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

February 23, 2007

Goa, goa, gone!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:01 pm

February 23, 2007

Cast: Shabana Azmi, Boman Irani, Kay Kay Menon, Raima Sen, Amisha Patel, Abhay Deol, Minisha Lamba, Ranvir Shorey, Dia Mirza, Sandya Mridul

Director: Reema Kagti

Give me a quirky little film by a new director and chances are I’m going to fall for it. A new voice and a new storytelling format – what more can you ask for? It’s what drew me to films like Hyderabad Blues, Jhankaar Beats, Dil Chahta Hai, and Khosla Ka Ghoslaamong others. Which is why I’ve really been looking forward to Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd by debutant Reema Kagti.

Now this film’s about a road trip actually, a bus journey to Goa that’s taken by six honeymooning couples who’re just about getting to know each other. That’s pretty much all I can tell you about this film, because that’s pretty much there is to this film — I don’t mean that in a negative sense, but clearly this is a character-driven story so if you’re looking for a plot, or a conventional three-act structure then you’re looking in the wrong place.

As the couples in this film start getting to know each other better, some pleasant, some unpleasant truths come tumbling out. For us in the audience, watching this film unspool, what we’re getting really is a character study, a glimpse at human nature — yes, that’s really what this film is about. People, what they seem like on the outside, and what they really are on the inside.

What I enjoyed most about Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd were its characters. Despite the fact that director Reema Kagti plays upon the oldest clichés and reinforces lots of stereotypes when she gives you such typical caricatures as the inseparable Parsi couple, the conservative Bengali husband or the very determined Punjabi bride, what you cannot deny is the fact that all these characters are relatable in some way or the other.

Of course, because it’s the characters driving the film, it’s up to the actors playing the leads to draw you into their lives in order to keep you engaged. Abhay Deol and Minisha Lamba playing Aspi and Zara, the made-for-each-other Parsi couple, are exceptionally entertaining as they go from “oh they’re so cute” to “god, they’re so irritatingly perfect”. For years we’ve complained about Amisha Patel’s theatrical, over-the-top kind of acting, but in this film that works in her favour since she’s cast as a spoilt, talkative, dreamy-eyed romantic who can’t stop fussing over her meek husband played by Karan Khanna. Vikram Chatwal as the NRI who marries Sandhya Mridul for all the wrong reasons could do with some acting lessons, in fact he could take them from Sandhya herself who’s a fine actor.

Ranvir Shorey and Dia Mirza as the doomed Gujarati couple are first-rate but it’s a pity they have such little screen time. Pity because Ranvir just steals the show every moment that he’s on screen and you can’t seem to understand why they’d terminate his character so early in the story. One of my favourite couples in the film are the Bengali newly-weds Kay Kay Menon and Raima Sen, perhaps the only couple who really go through a relationship arc in the film as they deal with insecurities and other personal issues and finally come out knowing each other much better. Both Kay Kay and Raima perform superbly, like real flesh and blood characters in a heap of somewhat cardboard caricatures.

And finally, there’s Boman Irani and Shabana Azmi as the oldest couple of honeymooners, who’re just a class apart for the depth, the believability and the emotional resonance they are able to find in their roles. A word here has to be said for Boman Irani who not only physically transforms himself into Oscar Fernandes, but actually becomes the character courtesy the little nuances, the accent, the dialogue delivery that he invests into the role.

Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd starts off as a joyride filled with beautiful little moments that suggest the lady at the helm, director Reema Kagti is an observant and perceptive writer. Like the scene in which Kay Kay Menon encourages his wife Raima to indulge her desire to go parasurfing in a saree, and then gets all embarrassed when her saree comes loose mid-air. Or then the scene between Boman and Shabana where he grabs her and kisses her impulsively in the middle of the street right after a teary memory.

It’s little moments like these, peppered throughout the film that really make you smile because they’re heartfelt and funny. But about forty minutes into the film, you notice the director’s losing her grip on the story. The whole track about one husband hiding his superhero identity from his wife, then being pleasantly surprised when she makes a revelation of her own is just ridiculous. I’m sorry, that doesn’t fit into this film. Funny it may be, but it sticks out like a sore thumb because this isn’t one of those suspend-your-disbelief kind of fantasy films.

