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

August 31, 2012

Joke’s on you!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:38 pm

August 31, 2012

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Shreyas Talpade, Minnisha Lamba, Asrani, Chitrangada Singh

Director: Shirish Kunder

In Joker, directed by Shirish Kunder, Akshay Kumar is cast as a committed NASA scientist. You can laugh now. Very likely it’s the only time you’ll laugh during this disappointing film.

Stripped down to its basics, there’s an interesting premise at the heart of Joker, but Kunder fails spectacularly in exploiting its potential. In a sequence parodying Swades, US-based Agastya (Kumar) returns home to Paglapur, an obscure village in North India that doesn’t even have access to basic amenities like water and electricity. Gathering the village’s crackpot residents, Agastya hatches a plan involving fake crop circles and aliens in a bid to get the world to take notice of his hometown. Even as the media and politicians descend upon Paglapur for a piece of the action, a rival American scientist shows up to expose Agastya’s hoax.

Despite its crisp 100-minute running time, Joker feels long and laborious because most of the gags are recycled. The humor is flat, and the characters plain silly. Like Ajay Devgan in Bol Bachchan recently, Asrani plays a professor who translates Hindi literally into English. Shreyas Talpade is a madcap who speaks in an odd tongue that nobody understands. We spot a kid suspended upside down from a ceiling; “He thinks he’s a lantern,” we’re informed.

It’s easy to write off Joker as a complete failure, but to give credit where it’s due, the film is less offensive than many Akshay Kumar films we’ve seen recently. Devoid of double-meaning dialogues and sexist jokes, there is stuff here that might have made for an engaging children’s film, had Kunder not fallen prey to that oldest mistake – of treating his audience like fools.

Akshay Kumar goes through his scenes earnestly; Kunder deserves praise for reining in his star, and not subjecting us to the kind of loud performances we’ve seen from Akshay in most comedies. Sonakshi Sinha, meanwhile, playing his supportive girlfriend who travels with him to Paglapur and is a willing participant in his alien-drama, has little to do but look pretty.

Joker unfolds briskly and predictably. Alas, just as you’re confronted with an unpredictable twist in the tale, the film comes to a screeching halt. Once again, an opportunity wasted.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Joker. This is no enjoyable circus. Far from it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Political pressure

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:37 pm

August 31, 2012

Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox

Director: Jay Roach

Unable to decide if it wants to be a demented comedy or a cheeky political satire, The Campaign starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, is a promising but inconsistent film that takes some well-deserved jabs at the ridiculous business of American politics.

Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, a sleazy North Carolina congressman who expects to run unopposed for a fifth term, but finds himself pitted against a dim-witted political amateur, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), when Brady’s sexual peccadillos become public. The film is essentially a series of back-and-forths between both candidates as they attempt to sabotage each other’s campaigns, with some help from their respective managers (Jason Sudeikis and a deliciously vile Dylan McDermott).

Many of the gags are genuinely funny, particularly one in which the two men spot a mother holding a baby at an election rally, and both rush to hold the little one first, realizing the potential of a favorable photo-op. What happens next is sheer slapstick gold. The problem is that this screwball humor suddenly makes way for not-particularly-insightful social commentary (with thinly veiled references to major players), and as a result you’re left with a film that’s neither this nor that.

I’m going with two out of five for The Campaign. Ferrell and Galifianakis are good. But they deserve better, and so do we.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Dead end

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:36 pm

August 31, 2012

Cast: Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Bradley Cooper, Tom Arnold, Michael Rosenbaum, Kristin Chenoweth

Director: Dax Shepard & David Palmer

Hit & Run, starring real-life couple Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, has been described as an action comedy, but it’s neither very funny, nor are the car chases particularly thrilling.

Shepard (from the popular American TV show Parenthood) writes, co-directs, and stars in this dull film as Charlie, a reformed getaway driver living in a small town in California with his college professor girlfriend, Annie (Bell). She doesn’t know about his past, but the secrets come tumbling out during a road-trip to LA, during which they’re pursued by Annie’s jealous ex-boyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum), Charlie’s revenge-seeking bank-robber partner who he had arrested (a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper), and a bumbling US Marshal (Tom Arnold) assigned the job of keeping an eye on Charlie.

Much of the dialogue in this film sounds unscripted, which is only occasionally a good thing. It leads to some long, tedious conversations between Charlie and Annie that are awkward and frankly boring. We’re meant to find Charlie endearing, and his ignorant political incorrectness cute, so his racial stereotyping and homophobia are played out for laughs. Alas it’s not always funny, except for a scene in which Bradley Cooper’s character reveals a terrible incident that occurred with him in jail, which Charlie responds to with sheer lunk-headed naivete that’s sure to inspire some guilty laughs.

