16 Dec 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit:An Unexpected Journey (3D): Technology mars storytelling

Let us regretfully declare precioussss that we returned to the cinema hall yet again for a second viewing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first part of the movie trilogy. We find now that the use of 3D does add punch to the action sequences, but the storytelling suffers in the process. Too much is made the 48 frames per second technology. The visual impact of  48 fps is in giving a High Definition (HD) experience, the effect is cosmetic at most.

Yes, Peter Jackson impresses again with his lively imagination, enthusiasm and his cinematic hold over middle-earth tales. The film is entertaining, but not deep, which is a pity, for the JRR Tolkien book reeks of danger, and is certainly not as full of comic ambiance as the film.The director does packs conviction, alarm and urgency in to characters, special effects and action scenes. No other director has blended CGI with such seamless conviction and imagination as Jackson and this film serves as additional evidence.

Additions obstruct flow
Now, I have immensely enjoyed reading the book and certain liberties taken to conjoin the story line to the LOTR movies, like the Rivendell council scenes and the Necromancer scenes stretch like elastic. These visual spectacle excuses are but light of purpose. They take much sheen off proceedings. 

Despite its mitigated charm, An Unexpected Journey is certainly worth watching on the cinema screen. The 3D version comes highly recommended. It's a good one, there is only some bad Jackson can do. I just expect better things in the next two parts. Without 3D would do too, please. Technology that mars cinema is of no use.

Stand out 
Watch out for the Gollum-Bilbo scene in particular. The literature comes oozing out in those pieces as Andy Serkis impressively reprises his motion-capture role.

12 Dec 2012

Music Specials: Ravi Shankar & The Quiet Beatle

Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar passed away yesterday evening (Dec 11,2012) in California as the press have reported. He was 92.

Let us bask then in the sun of a musical legacy, let me start with a blog link posted again in the light of Shankar's untimely demise (Frankly, considering the incredible energy, expected Shankar to live beyond 100, still playing the Sitar). Here is the link: Ravi Shankar & Allah Rakha make magic at Monterey, 1967.

Now on to the story of the quiet Beatle, George Harrison and his relationship with Ravi Shankar. Harrison is said to have met Shankar in 1966 and then go on to learn playing the Sitar from the latter during an Indian visit. Listen to Shankar talking about his initial view of Harrison learning the instrument below:

Harrison went on to use the Sitar and Tabla in certain Beatles songs. Here is a YouTube selection for your listening pleasure. Also check Love You To out, the most scintillating example of Sitar in a Beatles song.

6 Dec 2012

Movie Talk: Talaash: How about an alternate ending?

Whether you have watched Talaash or are going to do so, consider this:

  • That if the story were to be told from the point of view of Rosy (Kareena Kapoor), the impact would be far more devastating. 
  • That the additional underwater rescue scene almost kills it. The scene demonstrates how much things left unsaid in comparison to a scene stretched beyond measure can make a film of the suspense genre either great or good. 
  • The additional mitigating factor is the final recapping of various scenes we have already seen. This school textbook revision for a forgetful target audience reduces the film's wallop and chances of repeat viewing.  
  • An alternate ending: The police vehicle taillights disappear into the water. THE END.

Movie Review: Talaash: Bumpy road to 'twist in the tale'

In the dead of a Mumbai night, a famous film actor inexplicably swerves his car off the road into the sea. Inspector Shekawat (Aamir Khan) is put in charge of the case, and he soon realizes that things are very complex. Shekawat has his own demons to subdue, he is guilt-ridden of his irresponsibility in the drowning of his eight year-old son. His strained relations with his wife (Rani Mukherjee) lead to sleepless, wandering nights, and he dips himself in the case. Into his life then, first as an informer and then as a confidant comes the prostitute Rosy (Kareena Kapoor). How Shekawat's relation with Rosy leads to the shocking revelation is the film's make or break point.

Talaash takes the safe, meandering and awkward road to the fifteen seconds of heaving us from our seats. The script and its treatment is not as confident, crafty and risky as a particular Hollywood film that executed a similar premise with unforgettable finesse. The additional overplayed scene in the revelation part and the crowd-comforting happy ending mitigates the effect to a large extent.

The cast is excellent. Aamir, Kareena and Rani all play their parts with craft. Raj Kumar Yadav, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Shernaz Patel add luster to their parts, Siddiqui is particularly mercurial. The Ram Sampath soundtrack is good audio, though except for the opening credits Muskaanein Jhooti Hai, the other songs steal intensity from tense proceedings.

Finally Talaash is a good attempt in a genre where a tighter, defter and daring treatment would have given us a classic. No kidding. A definite one-time watch.

