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

April 24, 2015

Kangana Ranaut: “Lots of people called and congratulated me. Deepika didn’t…”

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

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Kangana Ranaut reveals how she feels about winning her second National Award, about the sudden change in the way the industry and other actresses perceive her, about friendship in the movie business, and about carrying around the pressure of high expectations.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN on April 24, 2014)

Up, close and personal with The Avengers!

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

In these interviews with Rajeev Masand, the stars of Avengers: Age of Ultron discuss their new film, the sequel to 2012’s Marvel blockbuster. Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jeremy Renner, Cobie Smulders, James Spader, Paul Bettany and director Joss Whedon get candid and reveal why they’re excited for the new film.

(These interviews first aired on CNN-IBN)

All sound and fury

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:33 pm

April 24, 2015

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L Jackson, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, James Spader

Director: Joss Whedon

It was never going to be easy to top the last film, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that Avengers: Age of Ultron is something of a letdown. In 2012’s The Avengers, Joss Whedon, writer and director, and lifelong fan of Marvel comics, shrewdly delivered a film that threw as many one-liners as punches. He basically follows the same blueprint for this sequel, but Age of Ultron feels surprisingly generic. The novelty of watching these larger-than-life superheroes with clashing personalities and egos trying to work as a team is wearing off now. And I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of every other action movie trying to compete with the Transformers films for longest climax ever.

This time the Avengers are pitted against Ultron, an artificial intelligence peacekeeping force, ironically created by Tony Stark aka Iron Man to protect the world. As invariably tends to happen in these scenarios, the sentient invention goes rogue and turns on his creator, becoming convinced that the only path to peace involves the elimination of the Avengers.

Expectedly this is a bigger, louder, and more action-packed sequel. There are more jokes and more set pieces. The stakes are certainly higher, but there’s very little tension. Entire cities are reduced to rubble, but you hardly care. It’s action without consequence, much like Man of Steel, which is a real shame. The one time I felt especially invested in the action was when Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) went up against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), in a terrific sequence that finally reveals the Hulkbuster suit that Tony Stark has been building to protect himself for when the big green guy flips out and can’t be controlled.

Speaking of controlling the Hulk, one person certainly does make progress. As the trailers previously hinted, Whedon sets up an unexpectedly tender relationship between the Hulk and Black Widow, giving Scarlett Johansson’s character more screen-time and a chance to reveal her tragic back-story. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who was practically benched through most of the last film, also gets more room to explore his human side in a subplot that frankly feels gratuitous. In that sense, Age of Ultron provides more of a level playing field to characters that haven’t had stand-alone movies yet. Old favorites Captain America, Thor and particularly Iron Man have no shortage of big, shining moments and clever one-liners. With S.H.I.E.L.D. disbanded (following the events of last year’s excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier), it’s Cap (Chris Evans) who leads the group now, with Stark bankrolling the Avengers.

As you’re probably aware, the new film also introduces us to Pietro and Wanda Maximoff – better known as Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) – a set of evil-doing twins with powers of speed and magic respectively. The pair, who have a very personal bone to pick with Stark, gang up with Ultron initially to take down their common enemy, but switch over to the side of the Avengers when they become aware of Ultron’s nefarious plans to flatten out humanity. The twins are significant characters in the comic books, but in Whedon’s overcrowded sequel, only Scarlet Witch makes any impression, using her mind-manipulating skills to mess with our heroes’ heads.

As voiced by James Spader, Ultron is a snarky-mouthed villain who gets some nice verbal trade-offs with Stark. He can replicate himself and create an army of sub-Ultrons to take on our heroes, but I couldn’t help feeling he was less menacing and formidable than mischief-making Norse god Loki from the previous film.

To be fair, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a perfectly watchable film, and possibly better than a lot of action movies. The problem is, it doesn’t feel like a game-changer, or even particularly memorable in the manner that so many Marvel films tend to be. More importantly, it’s missing that sense of irreverent fun that oozed out of every pore of that other superhero ensemble – last year’s flat out brilliant Guardians of the Galaxy, which raised the bar pretty high.

