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

November 23, 2007


Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:23 pm

November 23, 2007

Cast: John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, Arshad Warsi, Boman Irani

Director: Vivek Agnihotri

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat, Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal is not a sports film. It’s contrived and it’s predictable and it’s an unexcitinge bat — okay, right off the ball if you like — director Vivek Agnihotri’s , dull drama about a bunch of Southall-based football enthusiasts who play the sport not because they enjoy it, but because it seems like the right thing to do, seeing that their football club might be converted into a shopping mall since their team hasn’t won a match in, what, 20 years.

A motley group of working-class British Asians, the team is led by kebab-shop owner Arshad Warsi who coaxes disillusioned former player Boman Irani into coaching their team.

There’s no chance of them scoring any goals however, until star player John Abraham joins the team, which he does. Now problem is, Arshad and John can’t stand the sight of each other, and the team isn’t exactly playing like a team. So it’s up to the coach now to bring the team together, to show them what they’re really playing for…

Let me guess, you’re thinking Chak De India, right? Well, forget it… Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal has neither drama nor nail-biting tension, the football scenes are indifferently shot, and there’s nothing about the plot that you couldn’t predict ten minutes into the film.

There are some unwritten rules as far as sports films are concerned — the sports scenes need to be dramatic and exciting and even though you know the underdog’s going to win in the end, you’ve got to root for them because they’ve won your heart. As far as Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal is concerned, you feel no such loyalty towards the underdogs in this film because they’ve done nothing to win your affection — in fact they’re positively annoying, they can’t kick a ball to save their lives, they talk to each other like they’re rattling off lines from some old-fashioned, melodramatic Hindi film, and most importantly, never once do you get the feeling that any one of them actually loves the game. They don’t deserve to win!

It’s the sheer ridiculousness of this film that’s possibly the only thing that goes in its favour — whether it’s the bust-heaving starlet who turns up for an item song, or the embarrassing amateurish drunken scene between Arshad and John forced to share a room while on a weekend getaway, or then that scene in which the football club owner dies in a car ten minutes into the film…if only you were as lucky as him!

The stupidity quotient of this film reaches its crescendo in the climax when one character chances upon the perfect way to sabotage the underdog team’s chances of winning — I won’t give away the details, but believe me when I say that even a seven-year-old wouldn’t come up with something as hare-brained as this.

You don’t need an expert to point out that it’s the film’s third-class script where most of the problems lie. Instead of focusing on the sport that the film’s supposedly about, the screenplay meanders in too many unnecessary directions. Like the British Asian father who doesn’t approve of his son playing for a “gora” team, or the Chak De-inspired subplot of the disgraced coach who takes on this impossible challenge for personal vindication, the whole protective elder brother cliche that Arshad Warsi lives out, and even the meant-to-be-cutesy romantic track between John and Bipasha Basu. The final blow has got to be the film’s dialogue, which is made up of exactly the kind of cheesy lines that deserve to be parodied. Honestly, I’ve never heard so many cliches uttered in the same film.

The least you expect from a film about sport is some spectacularly shot sporting action, but the football scenes in Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal are plain predictable and boringly photographed. Think of the cricket scenes in Lagaan, or the hockey scenes in Chak De India, and you’ll agree that they were original and imaginative and they kept you at the edge of your seat because they were so thrilling.

But it’s a shame that neither the director, nor the cinematographer of this film even noticed that the football scenes in this film were colourless and mundane. There wasn’t very much I liked about director Vivek Agnihotri’s last film, Chocolate but you can’t deny the film was stylishly shot. So what happened this time? Why did Southall lack character? Why did that item song have to be shot so typically? Why were the product placements so blatant?

The acting, to be honest, isn’t much better. Boman Irani’s usually a dependable actor but dumped with such an ill-fitting role he turns theatrical for no reason at all, and ends up delivering what can best be described as an embarrassing performance.

Give Arshad Warsi a clearly defined role and watch him bring it to life with his spontaneity, but in this film can you blame him for playing out his part with such indifference? Bipasha Basu as the girl-next-door physician seems ill at ease trying to hide her inherent oomph behind those simple spectacles, and John Abraham may be charming as hell flashing those dimples every three seconds, but it’s hardly the kind of film they’re going to be remembered for. The rest of the cast — Raj Zutshi, Kushal Punjabi and the others — over-act just as much as the main leads and hence fail to rise above the severely flawed script.

