Friday, June 24, 2011

REVIEW 56: DOUBLE DHAMAAL

Release date:
June 24, 2011
Director:
Indra Kumar
Cast:
Sanjay Dutt, Arshad Warsi, Riteish Deshmukh, Jaaved Jaafery, Ashish Chowdhry, Mallika Sherawat, Kangna Ranaut, Satish Kaushik


Apes are gaining popularity among Bollywood’s creators of comedy these days. In Anees Bazmee’s No Problem in late 2010, one such hairy creature let out a bellowing fart. In Indra Kumar’s Double Dhamaal this week, Boman (played by Ashish Chowdhry) gets gigantic, swollen lips from being over-kissed by an amorous furry fellow. Yeah yeah, I can visualise some of you rolling your eyes at that one. But I confess I giggled helplessly when Boman’s red mouth was revealed to us following that man-animal encounter. After all, it makes sense to go for a film like Double Dhamaal with the expectation of nothing more than a mega-dose of low-IQ humour. Sadly, DD does not offer enough of such entertainingly witless wit and frankly, its predecessor Dhamaal was much more fun.

The biggest problem with Double Dhamaal is that if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen every single one of the film’s funniest moments. Yes, every single one! Damn! I was so looking forward to guffawing uncontrollably at more jokes like the one where our four leading men cover themselves in overcoats and hang themselves from coat hooks to hide from their pursuers! And why wouldn’t I? The film’s promo was a killer! The cast includes an array of actors with a brilliant track record in this genre. And it’s directed by Indra Kumar who gave us Raja – with the electrifyingly funny Ms Madhuri Dixit – among other well-made films. What I got instead was a film that’s amusing only in parts which, I’m afraid, is just not good enough coming from this team.

Double Dhamaal returns to the loveable idiots of Dhamaal – Adi (Arshad Warsi), Manav (Jaaved Jaafery), Roy (Riteish Deshmukh) and Boman. The four spend the first half of the film trying to deceive and cajole Kabir (Sanjay Dutt) into making them his business partners. When he dupes them, they try to get their revenge by double crossing him in the post-interval period. How do they go about this? Who succeeds in making a fool of whom? Sorry folks, I won’t throw spoilers into this review.

So guess who's who?
The film is intermittently funny. The cast is engaging and likeable. Ashish Chowdhry in drag is both ultra-glamorous and comical, though perhaps not as pretty as the cross-dressing Riteish Deshmukh from Apna Sapna Money Money. In a film involving several disguises, the make-up is commendable. One particular deception regarding an oil field is a hoot. It’s also enjoyable to watch the leading men imitating legendary actors such as Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan at the start of Double Dhamaal (Manav’s take on SRK is particularly rib-tickling and unique!). But mimicry as a device is over-done by the end of the film. And the intervals between the genuinely comic scenes are way too long.

Anand Raj Anand’s music too is quite forgettable. Not one of the tunes is worth taking home to your parents, certainly not Jalebi Bai featuring Mallika Sherawat who takes crudeness to a different level altogether as she points her fingers towards her near-bare breasts in the song, just in case they’d escaped our attention.

With so much that’s wrong with Double Dhamaal, I don’t suppose there’s any point in pointing out the film’s lack of attention to detail. In one scene, Roy swims across a creek in Macau. In another scene, he fights with Adi for pushing him into a water body. Why? Because he can’t swim! Huh? Did the screenplay writer and director just forget the earlier scene? Or was the team just too lazy to plug this loophole once they detected it?

I don’t suppose there’s any point either in pointing out that the wisecracks involving black people get offensive beyond a point, and the scenes with Roy’s supposedly mentally challenged brothers are distasteful from start to finish. For those who may accuse me of being painfully politically correct, I have a request: please rewind to Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey which featured Shahid Kapoor in a double role as brothers Guddu and Charlie who both suffer from speech disabilities; other characters in the film laughed at the siblings, but at no point was the film itself mocking them. See the difference?   

