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

May 31, 2013

Love hurts

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:44 pm

May 31, 2013

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Kalki Koechlin, Aditya Roy Kapur, Evelyn Sharma, Farooque Shaikh, Dolly Ahluwalia, Kunal Roy Kapur

Director: Ayan Mukherji

How much you enjoy Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani depends entirely on how much you’ve missed the typical Karan Johar formula. Wake Up Sid director Ayan Mukerji takes us on a familiar journey through holiday romances, family conundrums, and big fat Indian weddings. It’s predictable every step of the way, but Mukerji has a superb cast that never slips, even when his script does.

Straight-laced ‘Scholar Naina’ (Deepika Padukone) has little in common with thrill-seeking Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor) when she joins him and his two best friends – Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) and Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur) – on a trip to Manali. But after a series of collective experiences, including a messy run-in with the locals, a midnight trek to a high-altitude peak, and intoxicated Holi celebrations, she’s lost her inhibitions and also her heart. Too bad Bunny is focused on chasing his dream to travel the world, unwilling to let anything or anyone hold him back. When they’re all reunited at a wedding eight years later, Bunny must ask himself if he really wants to make the same choices all over again.

Although writer-director Ayan Mukerji sets his story in a world far from Wake Up Sid, he still has his hero go through an existential crisis in both life and love. If his first film was about a slacker finding a purpose, the message in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is that life can pass you by, if you don’t stop to savor the moments. This idea, however, is couched in the template of a dozen love stories starting from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

It’s a pity the treatment has a been-there-seen-that feel to it because there are some modern ideas hidden underneath all that fluff. Part of what makes Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani warm and fuzzy is the friendship that Bunny and his die-hard buddies Aditi and Avi share, despite their shifting dynamics over eight years. Mukerji understands and nicely puts across the bittersweet qualities that friendships go through, and more often than once I found myself misty-eyed. Even love is viewed rather practically by the four key characters here – it’s nice if you’ve found someone, but it needn’t be the end of the world if you’re not in a relationship. It’s refreshing also that Mukerji doesn’t tie up all the loose ends in the movie; not everyone gets the perfect happy ending.

These are, however, small mercies in a film that smacks of assembly line reproduction. The high-gloss, picture-postcard cinematography, the gilt-edged production design, and the unending scenes of wedding revelry and over-choreographed dance numbers have that distinct Dharma Productions stamp on them, each frame oozing excess. Still, they’re a lot less clumsy than the scenes of faux realism – like that entirely needless prologue in a Mumbai brothel where Bunny breaks into a dance with a hooker, even if she is played by Madhuri Dixit. Equally unconvincing is the intended grittiness in a sequence where an older Bunny, now a documentary film cameraman, daringly ventures into a seedy European ghetto shooting drug peddlers on the sly.

Many of the film’s problems, fortunately, are smoothened out by the terrific cast. Kalki Koechlin invests heart and spunkiness to the part of brash tomboy Aditi who is the glue that binds this group, while Aditya Roy Kapur is entirely likeable as the goofy Avi. The film benefits even from the spot-on timing of bit players like Dolly Ahluwalia and Kunal Roy Kapur, while Farooque Shaikh melts your heart in a two-scene cameo.

Ranbir Kapoor turns on the charm in full heartthrob mode. He’s pitch-perfect as the devil-may-care wanderer and flirt, and yet chokes you up in the more vulnerable, sensitive flashes. It’s difficult to stand out in the same frame as Ranbir, but Deepika Padukone knocks it out of the park as Naina. She brings a lovely innocence to the early scenes, and then an understated sexiness when we meet her again in the film’s second half. The pair sparks off each other, displaying a searing chemistry that neither has shared with other co-stars.

Too long by at least twenty minutes, this is a watchable film despite its conventional arc. Fans of Wake Up Sid will likely miss the original voice Mukerji revealed in his surprisingly mature debut, but with this one he shows he can do formula with as much ease. I’m going with three out of five for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. If light-hearted mush is what you’re seeking, you’re looking in the right place.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Last Vegas!

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

May 31, 2013

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, John Goodman, Heather Graham, Melissa McCarthy

Director: Todd Phillips

There’s no way any fan of the first Hangover film can honestly claim that The Hangover Part III is as much fun. There are a few good laughs to be found in the new film, but it’s not nearly as outrageous as the 2009 original. In an effort perhaps to please all those who criticized the second film for being a carbon copy of the first, director Todd Phillips ditches the blackout gimmick from the previous two movies, throws out the “what-happened-last-night?” narrative device, and goes in an entirely different direction this time.

