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

October 12, 2013

Kangana Ranaut: “If I’d done The Dirty Picture, it would have come off as sleazy”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 1:02 am

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Kangana Ranaut talks about playing a mutant villain opposite Hrithik Roshan in Krrish 3, she reveals why she didn’t do The Dirty Picture, and talks at length about the irrelevance of film awards.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Vinod Mehta on the enduring appeal of Meena Kumari

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:50 am

Respected journalist Vinod Mehta’s biography on Meena Kumari, first published in 1972, barely six months after the star’s death, was re-released recently with a fresh introduction by the author. This riveting book traces the journey of Hindi cinema’s most loved tragedy queen, shining a spotlight not only on her most enduring performances, but on her troubled relationships and roller-coaster romances. In this interview, Vinod Mehta explains why he was fascinated by Meena Kumari, and reveals key facets of her life and personality.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 11, 2013

War and cheese

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

October 11, 2013

Cast: Sharman Joshi, Javed Jaffrey, Soha Ali Khan, Sanjay Mishra, Dalip Tahil, Manoj Pahwa

Director: Faraz Haider

Well-intentioned but over-simplistic, War Chhod Na Yaar casts a satirical eye on the hot-button issue of border relations between India and Pakistan, and turns the spotlight on the troops stationed either side of the barbed-wire fence.

Those troops are led by Captain Rana (Sharman Joshi) of the Indian army, and Captain Qureshi (Javed Jaffrey) on the Pakistani side. When TV reporter Ruth Dutta (Soha Ali Khan) travels to the border to shoot a story about an oncoming war, she discovers that a warm friendship exists between the soldiers on both sides, who’re happier to face off in a round of antaakshri than open fire on the other.

Writer-director Faraz Haider uses humor to make the point about China and America’s interests in exploiting Indo-Pak tension. He addresses the apathy of both governments towards their respective armies. There’s even a running joke about underfed Pakistani soldiers searching for the gosht in their daal.

But the gratuitous romantic stirrings between army man and reporter feel just that: gratuitous. And how many times can you make the same joke about cheap unreliable Chinese products? Dalip Tahil gets some laughs, playing as many as four characters in the film – he’s a corrupt Indian minister, a Pakistani statesman, an American senator, and virtually unrecognizable as a Chinese general. But the usually dependable Sanjay Mishra hams it up as a senior Pakistani commander.

War Chhod Na Yaar succeeds in treating a grim subject with a light hand. Sharman Joshi and Javed Jaffrey are in good form, but the script loses steam well before the finish line. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five. It’s not extraordinary, but it’s got some clever ideas.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

A crime uncovered

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 10:36 pm

Why are millions of AIDS-infected patients dying in Third World countries when there is affordable treatment available? Because they are poor. That is the simple answer, but I urge you to listen to the complex and uncomfortable questions that the powerful documentary Fire in the Blood raises. Written, researched and directed by Dylan Mohan Gray, this roughly 110-minute film throws a spotlight on the “crime of the century”. That, as this documentary slowly uncovers, is the insidious collaboration between Western pharmaceutical giants and governments over years to withhold HIV treatment for poorer countries in Africa and Asia, just so that they can continue to profit from this monopoly.

Gray’s film uses the conventional talking heads format to show how Western drug companies use patent laws to control the world from saving lives, even amidst an AIDS epidemic, especially in Africa. There is a narrative that strings together this complex nexus, and Gray takes care to show the human faces, the ones suffering from one-sided policies governed by greed. The film is in parts weighed down by dense information, yet it is very hard to stay unmoved in the light of such inhumanity.

The best part of Fire in the Blood is the fight by a band of unlikely heroes who stood up against these giants to make generic, life-saving drugs available to poor patients, from our very own Dr Yusuf Hamied, Chairman of pharma company Cipla, to AIDS activist Zackie Achmat and Ugandan doctor Peter Mugyenyi. You will want to contribute after this documentary, once you watch an African man speechless with emotion when he is offered treatment, or when you hear Dr Hamied say how the Western world is allowing “a genocide” by withholding affordable medicine.

Don’t miss Fire in the Blood. It tells you how YOU can help save lives.

 

Once more with feeling

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:35 pm

October 11, 2013

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander

Director: Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis, the brain behind some of the best British romantic comedies in the past 20 years (namely Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually), serves up another slice of unabashed schmaltz in About Time. This overlong but perfectly convivial film stars Domhnall Gleeson (he played Bill Weasley in the final Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows films) as Tim, a shy, gawky fella who learns – on his 21st birthday – a family secret from his father (Bill Nighy). Turns out the men in their family have the ability to travel back in time.