So is Double Dhamaal a total wash-out? Well, no. As I said, it’s sporadically funny. In the last scene of the film, we’re given a clear indicator that there will be another sequel which will be called Total Dhamaal. I do hope before they shoot that one they take a good hard look at their script, and realise that a comedy of this variety needs to deliver non-stop nonsense instead of episodes of stormy laughter punctuated by long long lulls.

Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating:                       U / A
Running time:                       137 Minutes
Language:                             Hindi

Photograph courtesy: http://www.doubledhamaalmovie.com/    
  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

REVIEW 55: BHINDI BAAZAAR INC

Release date:
June 17, 2011
Director:
Ankush Bhatt
Cast:
Prashant Narayanan, Gautam Sharma, Pavan Malhotra, Piyush Mishra, Shilpa Shukla, Deepti Naval


Bhindi Baazaar Inc is the right movie coming at the wrong time. If I owned a time travel machine, I’d go back 15 years to watch it and check if my reaction would have been different. This is a film about gang rivalries on the mean streets of Mumbai starring a very good cast. But it’s the sort of story we’ve seen so many times already, courtesy Ram Gopal Varma and others who followed in his footsteps, that it can only take you thus far and no further.

Tez (Gautam Sharma) and Fateh (Prashant Narayanan) have been brought up in Bhindi Baazaar where garbage battles for space with human beings, and street children become resources for ruthless gangsters. Tez and Fateh work with Mamu (Pavan Malhotra) whose enmity with Pandey (Piyush Mishra) and lust for his own sister-in-law lead to complications, betrayals and bloodletting. The story is told in flashback by Tez as he plays a game of chess with Shroff (Kay Kay Menon) in an upmarket apartment. The board game – one of the few novelties in this film – becomes a metaphor for the gang wars that Tez is describing. The other interesting factor is that here the women are shown not just as manipulative molls or helpless by-standers but as active participants in the violence, though to a lesser degree than their male cohorts.

This is one of those films that makes you feel sad for the talented actors who have invested so much of themselves in the project. Prashant Narayanan is excellent as always but has been typecast by a Bollywood that doesn’t have the imagination to visualise an actor with his personality in romances and comedies. Gautam Sharma is an attractive chap who wisely underplays Tez. The rest of the cast is just as effective, especially Deepti Naval playing Mamu’s long-suffering wife who unexpectedly reveals her own violent streak. On the downside, Jackie Shroff makes an inexplicably insignificant guest appearance. And the song-and-dance by Caterina Lopez – furiously peddled to all of us as “Jennifer Lopez’s cousin” – is no great shakes.

The dialogue writing is entertaining in many places. Says one gangster to another: “Aisa laat maaroonga ki saat din mere pao tere ***** se nikaalne mein lagega (I’ll kick you so bad that it will take seven days to pull my foot out of your *******).” But it doesn’t all come together as neatly as it should. And burdened as it is by a similarity to so many of its predecessors, Bhindi Baazaar Inc remains a film I enjoyed reasonably while I watched it, but from the moment I stepped out of the theatre, I’ve been hard pressed to remember the story as it melds in my mind with numerous other Bollywood gangster flicks I’ve seen in the past decade and a half. Watchable but unmemorable, that’s what Bhindi Baazaar Inc is.

Rating (out of five): **1/4

CBFC Rating:                       A (The Censors got two words of abuse beeped out because they were considered derogatory to women.)
Running time:                        130 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

Photograph courtesy: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/bhindibaazaar

Saturday, June 18, 2011

REVIEW 54: ALWAYS KABHI KABHI

Release date:
June 17, 2011
Director:
Roshan Abbas
Cast:
Ali Fazal, Zoa Morani, Satyajeet Dubey, Giselli Monteiro, Navneet Nishan, Lillette Dubey


Whatever!

That’s a word many teenagers use these days to suggest indifference. That’s the word I wish to use to describe my reaction to Always Kabhi Kabhi. Perhaps the concept sounded good on paper, but what explains the fact that once the film was done, not only did producer Shah Rukh Khan throw himself into its promotions, he further dinned his association with the film into the public mind by shooting an item song for it? Did he really think this is a good film?

