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

October 31, 2014

Granny don’t preach!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:36 pm

October 31, 2014

Cast: Rekha, Sharman Joshi, Randhir Kapoor, Shweta Kumar, Anupam Kher

Director: Indra Kumar

If I had a swig of Scotch for each time someone tells Rekha that she belongs in the kitchen, I’d be very drunk watching Super Nani. Come to think of it, that just might be the ideal condition under which to take in this tacky, unintentionally hilarious film that seems to have shown up roughly 30 years after its expiration date.

The movie’s over-simplistic plot, based on the long-running Gujarati play Baa Ae Maari Boundary, is centered on a doting, committed housewife whose selfish husband and grown-up children have little patience around her. Sporting orange henna-dyed hair and crisp kanjeevarams, Rekha plays Bharti, a pathetic doormat who exists only to be humiliated by her family and routinely banished to the kitchen each time she attempts to involve herself in their lives. But when her New York-raised grandson Mann (Sharman Joshi) urges her to reinvent herself in order to become relevant again, Bharti channels her inner fashion-model and gets everyone at home all hot under the collar.

The film’s by-the-numbers plotting and hammy performances further add to the cheap TV-soap aesthetic that director Indra Kumar brings to this well-intentioned but frankly regressive melodrama that trades in tired clichés from the eighties. Randhir Kapoor shows up as Bharti’s boorish husband who’s appreciative of a female friend in slinky dresses, but outraged when his own missus considers signing a modeling contract.

The dialogues are positively cringe-inducing and the values that the film espouses strictly vegetarian. “Yeh hamari American bimaari hai,” Sharman’s character explains when Bharti’s adult daughter declares her intention to enter a live-in relationship with her boyfriend. “Hamaari davaiyaan salon laga deti hain aane mein, lekin hamari bimaari jaldi aa jaati hai,” Sharman adds.

Post intermission Bharti undergoes a Khoon Bhari Maang-style glamorous makeover, and overnight becomes the most sought after model on the circuit. It’s an opportunity for Rekha to have a little fun with the role, and possibly the only fun anyone associated with this film – including the audience – gets to have during its flabby 2 hours and 13 minutes running time.

Super Nani doesn’t just deliver its message (“Appreciate your mother!”), it whacks you on the head with it; the film feels so heavy-handed it makes Baaghbaan appear subtle in comparison. Yet, there’s an undeniable earnestness that will appeal to anyone who likes to be spoon-fed his moral science lesson.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five. Sadly the film squanders the talent of its very watchable leading lady who deserves so much better than this drivel.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Your version or mine?

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:35 pm

October 31, 2014

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris

Director: David Fincher

It’s hard to think of a director better suited to bring Gillian Flynn’s deliciously twisty bestseller to the screen than David Fincher. Having gravitated consistently towards deeply cynical stories, he has explored the more unsettling elements of human nature with a cold and clinical eye, taking us on fascinating journeys to the dark side in such moody, stylish thrillers as Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac.

It’s no wonder that Gone Girl, with its manipulative parallel narratives designed to betray you routinely, ticks every one of Fincher’s favorite boxes. The film – part whodunit, part commentary on modern marriage – starts off as a conventional suspense story before it slowly begins to reveal itself as something much more daring.

On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to discover that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing. There is evidence of a struggle. A missing persons investigation promptly begins, and a media circus ensues. It’s not long before Nick is suspected of murder.

Employing the same unraveling device that she used in the book, Flynn, who has written the screenplay herself, cuts back and forth in time and perspective – between the ongoing investigation and Amy’s diary entries – to explain how we got here. We’re served up the story of Nick and Amy’s whirlwind courtship as a New York City fairytale. But five years later, laid off from their jobs as writers, the couple is living in small town Missouri, where Nick runs a bar with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), and the romance has all but fizzled.

The beauty of the novel was its crafty structure and the deceptions of its unreliable narrators. Equally interesting are the bigger themes that the film skillfully addresses: the nature of marriage, the shattering of dreams, the rush to judgment by the tabloid media, and most importantly, the discovery that we may never really know the person that we’re married to.

Fincher invokes an ominous tone, employing an appropriately dissonant soundtrack (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) that aids the film’s overall sense of dread. He bathes virtually every frame in his trademark soft glow to ratchet up the tension. With a steady hand he controls this complex, multi-layered narrative, leaving you literally gasping for breath as the film inches towards a controversial climax that you can be sure will be discussed and dissected over days.

