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

February 15, 2008

Romancing the royals

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

February 15, 2008

Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Sonu Sood, Ila Arun, Nikitin Dheer

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker

I’ve never felt this way about any other film, but sitting there in my seat watching Jodhaa Akbar, I felt privileged as a moviegoer. Privileged that such a film had been made, and privileged that it had been made in our times so we can form our own opinions of the film rather than adopt the opinions of previous generations, which we invariably must when looking at older classics.

A drama of epic proportions, Jodhaa Akbar is at its core an intimate love story that’s set against the spectacular sweep of the Mughal era. It’s about the romance that gradually blossoms between Emperor Akbar and his wife Jodhaa, the Rajput princess with whom he enters into a marriage of alliance. It’s also the coming of age story of the greatest Mughal ruler, who goes from a reluctant warrior to a brave and honorable leader and wins over his people with his empathy and his secular outlook.

Magnificently directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, Jodhaa Akbar draws you into its drama just moments into the film, transporting you to the battlefield, to the emperor’s court, to Jodhaa’s private chamber, and most importantly, into the mind and heart of Mohammed Jalaluddin Akbar himself, where he grapples with betrayals and insecurities.

It’s the kind of film that doesn’t quite let go of your attention well after the end credits have rolled some three hours and 20 minutes later.

Much will be said about the film’s daunting length, and truth is, it could have been shorter. I can think of at least two subplots that could have been judiciously trimmed. But having said that, I honestly believe the length of Jodhaa Akbar doesn’t hurt. You are swept into the roller-coaster ride of Akbar’s political and personal growing-up journey, and it’s not often that the screenplay loses its pace.

The film’s best moments are the ones between the protagonist couple. Take that scene in which he catches her sight transfixed on his bare torso, or that sword fight between the couple that’s bubbling with sexual energy. Even that delicate scene in which he reveals to his wife an awkward truth about his education. Or then that moving scene in which he vindicates her honour by demanding to be served his lunch in the same plates she ate out of just moments ago in a tense situation.

Truth is, Jodhaa Akbar works like a dream when it focuses its energies on the relationship between the couple – their little spats, their mischievous moments, his heeding her advice, and the like. As a big, period epic, Jodhaa Akbar has enough drama to keep you engaged – palace intrigue, violent confrontations and impressive battle sequences.

The scenes that stand out for their sheer visceral impact can be ticked off a checklist – first that breathtaking scene in which the emperor tames a wild elephant, also the one in which he gives in to his rage and orders a cruel death to a traitor, and finally that one-on-one combat scene in the climax, inspired no doubt from Troy. These are moments all that stay with you long after you’ve left your seat.

There is ample evidence of the fact that Gowariker once again assembles the perfect team to realise his vision. Kiran Deohans’ cinematography is one of Jodhaa Akbar’s key strengths, and nowhere is that more apparent than the battle scenes which Deohans’ camera captures gloriously, making you feel like you’re right out there where the action is. The visual treatment for the film’s songs is another masterstroke, in particular the eye-watering manner with which he films the Khwaja mere khwaja number, and also the lavish indulgence of the Azeem-o-shaan-shahenshah song.

Then there’s Neeta Lulla’s costumes and Nitin Desai’s sets, both suitably ostentatious, but never once drawing attention away from the drama like they have previously in films like Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas. Of course, Jodhaa Akbar benefits enormously from AR Rahman’s genius score, a collection of the finest, most haunting tunes you can remember recently, my favourites being the unforgettable Jashne Baharaa number and the one-of-a-kind Khwaja mere Khwaja track.

The soul of Jodhaa Akbar however, lies in the superlative acting. Supporting player Nikitin Dheer makes a lasting impression as Akbar’s rebellious brother-in-law, but the film of course belongs to the two leads. As Jodhaa, the sometimes-feisty-sometimes-graceful leading lady, Aishwarya Rai is wonderfully restrained and uses her eyes expertly to communicate so much, making this one of her finest outings on screen.

Hrithik Roshan, as Akbar, oozes confidence and delivers a career-best performance as the unflinching emperor. Not only does he transform physically to become the part, he gets under the emotional skin of the character and makes it his own. I cannot think of any other actor who could play this better.

Fact or fiction, Jodhaa Akbar is an engaging, involving movie-going experience, and puts Gowariker right up there on the very short list of India ‘s finest filmmakers. No prizes for guessing, I’m going with four out of five and two thumbs up for Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar, it’s a modern masterpiece that will be celebrated for years to come.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 8, 2008

Duplicate dilemma

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:26 pm

February 08, 2008

Cast: Kunal Khemu, Tulip Joshi, Sharad Saxena, Reema Lagoo

Director: Rohit Jugraj

Who can’t relate to the neighbourhood kid who’s desperate to become a movie-star at any cost? In director Rohit Jugraj’s Superstar, Kunal Khemu plays that guy-next-door, who much to his father’s disappointment, chooses to spend his time struggling it out as a film extra in dusty studios, rather than take up a respectable nine-to-five job.

