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

December 25, 2008

Fond memory

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:49 pm

December 25, 2008

Cast: Aamir Khan, Asin, Jiah Khan, Pradeep Rawat

Director: AR Murgadoss

Watching him in Ghajini, I don’t think I’ve seen Aamir Khan having this much fun as an actor in a long time.

It’s an old-fashioned entertainer with a half-convincing plot, packed with enough gratuitous violence to qualify as a B-movie really; and like the most popular B-movies ever, the biggest strength of Ghajini lies in the fact that it’s a fast-moving roller-coaster ride that seldom gives you a moment to stop and think how stupid it might actually be.

In a premise clearly inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Aamir Khan plays Sanjay Singhania, a hot-shot industrialist who turns into an obsessed killing machine dedicated to tracking down his girlfriend’s killer. Having been hit on the head with an iron rod, he suffers from short-term memory loss and can’t remember anything for longer than 15 minutes; as a result he must tattoo his body with instructions that will lead him to his prey.

Abandoning Memento‘s fantastic non-linear narrative and opting for the more conventional flashback device, writer-director AR Murgadoss throws in an engaging back-story in the form of leading lady Asin (playing smalltime model Kalpana) and a love story brimming with originality and the kind of gentleness that you don’t see at the movies anymore. It’s a romance that takes you by surprise, and to an extent puts the film’s intense action into perspective too.

Faithful remake of the director’s Tamil blockbuster, Ghajini is over-the-top and exaggerated in its comedy, its action and its drama, but what irks you most are the half-dozen or so creative liberties and coincidences that the makers resort to, in order to bail themselves out of tricky screenplay situations. Here’s a little sample – you’re expected to believe that Sanjay Singhania is a well-known millionaire industrialist, and yet no one has seen him in pictures or in person.

Logical loopholes like these would be the albatross of any half-decent film, but Ghajini works despite its shortcomings because it’s a reliably dumb film that is unpretentious in its intentions. Unlike many dumb films that take themselves way too seriously, Ghajini is a dumb film that celebrates its dumbness.

Of course much of the film’s appeal lies in watching leading man Aamir Khan approach his role with an unmatched fervor. Whether it’s beefing up for the part, or oozing that schoolboy charm, or then the manner in which he explodes in rage each time he’s reminded of Kalpana’s brutal death, you can’t take your eyes off the screen when he’s up there.

He finds a worthy nemesis in Pradeep Rawat who plays bad guy Ghajini, your stereoptypical 80s Bollywood villain, complete with gold chains, white shoes and menacing sneer. Rawat is decidedly loathsome, especially in the scene in which he enjoys watching our hero writhe helplessly as he offs his girlfriend in front of his eyes.

At the emotional heart of the film is Tamil actress Asin making her Bollywood debut as the mischievous, happy-go-lucky Kalpana, who benefits from a superbly-written character that is hard to get out of your head even when the film’s ended. Asin has undeniable screen presence and such joie de vivre that you can immediately relate with the hero’s anguish over losing her.

In a thankfully small role as the medical student who helps our hero achieve his goal is Jiah Khan who has a screechy voice and a forgettable presence.

Ghajini isn’t a particularly good film, but entertainment it delivers by the bucketful. At a running time of 3 hours, the film seldom drags and therein lies its victory. For the Singh Is Kinng generation, here’s another time pass entertainer.

I’m going with three out of five for director A R Murgadoss’ Ghajini, this is Aamir Khan’s way of telling us, ‘Anything that Shah Rukh or Akshay can do, I can do just as well.’

Watch it for the ride.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Trunk call

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:44 pm

December 25, 2008

Cast: Voices of Akshay Kumar, Lara Dutta, Dimple Kapadia

Director: Kompin Kemgumnird

Akshay Kumar is good at many things – he has a natural flair for comedy, he performs dare-devil stunts stylishly, he can even be quite charming in romantic roles.

He’s never been very good at voice modulation or dubbing though, which is why he wouldn’t seem like the perfect choice to voice animation.

