Saturday, February 26, 2011

REVIEW 22: SATRANGEE PARACHUTE

Release date: February 25, 2011
Director: Vineet Khetrapal
Cast: Siddhartha Sanghani, Rajvi Patel
Films like director Vineet Khetrapal’s Satrangee Parachute are the reason why I couldn’t dismiss Sagar Ballary’s Kachha Limboo in spite of all its flaws. Because spotting good child actors and extracting fine performances from them is a special talent. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. And I’m afraid Ballary’s got it, Khetrapal just does not.
Pappu in Satrangee Parachute is a schoolkid who wants to run off to Mumbai to get a parachute for his visually impaired friend Kuhu. He’s brilliant, knowledgeable and a dreamer … the kind of guy who could remind you of Darsheel Safary’s Ishaan Awasthi … except that he doesn’t. Because while Taare Zameen Par had its feet firmly planted on the ground and made a helluva lot of sense, Satrangee Parachute is floating in some stratosphere of its own, trying to make a point that’s completely lost in its cloudy script and direction.
After having watched the wonderful children of Kachha Limboo last week, it hurt to see the indifferent performances in this indifferent film. So Pappu runs off to Mumbai with his friends from his home town Nainital. The kids get caught in a web of terror since some aatankwaadis are planning to land in Mumbai in parachutes. And words like qaum and awaam are thrown around to convince us that this is all true.
To understand how shoddy this film is please note a conversation in which a Nainital cop tells the children that he’s such a kind policeman, he’d treat even Kasab nicely if the man were to be brought to his station. Many scenes later, news of 26/11 is shown breaking on TV. Huh? Listen up all ye in the CBI, RAW, Mumbai police, Maharashtra Government and Central Home Ministry … did you know that a little cop in Naini knew of Kasab before 26/11?
I was so startled by this loophole in the film that I made it a point to verify that I had not seen wrong with those associated with the film who were present at the press preview. Yes, they confirmed, that was 26/11 happening on TV.
The sad part is that Satrangee Parachute stars some excellent adult actors trying their best to lend credibility to the goings-on. But as a viewer who has already seen Kay Kay Menon play Rakesh Maria in Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday, it’s a little hard to swallow scenes of him playing cops ‘n’ robbers in a pointless project like Satrangee Parachute. And when the marvellous Mr Sanjay Mishra weeps copious tears while relating his life story to someone, and the background score immediately rises to a crescendo of aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, I couldn’t help but giggle.
The singing credits of Satrangee Parachute read like a who’s who of our music industry … Lata Mangeshkar (yes THE Latadidi!!!), Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Shaan, Kailash Kher, Usha Uthup, Shreya Ghosal … Whew! And yet, there’s nothing I can particularly recall of the film’s music. Perhaps I was too dazed after watching a scene in which the boy hero pees in a sharbat bottle because the toilet was occupied (don’t ask me why he didn’t just aim at a wall like all good Indian men). His unwitting father then serves that pee to a policeman at his sharbat ka thhela. Says the cop: “Gareeb hoke pishaab pila raha hai to tu ameer banke kya latrine ka dosa khilaaega? (If, being a poor man, you are serving me pee then what will you do when you get rich? Serve me a dosa made of potty?)” Yes, that’s the high point of this film. Teehee.
Rating (out of five): 0 stars

Friday, February 25, 2011

REVIEW 21: TANU WEDS MANU

Release date: February 25, 2011
Director: Aanand L. Rai
Cast: R. Madhavan, Kangna Ranaut, Swara Bhaskar, Eijaz Khan, Deepak Dobriyal, K.K. Raina, Rajendra Gupta, Jimmy Sheirgil
If Tanu Weds Manu had been wrapped up at the right point, it could have been a little gem. Instead a potentially lovely film is done in by a silly twist in the tale at the interval and a painfully stretched second half that almost killed it for me.
Almost.
Tanu Weds Manu begins with Manoj Sharma urf Manu landing in India from the UK where he’s a doctor in a pharma company. Like so many NRI boys on vacation, he plays along with the wishes of his parents who have lined up a whole string of girls for him to meet, ladki pasand karke byaah rachaane ke liye of course. Love strikes Manu swiftly and unexpectedly with Kanpur girl Tanuja Trivedi a.k.a. Tanu who arrives at their meeting with her face covered by a ghunghat, says not a word and then proceeds to faint. When the sari slips off her head to reveal a pretty picture, Manu is smitten for life.

