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!