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

November 28, 2008

Prince of thieves

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:39 pm

November 28, 2008

Cast: Abhay Deol, Paresh Rawal, Neetu Chandra, Richa Chadda, Manu Rishi, Archana Puran Singh, Manjot Singh

Direction: Dibakar Banerjee

Most good films will engage you with their characters and their drama, but how many can claim to challenge you at the same time? Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, directed by Dibakar Banerjee, is a film that keeps you on your toes; it’s a film that never spoon-feeds you, instead expects you to read between the lines, to fill in the gaps for yourself, and to decode the subtext. It’s true, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye is the kind of film that expects as much of its audience as its audience expects of the film.

On the surface, it’s the story of a small-time Delhi crook and his rise to infamy and faux celebrity – much like Catch Me If You Can – but look closer and you’ll notice all the layers. It’s a film about wanting to belong, a film about the inter-class divide, and about shifting family dynamics.

Always getting on the wrong side of his father, and never quite able to fit in with the cool ‘English medium’ kids who drive fancy cars, Lucky Singh (played by Manjot Singh as a teenager and by Abhay Deol as an adult) finds himself drawn to petty crime so he can afford the lifestyle he’s always wanted. Working with his childhood friend Bangali, Lucky swipes everything from television sets and Mercedes to tennis rackets, violins and even a Pomeranian dog from the residents of Delhi’s posh colonies. But here’s what separates him from your ordinary chor-uchakka – Lucky does it with style, with flair, with a smile and with the ease of a magician. Lucky, you see is the most charming guy you’ll ever meet.

The thing is much of the film’s second act gets repetitive as scene after scene you must watch Lucky slip into people’s homes and walk out moments later with so much loot. His modus operandi is way too simple to be believable – the same trick can’t possibly work all the time, and the director doesn’t bother to show us exactly how Lucky keeps up his game even after his notoriety has spread.

What’s more the Gogabhai track involving Paresh Rawal as the sleazy black-marketeer is over-indulgent to say the least. Too much time and footage is spent establishing Gogabhai’s character and his business relationship with Lucky – as a result much of the film’s middle portion seems to go around in circles, unnecessarily adding to its length.

The writing, in all fairness, is much sharper when it comes to bringing Delhi and its characters to the screen. Director Dibakar Banerjee’s Delhi isn’t the Delhi you see in most Hindi films, none of the usual clichés – no India Gate and Qutub Minar – it’s the Delhi you’d know if you’ve lived there. It’s the Delhi he knows inside out, complete with smarmy restaurant waiters who size you up in an instant, and shrewd housewives who make you their brother and emotionally blackmail you into investing in their husband’s business plan. Much like his last film Khosla Ka Ghosla, the heart of Oye Lucky Lucky Oye lies in its colorful characters.

Abandoning the conventional formula of throwing in a comedian to provide the laughs, Banerjee packs the film with humor that arises out of everyday characters and seemingly normal situations. Like the scene in which the mother of Lucky’s fiancée pesters him to bring home a toaster because her husband likes his bread hot and smoothly buttered. Or the scene at the breakfast table in which the same lady alternates her attention between her two sons-in-law on the basis of which one seems more financially promising. The jokes in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye fly at you from all directions, and they seldom fail because in most cases the characters aren’t in on the joke.

Assembling a rock-solid cast of actors who seem to effortlessly inhabit their roles, the director strikes gold with his supporting players too. Manu Rishi as Lucky’s partner Bangali is a revelation, as is Richa Chadda playing Dolly, the starlet in Gogabhai’s music troupe. Archana Puran Singh nails it as Dr Handa’s crafty wife, and Neetu Chandra hits the perfect note as Lucky’s love interest Sonal.

Paresh Rawal delivers all the right ticks and quirks to separate each of the three characters he plays in the film – Lucky’s irritable father, the shady Gogabhai, and the opportunistic veterinarian Dr Handa. The director never reveals why he casts the same actor for all three roles; like I explained earlier, it’s one of those things he expects you to figure out for yourself. Not that’s it some puzzle really. If you consider the role each of the three different characters plays in Lucky’s life and the feeling they leave him with eventually, you will immediately understand why it made perfectly good sense for the same actor to play all three parts.

