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

March 27, 2015

Radhika Apte: “I’d love to play a sex addict if they made Hunterrr with a female lead”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:50 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Radhika Apte — who made a big impression recently, both in Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur and in Hunterrr — explains how she’s trying to avoid being stereotyped in Bollywood, and why she enjoys working in regional films but doesn’t have an appetite for Telugu cinema. The actress, who could well be Bollywood’s next big thing, also reveals the direction she’d like to take her career in hereon.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

NH10 director Navdeep Singh on the film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:45 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, NH10 and Manorama Six Feet Under director Navdeep Singh talks about the film that changed his life. The filmmaker reveals why that movie had a profound impact on his life, and how it has influenced his own cinema.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)


Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:32 pm

March 27, 2014

Cast: Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Idris Elba, Mark Rylance

Director: Pierre Morel

Sean Penn’s new film The Gunman could well serve as an audition tape for the two-time Oscar-winning actor to merit a role in the next Expendables movie. At 54, Penn appears to be in the best shape of his life, frequently taking his shirt off to reveal bulked-up pecs and abs, and getting down and dirty in bare-knuckle brawls, relentless shootouts, and breathless chases. Too bad the film itself is a laughable thriller, so predictable and soaked in clichés that it fails to deliver even the novelty and the visceral kick of a film like Taken, whose very director Pierre Morel was hired possibly to duplicate that blueprint.

Penn plays Jim Terrier, a reformed mercenary, wracked by guilt over his role in the assassination of an idealistic politician in the Democratic Republic of Congo almost a decade ago. When the organization that ordered the hit decides to eliminate him, Jim goes on the run, killing lots of people in self-defense, all the while trying to protect the woman (Jasmine Trinca) who used to be his lover. Along for the ride – but with precious little expected of them – are Ray Winstone, playing a former comrade, Javier Bardem as a dodgy businessman, and Idris Elba as an Interpol agent.

The film’s attempt to blend social conscience with a revenge-themed plot feels muddled and hypocritical, leaving you with little to appreciate beyond Penn’s impressive fighting skills. The script takes our protagonist across the globe – from Africa to London to Barcelona to Gibraltar – but this is no smart Bourne-style adventure. Penn performs his action-hero duties well, but he gives us an angsty, permanently sullen hero that’s hard to root for.

I’m going with a generous two out of five for The Gunman. Sean Penn deserves better than this. So do we.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 20, 2015

Dibakar Banerjee & Sushant Singh Rajput: “Purists will hate our film”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:52 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, director Dibakar Banerjee and actor Sushant Singh Rajput talk about their new film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, and reveal why purists will likely hate it. They also explain why it’s not a ‘period film’ in the way that most Hindi films set during a particular period are.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Lewd conduct

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:38 pm

March 20, 2014

Cast: Gulshan Devaiah, Radhika Apte, Sai Tamhankar, Veera Saxena, Sagar Deshmukh, Vedant Muchandi

Director: Harshavardhan Kulkarni

More than a few young men will likely recognize themselves in snatches from the growing up years of Mandar Ponkshe, the protagonist of Hunterrr. Skipping class to sneak into an adult film, gathering with friends outside a girls’ school during lunch break, brushing up against an unsuspecting older woman in a crowded place. These scenarios, however embarrassing in retrospect, are unmistakably familiar.

Writer-director Harshavardhan Kulkarni introduces us to Mandar as a teenager curious about the opposite sex and his body’s response to it. There are charming scenes of a young Mandar (played convincingly by Vedant Muchandi) struggling to strike up so much as a conversation with a girl, even as he dispenses romantic advice like an expert to his classmates. He gets braver as he gets older (now played by Gulshan Devaiah), first securing a girlfriend whom he gets thrown out of his college hostel for bringing back to his room, then starting an affair with a married neighbor, and subsequently turning into the kind of oversexed lothario that’ll make a play for anything in a skirt, or a saree, or a pair of shorts.

The film cuts repeatedly between these scenes from his youth, and the present day, in which Mandar, now in his mid-30s, is preparing to get married, although he still can’t keep it in his pants. He has his heart set on Tripti (Radhika Apte), who appears broad-minded enough not to be hung up on his colorful sexual history, although he hasn’t mustered up the courage to share it with her yet.

The prickly subject of sex addiction is viewed through a comic lens in Hunterrr, and for a good part, it works too. Kulkarni keeps the casting real, populating the film with the kind of unremarkable, everyday faces that fit comfortably into its middle-class Maharashtrian milieu. There’s some witty dialogue too, alas much of it unsuitable to repeat in a review.

