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Hero March 6, 2009

Posted by Sai in Movies, Reviews, Telugu.
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2 comments

Sometimes, you are stuck with the most godawful choice of recent Telugu movies. Sometimes, you are foolhardy and decide to try your luck. Sometimes, you are in such a generous mood that you try not to let anything dampen your spirit. Sometimes, there comes a time in life when you have to accept defeat. This is one such case.

So, Hero is the story of a …. well, let’s start from the beginning.

Rewind.

An honest anti-corruption bureau officer threatens to bring the hundred most corrupt people in the city to justice. This, he announces on a television channel post retirement. Now, he is the only one with the relevant information to brings these guys to justice. That makes it extremely easy for all the hundred concerned to get him killed with the suspicion pointing equally to another 99. What a dumba**! Yeah, Yeah, he gets killed by one of the hundred. Note that the film features only one of the hundred and I assume that the others don’t give a sh**.

Cut.

A youngster arrives in a villain’s den (it looks like the same one that is seen in every film) wearing a helmet and bashes a lot of goons. At first, when the youngster enters, you think, “Hmm, the guy looks smart. Could he be Nitin?”. And then the youngster starts moving and shaking and all the awkward movements point to the one and only Nitin.

Cut.

That was all a dream, apparently. His father, the police commisioner (Nagababu) wants to see him become a police officer. But his loud and supremely obnoxious mother (Kovai Sarala) wants to see him become a filmi “Hero”. She manages to make sure that he does not pass his bachelor’s degree that qualifies him for the job. We have to bear her antics for about ten minutes or so, while desperately trying to find something that can make you smile. No such luck.

Cut.

A television discussion between the Cops and the Public. The Cops claim that the Public is responsible for crime. The Public claims that the Cops are dishonest and corrupt. And they continue to indulge in this poorly directed, lame, uninteresting and unrealistic discussion till the Home Minister decides to intervene. He decides that, as Cops are dishonest and the Public does not know what it is to be a cop, any honest citizen can apply to be a cop (and he apparently passes a Government Order just because he wants to).

Cut.

The police academy sees all kinds of weird folk, none of whom can be classified as honest citizens, submitting applications including our very own “Hero” who wants to use the three-month training as a stepping stone to a future in films. Of course, it occurs to no one that the candidates should at least be evaluated for the only course requirement – honesty. Despite all evidence to the contrary in the case of everyone that shows up on screen, the forty worst candidates are selected to make sure that no one graduates from the course.

Stop.

I did watch the rest of what is the most uniformly ludicrous crap that I’ve seen in a long time but I won’t bore you with the details. Lest I forget, let me also mention that this film features a cellphone camera that has a 5 kilometer zoom. I am dead serious!

If you are still reading and you have a feeling that you should never watch this film, You Are Right. Don’t!

P.S. The film is written and directed by G.V. Sudhakar Kumar, who has been playing a goon in telugu films for a long time now. It seems that this mild career diversion was totally unwarranted but he must really possess great persuasive skills considering that he got someone to produce this film. Hopefully, he can go back to being a goon. Apart from Nitin, whose career is going further into the dumps with every outing (trust Ram Gopal Varma to sign him despite his lack of success or skills), the film also stars Bhavana in a largely irritating role. But special kudos to composer Mani Sarma, who had to actually create a background score for this film. Imagine having to watch this over and over while trying to compose suitable music! Was he smart enough to thumb off this assignment to one of his assistants?

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Slums, Dogs, and Poverty February 20, 2009

Posted by Sai in Articles, Movies.
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3 comments

Is Slumdog Millionaire poverty porn? Is Danny Boyle shooting for an Oscar riding on the popularity of sensationalist, poverty-ridden images? These questions are being heard often in the Indian media and a bit in the West and everybody has an opinion.

Here’s what disgusts me about the whole thing. Slow, witless, ignorant, simpleminded imbeciles like composer Aadesh Shrivastava and their moronic opinions.

Mark Twain said something to the effect of “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt”. This applies to Aadesh. I quote his words from a BollywoodHungama story and follow up with my thoughts.

“They’ve started calling Indians ‘ slumdogs’, just like ‘coolie’ was a gaali in Britain”
I don’t know which streets he is walking in but in my streets it still seems like we are the brainy folk who are capturing jobs.

