Saturday, March 24, 2012

Agent Vinod is reasonably well-plotted, but lacks the fizz

Breaking News: All the rumours going the rounds about a plausible disagreement between Saif Ali Khan and Sriram Raghavan are seemingly true. Yes, you may feel that the macaws and mynas that make up the sensationalist media may not be completely false, specially once you watch Agent Vinod, produced by Saif's Illuminati Films and directed by the supremely talented, Sriram Raghavan, of Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddar fame. Again, if you haven't seen these films, please re-evaluate your cinematic exposure of Indian cinema. 

Its been a long, tedious wait for Agent Vinod. Many years in conceptualizing and filming for the makers, and ineffable wait for the audience before this one saw a release. Saif Ali Khan's dream project, that got entangled in production issues, let alone the controversies that had the media awfully speculating. Ironically, the movie itself ends up furthering the belief *spoiler alert* in the existence of conspiracy (read controversial) theories of the New World Order too. Now go Wiki, whats that all about. Agent Vinod is a well-crafted, reasonably well-plotted spy thriller, that comes out as overweeningly confused and callously choppy. The point is after seeing the trailer, I had assumed it to be a wondrously tongue-in-cheek humor kind of action thriller that transcendentally elbows out all the others in this genre. The reality is it is that kind of a film, but you never end up feeling like that. Its almost as if two different forces were strangling the rope that pulls the film forward, unfortunately in different directions.

Agent Vinod had a lot going for it. The publicity was not aggrandizing, the expectations were not humongous like Ra.One or its likes, the lead male could quietly pass off as the Indian James Bond and the director came from a skilled cadre. Raghavan has his own uncanny style of doing thrillers. He does not believe in incorporating a gazillion twists in the tale, but he does like to tell convoluted tales that keep the viewer perennially guessing and sometimes present the obvious with his gushing notoriety. Thats where he scores above his peers that fall prey to the multiple twists in a thriller and lose sight of the teething loopholes. But who cares about loopholes, I could find a lot of them in Mission Impossible too, but you have to pocket that leap of faith when you enter the theatre and believe that your spy agent does not need to lay out everything he does. In Agent Vinod, there are many sequences which have Raghavan's watermark etched upon them but they are fewer than they they should be, and the result is that you never feel the punch. Raghavan also tries to pay a tribute to a lot of retro cinematic techniques, by incorporating old songs as background scores in significant sequences, action and non-action both. The plot is headily overstuffed with convolutions and its easy to lose sight of whats happening, but sadly, its not dealt with a deft hand making you lose patience rather than lose sight, more often than not. Its loaded with numerous throttling fight sequences, fiesty fist fights and gunshots, alluring chases, witty one-liners and arresting twists which along with a slick second half saves the film from absolute mediocrity. But none of these deliver the punch that you are expecting, the best one liners do not evoke influence and the best actions sequences do not enthrall you at times. The patchy work leaves the final outcome garbled and trite right when you are ready to feel the high. The use of old songs in background score, the sequence with aunties in the auto-rickshaw, the sequence at Prem Chopra's house in Morocco, the sequence at the wedding in Pakistan, the car chase in Latvia - original and well-executed, but straitjacketed by a missing edge to them. You might wanna think twice if the original scripting by Raghavan and Arijit Biswas was slightly different than the final product because its hard to believe that Raghavan got delusional while directing it. Having said that, few sequences are sparkling and top-notch. The one shot fight sequence built around Raabta, is a pure gem. Its a treat to watch the execution of so many kickass and wicked moments but its disappointing to realize that they dont add upto the whole film experience. Thankfully, it does not fall prey to sappy propagation of the romantic track between the leads and still keeps it there in the essence and wit. Yet, I would rate it as an ambitious aim, that slightly missed the target, but is arguably competent. 

Agent Vinod has been backed efficiently by Saif and it shows up. The Production Design is defiantly grand and instantly affable, with a lot of money poured into it. Shooting in multiple locations across the world must have been an uphill task for the whole crew but they took their time to ensure nothing comes out as unreal or garish on screen. Cinematography by Muraleedharan is overwhelmingly sleek and registers a searing impact. Editing by Pooja Surti could have been better, it defeats the purpose of a lot of visual artistry used by Raghavan. Sound mixing and editing could have been better too, many a times it misplaces masterstroke trippy segments with mis-attributed sound effects. Sound design is strikingly better from the other sound departments. Dialogues have the knack to make you grin for sure and have been written well. The music of the film has been touted as the best plagiarized album by Pritam. Most of the songs are lifted, but well-composed and appealing chartbusters, that have served as suitable accouterments to the script. Raabta, is definitely the pick of the lot, specially with its marvelous execution.  

