Friday, December 21, 2012

Dabangg 2 tries too hard to be as much fun as its prequel

Salman Khan's Dabangg 2 releases worldwide this weekend with much resplendent badassery, heavily propagated by his blubbery fan following. Dabangg 2 was announced, right after its prequel set the ball rolling for Salman at the Box Office, resulting in a string of low brow crowd-pleasers that heavily dented the cumulative IQ of the cine-world. Thus, Dabangg 2's success is independent of critical plaudits or any sort of analysis, its also inevitable even when it releases on a regular Friday instead of a Christmas Tuesday. Dabangg was shameless fun in itself, and an immensely enjoyable movie despite its minimal content backing. The most delightful takeaway from Dabangg was the crass and goofy character of Chulbul Pandey, which had the audiences drooling at his plucky daredevilry. The promos of Dabangg 2 laid out the milieu straight up, playing to the vast galleries of fans who would do anything to see their bhai rip his shirt off. In Indian cinema today, bhai porn sells more than an Apple iPhone also. Picking up from where the first one left, Dabangg 2 seemed to have similar settings, similar cut promos, similar songs and what not. It almost looked like they put together everything that was left back in the edit table for the first one to churn up a more scurrilous cash cow. Indulgently, I did go for the movie on its premier night itself, in a packed theater to experience the most desi style viewing of a Salman Khan film.

Dabangg 2 starts off like a deja vu to its predecessor and follows a familiar discourse of good versus bad, without ever bothering to throw in a surprise or being concerned about the overt hegemony of the plot points in the first part. While Pandey's character was an offshoot of Dabangg, this one builds the whole clout around the crackling charisma of Pandey. Dabangg 2 pipettes itself from a emphatic focus on Chulbul and his histrionics, and believe me, most narrative points, songs or episodes have been planted to showcase that. And voila, because Salman is in top form as he provides unabashed entertainment for 2+ hours, despite the whiff of a plot that exists here. While Dabangg tried to build up a plot for most of it, Dabangg 2 transcendentally doesnt bother about it at all, infact into the second half, the film shows a striking similarity to Ajay Devgn's Singham, considering that Prakash Raj plays the anti-hero even here. It is a typcial assembly-line star vehicle which offers nothing new, and very soon it would be hard to tell apart whether you have just watched Dabangg 4 or Rowdy Rathore 3 or Singham 2. Delving into the intricacies of its storyline would shower a lot of shame upon me, so lets just say that Chulbul Pandey has moved to Kanpur now where he has a new political goon to face, who happens to threaten his family, which is all settled now. It has its regular action pieces and Arbaaz Khan and Dilip Shukla's writing just plays to the strengths of Pandey, giving us the zaniest moments we already know, yet we laugh, yet we have fun.

However, anachronistically enough, Dabangg 2 shows a baffling change in the language used here, as Pandey suddenly starts speaking in Hindi used in UP based films, as opposed to his normal Hindi in the prequel. But this change is, thank heavens, for the better, as it makes the proceedings funnier, as he infallibly goes through the strikingly unoriginal drill. There is a bunch of hard-hitting action, but none of it is gritty or edgy. There are a bunch of corny one liners, but none of them have a thing on a couple in the prequel. Sadly, Dabangg 2 surreptitiously tries too hard to be like Dabangg or spin off from the things that worked for it, but it always lags behind maybe because it is consumed in its own blithe, instead of attempting something new with an immensely likable character. 

Produced exclusively by Arbaaz Khan Productions, Dabangg 2 could have easily been sold to one of the production houses for billions considering the condescending star power it was riding on. On the other hand, Arbaaz has doled out all the money for it, knowing very well that the payback will be a gut busting multi hundreds of crore rupees.  Aseem Mishra's cinematography is pulpy and reminds us of the cinema of 70s and 80s expectedly. Sajid Wajid's music is comprised of the rejected tunes from Dabangg. While Pandeyji Seeti scores well as the pick of the lot, Fevicol Se is brazenly catchy, once you have seen it on the big screen. Despite Salman, Malaika and Kareena gyrating their hearts out to the songs, there is no single that matches upto the snazzy awesomeness of Munni Badnaam Hui, from the prequel.  Shashank Tere's Production Design is akin to the retro feel of the film but gets disruptively garish at times. Editing could have been way more crisp as most songs are thrown in without any real situations, but then such blasphemy comes with the baggage of such movies. 

With Chulbul Pandey two years ago, Salman has almost ushered in a barnstorming fan following for himself, that remains loyal to their star, who delivers absolute escapist entertainment to them, every six months. The best part about Pandey is that his nuances are not furtively taken from any character we know or have seen. It probably is a bizarre cinematic version of Salman himself, unapologetic and goofy. In Dabangg 2, Salman takes Chulbul one notch above in his unremitting idiocy but with the same badassery. Hes clownish, he sobs, he prank calls his father, he woos his wife and has a lot of fun doing anything which effectually makes him the darling of the masses once again. Despite a derisively weak script, the star in Salman provides everything he is capable of. Sonakshi Sinha spends most of the movie (read 20 minutes of screen time), looking justifiably exasperated, probably because she wanted even fewer scenes, forget about having an actual 'role' or 'character'. I would credit her for shameful special appearance in all films that she has apparently been credited as the lead. Prakash Raj inanely plays the same bad guy we have seen him play in all movies. Raj also has some stone looking guy as his sidekick who adds to the unintentional hilarity. Deepak Dobriyal looks miscast in an irrelevant role, that utilizes nothing from the great acting reserves he has. Vinod Khanna looks perennially worried on having done his 40th film as Salman's dad. Arbaaz Khan plays the simpleton brother of Chulbul, Makhhi, and does it decently well. His wife, Malaika appears in a song and is undoubtedly the best thing about this movie, because she manages to turn more heads than Kareena, appearing in the other number.

Dabangg 2 is just another product in this chain of movies that run on stars that have no public goodwill to lose. The only good part is that despite catering to people with low entertainment thresholds, it does not get overbearingly lame or affects mental impedance, keeping your 2 hours constantly enjoyable, and the credit for this totally goes to a spirited boisterious Salman who gets to do what he is best at. The sad part is that it tries too hard to be Dabangg but is staggeringly short of it. The Box Office outcome of Dabangg 2 is beyond debate as we are in an age where Salman can only compete with himself. The BO start has been phenomenal and it can only pick up from here. If you are a Bhai fan, you must have already watched it or booked your tickets. If you are not, I will never dare to say you should skip this movie. Who knows, even his fans would run over me!

Rating - 2.5/5

Monday, November 19, 2012

The 'fallacies' of Jab Tak Hai Jaan

Its been almost a week since it released but it has provided enough fodder for everyone to dig about it. As Jab Tak Hai Jaan rings in the Box Office cash registers worldwide, I would like to add my bit to the ongoing discussions and debates about the film. Mind you, if you havent seen the film, I suggest you to not read any further as the post contains multiple spoilers as they were necessary to throw some light on the analysis. So shut this page and go back to a theater where you can catch the movie, instead, and then come back and read this, because here I try to answer the questions in your mind.

I liked Jab Tak Hai Jaan. It may not be Yash Chopra's best film as the legend has too much in his oeuvre to beat, but is definitely a point in cinematic history that will be remembered with emphatic reverence, specially now when this is all we will ever see of him. But the humongous expectations have inevitably led to mixed reviews amongst audiences. Some connoisseurs of cinema have critically ravaged it, deeming it to be idiotically missing basic IQ material or shamelessly sloganeering a ridiculous script with much hype, giving way to a lot of unintentional hilarity and multiple ludicrous loopholes. On the other hand, for the common audience, its just another movie released during the festive season and they are flocking in numbers at the theaters to catch it, some liking it more, some less but no one really hating it. So is it really that bad?

To be completely fair, Jab Tak Hai Jaan does well with what it is meant to do, and despite being excruciatingly long, it never gets dull or boring. However, certain aspects of its creative territory have become common points of discussion on social media and otherwise. It brazenly borrows bits and pieces from many YC movies, probably the reason why you may feel it is retorting to contrived conveniences or beaten-to-death plot twists, but I would see it more as an anointment from the writers to the master who was making his last film, to sum it all up by taking plot points that have been remnant in many of his movies and weave them in another tale of lasting love. Amnesia graduates to a retrograde version, and the same character meets with a similar road accident twice. Too much coincidence? Yes, but in a stereotypical dogmatic belief kind of way, the place could be jinxed for him every time he is there. Though, it is definitely a conveniently plausible plot point that limits the movie far away from being path breaking, but again, was it meant to do that? More often than not, we watch countless Bond films just to revisit that old school goodness, and while JTHJ doesnt become the perfect swan song for Yash Chopra, it definitely does not hamper his legacy a bit. 