The problem with Always Kabhi Kabhi is contained in its title – the film is trying to speak teenager-ese, but fails miserably. More on that later. First the story. This is a film about four friends in St Mark’s High School, Delhi. Sameer Khanna a.k.a. Shortcut Sam (Ali Fazal) is a bright kid with a wandering eye and a wandering mind. He falls in love with new girl Aishwarya Dhawan (Giselli Monteiro) whose former actress mother is now trying to pimp her beautiful daughter in a modelling and film career without quite caring whether the girl is interested. Tariq Naqvi (Satyajeet Dubey) – nicknamed Einstein because he’s a nerdy genius – is cracking under the pressure from his pushy father to get admission to MIT although his dreams lie elsewhere. And Nandini Oberoi ak.a. Nandy Bull is a girl with a heart of gold that she camouflages behind a brusque fa├žade, because she doesn’t want the world to know how much she’s hurting from the neglect of her ambitious, career-obsessed parents.

In a sentence, this is a film about teenagers being forced to live their parents’ dreams while burying their own. But the message is lost under the combined weight of weak direction, weaker writing, uninspired choreography and ordinary music. There are passing references to teenage pregnancies, drug use and peer pressure which completely lack gravitas. There’s even one embarrassingly bad product placement that gets an entire scene.

Of the lead cast, Zoa Morani has a much stronger screen presence than her co-star Ali Fazal. I don’t know how old these actors are, but neither of them look like schoolkids to me. Giselli Monteiro is pretty but was better suited to the silent role she was given in her debut Hindi film Love Aaj Kal. Oddly enough, she is subjected to poor lighting in several shots in Always Kabhi Kabhi – since she’s supposed to be a professional model in the film, I’d have expected particular trouble to be taken over her makeup and lighting. Of the four, Satyajeet is the one I watched and wondered what he might be in a better film. Yes, I think I might like to see more of this boy.

The language the children speak doesn’t sound much like what you would hear among Delhi teenagers in a school like this one. This is a problem plaguing many Bollywood films these days (for a change, just last month there was Yash Raj Films’ Luv ka the End which managed to get the lingo right). There are three options before a film like Always Kabhi Kabhi: either be completely, 100 per cent faithful to the fact that you are a Hindi film and make your characters speak pure Hindi unadulterated by any other language; or go all the way in an effort to be realistic, and employ English peppered with Hindi in the style and with the accents that you are most likely to find among Delhi teenagers in a school like this one; or let your children be primarily Hindi speaking with some English thrown in at appropriate places. AKK chooses none of the above options. Its language doesn’t flow and too many lines given to the students sound like they’re aspiring to be cool. The adults sound far more natural. There’s a funny exchange when Sam’s mother chides his dad for getting on the boy’s case. Kitni der se nazrein jhuka baitha hai, she says sympathetically about her son. Dad shoots back: “SMS check kar raha hoga. Iss generation ki nazrein bas tabhi jhukte hai.” Wish there was more where that came from. Instead what we get is a scene in which Sam is about to kiss Aishwarya when the bell rings. She escapes, with the words, “Chemistry class,” to which he says, “And I’m history.” Oh jeez!

It’s been many years since I was a teenager, so I called up a 14-year-old friend for a second opinion. Would he ever say the words “undi the condi of my heart” in place of “understand the condition of my heart”, the way the students do in Always Kabhi Kabhi? “No no, that’s stooopid,” he laughed, before dismissing it (inexplicably to me) as “chillar party language” that nobody uses in schools. Well then, dear reader, undi the condi of my heart: I spent over two hours of my life watching this insipid film!

Rating (out of five): 1/2

CBFC Rating:                       U/A
Running time:                        127 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi with English



REVIEW 53: BHEJA FRY 2

Release date:
June 17, 2011
Director:
Sagar Ballary
Cast:
Vinay Pathak, Kay Kay Menon, Minissha Lamba, Suresh Menon, Amole Gupte, Aditi Govitrikar


I enjoyed Bheja Fry but I wasn’t in love with it. Those words perfectly encapsulate my feelings towards Bheja Fry 2 too.