Saif Ali Khan has grown into a very mature rooted performer, coming from his days of ludicrously sleepwalking through his roles. Pinned down as the best supporting actor by many, for me, he is a credulously able actor owing to Dil Chahta Hai,Ek Hasina Thi, Being Cyrus, Omkara, Love Aaj Kal and a couple of others. In Agent Vinod, he notches one step further, carrying along his unusual wit and the innate ability to look the part, well enough to deliver an earnest performance. He is literally the soul of the film. Kareena is saddled with a poor character sketch and does not shine, morosely getting typical to most of her other roles. There are a million other cameos by seasoned actors for small roles that end briskly without much ado but help the movie sustain its consistency in performances including Ravi Kishan, Ram Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Gulshan Grover, Shahbaz Khan and Dhritiman Chaterji. Adil Husain is allright, while B P Singh, the creator of television series CID, is hilariously miscast. 

Agent Vinod had a lot of money, time and effort riding on it. It is definitely not a bad movie, after all, but grimly enough, it does not deliver the adventure you are wanting it to. You expect heresy, but you get a mildly thandi chai. It has taken a good start at the box office and the promos are largely appealing which will ensure the collections add up. Plus, Pungi is a runaway hit with the masses and is a major draw. I would rate it half a star more, but honestly, I was expecting a lot more and came out with trifling disappointment. I will share a secret here. To all the fanboys of Mission Impossible 4, I would still rate it at 3/5, along with Don 2. I will secretly wait for Raghavan's next though because EHT and JG were both a 4/5! 

Rating - 2.5/5

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kahaani is the best movie to come out in 2 years

Blistering barnacles, this movie! I expected a lot from Kahaani, a hell of a lot, from savoring the first trailer to the subsequent ones to the music. All of them possessed a teething rapier-like edge to them. After the show got over, I was standing outside the theatre in a trope daze. Unsettled. Unnerved. During the interval, I was on a high texting everyone to go watch it right away and doped about the second half. Though I try to see the easily likeable portions in almost all movies and comment duly, only few movies have casted indelible impressions on me. Kahaani is one of them. Its actually aphrodisiacal, the one that makes me go home and write a movie. It’s a living proof of excellence in cinematic sleight.

Sujoy Ghosh, whose wriggling journey with the silver screen has consisted of the deliciously charming Jhankaar Beats and the ludicrously forgettable Home Delivery and Aladin, exhibits a side of him that oozes out awe from a cinegoer. He just revamped his bankability with possibly the strongest product to come out since Udaan. Again, if you have not seen Udaan, probably you will not end up watching Kahaani too, maybe because you dont prefer good cinema generally. Kahaani, titled as ‘The Mother of a Story’ akin to the titular image, is goaded to be different but still manages to entertain you, and above all, the movie grips and arrests you for the 130 minutes its running for. Believe me or not, you will find it hard to miss a frame, and if you do, you will unexpectedly miss a lot. We make a mess of thrillers more often than not, but Kahaani is an exhibition of a bound script, effective leitmotifs, marvelously sketched characters and formidable execution, both by the people behind the scenes and in front of. Ghosh goes backs to his roots and to Calcutta to innocuously but earnestly deliver this one, the one which is going to be memorable for a luscious span of time. From the first scene itself, you know he has got it right. The manic of Calcutta, its enshrined culture, its hues and blues, its food, its meekness, its gaudiness, its essence, its people and the nuances of each one of them have been captured and voraciously decorated on the screen with the closest attention to detail. I want to go back to Calcutta and experience it again. 

However, this did not let him let go of the story he wanted to tell as a mere throwaway and fall prey to the vicious temptation of making another tourism movie that falters in its content. He comes up with a monstrously engaging plot and keeps the viewer guessing till the very end, smirking and letting out smaller details almost every five minutes, like a magician. The climax may have its share of likes and dislikes expectedly because the second half tries hard to live up to the first one and falls a wee bit short, but the overall effect is overwhelming, to say the least. The engrossment factor supersedes the scrawny scope of finding faults in the twisted plot. All of them together, Ghosh, Suresh Nair, Nikhil Vyas and Advaita Kala (Story and Screenplay) deserve high honors for exactly knowing what they were doing and not letting it get flimsy even once. He uses all his technicians and actors more smartly than he ever did and streamlines them towards a fine outcome. Every single technician working on this movie is loaded with the same raging fervor and does not miss the tone of the movie for the bat of an eyelid. Music is minimal but completely suitable. Ekla Chalo Re is going to stay with the listeners for a long time as Amitabh Bachchan tells us why he can do just about anything well. The Background Score and Sound Design is feverishly pitch-perfect, menacing and nail-bitingly effective. Cinematography by Setu is strikingly brilliant, he captures the city like no other, from the food stalls to the chai to the Howrah Bridge to the Durga Puja. You only crave more of him. Dialogues don’t go the tried and tested route of one-liners, instead they rest their faith in sticking to the context derivatively.

Vidya Balan, the name succinctly spells out enormous power, the power of a performance, not necessarily of stardom. She recently received her third-in-a-row National Award for The Dirty Picture and here I posit her to get the fourth one in a row. This is unreal. How does she land up with all these defiantly female-centric scripts, which are executed equally well, more often than not? Not only does she pick up the daunting challenge but comes down with a graciously heartfelt performance once again, this being her best out of the lot of Paa, Ishqiya and TDP. She pens and portrays helplessness, longing, desire, anger, curiosity, confusion and confidence with barely any infirmities to talk about. To say it elicits utmost respect is only a shoddy understatement. Nawazudding Siddiqui is a much acclaimed actor from various character roles. In Kahaani, we only get to see more of him as he displays a bravura understanding of a complex character. Parambrata Chatterjee is a good find for mainstream Hindi cinema as he surprises you totally in the role of a simpleton police officer, and is pretty much the male lead of the film. Saswata Chatterjee is notably creepy, but is another good find.

