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

March 26, 2010

All swell, but no well

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 2:52 am

March 26, 2010

Cast: Boman Irani, Ila Arun, Minnisha Lamba, Sammir Dattani, Ravi Kissen, Sonali Kulkarni

Director: Shyam Benegal

Two years after giving us the delightfully heartwarming Welcome To Sajjanpur, director Shyam Benegal returns with another social satire set in a small village in the Indian heartland.

Well Done Abba stars Boman Irani as chauffeur Armaan Ali, who takes a month’s leave from his job in Mumbai to visit his native village Chikatpali near Hyderabad to fix his daughter’s marriage. Once there, he decides to avail of a government scheme to have a well dug on his patch of agricultural land. The film follows Armaan Ali over three months, as he navigates through all the corruption and greed involved in a seemingly simple procedure, and yet ends up with no well.

As has always been the filmmaker’s biggest strength, Well Done Abba is populated with a bunch of engaging characters, particularly Ravi Kissen’s sex-crazed civil engineer who’s forever fantasizing about his wife getting breast implants, and Ila Arun’s shrill-voiced local swindler.

Benegal trusts important roles in the hands of younger actors like Minnisha Lamba, who plays Armaan Ali’s feisty daughter Muskaan, and Sammir Dattani who appears as a car mechanic who develops a soft spot for her. Both characters help Armaan Ali turn the tables on the corrupt bureaucrats, but both actors sadly fail to deliver compelling performances.

While the director has continually succeeded in addressing important social issues even while telling lighthearted personal tales, Well Done Abba appears to be bursting at its seams with too many messages about women’s rights, communal harmony, rural education and the right to information act.

Despite some genuinely comic portions in which Benegal exposes the extent of double dealing and bribery involved in Indian rural politics, the film as a whole is hard to enjoy because of its sluggish pace, and because of your inability to empathize with Armaan Ali.

Boman Irani delivers an earnest performance in his double role here, but the characters slip too easily into caricature, making it especially hard to connect with Armaan Ali’s pathos.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Shyam Benegal’s Well Done Abba. There is much to appreciate about this film, but it demands solid patience on your part.

He sees dead people!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 2:46 am

March 26, 2010

Cast: Arshad Warsi, Dia Mirza, Boman Irani

Director: Kabeer Kaushik

Hum Tum Aur Ghost, starring Arshad Warsi as a guy who can see and hear dead people, is intended as a light-hearted comedy. Unfortunately the script — credited to Arshad himself, and evidently inspired from the Hollywood rib-tickler Ghost Town — drains out much of the fun that could be had with this promising premise.

The screenplay, to begin with, takes too long to arrive at the core conflict, which involves Arshad’s character — Armaan, a photographer in Newcastle — agreeing to help two good-natured spirits fulfill their final wishes. But before the film even gets to that point, nearly an hour or so is devoted to establishing therelationship between Armaan and his incredibly patient girlfriend Gehna (played by Dia Mirza).

Girlfriends like Gehna are hard to find. She sticks faithfully by her man even though he’s a compulsive alcoholic, he’s way too friendly with his female assistant and, as a psychiatrist later tells her, he might be schizophrenic too! Gehna has a full-time job as the editor of a fashion glossy, but you rarely see her doing any work. On the odd occasion that you catch her at her workplace, she’s either arguing with her boyfriend or discussing her relationship status with her father. No wonder she can roll out her stroller and set off without so much as a leave application when Armaan asks her to join him on a trip to Goa to search for the missing child of a spirit he’s promised to help.

Hum Tum Aur Ghost,suffers primarily on account of its inconsistent tone. The film might have worked as an irreverent comedy, but much of it is treated as an emotional drama, resulting in several contrived scenes that fall flat on their face. Even the humour works mostly when it’s done smartly and subtly, and not as effectively in the film’s slapstick portions — like the one in which Armaan disguises himself and visits a bank, only to be confronted by the son of the very man he is impersonating.

Ultimately the film is predictable and tiring because it’s an interesting idea that’s been stretched way beyond its potential. The usually dependable Arshad Warsi delivers a few light moments, and Boman Irani as a friendly ghost helps muster up a couple of laughs. But director Kabeer Kaushik, who gave us the gripping cop drama Sehar, doesn’t seem to have the light-handed touch required to turn this flimsly concept into a fun-filled ride.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for Hum Tum Aur Ghost, Ironically, what’s missing in this film is spirit!

Fools rush in

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 2:36 am

March 26, 2010

Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston

Director: Brandon Camp

Love Happens, starring Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart is the kind of film you go to just to stare at good-looking people. It’s a trite romantic-comedy that’ll make lazy screenwriters feel comfortable knowing that bad scripts do get made into films.

