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

July 16, 2010

One from the heart!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:00 pm

July 16, 2010

Cast: Rajat Barmecha, Ronit Roy, Ram Kapoor, Aayan Boradia

Director: Vikramaditya Motwane

It’s hard not to be moved by the coming-of-age journey at the heart of director Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan.

It’s an inherently sincere and deeply affecting story of 17-year-old Rohan (played by newcomer Rajat Barmecha) who’s thrown out of boarding school and packed off home to Jamshedpur, his first visit in eight years. Confronting his over-bearing, uncaring father is only the first of many challenges for this motherless teenager, who also discovers he has a six-year-old half-brother he had no knowledge of until now.

Stuck in this industrial city with no friends at all, forced to pursue a degree in engineering instead of being allowed to blossom into the writer he wishes to become, Rohan’s claustrophobia is palpable. His father’s violent outbursts and the frustration of sharing his room with a brother he has no affection for, adds to his intense desperation.

Intuitively written and lovingly crafted, Udaan is packed with moments that will resonate with every viewer because they mirror real experiences: whether it’s those scenes of griping against the world while throwing back tequila with new-found buddies, or sneaking out of boarding school to watch an adult film in a local cinema.

Udaan comes across as an intensely personal film; a coming-of-age story without the choreographed songs or road-trips; the anti-Wake Up Sid if you like. There is angst you can identify with, and Barmecha conveys an intense loneliness that you can almost feel.

The film’s dialogues by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane are sharp and mesh in well with the scenes. Mahendra Shetty’s luscious photography is one of Udaan‘s greatest strengths; and even actors in bit roles — like Oye Lucky Lucky Oye‘s Manjot Singh — leave a lasting impression. There is a distinctly ‘unfilmi’ feel about the performances, and while Barmecha anchors the film with a sensitive, heartfelt turn that is possibly among the best you’ve seen recently, credit must also be given to Ronit Roy who stars as Rohan’s despotic dad Bhairav. Investing in his character a damaged quality that protects it from ever turning into a caricature, Roy delivers a performance that is arresting.

If the harshness in Udaan comes from Rohan’s tyrant father, its softness comes from his mostly silent half-sibling Arjun, played by the excellent Aayan Boradia who conveys volumes through his eyes. To be fair, the film is as much the story of two pairs of brothers, as it is Rohan’s coming-of-age journey. Ram Kapoor stars as Jimmy, the affable brother of Bhairav who represents the only silver lining in Rohan’s life. And who better than the gleefully rotund Kapoor to pull off this part?

At close to 2 hours and 20 minutes, Udaan is long, not least because Motwane unfolds his narrative at a leisurely pace that at times makes the plot feel repetitive. Amit Trivedi comes up with a score that is a musical entity within itself; yet laced against the film the songs speak for the characters without ever intruding or distracting from the plot.

With Udaan, Motwane makes a terrific directing debut, offering up a film whose images will linger in your head long after you’ve left your seat. The film reaches out because it’s sincere. It tells Rohan’s story in the only way it could have been told — without the commercial trappings that might have made it an easier watch. And yet you’re overwhelmingly happy that it isn’t compromised cinema.

I’m going with four out of five and a recommendation not to miss Udaan. It’s one of the best films this year, and one you will carry in your heart for years.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Idea is everything!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:00 pm

July 16, 2009

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page

Director: Christopher Nolan

Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, is a film that asks of its audience to participate in its unraveling. You don’t just settle into your seat and ‘watch’ this film as an ordinary spectator; you sit there and carefully work it out, piece by tricky piece. If most films, by very definition, are made in order to entertain or engage viewers, Inception does more than that: it challenges them.

Not that you should expect any less from the director that gave us the deliciously complicated Memento and the cerebral blockbuster that was The Dark Knight. With Inception, Nolan fuses the core agendas of both those previous films — he is delivering a spectacle, but to enjoy it completely the audience must earn it.

