Saturday, June 30, 2012


Release date:
June 29, 2012
Kabeer Kaushik
Sonu Sood, Naseeruddin Shah, Neha Dhupia, Swanand Kirkire, Vinay Pathak, Arya Babbar

Maximum needed a more imaginative title. That single word does little to convey the quiet grimness of this violent-yet-mellow film that has stayed with me since I saw it.

It may seem like familiar territory, yet director Kabeer Kaushik’s exploration of the police-politician-builder-gangster nexus in Maharashtra is more intricate than the many repetitive films on the subject we’ve seen in recent years. Sonu Sood – who deserves a body of work to match that fabulous body and talent – is Pratap Pandit, a Mumbai policeman whose long-standing rivalry with fellow cop Arun Inaamdar (Naseeruddin Shah) defines both their careers. They are both unscrupulous, efficient encounter specialists with a wide network of informers; both cultivate and are cultivated by politicians and businessmen. The film takes us from 2003 when Mumbai is waging a battle with the underworld to the post-26/11 period, during which their enmity is chronicled by a young journalist (Amit Sadh).

What distinguishes Maximum from other films set against the same backdrop is the understated and brave comment on the closed-mindedness of Mumbai, and the fact that the leading men are also the villains of the story yet make no bones about their amorality and display no desire whatsoever to reform themselves. Pratap is not just a murderous cop, he’s also got a roving eye; he spends his nights at dance bars and has an affair with a film star (Anjana Sukhani) while his wife (Neha Dhupia) takes care of his home and child. The Mrs is aware of his shenanigans, but like us, he seduces her too although his faults stare us in the face. Some of this has to do with the fact that Sonu Sood is a really attractive guy with an extremely likeable personality – that was evident when we saw him as the towering Prince Sujamal in Jodhaa Akbar, and even when the shirtless Chhedi Singh’s intimidatingly expansive, well-muscled torso was punched and pummelled by the diminutive Chulbul Pandey (Salman Khan) in Dabangg. But most of all, Pratap Pandit works because Sonu is a remarkable actor. Just watch that fleeting expression on his face when he first spots his actress lover to know that.

Sonu has good company in Maximum’s splendid cast: there’s Sadh whose journalist defies the Hindi film norm; Vinay Pathak plays a Maharashtra politician with a soft corner for Pratap, reminding us that he is capable of so much more than the goofy simpleton he’s been stuck with since the commercial success of Bheja Fry; lyricist Swanand Kirkire is a revelation as Pratap’s colleague; even Naseer appears more involved than he sometimes seems in his films these days.

Having said that, though the screenplay explores Pratap’s life and character with great depth, little time is spent on Naseer’s Arun Inaamdar beyond the shootouts and backroom politics. If I met Pratap’s wife, saw him in hospital waiting for news of his unwell father and watched him accompany his daughter to sports practice, then I’d like to have known the Arun behind the policeman too. This is my one big grouse – and it’s a very big grouse – against the film’s otherwise strong writing by Kabeer Kaushik and Rakhi Soman. You can’t claim that you are telling us the story of “two cops, one journey” and then neglect Cop No. 2. This is unfortunate since the script has so much else to recommend it, so many subtleties and so much home work: the journalist, for instance. Hindi film mediapersons are usually on extreme ends of the integrity spectrum: so Bachchan’s TV channel boss in RGV’s Rann was almost a saint, while every single TV reporter in Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live was a sellout. The journalist in Maximum is painstakingly honest in one respect (he is struggling to get a house in Mumbai, but will not allow Pratap to call one of his builder contacts for him); on the other hand, it’s evident that he is far too involved with Pratap’s life to have the distance that a journalist requires to tell a story objectively ... well, like the confusingly likeable Pratap, this man felt real too.