The other relevant argument is the difficult-to-swallow central conflict of the film. Who’d have thought that a simple promise made to God would become breaking bane of a relationship? While many sat back and laughed at this appalling choice, I am no fan of it either, but I see another point of view here. Yashji's characters have always been fallible, sometimes fatuous and sometimes just immature. In this one, Meera (Katrina Kaif) is a terribly unreal character. She is a God-fearing naive and a hopeless romantic at the same time, or a businesswoman who will also go to a shady party and dance her heart out to feel free, just because her new friend convinced her to. We all have seen people around us who start swearing by God when fronted with a difficulty or habitually trade with Him for the future to get what they want they want right then. She is exactly like that when she believes that her being with Samar (Shahrukh) would actually take his life, but cant help waiting for him 10 years or playing love charades with him when he loses his memory. Its a hypocritically confused character, but if you accept it with a leap of faith, it works from there on, as Meera chugs along making her stupid decisions, still hopelessly in love. She resonates another Meera from Cocktail, but this one aspires to be Veronica secretly instead of smugly reconciling in her pride, yet is too afraid to take the step. Samar's character is equally childish when he dares to challenge the same God who took away her love by facing death every day with much candor, while he remains elusive to trying more efficient ways of killing himself, if he really has to. Samar wishes to engulf in his own reticence, never daring to take the big step, still irrevocably hoping to get his love back, the only thing he ever wanted. You still end up rooting for the foolishly unreal characters that are weaved around for you. 

So can love in commercial cinema validate any kind of gap in logic? This is an alternate reality of Bollywood, seen through Yash Chopra films, where people are essentially good and for them love is everything and their behaviors can be validated by accepting them as faulty. JTHJ is a weak example of this argument, despite Chopra trying his best to tidy up his act by doing it properly. Watch Samar relive his younger days like a kid when he has been fooled into the idea that he has always been with the love of his life and you know that nothing meant more to him. Yet, there are larger loopholes that may not be ignored in this frothy romance such as the gamut of bombs being disposed or the British police officers allowing a brown stranger on the train to walk in and do his thing while they watch. What Chopra does manage to get right is to spread it all across two generations of lovers to bring forward how Akira's (Anushka) love is far behind in its intensity as compared to Meera's. 

In the end, JTHJ is just like any other Yash Chopra movie, a cheesy romance soaked in old-fashioned loveliness and drained with the new-age sensibilities. It is being liked for the same reason that people liked Kuch Kuch Hota Hai or Dil Toh Pagal Hai. A liberal dose of optimism, a reflection of unreal reality, and the magnanimity of love over all other things in life, all this and more made to look appealing with much conviction and defiant passion by Yashji himself. Jab Tak Hai Jaan was not meant to break the mold in the first place, but more like a finishing stroke by the person who created this mold, that of a old-fashioned storytelling where in even an army can have a song and dance sequence and a character can brush up his spoken English within weeks. Despite being clunky, I feel the makers were honest in portraying a situation wherein love trumps all. 

This is not a justification of a not-at-all-bad film with spirited lead performances, but more of an analysis of how the criticism may be out of context. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Son Of Sardaar - A Short Review

Doomed was that moment when I decided to watch Son Of Sardaar today. The movie looked shitty cash cow since the first trailer came out, knowing they had taken S.S.Rajamouli's another Telugu film Maryada Ramanna and remade it in Hindi. The successive promos only had hideous faces of Devgn in a turban, Dutt in a long hairdo and Sonakshi being the dancing mantle piece. SOS looked to be a part of a larger moviemaking scheme where some actors have joined hands secretly, distributed a bunch of South movie rights among themselves and placed their remake releases apart from each other by 3-4 months, so that every once in a while you get to watch this new upcoming genre which is stuffed with garbage. Rowdy Rathore was the last one in this series, and its SOS now, surprisingly thanking Akshay Kumar in its credits. If that is not enough, all the song promos showed strange obsessions with ridiculous moves involving some body part, either the wrist twisting or the mouthwashing. What has this world come to?

To be honest to my work, I dragged myself to the theater. SOS starts abruptly and then breaks into a song after a quote or something. Cool. To my welcome surprise, SOS becomes quite enjoyable suddenly with Devgn at his best comic touch. The first few scenes where he meets Sonakshi and the subsequent ones when they reach their village do provide a bunch of fresh jokes and hearty laughs. But your hope or happiness is bound to be lynched and castrated by the famously shameful director, Ashwani Dhir. As soon as Sanjay Dutt's long locks enter the proceedings of SOS, the film suffers from a paralytic attack comprising of smudge, shlock and the silly. Dutt speaks his lines as short rhymes, Juhi Chawla is almost demented by now because he didnt marry her for 25 years, Devgn loses his clownish romanticism and becomes a scared soul and Sonakshi never does anything anyway. Literally, the best moments of the film, both funny and emotional, come out from the love story of Devgn and Sinha. Halfway through the first half and upto the end is a long dragged drudgery of torture and tranquilizing sequences, most of which fall flat on the ground, making SOS utterly painful during its second half. Writers Robin Bhatt and Dhir have given many such duds, so theyd be at home writing this one. 

Music by Himesh Reshammiya is below average and Rani Main Tu Raja is the only good song, and the title song to an extent. The production values of SOS look pathetic, with a lot of things looking amateurish and half done. A necessary element of all these films is the Rohit Shetty style of action, where you see everything just flying in the air in slow motion for minutes on end. SOS comes up with a bunch of new action sequences which are totally preposterous but had the audience in seetis. Aseem Bajaj's cinematography only alleviates the exaggerations used by Dhir. Devgn tries his best to act but his character limits him after a point. Sonakshi has given up bothering about acting or roles. Juhi Chawla does well but should have downplayed her role a few notches. Sanjay Dutt tells us that he can only do Vastav or Agneepath once in 10 years. When a computer crashes and dies, its screen has more expression than Dutt in any scene. He is beyond pathetic. 

On the whole, SOS is a fairly ludicrous film that gives a fake promise of mass entertainment but leaves you with nothing, not even a capacity to like monkey balls or walk straight. Salman Khan in a special appearance just makes this setup of garbage complete. After reading this review, a lot of people would conclude that I am biased against it, but I challenge you, go watch SOS and let me see you honestly tell me if you liked it. On another note, please dont watch it.

Son Of Sardaar is exactly what you will see in the pot once you have taken a dump.

Rating - 1.5/5

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jab Tak Hai Jaan redefines love stories with much novelity, a fitting end to a legendary career

Jab Tak Hai Jaan, a movie that is inevitably in the center of everything as it releases today, not so strange for any Shahrukh Khan film. Diwali turns out to be the most gregarious and prosperous period for any big releases, over years. Last year, Khan came out with his magnum opus, Ra.One, which tuned less hearts than it imagined to and this year he is back again. But Jab Tak Hai Jaan is no ordinary film. It is the last film of Director Yash Chopra who expired recently, the man who was a magician without a top hat. Touted lazily as the King of romance, Chopra's range of work was above and beyond any imbecilic categorization. And yet, no one can picture a romance like he did. Stanley Kubrick died in March 1999, months before the release of his last film Eyes Wide Shut, and with Yashji's demise, Jab Tak Hai Jaan has no longer remained a film, but the final assured stroke of the grandmaster who has weaved many a delectable moments for over 50 years. He left us climactically, weeks before JTHJ opens, providing his last filmi flourish. A storyteller to the end, they say. It is indeed hard to see JTHJ objectively for the film that it is, without being crippled by a feverish nostalgia for the man. Yet, I wish to attempt here to give my heart out without much baggage, and see it as any other film.

Yash Chopra directing after am appalling gap of 7 years since Veer Zaara. Shahrukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma. If that wasnt enough, the savory duo of Gulzaar and A R Rahman coming together once again, and for the first time with YRF. Jab Tak Hai Jaan had already caved out a monstrous place in our hearts, right when the poster and the trailer released. Over the weeks, it grew to be most awaited film of the year, christened with the feel of an epic love story and bespoke for the millions of fans who wanted Yashji and SRK to do just that. Rahman's score was received with mixed reviews, some found it old-fashioned, some found it just not good enough or constrained. But not one could eschew himself from the burgeoning hype of JTHJ, right upto its release, hopelessly waiting to be transported into a surreal world of romance. But does it work? Will it be a fitting culmination to an illustrious career, now that fate has destined it to be?

Yashji's Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a simple story of love, soaked in an old-world loveliness and strained with the new-age sensibilities. At a running time of around 180 minutes, JTHJ is excruciatingly long, but Aditya Chopra and Devika Bhagat's screenplay is laced with enough meat to never make you look at the exit door. The story of JTHJ has been hidden well in the wily promos and has indeed become the biggest point of speculation amongst the expectant audience. JTHJ borrows a lot from many films of Yashji, not explicitly but more with subtlety, almost mashing up this one to be an anointment from the writers to the master, who had decided to retire after this film. Yet, it turns all the material around with a sunny charisma and courts the audience with a searingly heartfelt film. Yashji's characters and his relationships are always strangled by life, needing intent and patience to get through, and even if they do, it may not be the right time for the love to bloom. A line delivered by Rishi Kapoor to Katrina, in a small sequence during the vineyard getaway of the leads, sums up the entirety of the film, and Yashji's vision behind it. But JTHJ takes its own time to setup the canvas of romance, amongst its leads, so much so that that the first half seems to drag endlessly, pointing its needles much below your behemoth expectations. But the second half makes up for it, and more. It is the last hour of the film that lifts it above being just a good film to being a strikingly well-made film, shedding all the fatigue to make a lasting impression on your mind. Death doesnt come if you find it, and love doesnt happen when you want it to. Yashji drives this point home successfully gushing on his fallible, sometimes foolishly immature characters. His leads make silly deals with God or challenge Him for his decisions, fall in love irrevocably or are just too cinematic to be real, but the novel treatment of emotions, the softness rendered by sheer passion and the unabashed conviction of Yashji woos you before you find out. 