Indeed Inception requires that you submit your full attention. The film is part sci-fi, part heist thriller, and part mind-bending psychological puzzle. And chances are you’re going to need to watch it at least a second time to grasp exactly what is going on.

Let me lay out the basics: Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a master thief-for-hire trained to extract information from a sleeping person’s brain. He performs the job skillfully, but lands his toughest challenge when he’s hired by a powerful businessman, Saito (played by Ken Watanabe) to plant an idea in a rival’s head, instead of stealing one. The idea when planted, will cause Saito’s business rival Robert Fischer (played by Cillian Murphy) to break up his father’s multibillion-dollar empire.

Dom sets out to accomplish the job with a faithful team that comprises his longtime right-hand man (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a ‘forger’ who can morph into another person’s identity (played by Tom Hardy), a scientist who supplies the sedative needed to put the victims and the extractors into a slumber (played by Dileep Rao), and an architect who designs mazes for the dream world (played by Ellen Page). It doesn’t help however, that Dom is haunted by the memory of his dead wife Mal (played by Marion Cotillard), who has the irritating habit of showing up in his subconscious and messing with his mind while he’s at work.

Much of the film’s first hour is spent illustrating how Dom’s job works: how he extracts dreams and ideas from people’s heads, and what exactly the process involves. You’re introduced to the concept of multiple levels and layers within the subconscious (meaning dreams within dreams within dreams), and you’re familiarized with the rules by which this virtual-reality world works — such as what happens if you die in a dream, the nature of dream time v/s real time, and the dangers of layering elaborate dreams within dreams.

As a viewer it takes time to arrive on the same page as the characters, and just when you think you’ve figured it out, you find yourself flummoxed again by all the drama and action unfolding within parallel dream states.

Visually, Inception is a jaw-dropping marvel if you consider the manner in which Nolan blurs the real with the surreal, without ever going all Alice in Wonderland on us. Watch the scene in which the city of Paris folds in on itself like a book, or the one in which Gordon-Levitt gets into a gravity-defying duel with a bunch of bad guys in a hotel corridor. Using minimal CGI to execute the audacious stunts, Nolan keeps the dreams grounded in plausibility.

There is no shortage of high-adrenalin action either, which is delivered in that breathless foot-chase sequence through the streets of Tangiers, a scene that seems as if it’s been pulled straight out of a Jason Bourne movie.

The ensemble cast dives into the film’s challenging narrative and delivers credible performances across the board, although special mention has to be made of Joseph Gordon-Levitt who creates a composed, confident character that is a clever foil to DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb.

As the leader of the pack, the protagonist of this drama, Leonardo DiCaprio is first-rate. He brings genuine emotion to the scenes in which we see Cobb overwhelmed with love for his wife and children, and he is every bit as convincing in his action star avatar. For DiCaprio Inception stands as a companion piece to Shutter Island in which he also played a widower at the mercy of dark illusions.

Ultimately the film works because it keeps you on your toes throughout. There is excitement to be had in the struggle to keep up with what’s going on, and in the end if you feel like there’s a lot that went over your head, well, join the club!

If you thought Memento was confusing, wait till you sink your teeth into Inception. I’m going with four out of five for Christopher Nolan’s Inception. It’s the most original film I’ve seen in long time. A masterstroke of writing and storytelling. At roughly two hours and thirty minutes it leaves you exhausted, but in a good way.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Imran Khan on the film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:40 am

In this interview, actor Imran Khan talks about the film that changed his life. It’s a popular Guy Ritchie heist film that he insists has had a profound impact on his movie-watching tastes.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Trouble in the valley

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:00 am

July 16, 2009

Cast: Sanjay Dutt, Bipasha Basu, Kunal Kapoor

Director: Rahul Dholakia

Sanjay Dutt sporting dark glasses, blond streaks, cargo pants, a stylish scarf draped around his neck, and filmed mostly walking towards the camera in slo-mo, appears as if he’s still in a Sanjay Gupta film. Funny thing is, you’re watching Lamhaa, a political thriller set in Kashmir, directed by Rahul Dholakia of the National Award-winning film, Parzania.

