Review: Jai Ho

    

Why three only? Is the question. Should we stop at three good deeds?

In the movie, the protagonist Jai (played by Salman Khan) asks everyone to pass on the good deeds done to them, a kind gesture or a help rendered of some sort by passing this deed on to three other people. There is a scene where a few characters spend a considerable amount of screen time and show their own counting abilities by multiplying this number in the chain activity to arrive at how many good deeds we are eventually talking about. But like the person I watched with commented, imagine the possibilities by just increasing the number to 4!

It remains a fact of life, as said by many great saints, that one has to do good deeds in life. The movie mines the current times of moral paucity we are living in. Where good manners, good deeds, helping nature are all but absent. Or very less visible. They are indeed seen as signs of weaknesses. The corrupt government barring a few upright individuals, perpetrates a violent and lawless existence where only money and power can give you immunity. Or in this case, if you have hulk like powers and can destruct hundreds of people at one go with the power of your muscles. Where mostly people live in fear, and the concept of individual safety is of utmost importance, the movie however ,says that one should help people, even if you have to take on governments and villains parading as politicians to do so.

   

There are no grey areas in the movie. It is good vs bad. It is about the good heart. How can one criticize such a story line, however wishful the premise. Because after all one wants the good heart to win. Without any intellectual pretensions, it is a simple hearted movie that preaches goodness and morality. That we were all dependent on a Khan movie to teach us ethics and morality is perhaps true for us as a country. The presence of Salman Khan keeps it largely outside the area of smug, which say with an Amir khan would perhaps not have been possible.

The movie making is largely reminiscent of the telugu and the tamil movies that one gets to see regularly. It is that. Nothing more, nothing less. The telugu and tamil movies almost always have a corrupt and villainous home minister, many large vehicles all in white filled with local rowdies, sickles and knives as the weapon of choice, and always a lesson in goodness.

Tabu is a joy to watch on screen. And so is Salman Khan. Everybody else performs in the ensemble with an equal effortlessness (points must go to Sohail Khan for extracting decently legit acting at the least, I have seen far worse). The situations tend to go into areas of incredulity but remember, black and white and simple. There are no shades of grey to confuse or obfuscate what the movie is driving at. Everything is fairly simple and clear. Better than a Bodyguard or a Ready.

The one thing I am thankful for? the absence of an item number. Thank the gods in heavens! I couldn’t have survived another escapade of munni or babli that involved Zandu Balms and fevicol. That particular unnecessary element we were spared for some unknown good deeds of our own in our sorry lives.

Bombay Talkies

  

Four stories to mark the 100 years of Indian Cinema. Four directors make short films (sort of) somehow related to the glitz of the Indian Cinema industry. I am not entirely sure that this was indeed the theme, as the movie itself rendered itself very sparsely to this supposed theme. For example, the first of the stories, directed by Karan Johar has a very tenuous connection to the movie industry, only that two of the main people in the story work for a tabloid kind of set up. However, Dibakar Bannerjee’s and Anurag Kashyap’s stories somehow manage to bring about our pre-occupation with movies in very poignant ways.

There are many new experiments undertaken with this movie, and all of them to be lauded for sure. But, (and there always is a but) the only story that decidedly felt like it deserved the big screen (as opposed to a 1 hour special on TV) was Dibakar Bannerjee’s Star. This movie had all good things that I would associate with a movie watching experience (it is set in a chawl, has a pet emu, has a visit by the long dead father in a hilarious . While Karan Johar’s piece continued to feel like high school boys view of things, plots are superficial, people are caricatures, themes are caricatured (of course not to be found in Indian cinema for sure, but), Anurag Kashyap’s piece continued to be of the other high school boy with funny/cool lines and a punch at the very end that left you, well, punched and not entirely impressed for sure.

Zoya Akhtar’s story was lovely, although you did realise what it was going to be in the first few minutes of the story leaving you with no sense of discovery afterwards. It still did manage to be a very sweet little story and what a stupendous performance by the little boy.

The gem of course was Dibakar Bannerjee and to see that on screen, to see Nawazuddin Siddiqui in that role and in that story (the story is based on a short story by Satyajit Ray) I would have endured many mis steps by Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap.

Watch it for sure and walk out after the fourth story is done. Immediately after it is done. Because the song that comes on afterwards, is ridiculous and goes against the grain of the entire movie. Might as well skip it and walk out with memories of Bombay Talkies alone.