Despite its contrived conveniences of plot twists such as the accidents or the bomb in London train, or a familiar territory with some indulgent sequences like Katrina reuniting with her mom or the multiple convos with God, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is quintessentially charming and intense, relentlessly offering you the best of cinematic emotions as it chugs along. The last hour of the film filches all doubts you had about it as it throws in an uncanny turn in the tale that sets up a conflict of love amongst its leads. However, the film executes it with no expected sappyness or loony sadness making it all the more real. The plot moves swiftly and the characters tell out things to each other without much beating around the bush, while the film, deftly handled by Yashji, quietly shys away smartly from unnecessary exaggerations. The characters may be immature or fatuous, but its the depth of their love that keeps you invested in them. Yashji has always had a special place for his heroines. Katrina plays the typical Yash Raj heroine, modeled on modern habits and retro emotions, while Anushka does the new age spunky girl character whose real self resides somewhere inside the chirpy accouterments. Despite a clunky slow first half, the second half packs in the ramshackle well enough to mesmerize any audience, with enough moments pulling your tears out. The only people who will not like it are the ones who are disturbed by an idea of cinema that excludes manipulatively frothy yet genuinely hearty love stories. 

Produced by Yash Raj Films and First Step Productions, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is crammed with every penny that could be spent on its production. Rahman's music does not strike a chord instantly but is not the one that can be petered with time. Heer and Challa definitely remain the pick of the lot, closely followed by the others. The films uses four of its songs in the first half itself and it kinda gets monotonous, as they didnt have to be there. Gulzaar weaves magic with his words, once again, giving JTHJ the delicacy and the moxie, both in good proportions. Anil Mehta's cinematography offeres a ditsy conclusion. While he captures the beautiful Kashmir with much flair, he captures London mostly with campy tourism hangovers. Production Design by Sharmishta Roy and Shanoo Sharma's casting of the supporting cast is brilliant. Having one of the most loved couples of Bollywood for an edgy sequence of infidelity just garnishes the bold to be socially acceptable. Namrata Rao's editing could have done with a more organic approach, but I guess the producers would have wished to include most of the things that Yashji had shot. 

Anushka Sharma has always been the one you can lean on, when it comes to acting, but it is Katrina who matches up neck-to-neck to her in Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Saddled with a callous character arc of someone who is God-fearing naive and a hopeless romantic at the same time, or a businesswoman who will also go to a shady party and dance her heart out to feel free, Kaif emerges from the deep seas of sleepwalking a imparts a tenderness to Meera slipping quietly into the shoes of a Yash Chopra heroine. She is irrational and immature, and thats what makes you love her as the centerpiece of this story. Anushka, on the other hand, plays the part like another chapter of her bubbly girl book, and still does it pretty darn well. Carrying the best lines of the script and a brutish attitude, she is anything but tender, yet she is that girl-next-door that is indispensable for your heart. I often sit back and ineffectively debate with myself to single out Shahrukh Khan's best performance in his career. Jab Tak Hai Jaan just makes my struggle harder, but I like it that way. Playing down his character like a shadow of the leading ladies or like an outcome of their actions, SRK looks wondrously sharp, convincingly younger, gravely serene and ineffably in love, meandering between all of them without any difficulty. Look at him in the scene where he talks to Anushka about bombs and death, the scene where Katrina meets him before intermission, or the scene where he behaves like a child who found his old puppy when Anushka takes him out in London towards the end, he rises and shines above everything else. Many scenes he is just quiet and dimply, like Katrina, but then there are other scenes where one look or one sneer displays a world of emotions. JTHJ will go down as one of the most restrained mature performances of SRK, the ones which we like to see more. Rishi and Neetu Kapoor are the immaculate show stealers who have the talent to make it for a mention in any review even when they did a 5 minute scene in the movie.  

Jab Tak Hai Jaan may not be Yash Chopra's best film as the legend has too much in his oeuvre to beat, but is definitely a point in cinematic history that will be remembered with emphatic reverence. It is indeed a well made film, both for the lovers of old-fashioned cinema and the flag bearers of new age, balancing out well on the path it was meant to be. A few creative bits may stick out in the storytelling or the first half may be dull-ish, but the overall impact smoothens up the edges coupled with spirited performances. It has taken a roaring start at the Box Office, even on a Diwali day, and is bound for greatness, even when Son of Sardaar is caving into its business. The diaspora audience would inexorably swoon as they watch SRK get back to his romantic hero roots, while the audience in India would be served a very fresh charming tale that reminds you of a lot of things and still has its originality. Alas, this is all we will ever see of Yash Chopra. His style will be missed, his conviction remembered, as no one else can direct like him. I strongly urge you to watch Jab Tak Hai Jaan in a theater, and stay till the end credits as YRF pays a tribute to the legendary filmmaker!

Rating - 3.5/5

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bond, James Bond

"In loving memory of Albert R. Broccoli"

The end credits of Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) start with the above message, a tribute to the man behind it all. As the biggest Bond film ever, Skyfall stages itself grandly across the globe this week, the piping excitement amongst us Bond fans, gaping at the pantheon behind one of the longest running film series (1962-2012) in cinematic history, leaves us awestruck and thrilled. The tag of being the second highest film grossing film series ever, after the Harry Potter series, is just one of the many snazzy accoutrements that James Bond films have tied to themselves at the end of their 50 years.

Sean Connery set the ball rolling in the first film of the series Dr No (1962) in the widely popular casino sequence featuring Sylvia Trench, when he lights up a cigarette as the camera pans on his assuredly pluck yet irresistibly desirable face and he introduces himself as 'Bond, James Bond' - an irrevocable signature introduction that has become one of the greatest quotable quotes in cinema history. Within the next few seconds, Trench realizes that James Bond is that dangerously challenging adventure of a man that is more than hard to avoid. Oozing an air of gentlemanly suavity, Bond is a man with a purpose, almost ready for anything that comes his way.

Made on a meager budget of $1million after being panned by Hollywood studios, Dr No ushered in a film series that boasts an audience of a quarter of the world's population have seen at least one out of the 23 Bond films, along with a number of spinoffs, spoofs, parodies, video game adaptations and two non-Eon Bond films. Fifty years later, in a dimensionally changed entertainment landscape, who would have thought that a fictional British MI6 spy agent, James Bond, would garner millions of fans, who have come to believe that they can live their lives with a bond-esque cinematic badassery and wait with humongous expectations to witness another manifestation of Broccoli's vision, even he is gone for long?

We all know that ‘Cubby’ a.k.a Albert R. Brocolli is responsible for triggering the idea of this super successful franchise with team players Harry Saltzman and novelist Ian Fleming. Born in Queens, New York, Broccoli was blessed with an Italian descent. Along with his partner Irving Allen, he set up Warwick films in London and produced a string of films in the 1950s. It was in 1960 when Broccoli had the genius epiphany of taking up Ian Fleming’s novels on James Bond and making them into films. He agreed to co-produce them with Harry Saltzman, who already had the rights to Fleming’s books. They set up their own production house, but more importantly, they lent Bond a distinct character of his own as they witnessed his growth from low to staggeringly high budget films, from Dr No to Goldfinger (1964) to Thunderball (1965) to Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and until The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). Broccoli defiantly waited 5 years to legally acquire the rights of Thunderball, which he was convinced should be his first Bond film, but anachronistically ended up making Dr No due to legal issues. In the end, Thunderball turned out to be the highest grossing Bond film ever, inflation adjusted.

On one hand, while Saltzman has continually running parallel interests along with Bond, Cubby treated it like his own family business with much moxie, dedicating every drop of his blood and sweat to it. When they fell apart in 1975, Broccoli took on the hat of a solo producer, nurturing his baby like a constantly evolving graphic novel. Saltzman’s exit posed little threat to Broccoli;s independence even with the studios lurking around to cash in on the success of Bond. In 1977, he produced The Spy Who Loved Me, which was the first in the franchise to have no content borrowed from Fleming’s book. From Moonraker (1979) to Octopussy (1983) to License To Kill (1989) to Golden Eye (1995), he produced an array of Bond films, until his death due to heart failure, that have emblazoned him as the single greatest creator of the series. His company, Danjaq LLC still holds the copyright and the trademarks of all Bond films, through their inhouse Eon Productions, distributed by United Artists, which was later bought over by MGM, which itself was later acquired by Columbia Studios (Sony Pictures Entertainment). Danjaq is currently run by Cubby’s daughter Barbara and stepson, Wilson, and them along with Columbia, have been producing fanciful episodic adventures from much before the sequels and the comic book adaptations stepped in. 

