Posts filed under ‘India’

Jessica Loaded!

Our movies have always been a reflection of our society and times. But it is rare for a filmmaker to tread the path of bringing a real life incident verbatim on to celluloid. It is fraught with risk of lacking enough punch and turning into a documentary or being over-dramatized by twisting facts beyond recognition, both of which are likely to shatter its box-office hopes.

I’m not a huge fan of the massive publicity campaign these days, where few weeks before a film’s release, the stars descend on all possible TV shows, even making inroads into our daily saas-bahu sagas. This is exactly what the team of “No One Killed Jessica” was at in the last month. The hype was enormous but except for the talented Rani and underrated Vidya as lead actors, there didn’t seem to be enough to get me excited about the film; even the director was unheard of and most likely one more of our exponentially-growing crop of debutant directors. With these thoughts running in my head, I had barely any expectations from the film as I walked into the hall.

But director Raj Kumar Gupta proved me enormously wrong. He not only had a good story to tell, he also ensured that everything from the screenplay to the performances to the music and editing fell right into place to make it a riveting experience for the audience.

Thanks to media’s coverage over the years, Jessica’s tragedy has become a sort of urban legend in the new millennium India, which put a huge responsibility on the filmmaker to ensure that he didn’t make a mockery of the subject. The initial disclaimer before the start of the film sets the tone and the beginning credits set against images of Delhi on a newspaper with the boisterous “Dilli” track playing in the background indicate that an ingenious presentation lies ahead.

NOKJ is a conscious attempt at realism. The story is the central character and there is no place for redundant romantic inclinations for the lead characters. In fact, while one lead character cries hoarse at not having a boyfriend; the other has no time for them (though the random romp on bed in between work is not ruled out!) This has ensured an uncluttered screenplay with the focus strongly on the subject. Even the songs are more of background scores, which don’t hinder the pace of the narrative and match the feel of the film.

The performances are top notch. Rani as the new age journalist, who is unabashed in her language and mannerism, and will fight to the T for justice, is impeccable in her character. Her aggression as Meira is the hallmark of the film and will be remembered as one of her finest performances. So goes for Vidya as well. As the anguished sister Sabrina, she delivers the finer nuances of her character with a rare sensitivity. She is fragile and unyielding at the same time. And she brings out the contrast of her character alongside Jessica’s and Meira’s very effectively. She almost wins my vote for the better performance, even though her character is restrained and subtle. Even the rest of the cast has been carefully chosen and lend a real look to the story. A special mention for the Page 3 restaurateur, who with her “I’m not sure” alibi, encapsulates the escapist mentality of the urban elite.
The dialogues are also straight from the urban lingo. Some lines ring true and strike a chord. Though, I was a little taken aback at hearing the non-“beeped” invectives being liberally mouthed by the characters. I’m not sure if this “creative freedom” was really required this far to lend authenticity to the characters.

It would have been easy for such a grim topic to turn into a melancholic tale of justice denied. But again the director, through the use of flashbacks and parallel narrative, efficiently takes the viewer on crests and troughs of his story. No patch is too dull and indeed, many scenes, especially the sting operations, are peppered with satire and humour and make you laugh without being slapstick.

NOKJ gives a strong social message on the lines of RDB and LRMB, and calls for an awakening of today’s generation to stand up against the wrongs of our political class and judiciary. I’m not sure if such films can radically change the face of society but they are surely required for each of us to sit up and take notice of the times we are living in.

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January 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm Leave a comment

Political Potpourri at its Bollywood Best!

Raajneeti largely lives up to its hype – which in itself is an achievement for Prakash Jha as the movie has constantly been under scanner for one reason or the other in the last year and had generated tremendous interest among the audience. It is no surprise that the film is heavily inspired by the Mahabharat – the supreme Indian epic, and Godfather, besides drawing influences from Indian politics, in particular, the Gandhi family.

