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

November 30, 2012

John Abraham on becoming a victim of the ‘Brad Pitt effect’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:24 pm

In this interview, John Abraham – named ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ by People Magazine this week – talks about reinventing his acting career, his foray into film production, and his girlfriend Priya Runchal’s reaction to his winning that title.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Strangers in the night

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

November 30, 2012

Cast: Aamir Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Kareena Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Shernaz Patel, Rajkumar Yadav, Sheeba Chadha

Director: Reema Kagti

Bathed in a noir-like moodiness, Talaash, directed competently by Reema Kagti, opens with a leisurely paced montage of Mumbai after dark. Wafting across the neon-lit signage of seedy bars, the camera pokes its head into the backrooms of brothels where prostitutes doll up before heading out to ply their wares. Crummy-looking pimps court prospective clients for their girls, an old destitute woman stares blankly huddled in a streetside corner, even as urchins tap hopefully on taxi windows. This is a side of a city we fleetingly encounter and yet it seldom registers in our lives. What Kagti conveys through Talaash is that this is a living-breathing strata of our society, and these people must matter – they deserve humanity and compassion.

These ideas are nicely wrapped in a murder mystery, kicked off the night when a film star drives his car straight into a promenade and plunges it into the sea, killing himself. Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) finds himself sucked into the underbelly of the city as he investigates this case that is evidently more complicated than it appears.

Himself straining under the burden of guilt since the death of a loved one, Shekhawat immerses himself in the investigation, even as his wife Roshni (Rani Mukherjee) wrestles with depression and loneliness. As the cop spends long nights driving around the city’s darkest corners in search of clues, he’s befriended by a kindly hooker, Rosy (Kareena Kapoor), who helps him uncoil the maze of this case.

Kagti (with her co-writer Zoya Akhtar) tells a gripping tale that operates on more levels than one. On the surface it’s a juicy suspense, but Talaash is as much about grief and surviving great loss. It’s about relationships and love, and at the same time it’s a story that questions your belief in the paranormal. In spite of packing in many themes at once, the writers keep the film consistently accessible (and occasionally simplistic), but without ‘dumbing down’ the material. Not everything works, though. The twist in the end is cheesy, and isn’t too hard to see coming, but mercifully Kagti keeps the journey leading up to the big reveal engrossing. What’s more disappointing than the twist itself is the manner in which the writers recap scenes to explain it, as if spoon-feeding those who didn’t get it right away.

Still, Talaash benefits from its crisply written characters and the exceptional actors who play these parts. As Taimur, the limping odd-jobs guy in the brothel, Nawazuddin Siddiqui is terrific, inhabiting the role like a chameleon. Playing Shekhawat’s junior officer, it takes Rajkumar Yadav just one scene – in which he’s merely a spectator with a single line of dialogue – to show what a good actor can bring even to a small part. The same is true of Shernaz Patel who shows up as a kooky psychic, and Sheeba Chadha who appears as a past-her-prime sex worker.

Of the leads, Kareena Kapoor brings both oomph and heart to her role, despite the sometimes clunky lines she must mouth. Rani Mukherjee shines as the cop’s desperate wife, investing her performance with a gamut of emotions, never once reducing the character to a pathetic caricature. It’s Aamir Khan, in the film’s central role, who not surprisingly leaves the biggest impression. Shekhawat internalizes his emotions for the most part, and Aamir brings volumes of depth to this troubled man…that furrowed brow, the moustache, all adding to this remarkable performance.

Director Reema Kagti employs a solid technical team to deliver a film that is rich in atmospherics and mood. KU Mohanan’s striking photography and Ram Sampat’s haunting score lend a distinct texture to this film, as do the real Mumbai locations the film is shot on. But Talaash doesn’t feel nearly as tense or urgent as it ought to, and its plot simply isn’t as deliciously complex as it could’ve been. As a result, it’s a very watchable film, but not an unforgettable one.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for director Reema Kagti’s Talaash. Its shortcomings notwithstanding, it’s a good example of an entertaining commercial film that didn’t need to be lazy or senseless. Don’t miss it; easily one of the better films this year.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 24, 2012

Imtiaz Ali on the film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:50 am

In this interview, Jab We Met director Imtiaz Ali talks affectionately about the film that changed his life, and reveals how it may have influenced his own storytelling.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Sea slick

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 1:34 am

November 23, 2012

Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Gerard Depardieu

Director: Ang Lee

Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee, is a film so fascinating and so stunning to look at, you don’t want to blink for fear of missing out on a moment. It’s the only film since James Cameron’s Avatar to exploit 3D so richly. Nearly every frame resembles a gorgeous watercolor painting…from the open blue skies, to the expanse of the ocean, the wondrous marine life underwater, even the island on which our hero at one point lands. Ang Lee, the director of Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon uses the technology shrewdly to suck you into this impossible story of a boy, the sea, and a tiger.

