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

January 30, 2009

All starry eyed

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

January 30, 2009

Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Konkona Sensharma, Hrithik Roshan, Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Juhi Chawla

Director: Zoya Akhtar

The opening scene of director Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance sets the mood for the two-and-half hours or so that follow. In this scene Konkona Sensharma, who stars as a struggling actress, finds herself being indirectly and indecently propositioned by a sleazy film producer. It’s a humorous scene because the casting couch is one of Bollywood’s oldest clichés and because Aly Khan who plays the producer in question, performs that scene remarkably, giving her just the kind of smarmy lines you know you should never believe. But that scene is also dark and disturbing at the same time, especially when the camera stays on Konkona’s uncomfortable expression in the end. You realise she wants the job so bad, she’s going to accept his advances knowing fully well she’s doing something wrong.

Luck By Chance is an insider look at Bollywood, and about making it in the big, bad world of showbiz. And indeed it’s a bad world. A world where friends are used and abused, where lovers are replaced overnight, where mothers manipulate their daughters, and where you’re only as important as your last hit. At the same time, director Zoya Akhtar’s affection for the film industry is evident in her comic, often lovable take on the business and its people who she’s observed so closely as an insider herself. The film then is a deeply layered portrait of an industry quite unlike any other, a sharp observation of the grime behind the glamour, the insecurities behind the smiling faces.

The film follows Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sensharma, both playing wannabe actors, who walk the walk and talk the talk and do everything it takes to realise their dreams. Both compromise on their principles to get ahead, but while one is successful, the other is not quite, this disparity ultimately driving a wedge through their relationship.

Intuitively written by Akhtar herself, Luck By Chance is both insightful and funny. The film serves up a palette of colorful characters who may seem like caricatures on the outside but come packed with emotional depth and even a tinge of sad back-story. Chief among these is greasy old-school film producer Romi Rolly (played astoundingly by Rishi Kapoor) who, at one point we see break down when a superstar he created won’t return his calls. Or the yesteryear siren-turned-pushy star-mum (played by Dimple Kapadia) who makes a shocking confession when confronted by her exasperated daughter.

Akhtar also succeeds in keeping the mood light when necessary, packing a bagful of in-jokes, several delivered by the very characters they’re aimed at. It’s sporting of Sanjay Kapoor to play the failed actor brother of a big producer who turns his sights to direction, or Anurag Kashyap who’s cast as the writer-with-a-serious-bent bullied into plagiarizing a foreign film, or even Hrithik Roshan as the superstar heartthrob caught up in his own image.

Prepare to be pleasantly surprised by all the stars who make fleeting cameos, and watch how cleverly Akhtar uses them – Akshaye Khanna forever the pensive, indecisive fellow, Aamir Khan the actor never entirely satisfied with his shot, and Abhishek Bachchan who knows how to politely say no and who ends every conversation with an affectionate hello from his daddy.

Despite its languid pace, Luck By Chance is rarely boring because it’s got a solid story at its heart and the characters arouse such empathy. The film is helped considerably by razor-sharp dialogue and keen casting, and the acting is consistently first-rate. Farhan Akhtar delivers a simple-enough likeable performance that is just what the film required – no showy flourishes, no loud outbursts, just a straight off spontaneous act that works like a dream. Konkona Sensharma proves yet again she’s the go-to-girl for complex, layered characters, and she does a swell job of investing heart and poignancy into the picture. In smaller roles, Juhi Chawla shines as the doting Mrs Rolly, and Isha Sharwani hits the right note as the not-very-bright star-kid; Dimple Kapadia is terrific as the has-been star who is so easily seduced by a youngster’s praise; and Hrithik Roshan never disappoints, in fact look out for that scene in which he responds to street urchins from inside his car, he’s an actor who doesn’t need dialogue to communicate. A word of praise also for the lesser-known but abundantly talented Arjun Mathur who so convincingly portrays Farhan’s friend and fellow acting aspirant who clashes with him. My personal favorite though remains Rishi Kapoor who leaves his stamp all over the film as the hilarious Romi Rolly.

