Saturday, June 23, 2012

Teri Meri Kahaani is the most generic cutesy, campy garbage

I love love stories. I honestly do, if you dont believe me you can read my piece on Bollywood's incessant flow of love stories since its inception here. In May 2004, Kunal Kohli came up with a delectable Hum Tum that won Saif Ali Khan a National Award that year and Rani Mukerji another Filmfare for her earnest performance. He went on to make an arguably appreciable Fanaa in 2006 with Aamir Khan. Thereafter, he deluded into an unreasonable mob of the ordinary and the overdone with Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic He nudged into the producer's chair for Break Ke Baad in 2010 and and the film slipped into a mediocre second half after handling post-modern relationships well for a while. Teri Meri Kahaani brings back Kunal Kohli to the director's seat. The first trailer of the film did not create much of a buzz despite two charming leads and its been the same story of drudgery from there on with all the promos just playing safe and alluring the preys of cute romantic movies in India as well as in the diaspora across the world. Here is a sample conversation which Kunal Kohli had with his co-writer, Robin Bhatt before they began writing TMK -

KK: Dude, I just saw this movie called Three Times last night. Its a Taiwanese hit and is nominated for Palme d'Or at Cannes. Would be great to make it here?
RB: Whats it about?
KK: Its a love story set in three different eras
RB: Sounds good, maybe we can do the same, just change the years a little bit, make it more Indian, you know
KK: I was just thinking that no one knows how and when do we meet a person first and then whether or not we will meet them again. If so, where and how? Life is so strange. Possibly, my friend or my wife is someone who I met sometime before when I was a kid or maybe in another era, right?
RB: Yeah, we should have two lovers who meet in different eras just because they are destined to do so
KK: Perfect! I think we should throw in some nice looking sets for the 1960s period and for the 2012 period, we should definitely shoot abroad because all the kids these days go to study abroad
RB: We must use the lingo of the gen-next because that whats working these days and will make our film hep

KK: I want one of the periods to be strikingly different, like set in a village or something. In 1910, we can possibly go to old-style romance and use shayaris, because people seem to be liking them after ZNMD
RB: Cool. But whats gonna be the title?
KK: Something that goes along with 'Thrice upon a love story'?
RB: Hmm, but how is it all gonna come together, like whats the motive behind two people falling in love over three different eras?
KK: We will figure that out as we go, dont worry. But we should definitely have the most charming leads for this one, so that people wanna come and watch them fall in love, you know?
RB: Allright, Lets roll!

Teri Meri Kahaani, directed by Kunal Kohli, comes from the camp of movies where overloads of cuteness and saccharine are an order of the day. No harm in doing that, but then it also belongs to the camp where brazenly producing the most generic garbage is not a shame. In TMK, Kohli paints three different stories on the cinematic canvas for a little more than 2 hours, all of which are essentially the same. Guy meets girl due to some contrived happening, falls in love, there is another girl/guy in the picture, minimal conflict follows and they are back to being happy together. Why? Because they are destined to be with each other in every age or era. Kunal Kohli appears to be perpetually consumed in the blithe that comes in with the idea of destiny bringing two people together again and again that he forgets that all this rigmarole needs to buttress on a motive when you are making a movie. TMK is a chagrined product, served with no real conflict in the lives of the lead characters. The episodic nature of the screenplay relies on setting up the era rather than the love story. If you can forgive that, once the repetitive episodes end, you are waiting for a masterstroke finale that packs in a punch engulfing the pizaazz of the parallel episodes and streamlining them with a common conflict, a running motive or a likable outcome. But Kohli and Bhatt had alternate plans for this harmless love story, they just end the film moronically with the lovers uniting without much ado. Clearly, they never looked beyond creating distinctive eras and fun moments or into the epiphany of a climactic deficiency.

TMK is laid out with only a handful of positives to talk about. While the first episode of 1960 is loaded with garishly leaking backgrounds and tacky production design, the story is instantly entertaining. The London sequence in 2012 looks like a modern version of the previous one with barely any standout moments. The Lahore sequence of 1910 could be the most deft owing to its endearing portrayal of the love story until it falls into the clutches of a choppy backdrop of independence movement, which is ludicrously handled. TMK guns itself forward with heavy doses of permeating cuteness and fairly entertaining dialogues but the distracted focus on the episodes leaves it sparse in terms of moments that actually erect that magical love between the lead pair that such a screenplay should be bagged with. The intermittent crooning and shimmying does not make up to a high-point where you want the lovers to unite. The finale is executed in parallel nature with all the episodes reaching their outcome but it doesnt weed out the need for a real conflict or a motive that hinges the overall plot.

