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

January 29, 2013

“Felt good to win this year, given the strong competition,” says Vidya Balan on awards

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 12:03 am


In this interview, Vidya Balan, who picked up the Best Actress Award for Kahaani at virtually every Bollywood awards ceremony this month, talks about her unprecedented achievement of being the only actor anywhere to have won the same award four years in a row (previously for Ishqiya, Paa, and The Dirty Picture). Vidya also talks about her recent marriage to Siddharth Roy Kapur, her forthcoming films, and also shares her views on the objectification of women in Hindi cinema.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 25, 2013

Guilty pleasure

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:44 pm

January 25, 2013

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Amisha Patel, Jacqueline Fernandes

Director: Abbas-Mustan

Race 2 is the cinematic equivalent of a trashy novel. It never holds together as a sensible piece of work, but as an insensible piece of work, it’s pretty enjoyable. Director-duo Abbas Mustan create a cocktail of glamorous stars, exotic foreign locations, slick action scenes, and an outrageous plot. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, the film is too long by at least 20 minutes, but I’ll give this to Race 2: it’s seldom boring.

Never deviating too far from the blueprint of the 2008 film of which this is a sequel, Race 2 pits two suave conmen against each other in a tale of friendship, double-crossings, and revenge. Saif Ali Khan returns as Ranvir Singh, a loaded tycoon with an agenda. John Abraham, meanwhile, is Armaan Malik, a criminal kingpin forever exploiting opportunities to expand his empire.

Set in Turkey, our heroes are surrounded by fast cars and sexy women, and they get rich by swindling casinos, cheating at high-value card games, and stealing prized artifacts from museums. Anil Kapoor is back as RD, former cop and ravenous fruit-eater, and Amisha Patel has replaced Sameera Reddy as his new bimbo assistant, Cherry, whose very name lends itself to a slew of double meaning jokes.

The earlier film, Race, wasn’t a particularly smart thriller, but packed with so many unexpected twists it kept you on your toes. The big reveals in Race 2, however, can be guessed from a mile away, robbing the film of any unpredictability whatsoever.

What it’s lacking in originality, the film tries to make up for in sheer ambition. Abbas-Mustan don’t skimp on any effort to deliver a fast-paced, stylish entertainer, even if much of it turns out to be a hoot. From crazy gizmos that would make James Bond’s trusted ally Q turn a shade of green, to the sheer gratuitous skin show on display, Race 2 is a guilty pleasure all the way. Leading ladies Deepika Padukone and Jacqueline Fernandes sportingly show up to show off cleavage and leg, and John Abraham and Saif Ali Khan frequently strip down to their waists in an unapologetic buffet of beefcake.

And yet, compared to so many lazy blockbusters recently, Race 2 is skillfully made and sincerely performed. It’s not a film you’ll remember years from now, but you won’t be moaning and groaning through it either.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Abbas-Mustan’s Race 2. The film has no intellectual pretensions; its only ambition is to offer a good time. In that, it mostly succeeds.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Love sick!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:36 pm

January 25, 2013

Cast: Kartik Tiwari, Nushrat Bharucha, Kiran Kumar, Mahesh Thakur, Prachi Desai

Director: Luv Ranjan

Like his earlier movie Pyaar Ka Punchnama, director Luv Ranjan’s Akaash Vani is a promising but ultimately inconsistent film that starts out at one place, but ends up at quite another. This long, rambling love story makes an important point about marriage, and about parents shoving their decisions down their children’s throats to stay within societal norms. It even touches fleetingly upon the issue of marital rape. But it’s a pity these thoughts get somewhere lost in this convoluted mess of a film.

Akaash (Kartik Tiwari) and Vani (Nushrat Bharucha) hit it off from their first day on campus, and spend the next four years mooning over each other. Their grating romance, that plods on for the first hour of the film, makes you feel as if you’re trapped in an elevator with a pair of lovesick teenagers. But all their dreams of a naughty honeymoon are flushed away when Vani agrees to an arranged marriage to please her desperate parents.