A significant debut by director Zoya Akhtar, Luck By Chance is heartwarming and heart-breaking in equal measures; look closely at those layers beneath the laughs. An impressive achievement both in writing and direction, the film is full of witty moments and sharp observations that stay with you, starting with the opening credits sequence which is the best I’ve in years. ((pause)) I’m going with four out of five and two thumbs up for director Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance, it’s that rare Hindi film that deserves a repeat viewing just to savour its charm all over again.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Clean bowled

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

January 30, 2009

Cast: Harman Baweja, Amrita Rao

Director: Ajit Pal Mangat

Victory starring Harman Baweja is a Madhur Bhandarkar film in disguise. It goes through all the motions of a typical Bhandarkar film, the same ups and downs you’ve seen in Page 3Corporate or Fashion, except that Victory features a male protagonist and it’s set against the backdrop of cricket.

So Harman stars as Vijay Shekhawat, a small-town kid, brimming with batting potential, who gets selected to play for the Indian cricket team. His is an overnight success story. From anonymous newcomer to Next Big Thing, it doesn’t take long for him to fall in the wrong company – in this case a cunning talent manager (played by Gulshan Grover) who lands him big endorsement deals, but also distracts him from the game and gets him addicted to wine, women and wealth. By the time our hero realises he’s lost everything that’s dear to him, it’s a tad too late. But nothing that a lazy screenplay-writer can’t solve by resorting to the oldest clichés in the book.

Like most of Bhandarkar’s films, Victory too is more predictable than the weather in Alaska. But to be fair to Bhandarkar, at least his films have a handful of memorable moments. Victory, unfortunately, is a completely forgettable film whose scenes play out exactly how you’d expect them to.

Sports films often follow the same blueprint; there’s rarely any surprise in how a film about cricket or football or hockey will turn out – the hero’s side always wins. You see, the trick is not in the ending, but in how you reach the ending. Think about it – were you surprised that the villagers beat the British in “Lagaan”, or that the Indian women’s hockey team won the match in “Chak De India”? No, you knew that was going to happen twenty minutes into both films. It’s the journey up to that expected ending that made both those films special. The problem with Victory is, there is nothing to discover, nothing to surprise you, and nothing exciting at all about how it reaches its expected ending.

Amateurishly directed by Ajitpal Mangat, the film is laughable in its supposedly emotional scenes, and too long by at least twenty minutes. The climax, a real hoot, is inspired much from Indian cricket history, with creative liberties thrown in for good measure. So you have six sixers back-to-back, and one final one that smashes the floodlights. All this delivered by our hero who’s bleeding profusely from the head, his vision blurred from the injury.

Forgive me for those spoilers, but chances are by this point you’ve fallen asleep in your seat already.

Now the big question – has Harman improved since “Love Story 2050”? Well, he’s lost some of his stiffness, and his acting’s a lot less labored for sure. But it’s going to take a much better film and a less stereotyped character for him to show what he’s really got. I would recommend, additionally, that he fire his make-up man instantly – the patches on the forehead, the uneven pancake really doesn’t make much of an impression.

Amrita Rao is wasted as our hero’s childhood love; and Anupam Kher hams it up as Shekhawat’s upright father, cracking you up with his rhythmic paralytical spasms.

It is in the end, an entirely pointless film, an exercise in futility. I’ll go with one out of five and a thumbs-down for director Ajitpal Mangat’s Victory, a film that reduces real heroes like Harbhajan Singh and Brett Lee to junior artistes in the background. Watch it only if you have a high threshold for pain.

(This review was first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 23, 2009

Secret’s out!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:28 pm

January 23, 2009

Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Kangana Ranaut, Adhyayan Suman

Director: Mohit Suri

There’s a scene in Raaz: The Mystery Continues where Kangana Ranaut’s character, a model, has finally come to terms with the fact that she’s being harrassed by evil spirits. “I want my life back,” she hollers.

“And I want my three hours back,” you respond instantly.

