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Chandamama August 26, 2008

Posted by Sai in Movies, Reviews, Telugu.
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Writer-director Krishna Vamsi’s Chandamama is a family-friendly comedy. Compared to his past successes in a similar genre, Ninne Pelladatha and Murari, this is a lower budget comedy without big stars. The non-serious comic plot of this film reminds you of Jandhyala’s comedies (though the execution is typical Krishna Vamsi).

Mahalakshmi is the daughter of village elder Ranga Rao. Her marriage is fixed with Dora Babu. However, she is not entirely happy with it as she is separated from her boyfriend due to a misunderstanding. When he enters the picture and the misunderstanding is cleared, the chaos begins. The youngsters try to settle matters without hurting their elders, which results in lies, manipulation, confusion and a lot of funny moments.

There is nothing novel in terms of the plot or the characterization or even the way in which KV directs this film. But he does succeed in using certain things like the village environment and the joint family. Yes, we have seen this before and he has done it before but we don’t get to see it very often and it is quite a relief from the flying goons and blood spattering.

KV also makes sure that the casting provides freshness. He doesn’t use actors like Chalapati Rao or Chandra Mohan who have been used time and again in such family films. And it works. Ahuti Prasad gets the best role and he pulls it off with aplomb. KV also extracts decent performances from the youngsters. Kajal Agarwal (Lakshmi Kalyanam, Pourudu) and Navdeep (Modati Cinema, Premante Inthe) deliver improved performances. I liked Sindhu Menon (the most experienced of the lot) in the role of the bubbly girl (which, some will undoubtedly hate). Siva Balaji (Arya) completes the quartet and he is likable as the kind-hearted village boy. Radha Kumari always makes a nice grandmother. K M Radhakrishnan’s soundtrack doesn’t match his best work or Krishna Vamsi’s earlier films but it isn’t bad and his background score is good.

Though KV may or may not have intended it, the film serves as a good example of a situation where a person feels the need to lie due to societal restrictions, pressures and/or similar considerations. A rational individual might say that there is no need to lie at all as the truth might actually make things simpler but a lot of people would still prefer to lie.

There is a certain energy in the film and it breezes along without its faults bothering you too much. This isn’t a great movie but if you’ve liked Krishna Vamsi’s previous films in this genre, you wouldn’t mind watching this one. I certainly didn’t.

P.S. If anyone knows why this one was titled Chandamama, please let me know.

Juno February 6, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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It has toured the festival circuit. It has been nominated for the Oscars in the Best Film, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay categories. Roger Ebert has picked it as his favorite this year. Rumored to be made for about $2.5 million, this indie film has crossed the 100 million mark at the domestic box office. Unanimous praise from the critics and the audience alike makes this one film that you don’t want to miss. And the praise is not unwarranted. I enjoyed this one much more than indie comedies of recent years like Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine.

2007 had already seen two comedies woven around unplanned pregnancies, Knocked Up and Waitress, both critically-acclaimed (I haven’t seen them yet). Juno also is centred around this theme. Juno is sixteen, in high school and pregnant from her first sexual encounter. She doesn’t want to believe it at first and then decides to get rid of the problem quickly. Not as easy as it seems and that makes her take a hard decision. The events that occur in that year of her life is what the film is about.

This simple film is not only a delight to watch but it also left me feeling happy at the end, making me want to watch it again, this time paying closer attention to any of the razor-sharp dialogue that I’d missed.

Young screenwriter Diablo Cody (who apparently was a stripper for a little while in her past before turning a blogger, which eventually led to her current occupation) possesses a great sense of humor and seems to have a gift for writing witty dialogue. This film is filled with such dialogue (I wonder if Cody talks like Juno) from characters who behave like normal people (and are a bit more practical than the average person). In between the moments that bring a smile, Cody’s script unfolds the characters, their quirks and their emotions and the film becomes more than just a bunch of laughs. Director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking) brings his imagination to the equation and crafts a special film.