Backed by Eros International and produced by Kunal Kohli Productions, Teri Meri Kahaani hails of money being poured into every department of production. Music by Sajid-Wajid is honestly appealing, but nothing close to memorable. Mukhtasar is the pick of the lot with Uff and Humse Pyaar Kar Le Tu being close seconds. Predictably, Kohli shoots his songs with profuse song and dance sequences that barge into the screenplay as and when they feel like. Cinematography by Sunil Patel rises from a predilection to capturing the locations better than the emotions. The Production Design by Maneesh Sappel ranges from shoddily lurid in 1960s Bombay to meekly fine in Lahore 1910. Film editor Amitabh Shukla suffered pretty much from tied hands in a smudge of shlock but he could have done a little more playing around with the episodes making them non-linear. Background score by Sandeep Shirodkar is ordinary. Choreography by Rekha and Chinni Prakash and Ahmed Khan doesnt have a gamut to offer, which puts Shahids dancing skills to waste. Kunal Kohli's dialogues keep you mildly entertained.

Shahid Kapoor lands up with the role of a lover boy. Wait, how many times have we heard that? As redundant as it may sound, Shahid has always played the guy next door. So what, this one is different because it has three entirely different characters and we all love Shahid, as he plays the scamp who woos us with his million dollar smile. Actually, I dont mean a word of the last statement but Kapoor doesnt sleepwalk through these characters. If you can look beyond his brawn, he plays all of them with a hint of nuance, the simpleton zany music director in 1960, the witty callous college guy in 2012 and the romantic rascal in 1910 but he fails to reconstruct his image in any of these as TMK adds on to his unending list of symptomatic lover boy characters. Priyanka Chopra, unexpectedly, brings in confused hammy parlance to the table with some slack to the Punjabi girl character in Lahore 1910. Though she looks absolutely gorgeous in most frames, her acting range displayed hereby is merely of a waxwork, stuffed with similar expressions and uninspiring dialogues. Despite the lackadaisical nature, one must mention that both of them have some chemistry which could be tapped in a less crotchety screenplay. None of the other side characters stand out in this fare. Prachi Desai and Neha Sharma are wasted in cameos while Vrajesh Hirjee looks like a creepy rapist.

When I went in to watch Teri Meri Kahaani, I had scant hopes out of it and it did not rise much above that. Many people actually would be contemplating that I went in to hate it, and hence I am deriding it now. Thats outrageously false, I dont judge a movie based on my preconceived notion of it but with TMK, I found myself struggling to find the shining spots as I wrote this review. I doubt there are many out there who would align themselves with this thought process. I see people around me gushing rapturously about it and desperately wanting to watch it, just to watch two good looking people fall in love. Agreed, TMK is a harmless film that deals out moments filled with dainty niceness and adorable love but it fails miserably due to its banal episodes, non-driven screenplay and lack of emotional heft. It has taken an expected decent opening at the Box Office and the theater I was at, was housefull with families and teenage girls who like exactly this kind of insipid stuff. Its not a terrible film, just that it is nothing more than a series of pretentious lovey-dovey moments that succumb to a weak overall scheme. I would strongly urge you to watch the awe-inspiring Gangs of Wasseypur, directed by the maestro Anurag Kashyap, instead of this generic romance drama.

Rating - 1.5/5

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Year of The Bengal

Last year on a random Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of watching a pirated copy of Memories in March, originally released in 2010. The movie exudes sheer power striking you like a piece of bullet and leaving you enthralled for the longest time, quiet subtly though. Director Sanjoy Nag lends a rare effect and an indelible impact on the viewer, engrossing him in the drama perennially. The lesser known fact is that Memories in March went on to win the National Award for Best Feature Film in English that year. 

I write reviews for almost all the Hindi films that are released every week. Over the past few years of evolution of Indian cinema to find its own niche, we have constantly been served half baked to crass products that have devolved the meaning of entertainment into something that no cine-lover can relate to. However, we have been blessed to have some crafty movies every year that renege these trends and formidably carry forward the flag of change, making some money at the Box Office too.

This year, 2012, has already sprung a few welcome surprises despite the trite state of enshrined cinema. Personally, the three most well made pieces of cinema this year have been Kahaani, Vicky Donor and Shanghai, in no particular order. If you havent already noticed it, allow me to break it to you. All the three films mentioned above had Bengali directors at the helm of things. Yes, it is the year of Bengalis truly. Its almost seems that these Bengali directors secretly joined hands to set the tone of mainstream films. Even Kolkata Knight Riders rose from ashes and are now recognized with their historic win of the IPL 5 rather than being a team that has constantly provided fodder to the macaws and mynas of sensationalist media. In politics, Mamata Banerjee is in the news everyday for all kind of reasons, including calling college students Maoists. Prophetically, there may be many other parallel stories that adhere to the synchronicity of my assumption, but I am happy to conclude that I can call this the year of the Bengal. However, being terribly amateurish in my knowledge of the other domains, I would restrict my discussion to cinema.