Ladka says haan, their parivaar goes into a celebratory tizzy, but when Tanu reveals to Manu that she’s in love with another boy, he obligingly breaks it off. A parade of potential brides follows but Manu can’t get over Tanu. A chance encounter with her revives buried feelings. But question is: what does Tanu want?
It’s a film that has so much to offer. You can’t help but like R. Madhavan as the silent lover who takes the girl’s every badtameezi (her choice of word, not mine). Each time he glances at Tanu, your heart goes out to him … even when the script stretches the point to such an extent that his character starts looking more like a loser than a mild-mannered man in love. The first half of the story is told so well that you feel transported from the theatre to actual north Indian middle-class homes. Besides, the supporting cast is quite incredible. There’s Deepak Dobriyal playing Manu’s best friend Pappi who kills with every look and word. Tanu’s best friend is played by a wonderful new actress called Swara Bhaskar whose screen presence and lovely voice were unmissable even in that non-film Madholal Keep Walking in 2010. And her fiancĂ© is such a convincing Sardarji that I didn’t recognize him till I read the credits: no, he’s not a Singh, he’s a Khan, hottie Eijaz Khan – you will know him minus the turban as a familiar face on the modelling and teleserial circuit who has also done sundry roles in Hindi films for several years now.
The dialogues in Tanu Weds Manu are nicely written and delivered with natural ease by all these fine actors. Through the lens of cinematographer Chirantan Das, small-town India feels both charming and real. And director Aanand L. Rai’s potential for brilliance shines through in a pre-wedding scene when Tanu volunteers to entertain everyone by dancing to Kajra mohabbat wala. His every look … her every move … the tension in the air … their friends’ concern … everything falls into place in that one song which also marks a major turning point in the story in a very believable fashion.
So what pulls this film down? Well, imagine if I were to tell you that the entire second half should have been chopped down to 15 minutes? That I kept wondering how Kareena Kapoor might have played Tanu? And that I think Tanu of Tanu Weds Manu is also the worst written character in the film?
First, Kangna needs to do something about those pouting lips, her diction and poor voice modulation that have become too distracting to ignore. Great actors are those who dissolve their personalities in the characters they play and even lose their natural accents for a part. Tabu had us thinking she was really a Punjaban in Maachis, was more Tamilian than real Tamilian girls in Kandukondain Kandukondain and in The Namesake would have taught Bengali expats in the US a thing or two about being Bengali expats in the US.
But okay, not everyone’s a Tabu and we can deal with that. After all, we have lived through the eras of Hema Malini and Sridevi, both of whom had a long innings in Hindi cinema without ever mastering the language – they compensated for that flaw with their incredible charisma. But when Tanu tells Manu that she downed “kwaater bawttle vodka” with sleeping pills because of him, it was too much for me to take.
It doesn’t help that the writer seems all mixed up about Tanu. I completely buy the fact that she’s rebellious for the heck of it and takes on what she perceives as the trappings of a non-conformist – she smokes, drinks, tattoos a boyfriend’s name on her chest, repeatedly runs away from home, falls in love with men she knows will not be acceptable to her gentle parents – simply to prove a point to no one in particular. But what’s with her relationship with Manu?! The best parallel that I can draw is with Geet from Jab We Met who was supported through a very tough phase of her life by a man who knows she’s not in love with him. But Geet in JWM was not a bitch. With Tanu in TWM, it was tough for me to figure out whether she was a selfish creep who was using Manu or just so downright dense that she didn’t realise he was pining for her.
Strange! It almost seems like one person wrote and directed the first half of this film, then someone else handled Part 2. Now if only they would sell half tickets at halls, I’d be recommending this film to all my friends.
Rating (out of five): **1/2

Thursday, February 24, 2011

REVIEW 20: ANGEL

Release date: February 11, 2011
Director: Ganesh Acharya
Cast: Nilesh Sahay, Maddalsa Sharma