Directed by Mohit Suri, Raaz: The Mystery Continues is a painfully pointless picture in the guise of a spine-chilling spook-fest. It’s neither a sequel nor a remake of the earlier “Raaz” starring Dino Morea and Bipasha Basu, directed by Vikram Bhatt in 2002.

This one stars Ranaut and Adhyayan Suman as a young unmarried couple who’ve recently moved into a plush new flat when strange things begin to happen to her. Emraan Hashmi plays a painter — who if you ask me, looks more like a pimp in crotch-tight jeans, body-hugging T-shirts, and eye-liner — who stalks Kangana when he finds his head and his canvas filled with images of horrific things that will happen to her.

In a plot more flimsy than any of Kangana’s outfits, Emraan helps Kangana get to the bottom of the mystery, and finds himself intrinsically connected to this sordid saga too.

Director Mohit Suri uses his camera effectively and throws in mood lighting to create a sense of tension — as if something big and bad is just about to happen. Problem is, apart from a few stale gimmicks borrowed from a bunch of Hollywood films — nothing really happens in this film at all.

It’s difficult to make a good scary movie these days, but Raaz: The Mystery Continues barely even makes an effort. At a running time of close to three hours, this is an opportunity wasted. Even the usually dependable Kangana Ranaut repeats her psycho-act for the nth time and fails to bring anything new.

Raaz is technically competent — the special effects are decent, the camera moves smartly, but it loses steam way too early and drags its feet from then on.

I’m going with two out of five, just about, for director Mohit Suri’s Raaz: The Mystery Continues, the mystery referred to in the film’s title is that there isn’t any. Watch it if you have time to waste.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 16, 2009

Chinese torture

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

January 16, 2009

Director: Nikhil Advani

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Ranvir Shorey, Mithun Chakraborty

Chandni Chowk To China is a big, bloated misadventure of a movie with a string of set pieces instead of a plot. There are too many gags, too many action scenes, too many item songs, and too much of everything, in fact. The film’s biggest crime, if you ask me, is that it’s an exercise in excess.

Akshay Kumar stars as Sidhu, a down-on-his-luck street-side cook in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk who some Chinese tourists mistake for the reincarnation of their ancient warrior who alone can defend their village against the kung-fu crime-lord Hojo (played by Chinese actor Gordon Liu). Encouraged and abetted by Ranvir Shorey playing con artist Chopstick, Sidhu leaves behind his father (Mithun Chakraborty) and heads off to China, where much chaos ensues.

Inspired liberally from Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, the comedy in Chandni Chowk To China, although largely slapstick, is enjoyable for the sheer good-natured goofiness Akshay brings to his character. I’m reminded of that scene in the aircraft where he repeatedly attempts to slam shut a stubborn overhead locker, or then that ingenious song sequence in which he fobs off the bad guys in his bumbling, drunken state. The film’s first hour is lighthearted and simple and most of the humor’s derived from Sidhu’s clumsiness and ineptitude. It’s when the film enters its second hour that the cracks begin to show.

The track involving the estranged twin sisters — both played by Deepika Padukone — and their reunion with their beggar father is too convoluted and distracting, and it takes away from the film’s central story.

The screenplay also spends too much time on secondary characters like Hojo and Chopstick, whose pointless sub-plots only add to the film’s daunting length. While there’s no question most of the kung-fu scenes are neatly choreographed, there’s a good chance you’ll wish they weren’t so repetitive and unending.

In a nutshell, Chandni Chowk To China is a tiring watch because it’s an old formula only re-packaged in an East-meets-East avatar. The star of the film and really the only reason it doesn’t entirely fail, is Akshay Kumar who is in such good form you wish they wrote better material for him. His timing is pitch-perfect and he’s not afraid of looking foolish, as a result he pulls off some pretty good stuff. Deepika Padukone, despite the double role, is only ornamental in the film, but she makes a pretty sidepiece.

Throw in those breathtaking scenes filmed at the Great Wall of China, and you have something to remember after all. But what sticks with you when you leave the cinema after a screening of Chandni Chowk To China is the feeling of fatigue that comes from being trapped in an elevator for hours.