5 Dec 2012

Movie News: Coming Soon: The Hobbit Trilogy

The news has been floating for a long time now, and it is now pretty much confirmed (precioussss) that Peter Jackson's film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit is to be released in three parts, yes, as a trilogy. The first film is called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The second and third films, set to be released in 2013 and 2014 respectively are reported to be titled - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There and Back Again.

Having read the book twice now, the second time quite recently, this news brings great joy. For The Hobbit may seem to be a deceptively short tale, considering the lesser number of pages in comparison to Lord of the Rings, but this is happily not true. There is so much happening in the book (and the Gollum episode is just one of the several), that a single movie will not able to provide ample time for the establishment of umpteen characters, excluding the treasure-hunting party.

Now, the three-part movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings too left many parts of the book out and tweaked certain plot elements by characters rather than actions, thus still retaining the epic fantasy's aura. It still resounds on screen as a singular tale, for the main crux of the story is forever moving towards one certain question - Whether the one ring of power will be destroyed or not?

In comparison, The Hobbit tells of a single group of characters, there is no Gondor, Mordor or Minas Tirth in it as diversions. The tale revolves around the adventures of 13 dwarves, a hobbit and a wizard. Therefore, anything missing from the movie is bound to be noticed.

Considering the length, The Hobbit is an easier story to fit into three films than the mammoth Lord of the Rings. Hence, the trilogy makes sense, apart from the commerce angle. Now to see if Peter Jackson can pull it off again. With no more plot spoilers, we await the release of the first part in India on December 14, 2012.

27 Nov 2012

Goodbye, Ghazal? Part II

The ghazal is of the individual and the heart. I love to summarize it as, "Truth-in-Verse". It is bound to be personal. Sadness makes a constant appearance, so does pathos, the pain of love, nostalgia...feelings we are habitual in not expressing. Love songs in this music genre are not trumpeted bang-boom declarations. 

In many of these songs, the subject of the song in unaware of the poet's affections. The songs are an unerring reflection of life, an ode to its majestic often overlooked beauty to life's mysteries. That is why the numerous mentions of female beauty, longing, stars, sky, trees, breeze, the moon, and other nature's elements are never redundant in the ghazal. Truth echoes over generations.   

The 'Get Over It' Culture 
Since it reflects raw emotions, ghazals have inevitably told tales of woe, regret, sadness, and torment. In these times of showcasing a perpetual public face of happiness, wealth and materialism, the ghazal finds no breathing space.

In the urban age of cell phone addiction, social networking, and reduced attention spans, repressed emotions still sprout. Ghazal yet has the potential to regain and renew its audience in the present scenario. But the ghazal singer's pedestal lies empty.There are a whole lot of talented female and male singers rendering cover versions and tributes. But no ghazal artist is featured in popular media voicing any original material, as of yet.

In the Hindi film soundtrack world, rejection has found its catharsis in vengeance, alcohol, party dances and abuse. Note the two acidic songs of Ram Sampath's remarkable soundtrack for Delhi Belly (2011) - especially Bhaag D.K. Bose and Jaa Chudail. To lament is no longer convention, to give vent to anger is more of a bend nowadays. The norm now is to scream, binge on alcohol, have a violent catharsis and forget.

True to Life 
Before the curtains drop on these passage of words, let me recall a scene from the 1957 Guru Dutt classic Pyaasa. On a happy occasion, even as fellow poets recite congratulatory verses, the protagonist weaves his own tiredness and disillusion in couplets of despair. Midway through his dark narration, a man at the gathering urges the poet to recite something happier. In response, the poet expresses in Sahir Ludhianvi's mercurial verse: 

hum ghamzada hai, 
laaye kahan se khushi ke geet?...
denghe wahi jo payenge 
es zindagi se hum...  

(I am woe-begone
from where do I bring songs of happiness?... 
I will only give that which 
I receive from life...)

For this staunch and rebel outlook of baring the heart, the ghazal doesn't go by market conventions and social trends. It is for a braver, somber world, of a lost time and era.

Unless a trailblazer dares to reinvent the ghazal, this emperor of a song genre will be relegated to the mind museums of ghazal lovers. As Gulzar wrote for Singh's sparkling album Marasim - waqt rehta nahi kahin tikk kar, eski aadat bhi aadmi si hai. Time doesn't pause anywhere, a habit so like a man's.

Goodbye, Ghazal? Part I

Goodbye, Ghazal? Part I

With the passing away of Jagjit Singh (October 2011) and Mehdi Hassan (June 2012) and no torchbearer in sight for this sensitive music form, the ghazal looks all set to glide into musical history. The poetry may yet survive, there is no financial compulsion or consequential audience that deters a poet to write. They will always write.

Popular Hindi film music no longer endorses this music form. It's been eons since a ghazal was part of a film soundtrack. Moreover, it was painfully evident at the 2012 GIMA tribute to Jagjit Singh, titled Yaadon Ka Safar, that few singers could convincingly render cover versions of Singh's ghazals in a live stage setting.

