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

April 25, 2008

Brothers in arms

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 5:56 pm

April 25, 2008

Cast: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman

Director: Wes Anderson

I can’t think of too many recent American films I’d recommend as strongly as I do The Darjeeling Limited. If you’re familiar with the films of Wes Anderson, then you’ve probably seen this one already, it’s been out on DVD for some time now. But if you haven’t seen it, and even if you aren’t familiar with Wes Anderson’s movies, I’d still suggest you head to the multiplexes this week, it’s a remarkably funny little film with the quirkiest of characters you’re likely to find.

To categorize it quite simply, The Darjeeling Limited is a road movie. It’s about three brothers who haven’t been in touch since the death of their father, who’ve come together for a reunion of sorts in India. The whole trip is the brainchild of Owen Wilson who plays eldest brother Francis Whitman. Gathering his estranged younger brothers Peter and Jack (played by Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman respectively), Francis embarks on a spiritual journey across Rajasthan on board The Darjeeling Limited, a plush Orient Express-style locomotive. The idea is to bring the family closer, to reunite with their mother – who’s living in India as a nun – and to understand the meaning of life. But things don’t quite go according to plan — they never do in Wes Anderson’s films. Just minutes after they climb aboard the train, they’re drinking, smoking, popping pills and stealing each other’s possessions.

The beauty of this film is that by the end, and mostly by accident or destiny, the brothers do come closer, they do meet their mother, and in a sense, they do learn some important lessons about life.

The reason I enjoyed this film so much is because it’s inherently funny and it’s bittersweet at the same time. These are characters that’ll make you laugh but you can understand them and possibly relate to them too. Like most American films shot in India , The Darjeeling Limited also exploits our country for its exotic value, but this time you’re not terribly offended because the tone’s never condescending or humiliating.

It’s an engaging film with marvelous performances by all three leads; it’s the kind of film that makes for a great evening watch with a group of friends. That’s three out of five and a thumbs up for Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, keep your eyes out for a small but meaningful cameo by Irrfan Khan.

My guess is you’re going to want to watch more films by the same director, here’s a tip – start with The Royal Tenenbaums, it’s another little gem.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Style over substance

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 4:04 pm

April 25, 2008

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Anil Kapoor

Director: Vijay Krishna Acharya

The sight of Kareena Kapoor in a two-piece bikini is about the only thing that wakes you up from your sleep while watching Tashan — the mega-disappointing, mind-numbing new film at the cinemas this weekend.

Bad films are bad films and we see some every week, but Tashan is not just a bad film, it’s a terrible film. Terrible because it takes its audience for granted, terrible also because the filmmakers expect to get away without a plot or any common sense only because they’ve got big movie stars onboard.

Written and directed by Vijay Krishna Acharya, Tashan is what you’d describe as a road movie, but one that’s going in all the wrong directions.

Saif Ali Khan stars as Jimmy Cliff, a call-centre executive who’s hired to teach English to Bhaiyyaji – that’s Anil Kapoor playing an ambitious UP gangster, desperate to go cool.

Jimmy’s got his eye on Pooja, the gangster’s pretty young assistant (played by Kareena Kapoor), who uses Jimmy to swindle her boss of 25 crore rupees.

Determined to recover his money and also to punish both Jimmy and Pooja, Bhaiyyaji recruits his most trusted henchman to do the job.

So you have Akshay Kumar as Bachchan Pandey, the gangster’s faithful aide from Kanpur, who tracks down the culprits and recovers the stolen money that’s hidden across the length and breadth of the country.

Much like those bad eighties potboilers, Tashan too is held together by a threadbare script centred on a vendetta plot. But the treatment’s so over-the-top, so indulgent that it fails to establish any connect.

Instead of a coherent screenplay or a traditional three-act structure, you get a handful of set pieces around which most of the scenes are loosely constructed.

That garish item song in the desert, the bullet-dodging action scene at a Rajasthani fort, Kareeena’s bikini moment, even that ridiculous climatic action scene complete with shaolin monks, a water scooter zipping through a dirty naala, and believe it or not, even a Dhanno-style horse-driven tonga.