The Kashmir situation is a complicated one, and truth be told, Lamhaa doesn’t make it much simpler.

Dutt stars as an Indian intelligence officer who is sent on an undercover operation to Kashmir when the bureau receives information of a possible terror attack in the valley. Dutt, of course, is the kind of undercover officer who walks into a police commissioner’s office and copies files from his computer in broad daylight. And Lamhaa is the kind of film that doesn’t benefit from taking up too many issues.

I’ll spare you the details, but here’s a quick checklist: the difference between blood-seeking Mujahideens and honest separatists seeking an independent state, the levels of corruption within the Indian police stationed in the state, the apathy towards families seeking information about their missing relatives, the underpaid army soldiers who put themselves in the line of danger day after day, Kashmiri Pandits who turned refugees in their own country…and believe me, I’ve only skimmed the surface of what this film sets out to address.

Lamhaa may have its heart in the right place but the rest of this film isn’t in good shape. The screenplay is jumpy, too many subplots fracture the narrative, too many characters are introduced in every second scene, and to be entirely honest, it’s hard to figure out where the film is heading.

The shaky-camera shooting style doesn’t quite work in a movie that’s as staged as this, and Dholakia lifts at least two scenes directly from this year’s Oscar-winning war film, The Hurt Locker.

Anupam Kher as separatist leader Haji, Bipasha Basu as his loyal protégé Aziza, and Kunal Kapoor as youth leader Aatif round out the cast alongside Dutt; but surprisingly it’s only Bipasha Basu who makes her presence strongly felt, despite those perfectly manicured nails and your initial hesitation to accept her as a Kashmiri-born character.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for director Rahul Dholakia’s Lamhaa; it’s an ambitious film let down by an over-ambitious script. Watch it if you’re having trouble sleeping; it’s a good cure for insomnia.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Laden with laughs? Hardly

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 4:00 am

July 16, 2009

Cast: Ali Zafar, Piyush Mishra, Pradhuman Singh

Director: Abhishek Sharma

Slapstick but never particularly smart, Tere Bin Laden is a low-IQ comedy that succeeds in making you laugh occasionally, despite its highly improbable premise.

Intended as a satire on America’s paranoia post 9/11, the film stars Pakistani pop-singer Ali Zafar as a desperate television news reporter in Karachi who hits upon a plan that’ll help him raise the money he needs to pave the way for his migration to the US after seven visa rejections and a deportation.

On chancing upon an innocent chicken farmer who bears an uncanny resemblance to Osama bin Laden, our hero assembles a team of accomplices, and dupes the unsuspecting poultry guy into shooting a message in the guise of Osama. The video containing this message, an open threat to America, is sold to news channels, and sends panic waves through the Pentagon.

Borrowing the kind of farcical gags that made early David Dhawan films enjoyable, writer-director Abhishek Sharma keeps the film’s pace brisk so there’s little time to dwell on the silliness of what’s going on. A scene in which the Osama-lookalike gets a grenade superglued onto his palm leads to the film’s funniest joke; and Piyush Mishra playing the buffoon head of a news channel provides genuine laughs with his manic performance.

Unfortunately the film’s script is over-simplistic in its portrayal of America’s cluelessness and confusion over how to deal with the terror threat, and as a result the film’s final act comes off as too contrived even for a comedy.

Lacking the sharp wit that might have turned it into a consistently enjoyable watch, Tere Bin Laden is funny, but only in spurts. It even fails to measure up to the standards set by the similarly small-budgeted satire The President Is Coming, which drew louder laughs thanks to a crackling script.

