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

March 15, 2013

Dude, where’s my car?

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

March 15, 2013

Cast: Saqib Saleem, Ram Kapoor, Rhea Chakraborty, Prabal Panjabi, Ravi Kissen

Director: Ashima Chibber

Nicely juxtaposing such identifiable themes as a teenager’s desperation to impress a pretty girl, and a boy’s fear of his father’s volcanic temper, against the backdrop of a big fat Punjabi wedding, debutant director Ashima Chibber delivers a harmless fluff of a film in Mere Dad Ki Maruti.

Middle-class Chandigarh boy Sameer (Mujhse Fraandhsip Karoge’s Saqib Saleem) sneaks away with the brand new Ertiga that his father (Ram Kapoor) has bought as a wedding gift for his brother-in-law-to-be. He steals the car to look good in the eyes of the college siren (Rhea Chakraborty), who’s agreed to go to a party with him. But after an enjoyable night on the town when that spanking new set of wheels accidentally goes missing, he’s petrified of facing his dad.

This wafer-thin plot notwithstanding, the film is enjoyable mostly for its frills. There’s some nice chemistry between Sameer and his faithful buddy Gattu (Vir Das-lookalike Prabal Panjabi) who together make varied attempts to replace the missing car before Daddyji finds out. Their banter alone makes for some of the film’s funniest moments.

Chibber roots the film in an earthy ‘Punjabiness’, her characters routinely engaging in loud, boisterous behavior, carping and swearing with as much passion as they drink and make merry. In the film’s best scene, Sameer’s sister breaks into a highly inappropriate dance at her own sangeet, shocking not only the guests but also her fiance and her brother who watch wide-eyed in horror, even as her mother cheers her on proudly.

Plot-wise, very little happens in the film’s first half, and what happens post-intermission isn’t particularly remarkable. From replacing the missing gaddi with a test-drive model from the showroom, to making a deal with a local car thief, then even renting one out from a family of aged men, the story is weak and never quite engaging. More than once you’re consumed by pangs of boredom, and it takes the spirited performances of the two male protagonists to draw you into the film again.

The portly Ram Kapoor is splendid as Sameer’s penny-pinching father who’s always frothing at the mouth over his no-good son. Saqib Saleem is confident and uninhibited, and is blessed with superb comic timing, emerging an unlikely but charming hero.

At roughly one hour and forty minutes, the film never overstays its welcome, but if you don’t understand Punjabi, it would be advisable to take along a friend who does.

I’m going with three out of five for Mere Dad Ki Maruti. It’s light and easy, and not hard to like. Just don’t expect much more.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 11, 2013

Pati, patni aur woe!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:53 pm

March 08, 2013

Cast: Jimmy Shergill, Irrfan Khan, Mahie Gill, Soha Ali Khan, Pravesh Rana, Raj Babbar

Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia

With Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns, director Tigmanshu Dhulia delivers another earthy cocktail of power games, bedroom politics, and palace intrigue. Only the stakes are higher in this sequel; the love is tainted from the start, and there’s even vengeance thrown in for good measure. Indeed the film is gripping for the most part, if you’re willing to overlook some convoluted stretches.

The saheb and biwi from the 2011 film are back: Aditya Singh (Jimmy Shergill) is wheelchair-bound after being left paralyzed in the earlier film’s bloody climax, while his alcoholic, unhinged wife Madhavi (Mahie Gill) is the elected MLA. Yet the equation between husband and wife is constantly shifting. Aditya is recovering from the accident, determined to get back on his feet. He wrests control from Madhavi, who can’t seem to lift herself from a drunken stupor on most days. A manipulative Aditya is trying to round up the other royals in the state to their advantage and grab political power, and part of his plan is to marry the soft-natured princess Ranjana (Soha Ali Khan).

This forces the hand of another player, Inder (Irrfan Khan), who is Ranjana’s paramour. Part of a royal family that’s fallen on bad times, Inder is a small-time gangster. When Aditya forces Ranjana to get engaged to him, Inder takes him on, seducing Madhavi and controlling her like a puppet with sexual power-play to defeat Saheb. Yet, Inder has a hidden agenda and a past that fuels his own ambitions.

As you may have guessed, there is intrigue at every door, a twist at every turn in Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns. This makes for a riveting first half, especially since Dhulia laces his scenes with plenty of humour. Inder is a curious character, and Irrfan plays him with elan. He lives in a carefully concocted fake world, playing polo matches and always dressing immaculately, even though he has to iron those very clothes himself. He is full of bluster, even paying to get his picture in the papers.