The film has some captivating performances. While I was watching this film, I felt like I was watching the characters and not the actors (familiar ones included). Ellen Page (Hard Candy) who plays Juno MacGuff is surely the best of the lot. Her rendering of Juno is not only believable but makes her extremely lovable by the end of the film. Page creates a charismatic Juno with her body language, dialogue delivery and expressions being spot on. Michael Cera (Superbad) is strong in an understated performance as Paulie Bleeker. It is easy to forget him in a film where everyone else gets to mouth humorous dialogue. Allison Janney and J K Simmons (Spiderman) are very effective and feature in some superb scenes. Jason Bateman (The Kingdom) delivers a first-rate performance and is quite believable as the wannabe rocker who is a bit of a mismatch with his wife and is reluctant to be a father. Jennifer Garner (Elektra) is earnest as the strait-laced woman who is desperate to become a mom. Olivia Thirlby as Juno’s friend Leah also manages to get noticed.

Special praise for the music of this film. The extremely unusual soundtrack has some catchy tunes with unique lyrics (All I Want Is You by Barry Louis Polisar being my favorite) and the songs fit in perfectly with the tone of the film.

Though this film revolves around teenagers, this hardly has the elements common to most teen films and in general, avoids formula. The characters feel real and are played just right. The scenes are believable and make you feel connected even if you haven’t been around such people at all. The humor is intelligent and emanates from the dialogue as well as the situations. The laughs keep coming, the characters grow on you slowly and the experience strikes a chord deeper than you would expect and touches you even if you might not consciously realise it as it is happening.

I am glad Diablo Cody decided to became a screenwriter.

Happy Days November 11, 2007

Posted by Shujath in Movies, Reviews, Telugu.
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It has turned out to be his biggest box office success till date but I consider Sekhar Kammula’s “Happy Days” to be his least accomplished work….which does not mean that it’s a bad film. It just didn’t strike a chord with me unlike his previous films.

Supposed to be a nostalgic look at the director’s own happy days at his alma mater CBIT, the plot is about a group of friends and the time they spend together during their 4 years of college. More specifically, one half the film deals with their first year and the interaction with their seniors while the other is about their heartaches and strained relationships. It is the first half which I found quite disappointing and that’s what gave me a less favorable impression of the movie as a whole. The complete handling of the juniors vs seniors thread (except for the senior guy falling for the junior girl angle) is very juvenile. All you have in it is a guy (the character Tyson) who concocts unbelievable stuff in his lab to trouble his seniors. This part really put me off. It was seriously unfunny and unrealistic to say the least…and especially coming from a director of Kammula’s stature. However, he is is in familiar territory when it comes to handling the interactions with his lead pairs. It does remind you of his previous films Anand and Godavari but nevertheless pleasant to watch.

What works most for this film is the fresh cast and the musical score. Sandesh and Tamanna stand out among the cast and the way they emote is excellent. I however had a hard time listening to Rahul (who plays Tyson) speak (but I must admit that in real life I have come across people who speak like that). Mickey J Meyer’s score is brilliant. It is an understatement to say that this film would have felt half as good without it.

One of the main reasons I could not appreciate this film as much as others have is because personally there was hardly anything I found here which I could relate to my own college life. I am sure others would have different perspectives and that’s probably why it is still running to packed houses even weeks after its release. On the whole, this is a film which has its moments and is definitely watchable but it would do good not to go and see this with high expectations.

Good or Overrated? October 24, 2007

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In recent years, I’ve always found quite weird the fate of “good” films (considered worthy by critics and by people who’ve seen them irrespective of the box office status). Either they don’t work at the box office or end up being highly overrated. Coming to the latter, in the current year I can recall two such flicks – Guru and Chak De India. In both cases, pre-release buzz wasn’t too great and the openings weren’t earth shattering. Again in both cases a few days after the release one could find on all major news channels 30 minute shows dedicated to the “phenomenon” created by these films.