In Jumbo, however, the Thai animation film that’s been redubbed in Hindi and released this week,Akshay Kumar lends his vocal talent to the older avatar of the film’s elephant hero.

Separated from his mother in his youth, Jumbo wanders out of the forest and into the neighboring town Shaktinagar, where he’s raised affectionately by the townsfolk, and eventually trained to fight in Prince Vikram’s army, where he must face the most feared warrior elephant that ever lived. His rival, in fact, was responsible for the death of his father many years ago.

A typical coming-of-age drama told in a simple, straight style, Jumbo has some respectable animation, but lacks the edge that is required to make it an engaging enough watch. A far cry from those fantastic Hollywood animation films where top stars lend tics and quirks to create distinct characters out of their parts, Jumbo comes across as a rush job in terms of the voice work involved.

Akshay Kumar makes no attempt or effort to do a different voice each for the narrator and the older Jumbo, the two characters he’s responsible for voicing. He lends the same deep drone to both characters. Dimple Kapadia as the voice of Devi, Jumbo’s doting mother, is similarly uninspired, investing nothing distinct, nothing special to her part. Lara Dutta, voicing Jumbo’s love interest – the pink elephant Sonia – is such an insignificant character, she barely registers any impact with her handful of lines.

It’s the supporting players – Asrani, Gulshan Grover and particularly Rajpal Yadav – who succeed in making their characters memorable by giving them some meat to chew on.Jumbo has its animation roots in Thailand, and while the animation itself isn’t bad, the film as a whole doesn’t quite work because there’s very little that’s funny or original in the dialogue or the characters.

I’ll go with two out of five and at best an average rating for Jumbo. Watch it for the spectacular battle scene in the end, it’s the film’s one big highlight.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

December 12, 2008

Double trouble

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:53 pm

December 12, 2008

Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Vinay Pathak

Director: Aditya Chopra

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi directed by Aditya Chopra, is a film that hangs from a threadbare premise that is hard to swallow.

Shah Rukh Khan plays Surinder Sahni, a working-class simpleton from Amritsar who goes in for an image makeover, and poses as a cooler, trendier fellow so he can woo his young, distracted wife Taani (played by newcomer Anushka Sharma). Picked to be partners in a local dance contest, the lady and her husband-in-disguise, Raj, become fast friends, until she finds herself falling for him.

To be honest, even if you are willing to buy into that bizarre premise – that Taani fails to recognize her own husband because he’s shaved his moustache, lost the spectacles and picked a funky hairstyle – Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is still an exhausting watch because it’s such a predictable story, because it recycles the same old clichés, and because the characters are so poorly developed.

It’s difficult to get your head around Taani, easily the film’s most confusing character, who takes the drastic step of marrying a man she doesn’t love on the urging of her deathbed-bound father, when her fiancé is killed in a road accident. Never once does she remember or refer to either her fiancé or her father in the film. She’s progressive enough to think it’s cool to be having gol-gappa eating matches with a male friend, but conveniently forgets to tell him she’s married.

Going back to the oldest trick in the book to solve all his screenplay problems, director Aditya Chopra drags in Rab, or God to solve the film’s decidedly uncomfortable conflict of whether Taani should run away with her lover, who’s actually her husband-in-disguise; or whether she should stay with her husband? You see, the message this film delivers repeatedly is that you know it’s real love when you see Rab or God in another human being.

Rab, in fact, comes quite handy here and is referred to every few minutes by someone or the other, and very often in long, boring monologues that characters deliver aloud to themselves.

When it’s not peddling God and its theories on love, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is really an antiquated love story that is regressive, chauvinistic and plain stupid in parts. Which is sad if you think about it, because stripped down to its basics there is clearly a sensitive idea there – about facing one’s insecurities, and about coming to terms with the fact that it’s okay to be yourself.

The emotional core of the film is the Surinder character whom Shah Rukh Khan plays with such genuine affection, you miss him dearly when the focus shifts to the loud buffoonery of Raj. Amidst all those silly gimmicks of a sumo-wrestling match and an Om Shanti Om-inspired item song with Bollywood’s top heroines, the moments that stay with you are the ones involving Suri. It’s to Shah Rukh Khan’s credit that Suri stands out in such a messy film.

