides the nice-looking visual effects, there are lavish song sets, foreign locations, and a climactic showdown unlike no other, in both good ways and bad. There's a certain insane visuality to Shankar films that everybody who's seen one recognises. That's all here, too.

So if I wasn't smiling ear-to-ear, I was laughing, clapping my hands, despite myself, even doing the clich├ęd slapping of the knee. But the full enjoyment of the film as a watching experience doesn't sadly take away the problems the film has. While I definitely think it's a must-watch for the insanity, the megalomaniac budget and the sheer show of Rajni-mania (the fans cheer him when he's good, but they also cheer for his villainous avatar!), these are some of the reasons why it doesn't quite jump on top of my must-buy list as well.

1. Aishwarya Rai dances gloriously but her character is underwritten to say the least. She throws nonsensical tantrums, her romance with both the creator and the robot is bland, her character is materialistic and acts bizarrely at best, annoyingly at the worst. She's just not very fun to watch.

Shankar's never been known to write fantastic female characters, but at least some of his heroines, like Sada in Anniyan, seem to have a good head on their soldiers. Aishwarya's Sana is merely a prop to allow for Chitti, then Vaseegaran to display different facets of their characterizations. Yes, even the robot is infused with more genuine personality traits than the female lead. This veers on insulting, to be quite frank.

2. As silly as it sounds as a criticism for a Shankar movie, as the dude is all about visuals, the story is hopelessly hollow. Gone is the usual social message, placed with a couple of moralistic conclusions towards the end. Usually the visual effects are a side-show, gratuitously used but only one of the tools that Shankar uses to tell his story. This time, they play the lead role.

I want to hope that because of the visuals, whatever story there was, I merely missed it in the flurry of eye candy. But I'm afraid that if I look again, there's very little there to hold onto.

3. Last but not least, and cover your eyes in Tamil Nadu because this might be blasphemous for the Rajni-fans: he's a good actor, so why not let him act? Sure, he hams it up on the second half and there's a couple of choice moments here and there, but while the whole point (and this I get) is that he's playing a robot, not known to emote very well, I still wonder why there was barely any effort to carve a real character out of the man who created him.

Or is this a gripe like you could level at many actors, that once they become famous, they become famous to such an effect that say, Rajni the Actor had to take a step back to make way for Rajni The Star? Pardon me, Superstar.

Point being, I really need to watch older Rajni films as it seems that he's not cast to act in these films: Shankar's merely putting him on display for the fans. And for me, the Star has little appeal unless I also get a glimpse of the Actor inside.

But as I said earlier, if you've not seen this one, for goodness' sake, do!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

To have and to hold, in sickness and in health - 7 Khoon Maaf.

A woman, and her seven husbands - all dead. The premise sounds macabre and exaggerated. But I'll never forget discussing wanting to see this film with an Indian guy I met during my recent globetrotting, and his (paraphrased from my memory) comment on the title.

"Khoon is like, sin. But then you add maaf, and it's all forgiven."

His point was, as I understood it, that there's a poetic tone to the title, and that same poetic tone underscores the movie. This film isn't rough and rustic like Omkara, or slick with dirty urban rain like Kaminey. It's part realism, part fantasy-like. Sadly, not all stanzas are equally strong.

I didn't have very high hopes. I'm not sure what I'd read but something told me this wasn't as universally praised or as liked as Kaminey. There are probably good reasons for it. There is plenty good, though - starting with the fact that Priyanka does well in her performance, and to compliment her acting, the way they've aged Susanna over the years feels realistic. Susanna gains a certain weariness as she ages, but never loses her spark. At times it seems like she's lost it completely, but somehow she's still in control, or about as in control as she can be, of her own life. I end up sympathising for a killer - not enough to think what she did was justified each time, but enough to hope she gets out of it, somehow.

The husbands are well cast. It's difficult to name stand-outs, to be honest. They all rather fit their roles and brought the essential core of each role, whether the husband was to be terrifying from the outset, lying but lacking malice or surprisingly menacing.

As ever, with Vishal Bhardwaj films, the music completely makes the movie. Almost every song is a treat, from the hard rock songs (O Mama & Dil Dil Hai) to the Kalinka-inspired Darling, where Rekha Bhardwaj delivers a song so catchy you almost wish you'd never heard it. A lot of the film feels, looks and sounds exactly right - these are the hallmarks of a Bhardwaj film. You are sucked into the world and unwilling to leave.