In the case of Guru it was about “finally….the Indian Biopic comes of age”. Another channel debated if “Indians like to watch only sanitized biopics?”. Whatever the topic of debate might be this whole post-release extravaganza only brought in more and more audiences to the theatres. And whether they liked it or not everyone went overboard in praising the film maybe because they didn’t want to sound dumb. Of course, lot of people started talking about the Oscars as usual. A similar thing was seen in the Case of Chak De with the film made a part of IIM leadership curriculum, SRK addressing a major leadership conference and of course the Oscar buzz. It is really hard to figure out if the cult status these films receive is simply because a lot of people watched it and loved it or if was the media blitzkrieg which hypnotized people to believe that they have to love it or risk being labelled uncool.

Last year it was Rang De Basanti and Lage Raho Munnabhai but I am hesitant to label the films themselves as overrated. I would only apply the term to the effect these flicks were supposed to have in society at large. A couple of other films in recent times which resulted in TV shows dedicated to them post release are Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and Salaam Namaste – as if they were treatises on extra-marital and live-in relationships. Both were entertaining flicks and it looks like the audiences took them lot more seriously than even the respective filmmakers.

I don’t think you can recall such stuff happening 3-4 years back. Is it because the news-media wasn’t ubiquitous at that point of time….or is it because there were a larger number of flicks which were qualified as hits and so there wasn’t a chance for any single film to become a phenomenon. I don’t know the answer but I sure this trend will continue and that you’ll get to see and hear lots of “The ______ Effect” (substitute the next cult hit in the blanks). Note that excluded here some really bad films which go on to become hits….that’s another story.

Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer October 8, 2007

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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The sequel to The Fantastic Four is set two years after the original. The celebrity status accorded to the Fantastic Four is making life a pain for Reed Richards and Sue Storm as they prepare to get married. Trouble strikes on their wedding day in the form of a humanoid referred to as the Silver Surfer. He is on a mission to destroy the Earth for his boss, an entity called Galactus that feeds on planets. Now, the Four must do all they can to save the planet even as their old enemy Victor Von Doom resurfaces.

A superhero film requires charming actors but the cast isn’t really right for the job. None of the four actors playing the superheroes are really “fantastic” in terms of their performances. Despite the indifferent make-up, Jessica Alba (The Invisible Woman) still looks good but isn’t charming enough to entice the audience and she really needs to work on her acting. Chris Evans (The Human Torch) isn’t particularly appealing and neither are Michael Chiklis (The Thing) and Ioan Gruffudd (Mr Fantastic). Julian McMahon doesn’t get much to do.

This film is better than the first installment but it still isn’t good enough, considering the slew of superhero films in recent times. Writer Don Payne (My Super Ex-Girlfriend) creates a screenplay where the drama is very predictable and uninteresting and since it forms a larger part of the film, one can get bored by the time film reaches an exciting conclusion. The film has its share of humor that isn’t very impressive. Director Tim Story, who also directed the first installment, keeps the tone consistent with the original. This is still the superhero film that would hold more of an appeal for the younger populace. Kids could like this but adults can keep away.

Guru (Gurukanth) January 17, 2007

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews, Tamil, Telugu.
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Being inspired from real-life incidents (Bombay, Kannathil Muthamittal/Amrutha) and characters (Iruvar/Iddaru, Nayagan/Nayakudu) isn’t new for writer-director Mani Ratnam. Despite what he says, his latest film is definitely inspired by the life of Dhirubhai Ambani. Though Mani makes sure that this is an inaccurate biopic, it includes characters (including the journalist played by R. Madhavan, as my Dad pointed out) and incidents reminiscent of the life of the Polyester Prince. The film spins an interesting yarn on the astonishing rise of a common man to a position of great importance, focusing on his moral dilemmas as well as the social, political and legal repercussions of his actions. This is an engaging film that is pretty good but I would think twice before calling it great. The reason it falls short of being great is that it tends to get cinematic at times when realism would have kept me much happier.