In the end, what separates Dhan Dhanadhan Goal from other disappointing films like No Smoking andSaawariya is that you spent most of those films wondering where it was all leading upto, but this one you spend just waiting for it to end. It’s amateurish and awkward and it annoys you no end to be sitting there watching this doomed production unfold at such a leisurely pace. For that alone, director Vivek Agnihotri gets a red card from me. It’s a foul he’s committed.

So that’s one out of five for Vivek Agnihotri’s Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, and it’s not so much one star, as it is one kick for this painfully pointless picture!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 9, 2007

A star is re-born

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:36 pm

November 09, 2007

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Arjun Rampal, Shreyas Talpade, Kirron Kher

Director: Farah Khan

I can’t think of another film that packs in as many laughs as director Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om. It’s set in the seventies and features Shah Rukh Khan as Om Prakash Makhija, a Bollywood junior artiste who’s got stars in his eyes and a crush on the country’s biggest female star, Shantipriya, played by newcomerDeepika Padukone. Om Shanti Om takes one of Hindi cinema’s most popular film themes of that period – the reincarnation drama – and turns it on its head by constructing a story set around that very theme, but in a whole new context.

Have I confused you? Well, let me make it simpler… The junior artiste gets killed trying to save the person he loves most. Thirty years later the country’s biggest star is an actor who’s got the same face as that junior artiste fellow. Wait, he not only looks exactly like him, he IS the same chap born again, and when he realizes it, he decides to seek revenge on the guy who was instrumental in sending him to the grave in that previous life. Think Karz with a very generous helping of humour.

Unpretentious and completely transparent in its intentions, Om Shanti Om is an entertainer in the true sense of the word, mixing up genre elements like comedy, drama, action and emotion to create a heady broth of Manmohan Desai-style exaggerated entertainment. With tongue firmly in cheek, the writers make light of everyone and everything in sight, packing the first half with so many in-jokes and movie references that it turns out to be every trivia collector’s wet dream.

Using the Bombay film industry as a backdrop to the film’s plot, everyone from Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna to Govinda and Subhash Ghai become fair game. Prepare to crack up in that scene where Manoj Kumar must prove his identity to a bunch of security guards after his invitations to a movie premiere get nicked. Or that one in which a young Sooraj Barjatya is seen copying lines for a future film.

A special mention must be made for the film’s excellent dialogue which so cleverly incorporates Bollywood’s oldest clichés into these characters’ everyday parlance. Just watch Kirron Kher and Shah Rukh Khan’s mother-son exchanges – they speak like they’re straight out of a seventies melodrama themselves!

Few films and few stars have the courage to laugh at themselves, and it’s because Om Shanti Om is smart enough to take a handful of self-directed jibes that you’re willing to embrace it so whole-heartedly. As superstar Om Kapoor in the film’s second half, Shah Rukh gleefully makes jokes about his repetitive acting style, his late-comings on the set, even all the starry trappings he’s so accustomed to.

Watch how he’s willing to let the joke be on him in those Filmfare Awards nomination clips where his every film resembles the other, his every performance the same. But lest you forget this is the country’s biggest star we’re talking about, he reminds you that by doing what only he can – sprinkling the film with cameos by just about every big name you can possibly think of. So despite the long-drawn out climax and the wobbly turns the screenplay takes post-intermission, Om Shanti Om doesn’t really lose its momentum, throwing in enough surprises to keep you hooked till the end credits roll.

If all you’re looking for is a good time at the movies this weekend, then Om Shanti Om just might be your right choice – it’s light and frothy and is two-and-a-half-hours well spent. Prepare to be very pleasantly surprised by an inspired turn from Arjun Rampal playing the hotshot producer who’s got a secret to hide, also put your hands together for a dazzling debut by Deepika Padukone who’s packaged like the next big thing.

If there was ever an award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Cameo then that trophy would go toAkshay Kumar who steals the show in one single scene. To say he’s marvelous would be an understatement. And then you have Shah Rukh Khan, who hams away like never before, but wait, it’s all in character. Infusing his characters with energy and spunk, he delivers this Diwali’s big dhamaka.

