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

August 27, 2010

Three’s a crowd!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:30 pm

August 27, 2010

Cast: Gul Panag, Celina Jaitley, Eesha Koppikar, Javed Jaffrey, Divya Dutta

Director: Manoj Tiwari

Devoid of a single original idea and packed with sexual innuendo, Hello Darling starring Gul Panag, Celina Jaitley and Eesha Koppikar is a shameless rip-off of the 1980 office comedy Nine to Five, about three harassed co-workers who get even with their sexist boss.

Our trio of leading ladies are employed at a garments firm where they are routinely hit on by their oversexed superior, a salivating lecherous Javed Jaffrey who stars as Hardik — a name that’s mispronounced more than once in this film to generate a few cheap chuckles.

There are dozens of references to sexual organs, at least two typical gay jokes, and so many tight close-ups of the actress’ breasts that you’d think the film would at least work as a naughty sex comedy. It doesn’t because the premise disintegrates into sheer silliness, and because the acting’s so labored.

You don’t expect grandiose performances in a film like this, but how hard can it be to look like you’re enjoying yourself? Apart from Eesha Koppikar who makes an effort to create something of a character out of her not-so-smart Haryanvi bumpkin, the rest of the actors seem to be having a hard time just remembering their lines.

The humor’s strictly low-brow, and despite that there are a few moments that’ll make you laugh in the first half. But by the time you return to your seat after intermission, the jokes appear to have dried up. Even Sunny Deol, who makes a special appearance, doesn’t appear to think much of this film to even bother with dubbing his own dialogues; they’ve got a voice artiste to mimic his tone.

What’s particularly offensive about this film is that it wants to be taken seriously while addressing sexual harassment and gender politics. Now that’s too much to ask!

I’m not prudish and there is such a thing as a smart sexual farce, but there’s nothing even remotely smart about this film. It’s tiring and not very funny in the end. For that I’m going with one out of five for director Manoj Tiwari’s Hello Darling. It’s the kind of film that makes you squirm in your seat.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 26, 2010

Kajol: On films, and the baby that’s coming!

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 2:55 pm

VIDEO! Just weeks before the release of We Are Family, a heavily pregnant Kajol talks about making the movies she enjoys, her approach to her craft, and about the baby that’s on the way. This interview is divided into two parts. (This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 25, 2010

James Cameron doesn’t think Inception is smarter than Avatar

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:16 am

James Cameron doesn’t agree with popular opinion that Inception is a smarter film than Avatar. The Oscar-winning filmmaker makes a defence for his blockbuster about blue people…

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 20, 2010

Street dancers

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:12 pm

August 20, 2010

Cast: Neil Nitin Mukesh, Deepika Padukone, Piyush Mishra

Director: Pradeep Sarkar

Only Yashraj Films — known for their squeaky-clean characters and their synthetic entertainers — would cast the freshly scrubbed, rosy-cheeked Neil Nitin Mukesh as a tough-as-nails street-fighter. In Lafangey Parindey, directed by Parineeta’s Pradeep Sarkar, Neil stars as Nandu, a Mumbai tapori who fights blindfolded in bare-knuckled bouts, vanquishing his opponents with a single blow.

When Pinky Palkar (played by Deepika Padukone), a feisty figure-skater from his basti loses her sight in a hit-and-run accident, Nandu takes her under his wing and helps her become self-reliant. She in turn, convinces him to skate-dance with her so she can enter a talent contest that she’s forever had her eyes on (pun unintended).

The obligatory romance that follows is at the core of this film, that’s weighed down by a predictable script packed with lazy stereotypes. So you have the hero’s idle friends, who have affectionate nicknames like Chaddi and Diesel. You have a gold-toothed villain and an upright cop. You also have a yuppie star (Neil) spouting Bambaiyya street-lingo in his Anglicized accent. And then there’s that designer run-down basti, the sanitized YRF version of a Mumbai chawl.