Working off a slim plot, Ranjan stacks up the clichés even as his screenplay moves along a predictable route. You’ve seen such stereotypes as the insensitive husband, or the parents who’re only concerned “ki log kya kahenge”, or even Akash and Vani’s friends who offer some trite advice but do precious little as characters.

Pyaar Ka Punchnama alum Kartik Tiwari and Nushrat Bharucha exude confidence and share a warm chemistry, but can’t inject much life into this comatose script. Akaash Vani is the kind of film where you find yourself repeatedly checking your watch to make sure it’s still working, given that everything moves at a snail’s pace on screen.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for director Luv Ranjan’s Akaash Vani. It’s a good cure for insomnia. Queue up for a ticket, those of you having trouble sleeping.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 18, 2013

Work in progress

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:44 pm

January 18, 2013

Cast: Arjun Rampal, Chitrangada Singh, Deepti Naval, Mohan Kapur

Director: Sudhir Mishra

It’s ironic that director Sudhir Mishra’s Inkaar hinges on the premise of sexual harassment and desire in the workplace, because this is a film that could leave you deeply frustrated.

In the movie, an advertising agency CEO, Rahul (Arjun Rampal), is accused of inappropriate sexual conduct by its creative head Maya (Chitrangada Singh). This is an delicate theme and Mishra takes on prickly subjects like casual flirting, female ambition, blurred boundaries, and sleeping one’s way to the top. However, somewhere in the film’s uneven storytelling, cardboard characters, and cop-out of an ending, the potential for a good sexual thriller is squandered.

That’s a pity because Inkaar sets up its drama interestingly, opening with an outside investigator and social worker (played convincingly by Deepti Naval) showing up at the agency to conduct a closed-door probe into the nature of the complaints leveled against Rahul by Maya. Key co-workers sit in on the investigation and help with their opinions and versions of what transpired in the seven years that Maya and Rahul have worked together, even as the accuser and the accused give their sides of the story.

As the narratives overlap, the story of the complicated professional and personal relationship between Rahul and Maya unfolds in flashbacks. Soon after he helps her land a job at his agency, Rahul plays mentor to Maya and moulds her, much in the way Henry Higgins shaped Eliza Dolittle in Pygmalion… “I introduced her to Chanel No: 5,” he claims; “she used to call it Channel.” This stereotypical depiction comes straight out of the Madhur Bhandarkar school of simplification, and the casualty here is the advertising industry where employees get drunk out of their senses, jump into swimming pools, sell ham-headed campaigns to clueless clients, and goof around in office. There isn’t a smidgeon of professional behavior here, as is evident in that one scene where the HR head of the agency is asked for his opinion on this high-profile case and he’s too busy fiddling on his mobile phone to reply.

Predictably, it turns out that Rahul and Maya did have an affair, but one that turned sour when she rose up the ladder and was promoted to the board of directors in the company. It’s a tired story – Maya says Rahul harassed her sexually, while Rahul claims Maya used him on her climb to the top. Your sympathies lie with Deepti Naval as she sifts through the truth in those deliberations that go on and on and on. These are the longest two days you’ll ever sit through, and what makes it uncomfortable are the annoying camera angles. It isn’t enough that the lens caresses Chitrangada’s lips or lingers over Arjun’s bespectacled eyes, but we’re even treated to jarring close-ups of lesser attractive actors’ faces and flaring nostrils.

The trouble with Inkaar is that even if it does have a bunch of interesting ideas, they’re lost in a muddled drama. There are some bizarre scenes, like when the board of directors walks around grimly at an office party right after promoting Maya, or as she fantasizes about a campaign just when her boss is yelling his lungs out at her. The film suffers from pretentious touches too, like a clumsy portion with Rahul’s father who, let’s just say, has an unconventional approach to parenting. Maya’s mother, holed up in Simla, is another caricature who whispers in her daughter’s ear as she hands over a bottle of homemade achaar: “He isn’t the marrying kind”, referring to Rahul.