The film’s biggest strength, unquestionably, are the top-notch performances from its terrific cast. Kim Dickens gets some of the best lines as Detective Rhonda Boney, who’s leading the investigation into Amy’s whereabouts. Coon, brings a sympathetic wryness to her part as Nick’s stressed out sibling, and Tyler Perry is suitably glib as his defense lawyer Tanner Bolt, “the patron saint of wife killers”. The one wrong note, in my opinion, is Neil Patrick Harris who appears out of his depth playing Amy’s creepy childhood sweetheart.

It’s all held up, expectedly, by its two leads, who’re at the top of their game. Rosamund Pike finds a way to be both captivating and chilling as the key figure in this suspenseful film. She turns in a brave, bold performance that’ll be hard to shake off soon. It’s Ben Affleck, though, who finally lands a part worthy of his largely underutilized acting skills. He gets every little detail right in his construction of this selfish lout, yet succeeds in winning your empathy as a man punished too severely for failing to be everything that he promised.

Despite having read and thoroughly enjoyed the book already, I found Fincher’s film gripping and handsomely mounted, and still packing a few nice surprises. Gone Girl doesn’t have the enduring appeal of one of my favorite Fincher films, The Social Network, but it’s a bloody good way to spend two and a half hours of your time. I’m going with four out of five. Don’t miss it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 27, 2014

Rekha: “I’m no diva”

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 8:34 pm


In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Bollywood’s most alluring star Rekha talks about the films closest to her heart, explains why she hasn’t made a movie with Amitabh Bachchan in over 30 years, and reveals how she’d like to be remembered.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 24, 2014

Heist makes waste

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:31 pm

October 24, 2014

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani, Sonu Sood, Vivvan Shah, Jackie Shroff

Director: Farah Khan

You’ll find yourself chuckling and cringing alternately while watching Happy New Year, in which director Farah Khan skillfully sets up a heist plot against an international dance competition scenario. It’s a curious premise, and Farah brings many of the same elements that she applied to good use in Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om, namely lots of self-referencing, affectionate nods to 70s Bollywood, and the ability to occasionally laugh at oneself. But there are also tiring revenge clichés, a shrewdly devised patriotic track, and that formidable length – a full 2 hours and 59 minutes!

The self-referencing too gets exhausting early on, as leading man Shah Rukh Khan repeats line after line from his previous hits. “Badi badi fights mein chhoti chhoti cheezein hoti rehti hain,” he says not long after we’re introduced to him taking a pummeling in an underground bout. “Main hoon na,” he says reassuringly to a concerned friend just moments after.

Shah Rukh plays Charlie, who’s assembling a team of down-on-their-luck ‘losers’ to help him steal a bunch of diamonds from a rich tycoon (Jackie Shroff) responsible for framing his father in a fake robbery. Tammy (Boman Irani) is an expert safe-breaker, Rohan (Vivaan Shah), a young hacker. Nandu (Abhishek Bachchan) is a drunk lout, and Jag (Sonu Sood) is the brawny muscleman of the group. Introductions and back-stories alone take us roughly an hour into the film, which is when Deepika Padkuone enters and livens up proceedings. She’s Mohini, a bar dancer recruited by the gang so she can teach them some killer dance moves that they’ll need when they go undercover in the World Dance Championship.

Borrowing ideas from such contrasting films as Ocean’s Eleven and The Full Monty, Farah nevertheless stages a distinctly Bollywood spectacle – loud, over-the-top, and blindingly bright. I can bet the costume budget of this film alone could feed a starving nation. There are moments of inspired lunacy that’ll have you rolling in your seat. The bits in which Deepika’s character Mohini insists on speaking in English although she can barely string a sentence together are terrific. My favourite scene, though, was one in which Abhishek’s character Nandu must think on his feet (literally) when he can’t unscrew a panel in the wall while executing the heist.

The screenplay itself is painfully predictable, and the heist plan is explained repeatedly in long-drawn detail, just in case we’re dummies. Logic is sacrificed at the altar of convenience in this script, and an overall feeling of been-there-seen-that hangs over the film.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the way Shah Rukh Khan is projected on screen. His glistening eight-pack abs get more than a few close-ups, but the actor isn’t required to flex either his dramatic chops or his comic chops any more than he’s done in Farah’s own previous films. In contrast, Abhishek Bachchan is in very good form, nicely hamming it up as the coarse Nandu. Deepika too strikes just the right balance between broad humor and heartfelt emotion, giving us another winning character.

