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Delhi-6 February 23, 2009

Posted by Shujath in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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The experience of watching Delhi-6 goes something like this – Imagine that Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra promised to take you on a trip to the moon. This wonderful trip through space seems to be going fine and when you finally see yourself approaching the destination, he jettisons you off into outer space (the advantage in this case being that you can actually come back home). Now no matter how much you want to curse him for throwing you off you still cannot discount the unforgettable journey till that point. That for you is Delhi-6 condensed in a few lines – the must-watch disappointing flick of the year.

The film for most part is a satirical black comedy centered around the family and friends of an NRI Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan), who agrees to accompany her dying grandmother (Waheeda Rehman) to Delhi where she wants to live with her kith and kin until her final moment. This extended circle of family and friends incidentally turns out to be one amazing ensemble of a supporting cast who bring the streets of Delhi alive. The main premise makes use of the (in)famous “Monkey-man” (Kala Bandar) series of incidents which occurred about 6 years back. You realize as the film progresses that the use of this peg is mainly to take a dig at communalism but meanwhile there are a lot of other issues touched upon with a mix of playful reverence and biting satire like religious beliefs/rituals, casteism, oppressive families etc. with a dash of the usual NRI-finding-his-roots thread. The multiple sub-plots reminded me of last year’s Welcome To Sajjanpur but they are completely different and commendable in their own way.

What seems to have gone terribly wrong is the communalism thread – which is so hackneyed, preachy and completely out of line with the tone of the film. Still, when the film seems to be getting back on track towards the climax you are given another bitter (or rather bizarre) pill to swallow. No wonder it is receiving brickbats from all corners. Apart from Mehra another person to shoulder the blame has to be Abhishek Bachchan. On one hand he should be commended for accepting a role which is little more than a narrator where the only thing expected of him is just to “be there”. Now whoever gave him the idea of using that irritating fake accent – the worst part being he uses that only when conversing with characters who don’t seem to understand English otherwise he absolutely has no issues mouthing heavy duty dialogues in shuddh Hindi. Apart from pissing you off this only seems to make his character appear so disinterested in what is happening around him. If it weren’t for that wonderfully filmed song – with Times Square juxtaposed on Delhi’s crowded streets; his character’s existence in the film would be completely unjustified.

You might say these are small details but these stand out more so because the rest of the cast is flawless to the core. I can only mention the people whose names I know – Waheeda Rehman (my favorite onscreen mom anytime), Rishi Kapoor (whose true “second innings” finally seems to have kickstarted this year), Sonam Kapoor (a similar giggly role like Saawariya which nevertheless suits her so well), Vijay Raaz, Pawan Malhotra, Om Puri, Divya Dutta, Atul Kulkarni, Tanvi Azmi and the ones who play Rajjo Bhabhi and Rama Bua.

The cinematography (Binod Pradhan) and artwork (Samir Chanda) are top notch and there is a fine balance between the use of real locations and set-pieces. If the cast and crew make Delhi come alive then to top it all is the man of the moment A.R Rahman who arguably delivers one of his best scores ever and to his fortune he has a director who knows how to use it to maximum effect.

As the end credits rolled with the mesmerising “Arziyan” track I was feeling so exhilarated yet equally sad – for having seen a film which rises to magnificent heights yet screws up so badly in the last lap. But I strongly recommend every lover of cinema to still check out Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s brutally flawed masterpiece for it has too many great things about it which you’d struggle to find in any so called “good” film you generally come across.

Slumdog Millionaire January 23, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Ever wondered what an Indian film made by an international filmmaker would look like? Slumdog Millionaire is a great example of just that. The unlikely story of how an uneducated boy from the slums of Mumbai wins big bucks on a television quiz show has all the elements of a feel good Indian film but is made with more finesse and subtlety and without the duets and manipulation. The rags to riches tale with a happy ending (feels a bit like a sports movie) is primarily a love story. An improbable story where circumstances keep the lovers away till the very end should seem very familiar to Indian audiences.

Like its main protagonist, the film was an underdog too and was almost destined to be a straight-to-DVD release but fate had other plans or as Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Millions) will now say “It is written”.

Adapted from Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, the film has an engrossing screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day). But it is director Danny Boyle’s brilliance that really sets this film apart. He makes fantastic use of the film’s setting and that is primarily responsible for elevating this film to another level. The non-linear narrative employed is essential to the impact of the film. Boyle acknowledges casting director Loveleen Tandan’s inputs to the project by giving her a co-director credit and I am guessing she had a great influence in helping him achieve his vision along with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and editor Chris Dickens. The film does take cinematic liberties and has its share of contrivances and unbelievable coincidences but it works nonetheless.

As is being portrayed by some, there is nothing for Indians to be particularly proud of or ashamed about due to this film. The setting is real but I don’t see everyone watching this film going “Oh! This is how life in India/Mumbai is”. No, surely we understand that films are works of fiction. And I don’t see a need for us to be ashamed of poverty. This film wasn’t made to glorify or debase India or its culture, so where is the need to look for yourself in there. It is a work of fiction and has to be looked at that way. It was after all based on a book written by an Indian author. And Danny Boyle has many more opportunities to show pain and suffering but he chooses not to.

