Friday, December 24, 2010

The Tees Maar Khan Review

There are students finalizing masters degrees in Artificial Intelligence who were newborns when Akshay Kumar last appeared in a watchable comedy. And if they’re still debating their thesis, they might consider Akshay’s synthetic fixations, given nauseating display in ‘Tees Maar Khan’. There is something to be said about Bollywood production houses when a film as desperately inane as TMK comes along - only a human vegetable could have seen the final cut of this movie and not have had any concerns about the putrid level of quality on display.

Hideously directed by Farah Khan, ‘Tees Maar Khan’ just staggers on as if it is paralysed, completely oblivious about what to do and how to do it. The film is nothing but a gimmick in masquerading as a movie – how to get Akki into as many silly costumes and deliver as many stupid expressions as possible, plot mechanics be damned. This poor excuse of a comedy is so misconceived on every level, it's almost mesmerizing to watch, if you don't mind pain, that is. And Sirish Kunder  knows how to make you hurt. On a scale of cinematic pride, Farah Khan qualifies a rung above the makers of snuff films. There is not a shred of originality or invention in 'Tees Maar Khan', as Messrs. Kunder and Khan borrow listlessly from a certain 1966 Peter Sellers film which poked fun at movie stars and film critics. I'd recommend this Bollywood remake for a good nap, except the grating, infuriatingly out-of-place sound effects and cheaply conceived music by Vishal-Shekhar would jar you awake.

‘Tees Maar Khan’ has all the nuance of a film made to entertain a donkey – the cast and crew members receive Oscars at the climax, no less. At the very thought of Akki dressing up in different costumes and conning the heck out of everyone, with Katrina gyrating to ‘Sheila ki Jawani’, one may expect some timepass entertainment value. Sadly, we’re treated with Tabrez Mirza (Akki), who while in his mother’s womb is inspired to rob. The lad grows up to be Tees Maar Con and dates a dumb-as-a-doorknob wannabe actress (Katrina). The conniving Johri twins (the annoying Raghu Ram and Rajiv) brief Tabrez to rob a locomotive full of antiques, and what follows is a train wreck barrage of recycled spoofs and excruciating jokes that render you stonefaced. It’s all just a poorly disguised cesspool constructed as a motion picture, complete with blaring inappropriate music within badly bungled gags. ‘Tees Maar Khan’ also appears to be chopped up and put back together again by Mr Kunder, as the narrative profusely leaps around from one scene to another, relying on irritating plot conveniences to fill in the blanks. It’s this kind of negligence to the art of comedy construction that plagues the film. You get the feeling that Akki gave his all, and that he and Farah Khan relied on the belief that gold could eventually be culled from Akki’s hamming.  It only makes for the cinematic equivalent of a kid who annoys you by repeating everything you say.

It becomes impossible to pity Akshay Kumar as he stars in another loop in his shame spiral, a path that began right where ‘Tashan’ ended. A glance at his filmography makes one wonder if Akshay is deliberately trying his best to sabotage his own career. And his career will not recover from this mess, though on the bright side I doubt that anyone will ever care. Katrina needed a paycheck so that's understandable, but after a such a surreally horrid turn in a movie like this I hope she isn't expecting to pick up another. Third-rate cameos by Akshaye Khanna, Salman Khan, Arya Babbar etc are inexplicable. There is just one person who scarcely manages to muscle his way out of the wreckage - Chunky Pandey - the man is so far above the insulting material he has to work with that he might as well have filmed his scenes in outer space.

‘Tees Maar Khan’ is brutally unfunny, horrendously contrived and wholly annoying. There is nothing more nightmarish than a comedy film that doesn't have even a single tolerable moment of hilarity, unless it is a film that doesn't have even a single tolerable moment. ‘Tees Maar Khan’ has achieved such a feat. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Nagavalli Review

There was a time when P. Vasu was a great director. In 1998, he made his splash in 'Suyamvaram'; in 1999, he burst onto the horror scene with the spine tingling 'Hogi pyaar ki jeet'. Of course, his best film was 1996's masterpiece 'Love birds', but he also made 2004's 'Apthamitra', and its 2005 remake 'Chandramukhi'. Somehow, Vasu lost his touch, with junk like his failed 2008 remake of 'Kadha Parayumbol', to his uninspired but successful sequel 'Aptharakshaka' and 'Gajibiji'. Those movies, however, look like cinematic works of art compared to his latest film remake. Neither the spooky antagonist's novelty nor Vasu's horror skill have aged very well, as evidenced by the schlocky 'Nagavalli'.


