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

July 15, 2013

The Breakout Stars on The Bollywood Roundtable (promo)

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 7:20 pm

This weekend, catch four of Bollywood’s promising young actors – Sushant Singh Rajput, Varun Dhawan, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Alia Bhatt – talking about their fears and their insecurities, and the lessons by which they lead their lives. The four BREAKOUT STARS discuss competition, depression, career goals, and the possibility of failure on The Bollywood Roundtable.

This show airs on Saturday (July 20) and Sunday (July 21) on CNN-IBN.

July 12, 2013

Irrfan, Arjun & Nikhil Advani on why they don’t mention Dawood in D-Day

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:49 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Irrfan Khan and Arjun Rampal reveal what drew them to the script of Nikhil Advani’s D-Day in which they play RAW agents on the hunt for India’s Most Wanted Terrorist. The stars and the filmmaker talk about the casting of Rishi Kapoor as Dawood, and explain what it was like working on a set with big egos and flying tempers.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Drag race

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:43 pm

July 12, 2013

Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Pawan Malhotra, Divya Dutta, Dalip Tahil

Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

The problem with adoring, reverential portraits of real people is that they tend to lack objectivity and quickly become boring. It’s true of Rang De Basanti director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, an ambitious account of the first 27 years or so of celebrated Indian sprinter Milkha Singh’s roller-coaster life.

Over an exhausting 3 hours and 7 minutes, the film, starring Farhan Akhtar as Milkha, details the athlete’s journey from a boy displaced during Partition to his early years in a gang of petty thieves, followed by his recruitment in the Indian army from where he went on to become a sports hero. All this is revealed in a long flashback by Milkha’s earliest coach, Gurudev Singh (an endearing Pawan Malhotra), during a train journey with Pandit Nehru’s advisor, while pointing out why Milkha has turned down the Prime Minister’s invitation to lead a sports delegation to Pakistan. (The explanation for that decision, painfully obvious to anyone with half a brain, is clumsily used as a suspenseful cliffhanger in the film).

There are moments of great pathos here, and an inspiring lesson on the importance of perseverance and hard work. But it all moves at a snail’s pace, even as the drama of Milkha’s rise on the race track is punctured routinely by too many songs, overlong romantic tracks, and the kind of ‘commercial-movie trappings’ that are counterproductive to a film of this nature.

Biopics, however panoramic in scope, usually boil down to a greatest-hits collection, and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, for all its sepia-toned flashbacks and terrific training sequences is no exception. It’s a shame Mehra and screenwriter Prasoon Joshi adopt a manipulative, melodramatic approach to highlight Milkha’s achievements and justify his failures. In the film’s opening scene, a key moment in Milkha’s professional career, he loses the lead in the 1960 Rome Olympics when he turns back, apparently because he was haunted by an image from his troubled past. In another scene, where Milkha wins an important race despite being badly injured, Mehra swells the score even as the bandages covering Milkha’s wounds dramatically come off as he inches towards the finish line. And don’t even get me started on the Gadar-esque finale in Pakistan, where Milkha must fulfill the dream of every Indian by beating a rival from our neighboring nation. Never before has slow motion and background music been so abused in a film!

Not everything comes apart though. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy delivers some great tunes, particularly Zinda that is rendered with suitable energy by Siddharth Mahadevan. Mehra himself stages a rousing middle portion in Ladakh, where Milkha trains tirelessly with the India coach following a disappointment at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. This montage, gorgeously filmed, is a fine reminder of Farhan Akhtar’s complete submission to the part.

The actor in fact, and his committed performance, is the film’s biggest strength. From his convincing accent and his dialogue delivery to the sheer beast of his physical presence, Farhan is riveting as Milkha. But Joshi’s script, bursting at its seams with too much information that serves little purpose other than to establish Milkha as someone with a wholesome personality, shortchanges Akhtar with the weight of its mawkish melodrama.

Divya Dutta, as Milkha’s doting sister, and the only character in the film who appears to have never aged, hits all the predictable notes. Sonam Kapoor, meanwhile, in a smaller part, as Milkha’s first love, brings a quiet freshness to her scenes.

The film itself is well intentioned and shines a light on an important figure. But it’s too long and too unfocused to leave a lasting impression. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Watch it for Farhan Akhtar’s sincere performance.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Monster vs Metal

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 6:45 pm

July 12, 2013

Cast: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Pacific Rim pits robots against monsters in what may be a silly, preposterous premise, but it’s so much fun, you’ll feel like an excited 12-year-old all over again.

Guillermo del Toro, the genius director of Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies, wastes no time in setting up an elaborate back-story; he lays out the basics in a quick opening voice-over and hits the ground running. The year is 2020, and the world is at threat from giant monsters that have slipped in through a crack in the bed of the Pacific Ocean. These dinosaur-like amphibious creatures, known as kaiju, are fast wiping out entire cities. To take them down, the military has created a fleet of massive robots, or jaegers. Two human pilots whose minds have been biomechanically linked are placed inside the robot’s head so they can control all of its movements.