Maximum’s entire soundtrack is worth a recommendation, in particular Amjad-Nadeem’s Aaja meri jaan sung by Tochi Raina and Ritu Pathak; Daniel B. George’s excellent background score; and Devi Sri Prasad’s foot-tapping Aa ante Amalapuram with its amusing lyrics by Raqueeb Alam (it’s a joy to hear singer Malathy belt out the words “Yindian rhythm” in the song). Even Hazel Keech as Aa ante’s dance bar girl with the voluptuous body and visible love handles feels so much more believable than the gym-toned actresses who usually do such numbers these days.

Krishna Ramanan’s camerawork is like the rest of the film: much thought has clearly gone into it yet it seems effortless, never more so than in that long shot of Pratap striding towards us, his gun placed in his trousers’ front pocket, prominently and precariously close to his groin. Ramanan gives us a Mumbai of cloudy greys, in keeping with the tone of a movie in which a politician with the surname Tiwari tells a young journalist from Lucknow: Yeh sheher jagah toh deta hai, lekin apnaata nahin hai. In the era of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, that’s a gutsy statement to make; and it’s made here without any chest-thumping or flag waving, sans a sloganeering tone. A pity that Maximum comes to theatres with such minimal publicity.

Rating (out of five): ***

CBFC Rating:                       A

Language:                              Hindi

Photograph courtesy:      

Friday, June 29, 2012


Release date in India:
June 29, 2012
Marc Webb
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary, Irrfan Khan   

I bet the question on every Indian’s mind is: has Irrfan Khan been short-changed in The Amazing Spider-Man? Patience, people! Let’s first talk about everything else.

The Amazing Spider-Man takes us back to where it all began. Which means it revisits the initial chapters of the Spidey story that were already brought to us in 2002 by the first of the three films directed by Sam Raimi. Boring, did you say? Actually, no. Raimi’s were fine films but there’s enough difference in the interpretation of the lead character in The Amazing Spider-Man, enough additions, subtractions and nuances to make this a series worth rebooting. So the question is not: why is Sony revisiting the franchise so soon after Raimi’s third outing with Spidey? The question is: when the heck are you folks bringing us The Amazing Spider-Man Part 2?

This film begins with little Peter Parker’s parents abruptly leaving him one night in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Next we see Peter (Andrew Garfield) as an academically bright teenager and social recluse, bitter about his past, confident enough to take on school bullies even before he gets superpowers yet too reticent to express his feelings for his classmate Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). One day, Peter visits his scientist father’s former collaborator Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) whose aim is to regenerate human cells to help him get back his own missing arm and also rid the world of weakness and disability (his choice of words, not mine). At Connors’ lab, Peter is bitten by a genetically modified spider as a result of which he develops arachnid superpowers, thus becoming the masked vigilante, Spiderman.

Part of the fun of watching this film is in playing a game of “Spot The Differences”. In Raimi’s films, Kirsten Dunst plays Spiderman’s love interest Mary Jane Watson. Here in The Amazing Spider-Man, the girlfriend we get is another one of the comic book superhero’s sweethearts. Will Mary Jane appear in later instalments? Equally intriguing are the references to Norman Osborne made by Connors’ boss Dr Rajit Rathi (Irrfan), clearly in a bid to set us up for a sequel. Spidey followers know of course that Osborne – father of Peter’s best friend Harry – was the scientist who turned into Spiderman’s nemesis, Green Goblin, in the comics and in Raimi’s first film.

There are two things I found beautiful about The Amazing Spider-Man: Andrew Garfield’s face; and the dilemmas of the film’s ‘villain’, The Lizard. There is such sensitivity in Garfield’s eyes that you see Peter’s pain in them, you understand the boy’s shyness and the teenaged thrill of discovering that he can crawl on walls. There’s also an interesting sub-text in the casting, since Garfield’s calling card so far has been The Social Network in which he played the intelligent, good-looking guy who is bested by his nerdy, plain-looking classmate; in The Amazing Spider-Man, he’s the New Generation nerd, non-stereotypical, handsome and also a scientific genius!  