It is a sad state of affairs when the trio of Anushka, Richa and Venkatesh can star in something as misguided and flatly written and filmed as 'Nagavalli'. This film leaves you with a groan: a groan that this tired series may not yet be over; a groan that you blew hard-earned cash to see it; but most of all, a groan that you've just lost 150 minutes of your life that can never be recovered. Nagavalli's got loud music, it's got cringe-inducing humour, it's got jarring camera angles and sinful psychosis. It's only a matter of time before it's declared a sacrilege. As in most desi horror films, there isn't much character development, just a lot of screaming, dancing, pouting, gasping, eyebrow arching, costume flaunting and makeup. There are a few surprises and some attempt at a plot, but generally, despite a promising start and generous footage of Richa Gangapodhyay quivering, this movie fails to rise above the muck of the horror genre.


There is, in fact, an awful lot of hokey lore to absorb in the story - the characters spend far too much time telling each other (and the audience) a lot of mumbo jumbo that presumably they already should know. They also regularly remind each other of the rules of ghost hunting (Rule No. 10: You can't ever buy a big mansion as it will most certainly be haunted). Keep track of all this because there's a quiz before they'll let you out of the theater. Here we have a wealthy bloke (Sarath) whose eldest daughter Gayatri (Kamlinee Mukherjee) dies after being gifted a painting of a certain medieval dancer in Revlon and Maybelline (Anushka).  Naturally odd things begin to happen, and Mr Cash calls Head Shrinker (Venkatesh) for help. Like in 'Apthamitra', 'Chandramukhi', ' Aptharakshaka' and 'Bhool Bhulaiyya', the psychiatrist moves into Mr Cash's home to solve the case. Forget prayers and jadui tabeez: it takes a lot of aggressive hamming and singing to subdue a ghost enough to get her out of a dark shelter. 


All of the added humor does not make 'Nagavalli' a good film - just a campy one. In fact, the film's big problem is just that, being too over-the-top too much of the time, from the acting (the dreadful Shraddha Das in particular) to story developments (yes, six leading ladies and Venky wearing jewelry are a treat to watch, but still...). Even a film called Nagavalli could use some restraint and be all the better for it. The most disheartening thing about Nagavalli, however, is not its campiness, but its lack of scares; it's hard to believe the same man who made the elegantly scary Captain Vijaykanth classic 'Sethupathi IPS' directed this piece of schlock.


What Nagavalli does get right is atmosphere. A great deal of credit goes to the cinematography by Shyam Naidu, and Rama Rajamouli's costumes which are convincing and, yes, less than repulsive. Venkatesh's insufferably smug performance makes the character even more unsavory. He is into his I'm-just-holding-on-to-sanity-by-a-thread persona here. Anushka in her minuscule role harnesses a certain look in her eyes and various gradations of trembling to convey a striking range of conflicted emotions. Richa's telepathic frissons help deepen the film's basically irreverent stance.


There is not an ounce of intelligence, or excitement in 'Nagavalli'. If anybody out there doesn't have enough corn in his life already, consider giving Vasu's newest remake a whirl. I do admit his prowess behind the camera and his ability to make you unintentionally laugh, although not his creative ability.






Friday, November 19, 2010

The Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Review

What a disappointing dearth of cinematic magic.

The latest Harry Potter film is Deathly Shallow and proves that it is possible to portray JK Rowling's outrageously entertaining, labyrinthine saga as a lumpy, bland, gray slop of pulpy goo. In the fifth book Dolores Umbridge had outlawed both fun and magic, and it is unfortunate that UK TV director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves have done just the same in the past three installments. Is James Cameron the only Hollywood director allowed to make three plus hour films? I find it hilarious that Potter fans have believed Warner Bros' claim that there was too much material in the seventh book to fit in one film. Avarice and hogwash. Didn't Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens skilfully adapt the outsized 'Lord of the Rings' into a classic trilogy? Deathly Hallows is just something out of an assembly line that is packaged with the ad 'Part 2 in July 2011 in 3D'. Its daylight robbery is what it is. And Warner have a 800+ million reasons to break into your Gringotts vault.

