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

March 28, 2014

David Dhawan: “My sons keep telling me I’m repeating scenes from my earlier films”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:45 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Student of the Year‘s Varun Dhawan and his father, director David Dhawan talk about working together on  Main Tera Hero, that’s being positioned as a comic potboiler not unlike the ones Dhawan Sr delivered in the 90s. 

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Scam artists

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

March 28, 2014

Cast: Pulkit Samrat, Bilal Amrohi, Sarah Jane Dias, Anupam Kher, Vijay Raaz, Mandira Bedi, Manoj Pahwa, Mohan Kapur

Director: Umesh Bist

It must take a special kind of talent to make a film as incoherent and inept as O Teri. I’ve seen eight-year-olds put up skits in their building compound that were more engaging than this film. Intended as a satire on the nexus between dishonest politicians, greedy industrialists and an unethical media, the film sets out to make a comment on the deep-rooted corruption that plagues our country. But boy, does it tire you out in the process!

Say hello to our protagonists, a pair of down-on-their-luck TV reporters – nicknamed PP (Pulkit Samrat) and AIDS (don’t even ask! Bilal Amrohi) – who desperately need to break a big story if they are to keep their jobs. Fortunately for them, the bumbling duo repeatedly chances upon vital evidence that could expose the shady businesses of a crooked neta (Anupam Kher), his arch rival (Vijay Raaz), a slinky spin-doctor (Mandira Bedi), and their own boss (Sarah Jane Dias), who’re all involved in a mysterious murder, and a scam to pocket crores of rupees from an oncoming sports event. CWG controversy, anyone?

Writer-director Umesh Bist, evidently a proponent of the let’s-dumb-it-down school of storytelling, delivers a hotchpotch of pedestrian humor, over-simplistic machinations, one-dimensional characters, and bewildering plot twists. The narrative is interrupted every few minutes to accommodate the obligatory dance number, but none of the tracks are particularly memorable.

The film’s leading men come off as vapid ‘himbos’, hired possibly for their impressive pecs and abs over any hint of acting talent. Only Vijay Raaz as the cussword-spouting, mobile phone-smashing bigwig delivers anything that resembles a performance.

Too shrill, too convoluted and too dumb, O Teri is an excruciating test of your patience. The first thing I did on leaving the cinema was pop a pill for my throbbing headache. I’m going with one out of five. Even Salman Khan’s item song in the end can’t soften the blow.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

No, Prime Minister!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:35 pm

March 28, 2014

Cast: Jackky Bhagnani, Neha Sharma, Farooque Shaikh, Boman Irani, Mita Vasisht

Director: Syed Ahmad Afzal

Youngistaan starts off promisingly as a fish-out-of-water comedy about a carefree, 28-year-old who is thrown into the messy world of politics when, after the death of his father, he’s roped in to replace him as Prime Minister. Giving up his relaxed life in Tokyo, Abhimanyu (Jackky Bhagnani) reluctantly moves to Delhi and steps into his dad’s shoes, initially fumbling his way through protocol. But it’s his live-in girlfriend Anwita (Neha Sharma) who’s having a harder time adjusting to the changes.

The film cuts between the young couple’s relationship as it’s tested by Abhimanyu’s new position, and his determined resolve to make a positive difference as a leader while nevertheless facing resistance within his own party. Some of these ideas might have worked if the writing wasn’t so surface-level, and if the two main leads could act. But Jackky Bhagnani, despite his sincerity, has precisely two expressions, and Neha Sharma’s character comes off as a whining, selfish nag. Only the late Farooque Shaikh, playing Abhimanyu’s sympathetic PA, and a sort of surrogate parent, leaves an impression.

By the end, Youngistaan spirals into an abyss of predictable plotting, as Abhimanyu learns the tricks of how to succeed in politics. It’s all unnecessarily stretched out, and co-writer/director Syed Ahmad Afzal brings nothing by way of original treatment or even radical resolution.

I’m going with two out of five. There was potential here, but it’s wasted.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 24, 2014

Waheeda Rehman: “Dev Anand was always a decent flirt”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 2:20 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, legendary star Waheeda Rehman and her biographer Nasreen Munni Kabir explain why the actress took years to say yes to a book on her life and her career. Conversations With Waheeda Rehman, a free-flowing Q&A-style biography, is an engaging and revealing account of her times, and provides a glimpse into the making of some of the finest Hindi films she starred in, including Guru Dutt’s most memorable works.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 21, 2014

Nothing but the truth!

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

March 21, 2014

Cast: Sanjay Mishra, Seema Pahwa, Rajat Kapoor, Maya Sarao, Namit Das, Brijendra Kala, Manu Rishi

Director: Rajat Kapoor

Life is a medley of experiences, but are you savoring them or do you just go through the motions? Through the wonderfully whimsical Ankhon Dekhi, writer-director Rajat Kapoor shows us how the journey could be more meaningful if we lived life the way we choose to. Sanjay Mishra is aptly cast as Bauji, the 55-year-old patriarch of a joint family in Old Delhi. After an epiphany one day, Bauji decides that he will only believe what he can see for himself, refusing to go with the accepted truth.