The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic continue. This time in a suburban multiplex far from home whose employees are fast becoming used to my solo presence in their halls, watching films that no one else wants. For Angel no one insists that I buy two tickets, but I have company in the hall – an usher, a popcorn guy, another attendant and my anger that is so palpable that it almost feels like a person.
Mind you, Angel has some big names associated with it. It’s directed by well-known Bollywood choreographer Ganesh Acharya. It features an appearance by Sukhwinder singing a closing track to accompany the end credits. And in this nepotistic industry where talentless star kids are given breaks again … and again … and again … the debutant hero Nilesh Sahay may even some day become a big star considering that the film’s pre-release publicity has repeatedly informed us that he is Sanjay Dutt’s nephew.
I can tell you Angel is meant to be a sensitive story because it’s about a boy who falls in love with a girl with a disability. I can’t tell you much about that disability though because there’s just a breezy mention of “brain trauma injury” by a doctor, with no explanation for how she came by it. Okay, I can live with that. I’m not looking for a documentary here.
I know nothing more about “brain trauma injury” than what I learnt from the Internet and a phone call to a doctor friend after watching this film. But I do know that when a film shows a friendship developing between a wayward hero and a girl with a severe disability, when the film suggests that they’ve fallen in love, when it shows them having sexual intercourse, when it shows her brother accuse the boy of rape and put him away while the girl struggles to tell them that he’s innocent, I know then that there are moral and ethical issues involved that require serious debate.
Rain Man was not a documentary on autism and Taare Zameen Par was not a dyslexiadocu. Yet both films were insightful, entertaining and sensitive.
Angel on the other hand is superficial and irresponsible. The girl’s brother and sister-in-law are shown using her disability to get a house in an upmarket locality on government-sanctioned discounted rates. They then consign her to a single-room tenement in a scruffy chawl with a horny maid to take care of her. Now there’s an issue that could have been delved into. But no, bhaiyya and bhaabhi discover Abhay and Sonal in bed (oh did I not tell you the lead pair’s names before?) because bhaiyya insists on going to wish his behna with a cake as the clock strikes 12 on her birthday. Wait ... so he’s fond of her after all, huh? But cut to the police station, bhaiyya is trying to wheedle money out of Abhay’s brother in exchange for withdrawing the complaint. Did I mention that Angel is inconsistent?
It’s also riddled with loopholes and loose ends. Abhay is shown taking Sonal to her doctor. How did he know who her doctor is when she can’t communicate with him, and he’s not in touch with her family?
Compounding the film’s problems is the fact that Sahay may have Sanju maamu’s build and lumbering walk but he has none of his charisma. And no, young man, wearing ganjis to show me your biceps is not acting.
In the midst of all this is Maddalsa Sharma playing Sonal and trying bravely to make some sense of this nonsense. In places I could actually visualise the director telling her, ‘Sridevi ko Sadma main dekha hai na? Uss type ka performance chahiye. Jaake phir se DVD dekho.” It’s also weird that the film says Sonal suffers from “brain trauma injury” while the actress herself has said in an interview that her research for the role included hospital visits to observe patients of cerebral palsy. Did someone tell her they’re the same thing?!
Still, given the probable ambiguity of the brief and the tackiness of the rest of the proceedings, hers is a performance I won’t ignore. Sharma has already starred in a handful of films in the south Indian languages. Angel marks her Bollywood debut. Well, Ms Sharma, I’d say you are rather lovely to look at, and I think I’d like to see you in more films. But for heaven’s sake pick your projects more wisely in the future!
Angel is sick sick sick!
Rating (out of five): 1/2

REVIEW 19: AASHIQUI.IN

Release date: February 11, 2011
Director: Shankhadeep
Cast: Ishaan Manhaas, Ankita Srivastava



Cinderella/April (left) with her Fairy Godmother (right, in yellow suit)
I remember @RakshitaRavi on Twitter asking me if I hadn’t got myself a very expensive New Year resolution this year. She’s right of course. I realise my bank balance is unlikely to permit me to sustain this exercise in 2012. After all, reviewing every single Hindi film released in the NCR involves often driving long distances to catch films released in just one or two cinema halls 70 km away from my home. Or – as in the case of my adventure with Aashiqui.in – it involves buying two tickets for a single show of a movie because no one else had turned up and the theatre manager said it was not financially viable for him to run the show otherwise.
I’m glad I spent that effort and money on this film though. Aashiqui.in is the story of a plain Jane in love with the college hunk. April (that’s her name) is a modern-day Cinderella who is forced to do all the housework by her wicked stepmother while her ditsy stepsisters get her to do their homework and she waits tables at the family restaurant. One day, on one such mission for her siblings, April accidentally bumps into an online prince. They meet offline but he fails to spot the woman he loves in that dark-skinned, friendly waitress. Mr Hot Stuff goes by the name Cyrus. He has his own problems. His ambition is to be a writer while his dad wants him to become a swimming champ. And the only person he’s ever confided in is April online.