In 2012, Sujoy Ghosh goaded with an inherent desire to go back to his roots worked with a completely new crew to deliver some gut busting cinema and erase all the crap collected by his past ventures with Kahaani exhibiting the power of a bound script, effective leitmotifs, marvelously sketched characters and formidable execution. A one-film old Shoojit Sircar, dealt with sperm donation in Vicky Donor, a rampant taboo in India and reinvents himself to deliver a soulful laugh riot. He handled Vicky Donor with a rare sense of humor that runs perennially through its veins, yet it does not let the issue become a matter of jest. And more recently, we had Shanghai, directed by Dibakar Banerjee, who is condescendingly posit amongst the top 5 feature film directors of India. Dibakar's vision as a director is alarmingly remarkable being laconic in his treatment of words but gracious with his visuals.providing the little touches of detailing that take Shanghai to an all together different level of awesomeness. 

But one does wonder, if this is all a coincidence that the warped evolution of Indian cinema has an organic contribution from Bengal? Bengali cinema has been promiscuously latent in the popular mainstream scene, keeping it limited to some Rituparno Ghosh movies recently. Lesser people have known the filmmaking prowess that thrives in the grassroots of Bengal, unless otherwise exposed to the world. But some of our best filmmakers have been nurtured in this very state. Hiralal Sen, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and now Rituparno Ghosh - all these names strike a chord but the talent here is bespoke for much more recognition than it has attained in the recent times. Satyajit Ray received 32 National Awards, and we are yet to find someone who can match up to him. Hrishikesh Mukherjee pioneered the art of simplistic storytelling and is graciously aped by directors and filmmakers even today while they masquerade their way to re-bottle his style as their own.

From the silent era to the talkies, these stalwarts led the way giving way to revered actors and performers over the years and making a mark for India on the global landscape early on. Its imperative as well as futile to lay out the efforts of these filmmakers and actors in chartering the trajectory of parallel Indian cinema because this very distinctiveness trickled down into obscurity and turmoil in the 1980s and 90s until Rituparno Ghosh came to revive it. Bengal has given us a gamut of tremendous technicians and artists over the years but their cinema is still struggling for the past couple of decades to find mainstream space, seemingly content with their niche in their own region. However, films with crotch cams, boob cams and disturbing action make it to the theater everyday. Rituparno Ghosh may have won 10 National Awards, but the more pertinent question would be that what percentage of Indian movie going audience is actually aware of his oeuvre?

I do wish to elucidate that success of Bengali filmmakers should just not be mis-attributed to just these films as more than a handful of directors have given us many gems over the years, albeit sporadically. Its only this year that I observe this hegemony more spirited. Pradeep Sarkar's Parineeta, Ayan Mukerji's Wake Up Sid, Aparna Sen's Mr and Mrs Iyer are some other examples of deft ventures led by Bengali directors in mainstream cinema in the recent years. Indpendent film-making has always found shelter in Bengal giving birth to scores of other films and directors which never see the limelight. My persistence for more exposure on the mainstream platform stems from the school of thought that the due appreciation and support is attained when more and more people actually watch those films as they come out breaking the barriers that clip them within the region.

Two elements which has been common to most of the outings of Bengali cinema is their cerebral content and innovation. Bengal has been traditionally known to intone the melting pot of cultures where most people grow up involving themselves in an environment bespoke with opportunities to do more than just academics. Be it stage arts, theater, music or technical skills, they grow up with a lot of creative inspirations around them. The conglomerate of varied influences over the years has shaped up these artists and it could be projected to their bourgeois participation in Indian cinema. In my recent visit to the region, I did witness a couple of things that validate my argument. People of Bengal, otherwise deemed as mostly laid back, voraciously pursue their dreams, much more than an average Indian does. With the numerous chai sessions and long discussions they engage themselves in, there is a constant effort and an inherent undercurrent to further their creativity in one of the arts , at least in most of the younger generation people that I met. The tremendous social influence and spirited interests end up in films, media or music industry more often than not.Despite the riveting potential, one can only help but notice that the collective collections fetched by Kahaani, Vicky Donor and Shanghai at the Box Office would fall short of the recently released Rowdy Rathore, or many other films of the same cadre. The relinquishing nature of the Box Office run or the awareness of possibly better regional films is a problem that pervades not only in Bengal but across the country. Regional cinema direly needs an organized framework of production, distribution and appreciation.