23 films of James Bond. More than USD 5 Billion Gross. 6 lead actors. Along with a legacy of excellence wafting in with guns and espionage, Cubby had a raging predilection for keeping everything within the doors of his family. With most films being shot at Pinewood Studios UK, Broccoli maintained a strict loyalty to most cast and crew members, along with his characters. Richard Maibaum wrote or co-wrote 13 of the first 16 films; Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have written or cowritten the last five. Composer John Barry, production designer Ken Adam and Maurice Binder, who created the swirling opening-credits sequences, stayed with the franchise for a generation or more. The character of M, as the head of MI6, always gives the assignment to Bond, while Q is the guy who is largely reprehensible for all the gadgets and devices used by Bond that makes us smile coyly. Only three actors have played M while only two have played Q. Desmond Llewelyn was Q for 17 films. Most directors have been British, as opposed to the slambang culture of franchises nowadays with a new director stepping in for each sequel. Sean Connery (6 films), George Lazenby (1 film), Roger Moore (7 films), Timothy Dalton (2 films), Pierce Brosnan (4 films) and Daniel Craig (3 films) have been the only actors to play Bond.

Riding high on his bevy of a crew, Broccoli produced more than 40 films in his illustrious career, out of which 17 were of the Bond franchise. But there is more to him than his assuring consistency. Classy tales of espionage, nerve-wrecking action and relentless plot featured in all of the Bond films, but it is the resplendent motifs envisioned and strung together by Broccoli that liven Bond films even today, long after the material is no longer derived from Fleming's novels. Broccoli being a horse-racing enthusiast, along with Saltzman, was the man who grated the first of Bond films with these nuances, leitmotifs and themes. Monty Norman's ridiculously famous James Bond theme, Maurice Binder's crackling gun barrel sequence, the pre-title and the title sequence, the lascivious seductiveness of Bond girls, Rolex watches, Savile Row suits, relentless number of sleek cars, fancy aircrafts and sharp guns, the blatant tongue-in-cheek humor, the devastatingly megalomaniacal villains or the unfathomably visceral locales - most of these elements have been quintessentially remnant in all the 23 ventures, albeit in slightly modified forms. While the pre-title sequences have matured to show full chase and fight sequences, the title sequences still reflect the underlying theme of the film. The gun barrel sequence is perhaps is the most riveting sequence which has also been in many Bond posters. Norman’s 007 theme has had many composers playing with it, including the latest one by Adele in Skyfall, who mashes it up to produce a crackling track, keeping the heart intact.

Soaking them in formulaic patterns never devoid them from growing over time with the contemporary zeitgist of the industry or exponentially whetting the trendsetting production scales. The themes of Bond movies have graduated from hallowing Russian mafia and menacing Cold War hangovers to challenging terror threats and revengeful counterintelligence and much more. The Queen’s secret service agent cadre, led by Agent 007, has risen to save the country from all contemporary adversities with a gung-ho attitude and cutting edge equipments.. While in earlier films, the Russian spy syndicate SMERSH was known as SPECTRE Film nerds credit Cubby for indefatigably thinking ahead of his time at all instance, mostly with the jaw-dropping gizmotic technologies that Bond used. Goldfinger was the first film that captured the use of a menacing laser in a film scenario, while it also marked the debut of Bond’s most famous car, the grey Aston Martin DB5. While Bond only uses a Walther pistol, his cars have been equipped to fire guns, missiles, rockets, lasers or just swimming under-water like the Lotus Espirit in The Spy Who Loved Me, mostly anything to fight his adversaries. In Skyfall (2012) , his Walther PPK/S is customized to his palm prints. Other gadgets that have been used by Bond are bug detectors, dagger shoes, a garrote watch, a bowler hat, a waterproof burial bodybag, dentonite toothpaste, mini-nuke bomb and tons of other fancy stuff. A high dose of class with the innate killer instincts is a rare combination that Bond always pulled off with much ease.

Broccoli wasnt perturbed by the notion of portraying Bond girls as sex objects with double entendre names such as Pussy Galore or Kissy Suzuki or just by having more than one Bond girl in a film. Bond girls created the maximum rivulets in the media for years as the famously indispensable component of each film, even when they were central to the plot or not. They may be victims rescued by Bond, or else ally agents, villainesses, or henchwomen. Cubby's idea was to show Bond girls as desirable, while Bond himself was more desirable to them. From the sultry Ursula Andress in Dr No to the sensuous Halle Berry   in Die Another Day (2002), Bond girls have sizzled the screen with more than just their oomph.

As Bond trots the globe, he is continuously working on his mission and his relationships can only be temporary and dont take time to end. However, the character of Moneypenny recurs as an ally who is his female companion on this journey many a times. Bond’s humor is sarcastically glib as he flirts with Moneypenny, while she doesnt appear in films where Bond falls in love such as with Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (2006). One of Bond’s allies is Felix Leiter, who is a CIA agent and is mostly underplayed as someone of lesser significance in the world of a more efficient British spy. The adrenalin administering high points consisted of racy chase sequences, stunning meeting with villains, the imperfect martinis or just another befuddling turn in the tale only add to this delectable affair with adventure. Broccoli was awarded the 1981 Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award at the Academy Awards for all his contributions to cinema.

Despite being a rousing stretch of eye candy, not all Bond films became the favorites of critics. However, no other film series from Hollywood have reveled in success of a parallel stature with the audiences, striking the chords of their hearts with a fillip. Bond films have provided fodder to hundreds of films across the globe ever since their inception, but more often than not, these furtive efforts provide some fleeting loveliness instead of lasting greatness. From integral plot points pattern to the blithe personality of secret agents to the action and chase sequences, Bond films inspired more than a generation. The Bond franchise second to only the Harry Potter film series in its overall Box Office Worldwide Gross, another British venture which outpaces Bond in just 8 films. While Harry Potter is adorned with the spandex of a completely fantasy premise, Bond walks the thin line between nerve-wrecking reality and the cinematic leap of faith. It would also be fatuous to not consider the effects of inflation on the Box Office recently, considering Harry Potter is a newer franchise with a run time of 10 years.

In 2006, Eon decided to reboot the Bond series with a makeover. The new Bond was no more the martini-sipping classy assassin wearing a tuxedo. He became the ruthless thug desirable for removing his shirt. He appeared onscreen with a rugged brawn, more like a brute and vicious fighter, stripped off his technical virtuousity, but doused with gritty intents. The Bond girl has taken the role of the classy one now. In Skyfall, the 23rd venture from Eon, Daniel Craig suits up in a tuxedo, drives an Aston Martin DB5, but also goes back to his action hero roots as he fights his new enemy, Silva, more by his intellect and skill than by his jaw-dropping gizmos. Broccoli’s family business has outgrown its limits, adapted seamlessly to the changing times and still curated a flavor of Bond’s original assemblage without forgoing originality. With Skyfall, Eon and Sem Mendes pull off a fitting tribute to Cubby, right on Bond’s 50th anniversary. I guess that is how you become a legend, Sir Albert Broccoli. 

Originally published for Long Live Cinema here

Friday, November 2, 2012

Skyfall - Not a review

Daniel Craig's third outing as James Bond, Skyfall, is also touted to be the biggest Bond film ever, out of the 23 films produced in 50 years of Bond. I usually would not do a review for Skyfall, but I realized that while I have seen the film almost a week ago, its actually releasing in India this weekend and in US, the next weekend? Oh well, so this is not a regular review, just a detailed feedback on the film and what to expect.

It wasnt the first trailer, but the second one that got me hooked on to Skyfall expectantly. With the reboot of series with Casino Royale (2006), the idea of Eon Productions has been to take Bond back to his roots, where he is stripped off his fancy avatar and gadgets, thrown in a world of nitty-gritty basic action triggered by the devil in blonde hair, Javier Bardem's Raoul Silva. Director Sam Mendes plays out his cards with a crackling flair, subtly placing in all the cues and motifs of a Bond film slyly pleasing the crowds, but what he manages best is to construct Silva as a megalomaniac anti-hero who has a funny bone that pricks him to do the damage more subtly than ever, just with a pop sound. Mendes tunes up his act with a lot of hard-hitting amateur action, some fine connect-the-dots moments of Bond films and a lot of crowd-pleasing exchange of words. The problem here resides in the simplicity of the outlining plot. Silva is portrayed as ferociously evil, but in the third act of the movie, his larger menacing image possibly with fiendish plans against the MI6, is belittled to a petty revenge, leaving you underwhelmed. Skyfall doesnt live up to the wit and the wonder of the first Bond films, or even Casino Royale for that matter.

