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

February 13, 2015

Sonam Kapoor has a film recommendation for you!

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:19 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Sonam Kapoor talks about one film she loves that more people should see.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Art attack!

Filed under: Our FIlms,Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:35 pm

February 13, 2015

Cast: Arjun Rampal, Jacqueline Fernandez, Ranbir Kapoor, Shernaz Patel, Anupam Kher, Rajit Kapoor

Director: Vikramjit Singh

It’s hard not to become deeply suspicious and cynical about the movie business when you’ve watched a film like Roy. Is it really enough that Ranbir Kapoor agrees to make an extended cameo, for a producer to pump money into this boring, amateurish drivel that also happens to be unmistakably pretentious? Did anyone who was attached to the film actually read the script before showing up on set?

There are more unanswered questions thrown up by the film’s clunky plot, which concerns itself with four protagonists. In a nice stroke of irony, Arjun Rampal plays Kabir Grewal, a film director who sets off to Malaysia to shoot his latest film, although he’s suffering from writer’s block and his script is far from ready. Jacqueline Fernandez is Ayesha Aamir, an indie filmmaker from London, also shooting in Malaysia, although we literally never see her around actors or a crew, or doing anything that even remotely resembles work.

Kabir is the sort of fella who wears a fedora, indoors even, and bangs away on a manual typewriter. He’s had a long string of romantic entanglements, and after some initial resistance Ayesha becomes his ‘Girlfriend #23’, likely seduced by the impossible lines he comes up with. “Zindagi ka asli shor uski khamoshiyon mein paaya hua milta hai,” he says at one point, even as you roll your eyes and demand to know who talks like that.

There’s also Ranbir’s character, Roy, a master art-thief who has successfully broken into seemingly impenetrable museums in France, Qatar, China, and India. Inspired by Roy’s exploits, Kabir fashions the new script around him. And smitten by Ayesha, he casts her lookalike as his leading lady. So that’s a second Jacqueline Fernandez, this one permanently sporting bright red lipstick and a slightly different hairstyle.

Now two romances unfold, and you’re meant to be intrigued by where ‘reel’ life blurs into real. But it’s all such a plodding bore because you’re never invested in any of the characters. In an earlier interview debutant director Vikramjit Singh revealed that he drew on the once-romantic relationship between Quentin Tarantino and Sofia Coppola to craft Kabir and Ayesha’s romance in Roy. Singh borrows an incident from 2010 when Tarantino, at the time heading the Venice Film Festival jury, awarded the top prize to Somewhere, directed by Coppola, by then his ex, thereby sparking rumors that he’d played favorites. It’s a scene that appears to have been inserted into this film only as show-off on Singh’s part.

Ranbir looks like he was punished and forced to be in this movie; it’s such a sullen performance, you have to ask why a charmer by profession, a man who must win hearts so he can steal art, would never crack a smile. Arjun gives it what he’s got…but it doesn’t help that Kabir isn’t a particularly likeable character to begin with. Jacqueline, unfortunately, appears miscast in a part that required an actor with greater range.

The one strength of the film is its terrific soundtrack, even if those infectious dance numbers do pop up in not all the right places. But that’s faint praise for a movie that limps lethargically for close to 2 hours and 30 minutes, all but collapsing in a predictable twist ending that you’ve guessed a long time ago.

I’m going with one out of five for Roy. The unintentionally funny dialogues aside, it’s unlikely that you’ll be smiling very much through this misery.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 7, 2015

Varun Dhawan on Badlapur: “Was excited about going up against Nawazuddin Siddiqui’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 4:39 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Badlapur director Sriram Raghavan and his star Varun Dhawan reveal why they felt compelled to tell this story, and why working on this dark, disturbing thriller took a toll on them.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Stand up, chill out

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 12:36 am

Throw a stone in India, and chances are that you’ll offend somebody. If you’re a stand-up comic, this is a way of life – the genre is one of the last bastions of free speech, a fact explored deeply in Jaideep Varma’s documentary I Am Offended. But will the rising intolerance in our country muzzle this community? Varma explores this question, while at the same time looking at how Indian humor has evolved over the years, through interviews with a vast range of stand-up comics, cartoonists, satirists, and mimicry artists. The documentary has been released on YouTube in order to avoid censorship, and in the off chance that it may offend someone.