Ghazal and Atmospherics 

The ghazal is for quiet reflection, thus even the love songs have a haze of melancholy.It needs as much intent attention as listening to a Ravi Shankar sitar sequence. The ghazal is an evening rest, a quiet couch, and there lies its singularity.

The magic is in the way the words unfold in the vocals, the lingering, leisurely music that creates the atmosphere. No popular thump of percussion here, for the couplets add enough punch that any other additional emphasis in instrumentation would surely kill the composition.

The song featured below, Hai Lau Zindagi gained fame when it played as a title for Nalini Singh's 90's news series Hello Zindagi. Gulzar has penned the lyrics.

Ghazal's Golden Decade
The 1980's was a golden period for ghazals, and if you revisit the records of this period, you are bound to hear the singer explaining the meaning of certain Urdu words, or requesting the listener's attentiveness to the subsequent para.

Sensing the audience's mood, artists like Jagjit Singh used anecdotes and jokes midway, and then seamlessly cut back to the song. Note Anup Jalota's baritone commentary in his classic Chand Angdaeyaan Le Raha Hai... (Roughly translated as - The moon is stretching its arms...).

Of Simpler Times
Jagjit Singh almost single-handedly brought a modern sensibility to the ghazal. His approach never tarnished the ghazal's core spirit.  Singh was wisely measured yet flexible enough in the use of the guitar, piano and other light accompaniments.

The words are a ghazal's adornment, hence anything gimmicky will only stall proceedings. No remix or other cosmetics will suit its richness and purity. If such changes are induced, it will then no longer be called - ghazal. There lies its luminance, yet there dwell the shadows of its impending obscurity.

26 Nov 2012

RGV's The Attacks Of 26/11: The first seven minutes

Film director Ram Gopal Varma is at it again, his upcoming movie is again based on real-life incidents, and this time it is on the 26/11 Terrorist attacks that rocked Mumbai on this very day, four years ago. Though no release date has been announced, Eros has put up the first seven minutes of the movie on YouTube.    

24 Nov 2012

Movie Review: Life of Pi (3D): Good, watchable cinema

There are always elements in a well-written novel or short story that will differ in each reading, the perspective on the tale keeps altering in accordance to the reader's age, such that re-reading can be equivalent to making love to a new person each time. At least in saying so, that is. On the other hand, a film in invariably etching out exact scenes in audiovisual storytelling, limits our interpretation. The joy of revisiting a classic movie is of reprise, much like a song’s charm, we don’t mind listening to it again and again.

As our tale begins, Piscine Patel is the younger adolescent second son of a Tamilian zoo owner and his wife growing up in picturesque Pondicherry of the 1970’s. The legend of how Piscine turns to Pi is well-adapted from the book here. Pi’s idyllic life is thwarted, as in trying times, his father decides that the family would move to Canada, sell the zoo animals there and start life afresh. As the zoo creatures and Pi’s family travel in a freight ship, a storm causes the ship to capsize. Pi makes it to a lifeboat by sheer fate, but he is not the lone survivor. He ends up sharing boat space, again by incidence, with a Royal Bengal Tiger, a Hyena, a Zebra and an Orangutan. Drifting aimlessly in the Pacific, with no other human being in sight, and the hungry company aboard, Pi’s fight for survival has just began...

Riveting, humorous, fearful, and arresting in its lifeboat journey parts, charmingly magical in its opening Pondicherry bits and meandering in all the god talk and flashback medium, Life of Pi has moments that 3D enhances. The background score is fitting if not overwhelming, and Suraj Sharma as Pi makes it work, as do the animal special effects. Irrfan Khan, Tabu and Adil Hussain give good performances in their brief parts. Finally, Life of Pi works in its excellent interpretation of what seemed ‘unfilmable’ on paper. It is in the animal-human face off that the circle of life message gets through, rather than the god talk, which spoils it a bit for putting in too many words and put-on emotions in the narrative. But finally, in totality, Life of Pi has enough cinematic merit and visual magic to be watched on the big screen - totally recommended!  

4 Nov 2012

Movie Review: Skyfall: Mr. Bond, Where the hell have you been?

Finally, Daniel Craig gets a Bond movie we would like to return to. Though the plot and sketches of the antagonist and protagonist are clearly inspired from the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy (Especially The Dark Knight), Skyfall is an entertaining film that holds our attention, almost all of the time.

Somebody has stolen the hard drive containing the identities of undercover government agents. The agents who have infiltrated various terrorist groups are now been discovered and executed one by one. Under immense political pressure and criticism, M (Judi Dench, apt) assigns Bond to recover the drive, only to bring up remnants of M’s past decisions. Still, Bond stays by M, even as the devious villain blows up the M16 London Headquarters, leaving a trail of bodies.