Predictably, Tim uses this gift to woo a girl, the impossibly perfect Mary (Rachel McAdams). It’s a nifty skill to possess, and he applies it wisely, pausing, rewinding, and replaying moments that could do with some improvement, including the first time they get between the sheets.

Populated with a bunch of Curtis stereotypes – the crazy housemate, the damaged sibling, the nerdish best friend – the film coasts along smoothly, taking us a few years into Tim and Mary’s relationship, during which they must encounter minor speed bumps. Occasionally, however, the narrative veers off its course spending too much time dealing with supporting characters and their issues.

The big lessons of the film, that life is best lived in the moment, and that it’s important to make every day count, are delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Yet, the charming leads keep you hooked throughout. Gleeson and McAdams have a winning chemistry that doesn’t lose its fizz till the very end, but it’s the father-son relationship between Gleeson and Nighy that proves to be the film’s true love story, and the one most likely to tug at your heartstrings.

I’m going with three out of five for About Time. It’s a nice, original rom-com with a sci-fi twist. How often do you come across something like that?

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 2, 2013

A dirty shame

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:41 pm

October 02, 2013

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Pallavi Sharda, Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Javed Jaffrey, Himani Shivpuri

Director: Abhinav Singh Kashyap

In the six years since he’s been working as a Hindi film actor, Ranbir Kapoor has displayed a knack for picking mostly interesting films without worrying too much about their box-office potential. His resume boasts such respectable titles as Wake Up Sid, Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, Raajneeti, Rockstar and Barfi. It is for this reason that you wait around patiently throughout the 2 hours 18 minutes duration of Besharam, hoping to finally be rewarded with whatever it is that drew him to this film. As it turns out, you’re waiting in vain. Directed by Dabangg’s Abhinav Singh Kashyap, Besharam is the kind of joyless film that compels you to wonder if a fat paycheck can sometimes be the only incentive for talented people to go to work.

The film’s plot, likely scribbled on toilet paper during an inspired moment on the pot, is centered on a loutish car thief, Babli (Ranbir Kapoor), who must steal back a car that he sold to a murderous money launderer (Javed Jaffrey), when he falls for the poor girl who owned the car (newcomer Pallavi Sharda). Handled with adequate lightness, this might have been an inoffensive, forgettable comedy, but Kashyap’s treatment of the material is so indifferent, the film doesn’t even hit that mark. Indeed Besharam appears to be rolling out rather than unfolding, with not one actor so much as pretending to have a good time. What do you say about a film in which Javed Jaffrey looks too bored to over-act?

Kashyap, who gave Salman Khan what was possibly his first fully realized character in years, fails to turn Babli into a similarly enduring – or endearing – hero for the screen. Ranbir doesn’t shy away from playing Babli as a lewd, crotch-adjusting lothario, but it’s a part so underwritten it’s hardly any surprise that the actor does such little with it. The Mr India-inspired subplot about Babli’s commitment to the orphanage he was raised at never really succeeds in adding a credible layer to the role. Even more baffling is the issue of the film’s leading lady, an ordinary actress at best who, along with the director, fails to justify why she was hired here.

The only laughs in this film – few and far between – are provided by the casting of real-life couple (and Ranbir’s real-life parents) Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh as a pair of married police officials eager to make a fast buck from Babli’s doomed deal with the villain. Neetu Singh, in particular, sportingly hams it up as the shrewish spouse who doesn’t for a moment stop squabbling with her husband, not even when he’s taking a dump. A few of the in-jokes about their relationship with Ranbir are the film’s most entertaining bits. Doesn’t help of course that the score is a complete letdown, the look and feel of the film tacky, and the scatological humor mostly off-putting.

I’m going with one out of five for Besharam. A major misfire in every way.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Space odyssey

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:40 pm

October 02, 2013

Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

What links many of the greatest films ever made is their ability to transport the viewer to a different time and place, and, in the case of some films, to an entirely new universe. Not since James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009 have I enjoyed an experience as immersive as Gravity. Achieved by seamlessly merging live action with the most advanced visual effects technology especially developed for this film, Gravity takes us to outer space in a way that no movie has before.

“You have to admit one thing; you can’t beat the view,” George Clooney’s seasoned spaceman Matt Kowalsky announces early on in the film, bobbing and floating against a breathtaking expanse, as his rookie partner, Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone, attends to a mechanical problem on the Hubble Space Telescope. When oncoming debris from a Russian satellite explosion destroys their shuttle, the two astronauts become stranded in space.