The film feels particularly relevant in light of the extreme responses to the AIB Knockout, the comedy collective’s roast of Bollwood stars that got millions of views on the web, while at the same time evidently offending many because of its liberal use of profanities and adult jokes. In the film, comics like Vir Das, Varun Grover, Johnny Lever, Raju Srivastav, Tanmay Bhat, and Anuvab Pal discuss the difference between English and Hindi stand-up, the challenges involved in performing in front of a live audience, and the future of stand-up in India.

During this revealing 108-minute film, that’s peppered with footage of stand-up routines including one of the legendary satirist Pu La Deshpande, Varma repeatedly makes the point that it’s a struggle to speak one’s mind while trying to get a roomful of people to collapse with laughter too. Sometimes it even results in death threats.

Are there subjects that are taboo in humor? Religion, caste, rape, India-Pakistan – wait there’s more – politics, Modi, Indian culture, Salman Khan, courts, police, sexuality, terrorism, the list is endless. What I Am Offended does is make you question whether we need a thicker skin. It opens your mind towards humor and the right to free speech. Next time, perhaps we’ll be able to laugh at life, and yes even at ourselves.

I Am Offended is available for free viewing on YouTube. It’s worth your time.

His partner’s voice

Filed under: Our FIlms,Their Films — Rajeev @ 12:24 am

February 06, 2015

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush, Akshara Haasan

Director: R Balki

Like his previous films Cheeni Kum and Paa, director R Balki’s Shamitabh is constructed around a terrific, refreshingly original premise. A superstar is born when a talented but mute struggling actor (Dhanush) ‘borrows’ the booming baritone of an ageing alcoholic drifter (Amitabh Bachchan). Balki skillfully blends wildly disparate ideas to give us a film that is in equal parts a drama about partnership and ego, and a cheeky insider look at Bollywood. However, like his earlier films, this one too is high on concept, short on story, and plain indulgent in its second half.

The film opens nicely with a charming flashback that introduces us to our protagonist Daanish, a poor boy in Igatpuri, who is mad about the movies. Unfazed by the fact that he cannot speak, he dreams of becoming an actor someday, until then happily putting on impromptu performances for anyone who’ll watch. In a clever scene early on in the film, the little tyke has to be literally torn off a mean-spirited teacher who he attacks while pretending to be deep in character.

The first half hour of Shamitabh works as an affectionate postcard to the movies as Balki communicates our hero’s unending fascination for films through striking sequences. We watch as a now grown up Daanish trades his mother’s piping hot bhajiyaas for entry into a local video parlor; as he stuffs his mouth with cotton to imitate Marlon Brando’s mumbled delivery after watching The Godfather, and paints his face white to ape Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight.

It’s this very passion – and his unmistakable potential – that catches the eye of assistant director Akshara (debutant Akshara Haasan; one note) when he’s staking out film studios in Mumbai and hiding in vanity vans hoping to catch a break. Conveniently she hooks him up with a breakthrough technology that will allow our protagonist to speak. All you need to invest is a willing suspension of disbelief. All Daanish and Akshara need now is a willing voice.

Which brings us to Bachchan’s character, Amitabh Sinha, a cranky all-round failure and compulsive drunk who hangs around and lives in a cemetery. The old man reluctantly agrees to become Daanish’s personal valet so he can ‘give’ him his voice without anyone suspecting. This conceit lends itself to some entertaining scenarios where the pair struggles to make their ‘arrangement’ work. His talent, propped up by that formidable voice, makes the young man – now rechristened Shamitabh – an overnight star after his very first film. More offers follow, as do magazine covers, and coveted awards – including one that’s presented by a female legend making a tiny but memorable cameo. (Her reaction alone on hearing that voice is priceless.)

