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

January 30, 2015

R Balki on the film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 9:23 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Cheeni Kum, Paa, and Shamitabh director R Balki talks about the film that changed his life.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Bumpy flight

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

January 30, 2015

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Mithun Chakraborty, Pallavi Sharda, Naman Jain, Jayant Kriplani

Director: Vibhu Puri

There isn’t much evidence in history books to support the claim that director Vibhu Puri makes in Hawaizaada – that it was a Maharashtrian mulga in 1895, and not the globally acknowledged aviation pioneers, the Wright Brothers, eight years later in 1903, that flew the first airplane in history. This imagined account of that undocumented event is a well-intentioned and noble effort, but it’s also an excruciatingly long and tedious affair that left me numb and exhausted by the end.

An endearing Ayushmann Khurrana stars as Shivkar Bapuji Talpade, a school dropout who grows up to fall in love with a dancer (Besharam’s Pallavi Sharda), following which he’s kicked out of his home by his strict father. Subbaraya Shastri (Mithun Chakraborty in a hideous wig), an eccentric scientist who lives in and operates out of an abandoned ship, spots Shivkar’s potential, takes him under his wing and ropes him in to help him realize his passion project of building and flying a plane.

The Sanjay Leela Bhansali influences are apparent in virtually every scene of Hawaizaada, and it’s hardly surprising given Puri both assisted Bhansali and co-wrote Saawariya and Guzaarish. Like them, this is an over-styled film in which every prop, every curtain has been carefully and strategically placed to enhance the frame. Shot almost entirely on sets, the film fast begins to feel claustrophobic and inauthentic. That’s a shame because Puri is clearly a skilled technician. There are moments of stunning imagery, some nice moody lighting, and well-shot musical numbers. But it’s all weighed down by an indulgent script that crams too many narratives into a single plot.

There are your typical fuming British officers who want to nix Shastri and Talpade’s plane-building plans; this acts as a trigger for the film’s patriotic sideshow. The physics involved in flying a plane is sketchily addressed through repeated Vedic references, which frankly come off sounding like a lot of mumbo-jumbo. But there’s also a nice track between Talpade and his little nephew (a terrific Naman Jain), including a charming Chaplinesque interlude in which we see Talpade trying various jobs to raise money to build the plane.

Hawaizaada is jingoistic, melodramatic, naïve, and often illogical. It might have worked as a quirky flight of fancy, but Puri and his characters take things way too seriously, robbing the film of that very sense of awe and wonder that it so badly needed.

I’m going two out of five. It’s an interesting idea that never takes flight.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

In cold blood

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:39 pm

January 30, 2015

Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Ashish Vidyarthi, Tisca Chopra, Mita Vashisht, Ashwini Kalsekar

Director: Manish Gupta

The teenage daughter of a pair of doctors is found murdered in her room one morning, her throat slit with surgical precision. Not long after, the bloodied corpse of the family servant is discovered in their home too. Evidence seems to point to the girl’s father, who is promptly arrested, even as a subsequent CBI enquiry reveals new suspects.

Those events, of arguably the most puzzling double murder in recent memory, are at the core of writer-director Manish Gupta’s Rahasya. Despite moving the action from Noida to Mumbai, never uttering the name Arushi, and liberally mixing fiction with real facts, this engaging whodunit trades in many familiar theories, while safely covering its ass with the standard “any-resemblance-to-real-people-is-coincidental” disclaimer.

The film’s clunky opening scenes notwithstanding, Gupta gives us a labyrinthine maze of secrets and lies, populating the plot with a small army of characters who each appear to be hiding something. When a CBI officer on the case (Kay Kay Menon) becomes obsessed with finding the truth, he must navigate the various loose ends to piece together what really happened. The fractured marriage of the dead girl’s parents (Ashish Vidyarthi and Tisca Chopra) comes under the scanner, as does the nature of the father’s relationship with a close friend’s wife (Mita Vashisht), the role of the family’s maid of over 30 years (Ashwini Kalsekar), the whereabouts of the victim’s no-good boyfriend (Kunal Sharma), and the link between the two murders.