After his father dies from a heart attack that was triggered by a road accident he caused involving an unfortunate giraffe, it becomes clear that Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is in need of professional help. His Wolfpack buddies – Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) – offer to drive him to a psychiatric facility in Arizona, but they’re ambushed en route by a mobster named Marshall (John Goodman) who orders them to track down their old ‘frenemy’, Asian criminal Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong). As it turns out, Chow stole 21 million dollars worth of Marshall’s gold, and now the boys must follow after Chow all the way to Mexico and then to Vegas to recover the gold, or Marshall will have Doug killed.

Teetering uncomfortably between black comedy and bleak crime thriller, Part III is effectively a cat-and-mouse chase between the boys and Mr Chow, and the violence in the film isn’t played for laughs, it’s actually pretty gruesome, with both humans and animals in the firing line. The occasional laughs are provided by Zach Galifianakis’ dim-witted man-child Alan, who continues to do and say the stupidest things. His man-crush on Phil notwithstanding, Alan’s budding romance with a pawn-shop dealer in Vegas (Melissa McCarthy) gives us one of the film’s most hilarious scenes.

But oddly, The Hangover Part III’s main focus is Ken Jeong’s Mr Chow, who can be hilarious in small doses, but gets way too much screen time here to do his usual mean-spirited shtick. As a result, Bradley Cooper’s Phil and Ed Helms’ Stu are reduced to second-rung players in this movie.

What’ll likely disappoint the fans most is the absence of any satisfying sight gags, the sort that made the first Hangover such a riot. Alas there are no tigers, no celebrity cameos, not even a baby to jerk off. What you do get is a gratuitous reunion with Heather Graham’s stripper Jade, and a strangely unsetting scene between Alan and her son that doesn’t belong in this film. The only comedic set-piece you’ll remember is a thrilling sequence staged on the roof of Caesar’s Palace.

And yet, with all its shortcomings, you have to admit The Hangover Part III contains more of a plot than the earlier films. There may be fewer surprises and not so many laugh-out-loud moments, but its twist-filled storyline ensures that you’re seldom bored.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for The Hangover Part III. Keep your expectations in check, and you won’t come out entirely disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 25, 2013

Ranveer Singh: “I’m not arrogant, I’ve been misunderstood”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 12:05 am

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Band Baaja Baraat star Ranveer Singh addresses rumors that he’s developed a swollen head from his early success. The actor also responds to the label of ‘serial dater’ that he seems to have acquired lately. Starring next in Udaan director Vikramaditya Motwane’s Lootera and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram Leela, Ranveer says he’s hoping his films do the talking from hereon.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 24, 2013


Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:50 pm

May 24, 2013

Cast: Preity Zinta, Rhehan Malliek, Isabelle Adjani, Shekhar Kapur

Director: Prem Raj

Ishkq in Paris is the sort of film that inspires its director and its leading man to assume aliases so they might escape responsibility for subjecting us to this travesty they’ve committed to the screen. Leading lady Preity Zinta, unfortunately, is too well known to hide behind a fake name.

Preity, playing Ishkq, a permanently perky Parisian photographer, is the sort of girl who takes off for the weekend to Rome because she “loves being served by Italian waiters”. On a train back home, she meets pretty boy Akash (Rhehan Malliek, formerly known as Gaurav Chanana), and no sooner than you’ve uttered the words “Before Sunrise”, they’re spending the day wandering about the French capital drinking, partying, and discussing life and relationships.

Credited not only as star, but also as producer and co-screenplay writer of this muddled film, Preity continues to rely on her dimpled smile and her sparkly eyes to do all the heavy lifting as far as her performance goes. But those tropes have gotten rusty from overuse.

Ishkq and Akash hit it off, but love is not on the menu. Ishkq, you see, is allergic to marriage, having seen her own mother (legendary French actress Isabelle Adjani) go through a messy divorce from her dad.

Writer-director Prem Raj (formerly Prem Soni, who helmed that forgettable Salman Khan-Kareena Kapoor starrer Main Aur Mrs Khanna) piles on the clichés, slipping into a quicksand of regressive ideas and over-familiar stereotypes. The film becomes increasingly soppy in its second half, but never in a way that you truly care for its characters. And how can you anyway?

Former TV actor and born-again newcomer Rhehan Malliek is as expressive as a slab of granite, and it doesn’t help that his voice is so obviously dubbed. Preity Zinta shimmies and shakes, and giggles till her jaws must hurt, but delivers only one genuinely moving moment in a scene set in a hotel room where she opens her heart to Akash. But no one ought to be more embarrassed than poor Isabelle Adjani who’s dubbed in clunky Hindi, and must even suffer the indignity of dancing like a junior artiste in an Indian wedding song.