According to a recent study by Business Standard, "70 Bengali movies are released every year and are produced with a budget of Rs. 2 lakh to Rs. 1.5 crore per movie in 2008. India's big house Reliance Big Entertainment and Home Entertainment announced the most expensive Bengali movie will be made with a budget of Rs 3 crore, while other regional movies like the ones in Tamil and Telugu will have a budget of Rs 40 crore as on 2008. This explicitly lays out the reason behind the need for a special focus on Bengali cinema to consolidate its talent. During the 1980s and 90s the number of theaters showing Bengali movies had dropped to almost 40%, which has now been resurrected to almost 80%. Like the foray of Reliance Entertainment into Bengal, we need better support from bigger production houses and corporates to cultivate this growth. Eventually, we can aspire to regurgitate the lost elitism of cinema in this region. Regional cinema can definitively alter the landscape of Indian cinema for the better, if it is allowed to do so. This could be the year of Bengal in mainstream cinema, but it would be overwhelming to have a year with successful stories from many regions standing up to their Bombay counterparts. Our fingers are already crossed!

Originally published at the online journal Long Live Cinema here

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ferrari Ki Sawaari is simplistic and heartwarming storytelling, just not at its best

RajKumar Hirani is arguably considered India's most commercially successful director, with 3 Idiots still holding on to the tag of being the highest grosser of all time at the Box Office, even after almost 3 years of its release. Hence, if Hirani associates himself with a film in any way, its not just happenstance that gargantuan expectations become invisibly attached to the film which is still in the making. Ferrari Ki Sawaari is one such little film, produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra Films. 3 Idiots had grated VVC Films with much more than a virile platform to build on and cash in on the ongoing success, as there was no reason why financiers, distributors and the audience not trust them after delivering such an astounding hit. Most production houses would have jumped on the brazen band wagon and churned out a lot of similar stuff, garnish it with stars or at least have a release from the same team next year. However, all the ruse ideologies that come in with the business of cinema have got nothing on Vidhu Vinod Chopra himself. Ferrari Ki Sawaari is the 15th venture to come out of VVC Films in over 30 years. VVC makes a movie when he feels like it and invests all the efforts into it. He abides by his policy of no abhorrent gimmicks and no manipulative avarice at all times, else he would not take 3 years after 3 Idiots to make a small film like Ferrari Ki Sawaari with Sharman Joshi and Boman Irani as the leads. Probably this is why VVC is respected immensely in the film fraternity and the recently conducted VVC Films Festival in Mumbai is a testimony of that. Even though its not directed by Hirani or Chopra, their coming together as a team had rendered a heavy baggage of hopes on Ferrari Ki Sawaari, and just like its makers, its one of the most brutally honest films made in some reasonable time, just that it never transcends that honesty into greatness.

In the opening scene of the movie, Sharman Joshi's character breaks a traffic signal illegally but having gotten away with it, he goes to the nearest police post to plead guilty and forces the officer to fine him. Amongst a barrage of crassest of movies that are passed off as family entertainment, Ferrari Ki Sawaari comes in as a fresh air of complete family cinema, told with striking simplicity. Yes, the theater I was at was amusingly overflowing with dozens of kids and their parents, coming in numbers for wholesome family time. Good intentions of the narrative, simplicity of the characters, heartfelt treatment and cerebral themes are the most essential ingredients of all Raju Hirani films. Ferrari Ki Sawaari, directed by debutante Rajesh Mapuskar, is profusely topped with all of these, but where it goes wrong is that the simplicity rests its roots in a bout of cliches and a scattered screenplay. FKS chugs along smoothly setting up a typical Parsi home where Cricket runs in the blood. Joshi plays Rustom Deboo who is endearingly fatuous, but will go to any lengths to make sure that his son Kayo plays for Team India one day. His father, played by Boman Irani, is a previous cricketer who swans and moons at this dream. The kid is a skillful batsman and has the rapier-like edge to make it to the top. However, the story of a family’s extraordinary dreams doesnt really takes off despite a lot of meek efforts. You are only sporadically involved in the narrative probably because the focus shifts from the cricket to the Ferrari story more abruptly than you want it to, and the reconcilation from the shift over the rest of the movie is rather contrived and cringe-worthy. A family of cricketers, unfathomable goodness, bad history with Cricket, a non-believing grandfather, a doting father low on money, the big bad world being of no aid, corruption in Cricket selections and many such under-running themes barely do much more than juggling between the overbearing cliches and some innovative storytelling. There are plenty of laughs and a host of teary moments derived directly from handpicked influences in the writing of Rajesh Mapuskar and Vidhu Vinod Chopra. But the narrative loses sight when it defies logic in the subplots with scant scope. The involvement of Sachin Tendulkar's Ferrari and the track of the local minister and his son are dealt out with overweening immaturity that leaves them stranded between humor and emotion. Raju Hirani films have a mischievous tone and to their simplistic narrative, which caves out more believability in the hearts of the audiences towards the moments or the characters. In FKS, Rustom Deboo does not own a mobile phone till he needs to get a loan from the bank or for instance, Tendulkar has only two people guarding his Ferrari in his absence and when its stolen, they chose to not tell the owners or the police about it, instead of go on an insipid search themselves. Such instances bog down FKS to remain a film that limits itself to underage thrill, unfortunately. It also lacks the seamless-ness with which Hirani takes all his elements and blends it with the elan to drive his point home. On the flip side, things start looking outrageously contrived here. Mapuskar, despite rendering a tremendously heartwarming film, does not go beyond his cliches to do something extraordinary. You love the cheese, but dont fall for the pizza made out of it.