But like I said, there are weak stanzas. While John Abraham does fine in the role of the second husband, there is something that feels weirdly out of place about his segment of the story. Maybe it's the way the songs are picturized, his character's style that just kind of goes a little over-the-top, but something about it felt a bit off. The picturization for Yeshu could have been a little more subtle, and the comedic elements in the story of the Russian husband, while certainly appropriately dark, could have been toned down a little.

And let's face it, it's not easy to watch the suffering of a woman for over two hours. Not that a Bhardwaj film is ever all fun times, but there was something about the unrelenting circle of her life, even at the moments when the whole audience laughs darkly at the interval screen ("Four more to go.."), that makes me unsure I want to return to this film, solid though it may have been. Bhardwaj-saab, mujhse maaf kardo.


And some less organised thoughts..

- Another example of National Awards really jumping the gun. She gets one for Fashion (bloody Fashion), and then goes and makes this one? What nonsense. (See also: Saif for Hum Tum. Dude goes on to make Omkara.)

- Neil Nitin Mukesh, despite being all menacing and the character being a bag of dicks, looks really good with a moustache yeah.

- Seriously, I was in musical heaven throughout this movie. Can Vishal Bhardwaj come score my life so I can just have that on my iPod and not ever listen to anything again?

- Konkona Sen Sharma was barely there but left an impact. Anybody surprised?

- I haven't read the Ruskin Bond novel but I'm assuming it's a pretty good adaptation. Once Vishal Bhardwaj has scored my life, can he just adapt every book ever written? I'm thinking Jane Austen. It is a truth universally accepted, that every behenchod in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Gangsters, nautsch girls, the whole works.

No? Fine, I'll just keep day-dreaming, then..

Friday, September 16, 2011

The curious concept of masala, and a bit of Dabangg.

Carla's Dabangg review, besides being worth reading, got me thinking.

Whereas she draws comparison between this type of masala and the good stuff of the yesteryears, my go-to comparison is the action masala's from some of the Southern industries (Tamil and Telugu). Not that I've seen a whole lot of them, but enough to draw a general picture of what kind of tropes the films are composed of.

I was going to comment something along the lines of "Well, to me, the Southie industries have been keeping this sort of masala format warm all these years, so it's nice to see Hindi films going with this tried-and-true formula again."

Then I catch myself. Is this awfully reductionist and even for a personal interpretation tenuous at best? Probably. I mean, first of all, Southie films have their own history with their own stars and their own cultural context, which Northern industries and especially the supposedly pan-Indian Hindi film industry seems rather ignorant of. Who knows where the Southie masala took inspiration from? Rajnikanth was making movies around the time Amitabh was carving a place for himself. It seems weird to speculate when one doesn't know the full history of genres in Tamil/Telugu films.

At the same time, the Southie influence is clear in my eyes. Very few 70's masalas had a high skill in choreographing the fight scenes, or interesting in terms of camera positioning. The best cinematographers in all of India have famously come from the South, and the fight choreographies seemed to learn a thing or two from Hong Kong. You can definitely see that modern flare in Dabangg, and the realism in the violence.

Then there's the hero, of course. No longer the charming NRI whose dil beats for Indian family values even though he wears Western labels, Salman Khan's Chulbul Pandey is basically a certified badass rustic cop, assuming they give out such badassery certifications, and if they see him, they had better start. As Carla points out, he's not exactly morally sound, but there's a certain ends-justifies-the-means attitude that makes sure we don't stop believing in him completely as a hero.

The story's been called lacklustre and incoherent in the few reviews I glanced at, but I think what is interesting about these sorts of action masalas is that they are complete crowd-pleasers, but the perception of the crowd has changed a bit. Nowadays there's no one mass (was there ever, truly?) but multiplex audiences, NRI audiences, segments of the "mass" that don't necessarily care for the kind of cinema Dabangg and other such masalas are all about. I started thinking about the action masala hero and how strange it is that Salman, not Akshay Kumar, became the new box office king with these sorts of ventures. You'd think Akshay would have the skills and the mass appeal - and he certainly does. He's not an actor with mind-blowing range, but that's usually not what the masalas are looking for, either. And yet, starting from Wanted and culminating in Dabangg, it was Salman who has his renaissance with these action masalas.

Salman is the Marmite Hero, or Marmite Khan if we want to get specific. Aamir and Shahrukh inspire reactions ranging from lukewarm to passionate, but Salman seems to split people into haters or lovers. I'm more inclined to agree with the latter camp. Of course, now that I've said that you can all reminisce my Let's Talk About post about him, in which I write: "-- I like Salman Khan. I don't love him, I certainly don't enjoy him unconditionally, but the fact remains I do like him."

