Friday, August 17, 2007

Chak De India review

Director: Shimit Amin
Writer: Jaideep Sahni
Producers: Yash Raj

After a hard-hitting Ab Tak Chappan, Shimit Amin comes up with another winner in the form of Chak De India!, an endearing film that is quite a welcome departure from other Yash Raj ventures.
The film’s initial reels, showing Kabir Khan’s (Shah Rukh Khan) exit from hockey and the disgrace he suffers and his return, have been wonderfully shot by director Shimit Amin. The sombre beginning is followed by a delightful sequence, introducing all the key players of the hockey team. Not only does writer Jaideep Sahni make some piquant observations about our attitude towards women taking up sports, it is also a sharp comment on how insular–thinking we can be. As understood, this is a team, with no hopes riding on it and is backed(?) by a Hockey Association, with smug, chai-biscuit munching, chauvinistic officials (one of superbly played by Anjan Srivastav), who don’t see how our desi girls, can playa game of ‘nikkar-baniyan’. Since there’s nothing to be lost really, the association agrees to let Kabir Khan take over as coach. Deeply scarred, Khan is a dashing, sensitive, no-nonsense guy, who comes with a single-minded agenda – to help this struggling shekchillis, as Srivastav calls them) team to win the ensuing World cup and thereby redeem his reputation.

But the new coach and the girls don’t quite hit it off. Khan is a bit too severe on them and takes it upon himself to straighten anyone who won’t fall in line. There’s a particularly good line here where SRK issues a warning to the rebellious types with much panache, ‘Iss team mein sirf ek goonda hai, aur woh goonda mein hoon!’ Just when this crisis is solved, others crop up. From playing with a Men’s hockey team for winning World cup sponsorship to dealing with a difficult senior player (this angle was too stretched I felt) to competing with world champions, there’s a lot to be overcome here.

The film’s final result, though obviously not a surprise, manages to keep up the suspence all along. It’s highly engaging. Jaideep, as we know, is proficient with his understanding of small-town characters and situations and here, his brand of rustic humour and dialogues is succinct.

There is no love story here but I felt the makers could have made the film more interesting by adding a certain romantic element. How come none of the females have a crush on such a suave coach?

The songs fit in beautifully. I especially loved Maula Mere and the title track.
The film is a great personal triumph for SRK. No one has denied his clout at the box-office but for a while now, he hasn’t had a solid, critically acclaimed film. But all that is about to change. The actor delivers a superlative performance looks like a million bucks too. Also there are some real gem-like performances from the girls, some highly enjoyable ones.
In the end, Chak De India is a film that will be loved and remembered for a long time to come.

Rating: ****
-Sandhya Iyer

Interview with Karan Johar

Karan Johar speaks on a variety of aspects, ranging from his equation with his ex-assistants to his so-called NRI obsession to why Anurag Kashyap must not talk out of turn…and of course Chak De India

'Soham didn't exactly make a Ben Hur for me that I should miss him'

There’s been a lot of speculation about your forthcoming ventures, can you tell us something about it?

In keeping with my aim to promote young talent, two of my assistants, Taran Mansukhani and Siddharth Malhotra will be starting their films soon. My own film (yes, I’m looking at Kajol and SRK) will start next year. I’m also co-producing an animation film on Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, with Prana Studios in Mumbai. Basically, we’re looking at turning Dharma films into a boutique production, where a variety of films can be made.

Some would opine that Dharma Productions hasn’t expanded the way it should have, given its phenomenal past successes.

No, but you must understand that mine is not a giant production house like a Yash Raj or UTV. I’m under no pressure to keep coming up with four films a year, nor do I have a distribution network in place. These external pressures don’t apply to Dharma at all. I make whatever I feel like.

Unlike Yash Raj, you haven’t really managed to retain talent, both your ex-assistant director Nikhil Advani and Soham chose to leave the very banner that gave them such mega launches.

I did not sign any contracts with them. I chose to place love and trust beyond these considerations. Today, I realize my mistake and all the directors who are working for Dharma right now are under contracts. As for Nikhil and Soham, well, they chose to succumb to external pressures and move on. Nikhil is still a very good friend and inspite of Salaam-E-Ishq, I find him very talented. I’m sure, we will have some professional connection at some level in the future and it will be good. Most certainly, Nikhil can work for me again. When he left, well, yes, there was some emotional upheaval but we’re over with it now. I mean, how long can we keep holding grudges. I’m 35 now, and Nikhil’s a year older at 36.As for Soham, I never had any emotional attachment with him. Even professionally, I did not feel his loss. He made Kaal.

You’re saying that

(straight-faced) Yeah, I mean he made Kaal, not some Ben Hur that I should miss him.

