Friday, May 27, 2011

The 'Kuchh Luv Jaisaa' Review

It’s never a good sign when a film is more considerate towards its heroine than the audience is. The target audience here is women. With any luck Kuchh Luv Jaisaa will end up as a tipping point, signaling the moment that Indian women finally stopped paying to see themselves look stupid on the big screen. 

Kuchh Luv Jaisaa is rife with horrors, thanks to a sloppy script and a central character (Shefali Shah) who is impossible to care about. The film also boasts some of the most forced and unrealistic dialogue I have ever seen - Sumit Raghavan, while talking to his friend about his wife blurts out ‘Nail polish is like a friend, aur ek friend hi to chahiye sabko’.  

So here we have a bored housewife (Shefali) upset over her hubby’s (Sumit Raghavan) lack of interest in her. After he forgets her birthday, she decides to indulge in some retail therapy and ultra glam makeover. Along comes her wet dream, a rugged, manly dude wearing cooling glasses (Rahul Bose), a wanted terrorist who fools her into believing that he is a detective.  The fundamental flaw of this film is that it expects us to find Shefali’s character endearing, but instead she comes across as a relentlessly stupid fool who deserves to suffer. This urban, sophisticated, well-read woman actually moves into a hotel room with a stranger who claims to be a detective. And when she does find out about his villainy, she returns to the hotel room to talk to him, in order to flee. You’re supposed to feel for a woman with an uncaring husband, instead you want her to be collared and humiliated for being such an unintelligent cow.

To make matters perfectly clear, I don’t hold Kuchh Luv Jaisaa against Shefali Shah. She desperately tries to play it all cute and ditsy, deploying her smile and puppy dog eyes at every opportunity.  It’s not her fault the film is a shallow, worthless trip to the land of idiocy and pointlessness. Although there’s no denying Rahul Bose’s complete lack of compassion for paying audiences. He has the timing of a Rolex watch that is made in Ulhasnagar – and he speaks in a Mumbai don accent with the dexterity of a little girl with her shoelaces tied together. What’s more, there is zero chemistry between any of the characters, there is hardly any discernible difference between the film’s leads drunk or sober. 

Then there are a few scenes that are downright cringe-inducing. Shefali’s character casually asks her preteen daughter if she has had sex, and when the kid asks her if ‘sex’ is ‘love’, the mother suddenly goes into flashback mode and visualizes Rahul Bose standing close to her in an elevator to the backdrop of pseudo rock music. In another scene some mannequins at a departmental store come alive when Shefali walks by with a new haircut. I did not know that mannequins in store windows could actually get aroused. And even their performance is less wooden that Bose’s.  

Kuch Luv Jaisaa is assembled from every possible spare part required to make a laughably bad film. Its offenses come by the dozen, but the worst is its portrayal of Indian women as gullible, easily misled, irrational dodos.  Even the recent Govinda film ‘Naughty at 40’ is more resplendent with intellect.

First published in DNA

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The 'Pyaar ka Punchnama' Review

Pyaar ka Punchnama has nonstop bust-your-gut funny material that will make your face hurt with laughter. Writer-director Luv Ranjan have made a film that should qualify as a date movie for guys, but unlike most of the lowbrow Hindi comedies in theaters these days, this one isn't quite a carp.  

PKP is an irreverent, raucous comedy that is gleefully crass - the funniest moment is a six minute long profanity-laden monologue on nagging women belted out at 3000 decibels as a throw-away joke. Another scene treats us with a character’s devilishly possessive girlfriend seducing him to let her accompany him on a Goa trip that was planned by his friends to recapture the hedonism of their uncommitted days. These moments aren't mildly funny or chuckle funny but downright hysterical, infused with ferociously coarse, go-for-broke sensibility. And every ounce of the film’s success can be attributed to its three male stars - Kartikeya Tiwari, Rayo Bhakhirta and Divyendu Sharma, who manage to respectably pull off this otherwise ridiculously structured comedy. 

