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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.

Tropic Thunder August 16, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Ben Stiller’s new directorial venture is a fun ride featuring a superb cast. The film is about the botched up shooting of a war movie in Vietnam. The film in this film features a five time Oscar winning method actor who dyes his skin black to play a black man, a fading action hero most famous for a disaster movie double trilogy and a drug addicted star famous for his fart comedy. When the young director of the doomed war movie is threatened by his studio boss for not being able to control the egoistic stars, he decides to put them in the middle of some real action to make his film more natural and things go hilariously wrong.

The film, written by Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen (not the Oscar winning Ethan Coen) is pretty much a bunch of satirical/comic scenes woven around this premise, primarily taking aim at Hollywood – from studio executives to agents to actors and directors (and this is the strongpoint of the film). But the actual plot itself, if anyone is interested, is uninteresting. Most of the film is over-the-top fun featuring a lot of big laughs and also a few that fall flat. The film also features some sidesplitting fake trailers (reminded me of Om Shanti Om more than Grindhouse).

The cast has a great time in this film. Robert Downey Jr is a riot and Tom Cruise is a very pleasant surprise (it took me a while to recognize him). Ben Stiller is also quite good and gets a lot of screen time. Jack Black gets overshadowed and I didn’t find the flatulence and drug gags funny. Matthew McConaughey and Nick Nolte are the other recognizable names while more show up in short cameos (watch out for Tobey Maguire in the Satan’s Alley trailer).

Watch this film if you are game for an outlandish R-rated comedy but remember that isn’t about the plot as much as it is about the humor.

Good Will Hunting August 10, 2006

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Different people have different levels of talent, ability or intelligence. Those who have higher levels of these are generally expected to reach greater heights of achievement by utilizing their potential to the max. Should such capabilities become a burden to those who posess them. A person with a great vocal ability is expected to achieve greatness as a singer but what if he hates music? Should he still be forced to pursue singing just because he has the capability (I would say ‘NO’ but practical experience suggests that people around you i.e. parents, friend, well-wishers etc. influence you to do things that you would not ordinarily pursue because they believe they know what is best for you). If you have ever had similar questions in your mind, you will love this movie. From my childhood to this day, this question has been bothering me. Apart from the quality of the movie, the identification factor (in terms of the thoughts – I don’t claim to be a genius like Will Hunting in the movie) places this movie in my list of favorites. Watching this movie rekindled the urge in me to write and direct a film (Yes, I’m pursuing other things because people believe that is not the best thing for me to do while I believe that I would have been a happier following that path even if I was not a great success).

The screenplay I believe is the key to this movie and hats off to the writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Another key aspect of the movie is the dialogue because the movie is mostly conversations and little else. Director Gus Van Sant (To Die For, Finding Forrester) neatly crafts this one and his work is also key to the impact of the film. The performances of Matt Damon and Robin Williams apart from the able supporting cast (Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgård) add to the experience. This is an enjoyable experience for most (unless you are looking only for mindless entertainment). I would highly recommend this movie.

This is one movie that I wish Indian parents (I can’t comment on those from others countries) would watch. This is because Indian parents tend to decide most things for their kids (or at least have a great influence on the decisions) from their career path to their life partner. Even the more progressive ones like mine still stop me from taking what they think are undue risks. We should give our children choices and let them decide what they want to do instead of deciding what is best for them. What is best for you is not necessarily the best for everyone else (or anyone else for that matter). Doing what one wants is what makes him/her the happiest. That I believe is true achievement.