In all fairness, not all these set pieces are badly done – the item song in the desert is quite neat actually – but very little of it makes any sense in the larger picture, because you’re just going from one piece to another without any help from the script really.

Little do you expect in a seemingly fast-paced road movie, to find a sickeningly sentimental flashback track about childhood sweethearts.

You see the problem with Tashan is nobody associated with this film knew what film they were making. What’s more, I don’t think they cared either – the film reeks of arrogance.

Arbitrarily packing in elements of every genre without actually bothering to stop and see if the mix does work, Tashan is like an overcooked stew.

There are films that kill you softly, and then there’s Tashan, a film that kills you with excess.

Packaged snazzily with glossy-finish camerawork, exotic locations and fancy costumes, every frame of the film probably cost lakhs to put together, but it still feels like a hollow piece in the end because the story doesn’t hold.

Borrowing narrative from Tarantino and style from Stephen Chow doesn’t help either because they don’t blend with the film’s wafer-thin plot. One may have complained a little less if the characters were more engaging, but Anil Kapoor’s grating Hinglish dialogue makes you want to slit your wrists, and Saif Ali Khan fumbles through the film foolishly, unable to find his feet.

Kareena Kapoor, meanwhile, queen of over-the-top delivery, does a decent job. But of course, if Tashanis salvaged to some extent, it’s thanks to Akshay Kumar’s irresistible presence and his spontaneous approach to the character.

You cringe when he’s cupping his crotch repeatedly, and you scowl when he delivers those double-meaning dialogues, but not for a moment can you take your eyes off the screen when he’s up there.

Despite some good music from Vishal-Shekhar, the songs seem like they’re only prolonging your misery. Well that’s because Tashan is a test of your patience.

I’m going to go with one out of five and a thumbs down for director Vijay Krishna Acharya’s Tashan.

In case you didn’t know, Tashan means style. I’m sorry to say, this film has none.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 18, 2008

Noble intentions

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 4:08 pm

April 18, 2008

Cast: Mahima Chaudhary, Anupam Kher, Vikram Chatwal, Amit Sial

Director: Tanuja Chandra

As far as intentions go, director Tanuja Chandra’s Hope & A Little Sugar has its heart in the right place. Set in New York just weeks before 9/11 happened, it’s the story of an Indian family shattered by personal loss, but more precisely, it’s a lesson in overcoming our prejudices.

Newcomer Amit Sial plays Ali Siddique, a struggling photographer in Manhattan who pays his bills working as a delivery boy. He shares a close friendship with married couple Saloni and Harry Oberoi (played by Mahima Chaudhary and Vikram Chatwal) who belong to a traditional Sikh family headed by Harry’s father (Anupam Kher) who, well after his retirement from the army, continues to be affectionately addressed as Colonel.

When Harry is killed in the events of September 11th, his family is naturally devastated. And Colonel, not finding anyone else to blame, directs his anger and his hatred for Muslims towards Ali, in whose arms his recently widowed daughter-in-law seems to have found comfort.

A victim of ethnic violence himself, Ali prepares to retaliate to the Colonel’s attacks.

In what can perhaps be described as the best scene in the film — also the turning point in Hope & A Little Sugar — a group of angry Americans mistake the turbaned Colonel as belonging to the same community he despises so much. They call him ‘Osama’ and beat him up.

It’s a particularly powerful scene, especially if you consider the Colonel’s tirade against Ali, only a few scenes earlier where he refers to all Muslims as terrorists, urging them to go back to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or Saudia Arabia and to bomb their own homes.

Hope & A Little Sugar makes an important point, and for the most part, does it in a way that’s simple enough to understand. But there are still enough holes that leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Is it just me or do we really never see how Harry’s death has affected Saloni? And because we’re never once shown how she comes to terms with this horrific incident, Saloni comes off looking rather shallow when we next see her focusing her attentions on Ali.