Right Mood 
Director Sam Mendes gives us atmosphere, scintillating visuals, and smooth, racy storytelling. Bond (Daniel Craig, Efficient as usual) is depicted as tired, ageing, and yet giving his best. He has lost none of his charm for women though or his straight-faced wit, a consistent (previously waning) factor in the Craig/Bond films. For once, there are no complexities; it is clear what the villain (A brilliant take by Javier Bardem) is after - Thank god, for once it is not world domination.

By atmosphere we mean the sounds and visuals we have craved for since Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan left the scene – gentle smooth roar of the Aston Martin, plunk of ice in the martini, seductive guile and certainly not a Bond looking to marry. Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve (Naomie Harris) make for light, catchy character sketches. Ralph Fiennes is wasted in his role, despite what finally transpires. The Scotland finale, despite the Batman/Bruce Wayne likeness (Batman Begins) is great if not overwhelming.

After the disappointments that Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) were, Skyfall is engaging if not totally original cinema. But one thing can be said for certain, it has a Bond we used to love.

Stand outs
James Bond falling off a train top. Two outlined men fighting each other. The villain descends from an elevator. Neon lighted Shanghai and dragons by lantern light.A helicopter approaches an old house with a rock song blaring, and Bond quips, "He always has to make an entrance."    

Javier Bardem as Silva

Craig sets out on another chase

Berenice Marlohe stars as the alluring, tragic Severine
Naomie Harris as Eve, the other Bond girl                                                     

7 Oct 2012

Movie Review: English Vinglish: Smooth, Heartfelt Take on Self-esteem

Yippie, Sridevi is back and how! At 49, she finally gets a deserved space in a polished, purposeful screenplay. Here, she plays and represents the Indian housewife, conventional, traditional, food maker and mother.Then there is English, the language of social hipness, of love outside marriage -  the film highlights these aspects and more.

Story and trappings 
Shashi (Sridevi) is wife to her well-to-do working husband (Adil Hussain, sturdy), mother to her little son and adolescent daughter (Navika Kotia and Shivansh Kotia, naturals). She is also a great cook. Apart from her homemaker duties, she part-times as a caterer, distributing home made ladoos*. And yes, she doesn’t know English and is ridiculed in her attempts to speak the language, especially by her husband and daughter. Although the film doesn't escape the contrived self-pity pits of a Baghban (2003) and similar Hindi character-sidelined films to provide Shashi the catalyst to learn English, it stays true to her character.

As the script sets it up, Shashi is called to help her New York based elder sister, whose daughter is getting married in a month. Uncertain and nervous, she travels alone to New York, the rest of the family planning to join her later. Here, another traumatic experience leads Shashi to secretly enroll in a short-term English learning class. This gives a good excuse for the scriptwriters to fill the classroom with diverse characters from various geographical locations and sexual orientations. The setting for the humour, complete with Tamil accents, may again seem contrived here, but the laughs keep coming. 

A bow to convention
The climax speech has its emotional trappings. Convention is given a tap here, the concept of family; of faithfulness and monogamy in marriage is also spoken of. But as it comes from Shashi, a traditional, guileless, simple Indian wife, it holds true to her created persona. What rankles, yet comes off as a bitter truth to the Indian conventional wife mentality is her justification to not have an affair outside marriage. As she utters to the 'other' man, paraphrased here, "When you don't love yourself you get attracted to new things. When you love yourself even old things start looking new. Thank you for helping me love myself." The husband-wife reconciliation is also pushed off to safe and 'winding up the film' territory.

Yet, in totality
Debutant director Gauri Shinde impresses. Sridevi is clearly the star here, none of the sheen has worn off. Her diction could have been worked on though, which doesn't suit the Marathi character, it is noticeably her default natural delivery. This is but a small grumble in a performance of finesse. The harrowing experience at the coffee shop, her nervous breakdown at the immigration counter, the post-wedding speech and the Michael Jackson dance imitation, she makes it all seem effortless.

The supporting cast is great too and various misconceptions that this script could have created are well-dealt with. Nowhere does learning English come as thumbs down to Hindi. The unsaid, evident point is of self-development and individuality, and all one can say is hear, hear.

Word in for...
The beat perfect blend of the modern and traditional in Amit Trivedi’s soundtrack and background score. Impressive stuff, way to go. Kudos to lyricist Swanand Kirkire too. In a time of gimmicky vocabulary showcasing, Kirkire's lyrics in one song go - Gustakh dil, dil mein mushkil, mushkil mein dil, gustakh dil, thoda sangdil, thoda buzdil. Simple and spot-on.  

 (*Ladoo- Round Indian sweet dish, usually served as dessert)  

A justified excuse to fill an English learning class with diverse characters from various geographical locations

Adil Hussain plays Shashi's husband: A deft, understated performance

A pivotal moment in the film

An excuse for dance and Sridevi lets go!

