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

October 10, 2014

Rohit Shetty on the one film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:06 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Bollywood’s blockbuster director Rohit Shetty — and the brain behind such hits as the Golmaal films, Singham and Chennai Express — picks an evergreen action film when talking about the film that changed his life. Shetty says it was among the first movies he watched in the cinema, and a film he’s revisited many times over the years. He insists the film’s excellent action scenes stand the test of time, and describes key scenes that have stayed with him.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Message in a throttle

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:32 pm

October 10, 2014

Cast: Anupam Kher, Divyendu Sharma, Manu Rishi Chadha, Rajesh Sharma, Neha Dhupia, Aditi Sharma, Sudhir Pandey

Director: Ravindra Gautam

Buried beneath the farcical humor, melodramatic performances and manipulative tear-jerking in Ekkees Toppon Ki Salaami is a well-intentioned message movie about the value of honesty. The film is positioned as a satire about politics and corruption, and Rahil Qazi’s script makes veiled references to well-known leaders and headline-grabbing events. But Qazi and director Ravindra Gautam can’t seem to strike a consistent tone for their storytelling, see-sawing unevenly between broad humor and genuine pathos.

Anupam Kher is Purushottam Narayan Joshi, a lower middle-class BMC employee who prides himself on being upright to a fault. Unfortunately this earns him scant respect from his two sons Shekhar (Manu Rishi Chadha), and particularly Subhash (Divyendu Sharma) who is a party worker for the corrupt chief minister (Rajesh Sharma). When Joshi Sr is dishonorably discharged on a false corruption charge on his retirement day, he dies of shock. It’s up to his sons now to fulfill his dying wish – the old man wants a 21-gun salute for leading a life of unflinching honesty. Enlisting the help of his girlfriend (Aditi Sharma), the speech-writer of the CM, Subash embarks upon a mission to pull off this impossible feat.

Constructed around this promising premise, the film’s makers nevertheless stretch their story to breaking point as it plods on indulgently for 2 hours and 20 minutes. There are moments of terrific humor, most involving Neha Dhupia’s buxom starlet (one of the best things in the film) who is having an affair with the chief minister. Another hilarious track involves Sudhir Pandey becoming a reluctant replacement for Joshi’s corpse.

Much of the second half is evidently inspired from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, but there is none of that film’s sparkling wit at display here. The final scenes are unabashedly schmaltzy, and while the message itself is important, it is conveyed with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

I’m going with two out of five for Ekkees Toppon Ki Salaami. Promising but doesn’t quite take flight.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Hello Dolly!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:31 pm

October 10, 2014

Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola, Eric Ladin

Director: John R Leonetti

The idea of an evil doll as a trigger for a horror story has been adequately exploited in Child’s Play and its many ‘Chucky’ sequels. In Annabelle the creepy possessed doll from last year’s The Conjuring gets its own origin story.

Set in 1969, the film features a young married couple, John and Mia (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis), whose peaceful home is invaded one night by a pair of Satanic cult members. The intruders meet with a fitting end, but not before the blood of one of them enters the frankly ugly doll that John has given his wife to mark the imminent arrival of their baby.

Why any pregnant woman would accept – much less covet – such a hideous gift is a question you’re just going to have to banish from your head as you get sucked into this old-school frightener that relies on atmospherics and slow-building tension to deliver its scares. A harrowing elevator scene is likely to make you want to take the stairs for at least a few days. Another scene, involving an electric sewing machine and a packet of instant popcorn will certainly make you jump in your seat, although you can see it coming from a mile away. To be fair, there are more than a few good jump-scares in the film, and a few other scenes – like one in which an ominous-looking girl in a white dress runs towards a slowly closing door – that are even more chilling.

Unfolding at a time when the Manson Family murders are still fresh, cults and Catholicism are at the forefront of this story, which is nicely ripe with paranoia. The makers shrewdly reference Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, even borrowing the first names of that film’s stars (John Cassavettes and Mia Farror) for their own protagonists.

But, like The Conjuring, the reason Annabelle is more effective than your average horror film is because the acting is pretty solid. Playing the distressed mother at the center of this supernatural crisis, Annabelle Wallis cuts a convincingly helpless figure as Mia. Alfre Woodard, in the role of a sympathetic neighbor with her own secrets, is also pretty good. It helps that director John R Leonetti (cinematographer of The Conjuring) uses special effects sparingly, choosing instead to craft simple scenes that are steeped in menacing silence.

Annabelle isn’t perfect – hell, it isn’t even as good as The Conjuring – but despite its unconvincing climax, it’s got moments of spine-tingling horror that do the trick. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 8, 2014

Vikram on Shankar’s I: “I know we’ve made something special”

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 5:31 pm


In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Tamil star Vikram – hero of such hits as Setu, Anniyan and Pithamagan – talks about his role in Shankar’s new film I that’s slated for release this Diwali. The 48-year-old actor underwent multiple physical transformations for the movie, and reveals it was difficult to keep his many looks from being leaked during production.




(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 2, 2014

Picture imperfect

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:04 pm

October 02, 2014

Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif, Danny Denzongpa, Pavan Malhotra, Javed Jaffrey, Deepti Naval, Kanwaljeet Singh

Director: Siddharth Anand

Bang Bang has two gorgeous leads, some eye-popping stunt scenes, a slew of beautiful locales, and pretty hummable music. It would take an especially awful script and a truly incompetent director to deliver an unwatchable film out of those ingredients.

Within the first ten minutes of the movie, the MI6 headquarters in London have been broken into, a most-wanted terrorist freed, and a brave law enforcer killed. If you’ve ever watched a James Bond film in your life, you’ll know the place is swarming with Secret Service agents. Perhaps they were all out to lunch when this was happening.

