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

November 30, 2013

Bollywood’s top actresses on female bonding in the movies

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 3:33 pm

In this excerpt of The Bollywood Roundtable with Rajeev Masand, four of the year’s most popular leading ladies – Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut, Vidya Balan and Nimrat Kaur – talk about female bonding on the big screen.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 29, 2013

Dimple Kapadia: “Making movies is a traumatic experience usually”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:02 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Dimple Kapadia – the star of such films as Bobby, Sagar, Dil Chahta Hai and Luck By Chance — reveals why she’s doing fewer movies each year, and explains how she’s fooled the world into thinking she’s a fine actress.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Guns & poses

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

November 29, 2013

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Jimmy Shergill, Sonakshi Sinha, Chunky Pandey, Ravi Kissen, Raj Babbar, Vipin Sharma, Sharat Saxena, Vidyut Jamwal

Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia

In a scene early on in Bullett Raja, two thugs ruefully discuss how Raja (Saif Ali Khan) and his friend Rudra (Jimmy Shergill) wreaked havoc on their gang. One man tells the other, “Hamesha do log kyun hote hain? Sholay mein bhi do the.” This is typically sharp writing by Tigmanshu Dhulia; we immediately get a sense of two buddies, brothers-in-arms, so thick that nothing can come between them.

Up until the halfway mark, Bullett Raja is rollicking entertainment. Our gangster protagonists kill, maim, kidnap, and intimidate their rivals, all the while bickering and joking, in Dhulia’s direct nod to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Raja and Rudra meet by chance and are drawn into violence by fate. During a stint in jail, they are introduced to a fixer (Vipin Sharma) who advises them to become “political commandoes” for a UP leader (Raj Babbar). They soon become local heroes, but when they take on a nexus of political bigwigs, police, and industrialists, the two find themselves on a hit list. Sadly the film’s screenplay comes undone post intermission, its second half disintegrating into a bloody revenge saga.

Dhulia makes a hardcore action film, but coats it with local flavor and dialogue. Like Quentin Tarantino’s cinema, the violence has an irreverent, cheeky vibe – like that scene where Raja insists on killing a slimy politico from a distance of over 100 metres, just so he can break another shooter’s record. This is one of many sparkling moments, as is a scene in which two hostages forget where they are, and burst out laughing while glued to a comedy show on television, even as their kidnapper watches them bewildered.

To give texture to his tale, Dhulia hires good actors in colorful parts. Ravi Kissen is pretty solid as the hit-man who dresses up as a woman and pretends to be crazy, just so he can escape getting arrested. In one instance he tells a corrupt neta: “Aap humein support kijiye, hum vispot karenge.” Gulshan Grover particularly shines in the role of a contemptuous Marwari millionaire, and you laugh when a Chambal dacoit on the verge of surrender, puts in a demand for Bipasha Basu to dance for him in the ravines.

What’s disappointing then is that Bullett Raja isn’t consistently engaging. Aside from the rather choppy editing, there are also random scenes strewn about carelessly. Sonakshi Sinha plays an aspiring actress who comes in contact with Raja and Rudra. We’re never sure why this sweet middle-class Bengali girl insists she wants to tag along with two gangsters for the ride. She falls all-too-easily in love with Raja, even though they appear as far removed as chalk and cheese. The flabby, unnecessary portions in this film include the hiatus these three take to Mumbai, a plot diversion that serves no purpose other than to fit in a silly nightclub number. Even the dacoit-capture scene in the Chambal valley comes off as indulgent, given that it’s included only to establish Vidyut Jamwal’s character as a daring cop.

And therein lies Bullett Raja’s big flaw. Working on a larger scale than he’s usually handled, Dhulia inevitably falls into the trap of glorifying his star. The narrative bloats to include scenes of Raja’s herogiri and this quickly becomes a drag. The director’s knack for telling intriguing, wacky stories gets sidelined by the pressure on him to present Saif Ali Khan as the ultimate symbol of machismo.

Of the principal cast, Jimmy Shergill is nicely restrained as the quick-thinking Rudra, whose chemistry with Raja is compelling. Sonakshi Sinha comes off as a third wheel in this friendship, stuck with a middling role. Saif Ali Khan is very good as the wise-ass, audacious Raja, going full-throttle in the comic interludes, the high-adrenaline chase sequences, and even the loutish dancing in an item song with Mahie Gill. The pity here is that despite dominating the screen throughout, his character never feels entirely well-rounded, and as a result his performance never hits the high notes he achieved with Langda Tyagi in Omkara.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Bullett Raja. With a tighter script and an uncompromising vision, he might’ve knocked this one right out of the park. At the moment though, it’s an easy but forgettable watch.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Best served cold!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:39 pm

November 29, 2013

Cast: Voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana

Directors: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee

Disney’s new animated fairytale Frozen has endearing characters, some good-natured comedy, a bunch of show-stopping musical numbers, and gorgeous visuals. It’s a throwback to the studio’s classic musical adventures from pre-Pixar times, and yet it feels modern because the writing is so fresh and the humor so irreverent.

Loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale The Snow Queen, this movie tells the story of two princess sisters Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) who live in the kingdom of Arendelle. Born with the power to turn everything she touches into ice, Elsa is kept away from Anna lest she hurts her, and her secret hidden from the world. But on growing up, when Elsa is crowned Queen of Arendelle, she freezes her village by accident and is branded a wicked sorceress, thus prompting her to banish herself to an isolated life away from home. Determined to find and help her sister, Anna boldly sets off into the mountains. She has some company in the form of a rugged local (Jonathan Groff) and a goofy snowman (Josh Gad) who provide romantic and comic relief, but like a girl on a mission, Anna only has her sister’s safety on her mind.

Interestingly, the film has no villain as such; the big conflict here being Elsa’s inability to control her own power. This is not your typical good vs evil battle, but in fact a story that reflects the complications of real life. Given that they’re both inspiring tales of girl power, Frozen is a far more enjoyable film than Pixar’s Oscar-winning Brave from last year.

There are moments of genuine humor, mostly provided by the lovable snowman Olaf who yearns for summer, unaware of the consequences. The songs have hip, modern lyrics, and the stunning images of snow-covered vistas, and intricate ice structures are eye-watering. This is a film that has enough to please the little ones and adults alike. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Frozen. It’ll melt your heart.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 23, 2013

Susan Sarandon on Bollywood’s remake of Stepmom: “Does my character dance before she dies?”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 9:43 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Oscar-winning Hollywood legend (and the star of such films as Bull Durham, Thelma & Louise, and Dead Man Walking) talks about Hollywood’s prejudice against older actresses, and the kind of characters she tends to gravitate towards. Sarandon was in Goa during the 44th International Film Festival of India where she was invited to be a special guest.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 22, 2013

Burning bridges

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:38 pm

November 22, 2013

Cast: Imran Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Vineet Kumar Singh, Shraddha Kapoor

Director: Punit Malhotra

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but the characters in director Punit Malhotra’s Gori Tere Pyaar Mein are so flat-out uninteresting, you have to wonder if they’re from another galaxy altogether. Sriram (Imran Khan) is a rudderless Bangalore brat who’ll skip his aunt’s funeral to continue partying with his friends. Diya (Kareena Kapoor) is the kind of social activist that can exist only in a Karan Johar film, one who backs a new cause every day. Opposites attract, but it’s hard to figure out what draws this pair to each other. Then snotty Sriram’s love is tested when he follows Diya to a remote village in Gujarat, and volunteers to build a bridge that will help the lives of the locals.

You expect rom-coms to be frothy, escapist fluff, but Gori Teri Pyaar Mein specializes in a brand of emptiness that struggles to hold your attention. In one scene, Diya tells Sriram, “Don’t be so shallow” and that sentiment sums up this film in a nutshell. Sriram is a Tamil Brahmin boy and Diya, a Punjabi, so there are plenty stereotypes and even the classic dialogue, “Idli sirf sambhar ke saath acchi lagti hain, chholey ke saath nahin.” You can’t fathom what Diya sees in Sriram – on the very day they first meet, he suggests they have a quickie on the side, offering to cheat on his steady girlfriend.

Yet the larger problem here is that this rom-com doesn’t have the crackle and pop of an original romance, or even cleverly written comic lines. The first half has stray funny moments in the cultural stereotyping of Tamil weddings, when Sriram is set to marry the radiant Shraddha Kapoor in a special appearance. But the film sinks into a slush of melodrama and hammy acting in its second half, when Sriram locks horns with Anupam Kher, who offers an over-the-top performance as the scheming village collector determined to foil their bridge-building plan.

Malhotra gives us barely any genuine moments between Sriram and Diya. In fact, the writing is so trite that Diya offers to dye her gray strands as a “return gift” for Sriram committing to her cause. Perhaps to shake off that chocolate boy image, the film devotes ample screen time to Imran Khan’s chest hair, while the actor for the most part, although earnest, is left striking filmi poses, unable to inspire much affection for his singularly self-absorbed character. Kareena Kapoor, sincere despite the surface-level depth of her character, is completely wasted in the film. It’s a shame Imran shares more passion with Esha Gupta in a blink-and-miss song appearance than he does with his leading lady.

