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Short Kut – The Con is On July 13, 2009

Posted by Shujath in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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Lately, Neeraj Vora and Anees Bazmee have been behind some blockbuster not-so-funny comedies but both of them coming together for a film did raise my expectations a little – especially given this was produced by Anil Kapoor. The promos also looked very promising and that’s why I picked this over other recent “blockbusters” like New York and Kambakkht Ishq to watch this week.

Yet again, I seemed to have made a wrong choice. I would atleast have been satisfied if this was in the league of the filmmakers’ previous flicks but that’s expecting too much now. Based on the Malayalam hit Udayananu Tharam, Short Kut has an interesting plot – whose basic core is derived from Sai Paranjpye’s “Katha” with a dose of “Bowfinger” towards the end. Shekhar (Akshaye Khanna) is an assistant director who finally completes his script and aspires to start directing. In comes his long time friend Raju (Arshad Warsi) who by any means wants to become a “star”. Raju believes in shortcuts to achieve anything in life and not surprisingly he ends up stealing Shekhar’s script and is catapulted to success. Shekhar is devastated and begins to lose control over his life but finally he gets a chance to redeem himself by directing a new film. The glitch however is that his film would now have to made with Raju.

Beyond the story, almost everything is Short Kut fails miserably. The most irritating aspect of this movie is the supporting cast; even if the movie were a lot more better it still could not have risen above the din created by those obnoxious characters. Their effect also seemed to have rubbed off on seasoned performers like Akshaye Khanna and Arshad Warsi who look quite tired and have great trouble getting their comic timing in place. Amrita Rao and Chunky Pandey don’t impress much either. In fact, the parts which I found funny in the trailers don’t work at all in the actual film.

Anees Bazmee and Neeraj Vora – who seem to love bombarding the message several times that “Shortcuts do not work” need to do some introspection and figure if they haven’t done the same with their own product. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s score doesn’t have any instant chartbusters but for me that was one of the few things which provided some relief in this dreary experience. In line with the film’s message please do refrain from this “Short Kut”.

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.

Yuvvraaj November 25, 2008

Posted by Shujath in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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I wish I could exclaim – Subhash Ghai is back! It was my sincere belief that the showman would finally redeem himself with Yuvvraaj. Looks like redemption is another film away. Yuvvraaj is Ghai’s most disappointing film till date – if not his worst (that honor arguably goes to Kisna). A story about estranged brothers coming together would probably not be touched by any director in this day. But given Ghai’s expertise at handling these kind of themes in the past, I was expecting an old school classic from him and since it was also supposed to be an A.R. Rahman “musical”, my expectations soared.

Assuming that the rest of the film stays the same, it still would have made the cut if the director actually delivered a musical as he promised. The first frame of the film opens with Katrina playing the much publicized cello in a grandiose setting. A few other frames featuring people holding/playing musical instruments plus the usual songs are what constitute the “musical” part of this flick. A film like this filled with campy situations and (even more horrible) dialogue almost completely dispenses off with a background score and uses sombre looking sets (despite being opulent) – which undoubtedly gives the impression that this is supposed to be a film to be taken seriously. And this proves disastrous for it as there is no way any sane viewer could do that.

It is all the more surprising because Ghai is one filmmaker who knows (or rather invented in Hindi Cinema) how to incorporate a score to maximum effect. That skill of his was the primary reason his last success Taal survived. Another memorable disaster in this film is the dialogue. If you had seen the dialogue promos you should definitely have noticed Katrina’s “…..woh sirf ek hardcore anti-family man ho sakta hai”. There are equally bad gems like these (if not equally funny) but the pick of the lot is the scene where Salman gives an explanation for Anil’s altruistic actions to a policeman that it’s because he’s not just any other brother but an “Indian Brother”.

Except for Salman Khan and Anil Kapoor who provide the film’s only redeeming moments everyone else is a letdown – thanks to their lame characterizations. Zayed Khan especially needs an acting class. His character seems to have been written as an afterthought just to make it a 3-brother story. The straight from the eighties villains-vamps could have caused further embarrassment if not for their short insignificant parts. For all the talk about Katrina overshadowing everyone else on the posters, she hardly has anything to do. Many reviews have criticized Salman’s performance but I honestly feel that if it weren’t for the lighthearted feel he brings to the proceedings this film would have been unwatchable. Anil Kapoor should have had a longer part to play because it is only when he and Salman are together that the film stops from sinking further. I don’t know if his take on an autistic person is authentic or not but it is highly consistent and in tune with the plot. Mithun also appears in a brief role.

