Sunday, January 29, 2012

Masala, titillation, entertainment: The Dirty Picture.

I confess it took me about 20 minutes to figure out the kind of film that The Dirty Picture was trying to be. I think that despite seeing the colourful, glorious trailer, I was still expecting something a bit more grounded - the way that sound effects accented the dramatic moments felt a bit off at first. But pretty soon after something just clicked. There is depth to The Dirty Picture, but it's not the sort of depth an art film or a social film would try to infuse into this life of the sex symbol Silk, played by Vidya Balan. The depth comes from the fact that this is just a superbly written masala picture, but it doesn't try to be a message film or gritty social commentary. And that's a very, very good thing.

Why is it a good thing? Because I find it's more respectful to the character if you don't try to make a message film from her. There's something pretty great about the lack of moralism - at least in my eyes - in The Dirty Picture. While narrated by her biggest enemy, there isn't any kind of judgment on Silk for her choices, good or bad by the way that her story is told. I didn't feel invited to approve or disapprove of her all the time - there were nuances to her, as to the other characters. Any judgment comes from the people around her, but she faces all this with distinct defiance.

She is what she is, and she's defined by her choices, but also by the world around her. It's an interesting dichotomy, and one that everybody in the film portrays very well. For a masala, there are naturally villains and heroes - she is the heroine, definitely. But there are also shades to the characters.

Balan's brilliance is almost a given at this point. I've been so impressed and frankly just moved by her performances in films like Paa and No One Killed Jessica, so I always knew she'd excel here - she can portray Silk's fragile side, her self-confidence even when it goes to the point of arrogance and her exuberance. Perhaps the bigger surprises therefore are the other performances, like Tusshar Kapoor as the man who adores Silk, or Emraan Hashmi as the man who loathes her. Hashmi especially won me over - the journey his character takes is intriguing, and I had severe prejudice about him, having only seen him in Gangster, which was only not a very good film but also not a very good performance. (The fact he's spent half his career practically eating faces of female co-stars hasn't endeared me to him either. I'm fine with kissing but his films rarely seemed to feature good on-screen kisses.)

But in this, I positively loved him, and I thought the chemistry between him and Vidya was practically through the roof. I would not mind seeing them in another film together, and I hope I'm not the only one.

As with any good masala, the songs were a delight, and the cinematography beautiful. I've not read a whole lot of response to this film, but when people name this the best film of last year, I think I'd be strongly inclined to agree. I saw a fair amount of last year's batch of pictures, and considering my enjoyment, and how likely I am to rewatch something, it's pretty clear that Dirty was perhaps the best picture of them all.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ladies vs Ricky Bahl - come for the get-ups, stay for the jilted women.

When I called Band Baajat Baarat "the Bunty & Babli of wedding planning" I clearly should have looked ahead to the next venture by the same leads and director, because Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl is essentially Bunty aur Babli turned upside down or in-out or just heavily dosed with recreational drugs. That's not necessarily a knock on the film - some of the best bits were the ones which gave me the same vibes as the best scenes in BaB do. However, the rest...

Even though wiktionary defines the Finnish term "auervaara" as simply as a casanova, the term actually carries the idea of a man who scams women for their money. Ricky Bahl (Ranveer Singh) is a 21st century auervaara, that's for damned sure - instead of old, unmarried women, like his 20th century counterpart, he romances young, pretty daughters of well-to-do businessmen and the like. But his jig is up when three women he's conned - played by Parineeti Chopra (Dimple), Dipannita Sharma (Raina) and Aditi Sharma (Saira) - decide to team up to con him, with the help of formidable sales girl Ishika (Anushka Sharma).

I went in expecting pretty much nothing at all. It was clear that The Dirty Picture (which I will see, soon I hope!) was the film to watch out for in December, and Ladies vs.. was a mere blip in the radar for both critics and audiences. I was therefore pleasantly surprised that what I got was a reasonably solid Yash Raj entertainer, with some caveats.

Probably the biggest caveat is the film's main star himself. I'll give him some slack since it's only his second film, but the weight he has to carry here is just too much. Whereas other actors might have pulled off the cheesy costumes and fake facial hair he has to don for some of his cons with just the kind of cheesy panache required, Ranveer just looks a bit awkward, or trying too hard, or trying too hard to look cool despite cheesy get-ups. Then there are a couple of scenes, where even the conman ought to bring out some true, honest-to-god emotion. I looked, and looked, and looked, and couldn't find any.

The movie asks - rightly - for its audience to root for the ladies, but the main star still ought to win me in some way, I feel, and Ranveer just didn't pull off that feat. But it's only his second film, and to his benefit or disadvantage, he started off big and is continuing big. With new stars we often speak of promise, and delivering on that promise. I'm not going to lie - what Ranveer lacks in acting he makes up in cuteness, gym-going, dancing and all this other shallow nonsense. So perhaps I am too harsh on the guy, but the ladies certainly were the reason I kept watching, not him.