As Lucky, the acting honours are shared between Manjot Singh and Abhay Deol who play the same person at different ages. Unfamiliar to us movie-regulars, Singh makes a lasting impression as the sharp-witted hero, investing in him a boyish charm which Deol then exploits with full-blown impact. Abhay Deol, in fact infuses bagfuls of likability and a hint of sadness into the part, making Lucky a victim even when he’s actually the criminal of the piece.

Again, if you’re wondering why the younger Lucky wears a turban and the older one does not, don’t expect any answers from the director. Think about it yourself.

Come on, you’d expect a thief to be inconspicuous, wouldn’t you?

Aided by a catchy soundtrack, unflashy-but-intuitive camerawork, and remarkable production design, director Dibakar Banerjee creates a picture that is enthralling for the most part. The loose ends in the screenplay aside, this is a warm and welcoming film.

I’m going with three out of five for Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. Watch it because it’s a film that respects your intelligence. And films like that are hard to find.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Hello brother

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:28 pm

November 28 2008

Cast: Shabana Azmi, Boman Irani, Sanjay Suri, Chitrangada Singh, Sharman Joshi

Director: Onir

Taking the decidedly uncomfortable premise of a man hooking up with his brother’s girl, Sorry Bhai is a brave little film that puts a fresh spin on the tale. Bumbling younger brother Sharman Joshi arrives in Mauritius with his parents Shabana Azmi and Boman Irani to attend elder brother Sanjay Suri’s wedding, and ends up falling in love with his brother’s fiancée Chitrangada Singh.

The triangle that ensues involves Sharman, Chitrangada and – no, not Sanjay who seems to wisely move on – but the boys’ overbearing mother Shabana who gets herself irreparably entangled in this awkward mess.

At the very core of Sorry Bhai’s drama is the magnificent Shabana Azmi who takes her role and immediately sinks her teeth into it, constructing a character that is all flesh-and-blood. From the little moments – like the one in which she follows Sharman and Chitrangada into the woods, only to hurt her foot before she can confirm her suspicions – to the significant ones (which include her clashes with her daughter-in-law to be), Shabana is always on the ball, and makes her character omnipresent in the movie, even when she’s not physically around in every frame.

A word of praise also for the immensely gifted Boman Irani who has a tougher job at hand – making a solid believable person out of what was probably a three-line character sketch on paper. Boman adds the right comic touch and just the perfect hint of melancholy to create an affectionate lug of a father who speaks less but delivers gems every time he does.

The plot of Sorry Bhai may be simplistic, but the film is not so much about the plot as it is about the characters, and director Onir does a fine job of writing complex, flawed characters who don’t come with any easy answers. Chitrangada’s character, for one, is a tough nut to crack – why does she appear almost unaffected when Sanjay puts off their wedding to attend to a pressing business commitment; why does she suddenly decide to pursue Sharman with such dogged determination; does she really feel no responsibility to Sanjay for what’s just happened? These are important questions all, but the answers are hard to find. Much like life, if you think about it.

Of the three leads, Sharman Joshi plays his part with such sincerity, you’re willing to look at his flawed character with renewed sympathy. The radiant Chitrangada Singh is awkward in places, but puts up a good show nevertheless, especially in her scenes with Shabana. Sanjay Suri, despite the weak characterisation, does the best he can with his role, in particular nailing the film’s one defining scene in which Sharman makes the big confession, to which he responds with shock, anger, and even a little affection.

Sorry Bhai is not devoid of faults – the film occasionally gets too talkie, and in some places a little silly too – but the film’s real charm lies in those memorable moments the director creates between his two favorite players – Shabana and Chitrangada. That’s the reason to watch this film.

