Saturday, September 29, 2007

Johnny Gaddaar, Bravo!

How often does it happen that an impulsive decision of yours to buy something or eat at some new restaurant or watch some movie that you don't know much about ends up in a positive payoff? Not all that often, at least in my case. And when it does, it feels great!

Something like that happened earlier in the evening today. A couple of friends and I decided to go to the city to watch Loins of Punjab Presents, a movie we had been hearing interesting things about. Manorama - Six Feet Under was removed today from the nearest multiplex. The catch was that the only show at the multiplex began at 8:20pm - a tad late for my friends, who had to be back at the campus a little early. We reached the place and the earliest show was for this new flick called Johnny Gaddaar - an admittedly curious name - which at least I knew very little about, except that it was made by the man who directed Ek Hasina Thi and 'starred' Dharmendra and Rimi Sen. While the first fact was a small positive for the movie, the second one was a huge huge negative. It took some amount of fortitude to decide to buy the tickets for the show.

There were two things that helped me decide in favor of watching it - one, the very different posters I have seen for the movie, which are more Sin City than Dus or Kaante in their appearance, and two, this really nice article that Sriram Raghavan, the director, had written for Rediff the other day. In the article he came across as a pretty intelligent guy with a passion for all sorts of movies.

So we went in.

The movie begins in black-and-white on a rainy night with a group of policemen in a van in Mumbai cracking crude jokes at the expense of one of their friends. It felt like the start of another of those unbearable B-grade movies that are not much good and not even as bad as a Kanti Shah masterpiece. But, things started to look up a moment later, when the camera casually shifted from the van to a car moving perpendicular to it. This, and an important plot point, was soon followed by one of the best credit sequences I have seen in any Hindi movie till date. And I was so relieved.

The basic plot of the movie revolves around this gang of five criminals - Dharmendra (Seshadri), Vinay Pathak (Prakash), Zakir Hussain (Shardul), Daya Shetty (Shiva), known mainly for the TV series CID, and Neil Nitin Mukesh (Vikram) - the 'hero' of the film. The gang plans, with the help of Govind Namdeo, an inspector and a friend of Seshadri's, some deal where they need an initial investment of Rs 2.5 crore (50 lakhs each - Rimi Sen, surprisingly enough, gets that division right). Things go wrong as they are wont to, the huge suitcase filled with the booty is stolen, and the rest of the movie is about the characters finding out who stole it and getting killed in the bargain. It is one of those suspense crime capers where the audience knows all along who the culprit is, but still sits on the edge of their seats trying to guess whether he'll be caught and how.

First, the negatives. The dialogue could have used a whole lot of better effort. It gets unintentionally corny on occasions, and Dharmendra has more than half of these. Of course, he doesn't do a great job in other scenes either. For some reason he is made to spout way too many English lines, and that is one of paaji's great weak-spots, maybe right next to dancing. At least one supporting cast member (Prakash's beautician wife) could have been replaced, in this case by someone less raucous. But the biggest spoil-sport was the ending. Will talk about it in a while.

Neil Nitin Mukesh, whose launch vehicle the film essentially is, and whom the camera lovingly takes into close focus several times, is a decent actor. He lacks terribly in terms of facial expressions or screen presence, but still manages his job well enough. Which points towards some degree of charisma somewhere in there. Rimi Sen, as usual, does not have much to do, and we should be thankful for that.

The best thing about the film is that it's uninhibitedly stylish. Some of the camera angles are to die for (and even though he hails from RGV's factory, stylish camera angles for him do not mean hand-held camera being rotated to induce nausea). There are a lot of references to great old films, both Hindi and American, as well as James Hadley Chase. The director is also an obvious fan of Tarantino and the Coens. The references do get a bit tiresome at times, but I am not complaining. And the style is not at the cost of the substance. It is a fairly taut thriller, rarely letting go of the pace. Based on the kind of conversations we got to listen to around us, I can say that the twists and turns of the story might not be easily comprehensible to every member of the audience. And how often does that happen in our times of simplified spoon-fed story lines?

The background score is interesting. But could have done with so much more.