The cast is uniformly good but forget the newcomers Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto. Forget the popular Indian faces like Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan. The most impressive performances come from the kids in this film. Kudos to Boyle and Tandan for extracting the performances they manage to get from these kids. Ayush Khedekar, who plays Jamal at his youngest is brilliant and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail who plays young Salim is also quite good (and both of them apparently live in the slums of Mumbai). They feature in the most memorable scenes in the film including the Amitabh Bachchan autograph scene and the chase scene at the beginning (the slums are beautifully captured in a chase through the gallis reminiscent of Ram Gopal Varma’s films). In comparison, Dev Patel’s Jamal lacks the energy that the kid displays but then I guess it was by design.

The film has already won big at the Golden Globes and is tipped to be a favorite at the Academy Awards. But personally, among the films I’ve seen from 2008, I prefer Wall-E and The Dark Knight (both of which are unfortunately not in the running for the Best Film at the Oscars) over this one.

A R Rahman’s score is splendid but I am a bit surprised by its popularity at the awards (It already won the Golden Globe and has been nominated for the Oscar) because it is louder than the average Hollywood film score (but is still limited when compared to Indian movies and Rahman notes that he had only 17-18 cues compared to a normal figure of about 150). The score works superbly in the film but Rahman surely has composed much better numbers than the catchy Jai Ho which was nominated for Best Original Song at both the Globes and the Oscars. Nevertheless, it is great the his work is being recognized in the West (3 Oscar nominations and a possible win or two ain’t bad).

A lot has been said and written about this film, so a recommendation is unnecessary but I do have a piece of advice. When you go into a movie theater with bloated expectations about a film, it will, more often than not, fall short. So go in with an open mind, understand that this is fiction and prepare to have a good time.

Jodhaa Akbar February 17, 2008

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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Period films aren’t common in Hindi cinema and they don’t work well at the box office. That is primarily because movies like Subhash Ghai’s disastrous offering Kisna and the way-off-the-mark Asoka by Santosh Sivan are being dished out in the guise of landmark films. Finally, we have a notable entry in the historical genre in the form of Jodhaa Akbar. Director Ashutosh Gowariker (Swades, Lagaan) shows us that it can be done even if he takes too much time.

The film begins when a young teenager, Jalaluddin Mohammad (who will later be known as Akbar), is forced to take over the reigns of the kingdom due to the death of his father, Humayun. His next few years are spent waging wars under the guidance of Bairam Khan. When Jalal is old enough to take over, he resorts to more peaceful ways of expanding his control and uniting Hindustan under the Mughal rule. Meanwhile, the Rajput ruler of Amer, who is also against wars, decides to join his hands with Akbar, incurring the wrath of other Rajput rulers. Faced with a dilemma, he decides to marry his daughter, Jodhaa to Akbar. The rest of the film deals with the developing relationship between the two as well as the rule of Akbar during that period.

The writers (Haider Ali and Gowariker himself) effectively mix historical facts with fiction to create a watchable film. Though the film touches many aspects, both political and emotional, the writers manage to keep it uncomplicated. The visuals are extremely impressive. The production design by Nitin Desai is superlative and I loved the costumes, head gear and jewellery by Neeta Lulla. Cinematographer Kiran Deohans captures these beautiful visuals but Gowariker makes sure that they don’t become the focus in any of the scenes. A R Rahman, once again, delivers for Ashutosh. The songs are lovely (Jashn-E-Bahara is probably my favorite) and his background score is commendable (especially for the scenes involving Hrithik and Aish). Ashutosh films the nicely choreographed Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah and the romantic In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein numbers well and Manmohana is placed quite effectively but Khwaja Mere Khwaja does not warrant a place in the narrative.

Ashutosh, as always, casts well and both his lead actors have what it takes to look regal. Hrithik Roshan pulls off a tough role once again with ease. Some might feel that he doesn’t look like Akbar because of the preconceived images of Prithviraj Kapoor (Mughal-e-Azam) or Vikram Gokhale (Akbar-Birbal teleseries) but better sense should prevail. He doesn’t quite have the baritone of Amitabh Bachchan or even Raza Murad (who plays the prime minister in this film) but he does his best to make up for it with his earnest dialogue delivery. Aishwarya Rai is more beautiful here than in any of her recent films and this is as natural a performance as she has ever given in her career. She far exceeds my expectations. Kudos to Gowariker for bringing out the best in these two. As usual Ashutosh Gowariker collects an eclectic and less exposed cast for this film including Ila Arun (who manages to be quite scary as Maham Anga), Kulbhushan Kharbanda (who played a King in Lagaan as well) and Punam Sinha (presumably Shatrughan Sinha’s wife, who is very likable as Akbar’s mother) and it always helps to relate better to the characters. Sonu Sood gets to play a sympathetic role as Jodhaa’s cousin, Sujamal. A good opportunity for him to get better recognition and hopefully, more roles that can justice to his capability.

This isn’t quite the perfect film. The first hour of the film is somewhat languorously paced and doesn’t really pull you in despite the visual splendour. This section could have been shortened, considering the length of the film. The film holds strong appeal once Jodhaa and Akbar get together. The best parts of the film involve the interactions between these two characters. Gowariker creates some brilliant scenes here with subtle expressions and reactions from both his lead actors. In fact, Ashutosh’s impact is all over this film and he successfully pulls off another challenging film, even if isn’t a great one.

This film is clearly not for those who cannot sit through one that lasts over 200 minutes. Also, it isn’t for those who want simple entertainment and are likely to look at this as a history lesson. For the rest, this is recommended because one hardly gets to see such a well made historical in India.