With 'Deathly Hallows', a fruitcake of a film rife with exposition but woeful lack of payoff, the Harry Potter franchise hits a stiff series low. Even the wizards can't seem to wave off irony with their wands, as the most exciting book of the septology feels like the longest film of the lot. The decline of the Harry Potter franchise has always been due to its unrelenting change in directors - Chris Columbus was criticized for being too faithful to the first two books (for reasons I cannot quite fathom); Alfonso Cuaron's refreshing 'Prisoner of Azkaban', the best film of them all was dark, artsy and glorious, but curiously made the least amount of money. Mike Newell's 'Goblet of Fire', an inhumanly chopped product was the most action-packed but also jarringly disjointed. Yet even in those movies there were beautiful moments - like Harry, Ron, Neville, Seamus goofing around in 'Azkaban', the flying car sequence from 'Chamber of secrets', Hermione passing a message to Harry from a disgruntled Ron through ten other people in 'Goblet of Fire'. Moments like these made for great cinema. 'Deathly Hallows' has no such moments. All we get are dozens of aerial shots of sweeping plains a la LOTR, loud noise and eye-glazing edits - nothing that is the least bit magical or original.

Cuaron and even Newell demonstrated that darker Potters could still be fun, but Yates, with his gray and black palette paints some deadly dull imagery. He has absolutely no flair for visual grandeur. Nor for seamless direction, as he doles out a watershed of backstory, revelations and plot clarifications with fragmented subplots from the novel that are never given any screen time to develop or any real importance. Kreacher shambles on screen a couple of times without his significance ever explained. And like in the previous film, we are treated with a barrage of supporting characters made of a dizzying onslaught of Britain's finest actors, who're yet again left unexplored - they're merely used as props in a speed-tour through the mythology's greatest hits. Lord Voldemort continues to show up only as a teaser for future installments, has Yates forgotten that there's only one film left? The legendary John Hurt, who plays Ollivander and was last seen in the first film almost a decade ago has exactly one line.

I get that reviewing a film based on a book is like uber-fan nitpicking. They messed with the opening chapter! They didn't show Mad-eye Moody's death! They omitted Voldemort's presence at Godric's Hollow! What next, God, what next?! Understandable, but how can one forgive pedestrian direction, less than spectacular CGI and narrative padding? They're all legitimate targets for criticism, and one can find all of that in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

There really is just one scene in the film which leaves an impression - a nifty flashback involving gorgeous, vibrant, animated silhouettes that explains the origin of the Deathly Hallows. The Mission Impossible style sequence where Harry, Ron and Hermione pop some Polyjuice and assume the form of office workers to penetrate the Ministry of Magic is decent as well. But the overall impact wanes more than waxes, courtesy of an amateurishly filmed clutter of explosions, plot shards and celebrity cameos. Save for a little dance between Harry and Hermione in a tent, there's no room for the gentle human moments that anchor Rowling's heroic fantasy epic to the everyday world. And then there are metaphors that are all too implicit in the film - Nazis, bureaucracy and racism - strangely none of the political subtexts really come alive.

Daniel Radcliffe is clearly willing and able to take Harry to deeper, darker places, but is in severe need of Helena Bonham-Carter's manic cartoonish energy. Rupert Grint displays sparks of brilliance but is frustratingly dumbed down by Yates. Emma Watson, a super star in the making, mercifully keeps her eyebrows under control. The much-ballyhooed nude scene between Radcliffe and Watson renders the least passionate kiss in the long, sad history of dispassionate Hollywood kisses. The only reason I'm looking forward to Part 2 is that I will finally have put all this behind me.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would have worked as a single film and a single colossal experience for audiences. Imagine reading the final Potter book on the first day of release, and JK Rowling suddenly apparating in your room and snatching the book from your hands while you're on the 500th page. And then asking you to read the rest next year. And then telling you to buy the book all over again to read the remaining portion. Dear Pottermaniacs, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is nothing more than an exercise in loyalty. Avada Kedavra, franchise.


Monday, October 18, 2010

My itinerary for the Mumbai Film Fest 2010

I expect to have a colossal time this week when the 12th Mumbai Film Festival kicks off - over 200 films from over 60 countries have been packaged to be screened during the event. Watching 200 films in five days would be a tad knotty. Therefore, I shall  watch the following:

1) The Social Network - USA

Hailed by most critics as the second coming of Christ, David Fincher's biographical thriller is guaranteed to be a fascinating, absorbing film. Indeed, an excellent choice by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images for the opening night.

