Monday, January 24, 2011

Dhobi Ghat is very brave, impressive, yet too experimentalistic

Aamir Khan Productions. International Acclaim. The first promo. Kiran Rao. These are the words and names that flash into your head as you walk into the theatre to watch Dhobi Ghat and you expect to witness another artifact of cinematic excellence and yet, I must say you wont be disappointed. Dhobi Ghat, the latest offering of Aamir Khan Productions and keeping up the tradition of being helmed by a first time director, Kiran Rao, is a movie that is difficult to enjoy from the word 'go' and yet, very hard to resist. It grows on you and takes its own sweet time to make you like it, but it stays with you for a longer time than 3 Idiots would.

Dhobi Ghat is truly Kiran Rao's baby, a complete departure from anything AKP has produced or even Aamir has been associated with. This ones very brave, very arduous and very art-house and you gotta have an appetite for experimental cinema to relish this one. I strongly feel that is one of the strengths of this film too, that Rao does not care about catering to a commercial cinema and follows her heart. There are no blurred lines or a safe treaded path between arthouse and commercial cinema in this one, its experimental arthouse cinema at its best. Rao is on top of this one and its not about the characters in this one, its about the city. Mumbai comes out as the fifth and the best scripted character as opposed to the four leads in this 95 minute film. All the other characters are only wrapped around the dichotomies of the city. The stories show up different sides of Mumbai as a conglomerate of many cultures, people from different walks of life, the ups and the downs, the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the city and its people and makes some very interesting points backed by a flowing script and the thriving emotions of yearning, solitude, affection, friendship, achievement, loss amongst the characters. Kiran chooses to make a film that's very real and also that comes across as personal memoirs that have found a place on celluloid. It's more of a video diary on the inhabitants of this bustling metropolis. The films beautifully shot and carries an intensity that will keep you engrossed even with the lack of dialogues in many sequences. Thats the sheer genius of Kiran Rao. She captures the most unseen parts of Mumbai, like never before, and pragmatically captures the conflicting lows and highs of relationships in the most unconventional way, a first time for Indian cinema. The subtility and the restraining treatment gets you uncomfortable and most people would take their own sweet time to grow a liking for this one, unless you dont understand it and are just too amazed and end up liking it due to shock lol.

What doesnt work? Traditionally, its been hard to find many things you can find to say in argument against an Aamir Khan production but without being biased, I would like to point out some here. Arun's character (Aamir Khan) is under-written to a larger extent. He comes out as this loner and awkward guy who never has any behavioral justification for his actions, emotions or words. Aruns obsession with Yasmin is understandable, but the idea is not allowed to grow enough to look its finale convincing. Aamirs portral of Arun doesnt help the writing either and the unpredictability of the character makes it ill-defined. Even though the film is only 95 minute long, it is still ill-paced at times during the middle and literally, the focus is on the portraits of Mumbai, rather than the plot. Cinematic liberties of coincidence and some predictability are allowed but not well-fitted in such a cinema. The experimental nature, although its forte, but would work against its liking amongst the masses for sure but I am not even worried about that because that should not stop one from making movies they like.

Dhobi Ghat relies heavily on its scripting and direction but the performances are an integral part of it too. Prateik Babbar is the star of the show all the way. Best performance, most natural, most in character, most impressive - he delivers Munna with an ease rarely seen before by a relative new comer. Kriti Malhotra as Yasmin is another striking performance. For a character which does not appear in person ever in the movie, her rendition leaves a haunting influence on your minds and stays with you even after the movie is over. The untold truths about her life are perfectly emoted by her in all her video recordings. Aamir Khan is very uncomfortable playing Arun and it comes out in most scenes as he underplays his part. Monica Dogra is impressive, yet does not match up the confidence of Prateik and Kriti. Other side characters are actually in skin of their character dont let down the movie in anyway. Its the personality of the city Mumbai that shines more than anything else. Cinematography is exceptional and each shot is imposing and vibrant. Kudos to the cinematographer, this one will go a long way in taking Indian cinema to the next level. The music is captivating and gets to you after a while. Academy Award winning Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla's [BROKEBACK MOUTAIN, BABEL] background score captures every emotion of the frame and delivers a score which India hasnt heard before. Dialogues are okay. Editing could have been 5-10 minutes tighter.

All in all, Dhobi Ghat belongs to the new age of Indian cinema that dares to be different, that is pathbreaking, that is devoid of cliches, that does not target an audience, that is beautifully crafted and well enacted in general. The multiple fragments of an experience might not transform into the most used-to experience but make you part of a enlightening journey for sure. Strictly not for the masses, but dont miss it if you like anything arthouse.