Newcomer Anushka Sharma appears confident, and is well cast as the spirited Taani, but saddled with an inconsistent character she fails to leave a lasting impression. The same, thankfully can’t be said forVinay Pathak, who’s absolutely delightful as Suri’s faithful friend Bobby.

Aditya Chopra’s return to direction after eight years is marked by a flawed script, which in turn spawns a disappointing film. Where’s the smart dialogue and the spirited characters that defined his debut film,Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge? There’s no trace of either in this film.

The problem then, at the root of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, is that much like those artificial sets in the film, the emotions too are contrived.

I’m going with two out of five and at best an average rating for director Aditya Chopra’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. If you must, watch it for Suri; he’s the only honest thing about this film.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

December 5, 2008

Marry go round

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:21 pm

December 05, 2008

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Soha Ali Khan, Rahul Bose, Konkona Sensharma, Rahul Khanna

Director: Anil Senior

Like Woody Allen’s sharp ensemble piece Husbands And Wives — of which it is a shameless, shameless copy — Dil Kabaddi is a biting satire on marriage and fidelity. Propelled by its characters and the shifting dynamics of their relationships, the film abandons the conventional three-act structure in favor of a more fluid narrative.

Irrfan Khan and Soha Ali Khan play a couple that has decided to amicably separate after two years of marriage. This news comes as a shock to their seemingly happily married best friends, played by Rahul Bose and Konkona Sensharma, who, encouraged by their friends’ separation, decide to pursue their own individual desires.

Whacking not just the premise, but practically every plot point and every scene from the original film, Dil Kabaddi follows each of the four characters as they head out to seek happiness. Irrfan literally jumps into a sexually liberating affair with a dim-witted aerobics instructor, played by Payal Rohatgi. Rahul Bose finds himself attracted to a young student who has a thing for older men. And Konkona is drawn to a colleague at work, played by Rahul Khanna, who she hooks up Soha with.

Much of the film is enjoyable thanks to witty dialogue, and also because of the film’s sometimes candid, sometimes comic take on sex. The characters indulge in such cheeky talk it’s hard not to be amused. But credit for all of this must go to the original source material – Woody Allen’s film – which serves as a blueprint that the makers of Dil Kabaddi faithfully follow.

Of the cast, Konkona Sensharma stands out as the passive-aggressive manipulator who goes after what she wants and makes sure she gets it. It’s a careful, measured performance that is rich in detail. Rahul Bose can’t quite pull off the bumbling, stuttering Woody Allen-esque character, but makes a sincere attempt nonetheless. Soha Ali Khan struggles to find the right note with which to play her uptight character, but grates with a performance that is mostly inconsistent. Springing a pleasant surprise on us is Rahul Khanna who leaves a lasting impression as the charming and vulnerable guy who always seems to get his heart broken.

But Dil Kabaddi really belongs to Irrfan Khan who delivers a winning performance as the 40-year-old ‘born-again-virgin’ who’s desperate to spice up his virtually non-existent sex life with his wife. He tackles even tricky scenes with such earnestness that it’s hard to keep a straight face to his often lewd behavior. Watch him in that scene in a lingerie store where he offends a salesgirl because of his tactless approach – he’s hilarious. Or the other scene in which he confesses he had a hearty laugh watching a regular Bollywood potboiler, something his arty-farty wife would never have allowed him to do. Irrfan’s is a crowd-pleasing performance, but it’s also one that is deep and layered if you look close enough.

Dil Kabaddi might have been an instant entertainer had director Anil Senior exercised a tighter grip on the screenplay, but because much of the film’s second act seems to go around in circles, the film is enjoyable but only in parts.