Which brings me to the climax. The film does so many things right, has so many subtly delicious moments, that the ending was a huge disappointment to me and my friends. We were almost hoping for something to happen to make the film close to perfect, but that didn't happen and the film took the simpler way out. It almost looks like the director had a choice between a stylish ending and a simpler, easier ending, and he chose (or was forced to choose?) the latter.

But do not let that dissuade you from watching this film, if possible on the big screen. In our audi there were just three rows filled with people, and not completely, and I am expecting the case would be the same all over India. Which is a real shame, because so many lesser movies make so much more money simply because they have the right names. This is one of those films I would have surely given a miss had it come to our LAN, but I know better now. This is a director I'll be on the lookout for in the future, and I hope he does not give in to the baser demands of the business he is in.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Dil ko bana de jo patang saasein yeh teri woh hawaayein hain..."

What a line man! Most of the new Hindi film music that has come out lately has been a disappointment. The rest of Om Shanti Om is pretty average. Which is still better than the music for Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, from which I had high hopes. Saawariya, another film I expected to live up to Bhansali's past in terms of music, has failed so far. Though I have listened to it only once.


So India won the 'World Cup'. This is probably the first time I felt nothing at all on a big Indian victory. I couldn't care less if India lost. It's either because I still think of 20-20 as an illegitimate form of the game, not that I retain much interest in the game itself anymore, or because my entire contact with the tournament was through Rediff's score page. Another of my asocial characteristics - I hate watching a match in a hostel TV room, with all sorts of idiots passing expert comments and clapping at every stupid instance. A lot of my friends enjoy it for precisely the same reasons.

One of the things I look forward to when I start earning is to watch matches on my own TV, sitting on my own couch, in my own house, with just a few friends. And yes of course, with beer and pizza.

A good thing about this particular victory is that I won't have difficulty ever in my life in recalling the exact date India won the first 20-20 World Cup.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In which I put my foot in my mouth

I shocked quite a few people, who normally seemed to respect my opinion on films, when I told them some time back that I liked Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, and think that Karan Johar is a good film-maker. But, that is nothing compared to what I am going to say now.

Call it my penchant for inflicting pain on myself or momentary lapse of reason (the two are pretty much the same, aren't they), but I decided to watch Ram Gopla Varma Ki Aag night before the last. The first few minutes, starting with Mohanlal speaking in Hindi (all great acting is lost when you can't pronounce words properly, man!), seemed to live up to the expectation I had from the film. Which was zero essentially. I gave up, went down to have dinner, went to my friend's room after that and preferred studying than watching it (now how often does that happen!).

But, I decided to give it another try last night. And I was quite hooked. Brace yourself for this - The Film Is Not As Bad As It Has Been Made Out To Be. Actually I should have realized this before watching the film. If the entire world population is so unanimous in condemning something it can't be all that bad.

I think the mistake most people have committed in watching the film is to constantly keep comparing it with Sholay. It would have taken a miracle for anyone, including Ramesh Sippy, to make another Sholay. See Shaan if you need any proof. Sholay was the result of the fortuitous coming together of all heavenly bodies that control such things, when everything fell together just right and that can never happen again.

But if you look at it as an independent film, or even in comparison with most Ram Gopal Verma films, it comes across as a pretty decent attempt. In fact, apart from the nausea-inducing camera angles, Mohanlal's horrendous pronunciation and Amitabh Bachchan's hamming, everything else makes it a nice film. Both Nisha Kothari and her butt - sharing equal screen time, almost like Siamese twins - do a good job. She is not hot, and is too loud on occasions, but not bad for the role. Devgan is no where as idiotic as the reviews made him out to be. Sushmita Sen takes herself more seriously than anyone else does, which she can't help really. And Prashant Raj is really good. If he takes care to have a proper hairstyle in his subsequent roles and if he chooses those roles smartly, he can be a big star. Mohanlal, despite the pronunciation and some funny expressions (which Sanjeev Kumar was guilty of to a greater degree), is eminently watchable.