The dialogues in the film are crackling with wit, and even smaller characters are well constructed, like the bumbling politician caught watching porn on his laptop, or Inder’s policeman brother (Pravesh Rana) who dispenses his own justice. In spite of their machinations, there is vulnerability in each player.

Dhulia creates the dying world of the royals beautifully – how they struggle to adapt to a modern India, while living in crumbling palaces. He weaves the dirty business of politics and love into this universe, and doesn’t shy away from showing the sexual games involved. But halfway through, these political games lose steam. Dhulia throws in some bizarre scenes, and the choppy editing makes the final act over-tangled and long. Madhavi too goes from the most compelling character in the film to the most repetitive one.

In the performances, the men come up trumps. Jimmy admirably slips into the skin of the scheming, frustrated saheb again, yet it’s Irrfan who keeps you glued. He strikes just the right note as the desperate royal Inder. Mahie, meanwhile, lays it thick as Madhavi, over-slurring her words and playing the part disappointingly one-note.

Despite its many indulgences Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns is ultimately an engaging watch. I’m going with three out of five for this fascinating tale of ambition and emotions that might have further benefitted from tighter writing.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Meet the hoarders!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 7:45 pm

March 08, 2013

Cast: Sanjay Mishra, Pragati Pandey, Zakir Hussain, Ranjan Chhabra

Director: Anshul Sharma

Tapping into the middle class’ increasing frustration over rapid inflation, Saare Jahaan Se Mehnga, directed by debutant Anshul Sharma, is a well-intentioned satire constructed around a promising premise. But the film’s writers fail to build on their clever central idea, and ultimately deliver an undercooked script that lacks the consistent wit of 2010’s Phas Gaye Re Obama, that tongue-in-cheek take on recession, set in the world of UP gangsters.

This story unfolds in a small town in Sonipat, Haryana, where Puttanpal (Sanjay Mishra), a state-employed cattle breeder is struggling to make ends meet even with the additional income his wife earns running a small beauty parlor from home. When he learns about a 3-year interest-free loan that the government is offering to enable young entrepreneurs set up their own business, he applies for one in the name of his good-for-nothing younger brother on the pretext of setting up a shop. With this cash, the family stocks up on groceries and provisions to last them three years, so as to protect themselves against rising prices. But when a loan inspection officer (Zakir Hussain) comes around to check the new business, the family must set up a fake shop, only pretending to sell their supplies, in order to get him off their back.

Setting up a believable but amusing portrait of a community straining against hard times, director Anshul Sharma draws you into his world with nicely etched characters. Like Puttanpal’s beautician wife (Pragati Pandey), who offers cost-effective solutions to brides to look good on their big day. Or the town’s deluded bicycle repairman, who conducts dharnas in the square, demanding that black money stashed away in foreign banks be distributed among citizens. Or even Puttanpal’s crabby father, who’s permanently at the end of his patience.

The atmosphere and the characters in the film have an authentic texture, but the story itself is half-baked. There’s little meat in that romantic subplot between Puttanpal’s brother and the daughter of the local grocer. And the film’s climax is a melodramatic mess in which our protagonist delivers a long, impassioned monologue on inflation. The idea of hoarding as a means to combat rising prices is an interesting one, but the script never goes beyond that idea, making the same point in another subplot about dowry demands for an arranged marriage.

Sanjay Mishra is in good form as Puttanpal, and you’ll be surprised by moments of real tenderness in the scenes between him and his supportive wife. There are laughs to be had in the family’s many attempts to fool the loan inspection officer, and some dialogue is simply crackling. Still, the film never becomes more than the sum of its parts, and the blame for that rests squarely with the writing.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Saare Jahaan Se Mehnga. It’s not a bad film at all; it’s just not as good as it could’ve been.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

The Young Women in Film Roundtable

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 7:07 pm


In this interview with Rajeev Masand, five young women who’ve brought a modern sensibility to the movies talk about the representation of women on screen, the men and women who’ve shaped their careers, and the films they wish they were a part of. Meet actresses Parineeti Chopra and Kalki Koechlin, directors Reema Kagti and Kiran Rao, and producer Guneet Monga who assembled for The Young Women in Film Roundtable.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN on March 08, 2013)

March 8, 2013

Making of a classic

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 10:50 pm

It may have been the film that shot a 28-year-old, clean-shaven Steven Spielberg into movie-making history, but the director confesses that to this day, he wakes up in a cold sweat, all shaken up with nightmares of Jaws. And it’s not because of the lasting visuals he created…of a great white shark terrorizing a small coastal town. No, while shooting Jaws, Spielberg and his unit often waited around for hours and sometimes days as glitches were being ironed out in the mechanical fake shark nicknamed ‘Bruce’, who was the big star of Jaws.