Talaash: Review (2012 India)

SPOILERS AHEAD

I was deceived by this movie. Reema Kagti’s earlier movie was ‘Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd’. This movie was a quirky independent movie. Quite enjoyable.  But Talaash doesn’t come with that kind of writing or script. ‘Talaash’ as muttered by Aamir Khan at equal intervals, is just that, an awkward mutterance if you will.

There are two or three hallmarks of a great independent movie

– inspired casting choices (this almost always translates into unknown names)

– Intimate cinematography

– searches that we undertake in life or slice of life journeys

Talaash fails on all three

– They cast Kareena Kapoor as the hooker. I can think of many good choices for this role. But not Kareena. They cast Aamir Khan as the hero who does nothing but stands around looking glum. why? Again, some other face would have lended so much more credibility. And Aamir never really gets above the under-ness of his role. (It would have been good fun to mention Nawazuddin Siddique’s work. But it was like he had a short film of his own running along the movie!)

– The cinematography is barely watchable only in the mumbai night scenes. The rest of the movie is just poorly lit. Not in a scary way.

Talaash had great potential. The plot itself could have risen into something very special. But no, we skim surfaces, with weak dialogues, often cutting our feet from under us. We stumble through the roads of lifeless lives to only hit the wall of the unknown. And this wall is no wall for just the audience, but a wall of for the writer as well. One who hasn’t understood all the nuances of an afterlife.

Even an ‘I know what you did last summer’ had more credibility than this. This is the first movie I have watched where ghosts are punishing incompetence. Can they come to offices? Maybe mine?

What I would have loved to see however is the drowning sequence as the very first shot of the movie.  The nightmares as the next. The disengagement of the couple after. The  search of the main character to find something above next. Him looking into an old cold case file of mysterious circumstances. Then him stumbling across the clues. And him finding the clues because he went in search of them, not because it was his case. Oh God! The possibilities with this movie!!!!!!!

They killed it. Brutally. More brutally than the ghost. The ghost of this movie should now haunt them for incompetence!

PS: Please watch Sixth Sense again for the thrills and Memories of Murder for everything about everything.

Luv Shuv Te Chicken Khurana: Review India 2012

Let this review be short and sweet. This is a film that has been made often enough. A small independent quirky entertainer.Like Do Dooni Chaar, Tum Milo To Sahi (2010) and the more recent English Vinglish etc. I wouldn’t put it up there with Udaan, Mumbai Express, Hazaaron Khwahishe, Oye Lucky, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Ishquiya, or even Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local, Manorama Six Feet Under. Not even Band Baaja and Baaraat really.  The humor in the movie is really base. A writer just told me the other day that you are really at a dead end as a writer if you have to resort to ‘tatti’ jokes. And this movie is filled with ‘kaccha’ and fart jokes.

A refreshing experience if the last film you watched was Rowdy Rathore perhaps. But just in case you watched ‘Offret’ by Tarkovsky, or Khandhar by Mrinal Sen then this would fall into the category of a really absurd and pointless movie.

We should always remember the genres, for sure, and definitely the context. And in its particular genre this movie is quite okay, is quirky, takes out some standard movie staples of bollywood cinema, and gives us a more real picture. And speaking about the context, yes, after Rowdy Rathore it can even be called courageous. But that is saying what, really.

The movie is produced by Ronnie Screwala, Siddharth Roy Kapur and Anurag Kashyap. This doesn’t really show. Some of their earlier independent-esque movies have had much better production values with meager amounts of money. Some of the actors are very good, and that is always a joy to watch irrespective of the films.

That’s it. Really.

Review: English Vinglish (India 2012)

English Vinglish is a cute and charming movie that has already chosen a single thread that it will delve into. Namely, that of the main protagonist not knowing english and the corresponding social stigma attached to it in India. All the other threads don’t get their own depth but are however neatly tied in to support the main one.

The only problem in Sridevi’s life is that she doesn’t know English. All her problems with her husband and daughter are plainly due to one reason only. So when this is solved, when she gives a short heartfelt speech in English, everyone in her world falls back in love with her.

Very flawed plot really, and one that doesn’t yield any kind of substance. But here, the treatment of the movie saves it. The art direction is superb, the ensemble of supporting actors are great, costumes are excellent. And the direction is a job well done. So we are all blindsided (I have learned to be thankful for this even)

We all know what snobs Indians really are. The old imperialist ideas of how knowing English and being able to converse in the Queen’s language is the penultimate of all things are dictats we all adhere by. Interestingly, we do not realize that a large chunk of the world doesn’t speak English at all. Including the snobs of the snobs in Europe (the French/German are the worst). Add to that South America, Africa, Asia, and what do you have?