“Does Danny Boyle know what Bachchan Saab means to us Indians? Who would dare approach him like that?”
A starstruck slum kid who does not know what “Bachchan Saab” means to “us Indians” would dare to approach him like that. By the way, I also don’t know what “Bachchan Saab” means to “us Indians”.

“Even I can make a film on child prostitution and pedophilia. But it won’t get Oscars because I am not a gora”
I am not sure that you can make a film at all, let alone a film about pedophilia and prostitution. Even if you do, you won’t get Oscars or Filmfares or even your apartment association’s awards because you are a dimwit. Oscars are awards by and for the goras; don’t covet or bother about those awards.

“What f…k right does the director have to show Mumbai as a slum? Now we are considered a slum city in all parts of the world. Humlog kahin mooh dikhane laayak nahin rahe.”
Was Mumbai depicted only as a slum? Were the tall buildings, vehicles and the millions a part of another city? Can one movie really change people’s opinions the world over? And most importantly, why can’t you show your face to anyone if you are thought to be from a slum? Why?

What the f*** is wrong with poverty? For the life of me, I cannot understand why people are terrified of being considered poor. Sure, it is a hard life and you wouldn’t want to live in poverty after being born with a silver or even a steel spoon in your mouth. But why do some (or many?) individuals look down on poverty? Why don’t they want to be talked about in the same breath as poor people? Why do they feel ashamed to acknowledge the existence of poverty and their own countrymen living in such conditions? And doesn’t poverty exist in other countries? While Danny Boyle is in love with the spirit of these slum dwellers and how they get on with life despite innumerable problems, some of “us Indians” apparently don’t consider it a life at all.

And do I really care if some American looks down upon India/Mumbai due to a partly misconstrued image as a poor country? No. Or would I care if some Englishman finds song and dance routines in Indian films silly? No. No. Why don’t people respect themselves first before craving the respect of someone else? And don’t “us Indians” look down upon some foreigners for what we correctly or incorrectly believe to be their shortcomings? Am I missing something here?

The media attention this is getting is not unexpected from people who are invested in sensationalism rather than news (and I am sure there aren’t too many who notice the difference anyway). But Mumbai’s slum dwellers protesting against a Hollywood film for what they think is a comparison of their lives to that of a dog (even if it is considered man’s best friend) is a bit too much. How does it really matter to them what a foreigner thinks or calls them when their own countrymen, like Aadesh, think they cannot even show their faces to anyone if they are considered to be from a slum? Is that acceptable?

Slum dwellers don’t want to be compared to dogs. Aadesh Shrivastava doesn’t want to be associated with slums. What will we see next? Dogs protesting the association with slum dwellers??

Luck By Chance February 1, 2009

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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3 comments

Debutant writer-director Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance tells us a riveting story of two contrasting individuals and their journey in the Hindi film industry as they follow their dreams in disparate ways. As one might expect, the film uses the eccentricities of movie folks to throw up some laughs. But we get the see the human side of these celebrities, the delicate situations that they are caught in and the lies they have to tell themselves and others. This movie feels very natural and manages to capture a piece of real life.

This film is superbly cast. I wonder why stars were originally considered for the role of the main protagonist because this is really a part for an upcoming actor and Farhan Akhtar (Rock On!) fits the bill perfectly. Together with a remarkable Konkona Sen Sharma, he plays a major part in making this film very believable.

And then you have the supporting cast. When you can get a huge star like Hrithik Roshan to play a supporting part (billed as a special appearance), you must be doing something right (and kudos to him for doing this). I am so terribly fed up of seeing Rishi Kapoor playing father in one dumb film after another. So, it is refreshing to see him in a consequential role. And then, for the first time that I can recall, Sanjay Kapoor impresses (of course, I haven’t seen too many of his films). In his first big scene, he reminds me so much of Anil Kapoor. Dimple Kapadia is super as the erstwhile star who is launching her daughter, while Isha Sharwani who plays the part is quite impressive herself. Juhi Chawla gets a small part but she is always nice to watch.

I really don’t have the patience to talk about the guest appearances ranging from Shahrukh Khan and Aamir Khan to Karan Johar, Manish Malhotra, Anurag Kashyap and hold your breath… Mac Mohan but many of them play useful parts.