I’m going with a generous three out of five for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Go in with modest expectations, and you won’t be too disappointed.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 18, 2015

Mani Ratnam: “Still interested in the younger generation’s attitude to marriage”

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 5:42 pm


In this interview with Rajeev Masand conducted in Chennai, legendary Tamil director Mani Ratnam talks about his new film Ok Kanmani, about the themes that continue to fascinate him, about how his relationship with longtime collaborator AR Rahman has evolved over the years, and about his views on censorship.



(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 17, 2015

Order, order!

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 8:47 pm

If you haven’t had a brush with the Indian legal system, you may picture courts with lawyers who breathe fire and brimstone, yelling “Milord!”, “Tareeq pe tareeq!” or “This whole trial is out of order!” 28-year-old director Chaitanya Tamhane’s National Award-winning Marathi film Court is the antithesis of the typical Bollywood and Hollywood courtroom dramas that we were raised on.

Here a female prosecution lawyer dryly wishes that a defendant could be thrown into jail for the next 20 years, just because she cannot bear to see the “same boring faces again and again” during the trial.

The case being discussed is of Dalit protest-poet Narayan Kamble (Veera Sathidar) who is accused of inciting a manhole worker to commit suicide through his lyrics. Tamhane, making one of the most assured debuts we’ve seen in recent times, takes an observant approach; it’s obvious that this is an open-and-shut-case. Yet Kamble languishes in prison under trumped up charges while his case is debated before a judge, month after month.

Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber), an activist lawyer arguing for Kamble, is often baffled at how ridiculous the charges are. You can almost picture him biting back exasperation at the system, yet he patiently soldiers on to get Kamble out of jail. Meanwhile, prosecution lawyer Sharmila Pawar (Gitanjali Kulkarni) approaches the case propped by outdated law books than by any cool logic. This courtroom troika is completed by Judge Sadavarte (Pradeep Joshi), more obsessed in court procedure and his supreme power as a decider of fates than in dispensing any real justice.

There is Kafkaesque absurdity and black humor mixed in the proceedings as witnesses fail to show up, or when an archaic Victorian law is delivered by rote by the prosecution lawyer. In the corner of one frame, you see a lawyer catching a nap. So often you wonder, “Is this for real?”

The beauty of Tamhane’s film lies in the fact that it is so real. Court is a biting commentary on society, a wry fly-on-the-wall take on the farcical way in which our judicial system and its antiquated laws decide the fate of our people. The lead performers cease to act, and just let their characters breathe through this subtle script. It is how Tamhane tells his story that we are drawn in – occasionally choosing to strip the characters of their day jobs and taking us into their lives.

Vinay is wealthy by birth, a fact established through scenes of jazz-filled evenings and supermarket outings where he lazily picks up wine and slabs of cheese. Is it then that he can afford to have compassion and fight for the oppressed, because of his privileged background? What of the middle-class Sharmila, who takes a local train, picks up her son from a crèche, cooks dinner that the family consumes before the TV and painstakingly writes out her argument for the next day? Can she afford any compassion, caught in the rigor of her tough life? Tamhane leaves us with uncomfortable questions, compounded through the life of Judge Sadavarte. He’s seen letting his hair down at a picnic in a beach resort, but later he dispenses advice mixed up with the superstition of numerology and lucky stones.

Court is a film that offers a wealth of meaning. The drama unfolds languidly, often taking on the somnolent nature of the lower courts, and the camera observes from afar, holding a scene until we absorb it. Moments stay with you, like that desperately poignant bit where the manhole worker’s widow talks of her dead husband in a monotone, or when she politely refuses to take money from Vora and asks for work instead. There’s the humorous outburst that Vora has with his parents, furious when they casually discuss his single status with a client. Typical – the strange embarrassment that only parents can bring you.

Tamhane’s film excels in revealing these terrific vignettes of life, and in the process it ends up moving you. The film allows us to judge, and yet, suggests that we don’t judge too much – after all, this is life with all its complexities and everyone is human.

Compelling and all-too relevant, Court punches you hard in the gut. No rating can do this film justice. It’s unmissable.



Vanish, please!