The boy in question, played by newcomer Suraj Sharma, is 16-year-old Piscine Molitor Patel, named after his uncle’s favorite swimming pool in Paris. Pi, as he nicknames himself, lives in Pondicherry with his parents who own a zoo. When the family decides to move to Canada, they pack up their belongings, exotic animals included, and board a ship. A massive storm causes the ship to sink. Only Pi and a tiger named Richard Parker survive, leaving them stuck on a lifeboat adrift at sea.

Narrated in flashback by the older Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a visitor in his home, this is the story of how a boy protected himself from becoming a tiger’s dinner, about the incredible experiences he went through during this ordeal that lasted over 200 days, and about how young Pi thought of God while he was on that boat, surrounded by endless water.

Adapted from Yann Martel’s Booker prize-winning novel, the film is above all else a visual marvel. Lee gives Life of Pi an epic, sweeping feel, but can’t seem to smoothly transpose the book’s overarching themes of spirituality and faith to the screen. We’re told Pi, who is raised a Hindu, also embraced Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, and his faith is tested as he struggles to stay afloat and alive under such trying circumstances. The film raises questions about life and death, about faith and what is real. But this whole spiritual business feels pat, lending little else but another ‘exotic’ layer to the story.

Nothing in the film is as riveting as the relationship and the precarious living arrangement between Pi and the ferocious Richard Parker. The tiger, in particular, is the film’s most stunning creation, realized entirely through computer-generated special effects. Lee employs CGI to deliver moments of sheer jaw-dropping beauty like a nighttime scene in which the ocean is lit up by colorful fish. Another stunning sequence is one in which Pi and the tiger encounter a shoal of flying fish.

Life of Pi is an immersive film that puts you at the heart of the story. Often dipping his camera below the surface of the water, Lee conveys the feeling of floating helplessly in the vastness of the ocean. The photography is beautiful, showcasing the mysteries and the dangers and the wonders of the seas.

Entrusted with an incredible, leading role in his very first film, Suraj Sharma anchors “Life of Pi” with a compelling. Despite the distracting accent, Irrfan Khan brings a soulful maturity to the part of the older Pi; and Adil Hussain and particularly the graceful Tabu are nicely cast as the younger Pi’s parents.

Yet, Life of Pi is not an easy film, although it does deliver many pleasures. The payoff in the end feels slight and not entirely convincing, but what you can never deny is that this film is unlike any other you’ve ever seen.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. It may not touch your heart, but it’s a feast for the eyes. Watch it for its sheer visual brilliance.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Bad blood!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 1:14 am

November 23, 2012

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Mackenzie Foy, Peter Facinelli, Billy Burke

Director: Bill Condon

How ironic that a film whose characters can zip across forests faster than deer should be so slow and laborious itself! Breaking Dawn – Part 2, fifth and final installment in the cheesy but immensely popular Twilight movie franchise, is a film unlikely to appeal to anyone but hardcore fans who’ve been consistently forgiving of its many shortcomings.

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) has given birth to a daughter with husband Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). The film opens with Bella embracing and reveling in the new lifestyle…not motherhood, but vampirism! Converted into a bloodsucker after a rather brutal childbirth in the previous film, Bella is now faster, stronger and hungrier than she’s ever been, and even Edward has to keep up with her.

No sooner than they’ve settled into their new home and enjoyed a few passionate moments, Edward and Bella learn that the Volturi, that feared clan of vampire law-keepers, is headed their way to pick a fight. Turns out the Volturi is convinced Bella’s daughter, Renesmee, is an “immortal child” and therefore must be immediately killed. Truth is, since the girl was conceived and delivered while Bella was still human, she’s very much a mortal. But because the Cullens aren’t smart enough to figure out a way to clear the misunderstanding, they decide to gather their forces and fight the Volturi instead.

Good luck trying to keep awake as you’re introduced one-by-one to the dozen-or-so friends, each with a special power or gift, that the Cullens call upon to help them in their stand-off against the Volturi. Of course wolf-boy Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is still around; he’s now an ally of the Cullens, and he hangs around all the time like that pesky neighbor who can’t take a hint.

Creepiest of the lot is little Renesmee herself, the root cause of all the problems in this film. The kid (Mackenzie Foy) ages rapidly, and has this strange gift where she can touch your face with her palm and teleport her back-story to you. Her shameless parents encourage her to do this with pretty much everyone she meets…clearly they haven’t heard of perverts and child molesters who might enjoy this kind of intimacy!