Lafangey Parindey isn’t a particularly bad film; it’s just not a good film either. It’s the kind of film that keeps you waiting for something to happen, but nothing ever does. There’s no element of surprise or unpredictability in its screenplay; and as a result even though it’s only two hours long, you find yourself exhausted by the time the lights come back on.

On the upside, the film has a refreshing soundtrack by R Anandh, and some of the supporting cast makes an impression, particularly Wake Up Sid‘s Namit Das who plays Nandu’s friend Chaddi.

Of the leads, Neil Nitin Mukesh approaches his part earnestly, and throws himself into the film’s bloody fight scenes with as much intensity as he can muster. The problem, unfortunately, is that he appears and sounds too clean-cut to come off as a convincing sadak chaap. Deepika Padukone, meanwhile, succeeds in cobbling together a performance using mostly her eyes and her body language, and she pulls off the street-speak without too many hiccups either.

Lafangey Parindey is the kind of film that doesn’t stay in your head much after you’ve left the cinema. And you should be happy for that!

I’m going with two out of five for director Pradeep Sarkar’s Lafangey Parindey. It’s a pointless, boring film. Watch it if you have 200 bucks to waste!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Kajol on the secret behind her friendship with Kareena

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:58 am

August 20, 2010

She’s one of Bollywood’s most popular female actors, despite the fact that she’s become increasingly reclusive over the years. Kajol — who stars next in We Are Family — reveals the secrets behind her surprising friendship with Kareena Kapoor, while shooting for this remake of Stepmom.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 19, 2010

Whale of a time

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 7:50 am

Set in 1957, Gods And Monsters is a film about the last days of Hollywood’s B-movie director James Whale, best remembered as the man who directed such films as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein among others.

Ian McKellen plays James Whale, the ageing homosexual filmmaker who takes a fancy to his good-looking gardener Clayton Boothe, played by Brendan Fraser. The film’s really about the unusual friendship that develops between the two men, who’re as diverse as chalk and cheese.

Whale is a man whiling away his early Hollywood retirement lapsing into nostalgic dreams; he’s what you’d call a tortured soul. You feel sorry for him when you see him sizing up the yard-boy, or when you realize he knows he doesn’t have terribly long to live. Boothe, on the other hand, is your average Joe, a heterosexual twenty-something ex-Marine who can’t quite understand Whale’s interest in him. Gods And Monsters works because it manages to strike all the right chords and because it’s essentially a poetic yet painful portrait of a wasted life.

The film’s held together by Ian McKellen’s performance. It’s a tough part to play, one that could have easily turned out as a lecherous old man who arouses zero pity or sympathy, but McKellen plays him so astutely that by the end of the film your heart goes out to Whale, even though you can see him making all the wrong choices along the way.

Another remarkable performance is delivered by Lynn Redgrave, who plays Whale’s housekeeper: she’s a cheerless old maid who disapproves of Whale’s sinful longings, but tends to him faithfully.

A deep and moving drama about an unusual relationship and an uncommon man, the film is a must for the sheer magnificence of Ian McKellen’s performance: the intricate little touches, the nuances he brings to this complicated character.

August 13, 2010

To have, or not to have

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:30 pm

August 13, 2010

Cast: Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghubir Yadav, Malaika Shenoy, Naseeruddin Shah

Director: Anusha Rizvi

The very opening scene of Peepli Live establishes the film’s villager protagonist Natha as a dreamer. It’s unlikely however that even in his wildest dreams Natha (played by Omkar Das Manikpuri) might have imagined the nationwide frenzy he inadvertently goes on to create when he decides to kill himself. Buried under enormous debts and his land mortgaged to pay off his loans, Natha is manipulated by his brother Budhia (played by Raghubir Yadav) to commit suicide so his surviving family can live off the government’s compensation.

But nothing goes according to plan. Once the press gets whiff of the story, a media circus unfolds in front of Natha’s house in the obscure village of Peepli. Every journalist wants to cash in on the ‘live suicide’ by a now reluctant Natha. Immediately politicians jump in too: with elections around the corner, everyone from the local corporator, right up to the Union Agricultural Minister exploits the situation for their vote banks.