Assembling a good cast doesn’t mean much if you can’t use them well and Zoya Akhtar deserves all the credit for writing an admirable script, filming it superbly and getting the right performances.

I recall the tribute by Farah Khan to the film’s technicians at the end credits of Om Shanti Om. Zoya trumps her. She shows us technicians in their natural settings with the very apt Yeh Zindagi Bhi number playing in the background (Shankar Ehsaan Loy deliver a first-rate soundtrack again for Farhan Akhtar). While the film has interesting characters, identifiable moral dilemmas and a lot of humor, wonderful moments like these make it special.

I was not bored for a single moment in this film and despite it being an unconventional non-masala film, I would recommend this to everyone. Go watch it!

Slumdog Millionaire January 23, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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10 comments

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.

Rock On!! August 30, 2008

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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When I walked in to watch this film, I half expected to watch a story about the trials and tribulations of a rock band and their ultimate triumph. You will be glad to know that this film isn’t about triumph. It is about relationships. It is about choices and decisions. It is about life.

Magik is the name of a somewhat successful rock band. Four guys in their mid-twenties, following their passions and living their dream. But that was 10 years ago. They are rock stars no more. Each has chosen a different profession. Some have been successful and some are still struggling. Rock On is the story of their past and the story of their present. It is about their journey through the hardened road of life.

One notable aspect in the film is that the conflict is not the traditional Bollywood black-and-white type. It is closer to reality in that the persons involved come out thinking that the other is at fault. Towards the end of the film, you have a sinking feeling where you wonder if the makers will sell out and do a Karan Johar (trying to “touch” you with death) but this aspect is treated well. And in the climax, when they have a choice to show a miraculous achievement (because everyone loves miracles), they steer clear. This film is clearly about the journey; success be damned. And therein lies its triumph.

This film is co-written (with Pubali Chaudhuri and dialogue by Farhan Akhtar) and directed by Abhishek Kapoor (who previously made Aryan and also acted in a couple of films more than a decade ago). Considering that his first film was a dud (that I haven’t seen), this is quite a leap for Kapoor. He handles this film admirably well. For a filmmaker looking desperately for success, he takes a road less traveled and comes up trumps. One hopes that he can continue on the same path in the future.

The casting in the film is spot on. No actor looks out of place. Farhan Akhtar acts and sings (apart from writing the dialogue and producing this). He does a pretty neat job on both fronts. Agreed that he hasn’t the greatest voice but he acquits himself quite well. Arjun Rampal gets probably the best role of his career so far. Om Shanti Om might have got him a lot of recognition but this will bring him the respect. And he totally looks like a rock star. Purab Kohli is very likable and I’d like to see him in more films. Luke Kenny and Prachi Desai make worthy acting debuts and Shahana Goswami also does well as Rampal’s wife.

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music is the backbone of this film. There has been some discussion online whether this is “true” rock or whatever. Being relatively ignorant on this aspect, I couldn’t care less. What matters though was that the music worked brilliantly in the film. The film ends with about 15 minutes of music and I came out exhilarated, looking to give my throat and lungs some serious exercise.

This isn’t a film with real “commercial” appeal. It isn’t like Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai (though some elements overlap) which had a lot of entertainment and the identification factor for youth. I saw the film with a theater full of youngsters but this mature film is actually for a more adult audience. While the film delivers a seemingly authentic experience, it could seem slow to some. I would wholeheartedly recommend this film but prepare yourself before you watch it!

Sarkar June 6, 2008

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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In anticipation of the release of Sarkar Raj this weekend, I watched Sarkar once again.

Director Ram Gopal Varma’s tribute to The Godfather isn’t his first film inspired from that source. He earlier made Gaayam (co-written by Mani Ratnam) in Telugu (and even his debut film, Shiva had some traces of inspiration) where many commercial constraints were adhered to but the film was good in its own way and was a success at the box office too. He reuses some parts of that film here but makes a more intense and largely superior film.

Though the content might have been inspired by The Godfather (and Bal Thackeray), this is a completely different and much more taut film. A few scenes and some themes may be similar but this isn’t a faithful remake. And anyone who wishes to judge this film by comparing it to The Godfather or its various inspirations should strictly sit out.

