23 Dec 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (3D): Induced action mars story

Let us call it the kamasutra syndrome.That, just like the addition of the word 'kamasutra' in a film title weighs in sex scenes, so has the inclusion of 3D lead to catastrophic flippancy in screenplay.  Which is a pity, for JRR Tolkein's The Hobbit is a gem of a book (380 odd pages) - complete, strong and intensely delicious fantasy.  

Then there is the matter of fusing The Hobbit movies as a prequel to the LOTR films, leading to unnecessary u turns in to Sauron's resurgence, all adding on to the three hour running time. This is a band of film reel elastic that needed much trimming. Two three hour parts would have easily done it.The screenplay's deviations and additions (female interest, Legolas returns) to the original story has sprung no pleasant surprises yet.     

2D, where is thee? 
Watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug made me yearn for the good old days of 2D storytelling. After all Peter Jackson showcased his path breaking, often subtly plagiarized Lord of the Rings trilogy in this simpler format.In contrast, The Desolation of Smaug reeks of choosing trite video game action (the barrel chase sequence; anything goes) over story under the weight of showcasing upgraded 3D. Prolonged face offs, though at many times impressive (Smaug as impressive as the director's Gollum and King Kong), numb the storytelling.

Plus points 
Jackson's genius lies in character build up and the action design. Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is the main attraction here and the saving grace.The uncanny aesthetic sense in special effects shines through again.The performances are all spot on, the Howard Shore music is a bit too familiar now.

On a whole, The Desolation of Smaug is an entertaining action fantasy with many great moments.Those looking for memorable lingering episodes, locations and characters from the book - forget it. Beorn, Mirkwood, Lake Town are all causalities.

Yet, Peter Jackson still has a standard and this one is certainly worth a watch. If only the director hadn't treated the tale as a light, children's yarn, leading to cinematic mitigation of the 'watch and forget' kind.             

Watch out for    
Bilbo stumbling over hills of gold and a dragon's body unraveling amongst it all.    


22 Aug 2013

Dialogue Baazi : Business Man (2012)

Business Man is a Telugu commercial movie starring Mahesh Babu and Kajal Agarwal with all its mass audience trappings of a one-man army taking on an entire state. It has become a fad with Hindi TV movie channels to dub these over the top action capers, and one of these days Business Man was showing in its Hindi dubbed version. I might well have flipped over to the next channel but for this dialogue run, which I paraphrase here in English. You may make what you make of it:

You must have seen the lion hunting a deer on National Geographic channel. How everybody feels for the deer! They watch tensed and then when the lion misses, they breathe with relief and have chicken biryani for dinner. Did they feel for the deer then? No, it pleased them that the lion missed...       

1 Jul 2013

Movie Review: Raanjhanaa: Insane lover, his impossible love

Director: Aanand Rai

Kundan (Dhanush), son of a Tamil Brahmin priest in Benares pines for his childhood love Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) with an insane stubbornness. The sheen of his love throbs through adolescence, attempted suicide, religious divide, separation and adulthood. Only, the educated, higher class Zoya is in love with college mate, Akram (Abhay Deol), an emerging political leader at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. There are no bed of roses, confetti or dream sequences as a devastating turn of events leads Kundan to Delhi, and a thorny absolution.   

Blood Palette
Ranjhanaa unspools in adroit episodic edit cuts as we resound to the beating of Kundan’s heart for the beautiful, inaccessible Zoya. Faithful friend Murari (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) and his sister Bindiya (Swara Bhaskar), who pines for Kundan with raw fierceness, play strong cameos to the protagonists.
Kundan makes an unforgettable celluloid lover who single-mindedly wills to possess his love and not just bodily. He momentarily swings to emotional withdrawal only to return with bitter vengeance. Zoya is a woman who embodies a woman wanting to break free, finding her lost confidence in her lover and then churning in dark waters of circumstance, chance and revenge.

Dhanush, given a damn good reason for the accent, plays Kundan with great conviction. As much of a revelation is Sonam Kapoor as Zoya. This is easily her best performance - watch her as she handles the complexity of hurt and disguised emotions in the final scenes. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Swara Bhaskara play memorable anchors to the film, even as Abhay Deol sportingly does justice to his sketchy characterization.        

Film Graph 
Raanjhanaa comes to its own on the banks of Ganga where most of the terrific first half is set; it stumbles a little on establishing Kundan’s unlikely Delhi credentials.It ends with a bang though as darkness and death clouds loom and forgiveness is but a flickering uncertain flame. 

