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