That Mani Ratnam’s screenplay and direction are superb, goes without saying. I greatly enjoyed the conflicting relationships between Guru and Nanaji and their respective families. The one issue that I had though is with the songs. The Ek Lo Ek Muft song felt unnecessary and I would have liked it if the Tere Bina song wasn’t shot as it was. The rest of the songs are used to forward the story or used in the background. Though the well-shot Barso Re number seems repetitive for Mani, Aishwarya’s bicycle accident necessitated this song and hence that can be overlooked.

Another important factor in the effect of this film is the dialogue by Vijay Krishna Acharya (who also provided the dialogue for Pyaar Ke Side Effects and wrote the screenplay along with dialogue for Dhoom and Dhoom 2). Mani Ratnam being a Tamilian with relatively low capability of understanding Hindi needed someone to accurately translate his vision into words and Vijay does a very good job (though sometimes one feels that the dialogue is a bit more dramatic than necessary). Being a period flick, the art direction (Samir Chanda) and costume design (Ameira Punvan, Sai, Nikhar Dhawan, Anu Parthasarathy, Aparna Shah) becomes very important. Mani Ratnam being the master that he is seems to have taken extra care of the detailing. The one thing that is easily visible in the film is the vehicles used for the different periods. I was quite surprised with Aishwarya’s backless blouse in the Barso Re song that seemed out of sync for that period. However, that is just my ignorance. Apparently, women in Gujarat wear such outfits due to the weather and not for sex appeal (source: IndiaFM.com).

Though the film never paints Guru as the nicest human being, some members of the audience seem to think that Mani has shown Guru’s misdemeanors lightly through the somewhat happy climax. This isn’t exactly a children’s storybook to have the most politically correct climax. I would like to ask these people if they have always taken a legally correct path in their lives (and don’t tell me that we break the law only when it seems unreasonable). Most of us have bribed someone or the other at some point in our lives and therefore furthered the rampant corruption in the country. We have committed our share of mistakes and so has Guru (or Dhiru) and as one character in the film points out these are things that we cannot be executed for (yet). The most practical (not to mention realistic) solution is punishment with a hope of reformation and that is what happens in the film. The good part though is that Guru’s tryst with swindling and smuggling does help the shareholders of his company and this is not forgotten.

Abhishek Bachchan, who plays the main protagonist, delivers a stunning performance. If Mani’s last film Yuva provided him the platform to be noticed as an actor, this performance will make sure that he will be remembered as an actor. Aishwarya Rai once again shows that she can deliver a good performance under the guidance of a capable director. Mani brings out the best in the newly engaged couple both in terms of acting and chemistry that seemed to be lacking in their earlier outings together. Apart from these two the film boasts of a splendid supporting cast. Mithun’s national awards (for Best Actor in Mrigaya, Tahader Katha and for Best Supporting actor in Swami Vivekananda) might have been forgotten by the common audience but thankfully filmmakers like Mani haven’t forgotten him and he delivers a performance that does justice to his talent. Madhavan and Vidya Balan, both capable actors, do well in supporting roles. Arya Babbar (Raj Babbar’s son who made his debut in the forgettable flick called Ab Ke Baras) makes an impression in a short role as Aishwarya’s brother.

A.R.Rahman has done some of his best work for Mani Ratnam’s films and he once again comes up with a brilliant soundtrack and background score. Gulzar’s lyrics provide the poetic imagery that makes these songs even better (though I won’t claim to have understood them completely). My favorite numbers are Jaage Hain and Shauk Hai (sung by Soumya Rao, this song is a part of the background score and is expected to be included in the new CDs of Guru alongwith the Gurubhai Aaya Che number that has become synonymous with the film) followed by Aye Hairathe and Maiyya Maiyya. Barso Re and Tere Bina are very good too.

This film is aimed primarily at the intelligentsia. There is a lot of dialogue in the film that is going over the heads of well-educated people. Mani makes no effort to explain things in detail as is the norm in Hindi cinema (and I believe that should be the way to go). Thanks to the multiplex and overseas audience, this movie might do well but its prospects in the interiors are bleak. Those looking for mindless entertainment could watch Dhoom 2 again while the others should try and catch this one.