Roger Deakins cinematography is one of the finest works you will see in a long time and it just leaves you mesmerized with each frame, specially the Shanghai sequence and the climax. Craig puts his heart out as Bond but its Bardem who walks away with the trophy in this one. As an oddball Silva, Bardem creates a freaky villain that is going to be more memorable than the film. While Skyfall takes Bond back to primitive yet effective fighting techniques, it lacks the overall coherence to give you a feeling of completeness. Most of the reviewers have already declared it the best Bond film ever. Lets just say, Silva would become the best Bond adversary ever. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Expectations - A Hindrance To Creativity?

In the recent release Cocktail (directed by Homi Adajania of Being Cyrus fame), at one point in the second half of the film, the lead character, Veronica, played by Deepika Padukone, gets belligerent due to excessive alcohol consumption doubled by the emotional upheaval she is going through of having lost her love (Gautam aka Saif Ali Khan) to her best friend (Meera aka Diana Penty). While driving back from the nightclub the three of them were at, she insists Gautam to accompany her when she has to go pee, and not Meera, reasoning that he has seen ‘everything’ for her to have any inhibitions. Next up, the film goes dangerously close to taboos of a threesome upon initiation from Veronica and yet, it chooses to stay away from it. Thereafter, the film succumbs to mediocricity and superficiality, lumbering along towards its predictable end despite weaving out interesting characters that explore bad behavior which is a latent resident in all of us. 

Why do interesting plot points ultimately get watered by the baggage of popular interest? Why is it so hard for filmmakers to step out of their comfort zones and go the whole hog? And if they do, why is their manifestation of creativity decreed to be conformist, blanket-like and archetypical? Why is this mold so difficult to break in commercial filmmaking?

One of my favorite directors ever in Indian cinema, Dibaker Banerjee, points out in an interview here, that all filmmakers should leave their comfort zones and focus on new ideas. Until they come out of this mould they have created for themselves, no new grounds will be broken. Ironically enough, there is no better person to advocate this thought than the man who has harped on stunning new territories and innovative storytelling techniques in all of his four films. But the problem doesn’t end here. Commercial filmmaking has forever been straitjacketed by many overweening forces seeded in our cinema culture for ages and while today, we have knocking opportunities and respectable avenues to go ahead and make the film one wants to and also get a theatrical release, there is a bigger threat that looms upon the filmmakers. As Anurag Kashyap has pointed out in various interviews, the fight now is not with the studios and producers to support the film that you want to make, the real struggle now is to live up to an expectant audience who respects you for the work you have done but does not want you to explore anything different in your future ventures. For instance, Kashyap himself faced enough flak when he decided to produce upcoming films like Aiyyaa and Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana under his banner.

As Kashyap has pointed out on numerous occasions post his commercial success with DevD, most of the feedback from the doting audiences was to see him make another similar movie. Success of films brings a lot of good things, but one of the disadvantages of success is that it plants a bit of fear, whether we realize it or not. This fear is rooted in the expectations of the audience who want a Kashyap to only make a dark serious film that could carry forward the flag of alternative cinema, in their self-assumed way. These expectations could become an hindrance to real creative exploration, showing up in the form of conformist ideas or indulgence in some other filmmakers. Though Banerjee may coax filmmakers to be inspired differently each time and they may actually be able to find support for their dream, but they can still wheeze under the weight of these expectations to do something within their constructed comfort zones.

Resting under the umbrella of one's comfort zone and hurling out cringe inducing plotting has been a redundant practice in Indian cinema. Whether it is a character sketch that is built around certain chronic stereotypes or ham-fisted cliches or a well accustomed successful formula pattern that is unrelentingly repeated in many ventures or just associating clumsy traits and behaviors to the people of particular cast, race or region, we seem to have done it all. Prakash Jha's Aarakshan diluted the topic of reservations in the interest of minimizing hurtful content. Only a 5 year old cannot guess what would happen next in one of Madhur Bhandarkar movies. Imtiaz Ali has been pummeled time and again for redundantly re-writing the carefree female characters travelling to amazing locales to fall in love. This year's release, Ishaqzaade, went a step ahead and justified its male chauvinism with a despicable undertone of love. Even Anurag Kashyap was blamed for his indulgence in Gangs of Wasseypur I by the same audience who wants to see him do that.

When it is not indulgence, proverbially hackneyed character sketches become the order of the day. From Mehmood in Padosan to Shah Rukh Khan in Ra.One, we havent outgrown our depiction of South Indian characters as one common template of a Madarasi doing 'Aiyyo'. Abhishek Bachchan's character in Bol Bachchan is just another example of profiling effeminate characters with a threadbare gay image (or vice versa, I am not too sure what Rohit Shetty intended to do!). Over years of Indian films, most girl characters who are 'modern' with habits such as drinking, smoking etc. are shown to be Christian; most cops are shown to be Marathis; most foreign characters are shown to know and speak in Hindi; and most gangsters are shown to be Muslims. Our biggest hits are the ones where female characters dont get much to do rather than being an object of desire. This inherent sexism allows us to cast our lead heroines only in characters that suit the sensibilities of the masses, that too only until they are married, while we have no qualms about the middle aged hero playing a college kid.

Does it hurt to show a South Indian or a North Indian or a gay character in his/her regular capacity rather than a mere extension of caricatures? Does a gay character have to wear pansy outfits and give provocative expressions to men? Why are no lead roles written for middle-aged actresses as opposed to the custom anywhere around the world? While I hold the filmmakers responsible for these fallacies, I would still argue that it is our expectation of what we want to see that builds these characters on screen. The filmmakers are just more than ready to serve what we want to see, motivated by the Box Office outcome.

Hence, expectations infallibly become the bane of creative filmmaking in most cases. It is only when our scriptwriters and directors dare to get rid of these trite expectations and reconstruct their structures without a hegemony towards derived influences and thoughts that we will we see a dawn amongst the audience, because all they care about is a good time at the movies. Cinema being a one-way medium of entertainment, the change cannot really come the other way round. Filmmakers should not be afraid of failures, even if it comes in the form of a criticism from their own fan base. Give the audiences zero options of stereotypes or formulas at the theatres, yet provide them the wholesome entertainment they crave. Remember, well-made films will always work. I wish to intone this as a necessity, more than a requisition!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Yash Raj

मेरी टेढ़ी मेढ़ी कहानियाँ, मेरे हसतें रोते ख्वाब
(Meri Tedhi Medhi Kahaaniyan, Mere Haste Rote Khwab)

कुछ सुरीले बेसुरे गीत मेरे, कुछ अछे बुरे किरदार
(Kuchh Sureele Besure Geet Mere, Kuchh Ache Bure Kirdaar)

वोह सब मेरे हैं, उन सब में मैं हूँ
(Woh Sab Mere Hai, Un Sab Mein Main Hoon)

बस भूल ना जाना, रखना याद मुझे
(Bas Bhool Na Jaana, Rakhna Yaad Mujhe)

जब तक है जान, जब तक है जान 
(Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Jab Tak Hai Jaan)

Those were the very last words we heard out of Yash Chopra, barely 3 weeks ago in his conversation with Shahrukh Khan at his birthday. I am too inconspicuous to even pay a fitting tribute to his stature. Thus, allow me here to just grieve a personal loss.

Gutted, confused and cinematically orphaned, I am still not ready to accept this insurmountable deprivation. This just cannot happen. I sit here, sulking alone in my room, expecting Yashji to jump out of this temporary oblivion to fill my screen with awesomeness, to inspire generations and to incite those little dreams of millions across the globe. Is there another director who can direct two dimensionaly opposite films, like Deewar and Kabhi Kabhie simultaneously, shuttling between schedules, sets and actors and still weave magic with both of them, emblazoning them in the pages of history as exceptional cinema?

Padma Bhushan. 2 National Awards. Dadasaheb Phalke Award. 11 Filmfare Awards. Legion of Honor. Waqt. Ittefaq. Daag. Deewar. Kabhi Kabhie. Silsila. Chandni. Lamhe. Darr. Dil Toh Pagal Hai. Veer Zaara. Scores of other awards and recognition. Many other films directed and produced. It is awe-inspiringly futile to list the feats and accolades of this man. But whats harder is to encapsulate his innate talent and transcendental contribution to Indian cinema in just one post. 80 years young, Yashji was not just the King of Romance. A career spanning 53 years and 22 films is not just a formidable oeuvre, but also a journey that yahoos about pioneering a fore-fatherhood of the industry and steering its discourse with the changing times. That famous dialogue in Deewar, that scene in Mashaal, that emotional upheaval in Silsila, that unconventional love of father-daughter in Lamhe, that cynical lover in Darr or that immortal love in Veer Zaara, Yashji's movies have time and again broken the barriers of filmmaking and soared into the extraordinary. While its hard to bracket Yashji as a filmmaker of a genre, it is harder to find anyone else who achieved such phenomenal success both with Box Office and critics all through his career. A whole new world will blossom in heaven today while we stand here, lobotomized and stupefied. 