Ishkq in Paris is a misguided, overwrought affair that feels way longer than its 96 minutes. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five. Watch it if you can muster up the courage.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Six drive

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:45 pm

May 24, 2013

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Luke Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Gina Carano, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris

Director: Justin Lin

Like a well-oiled engine, the Fast & Furious series can be counted on to deliver what it promises on the box: gleaming cars, thrilling chases, and buff stars who look like they’ve stepped out of the pages of a fitness magazine. The new installment, Fast & Furious 6 is just as dumb as the previous films, and its action scenes so furiously edited that it’s hard to tell who’s doing what, and to whom. But, as we’ve come to learn, that’s the charm of these movies…the stunts are outrageous, and the plot basic enough for an eight-year-old to enjoy.

The new film opens with our heroes Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) enjoying their retirement, when federal agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) shows up to recruit them in a mission to capture professional hijacker Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). The incentive for Don is a possible reunion with his ex, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who was presumed dead at the end of the fourth film and who now may be working with Shaw.

Director Justin Lin packs the film with back-to-back chases and set-pieces, never giving you a moment to ponder over the fact that you have no idea till the end, exactly what our villain is after – some codes are mentioned, but never clearly explained. The action itself is outrageous, and whether we’re seeing real stunts or special effects, or a cocktail of both, it’s pretty entertaining stuff. Cars are flipped like pancakes every few seconds, an armored tank creates carnage on a bridge, and an airplane is demolished in the climax.

For those who enjoy their action a little more gritty, you’ll be happy to know Gina Carano (Mixed Martial Arts star, and leading lady of Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire) is cast as Hobbs’ sidekick, and she gets down and dirty in a thrilling girl-on-girl fistfight with Rodriguez in the London Underground.

Don’t expect any improvement in the dialogue – the actors still mouth lines that appear to have been stolen from bumper stickers – and the performances are basically a range of stock expressions: angry, very angry, mad as hell.

At 2 hours and 11 minutes, it’s a little too long, and even the most devoted action-movie fans will sense the exhaustion creeping in. But don’t leave until you’ve caught that post-credits cameo from a popular British star who sets up next year’s seventh installment.

I’m going with three out of five for Fast & Furious 6. It’s loud and noisy, and a lot of fun even if it doesn’t make much sense.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 18, 2013

Leonardo DiCaprio on working with Amitabh Bachchan in ‘The Great Gatsby’

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 3:50 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand recorded during the Cannes Film Festival, Leonardo DiCaprio talks about his new film The Great Gatsby, about adapting a classic novel to the screen, and about working with legendary Indian star Amitabh Bachchan.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 11, 2013

Ranbir, Deepika and Ayan on working together after a break-up

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:33 am

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani stars Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, along with their director Ayan Mukerji, talk about the awkwardness of working together after a romantic break-up, and reveal why making this film was no fun at all.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

May 10, 2013

Zombie High

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:50 pm

May 10, 2013

Cast: Kunal Khemu, Vir Das, Anand Tiwari, Puja Gupta, Saif Ali Khan

Directors: Krishna DK & Raj Nidimoru

Go Goa Gone has been advertised as India’s first zom-com, or a comedy about zombies. The film, starring Kunal Khemu, Vir Das, and Anand Tiwari as three best friends stranded on an island infested with flesh-eating zombies, works like magic when directors Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru focus on their three leads and the irreverent banter between them. But, working off a slim plot, the filmmakers don’t really know where to take the story after a point, and end up turning the film’s entire second half into a lazy cat-and-mouse chase between man and monster.

Channeling an unfiltered, sexually charged humor reminiscent of Delhi Belly, the film introduces us to permanently stoned Hardik (Khemu) and Luv (Das), who never leave their couch unless they absolutely have to. Stuck in jobs they have no interest in, their love and sex lives going nowhere, the two fellas decide to tag along when their straight-arrow roommate, Bunny (Tiwari), heads to Goa on a work assignment.

The morning after a rave at a nearby island, an exclusive Russian drug that our heroes were too broke to buy has turned most partygoers into the walking dead. Along with a pretty girl, Luna (Puja Gupta), who also escaped the infection, the boys scramble around the island dodging the zombies until they run into Boris (Saif Ali Khan), a bleached-blond mafioso who claims he “kills dead people”.