Isn't like a lukewarm reaction? Not really, not to me. The fact remains, when Salman makes good movies, I really like him. When he makes bad movies - which is often - I can't stand them or watch them just for him. These recent films feature him in roles that suit him superbly, suit his acting, his style, his core fanbase. The flicks are crowd-pleasers, and the crowd gets what they came for, unlike the crappy favour-for-a-friend films he's been known to churn out, with half-baked plots and disappointing action. You can virtually imagine the movie theater exploding when the shirt comes off - and you know for sure it will.

Some of you that are South Indian and know the industries inside & out, or those firangis who jumped the Tamil/Telugu gravy train in a big way and know your Vijay's from your Karthi's and can cite Allu Arjun's family tree by heart, will protest purely because there are things the legitimate Southie heroes can certainly do that Salman can't. He's an old guy who's not famous for emotional range, so when you've got young Telugu lads dancing their hearts out in limber moves to rival Hrithik's, charming heroines and kicking ass left right center and just right there behind them, it can feel wrong that Salman took influence from these types of movies and is now breaking box office records. But of course, Fair is not a word in the Indian film vocabulary, otherwise new talent wouldn't find it so difficult to break into it while son-of-so-and-so gets a debut role no problem.

And as for Dabangg? Well, if you can't tell by this post, I enjoyed it. Not sure whether it jumps ahead of the perfect-in-every-way Wanted (I hear some of you Salman haters protesting but ah, there you have it, Marmite Khan on display!) but it certainly comes close.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Peddling DVD's.

Space is a luxury this student can't afford. So my apartment is composed of some furniture, some essentials, some Bollywood posters and a whole lot of clutter.

Therefore, I'm trying to rid myself of some DVD's. I'm not selling them per se, but if it looks like shipping gets costy, we could work something out through PayPal (small fees, I promise you these aren't worth a lot of money).

Here's the list:

Andaz Apna Apna (I have another copy so getting rid of this one with bad subs. Ideal if you already know Hindi.)
Chori Chori (90's film with Rani & Ajay, some obviously love this - I don't.)
Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein (Madhavan, Saif, Reema Sen - I actually got this from somebody .. so I figure it's okay to gift it forward)
Life in a Metro (okayish film by lots of people inc. Shilpa, Konkona Sen Sharma, Irffan Khan, KK Menon, Sharman Joshi)
Naseeb (70's masala with Amitabh, Rishi, Hema etc directed by Manmohan Desai - I should love this but I kind of didn't? It was just okay.)
Doli Saja Ke Rakhna (Akshaye Khanna + Jyothika, terrible flick, terrible dvd but good AR Rahman soundtrack)
Saawariya (SLB film, Finnish dvd but with Hindi audio, various subs)
Salaam Namaste (Preity, Saif)
Tum Haseen Main Jawaan (Dharmendra, Hema, okayish 70's masala)

The Finnish Saawariya is Region 2, all other ones are region 0.

Please get in touch fast if you are interested, I might gift some of these to a friend this Friday and after that some of them won't be available. If multiple people want the same DVD, it's first come first serve.

EDIT: Thanks, folks, got homes for all of these now.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mini-reviews, lately watched: the Merely Okay Films pile.

Challo Dilli - This 2011 film was rather charming. I mostly watched it for the curious pairing (non-romantic) of Lara Dutta and Vinay Pathak. Both I like a lot, not typically to watch a film for, but I definitely enjoyed them in this. A story of two very different individuals having to road-trip to get to Delhi was paced nicely and shot prettily, showcasing northern Indian sights in a lovely way, and both actors did great. The ending delivers a bit of a heart-tugging twist, but you end up walking away from the film with a smile. S'all good.

Tere Bin Laden - The Pakistani popstar Ali Zafar stars in this and seems to be gaining popularity on the acting front in general. He's rather good! Sadly the film itself was not massively impressive. I think it suffered a bit from a case of overhype for me? It may been a positive surprise for everybody else but by the time I got to it, it was just okay. I enjoyed it, and it didn't drag on, but I doubt I'll ever feel the desire to rewatch and while as a comedy it worked, definitely better than I would have assumed going by the plot premise, it didn't become a favourite.

We Are Family - I know I'm a terrible Kajol fan because I only saw this film now. I've not seen the original film, Stepmom, but if this version is anything to go by, it's a solid, nice film. It's always refreshing to see a Bollywood movie adapt a Hollywood one honestly, with full credit & rights stated in the opening credits.

I grew up in what some people would call a "broken family" based on the fact that my parents were not together (a term I'd obviously disagree with - I know so many friends whose families are more broken than mine, whilst being together) so the topic was close to heart in some ways. I'm however too old to remember what it's like to dislike a parent's new partner instead of being open-minded and thinking "if this person makes them happy", so I didn't feel very sympathetic towards the kids and their little tantrums towards the beginning of the movie.