The 2006 documentary The Shark is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws has been included as part of the bonus features on the new re-mastered Blu Ray Disc of Jaws. It’s a fantastic, exhaustive overview of the challenges of making this unforgettable horror film.

Spielberg’s brave unit filmed the movie in the Atlantic Ocean just off Martha’s Vineyard, not on a constructed set; and you learn how Bruce the shark was put together, and also why Spielberg didn’t stay back to shoot the final scene. There’s some unbelievable footage here – like that chilling real-life moment during the film’s shoot, when a great white shark actually got caught in a cage and thrashed about, just moments before a stunt double was supposed to get into it.

With interviews from Spielberg, as well as cast members like Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Schneider, The Shark is Still Working pieces together the rocky journey of the film’s making, then moves on to the legacy of Jaws through testimonies from directors like M Night Shyamalan, Bryan Singer and Kevin Smith on how the movie changed their lives.

The impact of Jaws also altered Hollywood marketing, especially through that silky ominous voice of Percy Rodrigues, as he introduced the killing machine in the first-time-ever television trailers. The summer blockbuster was redefined by the success of Jaws, and so it’s sad to watch young whiz kid Spielberg swallow his disappointment in a rare video, just as the 1975 Oscar nominations are announced and he misses that Best Director nod.

The Shark is Still Working is treasure trove of such moments for all Jaws fanboys, and is essential viewing for movie geeks. Do yourself a favour and take this memory trip into shark-infested waters. You’ll thank me for recommending it!

March 2, 2013

Irrfan Khan & Tigmanshu Dhulia on their years-old friendship, and on inspiring each other

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:01 am

In this interview, Irrfan Khan and director Tigmanshu Dhulia talk about their years-old friendship and how they inspire each other. The team behind some fine films like Haasil and Paan Singh Tomar talk about their latest collaboration, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 1, 2013

A tragedy exploited

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:47 pm

March 01, 2013

Cast: Nana Patekar, Sanjeev Jaiswal

Director: Ramgopal Varma

It’s not often that you go into a movie knowing exactly what to expect, but The Attacks of 26/11 is that rare exception. The plot and the end of this movie are no secret because the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, and the way the horror unfolded on the night of November 26, is still fresh in public memory. Unfortunately, in the hands of director Ramgopal Varma, these unprecedented events are portrayed in a one-dimensional, jingoistic, and almost hysterical tone.

The Attacks of 26/11 often resembles a tacky B-movie. Even if there’s a voyeuristic fascination in observing how 10 men managed to lay siege to a city like Mumbai, this film is so lacking in genuine emotion and original perspective that despite the carnage, you’re hardly moved.

Varma, who has said the film’s facts are based on Mumbai’s Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria’s deposition to the Inquiry Committee, and on Ajmal Kasab’s confession, opens with that very deposition. Although never named in the film, the Commissioner, played by Nana Patekar, narrates the events of that night to a stony-faced committee played by a set of wooden actors. Patekar himself hams it up, adopting a painfully slow drone, perhaps to remind us repeatedly just how serious a matter this is.

It’s easy to stay engaged when the actual events are unfolding… But that has less to do with Varma’s film than the riveting nature of the horrific attacks. You’re rapt as you watch the shockingly easy manner in which the armed men enter the city through the sea, and cold-bloodedly open fire at Leopold Cafe, The Taj Hotel, CST Station, and Cama Hospital. Alas, most of the attacks are staged awkwardly, and handled without much finesse. They’re gimmicky, often punctuated with women and children wailing, and sadly, Varma rarely lingers on any real emotion or expends energy in building characters. There is blood, gore and slow motion used to accentuate the horror than actual feelings, be it for the victims or the martyred cops.

Equally disconcerting is caricaturish manner in which Kasab and his band of brothers are portrayed like snarling villains. Their faces, caressed in close-ups, resemble heinous plaster-of-Paris masks, with bulging eyes and ferocious frowns. Sanjeev Jaiswal, playing Kasab, overacts wildly, speaking in a raspy voice and erupting into hyena-like laughter.

Oddly, Varma skips showing us the attacks on the Oberoi Hotel and Colaba’s Nariman House, just making a passing mention of both. The film’s one arresting sequence is the brave police operation in which Kasab was finally captured in a silver Skoda, off Chowpatty.