I’m not about to tell you how The Lizard comes into being, but this I will say: he’s a tragic figure, not the epitome of evil but a misguided, desperately sad human gone wrong, torn between the goodness and the wretchedness within him. I read that Marc Webb said in an interview: “…Good drama comes from competing ideas of what's good.” That’s the USP of The Amazing Spider-Man … That you can’t really hate The Lizard. That when Peter argues with a policeman about Spidey’s good intentions, the captain points out that the wall-crawler seems not to be fighting for the greater good but to exact a personal vendetta on someone (which is true at that point because until then, Spidey had been pinning down one local criminal after another, not to rid the city of crime but in an effort to track down a man who murdered one of his own).

In fact, this film has more poignance and humor than action (when Peter first gets into costume he transforms into a truly funny guy). I loved the emotion, but some more action would have been nice, especially because when stunts do enter the picture, they are thrilling; and while most of the film may leave 3D-haters asking “why”, I found the third dimension lent an edge to the film’s few action sequences. On the other hand, the special effects are world class no doubt, but The Lizard is not particularly spectacular and there’s one shot of a burning car hanging from a bridge that is terribly obvious in its CG-ness, which is unforgivable for such a big-budget film.

Now to Irrfan: his small role offers little scope for acting, but since his Dr Rathi provides part of the set up for a sequel, he’ll hopefully have a meaty part in Part 2. That disappointment notwithstanding, the beautiful Mr Garfield is surrounded by other wonderful co-stars. Martin Sheen and Sally Field are as charismatic as ever. And Emma Stone is just plain hot! In fact, I’d choose this film’s lead couple any day over Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst from the earlier series! Surprisingly though, despite the sparks between the actors, Peter and Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man don’t get that one stand-out, memorable scene of aching chemistry to rival Spider-Man 1’s scene in which Mary Jane lifts Spidey’s mask just enough to kiss his lips while he hangs upside down in the rain. Guess that’s yet another reason to look forward to The Amazing Spider-Man Part 2. Seriously, this lovely film deserves a sequel!

PS: DO NOT leave the theatre as soon as the credits start rolling.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

Release date in the US:
July 3, 2012                   
MPAA Rating (US):
PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence)
CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
136 minutes

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Release date:
June 22, 2012
Anurag Kashyap
Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadda, Reemma Sen, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Jaideep Ahlawat, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Piyush Mishra, Huma Qureshi

