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January 6, 2010

10 Movies of the Decade You Should Not Miss

Now, I tried to do an article about the 10 best movies of the just passed decade. (I know, falling for that make-a-list-thingy: how preposterous!) But well, looking back at an important decade in Indian cinema is no crime.

So, as I was saying, I tried to do a best 10 movies of the decade list. Not possible. So not possible. There are so many movies separated by a hair’s breadth or even lesser; you just can’t throw any of them out. So I shifted tack. I decide to do a ‘Movies not to be missed list’. This way, I tell you to not miss these movies, while not claiming that these are the best. No sensibilities offended, eh? And, oh yes, this list is chronologically ordered, and not in order of well made stuff.

1.     Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)

This Aamir Khan-Ashutosh Gowariker movie works on many levels: patriotism, the thrill of sports, mega budget extravaganza. And to top it all, we had the Oscar nomination. A nation watched in vain, as the A-A combine fell agonizingly close to the mark. Nevertheless, it remains one of the finest performances by an ensemble cast in Indian cinema.

2.     Koi… Mil Gaya (2003)

Koi Mil Gaya deserves to be on this list solely on the point that it kick-started the science fiction genre in India . Why couldn’t aliens land in Kasauli or Kolkata? It was about time we got our very own E.T. Enter Rakesh Roshan. And he did it. People this side of the world still remember Jaadu. And it was truly magical at the box office.

3.     Swades: We, The People (2004)

After Lagaan, Ashutosh Gowariker’s next project was bound to generate a lot of hype, and it did. Nowhere close to Lagaan on grandness of scale, Swades was a story of how leadership and team effort could overcome all obstacles. Something straight out of a leadership class, a story well told and well acted out. Simple yet touching.

4.     Rang De Basanti (2006)

Rang De Basanti spurred a public revolution of sorts when it released. Everyone was going around proclaiming ‘Let’s kill all those politicians. Good riddance!’ Though that might be a worse way than not supporting them in electoral battles, the movie did drive home the idea to not remain a bystander.

5.     Lage Raho… Munnabhai (2006)

The effects of this film are still being felt. A peaceful protest anywhere in India , ‘ Gandhigiri’ is the key word. Rajkumar Hirani brought Mahatma Gandhi to the mainstream like never before. Wonderfully well made, this film deserves a place in any good list they make about Bollywood.

6.     Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006)

Khosla Ka Ghosla took us into the middle class household and told us that stories worth telling indeed can exist there. After all the NRIs, the living-in-palaces people and the slumdogs, it was time for the class who made up the mass to strike back. No larger-than-life characters please. Humor they say is the best medicine. Dibakar Banerjee introduced us to a world we all knew outside of the silverscreen, and made us laugh at it. Brilliant.

7.     Black Friday (2007)

Black Friday was the first time I got to watch Anurag Kashyap in action. The semi- fictional account of the 1993 Bombay Blasts was gritty, dark and in-your-face. Starting with the blasts, and moving to the fears experienced by the bomb planters, Black Friday keeps you spellbound.

8.     Dharm (2007)

This movie was embroiled in a controversy with Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s ‘Eklavya’ regarding which film should be sent to the Oscars. Chopra won that fight, but Dharm shines out as a brilliant piece of film-making. Pankaj Kapoor in the leading role faced with the moral dilemma of religion and humanity gave the performance of a lifetime.

9.     A Wednesday (2008)

No stars, no songs, a tight script and a brilliant film. ‘A Wednesday’ was a brilliant, taut thriller that looked at terror and the common man in a different, possible and scary way. If you have any love for good acting and enjoy a good thriller, do watch what happened on ‘A Wednesday’.

10.                         Dev D (2009)

The final movie on the list is Anurag Kashyap’s modern take on relationships mixed with a 13th or 14th re-incarnation of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s Devdas. LSD, casual sex, brilliant music, great acting, a twisted script, and above all, great direction. Dev D truly is a different love story.

There were a few that missed the bus by very little: Lakshya for its brilliant portrayal of war and the precursor of all slacker turning serious stories, Iqbal for making a differently-abled person the hero and not making it comical, Jab We Met for portraying a realistic love story, Aamir for being a wonderful tale of a man in forced circumstances a-la Hitchcock and Chak De India for being a female centric film about sports: two big no-no’s for normal Indian cinema. Do comment your own. Cheers.