I may have told you earlier on this blog that a very bad film can sometimes be entertaining. Read: United Six with Parvathy Omanakuttan and Tum Hi To Ho with Vipinno. But there’s nothing even remotely amusing about Aashiqui.in, a painfully literal adaptation of Cinderella that seems to view itself as a statement on the colour prejudice that prevails in India, though the writer-director can barely hide his own bias against black and brown.
Let’s begin with the film’s website that describes the heroine as “an average girl next door”. Actress Ankita Srivastava who plays the part is a sweet-looking girl with pretty eyes and an enviably smooth complexion. But yes, her dark skin is much talked about in the film, so I could only conclude that the filmmaker’s idea of “average” looks is a woman who is not gori-chitti, ‘fair and lovely’.

When Cyrus decides to pop the question to April, his ex-girlfriend makes this remark that is clearly intended to be kind, not patronising: “Mujhe to bahut ladkon ne propose kiya hai but I’m sure yeh iska pehla proposal hai. So make it memorable, ok?” I assume this ex fits the director’s idea of beauty: she’s got milky white skin.
Cyrus, Cinderella's online Prince
As for why I found the film literal: ah well, Cyrus and Ankita’s chatroom IDs are actually Cinderella and Prince … I suppose in a bid to guarantee that the stupid audience got the point? She attends a college party in a gown that her friend fits her out in, has to be home by midnight because stepmama said so and therefore leaves the party in a rush leaving behind … c’monnnn … guesssss … a glass slipper of course! Aur uss jawaab ke saath aap jeet gaye hai Kaun Banega Crorepati!!!
All right all right, that’s just me creating a diversion since there was nothing to enjoy in this film. Aashiqui.in is marked by average acting, poor production values, immature writing and the amateurish look of a particularly poorly put-together college play. Ankita Srivastava seemed like an exception in that very unmemorable crowd, which prompted me to google her. My instincts were proved right – if, unlike me, you follow Hindi TV serials closely, then you will recognize her from the Zee TV show Do Saheliyaan: Kismat ki Kathputaliyaan and a couple of other soaps.
Incidentally, the fairy godmother figure in April’s life is her childhood friend Raj who goes to the same college party dressed as The Mask and hooks Cyrus’ ex. She later snubs him when she sees him sans the green paint on his face. I don’t blame her of course. I found him quite irritating too. I’m sure there’s a deep, gender-role-reversal-in-the-classic-Cinderella-story angle being played out here, but frankly I don’t care.
So why did I say at the start that I’m glad I spent that effort and money on Aashiqui.in? Because I now get to warn you that it’s a film purporting to send out a ‘good message’ that is actually quite regressive instead. And who knows, Ankita Srivastava may make it in films.  
I must concede that Aashiqui.in does, after all, have one entertaining aspect: the song playing along with the end credits. It goes, “Black Cinderella, chura le mera dil / Black Cinderella, kahin na kahin mil.” I’ve written better rhymes in kindergarten. But it was certainly worth the price of one ticket.
Paisa vasool for the second ticket came from the tagline on the film poster. Aashiqui.in: Love Makes Time Pass … Time Makes Love Pass. I have no clue what that means, but yeh critic khush hui!
Rating (out of five): 0 stars

Monday, February 21, 2011

REVIEW 18: MASTI EXPRESS

Release date: February 18, 2011
Director: Vikram Pradhan
Cast: Rajpal Yadav, Divya Datta
An autorickshaw driver in Mumbai wants his son to study in an upmarket school. Not surprisingly, he’s snubbed by the institution’s snooty principal who can’t see beyond the Queen’s English.
Few people in the Hindi film industry are better suited to play that autowallah than Rajpal Yadav, a fine actor usually condemned to substituting histrionic skills with facial gymnastics in film after film. Yadav’s moving performance in Chandan Arora’s Main Meri Patni aur Woh underlined the tragedy of actors straitjacketed by a Bollywood that’s incapable of seeing beyond its own stereotype of what a star ought to look like. In Masti Express, he manages to bring a certain poignance to the scenes in which he’s working towards his dream for his son. But director Vikram Pradhan destroys his own film by killing that poignance each time with a burst of loud comedy.
That leaves us with nothing else to like in this film featuring an unbearably over-the-top Johnny Lever, an equally OTT colour palette, a lukewarm item number by Kashmira Shah so obviously styled on Bipasha Basu’s Bidi jalaile look that it’s pitiable, a little man with dancing breasts, in-your-face product placements (what was Ryan International group of schools thinking?!) and a bunch of kids who get pride of place in the credits but little to do. Even an appearance by singer Shankar Mahadevan does nothing for this disjointed film.
The sillyfest is typified by the following scene that takes place when the auto union leader played by Lever organises an autorickshaw marathon in Mumbai …
Aspiring contestant Bankim Chandra Thapa: Main khukhri aur rasogolla ka milap hoon.
Union leader: Ah, remix item.
Thapa: Main autorickshaw race karne mein bahadur hoon.
Union leader: Tum to waise bhi Bahadur ho.
I’d be dignifying that scene by even bothering to call it racist.
Rating (out of five): 1/2