Vinay Pathak once again plays Bharat Bhushan, the slowhead from Bheja Fry whose profession as an income-tax official is in sharp contrast to his passion for old Hindi film songs. In Part 2, Bhushan wins a national reality tele-show which earns him Rs 25 lakh in cash and a berth on a luxury cruise. Also on the ship is the TV show’s executive producer Ranjini (Minissha Lamba), and businessman Ajit Talwar (Kay Kay Menon) who has been tipped off that an IT raid is headed his way and that a tax official is on board the ship. Talwar erroneously assumes that Bhushan is the taxman who has been sent to track him. The conspiracies and misunderstandings that follow are what makes up Bheja Fry 2.

It’s a funny film about a silly man; funny in a way that doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence or ask us to send our brains on vacation while we watch it. As in Bheja Fry (a remake of the French film Le Diner De Cons), Bhushan continues to be a tuneless music buff who insists on singing at the drop of a hat, not quite realising what an ass he’s making of himself. He also remains a well-meaning, pesky bumblehead whose good intentions are often at cross-purposes with the demands of a situation, leading to comical consequences. If you are a Hindi film music devotee who can quote years, names and lyrics with precision, then you are particularly likely to enjoy this film, like the gentleman seated just ahead of me in the theatre where I watched Bheja Fry 2, who kept completing Bhushan’s verses much to the amusement of his fellow viewers.

The film offers plenty of laughs, though not at an unrelenting pace. I particularly enjoyed Bhushan’s ridiculous English translation of Dard-e-dil, and an unexpected exchange with a gray-haired tycoon who allows alcohol to melt his “I spent most of my early years in America” snobbery to join Bhushan in a duet of Marathi songs. Equally hilarious is the North India-South India rivalry between Bhushan and his fellow IT inspector M.T. Shekharan. Their exchanges are filled with stereotypes, yet manage to steer clear of being offensive.

But in a film that’s filled with tasteful humour, I fail to understand the need for that pointless rape joke that was tossed into a conversation between Talwar and his friends. For the nth time, could Bollywood please note: RAPE IS NOT FUNNY!

Suresh Menon as M.T. Shekharan and Kay Kay Menon playing Talwar are the pick of the cast for me. The impact of Pathak’s performance is diluted to some extent because he has played the loveable simpleton too often in too many films since 2007 when Bheja Fry was released. I could still live with that (I liked him very much in Chalo Dilli earlier this year), but in Bheja Fry 2 there are too many places where I became conscious of the fact that he was acting, and not being just Bharat Bhushan. I must also say I was disappointed when the film arrived at the cameo by Amole Gupte playing an eccentric music buff living alone on a deserted island. Gupte recently played an oily schoolteacher to remarkable effect in his own directorial venture Stanley ka Dabba and was the nasty gangster poking fun at Shahid Kapoor in Kaminey. I’m not sure whether it’s the acting or the jumbled writing that’s to blame here. I just know that Gupte’s Raghu D. Burman in Bheja Fry 2 was too loud, too noisy, too muddled and I just couldn’t figure out what he was all about.

Still, it’s nice to see a light-hearted comic venture from Bollywood in which male infidelity is not the central theme (yawn!), nobody pees or farts to amuse us, and the entire cast doesn’t gather in the final scene to run around in circles like they do in pretty much every Priyadarshan and Anees Bazmee comedy. No, Bheja Fry 2 is simpler, not raucous and with all its flaws, it’s entertaining.