This poses its own set of problems, especially when Bauji quits his job as a travel agent because he can no longer honestly sell holidays to cities like Amsterdam, when he has never been abroad himself. His family is exasperated, and his younger brother Rishi (Kapoor himself) moves out with his wife and son when he can’t stomach Bauji’s eccentricities any longer. Bauji’s wife Pushpa (Seema Pahwa) is much more vocal in her anger, and several of Ankhon Dekhi’s brilliantly comical scenes are when she explodes theatrically.

Slowly, Bauji collects a motley bunch of disciples who first question and laugh at his theories, but later hang on to his every word. In one humorous scene, Bauji and his chelas head off to the zoo to find out for themselves if there’s any truth to the commonly accepted belief that tigers roar.

Through Bauji’s existential quest for the real, the film offers vignettes that are out of the real. Like that bit when a nephew is caught in a trance and can’t seem to stop talking. While everyone around treats him like an oddity, Bauji holds his hand and listens patiently, until the boy falls into silence and snaps out of it. It’s as if the film is offering a case for accepting people just as they are.

But Ankhon Dekhi does meander in parts, especially when Bauji takes a vow of silence, or later when he discovers a knack for gambling when he goes to the local den to pay off his son’s debts. Despite its lush cinematography and moving score, the film tends to feel stretched. Yet we are mostly taken in by Kapoor’s gentle narrative, enhanced by an ensemble cast that delivers natural performances. Chief among them is Sanjay Mishra, instinctive as the oddball Bauji, mild-mannered and generous in spirit. Seema Pahwa is magnificent as his drama queen wife, often agitated by Bauji’s whims, while Rajat Kapoor is entirely believable as Rishi, quietly hurt and disapproving of his brother.

The director makes a strong case for familial bonds, like Bauji’s superglue attachment to his daughter Rita, played by spirited newcomer Maya Sarao. There’s also the authentic portrayal of a joint family. Beneath their closeness, there are undercurrents and understandably, moments when their patience with each other wears thin. The family drama plays out before the entire neighborhood, and it’s through scenes like these that Kapoor skillfully offers you an India that you recognize and love.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Ankhon Dekhi. It’s a flight of fancy that I recommend you do not miss.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Eyes wide shut

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

March 21, 2014

Cast: Monali Thakur, Flora Saini, Shefali Shah, Nagesh Kukunoor, Satish Kaushik, Ram Kapoor

Director: Nagesh Kukunoor

In Lakshmi, writer-director Nagesh Kukunoor takes the unfortunate true story of an underage girl sold off to the flesh trade, and delivers a deliberately disturbing film that’s often hard to watch. It’s a tricky slope, films about exploitation and abuse. For as we’ve learnt from watching Madhur Bhandarkar’s movies, there’s a thin line between depicting harsh realities on screen, and in that process exploiting the very tragedy and the victim.

We first meet Lakshmi (Monali Thakur), a 13-year-old traded by her alcoholic father for Rs 30,000, huddled in the back of a truck as it barrels through an Andhra forest. Her journey to hell begins when she’s tricked and raped by brothel owner Ram Reddy (Satish Kaushik, decidedly creepy) in a scene so chilling, it’ll rattle your insides. From there, she’s deposited at an overcrowded “girls hostel” in the city, where a kind-hearted but firm madam, Jyoti (an excellent Shefali Shah), explains to her that resistance is futile.

Repeated attempts to fly the coop end badly for Lakshmi, who is caught each time by her sadistic pimp Chinna (Kukunoor, appropriately savage), and brutally punished. You’ll turn away repulsed when, after an unsuccessful getaway, Lakshmi, barely conscious and writhing in pain, must nevertheless service one man after another over the course of a single night.

Exposing the dirty trail of sex trafficking, which often starts with a victim’s own family and can include unscrupulous women, influential bigwigs, and apathetic police, the film takes a realistic approach, but pulls you relentlessly into a vortex of sordidness. I cringed when Jyoti, disregarding Lakshmi’s complaints of physical discomfort, hands her a jar of lubricant, insisting it’ll make the job easier. In another graphic scene, Chinna tortures Jyoti by tying her up and putting a lit cigarette to her private parts for aiding a social worker in conducting a sting at the brothel. It’s explicit, stomach-churning moments like these that prompt you to question whether the film isn’t in fact exploiting the very inhumanity it condemns.

It’s impossible not to summon up sympathy for the protagonist, but as a writer Kukunoor never gives us a real sense of Lakshmi outside of her situation. The film frequently flashbacks to memories of her playing with her sisters in the village, but we get no insight into her hopes and dreams, or even where she was headed before her tragic abduction. As a result, baby-faced Monali Thakur, while convincing as the teenaged Lakshmi, can’t rise above the one-dimensional characterization.

Flora Saini makes a strong impression as Swarna, Lakshmi’s sympathetic roommate; your typical hooker-with-a-heart of gold. In one scene when Swarna decides to return to the brothel after being rescued and delivered to a women’s shelter, she raises an important question about the options available for sex workers seeking to rehabilitate themselves. But the film rests on a triumvirate of solid performances by Satish Kaushik, Shefali Shah, and Kukunoor that smoothen out many of its flaws.

