Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

December 15, 2006

Reality bites

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:46 pm

December 15, 2006

Cast: John Abraham, Arshad Warsi, Hanif Hangam, Linda Arceneo

Director: Kabir Khan

In documentary filmmaker Kabir Khan’s debut feature Kabul Express, John Abraham and Arshad Warsi play Indian news television journalists who arrive in Afghanistan just months after September 11, 2001 to report on the fall of the Taliban regime in this war-torn nation.

The film tracks their efforts to survive in a troubled land they are unfamiliar with, among people whose language they don’t follow. But most importantly I think the film urges its audience to ask itself if we are aware of who our real enemy is.

What sets Kabul Express apart from all the other films that release every other week at our cinemas is the success with which the filmmaker merges the documentary-style realism of the plot with such popular elements as comedy and mainstream stars.

So it’s with the help of John and Arshad and some very clever lines that Kabir Khan is able to draw attention to his story, which, had it been told without these trappings in pure documentary film format, might have failed to cross over.

The film’s script is peppered with intelligent pop cultural references like the arguments between the Indians and their Taliban kidnapper over cricket and movies. Who’s the better cricketer, Kapil Dev or Imran Khan, they ask each other and rankle each other repeatedly.

One of my favourite moments in the film is that very telling scene in the car when an old Hindi film song begins playing on the radio. Almost spontaneously, both the Indian journalists and the Taliban kidnapper start humming along to the tune.

Then there is that scene in the film which is obviously intended to convey so much – “Madhuri do, Kashmir lo,” says the Taliban kidnapper to the Indian journalists. “But Madhuri’s married and she’s moved to the US now,” they tell him. “That’s just it, isn’t it? All our best things end up making their way to the US,” the kidnapper replies.

Sadly, Kabul Express doesn’t come without any flaws. It’s got a screenplay that could have easily been tighter, and in a sense, the film tries to pack in too much all at once.

That early scene where John calls a young boy to work out with him, only to discover he’s lost a leg certainly causes a lump in your throat. But think about it, that scene works because it’s done subtly. Every time the director tries to hammer home a point, it comes off looking too contrived.

The director wants to say: Judge every individual as an individual and not as the group he belongs to. He wants us to remember that even members of the Taliban are fathers who miss their daughters dearly. Well-intended, yes, Mr Khan. But also unfortunately, very laboured.

In the end, it’s unfair not to acknowledge the sincerity behind the filmmaker’s effort. Kabul Express is brave and takes the road less traveled. Anshuman Mahaley’s picture-postcard cinematography is easily one of the film’s biggest strengths as is Arshad Warsi’s ability to deliver the film’s funniest lines with poker face. Kabul Express is a film you must watch once. It may only half-succeed in its endeavour to truly make a difference, but it’s a whole lot better than many of the films you’ve seen in recent months.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Boxed in

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:41 pm

December 15, 2006

Cast: Sohail Khan, Sneha Ullal, Puneet Issar, Inder Kumar

Director: Abhishek Kapoor

Debutant director Abhishek Kapoor’s Aryan stars Sohail Khan as a college boxing champion who must sacrifice his promising sports career when he gets his girlfriend Sneha Ullal pregnant. The couple is married, they have a son, the first few years of marriage go by smoothly… But when Sohail loses his job and it’s upto his wife to bring home the pay-cheque, their marriage starts falling apart. Eventually Sohail must return to the ring and vanquish an old rival in order to win back his own self-esteem and his wife’s love and faith.

From the very word go, Aryan comes off looking like a home video because it’s made so amateurishly. Its biggest flaw is undoubtedly its wafer-thin plot which seems like something straight out of the reject pile of a scriptwriting class.

What is truly annoying about this film is the director’s obvious disregard for the audience’s intelligence. Actors go through their scenes as if they’re sleepwalking, and casting Sneha Ullal as the mother of a five year old boy seems like a bit much specially since the young lady doesn’t look a day over sixteen herself.

That’s a thumbs down for Abhishek Kapoor’s Aryan. It’s a dull story that’s told without either style or logic. Why would you want to waste your time on this one?

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

December 8, 2006

Widow shopping

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:51 pm

December 08, 2006

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Rani Mukherjee, John Abraham, Hema Malini

Director: Ravi Chopra

In Baabul, Amitabh Bachchan plays a father-in-law with a heart of gold. When his son Salman Khan is killed in a car accident, Bachchan becomes concerned about the future and the well-being of his bahu Rani Mukherjee, whose life’s turned upside down.

In the face of much opposition from his family and from society, Bachchan sets out to get Rani remarried with the intention of giving her a new lease of life. And the groom he picks is an old friend of hers, John Abraham, who’s loved her for years.

Let me be upfront and tell you exactly what I believe is the fundamental flaw of this film. Baabul wants to be taken seriously as a progressive film that tackles the prickly issue of widow remarriage.

It’s a film that claims to encourage women’s emancipation. But just take a closer look at the film’s story—it’s the men making all the important decisions. Amitabh Bachchan and John Abraham decide that Rani should be remarried. Nobody even thinks of asking Rani for her opinion on the matter.

Nobody pays any attention to the fact that another female member in the house, Hema Malini, is opposed to this marriage. Hello, what women’s emancipation are we talking about?

I must also confess that I find films like Baabul particularly disturbing because they seem to miss the larger point. Of course widow remarriage is an important and relevant issue, but come on, can we stop behaving like widowhood is similar to cancer. Like it’s a disease that needs to be cured, or healed.

The dialogue in this film made me cringe in embarrassment. More than once, Amitabh Bachchan says there’s no sunshine or colour in Rani’s life after her husband’s death. John Abraham—when he finds out that she’s become a widow—asks Bachchan, “how will she survive?”

While I understand that it’s all well-intended, won’t you agree that filmmakers need to grow up and tackle these issues with more maturity? Don’t you think Rani needs to decide whether she’d like to be remarried?

Whether her life’s really going to come to an end now? Also, guys, let her grieve, she’s lost her husband. She’ll need some time. Don’t jump in to find a ‘solution’ because there isn’t one.

Compared to his last film Baghbaan, director Ravi Chopra’s new one Baabul tends to take itself too seriously and in the process it fails to connect. As uncomfortable as I was with the outdated treatment he gave to Baghbaan, I could see exactly why it worked—because it was sincere. Baabul, I’m sorry to say, has this self-laudatory feel to it. It’s screaming out to be noticed, “look look, we’re tackling such a sensitive subject.”

You know, films about widow remarriage have been made in Bollywood many times, and perhaps Raj Kapoor’s Prem Rog is one that best addressed the issue in the popular masala format of a Bollywood feature.

Now the thing is, if someone’s making a film on the same issue so many years later, shouldn’t we expect something new, something different, a fresh approach perhaps? Baabul offers nothing new.

It’s old wine in an old bottle, why should we be interested?

I won’t completely write off the film and say its entirely unwatchable, because that’s not the case. You might find your eyes welling up with tears in the film’s climax when Bachchan defends his decision at Rani’s marriage mandap.

But then, in all honesty that scene works not because its been written well, but because Bachchan is such a fine actor he can put life into poor material with his performance alone.

Of course it’s a pity poor Rani Mukherjee’s been wasted in a lifeless role like hers. So then there’s nothing to rave about Ravi Chopra’s Baabul, the film’s got good intentions yes, but alas that alone doesn’t make a good film!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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