Where Gangs of Wasseypur 1 is good, it is outstanding. Where it is not, it’s a tad tedious, over-crowded and confusing. It’s the film’s good fortune that the tedium comes in the first half whereas the potential for genius shows through in the second, leaving us with a promise of even better things to come.
Director Anurag Kashyap’s film is set in the midst of gang wars in Dhanbad (now in Jharkand). It takes us from pre-Independence India, past the Emergency and onward towards liberalisation, each era duly cinematically referenced, with history unfolding parallel to so many unchanging realities – like the horny hooligans of small-town Wasseypur who do not think twice before blowing up dozens of human beings in bomb blasts yet turn into simpering idiots in the presence of their wives and lovers; like the men who sometimes kill for revenge, money and politics, but sometimes simply because the beast within them seems to bay for blood. 
Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW) comes in two parts, with Part 1 in theatres this week and the next round coming up later in the year. GoW 1 takes us to the disturbingly dark innards of northern India where a man’s wife wrests a promise from him – that he will give up crime – in the name of their unborn child. Having given her his word, Shahid Khan toils in a coal mine to earn an honest living, but turns his back on that new leaf when a supervisor’s heartlessness leads to tragic consequences. He then goes to work as a pehelwan for local mafioso Ramadhir Singh while eyeing Ramadhir’s position, leading to a seemingly unending spiral of vengeance that is handed down through generations. A large part of this film is devoted to Shahid’s son Sardar Khan’s vow that he will make life a living hell for Ramadhir.
If there’s one word to describe GoW, it’s “unrelenting”. Whether in showing us the sexual rabidity of Sardar or the gruesome bloodletting and gang wars, there is no let-up, there are no apologies. Scenes of sex do not go all the way in Hindi films even of the GoW variety, but a wife who had once barged into a brothel to ferret out her wayward husband later casually advises him to find release wherever he wills since she will not have sex with him while she is pregnant. It’s a sad moment, and one that is steeped in the reality of so many women in a country where we refuse to even acknowledge the issue of marital rape.
As for gore … in Gangs of Wasseypur 1 we not only see men being killed, we get glimpses of them being butchered at slaughter houses, and a policeman picks up a stray human finger from a ground soaked in blood. For the most part, the brutality seems neither sensationalist nor designed to scandalise. Instead it is a telling comment on both the numbing of the human mind exposed to excessive violence and the pointlessness of that violence … a recurring theme through so much of Anurag Kashyap’s work, right from the writing of director Ramgopal Varma’s Satya. There are just a few moments of self-indulgence, such as when the camera dwells too long on a man dying in slow motion or when Muslim devotees are shown in ritual self-flagellation inter-cut with an episode in the lives of the main players – we first get one long shot of those believers, then another, then another, and then, just in case we are not fully satiated, the camera cuts to a closer view of their bleeding backs. Why?
By this point, however, I was sufficiently lost in GoW to be in a forgiving mood. It’s a good thing that these superfluous spots of melodrama did not come in the early part of the film though – because that’s the part that demands patience, when we are being introduced to too many characters while also dealing with the fact that Kashyap has cast two actors each to play certain parts to deal with the passage of time. If a film requires undivided attention, that’s okay; if it makes you feel you need a book to note down names and connections, there’s a problem. With too much going on in the first half, it’s hard to completely relate to any of the characters. Post-interval though, GoW settles into a surprisingly comfortable rhythm of humour blended with chilling, ferocious carnage, aided by Sneha Khanwalkar’s catchy songs and their delightfully cheeky lyrics – Kehke loonga, one song goes, most reassuringly.
The casting is excellent. Manoj Bajpayee  is a perfect choice as the vicious-at-work, sleazy-yet-servile-at-home, sexually predatory Sardar Khan. My personal pick of the cast though are Richa Chadda as Sardar’s aggressive yet doting wife, Reemma Sen as the seemingly coy yet sexually assertive other woman, the amazingly versatile Nawazuddin Siddiqui as his druggie son Faisal Khan and director-turned-actor Tigmanshu Dhulia as Ramadhir Singh. In fact, there are so many lovely actors in this film that it’s a pity space does not permit me to name them all.
For me, Paanch remains Anurag Kashyap’s best work in a mostly remarkable filmography. In GoW 1, almost everything I’d want snipped off came in the first half of the film, so what has remained with me is the crackling second half followed by a Nawazuddin-filled trailer for GoW 2. It is not in the league of Paanch, but GoW 1 is still bloody good.
Rating (out of five): ***1/4
CBFC Rating:                       A
Language:                              Hindi

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Release date:
June 15, 2012
Rajesh Mapuskar
Sharman Joshi, Ritvik Sahore, Boman Irani, Seema Bhargava, Paresh Rawal, Satyadeep Mishra

It’s a concept brimming with possibilities … a pre-teen cricketing genius in Mumbai needs money to train for his beloved sport, but cash is in short supply when your father is an impeccably honest RTO official and grandpa is a grouch who hates the game. Now if only skeletal storylines could carry a film through... Sadly, in the journey from concept to fleshed-out screenplay to full-fledged film, Ferrari ki Sawaari falters and splutters too often to be a memorable ride.

On the surface, director Rajesh Mapuskar’s film has everything going for it. It’s produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra with writing credits shared between Mapuskar, Rajkumar Hirani and Chopra, and Hirani stepping in as “creative producer”. Just when you think it can’t get better than that, Chopra and Hirani (the team that gave us the humungously successful 3 Idiots and the Munnabhai films) are joined by the ever-reliable Sharman Joshi and Boman Irani in the cast.