The Attacks Of 26/11 needlessly builds the Commissioner’s role into a larger-than-life one, and therein it slips. You watch as Patekar sips chai while lecturing a brain-washed jihadi like Kasab in a morgue with nine bodies rotting an arm’s length away. The rambling conversations between terrorist and cop make you shift restlessly in your seats.

Like the recent Zero Dark Thirty, you know what is coming to Kasab at Yerawada jail in 2012. The difference lies in the treatment; The Attacks Of 26/11 deserved better writing and more subtlety to capture a tragedy of this magnitude.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Ramgopal Varma’s The Attacks Of 26/11. It’s a chapter in Mumbai’s history that we’ll never forget, so a movie on the attacks should have left you more than just comfortably numb.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:42 pm

March 01, 2013

Cast: John Abraham, Chitrangada Singh, Prachi Desai, Zarina Wahab, Mini Mathur, Raima Sen, Sameer Soni

Director: Kapil Sharma

There’s an interesting premise at the heart of debutant director Kapil Sharma’s I, Me Aur Main, which tells the coming of age story of a 35-year-old. But despite giving us a believable protagonist, Sharma and writer Devika Bhagat fast run out of interesting ideas to keep us hooked.

Encouraged from childhood to believe that he’s special, Ishaan, played by John Abraham, is a self-centred man-child with commitment issues. He lives with his girlfriend Anushka (Chitrangada Singh) in her apartment, but never offers to share either the workload, or household expenses. Three years into the relationship, tired of being taken for granted, Anushka throws Ishaan out of her home and her life when she realizes it’s unlikely he’ll ever change.

Unfazed by the break-up, Ishaan moves into a modest apartment, and soon makes a friend in his feisty neighbor Gauri (Prachi Desai). Inevitably, the pair falls in love. Around this time, however, he loses his job at a music company, and receives some life-changing news.

The filmmakers keep the tone light and frothy, but what starts out as a promising scenario quickly nosedives into an abyss of clichés. Amidst a sea of tired female stereotypes, the film offers at least two flesh and blood characters in Ishaan’s indulgent mom (Zarina Wahab), and his affectionate but practical-minded sister (Mini Mathur). The track that doesn’t work, meanwhile, involves Ishaan’s job woes and his rivalry with a ball-breaker boss (Raima Sen).

The film’s key problem is its inconsistent screenplay, that comes off as contrived in places, yet hits some right notes, like that link it makes between his mother’s pampering and Ishaan’s sense of entitlement.

Both leading ladies offer earnest performances, but while Chitrangada Singh risks repetition playing the independent, in-control woman once again, Prachi Desai goes a little overboard with the perkiness. John Abraham, charming in all the right places, struggles to stretch himself in the film’s emotional bits, but deserves points for trying.

The film, ultimately, rushes towards its hasty, unpredictable resolution that feels unconventional merely for the sake of it. I’m going with two out of five for I, Me Aur Main. At less than two hours, it’s hardly a slog. But you can’t help feeling like real potential was squandered.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Bean there done that!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

March 01, 2013

Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ian McShane, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewan Bremner, Warwick Davis

Director: Bryan Singer

Evidently made for no other reason than to cash in on the current trend of revisionist storybook fantasies, Jack the Giant Slayer, directed by The Usual Suspects’ Bryan Singer, is a mostly forgettable adventure based on the popular children’s folktale, Jack and the Beanstalk. As many as three screenwriters are responsible for this overstuffed script, that recycles too many familiar plotlines, never succeeding in creating anything significantly original.

Set in medieval times, the film sees orphaned farm boy Jack (Nichoas Hoult) setting off on a quest to rescue a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson), when a magic bean in his possession accidentally sprouts and unearths a monstrous stalk that sends the young princess skywards, to a land of nasty giants. Jack, however, isn’t alone on this rescue mission: The princess’ father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), has deployed his best men to bring back his daughter. These include Roderick (Stanley Tucci), the princess’ shifty fiance, and Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the King’s top knight.

It’s easy to see why the film doesn’t work despite some impressive action scenes and the meticulously rendered CGI vistas. The characters, unfortunately, are as compelling as a bowl of stale oats, which makes it hard for you to care for them. Doesn’t help that the giants too have no character; they look suspiciously similar to the trolls in Peter Jackson’s recent “Hobbit” installment, and to be honest they don’t inspire much dread.

The film’s final act, in which the giants climb down the beanstalk and storm the kingdom, is occasionally thrilling, but it’s too little too late.

Jack the Giant Slayer is a bonafide bore; I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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