It’s the film’s constantly jumping timeline that wears you out soon enough. We go back and forth in time – six months earlier, five months later, three months ago, two years later, and so on – until it’s hard to keep track of where we are at any given point. Moreover, the film’s second half feels painfully repetitive and devoid of any interesting insights. Hunterrr is far from fair in its depiction of women, who are either portrayed as desperate-for-marriage becharis, or unhappy frustrated housewives, both conveniently becoming easy prey to Mandar’s ever wandering eye. The sexist stereotyping is one thing; more offensive is the fact that the women in the film are uniformly dumb.

That’s a shame because the actresses embodying them are talented young ladies who deserved better. Sai Tamhankar as the frisky neighbor who comes over for afternoon romps has a deep, underlying sadness in her big, expressive eyes. Radhika Apte plays the educated, financially independent Tripti, as confident, smart and spunky even, the sort of girl who points out attractive women to her date. Oddly, she’s the only woman Mandar appears to have no designs on sexually. Hypocrisy, anyone?

Still, the film rests largely on the able shoulders of Gulshan Devaiah, who succeeds in making you care for a character that’s not always likeable. Devaiah brings an everyman earnestness to Mandar, which protects him from coming off as a deviant. Too bad the film itself is promising but ultimately disappointing. A film, that in the end, delivers little else but cheap laughs.

I’m going with two out of five for Hunterrr.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Old’s still gold

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:37 pm

March 20, 2015

Cast: Dev Patel, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Richard Gere, Lilette Dubey, Tina Desai

Director: John Madden

You have to hand it to them; they didn’t lie when they titled it The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This sequel to 2012’s surprise hit, about a group of ageing British expats who move into a charming Jaipur hotel to reinvent their golden years, is warm and fuzzy and light-hearted like the earlier film, but also over-plotted and occasionally contrived. However, it’s hard to resist the pleasure of the company of its terrific actors who iron out the script’s creases with their winning performances.

The new film opens with Sunny Kapoor (Dev Patel), the hotel’s manic, obsessive owner, and his manager Muriel (Maggie Smith), traveling to America to meet with potential investors to secure backing for a second hotel. Meanwhile, back in Japur, Sunny’s fiancee Sunaina (Tina Desai) is making preparations for their wedding, even as the golden oldies staying at their establishment wrestle with issues of commitment and failing health. 79-year-old Evelyn (Judi Dench) has just been hired as a full-time employee for a fabrics firm, even as she continues to be wooed gently by Douglas (Bill Nighy). Madge (Celia Imrie) is torn between two suitors, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is worried that his partner is cheating on him. Thrown into this mix is Richard Gere, playing a mysterious gent by the name of Guy Chambers, who Sunny is convinced is the undercover hotel inspector dispatched by the investors to evaluate their operations.

If you’re willing to overlook all the blatant stereotyping and the ‘exotic India’ cliches, there’s much to enjoy here, particularly the verbal sparring between Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench who exchange bitchy repartee that had me chuckling at every instance. It’s true the film packs in more than it can comfortably handle in its two-hour running time. The romance between Richard Gere’s character and Sunny’s mother (Lilette Dubey) feels too convenient, and only crowds the narrative. Meanwhile, Sunny’s personal and professional insecurity over a male friend of Sunaina is unconvincing beyond a point. And yet there’s a sweetness to the proceedings that completely disarms you.

Director John Madden offers another affectionate portrait of ageing and second chances in this sentimental but always charming comedy that deserves a watch if only for its terrific A-list cast. I’m going with three out of five for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s the kind of film you’ll want to take your mum to.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Gowns & frowns

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:36 pm

March 20, 2015

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgard, Sophie McShera

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Encouraged no doubt by the enormous success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and Maleficent, the revisionist take on Sleeping Beauty that starred Angelina Jolie as the misunderstood witch, Disney gives another one of its animated classics the live-action makeover. Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is a lush but frankly lifeless retelling of the much-loved fairytale. The film suffers on account of its generic storytelling and inert direction. Screenwriter Chris Weitz brings no twists or surprises to the classic storyline like Maleficent did, and Branagh, while mounting an opulent spectacle, doesn’t have the distinct visual style of Burton.

That’s not to say everyone will hate it. Kids, who’ve enjoyed the animated version (which still holds up although it was made in 1950), will likely be fascinated by the sight of a pumpkin being turned into a golden carriage, and mice transforming into galloping steed. The CGI is impressive, and key scenes like the one in which the magic wears off and things go back to being what they were, are nicely handled.

The problem is that there’s no fun in the film. Lily James, who plays Cinderella (or Ella, as she’s referred to through most of the film), is oh-so-earnest, almost to a fault. You long for some spunk, some rebelliousness; you get none. But it’s hardly her fault that this version of the story turns the character into the sort of unconditionally cheery soul that dances in the rain, talks to animals, and sings songs that go “dilly dilly” this and “dilly dilly” that.