The performances are of the skim-on-the-surface variety. Arjun and Chitrangada look like a dream and valiantly tackle difficult roles, but you get the idea that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Despite the bold, controversial theme, Inkaar fizzles out once the fireworks fade, not least because of its awkward climax in the office restroom, of all places!

I’m going with two out of five for Sudhir Mishra’s Inkaar. This is a half watchable film despite all that melodrama flying around. Sadly, if it had kept its head, this thriller could have gone places.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Pipe dreams

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

January 18, 2013

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Barks

Director: Tom Hooper

The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper’s big-screen take on the long-running, universally beloved stage musical Les Miserables, is a bold and audacious piece of work, but one that overstays its welcome and leaves you feeling overfed in the end.

More ambitious than Chicago or Mamma Mia!, Hooper’s film is a sprawling tale of love, idealism and sacrifice set in 19th century Paris. What separates Les Miserables from the dozen-odd screen musicals you’ve likely seen is that there’s virtually no dialogue here – just wall-to-wall musical numbers – and Hooper’s A-list cast belts out the tracks live on set, lending an urgency and a much deeper sense of “realness” to the performances.

The film benefits considerably from the casting of Hugh Jackman in the central role of Jean Valjean, a man who serves 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, before he escapes and reinvents himself as a respectable textile merchant and the mayor of a small French town. Pursued relentlessly by the obsessed policeman Javert (Russell Crowe), Valjean can never rest.

Deeply moved by the plight of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a seamstress in his factory who must sell her hair, her teeth and her body when she loses her job, Valjean adopts her young daughter Cosette as Fantine lies on her deathbed. Caring for her like his own child, Valjean raises Cosette into a young beautiful girl (Amanda Seyfried), and worries about her falling for Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a handsome student actively participating in the French rebellion.

Filmed like an enormous rock opera, Les Miserables has impressive sets, beautiful costumes, and a compelling story. Spectacular to look at and often heartbreakingly poignant to listen to, Hooper never really ditches the stage musical feel while transposing Les Miserables to the screen. But by the film’s second half – which concerns itself with the student rebellion of 1832 – you can’t help feeling exhausted. The musical set-pieces are cut frenetically, and the camera bobs around madly, making your eyes glaze over and your head throb. At a running time of approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, the film is way too long for its own good.

Of the cast, Hugh Jackman has a restless physicality, and he sings his lungs out in what has to be his bravest performance yet. Anne Hathaway is particularly riveting as the doomed factory girl, revealing an impressive singing voice to match her solid acting chops. Russel Crowe, on the other hand, comes off as too stiff, his vocals much too awkward for his hulking frame. Meanwhile, a nice dash of humor is provided by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who show up as a pair of cackling innkeepers.

In addition to being a spectacle for the eyes and ears, Les Miserables is heartfelt and moving in parts. This is grand filmmaking, but also unquestionably indulgent. I’m going with three out of five for Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables. Go armed with patience, and you’ll be rewarded.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 12, 2013

Arjun Rampal & Chitrangada Singh on the burden of great beauty

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:08 am

In this interview, the stars of Sudhir Mishra’s Inkaar – Arjun Rampal and Chitrangada Singh – talk about the film’s prickly theme: sexual harassment at the workplace, and discuss the burden of great beauty.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 11, 2013

Dil dola re, dola re…

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

January 11, 2013

Cast: Pankaj Kapur, Imran Khan, Anushka Sharma, Shabana Azmi, Arya Babbar, Navneet Nishan

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

If it’s true – what director Vishal Bhardwaj would have us believe in that cheeky anti-smoking disclaimer that precedes Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola – that too much of anything, even water and lemon, is harmful, then the filmmaker evidently doesn’t practice what he preaches. This outrageous comedy after all shows little concern for our health as it delivers laugh after side-splitting laugh.

Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola might well be described as Bhardwaj’s holiday movie – a mad story with crazy characters – but fortunately for us, even in a light mood, the director can be counted on to say interesting things.