21 Sep 2012

Movie Review: Barfi: Ode to Innocence & Chaplin

Barfi could have been so much more in impact and magic, considering that director Anurag Basu adapts the Charlie Chaplin template well into the film, if sporadically. This is no easy task, considering the sheer physical dexterity and comic mastery that Chaplin had. Anyway, let us look at the story first.

Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor, excellent) is a deaf and mute youngster living in 1970's Darjeeling with his old chauffeur father. He is carefree and mischievous, much to the agony of an obese small town policeman (Saurabh Shukla, stellar), who keeps playing Tom to Barfi's elusive Jerry. The bumbling, juggling Barfi then woos the new to town, soon-to-be-married Shruti (Ileana D'Cruz, impressive Hindi film debut), wobbles to his first kiss, and is then seared by separation. In unlikely circumstances, he ends up finding love with his autistic childhood friend Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra, real). Meanwhile, Shruti regrets not following her heart and in a turn of events, gets a second chance to be with Barfi. By the end of it, important life and love lessons are imbibed.

Barfi sparkles in its dialogue-less moments.The stand out scenes are the City Lights (1931) inspired chases which works as a tribute, the Amelie (2001) inspired background music, scenes lifted from The Notebook (2004) and Singing in the Rain (1952) could have been tweaked. In contrast the murder mystery track is a half-attempted whimper. Also, the non-linear, back and forth storytelling across timelines is something Chaplin would have frowned at - we did. A start to end telling would have made things so much more easy on the eye, fit the film's spirit. 

All said and done, Barfi is a brave attempt, a stumble into new territory rather than with sure-footed steps. The performances, an exceptional Pritam soundtrack and colourful cinematography (Ravi Varman) salvage the movie. The primary saviour however, are the film's outlined circles of simplicity, love and innocence. No dark shades here, ensuring that the film doesn't go in the similarly edited, non-linear flow of Imtiaz Ali's jagged Rockstar (2011). Merciful, for us. Worth a watch.
A note for... 
Single screen theaters, thanks for the price tag, upgraded sound system, cheap snacks and the absolute pitch darkness in the balcony: Where one gropes over many hapless feet to find that the assigned seats are already taken. The same seat numbers that were so majestically ticked off from a sheet of box designed paper minutes ago at the ticket counter, now non-existent. So at the same ticket price, one can be seated at different places, pre-interval, post-interval and in between. What flexibility. Attention lovers, some really dark corners abound here!    

20 Sep 2012

Music Review: Barfi: Simple Melodic Gems

Music: Pritam; Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire, Sayeed Quadri, Neelesh Mishra & Ashish Pandit

It is safe to go on record and say that the Barfi soundtrack is the best work of music director Pritam,  till date. At once innocent, mischievous, perpetual sunshine, dreamy and comic; inspiration for a refreshing approach probably needs an out of the box story, as the movie's premise shows. Incidentally, Pritam has done his best work with director Anurag Basu, note the rock band inspiration in Life In A... Metro (2007), and the soulful, lithe, though plagiarism-ridden Gangster (2006).  

Ala Barfi (Kafu Barfi)  and Ala Barfi are basically varied versions (vocal and arrangement) of the same song. The former is crooned with an endearing cheerfulness by lyricist Swanand Kirkire, the latter has Mohit Chauhan stamping his playback authority in an amazing rendition. Note the nonsensical tone, the lightness doesn't lose verve even at the mention of death. Potential classic.

The hand harmonica shines with pleasant sunlight in the Shreya Ghoshal and Nikhil Paul George rendered Aashiyan, the talk here is of enjoying little pleasures. For once, Phir Le Aaya Dil  works more in its unlikely male vocals of Arijit Singh and Shafqat Amanat Ali (opening strains from Raabta, from Pritam - composed Agent Vinod, 2012) than the more sturdy Rekha Bharadwaj. Watch its magic in the film visuals, fits right in. Three versions are a bit too many though.

Saawali Si Raat in an ode to innocent love sans anything remotely sexual. Again, the film's setting justifies such austerity. Note the decent Arijit Singh vocals and light tabla strains. 

Kyun is a dreamy-journey delight with the Papon-Sunidhi Chauhan vocals going deep, the most insightful of the songs, rich in its percussion and rhythm, yet a controlled subtlety. Jo karna hai woh aaj kar, na isko thal, bhavre...

Nikhil Paul George's rendition of Main Kya Karoon, despite its recall of the Pritam's guest composed I love you (Bodyguard, 2011), has its moments of moonlight.

The atmospherics in each song get through, in this age of copy paste song recording, here is an album that delivers the goodies. Overall, a gem of an album for those sweet, silent, snuggle winter nights. 