A scathing satire on the country’s apathy towards the rural class, and specifically towards farmers, Peepli Live employs a comic tone to tell a serious story. The witty script turns Natha into something of a local celebrity, who draws out the true character and motivations of all those who cross his path.

And no one is spared. Director Anusha Rizvi, herself a former journalist, exposes the television media with an unflinching, accurate eye. Hindi news channel reporters are portrayed as insensitive and sensational, shown sticking a mike into his bed-ridden mother’s face, and going so far as to make a story out of Natha’s faeces even. But Rizvi is equally critical of the supposedly superior English news media, lending a ruthless streak to a hotshot female anchor.

The director displays solid confidence while handling the media swoop-down on Natha; and in one particularly well-written scene between the prominent English anchor and an earnest local reporter, points out how journalism has become less about the issue and more about the story. But Rizvi appears less assured when it comes to her portrayal of the politicians in Peepli Live. Each is squeezing the situation dry for personal profit – that point is well made. But after a while, this depiction becomes labored, and what we get is the crooked politician cliché. In a film like Peepli Live, this sticks out like a sore thumb. What’s more, after opening on a high note, the film slips into a somewhat predictable rhythm.

Holding your interest until the end is Rizvi’s strong thread of humour, like the bellowing cat-fights between Natha’s ancient, beedi-smoking mother, and his no-nonsense wife played with glorious anger by the excellent Shalini Vatsa.

The script of Peepli Live is a honed, precise affair, leading the viewer into exactly the world it wants to present. There are layers to it, if you look closer. On the surface, the film is about the farmer’s plight and how he is exploited. Yet it also speaks about the gaping divide between the haves and have-nots, in a society where the haves are increasingly becoming have-mores and no attention is paid to the have-nots.

Giving the film an authentic edge is its terrific cast that slips naturally into the parts Rizvi envisioned. Nawazuddin Siddiqui channels pathos and disillusionment into the role of Rakesh, the local journo whose story sets off the pandemonium. As Nandita, the abrasive English newsperson who first descends on Peepli to exploit Natha’s story, Malaika Shenoy brings out the media’s unhealthy over-competitive edge with precision. Vishal Sharma is disturbingly familiar as the smarmy Hindi reporter Kumar Deepak, for whom no detail is too small to spin into a melodramatic story. Of the leads, Raghubir Yadav effortlessly displays both the helplessness of the cornered farmer and the cunning of an elder brother manipulating Natha like a puppeteer. And finally, Omkar Das Manikpuri suffuses Natha with child-like emotions; there’s an innocence to him that’s immediately endearing to the viewer. Watch how he unsuccessfully tries to shoo away a goat that’s nibbling at his hair while he sleeps, finally giving in to his instinct and comforting the animal tenderly. The actor has barely any dialogue in the film, but says so much through the resigned slump of his shoulders and his bewildered expressions.

Helped enormously by a rousing soundtrack, armed with a tight, intuitive script and a confident directorial approach, Rizvi turns Peepli Live into a simplistic yet engaging picture of a sad reality. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for writer-director Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live. It’s an unusual story told in a bittersweet voice. Watch it because it’s an important story and because it’s made with heart.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

A gathering of fools!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:15 pm

August 13, 2010

Cast: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Jemaine Clement, Zach Galifianakis

Director: Jay Roach

In Dinner for Schmucks, wealthy Wall Street investment analysts invite idiots to a dinner, holding a contest to see who has found the biggest clown. Based on the excellent 1998 French film, The Dinner Game which was shamelessly plagiarized as Bheja Fry in 2007, this Hollywood remake is a distinctly unfunny affair.

Steve Carell stars as oddball Barry Speck, an IRS auditor who spends his spare time collecting dead mice and dressing them up in costumes to so he can place them in his elaborate tableaux. Barry turns out to be the perfect candidate for Tim (played by Paul Rudd) to take to his boss’ dinner, despite his girlfriend’s disapproval over his participating in this rude custom.