In most places the script trades subtlety for excess, and nowhere is that more evident than that scene in which we see the Colonel delightfully posing for pictures in his home on Indian Independence Day, every corner of his apartment decorated with the Indian flag.

Saddest of all, however, is the fact that the writers reinforce every single cliché you’ve come to associate with NRI Punjabis — bhangra parties at home, rebellious daughters embarrassed of their traditional parents, and elders spouting memories of their days back home in India.

The real problem with Hope & A Little Sugar lies in its writing. Even central characters are poorly written, as a result failing to make much of an impression. We never quite understand what kind of marriage Saloni and Harry have.

We never quite understand why Ali befriends the Oberois even after he learns Saloni is married — is it because he longs for family in a foreign land, or because there’s no other way to hang around Saloni? The film’s title is derived from a restaurant Saloni runs, but the writers fail to use the restaurant as a character in the story.

Of the cast, Mahima Chaudhary invests sincerity into her role and delivers an earnest performance, as do Anupam Kher and Amit Sial. But the film’s real hero is its intention. Sadly, however, intentions alone don’t make a great film.

I’m going with two out of five for director Tanuja Chandra’s Hope & A Little Sugar. Watch it if you must for the nobility behind the intention. Don’t expect too much, and you won’t be too disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 11, 2008


Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:43 pm

April 11, 2008

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Kajol, Sumeet Raghavan, Divya Dutta

Director: Ajay Devgan

Ajay Devgan could do with a crash course in scriptwriting. And while he’s at it, might be a good idea to fire his co-writers immediately. U, Me Aur Hum, Devgan’s directorial debut, is let down by a sloppy, slapdash screenplay, which — believe it or not — took four writers to come up with. First, they rob the basic premise of Nick Cassavetes’ mushy-but-inspiring romance The Notebook, and then Devgan and team go about reconstructing the saga, throwing in unnecessary melodrama and generous dollops of over-sentimentality.

Locking eyes with a pretty barmaid, it’s love at first sight for Devgan, who plays Ajay Mehra, a cool dude enjoying a luxury holiday with his bickering buddies on a cruise liner. Piya, the object of his affection — played by Kajol — soon finds herself reciprocating his feelings, and before you know it the couple is married. A little over a year later, Piya is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She blanks out periodically, can’t remember birthdays and anniversaries, and even ends up putting her baby’s life in danger. As it becomes clear her condition’s only getting worse, it’s up to Ajay now to make some important decisions. Narrated in flashback some twenty-five years later, U Me Aur Hum is a cheesy tale of enduring love in the face of impossible obstacles.

From the moment in, it becomes clear you have few complaints against Devgan’s directing skills — it’s his script sense that is in question here. Why rip off The Notebook in the first place? It’s not a great film by any standards, above-average at best. And hey, if you must steal, why not stick to this story that you obviously admire? Why unleash a bunch of hacks on it who strip it off the very spirit that makes it work? If you’ve seen The Notebook, you’ll agree with me when I say it’s a typical Bollywood film at heart — it’s got lovers who belong to different social classes, it’s got parental opposition, it’s got an epic sweep, and ultimately it has what I like to call a lump-in-the-throat ending. All entirely fitting ingredients for a masala Hindi movie. Yet, the so-called writers of U Me Aur Hum dump this perfectly workable road-map and create a rather lame one of their own.

Where The Notebook was a film that demonstrated enduring love, U Me Aur Hum is a film that simply talks about it — and talks about it a lot. In fact, the one thing you’ll remember about this film when you leave the cinema is all the yakking that goes on. There’s so much psychobabble about marriages and relationships, and all these stereotypes associated with love and companionship that you’re going to feel like you’re attending one of those marriage counseling sessions.

In the name of comedy, the dialogue of U Me Aur Hum is filled with painful puns and redundant rhymes. You’re expected to laugh at such silly lines like — Yeh phool deke fool karne ka idea achcha tha, or “I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it”. Funny? I didn’t think so. How about this one — “Leaving this cruise is like aborting a child in the seventh month.” Still not funny, right? What’s also rather offensive is the repeated use of Hindi swear words throughout the early half of the film. Or the tasteless references to masturbation, premature ejaculation and homosexuality. In fact, dialogue writer Ashwani Dhir comes up with a bouquet of some of the most inappropriate lines you’ve ever heard on screen. Try this — “Men are like mice. Always looking for a hole.”