2) Veettilekkulla Vazhi (The Way Home) - Kerala

I'd never head of this film until a friend posted its trailer on Twitter earlier this week. VV is a terrorist thriller set in Kashmir and Ladakh. Prithviraj stars as a doctor who has lost his family in a Mujahideen attack. In a desperate attempt at self healing he sets off on a journey to find the missing son of the lone surviving member of the suicide attack. Gorgeous cinematography and haunting music. At least in the trailer.

3) Semshook - India/Spain

An Indo-Spanish production, Semshook boasts some breathtaking imagery of Tibet and glowing reviews. This one's about a Christopher McCandless-esque young poet road tripping across the Himalayas, from Dharamsala to Ladakh to find himself. With Thoreau by my side, I shall enjoy this with a large glass of Thums Up.

4) The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project -

The mind bending trailer of Srinivas Sunderrajan's surrealistic feature was enough to give me the heebeejeebees. Google directed me to a number of bloggers raving abut the film. Apparently this gem was shot on an HD camera in just 30 days with a budget of a third of a lakh. Not impressed? Watch the trailer.

5) Hahaha - Korea

This Korean flick, about a filmmaker's nostalgia trip while traveling from Korea to Canada, won the Un Certain Regard trophy at Cannes this year. Metacritic hasn't been kind to this one, but to Beelzebub with that - I swear by Cannes.

6) Biutiful -Mexico

Alejandro González Iñárritu's follow up to Babel has Javier Bardem in the lead - a gangster plagued with a conscience, and a firm grasp on an Oscar. The only damper is that this film was not written by Guillermo Arriaga.

7)  Last Train Home - China

A powerful documentary covering the journey of  over 200 million Chinese peasant workers to reunite with their distant families. Any film that exposes the underbelly of a superpower gets my nod. The trailer itself is quite spectacular.

8) Bunraku - USA

Easily the craziest pick of the lot - Bunraku is a super-stylized martial arts revenge tale that mashes together genres like western, samurai and noir. Very intriguing, if you ignore the fact that Josh Hartnett, Demi Moore and Ron Perlman lead the cast.

9) Good Night Good Morning - India

Film critic Sudhish Kamath's second film, co-written by Shilpa Rathnam, is a slickly shot experimental independent dramedy that revolves around two characters engaged in a long phone call. GNGM stars the quirky Seema Rahmani (Loins of Punjab) & Manu Narayan (Bombay Dreams). Judging by the promos, this one should make for a razor sharp watch, and a polished vehicle for the leads' talents.            

10)  Winter's Bone - USA

Debra Granik's film is the story of a 17-year-old girl in Alaska forced to track down her meth-cooking father to save her home that's haunted by a bail bond. As the wolves close in on her two younger siblings and invalid mother, the girl channels every emotion outside of happiness as she scratches, scrapes and splashes her way through the unforgiving landscape where helpful words are hard to come by.

11) L'enface du mal (Sweet Evil) - France 

Olivier Coussemacq's thriller chronicles the double life of fifteen-year-old Celine, who is found by a rich attorney sleeping in the garden of his villa.  Despite his wife's disapproval, the man offers Celine his guest room and warm food. The new family member is a welcome change, until her real motives slowly unravel.

12) Another Year - UK

Mike Leigh impressed and gained a rousing applause from the 63rd Cannes Film Festival audience. The story is told through the lives of Tom and Gerri (a clever bit of naming) and Mary - a wreck who was divorced before she was 30 only to fall in love with, and be left by a married man before she was 40. Starring Ruth Sheen, Jim Broadbent and frequent Leigh collaborator Lesley Manville.

13) Mirch - Hindi

Mirch is supposedly a drama crammed with four interweaving stories on infidelity. Starring Shreyas Talpade,  Konkona Sen Sharma , Raima Sen and Shahana Goswami. I'm sold - bring on the offbeat goodness.

14)  The Infidel - UK

 This British satire starring Omid Djalili and Archie Panjabi supposedly features the former's pitch perfect comic timing and the latter's charm. Djalili plays a Muslim cabbie who while marrying his son off to the stepdaughter of a fundamentalist cleric, discovers that he was adopted as a baby, and that his biological parents were Jewish.

 15) I am Kalam - India

Won the Best Film award at a German film festival. Also selected for the Vienna Intl Children's Film Festival. Debutant director Nila Madhab Panda pays homage to Satyajit Ray in this story of a slum kid who yearns for education and works to realise his cherished dreams. If you think an issue like child education need not be addressed, then you shouldn't watch this.

16) Rizhao Chongqing (Chogqing Blues) - China

Veteran director Wang Xiaoshuai's latest  revolves around a neglectful father's journey in discovering the truth behind the police shooting of his son. This one apparently is a crushing, riveting, non linear tale.