For a film in which dance is so integral to the plot, I didn’t think the musical set-pieces here stood out particularly. The focus isn’t so much on the moves, as it is on the scale of the dance numbers. And that’s a shame.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Happy New Year. If its indulgences were trimmed, this might have been a more enjoyable film.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 21, 2014

Irrfan Khan on the film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 2:26 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Irrfan Khan – arguably one of India’s finest actors – talks about picks a black-and-white Scorsese classic when asked to name the film that changed his life. Irrfan says it’s a picture that helped him understand the complex craft of acting, and left him forever in awe of one of his acting idols.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 17, 2014

Offline alert!

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

October 17, 2014

Cast: Rhea Chakraborty, Ali Fazal, Anupam Kher, Smita Jaykar, Raghu Juyal, Swanand Kirkire

Director: Charudutt Acharya

Leaping across rooftops (think Spider-man, but without the web-slinging abilities) to fix snapped wires and connections, linking the neighborhood through a maze of criss-crossing overhead cables, Sonali Tandel (Rhea Chakraborty), the protagonist of Sonali Cable, is a hard-working, self-made entrepreneur whose local internet operation powers half of Worli village. But she’s pushed against the wall when a large corporate threatens to quash her little business as it ruthlessly expands its own broadband footprint across the city.

This is your classic David vs Goliath story, and writer-director Charudutt Acharya resorts to over-simplistic stereotyping to make the point about the greedy billionaire industrialist (Anupam Kher) well connected with wily politicians, corrupt policemen, and the local mafia. The plotting is predictable and long-drawn, and the relevant premise squandered by an all-too-convenient naïve resolution.

Still there are minor bright spots to be thankful for. A confident Ali Fazal plays Sonali’s childhood sweetheart Raghu, son of an ambitious corporator (a hammy Smita Jaykar) who wants to keep the lovers apart. There’s a nice bonhomie between Sonali and her two associates, one of whom is played by first-timer Raghav Juyal, a wise-cracking, nimble-footed charmer who steals every scene he’s in. But Acharya burdens most of his characters with too much unnecessary back-story, thereby giving us one too many contrived teary-eyed confessions about abusive siblings and runaway mothers.

Leading lady Rhea Chakraborty is uninhibited but inconsistent, her bumpy Marathi accent never quite convincing. Between her and a script that sadly feels half-baked, Sonali Cable is weighed down, unable to take flight. I’m going with two out of five. It’s got its moments, but they’re few and far between.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Jury’s out!

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

October 17, 2014

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, Billy Bob Thornton, Leighton Meester

Director: David Dobkin

The Judge, produced by and starring Robert Downey Jr, is the kind of bloated film that might have benefitted from a few judicious rewrites. It’s a simple enough story crammed with too many subplots and distractions that water down the drama at its core.

Downey is Hank Palmer, a cocky, big-shot Chicago defense lawyer, the sort that has a smug look permanently plastered on his face. When his mother dies, he returns to his childhood home in rural Indiana for the first time in 20 years. Things unfortunately are still tense between him and his disapproving dad (Robert Duvall), the town’s beloved judge.

This is your typical tale of familial friction – stubborn dad versus rebellious son – but the writers throw in another half-dozen conflicts to stir the pot. Central among these is a murder charge against the old man, which unfolds in the manner of a did-he-didn’t-he courtroom thriller as Hank steps in as his father’s attorney. But hang on, there are also unresolved issues with one of his brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio), a childhood sweetheart (Vera Farmiga) who’s still carrying a torch for him, and the issue of his own crumbling marriage.

The film is at its strongest when it focuses on the tension between Palmer Jr and Sr, mainly because Duvall is riveting when he’s on screen. In one scene, while a tornado rages outside, the two men argue with fiery intensity, digging up old wounds. It’s one of the best bits in this film. Downey, sarcastic and self-aware as ever, infuses Hank with the same kind of oily charm he lends to Tony Stark. It’s a very watchable performance but one that feels a little too familiar.

Sitting there witnessing the film unfold over 2 hours and 20 minutes, it’s clear there is a crisper, better movie in there somewhere, but director David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers) never stops piling on the clichés, ultimately reducing The Judge to a kind of hokey made-for-television movie. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five; watch it for Duvall and Downey who breathe life into a mediocre script.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Just good friends?