The jokes fly thick and fast, particularly in the early scenes that benefit from a winning cocktail of laugh-out-loud dialogue and well-timed performances by the three leads. In one terrific sequence, they’re attacked by a trio of female flesh-eaters. After bickering over who will tackle the hot one, and who must vanquish the fat one, the boys use everything from logs to umbrellas to whack, stab, and punch the daylights out of the women. Never have I laughed this hard at a sight so politically incorrect, yet so oddly funny.

Saif Ali Khan as Boris, alternating between a Dilli accent and a Russian accent, is in very good form. In a scene where he interrogates and intimidates Kunal Khemu’s character while checking for possible signs of the zombie virus, both actors shine as they play off each other. Khemu, in fact, has a rakish charm, and he plays the cocksure Hardik with a winning confidence. Vir Das as the goofy Luv, and Anand Tiwari as the earnest Bunny, hit all the right notes, seldom setting a foot out of place.

It’s a pity then the writers don’t know what to do with these characters post intermission. So they’re relentlessly pursued by swarms of zombies through forests and beaches and an abandoned home. Because these monsters inspire neither fear nor laughs, the film’s extended climax doesn’t feel merely convenient, but also wholly underwhelming.

I’m going with three out of five for Go Goa Gone. So much in this film is good, until it all goes nowhere in the end.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Problem child

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:47 pm

May 10, 2013

Cast: Riya Vij, Divya Dutta, Taaha Shah, Doorva Tripathi, Arbaaz Kadwani, Pankaj Dheer

Director: Sonam Nair

School can be a difficult place if you’re overweight, awkward, not particularly bright, or clumsy on the sports field. Gurpreet Kaur, the 14-year-old protagonist of Gippi (Riya Vij), ticks all the boxes. She’s routinely taunted by the mean girl in class, ignored by all the popular kids, and can barely squeeze into her uniform. An unlikely friendship with the school jock (Taaha Shah) ends embarrassingly for Gippi, and in a weak moment she even accepts a challenge to win the Head Girl elections.

Despite its promising premise, evocative of the quirky American comedy Napoleon Dynamite, writer-director Sonam Nair’s debut film hits rough patches because the writing is so derivative, few of the characters feel particularly original or interesting.

The key tragedy with the film is that while some of Nair’s ideas are progressive and strong, her execution seldom matches up. The film addresses puberty, menstruation and sex education, but these scenes never achieve a matter-of-fact, ‘normal’ tone. Instead Nair appears to be calling out to the viewer, demanding appreciation for her ‘mature’ choices.

It doesn’t help that the film’s misfit heroine never endears herself as an underdog worth rooting for. Sure it’s hard being a teenager but Nair bequeaths Gippi with a prickly attitude in place of angst. Instead, scattered sparkling moments come from Gippi’s solemn best friend Aanchal (Doorva Tripathi) and her podgy younger brother Booboo (Arbaaz Kadwani). Of the cast, Divya Dutta humanizes the somewhat hard-to-digest, selfless character of Gippi’s single mother who not only encourages her kids to go to their father’s second marriage, but even accompanies them and poses for pictures with her ex and his new bride.

Ultimately, this could have been a sweet, unusual tale about the triumph of a nerd, yet it’s let down by its affected tone. I’m going with two out of five for Gippi. Alas, many of the film’s better ideas are lost in execution.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Happy space

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:45 pm

May 10, 2013

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin

Director: JJ Abrams

Even if, like me, you weren’t a fan of the Star Trek universe, or were mostly unfamiliar with its 40-year-old legacy, you’d have to admit that JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot was a fresh and accessible stand-alone sci-fi adventure. The sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness, directed again by Abrams, is cut from the same cloth. So although there are plenty of in-jokes and references aimed at fanboys of the original films and TV series, the new outing is funny and thrilling and comes with a plot basic enough for franchise virgins to enjoy.

Into Darkness opens with a visually stunning chase through a blood-red forest, with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) being pursued by spear-throwing aliens, while Spock (Zachary Quinto) lies stranded in an erupting volcano. It’s a great start, and the pace seldom drops from this point on. But the real story involves Kirk leading the Enterprise crew in an intergalactic manhunt for mysterious new villain John Harrison (a chilling Benedict Cumberbatch) after he makes a devastating attack on Starfleet.

Expectedly there are some thrilling set-pieces and big explosions, but the film is engaging as much for the squabbling bromance between Kirk and Spock. Abrams knows that a good blockbuster isn’t just about spectacle, but also about characters, and he confronts his protagonists with difficult questions about loyalty and death.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Star Trek: Into Darkness. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief, and even embrace the illogical, you’ll be rewarded with a film that doesn’t bore you even for a minute.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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