There’s some respite in Cate Blanchett’s delicious performance as the wicked stepmother – she’s in full Cruella de Vil mode – but the film needed more of that. We also get Helena Bonham Carter in a single-scene cameo as the Fairy Godmother, and then there’s Richard Madden as the handsome Prince Kit who becomes obsessed with finding the mysterious maiden who left behind the glass slipper while making dash from the ball.

Speaking of the ball, Branagh delivers a full carnival-style orgy of colorful gowns and pirouetting princesses; there’s no doubt little girls will be awestruck by the sight. The film too is unlikely to appeal to anyone older than 12, or to anyone seeking more than just a straightforward, literal adaptation.

I’m going with two out of five. I was incredibly bored.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

March 13, 2015

Varun Dhawan: “A film I love that more people should see…”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:57 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Varun Dhawan talks about a film he loves that more people should see – he picks a blood-soaked satire starring Christian Bale.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Ayushmann Khurrana: “I begged Adi sir not to destroy my career”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:45 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Ayushmann Khurrana reveals why he was nervous that Dum Laga Ke Haisha was being prepped to release just weeks after his last turkey Hawaizaada, and how he made sure the character in DLKH didn’t come off as a jerk.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Highway to hell

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:37 pm

March 13, 2015

Cast: Anushka Sharma, Neel Bhoopalam, Darshan Kumaar, Deepti Naval

Director: Navdeep Singh

NH10, directed by Navdeep Singh, is about a road trip that goes horribly wrong when a young married couple crosses paths with a gang of ruthless killers on the national highway. It’s a standard genre movie on the surface, and Singh does a good job of creating edge-of-the-seat tension. But he also layers the narrative with rich subtext, delivering so much more than your average thriller.

Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neel Bhoopalam) head out to a weekend getaway on the outskirts of Delhi to bring in Meera’s birthday. While snacking at a dhaba on the highway, they witness a group of men (led by Mary Kom’s Darshan Kumaar) savagely attacking a pair of helpless eloping lovers. When Arjun intervenes, their romantic break quickly takes a violent turn.

Through the nightmarish chain of events that follow, Singh and writer Sudip Sharma reveal the stark contrast between the urban India these protagonists inhabit, and the vast lawless badlands that exist just around the corner. The film puts the spotlight on such ugly realities like the parochial attitude towards women in these parts, the apathy of the local police, and the helplessness of the migrant laborer – but it does so without once resorting to heavy-handed speechifying.

Admirably, the film trains the same critical eye on those sitting comfortably at the other end of the socio-economic divide. Through a scene in which a local from a nearby village approaches Meera, possibly to hitch a ride with the couple, Singh exposes our instant suspicion of, and deep-set prejudice towards those that are less economically sound. When a hapless girl pleads with Meera for help, she walks away, not wanting to get involved. Yet hours later, when Meera frantically scours for help, she rages at passersby who ignore her. The film subtly hints at the unmistakable sense of entitlement felt by privileged folk.

The violence in NH10 is brutal and uncompromising, and it serves the plot well. Early on in the film, it becomes clear that their pursuers mean business; as a result, there’s a very palpable sense of danger that looms over the scenes in which the couple struggles for survival in the wild, unfamiliar terrain. For extended portions of the film, I found myself holding my breath, concerned for the safety of the protagonists. Singh transports you front and centre to the heart of the action.

There are occasional holes in the script, and twists that aren’t entirely convincing. What are the chances of Meera only encountering people who cannot or will not help? Or of a village so conveniently deserted because every single local is watching a tamasha troupe? Cinematic license perhaps, but they jar in a movie that otherwise feels so real. The film’s final coincidence, strikingly similar to the British thriller Eden Lake, is also a bit of a stretch. ((pause))

What NH10 gets bang on is the milieu: the atmospherics, the language, and the tension that creeps up on you that you can’t shake off. The performances too complement the storytelling. Neil Bhoopalam brings charm, and then genuine fear to the part of Arjun, a city slicker who realizes too late that dropping names scarcely works in a strange land. Darshan Kumar is ruthless and menacing – the kind of man you’ll wish you never cross on a lonely highway. The always dependable Deepti Naval is fittingly creepy, cast against type in a small cameo.

The part of Meera is a terrific opportunity for Anushka Sharma, who sinks her teeth into the character, an educated professional thrown into a violent world, and called upon to respond with both physical and emotional courage. Watch her eyes and her body language in a scene where she lights a smoke and watches dispassionately as her offender struggles to get on his feet. Her performance powers the film. Kudos to the actress also for putting her strength behind the film as a producer, and for backing Singh’s bold vision all the way.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for NH10. It’s often terrifying on this highway, but you’ll be glad you were there for the ride.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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