A.R Rahman would be the person to be disappointed the most out of this venture – it is the second time in a row that Ghai has squandered away his tunes. The very popular “Dost” and “Tu Muskura” absolutely make no impression in the movie. It is actually the less publicized “Mastam Mastam” which is the pick of the lot. For once the vibrant choreography does justice to the song. There’s also a short song called “Zindagi” which I liked very much. The climax song “Dil Ka Rishta” doesn’t create much of an impact but a couple of short pieces used from here in other scenes are really good.

Mithun ends the last scene of the film with the adage “Independent we live but United we stand” following which (to my utmost surprise) there was a standing ovation from the audience!!! whatever they were clapping for! As a last ditch attempt the Farah Khan style end credits are brought in but that can’t make you like what came before it. Yuvvraaj could have been a nice old-fashioned campy musical melodrama but is nowhere close. Watch it only if you are a fan of any of the big names associated with this film because even though it was below average I didn’t find it hard to sit through.

Tashan April 27, 2008

Posted by Shujath in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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One of the most awaited films of this year – Tashan is being thrashed all over the place by most critics and audiences. On the face of it, it is yet another of those “guilty pleasure” flicks like Dhoom 2 or Race but rather than trying to pass off its stupidity as intelligence Tashan revels in its dumbness. That’s what probably put off our “high thinking” critics and audiences. Apart from the forced “coolness” at times, I enjoyed Tashan because it was an honest flick which had its intentions clear and doesn’t deviate too far from them.

Jeetendra aka Jimmy Cliff (Saif Ali Khan) is a call center executive who being taken in by the charms of Pooja (Kareena Kapoor) ends up as an English instructor to her boss Bhaiyyaji (Anil Kapoor). Pooja and Jimmy fall in love and now she wants to get away from Bhaiyyaji; for which these two plan to swindle his money. In comes local goon Bachchan Pandey (Akshay Kumar) hired by Bhaiyyaji to trace his money and wipe off Pooja and Jimmy. A few double crossing interspersed with a couple of filmy flashbacks later everyone’s loyalties fall in place.

Writer-Director Vijay Krishna Acharya (who wrote the Dhoom films before) takes an old fashioned revenge drama, gives it a generous Rodriguez/Tarantino coating and a lot of oomph. The end product is far from the perfect blend but it still works. The locales/set design, the styling of the actors and the music/background score dominate every frame and overshadow everything else. There are 2 major action sequences choreographed by Peter Hein but they fail to impress as he mostly lifts those from some of the more prominent South Indian films he has worked for. Interestingly, in a scene when Akshay sends 15-20 men flying around (Tamil-Telugu movie style) half of the audience started clapping. Special mention for Vishal-Shekhar’s rocking score. The theme song “Tashan Mein” which keeps popping up every now and then especially helps when you tend to get restless during the prolonged second half (trimming it definitely would have helped). Rest of the songs are thumping enough and lavishly picturized. Ranjit Barot is credited for the background score and there is one particular short piece which stays with you for quite a while.

But more than anything else what Tashan relies on are the performances of its lead actors. Akshay Kumar gets the most outspoken and in-your-face role and he does full justice to it. His intro was the best of all his scenes. I would say Kareena is really the surprize package because a role like hers comes with a lot of “irritation quotient” attached and in the past she has played parts where she made even normal characters extremely irritating. Somehow this isn’t the case here and she deserves credit for that (and yes…she does don a bikini too!) We don’t need to talk about Anil Kapoor. He’s mastered these supporting roles so well and and more than his crazy Hinglish it is his awestruck reaction to Saif speaking fluent English that is hilarious. Also, he looks great in the “Lakhan” get-up pulling a rickshaw in a few scenes. However, quite a bit of what he speaks is incomprehensible (should probably have been funny if understood) and I wonder how the filmmakers overlooked this aspect. Despite the pre-release hype of having his role being a secret, Saif is the most subdued of them all but nevertheless makes his presence felt.

For me, Tashan came close to the campy B-movie I was waiting Bollywood to make and it kept me smiling most of the time. Go for it only if you can watch it with this perspective.