I must admit that the trailers of Pyaar ka Punchnama slightly misrepresented the final product – it’s not the least bit a sex comedy. The elements of a first-love plot with all its complications are not new, but the charecterisations here are just too darn compelling. Here we have Rajat (Tiwari), Chaudhary (Bhakirtha) and Liquid (Sharma), a trio with an ‘Office Space’ hangover desperate to find love. Chaudhary hooks up with the sassy Neha (Nushrat Bharucha), Rajat finds the saucy Riya (Sonalli) and the shy, good-hearted Liquid has the hots for Charu (Ishita), a girl in his office. The plot thickens when Chaudhary moves in with Neha who soon turns into a niggling, possessive, conniving witch.  Meanwhile Rajat’s girl refuses to break contact with her ex boyfriend. And Charu turns out to be a manipulative vixen who uses Liquid’s earnestness to her advantage and treats him like a doormat.  

Yes there is some drama, but it is never jarring, in fact the subtle shifting of relationships is beautifully realised here. Even the emotionally charged scenes are pretty much character-driven soap opera without resorting to tackiness. If anything, Pyaar ka Punchnama will have a certain appeal to a certain audience - namely other guys in their mid-twenties in crappy jobs struggling to learn about love and life. 

Divyendu Sharma makes acting like a moron seem like a natural and endearing byproduct of middle-class Indian befuddlement. He excels at dignity-free merriment and can deliver even the most average of punch lines with enough lunacy to merit a laugh. Rayo Bhakhirta unleashes genial lunkheadedness. Kartikeya Tiwari is affably low key. Ishita and Sonallii are passable, but Nushrat Bharucha is brilliantly unlikeable. If Love Sex aur Dhoka weren’t enough, Pyaar ka Punchnama gives us another reason to follow the career of this gifted young actress.  Sudhir Chaudhary’s cinematography is eye-popping, but if there’s one thing that’s grating about the film it is the overindulgence in musical cues. A salsa number between Tiwari and Sonallii makes no sense either, but that’s just moaning.

Pyaar ka Punchnama is one of the best, most satisfying comedies to come along in a while. For its subversive genre, it is a fantastic reminder that when you get right down to it, finding The One and actually getting her to accept you the way you are is hilariously difficult.  


First published in DNA

The '404' Review

404 is a good lesson to Bollywood that a fright film need not be brimming with blood, girls in tank tops and cheesy 3D special effects.
404 isn't the average Vikram Bhatt shockathon, it is a deliberately slow-paced mystery-psych-horror drenched in atmosphere, with a few clues up-front and much to talk about afterwards. It might bore the Ramsay lover to sleep, and it certainly isn’t made for the Ragini MMS and Haunted audiences. 404’s is a story that patiently unwraps itself, giving away little with each step, unwinding until its final scenes offer a world of revelations. Prawal Raman’s script doesn't rule out an otherworldly dimension to the story, but it is not necessarily present. Everything in 404 has a plausible explanation, whether something supernatural is happening is left for us to decide, and that's part of the fun.  

Abhimanyu (Rajvvir Arora) enrolls into a prestigious medical college that has Gothic edifices and an illustrious history. Freshers were locked up in morgues when they resisted ragging, and the shadowy hostel room 404 is the site of an even more disreputable incident – a student had killed himself in there. As expected, young Abhimanyu pleads the hostel authorities to let him stay in the room, and professor Aniruddh (Nishikant Kamat), impressed by the boy’s courage and in an effort to whitewash the incident from everyone’s memory, obliges. Abhimanyu moves in, but something about the room feels off – he hears sounds he can't explain, lights go on unexpectedly and soon enough, a dead guy makes an appearance. We're never quite sure just who's involved, is there a ghost wandering around the campus? Or is the central character psychotic or possessed? Is someone suffering from split personality? Is it one of the seniors playing a prank for some ulterior motive? Raman gives us enough contradictory information to make us desperate to know, even as he ties us in knots fearing whatever answer he may provide. The sense of building dread peaks about three-fourths through then fizzles out, sadly. Too exhausted to care anymore, we're left with nothing to do but guess who'll die and figure out who might be responsible. It is common in horror flicks for the climax and resolution to fail to live up to expectations created by the buildup, but 404’s payoff is quite satisfactory. 

