Friday, June 22, 2007

Film Review: Kandukondain Kandukondain

Film: Kandukondain Kandukondain
Language: Tamil
Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Tabu, Mamoothy,
Ajit, Abbas
Director: Rajiv Menon

My exposure to Tamil cinema hasn’t been great but I recently got an opportunity to see two well-known films. One, a very popular entertainer, Kandukondain Kandukondain (I Found it!) and another ‘revered’ Mani Ratnam film, Kannathil Muthamittal (A Peck On the Cheek).
The first one, a clever and inspired adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility, is pure delight with some mesmerizing songs and superlative performances.
Adaptations look easy but they never are – look at the mess Gurinder Chaddha made with another Austen classic, Pride And Prejudice. In that sense, director Rajiv Menon achieves the near impossible – he retains the essence and moral of the original while adapting it convincingly in a Tamil milieu.
While there’s nothing really to fault the screenplay here, it is the performances that raise the film several notches higher. Aishwarya Rai, as the fiery, talented and hopeless romantic, is outstanding. Ditto Tabu, who plays her part of a restrained, practical elder sister, with great understanding. The other male leads (Ajith and Abaas) are competent but for me, the scene-stealer was Mamooty, as the middle-aged, disabled Major with a heart of gold.
What is truly commendable here is that Rajiv Menon has demonstrated a perfect understanding of Sense And Sensibility, not missing out on a single nuance.
The resolution and the point that leads to it are wonderfully scripted. In Austen’s classic, the younger sister adapts to her changed circumstance and curbs some of her impulsive, fiery spirit, realizing that love need not necessarily be about passion!
On the other hand, Tabu, who has always been more controlled, learns to let go and give in to the dictates of her heart – just like Austen’s character in the original.
In that sense, both sisters re-adjust their attitudes towards love –-- that is the crux of the story and Menon gets that absolutely right.
This review cannot end without a mention of the awe-inspiring music by A R Rahman. Every song is a sheer wonder and sends the heart into raptures. On the whole, what can I say? This is how a good Tamil entertainer should be made.

-Sandhya Iyer

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Film Review: Nittal

Nittal (Crystal Clear) 135 min
Language: Marathi
Director: Sumitra Bhave & Sunil Sukthankar

Does the coming together of two good-looking people make for a successful marriage? Is the appearance of respectability and decent living between married couples an acceptable compromise for the lack of true, inner happiness? On the surface, Nittal takes up the cause of vilitigo (white patches on the skin) and how society discriminates against people who suffer from it. But look a little deeper and you’ll see that this is one of the most wonderfully layered and impacting films in recent times. While it forcefully tackles the issue at hand, what makes this film superlative is its profound statement on the futility of ‘ keeping appearances’ and constantly adopting the ‘no risk, middle-road’ mantra in life.
Neeraja is a young, intelligent girl, with pleasing manners and a ready smile. A competent eye surgeon, her vitiligo affliction, however, makes life a bit tough for her.
Since childhood, Neeraja has bravely dealt with her situation, trying to fight the misconceptions about her 'disease’. Yet, it has to be said, that even with her professional proficiency and upbeat spirit, Neeraja does suffer from an inferiority complex about the way she looks
It takes a fellow doctor, Ananya Ranade to tell her how beautiful her hands are while at a surgery. “That was the first time I looked at my hands with love’ says Neeraja.
Her friend ship with Ananya deepens and the latter invites her home to his house in Pune, a place teeming with relative and friends, all gathered for a family get-together.
Everyone is excited to see Ananya’s ‘girlfriend’ but go into an awkward silence once they see Neeraja and the white patches on her face. From there on, the story unravels various aspects of each one’s life in the family and certain uneasy truths that lie beneath their picture perfect portraits.
While Ananya’s aunts take a liking to Neeraja, his mother stays strongly opposed to the match. After the party, she argues her point, “We have a certain reputation to live up to. Whatever my difference with your father, we have lived a decent live. Our paths have never crossed, but we lived honourably,” she argues.
His father (brilliant played by Vikram Gokhale) differs, “Yes we lived a ‘decent’ life but honourable, no....There’s no honour in leading such a life! Yes, we are confident to face people in society but we can’t face ourselves?”
Besides the issue of appearance, the film also talks about courage and the willingness to accept responsibility for the choices one makes in life and going the full hog with it. Ananya, though clearly attracted to Neeraja, is confused whether he should marry her (or marry anyone at all).
His grandpa, played by the revered Vijay Tendulkar himself, advices him to go ahead only if he has the courage of conviction. “Will-power and destiny always go hand in hand. But when will power is coupled with enlightenment, then it can easily overpower destiny”
Magical words and what can I say, a truly wonderful film that strikes at the soul!
On the Director Duo
Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhthakar are easily one of the best director duos in the country today. Each one of their films are socially relevant and at the same time, extremely engaging. Their films actually make an impact at the grass root levels and that itself is a huge achievement.In general, there’s a familiar pattern in all the issues that they take up in their films. They all have something to do with discrimination in society and how it can be overcome. Their film Dahavi F (Tenth standard F) spoke of how a bunch of rowdy, underprivileged street children turn violent when they are unfairly punished in school. However, they have a change of heart and even redeem themselves when they receive some kindness among their teachers.Again Vastupurush was about discrimination on the basis of caste, orthodoxy and the failure of Gandhian ideals. Nittal is easily one of their best films and one can only hope that this director duo go on from strength to strength.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Film Review: Jhoom Barabar Jhoom

