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

January 27, 2007

Love’s labour lost

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:30 pm

January 27, 2007

Cast: Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra, John Abraham, Vidya Balan, Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Akshaye Khanna, Ayesha Takia, Govinda, Shannon Esrechowitz, Sohail Khan, Eesha Koppikar

Director: Nikhil Advani

What’s common between a 40-year-old NRI in London, an ambitious Bollywood item girl, a 20-something about-to-be-married yuppie, a Delhi taxi-wala, and a television news producer in Mumbai? Well, the fact that they’re all facing love problems. And that, my friends is pretty much the conflict at the heart of director Nikhil Advani’s ambitious new film Salaam-e-Ishq.

Like Richard Curtis’ snappy-yet-shmaltzy Love Actually, Advani’s film also promises a bunch of stories interwoven with each other at some point in the narrative. Salaam-e-Ishq puts the spotlight on six couples in different parts of the world and in different stages of their lives, each trying the resolve the predicament that love has put them in.

But the one single problem that plagues this film is the fact that it’s just too long. And one of the big reasons for that is that Advani spends too much time setting up each story. If he trusts the audience to be intelligent enough to accept this new narrative style, then perhaps the director should trust us enough to interpret each couple’s back-story, instead of spoon-feeding us with elaborate set-up scenes. Why spend so much time establishing Govinda’s character? Why go into so many pointless scenes explaining Anil Kapoor’s mid-life crisis?

Look closely and you’ll notice that the entire first half of the film is as hollow as a drinking straw. Nothing at all happens in the first hour and a half, in fact the director’s spent all that time just introducing us to his characters.

In the second half, Advani gets all indulgent. The scenes with Akshaye Khanna reflecting back on his relationship with Ayesha Takia, the scenes with Anil Kapoor contemplating a choice between his marriage and his new girlfriend – they’re way too long and quite unnecessary.

Now since Love Actually is the basic reference point for this film, remember that film covered much of the same ground, spanning just as many love stories, all in two hours. Salaam-e-Ishq, meanwhile, unfolds over three and a half long hours.

As is the case with almost all films, you can trace most of Salaam-e-Ishq‘s weaknesses back to its script. From adultery and commitment phobia to inter-racial romance, even a Hindu-Muslim angle thrown in — the writers try to pack in way too much all at once.

As a result, what happens is that there’s not enough time to soak in what you’ve just seen and to respond accordingly. The film switches so fast from one track to the next that you really can’t absorb and empathise with the characters. You want to shed a tear for John Abraham because he’s become a stranger to his wife. You want to reach out to Juhi Chawla and tell her it’s going to be okay. But barely do you utter these words, that you’ve been abruptly transported into the next story, and then the next, and the next and the next.

Of the six individual tracks, I’m going to say the weakest of the lot is the Salman Khan–Priyanka story which sets off as a spoof but loses its direction somewhere along the way. As an item girl who’ll do anything to land her first speaking part, Priyanka hams it up, and how! It doesn’t help that Salman Khan seems to be doing pretty much what he wants and how he wants. Carelessly written, that track comes down like a house of cards because it fails to find its groove.

Other inconsistencies include the whole premise of Vidya Balan’s memory loss, also that entire scene in Lahore which suggests that John’s proposal to Vidya was televised and filmed live on a news channel, even Anjana Sukhani’s insta-attraction to Anil Kapoor.

Now having listed all its flaws, it’s only fair to admit that there are several moments in this film that are pure genius. Like Sohail Khan and Isha Koppikar’s track, which if you ask me, is the most hilarious of the film’s six tracks. As the just-married Punjabi couple struggling to consummate their marriage, Sohail and Isha are top class, and it’s a pity their story doesn’t get as much screen time as the others.

Also commendable is the manner in which Advani wraps up John and Vidya’s track, suggesting that their love story really starts where the film ends. But my favourite of the six love stories in Salaam-e-Ishq is Govinda and Shannon Esra’s.

Advani gives us some beautiful moments between the couple who’re at sea trying to communicate with each other in a language the other doesn’t follow.

Salaam-e-Ishq is not a bad film, it’s really not. Apart from its daunting length and those holes in the script, there’s much to enjoy in Advani’s film. For one, John and Vidya’s track is heartwarming and beautiful, and has some lovely moments that will leave you with a lump in your throat. Akshaye Khanna as the groom-to-be who gets cold feet at the eleventh hour delivers a commendable performance, as does Anil Kapoor who plays a man who’s getting naughty at forty. The young lady he gets naughty with — Anjana Sukhani is a fabulous find who plays her role so convincingly, you’re ready to get naughty with her yourself.