Songs are aptly decorated; thankfully - rarely lip-synced.  The story and performances provide the poignancy; AR Rahman’s extraordinary music celebrates in flourish, and the opening/closing lines of a dying man are one thump of an end.

The Hindi film industry has been guilty of squeezing the love story lemon dry for over six decades, Raanjhanaa works for its adherence to storytelling and abhorring clichés. It is certainly worth a watch on 70mm. 

11 Jun 2013

Movie Review: The Hangover Part III: Works at the gag level, mostly

If you view The Hangover Part III as a series of skits, bear the gross, sexually harsh comedy and shut your eyes out to the story you are bound to breeze through it. The jokes keep coming, the cast has settled to a comfortable chemistry of 'been there, done that' territory and the director is clever enough not to ruin it.

To bind in the wafer-thin plot, Chinese gangster Mr.Chow (Ken Jeong) has escaped from prison.Meanwhile, Alan (Zach Galifianakis) buys a giraffe that loses its head and causes a huge freeway accident. His hapless father, tired of Alan's antics succumbs to a heart attack, and his concerned family is determined to get the 42 year-old some medical help. So it is up to Alan's wolfpack - brother-in-law Doug Billings (Justin Bartha), Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper) and Stu Price (Ed Helms) to take Alan to the ADHD treatment facility.  

The trip gets awry right at the start as the foursome are kidnapped by Marshall, a gangster looking for Mr. Chow who has made off with his gold bars. Doug is held hostage as the trio are sent out to find Mr.Chow and the gold bars. Alan has been in touch with Mr.Chow and soon the trio go on a roller coaster ride to Mexico and Vegas in pursuit of Mr.Chow.

The Hangover Part III mostly works on the character level with Galifianakis and Jeong playing their stark parts with brave abandon. Cooper and Helms tag along spiritedly and by the time one arrives at the end credits with yet another wedding underway, you can't say you were disappointed. There is no memorable scene, as in comedy soap operas, the lines keep coming and you get your laughs. Just don't ask for classic, cinematic comedy and you will do just fine. 

8 Jun 2013

Movie Review: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani : Contradicting, Glitzy Escape...

Caution: Long sentences dot this review, it is advised for the safety of your eyes to blink prolifically.

In his second directorial venture, Ayan Mukerji again casts Ranbir Kapoor as the man-boy who wants to live life on his own terms, just as Sid in Mukherji's remarkable coming of age debut Wake Up Sid (2009). The central, core thing that worked for Wake Up Sid was its deft, non-judgmental documentation of a carefree, aimless protagonist finding his purpose, and incidentally - love. 

Manali and Udaipur are two settings set eight years apart in the story. Childhood friends, now collegians - Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor), Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) and Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur) take off on a trek to Manali. Bunny is a rebel, restless to travel to every corner of the world. An adventurer in frenzy, he is also against marrying and other societal norms. Avi and Aditi are scratchily sketched - He gambles and keeps losing money. Aditi is spontaneous, in love with Avi, a one-sided affair.

A chance meeting of Aditi with her school classmate, the studious, bespectacled, bored medical student Naina (Deepika Padukone) leads to the latter inexplicably joining the trio on a dream Hindi film train ride complete with skimpily dressed dumb beautiful women, even as Bunny draws Naina out of her shell. Post the Manali trek, Naina falls for Bunny and in total filmy style, is predictably interrupted in mid-confess by the news of Bunny's impending departure to an overseas travel job. There are several unexplained bits in between.

Eight years pass by, we only know what Bunny was really up to. Apparently Avi has suffered heavy losses in business, has taken to drinking. Aditi is a bride who has wisely accepted her groom (Kunal Roy Kapur). It is mildly suggested that Naina is a doctor. The foursome meet again at Aditi's wedding, and the film stretches itself to a comfortable, sofa cushion ending, a far cry from the sparks of rebellion it displayed in Ranbir's character. 

On convenience  
We know where the path will lead when: 
  • The main characters escape unscathed after a street squabble, the menace and danger is totally absent. 
  • Naina loses her spectacles at the holi song and never gets them back.Obviously she was carrying the lens case all along or her diet had drastically empowered her vision.  
  • Major letdown: Travel freak, individualistic Bunny no longer wants to be so even though he makes up with his step-mother (Tanvi Azmi) and remembers his late father's (Farooq Sheikh) advice - Live your dream?! He actions contradict his character from then on that it has the feel of our sweetest, impossible dreams.
  • The zest in the performances prop up the film. All four principal characters give it all, Ranbir is endearing in an overcooked role (Hero/Human); Deepika has come a long way since her raw, confident turn in Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008). Aditya has the makings of a fine actor and Kalki doesn't let the underdeveloped part assail her.
  • Crux of it: Too much time is spent to get the message across and then rub the blackboard clean and tell us - Get back to your girl, damn your dream!
  • The bright, glitzy lighting, perfect clothing, ad-placements and the lip-sync songs doesn't add up to the film. If not anything, we have surely had enough of characters' gruff voices suddenly transforming into melodious ventriloquism. Surely, the songs can play in the background, unless the protagonists are portraying musicians.    