This movie could have been a brilliant satire instead it settles for small wit. This however increased its reach I am sure. Which is good thing for all of us. One of the more sensible movies to come out of Bollywood (here my barometer is Ready, Bodyguard, Ra.One etc)

Good performances all around.

Sridevi is a style of acting. You either love it or hate it. If you love it, this movie is a treat. If you hate it, do not go near this movie. Adil Hussain has got a decent enough role. But really for the entire length of the movie he is our main villain. Sadly, this means our sympathies are never with him. We can only really empathize with the main character in this movie. Unlike say what would happen with a movie like Masoom.  So in that way he is short changed. Hopefully we will get to see more of him in varied roles.

One is reminded of the movie Mitr by Revathy which gave the mind much more to chew about. English Vinglish is one of those aptly titled movies. It is exactly entirely about that. English and Vinglish.

Review: Oh My God (India 2012)

More than a movie this is an argument. One that sadly not many of us have in our living rooms. I remember old argumentative uncles, fathers of friends who could talk this way over breakfast, lunch or tea pretty much everyday of their lives.

As an argument, it is a well structured one. Of course it would be. It has been a long running play and is actually based on a solid script (unlike many other films). What this means is, the argument has been open to public consumption over long and has had the time to fine tune itself. As opposed to, say an argument in a Anurag Kashyap film. There you immediately realize that the argument is only really in the director’s head. Things he is solving for himself.

This movie is really low on the aesthetics. It doesn’t need it, and doesn’t even try to improvise in it’s what I imagine to be a meager budget. The whole movie is about the words. So I won’t even venture into its visual aspect.

So its words, acting and the ‘argument’. The only thing that making a movie out of this play has achieved is in reaching a wider audience. An audience that perhaps requires more of this argumentativeness in their day to day lives.

I was reminded of the book of Amartya Sen called ‘The Argumentative Indian’. Why? Because it brought forth the general argumentative nature of Indians. Something that has been lacking in recent times. The result of which is a general lack of public moral policing. Reason why hundreds of people get away with shameful acts. It feels like it is changing now and that we are coming back into the forefront as a very nit picky argumentative culture. Something I failed to grasp from the book itself. But I begin to understand a little bit more everyday in these changing times.

Another thing I was reminded of was the ‘Talamaddale performance I watched in the Rangashankara Theatre Festival a year ago. A monsoon version of the famed ‘Yakshagana’ where a people sit around in temples and debate over the morality of the Mahabharatha.

Coming back to the film, Akhsay Kumar had the potential to play it well, but he did the best he could do I am sure. The movie treads the highly risky path of denouncing religion in India very well. While not targeting God himself, it brutally targets the organized religion and self made Swamy’s (or Sri, Sri, Sri, Sri, Sris).

I thought it pretty much covered all bases of the argument. Happy for Paresh Rawal.

(The item number was really not needed, but who’s to argue with commercial movie making tactics)

Barfee 2011

Barfee is directed by Anurag Basu, whose credits include the hugely popular and humongously long teleserial ‘Tara’, movies like ‘Murder’, ‘Gangster’, ‘Life in a Metro’ and the more recent ‘Kites’

Barfee is a very simple movie, with gags and charlie chaplin-esque humor that can wrangle a laugh out of the most cynical heart. It does start with a morose tone of impending doom, painting a larger than life character, who is so glorified right in the beginning, that surely this would be a burden. But something happens in between the movie that we entirely lose track of this angle about halfway into the film. There is a documentarish feel to the earlier proceedings, with people talking directly into the camera.

The narrative is part documentary and part multiple flashbacks. Add to this a significant part of suspense and you have Barfee. Suppose the story was linearly told, one could even comment on the story, plot, concept etc. But it is the manner of storytelling that really stays with you after this one. Not the story. Actually nothing stays with you except your desire to google autism.

The thing with Ranbir Kapoor’s performances is I begin to doubt very seriously if he is emotionally involved at all. He seems to be so capable, that he breezes through his roles. But it is hard to find an emotional connect with his characters. He appears way too self sufficient and in a way transient. I don’t really feel for his character ever, but I always think ‘a very thorough job of acting’ after I watch a character essayed by him. The most I felt for him was in Wake Up Sid and Rocketsingh Salesman. But this is not to take away from him as an actor, but just to quietly ponder about it by myself in a corner.