It’s all deathly boring for anyone who’s expecting an engaging story or even interesting characters. At best, the climatic battle scene delivers some thrills, but be warned, it’s a surprisingly gory finale. The only other truly enjoyable thing in this film is the delicious overacting by its cast, particularly Michael Sheen as Aro, leader of the Volturi, who offers such a hammy performance, it’s hard not to laugh out loud.

Bella and Edward murmur most of their lines to each other softly; you’ll find yourself straining your ears to catch their words…can you really blame them for their embarrassment, given those corny lines! Kristen Stewart appears a little less morose in this film than she usually is – thanks to her new diet, maybe? Robert Pattinson, meanwhile, does much smiling and posturing, but Edward as a character is still such a stiff. Taylor Lautner, built like a Chippendales model, once again gets to take his shirt off, in what is perhaps the film’s most unintentionally funny scene.

Beautifully lit and lovingly filmed by director Bill Condon, Breaking Dawn – Part 2 looks like a 2 hour advertisement. It’s hard to empathize with these characters, or fear for them when they’re in trouble, because they’re so hollow, and because the actors can’t even carry off the silliness of these stories with flair.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. For anyone who doesn’t worship the franchise, this is drivel. Just be glad this is the last film!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 13, 2012

Newcomers Roundtable: Ayushmann Khurrana, Arjun Kapoor & Huma Qureshi

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

In this interview, 3 of the most promising (actor) newcomers of 2012 — Ayushmann Khurrana, Arjun Kapoor, and Huma Qureshi — talk about their career choices, the journey ahead, the worst career advice they’ve received, and good reviews vs big box-office.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Once more with feeling!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:45 pm

November 13, 2012

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif, Anushka Sharma, Anupam Kher

Director: Yash Chopra

Now who’d have thought that a simple promise made to God would become a deal breaker in a relationship? Yash Chopra, in his latest and last film Jab Tak Hai Jaan, serves a missive halfway through a frothy romance between Samar (Shah Rukh Khan) and Meera (Katrina Kaif). Just as we’re buying into their princess and pauper love story, Meera makes a promise that will separate the two, and frankly drag down a film that’s coasting along smoothly until this point.

Fortunately, despite this difficult-to-swallow conflict, Chopra and his leading man lend Jab Tak Hai Jaan an indelible charm. It’s that charm, coupled with the filmmaker’s trademark freshness, passion, and tenderness, that still keeps you invested in these characters and their star-crossed romance.

As a struggling immigrant in London, our hero Samar makes a living washing cars, waiting tables, and singing Punjabi folk songs on the street. Cupid strikes when he meets Meera, the daughter of a rich NRI businessman, but their romance is thwarted when she makes that fateful promise to Jesus. Samar returns home to India, heartbroken and angry, and joins the army. In ten years, he’s grown into a bomb disposal expert who has successfully defused 98 explosives, and is dubbed “the man who cannot die”. Intrigued by his story, aspiring documentary filmmaker Akira (Anushka Sharma) attaches herself to his unit and travels with them to shoot Samar at work. Predictably, the feisty Akira is drawn to Samar’s brooding intensity, and pretty soon finds herself hopelessly in love.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan has the novelty of modern treatment, seen during Samar and Meera’s courtship where they make out in phone booths or cavort in bed. Which is why then that the regressive and old-fashioned bits stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a bit of a stretch to take in typical tropes like an accident that happens not once, but twice to the same character, a spot of amnesia, and that tired routine of having long, loud exchanges with God. The other quibble you’rre bound to have with Jab Tak Hai Jaan is the indulgent, leisurely storytelling that drags its feet in the second half.

The truth is that whether you agree with, or aren’t a fan of Chopra’s brand of love stories, he conveys them with complete conviction. The two female protagonists in this tale are intentionally different – Meera is the classic, Yash Chopra heroine (albeit a modern one who smokes and curses), while he introduces a new kind through Akira, described best in her own words: “I belong to the instant make out, instant break-up generation.” Katrina Kaif looks ethereally beautiful, but her emotions are limited under the shadow of a shaky, unrealistic character. Anuskha brings a spark to the film and has dialogues that stand out with her punchy, spirited take on them. But Jab Tak Hai Jaan rests with Shah Rukh Khan, and we see a subtly magnetic performance that is both charismatic and intense. The actor looks vibrant and so much younger, delivering a terrific turn as Samar, hopelessly devoted to his love.

I’m going with three out of five for the late Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Despite its many script problems, it’s a consistently watchable film that oozes with feeling and real emotion. A fitting swan song.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Singh song

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

November 13, 2012

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Sanjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha, Juhi Chawla, Tanuja, Vindoo Dara Singh, Mukul Dev

Director: Ashwni Dhir

Don’t mess with a Sardaar!