It’s to the director’s credit that he ties up all stories competently, leaving nothing incomplete and with no character feeling cheated.

Because we don’t have a rating in between two and three to signify an above-average film, I’m going to go with two out of five for director Nikhil Advani’s Salaam-e-Ishq.

Go watch it because they’ve already lopped off some 15 minutes of the film, and watch it because it’s got good music, a battery of top stars, and moments that will make you laugh and cry. No film is perfect, and Salaam-e-Ishq is no exception. But entertainment it delivers in reasonable doses.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 26, 2007

Hard truth

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:17 pm

January 26, 2007

Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Sarika, Parzan Dastur

Director: Rahul Dholakia

For at least a few days after I attended a screening of Parzania, I couldn’t stop talking about the film to everyone I met. It may not be the greatest film I’ve seen, and it’s not the kind of film I could watch over and over again. And yet, it’s a film I’ll recommend to as many people I can.

Directed by Rahul Dholakia, Parzania is a film set in post-Godhra Gujarat, about an innocent family whose sanctity and peace is lost forever, after the horrifying communal riots of 2002. Based on a true incident, the film follows the story of a Parsi couple Cyrus and Shernaz Peethawala, played by Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika, whose 10-year-old son goes missing in the riots.

The film tracks the couple’s repeated and continuing efforts to find their boy who seems to have vanished without a trace. The film also sheds light on the manner in which everyone from politicians to the police exploited that climate for their own personal benefit.

The thing about Parzania that makes it so relevant is the fact that such a tragedy could strike anyone. Worse still is the not entirely unjustified fear that we live in a country where a situation like Godhra and the riots that ensued could happen all over again. What you appreciate most about Dholakia’s film is its completely balls-out approach to be as upfront, honest and factual as possible, without mincing words, without trying to sugarcoat and without trying to soft-peddle the truth.

Having said that, it’s also true that Dholakia steers clear of sensationalism, and that whole beating-the-chest style of grabbing attention. Dholakia tells the story as it is, and because the story itself is so tragic, it doesn’t need to be dramatised for effect.

Now there’s no doubt that Parzania will throw up many questions about important issues like religious intolerance and communal polarisation, but sitting in that seat watching that film unfold, what you’ll find yourself being drawn into is the heart-wrenching human story that forms the film’s real core. Who cannot identify with the pain and suffering of a mother whose son is nowhere to be found? Who cannot relate to the helplessness of a man whose family is uprooted for no fault of theirs?

There’s no doubt whatsoever that much of Parzania‘s appeal lies in the superlative performances delivered by its protagonist pair. Naseeruddin Shah makes Cyrus Peethawala such a flesh-and-blood character that you can relate to his trauma completely. As a desperate father looking for his missing son amidst a heap of corpses, pleading to corrupt police officers, turning to faith to see him through difficult times, Naseer plays the part with instinct, bringing the kind of believability that only great actors can strum up. However it’s Sarika who truly steals the show, infusing her character with a next-door-housewife kind of authenticity, and then she backs it up with such spontaneous passion as the angry mother unwilling to give up the search. It’s a performance that stays with you long after the lights come back on.

I recommend Parzania because it documents a shameful chapter out of a past that cannot be erased. It’s a film that must be watched because it’s important to see what happens to innocent people when religious politics take over. I’m impressed by Parzania also because director Dholakia spares us the sermonising. Instead, he vents his own feelings through that character of the American student who hammers out diatribe after angry diatribe on his rusty typewriter, condemning the fanatical fire fueled by a selfish government.

There is great beauty also in the film’s title, derived from the name of the imaginary world that little Parzan creates for his sister and himself. I’m going to go with three out of five and a suggestion not to miss Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania, a chilling story about real human loss in the face of communal violence. It’s like that bolt of electricity that’s sometimes needed to shake you up and wake you up.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 19, 2007

Not worth the risk

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:30 pm

January 19, 2007

Cast: Randeep Hooda, Vinod Khanna, Tanushree Dutta, Seema Biswas

Director: Vishram Sawant

Now the thing about director Vishram Sawant’s Risk is that you’ve seen it all before. It’s the story of an upright cop played by Randeep Hooda, who will go to any lengths — and I mean any lengths — to bring down the underworld, and in particular, one exiled don, Vinod Khanna.