When it’s not the dialogue that jars, it’s the acting. The abundantly talented Divya Dutta, cast in this film as an unhappily married wife, hams like an excited junior artiste who’s got her first speaking part. She plays the nagging spouse with such over-enthusiasm that your heart genuinely goes out to the poor guy playing her husband even though you know they’re just play-acting.

Then there’s the evidently untalented Karan Khanna, who gives the word ‘non-actor’ a whole new meaning. Playing one of Ajay’s close friends in the film, it doesn’t help that he’s cast as the kind of idiot that thinks a new born baby should be named F-dash-dash-K-E-R because it’s a name that could be quite cool by the time the baby grows up. And if all that’s not bad enough, they throw in a fat kid who turns up every now and then to give killer looks.

Even if U Me Aur Hum has its heart in the right place, even if it’s trying to make a noble point, it’s done so amateurishly — not to mention melodramatically — that it fails to touch a chord in you.

Is it really too much to ask for just a little common sense in a Bollywood film? How can you place a mischievous seductive song right after that supposedly emotional scene where the husband’s just been told his wife must be sent to a special-care facility?

Well, to some extent, it’s the leads whose credible performances outshine the shoddy script. Ajay Devgan oozes sincerity as the conflicted husband, but it’s Kajol who is really the emotional anchor of the film, dazzling you with her spontaneity, pumping life and blood into her character, making Piya a portrait of internalized pain, something even the script fails to do. Look out also for a refreshingly candid performance by Sumeet Raghavan as Ajay’s doctor buddy going through his own turbulent marriage graph.

Even if it doesn’t quite cut it as a quality entertainer, U Me Aur Hum does give evidence of Devgan’s sharp directing skills. If you’re prepared to overlook the unnecessarily excessive special effects shots and the ridiculous over-use of tight close-ups, you will notice the sheer inventiveness with which he handles the three best scenes in the film.

First, that one in which one after another a handful of friends break into a impromptu rendition of an evergreen Bollywood song at a house party. Then that excellent dramatic scene in which Piya inadvertently puts her child in harm’s way, fortunately rescued in time by her husband. And finally, the film’s last scene, that hopeful exchange between Ajay and Piya, laced with a tinge of humor. All pretty basic scenes on paper, they stand out because they’ve been directed so instinctively by Devgan.

So I’m going with two out of five for U Me Aur Hum, watch it if you must for the performances of its two leads, both Ajay and Kajol do not disappoint. As for the the film…well that’s another story!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Scream team

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:40 pm

April 11, 2008

Cast: Juhi Chawla, Irrfan Khan, Arshad Warsi, Rajpal Yadav, Suresh Menon

Director: Jaideep Sen

Krazzy 4 is one of those comedies that’s not very funny in the first place. Irrfan Khan, Arshad Warsi, Rajpal Yadav and Suresh Menon play four mentally challenged patients who’re taken to watch an India vs England cricket match because their psychiatrist Juhi Chawla thinks it might teach them a few things about team spirit. When Dr Juhi is mysteriously kidnapped however, our four protagonists are left to their own devices, roaming the streets unsupervised, with both cops and gangsters in hot pursuit.

Blatantly ripped off from the Michael Keaton-Christopher Lloyd starrer The Dream Team, I’m willing to agree the plot of Krazzy 4 does inspire maybe three or four genuine laughs, but that’s it, really that’s just it. For the most part, the script is flat and unfunny, relying almost entirely on the four leads to save the day.

That, unfortunately, is an impossible task even for talented actors such as these who pull faces, deliver clever one-liners, and try every trick in the book, but can’t sadly rise above this severely flawed script.