I’m going with two out of five for director Anil Senior’s Dil Kabaddi; it’s a film with some wonderfully light moments that will leave you smiling from ear to ear. And for that, we have Woody Allen to thank.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Gallery of grates

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:16 pm

December 05, 2008

Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Paresh Rawal, Neha Dhupia, Boman Irani, Tara Sharma, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah

Director: Shivam Nair

Crushingly slow and painfully predictable, Maharathi is your typical stage-to-screen adaptation gone very wrong. The movie – centred around a handful of characters, and filmed largely in a single location – is less than two hours in running time, but feels like a never-ending teleplay.

Paresh Rawal stars as a small-time con who earns the favor of an ageing ex-film producer (played by Naseeruddin Shah) when he saves the alcoholic fellow from imminent death in a road accident. Partly out of gratitude and partly to piss off his wife (played by Neha Dhupia), the old man rewards the con with a job as his driver and a place to stay in his home. Clashing initially, then collaborating on a master-plan to get their hands on the old drunkard’s money, his wife and his driver soon form a formidable team, outsmarting both the old man’s faithful lawyer buddy (played by Boman Irani) and the new caretaker (played by Tara Sharma). But, as you should have guessed by now, in the end things take a very different course – some plans go awfully wrong, important characters end up dead, and the seemingly simple ones turn out to be anything but.

Adapted from a Gujarati play of the same name, the film is directed by Shivam Nair who employs a loose hand and never once gives the film that mood of nail-biting tension that is so desperately required here to keep the viewer engaged. It’s in the last fifteen odd minutes of the film that you witness any real energy at all, as two important characters bicker and spar and – as a result – infuse some life into this dead drama. The so-called twist in the end is so alarmingly obvious, you can see it coming from a mile away.

Sadly, despite assembling an ensemble of powerhouse actors, the film scores with only one memorable performance – at the heart of Maharathi is a delicious turn by Paresh Rawal who turns even ordinary scenes with flat dialogue into some pretty potent stuff.

That’s two out of five for director Shivam Nair’s Maharathi; it’s a long and tedious affair, with a few moments that shine. Watch it if you have little else to do.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Over and out!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:09 pm

December 05, 2008

Cast: Mandira Bedi, Eijaz Khan, Anil Kumble

Director: Chandrakant Kulkarni

It’s a clear sign that a movie isn’t working for you when you start looking at your watch. But when you start shaking your watch because you think it might have stopped, you know this film has failed.

Meerabai Not Out is an excruciatingly slow-paced comedy about a cricket-obsessed school teacher, Meera, played by Mandira Bedi, whose as-yet-single status is blamed on the fact that nothing and no one gets her juices flowing the way the game does. Her middle-class family is committed to finding her an eligible groom, but because she can’t seem to get her priorities sorted, it’s become impossible to find a match for her. When she does meet her soul-mate eventually – a young doctor, played by television actor Eijaz Khan – and prepares to settle down with him, she finds herself confronted with the challenge of having to choose between love and cricket.

Predictable every step of the way, Meerabai Not Out is the kind of film that expects you to sit patiently while the characters and the screenplay slowly arrive at the inevitable conclusion. What happens, and how and why, will be perfectly clear to any attentive viewer as soon as the plot lays down its tracks. Which is why the experience of watching this film unfold is similar to the pain that comes from pulling out your nostril hair one by one.

There’s a running joke in the film which involves random people telling Meera, our protagonist, that she resembles Mandira Bedi, to which she angrily responds that it’s Mandira who resembles her and not the other way around. The punch-line to that self-deprecating joke is delivered by Meera again who says: “Aur main pure kapde pahenti hoon”, meaning: “Unlike her, I am always fully dressed.”

This is possibly the only smart moment in this dumb, regressive film in which Meera’s fate is left to the outcome of a cricket match between her brother and her fiancé.

Anil Kumble makes a series of short appearances in this film as the object of Meera’s crush; it’s the kind of embarrassing cameo that the poor chap’s not likely to live down in a hurry.

A thumbs down and one out of five for director Chandrakant Kulkarni’s Meerabai Not Out. This is a film that must be seen to be believed.

But wait, that’s too high a price to pay!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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