As a complete package, it succeeds by keeping the viewer engrossed for its length; there are enough twists and turns to keep you from getting bored through the near 3 hours of its running. However, be warned that you need to have a certain proclivity for electoral politics and bloodshed.

I won’t delve much on the story, but one needs to pay attention to the first half an hour of the movie, as we are introduced to the entire ensemble of characters in the start itself. The rest of the movie is all about how they try to outplay each other in a power struggle to win the state elections and chief-ministership. The premise might appear straightforward but Jha has painted it on a large canvas, with a strong screenplay and tight editing. Given the limited time, he manages to pack in a lot in terms of story, action and sub-plots, but doesn’t make it look overcrowded. As it turns out, the highlight of his movie is the characterizations and the interplay among them.

Each character in the story is etched carefully, and the actors play their parts exceedingly well. It is easy to see the untamed aggression of Bhim in Arjun Rampal, just as we can make out the characters of Karna and Duryodhana in Ajay Devgn and Manoj Bajpai respectively. Even Nana Patekar’s Brij resembles the calm and always composed Krishna from the Mahabharat, even though the character shown here is ruthless and conniving. In fact, Jha has made a conscious attempt to highlight the greys in each of the characters, rather than show it as a battle between the right and the wrong. Even the initially positive character of Ranbir (a superb act as the perplexed Arjun of the epic) ends up corrupted as he gets sucked into the murky world of politics. Jha has thankfully not tried to show the political arena as the war of Dharma (righteousness), and kept it real by showing politics as a means to achieve the end, whatever it takes. In fact, there is even a 3 dialogue “Gita gyan” by Nana Patekar where he very clearly gives this message.

What however could have been better is the excessive, and almost needless, violence. Jha actually went overboard in trying to convey that bloodshed is hand-in-glove with politics. VIP cars blasting at the drop of a hat, chief ministerial candidates wielding the gun to settle personal scores and half the characters being assassinated by the end of a state election is not really what Indian Raajneeti is all about? It could have been kept suggestive rather than having every one blatantly kill everyone else.

Katrina’s character in the movie was a little unrealistic and, in my opinion, another actress would have done better justice to the role. Perhaps she would have been more suited as Ranbir’s foreigner girlfriend. Music is not central to such a story; the classical fusion numbers, however, were very enjoyable and mellifluous and will stay in my iPod playlist for a while.

All in all, Raajneeti almost blends all the right ingredients for a Bollywood potboiler, and is a racy (if you discount the end), entertaining drama. Definitely (maybe, more than) a one-time watch!

June 13, 2010 at 8:48 am 2 comments

Delhi 6: A Motley Microcosm

“Delhi 6” tries to realize a lot of things as a film – and even though it succeeds mostly, this, in itself, turns out to be its nemesis. Rakeysh Om Mehra brings alive the eclectic and rich sights, aroma and flavours of Chandni Chowk through its characters and music. But for anyone who has yet not been touched by the diversity of “Purani Dilli” (Old Delhi), the movie might be little overwhelming.

As a story, it is the oft-repeated tale of an NRI boy coming to India and falling in love with the country and the country’s girl, but the script elevates the film to another level. Though, some sub-plots in the film tend to feel awkward at times, Mehra largely manages to imbue his story with the perfect hues that turn the chaos of Old Delhi into a visual splendour. As a director, he adds subtle touches of brilliance to seemingly ordinary proceedings, some of which would make you laugh, but some which you would just miss – as the scene in which the local politico barges in the middle of a Ramleela. Someone who has not attended the night shows of the local Ramleela is most likely to miss the satire behind the episode. In another scene towards the end, children throw the monkey mask onto the burning effigy of Ravan. It is an understated moment but symbolically, it says a lot. Mehra has these, and many such snippets, strewn throughout the movie, for which one needs to watch the movie carefully and be able to appreciate the localized influences.