Now between two of Ramgopal Varma’s genius underworld sagas Satya and Company and Sawant’s own previous film D, we’ve seen just about everything there is to see about the sometimes fragile relationship between the underworld and the police. As a result, Risk covers absolutely no new ground. What’s odd is, while watching the film you get the distinct feeling that the director isn’t even trying to involve you in the plot, because there’s hardly any plot to speak of. He kind of expects that you get the drift because you’ve seen all the earlier films of the same genre, and he attempts to woo you with his compelling style of storytelling instead.

In all fairness, Sawant uses both cinematography and editing assertively, giving you images and sequences that are original and memorable. Unfortunately however, even his strong command over the technical departments can’t make up for the misery you must endure in the name of plot.

No review of Risk can be complete without a mention of its violent scenes. Now I don’t usually have a problem with violence if it’s integral to the plot of the film, and to be fair, a film like this about an encounter specialist cop is bound to have its fair share of blood and gore. Despite being prepared for that, I still came away thinking Risk is just way too gruesome, and that a lot of the violence in this film is simply gratuitous. The shootout scenes in this film aren’t your typical Bollywood action scenes to which — quite frankly — nobody ever bats an eyelid because they’re so unreal and so obviously choreographed. But the violence in Risk is a lot more raw and realistic. And because it’s backed up by such superior sound design, you can hear every stab so clearly — you can pretty much feel the metal piercing flesh. Every single gunshot echoes in your ear. Now in a more sensible film, I wouldn’t raise any objection, but the problem with Risk is that it’s one of the most pointless films I’ve seen in a long, long time.

The feeling that you’re overcome with as you sit trapped in your seat watching Risk is one of immense anger. I say anger because this film insults your intelligence for having no plot at all. It tests your patience with scene after scene of violent killings. It moves at a breakneck pace, yet it fails to hold your interest, and what’s worse of all is the fact that it’s actually quite decently shot.

Yes I have to say that Vishram Sawant may be a poor storyteller, but he’s got talent when it comes to creating a look for his film. And that, I must confess I observed even while watching his last film D. The sad thing is that he’s obviously suffering from a Ramgopal Varma hangover, but somebody please tell him that we’ve had enough of these underworld dramas, specially if you have nothing new to tell us.

Like his mentor Ramgopal Varma, the director of Risk, Vishram Sawant also picks his actors carefully. He assembles an impressive line-up to play integral roles, but alas, without a script to fall back on, most of these characters just flit in and out of scenes unable to justify either their purpose or their presence on screen. Of the principal cast, Vinod Khanna is in good form, but surely he could have found a better film to make a comeback with. Risk, unfortunately, offers him very little scope to show what he’s really made of. Not surprisingly, it’sRandeep Hooda who makes a big impression in this film. He has a screen-presence that’s hard to ignore, and there’s an earnestness in his performance that comes shining through.

In the end, whatever little talent and skill that’s up on display in this film seems like such a waste after all, because Risk is an exercise in futility. So that’s a thumbs down for Vishram Sawant’s Risk. I could use the obvious pun here saying go watch this film at your own risk, but let me just say that the body count that stacks up on screen is matched only by the body count of bored and angry people who’ll no doubt pass out after a screening of Risk. It’s avoidable at all costs.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 12, 2007

Capitalist calling

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:34 pm

January 12, 2007

Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Mithun Chakraborty, R Madhavan, Vidya Balan

Director: Mani Ratnam

From start to finish, from opening credits to end roll, director Mani Ratnam’s new film Guru is a more-or-less accurate documentation of late industrialist and Reliance Industries founder Dhirubhai Ambani’s life. All key incidents and several significant characters from Ambani’s rags-to-riches life-story are recreated in Ratnam’s film, with the occasional cinematic liberties thrown in.

Guru is after all, the story of an ambitious, middle-class man who had big dreams, a man who would stop at nothing to realise his dreams, a man often accused of using morally questionable means to achieve his goals.

Guru is the story of a man who believed not only in personal growth and personal success, but in empowering the very people who contributed to his success. A man who understood that the growth of an enterprise, a company, a corporation must reflect not only in its owner’s personal growth and success, but in the growth and success of its every shareholder.

You see, the similarities to Ambani’s life are far too many to be simply dismissed as coincidences. And yet Mani Ratnam insists Guru is no biopic of Dhirubhai Ambani. Then again, perhaps the filmmaker is just protecting himself and his film. Remember what happened years ago when word spread that a character in his film Bombay was inspired by Bal Thackeray?