REVIEW 17: KACCHA LIMBOO

Release date: February 18, 2011
Director: Sagar Ballary
Cast: Taher Sutterwala, Chinmay Kambli, Atul Kulkarni, Sarika

It breaks my heart to tell you what’s wrong with Kaccha Limboo – because what’s right with it is soooo right! Those children!! Gawd they’re brilliant!!!
But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, so here’s my review ….

Kaccha Limboo is Bheja Fry director Sagar Ballary’s second film. It’s the story of a 13-year-old boy who is a misfit both at home and school. Shambhu Bandookwala Srivastava doesn’t have much to say to his stepfather (Atul Kulkarni), feels his mother (Sarika) has a life that no longer involves him, he is ‘that fat kid’ who gets picked on in school, is repeatedly spurned by the cool gang in class and is constantly in trouble with the principal. In the midst of all this mayhem in his life, he develops an unexpected and unusual friendship with a pretty basketball player from the neighbouring girls’ school. But trouble with the school authorities among other things prompts him to run away from home, only to find a friend in poor kid Vitthal in a nearby less-privileged colony.
This should and could have been a pathbreaking, coming-of-age Hindi film about the things adolescents do. How lovely that would have been for us, barely a year after Bollywood gave us Udaan! But though he has a nice concept and a wonderful cast at his disposal, Ballary mucks up Kaccha Limboo by not knowing when to stop and what to cut.
Debutant Taher Sutterwala who plays Shambhu is one of the most natural, unaffected child actors I’ve ever seen. Chinmay Kambli as Vitthal is a killer and quite rightfully, already an award-winning performer. And every single child in Shambhu’s school acts well enough to have a serious chance at making it in films or theatre. I read a press report that the director found the entire lot by scouring Mumbai’s schools since he wanted real kids, not actors. What a masterstroke, Mr Ballary!
The film, when it’s dealing with the children alone, doesn’t feel like a film at all, but like a reality show being shot in an Indian school with spontaneous conversations, an effortless style and dialogue writing to match. There’s also a memorable scene where one of the boys casually strums his guitar on the school steps and sings as other children gather to listen … Jab yeh sitaaren, chaand se milke, karte hai mujhko ishaarein … That voice is as clear as a church bell ringing on a quiet morning in the countryside.
When the camera is among the children, what you get is a film that’s loveable, charming, poignant and funny by turns – especially because we were all once like one or the other of those kids in the film and/or because we now see them all around us in our lives. “Shambhu, explain pollination,” a teacher says. “Miss, pollination means a nation full of pollies?” the boy quips straight-faced, as the entire class, Miss and then the joker too collapse in a heap of laughter.
But while Ballary’s portrayal of the children is amazing, his treatment of Shambhu’s parents and other adults is strangely lackadaisical to say the least. The film doesn’t seem to want to project the boy’s mum and dad as irresponsible people at all, and yet they are not shown panicking when their son disappears for a few days. There are unnecessary asides involving the schoolteachers. At the start of the film there’s an entire sequence filled with badly written and badly delivered dialogues, featuring Vinay Pathak in a pointless guest appearance along with actress Rukhsar who needs to brush up on her acting skills. And once Shambhu runs away from home, the film meanders endlessly, giving us an unnecessarily long marriage scene that adds nothing to the story and lengthy quarrels between the grown-ups in Vitthal’s house.
Sad! Because those children are so bloody wonderful that despite all my anger towards Ballary for having lost his bearings somewhere along the way in Kaccha Limboo, I wish you could see those great kids he picked and how much he’s got out of them!
Rating (out of five): **1/4

Jab yeh sitaaren, chaand se milke, karte hai mujhko ishaarein http://tinyurl.com/6bj62yb

“Shambhu, what’s pollination?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyalU1CVZRI

Saturday, February 19, 2011

REVIEW 16: SAAT KHOON MAAF


Release date: February 18, 2011
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Neil Nitin Mukesh, John Abraham, Irrfan Khan, Aleksandr Dyachenko, Annu Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Usha Uthup, Vivaan Shah, Konkona Sensharma, Ruskin Bond