That message is driven home loud and clear and many times over in director Ashwni Dhir’s Son of Sardaar, intended presumably as comeuppance for a community that has forever been stereotyped as cheerfully dimwitted in Hindi movies. Dhir, unfortunately, does little to shatter that cliche, but he does put Sardars front and centre in this harebrained action-comedy, portraying them as large-hearted and fearless, and capable of performing all sorts of gravity and logic-defying stunts.

Ajay Devgan is Jassi Randhawa, a Londoner who must visit his dead father’s hometown in Punjab to inherit ancestral property. There he crosses paths with Balwinder Sandhu (Sanjay Dutt), who has vowed to kill Jassi ever since his father murdered Balwinder’s brother 25 years ago. But Jassi, who unknowingly befriends Balwinder’s niece (a feisty Sonakshi Sinha) on the train journey home, is safe as long as he’s at the Sandhu home, because Balwinder and his bloodthirsty nephews won’t lift a finger on a guest.

Judged even by the yardstick of a ‘leave-your-brains-behind’ entertainer, Son of Sardaar falls considerably short, particularly because it wants to be too many things all at once. Dhir mines the premise for its comic potential, offering us some moments of inspired lunacy. But this is equally an action film, and the cartoonish set pieces fail to impress because they rely too heavily on tacky special effects. In one sequence, Dutt’s crony, pursuing Devgan on a motorbike, rams into onward traffic, and next thing you know, he’s riding the bike upside down mid-air. The same scene might have worked in a film directed by Rohit Shetty, who brings skill and a lightness of touch to comic-book action, but here such moments have little impact.

Still, nothing is more exasperating than the film’s clunky romantic track between Devgan and Sinha, which feels contrived and underdeveloped, and never helped by the string of unremarkable songs that only slacken the movie’s pace.

Son of Sardaar, as you may have guessed, belongs to that genre of modern Hindi cinema that requires you to suspend not just disbelief, but also common sense, and all manner of taste. Amidst a sea of lazy performances, the film’s one bright spot is Juhi Chawla, charming as Dutt’s desperate fiancee of 25 years, who woos him relentlessly with romantic overtures. Dutt, on the other hand, is stone-faced throughout the film, while the usually dependable Devgan appears unenthused with the slim material.

A remake of the Telugu hit Maryaada Ramanna directed by SS Rajamouli, who himself whacked the premise from a 1920s Buster Keaton hit, Son of Sardaar is only sporadically entertaining, and peddles the same tired stereotypes of Punjab and Sikhs. A cameo by Salman Khan, sadly, doesn’t make up for the film’s many flaws.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for director Ashwni Dhir’s Son of Sardaar. Even if you’re a fan of those loud 80s-style entertainers, this one demands a lot out of you.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 10, 2012

SRK, Katrina & Anushka on their camaraderie while making Jab Tak Hai Jaan

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 3:17 am

In this studio interview, the stars of Jab Tak Hai Jaan – Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma – talk about working with Yash Chopra, the camaraderie they shared on the sets, and even recite lines from their new film.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 9, 2012

Video-game whammy!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:43 pm

November 09, 2012

Cast: Voices of John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer

Director: Rich Moore

Disney’s new 3D animation film, Wreck-It Ralph, is set in a world where arcade video games come to life after-hours. Think Toy Story, but with video game characters instead of toys.

John C Reilly voices title character Wreck-It Ralph, the villain in an old-school low-resolution video game, who’s tired of being a bad guy. The other characters in the game never invite him to their parties or hang out with him, while the hero of the game Fix-It Felix Jr (voiced by 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer) gets all the appreciation. Desperate to earn respect, Ralph breaks out of his gaming universe in search of the medal that will make him a good guy. But this creates all sorts of havoc in the behind-the-scenes gaming world. Invading other game environments in the hope of proving himself a hero there, Ralph is first plunged into the high-def universe of Heroes Duty where he encounters the tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), then into the bubblegum pink world of Sugar Rush, where he meets a sharp-witted girl named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who’s been outcast because she’s a ‘glitch’.

Banking heavily on nostalgia, yet refreshingly original and visually inventive, this film works on many levels and is likely to appeal to both young children, and video game geeks who will recognize old favorites from the 8-bit gaming universe like Donkey Kong and PacMan among others.

Clever and touching in equal measure, this is a gorgeous film that unabashedly celebrates retro pop-culture. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Wreck-It Ralph. Anyone who’s ever been to a video game arcade, or owned one of those pixel-based video games in the 80s, will instantly connect with this film. Worth a watch!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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