Acting is another factor that raises 404 above the usual dreck presented in similar films. Director Raman does fine work with the actors, getting believable performances from his cast in the face of obviously ludicrous situations. Raman also knows about the fundamental silliness of horror films, he goes for the most baroque alarming effects with a completely straight face, even using loud sounds throughout to unsettle the audience. The jolt of suddenly seeing something creepy in a strategically placed mirror is frustratingly overused, though. Most of the cast turns in good performances, with Kamat being the standout as a concerned professor trying to keep things pulled together. Rajvvir Arora makes a strong debut here, Satish Kaushik and Tisca Chopra do well but add nothing to the story. Imaad Shah is completely miscast as a king hotshot college senior and hams to the hilt.  

If you feel like watching a film that moves very slowly, gives you a handful of characters with minimal backgrounds, tosses a few ambiguous and spooky cookies your way and is ultimately satisfying once you put it all together, then 404 is definitely for you. The setup here is sufficiently compelling to make its many gimmicky flourishes just as nerve-wracking as they're supposed to be - we're always anticipating something awful.  It’s got a lot more punch than that 3D Hindi horror film that arrived a couple of weeks ago.  

First published in DNA

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The 'Ragini MMS' Review

The cosmic silliness of Ragini MMS keeps it from being as loathsome as it might have been. Which means it is just too stupid to take seriously enough to be offended by it. Mind you, the movie boasts three distinct gimmicks — not only does it take place in real time, it purports to have been based on a true story and shot on digital cameras. Needless to say it promises more than it delivers.

Unintentional laughs aside, Ragini MMS is a gigantic, rubbery wad of badness — it is just another derivative, unpleasant exercise in clichés being passed off as horror. The story is simple enough — a young couple, Uday (Yadav) and Ragini (Motivala) plan to get jiggy with it at an old farmhouse, but when night falls things take a turn for the creepy, and the duo are forced to dart from one dark room to another, running from an unseen, malevolent female presence. And the clichés arrive by the truckload, with the endless parade of candy-floss ominous noises, creaks, shadows and camera-fits.

An avalanche of problems ensues the moment Kripalani serves up his idiotic rug-pulling reveal in the second half, something that promptly undermines everything we have been party to thus far by turning the film into a sub-Ramsay Bros cheese fest. Who is this ghost and why is she disturbing a couple’s night of nookie? Will we find out? Worry not, since Kripalani never fails to assume his audience is mentally challenged.
At the midsection Kripalani stops bothering with a new story and simply makes Paranormal Activity all over again — with lesser setup and fewer frills. Oh wait, but it is new, you see, because instead of an obnoxious American mansion, we have an obnoxious Indian bhoot bungla, and instead of a petrified baby, we have a petrified babe. And this time, instead of our leads being egged on by a seemingly spiteful spirit, they are exhorted by the advances of an eye-popping Marathi-speaking pataka of an art-school model in a saree. Creative, is it not?

It's never too early for Ragini MMS to make that wholesome connection between sex and horror. The first 20 minutes or so are filled with pre-horror foreplay, er, I mean plot, on feeble character development and numbingly unsubtle imagery and dialogue to spell things out. No prizes are offered for guessing the big twist about the association of the cameras with one of the central characters.

On the bright side, both Yadav and Motivala are superbly cast. Motivala seems to have paid close attention to Manuela Velasco in the Spanish horror masterpiece ‘REC’. Yes, there are a couple of creepy moments, but Ragini MMS is never terrifying. Worse, it ends with a silly twist that's much more likely to raise eyebrows than goosebumps. Budget limitations are no excuse for sloppy, nonsensical writing, for as busy as this movie is, you'd think it would have more going on.