We’d have cared more about this mismatched couple had the makers invested in a sharper script. I’m going with a generous two out of five for Gori Tere Pyaar Mein. It’s as enjoyable as drinking a cup of tea that’s been left out in the cold.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Grumpy old men

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:37 pm

November 22, 2013

Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburger

Director: Jon Turteltaub

The only thing older than the protagonists in Last Vegas are the jokes that the film’s makers come up with. This predictable comedy about four seniors who head to Sin City for one memorable weekend has a moldy, formulaic feel to it, what with all the repeated references to hip surgeries and hemorrhoids and Viagra. But the veteran stars appear to be having a good time, and their laughter is slowly contagious.

When their childhood pal Billy (Michael Douglas) announces that he’s getting married (to a woman half his age), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) decide to throw him a bachelor’s party in Vegas, and somehow manage to convince Paddy (Robert De Niro) to go with them, although he’s been nursing a grudge against Billy.

Never as bold or as original as The Hangover, yet slickly directed by Jon Turteltaub, this film gets most of its laughs from putting its cast through every Vegas cliché you can think of: a bikini contest, a drinking binge, and surprisingly, a windfall at the blackjack table. In between the naughty gags, writer Dan Fogelmen squeezes in moments of unapologetic schmaltz. Like the unresolved issues between De Niro and Douglas’s characters over a romantic triangle with the same girl when they were kids.

At roughly 90 minutes, it’s a good thing the film doesn’t overstay its welcome. The plot unfolds without many surprises, but the actors earn their paychecks, sportingly giving in to the film’s occasionally silly requirements. Morgan Freeman’s Archie, who sneaks out of his overprotective son’s home so he can make it to the party, gets many of the film’s biggest laughs, as does Kevin Kline’s Sam, who can’t stop flaunting the fact that he has a hall pass from his wife to live it up this weekend. Also worthy of mention is Mary Steenburgen as a lovely lounge singer who befriends the men.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Last Vegas. Good actors can improve mediocre material; this film is evidence of that. Watch it to unwind after a long day at work.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 21, 2013

Saif Ali Khan: “I have no reason to worry till Aamir, SRK & Salman are going strong”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 9:17 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Saif Ali Khan talks about the thrill of moving outside one’s comfort zone, and why he has no reason to worry till Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman and going strong.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

November 15, 2013

Kutch kutch hota hai

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:39 pm

November 15, 2013

Cast: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Supriya Pathak, Richa Chaddha, Gulshan Devaiah, Barkha Bisht, Abhimanyu Singh

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Cut off from the world, tucked away somewhere in Gujarat, a fictional small town named Ranjaar is a battleground of sorts for the eons-old enmity between the Rajadi and the Sanera mob clans. But even with guns blazing, beer bottles being shattered, and harsh words flying about in the air, Sanjay Leela Bhansali turns Ram Leela into such a passionate celebration of love, you can’t help be seduced by it.

To be fair, Bhansali brings all his tropes to the table – unabashed melodrama, stunning visuals, elaborately choreographed dance numbers. Yet, it’s the firecracker chemistry between his leads, and the genuine feeling he infuses into the film that separates Ram Leela from previously disappointing outings, particularly Saawariya and Guzaarish, that were weighed down by shameless manipulation and pretentious, heavy-handed filmmaking.

It’s lust at first sight for Ram (Ranveer Singh) and Leela (Deepika Padukone) when they run into each other during a Holi celebration in Bhansali’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Perfectly matched – she just as fiery and brazen as him – the pair would rather make love, unlike their warring clans…and they say this repeatedly while flirting boldly and stealing kisses in her balcony. But their romance is thwarted by bloody vendetta, forcing them to stay on the side of family instead of each other.

In a refreshing change for a Bhansali film, Ram Leela crackles with light humor, cheeky dialogues and sexual irreverence, and is never burdened by its inherently tragic premise like his Devdas was. Borrowing a page out of Baz Luhrmann’s book, Bhansali stages a dazzling light-and-sound show, capturing the ecstasy of first love, the thrill of clandestine meetings, and even the obsession of great rivalries. Despite its fictional setting, Ram Leela has contemporary touches; the lovers are glued to their mobile phones, and in one scene Ram even requests that a ‘selfie’ he took be uploaded to Twitter.