Usually even the worst films have at least some redeeming qualities, but where Krazzy 4 is concerned, it’s difficult to understand exactly why this film was made. Didn’t anyone concerned with the film notice that the script is incoherent? Didn’t anyone realize that the humour is juvenile and slapstick and it’s the kind of humour you’ve seen so many times before? Didn’t anyone think of re-shooting all the dull bits so at least some part of the film might actually be watchable? The answer to all those questions is obviously no.

Krazzy 4, if you ask me, is a fitting title for this film except that I’d like to change the number four to the number 12 or 13, or whatever number of crazy people are responsible for bringing this film to the screen. It’s a shame that talented actors like Juhi Chawla, Irrfan Khan and Rajpal Yadav have been wasted in a thankless film like this which they will look back at years later and think of as a bad dream.

If there’s anything at all besides the end credits that brings a smile to your face while watching Krazzy 4, I’d have to say it’s the two item songs in the film — one each by Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan . And to be honest, even the one with Rakhi Sawant isn’t too bad. But these are alas, small pleasures in an otherwise miserable movie-going experience.

A word here for Ashwani Dhir, the film’s dialogue writer who holds the unique distinction of delivering a triple whammy of disasters back-to-back — 1 2 3 just a fortnight ago, and now U, Me Aur Hum andKrazzy 4 both in the same week. Dhir’s lines are amateurish and laboured and they’re largely responsible for why none of these films worked for me.

But blame has to be shared by the film’s director Jaideep Sen whose treatment here is indifferent, showing neither artistic flair nor solid grip over screenplay. Because it’s a khichdi of cheap humour, unimpressive acting, and a directionless plot.

I’m going with just one out of five for director Jaideep Sen’s Krazzy 4. It’s a tragedy disguised as a comedy that I wouldn’t even wish upon an enemy.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 4, 2008

By god, terrific!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 6:52 pm

April 04, 2008

Cast: Shaan, Fawad Khan, Iman Ali, Naseeruddin Shah, Alex Edwards

Director: Shoaib Mansoor

It’s difficult to talk about Khuda Kay Liye as merely another new film at the multiplexes. When I first saw it at the International Film Festival of India in Goa last November, I came away truly amazed. It’s not only the most important film to come out of Pakistan for as long as one can remember, it is, more importantly the most relevant mainstream film on Islam that you’ve possibly seen.

Directed by Shoaib Mansoor, Khuda Kay Liye is a brave and inherently honest film that addresses pertinent issues like Islamic fundamentalism, the status of women in contemporary Islam, the consequential effects of 9/11 on Muslims in America, and the divide in Pakistani society between the liberals and the extremists. At its very core, however, Khuda Kay Liye has a single and very clear message — that Islam is a progressive religion, but its teachings are often manipulated by fundamentalists.

The film follows the lives of two brothers in Lahore, both musically inclined. The younger, Sarmad is brainwashed by a radical Muslim cleric into believing that music is against Islam. Distancing himself from his art, he abandons his family and joins a fundamentalist group in a village in the outskirts. Misled into believing that he’d be upholding the honour of Islam by doing so, Sarmad agrees to be married to his London-bred cousin Mary against her wishes, and on the insistence of her hypocrite father who wants to end her relationship with an English boyfriend.

On the other hand, Sarmad’s older brother Mansoor, a liberal, signs up for music school in Chicago where he finds his soul mate in Janie, an American. All’s going well for them until 9/11 happens and Mansoor is wrongly accused of having terrorist links only because he’s a Muslim.

Despite its obvious flaws — which includes some amateurish acting, modest production values for a film of this scale, and more than a few creative liberties in the plot — Khuda Kay Liye is still an immensely engaging film because it’s made from the heart. It’s impossible not to root for its characters, all of which find their lives turned upside down because of the politics of religion. How can you not be angry for what happens to Mansoor, an innocent man suffering because of the faith he follows? How can your heart not go out to Mary who’s trapped in a far corner of the world, married against her will, forced to become a mother? How can you not feel if only a little sympathy for Sarmad — a good man, manipulated in the name of God?