Produced by VVC Films right after 3 Idiots, Mapuskar could avail almost everything that he needed for Ferrari Ki Sawaari. Music by Pritam is preternatural to many of his recent albums, consisting of soft numbers that blend in with the proceedings on screen, along with an item song. Unfortunately, none of the songs have the audacity to stick out or stay with you for long making the music not so memorable. The cinematography by Sudhir Palsane is campy and tepid. Production Design by Sumit Basu and Rajnish Hedao is strikingly realistic lending a natural flavor. Dialogues by Rajkumar Hirani have veered FKS away from a lot of flak because they keep the entertainment quotient up at all times during the 2 hours 15 minutes. They are witty at some times, hammy at other times, but keep you smiling as the goodness permeates through you. FKS could have done with much more organic editing by Deepa Bhatia though.

Ferrari Ki Sawaari relies heavily on its able performances. Sharman Joshi is well suited for the role of a simpleton, just that he seems to be spazzing out into almost a slightly challenged person, in his effort to exaggerate the honest intentions of the character. However, it could just be me who thought like that. For most other parts, he displays a wide acting range in the role of a loving father that keeps a smile on his face in the worst of situations. Ritvik Sahore as Kayoze, his son, is instantly likeable and does remarkably well in a lead role. Most of the child talents in our country go into obscurity after one film but Sahore comes with an innate flair that should allow him to stay. He is endowed with lovable screen presence and virtuous dialogue delivery. Boman Irani steals the limelight in a shorter role as the second lead, though. Munnabhai 1&2, 3 Idiots and now Ferrari Ki Sawaari, Irani has successfully played 4 characters with fleeting grace for VVC Films. As the craggy grandfather and a previous cricketer with an unfortunate past, Boman delves into the slightly whimsical but well-meaning character and comes out with another stellar act. Paresh Rawal in a cameo as the morally schizophrenic old cricketer is perfect. Seema Bhargava is slightly annoying as the wedding planner while Satyadeep Mishra is okay. A special mention for the veteran Deepak Shirke for providing most of the laughs as Sachin Tendulkars security guard.

Ferrari Ki Sawaari twitches and flourishes through its cliches and contrivations but is entirely rapturous and entertaining. It lacks the greatness and smoothness of a Raju Hirani film due to its weak screenplay but it has the right intentions of it. It tries to be inspirational but falls short of it. As I had said earlier, the theater I was at was full of families flocking to watch it. Considering the not so loud marketing of the film and the absence of any big stars, its commendable that it has still made its way through to the audience decently well, possibly because of the names of Hirani and Chopra, and rightly so, because it is a film that the kids will like the most. The Box Office collections are decent for day 1 and I dont expect them to show any huge disruptive jumps considering that FKS does not push itself beyond the average as a film. Watch it for its endearing 'aww' moments and complete family entertainment!

Rating - 2.5/5

is review was originally published for Long Live Cinema here 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Shanghai delivers gut-busting cinematic panache, expectedly

Real life does not have a background score underscoring the moment. No one understands this better than Dibakar Banerjee, the director of Shanghai.

Dibakar Banerjee is easily posit amongst the top 5 best feature film directors in India today, heralding an awe-inspiring track record of delivering three distinctively outstanding products that rest coyly in his oeuvre, namely Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Luck Lucky Oye and Love, Sex Aur Dhokha. One must feel the pressure when you venture out to craft your next movie that cannot possibly let your fans down after such national award winning streak under his belt. Shanghai. Personally, I have waited for this movie for more than a year or so, almost since when it was announced. The unusual star cast (Abhay Deol, Emraan Hashmi and Kalki Koechlin) along with Banerjee at the helm of reins made me believe that this would be something that is searingly honest. Shamelessly and animatedly, I have often declared Shanghai as my most expected Hindi movie of the year and secretly, I wanted it to be better than anything else I see this year. Dibakar has a rare sense of outplaying his screenplay where proceedings dont look separated from the real world at all. Banerjee evokes higher reverence because he does not let his cinema turn into just artsy objects, but nurtures them to be fairly mainstream while driving his point home. Seeing the prophetic progression in Dibakar's cinema, I had concluded two things. One, there is no other director who blends real and reel life with such ruthless grace. Two, a cinema lover cant help but pin his expectations at the pinnacle of the skies for Shanghai. I was in smiling jitters as I walked into the theater. Will it soar above those skies or succumb below due to clipped wings?