The screenplay of the film is credited to Manish Gupta but Varma, no doubt, had considerable inputs here. But it isn’t so much the script as it is the direction that defines this film. Ram Gopal Varma’s genius is visible in every frame that is so meticulously shot and his style is what makes this film remarkable. And he is greatly helped by his technicians (cinematographer Amit Roy and editors Amit Parman and Nipun Gupta).

The most striking aspect of this film is the brilliant use of extreme close-ups. A large part of the film doesn’t have any dialogue. Varma uses the expressions of the actors captured so minutely through these close-ups to convey the emotions as well as the subtext. The film depends on it completely. And when the characters do speak, they deliver some zingers.

The accompanying background score by Amar Mohile, tries to elevate every important moment and succeeds (some might not care for such dominance by the music but I do). It is interesting that the Govinda chant that has become quite synonymous with this film was originally composed for Varma’s telugu film Govinda Govinda, which belonged to a completely different genre.

With such close scrutiny of the actors in close-ups, acting becomes an extremely important part of the film and each actor needs to deliver. RGV extracts the required performances from Amitabh to Kay Kay to Katrina Kaif and Tanishaa. Amitabh Bachchan, in the titular role, brings out the required intensity with the right expressions and tone. You can almost feel the same reverence towards his character as his supporters in the film show. On the other hand, he makes the vulnerable side of his character thoroughly identifiable in the scenes in the hospital and home after the attack on him. The way Abhishek is portrayed as an obedient son who does not speak out of turn when the family is discussing business matters in the first half and his transformation when he takes the responsibility upon himself to fill in for his father and take over (note the black shirt that Abhishek wears when the transformation is complete towards the end) is superb. And Bachchan Jr is spot on in his portrayal of Shankar. Kay Kay is possibly the best actor on display in this film and he brings out the vices of Vishnu, the bad son, to perfection.

The supporting cast is great too. Despite many supporting players and limited scope, everybody gets noticed. Supriya Pathak is the best choice for the role of Sarkar’s loving, caring and reticent wife. The little known Rukhsar is very likable in a role where she has almost no dialogue. Even Katrina Kaif and Tanisha who, at the time (or even now) had not delivered any noteworthy performances slip nicely into their roles. Zakir Hussain makes a capable antagonist. Kota Srinivasa Rao, who brings out the sliminess of Silver Mani (or is it Selva Mani?), also serves as the comic relief in the film’s most loquacious character. Ravi Kale, who plays Sarkar’s right hand man also impresses but the same can’t be said about Jeeva’s performance as the wigged over-the-top Swami.

Another interesting aspect is the love triangle. The same triangle was also part of Gaayam as also another film inspired by The Godfather, the Kamal Haasan penned Thevar Magan (Kshatriya Puthrudu in Telugu, remade in Hindi as Virasat with Anil Kapoor). All three films have similar characters involved in a similar conflict (the situation is somewhat different from The Godfather) but each gets its own treatment in keeping with the setting, regional and commercial aspects as well as the focus of the respective films.

This is probably the closest RGV has come to making a family drama. The overachieving father who wonders, like any normal father would, what sins he might have committed to have borne a kid that has taken the wrong path. The bad son, whose need to come out of his father’s shadow ultimately drives him down a path that leaves no redemption. The good son, whose respect and trust in his father bears more importance to him than anything else and his willingness to follow in his father’s footsteps and take over the family’s responsibility. The obedient and caring mother, who easily melts over her son’s apparent repentance, like any average mother, and asks her husband to let her son back into the house. The daughter-in-law who has become such an integral part of the family that she prefers to stay with her in-laws instead of her wayward husband. There is so much here that makes this as much a tale about a family as it is about politics (or politricks as Silver Mani would say). Varma clearly conveys to the audience that this is a family like most others. I especially loved the use of the kid (playing in the background, asking for an ice cream) to bring in the aspect of normalcy. A similar effect is achieved through the game of Carroms, the dinner table conversations, the discussion in front of the television and more.

Different individuals might find different flaws in this film. Some might even hate the very things that I’ve loved. Nevertheless, this is definitely a film that is worth watching multiple times to observe the minutiae. It is the detail that makes this film special. It is the interpretation, focus and execution that makes this film different from the others based on similar material. Watch this once if you haven’t yet. If you have, watch it again to observe the detail that you missed out the first time.