Balki brings conflict into this seemingly perfect set-up through the ever-reliable device of ego. As Shamitabh’s star rises rapidly, the actor and the ‘voice’ clash repeatedly, each insistent that he is the true talent. Bachchan’s character shrewdly makes his point by humiliating the actor in smartly scripted scenes, like one in which he refuses to say yes to a script that Shamitabh likes but he doesn’t. “Kalakaar main bhi hoon,” he tells the actor, now insisting that he must have script approval too.

Ironically, Balki’s own script runs out of steam post-intermission, quickly repeating the same ideas over and over again, and throwing new ones that don’t always work. A song titled Piddly, involving the recurring appearance of a toilet seat, is a clever concept but stretched too far till it begins to feel indulgent. The same can be said for Bachchan’s multiple drunk scenes that get tiring after a point. It’s true also of the whisky-and-water analogy that is overused in the film. A bedroom scene with suggestive dialogue about the difference in the two men’s age and virility feels tacked on purely for shock value. Another scene in which Bachchan’s character gets into trouble with the London police for vandalizing a bus comes off as contrived. Bachchan, however, completely nails it in a following sequence where he verbally attacks Dhanush’s character in an airport restroom after taking an intense beating.

The writing by now has become increasingly simplistic, especially evident in a clunky track intended to illustrate that both the actor and the voice can’t succeed independently. The innumerable instances of product placement stick out awkwardly, and basic logic fast goes out of the window. I found myself tired and not particularly moved at the end of 2 hours and 30 minutes when Balki whipped out the same manipulative tool that he employed in Cheeni Kum and Paa too.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Shamitabh. Brimming with smart ideas and powered by the performances of its two principals, it’s a shame this promising film comes undone by the Curse of the Second Half. Watch it though, for it bravely treads new ground.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 6, 2015

Motion sickness

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

February 06, 2015

Cast: Jason Statham, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Michael Angarano, Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, Anne Heche, Sofia Vergara

Director: Simon West

I can’t remember the last time I saw an actor look so bored on screen as Jason Statham in Wild Card. There’s resignation in his tired eyes, his one-liners are delivered without punch, and there are just way too many scenes of him drifting off and imagining he was somewhere else.

Statham stars as Nick Wild, a jaded Las Vegas private bodyguard, who’s working towards getting the hell out of Sin City and starting a new life. But when a lady friend of his (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) is assaulted by a vicious gangster, he helps her get revenge and ends up on the wrong side of a gang of dreaded thugs.

Expendables 2 director Simon West stages way too many slow-motion action scenes in which Statham uses his hands, his feet, a spoon, a credit card, and pretty much anything that’s in his reach, to fight off the unending stream of bad guys. It’s a shame these fight sequences aren’t particularly thrilling; Statham brings such little energy to these set pieces, they’re about as dull as the film’s many gambling scenes.

More laughable still is a parallel track in which Nick is hired to chaperone a young billionaire (Michael Angarano) about town. Good luck controlling your chuckles when the over-protected but thrill-seeking kid reveals that he sought Nick out to help him “kill the fear inside me”.

None of this would hurt so bad if the film didn’t have the pedigree that it boasts. For one, talented actors like Stanley Tucci, Anne Heche, Hope Davis, and Sofia Vergara are wasted in itsy-bitsy cameos. But worse, Wild Card is scripted by Oscar-winning Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid screenwriter William Goldman, for whom this clearly appears to be a paycheck job.

The movie feels overlong at 92 minutes, and in the end you’ll feel a lot like Statham’s character, who in a crucial scene, hangs around at a craps table way longer than he should have. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Wild Card. Save yourself the trouble and the disappointment.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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