For me, I can only swallow it hard. When I was 6 years old, I watched Waqt on television and was instantly sucked into the fears of a family separating by an earthquake. When I sneaked out  to watch Daag, a film meant otherwise for adults, I wondered if there could be a better depiction of timeless love. When I saw Kabhi Kabhie, I was swept away with the ease Yashji could tell a complicated story. When I saw Darr, I had no idea that the villain could also be the lead character. I saw Deewar much later only to realize that it was not only Yashji's best work, but also the best movie made in Indian cinema history. He may have touched one too many lives across the world unified by a love for cinema, but for me, he was the seed of inspiration and of a spirited thought that I would like my first film to be a love story, always. At his 80th birthday a few weeks back, the man of few mumbled words, the grand cine-star, light-heartedly shared his entire journey and a world listened. An abhorrent void is all that exists in me having lost him so soon right after, a deep wistful longing that if I ever make a movie, I cannot even hope to show it to him. Is this fair?

I feel paralyzed, but I also feel an inexorable desire to nosedive into the industry that he worked in, to walk the same lanes as he did, to be surrounded by the air he was, to strive for an ounce of his cinematic craft, to be able to break new grounds with as much vigor and moxie as he did and above all, to be able to follow my heart as much as he could. The era has not ended, the legend is not over. Not until we stop living in his movies, and we never will. 

The Yash Raj is here, now and forever, Jab Tak Hai Jaan!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Student Of The Year is the surprise package of the year

Student Of The Year is Karan Johar's holiday film, apart from being the incumbent launch vehicle of three new actors who would have never imagined to debut in a film directed by Johar. Siddharth Malhotra, David Dhawan's son Varun and Mahesh Bhatt's daughter Aliaa make their debut in SOTY, a film that Karan made to get back to his style of cinema. I have always harbored respect for him for single- handedly trendsetting the big good looking picture format in Indian cinema with much portly ingenuity. He did not only triggered the trend of big budgeted films, but also films that looked ridiculously ginormous in their production scale and lavishness, along with having a lot of altruistic content. Honestly, Karan knows no other cinema, but he knows this one inside out. He knows how to make it, and how to sell it too. SOTY is no exception. The songs worked all through the promotional campaign of SOTY, but I had serious disturbing doubts if he would have got it right this time around. Every frame I saw from the movie looked to dissolve the boundaries of reality and be trifle overplayed into over the top fiction, that would leave behind a smudge of gloss with no savory feel to the film. All film lovers, like me, desperately wanted SOTY to work as this generation's Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander or Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but the finches and mynas that flew out of Dharma Productions did not give the assurance that we were looking for.

This Wednesday night, post the premier of SOTY in Mumbai, in came a puzzling surprise when everyone who watched it seemed to like it, including the searing cynics, the ardent lovers and the lynching critics. I was instantly intrigued to go watch it on Thursday itself, to check out if it really works. At the end of this journey, I am happy to assert that Karan only went wrong with Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, never before, never after. Student Of The Year is the inevitable yet convivially the surprise package of the year. A lot of production houses and directors launch new talents, but these three kids have possibly bagged the greatest launch anyone could have. Big budgets, behemoth production values, brightly lit locations, razor-sharp styling, larger than life projections, bubblegum song and dance sequences and a spirited marketing campaign that almost engulfed Chakravyuh and many other films releasing in the surrounding weekends. Which debut actor gets to go to London and Dubai to promote the film? Yet, Karan backs up all the pulp and gloss with a lot of meat and shit ton of heart, with a distinct semblance of his understanding of cinema. Its hard to look sardonically at SOTY even when it plays out like an American sitcom that you would probably hate for cheeky cheesiness and placid predictability. The point here is SOTY never aspires to be ambitious or innovative, telling a simplistic tale of school friendship jeopardized by nail-biting competition, fickle emotions and overbearing social setups. Amidst the impossible scenarios of teenagers doing things we never did in school (dancing to peppy numbers at wink of an eye, driving the best cars that exist in this world, possessing the looks that would make your jaw drop, and living/studying at the spotlessly lavish places that one could imagine), SOTY never crams the proceedings with seriousness. The humor is fresh, the jokes are new and the emotions are as fickle as they are in reality. Karan is totally unapologetic about showing the beaten to death discrimination of rich and poor or playing out the expected. Yet, he coherently packs it with a lot of fun and engaging, engrossing you enough to relate with most of the characters, as you munch your popcorn through the tad bit long run time of 145 minutes. Written by Karan Johar and Rensil DeSilva, SOTY is bound to go down well with today's generation of teenagers and beyond. The writing doesnt take sides with its characters, and allows them to be immature or grey if they have to be, as they learn their lessons of life and go on to impart some of them to its viewers. Everyone is in a competition and relationships change overnight, but what are they really running after? Its Karan's masterclass to poke fun at the blinding race shown in his own film with a lot of stress on the significance on basic values of friendship and life, yet keep it extremely breezy and entertaining, veering away from the saccharine.

Student Of The Year keeps you hooked because of its efficient writing of stereotypical characters and striking direction. Yet, it comes with its share of snags. It gets a wee bit longer than you want it to. A sequence involving a treasure hunt comes out as blatantly childish and stupid. The different levels of the competition do take a backseat at times when it comes to the love story and the emotional playground, yet that doesnt hurt the purpose. A particular sequence devoid of dialogue (only background music) right before the interval is a crackling piece of direction. Produced by Dharma Productions and SRK's Red Chillies Productions and distributed by Eros International, SOTY has a bounty of cash being poured in every single frame to make it look like a portrait. Amrita Mahal's Production Design is classy and stunning. Each locale and setting is shiny, spotless and suave. Ayananka Bose's Cinematography is prophetically brilliant, yet I would have wanted to see a better capture of the sports sequences. Music by Vishal-Shekhar carries the wiry jumpiness of the youth today but there could be one too many songs in the film, though Johar has tried to use them smartly, specially Ishq Wala Love is utilized to take the story forward, instead of just a brazen plugin. Yet, Radha and Kukkad are unnecessary. Editing could have been way more crisper.

Time and again, a host of new faces have hit the silver screen in various productions every year. However, it has been terribly hard to find new talents that dont come out as amateurs at some instant in the movie. The three kids here, Siddharth, Aliaa and Varun, dunk through the immense pressure of a KJo film on their head and virtuously put in an earnest effort that makes the movie work. Karan has been able to extract respectable performances from his hugely new cast. Aliaa Bhatt scares you to be like an annoying Sonam Kapoor initially but grows on to become much more rooted and lovable girl next door. Siddharth Malhotra is wondrously dapper, but plays a slightly difficult character with a rare confidence and immersive emotional heft. But the show stealer amongst the three debutantes turns out to Varun Dhawan. Playing the character of a spoilt brat yet an unassuming friend, Dhawan allures you with more than just the multiple topless shots of his physique. Given the right roles, Dhawan is bound to go places, while even the other two show no hammy parlance that you expect them to. Rishi Kapoor shines in yet another supporting role after Agneepath. He walks into any character with striking intuitiveness and its a treat to see him dance or do the Dafliwala step. While Ronit Roy and Ram Kapoor are comfortably okay, its Boman Irani who leaves a mark in just one hilarious scene. If not for him, his son Kayoze Irani, makes his acting debut in a sufficiently extended role and delivers a brilliant sequence in the climax. Sana Saeed (KKHH's Anjali) was a better actress back then, though she is saddled with an annoying character in this one. Its a treat to watch Farida Jalal even for a few scenes as the veteran actress is indefatigably charming. The actors playing Shruti and Jeet provide a set of laughs too, apart from doing well in their parts.

Student Of The Year is a surprise film that thoroughly entertains you when you least expect it to. Its set in an imaginary world of Karan Johar, but is embellished with a lot of astute moments that win the competition for this one. You may find it insipid due to its branding as a typical Hindi film with all its ingredients, but beyond that genre's dreck, there is a strong undercurrent of gyrating freshness. Owing to Karan's exceptional marketing of new faces, SOTY has got an amazing prevailing buzz leading up to its release. Surprisingly, a large number of people around me were waiting to run to the theaters this week and the film has taken a big opening, which has not happened since the times of Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai. The word of mouth is always good when an audience is entertained and I would definitely be interested in watching the collections of this one. Whether you are a guy or a girl, if you love your bros or hoes, dont miss this one!

Rating - 3/5

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Aiyyaa is a quirky yet clunky affair

Aiyyaa is directed by Sachin Kundalkar, a two time National Award winning Marathi filmmaker, and produced by Anurag Kashyap's AKFPL, along with Viacom 18. The film starts with Meenakshi (Rani Mukerji) enacting out many hit songs of Sridevi and Madhuri in her dream, which intermittently keeps breaking into her real life. The whole film plays out like a prolonged gearshifting between her dreams where she is following the man of her dreams, just by his smell, and reality where she is living an obnoxious life. At its best, Aiyyaa is experimental cinema that will not work for everyone. More on that later. When the first trailer came out, the lollypop visual style incurred a clumsy labeling for the film wherein people claimed it was ripoff from the success of The Dirty Picture last year. The subsequent songs and promo videos did not help the buildup to this Rani Mukerji release. While the irascible portions of our audience complained that the promos reeked of Rani's desperation, I myself was pretty disappointed by them, yet relentlessly investing my faith in the phalanx working on it. In the end, Aiyyaa turns out to be a movie that leaves you wistfully longing for a better procedure to this tricky experiment, yet its not entirely terrible.