Eckhart stars as a widower and self-help guru who passes on his secrets of survival to bereaved masses. Aniston plays a florist he encounters in Seattle during one of his workshops. In a twist that only the entire audience has predicted a mile away, she realizes the one person in most need of coming to terms with his loss is Mr Know-It-All himself.

You can guess what direction the film is headed in from this point, and it takes an awful lot of time getting there. Along the way, parrots must be freed, and hot coals have to be stepped on. Too bad it isn’t the makers of this film stepping on those coals!

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Love Happens. It’s predictable, and the leads have no chemistry. Love may happen, but movies need scripts!


Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 2:21 am

March 26, 2010

Cast: Aanaahad, Farooque Sheikh, Saurav Shukla, Nafisa Ali, Sushant Singh

Director: Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan

Using the sport of kickboxing as a new premise to tell an old story, Lahore is a slickly directed first film by Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan that sadly offers too simplistic and idealistic a solution to the India-Pakistan problem.

Part vendetta story, part message movie, Lahore stars newcomer Aanahad as a revenge-seeking younger brother who steps into the ring to vanquish the Pakistani kickboxer who killed his older sibling using foul means.

It’s an engaging drama, convincingly performed and thrillingly shot, but let down by a script packed with convenient lapses of logic, and caricatured characterisation. Careful not to indulge in that Gadar-style blatant Pak-bashing, the film nevertheless makes its point clearly, pitting Indian sportsmanship against Pakistan’s win-at-all-costs ethos.

What holds your attention in the end are the gripping kickboxing scenes that are filmed so effectively, you literally find yourself transported to the centre of the action. The performances are appropriately restrained – particularly Farooque Shaikh as the Hyderabadi-accented coach, and Sushant Singh as the ill-fated professional kickboxer – but the film fails to leave a lasting impression because it doesn’t say anything that you haven’t already heard before.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five and an average rating for director Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan’s Lahore. It’s well-intentioned, has its heart in the right place, and it’s an engaging enough watch. But it never rises above that to become a film that could truly make a difference.

Dark nights

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 2:08 am

March 26, 2010

Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman

Director: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes

The Book of Eli stars Denzel Washington as a seemingly indestructible mystery man who’s been walking for some 30 years across the ravaged landscape of a post-apocalyptic America, slicing and dicing the muggers and rapists he encounters along the way. Tucked away carefully inside his backpack is the last remaining copy of a book that a psychopathic mob leader (played by Gary Oldman) has been trying to get his hands on for the longest.

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, The Book of Eli makes for a somewhat interesting watch, not least because it intersperses elaborate action scenes with long-winded sermons about faith.

With so many biblical allegories and spiritual references tossed around the place, only the most inattentive viewers will need to actually see the book before they can figure out what coveted tome is the centre of dispute here.

Shot starkly yet stylishly, the film packs in moments of bleak brutality that are hard to get out of your head — like that chilling opening scene in which our grizzled hero astutely hunts a cat. There are a few flashes of wry humor too — like the one in which Washington and a companion discover that the old couple offering them hospitality might have cannibalistic tendencies.

But it’s those two surprise twists in the end that save this film from turning into a predictable mess. They deliver those much-needed jolts just when you’re about to sink into a deep, bored slumber.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for The Book of Eli. Watch it you have the patience, and if you’re not turned off by gruesome blood-shed.

Royal romp

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 2:03 am

March 26, 2010

Cast: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

In The Young Victoria, the feisty Emily Blunt delivers an impressive performance as the determined but vulnerable teenage monarch who’s cursed by opportunistic family and hangers-on, but blessed with the love of her German cousin Prince Albert (played here by Rupert Friend).

A faithful account of events, from Victoria’s early turbulent relationship with her people, to her gathering stature as a queen who would rule for 63 years, this sumptuous costume drama — like Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth — is as much a historical romance as it is the dramatic coming-of-age story of a young woman wielding power in a man’s world.

Blunt, the terrific young actress from The Devil Wears Prada humanizes Victoria and redefines her as a spirited yet stubborn girl who learnt political chess at an age when she wasn’t even allowed to walk down the stairs by herself.

The film is an easy watch for Blunt’s compelling performance, and for the gentle romance between Victoria and Albert. I’m going with three out of five for The Young Victoria; it’s a chick flick but with corsets and robes. It doesn’t have the wit and the charm of Pride & Prejudice, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

March 12, 2010

Sex, lies and video-clips

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 2:31 am

March 12, 2010

Cast: Anshuman Jha, Shruti, Raj Kumar Yadav, Arya Banerjee, Neha Chauhan, Amit Sial

Director: Dibakar Banerjee

Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex aur Dhokha is the most riveting Hindi film in recent memory. It’s one of those films that grab your attention the moment you’ve settled into your seat, and it doesn’t let go till the very end. It’s provocative, it’s unsettling and occasionally disturbing too. But not for one minute in its roughly 108-minute running time does it allow you to so much as tilt your head down to look at your watch or your mobile phone.