I’m going with two out of five for director Nikhil Advani’s loud, indulgent comedy Chandni Chowk To China. Watch it if you’re an Akshay Kumar fan, he doesn’t disappoint even if the film does.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 9, 2009

The golden handshake

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:31 pm

January 09, 2009

Cast: Konkona Sensharma, Shernaz Patel, Anand Tiwari

Director: Kunal Roy Kapoor

A guaranteed good watch, The President Is Coming is a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek comment on our obsession with the White man and his world. It is in fact a sharp comedy done in ‘mockumentary’ style – an original take on the frenzy surrounding US President George Bush’s visit to India in 2006.

Fictionalising the drama and the cut-throat competition behind the selection of one young Indian picked to shake hands with Bush on his visit, the film focuses on six individuals from different social and economic backgrounds who are shortlisted by a PR agency and put through much training and testing before the most suitable candidate is chosen.

Over the course of one night, the six hopefuls – a pretentious novelist, a cocky accent coach, a money-fixated stock-broker, a nerdy software engineer, a boorish social-activist, and an air-headed heiress – reveal their real motivations for seeking the honour, and in the process unconsciously provide a glimpse into their prejudices and their character.

Uncontrollably funny for the most part, the film works on the strength of its smart dialogue and sturdy performances from the ensemble cast. Konkona Sensharma doesn’t miss a beat playing the self-righteous Bengali author, and Shernaz Patel as the bossy PR lady is spot on.

All actors, frankly, put up an excellent show, including the less familiar ones who shine with instinctive, spontaneous performances that catch you unaware and leave you cheering for more. Take for example the delightful Anand Tiwari who instantly wins your heart with his uproarious turn as the numbers-chewing Gujarati stock broker.

The film works because it never takes itself too seriously; holding nothing and no one too sacred to make a joke of. Hence that hilarious scene in which the six finalists are put through the identifying round, and their side-splitting responses to being shown the pictures of Osama bin Laden, Colin Powell and M Night Shyamalan among others.

Much like that little gem of 2007, Loins of Punjab Presents, this film too reinforces many old clichés to draw the laughs, but you’re willing to overlook most because they’re intended without malice. With as many as 15 rounds for the candidates to clear, the film does get tiresome towards the end, but wraps up neatly just as your attention begins to wane.

Adapted skillfully by writer Anuvab Pal and director Kunal Roy Kapoor from their play of the same name,The President Is Coming is an enjoyable film that pushes the boundaries of conventional storytelling. Three out of five and a thumbs up. Don’t miss this film or you’ll regret it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

January 2, 2009

Culture curry

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:38 pm

January 02, 2009

Cast: Josh Hamilton, Ayesha Dharker

Director: John Jeffcoat

In Outsourced, which also opens at the multiplexes this weekend, things couldn’t be going any worse for Seattle yuppie Todd Anderson (played by Josh Hamilton) when his job managing a call centre for novelty products is outsourced to India, and he must travel there to train his replacement.

Your standard fish-out-of-water story, with jokes on everything from straying cows to street food-led-diarrhoea, the film revisits all the usual clichés you’ve come to expect in cross-cultural comedies like these.

Expectedly then, the typically insensitive American desperate to find a cheeseburger in a small town gets his symbolic baptism on Holi when he’s doused with colour and wades into a pond only to come out enlightened about embracing his new surroundings, and in love with a cute co-worker.

Like most films cut from the same cloth, Outsourced, too, beneath all its shameless Indian typecasting, is intended as a celebration of cultural diversity, and an affirmation that despite differences in race and religion, all people are essentially the same. It’s a predictable message and it’s arrived at predictably – after presenting a catalogue of stereotypes on both sides of the India-America divide which feeds the farce.

About the only merit in this film is the sincerity Ayesha Dharker applies to her character of the earnest call centre employee who hooks up with Anderson and inspires him to reconsider his workaholic life.

That apart, Outsourced is a string of rusty old jokes that aren’t all that funny anymore.

I’m going with two out of five for Outsourced; it’s a film in which everything ends as expected, just not soon enough. Watch it, but only if you have nothing better to do.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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