The Zing thing

There are two ways of approaching Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Either you enter its magical realm and become a part of this truly zany ride or remain unmoved by it, wondering what the fuss is all about. In that sense, it’s a movie that will either leave you exhausted or enthralled!

As with most comic capers, this film too hangs on a wafer thin storyline---- two people, apparently as different as cheese and chalk, meet at a station abroad and take turns discussing their respective love lives. Of course, it’s not as simple as that and there’s a very clever twist here, as you will see. But even as that happens, Shaad Ali’s screenplay, with its whiplash vigour, crisp one-liners and wacko characters, makes this fare thoroughly entertaining. Yes, it’s drenched in gloss but make no mistake, its desi appeal is as distinct and lip smacking as spicy bhelpuri.

Abhishek Bachchan’s Bunty takes a bratty, self-assured turn here and one has to say, his ‘lafanga’ act is one of the best you’ll get to see. Success has truly done wonders to this actor and whatever the fate of this film, this is a performance that stands out for sheer command of craft. Lara Dutta oozes oomph and impresses with her acting. Preity’s not looking all that great in the film but there’s nothing to fault her performance here. And is it just me who saw a bit of Bridget Jones in her character’s treatment? Bobby is good enough, though he’s clearly the second lead here.
Not every song rocks and in many cases, it's the high energy choreograohy that saves the day but I liked Bol Na Halke Halke and the final Punjabi version of Jhoom Barabar Jhoom very much.

Ultimately, whichever side of the fence you may come from, it’s important to understand that there’s nothing wrong with this film, really. This is an intelligently made film, very edgy, very smart.

Stars: ***1/2

-Sandhya Iyer

Friday, June 15, 2007

'Priyanka made some smart choices'

Lara Dutta, who is clearly excited to be part of a biggie like Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, tells Sandhya Iyer that she's tired of her glamourous image

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is your biggest film so far, isn’t it?

Yup, I’m very excited about this one. It’s with Yash Raj and I’ve always been keen to work with them.

Working with director Shaad Ali must have been interesting?

Yes, he has this very desi, mad, quirky style and it’s something I’ve never done before. I’m playing a Pakistani women in the film, very sophisticated and stylish. But even within that framework, there’s a graph to my character, which was exciting.

You’ve worked with Abhishek Bachchan in Mumbai Se Aya Mera Dost. How was it working with him this time?

Abhishek has come a long way as an actor. He was a newcomer when I did that film with him. I feel success has made Abhishek more confident as an actor. As for our rapport, he’s always been a brat, looking out to play pranks.

Though you started reasonably well with Suneel Darshan’s Andaz, you’ve faced several roadblocks in your career? Much like Abhishek, isn’t it?

Sure. But honestly, in all these three years, I was just figuring out what would be correct for me as an actress. I was experimenting with different roles and genres –drama, comedy, action and checking out what I could do best. Also, I was finding out which banners and people I enjoy working with. I was never really looking out for just hit films. It has been a fabulous learning experience and in many ways, my career has just begun.

So you were never looking for just commercial success?

No, I wasn’t. I’m not in the number game. In the long term, I want to be known as a good actress, who can deliver. I want to be in a position where people expect something out of me as an actress. I’m tired of hearing ‘Oh you looked so gorgeous in that film’ etc. I need good roles to prove myself as an actress.

Do you think filmmakers are reluctant to give you meaty parts, precisely because of your image and good looks?

Yes, I think there is a mental block. Out modeling background anyway comes in the way. They feel an actress cannot play a strong, layered character unless she has ordinary, girl-next-door looks. But things are starting to change thankfully.

Priyanka Chopra and you started out together. Today, she’s so much ahead…

Our priorities have been very different. She took the tried and tested route, hung on big heroes…I didn’t do that. Ultimately, she’ll have to prove herself as an actress. When I signed films, my main objective was to experiment and have fun. Of course, this is not to say that the films Priyanka did were not good. Don, Krrish…all were brilliant films. She made some smart choices.