Yes, it does. Shanghai is gut-busting cinema that lands a hard elbow in your jaw. Adapted from from the Greek novel Z, by Vassilis Vassilikos, the film fits the original plot stridently into a socket of India's current scenario with such ease that you never feel that the book had a wholly different situation to deal with. The screenplay by Urmi Juvekar and Dibakar Banerjee makes it completely relevant to our times do come up with a drool-worthy political thriller cum satire for the Indian canvas. Dibakar's vision as a director is alarming and remarkable. He presents a run-of-the-mill or kinda been-there-done-that story with such panache that leaves you benumbed. He is laconic in his treatment of words but gracious with his visuals. It takes a while for you to get a grip on the on-goings before you begin to follow everything perfectly and once you do, you cant help but smile as the master plays out his cards, which dont lay out everything but secretly comment on everything. The plot is simple but the characters fairly intricate. A small town at the face of delusional development, done at the cost of the precious lives of the commoners, plagued by the stinking politics of the powerful leaders from the region. Its the little touches of detailing that take Shanghai to an all together different level of awesomeness, crammed with smashing character graphs for everyone appearing on screen. Many movies in the recent past have shown corruption in politics and bureaucracy but Dibakar evokes jest at the blasphemous irony of the whole system, the compulsive conformance of the people who run it, the callous indifference of the people it governs and the shocking futility of a common man's life. Dibakar packs in Shanghai with a breathless pace and unspools the story in an awry manner that promises at least two big surprises. He decrees it with his neat intelligence and expects you to have some too, could be too much to ask for in today’s scenario? As he takes 114 minutes to amaze you, there are many sequences that simply stand out. The beginning sequence with Pitobash putting black paint on a guy's face, the first day of the case hearing with the basketball coming into the room and the characters slipping on their way out, Abhay conducting his prayers with the chants playing on a laptop as he is attacked, Emraan's escape from his partner's house when he goes back there, the cathartic sequence before the intermission that strikes the selfishness of Hashmi's character in his balls, Kalki's rash breakout towards the end as well as the spirited finale - Banerjee weaves all of these and many other wondrous moments deftly. He uses his item song in two parts halting it in between for a grave twist coming early in the story but smoothly allows it to come back on after, just to point out that while there may be a brittle situation at hand, there are people who definitely dont care about it next door in the dire state of Bharat Nagar, the playground for the unfolding drama in Shanghai. This, by far, was the most defining moment of the movie for me. The undercurrent of notoriety and the breeze of satirical humor is retained, by efficient direction, even in the most tense of scenes. Some serious class out there, that. Shanghai turns out to be largely courageous, throttling you with jolts of harsh truth, keeping you constantly engaged despite a fairly straightforward basic plot and evocatively tugging your senses towards contemplation.

Shanghai is jointly produced by PVR Pictures and Dibakar Banerjee Productions and is not budgeted at a very exorbitant price, similar to most of his other films. Yet, you can safely leave it to Dibakar to make the most of his resources. Apart from a taut screenplay, he manages to make a transcendental nuance by extracting some laudable cinematography and heady background score to aid his visuals. The most grave moments are devoid of dialogues, background score etc and the very next moment, he delves into a loud and boisterous street side celebration of local goons, who laugh their way through the mutiny. The smile on the face of one of the characters as he rides through a riot-stricken street and the deafening silence surrounding it is a pure genius. Nikos Andritsakis's Cinematography is breathtaking and captivating as the camera doesn’t pan much but focuses on the intensity exhaled by the characters by use of good close-ups and some handheld work. This, along with an efficient Sound Design by Pritam Das and Mikey McCleary creates a sense of urgency that a thriller should have. Namrata Rao's editing leaves no scope for complain as she continues her streak of earnest work. Music by Vishal-Shekhar is not great, but suits the limited requirement well. Bharat Mata Ki Jai is a winner and Hashmi dances his heart out to that, incorporated into the narrative with voracious fervor. The Production Design by Vandana Kataria is striking and sets up the tone aptly for the director to paint the canvas.