The wildly implausible script quickly ditches real events and details of the Talwar case, adding fictional characters and predictable subplots into the mix that don’t always work. Yet Gupta keeps the pace brisk, and the salacious theories surrounding the case ensure that you’re never bored. It’s Kay Kay Menon’s committed performance however that is the film’s biggest strength. Adding little touches – like breaking into Marathi while speaking to his wife, or discussing his lunch with a junior officer while investigating the case – Kay Kay offers a fully realized, flesh-and-blood character, where a lesser actor might have been tempted to play to the gallery. Bringing humanity to the part of the wearied cop, he keeps you invested in the story even when the writing slips.

To be fair, the script isn’t all bad. Gupta gives us little clues in throwaway dialogues, in innocuous scenes where characters behave uncharacteristically, and in seemingly ordinary moments that prove surprisingly relevant. You’ll be piecing the puzzle as the film unfolds, and although you’ll probably guess the film’s big revelation before it’s made, this isn’t a bad way to spend two hours of your life.

I’m going with three out of five for Rahasya. It’s a very watchable thriller, inconsistent but never dull. A compelling account inspired by an oddly fascinating case.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Voice in his head

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:37 pm

January 30, 2015

Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

There’s a real joy that comes from watching a smart film…from listening to crackling dialogue delivered by terrific actors who’re at the top of their game. Birdman, co-written and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, is easily one of the smartest films you’ll see.

It’s been described as a showbiz satire, but that label does little justice to the vast scope of the picture. The movie works on many levels: it’s a behind-the-scenes comedy about the workings of a theatre company, a brutal comment on the nature of celebrity in the age of social media, a rich character study of complex individuals, and also a surreal fantasy about a man in search of who he truly is.

It’s a lot to pack into 2 hours, but Iñárritu seamlessly weaves these multiple themes into this surprisingly profound meditation on life and success. Allowing unending comparisons to be drawn with his own career, Michael Keaton, once Batman, stars as Riggan Thomson, an actor who found fame in the nineties playing a superhero named Birdman. Now a washed-up has-been, he’s desperate to make a successful comeback with an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story that he’s directing and starring in on Broadway.

Shot and edited into what looks like one continuous take, the film tracks Riggan in the days leading up to opening night, even as his fellow actors, family, and a formidable critic throw all manner of crises in his path. He must keep a watchful eye on his recovering-addict daughter (Emma Stone), pacify his neurotic lead actress (Naomi Watts), control his volatile co-star (Edward Norton), and keep up the illusion of being calm for his best friend and producer (Zach Galifianakis). All the while he’s also compelled to introspect on his own failures as a partner when he’s alternately visited by his ex-wife (Amy Ryan) and his current girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough). And if that wasn’t enough to deal with already, there’s the issue of that nagging voice – and sometimes image – in his head, of his mocking alter ego, Birdman, who’s urging him to ditch the theatre dream and go back to making those sell-out blockbusters.

It’s a delicious script, and Keaton and his co-stars bring the acidic dialogue to life. Stone is particularly good as the bitchy daughter, but it’s Norton who steals every scene he’s in as the method actor who fully believes the hype about his supposed brilliance. Powered by a jittery jazz drum score throughout, the film unfolds with a sort of kinetic energy, as if sharing our protagonist’s racing heart rate. Keaton, who is funny, desperate, brave, and pathetic, all rolled into one, does his career’s best work in this slyly thought-provoking film that completely blew my mind.

