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

June 13, 2014

Vidya Balan on Bobby Jasoos: “I couldn’t believe Dia (Mirza) brought this film to me”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:18 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Bobby Jasoos star Vidya Balan and her producer Dia Mirza talk about mixing business with friendship. In an industry mostly favorable to men, these two actresses have forged a lasting friendship since working together on Parineeta and Lage Raho Munnabhai, and reveal the secret to their successful working relationship.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

June 6, 2014

Nisha Pahuja & Anurag Kashyap: “It’s the perfect time for this film to release”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:19 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Indo-Canadian documentarian Nisha Pahuja talks about her powerful film The World Before Her, and she’s joined by filmmaker Anurag Kashyap who explains how the film changed his perspective about life and women. A disturbing portrait of the modern Indian woman, as seen through two entirely different lenses – the Miss India pageant, and Durga Vahini camps – the film reveals searing truths about our great nation. Releasing at cinemas in India on the heels of the BJP’s thumping victory in the recent elections, both Pahuja and Kashyap nevertheless insist that the timing couldn’t be more appropriate for Indian audiences to discover the film.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

In search of her identity

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 11:08 pm

There are millions of Indias within our country and Nisha Pahuja’s documentary The World Before Her captivates us with this detail. Training her camera on a beauty factory, where contestants go in to be polished so one can become the next Miss India, and then on a Durga Vahini camp where girls are coached by Hindu extremists, Pahuja shows us a disturbing portrait of the modern Indian woman.

On the one hand, we see beauty contestants dreaming of fame, willing to suffer Botox injections, skin-whitening treatments, and being paraded around wearing sacks over their heads so their naked legs can be judged. This pales before the Durga Vahini camp where girls as young as 13 are taught to shoot rifles and wake up at 5 am to chant hate mantras against Muslims and Christians so they are ready to be martyrs in a war to reclaim India and make it fully Hindu.

Pahuja includes several voices in this hard-hitting documentary, but closely follows two subjects – Jaipur girl Ruhi Singh, who gives the beauty pageant everything she’s got, and Durga Vahini camp addict Prachi Trivedi, whose vehement statements are shocking, yet she ends up as surprisingly vulnerable. Prachi describes herself as “a boy and girl, both” and despite her aggression, seems powerless before her Hindu nationalist father’s will to marry her off. Their verbal exchanges often form the most fascinating bits of this incisive film.

The strength in Pahuja’s documentary lies in its non-judgmental tone, even in moments like when Prachi’s father recounts the time he branded her with a hot iron rod as punishment for lying. The pivotal part comes as former Miss India Pooja Chopra and her mother talk of how she was almost killed at birth because her father didn’t want another girl child. It was sweet justice, therefore, when Pooja won the crown before her beaming mother.

Importantly though, Pahuja communicates how two kinds of women blindly seek empowerment in their own ways. And yet, they are waylaid by a feudal system. The World Before Her is a powerful documentary and I strongly recommend that you see it – this is the kind of cinema that will leave you shaken and stirred.


Army fatigue

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:38 pm

June 06, 2014

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Sumeet Raghavan, Freddy Daruwala, Govinda

Director: AR Murgadoss

In an important scene in Holiday, Akshay Kumar, playing a military secret agent, assembles a squad of eleven army men, and together they follow around a band of terrorists through the crowded city, tracking their every move. Akshay and his team keep a safe distance from their targets, trying to remain as inconspicuous as they can. This might have been a nail-biting scene if it weren’t for the sheer brainlessness of everyone involved. For Akshay and his team are dressed in full black suits. Now picture that: twelve men, dressed virtually identically in black suits, trying not to draw attention to themselves on Mumbai’s streets!

That this film is still not as awful as most typical Akshay Kumar starrers, despite several such harebrained sequences, is to the credit of director AR Murgadoss, who doesn’t let something as insignificant as common sense come in the way of telling a convenient story. In Holiday, Murgadoss remakes his own Tamil hit Thuppaki and he doesn’t tinker with the blueprint at all.

Akshay is Captain Virat Bakshi, who is home on a break from active duty. But, like the film’s tag line so helpfully reminds us, “A Solider is Never Off Duty”. Least of all Virat. He unearths a sinister plot to blow up the city, hatched by the leader of an Islamist terror group (a stone-faced Freddy Daruwala), who has planted ‘sleeper cells’ everywhere.

Over 170 excruciating minutes, Virat dispenses his own brand of vigilante justice. He kidnaps criminals and locks them up in his closet, tortures them by snipping off their fingers, and intimidates them into shooting themselves in the head. In between the relentless action, Sonakshi Sinha turns up, whom Akshay first rejects, then falls for when he discovers she’s a boxer. She exists in the script as a loo-break trigger, signaling that a song or a pointless romantic scene is to follow.