Sure, the idea of massive robots as defenders of mankind evokes memories of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. But del Toro is exactly the kind of filmmaker who was required to bring some degree of craftsmanship and originality to the genre. So the smackdowns between the kaiju and the jaegers in Pacific Rim aren’t just orgies of sound and fury. There’s thought gone into the creature design, and each of the robots comes with his own set of skills and weapons. The numerous clashes between monster and metal are the big draw here, and del Toro delivers exactly what the fans want to see. Creatures go crashing into buildings; in one scene a ship is used as a club to whack the enemy with, and battles rage both up in the skies and below in the oceans too. If you watch the film in IMAX 3D like I did, you’ll have a stupid grin plastered all over your face because it’s all just unbelievably entertaining.

Expectedly, in between the action sequences there’s a sliver of a plot involving human characters. Charlie Hunnam plays a robot pilot still coming to terms with the death of his brother in a jaeger operation five years ago. He has an unconvincing romantic track with Rinko Kikuchi, playing an untrained pilot who becomes his new partner. Idris Elba is their stern commanding officer who must do whatever it takes to protect the human race, while Charlie Day shows up as a nerdish scientist trying to probe the kaiju brain. There’s also a nice cameo from Hellboy star Ron Perlman as an underground smuggler of precious kaiju organs.

Nicely shot, much of it against the neon streets of Hong Kong where the film’s latter portions are staged, Pacific Rim is the kind of film that combines the Hollywood blockbuster aesthetic with a real love for Asian monster mythology. I’m going with four out of five. It’s more enjoyable than everything else Hollywood has thrown our way this summer.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 7, 2013

Why Kiran Rao & Anand Gandhi want you to watch Ship of Theseus…

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:33 pm

Voted amongst the 15 life-changinig films of all time by the Critics’ Circle, UK, Ship of Theseus, directed by Anand Gandhi, has earned accolades both in India and at leading film festivals around the world. Gandhi, who was once a writer on India’s defining television soap, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi tells three different stories in the film — about a blind photographer, an ailing monk, and a stockbroker with a conscience. Through these stories, the film raises important questions about identity, justice, and death.

Gandhi recently found a supporter in Dhobi Ghaat director Kiran Rao, who has put her strength behind the film and has roped in UTV Motion Pictures to release the films in select cinemas across India.

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Kiran Rao and Anand Gandhi explain why they’re fighting for the film to reach out to the largest audience possible.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

July 5, 2013

Picture perfect

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:46 pm

July 05, 2013

Cast: Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha, Barun Chanda, Vikrant Massey, Adil Hussain, Divya Dutta

Director: Vikramaditya Motwane

Like Udaan, his feature debut from 2010, Lootera, directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, is exquisitely crafted. While Udaan was the coming of age tale of a small-town teenager going head to head with his despotic father, Lootera is steeped in old-fashioned romance. At the heart of this film is a young couple faced with insurmountable odds.

And yet, it isn’t so much the film’s story, but in its telling that Motwane woos you. Skillfully combining the key tools of cinema – pictures, sound, and music – he delivers a transcendent experience that’s hard to describe in words.

Lootera opens in 1950s West Bengal, where a new democracy is changing archaic laws and reclaiming princely estates. Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) is the indulged daughter of an old zamindar (Barun Chanda) from Manekpur. She lives in a sheltered world, but you can see her straining for independence as she secretly drives the family car when she’s out of her father’s sight. Her world collides with that of archaeologist Varun (Ranveer Singh), who is invited to stay as a houseguest when he’s on an assignment to excavate a site on her father’s property. Varun and Pakhi are inexorably drawn to each other, even though he knows in his heart that he must leave her someday. The film’s plot is inspired partly by O Henry’s famous short story The Last Leaf, yet Motwane gives it a romantic, even thrilling twist.

There is a lyrical quality to the couple’s exchanges in Lootera. Varun and Pakhi communicate with their eyes at the start, then their relationship deepens over shared dreams and long conversations. Pakhi confesses that she wants to be a writer, spinning stories in her Dalhousie home. Varun, in turn, has the soul of an artist and wishes to paint a masterpiece someday. The director establishes a leisurely pace that matches the period, and a picnic scene in particular, where the couple is gently teased by their friends, feels straight out of a Merchant-Ivory drama. In the second half, Motwane opts for muted colours and sticks with those interminably long silences as the couple is reunited under very different circumstances.

There is attention to the smallest details in Lootera, like the art direction, the lighting, and particularly Mahendra Shetty’s intuitive camera that knows just how to capture the lovely landscapes as well as the somber mood of later scenes. Amit Trivedi’s beautiful songs and background score add another layer of feeling to the aching love story here. Yet it’s hard to resign yourself to some convenient coincidences in the plot, or even the naivete that filters in towards the end. In a film so close to perfection, the small lapses are hard to hide.