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

April 17, 2015

Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Amyra Dastur, Arunoday Singh, Tanmay Bhatt

Director: Vikram Bhatt

Emraan Hashmi is a young man who can turn invisible at will. Just think of all the cheeky possibilities that premise could throw up. Alas, it’s not the route director Vikram Bhatt goes down in Mr X, a singularly humorless film that’s sorely lacking in thrills, a coherent plot, and even basic common sense

Hashmi’s character, Raghu, an officer in the Mumbai anti-terrorism squad, survives a deadly attack on his life in a chemical factory by his corrupt boss (Arunoday Singh). Severely disfigured, Raghu is ‘saved’ by a helpful scientist who offers him an anti-radiation drug still in the testing stage that instantly results in complete cell regeneration, but also turns him invisible except in direct sunlight and in blue lighting.

It’s the kind of bunkum that’s impossible to logically explain. Even Bhatt knows that; he gets the scientist to quickly declare it a miracle of god: “The more science knows, the more it realizes it knows nothing.”

Raghu, who now rechristens himself Mr X, decides to use these new ‘powers’ to seek revenge on his offenders. Meanwhile his fiancée (Amyra Dastur), a fellow officer in the ATS, literally “sniffs” out the fact that Raghu is Mr X, and convinced that he has gone rogue, becomes obsessed with stopping him in his bloodthirsty mission.

Borrowing ideas liberally from films like Mr India, Ghost and Hollow Man, Bhatt gives us a bargain-basement sci-fi film with special effects so tacky it makes his own last film Creature seem like Jurassic Park in comparison. The acting seesaws between bored (Emraan Hashmi) and hammy (Arunoday Singh), while leading lady Amyra Dastur, playing a character so stupid you have to wonder how she was hired in the police force, is screechy and grating for the most part.

Delivering none of that sense of fun and discovery that you’d expect from a scenario in which someone suddenly found out they were invisible, Mr X is lazily scripted and often not true to its own logic. Naturally there are multiple instances of Hashmi locking lips with his leading lady while he’s invisible, including once while they’re underwater in a swimming pool. When even that feels too predictable to evoke a giggle, you know this film doesn’t have a chance.

I’m going with a generous one out of five for Mr X. They were optimistic enough to leave the film open for a possible sequel. That one-star rating then is for courage alone.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Pitch perfect

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:35 pm

April 17, 2015

Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, Hussain Dalal, Tenzing Dalha

Director: Shonali Bose

Powered by a staggering performance from Kalki Koechlin as a 19-year-old with cerebral palsy, Margarita with a Straw is that rare Indian film that mostly eschews melodrama to give us an honest, sensitive portrait of disability, and the sexual awakening of an Indian teenager. Co-writer and director Shonali Bose tells a heartfelt story applying dignity and grace, making us care for her protagonist without ever asking us to pity her.

Laila (Koechlin) lives with her loving middle-class family in Delhi, and is unwilling to let her condition determine how she must lead her life. She spends her time writing music for her college band, and like any young woman her age, she’s curious about sex, which makes her mother nervous. When Laila gets her heart broken by a boy that she has a crush on she embraces the opportunity to make a fresh start, accepting a scholarship to New York University. Here she meets and befriends Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a young blind woman of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, who subsequently becomes her lover.

Brimming with a level of authenticity rarely seen in popular Hindi cinema, the film is unafraid to explore touchy themes like female desire, and the sexual drive of disabled people, an idea that even fewer filmmakers have been brave enough to address. Laila’s journey of self-discovery, her struggle to accept her bisexual identity, and her anxiety over coming out to her parents are all nicely conveyed through effective scenes that benefit from perceptive dialogue and consistently convincing performances. Revathy brings subtle intensity to her role as Laila’s supportive but wary mother; watch how she is suddenly overcome with concern during a light-hearted scene when Laila reveals to her in the bath that she has feelings for a boy in her college.

Bose never beatifies Laila in the manner that many films do with their differently abled characters. We get a flesh-and-blood protagonist complete with warts and all; Laila can be selfish and hurtful like anyone her age. She can be manipulative too. It’s Kalki Koechlin’s pitch perfect performance that humanizes Laila. Not only does she accurately portray the character’s disability traits – the slurred speech and the rigid movements – she also gets fully into Laila’s head, and imbues the character with an emotional strength that never feels out of place.

Koechlin has an undeniable chemistry with the beautiful and feisty Sayani Gupta playing Khanum. A scene in which Laila reveals to her that she has betrayed her, is one of the film’s most heartbreaking moments, and excellently performed by both actresses.