December 29, 2009

3 Idiots: Munnabhai Chale College

3 Idiots is Rajkumar Hirani’s latest offering after his previous socially-relevant Munnabhai series films. This time, he doesn’t have Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi. So, this time we have Aamir Khan, Sharman Joshi and R. Madhavan playing college students. The hype is tremendous. But what about the movie?

Our heroes enter a top engineering college with shining eyes full of dreams, and hopes for a better future. Life gives them a reality check in the shape of Viru Sahastrabuddhe, their dominating principal who believes that life is a race, and that is the only way it has to be lived. Rancho, (Aamir Khan, looking surprisingly youthful, but still older than an engineering student) keeps motivating his friends to learn rather than mug the subjects. While most people refuse to take the path less traveled, Rancho continues to excel on this path, and even beat those who take the conventional track. The frequent run-ins with the Principal, what happens to the friends in college is what forms the crux of the story.

Loosely based on Five Point Someone, the story has been reworked and actually improved upon; but the screenplay loses some of the Raju Hirani charm. To make things understood in simple terms, he sometimes takes the help of measures that are not only over the top, but sometimes unbelievable. Why a principal would not rusticate a student after so many insubordinations and misdemeanors is beyond measure. The delivery scene looks incredulous as well. Some things can be termed cinematic liberties, but others leave you confused.

Raju Hirani the director is in top form again. His affection for socially-relevant comedies sees him unveiling a new phrase ‘All eez well’ to follow in the footsteps of ‘Jaadu ki jhappi’ and ‘Gandhigiri’. In my opinion, ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’ was his best effort to date, and even though he doesn’t reach those peaks with Idiots, it is very good work indeed. He is the star of the show.

Aamir Khan as Rancho does extremely well, considering he is the most out of age in this movie. With constantly widened eyes and loose clothes, he gets into the skin of the tireless learner-cum-inventor. Though things he does look incredulous, he mostly makes them feel real. Sharman Joshi and Madhavan as his friends who are on the rote path only to be ‘enlightened’ by Khan are competent. Joshi is especially good in the principal’s office scene. Kareena Kapoor is good in a brief, albeit important role. The real scene-stealer though, has to be Omi Vaidya. The actor steals the show as the stereotypical opposite of Rancho, Chatur. Note his expressions in the speech scene. Hilarious! Boman Irani as the principal is good, but the unnecessary lisp in his voice could have been avoided.

Shantanu Moitra’s compositions are situational and complement the narration. Zoobi Doobi sticks out like a sore thumb though, and seems more like an item song. Jaane Nahi Denge Tujhe tides over a tough period in the story, while Behti Hawa serves as an excellent introduction. The background score serves its purpose.

Binod Pradhan’s cinematography is commendable. I spent half an hour dissecting the introduction scene with a friend and we still could not figure out how it was done. The set design is good. The special effects, though minimal, are well executed.

Final Verdict: With 3 idiots, Raju Hirani stays in the Munnabhai franchise, albeit with different actors. The story has its heart in the right place, but the execution is far from perfect. Still, I’m going with 3.5 out of 5 for this look at the education system.

December 20, 2009

Avatar: The best visual spectacle ever!

Avatar is the latest offering from James Cameron, who returns after a hiatus of 12 years after the biggest blockbuster of all times, Titanic. The expectations: humungous. The promotion: brilliant. The movie: let’s check it out, shall we?

Jake Sully, an ex-marine is shipped off to Pandora to take on the role of his brother as his genome matches exactly. Once on Pandora, he is introduced to the Avatar program; human DNA mixed with the native DNA to create Avatars that look like the natives (the Na’vi) and are remote controlled by the human mind. He plugs in, goes down the rabbit hole, and emerges in wonderland. Once with the Na’vi, he learns their customs, trying to understand what it will take for them to relocate away from their village. The humans need the natives to move away, so that they can come in and mine for unobtanium, the universe’s costliest resource. And if the Na’vi wouldn’t move themselves, well, too bad for them. They would just have to put up with being mowed down. It is then up to Sully to rally the natives to take on the ‘sky people’ with bows and arrows, as they come to destroy the homeland with missiles and napalm.

