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

July 31, 2010

Anil Kapoor & Abhay Deol interview

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:23 pm

July 30, 2010

Anil Kapoor and Abhay Deol may be a generation apart in age, but they have more in common than you’d imagine. I chatted with the actors recently about their film Aisha, and the big Hollywood dream.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Play it again, please

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 3:20 am

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to resist the charm of this warm, soothing love story Once, which is exactly the kind of film I’d recommend for a night in with a giant bowl of ice-cream for company.

Set in working-class Dublin, a thirty-something Irish fellow and a Czech immigrant in her early twenties bond over their love for music. So when he’s not working at his dad’s vaccum-cleaner repair shop in the day, he’s standing in the street strumming his guitar and humming Van Morrison tunes to disinterested passers-by. She sells roses on the same block, watches him singing one evening and strikes up a friendship. Next thing you know, they’re in a musical-instrument store whose owner allows her to come in and play the piano every time she likes. Here her new friend teaches her one of the songs he wrote, and they talk about their music tastes and aspirations. He tells her it’s a song he hopes to record professionally and convinces her to collaborate on it. She in turn inspires him to quit his dad’s shop and start raising the money required to record the single.

The remarkable thing about Once is that its beauty lies in its simplicity. It’s really an ordinary story, one whose charm lies almost entirely in its characters and their everydayness. Written and directed by Irish filmmaker John Carney, Once is a film that warms your heart because its a bittersweet story about people who have no extraordinary qualities or dreams.

You’ll enjoy the film also because of its fantastic music, written and performed by the actors themselves — Glen Hansard (of the Dublin-based group, The Frames) who plays the male lead, and Czech singer-songwriter Marketa Irglova who plays the female lead. We never learn the names of either character in the entire film, it doesn’t even seem important. What you will take with you when the film’s over is a deep sense of satisfaction; it’s really a kitchen-sink drama in the true sense of the word, an intimate, personal story about people so ordinary you can relate to them instantly. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself overcome with affection for the characters.

It’s the kind of film you’ll want to watch more than once.

Bullets over Bruges

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 3:15 am

In Bruges is not a typical gangster film, although Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as a pair of Dublin hit-men who’re sent to this picture-perfect ‘fairytale’ town in Belgium to cool their heels by their gangster boss after a hit goes very wrong. Farrell’s the hotheaded, impulsive one who doesn’t know what to do in a place like this, while Gleeson plays the older, quieter one who embraces the opportunity to do a little sightseeing. Bruges, in fact, serves not just as a filming location but acts as a character in the film, and if nothing else, you can be sure you’ll want to take a holiday to this quaint little medieval Belgian town after you’ve seen the film.

The movie introduces us to a host of quirky characters like the dwarf who’s in Bruges shooting for a film, and who gets into a funny spat with Farrell’s character; there’s also the pretty, young drug-peddler who Farrell falls for; but most intriguing of them all is the fast-talking, obscenity-hurling gangster boss played by Ralph Fiennes. What’s remarkable about this film is the fact that our two protagonists are assassins, but they seem more like ordinary fellows with surprising moral codes, despite their occupation. You can’t help feeling really sorry for Farrell’s character who’s overcome with guilt at having made one wrong move. You also can’t help feeling affection towards Gleeson’s character who has such a paternal influence over Farrell in the film.

In Bruges is a very enjoyable film, mostly because of its outstanding dialogue which – if you think about it – reminds you distinctly of how Tarantino’s characters speak. The chemistry that Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson share is pretty fantastic and their moments of sparring and arguing are particularly memorable. In fact, it’s a film that’ll keep you hooked until the very end. It’s the only bittersweet gangster film I’ve ever seen.

July 30, 2010

Gangsta’ Nap

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:46 pm

July 30, 2010

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi, Kangana Ranaut, Prachi Desai

Director: Milan Luthria

Despite its dhinchak background score and colorful palette, Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai is a less stylish film than Ramgopal Varma’s Company, whose basic plot it so closely resembles.

Director Milan Luthria revisits the familiar tale of a powerful don and his fallout with his ambitious protégé. In setting the film in the 70s, Luthria borrows much of that period’s cinematic style. Every line is a punch line, every dialogue a clap-trap. The nostalgia is enjoyable initially, and the film successfully evokes the spirit of those Amitabh Bachchan starrers of the 70s. But you become numb to the impact of the dialogues when even supporting characters and bit players speak in clever quips.

Playing a character loosely inspired by Haji Mastan, Ajay Devgan stars as Sultan, a swaggering smuggler who divides the city into zones, allocating one each to his rivals, and assigning the sea to himself for plunder. The uncharacteristically principled Sultan becomes the reigning don of the city, until his supremacy is challenged by greedy upstart Shoaib (played by Emraan Hashmi), a character modeled after the young Dawood Ibrahim.

Relying more on treatment than content, Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai moves along at a leisurely pace, its central conflict showing up only after intermission. Movies set in the underworld suck you in with their authentic feel and innate drama, but to be honest, drama and action are conspicuous by their absence in this film.