The film’s final act is an orgy of car chase scenes that are done with little imagination or originality. At one point three cars go round and round in circles. Much like this film does.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Hit & Run. It’s only sporadically funny. You’ll wonder how films like this get made.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Deepika Padukone on ambition, talent, and success

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:34 pm

In this interview, Cocktail star Deepika Padukone – who was recently signed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali for Ram Leela and by Rohit Shetty for his Shah Rukh Khan starrer Chennai Express – talks about ambition, why Hindi film heroines are easily interchangeable, and why she’s currently single.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

“Why is 70 a milestone?” asks Amitabh Bachchan

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 1:38 am


As he gets ready to dive into Kaun Banega Crorepati Season 6, Amitabh Bachchan bares his heart on why he continues to remain excited about the format of this game show, his Hollywood debut in Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby, and his thoughts on turning 70 in October.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 25, 2012

“I’ve worked hard to look like this,” says Sonakshi Sinha

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:49 am

In this interview, Sonakshi Sinha talks about her reluctance to conform to Bollywood’s expectations of what a Hindi film heroine should look like. The star of Dabangg, Rowdy Rathore and the forthcoming Joker says she’s happy with her full-bodied frame.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 24, 2012

Flirting at forty

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

August 24, 2012

Cast: Boman Irani, Farah Khan, Daisy Irani, Shammi, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal

Director: Bela Bhansali Sehgal

Unwilling to settle for the first girl who’s paraded before him, 45-year-old bachelor Farhad Pastakia is clear he will marry only for love. Farhad, played by a terrific Boman Irani in debutant director Bela Bhansali Sehgal’s Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi, is a lingerie salesman at a nearby store, and lives with his widowed mum (Daisy Irani) and her mother (yesteryear actress Shammi) in a Parsi colony in Mumbai. While his job proves to be a hurdle when it comes to his eligibility in the marriage market, his mum presents herself as an obstacle when Farhad finally meets his soulmate in feisty spinster Shirin Fuggawala, played with considerable zest by choreographer-filmmaker Farah Khan.

Romantic without ever being sickeningly sweet, and witty without wallowing in crude toilet humor, Shirin Farhad works on account of its inherent sincerity, and because Bela tells a simple story with simplicity. The film’s basic premise – of a romance thwarted by parental opposition – is hardly original, but writer Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Bela’s brother) puts a fresh spin on that familiar formula by weaving the love story around a middle-aged couple.

Setting it against the backdrop of the Parsi community gives the film a distinct texture, and much of Shirin Farhad’s light-hearted laughs come from the quirkiness of its characters. Like the delusional old neighbor who’s in an imaginary relationship with Indira Gandhi, or Farhad’s own mother who clings on with dear life to an illegal water tank that her husband installed in their home before his death. It helps that Bela casts real Parsis in all speaking roles (Daisy Irani, Shammi, and Mahabanoo Modi-Kotwal as Shirin’s doting aunt, are the pick of the lot); that gives the film an authentic flavor instead of the fake impressions that non-Parsi actors invariably deliver in Parsi roles.

At the heart of the film, of course, are Boman Irani and Farah Khan who are superbly cast and bring so much to their characters by way of accents and mannerisms and evidently improvised dialogue. On looking at the steeply-priced dishes on a menu while out on a date, Shirin asks Farhad: “Bartan toh nahin dhona padega na?

The couple shares a warm chemistry, and some of the most enjoyable moments in the film involve their peculiar responses to such romantic-movie staples as the first kiss, the hint of sexual attraction, and the marriage proposal. When she’s in hospital for accidentally swallowing a cherry that contained the ring Farhad was going to propose with, Shirin tells him: “Maine kabhi nahin socha tha meri shaadi ka ring yahan se niklega!

Not everything works though. Even if you’re willing to look beyond the TV serial-production values, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Shirin Farhad succumbs to loud melodrama occasionally, and some bits stand out for sheer silliness. A portion towards the end, where Farhad is bashed up by neighbors and hauled to the police station for attempting to climb over a gate, feels pointless. And it doesn’t help that the film’s narrative is punctured by too many songs that serve no real purpose other than adding to the film’s length.

It’s a good thing the film’s merits far outnumber its flaws. Beneath its cheeky wit and some of those slapstick gags, Shirin Farhad subtly touches upon issues like pride in one’s profession, embracing one’s physicality, and no expiry date on love. Bela steers clear of caricaturing the Parsi community, at best allowing Parsi characters themselves to take affectionate jibes at each others’ tics.

I’m going with three out of five for director Bela Bhansali Sehgal’s Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi. It’s a charming film made with heart. Give it a chance, you won’t be disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

More cheese, please!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:35 pm

August 24, 2012

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarznegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Chuck Norris, Yu Nam, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme

Director: Simon West

Considerably more fun than the earlier film, The Expendables 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you. Eyeing a rickety old jet that Bruce Willis has just presented to him in one of the film’s closing scenes, Sylvester Stallone declares: “That plane belongs in a museum.” “We all do,” quips Arnold Schwarznegger, echoing your sentiments exactly.

Back to deliver a second helping of that bullets-and-blood buffet of 80s action cinema, star and co-writer Stallone (he’s handed over directing duties to Simon West this time) once again gathers his band of ageing tough guys to kick some serious ass. Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Stallone return as a team of deadly mercenaries who, in the film’s over-long opening sequence, wipe out an army of soldiers in a Nepalese village to rescue Schwarznegger. During a subsequent job assigned to them by Willis (who cameos as a CIA agent), a member of their squad is brutally killed by the film’s villain, played by fellow grisly-lion Jean-Claude Van Damme, thus prompting the hired guns to go into bloodthirsty revenge mode.