Which brings us to Mr Bachchan. He is pretty much the worst thing in the film. He is among the worst hammers in the industry. And that is why I hate it when people criticise Shah Rukh Khan on the pretext that "he hams a lot". Probably all great actors ham on some occasions. I think another reason why Bachchan fails to generate the same fear is because Gabbar Singh was played by a rank newcomer. Hardly anyone knew Amjad Khan then, and no matter what role he played after that, he never got over the shadow of that character. Things are obviously different in this case. It's not that Bachchan does not do a great job in unconventional roles. One of his most interesting performances according to me was in Boom, which was delightful for the sheer irreverence of it. I respect the man for having done a role as interestingly disgusting as that. And he tries hard here too. Too hard at times. But, that is the price one pays for being the biggest star ever in Hindi films. One can't not see Amitabh Bachchan in Babban Singh. Which doesn't mean that there are no scenes where he does great.

The music is passable. The background score is actually good, especially when you realise that Amar Mohile is the same man who gave that jarring score for Sarkar. The supporting cast is competent. And again, do not compare it with Sholay for heaven's sake. You can't have Soorma Bhopali and the Jailer and the Mausi and the Imam Sahab and Hariram again. Learn to live with that.

Ram Gopal Varma is a very over-rated film maker anyway. Apart from Satya and Shiva (which worked mainly because of Nagarjuna and the time it was made in), he hasn't done a great job with any of his films. No, I don't think Rangeela or Kaun or Bhoot or any of his other films are all that great. They have great plots, which is a fraction of what a good movie ought to be. Sarkar, which many claim to be his last great outing wasn't all that great if you compare it with The Godfather.

So do the film and Varma some justice. Watch it. And enjoy for all the subtle (ok, not so subtle) references filled in the movie. It is a lot better than what we churn out normally.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

15 Minutes

It's interesting how, thanks to TV shows, people, who were living in obscurity till a few weeks back, become the toast of a city, state or even the entire country. Saw this feature on rediff today. Amit Paul is definitely a better singer than the last two winners of Indian Idol. Even Prashant, the other finalist, is a very good singer.

This news story is more interesting because we rarely find anything in popular culture that would indicate that the Northeast is a part of India. Of course, we have several rock bands from the region. But I know more about life in half the world than about life beyond Guwahati. So, when Meghalaya gets a chance to fawn over someone who has done well, I feel great too. Look at how the entire state, including the government is going crazy over Paul.

Of course, most such people from the recent past have gone back to obscurity after a brief tryst with fame. I can't recall the name of the man who won last year's Indian Idol. Abijit Sawant is rarely seen these days. Most people have forgotten Qazi Tauqeer from Fame Gurukul's inaugural edition (My family used to vote for him, despite the fact that he was the worst singer among all the contestants, mainly because he came from a poor family in Kashmir). And I don't even know about the people who win the countless other such shows on Indian TV.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fasten Your Seat-belts

Anne Baxter, Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe in one frame. Electrifying.

Where did all those writers who could pen razor-sharp dialogues go?

B&W movies won hands down the day this movie was made.

Shawshank Redemption, meet All About Eve.

Elvis Lives

I had given up on films till about a few days back. Apart from an occasional great movie, almost everything that I could find on the LAN or on my hard disk seemed utterly boring. But trying to finish off the IMDb 250 (which is still some movies away) has made me a believer again. And it's got only better with some of the new movies on our LAN.

One such absolutely whacky (I am running out of adjectives) movie is Bubba Ho-tep. It's supposed to be one of those rare cult classics that are hard to find. The plot is, as a reviewer at IMDb said, too weird to be described in words. It might only put you off if I tell you that it's got two old men in an asylum - one is supposed to be Elvis Presley and the other is a black guy who believes he is John F Kennedy - in Texas, fighting an Egyptian mummy trying to feed on human souls. Comedy and Horror make for a potent mix.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The funniest, bloodiest movie you'll see this year

One of the most interesting movies I have seen in recent times, and I have seen quite a few, is this film from New Zealand called Black Sheep. A veritable gem of a movie, it's a twist on the conventional zombie movie. And what a twist it is.