Comprising three separate stories, one each on love, sex and betrayal — although all three stories have elements of each theme — the film is constructed as if using third-party footage. Hand-held camera footage filmed by a wannabe director, CCTV footage obtained from a local supermarket, and spy-cam footage shot by an enthusiastic reporter. Expectedly then, much of what you see on screen is grainy, jerky and not always in focus. But even as you adjust yourself to become comfortable with the unusual technical challenges, you’re sucked into the film’s shocking drama and into the lives of its desperate characters.

It’s hard to go into the individual stories without ruining the experience for you, so all I can say is that they’re unpredictable tales and they’re interlinked with each other.

The film’s director Dibakar Banerjee knows his characters inside out and understands their motivations clearly. The young girl excited about an offer to star in a classmate’s student film, yet petrified of her domineering father’s reaction. The supermarket supervisor who coldly betrays a girl he has genuine feelings for. The dancer who finally figures out how to get what she wants from the pop star who exploited her. These are characters not hard to recognise or relate with, and Bannerjee casts an ensemble of new actors to fill out these parts, empowering them with spontaneous, un-showy dialogue that crackles with authenticity.

Like the young sardar hero who falls for a greeting card-store employee in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye,Banerjee creates memorable characters who stay with you. My own personal favourites in this film include the excited student filmmaker inspired by his ‘Adi sir’, and the catty supermarket salesgirl who works day shifts.

In the end, Love, Sex aur Dhokha is consistently gripping, although the third story strikes me as a tad contrived.

You will be shocked, you will be startled, but walking out of the theatre, you know you have just seen what is possibly the most important Hindi film since Satya and Dil Chahta Hai. Not only does it redefine theconcept of “realistic cinema”, it opens a world of possibilities in terms of how you can shoot films now.

They did it in America already with films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. If nothing else, at least we can expect more aspirants will be encouraged to pull out their handi-cams and go out and shoot those odd, quirky films that no big producer is giving them crores of rupees to make.

I’m going with four out of five and two big thumbs up for director Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex aur Dhokha. It’s the kind of film you’ll be talking about for weeks.

March 5, 2010

Angels & Demons

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 9:14 pm

March 05, 2010

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson

Director: Scott Charles Stewart

In an opening voiceover in Legion, we’re informed that God – “tired of all the bullshit” – has decided to end all of mankind. Having used up the flood option previously, it seems He’s chosen this time to destroy the earth with predictable B-movie cliches like a storm of flies, an army of zombies, and my personal favorite: a crazy old grandma.

Having watched films with similar apocalyptic themes, like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, I can understand if you’re a little under-whelmed by His choice of destruction tools. But they do scare the heebie-jeebies out of the folks trapped in the desert diner that’s chosen as the headquarters for this end-of-days saga.

Although nobody once bothers to tell us how or why, we are informed that the pregnant waitress at this dusty diner will give birth to a baby who is humanity’s last hope. That, you see, is why all those destructive forces are heading towards the diner. It’s also the reason why heavily-tattooed Archangel Michael (played by Paul Bettany) shows up with his wings clipped and a boot packed with guns, determined to protect the unborn baby and the group of people trapped inside the diner, including Dennis Quaid who stars as its owner.

If this were merely a senseless action film, you wouldn’t hate it so much. The special effects aren’t all bad and there are some cheap thrills to be had in the zombie-killing scenes too. But what I most enjoyed is a terrific, unpredictable scene in which a doddering old biddy appears to suddenly go mental in the middle of her meal and bite off a man’s neck, then climb the walls of the diner before being shot at point blank range.

Those, as far as I’m concerned, are the only ‘paisa vasool’ moments in this otherwise preposterous and pretentious film that tries to pass itself off as a biblical message-movie. There’s so much ridiculous dialogue about heavenly prophecies and the destiny of mankind that in the end you leave with a throbbing headache.

Shortly after the birth of that baby Bettany’s character declares, “The future has been unwritten.” To be fair he might as well have been speaking of the film itself, which hardly appears to have been written either.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Legion; it’s your standard B-grade action movie and I can’t think of one reason you’d be willing to waste time and money sitting through it!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Slow coach

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 9:07 pm

March 05, 2010

Cast: Abhay Deol, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Satish Kaushik

Director: Dev Benegal

Much like the ramshackle truck that the film’s protagonists make their journey in, Road, Movie directed by Dev Benegal, is a slow and rickety ride that tires you out by the time it reaches its destination. A visually stunning but emotionally hollow adventure, packed with tired stereotypes, the film is an unsatisfying watch even at running time of 90-odd minutes.