Rating - 3/5

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Deols manage to make you laugh in Yamla Pagla Deewana

The three Deols come back together in one frame after the debacle of Apne. Owing to their innate histrionics, expectations build up again and its always a great sight to see their amazing chemistry on screen as they seem to work best with each other. Director Samir Karnik comes up with Yamla Pagla Deewana to get the Deols together and to eradicate his streak of flops. Does this masala caper work, in this era of the indie soul? Well, it does to a larger extent except that its exhausting. The reason why masala films tick to this date is because they have the power to entertain. I've often heard my non-film friends comment that cinema, for them, symbolizes an outing with their family. They want to be transported to a world of make-believe in those 3 hours and forget their worries/sorrows/trials/tribulations in the process. YAMLA PAGLA DEEWANA does that and pretty convincingly too.

Samir Karnik directed the multi-starrer Heroes before YPD which had its heart at the right place but the screenplay messed the movie up beyond imagination. Some of the problems of the screenplay exist in YPD too but its still enjoyable in most parts. YPD is treated and written like an old movie, the cinema of the 80s and 90s packaged in a newer bottle, but it still works in most parts. Packed with loud jokes, gratuitous item songs, a Priyadarshan-esque climax, and completely over-the-top fight scenes, this film knows exactly who its audience is and doesn't shy away from wooing them. Fans of Sunny Deol are likely to cheer when the actor lets out that deafening roar in the film's climax, which sends both the good guys and bad guys flying to the end of the room. It's his Dabangg moment, and Sunny steps up to it sportingly. He is in fact the best thing about this loosely written film, that has at least a few good jokes that stick. A larger portion of the humor relies on making fun of things that have always been made fun of about the Deols and their inside jokes. There are a bunch of things on the flipside too. The movie is long and exhausting and is not packed with laughter at all instances. The editing is poor. The music is poor and unnecessary item numbers at most places just make you feel pissed off. Bobby Deol is a bad actor and much of the movie rests on him. In an attempt to make it into a laughter-filled movie + a family drama, Karnik kinda messed up both the things. The family drama gets cheesy and simplistic and in later parts, annoying. This removes the focus from a laughathon. I would want this movie to be half an hour shorter and it would work much more for me. The love story is dull and boring too.

YPD is NOT for the hard-nosed critics or fakes who masquerade as champions of art house cinema. The problem with Apne was that it was poorly scripted which seemed to be the problem with YPD during the first half but the film picks up in the second half with most of the focus shifting on Sunny Deol. The graph zooms upwards the moment the focus shifts from Banaras to Punjab. The introduction of Anupam Kher's character, his assorted brothers, the sequence when Sunny and Bobby ask for Kulraj's hand in marriage, the arrival of Dharmendra and also Sunny's Canadian wife Emma Brown Garrett subsequently, Sunny's speech in English at the election rally and the fun never stops. The action scenes involving Sunny will be met with much applause and were the best parts of the movie. During the climax action scene, I almost fell off my seat due to laughter. I would have wanted to watch many more of these sequences.

Sunny Deol and Anupam Kher are the best parts about YPD. Sunny is totally in the skin of his character and he delivers a performance which he is famous for. Anupam Kher is such a surprise. As the uneducated always-angry Sardar, his is the best written character and he delivers a bravura performance that would win the hearts of people and make them laugh inevitably. Dharamendra and Kulraj Randhawa get same points in the acting-meter and Bobby Deol does not get any points for acting as he cannot act. He is the ony letdown in terms of acting in the movie. Cinematography is strictly average except for the engagement song in the second half. Music sucks in most parts except for the title song remake which is awesome. Editing, as said earlier, could have been so much better. The dialogues are real heart-winners and applause worthy one-liners.

On the whole, YAMLA PAGLA DEEWANA is a hardcore mass entertainer that fulfils the expectations of the aam junta, just that its way too long. Those who love Deols will adore this one, while those who don't, won't ignore it either. The film works big time for its mass-appealing second half and loads of entertainment it has to offer. The target audience is the masses and it is this segment of movie-going audience that should carry this film to success. Just by itself, the film only works in parts and could have been much better.

Rating - 2.5/5

Saturday, January 15, 2011

No One Killed Jessica leaves a lot to desire!