In totality
Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani starts off on an adventurous trek with the safety of cliches for company; takes occasional, enjoyable diversions, but then returns to the comfort of the accepted and the tested. Not a bad first time watch, especially for the performances and carefree atmosphere. The promise doesn't hold, that's all. 

She said it...
Somewhere beyond two hours running time, the film briefly comes to its own.As the sun sets on Udaipur and Bunny is eager to not miss another destination on his checklist, Naina observes calmly, "You can't get to every place in this world, something will always be left out...so why not be here at this moment and enjoy it."

6 Jun 2013

Movie Posters: Kung Fu Panda

Both movies are my among my favourite animation films ever, so here is a collection of posters from Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2.

30 Apr 2013

Introducing - The Beatles

Pardon the cliché, but why, would those unaware ask - so much song and dance about a certain music band called The Beatles? If you are a music lover, you would certainly understand why we remember The Beatles with much gratitude and pleasure.

For starters, The Beatles were a British band who ‘came together’ in 1960. The world came to know that they have finally broken apart on April 10, 1970. The Beatles comprised, in no particular order of:

Ringo Starr: The drummer joined the band in August 1962, replacing Pete Best (Who is now fondly called 'the fifth Beatle' for his brief association with the band). Many cynics would say that a band’s drummer could be anyone, and that Starr got lucky with his association with the fab four. But as an avid listener, I would cast aside such pessimism and say it was Starr’s laidback, jovial, non-serious personality that gave the band a comic touch. Also check Starr’s vocals on ‘Yellow submarine’, ‘Don’t pass me by’, ‘With a little help from my friends’ and ‘Octopus’s garden’ out.

George Harrison: He was often called the ‘quiet beatle’ and as the band disintegrated, Harrison felt overshadowed by the Lennon–McCartney songwriting team. Harrison was the one band member who was most attracted to Indian sounds and his association with sitar maestro Ravi Shankar continued until his death in 2001. Though the most number of songs in any Beatles album were always by Lennon–McCartney, Harrison made his mark with ‘While my guitar gently weeps’, the summer ode - ‘Here comes the sun’ and the breezy, evocative ‘Something’. His Indian influence also led to the use of sitar in ‘Norwegian Wood’, and of the table and sarangi in ‘Within you, without you’.

Paul McCartney: A fountain of talent and spontaneity, McCartney had great chemistry with John Lennon that led to formation of the formidable Lennon–McCartney songwriting team. Both Lennon and McCartney lost their mothers while they were still adolescents and this common sorrow further strengthened their bond. While you are at it, you can listen to – ‘Yesterday’, ‘When I'm Sixty-Four’, the rousing, epic 'A Day in the Life', the trance induced 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and the songwriting gem 'Eleanor Rigby'. Though McCartney at 70 stands tall with a successful post-Beatles career - those ten years (1960-1970) as a Beatles front man were something else.

John Lennon: Lennon was shot down in 1980 by a crazy fan, cutting short a career of rare musical achievement. Lennon first came to me with ‘Imagine’, the best thing he did post-Beatles. His role as a protest singer and an image of been the most individualistic and enigmatic of the Beatles’ has ensured pop immortality. Lennon’s songs stand out for their insight and reflective mood, a contrast to McCartney’s extroverted, spontaneous tone. In many ways, Lennon’s untimely death has given sheen to all the songs that he ever made, and among fans there is the regret of ‘what might have been’.

20 Apr 2013

Movie Review: Ek Thi Daayan: One arresting hour, rest ho-hum..

The best horror films have always dwelled on our fear of the unknown and on building up a believable, vague legend within which the spooky parts prey on our fear and imagination.

Bobo (Emraan Hashmi, good act) is a famous magician who hides a grave secret from his childhood concerning the death of his father (Pavan Malhotra, a steal) and sister within him. His girlfriend Tamara (Huma Qureshi, decent) is worried of Bobo's state, even as the couple plan to adopt a boy. Bobo is caught between belief and illusion, much like his magic tricks and employs the help of the family psychiatrist (Rajatava Dutta, apt addition) who hypnotizes Bobo to retell his childhood trauma that features the mysterious, teasingly named Diana (Konkona Sen Sharma, bewitching).    