17) When Harry tries to Marry - USA

Another ABCD-based film? Check. Guy's marriage drives plot? Check. So then why bother? The trailer looks good.

18) Kokuhaku (Confessions) - Japan

Twisted, gory and stunning. A Japanese psychological thriller in which a teacher takes a blood-soaked revenge against a bunch of students in her class who were responsible for her daughter's death. I recommend you avoid watching the trailer if you wish to see the film.

19) Harud

Amir Bashir's directorial debut has already generated a heck of a lot of buzz - the film, shot entirely in Kashmir chronicles the struggle of a Kashmiri family coming to terms with the disappearance of the eldest son, a tourist photographer during military insurgency.

Bunch of promising Marathi films

'Burzwagaman: Biography of a farmer' seems like Ghabricha Paus redux, but that doesn't the least bit lower my expectations. Then there's 'Platform' and 'Alif' which I wish watch just because they're Marathi films. I haven't got any plot details; I shall, however, put up their reviews.

20) RED - USA

A comic spy caper starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Karl Urban, Mary-Louise Parker and Helen Mirren brandishing guns? Bring it on.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Knock Out Review

Somewhere inside Mani Shankar's latest escapade is a hilarious comedy yearning to break free from the stifling clutches of its over-serious guardians. 'Knock Out' is an endless succession of flashes, quick cuts, and eye roll moments, and looks as if the production team had learnt their art doing work experience under the influence of drugs at an abattoir next door to a nudist camp. Such is the one-dimensional nature of the slabs of meat masquerading as characters that it's hard to care for their fates, and a painfully contrived desh bhakti intrigue coupled with Irrfan Khan's otherworldly hair hardly helps the cause. It's business as usual at plagiarising camp Bollywood, with very little in the way of fresh ideas or an innovative visual style that would revitalize the hokey industry in any way. My condolences to Joel Schumacher, the director of 'Phone Booth'.

 Unless its a  Krista Allen film, watching women playing scantily clad TV journalists with bad accents is not my cup of tea. At the same time, honesty requires me to acknowledge that Kangana Ranaut's Nidhi Shrivastav is a truly well-fleshed out and effective example of something that I don't like.  Armed with an  upper torso exhibiting breathlessness and Shankar's camera lingering on her legs, Kangana's Nidhi is someone straight out of a DVD featuring horny cookie cutter party animals, bare breasted babes and boozers who frolic through ho-hum sex 'n slaughter pathological proceedings. The original and thrilling 'Phone Booth' had a certain low-rent elegance about it, and this over the top, whiplash-edited update slash  ripoff loses that too. Producer Sohail Maklai's idea of  repackaging Phone Booth for the sole purpose of raking in crores from foolish audiences is most noble, but heaven knows why he thought he'd make money by casting a droning Sanjay Dutt. Mr Dutt exudes the same old Mumbaiya charisma, but with all the finesse of a blind choreographer directing an arthritic dancer. Ultimately, 'Knock Out' is destined to become exactly what most Bollywood ripoffs are - a sleepover rite of passage, specifically the moment when discerning viewers realise they can do much, much better.

So here we have banker Irrfan Khan with a wig from Nicolas Cage's basement, held hostage in a phone booth by a napping Sanjay Dutt brandishing a sniper. Naturally, media houses have a field day, with Kangana Ranaut screaming into the mike, unintentionally doling out a most excellent Elmer Fudd impression. Thrown in are Gulshan Grover, Sushant and 'Shootout at Lokhandwala' director Apoorva Lakhia in bit roles, falling over each other in a struggle to hide their paychecks behind their backs. And if that weren't enough, the climax is curiously reminiscent of  the superb 'A Wednesday', thus raising the bar for unoriginality and flat-out atrocity.  True to form, Shankar's editor Shyam Salgaonkar and cinematographer Natarajan have once again worked their signature brand of ultra-stylish, faux-gritty mediocrity, thus stripping Knock Out of any kind of charm.  With this story and budget Shankar and Maklai had all the tools at their disposal to create tense scenes that are both unique and shocking in a desi context, but there is really only one action scene that is remotely notable, and that involves a close up shot of a camera held at the heaving, sweaty chest of Kangana Ranaut.