Illeana was so annoying. Priyanka was not really needed. It was just Anurag Basu and Ranbir Kapoor. The cinematography, art direction, costumes were incidentally very good. Anurag Basu directed his audience more than the movie, or maybe he equally directed them both. And his instrument in this endeavour was Illeana, the other lead actress (!) who told us what to feel and how to feel at all points of time. Not surprising since she was kind of an audience in the film itself and the film is told through her perspective. But this constant feeling of coming second (as an audience, to Illeana) was tiring. One of the other things that happens with Barfee is you can’t identify the film. Seemingly it is about Barfee. But then it is more about Jhilmil and Barfee. Everybody else except for Barfee’s one translator and the inspector (superbly played by Saurabh Shukla) end up as caricatures. Yes, even Illeana (indirectly that would be us, the audience). It is a love story between Barfee and Jhilmil. So the entire first half is really a time filling exercise (ably done by Basu with excellent physical timing, but still).

On an aside, I have to mention here that this happened with Rockstar as well. A love story was given the title of the main protagonist alone. Same with Barfee. As if Ranbir Kapoor makes film makers go mad enough through his performances to completely change the currents and titles of a film!

I never thought I would fondly reminisce about Black (I found it deplorably manipulative and over doctored) but I did after watching Barfee. I would say real life is between the spectrum of these two. One brings on the heavy and the other brings on the light. And both do it to such an extreme that both products remain unpalatable. Although, have to mention both were very successful, critically acclaimed etc (with Black at least a lot of people realized it was Citizen Kane, and I have a feeling about Barfee that this could be the case as well, an unknown Bangkok film perhaps, with Anurag Basu’s track record it is not entirely impossible. Amelie and Jackie Chan are immediately recognizable already)

I miss Vishal Bharadwaj. I miss Saat Khoon Maaf. Which was a slow one. But an entirely honest undertaking. Something engaging.

There was nothing for the mind in Barfee, nothing to be engaged with, just a few transient laughs. Like I already said, one just wants to google autism. Oh, and one also gets reminded of Sadma and one asks the people seated  next them if they remembered watching Sadma, and if so, how was it? would it have also made feel a bit brain dead?

Biutiful by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu

This here is a series of brief overviews of films that are to be screened in the Bangalore film festival 2011. Almost all details are from Wikipedia/IMDB

Biutiful is a drama film directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu and starring Javier Bardem. It is González Iñárritu’s first feature since Babel and fourth overall, and his first film in his native Spanish language since his debut feature Amores perros. The title Biutiful refers to the orthographical spelling in Spanish of the English word beautiful as it would sound to native Spanish speakers.

It was nominated for two Academy Awards in 2011 – Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor, which it lost to In a Better World and Colin Firth for The King’s Speech, respectively. Bardem’s nomination makes his performance the first entirely Spanish language performance to be nominated for that award. Bardem also received the Best Actor Award at Cannes for his work on the film.

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reports 64% of critics featured on the site gave a positive review of the film at an average rating of 6.4/10 based on 131 reviews. Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter calls the film, “a gorgeous melancholy tone poem about love, fatherhood and guilt”, and describes Bardem’s performance as “…a knockout.”[1] Betsy Sharkey of the LA Times wrote, “Bardem gives a performance of staggering depth, unquestionably one of the year’s best.” [2] A.O. Scott from the New York Times writes, “ Mr. Iñárritu creates a feeling of raw, sprawling intimacy…every shot is full of emotional and social detail.” [3] Roger Ebert wrote “What drew me into the film and engaged my sympathy was the presence of Bardem…a vastly human actor.” [4] Steve Pond of The Wrap writes Bardem’s performance is a “towering achievement”. The film has been overwhelmingly well-received in many countries including France and the UK. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian writes, “The fluency and confidence of Inarritu’s cinematic language are really spectacular. It may not convert, or convince, but it is certainly arresting: not magic realism exactly, but rather the director’s very own brand of magic naturalism”.

At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has so far received an average score of 58 .[5] Some reviews criticized the story as being too bleak. Justin Chang of Variety accused Iñárritu of being “…stuck in a grim rut.” [6]

Filmmakers Sean Penn, Werner Herzog and Michael Mann have been very outspoken in their acclaim for the film. Herzog likened it to a “poem” and Penn compared Bardem’s performance to that of Marlon Brando’s in Last Tango in Paris. Hollywood star Julia Roberts has also been very supportive.

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