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:34 pm

October 17, 2014

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Rafe Spall, Megan Park, Mackenzie Davis

Director: Michael Dowse

Twenty-five years since writer Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner got us to ponder over that inevitable question – Can men and women ever just be friends without sex getting in the way? – comes What If. This enjoyable although far-from-groundbreaking romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan treads such similar ground it feels like a modern update to that enduring gem. It might as well have been titled When Harry Potter Met Sally.

Radcliffe is Wallace, a med-school dropout who meets Chantry (Kazan) at a house party in Toronto. The pair has instant chemistry, and it’s clear that Wallace is smitten by her. But while walking her home that night, she reveals, a little too late, that she has a boyfriend (Rafe Spall). Reluctantly, Wallace agrees to be friends. Pretty soon they’re hanging out together, going on platonic dates, and exchanging flirty banter, thereby prompting you to wonder – Can this friendship last, or is it going to end in heartbreak?

Despite strictly following rom-com conventions, there’s still a freshness to this film, supplied by its involving leads whose Everyman/Everywoman appeal keeps you invested in their story. Radcliffe does the bumbling Brit routine pretty well, channeling a younger Hugh Grant if you will, that nagging sense of insecurity offset by a tendency to speak a lot. Kazan, meanwhile, is refreshingly normal; that rare rom-com leading lady who doesn’t employ cutesy tricks to manipulate you into adoring her.

It helps that the dialogue is consistently witty, and that the actors – particularly Radcliffe – aren’t prissy when it comes to talking about sex or even getting naked. In one of the film’s funniest scenes, after some late-night skinny-dipping, Wallace finds himself stranded in his birthday suit with nothing but a few leafy branches to cover his modesty. The best laughs though are provided by Adam Driver, playing Wallace’s hilariously blunt best friend Alan.

What If isn’t particularly memorable; this isn’t a film that’ll stay with you long after you’ve left the cinema. But it’s a pleasing enough watch with plenty charming moments. You’ll even forgive the predictable plotting because the actors steal your heart. I’m going with three out of five. Give it a chance, you won’t regret it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


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

October 17, 2014

Cast: Jason Segal, Cameron Diaz, Rob Lowe, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper

Director: Jake Kasdan

Only weeks ago a bunch of female celebrities, including Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, woke up to discover that their phones had been hacked and their most private pictures leaked on the Internet. Not surprisingly, a common reaction from those who commented on the incident went something like this: “Don’t want your naked pictures on the Internet? Don’t take naked pictures of yourself!” I remember thinking, “How insensitive!” Those girls hadn’t intended for their pictures to go viral. They were victims of privacy invasion and theft.

I feel less kindly towards the protagonists of Sex Tape however, although they find themselves in a similar sort of pickle when footage of them having sex goes public. Because, let’s face it, if they hadn’t made the video we wouldn’t have to suffer this film! Yes, it’s that awful. Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz play Jay and Annie, a suburban couple so exhausted from raising two young kids, they’ve lost their passion in the bedroom. To spice things up again, they decide to film themselves trying every position in that popular tome, The Joy of Sex. When the video accidentally syncs to all the used iPads Jay has given away as gifts, the couple sets off on an all-night tablet-retrieval mission that isn’t nearly as funny as it should’ve been.

Director Jake Kasdan mostly relies on lazy slapstick humor to coax a few laughs out of this thin premise, but the gags feel stale and overdone. Jay’s encounter with a stubborn dog comes off repetitive and endless, and a climax that tries to ask deeper questions about why people make sex tapes belongs in a different film. The only genuinely funny portion involves Annie having to do cocaine with her seemingly straitlaced prospective boss (Rob Lowe).

The problem with Sex Tape is that it’s neither particularly funny nor raunchy enough to satisfy anyone seeking any of these things. What it is, unfortunately, is a shameless and relentless promotional reel for Apple products. After a while you lose count of how just many times they reference the iPad, the iCloud, and Siri.

Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz who made for a charming double act in Bad Teacher (which Kasdan directed) can’t quite make this flaccid script work, although Diaz in particular really works those comic chops. At 94 minutes the film still feels overlong and unnecessary, never even delivering the cheap thrills promised in its title.

I’m going with a generous one out of five for Sex Tape. Not tonight, honey; this’ll give you a headache.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 11, 2014

Richa Chadda: “I signed Ram-Leela without reading the script; I really wanted to work with Bhansali”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:07 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Richa Chadda, the talented actress of such films as Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Gangs of Wasseypur, Fukrey and Ram-Leela talks about the memorable characters she’s put on screen.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

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