Rating (out of five): **3/4

CBFC Rating:                       U/A without any cuts or beeps. (The Censors wanted a scene removed, but the director changed a dialogue in the scene and got an okay from a review committee.)
Running time:                        127 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

  

Saturday, June 11, 2011

REVIEW 52: LOVE EXPRESS

Release date:
June 10, 2011
Director:
Sunny Bhambhani
Cast:
Sahil Mehta, Mannat Ravi, Vikas Katyal, Priyam Galav, Om Puri


Love Express feels like a Jab We Met gone flat. In JWM – a fine example of a road movie – the girl gets over her affection for her boyfriend and gradually falls in love with a guy she first bumps into on a train. In Love Express, a young couple (he a rich NRI, she an Amritsar di kudi) are being emotionally coerced into marriage because their fathers are friends. He’s too liberal to believe in arranged affairs, she’s in love with a munda back home. The two get engaged, but on the train that takes both mega-families from Amritsar to Mumbai – where the wedding is to take place – they hatch a scheme to convince their parents to call it off.

Not only is the plan partly ineffectual, the part that does work is mildly offensive. Kanav and Ashneet actually pretend to rape each other, each episode orchestrated to be witnessed by one set of parents when the other is not around. From the tone of the movie, I gathered that it’s all meant to be funny, but I didn’t find myself amused.

Be that as it may, it’s rare for Bollywood to set a film on a train. Thirty-one years back producer B.R. Chopra invested big money and a bigger canvas in The Burning Train which starred Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna, Parveen Babi, Jeetendra, Neetu Singh and Danny. Unlike that film, Love Express rests on the shoulders of a bunch of unknowns: debutant director Sunny Bhambhani and the lead cast are graduates from Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods International school. Ghai certainly needs to be commended for providing an opportunity to young talent by producing this film and ensuring its release. But though there’s tremendous potential in the story of a reluctant bride and groom ultimately falling in love on a short train journey, the film is just plain dull.

Love Express suffers from slack direction and weak writing. Too many characters among this train-full of Punjabi relatives are caricatures. Several cast members also need acting lessons, especially dadaji’s irritating chamcha and that snooty, overweight aunty. If you must be deliberately over-the-top Ma’am, please learn something from Kirron Kher who has elevated the task of playing a Punjabi mommy/aunty-type to a fine art. And since Bollywood has given us several vivacious Punjabi songs – including and especially Mauja mauja from Jab We Met – this film’s Rocking shocking family sounds more wannabe than Punjabi cool.

The film does have a few pluses. The landscapes through which the train passes are picturesque. Om Puri manages to lend some mirth to the bride’s perceptive grandfather although the character feels like a revisitation of Dara Singh’s part in … yes, JWM again. The role of Kanav rests on the shoulders of a sweet little debutant called Sahil Mehta who will hopefully get noticed by other producers and be cast in better films in the future. Since there are so many youngsters involved in this film, I genuinely do want to say something encouraging. But the sad truth is that Love Express is a train to nowhere.

Rating (out of five): *

CBFC Rating:                       U/A (The Censors were open to giving the film a U certificate if a particular mock rape scene was removed. The producer was not willing to make that concession, so a U/A it is.)
Running time:                        103 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

  

REVIEW 51: SHAITAN

Release date:
June 10, 2011
Director:
Bejoy Nambiar
Cast:
Kalki Koechlin, Neil Bhoopalam, Kirti Kulhari, Shiv Pandit, Gulshan Devaiya, Rajeev Khandelwal, Raj Kumar Yadav, Rajit Kapoor, Pavan Malhotra

Shaitan is what Paanch might have been if it had lacked soul but possessed more sheen. It must rank as one of the heartbreaks of contemporary Hindi cinema that Paanch, Anurag Kashyap’s debut film as director – a raw, sock-you-in-the-face, punch-you-in-the-stomach type of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll saga – was never released as a combined result of Censor intolerance and the producer’s problems. Nearly a decade after he made that film, Kashyap is now himself an influential Bollywood producer presenting to us debutant director Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan.