The movie’s narrative relies heavily on the characterizations and the director must thank his entire cast for ably supporting him. Each of the characters lends authenticity to their part and though it is difficult to say who was the best, Divya Dutta gets my vote for her small yet powerful role as the fiery Jalebi. Deepak Dobriyal as Mamdu shows a great potential (I happened to like him in Shaurya as well) as he metamorphosed from a happy-go-lucky neighbourhood guy to a distraught fanatic. Watching Atul Kulkarni as the simpleton Gobar, it was hard to believe that he was the bellicose Laxman Pandey of RDB; truly a versatile actor! Vijay Raaz as the vile policeman makes you loathe him, which is proof enough of his superb performance. Waheeda Rehman has perfected the role of the affectionate grandma, and she seemed to be having a lot of fun along with the affable Supriya Pathak and co. Rishi Kapoor played his part with aplomb, as did veterans Prem Chopra and Om Puri. (It seems that I am just left with the pigeon Masakali and Pavan Duggal to say a good word about, so I shall move on… 🙂

Despite the huge ensemble of supporting actors, the lead pair manages to deliver impressive performances as well. Sonam has a stereotypical role which didn’t give her much scope to showcase her potential but she proves her acting prowess in many frames, particularly the “Masakali” track. Abhishek Bachchan, who has met with some criticism for faking an accent, doesn’t really deserve the brickbats. He brings out the initial apprehension of accepting India quite naturally; watch him as he dances with the woman folk in the “Genda Phool” track, cute.

A. R. Rahman’s score in “Delhi 6” is notches above his Oscar winner, “Slumdog Millionaire”. The film’s music evokes so many emotions so much so that it becomes a character in itself. The “Arziyan” qawalli leaves you spellbound as the camera panoramically sweeps across the expanse of Jama Masjid – it is one of those moments that stir your heart. The divine invocation of Goddess Durga in the Aarti “Tumre Bhawan Mein” is soft and pious and is used to great effect in the film. Enough has already been said about “Genda Phool” and “Masakali” which are ruling the charts because of their musical merit. Being an ardent advocate of including more classical music in films, I must thank Rahman and Rakeysh Mehra for reviving the magical vocals of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in the “Gujari Todi – Bhor Bhayi”; Shreya Ghosal does an outstanding job of rendering it as well.

Hand in glove with the music is the awe-inspiring camera work. The surreal song “Dil Gira Dafatan” is remarkable in its concept. In this masterpiece, the music and cinematography complement each other so well that it is hard to blink your eyes as you watch bylanes of Chandni Chowk mingle effortlessly with the streets of New York. The Ramleela sequences have been conceived and shot very well; and they have been juxtaposed effectively with the events running throughout the story.

The Black Monkey (“Kala Bandar”) urban myth finds prominence in the plot, but ideally I would have like the story treated differently. The film tackles communalism in a clichéd fashion, as is evident in the hasty and somewhat half-baked ending. But I’m ready to forego all that for the vivid portrayal of Old Delhi that “Delhi 6” leaves on my senses.

“Delhi 6” is a thought provoking film, which might not appeal as much on first viewing. In fact, it is tempting to write off the film as boring and preachy. But as you think about it, and there will be moments which will keep coming back to you even after you have left the theatre, it grows on you. I am already in a mood to go and watch it a second time.

February 24, 2009 at 12:18 pm 1 comment

Hollywood Bollywood – Slumdog Millionaire

It is the season of over-hype waves and things working by riding on them. An undeserving “Ghajini” becomes an all-time hit and now we have Danny Boyle’s saga of amchi Mumbai, “Slumdog Millionaire”, sweep awards all across the globe. Though the narrative of a slum-dwelling chaiwalla, Jamal Malik, holds your attention, haven’t we all seen better?