Khuda Kay Liye works because it makes a point that all of us can relate to. Featuring Naseeruddin Shah in a small but integral role of the scholar who decodes Islam for a packed courtroom, the film stars an otherwise all-Pakistani cast led by the charismatic actor Shaan in the role of Mansoor.

It’s a film that’s got a soundtrack full of haunting tunes that lend themselves naturally to its ambitious theme — I can assure you at least a few numbers will stay in your head long after you’ve seen the film.

In conclusion, I’d say that’s true of the film as well. Khuda Kay Liye is one of those films that will gnaw at you and force you to consider its message. It’s a noble, well-intended effort and one that should not be missed. I’m going with four out of five for director Shoaib Mansoor’s Khuda Kay Liye, it’s a sometimes shocking, sometimes hopeful drama about the things we do in the name of God.

This weekend, drop everything else and head to the cinemas for Khuda Kay Liye.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Stealing duty

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:47 pm

April 04, 2008

Cast: Rahul Bose, Kay Kay Menon, Minissha Lamba, Javed Jaffrey, Deepak Dobriyal

Director: Samar Khan

I can’t decide what I’m more upset about. The fact that the makers of Shaurya have blatantly lifted the plot, premise and screenplay of A Few Good Men, or the fact that they haven’t done a good job of copying the film.

Set against the backdrop of the armed forces in Srinagar , Shaurya too — like A Few Good Men — revolves around a court martial. Captain Javed Khan, played by Deepak Dobriyal, is charged with killing a senior officer. What initially seems like an open-and-shut case turns out to be a shameful and shocking case of communal prejudice involving a highly respected officer of the Army, Brigadier Pratap Singh played by Kay Kay Menon.

On another level, Shaurya is also the coming-of-age journey of Major Siddhant Choudhary, played by Rahul Bose, the lazy and distracted drifter who reluctantly takes up the job of defense counsel but dives right in when he suspects the man being held guilty may actually be just a cover-up for a much larger crime. ,The film also stars Javed Jaffrey as Major Akash Kapoor, Siddhant’s best friend, and incidentally the prosecuting lawyer in this case who clashes with Siddhant in court. Minisha Lamba, meanwhile, plays a local newspaper reporter who sets off Siddhant on this do-the-right-thing mission, and — because no man and woman can be just platonic friends in Hindi films — is seen emerging as his love interest too.

What I can’t understand about filmmakers who plagiarise successful American films is their misplaced holier-than-thou attitude; they have no shame stealing the entire plot of a film, but they’ll insist on changing key plot points here and there so they can’t be accused of complete duplication. Invariably, however, it’s these very changes they make in their films that end up ruining a perfectly good story. Samar Khan, writer-director of Shaurya does the same with his film.

His cosmetic changes to the original story of A Few Good Men include those unnecessary set-up scenes where Siddhant and Akash are introduced to us and details of their legendary friendship recounted in long, painful detail; and the elimination of the Demi Moore character, replacing her with the Minnisha Lamba character and throwing in the romantic equation.

But most importantly, the fatal flaw, the ‘original touch’ that botches up this film completely — the ridiculously simplistic Hindu-Muslim angle and the clichéd back-story to Brigadier Pratap Singh’s motivations.

To be entirely honest, Shaurya isn’t a bad film but it could have easily been a better film. It reinforces too many stereotypes and wastes too much time digressing from the main story. Of the actors, Rahul Bose is annoyingly repetitive and tends to get too theatrical where subtlety might have worked better. He’s completely overshadowed every time he’s in a scene with Deepak Dobriyal whose silences speak louder than Rahul’s dramatic deliveries. It’s Kay Kay Menon, however, who holds the film together with an arresting performance, even though it’s modelled so closely after Jack Nicholson’s in the original, even borrowing that iconic scene leading up to that memorable line, “You can’t handle the truth”.

Shaurya is well made and has some truly likeable moments but in the final analysis it is at best an average film. I’ll go with two out of five for director Samar Khan’s Shaurya, I’d just like to end by saying — If I wanted to watch A Few Good Men, I’d rent it on DVD.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Powered by WordPress