Even the gay angle – I’ll buy the bit about the guy who gets married as a front, but then the bit about the second guy finding himself being attracted to this one – that’s a bit too far-fetched. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it can’t happen. I’m just saying it seems like it’s been forced into the film. Which brings me to what I think is the real problem with this picture. I think the director started off on the right note but didn’t know how to tie it all up. I think she may have felt like she’s established her characters, but now what, so let’s try to add some drama. Sadly, it’s here where she loses her audience because everytime she shifts the spotlight from her main characters and their relationships, she ends up taking the wrong step.

Like the whole angle of Boman’s rebellious daughter, or the Gujarati girl who elopes with her lover and how that track reunites with the main story. All of these portions seem forced and unnecessary and they don’t fit in easily into the screenplay.

Because it’s a fairly original premise and because most actors perform competently, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd isn’t exactly an ordeal to endure. It does help that the film’s only about two hours long, so even the portions that jar don’t exactly drive you to desperate measures.

There are many moments of pleasure to be derived from this film, but in the end when you leave the cinema, you feel like you don’t exactly know where this film was heading. An ending that’s too abrupt, a narrative that goes haywire midway, and a sense of confusion looming large over the second half — it’s problems like these that come in the way of this film realizing its full potential.

I’m going to go with two out of five for Reema Kagti’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd. You won’t hate it, but don’t expect to come out dancing. It’s a strictly average film that could have been so much more.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 16, 2007

Lets its guard down

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:05 pm

February 16, 2007

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Vidya Balan, Jackie Shroff, Boman Irani

Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra

Filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya is a tale of honour and duty and palace intrigue, and its all set within the walls of a majestic fort in Rajasthan. The royal family still lives here, but with no kingdom to rule. Yet the royal guard Eklavya — played by Amitabh Bachchan — has only one mission. Like nine generations before him, he lives only to protect the king, his family and the fort. When the queen passes away, her son, the prince, Saif Ali Khan who’s been living in London, returns to the palace, but only to discover a shocking truth that has been kept away from him since birth. Meanwhile, Saif’s father, the king, Boman Irani under the influence of his conniving brother Jackie Shroff, turns a blind eye towards the injustice meted out to his people.

There’s chaos in the palace halls as jealousy, betrayal and murder take over, and closely-guarded secrets come tumbling out of everywhere.

Despite the fact that it’s an entirely original plot, and that Chopra chooses such an original backdrop against which he unfolds his story, you have to admit, his screenplay doesn’t have that “grab value” required to hold your attention. At least two of the film’s big surprises turn out to be predictable and the film’s central debate is just too weak. According to Hindu mythology, Eklavya the archer unhesitatingly cut off his thumb as a fee to his teacher, and Chopra’s film questions that act of Eklavya’s.

But problem is, the screenplay fails miserably in building up this conflict. In fact, the screenplay plods along lazily and wastes too much time on Saif and Vidya Balan’s romance.

In virtually every department other than script, Chopra’s Eklavya is a work of art. Magnificent sets, picture-postcard cinematography, haunting score and remarkable performances by lead players. It’s a pity the story just doesn’t hold. You’re unable to empathise with the characters or connect to the plot because the conflict at the heart of the film has been treated in such a wishy-washy manner. There’s much cinematic beauty up on display, but at its core, the film has little to offer.

Of the cast, Sanjay Dutt is splendid as the roguish cop, but the film belongs to Amitabh Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan who with their inspired performances infuse some energy into the lifeless narrative.

What do you expect when you enter a cinema to watch a film? To be transported to another world for those few hours, to find yourself engaged in the protagonist’s story, to come out having made a journey. And it’s here where Eklavya really fails. Far from keeping you glued to your seat, involved in the story, Chopra’s film bores you enormously because you really don’t know where it’s all leading up to and quite frankly, halfway through the film, you don’t even care.

How long can pretty sets and stunning action scenes hold your interest? How long can you struggle to comprehend what Bachchan’s mumbling under his monstrous beard?