Boyle seems to have drawn his inspiration from Bollywood, which over the years has brought the poverty-stricken reality of Bombay/Mumbai on the screen through the likes of a “Salaam Bombay” or a “Satya”. The movie is a tell-tale of all that is wrong with India, only this time it is an outsider who brings to us the plight of slum dwellers, communal riots, the beggar mafia, the fleecing of foreign tourists, the prostitute business, the underworld, the abusive police alongside an eternal love and longing – all in Bollywood eshtyle!

I don’t understand the criticism that is being heaped on the movie about it depicting our country in a negative light. Boyle has presented what our filmmakers have been doing for decades. The film captures the darker shades of Mumbai but hasn’t everyone from RGV to Madhur Bhandarkar done it before. I would honour the director’s prerogative to not sugarcoat his subject, even if it means stringing in cliché after cliché.

Some of us have gone ahead and challenged the film for projecting India as a “Third World dirty underbelly developing nation”. In fact, I believe it is quite the opposite. Alongside all that is shown as wrong, there is an undercurrent of hope that flows throughout the film. The film manifests the much-talked about “spirit of Mumbai” through the resilience of the protagonist. The ability of the characters to survive against all odds, come what may, forms the fabric of the screenplay.

The premise of how a slum dweller knows the answers to all the questions in KBC (Who wants to be a Millionaire?) and goes on to win the show makes an interesting story. And it is in the answers that the story of Jamal’s life unfolds. Even though the film is in no way extraordinary, what is surprising is how Boyle churns out a potboiler that has Bollywood written all over it. In our typical “filmy” fashion, Jamal goes about finding his childhood sweetheart and expressing his love for her. I can’t believe a foreign director can see India this way! As an Indian, fed on a staple diet of Hindi cinema, this one barely seemed any different.

That the western audience has accepted the film in a big way and that critics are lauding it with awards is more to the credit of the marketing team behind the film. The publicists deserve every bit of praise for being able to package the film in a way no India-themed movie (no not even “Lagaan”, and I was too young to notice what stir “Salaam Bombay” created in its time) has ever been done before. I do hope it goes on to win the Academy Awards, at least for Rahman’s work (even though in the same breath, I should add that the musical genius has far better works that have gone unnoticed). 

And at a time when (borrowing a dialogue from the film) “India is at the centre of the world”, this is good news for Indian cinema. Going by the response “Slumdog Millionaire” has received, “the song and dance factory”, which Bollywood is commonly seen as by the world, can come up with crisper ideas and market them well to the world. Perhaps, a western audience is becoming willing to hear an Indian story, the Indian way!

January 19, 2009 at 6:51 pm 3 comments

Adi Ne Bana Di Jodi!

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is a commendable attempt by Aditya Chopra to provide the audience a wholesome family entertainer. But let me warn the viewers beforehand. In order for you to enjoy this film, you have to acknowledge the cinematic liberty Adi has taken – he wants us to believe that a wife will not recognize her husband after he shaves off his pencil moustache and undergoes a wardrobe change. But isn’t cinema all about bringing alive a make-believe world! So, just as we embrace a Spiderman or Krisssh, knowing very well that it is fantasy, I’d allow Chopra this expediency.

Through a not-so-long-back flashback sequence, we are introduced to Surinder Sahni who, least expecting, gets to marry the girl he has fallen in love-at-first-sight with. Only problem is, the marriage is a result of circumstances rather than love or even a pondered arrangement. The end result is two individuals, with very different love quotients, set up to live life together.

It is a very interesting premise and what makes it more so is the manner in which Aditya Chopra paints his characters.

Surinder Sahni is a person who is as diffident as it gets, and depicts a love so pure that it is almost incredible. Shahrukh, in this avtar, excels and is at his winsome best. Your heart goes out to him as he goes about his daily chores, or requests his wife to entertain his friends, if she can, he politely adds. In this another scene, where he gazes the lunch box, prepared by his wife, he leaves you in splits. This perfect look of naivety, love & admiration has King Khan’s signature all over it. This and many such brilliant moments etch out the ingenuous character of Surinder Sahni.

