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

May 3, 2013

A life in film

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 11:21 pm

We celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema, yet we’re little aware of the man who painstakingly restored Dadasaheb Phalke’s work as well as several other silent pictures and talkies, and then built our country’s moving pictures archive, one film can at a time. The documentary Celluloid Man, directed by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, introduces us to that man Paramesh Krishnan Nair, or PK Nair — India’s film archivist who dedicated his life’s work to preserve our history. As far back as 1969, Nair rode overnight in a newspaper van to Nasik to collect Phalke’s film reels from his son, then slowly pieced the scenes in order from studying notes that Phalke had scribbled in an old diary. Celluloid Man celebrates his unstinting devotion to archiving…and through Nair’s story we journey through a celebration of Indian cinema.

Early on during the film you realize this is story of an extraordinary man, a film hero. P K Nair, during his stint at the FTII in Pune, realized the invaluable need for an archive and went about setting one up during his career. From visits to forgotten studios, scouring through junkyard shops and bartering with international film archives, Nair set up a treasure trove of moving pictures. He was careful not to discriminate on the contents of the film; Nair was clear that as an archivist, it was important that all works of cinema be seen, and by everyone. This is illustrated in a beautiful sequence in Celluloid Man, where farmers in a remote village for whom Nair arranged screenings, speak of how works like Pather Panchali, The Bicycle Thieves, and An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge have touched them.

From the plethora of talking heads in the documentary – directors, actors, cinematographers – you realize just how much of an inspiration Nair was, how he shaped generations of film students and our cinema. Jaya Bachchan talks of how he gauged her interest in films as a student and put in a word with her warden so she could attend late-night screenings. Naseeruddin Shah laughingly recounts ‘censor cut’ trials started by Nair. Girish Kasaravalli points out how Nair’s practice of taking down notes during a screening inspired film students like him to do the same. Vidhu Vinod Chopra reveals how Nair allowed him private screenings of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless so he could study its innovative editing techniques. Through Nair’s own interviews, we learn how he collected film ticket stubs as a boy, and what it took to restore and put together the marvelous National Film Archives. Filmmakers and lovers of cinema have Nair to thank for seeking out old, sometimes rare films, and storing them for posterity, instead of letting film reels meet that inevitable fate of being stripped and sold for scrap.

Through this documentary emerges a portrait of a man who’s “intimate with cinema”, as director Mrinal Sen points out. Nair dedicated his life to building this archive – even at the cost of spending time with his own family, as his daughter Beena reveals. Indeed, this is shown in the scene where Nair discusses his long association with filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak. Nair’s life revolved around cinema and he fostered relationships based on it.

Although long and occasionally indulgent, this documentary is a must-watch, particularly for film buffs, because it’s a journey in celluloid, intercut by a wondrous collection of scenes from an encyclopedia of Indian and international classics. Shot on 16mm film stock and by renowned cinematographers, Celluloid Man has a rich feel, in parts nostalgic, in parts contemporary as filmmakers ponder whether Nair’s archiving will be taken forward in the years ahead. This is an unusual tribute to a film visionary; if you’re a lover of film, I recommend that you make the time for it.

The G-spot!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:05 pm

May 03, 2013

Cast: John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Tusshar Kapoor, Manoj Bajpai, Sonu Sood, Ronit Roy, Mahesh Manjrekar, Siddhant Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut

Director: Sanjay Gupta

A gangster runs into a police station, both his arms lopped off by a rival wielding a butcher’s knife. Another goon is held down as his skull is pushed through an ice-crusher. A third, tied to a chair, is run over by a speeding car in reverse. The brutality is relentless in Sanjay Gupta’s Shootout at Wadala, a saga about the rise and fall of dreaded Mumbai gangster Manya Surve (John Abraham) in the 1970s, and his subsequent death in 1982 in what was reportedly the first police encounter.

Based on a chapter in S Hussain Zaidi’s book From Dongri To Dubai, the film nevertheless conveniently insists that it be viewed “as a hybrid between fact and fiction”. This means that while the story is rooted in Manya Surve’s journey from an innocent, bright college student to one of the city’s most powerful mafia dons, Shootout at Wadala is a pot pourri of stomach-churning slashing and shooting, writhing item girls, and lewd dialogue. In fact, Gupta infuses so much violence and sex into this tale that it hits the G-Spot – and by this, I mean, gratuitous. The director has no qualms pandering to the lowest common denominator; inserting item songs at will, peppering his actors’ lines with cusswords, filming bump-and-grind lovemaking sequences, and even throwing in a titillatingly-shot rape scene.