To begin with, this story is enjoyable and quite intriguing. Shaitan stars Kalki Koechlin from Dev D as a troubled NRI kid who’s just landed in Mumbai because her father is working on a government project. It’s evident from the start that Amrita Jayshankar a.k.a. Amy is mentally not all there. She writes her mother’s name on every piece of paper she can get and imagines that Mom has been confined to a mental institution though she’s dead. Her father and stepmother seem to love her, but she’s not willing to give them a chance. Enter: rebellion and ‘friends’. Amy meets Dash, KC, Zubin and Tanya, and the five decadent youngsters while away their days in a haze of booze, sex, cigarettes, drugs and a speeding Hummer. Wildness is second nature and remains that way even when a joyride leads to tragic consequences, and their lives spiral out of control.

They’re a charismatic bunch, these five actors. Neil Bhoopalam (Zubin) who we’ve earlier seen in No One Killed Jessica and model-turned-actress Kirti Kulhari (Tanya) deserve particular mention for their natural ease before the camera, and Shiv Pandit (Dash) for his easy good looks. Besides, our introduction to the depravity of these fast-talking, highly intelligent youngsters comes through well-edited sequences (take a bow, Sreekar Prasad) filled with sharp-witted, cheeky dialogues that are highly entertaining. When they first meet, Zubin tells Amy to choose him as her boyfriend. “F*** the tiger, save the Parsi,” he says. But the joy of these positives rapidly gets diluted as style takes over substance especially in the second half of the film. I remember the precise point at which the over-stylisation of Shaitan began to irk me. It’s when a clever story is being told in flashback – the word “flashback” flashes on screen, then it’s rewound, then the words “flashback mein flashback” appear, then ... well, the thing about being clever is that you must not allow the effort to show. And sadly for Shaitan, it feels like it’s trying too hard.

To be fair to Bejoy Nambiar, he’s got his basics in place – the production is slick, some of the writing is commendable, the accident that proves to be a turning point in the film is superbly executed, and he’s remarkably sure-footed while interlinking two long, parallel sequences of mayhem unfolding beautifully over that lovely classic song Khoya khoya chand (I really loved this part very very much). And so I’m keen to see how Nambiar will evolve with a second film. But in Shaitan, gloss overshadows heart beyond a point, which makes it tough to empathise with the characters or invest in their pain. I found myself enjoying the violence unfolding on screen, but not really caring too much about the fate of that crazy five. In fact, I was far more involved with a satellite character: Rajeev Khandelwal’s irrationally violent cop who is deeply in love with his estranged wife and is investigating a high-profile case while struggling with his own failing marriage.

The film’s catchy background score gets jarringly and unnecessarily loud in several places, and the characterisation of many of the central players isn’t very consistent either. Okay, I get that the lead five are spoilt, bratty and irresponsible, but there’s nothing that tells us in the beginning that they are fools. So what explains the loophole-riddled plan they come up with to get out of a tight spot? The plan doesn’t go awry solely due to circumstances beyond their control. No, it goes awry because it’s downright stupid. Amy is the daughter of a well-connected man, but when her bizarre behaviour makes it to television news, she and her friends seem surprised beyond belief. Why? Why does her stepmother suddenly break down saying she can’t live without Amy, although it’s obvious that the two barely have a relationship? And why do Amy’s parents – who otherwise come across as decent, caring folk – not take her to a psychiatrist when it’s staring all of us in the face that she’s been completely unhinged for years?

Kalki Koechlin has an uncommon and arresting face that worked perfectly for her out-of-control Chanda in Dev D. She deadpans her way through Shaitan. It would be a pity if her third film also features her as a wacko character given to a spot of debauchery, and relies more on her interesting facial features than her acting skills. On the other hand there’s my pick of this cast, Rajeev Khandelwal, whose exceedingly likeable personality and under-stated performance reminded me of why he was such a superhit as Sujal on the TV soap Kahiin To Hoga. I wonder why Bollywood is not giving him a better deal.

Shaitan is about five youngsters who are done in by the devilish streak within. It’s also a fine example of a promising film that’s done in by its own seeming determination to be glib. I’m waiting for your second film, Mr Nambiar.

Rating (out of five): **3/4

CBFC Rating:                       A with one cut
Running time:                        128 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi with some English