In a fictional village in Haryana, the wealthiest resident, Harry Mandola (Pankaj Kapur), has conspired with a cunning minister (Shabana Azmi) to usurp the poor villagers’ farmlands so he can build an industrial plant. Harry has a drinking problem, but he’s a better man when he’s under the influence, sympathizing with the villagers’ condition, even going so far as to lead a procession against himself one intoxicated night. His Man Friday, Hukum Singh Matru (Imran Khan), has been hired with the sole purpose of controlling Mandola’s drinking habit, but that’s easier said than done. Meanwhile, in an alliance that would benefit both sides, Mandola has gotten his motherless daughter Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) engaged to the politico’s dimwit son (Arya Babbar).

From hallucinations about pink buffaloes to a potentially fatal drunken flight, the film’s humor alternates skillfully between the inventive and the slapstick, seldom striking a false note. His tongue firmly in cheek, Bhardwaj also takes pointed jabs at the nexus between those in power and those with deep pockets, making a case for the oppressed rural population often stuck in between.

Not one to dumb down the material for a wider audience, the filmmaker throws in clever references like that brass band shop in the town square named Kusturica, or the savior of the downtrodden, named after a Communist icon. In other scenes Bhardwaj is more direct, like that one in which the scheming minister, while berating her no-good son, gives him the example of real political heirs who caused their parents little trouble.

Aided by an excellent music score packed with hummable gems, and working off a terrific, layered script, the director sketches his quirky characters lovingly, giving them soul so you form a sense of real attachment to them. The chemistry between Mandola and Matru is magnetic…witness that scene in which they decide to punish a well for standing in their way. Bijlee, for all her brashness, reveals real pathos simmering beneath the surface, particularly in her scenes with her father.

But it’s not just the principals, Bhardwaj handles even side characters with great affection, giving them little moments to make an impression…like Matru’s trusted eunuch friend, the blind boy sporting Aviators, and the local doctor’s overweight wife who misunderstands Mandola’s buffalo obsession.

If there’s anything that feels contrived, it’s a scene between Matru and an old college friend he taps for help, or the broad strokes with which the director caricatures Azmi’s corrupt minister, although the actress herself gives a deliciously evil performance. The language and accents in the film feel unfamiliar, and take some getting used to. It’s impossible to catch every joke and dialogue, which is a pity given that the writing is so rich.

Of the cast, Anushka Sharma is dependably feisty yet achingly vulnerable, breathing life into the conflicted Bijlee. Imran Khan, for his part, offers a solid, confident turn, owning the character of Matru completely, holding his own even while acting off a veteran like Pankaj Kapur.

The film, not surprisingly, belongs to Kapur, who never misses a beat as the paradoxical Mandola. It’s wonderful how he’s particularly lucid when he’s drunk, making the most sense in this senseless state. But it’s Arya Babbar who catches you completely off-guard with a delightful performance as the politico’s daft son. Watch how he “gifts” his fiancée a Zulu dancing troupe, or even his late reactions to his mother’s sinister brainwaves…the actor is the surprise packet in this charming film.

Returning to form after the disappointing Saat Khoon Maaf, Vishal Bhardwaj gives us a film that’s enjoyable and relevant in equal measure. I’m going with four out of five for Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola. The year’s first gem has arrived – don’t miss it!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Noir’s arc

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:30 pm

January 11, 2013

Cast: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Michael Pena, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick

Director: Ruben Fleisher

The very opening scene of Gangster Squad sets the tone for this brutally violent mobster movie – an unsympathetic mafioso rips his enemy in two by chaining him to cars pulling in opposite directions. That barbaric mob-boss is Mickey Cohen, Los Angeles’ most feared gangster, played by Sean Penn in this 1949-set thriller inspired by real events and real people.