Okay, so this film is going to require some suspension of disbelief. No problem. Then, we’re introduced to Katrina Kaif’s character. If you can buy the idea of Katrina as a boring bank receptionist in Shimla who must sign up on an Internet blind-dating site to get a little romance in her life, then boy, you probably believe Santa Claus is real too!

Bang Bang is an official remake of the mediocre Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz starrer Knight And Day, and it’s fashioned as a fast-paced actioner, which basically means the plot is going to be threadbare. Hrithik Roshan is Rajveer, a mysterious thief who’s stolen the Kohinoor diamond, no less. As he dodges both the cops and the henchmen of a criminal mastermind who wants the rock, Rajveer meets Harleen (Katrina), who gets sucked into this globetrotting adventure with him.

The premise itself isn’t so much of a problem as is the fact that Hrithik and Katrina have virtually no chemistry. The pair sizzled in Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, but here they produce fewer sparks than a box of soaked matchsticks. Both actors look a million bucks, particularly Hrithik who is made to lose his shirt at every conceivable opportunity and show off those well-oiled abs. Katrina, sadly, is stuck playing a pathetic ditz; the kind of insufferable character you wouldn’t want to be sitting next to on a long-haul flight.

Director Siddharth Anand, the man who gave us such excruciating films as Tara Rum Pum and Anjaana Anjaani, applies the same pedestrian sensibilities to what could’ve been a slick enjoyable romp. The film is weighed down by a teary familial back-story, and a twist that anyone who’s watched even three masala potboilers can predict from a mile away. The blatant product placements are embarrassing, the dialogues so clunky they make you cringe.

And yet if there’s one reason to watch the film, it’s Hrithik. He’s charming and charismatic, and he appears to be having a good time. Here’s a movie star who actually looks like he could pull off those action scenes for real.

The film then isn’t unwatchable, but at 2 hours and 35 minutes, it certainly tests your patience. How many times have you ordered a dish that looks terrific photographed in a menu, but disappoints when it shows up on the table? Bang Bang is that kind of meal. I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Bard target

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:03 pm

October 02, 2014

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Shraddha Kapoor, Kay Kay Menon, Irrfan Khan, Narendra Jha, Aamir Bashir

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

There’s a sweeping, operatic quality to Haider, director Vishal Bhardwaj’s robust staging of Hamlet against the troubled landscape of Kashmir at the peak of militancy in the mid-nineties. The ongoing insurgency, which has pitted militants and separatists against security forces for decades, makes for a potent setting. But Bhardwaj – who successfully rooted Omkara in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh, and Maqbool in the Mumbai underworld – isn’t one to use backdrop merely as decorative wallpaper. He presents a warts-and-all insider’s view, often making scathing observations like the identity crisis faced by local Kashmiris, or the torture of separatists and terror suspects in army camps. This is easily the director’s most political film.

At the centre of this volatile world he places his protagonist, Haider (Shahid Kapoor), a young student who returns home from university on receiving news of his father’s disappearance after being picked up by the army. Equally upsetting is the discovery that his mother, Ghazala (Tabu), has taken up with his father’s brother, Khurram (Kay Kay Menon). When Haider learns the truth behind his father’s death, he’s plunged into grief and rage, and is possibly losing his mind.

Bhardwaj and his co-writer, journalist-author Basharrat Peer, lay out a canvas ripe for revenge and tragedy. But the plot only kicks in halfway into the film when Irrfan Khan’s Roohdar, a mysterious figure with a questionable identity (standing in for the ghost from the original play), shows up and sets the wheels in motion.

As if conducting an orchestra, Bhardwaj lines up his instruments, employing camera, music, and artful production design to deliver a moody drama that feels consistently authentic. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography, in particular, is one of the film’s trump cards. The stunning landscapes and the inventively shot play-within-a-play song-sequence aside, we get a real, lived-in sense of Kashmir as inhabited by the characters themselves.

The film benefits also from a top-notch cast who do some of their best work here. Kay Kay Menon sinks his teeth into the slimy Claudius role, and Shraddha Kapoor, blessed with the most expressive eyes, oozes earnestness as Arshia, torn between familial pressure and her childhood sweetheart Haider. With minimal dialogue, Irrfan Khan leaves a lasting impression as the shadowy stranger bearing a crucial message. And as Haider himself, Shahid Kapoor delivers his strongest performance yet, skillfully going from helpless to grieving to obsessed with revenge. The film though belongs to Tabu, who infuses an aching vulnerability to her part. Fragile and heartbreaking, she is the secret strength of Bhardwaj’s film. Watch her in those scenes with Shahid that are brimming with Oedipal undertones; they’ll give you gooseflesh.

For a film set in a world plagued with constant strife, Haider is also surprisingly laced with dark humor. In Salman and Salman, the filmmaker gives us a pair of bumbling informants who also happen to be die-hard fans of the Bollywood superstar. A song filmed on a quartet of gravediggers is nicely cheeky. “Aao tum bhi apni kabr khodo aur isme so jao,” one of them tells Haider.

With so much going on, it’s no surprise that the film feels inordinately long – and it is, unfolding leisurely at 2 hours and 41 minutes! The first half is particularly dense, and introduces multiple narrative strands that are abandoned without explanation. I never quite figured out the mission announced by an army chief (Ashish Vidyarthi), or what happened to Kulbushan Kharbanda who turned up in one scene as Ghazala’s father-in-law, never to be seen or referred to again.

A few such hiccups aside, Haider is an elegant, thrilling film that casts a brave, unflinching eye on the Kashmir struggle. In deviating from the original ending of Hamlet, it also makes a necessary point about the cyclical nature of revenge and violence.

Its deliberate pacing may not work for all, but this is a solid, well-acted movie that deserves your time. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. To see or not to see? Do you really have to ask?

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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