The film’s three leading men share a pleasant chemistry. The interactions between the little cricketing wizard Kayo (Ritvik Sahore) and his father Rusy (Sharman) are particularly interesting – it’s not that the boy does not have wants, but that he also understands his dad. Their relationship is what leads to some of Ferrari ki Sawaari’s most convincing scenes. It’s also nice to see a Hindi film in which although the leading man is from a minority community (Rusy’s a Parsi), a big deal is not made about his religion – it just happens to be what it happens to be, and if any inferences are to be drawn from it, they’re thankfully not spelt out.

Yet, Ferrari… is not a compelling film. The reason lies primarily in Rusy’s characterisation. The film seems to want to project him as a simple man, but too often he comes across as being slightly stupid. And while an acceptable series of coincidences lead to Sachin Tendulkar’s Ferrari coming into Rusy’s hands, it defies reason that a man so painfully honest would retain possession of the vehicle beyond a fleeting moment of weakness. Keep in mind that he’s the sort of chap who, when he jumps a traffic light, goes in search of a policeman to pay a fine because none were around when he committed the offence. With the Ferrari-related situation lacking believability, the use of Sachin’s name and famous car feels more like a gimmick than anything else. Worse, the entry of the vehicle into the picture sets off a chain of highly improbable events that rob the film of what felt like a realistic sheen until then.

Considering the track record of the Chopra-Hirani writing team, it’s surprising that they disappoint not just in the development of their lead character, but also on the dialogues front… There’s nothing particularly wrong with the lines being delivered by the various players in the film, but there’s nothing particularly right either…no “jaadoo ki jhappi”-type flash of brilliance, nothing that leaves a lasting impression. That’s pretty much what I’d say about the songs too: Ae mere mann is nice because it comes to us clothed in the lovely voice of young Shyamantan Das, but the title track is not as catchy as it’s trying to be, the brief Good night song filmed on Kayo’s late mother is actually slightly irritating, and the much-talked-about, sexified Mala jau de featuring Vidya Balan as a Lavani dancer seems completely out of sync with the tone of the rest of the film. On a different note altogether … If you’re paying a tribute to the greatness of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, then the Ferrari is hardly the symbol to choose considering that the proposed waiver of Customs duty for the billionaire cricketer’s luxe car is one of the few unsavoury controversies of his entire career.

Still, if you do choose to watch Ferrari ki Sawaari, watch it for the bond between Kayo and Rusy; for Sharman who deserves better than Bollywood seems to be offering him; for Seema Bhargava’s neat cameo as a wedding planner who pushes Rusy to bring her Sachin’s gleaming red automobile simply to fulfill the whims of a rich client, in exchange for which she will pay the Rs 1.5 lakh needed to send Kayo to a training camp at Lords. But most of all, watch Ferrari ki Sawaari if you will for the talented young Ritvik Sahore who just happens to have the face of a little Sachin and – far more important – who seems to get each of his scenes and emotions just right. There is such warmth between Kayo and Rusy. The film though is lukewarm fare.

Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating:                       U

Language:                              Hindi

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Release date:
June 1, 2012
Akshay Kumar, Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Paresh Ganatra, Nassar, Yashpal Sharma

Going by the sympathetic messages I received when I tweeted that I was watching Rowdy Rathore yesterday – a couple of weeks after its release – I assume I will be royally trolled for this review. Well, say whatever you wish in response, but make darned sure you “don’t angry me”!

All right, all right, I wanted an excuse to throw that line into this write-up. Because I had fun watching RR despite its loudness, the indifference to its heroine and evident disinterest in smoothening out its rough patches although that could have been easily done. On the bright side, this is Akshay back in his groove, aiming at that combination of action and comedy with which Salman Khan’s Dabangg hit the jackpot in 2010. Director Prabhudeva’s outing with Akki is not as cohesive or as well-thought-out as Abhinav Kashyap’s Salman-starrer, but there’s enough here to make Rowdy Rathore an enjoyable – even if illogical – film.