Race March 22, 2008

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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Director duo Abbas-Mustan (Baazigar, Khiladi) are famous for their thrillers. With their latest (and biggest) film, they have created a new genre. And I’d like to call this “twister”. Remember, you read the term here first!

Jokes apart, Abbas-Mustan seem to be intent on delivering a blockbuster after their recent flops. Along with writer Shiraz Ahmed (Aitraaz, Humraaz), they fill this film with everything. Stars, style, action, humor, a bit of raunch, sexy girls gyrating to foot-tapping numbers, and most of all – the largest serving ever of twists, turns, surprises and whatever else you want to call them.

Nothing is what it seems in this film. Actually, if you pay close attention, you might be able to guess most of the twists because the directors try their best not to confuse any section of the audience. But that doesn’t necessarily spoil the fun. Because even as you guess it, the surprise is upon you and its time to figure out the next one.

Now, in case you are still wondering, the story and all its glorious twists are pointless. This isn’t something that would happen anywhere else except an Abbas-Mustan film (or its imitations, depending on the success of this film).

The film has star power to bring the audience to the theatres but the acting isn’t special. Anil Kapoor charms his way through the second half and he makes you laugh. Sameera Reddy doesn’t do a bad job with her comic timing as his dumb assistant. Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna tread familiar terrain (the latter has been in too many Abbas-Mustan films) and don’t do anything different to stand out in particular. Bipasha Basu and Katrina Kaif are passable. Johnny Lever shows up after a long time in one scene.

The film does start off at a slow pace (editor Hussain Burmawala, the brother of the directors, might have been sleeping while editing the first 20 minutes or so) and just when it begins to seem uninteresting, the first surprise spices up things. The dialogue in the first half of this film isn’t impressive. This half lacks humor but the second half fills that void. Pritam provides some hit dance numbers but the theme piece and the romantic Pehli Nazar Mein stand out (and I quite liked the Mujhpe To Jadoo number which wasn’t used in the film). The song visuals aren’t all that impressive and they seem one-dimensional. Allan Amin’s action sequences are good for the most part but a couple of them do fall short. But the action isn’t the prime focus of this film. Remember, this is no Dhoom 2 and anyone who expects it to be might be disappointed.

After reading all this, anyone should be clear that terms like sense or logic do not go well with the description of this film. Questions like “Why did he do that?” and “What was the necessity for that?” are counterintuitive. The number of surprises may numb your senses and vex you. But it can all be fun if you prepare for it. Films like Dhoom 2 and Om Shanti Om are not enjoyed for their stories or realism or character development and neither is this movie. This is an upmarket Abbas-Mustan thriller that has enough masala to go with its shortcomings and it can be a guilty pleasure.

Welcome January 7, 2008

Posted by Shujath in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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Feroz Nadiadwala probably makes his biggest sacrifice with Welcome….(thankfully) he doesn’t incorporate an action sequence in the desert featuring flying mobikes and hummers; also, there isn’t a song featuring Russian belly dancers (somehow compensated with a closely similar item number). Ok….there are some genuinely hillarious moments but otherwise Welcome joins the list of “blockbuster comedies” like Partner and Heyy Babyy which fail mostly in the laughs department.

The plot is inane enough not to merit description but that’s not my complaint if there were enough laughs packed in. Surprisingly, the guys who can be relied on the most like Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal get the lamest parts but unfortunately a longer screen time. The trump cards happen to be Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar who have the ability to bring cheer to your face even with the dumbest of situations. Nana, who showed his lighter side earlier in Bluffmaster does it again with fruitful results. Some of the best gags in the movie are centered around him – the acting/horse-riding sequence was the best. He should seriously look out for more lighter roles like this. But I loved Anil Kapoor’s performance more. He’s done comedies before I liked him here better than his similar previous outings like No Entry or Biwi No 1. Feroz Khan and Mallika Sherawat have much smaller roles and they are adequate for the part.

I don’t know why they needed three music directors (Sajid-Wajid, Himesh Reshammiya and Anand Raaj Anand) to create such a bland score which seriously hampers the movie a lot. I must say the movie would have been much better without those songs. Anees Bazmee’s previous smash hit No Entry was on the whole a better film (though it was mostly a scene to scene remake of the Telugu/Tamil original) than this one…..however this one’s is definitely worth a watch on DVD where you might want to fast forward to the good parts; otherwise nothing really great to look forward to.