'Knock Out' is simply a pointless exercise beyond paying off Mani Shankar's sixth mortgage. Although the one thing this Bollywood ripoff - number 984, by my count - does achieve, is it makes the maestro's 'Rudraksh' look like a freaking masterpiece. Even Baba Ramdev, with his prodigious powers of focus and restraint would froth with anger then snooze through this rancid mess.

First published on on October 15, 2010.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Dabangg Review

Is it possible that a movie so utterly without redemptive value, so completely, pointlessly uncalled for, can also be, you know, kinda fun? Hell yes. Say hello to a monotonously mindless but colorful caper, a banally boisterous, jolting junk that strangely is filling in its sneering, rambunctious spirit. 'Dabangg'  is totally ridiculous, unbelievable, exhausting, and pretty much just plain stupid, but that's what makes it watchable. And like so much Salman Khan-branded contemporary entertainment, it is a frenzied distraction that means nothing.

Writer-director Abhinav Kashyap  sneers at any kind of rules, decorum or morality. Anything goes, as long as it's within the realm of exploitation-level "B" moviemaking. He's made a product that's so tasteless, trashy and totally over the top, that it amounts to one of the year's most inventive movies. Kashyap really seems to be enamored with the genre he's satirizing. embedding these gags in to the script instead of just tossing them at us waiting for us to laugh. He believes nothing exceeds like excess. And if that's not enough 'Dabangg' even over-delivers, permanently deflowering and deforming the mind of anyone lucky enough to be in the audience.  The question isn't whether Salman Khan as Chulbul Pandey knows how to spice things up. The question is whether or not you're willing to go with him on yet another highly implausible, ludicrous, action-packed adrenaline-pumped ride. Salman, who's tailor-made for this kind of thing, nevertheless spends too much time doing his cool-menace-wiseass thing to communicate the sort of urgency the (semblance of a) plot demands. Its 2+ hours of cinematic junk food paradise. Waking up in the aftermath of a meth-lab explosion might be less disorienting than watching this.

And now the bad news. 'Dabangg' is just a byproduct of Sallu's self-promotion, rendering the film itself, in essence, beside the point. There is potential all over this film, but every scene post interval is overwrought with unfunny caricatures and tired jokes. We've seen every gimmick and sight gag before, in better, funnier Salman Khan movies. The second half is pretty much a bad-taste sinkhole, with Sallu competing against Arbaaz and Sonu Sood to see if he can be more grating. Right after the chaos of 'Munni Badnaam Hui', Kashyap seems to have no idea whether this is an action movie, a comedy, a kid's movie or perhaps a bizarre experiment in Chinese torture. Here we have Sallu as Chulbul Pandey, a moustached, corrupt policewale bhaiyya who in turn is also a modern day Bollywoodised Robin Hood with a bone to pick with the sleazy local politician (Sonu Sood). Thrown in is a bit of a melancholy back-story on Pandey's character, just so the plot hides the spasms and pretends to move - there's a dead mother (Dimple, in excellent form) and a hateful step father (Vinod Khanna, sleepwalking) and an annoying step brother (furniture, aka Arbaaz Khan), compounded by gaaon ki gori Rajjo (Sonakshi, passable) and the standard goons and extras who're paid to merely serve as Sallu's punching bags. In the final 45 minutes Kashyap mistakes shock and boorishness for satire, and crudity for cleverness as he desperately, hopelessly catalogues of the ills of India, and 'Dabanng' ends up rejoicing in what it believes it is sending up.

'Dabangg' is one of the loudest, most obnoxious (not to mention sexist) movies of the year, but damned if it doesn’t keep an audience in high gear. I guess you could call it a "satire," but it doesn't particularly care to take the time or energy to spin the satire in any meaningful way. The film really is the super-concentrated silt at the bottom of a chemistry experiment that has no possible purpose to it but to deliver whatever limited jolt of which it's capable. Recommended for Sallu fans and those who love to hurl torn tickets in the air and whistle at bare, gyrating hips and flat abs on the big screen.

First published on on Sep 10, 2010

The Antardwand Review

In a year full of movies about families and tragedy, this is the class of the bunch. Antardwand is essential viewing for any student of rural Indian mores and scholar of human nature. The extremely accomplished and deeply disturbing film yields a disquieting portrait of Bihari communities and says far more about the 'Indian experience' than any of the jingoistic anthems in mainstream Bollywood or the pre-packaged patriotic speeches on a politician's campaign trail.