Ragini MMS might have chutzpah, but sadly it doesn't have any interest in actually scaring us with something original. The film is driven only by contempt — it wants to nauseate us into submission. If this sounds like your cup of crud — and you know who you are — you probably won't be disappointed.

First published in DNA

The 'Balgandharva' Review

 Most people outside Maharashtra have never heard of Bal Gandharva. The story of one of India’s most popular singers and stage actors from the 1900s until his death in 1967 has completely passed some people by. Given that this biopic covers the years of his greatest fame quite quickly and features many different characters who appear and then reappear later without an over amount of explanation, you’ll definitely get more out of this film if you’re already familiar with Gandharva’s story. I'll also say that this film suffers from the usual biopic problem — that of when you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all. The only real difference here is that this one is set in Maharashtra.

Balgandharva is an awkwardly paced, unevenly executed drama that has some interesting moments – particularly a fine, sublime performance by Subodh Bhave as the titular character – but is, in the end, a kitchen sink film that just keeps on throwing stuff at you. A strong argument can be made that Bal Gandharva was the greatest stage actor of the 20th century. But that argument is not supported in Ravi Jadhav’s disjointed biopic, because it is a film that disregards the rules of storytelling yet fails to innovate a successful alternative. Though not luxuriously long, it commits one sin that would have been an anathema to a genius artist like Bal Gandharva — the lack of variety.

Two things this movie has going for it that make it stand out as something special are the magnificent art direction and Subodh Bhave’s performance. While his resemblance to Bal Gandharva is apparently accurate, it is not as simple as a straightforward impersonation. Bhave thoroughly transforms himself physically as well as vocally, lip-syncing the musical numbers and capturing Gandharva’s strident, nasal resonance in his voice.

Pinballing aimlessly across the span of Bal Gandharva’s life, from the rise of his career to his frail final days, the film grabs huge chunks out of his biography and scatters them carelessly. This unfocussed method becomes tiresome and irritating, and the film’s unstable storyline becomes too much of a bad thing. The director, either intentionally or accidentally, omits key segments of Gandharva’s life that show a very idealistic man. His extraordinary generosity in launching the careers of struggling artists like Baburao Painter is not cited. His hatred towards commercial forms or art is only touched upon with brief mentions of him dissolving a motion picture contract after just one film, giving the impression that he was an objectivist. His deep friendship with Ganpatrao Bodas and Govindrao Tembe is telescoped here into brief and awkward scenes on the sets of the Sangeet Mandali. And there is no mention of Gandharva’s activities during the formation of the Prabhat Film Company, where his quiet inner turmoil of selling out has been well-documented by more responsible biographies. What’s more, the director minimizes Bal Gandharva’s wonderful music and in turn diminishes Bhave’s extraordinary performance.

Speaking of songs, very few of the Gandharva standards are presented here in their entirety — most are sliced and diced. And many of his most beloved plays (including the ones by Kirloskar and Ram Gadkari) are not even mentioned. There is also a rather unsatisfactory handling of the people who surrounded the legend, beginning with filmmaker Shantaram, the scapegrace friend who used to hang around with Narayanrao when he struggled to make ends meet. Later, when Gohar Karnataki (Mhatre) becomes the disgrace of late-thirties Pune theatre, Gandharva begins to resent his loving, devoted wife (Deshpande), and suddenly claims that he would never return to her. What happened in between? Later still, we see Gandharva discontent while speaking with a rich Gujarati businessman (Manoj Joshi); how he came to sneak into the picture is anyone's guess. This is either an editing fault, or director Jadhav was concerned that further exposition would burden the swollen running time. Moreover, Balgandharvahas some peculiar ellipses. For example, the deaths of a couple of underwritten characters come out of nowhere. The movie also leaps from decade to decade, omitting the small episode of India’s independence at the height of Bal Gandharva’s stardom. The death of his wife is curiously overlooked as well — either the film was hacked down or the episode didn’t fit in with Jadhav’s view of Bal Gandharva as a basket case.