As is the case with most Mani Ratnam films that are centred around seemingly larger themes — Roja,BombayDil SeKannathil MutthamitalAlaiypayuthe — Guru too, is on one level a love story. And here, in the case of Gurubhai Desai and his unflinchingly supportive wife Sujata, played by Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai respectively, it’s a beautiful, intimate, playful, passionate love story.

I mean, think about it, who else but Mani Ratnam could film a bedroom scene playfully? A grown couple in bed, husband gets frisky, next thing you know they’re smacking each other mischievously, and what a moment it makes for.

Now I know I’m stating the obvious when I say that nobody shoots songs the way Mani Ratnam does, but really it’s once again true in Guru. Whether its Mallika Sherawat’s item song set in Turkey, or Aishwarya’s introduction number, every song is part of the narrative and is used specifically to continue the story. But if there’s one song that sticks out like a sore thumb, then it’s that celebration number in the second half, right after the couple have become parents. It’s a song that doesn’t fit into the narrative and only slackens the film’s pace because it’s so purposeless.

The beauty of Mani Ratnam’s cinema is truly in its unpredictability. How he infuses humour or just creates wonderful moments out of the most ordinary situations. Look at that confrontation scene right before intermission. The one between Guru and his mentor, newspaper magnate Maneck Dasgupta, played by Mithun Chakraborty – it’s a scene, which in a film by any other director, would have been treated as a loud, screaming match, but here Mani Ratnam treats it gently, and yet he doesn’t lose the gravity of the moment.

My favourite scene in this film is the one in which Guru visits the home of the journalist who’s hell-bent on bringing him down. Once there, he discovers that the reporter, played by R Madhavan is married to his very dear friend, one who has a very special place in Guru’s heart. It’s an awkward moment between the three of them, and no doubt it’s now a complex relationship he shares with this journalist. But you have to see the simplicity and the beauty with which the director treats this scene.

It’s moments like these that hold together the film and your interest in it, even when the screenplay begins to drag.

The film’s second half moves at a sluggish pace, but I’m not sure how much Mani Ratnam can be blamed for that. You have to understand two things here: One, passage of time is always difficult to show on film. And two, it is after all the story of a man’s life, you can’t expect high-drama at every corner.

The mark of any good film — remember this always — is when all departments blend together seamlessly and no one department stands out from among the others. How many times have you felt that a film hasn’t worked for you, but the camerawork really impressed you? Or the music stood out? The thing about Guru and about most films by Mani Ratnam is the consistency in its technical quality.

Having said that, I’m still going to point out that Rajiv Menon’s cinematography is imaginative and also remarkable in the manner in which it effortlessly alternates depending on the mood — from eye-watering splendor in Aishwarya’s rain song, to dramatic swish-pans in the court scenes, to the lavish, epic-scale trolley movements each time a train pulls into a station.

As for the music, what can one say about A R Rahman’s score that hasn’t been said before, except that he seems to reserve his most versatile best for Mani Ratnam.

Of the film’s cast, Mithun Chakraborty playing the Gandhian newspaper baron, deserves mention for the dignity which he brings to the part, one that’s clearly inspired by Indian Express founder Ramnath Goenka. The actor in this film who truly blew my mind, is Aishwarya Rai. There is a silent grace, quiet nobility to her performance, which I have to admit I’ve never seen before. I think it can be safely said here that she’s truly a director’s actress. It’s very evident that Mani Ratnam is neither overwhelmed by her beauty, not intimidated by her star power and perhaps that’s why he treats her character so regularly.

Of course the film belongs to Abhishek Bachchan, the protagonist, Guru himself. And in all honesty, Abhishek rises to the challenge like never before. With varied expressions, with a change of gait, with studied body language, Abhishek plays both the younger Guru and the older man so impressively that you cannot help admit this is the best he’s been, in years.

Now if you want me to nit-pick, then I’ll admit the film as a whole, isn’t free of flaws. The climax, in my opinion, is a tad weak, and there are enough indulgences that could have been avoided. But still, Guru is an experience you must enjoy. Few filmmakers can translate their personal vision onto screen the way Mani Ratnam can. So that’s two thumbs up for Guru. It’s a must-watch for all.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 5, 2007

Girl trouble

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:37 pm

January 05, 2007

Cast: Rekha, Mahima Chaudhary, Vasundhara Das, Kim Sharma, Ashmit Patel

Director: Amar Butala

What a way to usher in 2007! As you can see, a brand new year at the movies is kick-started by the chick-flick Kudiyon Ka Hai Zamaana. Directed by Amar Butala, the film stars Rekha, Mahima Chaudhary, Vasundhara Das and Kim Sharma as four Sex & The City-style gal pals who bond over champagne at their beauty salon and rib each other endlessly about their respective partners.