The other minor problem I had with the film was the role of the father, which was pretty much ..popping by every now and then. I don't normally get very feminist on my Indian films but this one annoyed me because couldn't Arjun's character have done a bit more to help out? It seemed sort of ridiculous it was such a strong assumption that all that housework/childcare was the women's work, not his business.

Other than those two minor annoyances, I enjoyed the film.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Yeh Rajneeti hai - dirty, dirty politics.

I finally got around to watching Prakash Jha's Rajneeti, quite an epic tale of one family's unhealthy relations and how the politics ruin them, twist them, and ally them with each other as well as against each other. I loved it, not only because it was a well-made story juggling an impressive amount of characters, all with their own shades of grey and questionable decisions, but also because it revealed quite painfully the kind of things you might end up doing for the desire of power - the dark side of politics you never see politicians talk about, even for all that talking they get to do.
I have to again confess I don't know an awful lot about Indian politics, but I was still surprised at the blatant lack of worry that the politicians seemed to have regarding the opinion of the people they were elected to represent. Perhaps this goes for almost any democracy - the power is so high up the people cannot reach it, even though this is precisely what a democratic system tries to prevent from happening. Instead, the politicians do not live in fear of the people - but of each other. And what a messy game that can be. This film lays bare all the backstabbing, scheming and just plain reaches to any power that can be had in a way that's brutal.
And it is so very interesting to watch.
This being a film about politicians, it's easy to start listing those who I hated while watching. Ranbir's Samar is absolutely despicable and to top it all off, he tries to blame the circumstances for his behaviour. Certainly the circumstances contributed, but his blind devotion to following the political game to its absolute sickest conclusion, and how coldly he played this game, was indicative of not just the circumstances, but the man who chose to act as he did, in those circumstances. At first I thought the way he played Indu (Katrina) was cruel, but then the rap sheet began to fill up with more terrible offenses, one after another.
Then there is his brother Prithvi, played by the ever-capable Arjun Rampal (sending us all into conflicted emotions, so charming, yet so hopelessly evil in this!), whose first scene features him, what's that, oh yes, taking sexual advantage of a girl who wants to get into politics. Now, while she seems willing initially, the whole scene has a very uncomfortable vibe, to the point that when it's later framed as rape, I found it hard to disagree. What a charmer. He also goes to great lengths to secure power, and has a fuse about the length of a baby's finger.
Manoj Bajpai plays an absolute crook in the other brother Veerendra, naturally, and Ajay Devgn is only a teaspoon more honest than the rest of them, but in comparison appears saint-like. Which of course means he gets gunned down on a dirty street.
A thing that struck me about the film, besides how awful the characters were (and let me re-iterate that this didn't take away from my enjoyment of the film - the story absolutely captivated me), was how vague the actual politics were. What was the difference between the two parties, besides the faces of their leaders? What were their policies, their promises, their stances on major political issues? None of these were discussed, debated, even stated. Nope. Just waltz into town in local attire, greet the common folk respectfully and the poor will worship you as god? Or was this just unwillingness of the film maker to actually draw connections to any real issues that might upset viewers or even worse, the censors?
I kept waiting for Naseeruddin Shah's leftist character to make a comeback but alas, he never did. Probably better for it, actually - his character got a peaceful death, at the very least.
Biggest gripe? How out of place was that item number? Oh dear.
Other than that? Recommend, recommend, recommend.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Veracious versus Saif: An Imaginary Chat

Saif: So we're making a sequel to Main Khiladi Tu Anari.

Veracious: Shut up. You're not!

Saif: That's correct, we're not making one at all. In fact, there are no plans. I just happen to say something to the press, and they completely misunderstand it.

Veracious: That can be a problem when you deal with a middle-man when making statements. Why not just release everything on your own, like say, via Twitter?

Saif: Me, on Twitter?

Veracious: You're right, it's probably a terrible idea. Nevermind.

Saif: Now I'm a bit insulted. I'm a thinking wo/man's actor. I made Being Cyrus, you know?

Veracious: Dude, you made Race. There was no thought involved in that.

Saif: Shakespeare was also not appreciated during his time..

Veracious: Actually, Shakespeare was very liked in his day. You Shakespearean you.

Saif: I can't believe you spelled Shakespearean correctly.

Veracious: Whatever. When's Agent Vinod coming out? Flick's been in the making for like four years. What gives?