A few days ago, I had whimsically wished that I wanted Emraan Hashmi to perform better than Abhay Deol in Shanghai. I think he heard it. In this ensemble cast, his performance stands out over and above all of others, towering like a mammoth monster of reverence sneering away, with his dirty and badly shaped two front teeth, at every sallow non-believer who had reneged at him over the years. I have always believed in his talent as an acotr, at least for the past 4 years, and in Shanghai, he masters the varied shades of this convoluted character with an acting range that can send India's best actors a run for their money. Yes, he is that good as the lewd part-time porn filmmaker and journalist who is forced to submit his selfishness when he is unwillingly mulled over the circumstances. After a thousand smooches later, Emraan Hashmi has arrived. Abhay Deol suits up for an uptight character of a successful bureaucrat that is torn between his priorities, delivering a emphatic performance that would add one more to his long list of it. The finale sequence involving him validates his choice for this character as he knocks you out with his straight faced dialogue delivery. Kalki Koechlin reprises a mashup of many other roles she has done but mints it with a fresh rendition. She is consistently first-rate as the lead of the film. Prosenjit Chatterjee, the Bengali superstar, is indispensable in a short role. The fact that most of the characters have grey shades to them makes them more challenging to play but the casting for Shanghai has been phenomenally helpful in putting this to order. Farooque Shaikh, as the right hand of the Chief Minister, shines brightly and makes a small role much more noticeable with his wide acting prowess. Pitobash Tripathy is a firework on screen. There is barely an actor who can match the non-stop barrage of energy he puts in every scene, every dance and every dialogue. Supriya Pathak Kapur still has the niche ability to make a difference in just two scenes she actually appears for. Tillotama Shome, as Prosenjit's wife, is allright in a small role.

Shanghai may not have the most unusual plot and the innovation in style by Banerjee may not appeal to everyone out there, but its execution definitely packs in a lot more that would make you fall for it and ultimately elevate you to a pedestal of fandom for Dibakar Banerjee. Despite being directed by an acclaimed director and possessing a set of fairly popular actors, Shanghai has missed out on the aggrandizing hype that it should have got as it got closer to release, unfortunately. Gauging a film's success only by the trends on twitter, its a shame that it did not trend for the whole day as it opened to averagely filled houses while the condescendingly shameful Rowdy Rathore making its way to glory. Yes, this is the Indian audience and they suck at coming out for good movies. Like Kahaani, even Shanghai yearns for buttressing from the word of mouth of the people watching it and industry experts and I hope it gets it in copious amounts, before it dives into obscurity. The fans of Emraan Hashmi have made the crappiest of his movies huge hits but those squandering fools need to come out for him now when he has done something that should get him all the awards that exist. Nevertheless, irrespective of the response, Dibakar Banerjee still remains unperturbed at the top spot amongst Indian filmmakers owing to his excellent craft.

I vehemently urge you to go watch Shanghai in a theatre, and take everyone possible with you! Good cinema needs help!

Rating - 4/5

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rowdy Rathore perpetuates crap masala entertainment for most parts

Those who have been following my recent tweets would know that I was definitely uncomfortable about Rowdy Rathore going by its promos that permeated unadulterated abhorrent mustiness. Yet, I was lured into watching it for the choreography of one song and the sheer love for movies. Its been an unusually busy weekend this, one where I had to cancel my Friday ticket for this one and actually go one day late on a Saturday. Rowdy Rathore is a story which has been made or is being made in 5 languages now - Telugu (original), Tamil, Kannada, Bengali and Hindi. One must think that the plot is infused with slobbering badasssery and goofiness that will validate this thirst amongst filmmakers to remake it again and again. The question also rises, if it has been made so many times, would the half of Indian audience already have seen it? The answer is no, because our predominant Bollywood audience never watches cinema in other languages, while that audience never really watches Hindi cinema. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, taking a shocking departure from his school of cinema, picked up this script to produce, hired a director who went scot-free for his patchy product (Wanted) because it became a runaway hit, and shielded this cash cow to earn big bucks juicing out the ongoing trends set by Wanted, Dabangg, Singham etc. Does the gimmick still work? Unfortunately not.