The key factor that separates the French original from this American hack-job is the characterization of Tim, who’s portrayed as a nice guy going through this exercise because it appears to be the only way he’ll get a promotion at work. In The Dinner Game, that character is written as a cheating, lying rascal who enjoys the dinner tradition and looks forward to finding a unique candidate each time. As a result, when this character gets his comeuppance in the French film, you don’t find yourself feeling much sympathy for him, like you do for Tim here.

Dinner for Schmucks recycles many of the same jokes from the French film, but it’s also a good example of how Hollywood tends to botch up a perfectly good idea with unnecessary excess. The film’s actual dinner party scene is a long and tedious track that, incidentally, never existed in the French original, which focused on the havoc that the dinner guest creates in his new friend’s life as soon as he walks into his home. Those bits, in fact are the best bits in Dinner for Schmucks too. Within moments of showing up at Tim’s apartment, Barry has driven Tim’s girlfriend away, invited a ferocious stalker and allowed her to wreck the place, and caused serious back injury to Tim.

The comic chemistry between Carell and Rudd is easily this film’s only strong point. The rest of the humor appears labored and forced, although much of  it is delivered by some remarkable funny men including The Hangover’s Zach Galifianakis, Little Britain’s David Walliams, and Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords. The problem, to be fair, isn’t with the actors, it’s with the script which is overwritten with silly, slapstick jokes.

I’m going with two out of five for Dinner for Schmucks. I recommend you seek out the original French film on DVD, it’s a far more entertaining watch and stars the incredibly hilarious Jacques Villeret as the bumbling, idiot hero. Truth is, even Bheja Fry was funnier than this Hollywood remake!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Adam Sandler & the boys from ‘Grown Ups’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:00 pm

In this interview I recorded in Cancun (Mexico), Adam Sandler and the boys from Grown Ups (Kevin James, David Spade and Rob Schneider) talk about their comedy, about what’s sacred to them, and about why Chris Rock is missing from the gathering today.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Men behaving badly

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 9:10 pm

August 13, 2010

Cast: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph

Director: Dennis Dugan

The new Adam Sandler comedy Grown Ups is an unlikely cocktail of gross frat-boy humor and sweet sentimentality, and surprisingly it works.

Five guys in their early 40s reunite after many years at a lakeside cabin for the funeral of their beloved basketball coach, who led them to victory when they were 12. Sandler stars as a Hollywood agent with a snotty fashion-designer wife (played by Salma Hayek) and three bratty kids. Kevin James is an out-of-work loser whose wife still breast-feeds their 4-year-old son. Chris Rock is a stay-at-home dad whose pregnant wife and her overbearing mother make his life a living hell. Rob Schneider is a New Age sensitive man, married to a woman old enough to be his mom. And David Spade is a horny, alcoholic singleton leading a life of sweet excess.

Grown Ups doesn’t venture too far from Sandler’s standard formula: the film is filled with pee, poop and puke jokes. There’s also running gag about an old black grandma who farts but pretends she doesn’t know who did it, and another one about the 4-year-old kid addicted to breast milk.

To be fair, the movie isn’t ashamed of its sappy side either, and puts it all out there bravely. So whether it’s Sandler throwing away an important basketball match so the other side can emerge heroes for their kids, or Sandler’s diva wife sacrificing an important previous commitment because she realizes her family needs to stay back…this film has heart, and it’s not afraid to show it.

Comedies ought to be tighter, but Grown Ups seems to go on and on and on. What keeps you laughing till the end is the genuine camaraderie between the men, and the tone of their interactions and ribbing which sounds like buddies hanging out, not actors in a movie. Watch how they work out a strategy that allows them to enjoy staring at a sexy new houseguest without ever getting caught, or their child-like enthusiasm at hitting the water park with their kids.

Grown Ups isn’t a particularly smart movie, but it’s the hardest I’ve laughed in a cinema in a long, long time. I’m going with three out of five for Grown Ups. If you’re not turned off by dirty jokes, this film is pretty good fun.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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