22 Aug 2012

Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur II (Part Two): Deft Blood & Humour Culmination

Just how many dead bodies, bullet-pumping, greed, drugs and blood can you sit through in a gun-booming 150-minute revenge saga that transcends generations? You would if there was enough to laugh out in between, chilling camera work and a new array of characters, all done with conviction.

There is no time lost in introducing the scenario, we had much of that in the first part. Also, the lingo is the more familiar Hindi here, signs of homogeneity in a burgeoning town. So we kick start in the initial minutes with two sombre / hilarious brass band funerals, a drug addict, a wedding and a lusty first night.

A town where every other man wants his share of money, the coming of pagers and cell phones, and the never-ending greed float on the film's murky surface. Also adding to the plot are the new generation, a razor blade touting, school dress attired kid robber, a step-brother who mouths film actor Mohnish Behl's Maine Pyar Kiya (1989) antagonist dialogues ("A boy and a girl can never be friends.") and an accomplice who abandons his friend at the first go. Betrayal and deadly deceit are passe in 21st century Wasseypur.

With such lushness of characters, Kashyap gives us an absorbing film, with story strands coming together in a tension-pricked climax and then much more, as revenge comes full circle, and a red blood footprint is embedded on hospital tile. Gangs of Wasseypur II is a high quality second part of a small town gangster saga, though Gangs of Wasseypur I is somehow more endearing with the skill with which it moves through generations and Manoj Bajpai's towering performance. 

In summation, seen as one five-hour plus entity, Gangs of Wasseypur is worth returning to for the vast gun-toting, seven-decade literature it reeks of. Now we await the extended version DVD of the entire set. Bring it on.           

15 Jul 2012

Eega: An Unique, Entertaining Action Fantasy Movie

The fly in the villain's ears, nose, eyes

Good fiction, they say, is how well one tells the truth within the lie.

A kid wants to hear a story, very badly, something like a fairy tale. So his dad makes up the contents as revealed in the following paragraph to appease him. 

A good boy loves a sexy neighborhood entrepreneur girl. Bad guy lusts for the same girl.  After much persistence, girl loves the good boy too. The bad guy hates it, totally. So the good boy is kidnapped and killed by the bad guy. As this is a film, the good boy’s milky white soul travels to be reborn as, buzz, buzz, buzz, a fly. How the fly takes revenge, despite the odds, is the incredible crux of the movie.

This improbable plot is played out with inspired creativity, special effects and dressing up the lie in the manufactured truth with surprisingly high-quality results. The central theme as such transcends language barriers once the fly enters the scene. That this is done so early in the film and not after any elastically stretched first half shows the film maker’s gusto in meeting the challenge head-on.

While the slow-motion effects and the glitzy lighting is common to commercial Telugu films, the genre fits hand-in-glove with the technical indulgence.

Despite the clearly mass audience content, which makes for the mandatory, mercifully brief loose ends (Comedy and a thumping hero-worshiping ‘He is back’ kind of soundtrack, tantrik mumbo-jumbo) the film pulls off all the amazing ‘fly vs. human’ fight sequences. This is a top class action, fantasy adventure. We will not exaggerate; for once even Hollywood couldn’t have done better, except in adding dollars to the budget. There, we said it. Go for it? Totally! Well, I don’t know much of Telugu and it still didn’t matter. 

Also impressed by... 
The performances are spot on. Sudeep is the standout as the antagonist. Considering that he has to imagine the fly buzzing around, his wicked, exasperated, swinging on madness act is among the film's high points. Samantha is sturdy (despite the limited canvas), and Nani’s brief (though cliched) role is well played out. The VFX people (special effects) can take a bow, and of course kudos to writer and director SS Rajamouli. They made a heady mix out of the formula.

That was way, way, way beyond any expectation. Great buzzzzzzz...Eega (Fly)! 

Just like that...
Two different language versions of the film have been made and released - Naan Ee (I am a Fly) is the Tamil version title. The Hindi dubbed version Makkhi will be subsequently released.   

Sudeep's troubles have just started
Nani is fresh and jovial in a brief act
Samantha as Bindu

27 Jun 2012

Music Review: Cocktail: Dance/Lounge Sugar Candy

Music: Pritam; Lyrics: Irshad Kamil

All through this techno/electro Pritam act, we seldom get the depth of reflection, but more of percussion thumps and some passing rewind takes. The new female alternatives boosts the album big time. As for pathos, the last time we heard anything sad and tunefully gloomy in heartbreak was Shankar-Ehsan-Loy's Tanhai from their gatecrashing Dil Chahta Hai (2001). 