Rowdy Rathore furthers that brand of shlocky silliness which has been served to us again and again and we still seem to love it. Pra
bhudheva is on the director's seat and you can see his style emblazoned upon each frame. Shiraz Ahmed adapts the screenplay in Hindi but doesnt do much to the inherently louche plot. Rowdy Rathore tells you a story which is a mashup of many others you have seen a dozen other times, with a few much needed variations and much more clumsy. The concept of a double role has been beaten to death and the director has no qualms in letting it out from the very onset. He shys away from the conflict focusing on other aspects of the story, which do not exist sadly. To make up for the paralytic rendition, he uses song and dance profusely topped with a lollypop visual style and insipid gags which the audience today still laughs at. Half an hour into the narrative and you feel as if you have inhaled dangerous amounts of chloroform. The leaking colors in every frame, mundane proceedings and teenage thrill do not help you feel better anyhow. However, there are a few contrived portions which help you get rid of this baggage, not entirely though. *Spoiler alert* The fact that the con man's change of heart is exponential and reasoned by the back story as well as what he sees of Rathore as a fearless man is definitely more likeable than the pulpy sudden one. The second half of the movie definitely lifts it up, providing for some hilarious moments as well as some where you just feel the high because your hero has become a badass. The only scene which stands out is the one when the conman goes back to the village as the cop himself to avenge Rathore and is first introduced to the villain. Another scene which could stand out is the climax where Sonakshi's character stands up to the goons. But these couple of moments dont overcome the insurmountable garbage created by the majority of the film. Most of the character graphs are smudgy wasting some good actors. Using south indian actors in north indian characters falls flat on the ground. So does the cornball treatment of the entire screenplay. Its hard for Prabhudheva to get rid of it too, and nothing bad about it but at least here it does not fir into the general scheme of things. Rathore exhibits every bit of moxie that you want him to, the one liners, the numerous fight sequences and the idea of invincibility. This makes me ponder over a recent question raised to me. Does India really need superheroes if our heroes do the job? 

Rowdy Rathor
e has a slicker second half but the finale waters down the effect and leaves you whimsical. No character seems to possess the courage that Rathore does, neither do the villains seem menacing as they stick to cliches picked up from 70s and 80s including agonizing women, looting the villagers and obnoxiously screaming. However, the track with Kumar and the kid is endearing, but barely do such tracks lose their sight. The portrayal of the con-turned-cop by Kumar is clownishly passable. Agreed, Rowdy Rathore is a hardcore masala entertainer but it would not be a crime to cut down some decrepit tracks or treat it with a nifty flair. Ultimately, this turned out to be as slapdash as I expected it to be.

Backed by
 SLB Films and UTV Pictures, Rowdy Rathore has all the packaging it needed. But what do you make out of a movie if your lead character is wearing either of pink, yellow, red or florescent pants in each scene? The production design is obtusely garish, the cinematography by Santosh Thundiyil is of that of a B-movie and the dialogues are shamelessly trite. Music by Sajid-Wajid is strictly average with Dhadang Dhadang and Pritam Pyaare being the pick of the lot. Both of them have some amazing masaledaar choreography that makes you jump like a kid at the unabashed energy that is thrown at you. A special mention for Maryam Zakaria, Shakti Mohan and Mumaith Khan who dance their hearts out in the Pritam Pyaare song. The film stands at a staggering 2 hours 20 minutes and could have done with some deft chopping in the first half. Note that, Santosh Pawar, the editor of the film. Director Prabhudheva squanders away all the resources provided to him by indulging in his tongue-in-cheek treatment.

Akshay Kumar is
 the life of Rowdy Rathore. Saddled with a double role, Kumar delivers an earnest performance that makes you sit through the otherwise banal wherabouts of Rowdy Rathore. He reinvents his zany foolhardy and goes back to doing what he is best at, an action hero. The fact that he doesnt sleepwalk through this one is evident is in the nuance with his he plays both the characters. However, one is also exposed to his inefficiency to rise above the script. Sonakshi Sinha actually gets atleast two more scenes than what she got in Dabangg and should be considered an achievement for her. She dances with bursts of energy but would require serious transgressions to get out of the image of a typical UP girl. Nasser and Supreeth Reddy dont work as the villains. Their bulging red eyeballs and crazy screaming doesnt get them anywhere in terms of creating a fear for the character. Yashpal Sharma is wasted in an inconsequential role and so are most of the other actors.

Rowdy Rathore is an i
nefficient product that perpetuates crap masala entertainment further. The movie has opened to an expected thunderous response and should make its way to multi-crore club soon. Surprsingly, the word of mouth is not outrageously bad which is good news for the shameful bank balances of Sanjay Leela Bhansali due to his recent outings. It might as well pivot Akshay Kumar as a blockbuster solo hero neck to neck with his more successful peers. Sonakshi and Prabhudheva have another one to add to their growing list. Rowdy Rathore may keep you entertained if you enjoy this kind of cinema, specially if you loved Dabangg and Singham.Having said that, either of them were better made than this one. I would heave a sigh of relief if this trend of cop movies stops but it doesnt look like it with Vettai now being remade in Hindi with Shahid Kapoor. I guess there is no more reason left to make films other than financial gains. As for this one, go for it if Akshay Kumar is too irresistible for you. As for me, I would skip this one to a DVD if I could. Oh wait, maybe not!

ing - 1.5/5