Using his camera masterfully, Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron takes us to the heart of the action as if we’re experiencing it ourselves. When Bullock’s harness snaps and she begins spinning uncontrollably, expect to feel overcome by nausea. When she’s struggling to hold on to a corner or a ledge of the shuttle even as she’s floating away from it, more than likely you’ll be digging your nails into the armrest, panicking for her safety.

As anyone who’s watched his terrific 2006 film Children of Men will tell you, Cuaron isn’t afraid of shooting long fluid takes. The film’s 13-minute opening scene (during which we’re even briefly introduced to an Indian astronaut, Sharif, humming “Mera joota hai Japani”) is nothing short of a marvel, as is at least one other soundless scene that nicely demonstrates Bullock’s isolation. Stunning sequences in which our protagonists navigate space in zero gravity are further enhanced by the filmmaker’s intelligent use of 3D.

If anything feels clunky here, it’s Bullock’s sentimental back-story involving a dead child, that’s likely revealed in order to wring every possible drop of sympathy for the character. Alas it wasn’t required! Her effort to survive this hostile terrain is enough by itself to generate genuine drama. Bullock, in fact, is in excellent form, meeting the film’s intense physical demands and taking the character’s emotional journey in equal stride. Clooney, meanwhile, turns on the charm as the wisecracking astronaut, his confidence and calmness a nice foil to Bullock’s permanently tense demeanor.

For all its slick technical wizardry, Gravity is about hope and courage and the will to come out alive. To best enjoy it, go in with patience and an open mind. I’m going with four-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Poker face

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:39 pm

October 02, 2013

Cast: Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie

Director: Brad Furman

Runner Runner is one of those stylish thrillers that promises more meat than it ultimately delivers. Fashioned as an updated version of Wall Street, but set in the world of online gambling, the plot takes predictable twists and turns, and never delivers a satisfying original payoff.

When Ivy League student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) loses all his money in an online poker scam, he travels to Costa Rica to confront the site’s mysterious owner, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). As it turns out, Block offers him a job, and a chance to earn millions, if he’s willing to sell his soul. You know exactly how things will pan out from here: the kid is first seduced by the glamorous lifestyle and the lure of easy money. When he realizes he’s being played, he decides to take matters in his own hands. There’s a woman in the mix too, as there always seems to be; in this case, former Bond girl Gemma Arterton sandwiched between veteran and rookie.

The film doesn’t work because there’s nothing new in the manner that this plot unfolds, and there’s not much by way of chemistry between Affleck and Timberlake’s characters either. What you do get is lots of gambling jargon, and a by-the-number screenplay.

I’m going with two out of five for Runner Runner. It’s the sort of film best enjoyed on DVD. If you have to take a call during the film, don’t worry; chances are you’d have missed nothing.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Do or Di

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:38 pm

October 02, 2013

Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Geraldine James, Juliet Stevenson

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

You would imagine that any film titled Diana and based on one of the most fascinating personalities in modern history would at least offer a peek into the mind and heart of the real person behind tabloid headlines. Well, think again! Director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s clunky film on the Princess of Wales, otherwise referred to as “the most famous woman in the world”, struggles to scratch the surface and to present any insight into her famously troubled life.

Naomi Watts nails the hair and the walk, and at many places in this film, she’s a dead ringer for Princess Diana, but it’s almost always an impression, never a flesh and blood recreation of the iconic figure. The film chronicles Diana’s relationship with Pakistani heart surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), with whom she allegedly enjoyed a two-year romance that involved late night walks in the park, sneaky sleepovers in Kensington Palace, and dates during which the princess disguised herself under a wig. According to the story, the very private doctor called it off with Diana when their relationship became fodder for the press, and his conservative family refused to accept her as his potential wife.

Even if you disregard the evidently speculative nature of this story, it’s hard not to chuckle at the trite dialogue or cringe at the soap opera-style melodrama between characters. While Watts at least tries to sneak some subtlety into this leaden picture, occasionally pulling off the famed fragility of the people’s princess, Andrews delivers a stilted, almost smug performance as the earnest doctor swept into a whirlwind he hadn’t bargained for. The script also crassly suggests that Diana expertly manipulated the media to her own advantage, and when it does present Dodi Al Fayed on the scene, we’re told he was similarly exploited so Diana could make Hasnat jealous.

Shot like a low-budget television soap, its script lacking depth, its performances unmistakably affected, the film is a disappointment, except in those moving scenes that remind us of her selfless humanitarian work.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Diana. Like the cheap tabloids that routinely peddled salacious tidbits of her alleged private life, this film too is a hack job.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Tigmanshu Dhulia on the film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:32 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Tigmanshu Dhulia, director of such acclaimed films as Haasil, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster and Paan Singh Tomar, talks about the film that changed his life.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

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