Leading man Ali Zafar has an endearing presence, and Pradhuman Singh as the chicken farmer scores with his comic timing. But in the end the film is only moderately entertaining. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for first-time director Abhishek Sharma’s Tere Bin Laden. The kind of film to watch on a day you have nothing better to do.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 14, 2010

Best new trailer: Due Date

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:09 am

From Todd Phillips, the director of The Hangover comes Due Date, another road-trip comedy, this time starring Robert Downey Jr and the howlarious Zach Galifianakis. I couldn’t stop laughing while watching the trailer, especially the opening bit when they’re talking about dads. Appears to be another irreverent, goofy comedy and Galifianakis seems to be pretty much reprising his role as Alan from The Hangover.

The film opens in November, and with Robert Downey Jr in it, you know it’s going to have more than just potty-mouthed frat-boy laughs. Here’s the officially-released plot: Peter Highman (RDJ) is an expectant first-time father whose wife’s due date is a mere five days away. As Peter hurries to catch a flight home from Atlanta to be at her side for the birth, his best intentions go completely awry when a chance encounter with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Zach G) forces Peter to hitch a ride with Ethan–on what turns out to be a cross-country road trip that will ultimately destroy several cars, numerous friendships and Peter’s last nerve.

Love the sound of it! We’ll just make ourselves happy with this one until The Hangover 2 rolls into cinemas next year (or later?!)

July 9, 2010

Bad date with fate

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

July 09, 2010

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor

Director: Satish Kaushik

To be fair, Milenge Milenge delivers exactly what you expect from it. Five years in the making and ultimately assembled out of incomplete footage, this Satish Kaushik-directed romantic drama is regressive, senseless, and packed with plot-holes the size of craters.

Priya (played by Kareena Kapoor) thinks she’s met the man of her dreams when she runs into the too-good-to-be-true Immy (played by Shahid Kapoor) at a college youth festival in Bangkok. Turns out the fellow’s been fooling her all along. When she breaks up with him, he realizes he’s fallen for her, and begs her for another chance.

In a premise plagiarized shamelessly from the John Cusack-Kate Beckinsale starrer Serendipity, Priya leaves it to destiny to decide if they’re meant to be together. She asks Immy to scribble his number on a currency note, which she uses to buy a numerology book from a nearby newsstand. On the inside cover of the book she jots down her own number and tells him she’ll send it to a second-hand bookstore the following day. If the 50 rupee note with his number reaches her, or the book with her number finds its way to him, that’ll be a sign from fate that they’re meant to be together. If not, they’ll have no way to contact each other again.

As far-fetched the concept of Serendipity may have been, it was convincing because the characters met and separated the same day; they didn’t know each other’s friends or their last names even. In Milenge Milenge, director Satish Kaushik gives the leads that whole Bangkok back-story before they are separated. And then expects us to believe that they can’t track each other down when they have interacted over days, met each other’s friends, and even know that they live in the same city!

The problem with this film is that it’s lacking in basic logic, and that its characters are complete stereotypes. Add to that the fact that Kaushik’s treatment is extremely outdated even for a film that was meant to be released five years ago.

Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor are perky enough, but Milenge Milenge doesn’t exactly call upon them to deliver performances of any kind. You might be willing to overlook Kareena’s varying hairstyles in every other scene, but what’s unforgivable is the film’s predictable narrative.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Satish Kaushik’s Milenge Milenge. If you’re thinking of checking it out for Shahid and Kareena’s chemistry after Jab We Met, I might have a word of advice for you – Don’t!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Jackie Chan wants to be Robert De Niro

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 3:48 am


The new Karate Kid movie has already grossed close to $ 190 million dollars worldwide since its release in June, and critics and audiences alike were pleasantly surprised by Jackie Chan’s change of image. The action star delivered a subtle, understated performance as the introverted handyman who coaches Jaden Smith in the art of kung fun when he finds himself being repeatedly bullied at school.

56-year-old Chan says he embraced the opportunity to play an “acting” role for a change, and wishes more Hollywood films would allow him that. He says he wants to be a serious actor like Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Clint Eastwood.