Despite some bumps in its final act, Margarita with a Straw strikes just the right tone. There are unexpected moments of humor, a coming-of age story that feels uncompromised, and a protagonist whose disability slowly fades away in the background as you begin to see her as a ‘normal’ person navigating the tricky journey of adolescence.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Margarita with a Straw. Don’t miss the film, or you’ll miss what is likely one of the year’s strongest performances by a female actor.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 6, 2015

Anushka Sharma: A Film I Love That More People Should See

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:50 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Anushka Sharma talks about a film she saw recently and enjoyed immensely that she recommends more film buffs ought to see.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

April 3, 2015

‘Kahaani’ director Sujoy Ghosh on filming that chilling scene in the Kolkata metro

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 9:39 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Kahaani director Sujoy Ghosh talks about filming that chilling scene in the Kolkata metro.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Calcutta calling

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:42 pm

April 03, 2015

Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari, Neeraj Kabi, Swastika Mukherjee, Divya Menon, Meiyang Chang

Director: Dibakar Banerjee

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, directed by Dibakar Banerjee, is a moody thriller set in 1943 Calcutta that unravels at an unhurried pace. Loosely adapted from Bengali crime fiction writer Saradindu Bandopadhyay’s enduring literary series, the film is intended as the origin story of the famous fictional sleuth.

Banerjee’s Calcutta is a city of secrets and shadows lurking at every corner. A terrific opening scene – in which mysterious sinister elements show up and thwart an opium deal in the dead of the night – sets the mood for the film’s noir-ish leanings. With World War II currently at its peak, the threat of oncoming Japanese bomber-jets looms large. It is against this landscape that Byomkesh (Sushant Singh Rajput), a recent graduate on the verge of taking up a teaching job, lands his first investigating assignment.

A young writer named Ajit (Anand Tiwari) is concerned about the whereabouts of his father, a reputed chemist, who has been missing for two months. The police think he’s run away, but Byomkesh is convinced that the old man has been killed. As he sets about prying into the mysterious disappearance of Ajit’s father from a local lodge, our private eye protagonist stumbles into a much bigger conspiracy involving Chinese drug dealers, a Japanese dentist, a femme fatale from Rangoon, and a slew of assorted characters who may or may not hold clues to the case.

Far from the sure-footed, razor-sharp sleuth of Bandopadhyay’s stories, Byomkesh, in Banerjee’s film, is an amateur investigator slowly coming into his own. ‘Slowly’ is the operative word here, as Banerjee and co-writer Urmi Juvekar spend more or less the entire first hour setting up the plot. Sushant Singh Rajput nicely slinks into the part of the unibrowed detective who’s clearly learning on the job. He has a fragile ego, he gets queasy at the sight of blood, and oftentimes he misses clues that are staring him in the face. Rajput has a boyish quality that serves the character well; he gets the Bangla mannerisms right, the body language down pat, and gives us a hero we grow to care for.

It’s the snail-paced plotting, and the surprising lack of urgency and imminent danger that cripples the film. Story strands and characters are abandoned arbitrarily, only to be revisited later. The big reveal isn’t too hard to guess – stick with your gut, don’t let the red herrings distract you, and lo, you’ve figured it out. The climax too is a mess of hammy acting.

But despite these problems, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is a far more accomplished film than your average Bollywood offering. Every frame is crafted lovingly; the cinematography is stylish and evocative, Sneha Khanwalkar’s mostly heavy-metal soundtrack terrific, and the film’s production design simply first-rate. Aside from the odd clunky performance, by Swastika Mukherjee as the unintentionally hilarious seductress, the acting too is solid, particularly by Anand Tiwari, the Dr Watson to Byomkesh’s Holmes, who brings stray moments of much needed lightness to a largely humorless film. Ship of Theseus’ Neeraj Kabi also makes a big impression as a wise homeopath and the owner of the lodge where much of the action unfolds.

In the end the film has a lot going for it, even if it isn’t as fully satisfying as Banerjee’s previous works. This is a sprawling, ambitious effort with remarkable attention to detail; a film that deserves to be watched, especially for its masterful filmmaking.

I’m going with three out of five for Detective Byomkesh Bakshy. Give it a chance, prepare to be patient, and chances are that it’ll stay with you.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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