I’m going with four-and-a-half out of five for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman. It’s an entirely different beast from his previous gems Amores Perros and Babel, but it’s a film so smart, it’ll leave you giddy with pleasure.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 23, 2015

Amitabh Bachchan: “I had to redub Agneepath all over again because the voice didn’t work”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:26 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Amitabh Bachchan, regarded popularly as the Indian with the greatest baritone, reveals how he experimented with his voice for such films as Agneepath and Paa. The actor also explains the different approach director R Balki had him take while filming their new film Shamitabh.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Spy hard!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:35 pm

January 23, 2015

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Kay Kay Menon, Anupam Kher, Rana Dagubatti, Sushant Singh, Tapsee Pannu, Danny Denzongpa

Director: Neeraj Pandey

Borrowing its structure from Zero Dark Thirty, its climax from Argo, its intention from Nikhil Advani’s D-Day, and its occasionally jingoistic tone from your standard Bollywood B-movie, Baby, directed by Neeraj Pandey, is a khichdi of influences, and an uneven film as a result. Pandey, who made a big impression with the provocative and controversial vigilante thriller A Wednesday, applied the same sense of urgency and tension to Special Chabbis, giving us a smart con film that involved an elaborate cat-and-mouse chase between cops and thieves. With Baby, his treatment is more escapist than realistic.

Akshay Kumar is Ajay, a highly skilled agent in an undercover counter-intelligence unit dubbed Baby that’s tasked with foiling terror attacks on the country. When Bilaal (Kay Kay Menon), a terrorist facing trial in India, escapes from prison, and it becomes clear that a major attack is being hatched by Pakistan’s Lashkar group, it’s up to Ajay and his team to save the nation. This mission sends Ajay racing between Turkey, Mumbai, New Delhi, Nepal, and the Middle East, where he more or less single-handedly flushes out rogue agents, dismantles terror plans, and vanquishes the bad guys in well-executed action scenes. He is both the brains and the muscle in the unit.

Unfortunately however Pandey gives us a first half that is loose, and one that serves little purpose other than to act as a set-up, and to introduce us to the main players. Danny Denzongpa is Ajay’s boss Feroze Ali Khan, who paces down corridors and stares grimly into open spaces, leaving his star officer to do all the heavy lifting. There’s also a hate-spewing, India-bashing mullah (Pakistani actor Rasheed Naz) who, in one of the film’s crucial scenes, echoes an oft-repeated (and controversial) sentiment pertaining to India’s typical response to terror attacks.

The pace picks up considerably post intermission, when Pandey gives us some terrific moments of breathless action and genuine tension. In a rare scene that allows another agent besides Ajay to flex their chops, Tapsee Pannu gets her big moment to shine in a Kathmandu hotel room. However implausible, another break-in scene at a desert resort is riveting, edge-of-the-seat stuff. The film’s last hour in fact is so crisply done you’re even willing to forgive Pandey the messiness of the first act and the routine lapses of logic in the screenplay, like Bilaal’s escape in broad daylight on Mumbai’s busy Marine Drive.

To be fair, the film is an engaging enough thriller sprinkled with witty lines and crowd-pleasing moments that Akshay Kumar performs with a deadpan expression to great effect. An example of that is a superb scene in which he calmly responds to an apathetic offhand remark made by a minister’s PA. Akshay, in fact, is in very good form, giving us a glimpse of the solid actor he can be when he isn’t cashing his paycheck making low-brow comedies. He’s ably supported, in the film’s final act, by a buff Rana Dagubatti, and particularly by Anupam Kher as fellow agents on a daredevil mission.

I was rankled by the film’s simplistic arguments, its all-too-convenient solutions to complex issues, and Pandey’s tokenism when it came to portraying a few ‘good Muslims’. Also, wouldn’t it have been great to get a protagonist that felt vulnerable instead of a superhero? Well, perhaps in another film.