A big disappointment from an accomplished filmmaker, Eklavya goes down as a gross miscalculation. It’s a shot in the dark that fails to hit the mark. I’m going to go with two out of five, a just about average rating for Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya. It’s like a lavish meal that’s a treat to the eye, but taste it and you discover that something vital is missing.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 9, 2007

Bombay burning

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:10 pm

February 09, 2007

Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Pawan Malhotra, Akash Srivastava, Vijay Maurya

Director: Anurag Kashyap

This week I watched Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday, a film about the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai, and I’ve decided it’s one of the best films I’ve watched in recent years.

The film is based on journalist Hussain Zaidi’s heavily researched book by the same name, and what makes Black Friday so controversial – and the reason why it was such a battle to bring this film to screen – is because it takes names. It’s a brave film that documents exactly what happened, based on extensive research and interviews. No names have been changed, no imaginary characters have been created.

The film centers around police commissioner Rakesh Maria’s investigations on the blasts. We learn that the blasts were executed by Tiger Memon on the instruction of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.

The remarkable thing about this film is that the director makes a concentrated effort to provide us several points of view including those of Rakesh Maria, Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Memon, and one of main bombers Baadshah Khan.

Now you need to understand, it’s never easy doing justice to so many viewpoints, it’s always tricky because you tend to suffocate the voice of some characters, while the others get a glowing presence. But that’s not the case in Black Friday. Anurag Kashyap manages to tell each character’s story quite well and he even succeeds in capturing what’s going on in their heads.

Just look at the way he translates the restlessness and subsequently the feeling of betrayal that bomber Baadshah Khan feels after he’s planted the bombs and fled from Mumbai. We tend to use the word ‘realistic’ very generously when we’re talking about films. We describe Madhur Bhandarkar and Nagesh Kukunoor as realistic filmmakers, but truth is most of their films are exaggerated to a great degree to create drama.Now of course that’s not a bad thing, because it’s the drama that grips you and engages you in most of their films.

But if you want to see what realism is really about, then Black Friday is the perfect example because Anurag Kashyap shoots the film in actual locations and he shoots it in such a natural, everyday manner that you feel like you’re watching the news and not a feature.

It can’t be easy recreating the Bombay of fourteen years ago, before the mobile phone revolution, before the satellite invasion, before the city was plastered with hoardings. But Kashyap does it all so well. He takes these crane shots in a manner that you’re looking down at the goings-on in these chawls and these bastis, he uses lighting so well, especially in those mono-chromatic interrogation scenes.

The actual blast scenes are shot in such a languid style, exactly the way a bystander would have experienced it – a sudden explosion disturbing the everyday routine of life in that location.

One cannot say enough about the actors cast to play all the central roles in this film. Kay Kay Menon as Rakesh Maria is just spectacular, as are Pawan Malhotra playing Tiger Memon and Akash Srivastava playing Baadshah Khan. The resemblance that Vijay Maurya bears to Dawood Ibrahim can only be described as frighteningly close, and the scene in which Dawood is first introduced to us in the film, is nothing short of genius. To be honest, it’s not just the leads, but every single actor even in bit roles who bring so much to the film.

Kashyap uses music magnificently, and the haunting rhythms of Indian Ocean truly reverberate, especially in the film’s closing credits.

You know, very few films are able to balance solid content with technical superiority, and Black Friday is definitely one of those rare films that succeeds in transporting you to its world while you’re in the cinema watching the film. The real success of Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday lies in the fact that unlike some other very good underworld films, it doesn’t sensationalise, nor glorify crime and violence. The director doesn’t shoot the film dramatically, yet there is so much drama in the plot that it feels like a roller-coaster ride.

Remember, it’s a film that doesn’t shy away from pointing fingers. Now although much of the credit for that must go to the source material – Hussain Zaidi’s book – you cannot deny that film brings to life that horrible incident so much more effectively than words on a page. If there is a problem that I have with the film, it is the fact that it is too long. Post intermission, Black Friday drags its feet and you find your attention wavering. About a half-hour shorter, this film would have been magnificent. As it is, in all its two-hours-forty-minute glory, it is still quite fantastic.