The childhood connect gives us a fresh, ominous first half. As soon as adulthood resurfaces, and the same devastating events of the first hour reoccur with the appearance of Lisa Dutt (Kalki Koechlin, understated charm), the effect mitigates to redundancy.

All the yarn of myth spun early is used as props to spring surprises in the climax, an attempt that falls flat because of its convenience in arriving at an end. None of the 'jack in the boxes' are accounted for or hinted at, reducing the film's intended punch to a tickle. 

Yet in totality, Ek Thi Daayan is a good attempt in the horror genre without escapist gore or cheap thrills. It has good to splendid performances, consistent direction, characterization, and special effects that provide the story much needed conviction. A word in for the child artists who play the young Bobo (Visheh Tiwari) and his sister. Worth a watch.

The now legendary Vishal Bharadwaj / Gulzar combine does a couple of hummable numbers - Yaaram and the playful Totte Ud Gaye. The choreographed sequences in the latter is individually watchable as a music video, but doesn't go with the film genre.  

24 Mar 2013

Django Unchained: A Poster Collection

Movie Review: Django Unchained: Entertaining western, too many gunshots...

Caution: Brackets abound this review.

An incidental encounter leads a slave, Django (Where have you been, Jamie Foxx?) to win his freedom – courtesy the traveling Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter* (Christopher Waltz, excellent). The two strike a partnership and a quiet, understanding friendship, as Django longs to meet his enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), working as she is at Calvin Candie’s (Leonardo DiCaprio, rusty, out of place) Mississippi plantation (Candyland (!)). Django and Dr. King pose as slave traders to buy her freedom. Django, the sole black person on horseback looks down upon whites and blacks alike and with tensions simmering a violent catharsis is just a gun shot away.

Make no mistake; all the Tarantino signatures are omnipresent and flowing in this blood-splashing, gun booming western set in 1858 - two years before the civil war, as we are informed. Blood as a character stars all through. The visuals pay tribute to western classics in grand style and then there is the soundtrack, squishy violence and extended monologues (Waltz gets the best, and he sparkles).

Thing is Tarantino movies have never been about the depth, seriousness and story but the storytelling, and he does tell this one in grand style, mixing popular cinema elements to give us an enjoyable, rollicking movie. The allegories, analogies and metaphors are all lined up for the taking, but the effect is mitigated once Django blasts through all in grand style and still is inexplicably, invincibly unhurt, if not dead. 

Also watch out for...
Samuel L Jackson's wonderful turn as the grumbling, mumbling servant to Dicaprio.   

*A bounty hunter was one who killed those WANTED by the government for murder and robberies (DEAD OR ALIVE) and deposited the corpses with the concerned authorities in return for money.  

(The film released, for reasons unknown, in Pune on March 22, 2013, three months post its US release.)

18 Feb 2013

Movie Review: Special 26: Entertaining comic drama heist

It wouldn't be an attempt at mockery to tell you that Special 26 is the most intelligent movie that Akshay Kumar has starred in yet in his gungho box-office friendly Hindi film career. No kidding.

The first triumph of Special Chabbis (Special 26) is what it makes of a one-off 1987 heist that occurred at a Mumbai jewellery store on the pretext of an income tax raid. Out of that little wool, much yarn is made and rolled about in the appropriate genre. Director Neeraj Pandey excels in spicing up this 'true incident' into an cat and mouse game, even as the commercial gloss is all over the movie, its doesn't ruin a plot devoid of any cringing loopholes.   

There are four con men in the mix who pose as CBI officers, raid homes and offices of politicians and other hapless members who have much to hide (Read:Unaccounted money). No complaint is thus registered against the miscreants, therefore nothing makes it to the newspapers either. The two leaders of the pack are Ajay (Akshay Kumar, commercially apt, competent) and Sharma (Anupam Kher, comic pathos incarnate). Joginder (Rajesh Sharma, not much screen time) and Iqbal (Kishore Kadam, filling in well) play able allies to the scheming duo.

The film begins with one such raid of a minster's abode - long winding sequence that involves varied shots of a car cavalcade (That somehow escaped the editor's scissors). It then gives the crooks a sharp adversary in Waseem Khan (Manoj Bajpai, in sublime form), an honest CBI officer who pursues the con men with a sharp-eyed stubbornness. Police officers Ranbir (Jimmy Shergill, wasted) and Shanti (Divya Dutta, one-liner role) fit in to their brief roles sportingly. As the mandatory love interest, Priya (Kajal Aggarwal) plays it with a been there, done that ease. 