No One Killed Jessica - the team of UTV Spotboy and Rajkumar Gupta comes back after their first venture Aamir and its all over the news. Touted as another comeback for Rani Mukerji, one of the best trailers and promotional strategies in recent times, Vidya Balan's continued success generating a lot of interest, a film resting solely on two female leads and one of the biggest trials that India has seen - the perfect recipe for Gupta to build upon what he set out to do with Aamir, a much-acclaimed venture. But does he strike the chord this time? Well, yes and no. The premise of NOKJ is brilliant as the famous Jessica Lall murder case but the screenplay comes out as merely an assortment of powerful scenes and the over-dramatic tones take it away from the realism of the idea.

One of the biggest challenges for the directors in the league of Gupta is to entertain and enlighten. Aamir enlightened, it didnt entertain but it was nevertheless a masterpiece. NOKJ tries too hard to strike a balance between these too and fails at most instances. It borders on the likes of masala entertainers and the director's treatment is too exaggerated and bombastic for a 'true story'. Insensitive humor also reduces the impact of the proceedings. Most courtroom scenes are written to get an applause from the audience based on one-liners and they tend to turn torturous, predictable and too melodramatic. To reconstruct on celluloid a true occurrence that is oven fresh in public reminiscence is not a trouble-free mission, but Gupta takes up this colossal challenge of placing together the controversial and litigious story of Jessica Lall's murder case on celluloid. However, having sensitive and explosive material on hand is not enough. The execution of the subject is of paramount importance. Fortunately, the one-film-old director interprets the events of the murder case in remarkable style and form and makes it a cinematic experience that haunts you even after the film has concluded. But where he fails is in his choice of making a realistic movie or a masala movie. Theres not much content in NOKJ to go on for 2 hours and editing could have been way better too. Nevertheless, Gupta rises up and handles the finale and the penultimate protions fairly well and doesnt let NOKJ go down the drains. There a bunch of disconnected powerful scenes but the melodrama in most scenes containing Rani Mukerji just bugs you off. She says 'fuck' every 2 minutes even if its not necessary, avoidable use of bad language and too much cliche with respect to courtroom trials is annoying. Many people had much higher expectations from this one.

NOKJ is definitely a gutsy venture and deserves some applause but it leaves a lot to desire too. The thrill element does not quite work for this one as there is nothing that surprises you or makes it a hard-hitting drama. The events have been chronologically put forth and the daring story of two women who challenged the system hits you like a ton of bricks. The film truly celebrates the human spirit and also reflects a vital change in the society and in the attitudes of people, for which Gupta deserves all the credit. It identifies and highlights the loopholes in the system and one of the biggest farce in Indian political history. Gupta may be young and relatively new to the fray, but that does not deter him from getting the best and most appropriate cast for his second outing but the screenplay lets all of them down and the drama goes overboard much more than it should. The only compelling character in this track is a cop (played by Rajesh Sharma), who in one of the film's best-directed scenes tells Sabrina he accepted a bribe to not hurt the accused while recording his statement. Vidya's character is pretty well written but all the other sides are underplayed. Meera (Rani's character) is pretty much useless for two-thirds of the film and Gupta chooses to fill in with a lot of garbage as to what she is doing as a reporter which is uncalled for.

Vidya Balan and Rajesh Sharma as the cop are the best performers. Vidya sinks her teeth, displays a never-seen-before understanding and delivers another performance which deserves a standing ovation. Her lack of dialogues, the constant frown on her forehead, the dismal walk/dressing sense, and her emotional outburtsts get to your nerves and your heart reaches out to her. Kudos Vidya, carry on the good work! Rani Mukerji does not do too well and I would blame it on the writing. Her character does not come out as cool as it is portrayed to be and one could get pissed off. Another problem there is that she is specially bad with English dialogues, which probably never came up in any of her movies before. The people in negative roles are ineffective. All other side characters dont reach the mark too. Cinematography is above avergae, as usual in Gupta's movies and they make you a part of the action. Dialogues are poorly written and mere one-liners to evoke applause. Editing is bad and it could have done wonders to the movie had it been like 20-25 mins shorter. The biggest standpoint of NOKJ is its music. Amit Trivedi, the new God of music in Indian Cinema, is in complete form and delivers an album which is gonna be remembered for ages and go down as a milestone for sure. Brilliant work!

On the whole, NO ONE KILLED JESSICA is a poignant story of two women's resolve for justice. It's a remarkable blend of facts and fiction inspired by a series of real-life episodes, which has thankfully not been presented as a tedious biography or in a mind-numbing docu-drama format. But it doesnt come out as an engaging thriller which has the right doses of histrionics, tautness, anguish and thrills also. This kinda leaves it nowhere and the impact is reduced. You expect a lot more, you wish there was a lot less drama to make this film so much better!

Rating - 2.5/5