I’m going with three out of five for Baby. Enjoy it for the brisk action thriller that it is, and try not to think about how much better it could’ve been.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Runaway bride

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:34 pm

January 23, 2014

Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, Pulkit Samrat, Varun Sharma, Archana Puran Singh, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub, Rajesh Sharma, Manoj Joshi

Director: Abhishek Dogra

At a crisp 100 minutes, Dolly Ki Doli is likely shorter than your average Indian wedding, which, as it happens, is the setting for much of this film’s drama and comedy.

Sonam Kapoor plays Dolly, a seasoned con artist who ensnares eligible young men in her love, then proceeds to marry them, before drugging them on the wedding night and taking off with their wealth. She’s part of a slick gang that poses as her family and helps pull off these elaborate jobs.

Dolly leaves in her wake dozens of heartbroken and humiliated victims, one of which, Sonu Shekhwat (Rajkummar Rao), a sugarcane farmer from Haryana, is determined to bring her to task. Eventually the police swing into action too, assigning the case to a young officer, Robin Singh (Pulkit Samrat), who, as we later discover, has his own reasons to track down Dolly.

It’s an interesting premise and director Abhishek Dogra keeps things light and brisk, mining the film’s highly improbable scenarios for easy laughs. Rajkummar Rao is the scene-stealer here, eschewing the scenery with his delicious turn as the coarse Jat who’s hiding a soft heart. More laughs are provided by Fukrey’s Varun Sharma as Manjot Singh, a buffoonish Dilliwala who can’t believe his luck when a girl as pretty as Dolly shows interest in him. There’s also Archana Puran Singh who brings the house down while sportingly hamming it up as the loud, shrieking Punjabi mother of one of Dolly’s hapless grooms.

Too bad the script reveals gaping holes as it unfolds, never adequately satisfying us with its explanation as to why her grooms fail to produce any pictures of Dolly and her ‘family’ in this age of camera phones and selfies. I wasn’t convinced either that Dolly or her gang performs these cons for financial gain; we never get the sense that it’s the money that drives them. Her motivation to cheat families – justified in the end by giving it an ‘emancipation of women’ spin – is unconvincing and laughable to say the least. An intriguing subplot involving Raanjhana’s Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub, who plays Dolly’s fake brother and has romantic feelings for her, is never fully explored or properly resolved. The climax too, feels hurried, convenient and entirely contrived.

And yet, despite these shortcomings, I will admit, I enjoyed the film. Dogra gives us endearing characters, although Dolly herself is the weakest written role, and as a result Sonam Kapoor has little to work with. She does a good job, however, of convincing you that many men could lose themselves to her charm. From bit players like the fake granny who exploits her single dialogue for repeated laughs, to Sonu’s overbearing father, and Manjot’s henpecked dad, these are terrific supporting roles played out by a great cast including Rajesh Sharma, Manoj Joshi and Brijendra Kala among others. The one false note is Pulkit Samrat whose performance amounts strictly to posturing; he swaggers into every frame as if channeling Salman Khan, but has little presence or charm.

Never overstaying its welcome, the film is short and a lot of fun. I’m going with three out of five for Dolly Ki Doli. It’s worth watching for Rajkummar Rao’s excellent performance alone.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 22, 2015

Sonam Kapoor: “Deepika and I are not friends”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 4:10 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Dolly Ki Doli star Sonam Kapoor explains why people are more interested discussing her fashion than her performances in films. She also sets the record straight on her on-off friendship with Deepika Padukone, and reveals why her brother will face more pressure as an acting debutant than she did.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 16, 2015

Double trouble

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:39 pm

January 16, 2015

Cast: Bipasha Basu, Karan Singh Grover, Zakir Hussain, Neena Gupta, Sulbha Arya

Director: Bhushan Patel

Buried somewhere beneath all the shrieks and scares in the ominously titled horror film Alone is a black comedy straining to reveal itself. Think about it: one half of a pair of conjoined twins demands to be surgically cut off from her killjoy sister because she won’t let her have any alone time with her boyfriend. Too bad that scenario adapts less effectively when applied to this flatulent fright-fest about a love triangle between two humans and one ghost.