Abhay Deol stars as Vishnu, the reluctant heir of his family’s hair-oil business who agrees to drive his uncle’s antique Chevy truck across the desert where it has been sold to a museum. Once a traveling cinema fitted with a projector and several film cans, the truck itself is a monstrosity that is a challenge to keep running. Along the way, Vishnu picks up three fellow travelers – a runaway urchin boy (played by Mohammed Faizal), a garrulous old mechanic (played by Satish Kaushik), and a sultry gypsy girl (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee).

During the course of their journey this oddball group encounters corrupt cops and local dons, and when their lips are parched for water, or they need to keep dreaded goons away, they unpack the projector and get the cinema running to screen classic movies for the rural folk who embrace the entertainment.

Directed with a light hand, Road, Movie doesn’t succeed in getting you to care for its characters or to sympathize with their situation because, quite frankly, there’s never a sense of real danger. When our protagonists are captured by a feared water-lord for trespassing on his property, the situation is resolved by resorting to that convenient script tool — a sly parody!

But to judge the film purely for what you see on screen, would be unfair in this case. The director clearly intends for his film to work as a lyrical tribute to the magic of movies — his very own Cinema Paradiso if you like. Unfortunately, apart from a few striking visuals and a handful of delightful moments — like the one in which Satish Kaushik’s character decides to snip a boring scene out of a film, and splice it with a popular song from another film – Road, Movie lacks the character depth or the sheer originality of narrative that was required to turn it into an enjoyable celebration of the movies.

Michel Amathieu’s dazzling cinematography is easily the film’s strongest asset, even when he’s capturing nothing but vast expanses of salt or sand. Satish Kaushik as the upbeat repairman steals the film from his co-actors with a warm, endearing performance, and some of the film’s smartest lines.

Unpredictable and occasionally charming, Road, Movie has its moments. But in the end it feels too long, a tad boring, and pretentious even. I’m going with two out of five for director Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie. If you do decide to watch it, go armed with patience. Lots of it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Overstays its welcome

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:52 pm

March 05, 2010

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Konkona Sen Sharma, Paresh Rawal

Director: Ashwani Dhir

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? starring Paresh Rawal as a houseguest who overstays his welcome, makes for a terrific premise for a television sitcom, but doesn’t lend itself comfortably to a feature-length film.

Directed by Ashwani Dhir, the movie stars Ajay Devgan and Konkona Sen Sharma as a married couple who must contend with an annoying uncle who lands up unannounced one day, and shows no signs of leaving even two months later.

Rawal’s character, Lambodar chacha is up at the crack of dawn and gargles loud enough to wake up the dead. He drives away the maid, demands elaborate meals, and isn’t the least bit embarrassed of his flatulence problem. No wonder his hosts want him out at any cost, going so far as to hire an underworld don to drive him away.

For as long as the film sticks to its comic tone, there is pleasure to be had in its silly yet disarming jokes. I thoroughly enjoyed a gag involving Lambodar chacha’s encounter with actor Viju Khote on a film set, and the subsequent havoc he creates chasing the actor around, begging him to repeat his popular dialogue from Sholay over and over again. It’s a hilarious sequence, and one that ends with a ‘bang’, literally borrowed from the Peter Sellers comedy, The Party.

Unfortunately the film slips into a preachy, melodramatic tone from this point on, delivering labored messages about guests being equal to God, and about the responsibility that children owe their parents. The climax, too, is an over-sentimental mess that is unnecessarily exaggerated and hence fails to strike a chord.

Ajay Devgan and Konkona Sen Sharma, credible actors both, sportingly participate in much of the film’s idiocy, and yet succeed in never turning this film into the kind of offensive, unwatchable comedy that it might have easily become in the hands of such actors as Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor who could learn a thing or two about restraint from the leads in this film. Paresh Rawal has played this kind of role many times, and in this film he alternates between amusing and infuriating, depending on the quality of the scenes he’s performing.

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? is adapted from a short story by Sharad Joshi, and needed to be fleshed out better before making the transition to film. With better writing it might have been a crackling piece of comedy. As it is now, it’s a reasonably enjoyable weekend watch.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Ashwani Dhir’s Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge. One of the funniest bits in the film is a bhajan that Lambodar chacha breaks into, set to the tune of a popular Bollywood chartbuster. Keep your expectations low and perhaps you won’t be too disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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