Take the scene in which Sultan approaches film actress Rehana (played by Kangana Ranaut), hoping to woo her with a fruit. It’s a terrific, original idea for a romantic scene, unfortunately never fully exploited for its dramatic potential. Even the film’s tense climax is ultimately ruined, overrun as it is by a lofty political bhashan.

Of the cast, Randeep Hooda oozes sufficient confidence as the cop determined to save the city from the clutches of these dangerous men. Kangana Ranaut is a tad awkward in the role of a gangster’s moll, although there is tenderness in the love between her and Devgan’s character. Emraan Hashmi puts in a sincere turn as Shoaib, but he lacks the charisma that stalks a ruthless don, or the recklessness and urgency of a small-time gangster climbing the ladder.

The film’s biggest strength is unquestionably Ajay Devgan who brings freshness to a part we’ve seen so many times before. He has a scorching presence, and he knows how to use it. Watch the imperious tone Devgan takes as he asks a lackey to clean up the city after Hashmi’s ruthless dealings. Or the scene in which he comes up with witty replies to his girlfriend’s riddles when she’s unpacking the gifts she’s brought him for his birthday.

Devgan’s performance rises above the rather ordinary canvas of this film, but Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai never quite hits the mark, or matches the standards set by previous underworld movies like Company, Satya or Nayagan.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Milan Luthria’s Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai. The film is watchable and enjoyable in parts even, but it doesn’t quite pull off the retro chic tone it was going for. Gangsta Rap? More like Gangsta Nap!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Girl interrupted

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:39 pm

July 30, 2010

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner

Director: David Slade

The good news is that The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is a considerably less frustrating film than New Moon. The bad news is that we’ve reached the third film in the series, and the leads still haven’t learnt how to act.

Nothing much has changed since we last saw them on screen. Eternally conflicted Bella Swan (played by Kristen Stewart) must choose between her pasty-faced vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattinson), and her muscled best friend and werewolf-boy Jacob Black (played by Taylor Lautner). Bella sighs and moans and whines her way again through this film, even as Edward and Jacob finally find something to agree on. Sworn enemies they may be, but the boys decide they will join forces to protect Bella from the army of newborn vampires that is being trained to kill her.

Unlike the previous films, Eclipse maintains a sturdier, faster pace; and yet there is much of the series’ signature sappy romance intended squarely to seduce its loyal teenage fan-base.

Picking up from the earlier films, Bella’s still practically begging Edward to take her virginity, but Edward knows that having sex with her means he’ll have to “change” her. Bella is happy to turn into a vampire to be with him, but Edward insists she marry him before they get under the sheets. The couple ponders over their situation for what seems like ages, mumbling and whispering through the entire first act of this film.

A little later, the perennially shirtless Jacob taunts Edward that he’s better suited to be Bella’s lover, and delivers the film’s most unintentionally comical line when he gets under a blanket to share some of his body heat with a freezing Bella, while her cold-blooded vampire boyfriend looks on helplessly.

If you’re not a fan of the series, it’s probably hard to disregard the inherent silliness of the plot of these movies, and it’s equally hard to understand what all the fuss is about. There are prettier girls in that town than Bella, she can’t seem to stop moping for even a minute, and she’s probably not worth putting your own life and the lives of your family at risk…

So if those are the kind of thoughts your head is filled with while watching this film, you’re clearly not their target audience. You’ll probably enjoy the action scenes in which vampires leap and glide across the forest chasing after an enemy, or in which a pack of CGI werewolves take down a group of young, fit, newborn vampires. But there’s little else that’s likely to interest you here.

I’m going with two out of five for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. The dreary tone sucks the life out of you. And wait, they’re still going to make two more films!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 24, 2010

Shooting The Breeze: Rajat Barmecha

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 6:29 pm


21-year-old star of Udaan, Rajat Barmecha recounts how he landed his life-changing debut role, and shares his hopes and aspirations for the future.

July 23, 2010

No taste!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:00 am

July 23, 2010

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Trisha Krishnan, Rajpal Yadav, Johnny Lever

Director: Priyadarshan

Whatever else you do, don’t forget to carry cotton for your ears when you’re heading off to watch Khatta Meetha, director Priyadarshan’s loud and outrageously insensitive new film.

Set in a small town in rural Maharashtra, the film stars Akshay Kumar as Sachin Tichkule, a desperate road-construction contractor who’s buried under heavy debt, and too broke to even pay for his workers’ meals.

For some reason the film’s director thinks Tichkule’s hapless condition can be a license for him to scream and shout out his dialogues at the top of his lungs, sparing no thought whatsoever for your eardrums.

Disguised as a comedy, Khatta Meetha is in fact a drama about the deep-rooted corruption in our system. Tichkule clashes with the town’s new municipal commissioner (played by Tamil actress Trisha Krishnan), who refuses to turn a blind eye to the dishonest practices of contractors with regards constructions. Tichkule delivers an impassioned monologue about the number of palms that need to be greased within the municipal office itself for the smallest job, and that alone is the film’s most resonant scene.