How come big banners didn’t approach you initially?

No, I have been fairly lucky. I got to work with Dharma Productions in Kaal very early on. Also, I’m working with Yash Raj in less than three years of being in the industry. It’s a break that doesn’t come so easily.

You had a huge hit in No Entry in 2005 and also had a meaty role in it? Do you believe you were adequately benefited by its success?

Of course, I was. All the films I got like Bhagam Bhag, Partner and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is thanks to No Entry.

Marriage plans?

Good lord, I’m not getting married anytime soon.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Interview: R Balki

Sweet scent of success

Cheeni Kum director R. Balki is thrilled about his film’s success but refuses to take any credit for its edgy theme, says Sandhya Iyer

You released your film along with Shootout At Lokhandwala, which got a far better opening than Cheeni Kum. On hindsight, do you wish you had not clashed with a much-hyped multistarrer?

Not at all. I always knew that Cheeni Kum was a word-of-mouth film. It wasn’t the typical sort of film and I knew it wouldn’t garner a huge opening. In its second week, Cheeni Kum is really huge. It’s done well everywhere in India, and even at places like UK and US, the business is phenomenal.

So, what is the ‘trade tag’ you’re expecting? A hit?

(laughs) They say it’s bigger than a hit…as in a big hit.

Amitabh was especially gung ho about Cheeni Kum and wanted Shootout…to be postponed. That must have made you feel happy?

Oh, but in Shootout…, he just had a guest appearance. He’s playing a lawyer or something. Cheeni Kum is HIS film.

While the first half of the film is very edgy, people have complained that the second half gets too formulaic?

I feel my whole film is formulaic. It’s a simple story…boy meets girl, they fall in love and have to contend with opposition. I don’t see anything edgy in my film. I’ve made a pucca Bollywood entertainer. Just because it’s chatty and witty in the first half doesn’t mean it’s an edgy film.

I found the pre climax sequences completely over-the-top! You mean you aren’t getting feedback to that effect?

I’m getting all sorts of reactions. Some love the second half even better than the first. I’m being asked why I had the motorcycle sequence or why was that whole satyagraha drama necessary. All I will say is that I wanted to bring all facets of love into Amitabh’s character. Just because he is 64 doesn’t mean he cannot exhibit these traits. I’ve tried to bring in everything –jealousy, anger, tension and a protective streak. It’s his way of displaying machogiri ---- shouting and getting help when Tabu is surrounding by eve teasers. I know some people have found it gimmicky but that’s my style!

What about the whole angle about a terminally ill child? Critics feel that sub plot stands out like a sore thumb in an otherwise light hearted film.

Amitabh’s character is so controlled in the film that I felt there has to be a point when he breaks down. And that happens when he loses someone so pure and innocent. I don’t see this as mixing genres. I feel a writer should go with the flow and that’s exactly what I’ve done. If he starts applying rules, then the magic is lost.
I wrote Cheeni Kum at one single go. I write what I feel is entertaining and assume audiences will enjoy it too. That’s all. I don’t think a film should be analyzed and introspected too much. I never do it. There is no great design behind Cheeni Kum.

You’re determined to make light of the fact that Cheeni Kum is indeed edgy in many ways. If you believe that life imitates art, don’t you think that such unconventional themes can be a liberating influence on society?

If that happens, that will be wonderful. But personally, I don’t see age as an issue at all in love. I mean both Amitabh and Tabu are single so what’s the big deal if they get together. But yes, I agree with you that every film should leave a dream behind for its viewer.

It looks like there’s nothing you’d want to change about the film?

I’m still very close to the film to judge it objectively. But I’m sure in two years time –or maybe in two weeks, I’ll start to think that I’ve made a crappy film. That happens all the time with me when I make commercials. While I’m at it, I imagine I’m making a masterpiece but when it appears on television, I find myself unable to watch it and quickly switch channels. This is a pattern with me, so it’s very possible that I’ll find a lot to hate in Cheeni Kum in the time to come.

It’s upsetting that you totally deleted Shreya Ghoshal’s version of the title song.

Hey, but that was decided right from the beginning. I did use the mukhda but as I said, I decided upon a certain pace for the film and didn’t want to tamper with it.

But the first half was anyway slow.

There was no space for it. I did what I felt was right for the film.

I believe your next is Pa with Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan.

Yes, that’s right. I’m working on the script and it will go floors by next year. I haven’t decided upon the heroine. I’m writing the script keeping a particular actress in mind but I’d rather not talk about it at this point.

Abhishek Bachchan is top actor today, so that will be a bonus, won’t it?

To my mind, there is no one bigger than Amitabh.