The basic plot is about how thanks to a couple of over-zealous members of an anti-animal testing group some toxic genetic material from a test facility at a farm is accidentally spilled, leading to the normally docile, positively dumb sheep turning into cunning carnivores. And there's a fair bit of comedy too. It's not quite in the same league as Shawn of the Dead - not that it tries to be - but the mixture of gore and comedy is still refreshing. Mix a man who has a morbid fear of sheep, his brother who is a singularly money-minded selfish bastard, a woman who has a solution in feng shui for every problem and a whole lot of fluffy, evil sheep bent on eating up every human being around, and you can't go wrong with your movie, can you?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Movies, Masti, Magic

I mentioned in my previous post that I have been on a movie watching spree since my last term got over. I am doing five courses this term, out of which three are by visiting professors. This means that I'll have short bursts of hectic schedules, mainly on weekends, while for the rest of the week I'll essentially be doing just two courses. Plus most of the courses have very little group work, which was my main criterion for choosing courses this term. This directly translates into a whole lot of free time.

There was this guy I knew in Delhi, a batchmate of mine and a member of the quiz club there, who used to say that the only Hollywood movies worth watching were black and white ones. I always thought he was saying it just for the effct, considering that he usd to do a lot of other things for the same reason. But after having seen classics like The Ox Bow Incident, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Out of the Past, Brief Encounter, Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Big Sleep over the last few days, I am beginning to see the truth in the statement. I am not sure about the 'only' bit, as I have also seen The Conversation, Rosemary's Baby, Bonnie and Clyde, Sleuth and several others, but I definitely respect B&W movies much much more now (and yes, I have had my fair share of Ford, Capra and Wilder). Before you point out, I know that not all of these movies are Hollywood products. New found respect for Brit flicks too.

Of course, I do not always agree with the IMDb 250. Even though you discount the presence of new releases like Ratatouille and Superbad on the list (which are really good movies, but certainly not worthy of being up there), there are others like Out Of The Past or Life of Brian that do not come across as all that great. I liked the former, but not all that much again, and found the latter rather painful.

Then there are movies like Bonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider, which you appreciate more when you learn about the context they were made in. I am reading this brilliant book by Peter Biskind called Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood and a few chapters into it I am fascinated by the turbulence Hollywood had gone through in the late 60s and early 70s. And how big a name Dennis Hopper, whom I mainly know for his delicious villany in Blue Velvet, and not so delicious one in Speed, was for a brief period. The combination of drugs, promiscuity, nudity, anti-war protests and the general hippie culture is, to repeat the word again, extremely fascinating. I know where I would want to go to if I had a time machine.

To round up a really wholesome diet of movies, we were visited by Mani Ratnam today as part of these talks we keep having organized by one club or the other. The man is really shy and so normal that making movies actually looks like just another simple career option.

To make things perfect, the weather's just amazing, the courses are generally interesting and life's good.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Yet Another Quiz

For all practical purposes, my MBA is supposed to be over, even though I am doing more worthwhile courses this term than I have in the last four. But still, the sudden availability of time on my hands, coupled with most of the people I can bear talking to leaving the campus on exchange, has left me with too few choices to engage myself completely. I am finally trying to finish off the IMDb 250, or getting as close to it as I can, before work gets to me.

One great thing about this endeavor is that I have seen some amazing movies in the last week or so. Will make posts about them later. Or maybe not.

There are so many blogs on the net, and so few worth reading. I probably wouldn't be reading my blog if it wasn't mine. There's this one blog that I probably am the most regular reader of, not necessarily because the author writes well.

So I found this quiz he had taken about political philosophies. I really enjoy these quizzes, unless they are too long and take themselves too seriously, and very often the results do manage to capture some aspect of your beliefs. Of course, most people are so schizophrenic in their beliefs and viewpoints that any result in any quiz will be true to some extent. This one branded me a left-liberal, which is surprisingly accurate. I am not so sure about the economic part of this quiz though. The few questions asked aren't enough. The personal ones do seem to hit the mark better. (

According to the website:

LIBERALS usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy. They generally support a government-funded "safety net" to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations, defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.

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