So the ladies won out for me - in more ways than one, and Anushka Sharma was also a joy to watch, though we didn't get a whole lot of her, and some that we got of her was pure beach-outfit-objectification type of material. However, when she gets to act, she shines, and I am warming up to her even more than previously. It's early days for her, just as it is for Ranveer, but I look forward to her developing more than him.

But let's talk about the three women here some more. I found them probably the most real and interesting part of the film, and it's a shame the film takes at times a pretty cavalier attitude to the fact they've been conned. Of course, only Saira, whose family runs a little cloth boutique in Lucknow, really suffered financial setbacks from Ricky's con. Dimple is the daughter of a rich family, so only her heart gets broken, and her pride knocked about a bit. Raina's defeat is professional - she's the go-getter high-achieving businesswoman, unaffected by the con romantically, but nonetheless pissed off. The way they bond and find a common goal in defeating Ricky is quite charming, and generally they just fast became my favourite part of the movie.

The songs are all quite fun, though fairly standard in terms of Salim-Sulaiman's style. But they do the job, and the leads are both good dancers, so they're fun to watch.

If you'd asked me last night, I would have been far less hesitant to recommend Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl, but some sleep has made me think a bit more. There's a lot I would fix in this movie, and the love story - despite being developed quite well for the time that it has to develop - I couldn't care all that much about, so it's far from being the perfect movie. But it is fun entertainment throughout most of its run, and I think the three newbies in this should all be good to watch out for.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Filmi year 2011.

The blog! It lives! Kind of.

So 2011 was a very busy, engaging, interesting year for me in many respects. Not so interesting in terms of getting a bunch of films watched - in fact, I rather sucked at that. But perhaps I've also become defeatist - "catching up with Bollywood" has been on my "to-do" list for about 3 years now and my obsession doesn't show any signs of the sort of vitality it had going in 2009 or so.

But that doesn't mean it's the end for this blog or for Indian films and myself. Kya bakwaas! I think Indian films will always remain an interest, whether I watch a film every week or a couple a year, whether I visit my filmi forums or blogs regularly or not, whether I'm up on what's coming out and what's not. And I think it's time I accepted this more relaxed attitude and just went with the flow instead of stressing about not having seen this or that new release.

Still, looking at the Wikipedia article for Bollyfilms in 2011, you know, I did see most things. I loved Nobody Killed Jessica in January last year, I enjoyed 7 Khoon Maaf at the film festival in September, I watched smaller films like Chalo Dilli and Tanu Weds Manu, too. I dyed my hair in December and put on the blockbuster extravaganza of Bodyguard during it. I even watched a bunch of films that I'd missed from last year.

So what's up this year? Well, most things either underwhelmed me or disappointed me. I enjoyed NOKJ, and thought 7KM was good, though not as good as Bhardwaj's previous films. I understood the Salman entertainer value of Bodyguard, though I didn't entirely vibe with its megalomaniac success (it was fun but I doubt I'd rewatch it?). Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara, as previously reviewed, seemed to have everything going for it but I was still left disappointed. It should be the kind of feel-good friendship film I normally embrace - but I just simply didn't like it that much.

Another film I feel I should have enjoyed more than I did was Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, which I enjoyed for the songs and the secondary pairing, but just didn't really like on the whole. The characters, the plot, the constant filmi references (which I normally love!) just got a bit tiring.

Probably the best experience of the year was seeing Robot/Endhiran at the Helsinki International Film Festival - with the whistling and the catcalls, it was 10% of what it must be like to see a Rajni film in Tamil Nadu, but just that fact made the film immensely enjoyable.

There's still some left I want to see and might enjoy - Delhi Belly, Dum Maro Dum, Mausam, The Dirty Picture, Ladies vs Ricky Bahl. So I look forward to watching those this year.

On the Southie side, I've neglected a lot of goings on with my favourites - Siddharth, Surya, Vikram to name the main names I look out for. I've heard bad things about Siddharth's latest output - big thanks to NewLaura on Twitter to always answering my questions about his latest releases! - and Vikram just doesn't seem to have put out anything that's reached DVD. I bought Raavanan on DVD last year but still haven't watched that. It's hard to be out of the loop, especially as I feel like I was never in the loop with Southie films to begin with, having such horribly limited access to them.

Weirdly enough, the film I probably enjoyed the most and rewatched the most, and one I really need to screencap and review properly for this blog was a DVD purchase made in the UK, the 2009 Tamanna-Surya film Ayan. It's just one of those all-around brilliant entertainers, good acting, good songs, great story. It hits all the buttons. So it's the one that made it instantly on my favourites list, unlike so many other titles I watched this year, regardless of the fact I got to it so late.

But enough about all that. How was your filmi year 2011? Anything you think I'd enjoy in particular? Any films that escaped everybody's attention that's worth checking out?