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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.

Om Shanti Om November 12, 2007

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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I knew this would be an entertaining film but it exceeds my expectations. Choreographer turned writer-director Farah Khan outdoes herself this time. If she displayed her love for Bollywood in her debut feature Main Hoon Na, that affection takes center stage this time around. This film not only belongs to the seventies masala genre that she loves so much but it also features the seventies, pays tributes to various stars and films of the time as well as the current generation and then also pokes some light-hearted fun at the film industry and the actors, all in the same film!

Farah Khan might not be an encyclopedia on Hindi films like her brother Sajid but clearly, these films have become a part of her being. The theme she selects this time is reincarnation, something that hasn’t been visited in recent times (the last I recall was Sanjay Gupta’s flop film, Hameshaa). I won’t even try to describe the story of this film because anybody who has seen a couple of films on this theme in the past can figure out the basic outline. However, Farah and co-writer Mushtaq Sheik do spring a surprise with the climax, especially once you start believing that the film is quite predictable.

The story is set around the film industry and it works as an excellent placeholder to display her love for films of two generations. This is in fact the primary reason that this film works. The best moments in the film are all woven from this aspect (and they are neatly integrated with the main storyline too) and there are some extremely howlarious moments here. The Filmfare awards sequence with the spoofed film trailers (reminded me of Grindhouse), the fake interviews and the actors’ responses is a comic gem. The Sooraj Barjatya piece is just priceless. The Manoj Kumar bit was side-splitting fun. And thats not all. There’s Mohabbat-Man, the Dhoom Tana song reliving songs from the sixties and seventies, a small bit on the entry of the Virar-ka-chokra Govinda, Shahrukh pretending to be a South Indian superstar shouting out “Enna Rascala” and “Mind It” and much much more to keep you laughing. And she makes Shahrukh poke fun at himself too.

Yes, Farah Khan clearly know how to have fun and she also understands how to show the audience a good time. In doing that, she ropes in almost all the big stars (Amitabh Bachchan and Son, Hrithik Roshan and Dad, Sanjay Dutt, Salman Khan, Saif Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Preity Zinta, Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Mithun and many more biggies) in the film industry. The great-grandmother of all item songs, the Deewangi number has twenty odd superstars (including some not so super, not really stars like Dino Morea) walking in and out of frames, doing their most popular steps and a few more stars show up in the Filmfare awards sequence leaving the star-struck audience wanting more. It is nice to see the camaraderie among the film fraternity (even if pessimists might call some of it artificial).

Farah also deserves special kudos for the end titles. She ropes in most of her crew members, including spot boys, to be on screen for a few seconds of fame. The generally neglected folks who work behind the scenes are made to feel special. And this was the first time that I’ve seen the entire audience stay back till the end of the titles.

Shahrukh Khan carries the film on his shoulders. He does all that is asked of him (though this isn’t the role that critics will admire). He acts, he cries, he mouthes poetry, he wears his underwear over his tights, he romances Deepika, he dances, he shows off his six pack and he also overacts as per the requirement. The debutant, model-turned actress Deepika Padukone (daughter of Badminton champion Prakash Padukone), is a real beauty. In fact, she is so good looking that she will get enough offers even if she was wooden. However, she does acquit herself well and is set for a promising career. Shreyas Talpade is good and Kirron Kher is super, especially in the scenes where she overacts. Arjun Rampal does fine as the bad guy of the piece.

Vishal-Shekhar’s music doesn’t appeal as much in the soundtrack but the songs suit the film well. Ajab Si is clearly the best of the lot and KK does a great job singing it. However, it wasn’t really a part of the film and hence gets used only in the background. Sandeep Chowtha is roped in to do the background score and he doesn’t disappoint. Farah Khan’s choreography isn’t her best work though she does a couple of songs well. The cinematography (V. Manikandan) is good and the sets (Sabu Cyril gets to design quite a few here) fit in with the film.

If it is not clear yet, I will reiterate that this film is not one that revels in being realistic, sensible or novel (though it is novel in certain aspects). As long as you are willing to not take it seriously, this will thoroughly entertain you. This film gives you your money’s worth and then some and it also makes you laugh much more that most films masquerading as comedies.

Saawariya November 11, 2007

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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I fell in love with the theatrical trailer of this film the first time I saw it. The trailer seemed to be a small piece out of director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s canvas for Saawariya and I was waiting with bated breath for the completed painting. Though the master paints a great picture and transforms the audience into a dream world envisioned in his mind, he falters with the content.