Of this foursome only Mahima Chaudhary is still single, insisting she won’t tie the knot until next year when she turns – guess what, 25!

The other three bet her she’ll be married while she’s still 24, and without her knowledge they together plot to introduce her to an eligible bachelor each, all three individually confident that theirs will be the man Mahima will choose over the others.

The lady in question however, falls for sensitive singer Ashmit Patel, even as the three men picked by her three friends attempt to woo her incessantly. Things take an ugly turn when Mahima discovers the bets her friends have placed behind her back, and when she figures Ashmit, too, may have been a set-up by one of her own darling friends.

Less than five minutes into this film and you know that it’s exactly the kind of picture that expects you to abandon your sense of logic and reason, and just submit yourself to the inane premise that it’s built on. To be quite honest, I have no problem doing that, and you shouldn’t either.

As long as the jokes make you laugh, there’s no reason to complain. So despite the fact that Mahima looks more like Ashmit’s older sister than his love interest, and despite the fact that Ashmit’s dance steps resemble a workout regime, and despite the fact that neither Vasundhara nor Kim Sharma can act out one scene convincingly, you’re still going with the flow because your expectations from this film are so low that even the marginally funny scenes uplift your spirits considerably.

Like that one in which Kim Sharma picks the most eligible guy from her husband’s workplace and gives him a make-over before he shows up to impress Mahima. Or even that one in which Mahima goes on an ill-fated date with the same bumbling bald guy.

It’s unquestionably post intermission – after you’ve returned to your seat with the samosas and popcorn that the film abruptly takes a different track. It’s like sitting in a car that’s gone from fourth gear to second gear without any warning.

The comedy is suddenly replaced by serious emotional drama, so just when you were beginning to get used to the nonsensical humour, you’re expected to wipe that silly smile off your face and shed a tear instead for the film’s supposedly sentimental portions.

And that’s where they’ve finally lost you, because there’s really nothing in the plot that works as an emotional hook. Certainly not that awful dramatic scene in the second half where Rekha breaks down before her friends and makes some startling confessions.

Now no review of Kudiyon Ka Hai Zamaana can be complete without the mention of the film’s most integral element, its costumes.

It’s very clear that Mahima Chaudhary has raided the wardrobe of a fourteen-year-old, as you watch her trying to breathe in those short skirts and bikini tops that are evidently three sizes too small.

In fact, I suspect there’s a contest going on between Mahima and Kim Sharma, both threatening to burst out of their clothes before the other. That contest, incidentally, is won hands down by Mahima Chaudhary whose abundantly sized bosom fills up the screen so many times and in such tight close-ups, that you’re convinced the film’s cameraman was way too distracted by it.

If the plot’s bad, the performances by the principal cast are equally embarrassing.

Even with her squeaky voice dubbed, Kim Sharma is quite unbearable as she giggles and titters endlessly, contorting her face every time she wants to show anger or joy or humour.

Just as incompetent but a little less annoying is Vasundhara Das who has one vacant expression on her face throughout the film.

Ashmit Patel, the male lead in this film, has got to be the most stiff actor in Bollywood. I’ve seen wooden doors that are capable of showing more expressions than he does.

Saddled with such a doomed script and an ensemble of the worst co-actors one could ever possibly find, both Rekha and Mahima Chaudhary are unable to make much of a mark. Particularly Rekha who gives the word “hamming” a whole new meaning as she goes way over the top with both her comedy and her dramatic scenes. I seriously hope she’s hiding in a corner somewhere, cringing away as she sees what she’s unleashed on screen. In Kudiyon Ka Hai Zamaana Rekha even sings a song herself although most of it sounds like heavy breathing if you ask me.

So, I guess it’s a thumbs down for Amar Butala’s Kudiyon Ka Hai Zamaana. It’s one of those films that’s so bad, it actually ends up entertaining you. In fact, I’ll recommend it to everyone who’s hooked on to those afternoon soaps on television.

Believe me Kudiyon Ka Hai Zamaana provides a similar kind of mindless, moronic entertainment.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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