In this dazzling and minimalist drama, writer-director Sushil Rajpal has created an unforgettable portrait of a young man desperate to break free from the shackles of his society. Even those who've boned up on rural Bihari culture will have their eyes opened by Rajpal's gripping drama regarding our motherland lawless and wild. The themes are universal, and the simple (but not simplistic) story is delivered with considerable verve by the debuting director and an ensemble that makes it zing. Rajpal manages to maintain the delicate balance between the gritty realities of the story he's telling and the almost ruthlessly humorous biting irony it renders. He charts with starkly minute detail the fragility of sanity and, even more disconcertingly, the fragile nature of reality. What 'Antardwand' achieves ultimately is the full-scale distraction of its audience.

Raghuveer (Raj Singh Choudhary), a Delhi University civil services candidate plans to get married to his pregnant girlfriend Sia (Himanshi). He decides to make a short trip to his native place in rural Bihar to discuss marriage with his father (Vinay Pathak, in top form). The father is outraged, and so is Mahendra Babu (Akhilendra Mishra), who dreams of getting his daughter married to Raghuveer. Mahendra proceeds to abduct and torture Raghuveer until the latter complies. He even goes as far as instructing his goons to knock Raghuveer everywhere except on his face, so that he looks good in the wedding photos. Mahendra's daughter (an excellent Swati Sen) is left to deal with the humiliation of being forced to wed Raghuveer and face marital rape. Akhilendra Mishra and Vinay Pathak are great, but Raj Singh Choudhary is outstanding - last seen in the underrated 'Waiting Room' and 'Gulal', this is a major indie star in the making. 'Antardwand' really is a sad character study that also works as a stark thriller. And the director leaves the viewer feeling a lot like Raghuveer - haunted. Rajpal should also be applauded for keeping the film going at a nice pace, sprinkling it with few lighter moments, as well as one of the more suspenseful scenes from any movie this year.

'Antardwand' is a an admirable achievement, quite impressive on all levels. It brandishes the type of confidence and clarity of vision all too seldom seen in Indian cinema. We should be producing movies like this 10 times a year, not once in a blue moon.

First published on on August 26, 2010

The Aashayein Review

 Nagesh Kukunoor's latest offering 'Aashayien' is a movie with an urgent message. The message is: Please consider seeing another movie.

What's supposed to be a well acted, heartfelt story of a wounded soul finding himself and learning to heal is obliterated in one vile, manipulative swoop. This scene isn't deep or thought-provoking, it is in fact a sucker punch. John Abraham sprints through rain to deafening music and breaks up with his girlfriend, and in a matter of minutes 'Aashayein' goes from something that might have been memorable to a wholly unnecessary disappointment. There's a sense of construction to 'Aashayein' that undercuts its emotional impact, and emotional impact is pretty much all this film is shooting for. The result is an insignificant film that desperately wants to be significant. Still, thanks to a decent supporting cast and mostly solid direction by Kukunoor, it manages to be at least moderately interesting through its running time. If 'Aashayien' is remembered for anything at all, other than being yet another John Abraham vehicle, it will be for its over-the-top ending, which ranks high amongst the most shameless jerkers of tears ever unleashed upon lachrymose Indians.

So many terrible things happen to the people in 'Aashayein' that when the last awful scene comes - something so resounding and meaningful that it instantly, horribly cheapens the rest of the movie - you get almost numb to it. Here we have a protagonist with lung cancer and a foot in the bucket list, a teenage cancer patient in love with the protagonist, an out of work prostitute affected by AIDS, a speech impaired old timer. We have a dying hero fulfilling his fantasy of stepping into Indiana Jones' shoes, forced to mouth bland, excessively corny, schmaltzy and contrived dialogue. By act three, when Kukunoor himself shifts from a cameo to a supporting role, the sentimental twaddle bounces all over the place trying to find a center. It never does. And the finale turns exploitative, touting forgiveness while being infuriating.

Director Kukunoor plays it straight, and invites us to sniffle along if we want. There's something kind of admirable about this, I guess, in a going-down-with-the-ship sort of way. There's no real depth or texture to the characters of any sort, sentimental or otherwise. During the first half Mr.Abraham gives Keanu Reeves and Arjun Rampal serious competition - defining numerous shades of blank of which I had been thus far unaware. Part of the problem is John Abraham, an actor with the strengths and faults of Sylvester Stallone - he can be a charming antihero, as in No Smoking, or a block of wood, albeit one carved by God's hands. Though Ms. Sonal Sehgal and Anaitha Nair are lovely actresses, their inexperience shows in their scenes, which aren't written very well to begin with, while Mr. Abraham's stolid reserve decays into dull passivity. The terminally sappy romance shared between the leads delivers heartache, sacrifice, and of course a make-out scene that seems frustratingly out of place. The one person here who doesn't embarrass himself is Girish Karnad. But it's hard to see what he saw in this project, aside from a fairly easy paycheck. Farida Jalal is ghastly as the HIV-infected ex prostitute, bad not just in one or two ways, but in all kinds of ways.