What you can’t find fault in are the pitch-perfect performances. Barun Chanda deftly marries a father’s vulnerability with the arrogance of a zamindar who believes he is entitled. Vikrant Massey, playing Varun’s Dev Anand-obsessed friend, is cheeky and unyielding in equal measure, while Adil Hussain does a good job as a hard-nosed cop on the heels of a criminal.

Yet Lootera belongs to its two leads, Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha, who do their best work here. Shifting seamlessly from feisty to fragile to bitter, Sonakshi delivers a deeply heartfelt performance that feels mature beyond her years. Ranveer, for his part, brings a quiet sensitivity to Varun, and occasionally a smoldering intensity. Offering a finely internalized performance, he leaves a lasting impression.

Moving without resorting to melodrama, Lootera is bittersweet in the end. Formerly an assistant to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Motwane reveals the same command over technique, and a similar love for sweeping visuals. But unlike Bhansali’s recent films, Motwane never distracts you with his tapestry.

I’m going with four of five for Lootera. Drop whatever else you’re doing, and soak in this love saga.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Crowing pains

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:44 pm

July 05, 2013

Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper,

Director: Gore Verbinski

At roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes, The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, feels more like The Long Ranger. It’s Pirates of the Caribbean set in the Wild Wild West, with Depp repeating much of the same shtick that made his Jack Sparrow such an engaging character. He’s cast as Tonto, the Native American companion to the film’s titular hero, and he sports a dead crow on his head and face paint all over his mug. It’s a performance begging for laughs, and while some of it is indeed funny, it’s never original enough to find a spot in Depp’s canon of memorable quirky characters.

Resurrecting the adventures of a pair of galloping do-gooders from a 1930s American radio show and a subsequent TV series, the film sees the earnest John Reid (Hammer) put on a mask and morph into our crime-fighting hero when his brother is brutally murdered. With Tonto by his side, the stage is set for a bickering bromance and some elaborate set pieces. But it all comes undone from the tiring flashbacks, repeated encounters with the same villains, and a plot that never stops unfolding.

I’m going with two out of five for The Lone Ranger. There’s a thrilling sequence in the final act involving a daring rescue from a speeding train. But like the rest of the film it goes on and on and on.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Gru romance

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:42 pm

July 05, 2013

Cast: Voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong

Directors: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

Just as enjoyable, if not more than the earlier film, Despicable Me 2 sees reformed super-villain Gru (Steve Carell) adjusting nicely to fatherhood and domesticity after adopting three adorable orphan girls in the last film. Having given up his crooked ways, he’s working towards setting up a jam-and-jellies business, when he’s reluctantly persuaded by the Anti-Villain League to team up with goofy secret agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). Together they must vanquish a new bad guy, El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), who’s in possession of a serum that can transform all living beings into indestructible purple monsters.

Alternately funny and heartfelt, the new film nicely juggles themes of family and companionship with a never-ending stream of gags mostly involving Gru’s loyal helpers, those yellow gibberish-speaking, goggle-eyed Minions who’re crucial to the plot this time around.

There’s nothing wildly original here in terms of set ups or plot points, but Carell and Wiig have a winning chemistry, and the Minions – like the penguins in the Madagascar movies, and Scrat in the Ice Age films – steal the film from right under the nose of its protagonists. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud unapologetically let the gags take precedence over the perfunctory plot, and package all of it in decently done 3D.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Despicable Me 2. Wait for the end credits, there’s a hilarious little sequence that tells us a spin-off movie starring the Minions is on its way.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Double trouble

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

July 05, 2013

Cast: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Chris Evans, James Franco, David Schwimmer

Director: Ariel Vromen

Less than a month since we saw him clashing with Superman in Man of Steel, Michael Shannon returns to the screen, playing another creepy bad guy in The Iceman. The actor delivers a suitably chilling performance as real-life New Jersey hitman Richard Kuklinski, who is believed to have killed more than 100 people in the 60s and 70s before being carted off to prison.

Kuklinski’s modus operandi – of killing his targets, then freezing them and storing them so it becomes impossible to determine the date and time of their death – earned him that infamous nickname from which the film gets its title. But that isn’t even the reason he was such a curious figure.

Kuklinski successfully led a double life, hiding his contract killer identity from his wife (Winona Ryder) and two daughters whom he deeply loved. You’d think they might suspect something when he goes bonkers and destroys half the house after a minor argument, or when he puts all their lives at risk speeding after another driver who abused his wife.

The film itself is nicely bathed in dark hues and wears a somber mood throughout, but from double crossings to internal gang rivalry, it ticks off all the boxes of a traditional Mob movie, never going anywhere particularly new. There are cameos from Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Chris Evans and James Franco, but it’s Shannon himself, all clenched jaw and bug-eyed, whose icy cold, detached portrayal of Kuklinski is the big draw here.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for The Iceman; an average film, uplifted by a terrific performance.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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