Special 26 is a quality Hindi film with sprinkles of happy Hindi film escapism. It is but foremost, a consistent, controlled entertainer, intelligently made. That is reason enough to catch it at the theaters. The pick at the cinema screens at the time of writing. Recommended.   

15 Jan 2013

The Boom Box Hindi Film Songs of 2012

Yes, it is that time of the year again. We kept at equal tilt the scales, do not consider box office performances and concentrate solely on the audio. The Hindi film soundtracks released in the 2012 calendar year are all eligible to make it to this post, the six selected songs are arranged in alphabetical order.   

Allah Jaane / Teri Meri Kahaani
V - Rahat Fateh Ali Khan
L - Prasoon Joshi, M - Sajid - Wajid

The master of the upper scales that he is, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has been used to the extent of redundancy in many Hindi film soundtracks by now. Sajid - Wajid have given him a more soulful, if selective number of songs, we can still listen to Tere Mast Mast Do Nain / Dabangg (2010). Allah Jaane veers from the wannabe sufi mould thanks to Joshi's lyrics. The wind flute interlude at the first paragraph end, the Khan alaap, then the Joshi lyrics clinch the deal - kuch toh mila hai aaj hawa mein, saanson mein gungaroo kaise ka-na-na-nan.../aasma hai pairon ke neeche varna zameen par kaise neelapan.   

 Auntyji /  Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu
V - Ash King
L - Amitabh Bhattacharya, M - Amit Trivedi

A groovy jazz dance ode to all allegedly middle-aged women with allegedly portly, ageing husbands, Auntyji induces repeats on the strength of its well-interpreted Hindi vocals, zany guitar works and percussion (cymbal add-ons included). The lyrics are aptly poking fun and at a rare moment makes a statement - kanya kunwari tajurbe se bani aunty.    

Dreamum Wakeupum / Aiyyaa
V - Soumya Rao
L - Amitabh Bhattacharya, M - Amit Trivedi

Post The Dirty Picture soundtrack, playing up sleaze for naughty touchy-feel is the latest fad. Dreamum Wakeupum kind of kills the subtlety in following suit, with words like kamasutram, pumpingam and jumpingam adding bold letters to the obvious. Still the uniqueness is striking and Rao's vocals are naughty with a relish, the nadaswaram and beat percussion blend western-south Indian cliches to take the track far out of wannabe territory. 

Jiya Tu Bihar Ke Lala / Gangs of Wasseypur
V - Manoj Tiwari
L - Varun Grover, M - Sneha Khanwalkar   

Tani naachi gaayi sabke mann behlava re bhaiya...Unlikely DJ grooves kick start this cracker folksy heroic ode to the small-town crime lord. The ethos of Bihari culture oozes out of this one. Picture a jovial gathering of men on a quiet, idle village evening, traditional beat instruments along with dholak, bandan, matka and chamach.  

Phir Le Aaya Dil / Barfi
V - Arijit Singh
L - Sayeed Quadri , M - Pritam 

In a follow up mood to his 2011 Mausam soundtrack, Pritam does three versions of this ghazal-ish revisit and finds his mark in the unconventional vocals of Arijit Singh (Singh has previously sung Raabta in Agent Vinod (2012). The talk is of rekindling an old love, of meetings, partings and how the heart wishes for completeness. Leisurely-paced, soft tabla strains, light piano bridges, and Urdu words that took me (after a long time) to discovery and the dictionary. The stand out song of the year. 

Sing Raja / Joker  
V - Daler Mehndi & Sonu Kakkar
L - Shirish Kunder, M - GV Prakash Kumar

All of 25 years, GV Prakash Kumar is already showing his sparkle in whatever little he manages to get in Hindi film soundtracks. That AR Rahman is his maternal uncle is purely incidental, Kumar does shows Rahman's early spontaneity, verve and rawness in Sing Raja, an original dance floor track of the season. Dance karle English mein aur naach le tu Hindi mein is appropriately devoid of meaning, instead it flows with addictive beats, grooves and enthusiastic vocals. Kudos to the flute theme that starts it all.         

Special Mentions
Sajid - Wajid's masala raunchiness of Preetam Pyare in Rowdy Rathore, Vishal-Shekhar's street beats in Shanghai's Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Gungungana Re and Abhi mujh mein kahin (Easily among Sonu Nigam's best sung songs) from Agneepath, the marvelous solo debut in Paani Da Rang from Vicky Donor, Ali Zafar's spunky, fresh music in London Paris New York (Thehree si Zindagi, Woh Dekne Mein) and the spunky Amit Trivedi's English Vinglish soundtrack (Navrai Maji, Gustakh Dil) - we are happy to crown them as our special mentions.