Still you can't deny the lounge riff addiction in Tumhi Ho Bandhu as Pritam regular Neeraj Sridhar does the usual English-Hindi reprise with the welcome freshness of  Kavita Seth. Thumbs up for the dance motivation. Also sunshine is the similarly veined Daaru Desi, a guitar-synthesizer friendship number, with treated vocals. The Shalmali Kholgade vocals are the bright new thing here.Interestingly, both Seth and Kholgade's vocal texture are variants of Shipa Rao, yet quite different. 

Second Hand Jawaani has a novelty concept in its tag line and the Punjabi rhythm. Again the vocals are fresh (Neha Kakkar, Nakkash Aziz and 'Miss' Pooja) and the dance thump beats a winner. Pick of the album. Kamil's lyrics are apt here, they fit in to the ultra urban tone, wish they could have risen above the sounds like they did in Rockstar (2011).  

Yaariyan, with its boy band referenced (Green Day) percussion and guitar work has its moments in its message of holding on to friendship despite the odds, with a shadow of isolation. Mohan Kanan's lead vocals and the brief Shilpa Rao interlude sync well here. The piano-accompanied reprise of the same song is a pleasant listen, Sunidhi Chauhan does a great take on it.

Luttna, the mandatory 'Sufi' filler, an otherwise fresh take, loses steam largely in its techno background and its high-pitched chorus reprise - which can take time getting used to. Tera Naam Japdi Phiran is again dance territory, the English refrain of bad bad girl, doesn't gel with the catchy Punjabi rendition here. Frankly, it is about time we move on from wrenching dry Jugni, which gets yet another rendition here.

Main Sharaabi, the sole composition by Yo Yo Honey Singh is another Punjabi dance number for the drinking, dancing party.

A groovy album that lacks variety in concept, though half of the songs work, skimming off  the surface, singularly.

23 Jun 2012

Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur (Part I): Greed, Gun, Lust Carved Into Small-Town Literature

As is a sign in good cinema, no actor's performance is allowed to overshadow the movie's flow...

It will take the release of the second part to conclude in summation on this epic endeavour that could well be a book on a history of crime. The film begins in 1941 somewhere in the smoky coal-rich badlands of what is by dialect and geography inclined to either Uttar Pradesh or Bihar.

To cut the long story short, the first part of the aptly ‘A’ rated Gangs of Wasseypur is immensely watchable for the lovers of the gangster drama genre. The weak points are few and far in between. A mild start with just too many guns booming and a two-minute part in between seems to drag, but that is about it. The rest is all bull’s eye and fresh, as the director’s breakthrough Dev D (2009) was.

The strength again is in the rich writing, dialogue, endearing characters and performances. For making us like onscreen murderers for whom killing is a casual, every day part of life is no small achievement. Seven decades are adroitly covered in 150 minutes of smoky greed-gun-lust celebration.

Sexual repression and expression - both make humourous, realistic appearances, from a wife catching her husband with a prostitute to a woman reprimanding a potential lover for not asking permission before holding her hand. The stand-out scenes are many, never have Indian abuses sounded so natural and enjoyable, and the way commercial Hindi film culture is embedded here is fun.

Without giving much away, go for it, cinema lovers.

The rooted, unconventional Sneha Khanwalkar soundtrack adds gleam to the realistic setting, much like Amit Trivedi's connect in Dev D.  A zany non-filmy take on the earth sounds of North India, the stand outs - Womaniya and the evocative Jiya Tu Bihar Ke Lala. A word also for G.V. Prakash's background score.   

It is not a complain, but the Dev D poster art was so much more to look at

The colour of coal more coherent than dialogue
The stunning Huma Qureshi plays Mohsina
Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Faisal Khan
Reema Sen is a surprise as the sensuous, pivotal Durga

17 Jun 2012

Music Review: Teri Meri Kahaani: Energy and Enthusiasm in Formula

Music - Sajid-Wajid; Lyrics - Prasoon Joshi

A large number of filmmakers want to stick to the unchanging, simplistic sugar-candy Hindi film romance where all characters wear eye-popping clothes and showcase 1000 watt smiles. Snatches from Kunal Kohli’s upcoming Teri Meri Kahaani seem to fit right into that space, unless we are proven pleasantly wrong. 

Meanwhile the Sajid-Wajid 2012 juggernaut rolls on, as they present here a filmy, enthusiastic and energetic soundtrack for redundant themes. We thank Wajid for crooning Muktasar, which could have so easily been an Atif Aslam song. The dance lounge track is buoyed by Joshi’s lyrics and the vocals are a damn surprise. The theme here is of the mysteries of meeting and parting. 

Allah Jaane, despite the usual pure first love vibes, Sufism take and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan (yet again) is our album pick. For one, Khan is soulful in the singing; with minimum arrangements, the wind flute interlude is gorgeous, followed by Joshi’s poetic moments in – Aasman hai pairon ne neeche, varna zameen pe kaise neelepan...haar ke jitne ka silsala mil gaya... 