But Khatta Meetha, a remake of Priyadarshan’s own Malayalam film, Vellanakalude Naadu, is a seriously schizophrenic film. Supposedly serious scenes like the murder of the family driver, and the rape and death of the protagonist’s youngest sister, are followed by comic sequences involving characters directly related to the victims. The film is packed with embarrassing profanities that are meant to make you laugh; and a scene in which a sleazy construction worker peeps into a woman’s bathroom to watch her change is also treated humorously.

To give credit where it’s due, Akshay Kumar is the film’s only bright spot. He throws himself sincerely into the movie’s slapstick gags and makes even the most predictable pratfalls amusing.

I’m going with a generous one out of five for Priyadarshan’s Khatta Meetha; this is cinema at its most tasteless.

The movie ends with a music video in which Akshay Kumar dances to a song titled “I’m allergic to bullshit.” If indeed those words were true, we wouldn’t have to watch this film!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Spy game

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 9:00 am

July 23, 2010

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Shreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Director: Phillip Noyce

Angelina Jolie’s new spy-thriller Salt is an exciting action blockbuster that succeeds where Tom Cruise’s Knight and Day so badly failed. Both films may be different in genre and tone, but Salt never forgets the basic requirement of a summer action movie — deliver plenty thrills, but give the audience a protagonist they can root for.

Jolie stars as Evelyn Salt, a veteran CIA operative who’s accused of being a Russian spy. She insists she’s innocent, but her bosses don’t seem to believe her. Next thing you know she’s on the run…jumping on speeding trucks, crawling across the ledge of a building, zooming around on a motorcycle dodging a stream of bullets.

The film’s plot is ridiculous and makes very little sense when you look back on it, but to be fair, you’re engaged while its unfolding. What’s interesting is the manner in which your perspective and your trust of the character keeps shifting during the film, based on the new information that comes your way from time to time.

Salt works for two reasons. The action, which is fast-paced and relies on actual dare-devilry over CGI and special effects. And the fact that it’s a woman, and more specifically, Angelina Jolie who’s kicking ass on screen.

It’s no secret that this film was originally written for Tom Cruise, who dropped out saying it felt too similar in spirit to his Mission Impossible movies. If you think about it, Cruise might never have been able to pull off this morally ambiguous character. It’s hard to see him as anything but the archetypal all-American hero. With Jolie, she makes the character more of a mystery; she blurs the line between victim and villain.

The film’s director Phillip Noyce brings an old-fashioned authenticity to the action, so when Jolie leaps from a height onto the top of a truck, you can hear your heart pound. Think about it, in these days of super-slick, SFX-heavy set pieces, when was the last time you were actually worried about a character in a dangerous action scene?

At a running time of a crisp 100 minutes, this film moves at a frenetic pace, which is a good thing, given that it doesn’t allow you much time to ponder over its silliness. I’m going with three out of five for Salt; it’s worth a watch for the sheer conviction Angelina Jolie brings to this unpretentious, exhilarating entertainer. Don’t miss it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 22, 2010

How to make great movies and billions of dollars: Pixar’s secret

Filed under: What I'm Reading — Rajeev @ 6:04 pm

July 17, 2010

The truth is out there

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 4:00 am

Roman Polanski, the acclaimed director of such films as Rosemary’s BabyChinatown and The Pianist, is the subject of a remarkably well-researched and eye-opening documentary titled Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. This film takes a look at the highly publicised court case of 1977 in which the filmmaker was tried for having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a 13-year-old girl.

That Polanski, who was 43 at the time, was arrested and charged with raping the girl at the home of his friend Jack Nicholson while the actor was away, is a well-known fact. That he fled the United States to avoid a prison sentence and still remains in Europe in exile for that very reason, is also a fact that is commonly known. What Marina Zenovich brings to light in her documentary, however, are lesser known facts about the case which suggest that the director might have been as much a victim as he was a sinner.

Without ever going soft on what Polanski actually did, the documentary tracks down almost all the people involved in the case – the police, lawyers who represented both sides, court officials, journalists who covered the case, and even the victim herself – who all seem to agree on one thing…that while Polanski certainly deserved to face some kind of penalty, he can’t be blamed for fleeing the country because he never got a fair trial.

At the heart of this documentary is the now deceased judge of the case – Laurence J Rittenband – who it is revealed was a shameless publicity seeker who was more concerned with his own image than arriving at justice. It is learnt that Rittenband broke his word to attorneys on both sides; he staged a fake courtroom session in which the prosecution and defence lawyers were made to argue their case before him while he read out a sentence that he’d already prepared. He often discussed the case with complete outsiders, including a guy at the next urinal at his country club. Eventually Rittenband was removed fromthe case.

While Polanski himself refused to be interviewed for the documentary, Zenovich uses previous interviews he’s given, file footage of his appearances in court, newspaper clippings, even scenes from Polanski’s own films to great dramatic effect.

Tracing the director’s tragic life even before this incident – the loss of his parents in the Holocaust, the gruesome murder of his pregnant wife – this documentary paints an honest portrait of Polanski that some might even describe as sympathetic. But the truth is, it’s a fair representation of a man who has, unfortunately been defined by his one wrong deed.

Look for the film, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired on DVD; it should be watched because it’s an example of great reporting, but it’s also a very engaging film that unfolds like a drama with some thrilling moments that are all the more significant because they’re all true!

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