Chan also talks about working with Will Smith’s 11-year-old son Jaden in The Karate Kid, and discusses the possibility of a sequel in this interview conducted by me in Cancun (Mexico) on July 02, 2010.

Did you notice how Jackie Chan practically lifts me from my seat with a handshake. Couldn’t have been easy, that. Believe me!

July 09, 2010

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Sleeping Tom

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:39 am

July 09, 2010

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano

Director: James Mangold

Knight and Day, directed by James Mangold and starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz has all the elements of an enjoyable romantic thriller — a sexy lead pair, a string of high-octane action scenes, and gorgeous international locations. Yet the film leaves you hungry for more.

Cruise plays super-slick CIA agent Roy Miller, whose bosses no longer trust him. He’s got a precious device they want — a thumb-sized battery that can power a small city, and he’s hidden the wiz-kid who invented it. Diaz plays regular gal June Havens who bumps into Miller at an airport, and before she knows it finds herself flying all over the world with him trying to escape not one but two sets of adversaries desperate to get their hands on that coveted battery.

Cruise and Diaz are charming actors both, but the script of this film doesn’t have enough of the breezy wit that was required to turn this film into an engaging adventure movie like  Romancing The Stone. There’s a genuine comic pulse between the leads, but no sexual chemistry at all, making it hard to understand why her character would be willing to go along with him on this dangerous, whirlwind journey.

The lack of romantic energy, however, is made up for by a set of nifty stunts, including a thrilling car-chase sequence in which Cruise leaps across the top of many cars, and dangles precariously off the roof of one. In another exciting set-piece Cruise and Diaz escape through a stampede at a Spanish bullfight, and there’s also a breathless confrontation in the pantry of a speeding train.

Of course we’re not meant to take the plot of this film seriously, but Knight and Day doesn’t even have enough flair to make this ridiculous premise fun. Just consider that early sequence in an airplane that Cruise must take charge of, after every other passenger including the pilot has been killed. There isn’t a hint of tension, no nail-biting excitement as he struggles to land the flight in a cornfield.

Knight and Day is the kind of film they say you don’t need to take your brains along for, and they couldn’t be more right. Sad thing is, seems like Cruise and Diaz and the film’s makers too didn’t take their brains along while making it!

I’m going with two out of five for Knight and Day. Two of the biggest stars are wasted in this film that doesn’t know what to do with them!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Return to bender!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:22 am

July 09, 2010

Cast: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Jackson Rathbone

Director: M Night Shyamalan

M Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender is a shockingly bad movie, and easily the worst he’s made so far, which is a scary thought for anyone who saw Lady in The Water.

A dreadful live-action adaptation of a popular animated TV series, The Last Airbender revolves around a 12-year-old savior kid named Aang (played by Noah Ringer) who’s thawed out after spending nearly a hundred years buried under a glacier. Turns out he’s the last in a line of airbenders, a race of people that can use air as a weapon, a race that has been wiped out by the firebenders.

Aang, incidentally, is also an avatar, meaning a ‘chosen one’ who is blessed with the power of bringing balance to the world.  So now Aang must vanquish the firebenders who’ve turned their attention to the waterbenders; but first Aang himself must learn how to also bend water, earth and fire.

Confused? Well, wait till you watch the film! Bad acting, laughable dialogues, tacky special effects, and a plot that’s convoluted to say the least.

The cast of this film includes Slumdog Millionaire‘s” Dev Patel who keeps his nostrils flared and his eyebrows arched throughout most of his scenes as chief bad-guy Prince Zuko, who must hunt down Aang to win his firebender father’s respect.

It’s hard to say anything complimentary about this film because it’s deathly boring, and because the 3D doesn’t make it even marginally better. To be fair, the best way to watch this film is to watch it with your eyes shut.

I’m going with half out of five, yes just half out of five for M Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. From The Sixth Sense to Nonsense, he’s come a long way!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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