Granted, not everything in an incident-filled life like Bal Gandharva’s can be included, unless in a trilogy. Only once does Jadhav manage a convincing link between the inner tumult and the outer shell — at the halfway mark, in a long bravura shot of Bal Gandharva walking down a street, determined to clear his debts. The magical elision between the details of the composition and the performed grief are so confidently organised that one detects the shadow of a much more engrossing film. I wish that we could have seen it.

Balgandharva can't elude the pitfalls of the biopic —the tendency to sacrifice depth in the hope that covering the highlights of the life will somehow explain its meaning. The narrative is sketchy to the point of evasiveness. I wanted a concert of a story and didn't get it —Bal Gandharva would be disappointed.

First published in DNA

The 'Fast Five' Review

They’re back. Yes, all of them.And they’re in the mood to dole up whole new genres – Action Porn, Car Porn, Heist Porn, Wisecrack Porn, Masculinity Porn. Call it whatever you want, there’s no denying that Fast Five is more than just a decent piece of mindless entertainment.

Dom Toretto (Diesel) has style to burn and he’s armed with a bunch of familiar oddballs to pull off a colossal heist in South America. Brian O'Conner (Walker) and Mia (Brewster) are on the run, and have holed up in Rio post the events in Fast and Furious. And they’re going to have a baby – which is pretty much the only bit of character development in this film.

The trio jams with Vince (Matt Schulze), the meat-head from the original film, in an attempt to rob multiple luxury cars from a moving train. They foil the plans of the biggest drug lord in town (Almeida) and end up on the wanted list of a special task force led by the hulking Luke Hobbs (The Rock). Toretto and O'Conner finally arrive at the logical conclusion that they must pull off one last big heist, obtain new passports and identities and flee the country.

The heist requires a team. Enter ‘conman’ Roman (Gibson) from 2 Fast 2 Furious, ‘technician’ Ludacris from the first two films, ‘logistics guru’ Han from Tokyo Drift, ‘driver and hottie’ Gisele from Fast and Furious, Leo and Santos from Tokyo Drift. Raah-Raahs and fist-pumps. Of course, none of them do anything other than sipping beer, hanging out at street racing gigs, sneering, and desperately looking mean to justify the macho mood of the film. Anyhow they do manage to formulate a plan, in spite of Hobbs gradually closing in on them. Outrageous is the norm – for instance the gang obtains the fingerprints of the crime boss by having him pat the skimpy bikini wrapping Gal Gadot’s buttocks.

Once again, the imagery is ultra-slick – with a nearly imperceptible mixture of live stunt driving and CGI, beautifully packaged and slapped into life via jump-cuts, tilt shifts, slo-mo and pizzazz. Universal bumped up the film’s budget up from $70 million to $125 million and it shows. We are treated with a plethora of Dodge Chargers which somehow manage to go really fast and even occasionally drift. Between the brilliantly flashy police car drag race and half a dozen shootouts, director Justin Lin pummels us with swooping overheard shots of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. The laws of physics are ignored for an extended amount of time, and Diesel and The Rock engage in perhaps the most memorable brawl on celluloid since Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick crashed through walls in Terminator 2.

Vin Diesel and The Rock seem to surround the low-key, almost invisible Sung Kang; Walker and Brewster generally sleepwalk and let the cars to the work; but Calderon and Don Omar bring some much needed colour with their one-liners. Gadot gets an opportunity to show a little skin, and Gibson hilariously hams as is expected of him.

Fast Five is the best film of the series. It’s a guilty pleasure to watch two plus hours of endless amounts of action. Do hang around during the end credits, because Justin Lin offers a surprise that renders hanging tongues and ear-to-ear grins.

First published in DNA