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Wanted October 6, 2009

Posted by Shujath in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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Wanted might not have turned out that huge a huge blockbuster as it seemed poised to be prior to its release – the most probable reasons being that – for our “intelligent” audiences that Salman isn’t the right “Khan” and the production house “BSK” doesn’t exactly rhyme with a certain “YRF”. Never mind because Salman Khan is back and how!

Given the long tally of flops credited to his account – most being inconsequential cameos, the biggest attraction of Wanted is that Salman is really in there all over the place. Wanted is a pretty faithful remake of Pokiri in terms of the plot but it really feels more like some South Indian superstar’s over-the-top masala flick. And that works here quite well because we don’t get to see such stuff nowadays – more likely because there aren’t too many stars around to pull off such a thing; which posits the obvious question to Salman – Why haven’t you done something like this until now? Apart from its leading man, Wanted has almost nothing to offer but then who cares. On the whole, Wanted will obviously draw unfavorable comparisons to Pokiri but Prabhu Dheva’s intentions are pretty clear from scene one – which is unabashed superstar worship.

Salman Khan is definitely having a ball – be it fighting, dancing or romancing. Needless to say I cannot think of any other actor who could manage all this with such elan. Ayesha Takia even in such an insubstantial role is very impressive and her chemistry with Salman is crackling. Prakash Raj actually gets quite a meaty part when compared with the original and he’s a lot of fun. Mahesh Manjrekar is also very effective. Salman Khan seems ready to break into a dance at any moment but barring a couple, Sajid-Wajid’s tracks lack the required steam. The solid action sequences (Vijayan) are definitely the best part of this enterprise.

If you are a fan of Salman, then Wanted is the movie you’ve been waiting for; but if aren’t one then do remember you were warned!

99 May 18, 2009

Posted by Shujath in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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Thanks to the Film Producers-Multiplex Owners stand-off, there hasn’t been any new Bollywood offering for a while now. Citing the relevance of it being released during the IPL season, the producers of 99 somehow managed to get it out. 99 claims to be the the “coolest crime comedy of the year” – a claim which it admirably lives up to. I noticed that in a few reviews/articles about this film, the directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK have been mentioned as debutants. For those who are not aware, a few years back these guys made a wonderful “crossover” film called Flavors which you should definitely watch. Their latest effort just proves that they are here to stay.

The basic narrative of 99 is similar to Guy Ritchie’s caper flicks – so you have people chasing money, people chasing other people and money jumping places before everyone finally gets what they deserve. The crime backdrop in this one centers around betting and match-fixing in cricket – that’s why it is set in the year 1999. A rather interesting insight which the film constantly seems to allude to are the nascent birth of now ubiquitous pop cultural phenomenon like mobile phones, the Internet, Coffee shops and Bhojpuri Films! 99 is smartly scripted with great humor and unlike similar themed flicks is a lot more believable as there is quite a bit of time devoted to detailing individual characters and their actions. Some have complained about the long runtime resulting because of this but I had absolutely no problems with it.

Most importantly, the primary reason everything in this film works so well is its delectable cast. Kunal Khemu and Boman Irani have the greatest screen time and are delightful. The former is also looking quite good sans his long locks. Mahesh Manjrekar as the local gangster AGM impresses once again – this is the only kind of role he seems to excel in effortlessly. Cyrus Broacha is quite hilarious with his usual brand of humor. Despite having short parts Vinod Khanna and Soha Ali Khan are very impressive. The best accolades should however be reserved for newcomer Amit Mistry who never fails to bring the house down. His scene with Kunal (a glimpse of which is seen in the promos) is the highpoint of the movie.

Technically too the film looks good. The musical score (Roshan Macado, Mahesh Shankar, Shamir Tandon) suits the tone of the film perfectly. The title sequence seemingly inspired from Watchmen is also quite catchy. Going by Bollywood standards 99 is an almost flawless work which is immensely entertaining and equally clever – go for it!

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.

Homam September 5, 2008

Posted by Shujath in Movies, Reviews, Telugu.
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Rather than simply dismissing it as “The Departed” rip-off let me give you a few reasons why you might want to watch this one. First or all, Homam is a more-or-less faithful remake and at no point the proceedings are dumbed down so as to make it appealing to a wider audience. Today, when an original “action thriller” in Telugu simply means yet another story of a guy taking a factionist head on for various reasons (love, revenge etc…) and add to that those dumb fight sequences…. I’d prefer to watch a nice remake of a Hollywood flick anyday.