Kahaani may have missed out the hype that Dirty Picture had, but Vidya Balan has almost become a brand of its own, almost a Khan for the Indian audience. It pains me to see that this one will not boast of those high rolling numbers in its first day or first weekend collections. However, it should still do well at the Box Office with the burgeoning word of mouth and its innate strength. To tell you the truth, this is cinema at its best, almost. Kahaani quietly goes down in one of the best movies ever made, for me personally; it has all the ingredients in the right amount. I try not be shamelessly generous, but if the movie is good then so be it!

If you don’t end up watching this, please quit on cinema.

Rating – 4.5/5

Saturday, March 3, 2012

London Paris New York is a responsible, lasting effort

Some movies are really hard to write a review. Not because they are exceptionally good or bad. But because you cannot decide you much you liked them, actually. London Paris New York is one of them. It is definitely the most time I took to write a review. 

We make a hell lot of romantic comedies and release them next to each other to make it worse for our audience. EMAET hit the screens barely three weeks ago and and was followed by particularly soporific Jodi Breakers and Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya. All of them blatantly belong to the same genre. And this weekend comes with London Paris New York, a little film that indiscreetly managed to create quite an overwhelming buzz right upto its release. New director, music that connects, Ali Zafar's looks and the brilliant Aditi Rao Hyadri. Lovely recipe. Wait till its cooked. 

LPNY comes with a bag of similarities with EMAET in its offering, apart from just the genre and a debutante director at the helm of reins. The characters go around the best looking places of the world, have uninhibited fun being with each other and end up loving each other. There are barely ANY other characters that exist in the movie that is made like a long casual conversation between two people, it being occasionally funny. The director gives an urbane treatment to the proceedings which are surprisingly refreshing and breezy here too. But there is a striking difference between the two movies too, apart from them exploring different faces of a couple's relationship. LPNY is more author-backed, surprisingly, thankfully but not perfectly. It grows onto you as a sporadically mature take on unsteady relationships, yet chameleonically erects an intense love story of two people who fall in love just by meeting for 3 days out of 7 years, in the odd 100 minutes it trudges for. And yes, the extrememely short length works in favor of the movie, although the movie itself may not be liked by everyone. You have to believe in real world characters that possess the absolute frankness to talk about anything, even if its considering dating each other in the first 5 hours of their first meeting itself. You have to have an appetite for the possibility of love happening in a day's time, and that it lasting over years without much a do is not contrived. You have to be welcoming of a girl sleeping with a guy to childishly make him go through her pain is not bizarre. All of this and more, graciously, do not stick out as moronic leaps of faith because director Anu Menon handles them with significant care and searing spontaneity. The characters maybe straight out of the book, but their interactions keep you perennially engaged with their insecurities, fickle whims, indecisiveness, cuteness and above all, their believability. I must admit that I was partially disappointed by the interval time as the story did not offer a lot and the chemistry seemed labored, but the second half justifies that incompleteness with an "older and wiser" take on the equation and leaves you engrossed in their love, which is odd and unbelievable but totally likable. This is more like an indie movie in the cloak of a commercial rom-com. Yes, we will keep making love stories in a zillion different ways. 

Studio backing by Fox International has ensured a good set of technicians working on this movie. Cinematography is another ode to the new trend of tourism movies like ZNMD. Editing is commendable. Music and Lyrics by Ali Zafar lend the film exactly what it needs. Good call there. Most of the songs are remarkably suited to the occasion, well composed and well sung by Zafar and Aditi herself. Yet, Thehree Si Zindagi takes the cake in the album. Dialogues wont make you roll with laughter but are bordering on zingy, endearing and clever. 

What works the best for the movie is the unrestrained chemistry of the leads, that makes you believe in their improbable love, without even a ray of doubt. They let go of the hackneyed and deliver the heartwarming with as much ease as panache. I went in for the movie to love Aditi Rao Hyadri and came out loving Ali Zafar. His cocky humor, twitching foreheads and brows, and flamboyant mannerisms speak more than I expected out of him. Given a proper role, Ranbir or his likes cannot disregard him in the competition, considering he is enigmatic enough to allow the girls drool over him. Aditi Rao Hyadri is the prettiest girl I have seen in at least a couple of years, and this is the fifth time I am saying this. Its impossible to take your eyes off the screen if her eyes are on it. She delivers another stalwart performance, and only this time, she sings too. Bound to go places. 

LPNY is not dazzling or disturbing, but is consistently serene and convivially lovable. I liked it a tad bit more than EMAET because it comes with more natural conflicts in its plot and tries to address them with sensible punditry. But the incompetent first half sort of tilted my gut back to the initial level, hence the same rating. Positively recommended!

Rating - 3/5