First, the positives. The visual style of this film is striking. Bhansali (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas, Black) has always made visually pleasing, dramatic films. The former aspect is always the one that sticks the most in my mind. This film is no different. He creates a world of his own for this film. A city that doesn’t exist anywhere. One which borrows from many locations. A place where the weather follows Bhansali’s imagination. The film is completely shot on opulent sets that are wonderfully designed to exact specifications (the lighting choices are not the best at times) and even the sky isn’t real (visual effects are quite good). To bring this predominantly blue-green world to life, Bhansali collaborates with production designer Omung Kumar (and Vanita Omung Kumar) and cinematographer Ravi K Chandran (who were also a part of Black). The costumes (Rajesh Pratap Singh, Reza Shariffi, Anuradha Vakil) are beautiful, the choreography (Shiamak Davar, Ganesh Hegde, Mallu, Pappu) is superb and even the movements of the actors in the individual scenes seem to be choreographed by Bhansali. And the result is some brilliantly imagined and executed visuals. This film provides enough enchantment for the eyes to warrant a watch (for those that are interested in that sort of thing). My favorite scene in this film is the one where the main protagonists are jumping over puddles of water (that are also specially created).

The film is a musical in the Hollywood sense of the term (with a song popping up every few minutes and poetry replacing the spoken word) and the soundtrack is remarkable. Monty Sharma (Pyarelal’s nephew and Mithoon’s cousin) makes a commendable debut. It is hard to pick one favorite from among the two versions of Saawariya, Masha Allah, Yoon Shabnami and Thode Badmash (whose tune was composed by Bhansali himself). The quality of the lyrics (Sameer, Sandeep Nath, Nusrat Badr) is great and the singers do a superb job too. Debutants Shail Hada, Parthiv Gohil together with Kunal Ganjawala and Shreya Ghoshal do their best in rendering the painstakingly created numbers as they add their bit in creating some unforgettable songs.

Bhansali extracts good performances from the star kids in their launch vehicle. Ranbir Kapoor (Rishi Kapoor’s offspring) makes an impressive debut and the film revolves around his character. He is a charming young fellow that seems set for bigger things. Bhansali pays tribute to Raj Kapoor in numerous ways including a visual recreation of the RK banner’s logo. Even Rishi Kapoor is invoked a couple of times. Sonam Kapoor (Anil Kapoor’s daughter) is a beautiful girl and her smile is captivating. She emotes well and shows potential. Though Rani Mukherjee, who isn’t specially impressive, gets a character that is an important part of the script, I am not convinced about the necessity of its presence in the film. Salman Khan has very little to do in his special appearance. Zohra Sehgal gets a neat supporting part and she is charming as usual.

Now, the negatives. The problem with this film that it remains a short story (based on “White Nights” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky), one that can actually be described in a few lines (Boy falls in love with girl. Girl is waiting for her lover, who may never show up. Boy tries his best too woo the girl. And I’ll leave the rest to your imagination). The screenplay (Bhansali and Prakash Kapadia) does little to add meat to the story. Interestingly enough, the underlying theme is sort of like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam revisited, shortened and reversed to an extent. The characters are clearly from the Bhansali world but they stop short of being memorable. The film does have its share of fascinating moments but not enough to make it a very good one.

This film is most definitely not one that is looking to entertain like a Bollywood potboiler. The film unfolds at its own pace but provides an experience that is firmly entrenched in my mind. I am not sure that this film will be a crowd pleaser (its business prospects might be hampered by Farah Khan’s Shah Rukh Khan starrer Om Shanti Om, which is only looking to entertain) but there will be a select few who will enjoy this greatly.

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

Posted by Shujath in Articles, Movies.
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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.

Dhamaal September 20, 2007

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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Indra Kumar’s latest offering is inspired from Stanley Kramer’s overlong and overcrowded slapstick comedy, Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The plot is simple. A dying man reveals the secret about a ton of money hidden in Goa to a bunch of bumbling friends. A policeman is after them for the secret. They manage to give him the slip and now all of them are on the run trying to uncover the money. The friends are divided midway and the chase is on to get to the money first. What ensues is a sidesplitting set of events giving the audience enough laughs for their money.

Director Indra Kumar has always shown some flair for slapstick and he does an adequate job here. Comic fare needs a capable person at the helm and Kumar is up to the task here. A lot of gags in the film are inspired from different sources (the writing is credited to Balwinder Suri, Paritosh Painter and Bunty Rathod, all of whom have very limited experience) but they still need to be executed well.

The cast is quite good. With actors like Arshad Warsi, Javed Jaffrey, Ritesh Deshmukh and Sanjay Dutt, you can’t go very wrong. Javed is the pick of the lot here with his body language, diction, expressions and timing working just right. He is one actor with so much untapped potential and he once again shows what he is capable of. Ritesh comes a close second and his Sanjeev Kumar imitation is superb. Surprisingly though, Arshad is average while Sanjay is disappointing. Aashish Chowdhary (Qayamat, Girlfriend) and Asrani do well as father and son while Vijay Raaz (Raghu Romeo, Run) is quite funny in his cameo.

The film has no love angle and that means there is limited scope for music. A couple of numbers are included nonetheless and done away with early in the film. Adnan Sami’s compositions don’t make an impression.

Overall, this film succeeds in making the audience laugh. Kids should enjoy this. There is nothing intelligent about it and the climax doesn’t gel with the rest of the film. However, I still enjoyed the film and if you really like slapstick, you should check this out.