There is much unintentional humor in the ridiculous method that the villain employs to track down Virat, whose identity has remained a mystery to him for the longest time. Yet their climatic confrontation on a shipping vessel is thrilling. To be fair, there’s a consistent slickness in the action scenes, and occasional suspense too. But it’s all let down by the Class IV level of writing. Repeated dialogues about the sacrifices of army men feel token, and a closing song in which families send off their soldiers to the frontline is shamelessly manipulative.

My heart went out to poor Govinda who makes a cameo as Akshay’s senior in the army. He looked positively embarrassed to be in this film. And to embarrass Govinda is no mean feat, given the movies he’s made back in the day.

I’m going with two out of five for Holiday. Akshay Kumar livens up the proceedings now and then, but a lot of it is just thookpatti in this Thuppaki remake.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

For the love of movies

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

June 06, 2014

Cast: Sharib Hashmi, Inaamulhaq, Kumud Mishra

Director: Nitin Kakkar

The kidnapping of an aspiring Bollywood actor by Pakistani terrorists serves as a springboard for cheeky, bittersweet humor and a plea for cross-border brotherhood in first-time director Nitin Kakkar’s Filmistaan. Above all things, this is a clever ode to popular Hindi cinema whose fans, as Kakkar reminds us, exist everywhere.

Sunny Arora (Sharib Hashmi) is what most people would call a ham artiste. He does crazy, exaggerated impressions of movie stars, and can rattle off the lines of just about any film. It doesn’t help him get any acting jobs however. While working as an assistant director for an American film crew shooting a documentary in Rajasthan, a militant group mistakenly captures Sunny instead of the American they were hoping to get their hands on, and bring him to a small Pakistani border village as hostage.

It’s here that the film hits its stride.

Sunny’s indefatigable spirit and his contagious love for the movies keeps things light and breezy in an otherwise dire scenario. In one of the film’s best scenes, he directs his own ransom video, and bosses around his captors insisting on multiple retakes. On another occasion he saves the day, and wins the affection of the locals, when a screening of Maine Pyar Kiya is almost ruined by poor sound. He makes an unlikely friend in Aftab (Inaamulhaq), a pirate who sells bootlegged DVDs to his Bollywood-obsessed countrymen, and together they plot Sunny’s escape.

It’s the scenes between these two men that are most enjoyable in Filmistaan, and both actors do a good job of never turning their parts into caricatures. Hashmi, as the irrepressible Sunny, has terrific timing, and delivers a robust comic performance evocative of Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful. But the film hits a snag in its final act when it slips into clichéd political commentary. A track involving the two militants who’d been babysitting Sunny culminates in an unconvincing finish.

Filmistaan works best as a movie about the magic of movies. It’s a celebration of India’s song-and-dance film culture and heightened emotions… one that unites fans in their shared love for this unique art-form. For its sheer inventiveness and for some terrific comic moments, this film is worth a watch. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


Once more, with feeling

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

June 06, 2014

Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson

Director: Doug Liman

The idea that one must relive the most difficult day of one’s life over and over again doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Yet it makes for a terrific movie premise, as is clear from the new Tom Cruise starrer, Edge of Tomorrow. Directed by The Bourne Identity’s Doug Liman, this is a refreshingly smart sci-fi action blockbuster that’s more than just explosions and gunfights and special effects.

In the near future, the Earth is under deadly attack from a race of spider-like aliens known as Mimics. They’ve infiltrated Europe, where the army is trying, without much success, to defeat them. Cruise’s character, Bill Cage, is a cowardly US Army desk officer with no combat experience. When he’s demoted and sent to the frontline, he’s killed within minutes…then wakes up the day before his death.

Trapped in a time loop that resets each time he dies, Cage is forced to fight the same battle over and over again. Each day, he manages to stay alive a little bit longer. Then he meets a super-brave female soldier, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who seems to recognize his condition. When it becomes clear that only they can stop the Mimics, she helps improve Cage’s fighting skills in the little time they have before he dies on the battleground every day.

Liman handles the film’s Groundhog Day-like central conceit with some interesting visual touches. We get different angles on repeated scenes so it doesn’t feel like we’re stuck in a videogame, and the editing is thoughtful yet slick. The film’s writers keep proceedings fresh despite the repetitive nature of the events, by feeding us intriguing plot twists, and by coming up with new and interesting ways for Cage to die each time. As the stakes are raised and the momentum keeps building – although only incrementally – the filmmakers even manage to give us some poignant moments between the leads.

Cruise is clearly enjoying himself in the kind of role he hasn’t played before – a petrified chicken, who eventually grows a pair. Those latter portions, when he’s in hero-out-to-save-the-world mode, feel familiar and less interesting. Emily Blunt is fully convincing as the badass heroine, and gets some nice moments to shine.

Despite borrowing bits and bobs from many films including Moon director Duncan Jones’ grossly underrated Source Code, Liman still succeeds in delivering a film that skillfully melds a high-concept premise with thrilling action and even spurts of unexpected black humor. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Edge of Tomorrow. For a film about repetition, it never feels tired.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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