The story is so 1970s/’80s Bollywood that it’s easy to forget that RR is a remake of a 2006 Telugu hit called Vikramarkudu. Two men who look identical – save for the difference in the shape of their respective moustaches – suddenly find their paths crossing. One is a small-time crook and clown-about-town, Shiva (Akshay Kumar). The other is Vikram Rathore (Akshay again), an upright and unsmiling cop in a small town that is being terrorised by the politician Baapji (Nassar). Shiva falls for Paro (Sonakshi Sinha) and promises to give up thieving, but then plans one final con job that brings into his life a little girl who insists he’s her dad.

It’s a story with all the ingredients for an old-style Bollywood potboiler: a premi, a premika, a hamshakal, imaandaari, a menacing villain with ominous hangouts, some good ol’ naach-gaana and dishum dishum and some throwaway lines. Shiva’s “don’t angry me” is in the promos. When a bad guy inadvertently gets hanged by the belt of a policeman he had just humiliated, Vikram Rathore tells us that even the uniform of an honest officer does its duty. Clever dialogues flow as freely as punches and blood. And the songs Chinta ta chita chita and Aa re pritam pyaare are catchy and well choreographed (but of course, it’s Prabhudeva!); the latter is visually lovely too.

What works for Rowdy Rathore is that it does not take itself seriously and does not demand that we do either. That’s why it’s possible to pardon the film its many transgressions. Chief among them is the fact that it seems to forget many of its own gimmicks. For instance, Shiva initially enjoys rewinding to scenes he likes. No kidding, he actually touches an imaginary knob on the side of his head and turns back time. This gimmick is soon discarded for the next one. Shiva uses a particular hand movement in the choreography of Chinta ta chita chita a few times as a sort of signature. Paro too repeats it on a couple of occasions to refer to Shiva … but this too does not run all the way through. We are briefly introduced to Shiva’s hatred for kids, but once the little girl comes into his life, the animosity is gone in a few short scenes – it’s as though the writer inserted it in as an additional element much after the entire script had been written, to add drama to the child’s entry, but then didn’t know how to carry it through effectively.

In short, there’s much laziness and silliness in the writing and telling of this story. Rowdy Rathore takes us back to a time in Bollywood when medicine was not really a science. Remember when docs would feel a woman’s pulse and say, “Yeh toh maa banne waali hai”? In RR, water droplets falling on a man’s head prevent brain haemorrhage! The film also mindlessly chucks songs into the mix not caring whether they match the mood of the moment; and equally mindlessly chucks a couple of star guest appearances into a song, which is all very well if you have a stunning Kareena Kapoor going Chinta ta chita chita, or Prabhudeva showing us his incredible moves, but why did the director ask a Tamil superstar completely unknown to north Indian audiences to appear in the same song? Vijay deserves better than to have viewers asking, “Yeh kaun hai, yaar?” as did several people in the hall where I watched Rowdy Rathore.

And don’t get me started on the treatment meted out to Sonakshi Sinha who: (a) looks young enough to be Akshay’s daughter, (b) disappears for long periods while the hero goes about the business of being a hero, and (c) seems to only serve the role of a decoration piece whose kamar Shiva lusts after. All this could have been excused since Rowdy Rathore does not pretend to be anything but an Akshay Kumar vehicle with everyone else relegated to the background, but Shiva leering at Paro and saying “Mera maal” was downright offensive!

When I watched that scene, I was actually glad the heroine is hardly around. Because the rest of Rowdy Rathore is surprisingly entertaining despite its flaws. Unlike the directors of Salman’s Bodyguard and Ready, Prabhudeva thankfully does not seem to worship Akshay. There’s even a point at which a woman asks why Shiva thinks he’s so hot considering that he does not have SRK’s charm, Hrithik’s looks, Aamir’s cuteness or Salman’s body. Nice to know that Akshay can laugh at himself. Nice to know too that Akshay can still bash up large groups of baddies in style, goof around and display impeccable comic timing, all in the same film to such good effect that even a cynic like me came away smiling. The high point of RR is Shiva impersonating Vikram Rathore, adding a swagger to the deadly serious cop’s personality. This part of Rowdy Rathore is so hilarious that it almost made me forget everything that angried me in the film!

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

CBFC Rating:                       U/A

Language:                              Hindi