I don’t know about you, but I’ve met people like Susanna – men and women who seem incapable of being single. Even before the ink dries on the end of one relationship, they’re on to another … and then another … Perhaps dreading the prospect of attending that next party without a companion? ... Perhaps dreading being alone more than the loneliness in a bad relationship?
But Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes is also unlike anyone I’ve met. She doesn’t simply flit from one partner to another, she kills one husband to merrily move on to the next … and the next...
Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf is based on Ruskin Bond’s short story Susanna’s Seven Husbands. And though the quirkiness of Bond’s tale gets very well translated into celluloid here, SKM lacks the depth that you’d expect from a Vishal project that turns a merely-seven-page literary work into a two-and-a-half-hour film.
It begins really well. Susanna is married to Major Edwin Rodriques, a brave soldier who is a dour control freak at home. He has just lost a leg in war. She’s young, wealthy, beautiful, desirable. His insecurity leads to repeated assaults on his wife and those around her. Until one day, she conspires with her crazily loyal band of servants to put an end to her own misery. Rodriques dies in a hunting “accident” and the mourning widow spots Husband No. 2 in the choir at the funeral. You get the picture? 
The beauty of Susanna’s character is that she seems not to have a personality or identity of her own. She is who her husband is or wants her to be, sometimes to comical effect. For Rodriques, she’s a cowering, servile army wife. With her singer husband Jamshed Singh Rathore a.k.a. Jimmy Stetson, she becomes a rock chick in mini-skirts. For the poet Mohammed Wasiullah Khan she converts to Islam and becomes Sultana who loves Urdu verse herself. When she recites some lines to him and he responds with “muqarrar”, she asks innocently, “woh kaun hai?” To the Russian Andre she introduces herself as Anna, not Susanna, announces that she loves Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, speaks the language, sings and dances to Russian tunes. Since we already know she’s going to knock off each of her men, it was her own metamorphosis into a new creature with every marriage that I started looking forward to and enjoying.  
But it was not enough. So okay, I got the point that each husband had a nasty side to him. But as Susanna’s foster child asks her mid-way through the film: why did you have to kill a man when you could have just left him? Why indeed?

Was Susanna merely a maniac? That certainly doesn’t come across in the first half of the film in which I found myself sympathising with her. Besides, her voiceover tells us that she’s a woman seeking true love. But as we all know, it takes a lot for a human being to kill another. What is it that made her commit that first crime when she could just as well have walked out on the man? And what insecurities led her to mould herself to each man, never seeking herself as a person?
It was the answer to that last question and an insight into the complexities of Susanna’s character that could have made SKM a great film. What I got instead was an exciting, eerie and amusing first half in which I thought I’d get my answers in Part 2; but the predictable string of murders in the second half told me nothing new about the woman.
There’s also a disappointing literalness to Bhardwaj’s storytelling in places. Where is the director whose Omkara gave us one of the most sinister Iagos that any Shakespearean interpretation in the world has delivered? At one point in Saat Khoon Maaf, we’re shown a spider (I guess a black widow?) crawling across a table in Susanna’s room. Really, Vishal! The policeman seeking sexual favours from Susanna in exchange for a cover-up bears the name Keemat Lal. Keemat, get it?!! And the dance with Jesus in the end is downright silly. Vishal!!!
Priyanka Chopra as Susanna is sufficiently cute, lively, terrified, hurt, angry, cruel and penitent by turns. But the script doesn’t give her enough meat to dig her teeth into and deliver any measure of brilliance on screen. Worse, her ageing make-up is terrible! If she shines at any point, it is as the wife of the sexually obsessed cop who is the only husband she marries out of practical compulsions, not choice. Her revulsion for him is unspoken. She also brings a delightfully maniacal tone to her final relationship. “I’m going to drink his blood,” she yells. Oh mama!
Annu Kapoor is my pick of the men: as the lustful, opportunistic policeman obsessed with this lethal woman, he is manipulative and helpless in equal measure. Neil Nitin Mukesh comes a close second as the mean Major.
The intricacies that are sorely missing in Susanna’s characterisation show up wonderfully elsewhere in SKM. In an industry obsessed with perfect bodies, Vishal inspires his stars to shed their fears with their clothes. When Neil takes off his shirt for a duel, we actually see tyres on his torso. When Priyanka drops her top for a younger man, what we get is not the tiny waist of a gym-fixated actress but a very nice body belonging to a real woman. And John Abraham blithely risks his macho image when he puts on a woman’s slip.
As for the music, well Darrrrling, it is infectious! And the Christian hymns are impeccably researched! Churches in Hindi films are usually accompanied by the clichĂ©d sounds of the pipe organ and voices always resembling Mother Superior from Sound of Music. In SKM, Vishal (also the music director) picks precisely the right hymn for every occasion. So it’s Lord I’m Coming Home and Nearer My God To Thee at funerals and O Perfect Love at a wedding. Beautiful!
So despite SKM’s disappointing second half, I’ll recommend it to you for the quirky first half, for Priyanka Chopra and Annu Kapoor, and for the wonderful detailing in the music. Like Susanna the serial marry-er, I entered the preview theatre hoping to fall in love. I came away liking much about Saat Khoon Maaf, but am I passionate about it? Sadly, no.
Rating (out of five): **9/10