I’m going with three out of five for director Onir’s Sorry Bhai. It’s a strong character-driven drama about imperfect people trying to find their own happiness in the world. Don’t miss it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 21, 2008

Sibling revelry

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:51 pm

November 21, 2008

Cast: Salman Khan, Anil Kapoor, Zayed Khan, Katrina Kaif, Boman Irani

Direction: Subhash Ghai

In the end credits sequence of Yuvvraaj, the film’s writer-director Subhash Ghai makes a short appearance on screen, scribbling away on a writing pad. There’s a good chance he might be finishing the script of the film, which having watched Yuvvraaj you can clearly tell was still incomplete and underdeveloped when Ghai shot the film.

Once again flogging his favourite formula of sparring siblings, Ghai borrows the premise of Rain Man for his latest, but packages it with his own brand of 80s melodrama and emotional overdose. The problem here, as you may have guessed, is that both the formula and the treatment no longer work. There’s a desperate need for reinvention.

Salman Khan stars as a chorus singer in a Prague orchestra who heads to London to claim his share of his vast family fortune after the death of his billionaire father who he was estranged from. Also expecting a monster chunk of the money to support his decadent lifestyle is his spoilt younger brother, played by Zayed Khan. Add to this mix an assortment of 80s-style supporting characters like the conniving wheelchair bound uncle, the cliche-spewing aunt, the good-for-nothing cousins, and the cleavage-baring, perfume-squirting sister-in-law, all of whom have their eyes only on the dead man’s wealth. As luck would have it however, Dear Departed Daddy has left the bulk of his fortune to the eldest of his three sons, the autistic one, played by Anil Kapoor. Determined to get what they believe they rightfully deserve Salman and Zayed plot to cheat their bhola (innocent) brother out of his inherited wealth, but after spending enough time with him they realise the importance of family and brotherhood.

Yuvvraaj uses scale and grandeur to compensate for the fractured script, but as Ghai’s own films — Kisnaand Yaadein will tell you — no amount of ambition and passion can hide poor writing. The characters are all underdeveloped – from the protagonists who have no layers, no edge whatsoever, to the supporting players who are all silly caricatures.

The dialogue is a mix of clunky lines that make you cringe in embarrassment, and a bunch of unintentionally hilarious gems that will make you laugh every time you think of the film. Like that priceless scene in which Katrina scolds Salman for being an insensitive son to his father: Jo bete ne apne baap ki shakal sapne mein bhi na dekhi ho, woh beta nahin, woh hardcore anti-family man hai.

There was a slim chance the film might not have hurt this bad if the acting was any better, but to think the stars of this film were paid crores of rupees to put up this show makes you realise that indeed life is unfair.Salman Khan does pretty much as he pleases, walking in and out of scenes as if he were at home, never mindful of the fact that he’s playing a character here and that some consistency in performance is expected of him. He just about scrapes through the comedy with a few light moments, but completely fails to touch your heart in the film’s emotional scenes.

Zayed Khan struggles through even basic scenes in the film, unable to alter his expressions in keeping with the film’s needs, yelling when he’s expected to be intense, and looking away in exasperation each time he can’t come up with a more fitting reaction. A crash course in acting at Ghai’s own Whistling Woods Film School might not be such a bad idea for Zayed.

Katrina Kaif looks lovely and makes an earnest attempt in the acting department too — in a film like this, that’s plenty effort. Boman Irani hams it up as Katrina’s doctor dad, and turns in what is sure to be one of his career’s most embarrassing performances.

And then there’s Anil Kapoor whose character I had difficulty understanding – was he autistic, was he blind, did he have arthritis? I never did get it in the end because of the strange mannerisms and quirks Anil brought to his performance. And yet, it’s the only performance in the film where some competence is visible.

Ghai spares no efforts in giving Yuvvraaj a fancy feel, there’s pleasing photography and spunky choreography on display, but AR Rahman’s soundtrack throws up only three good tracks which is a shame considering the film’s designed as a musical.

Yuvvraaj doesn’t quite hit the right note because it’s an archaic drama that feels too tired. Barring a handful of vintage Subhash Ghai moments that still work, the film sadly is far from his best work.

I’m going with one out of five for director Subhash Ghai’s Yuvvraaj, I’d much rather watch Hero or Karma all over again.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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