Kundalkar's Marathi drama, Aiyyaa, is possibly the quirkiest film to come out this year. In his world, none of the characters are completely sane, though most definitely warped and crotchety. This triggers a mad barrage of sequences, driven by his indulgent experimentation. The loud uncouth mom, the cynical dad, the eccentric grandmother, the imbecilic brother, the annoyingly dumb co-worker and Meenakshi, the indefatigably filmy daughter who can transport herself into a dream world at the blink of an eye, the world that takes her away from the cluttered heap of her reality. All the insanity churns up a few astute moments in the narrative, but on most other instances, it makes you groan in pain. The missing ruse in this experiment is that the whiff of a plot can be summed up to a short story of 5 minutes. Despite its innovative handling of this wobbly premise of characters, Kundalkar's focus remains concentrated on building the weirdest bunch of oddball characters and sequences, and not on layering the story with more meat. Meenakshi recognizes the love of her life by his smell and fancifully follows him like a creep all through the movie, breaking into a song sporadically. Her family has a zany, peculiar sense of humor that is devoid of the pasty faced hamminess, but works only at times. Her co-worker, Maina, is the peskiest funny character in the film that could make you shoot a bullet on the screen. Kundalkar tries to court the audience with a lot of indulgent weirdness, but not all of his efforts pay off. Some instances work, others dont, never seamlessly adding it up as a whole. The tonal shifts are jarring and the movie seems to drag in a clunky fashion. 

To be fair to him, the intention to portray the lusty side of a forbidden woman, who is paraded everyday in front of potential grooms for them to accept, with a bout of absurd humor, Bollywood kitsch and over the top melodrama, was originally great. The fantasy world of Meenakshi is garish and sexual, while her reality is suffocating and upsetting. While Kundalkar shows much candor in accentuating his narrative with lust and sex, it may not go down well with a lot of Indian audience having to see a female getting her sense of liberated love by smelling her man or the objects he touched, stealing the shirt he wore or the hankerchief he used and immediately breaking into a fantasy. There is a lot of fresh flavor in his direction, his usage of imagery, colors, smell and female desires, but it confoundingly takes ages to ripe and never goes the full hog. There are many absurd and asinine points in the film that will hit you like a tranquilizing dart and make Aiyyaa difficult to consume, but if you have the appetite for the strange, it throws in enjoyable moments almost every 5 minutes. Though a bevy of people have claimed the film and its songs to be racist towards South Indians, I actually thought that some of the boisterous goofiness may be caricaturish but never hurtful. 

Produced by Viacom 18 and AKFPL, Aiyyaa is unlike any film that Anurag Kashyap has been associated with. Music and Background by Amit Trivedi is not his best, but still manages to liven up the screenplay, specially with its smart usage. At many instances, the music stops and continues when Meenakshi's dream continues. Dreammum Wakeuppam is probably the pick of the lot while What To Do is the most unrequired song ever in an Hindi film. Vaibhavi Merchant's choreography for Aga Bai and Sava Dollar is spellbinding fantastic, enhancing the sensuality of the proceedings with much ease. Aiyyaa is a a gimmicky colorful film, that is loaded with eye popping visuals and possibly every color that exists. Amalendu Chaudhary's cinematography is strikingly ebullient capturing some of the finest moments on screen. The multiple close-ups of Meenakshi, the pulpy ripoff of the yesteryears, the leaking colors in southern masala, the serene shades of blue paint in water or the dowdy environments of Meenakshi's house, Chaudhary has marveled this one with a lot of variety. Same goes for Ashok Lokare's Production Design, as this must have been a hard film to work on. The person to be held against a knife is Editor Abhijeet Deshpande, who has allowed Aiyyaa to hit the screens as an overly long ditsy affair of 150 minutes. 

It is unfathomable to imagine Aiyyaa without the energy of Rani Mukerji. Amongst a bout of fresh faces, Rani reinvents and submits herself to Meenakshi, delivering a stellar performance that permeates awesomeness in each screen. She plays the melodramatic queen, the female wanting to break the shackles of her life, the woman lusting after the man of her dreams and the girl with a faint sobbing heart with stunning perfection, re-affirming the talent reserves she always had. She shines, and outshines the movie, through and through. Nimriti Sawant as her mom is smashing, delivering one of the best lines and comic moments all through the movie. Prithviraj Sukumaran makes a confident Hindi debut but doesnt get much scope beyond being an object of desire. Amey Wagh as Meenakshi's brother ranges from hilarious to annoying, while Anita Date as her co-worker tries hard but only manages to get on your nerves. Jyoti Subhash as her grandmother is a lot of fun to watch, specially as she zooms around in her electric wheelchair. Satish Alekar and Subodh Bhave are allright.

Aiyyaa is a rare film that experiments absurd humor instead of chronic gags, but gets quite lost and incoherent somewhere in trying to do a lot with its treatment instead of etching a hefty storyline. The only positives to carry back from this one is technical excellence and the spirited performances of the fresh cast, along with a promise that this experiment can be bettered. The film may have opened well but last week's release English Vinglish is bound to retain its momentum due its word of mouth even this week and it will dent the collections of Aiyyaa. For this one time, my rating may not reflect how much you will like the film because I know people who have liked it a lot. If you are Rani Mukerji fan, dont miss this one. Here is an extra half star for her.

Rating - 2/5

Saturday, October 6, 2012

English Vinglish is a delightful winner, not worth a miss

A few days ago, English Vinglish was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was received with a standing ovation as the end credits rolled. Produced by Eros International and R Balki, written and directed by Balki's wife and first time director Gauri Shinde, English Vinglish also marks the end of Sridevi's sabbatical from cinema after 14 years. From its first promo of a woman in saree struggling to read English to the theatrical trailer making you grin from ear to ear at the smell of what could be a good movie, English Vinglish had got most of its messaging right laconically without succumbing to any cheap gimmicks or an impressive swoon worthy star cast. Balki has been a formidably trustworthy director himself with his outings of Cheeni Kum and Paa. Gauri Shinde takes a leaf of simplicity out of Balki's book and weaves a film that is a pure delight to watch. Its a simple story told in the simplest way, with a lot of innocent heart and high dosages of mint freshness.

At 49, Sridevi looks gloriously gorgeous and oozes sunny charisma in every frame, triggering gamuts of shame upon many actresses 15-20 years younger to her buried under a heap of make up. If you can doff your amazement for her and focus on Gauri Shinde's debut serving, you will still be equally stunned. Shinde handpicks a rare idea of a housewife (Shashi) inept in English that brings constant embarrassment to her from her closest family, including her husband. Throw in an unlikely situation of Shashi travelling to US alone, an endearing journey of learning English and teaching the more important lessons of life to others and viola! this concoction is a seamless winner. Shinde's writing is taut, not allowing you to look sideways even once as the drama unfolds. Her humor is a buffet of innovative situations and peachy lines keeping the proceedings astonishingly breezy and rapturously breakneck. Shinde does not either leave an opportunity to wrap your heart with a bout of warmth or pull its strings to make you misty eyed, specially in the finale. Its an uncomplicated story, but it packs in enough meat in its content than you find otherwise in many movies, honed with a deft hand of striking effortlessness and lucid treatment. Despite her writing being formulaic, Shinde doesnt let it slither into another clunky affair. She roots the story in deep Indian values of family and marriage but presents it in a light vein with much froth. As Shashi chugs along regaining her own self respect, she also becomes an instrument to impart small but necessary values in stereotyping of women in India, parenting, cross-cultural acceptance, cross-border relations, homophobia and more. Shinde masters most of her moments with tenderness - the endearing portions where Shashi and Laurent interact in Hindi and French respectively with each other, every single instance when Shashi is subtly looked down upon by her family, the equation between Shashi and her niece, or the finale with a rare semblance of morals. One could complain that the film uses an archaic ploy of digging one's emotions by its feel good moments but English Vinglish is highly laudable effort to be pulled down with this makeshift argument.

Despite the absence of a menacing order of star names on the poster, except for Sridevi who is more of a ex-starlet, the production values of English Vinglish are at par with any other big release. Amit Trivedi creates and delivers another set of fresh tunes in the music album and the background score with much searing blithe that chides at the obtrusive loud popular music made to adhere to the ongoing culture. The title song and Navrai Majhi may inimitably be the pick of the lot, but the complete album stirs up a lasting happy effect that will not peter soon after the release. Here's another feather in the master's cap! Laxman Utekar's cinematography is alluring, capturing New York City differently one more time. Hemanti Sarkar's editing could have done with a little more stern knife but it doesnt hurt the movie at any instance. Production Design by Mustafa Stationwala is classy and immersive, with no leaking colors or garish frames. A special mention for the casting directors, both in India and New York, for the perfect supporting cast that could have been assembled for this movie.