The plot, as you might have guessed, is nothing more than an excuse for this geriatric gang of beloved icons to show they’ve still got what it takes. How do you not cheer as Stallone and Van Damme get down and dirty in a hand-to-hand fight scene? Or when 72-year-old Chuck Norris makes an all-guns-blazing entry as a “lone wolf” who comes to the aid of the Expendables? How do you not giggle when the old fogies make embarrassing passes at Yu Nam, a tech genius and the sole female member in their team?

Nevertheless, it’s easy to be exhausted by the relentless stabbings, shootings and decapitations, and if it wasn’t for the film’s self-mocking humor, the charm of this steroidal sequel might have run dry early during its roughly 100-minute runtime. Of the film’s leathery-faced cast, Stallone still has a commanding presence even if he mutters most of his lines inaudibly. Statham is the real star, delivering some killer moves, particularly in one sequence in which he appears disguised as a priest. The rest are there mainly to provide laughs, many unintentional.

I’m going with three out of five for The Expendables 2. It’s dumb, silly fun. Best enjoyed with lots of popcorn.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 16, 2012

Sridevi on English Vinglish, Lamhe and Mr India

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

In this interview, Sridevi – one of Hindi cinema’s finest actresses ever – talks about her 15-year hiatus from the movies, and her comeback in English Vinglish. Also joining the star in this interview is her director Gauri Shinde who explains what the actress brought to her role.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 15, 2012

Tiger balm, anyone?

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:36 pm

August 15, 2012

Cast: Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Ranvir Shorey, Girish Karnad, Roshan Seth

Director: Kabir Khan

To be fair, Ek Tha Tiger is a very different beast from recent Salman Khan starrers, particularly his last two releases, Ready and Bodyguard. Now that could be construed either as good news or bad news depending on what you thought of those films. For those like me, who weren’t fans of those blockbusters, it’s refreshing to note that Ek Tha Tiger isn’t an over-indulgent one-man showreel. Hallelujah, this film has a plot. Unfortunately, however, it’s a one-line, threadbare plot around which director Kabir Khan constructs the entire movie.

In a nicely done opening, with enough slo-mo shots for the fans to whistle at, we’re introduced to RAW agent Tiger (Salman Khan), who, in a gritty Jason Bourne-ish action sequence, swiftly dispenses with a turncoat agent, then dodges armed assassins through the cobbled streets and dingy alleyways of a busy town in Iraq. Back home unscathed, Tiger, who we discover is just as comfortable with a ladle as he is with a gun, bribes his boss (Girish Karnad) with homemade daal before begging for a new assignment.

Packed off to Dublin to keep an eye on a suspect missile scientist (Roshan Seth), Tiger falls in love with the old man’s housekeeper, Zoya (Katrina Kaif), even as fellow RAW agent Gopi (Ranvir Shorey) advises him not to get distracted from the mission he’s assigned to.

The romantic portions in Ek Tha Tiger are warm and fuzzy, the humor thankfully clean and light-hearted, but as a thriller set in the world of espionage, it’s ironic that the people least intelligent here are the intelligence officers themselves. The interval point reveals a twist that you’ll probably guess a mile away; the only ones caught off-guard are the supposedly smart super-spies.

In his last film New York, director Kabir Khan delivered a watered-down mocktail version of a terrorism story. With Ek Tha Tiger he appears to be going for James Bond Lite. The film’s screenplay packs more holes than you’re likely to find in a fisherman’s net, and the clunky dialogue is the sort you’d expect from someone whose only research involved going through back issues of spy-themed comics.

What doesn’t disappoint is the action in this film. Whether Salman’s sliding down stairs on an overturned table firing at goons in a crowded marketplace, or using his jacket to stop a speeding tram from crashing into a populated street, the more ridiculous the sequence, the more cheers it inspires. A climactic sequence involving our injured hero on a motorbike, an airplane taking off, and lots of explosions, seems straight out of the Dhoom films, but it’s so cheerfully silly it’s hard not to smile.

The film loses its pace during those pensive scenes in which Tiger must make a choice between head and heart, and in those portions where both protagonists must consider the implications of choosing love over duty. The over-simplistic Indo-Pak peace message is only further evidence of the fact that this film treats a serious subject lightly.

Salman Khan’s performance in Ek Tha Tiger is moody at best. He jumps into the action scenes whole-heartedly but seems lost in the film’s dramatic portions, looking subdued even, like the birthday boy who’s having no fun at his own party. The romance between him at Katrina Kaif is sweet, but almost awkward – this film could have done with a little more passion between its leads. Katrina, faced with a fair bit of action herself, commits herself to the role, but her character has a cardboardish edge.

Despite its obvious flaws, Ek Tha Tiger is far from unwatchable. It’s a welcome change from the harebrained films we’ve seen Salman Khan in lately, and for what it’s worth he’s playing a character and not himself for a change. The question you have to ask is – Is that enough?

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Kabir Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger. At best, it’s a satisfying watch. Just don’t go in with high expectations.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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