Friday, February 18, 2011

REVIEW 15: TUM HI TO HO

Release date: February 4, 2011
Director: Sanjay Goel
Cast: Vipinno, Madhavi Sharma

My film-viewing year began with Impatient Vivek, a film so bad that I was convinced it couldn’t get any worse than that in 2011. But in less than two months, the Hindi film industry has rubbed my optimism in my face and lived up to the rest of the country’s low expectations.
Tum Hi To Ho is the story of a chap called Rajiv who ends up in an institution when his girlfriend is killed in an accident. The said institution is populated with doctors who say super-sensitive things to their patients such as, “Logon ke paagal hone ke kaee vajah hote hai. Ab tumhari vajah kya hai kaun jaane?” I’ll make short shrift of the rest of the story … Rajiv is discharged and almost immediately bumps into a girl who looks exactly like his dead darling. Problem: she is married. So he bumps off the husband. Problem solved. Then he bumps off some other people. Enter: Jackie Shroff playing a detective who finally solves the case.
Yes yes, I’ve given away the entire story. Big deal! I’m not about to be reticent while reviewing one of the worst Hindi films I’ve seen in my entire life (and believe me I’ve seen quite a few bad ones)! But THTH is so terrible that it’s a must-watch!
The first hint of things to come arrives before the opening credits … a picture of the late actor Vivek Shauq (he of Jaspal Bhatti and Ulta Pulta fame) appears on screen accompanied by the words, “Dedicated on the memory of Vivek Shauq.” What a sad start to approximately two hours of my life dedicated on (sic) Tum Hi To Ho. Shauq – who passed away just this year – has co-written the dialogues of this film and plays a supporting role in it. Ah well, sometimes sweet guys star in lousy films because life ain’t as easy as it should be, I guess …
And sometimes, guys like Vipinno get to be leading men …
Yup, the hero of THTH is an over-muscled fellow called Vipinno who doesn’t have an acting bone in him. But his style of walking and talking are so uniquely appalling and his histrionics are so wonderfully pathetic that I had a rollicking time watching him! I laughed till I had to hold my stomach in pain as he held a conversation with a statue of God, demanding to know why he can never catch a break! Such dialoguebaazi from Hindi film heroes of the past have prompted the good lord to soften up. Not surprisingly, God remains unmoved by Vipinno / Rajiv’s demands and proceeds to punish him instead. For his bad acting, perhaps?
I laughed some more watching the hero do a song-and-dance routine against a back-cloth of mountains and fields that the director had not even bothered to smoothen out.
I almost choked on my steamed corn-in-a-cup when the hero himself drives over a cliff in slow motion and turns to us, the audience, for one final wave. Classic!
But I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or be traumatised at a very personal level by the fact that the dead girlfriend’s name is Anna, since it led to a scene in which Vipinno / Rajiv declares, “I love you Anna!” Ewwwwww!
A pre-release article on THTH in the media informs me that actor Vipinno is a Gujarati from Mozambique. The posters of the film declare grandly: “For the first time in Indian cinema, an actor arises from Africa.” Well, the sun that a-rises (sic) also a-sets (sic). So there is hope for the world.
Rating (out of five): -50 stars

PS: The official trailer of Tum Hi To Ho. It’s actually way way better than the film http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0dzDoql5VE