Penn, offering yet another intense, committed performance, shines as the former boxer-turned-maniacal baddie who is hellbent on expanding his empire of drugs, prostitution, and extortion. With most of the city’s cops on Cohen’s payroll, it’s up to honest sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to lead a clandestine team on a mission to shut down Cohen’s businesses through any means necessary. Predictably, one of O’Mara’s young recruits, Sgt Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), takes a shine to Cohen’s pretty moll (Emma Stone) and enlists her help in taking down the gang-lord.

Slickly shot with solid period detailing, Gangster Squad has a nice noirish feel to it, but because there isn’t a compelling script to hold it all together – mostly just a string of shootout scenes – the film feels contrived and only surface-level cool. Unlike LA Confidential which benefited from a juicy plot in addition to the atmospherics, this one is all style but little substance.

Amidst all the relentless action, it’s hard to care much for any of the characters, many of whom get short-shrifted in one-dimensional roles, particularly the young officers in O’Mara’s squad (Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick and Giovanni Ribisi). Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone get little scope to reignite the chemistry they oozed in Crazy Stupid Love, while only Josh Brolin leaves a lasting impression as the grizzled cop leading the attacks on Cohen’s empire.

Gangster Squad is by no means a bad film, but it does feel underdeveloped and half-baked. There’s real spark in the film’s key conceit – that the cops must lower themselves to the same level as the gangsters to accomplish this job – but that promise is squandered away by a clumsy screenplay that doesn’t necessarily portray these cops as living by the book even before they embarked on this mission.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Gangster Squad. This is hardly classic noir, but watch it for Sean Penn and Josh Brolin’s winning performances.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 5, 2013

“I did Jab Tak Hain Jaan for Yash Chopra,” says Anushka Sharma

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:42 pm

In this interview, Anushka Sharma – the star of Mattru ki Bijlee ka Mandola – talks about confidence, being signed by A-listers like Vishal Bhardwaj, Rajkumar Hirani, and Anurag Kashyap, and on being typecast as the “spunky” girl on screen. Anushka also explains why she took on a second lead in Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 4, 2013

Climax in search of a film!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:37 pm

January 04, 2013

Cast: Paresh Rawal, Rajeev Khandelwal, Tina Desae, Hanif Hilal

Director: Aditya Datt

It’s unlikely you’ll come out unmoved by the big reveal at the end of Table No 21, whose deeply disturbing finale delivers a hard punch to the gut. But the problem is, while director Aditya Datt and his writers may have cracked a sure-shot climax, they invest very little in the rest of this sloppy thriller.

Rajeev Khandelwal and Tina Desae star as middle-class married couple Vivaan and Sia, who’ve won a weeklong holiday to Fiji in a lucky draw. Paresh Rawal, playing the owner of a live gaming website, seduces the pair into participating in a simple-sounding game in exchange for big prize money. The couple must honestly answer eight yes-or-no-type questions about their life, and perform one task per question to take home Rs 21 crores. But when the questions become increasingly uncomfortable and the tasks life threatening, it becomes clear that there’s more to this game than meets the eye.

Despite starting out curiously enough, the film loses steam early on because of the uninspired writing. The screenplay fails to pack in that edge-of-the-seat tension required for a supposedly urgent thriller of this nature. So even as the couple must confront their fears, reconcile with their past, and question their own love for each other, Datt never really raises the stakes in a way that makes you feel any fear for them. Some bits in fact, are positively comical, although unintentionally so…like that scene in which an important character is humiliated by having her hair completely shaved. The resulting scene, in which she sports an obviously fake spotless egg-shaped head, will leave you in splits.

Table No 21 squanders its potential. The film’s ending is bold, but little else is consistent or gripping. It’s also unforgivably lazy and amateurish in its approach to characterization and narrative. We’re introduced to likeable protagonists at the start of the film, we’re meant to care for them as they struggle in difficult circumstances, then abruptly and without any warning they’re stripped off their likeability so the film can deliver its shocking climax.

I’m going with two out of five for director Aditya Datt’s Table No 21. Even dependable actors like Paresh Rawal and Rajeev Khandelwal sleepwalk through their roles.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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