'Aashayein' starts off promisingly, then falls to pieces by the second act, devolving into saccharine slush. A big disappointment from a filmmaker who's made path breaking cult classics like 'Hyderabad Blues', 'Teen Deewarein' and 'Iqbal'.


First published on on August 26, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Lafangey Parindey Review

Who says critics are useless? Now you don't have to see this movie, unless of course, you derive some satisfaction/pleasure from graphic violence, unforgivably cliched scripts, migraine-inducing songs, and/or repeated sightings of Neil Nitin Mukesh's bare arms.

Make no mistake, this is a film replete with awful acting that glorifies nihilism - this is in-your-face movie-making by people with a moral compass badly askew. The title 'Lafangey Parindey' is an apt metaphor for the production house behind this flick which ultimately bobs and weaves a lot but ends up all empty air. Maybe it's a cultural thing but there's nothing remotely entertaining in 'Lafangey Parindey' - its just an exercise in silliness designed to rob you of Rs 300+. Director Pradeep Sarkar (of Laga Chunari me Daag fame) offers a lame attempt to do what Guy Ritchie has frequently done better - and with far more cinematic artistry. If he earns no other accolades for this directorial effort - a distinct likelihood - Sarkar deserves some kind of award just for assembling the most bizarrely inept cast and ideas of this young century. He's put together this film with the offhand shoddiness of a government worker thinking about his Saturday evening beer. 

It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when it becomes clear that this lurid, steroidal 'masala entertainer' is certifiably insane (or at least a lot funnier than it means to be), but it's pretty early on. Everyone seems to be sleepwalking through this film. Except for Deepika Padukone, who is such a terrible actress that she couldn't even act like she's sleepwalking. She is so staggeringly awful, such an ordeal to sit through, that it's hard to know where to start talking about it. But even the film's cast is done in by the deathless mediocrity of the production, an assemblage of random camera shots, messy editing, redundant scenes, and witless dialogue as haphazardly stitched together as the flesh on a burn victim's face. In 'Lafangey Parindey', Neil Nitin Mukesh plays Nandu, a yuppie biker who likes to punch folks in the face. So how come he couldn't yank director Sarkar out of his coma with his one-shot? All Neil does is stride around in gelled hair, talk fake tapori and ham to the hilt, deplorably abusing the good will he garnered after surprising everyone with 'Johnny Gaddar'.
Gopi Puthran's script can't quite get a grasp on character depth, yet it also can't quite deliver the cheap thrills such a trashy tale might otherwise provide. The storytelling is so overwrought and misguided, 'Lafangey Parindey' winds up as a colossal car wreck. It doesn't take long to figure out that Deepika, as a blind rollerskating dancer, and Neil Nitin as her doting, blindfolded hero are the most unconvincing team of hired actors in Bollywood history. Really, why bother roping in Deepika for a role in which she's supposed to dance? What's more, Mr Sarkar is so lazy that he doesn't even bother concealing the body double used for the dancing/rollerskating Ballerina scenes. After what seems like an eternity of bludgeoning us into open-jawed bafflement, 'Lafangey Parindey' is best aborted, and flushed away as one of 2010's more unpleasant memories.

You can surely tell 'Lafangey Parindey' has been passed through Sanjib Datta's editing bay one too many times. Style over substance is the norm as the whole film looks like what someone might vomit up after partially digesting Natarajan Subramanian's digitised footage. Eldridge Rodrigues' insistently fussy and grandiose production design mistakes extra-crisp textures, brilliant colors and high contrast backdrops for story atmosphere and style. Yes it's flashy as hell, but amphetamine-fueled methods do not compensate for distinct lack of substance. Sham Kaushal's action all but forces its bulky, twitching mass down your throat until you realise you haven't been entertained but assaulted. 

'Lafangey Parindey' is certainly a front runner for one of the worst mainstream Bollywood releases of the year. It will try your patience and give you a throbbing headache - about all it does with any success. The only people who deserve to see this film are Rahul Mahajan and the CEO of British Petroleum.

First published on on August 19, 2010