James Cameron’s return has been hailed widely in all movie circles. This time, his job is immensely tougher than ‘Titanic’ by having to work with all the technology he has in this movie. The introduction to Pandora, the Na’vi village, Jake’s coming of ‘Na’vi age’; everything is done very well and keeps you engaged. Where Cameron falters is in the second hour, while he tries to show the conflict in Jake’s mind and establish the setting for the faceoff to follow. The movie loses steam there, and the visuals strain to move the story forward. Cameron is, however, a master of the finale, and he does so here as well. The scale of execution, the fight sequences just take your breath away.

As tough it is to direct a live action venture, it is equally tough to judge the actors in these performances. But looking beyond that, or as they say on Pandora, Seeing them, Zoe Saldana puts in a great performance as Neytiri, the chieftain’s daughter who falls for this outsider. Sam Worthington is good as Jake Sully, our hero. Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace is good, and it is nice to see her back on the big screen with Cameron. Stephen Lang as the archetypal badass villain does exactly what you’d expect him to do.

The visuals are breathtaking, brilliant, amazing. Use whatever synonym you want to, but the feeling shall be the same. It is an immense effort from the people at Weta in creating an entire world with their effects, as detailed and as beautiful as Pandora. The water splashing in the seas, the leaves moving in the wind, the amazing night life of Pandora, the animals, the Na’vans themselves; everything is top notch. Only in one shot, as Tsu’tey falls from the helicopter after getting shot, do you see that he’s not a real creature, but a CG creation.

James Horner’s soundtrack is mostly good, but the songs seem like recycled versions of his old creations. The set design, for the scenes which have a set, is good.

Final Verdict
: Cameron was initially planning to release it in July, but delayed it to allow some more ‘finishing work’. I believe the film was ready then, he just delayed it to release it close to the Copenhagen summit. The movie, with its pro-environment message, can capitalize on the timing of its release. On the basis of its story and screenplay, I would rate ‘Avatar’ 3 on 5. However, the movie deserves to be seen in 3-D, with which the visual spectacle raises its overall rating to 4 out of 5. I hope they redo Lord of The Rings with this technology. That would be just brilliant.

Rocket Singh: Zip, zap, zoom

 Shimit Amin returns with his latest offering after ‘Chak De India’, and expectations skyrocket! Sorry, had to get that one out.

Harpreet Singh Bedi, a fresh graduate, has barely survived college, while getting just enough marks to pass muster. Unable to get a well-paying job elsewhere, he decides to go into sales and joins AYS computers as a sales trainee. On his first day on the job, he refuses a bribe and reports the client. Unfortunately, this ends up making him the ridicule of the office staff for his naiveté. Stung by this criticism, Harpreet proceeds to set up his own firm - Rocket Sales, right under his boss’ nose. He gets 3-4 people from the office to join him on this venture, and together they set out to take on AYS in the field.

The story is a simple one, and it has been effectively brought alive by the lifelike characters and dialogues. The screenplay is brilliant through most of the movie, though the final 20 minutes play out a little strangely.

Shimit Amin has an eye for detail. Everything looks and feels like it does in real life, with people drinking from plastic cups in office parties, to no one wearing designer clothes, and Ranbir’s mentor telling him methods to keep the shirt clean. Amin extracts great performances from his ensemble cast as well. My only grouse is that the flick could have been around 15-20 minutes shorter. That would have kept the effort crisper.

Ranbir Kapoor as Harpreet is great. As refreshing it is to finally see a Sardar in a non-comic lead role, it is because of Ranbir that the character becomes real. Even when he dances at the party, he doesn’t do anything hero-ish. He just dances like a normal guy would.
Naveen Kaushik as his mentor, who joins him at Rocket Sales, stands out. In fact, he overshadows Ranbir in many scenes! Manish Chaudhari as the unscrupulous boss Puri is brilliant, as is D. Santosh as the techie who surfs for bikini-clad women on the net. Prem Chopra as Ranbir’s granddad is a delight. Mukesh Bhatt as Chote Lal, Gauhar Khan as Koena and the many actors playing the sales team are effective. Shazahn Padamsee hardly has 3 scenes in the movie.