Believe me, no film yet has brought me so close to giving it a five out of five rating, but because it’s just a little short of greatness, I’m going to go with four of five for Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday. Please don’t dismiss it as a boring art film, don’t confuse it for a documentary, it’s a dramatic feature that will rock your boat. This is the kind of film to send to the Oscars. This is what we need to show, we’re capable of.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 2, 2007

Roadside mess

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:14 pm

February 02, 2007

Cast: Kunal Khemu, Neetu Chandra, Konkona Sensharma, Ranvir Shorey

Director: Madhur Bhandarkar

Sitting in that darkened cinema hall, watching Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal, I felt like someone had slapped me across the face really hard. I think most people who will pay to watch this film will come away feeling cheated because it’s very clear that there’s nothing to this film. No plot, no treatment, no performances.

The director has said that it’s his final chapter in his trilogy of expose films after Page 3 and Corporate, but if you ask me, the only thing that Bhandarkar exposes with Traffic Signal is himself. I refuse to believe there was ever a script for this film, I’m guessing they just shot whatever came to their mind on the set.

Give a handicam to a 15-year-old, and I’m willing to bet he’ll make a better film than this. And it’s not like Bhandarkar isn’t talented, it’s not like he doesn’t know how to tell a story. Chandni Bar was a deeply moving film, even Page 3 was quite clever in parts. But Traffic Signal just seems like a dishonest attempt on Bhandarkar’s part to cash in on his reputation as a filmmaker of small, realistic pictures.

It’s hard to explain what this film is about, because it’s about nothing, quite frankly. Set in a busy, crowded part of Mumbai, the film follows the lives of all those people who live and work around a traffic signal, and whose livelihood depends in many ways on that traffic signal.

So the protagonists of this film are beggars, flower-sellers, pavement dwellers, prostitutes, eunuchs and drug addicts. I think the point that Bhandarkar may have been trying to drive through this film is that even begging is an industry today, a well-networked business that’s linked to the underworld, to the police and to politicians in power.

I wish he’d realised however, that most people who read the papers and who follow the news would know of the beggar mafia already, so he’s not really exposing anything here because it’s an old truth, yesterday’s news actually, one that people are aware of and have made peace with unfortunately. Yet, I think that had Bhandarkar told that story with some passion and some real drama, you might have been moved. But sadly, he tells the story so impassionately and so indifferently that you find yourself as unaffected by it as he himself seems to be.

Evidently Traffic Signal is not so much a plot-driven film as it is a character-driven picture. And Bhandarkar creates a motley group of oddballs to suck you into the story. Like the dark-skinned beggar boy who spends most of his earnings on fairness cream, or the druggie who’s fallen for a hooker but is too stoned to tell her, or the eunuchs who complain that there are beauty pageants for men and for women but nothing for their lot. Or then the little rag-picker who pours his earnings into long-distance telephone calls to inquire for any news on his parents who were separated from him in the tsunami.

These characters Bhandarkar manages to create convincingly, investing them with some believability. But he fails so badly with most others whom he turns into mere caricatures. Like that middle-aged businessman’s buxom but bickering trophy wife who taunts him about his sexual inadequacies every time their Mercedes pulls up at the traffic light.

Listing the flaws in this film would take me all day, but to put it briefly, the problem with Bhandarkar’s new film is that it’s going in no particular direction because it’s following no particular blueprint. In the absence of a screenplay, the plot just meanders endlessly till you’re exhausted by all the going around in circles.

In the end you’re expected to feel sympathy and sorrow for this oddball bunch who’ll no doubt be displaced when the traffic light’s been demolished. But because the director fails to involve you in their lives and fails to connect you with their pain, you feel nothing at all for them.

Of all the actors it’s only Konkona Sensharma who’s able to bring a shred of credibility to her part, while the rest — every single one of them — Kunal Khemu, Ranvir Shorey, newcomer Neetu Chandra and the others fail to rise above the sorry script.

Watching Traffic Signal is like being taken for a ride because it’s one of those slap-dash films that’s made with no sincerity. I think it’s very clear Bhandarkar’s just taking it for granted that whatever he makes will be lapped up by an audience hungry for something different from formula Bollywood films. But someone please tell him he can’t bore us to death with this uninspiring story of clichéd characters and forced humour. So then that’s two thumbs down for Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal. This movie has to be seen to be believed. On second thought, maybe that’s a price too high to pay. You want to see a real film about pavement dwellers, watch Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay. It’s light years ahead of Traffic Signal.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Powered by WordPress