Then that’s three out of five for director Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om, a film that brings the fun back into the movies. A swell song-and-dance drama that’s sensationally senseless, go watch it and prepare to come back beaming.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

A case of the blues

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:30 pm

November 09, 2007

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Salman Khan

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

In a nameless picturesque town straight out of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, a free-spirited dreamer befriends a melancholic girl who spends three nights at the bridge waiting patiently for someone to return. By the time our hero learns that she already has a lover for whom she waits, it’s too late, because over the course of these three nights, singing and dancing with her, teasing and playing with her, he’s fallen deeply in love.

Determined to charm her off her feet and to make her choose him over a man who may never return, his love is put to the ultimate test when she asks him to help unite her with the man she’s pledged her heart to.

Starring newcomers Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor as Raj and Sakina, the protagonists in question, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya is a glossed-up, all song-and-dance take on Dostoevsky’s classic tale White Nights, and also borrows judiciously from Luchino Visconti’s 1957 film version. But where Visconti’s black-and-white film stays faithful to the story’s intimate set-up and stark feel, Bhansali goes for a larger-than-life, almost kingsize scale, throwing in dazzling colours, opulent sets, imaginatively choreographed musical numbers, a half-dozen references to Raj Kapoor’s films, and the kind of melodrama you can expect only in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film – remember Devdas?

Well, the problem with varnishing a simple love story with all those embellishments is that the very simplicity of the plot, the fragility of the characters’ emotions is lost amidst all that showing-off. What you get as a result, is a love story without soul.

An expensive and indulgent experiment, Saawariya doesn’t quite work because the writing is flawed and the director doesn’t seem to notice. Once a master manipulator of human emotions, Bhansali now fails to invest in his characters even the smallest dose of believability. Like cardboard caricatures, lifeless and dull, they rattle off ridiculous dialogues trying to sound like they have something profound to say. How you cringe in that scene where Ranbir convinces Zohra Sehgal to lease him a room, or that one in which he likens being sad to losing a boxing match.

There, my friends, lies the biggest problem – Saawariya comes off contrived and fake, and fails to strike a chord. You feel nothing for its characters, at best sympathy for the two young actors trapped in this pathetic, pretentious pap.

Arbitrary, disjointed and leaving too many questions unanswered, Saawariya is easily Bhansali’s most self-indulgent exercise yet. Too busy taking himself too seriously, the director decides he has no obligations to tell us where or when this story unfolds. Is this a period piece, or are we in the present day? Pray tell us, where in the world is this idyllic town — bathed in neon glow and littered with windmills and clock-towers and a Venetian canal in the middle of a town square?

Where prostitutes in colour-coordinated ensembles inhabit every corner and break into song at will. Where street after cobbled street leads to nowhere in particular, and where it rains one day and snows another. Welcome to the fantastical world of Sanjay Leela Bhansali where images speak a thousand words, even if they’re of little relevance to the plot of the film. Gobsmackingly photographed by Ravi K Chandran, what stays with you after you’ve left the cinema are those images after all, picture-postcard images that are embedded in your memory because they breathe more life than the characters do.

Of the cast, the usually feisty Zohra Sehgal hams like she’s trapped between two slices of bread, and throws in an irritating Anglicized accent that comes in the way of your taking her seriously. As Iman, the mysterious stranger who’s vital to this jigsaw puzzle of a film, Salman Khan is mercifully restrained, his two and a half scenes requiring him only to stare fixedly and mumble inaudibly.

Rani Mukherjee playing Gulabji the hooker with a heart of gold, is the only character whose pathos is relatable, and despite the cheesy dialogue she touches your heart with a performance that is inherently earnest.

And now, on to the two debutants – as Sakina, the child-woman going through myriad emotions, Sonam Kapoor manages to hold her own despite the fact that hers is clearly the weakest written role. It’s a wishy-washy character that’s part-annoying part-ridiculous, and it’s unfair that the young actress must wrestle to make sense of such a distinctly unlikable part. Ranbir Kapoor, meanwhile, when he isn’t struggling to ape his grandfather’s mannerisms, displays an an affable charm. Grabbing your attention when he’s dancing on screen, he’s got that star quality to him which is so rare to find.

Like all of Bhansali’s previous pictures, Saawariya too is a visual spectacle. Few filmmakers’ can match his attention to detail, his magnificent use of lighting and colour, and his sharp ear for music. But in the end, it’s not about the sweeping scale or the lilting melodies, Saawariya fails to touch your heart, it’s an exercise in excess. I’m going with one out of five for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya, a fall from grace for the country’s most celebrated filmmaker.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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