Sanjana (Bipasha Basu) finds herself being repeatedly visited by the angry spirit of her dead twin Anjana (Bipasha, again!) when she returns to the Kerala home she grew up in after her mum (Neena Gupta) becomes unwell. Ragini MMS 2 director Bhushan Patel relies on all the usual tropes – from creaking doors and barking dogs to rearranged dolls and creepy reflections – delivering no more than two decent scares in this criminally uninspired film.

The pesky servants prove smarter than Sanjana’s himbo husband (Karan Singh Grover) who takes forever to figure out that something’s gotten into his missus, even when she switches overnight from nagging, whining sad-sack to frisky kitten. I lost count of just how many times he says: “Pata nahin…mujhe kuch samajh nahin aa raha.” Predictably, it’s down to a mantra-chanting baba to exorcise the spirit, but even a last minute twist can’t energize this dead script.

Bipasha Basu, despite playing a double role here, offers fewer expressions than Neena Gupta who’s paralyzed for most of the film. The perfunctory ‘hot scenes’ between Bipasha and her muscled co-star can’t seriously be reason enough to invest in a ticket.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Alone. You’ll wish you’d stayed home instead.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Eye for an eye

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:36 pm

January 16, 2015

Cast: Vikram, Amy Jackson, Santhanam, Upen Patel, Suresh Gopi, Ojas Rajani

Director: Shankar

The highly anticipated romantic thriller I from visionary Tamil director Shankar is a work of staggering ambition, somewhat weighed down by the filmmaker’s own indulgence. Clocking in at a butt-numbing three hours and six minutes, the film works off a busy story that’s centered on Lingesan (Vikram), a local bodybuilder from Chennai’s KK Nagar, who goes from winning the Mr Tamil Nadu title to winning the attention of his longtime crush, a supermodel named Diya (Amy Jackson).

Before reaching the long-winded yet predictable love story that inevitably ensues, the first hour of I is unabashed fun. At one point during a brawl between our hero and an army of oiled musclemen, Lingesan proudly lifts two vanquished rivals on both ends of an iron rod like a barbell. In an imaginatively filmed song sequence, nifty special effects are employed to convey our protagonist’s all-consuming obsession with the heroine. What’s not to like? The pace is brisk, the set pieces thrilling, and no apologies are made for the many double meaning jokes provided by our hero’s best friend (Santhanam).

But all this is just window dressing for what resides at the core of this film – a revenge plot. His relationship with Diya and his new career as a successful model sees Lingesan make a string of enemies who subsequently gang up and ruthlessly disfigure him to teach him a lesson. Now hunchbacked and covered in plum-sized warts, Lingesan will pick them off one by one, dispensing his own brand of fitting justice to his offenders.

Shankar revisits his favorite theme of customized justice, and indulges his continuing fascination with the idea of ‘one-hero-multiple-avatars’…at one point even giving us a Beauty and the Beast-style dream sequence to drive home the message about beauty being only skin deep. But the last hour of the film is tediously repetitive. The characterization of a transgender stylist is distinctly homophobic, and a key twist can be guessed from a mile away. The film keeps on going even when there’s no surprise or revelation left, until you’re truly and completely exhausted.

That’s a shame because there’s so much to admire in I, particularly Vikram’s riveting central performance. He brings nuance through accent and body language, and succeeds in making you care for Lingesan even when he’s buried under layers of prosthetics. Veteran cinematographer PC Sreeram puts up quite the show too, filming terrific action scenes like that gravity-defying bike chase on the rooftops of a housing colony in China, and those wondrous eye-popping musical numbers set to AR Rahman’s winning tunes.

There’s a lesson in I for makers of masala movies everywhere: Big-budget commercial films don’t have to be lazy, mindless enterprises; you can bring big ideas and apply craft. I may be far from perfect, but for the most part it’s pretty entertaining stuff. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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