A dreamer who sees himself reach for the stars like the Bachchans, the Khans and the Kapoors, reality sadly has a different plan for Kunal, who at best manages to land his few seconds of fame every time the camera lingers just long enough for him to be spotted in the crowd of background dancers, behind the hero. However, his life changes overnight when he’s hired to be the duplicate for a young actor with whom he shares an uncanny resemblance. Before he knows it, he’s up there dancing with the heroine, then beating up the bad guys, all the while the camera fixed on his close-up. But the irony of the situation doesn’t escape him — the only reason he’s been picked out of a crowd to do this job is because he “looks” like the hero!

Dodging clichés and moving at a healthy pace, the screenplay of Superstar shifts gears and goes into predictable territory when it breaks for intermission, ultimately losing whatever ground was covered in the film’s speedy first half. What could have easily been a dramatic story about friendships and egos turns into that mundane tale about obligation and responsibility that you’ve seen several times before.

Neatly directed by Rohit Jugraj, Superstar isn’t entirely unwatchable. In fact, by typical Hindi film standards, it’s an above average film with solid production values and a fantastic performance at its very core. Kunal Khemu anchors this film with such rare maturity, he’s a revelation.

If you leave the cinema with a heavy heart it’s not because the film sucked, no it’s because here’s a film that could have been so much more. So there, I’m going with two out of five for director Rohit Jugraj’s Superstar, give it a chance, you might just be surprised.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Deliciously dark

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:21 pm

February 08, 2008

Cast: Ranvir Shorey, Neha Dhupia, Naseeruddin Shah, Vinay Pathak

Director: Rajat Kapoor

Sometimes just talking about a film spoils the fun of watching it. It’s true what they say about some films — the less you know about it before you go watch it, the better. Rajat Kapoor’s Mithya is exactly that kind of film, so you can understand my dilemma even as I attempt to review the film here.

In a nutshell, Mithya revolves around the life of a struggling Bollywood actor. Ranvir Shorey plays VK, the struggler in question, whose life turns upside down when he gets inadvertently involved with the underworld owing to the striking resemblance he bears to a person they have not-so-noble interests in.

Alas, that’s as little as one can reveal about the film’s plot without giving out spoilers galore. Mithya is one of those rare films that constantly surprises you, it’s one of those films that never stops unravelling, a film that never reveals all its cards at once.

If that’s what you’re looking for on an evening out at the movies — unpredictability, surprise, the unfamiliar — then then Mithya is your best bet. In fact, it’s got more surprises than both Johnny Gaddar and Manorama Six Feet Under. Starting off as a comedy, Mithya straddles several genres as it makes it way from start to finish — thriller, romance, suspense — but eventually it settles comfortably into its identity as a black comedy.

Working off an ingenious screenplay, director Rajat Kapoor delivers a deliciously complex offering — a film about an ordinary man in a bizarre situation, but all the while it remains a story that’s entirely believable because the characters are so real and the situations so cleverly constructed.

Sure you lament the absence of humour in the film’s second half, and it’s true the film seems much longer than its 100-minutes running time, but those are just small hitches in an otherwise immensely engaging film. Much of the credit for realising the director’s vision must go to the ensemble cast, possibly the best assembled for a Hindi film in recent months. Ranvir Shorey, in a performance that merits an impromptu ovation, goes from funny to heart-breaking, to confused, to adorable in a matter of minutes. Never once going over-the-top, in fact staying firmly in character even as the film takes many twists and turns, Ranvir makes your heart go out to VK.

The year has only just begun, but I’m willing to bet, this is easily one of 2008’s finest performances by a leading actor. What’s more seldom has a supporting cast delivered such consistent performances that it’s difficult to pick one over the other in the order of merit — a loud round of applause hence, for Vinay Pathak, Brijendra Kala, Harsh Chhaya, Neha Dhupia, Iravati Harshe, Saurabh Shukla and Naseeruddin Shah who shine in their roles.

Mithya is a brave, mature effort by a discerning director, it’s a film with so many layers, you’re unlikely to be bored. I’m going with four out of five and a recommendation not to miss this film. For every single one of us who complains that Hindi films are mindless and predictable, here comes a film to shut us up. Rajat Kapoor, take a bow!

(This review was first aired on CNN-IBN)

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