Sunday, February 13, 2011

REVIEW 14: PATIALA HOUSE

Release date: February 11, 2011
Director: Nikhil Advani
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Rishi Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Hard Kaur, Dimple Kapadia, with guest appearances by a bunch of real-life cricketers including Nasser Hussain, Andrew Symonds, Sanjay Manjrekar and Nikhil Chopra
I’ve never felt that I was two people watching one movie, the way I did with Patiala House. The first me found the film entertaining at a certain level, thought Akshay Kumar was charming, was reminded once again that Anushka Sharma is luminously lovely and lively, and realised that this is the best Akshay movie I’ve seen in ages. But then there was that other me who found the basic premise of Patiala House soooo unconvincing that try as I did, I couldn’t lose myself in the film.
Patiala House is the story of Pargat Singh Kahlon a.k.a. Gattu (Akshay) whose potentially brilliant cricketing career is thwarted by his despotic father Gurtej Singh Kahlon a.k.a. Bauji. You see, Bauji is a London-based Sikh who has been at the receiving end of gora racism. So he’s aghast at the thought of his son playing in the English cricket team. What’s the boy to do considering that he’s a British citizen? Ah well, like many such kids we know who are far more traditionally Indian than Indian kids back home, Gattu gives in to Bauji, gives up his dreams and starts running a convenience store. That’s also the end of the road for all the other youngsters in the family who must turn their backs on their youthful ambitions as Gattu’s example is rubbed in their faces. Seventeen years later, Simran enters Gattu’s life. He falls in love, gets a second shot at his dream, and that’s how Patiala House goes.
Who are they kidding? I mean, if Bauji hates England so much and is the decent guy the film suggests he is, why on earth did he not move back to India instead of contributing to the gora economy? And since he’s such a fanatical cricket maniac himself, how can I as a viewer not wonder why he didn’t for even a second consider sending Gattu back to India as a child to bring glory to the game and the motherland? I mean, Gattu’s such a genius that Nasser Hussain (yes, the English cricket cap’n in an interesting cameo) actually still remembers being bowled out by him in three successive innings all those years back! Bollywood films often demand a suspension of disbelief from the audience, but Patiala House demands a bit too much of it.
Then there’s the manner in which Gattu returns to cricket the second time round while the world T20 Championships are on … The whole family gangs up against Bauji to keep the secret from him, the cable connection at home is cut each time an England match is on, the entire neighbourhood is persuaded to lie to Bauji, the community centre cable connection is cut, newspaper stories on Gattu are replaced, congratulatory phone calls are intercepted in the nick of time, the family doctor raises a false alarm and forces Bauji to stay at home … all this while Gattu single-handedly takes the English team all the way to the finals! Seriously?!
There’s also the minor matter of age. Akshay is fabulously fit at 43 but c’mon, Gattu is supposed to be 34! His age is crucial to the story and is repeatedly dinned into our ears. It doesn’t help that the film pits Akshay against Anushka who is a glowing 20-something with a lustrous complexion. Big mistake!
So that’s what the first me says to you about Patiala House. But the other me would like to point out that this film is a pleasant break from the repetitive comedies that Akshay has starred in for the past couple of years. Playing what one character in the film describes as “a shadow of a man”, he gives us a restrained performance that tugs at the heart. He also looks like he’s really bowling on that cricket field. Anushka is well cast as the voluble Simran. She is fast becoming Hindi filmdom’s favourite bubbly young Punjaban which could be a double-edged sword though: there’s the danger of being typecast (she’s already done this in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Band Baaja Baaraat, remember?) but on the other hand, she’s just so darned good at it!
The Gattu-Simran romance is the sweetest thing about Patiala House. It’s underplayed and the stars shine as actors in scenes where sparks fly between them.
It’s also wonderful to see Rishi Kapoor rock his own second innings in Bollywood. He is perfect as Bauji. Wish his character’s motivations had been better scripted though.
A word here for director Nikhil Advani since Patiala House is head and shoulders, eyebrows and hairline above his previous film with Akshay, Chandni Chowk to China. Switching to sepia tones and getting other actors to play the teenaged Gattu and a younger Bauji, but using Akshay and Rishi’s voices for them is a nice touch. The guest appearances by professional cricketers are very well executed. The leads are supported by a bunch of able actors among whom the little boy playing Simran’s foster brother/son stands out. And Hard Kaur is a great choice to play the propah salwar-suit-&-sweater-clad singer of religious songs whose true goal is to be a rapper.
All in all though, perhaps Patiala House’s big disadvantage is that we’ve all seen much much better sports films. Unlike in Patiala House, in Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham the England-based Indian father’s opposition to his daughter’s sporting ambitions made perfectly logical sense and his change of heart was not predictable. Unlike in Patiala House, in Lagaan the cricket match was so brilliantly done that though we knew how it would end, we still cheered as though we were watching a real live match. And unlike in Patiala House, in Nagesh Kukunoor’s amazing Iqbal, every inch of the story was so believable that we forgot we were watching a film.
In Patiala House, I was conscious that I was watching a movie every single step of the way. Its nice I guess, but that’s about it.
Rating (out of five): **3/4