Saif: Who knows. Sriram's a perfectionist. He's my bhai, though, we'll get it done.

Veracious: Four years, though.

Saif: I don't believe in the concept of years now that I've got a young girlfriend.

Veracious: Wow. Why do I imagine you as such a douchebag?

Saif: You're a bad fan, anyway. Did you ever even see Kurbaan?

Veracious: Shut up, and go make that MKTA sequel.

Saif: How about a remake?

Veracious: You leave the casting to me, and it's a deal.

Saif: Isn't talking to yourself the first sign of madness?

Veracious: First, I'm typing this. And second, I don't believe in madness. You know what I believe in?

Saif: What?

Veracious: M.A.D.-ness.

Saif: Oh god..


Monday, September 5, 2011

The Bunty and Babli of wedding planning.

Once upon a time there was a period when all the Cool KidsTM thought it was cool to rag on Yash Raj Films. Or maybe there was never such a time but simply a time when yours truly was overly defensive about the studio in question. They had done some tragically bad choices, which I won't even have to list for you to think about, but they had also given us the crack that is Dhoom, and gems like Fanaa, Bunty Aur Babli, Hum Tum, Chak De India to name a couple.

Essentially, I see Aditya Chopra's thinking: splash some new talent onto the screen, whether the talent is eventually judged to be good, mediocre, or talentless. There's also a certain gloss, a certain visual appeal, whether just in advertising, that YRF has a tendency to give its films.

So when I finally got around to watching Band Baaja Baarat, the colourful romcom about two youngsters who start a wedding planning business but promise not to complicate the business partnership with romance (and trust me, this is all the plot you need to know), not only was it a fun movie with a good cast, great songs, beautiful sets and all the works, it also felt like vindication that I was right all along. And that the Cool Kids were wrong. (Take that, Cool Kids! Not so cool anymore, are you?)

BBB certainly does all that I mentioned Aditya Chopra's end-game being. It introduces new talent in the director-writer Maneesh Sharma as well as the male lead Ranveer Singh. There is nothing radically new about the concept behind the film, but it is a lot of fun and it's a twist to the typical Bollywood fare, where the main characters are from such rich families that running dad ka business in a massive corporate office is a given, as is a foreign MBA. Just to see the heroes work, honest-to-god work, feels like a good change.

And they are delightful to watch, with the effortless chemistry and Anushka's character being so no-nonsense, and the standard useless hero gaining a work ethic even if his attitude with regards to other things only improves by the end of the film. But I fell in love with them, and when their heart breaks, mine does, too.

Almost every scene being either at a wedding or setting one up, the fun quotient is quite high. Makes you want to have a wedding of your own!

And speaking of heart-break, my biggest props of the whole film go to Anushka in this scene. Won't say any more about it to not spoil the poor souls who haven't seen this film yet but ..yeah. She was good.

If I was forced (not quite gun-to-the-head, maybe a baseball-bat-raised-over-laptop) to name something about this film that didn't quite work, I'd probably say the way that the ending resolution came about. It didn't fall apart, but it could've been better, but as it came about, I was just happy it did.

So very, very happy.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Breaking the fourth wall and beyond.

So I had a dream about a big star Hindi film in which me and the friend I was watching it with were actually in ourselves. But not only that, the characters themselves knew they were in a film, but this wasn't the usual Bollywood meta ala Farah Khan or such, this was a rather dark premise wrapped in wild, filmi colours - these characters knew the script, so they also knew when they were going to die.

At the same time, you would have delightfully humorous things like Boman Irani's character commenting how suspicious it was that one of the characters played by Paresh Rawal was never around when the other character played by Paresh Rawal was.

All in all, this was such a fantastic dream I'm not sure if it would make a good movie in the least, but it certainly had some of the right elements. At some point, the big star cast launched into a Kunal Kohli type tribute the yesteryear filmi music, singing songs from HAHK to Shree 420. My friend (remember, inside the film we're watching) commented this was her favourite scene. At some point the film took a bizarre religious, almost Greek drama type element, in which Hindu gods could be prayed to and they would answer, aiding the characters in whatever the script demanded from them - whether it was becoming the villain, making budding romance blossom or preventing death of a loved one. (The Hindu gods, by the way? Played by great actors of the past. I'm pretty sure Sharmila Tagore was Lakshmi.)

The action finale turned the film into a Matrix of some kind, with parts moving as you wish, a stone wall erected where there was nothing before just because, bullets not hitting a character if they didn't want to die yet.

As I said previously, wouldn't make a very good movie, but would make a messy movie with some very good elements. Essentially I just had to share this with you before I forgot about it as so often happens with dreams.