On the other hand is Taani, the once-ebullient girl, who is willing to forego her past self to a new life as Surinder’s dutiful wife. But even while she would pack his lunch, clean his room and entertain his guests, because she has “willingly” accepted this marriage, she can’t love her husband and tells him so. There is a real element to Taani’s character and Anushka Sharma brings forth her predicaments with a quiet confidence.

Also, praiseworthy is Vinay Pathak’s portrayal of the loud-mouthed yet sensitive friend of Surinder. Like all his performances before, Pathak makes his character believable. He has some good dialogues to boost of and he fits well in the method of things. It is he who helps Suri transform into Raj, so he can woo his better half by being the “hero” she craves.

This might seem a silly premise and it is actually that, but still Aditya manages to add some substance to it through his screenplay and dialogues. He has generously used SDIPA (Shiamak Davar’s dance school) and their actual instructors to take the story forward. I wasn’t whole-heartedly convinced of Raj’s character as it could have been depicted better from the over-the-top yet inadequate Jat that came across. Also Shahrukh’s performance of this manifestation pales in comparison to the taciturn Suri.
What I think Aditya wanted to show was a clash between the extrovert and the introvert and he was out to (predictably) make the underdog win it. And I think it is this bias that shows.

At a point in time, when I feared that the film would turn into another musical (Dil To Pagal Hai – II), Aditya carefully, and thankfully, steered the screenplay back to the main plot of Suri and Taani. What however, he could have done better was to emphasise more on Suri’s display of love (even though Suri mentions to Bobby that he wants Taani to see it on her own) which would have made the choice Taani makes more convincing. Perhaps Aditya wanted things to be more subtle and left it for the audience to fill in the lines. The end message that he wanted to convey is that, with time and patience love conquers all!

The music, which has always been the hallmark of an Aditya (or Yash) Chopra presentation, is surprisingly understated in the movie. The songs are situational and again far fewer in number in comparison to earlier movies. When I first heard the songs, I found them of a pretty low standard for an Aditya Chopra movie, but after watching the film, they grew on me. In the same breath, let me add that it is still nowhere near the high standards that Yash Raj has set for itself.

The predictable story could have been a damp squib had it not been for splendid performances. The screenplay keeps slipping but picking up soon after at many places. The cinematography is adequate and though there are no Swiss locales to be shot here, Amritsar has been captured well.

As director, Adi Chopra sparkles in a number of places. Consider the scene where Surinder places the rose on the table and then, true to his reticent self, puts it back, or the lunch box scene, or the heart-to-heart tête-à-tête between Suri and Bobby. And I’m sure thanks to Adi, a number of Amristari lads will queue up for being recruited in Punjab Power so they can propose to their girl in the innovative manner Raj does!

In this quite unlike Yash Raj film, the medley song “Hum hain raahi pyaar ke, phir milenge chalte chalte” stands out with high production value. It is a tribute to Bollywood’s yesteryear actors and you wish it goes on and on as one leading actress after another is serenaded by Shahrukh.

No matter whether or not, you like the movie, but please do stay till the end credits roll. Adi had saved the best for the last. Suri’s narration of their honeymoon to Japan is the high point of the movie, it’ll surely make you laugh and you’ll come out of the hall wanting more of the endearing Surinder Sahni!

December 15, 2008 at 2:39 pm 2 comments

India Poised to India Realised through SMS?

When I first read about “Lead India” – an initiative of The Times Of India, I thought it was a step in the right direction. To me it then meant that as a responsible media house, the Times Group was leveraging its power and reach to make a difference in the way a nation is being lead. But as I read more, I found it odd that all they were eventually looking at was to identify a single person (in a country of over a billion), give him/her Rs. 50 lakh for a welfare project & “place them at the doorstep of opportunity to participate in the next Lok Sabha polls”!

The process of selecting this leader is inspired by these oh-so-popular singing competitions that have seem to have become the bread-n-butter of our television channels. So SMS it is, and TOI is no leaving no stone (page) unturned to garner SMSes for these contestants.