In his first collaboration with Barfi cinematographer S Ravi Varman, Bhansali gives us indelible moving images…from the breathtakingly filmed song sequences (including a raunchy item number featuring a toned Priyanka Chopra), to an artfully captured chase, and later, the riotous burst of color at a religious procession. Even as bullets are sprayed freely and much blood spilled, Bhansali mutes key violent scenes by taking the action off-screen, creating a much stronger impact. You’ll never look at a betelnut crusher the same way again.

The problem, predictably, with such melodrama is its excess. Ram Leela is bloated in length and so it bears down on you and tests your patience in the second half. Some scenes come off trite, like one where a cop is easily bribed by a stack of porn DVDs, or when a little boy melts the cold-hearted don Dhankor (Supriya Pathak), who seemed hardly affected by her own daughter’s heartbreak.

It’s impossible, however, not to be taken in by Pathak’s menacing eyes and her threatening demeanor. When her son-in-law-to-be enquires about the family business, she replies coolly: “Shooting, smuggling, killing”, before putting a gun in his hands and declaring “Welcome to the family.” A terrific Richa Chaddha, as Leela’s empathetic sister-in-law, is that rare supporting character that doesn’t come off as one-dimensional, and Barkha Bisht gives a quietly dignified performance as Ram’s bhabhi. Gulshan Devaiah, meanwhile, is reduced to a stock villain despite his earnest acting.

It’s Bhansali’s leads, expectedly, who steal the show. The gorgeous Deepika Padukone uses her eyes expressively, both in her feisty banter with Ram, as well as in the tragic portions later when she must assert her position with her family and clan. As if powered by an inner fire, she brings raw energy to Leela’s every scene. The film belongs as much to Ram, and Ranveer Singh struts confidently, much like the peacock in the balcony that he pretends to be. The actor goes full-throttle funny, horny, heartbroken, and then particularly touching in the scene where Leela and he must reach a compromise for their clans. Deepika and Ranveer scorch up the screen in their romantic scenes, their intense passion a bold change from Bollywood’s mostly tame embraces.

In the end it is Bhansali – credited for screenplay, editing, music, and direction – who leaves his stamp all over the film. He brings great style and aesthetic to an unapologetically commercial film, which I’m happy to say is far more engaging than the lazy blockbusters we’ve seen lately. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Ram Leela. It’s great fun – not the word you’d normally associate with a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Fall girl

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:37 pm

November 15, 2013

Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Paras Arora, Prakash Raj, Mahesh Manjrekar, Dalip Tahil, Jaya Prada

Director: Vishwas Patil

It takes giant reserves of patience to survive a film as bizarre as Rajjo. Watching this movie, you have to wonder what exactly might have tempted an actress of Kangana Ranaut’s caliber to commit to it. She plays a prostitute in Mumbai’s red-light district, determined to start a new life when she finds love. That premise, as old as Pakeezah, might have held some promise, but this film goes off in all the wrong directions, leaving you befuddled and repeatedly asking yourself: “What’s going on here?”

Dancing at a brothel before a bunch of lecherous men, Rajjo is spotted by baby-faced 21-year-old Chandu (Paras Arora), who’s instantly smitten. He bunks college, and spends his days holding hands with her. Before you know it, they’ve tied the knot. When his parents throw them out, the couple struggles to find a place to live. After an awkward honeymoon spent rocking a friend’s broken-down van while garage mechanics sitting outside twist their faces into orgasmic expressions, the pair is back on the street, with no way to make ends meet.

Predictably, the plot is centered on Rajjo’s fight against society’s bias towards ‘fallen women’, but the film itself has sleazy undertones. Prakash Raj, playing a local politician, is menacing as the film’s chief villain, but his lip-licking grubby routine is becoming dull. The dialogues are so antiquated, you’d think they were plucked from a bygone era. Sample this: “Kothewali ke pair hamesha keechad mein hote hain.” When was the last time you heard someone talk like that?

Director Vishwas Patil crams the film with unintentionally comical scenes like one in which prostitutes and transvestites sporting bad wigs and make-up beat their chests as their brothel is torn down to make way for a high-rise. When Rajjo finds employment as a dance teacher to adivasi children at a school in the Yeeor Hills, dirty goons from her past try every trick in the book to drag her back to shimmy at a dance bar.

Of the cast, it’s Mahesh Manjrekar who brings some layers to his character of the eunuch brothel owner Begum. Meanwhile, lead actor Paras Arora is annoyingly over-earnest. Sadly, it’s Kangana Ranaut who is left picking up the pieces, and she plays the dancing prostitute with commendable sincerity.

The film, however, is doomed. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Rajjo. There’s plenty hilarity but no hope for this tragic prostitute’s story.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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