Although unsettling and horrific, the film is weighed down by its ‘standard-issue’ treatment. Lakshmi addresses a serious issue and forces us to confront a bitter reality, even offering hope in the end through the protagonist’s courageous fight for justice. But let’s not confuse the issue with the film, which is well-intentioned yet typical.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five. Watch it for the performances.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 14, 2014

Kangana Ranaut: “Even people who made my life miserable earlier have responded warmly to Queen”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:53 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, girl-of-the-moment Kangana Ranaut reveals how her life has changed since the release of Queen, and also explains why even her rivals are praising her performance.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Papa don’t screech!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:35 pm

March 14, 2014

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Sonam Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor

Director: Nupur Asthana

Buried somewhere beneath all the fluff in director Nupur Asthana’s Bewakoofiyaan is the kernel of an interesting idea – love in the time of recession. Set in the very believable world of upwardly mobile 20-something-year-olds, the film reflects a generation for whom credit cards are status symbols, and lunch breaks are spent shopping for designer heels.

Mohit (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a cocky marketing executive at an airline company, who appears to have everything: a promotion round the corner, a pretty girlfriend who’s financially independent, and a brand new car bought on EMIs. But then he’s suddenly fired. It’s a good thing Myra (Sonam Kapoor) is doing well at her bank job, and happily volunteers to support him during this rough patch.

Now there’s a premise ripe with potential!

But Habib Faisal’s undercooked script has little interest in exploring the pressure of unemployment on relationships. For how long can Mohit be comfortable living off Myra’s generosity? How long before she loses respect for him? And how does this change the dynamics of their equation? These are genuine, inbuilt conflicts that are squandered in exchange for the cliché of the heroine’s disapproving dad.

Rishi Kapoor is VK Sehgal, a retired IAS officer and Myra’s cantankerous father. Even before he learns that Mohit’s lost his job, he doesn’t hide the fact that he thinks his daughter can do better. Asthana allows Rishi Kapoor to be boorish and to act like a bully, so much of the film’s humor is pinned on Mohit’s tentative relationship with his father-in-law-to-be.

Aside from one solid scene in which Mohit and Myra get into a very real argument about money while he’s dropping her off to work, the film’s conversations feel contrived, and its resolutions too squeaky clean. The climax is a disappointing cop-out, and everything that leads up to it, flat-out boring.

Despite three likeable actors in principal roles, Bewakoofiyaan feels lightweight instead of lighthearted. Asthana directs with an easy hand, but she’s saddled with a dead duck of a script that simply can’t be saved. I’m going with two out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Last tango in Paris

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:33 pm

March 14, 2013

Cast: Kevin Costner, Connie Nielson, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard

Director: McG

There’s a scene in Kevin Costner’s new film, 3 Days To Kill, in which he rescues his teenage daughter from a bunch of boys trying to get fresh with her in the restroom of a nightclub. The image of Costner carrying his daughter away in his arms is evocative of another moment that’s imprinted on our minds…that of Costner carrying away a rattled Whitney Houston, her face buried in his chest, from that memorable scene in The Bodyguard.

Costner has great old-school movie-star presence, and now 59, he still cuts it as a pretty effective action hero. But you can’t help thinking that he deserves better than this.

In 3 Days To Kill, he’s playing Ethan Renner, a CIA operative who says goodbye to the agency and heads to Paris to reconnect with his estranged wife (Connie Nielson) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) when he learns that he has only a few months to live. There he’s visited by a mysterious agent (Amber Heard) who promises him access to an experimental miracle drug that could save his life, in exchange for one last job – he must hunt down and assassinate a pair of nefarious terrorists threatening to blow up the city.

It’s your standard B-movie premise, but what’s surprisingly funny is the manner in which the action is repeatedly interrupted by Renner’s fatherly responsibilities. In one scene, while interrogating a guy and duct-taping him to a toilet seat, Renner’s daughter calls, asking for a recipe for spaghetti sauce. It’s a good thing the guy being tortured happens to be Italian.

Co-written and produced by Luc Besson, the film is a low-IQ guilty pleasure not unlike the Taken movies, but this one is sloppier, and has subplots that don’t belong. Renner’s living arrangement with a family of squatters is baffling. And don’t even get me started about Amber Heard’s impossibly named super-agent Vivi Delay who has a thing for dominatrix costumes.

Director McG delivers nicely shot car chases and big explosions, but like his protagonist he has a harder time wrapping his head around the father-daughter emotional bits. In one awkward scene that may or may not make you squirm, Renner teaches his daughter how to slow-dance so she can impress her posh French boyfriend.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for 3 Days To Kill. It’s not all bad, there are a handful of inspired moments. But there’s no excuse why it isn’t more fun.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 8, 2014

Sonam: “Wearing a bikini on screen was no big deal.” Ayushmann: “Nobody’s talking about my abs”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 2:57 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Sonam Kapoor and Ayushmann Khurrana talk about the parallels between their lives and their new film Bewakoofiyaan. The stars also speak candidly about stripping down to their swimwear and sharing intimate kisses for the screen.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

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