Right now, the eight finalists are seeking votes from the nation & one is supposed to decide who will do more good for the nation than the other by watching them as part of a (believe-it-or-not!) reality show on TV. I don’t know what to expect from this show but proceedings so far give me a feeling this is going to be a variant of “Indian Idol” with quality losing to quantity.

I have a problem here.

 The very fact that an initiative like this is being treated like a “Miss India” beauty paegant or an “Indian Idol” run, demeans its spirit. Here we had courageous citizens who dreamt of making a difference to India, who thought they had found a platform to do their bit for the nation. Instead, they were labelled contestants, as if they were to run for a race. Each contestant was supposed to outsmart the other by voicing their views on national issues (Almost like the idealistic GDs one participates in at the time of seeking a job or admission for MBA). TOI had a brilliant concept at hand and they should have steered it in a different direction.

In place of going from shortlisting 3 “semi-finalists” from 8 zones, they should have had the jury select a Taskforce of 100 (or even more) “Realisers” from each city. Looking at the publicity TOI has managed for “Lead India”, I’m sure getting sponsorships for welfare projects would not have an ardent task. Perhaps, in place of looking at national/regional parties offering election tickets to the winners, they could have forged partnerships with India’s leading corporate houses to take up group initiatives with this army of “Realisers”. The true power of such a campaign could have been realised through working at the grassroot levels than heading for the Parliament House.

I might be unrealistic in my idea of it all but I surely know that a handful of genuine people in politics cannot make any remarkable contributions in the running of this country. The true leaders of India have been outside of the politicial system (take the case of Narayan Murthy or A. P. J. Abdul Kalam). Politics in our country, looking at the current state of affairs, will only tie down the hands of these emerging leaders.

Media has immense potential to make a difference. Let us hope TOI can tide over mere hype & SMS to deliver their dream of “India Poised to India Realised”.

October 19, 2007 at 7:26 pm 2 comments

The Importance Of Being Sanju

I had confused feelings when I first heard the judgement on Sanjay Dutt last week. My initial thoughts were how would Sanjay Dutt, the loveable Munnabhai of Bollywood, cope with six years of jail. But at the same time, the fact that our judicial system had viewed him as a citizen, who went against the law, not considering his Bollywood celebrity status, was reassuring.

The news channels kept beaming his images all day long, in addition to interviews of scores of Bollywood icons refuting the “unfair” verdict. The next day, newspapers were splashed with statements of every possible Bollywood actor condemning his imprisonment.

And that’s when it got on my nerves.

I know Mr. Dutt only from his films, but when the whole of Bollywood says, I can acknowledge that he is a nice guy. But does that take away the fact that (at one point of time) he was involved with the underworld and was in possession of arms? The law took its course, even if delayed, so why is the issue getting undeserved mileage? Sanju, might be a much-adulated public figure, but why is he being depicted as a child of a Higher God, who has been wronged in every way possible? Even a week after the trial, not an hour goes by when the news channels don’t have someone or the other voicing their sympathies to Sanju baba.

I’m not against Sanjay Dutt, nor do I have a problem if he is let off. But this issue is no longer about an individual. In a country where millions languish in jails, there would be many among them who would have undergone a transformation from their criminal past to a humane present or several innocent ones who are imprisoned without even being guilty. Has Bollywood thought about them? Would it be just to give preferrential treatment to an individual due to his star status and absolve him of his past guilts? If today one star gets to distort justice, tomorrow we may have others, who by their influence and media’s endorsement, will get away with more.

India is a free land and everyone of us has a right to opinion. But why are our news channels and newspapers trying to project this through the eyes of celebs by giving them undeserving coverage to lobby for an individual?

Have we run out of pertinent issues that impact the lives of a collective nation that the entire Indian media has the spotlight on a single man?

August 6, 2007 at 1:43 pm 5 comments


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