Jab Se Mere Dil Ko Uff is a retro-take on the swinging rock & roll inspired 1960’s soundtracks. We get a mix of Shankar-Jaikishan, R.D.Burman and early Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Sonu Nigam (Mohd.Rafi on Shammi Kapoor take yet holds his own) and Sunidhi Chauhan (Usual verve) make a clean job of it, hummable. 

Humse Pyar Kar Le Tu is familiar, oft-heard territory. The music directors do try sprucing it with additional male vocals to Shreya Ghoshal. Thus Wajid starts proceedings, Mika takes over and the Sabri brothers fill in quawwali inspired chorus. The running time dilutes the male-female interplay.

The western melodic reggae effect in That’s All I Really Want to Do is still a very Hindi Sajid-Wajid filmy number. Think some Housefull 2 after-effect. Shaan is an apt vocal choice; Shreya Ghoshal surprises us with her English rendition here. 

An easy hummable listen for those looking for good love songs with the music director duo whose energy does exude into what could so easily have been staple fare. Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics do play a part, merging Urdu words economically with the Hindi.    

13 Jun 2012

Movie Review: Shanghai: Telling Cinema

Justice delayed is justice denied - one of the many powerful truths that Shanghai exudes, without any character or voice over proclaiming the words. It is in such between the line moments, strong performances and precise storytelling that the film stays in the mind, much after the blood red end credits have rolled out.   

Based on Z, a novel by Greek writer Vassilis Vassilikos, Shanghai tells the story of Bharati Nagar, somewhere in small-town India that the ruling coalition party is keen to develop into a mega city. The thorn in the flesh is activist Prof. Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee, very apt) who leads the protest. In a flash, Ahmedi is mowed down by a vehicle and goes into a coma. His student and lover Shalini (Kalki Koechlin, a victim of weak characterization) is sure that the accident was a planned murder. The other two strands are Joginder, (Emraan Hashmi, a steal) a pornographer who is in possession of some damning evidence of the incident and Krishnan (Abhay Deol, good act), the serious-faced bureaucrat who heads the government enquiry.

The striking cinematography and sound design complement the storytelling, which seldom loses its hold. The mobile, steady camera captures all that is necessary, cutting out the wide frame except for the opening bird-view scene. The playing of street songs, bursting crackers, the revolutions of the ceiling fan, the invisible ticking clock, are elements that add to the deftness.

The prime mover is finally the story, contemporary, gritty and searing. That fighting for truth is not as simple in the real world as it is for commercial super-punch heroes of Dabangg, Singham and Rowdy Rathore, the contrast just can’t be ignored. Masks, insensitivity, the casualness with which dead bodies are dealt with, the cobwebs of bureaucracy and its dodgy luxury, all hit hard.

Director Dibakar Banerjee’s trademark light moments are all there - a basketball bounces into an alleged murder investigation, a woman bites savagely at a hand, and footwear oozes tension. The brilliant stuff – how the hunter becomes the hunted, even as elected governments make a mockery of democracy with an eerie ease,  and finally the most damning – how time is used as a device to create chaos and stagnancy to any attempt to arrive at a solution. Just that idea, allowing time to pass by and thus memory to fade, is the most telling aspect.

The weakest link of this otherwise stunning movie is the misplaced angst and wild anger of Shalini. We can only reason a mad, possessive love and the devastation in her loss for such behaviour. Also, the attempt at not stereotyping a south Indian accent in Krishnan’s character comes across as forced. The resultant accent has aloofness. These are but minor hurdles in what is a highly recommended political drama.

Right On
A bulldozer is set to ram a wall, and we see in the driver’s vision, a man set to be run over. End credits.     

5 Jun 2012

Movie Talk: Rambling over Rowdy Rathore

Vikramarkudu, the 2006 Telugu film that has been dubbed in Hindi as Pratighat 

Now, how does one talk about a film one has not seen?

Come again, the original of last Friday's Hindi release Rowdy Rathore has been playing at repeated intervals on Sahara Filmy under the Hindi-dubbed title of Pratighat for the last one year or two.... As squirmy as the proceedings were, right from female waist pinching, thunderous pro-police dialogues that come across as propaganda, and other torturous scenes where a married woman is kidnapped and kept by the village goon, are all but there for some sordid sensational effect rather than storytelling. That is the new sour taste of Hindi commercial films, something that was revived with the Salman Khan starring Wanted (2009). The bad 1980's era of anything goes, is kind of back. It is certainly not a welcome feeling for the 70mm regulars.   

As for the mindless assembly line of film remakes, just because the first one raked in the money, well, we mourn all such forms of ennui. 

Rowdy Rathore is the fourth remake of Vikramarkudu. The previous three remakes have been in Tamil, Kannada and Bengali.