Those who have seen Scorcese’s flick would no doubt be deprived of the suspense but it still worked for me. For those who haven’t seen that one the story is about a couple of guys – one who has infiltrates the police and another who infiltrates the mob under the guidance of their respective bosses. When each party knows that they have a mole inside these two guys are given the responsibility finding him out in their respective organizations. Chekravarthy – who has directed a couple of films before shows quite an improvement. The camerawork is especially noteworthy. He also seems to have incorporated a few elements from his mentor Ramgopal Varma. The picturization of the first song reminded me a lot of Ramu’s Telugu flicks from the nineties. Amar Mohile’s background score (some of the bits sound very familiar) is also effective.

Jagapathi Babu shines in a role – the kind he is best at but which seems to have eluded him for quite some time now. Chekravarthy’s role isn’t that well defined – maybe he was too busy with the directorial aspects. Mahesh Manjrekar isn’t as impressive as I might have expected though his nemesis in the movie Pradeep Rawat is very good. The two girls (Mamata Mohandas and Madhurima) look good but their respective tracks don’t gel with the film.

Towards the end of Homam, I had the feeling of watching a satisfying film but what I found rather disappointing was the teaser for the sequel called “Marana Homam”. I only hope Chekri has some good source material in hand to pull that one off! Go watch Homam if you are looking for a well-shot Tollywood action thriller.

Dus Kahaniyaan May 8, 2008

Posted by Sai in Hindi, Movies, Reviews.
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“Six Visionary Directors. Ten Spectacular Stories. One Cinematic Journey.” claims the poster of this film. I believe they’ve used the wrong words. So here is my correction.

Six ordinary directors (nothing visionary about them).
Ten unconnected short stories (nothing spectacular about them).
One cinematic experience (not a journey since it doesn’t really take us anywhere).

Ram Gopal Varma’s portmanteau films, Darna Manaa Hai and Darna Zaroori Hai, had to face flak for their weak connecting threads. Sanjay Gupta (producer and director of 4 segments in this film) decides that his attempt will keep the stories unconnected. Now that raises the question, “Why is this considered a film?”. This could easily have been a television miniseries. I would have thought that something should have been common to the various pieces, even if it was very vague or abstract (location, character, theme, event, message, genre, anything!). But to the best of my knowledge, nothing, except the fact that they are short stories, links them together.

This anthology is aimed at providing a novel cinematic experience for Hindi film lovers but is it good enough to warrant a watch?

One story definitely makes the cut. Written by Gulzar and helmed by Sanjay Gupta, Gubbare featuring Nana Patekar and Anita Hassanandani (wasn’t she called Natassha for a while?) stands out. This is a lovable piece about relationships between couples and how they don’t make the best use of their time together. Gulzar’s dialogue is the strength of this story and Nana Patekar does a super job enacting his part. Anita isn’t bad either.

Rice Plate (written by Sanjay Gupta and helmed by Rohit Roy) is a simple tale of a misunderstanding that has been used for comic effect elsewhere. Here Gupta intertwines it with religion using a bigot as the main protagonist, making the message more pertinent. Shabana Azmi is brilliant but Naseeruddin Shah gets little to do. Meghna Gulzar’s Pooranmasi (written by Meghna based on a story by  Kartar Singh Duggal) also has an interesting storyline and is well executed.

The segments helmed by Sanjay Gupta (who is also credited for writing most of them) are stylishly shot and are moderately watchable. Matrimony (apparently inspired by Roald Dahl’s short story Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat), Zahir (written by Rajiv Gopalakrishnan) and Strangers in the Night (story by Gupta and screenplay by Sudipto Chattopadhyay) depend almost entirely on their final twists (meaning that you either chuckle at the irony and think it is amusing or deplore it completely) while Rise and Fall (said to be inspired by Ching Po-Wong’s Blood Brothers) has some interesting moments, mainly the Rise part of it.

Jasmeet Dodhi’s difficult to digest Lovedale (written by Kamlesh Pandey), Hansal Mehta’s pointless and uninteresting High on the Highway (written by him) and Apoorva Lakhia’s awful B-grader Sex on the Beach (written by Shibani Tibrewala) fall on the lower end of the spectrum.

The problem with a majority of the stories is that they lack the appeal, identification, observation or irony that could make them memorable. Some of them could easily have been formulated in an ill-conceived minute or two. The good thing about the film is that the stories are short (ten stories in two hours – you do the math) and finish before any of them can truly irritate you. Hence, this collection of short films might just have enough to satisfy you if you are looking for something different from the average hindi film.