Shouldering an insurmountable expectation of a comeback, along with the lead role of a film that doesnt go a scene without her, the magnanimous Sridevi leaves nothing to decry. As Shashi, she displays the pitch perfect love, concern, vulnerability, anger, restraint, moxie and sadness. Good artists never get decrepit just by sitting at home, Sridevi seamlessly proves that. Her childlike efforts as an English learner or the portrayal of a mother with utmost concern for her kids or a righteous wife to her husband, she moonwalks comfortably through all of it with ease. Adil Hussain as the loving yet an underestimating husband provides the best fit for the part. Hussain is an inherently natural actor and shines above the rest of the supporting cast. Famous French actor, Mehdi Nebbou, makes his Bollywood debut as Laurent, churning out a sensitive portrayal of a man in love with Shashi's simplicity. Tamil actress, Priya Anand, makes her debut as Radha, and does well for most parts, apart from being an eye candy. The child artistes playing Shashi's kids are excellent while Sujata Kumar as Shashi's sister is delightful. A small cameo by a legendary superstar is more of a tribute, but is bound to leave you in splits. A huge group of unseen faces and actors rents a believability to English Vinglish that curtails a divide in opinion on the casting and pimps it a few notches further in its performance quotient.

The best thing about English Vinglish is that it did not get lost in the spam of wrongly and over marketed films. The film has maintained its niche buzz over the weeks and grown its reach too, making it one of the awaited movies of the year and the producers deserve much appreciation for that. As it turns out, it outlives all the expectations by delivering an honest film that adds to the list of what could possibly be the best year for Hindi cinema in decades. It has taken an average start at the theaters, led mostly by the multiplexes but I have ginormous hopes that the film is virile enough to carry itself through the week and the collections are bound to pick up. Go watch it in a theater, NOT A DVD PLEASE, and spread the word so that everyone else does. Its more than a fleeting respectable comeback for Sridevi, it actually abounds in memorable greatness in craft. Welcome, Gauri Shinde!

Rating - 4/5

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Barfi is a poetic masterpiece

Barfi, directed by Anurag Basu, was a definite winner ever since its first trailer came out. You know a movie is destined for awesomeness when the makers have the balls to put out a trailer without any dialogues even when they have the slate of stars such as Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Ileana D'Souza. Each successive promo or trailer told a little story in itself building up to a release that had everyone's heart pounding to grab a bite of this sweet dish. Anurag Basu started his career with the box-office hit Murder, followed it with the epoch busting thriller Gangster and then delicious slice of life Life in a Metro. He also directed Hrithik Roshan's Kites thereafter but never owned up to it amidst all the rumors of interference from Rakesh Roshan. With Barfi, he breaks these virtual shackles and paints a delectable imagery inspired by the creative reserves that always existed in him and bumps it up by many levels. Yet, Barfi is a film that demands all of your earnest attention and immense patience, but if you do give that, the final pay-off is a cauldron of fulfillment, to say the least.

An odd name, Barfi, is a multi-layered film that cannot be classified into any genre without a blink. At the heart of it, it is a love triangle with soaring emotions, but is doused with elements of zany comedy, unspoken physical challenges and a shy thriller subplot. Yet, Anurag Basu effortlessly takes all of these and more, wraps it around in softness and recites it like a William Wordsworth poem. Barfi has all the ingredients of masala intertwined in its poetic branches, yet filtered and finished with a feel good charm that constantly ensures a smile on your face. Its a hard film to make, and a harder film to write, considering the lavish focus on differently abled lead characters that dont speak ever, a layered circular narrative that could get trifle confusing and an impressively visceral treatment that exemplifies cinematic indulgence in right proportions. Barfi is a playful experiment in the mainstream space that is constantly engaging and subtly entertaining, despite its maniacal anachronistic presentation that shamelessly switches between times and flashbacks and eras. Basu's periodical gearshifting never causes a gap in the tone of the film, such is his masterstroke. Many would complain about the thriller subplot as being extraneous or a lack in pace in the second half, but all the convolutions gel so coherently that wipes the smudge off the screen and sharpens the edges of this bright yet heartbreaking venture. Lots of long shots and close-ups, innovative techniques of direction and an assuring camerawork pins Barfi notches above the expectations you might have.

Barfi is the story of a pack of characters over a few decades, led by a deaf and mute guy Murphy (Ranbir, he can only tell his name as Barfi), an autistic girl Jhilmil (Priyanka) and a married girl Shruti (Ileana) who cannot get over her only love of life. The two best things about Basu's writing and direction is that it never lets go of the whimsical breezy charm amidst its varied sensibilities, and it never tries to manipulate your emotions through tomfoolery, sympathy or contrivations. The content is meaty and unfocused but Basu weaves his endearing moments with a lot of care taking influences ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Woody Allen. His characters are simple people who feel and act instantly, but there is a light-hearted balance that eventually drives home the point of the beauty of life. Barfi manages to connect with you on many levels, striking your senses with a gentle touch as a bout of innocent and fresh escapist entertainment devoid of patronization or pretension. Anurag Basu exhibits a rare narrative style with barely any dialogue, better than any of his previous attempts, that propels his pure talent to the pinnacle of filmmaking this year. *Yes, it is the year of Bengal.*

Barfi, produced by UTV Motion Pictures and Ishana Movies, had more than just the writing going for it. Ravi Varman's cinematography is largely immersive and genuinely breathtaking, drawing you quietly into each and every frame across the panoramic locales of Darjeeling and Calcutta. Varman captures the nuances of the characters with much ease and paints a rapturous picture that never gets loud or touristy, coherently seconded by a diligent Production Design that emanates ease. Pritam, takes upon himself to slam all his critics over the years and delivers one of the best albums of the year. Each song is a little gem that tickles different chords inside you. Phir Le Aaya Dil by Rekha Bharadwaj and Arijit Singh is my pick of the lot, followed by Main Kya Karoon and Barfi title song. Basu uses the song well to make up for the lack of dialogue and doesnt allow them to barge in. A special mention of the opening verse of a song that tells you to shut your phones and kids because the movie is starting. Lyrics by Swanand Kirkire, Neelesh Mishra, Sayeed Quadri and Ashish Pandit are fresh and frivolous. Background score by Pritam only extends his excellence with the songs. Editing by Akiv Ali could be a tad bit tighter.

Time and again, many of us have said and heard that Ranbir Kapoor is bound to be the next superstar. Without any predilection, I would like to eliminate this idea and go on to announce, that he is already a superstar, and more importantly, a super actor. Last year, he reneged his detractors, though there arent many, with a standout performance in Rockstar. In a recent interview, Kapoor audaciously rated himself 10/10 as an actor and 4/10 as a star. In his short career, his choice of films from Rocket Singh to Rockstar to Barfi has been palpably superior to any of his peers and remarkably phenomenal. With Barfi, he exponentially enters an elite zone where not many can outplay him. His goofball boisterousness, his lover-boy antics, his innocent emotions, as Barfi, transcend beyond acting to a semblance of reality that reaches out to you. To complement Ranbir, Priyanka Chopra plays an equally difficult character with much panache that makes me wonder why she gives duds like Teri Meri Kahaani putting her ginormous talent to shame. As an autistic girl, Chopra never lets Jhilmil become a subject of pity or sympathy depicting dumbness, sense, love, jealousy and everything else with a distinct portrayal. If you even dare to miss the eye candy in the leads, Ileana D'Souza dons a saree to deliver a vital mature performance that probably defines the essence of the film. Ileana, confident in her Hindi debut, is seamlessly ebullient and instantly believable. Acclaimed Bengali actress Rupa Ganguly makes a mark in the few scenes she gets as Ileana's mother. Saurabh Shukla is a shockingly under-rated talent that gets his due in Barfi, shining in his role as the police inspector. Akash Khurana as Barfi's dad is superb, while Ashish Vidyarthi doesnt get much scope. Its this eclectic set of artists that handle this intricate tale with much concern and affection.

Barfi is not only a buffet of eyeball orgasms that delivers a rousing stretch of smiles, but is also a heartbreaking tale of pure love, told with a refreshing cinematic approach that affects you deeply and stays with you longer. It is a film that hardly gets many things wrong in its 150 minute runtime and a film that should be witnessed on the biggest screen. It has taken a good start at the Box Office but Ranbir's films dont make the money they are supposed to, once his fans are done seeing the movie. Its a shame that Indian movie-going audience would take Bol Bachchan to 100Cr and Ek Tha Tiger to 200Cr, but would wait for Barfi to come out on a DVD. Here is a star who is trying to act, and make a difference with really mainstream entertaining movies. What else do you want? If Barfi does not enter the coveted 100Cr club, it should call for a riotous situation inside my head. I appeal to you, go out, buy a ticket and watch Barfi in a theater. If you are disappointed, I will buy you a meal whenever we meet!

Rating - 4.5/5

*The Year of Bengal refers to my recent column here