The songs in the movie are there only as part of the background score, and serve no purpose. The background score is good. The set design is brilliant. You truly get the feel of the constricted office space and the inside of a regular middle class home.

Final Verdict:
The effective story-telling lifts this story, which could have been shorter by 15-20 minutes. I’ll give this rocket 3.5 out of 5.

Paa: A mother-son story

Amitabh Bachchan re-launches himself and his production company with ‘Paa’, and the expectations are huge.

Auro, a 12 year-old with Progeria, a condition that physically ages the patient 5 times faster, lives with his Mum and Bum (grandmother). He doesn’t know who his Paa is, though he knows that he wanted to get Auro aborted, and hence hates him. Later, his mum tells him that the young and upcoming MP Amol Arte is his father. Without telling the MP the truth about their relation, Auro spends time with him, getting to know his Paa before his body clock runs out.

It is a novel story, and is not ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, though you may find Robin Adams’ ‘Jack’ in it. The screenplay lets the script down though. Was a dig at the media needed? It not only looks enforced, it has also not been executed well. The movie could also have been shorter by about 20-25 minutes.

This is Balki’s second film after Cheeni Kum, and he again displays the same maturity in handling an unconventional subject as he did in his debut. He manages to make the poor screenplay work to an extent as well. His advertising background shines through in the promotion of the film as well. The hype generated, the promos have all been pretty good. But like Cheeni Kum, the final third of the movie drags a bit. Infact, it drags more here than in Cheeni Kum.

Amitabh Bachchan needs to be applauded for taking on such a challenge as a producer and an actor. He pulls off the kid act with ease, and never do you realize that this is actually a 65 year old man and not a 13 year old kid. Vidya Balan packs quite a punch as Auro’s mother. She acts the part like a pro and looks very graceful as well.
Abhishek Bachchan is satisfactory. He tries too hard to seem like a ‘cool’ politician, and that hampers him. Being cool is different from sounding cool. Paresh Rawal is adequate. We finally see him in a different role than his usual hamming comic roles. Arundhati Nag as Auro’s grandmother is good. The child artiste portraying Vishnu, Auro’s friend has the wittiest lines in the entire movie.

The music of the movie is decent. Nothing more, nothing less. Same goes for the background score. The makeup team needs to be given a standing ovation for making Amitabh Bachchcan unrecognizable in his prosthetic makeup. The cinematography is top notch. The title sequence featuring Jaya Bachchan is an innovative idea.

Final Verdict: Paa is good in parts and decent overall. Watch it for Amitabh Bachchan and Vidya Balan. 3 on 5.

Kurbaan: Slippery Slope

 ‘Kurbaan’ is another in the new ‘global-terrorism’ mould cinema of Bollywood. It can also be called the second in a trilogy, sandwiched between ‘New York’ and ‘My Name is Khan’.

Avantika, a Professor at the Delhi University, falls for Ehsan Khan, a new Professor who’s just joined the staff. They get married; move to the US for Anamika to continue her teaching and Ehsan starts a new job there as well. Avantika later realizes that Ehsan is a terrorist and is involved in the bombing of an aircraft. How she tries to get out of this situation is the crux of the story.

The screenplay tries to lift the story above the regularity of what we read in the newspaper reports by putting in Vivek Oberoi’s character into the mix to spice things up, but fails. There are glaring mistakes; like Vivek Oberoi’s unnecessary and unrealistic gung-ho act, FBI agent Collins surviving the powerful blast at a distance of 1 metre while the entire subway station around him goes to waste, Om Puri meticulously planning everything and then failing to do as much as a background check on Vivek Oberoi. Even the much publicized intimate scene is a gimmick and could have been done without.

Rensil D’ Silva performs decently in his directorial debut, considering he’s hampered by the poor screenplay. At some places, the story moves a little abruptly; but that will get better as he makes more movies. He is also able to bring out good performances from most of the cast.