The film ostensibly follows Manya in a story as old as time itself – a boy is framed by the cops, he befriends a thug (Tusshar Kapoor) in prison, and escapes a hardened criminal. Manya decides to stand up to the Haksar dons, brothers Zubair (Manoj Bajpai) and Dilawar (Sonu Sood), and form his own gang. Meanwhile, the cops, led by the dedicated Aafaque Bagraan (Anil Kapoor) and his team (Ronit Roy and Mahesh Manjrekar), try to contain the gang wars by pitting one against the other. Manya’s biggest weakness is predictably his girl, college sweetheart Vidya (Kangana Ranaut), who is repelled by his line of work but can’t give him up for good.

While the songs are nothing to write home about, Shootout at Wadala has some trademark Gupta flourishes in the sepia-soaked camerawork, slow-mo action sequences and slick editing. The problem, unfortunately, is that there is barely any semblance of storytelling here. Scenes of visceral violence between the gangs are strung together, interrupted only by Milap Zaveri’s clap-trap lines. It all feels empty beyond a point because none of the characters are developed enough for you to care about them.

John Abraham pours everything he’s got into the author-backed role, using his eyes and his voice as much as his vein-popping physicality, in his effort to humanize Manya. Kangna, sobbing and nagging most of the time, reduces her character to a mawkish caricature. Anil Kapoor plays it straight as the cop on a mission, while Manoj Bajpayee and Sonu Sood get a few moments to make an impression.

Shootout at Wadala revels in its violence, yet sadly all the bloodshed leaves you unaffected and cold. I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

For love of the movies

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

May 03, 2013

Cast: Rani Mukherjee, Randeep Hooda, Saqib Saleem, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Naman Jain, Ranvir Shorey, Vineet Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan

Dirs: Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar & Anurag Kashyap

Two men shift nervously, seldom making eye contact, as they listen to a beggar girl at a railway station footbridge singing an old Lata Mangeshkar gem whose words seem to have particular significance in their unlikely situation. A father, determined to enthrall his bored daughter, narrates a story in mime, his energy palpable, his excitement contagious. A little boy, attired in his sister’s dress and his mother’s make-up and heels, shakes his hips to the beats of a popular dance number, blissfully naïve to the likely reaction of his family. And a young out-of-towner is reduced to tears as he pleads earnestly to the security guards manning the gates of a superstar’s home for one meeting with the legend. It’s these images that linger in your mind long after you’ve watched Bombay Talkies, a charming omnibus of four short films that celebrate the centenary year of Indian cinema.

The stories, each roughly thirty minutes in duration, have no common link, except for a shared love and celebration of the movies. In Karan Johar’s film, Rani Mukherjee and Randeep Hooda are an urban couple in a passionless marriage. A friendship with the new intern at her workplace (Saqib Saleem) leads to a disturbing revelation about Rani’s relationship with her distant husband. Uncharacteristically mature for a film by Johar, and bristling with uncomfortable honesty, this story benefits from solid acting, sharp dialogue, and the fitting use of two evergreen music numbers. Despite its predictable resolution, the film is deeply affecting.

Dibakar Banerjee’s film, based on a short story by Satyajit Ray, stars the terrific Nawazuddin Siddiqui as a one-time theatre actor and failed entrepreneur seeking a job – any job – in an unforgiving city. When he strays into a film shoot one day and lands a bit part, he has a life-changing epiphany. Banerjee’s film subtly weaves in the magic of cinema and the dedication of an artiste, while setting the story in the ordinariness of everyday life. The director’s strength is in capturing real moments and it’s accentuated in this achingly beautiful narrative.

In Zoya Akhtar’s story, a little boy (Naman Jain) finds his true calling in a darkened cinema hall, when he watches Katrina Kaif gyrate to Sheila ki jawaani. It’s his indefinable connection to the actress that helps the boy understand that it’s okay to chase his dream, however strange it may seem to everyone around him. Through this sweet story, Akhtar also extracts touching performances from the kid and his older sister.

Anurag Kashyap’s ode to a cinematic legend ties up this omnibus neatly. His film is centered on a youth from Allahabad, Vijay (Vineet Kumar), seeking an audience with Amitabh Bachchan, determined to make the star taste his mother’s murabba in a jar that he cradles carefully over days. Vijay camps outside Bachchan’s house, just so he can fulfill his father’s outlandish dream. Kashyap blends extraordinary comic touches with pathos, showing the love, the devotion reserved for a cinematic idol. And yet, here again, life plays an even bigger role than cinema, as seen in the film’s interesting end.

You may have a favorite amongst the four stories, because yes, this is cinema, and it touches different chords in different individuals. But there’s no denying that Bombay Talkies is a breath of fresh air – a wonderful gift to audiences on the 100th birthday of Indian cinema. I’m going with three and half out of five for Bombay Talkies. Through four consummate storytellers, we’re reminded just how much the movies mean to us.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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