Kareena Kapoor as Avantika is the soul of the film. She’s at the eye of the storm and puts in a great performance. She is the best performer in this movie without a doubt.
Saif Ali Khan looks old and burdened. This might be deliberate to show him as the hardened terrorist, but he fails to give you the scares. Om Puri as the mastermind of the operation is effective in his brief role. Kirron Kher has a refreshingly different role from the usual benevolent motherly roles she plays and she does very well. Vivek Oberoi is decent, but his gung-ho act and inconsistent accent takes away from his performance. Dia Mirza is OK in her brief role.

The music is hummable. No song stands out, but no song grates on your nerves either. The background score is mostly effective, but in moments of tension, there seem to be some mirthful beats playing, and that sounds strange. The cinematography is good. The actions scenes look real, with an explosion looking like an explosion and not something superimposed on the scene.

Final Verdict: Kurbaan is a decent movie, hovering somewhere between average and good. Ideally, I would give it 2.75, but I’ll go with 3 out of 5 for the excellent production values.

Up: Floating

‘Up’ is the latest movie from the Pixar stables.

Mr. Frederickson, an aging widower, fulfils his lifelong promise to his wife of flying to South America by attaching helium balloons to his house and taking off, after his home is in danger of being torn down. His adventures in the Amazon constitute the story of ‘Up’.

It’s a refreshing plot about one’s dreams, but there is one jarring note. Why is Mr. Frederickson’s idol shown to be the bad guy? He’s not trying anything illegal. That note, and the subsequent storyline that stems from it, took away the charm for me.

The visuals of the movie were refreshing. The wide, flowing waterfalls; the wildlife of the Amazon, it all contributes to the larger-than-usual canvas of ‘Up’.

The voice acting by the cast is extremely good. The dogs, the eagerness in the kid, the sinisterness in Mr. Frederickson’s idol’s voice comes out beautifully.

Final Verdict: ‘Up’ is an interesting concept handled very well. The jarring note about the idol aside, the movie keeps you engrossed thoroughly. 3.5 out of 5.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: Tasty!

‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ was a popular children’s book in the 1970’s. It has been adapted to the big screen in this animation feature.

Swallow Falls, a small island in the Atlantic has only one thing to boast of: Sardines. With time, exports die out, people get bored of eating sardines all day long and despair settles on the town.

Enter Flint Lockwood, a regular nerd with big dreams in his eyes, who has been trying to invent something useful since his childhood. He finally succeeds, inventing a machine that starts raining food from the sky. What happens afterwards forms the crux of the story.
The screenplay continues on the innovative theme in the story and bombards us with delectable food items falling from the sky, until greed settles in. How Flint resolves the situation that arises from this is handled pretty funnily.

The visuals of ‘Cloudy...’ are different, unlike what we normally see in a Pixar movie. The food looks delicious, but that’s just about it. The cast, led by Bill Hader and Anna Faris, does a good job. James Caan as Flint’s father, and Bruce Campbell as the mayor are excellent.

Final Verdict: ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ is a simple movie, uncomplicated by the regular ‘deeper meaning of life’ fundas of Pixar. Good for a home viewing. 3 out of  5.

December 6, 2009

De Dana Dan: The Throbbing Sound in Your Head

Priyadarshan reunites the ‘Herapheri’ team in De Dana Dan, hoping to make an impact after his past few films failed to find significant successes. De Dana Dan’s story is the regular tale of confusion that Priyan has churned out in the past as well.

Unlucky Nitin (Akshay Kumar) and Ram (Suneil Shetty) are low on cash and survive on the largesse of their girlfriends Anjali (Katrina Kaif) and Manpreet (Sameera Reddy) who claim to be with them till the end of time, but chicken out when it comes to marrying the guys. To get money, the duo decides to kidnap the dog of Archana Puran Singh (Akshay’s boss). Through a twist of fate, Archana thinks Akshay’s been kidnapped. With the regular sub-plots, the story culminates in a deluge of water in a hotel with the entire cast trapped in it.

The story is only funny in small parts, and does not leave an impact. One gets the feeling that if the multitude of sub-plots was lesser, it could probably have been funnier. As It stands, the movie is at least half an hour too long and the audience will suffer from boredom.

Priyadarshan fails to lift the hackneyed script with his direction, resorting to his age old tactics to try and make the audience laugh. But those practices can only get you so far. This is a disappointing effort from the veteran. He seriously needs to bring some freshness into his comedies.

Akshay Kumar as Nitin is one of the most sincere acts in this movie, but is hampered by two aspects: lack of screen time and stock expressions. Akshay keeps making the silly faces that worked earlier, but look stale now. Suneil Shetty tries hard and puts in a decent performance. Katrina Kaif and Sameera Reddy have nothing more to do than be eye candy. Paresh Rawal is not funny here. There is a lack of scope for the veteran in this movie. Due to the movie having a huge number of actors, no one gets enough time to leave an impact. Rajpal Yadav, Asrani and Mohan Joshi are all wasted.

Pritam’s score disappoints, with only the Usher-inspired ‘Paisa’ and the melodious ‘U and I’ leaving an impact. A minimalistic background score helps by not interrupting the flow of the movie. The locales of Singapore are pictured well and look beautiful. The choreography and setting of ‘Paisa’ are pretty innovative.
Final Verdict: I wish the editor had stepped in and cut out at least half an hour of this bloated film. Watching it will not tell you what a comedy is. Give it a miss.  I give it 2 out of 5.

November 20, 2009

Jail stays behind traditional bars

With Jail, Madhur Bhandarkar continues his take on reality. This time, he looks behind the closed bars of a jail to look at the stories that reside there.

Parag Dixit (Neil Nitin Mukesh), a financial whiz- makes money by the plenty and lives life to the fullest with his air-hostess girlfriend Mansi (Mugdha Godse) in tow. Unfortunately for him, his roommate turns out to be a drug peddler and operates without his knowledge. The police catch Neil and accuse him of co-conspiring with his roommate, who lies in an ICU, in a coma. 

Falling prey to the notoriously slow judicial system, Parag ends up in jail, still pending trial. How he handles this new environment, and the stories of other individuals that inhabit the world behind bars, makes up the crux of the story.

The basic premise of ‘Jail’ is one that can be claimed to have been lifted from a Jeffrey Archer novel, or the countless masala movies that are churned out of Bollywood every year. Where it differs is in the portrayal of the jail, forever consigned to be fairly open cells housing 1-2 prisoners, ‘Jail’ shows them for being what they really are. But unlike some of his earlier ventures, the exposes and the inside look ends there. There is nothing new that Madhur uncovers here: the underworld, the wrongfully-in-jail characters, the politicians holding court have all been seen before. Another problem is that the characters are too stereotypical. The good boy, the bhai’s henchman, the gay couple seem out of a story and not real life. And that is where ‘Jail’ falters.

Madhur Bhandarkar is known for his brilliant direction that keeps us motivated to sit through potentially depressing themes and stories. While this is his least depressing venture till date, he fails to deliver the same brilliant speed and sense as always.

Neil Nitin Mukesh does a good job of portraying Parag, the man who is wrongfully incarcerated. It takes an immensely brave man to take up a role which is so challenging in nature.  He’s on screen for more than 90% of the screen time, going through so many different emotions, and also the much-talked about nude scene. He makes Parag believable. Kudos to Neil.

Mugdha Godse gets very less scope as Mansi, but manages to do a decent job. Manoj Bajpayee as Parag’s sympathizing co-inmate is the narrator of the movie, but somehow gets only a perennially sad expression to work with. He manages to still pitch in a good performance. His performance in the flashback sequence is his high point. This has to be expected though, with the film showcasing and focusing on Neil throughout.

The music in ‘Jail’ is simply there to make up the numbers. Even the legendary Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Daata Sun Le’, though rendered as well as her songs are, could have been done without. ‘Bareily ke Bazar mein’ is absolutely useless placement wise and is only just bearable in terms of song quality.

Kalpesh Bhandarkar captures the jail well on screen, giving the viewer as if he’s looking at a sea of humanity and brings home the gruesomeness of the jail. Nitin Desai should bag the award for the best art direction unless a Sawariya or Devdas like set comes up in the movies coming up in the next month. The jail is incredibly well etched out, right down to the wall carvings.

Final Verdict: Overall, Jail is only slightly above average. Watch it on the big screen only if you must. Wait for a TV release in my opinion. 2.5 out of 5.