You’ve come under constant criticism for setting your stories in New York and other foreign locations. KANK, being your latest. Some would think it’s an attempt to please the NRI populace, who form a major part of your target audience. But from what I feel, ironically, a lot of NRIs are now quite tired of seeing their own streets covered in films…there’s a larger market for desi films among them I feel…

Oh, but I never set KANK in New York because I wanted to please the NRIs. That story could have easily happened in a city like Mumbai, Delhi or Pune but the problem is that an extra marital affair can’t go unnoticed in India. I wanted my characters to be lost in their own world and that was only possible if I shifted the story abroad. You know, when I started out in my career, I didn’t even now what the NRI audience was all about. It’s just that their tastes collided with mine –I like big stars, music, glamour, emotions and they like that too. There’s no NRI recipe that I have. And in any case, we must stop treating them like aliens. They are one among us.

Recently, Vishal Bharadwaj made a statement to the effect that the NRI market was corrupting good cinema and the audience there is stuck in a time frame

So don’t make those kind of films, simple! Vishal Bharadwaj is a fantastic director and he should make exactly the kind of films he believes in. But I’m all for variety. If there’s a Partner, there’s also a Namaste London...all kinds of cinema must co-exist. Which is why I find people like Anurag Kashyap writing on some blog about me very amusing. He even talks about people like Yash Chopra. Please, at least, leave out a legend like Mr. Chopra. And why does he feel the need to write these things? I mean, he’s made like one film, which finally got released. Now, I loved Black Friday but that’s exactly my point, about allowing all kinds of cinema to co-exist.

You’ve already said that all your films will star SRK and you’re also very friendly with Kajol, Preity and Rani, which means, they too will be in most of your films. Doesn’t that bring a sort of fatigue to your projects, repeating the same actors?

(nods) I feel stars cannot make a film look tired, only a bad story can do that. The star cast is generally the least of my concerns. There are more important things for me to be worried about like the film’s screenplay or execution. If that doesn’t work, nothing else will. And I feel having good actors, who are known so well to me, can only help my film.

After making Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, you said you would never go back to your earlier films?

I have never looked back in any case. When I started out, cinema was like a toy to experiment with. I was young and my own thoughts at that time translated on screen. There was innocence, dance, glamour, love in my film. Then, with Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam, I wanted to impress people by my creating huge sets with big stars. Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna was also made when I was in a particular mind-set. Ultimately, I’ve decided that I’m going to make the kind of films I want to, because I’ve realized that everyone cannot be pleased at the same time.

Anything you’d like to change about KANK today?

I would make the film shorter by 20 minutes and edit out some of the comedy scenes and the opulence. That’s it, otherwise I wouldn’t like to change anything about KANK.

You’ve never made bones of the fact that you love media attention and the result has been that you are a director, anchor, chat-show host, fashion designer…all rolled into one. And now, suddenly everyone from Kunal Kohli to Farhan Akthar to Mahesh Manjerekar to Sanjay Leela Bhansali are part of the spotlight, acting in films, judging shows and what not. What do make of this trend? Does it take way anything from the director’s ‘halo’

(laughs) See, I started it first? I believe Kunal (Kohli) and Farhan Akhtar were judges on some television shows. Personally, I love everything I do and shows like Koffee With Karan has greatly my brand equity. See, just because you’re a director doesn’t mean that you should be intense, isolated, dictatorial and keep quoting Bergman and grand Chinese films at every given opportunity. And in any case, it’s wonderful that directors are getting noticed because of the media. Otherwise, how many people know how V Shantaram or Bimal Roy looked.

Koffee With Karan still remains a popular show but one suspects it’s not as popular as its first season. Are the TRPs satisfactory?

KWK is an English chat show and I’m thrilled that you are even talking in terms of TRPs, which means it’s popular enough to be judged by numbers. I mean, how many would ask Vir Saghvi about his show’s TRPs? But honestly, the first season will always appear more special because the concept is fresh and there’s a certain curiosity value. As far as I know, the show is appealing to its target audience. Who was my most interesting guest? Himesh Reshammiya. I really didn’t expect him to be so good but he carried all the five segments of the show on his shoulders.

One believes this is your last season with Star?

Yes, this will be my last season of Koffee With Karan…I don’t know how Star plans to continue with the show, unless they take on Karan Thapar. But seriously, I’m moving on to NDTV and will be starting a new show with them.

Any thoughts on Chak De India?

I saw the film Friday night; I had missed its preview show. I completely loved the film and was clapping all through it. It’s easily one of the finest films ever made. People are saying now that SRK is a terrific actor, but I always knew it.

-Sandhya Iyer

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Telling tales

Jaideep Sahni, who is fast gaining popularity as a writer of repute, talks about why hockey as a game, needs to be highlighted

The game becomes bigger than ever for you with Chak De India, isn’t it?

We’re just too glad that the film has been completed. I’m not thinking of anything else. This is one film we wanted to share with the world really badly.

But after Bunty Aur Babli and Khosla Ka Ghosla, you’re on a roll…

Personally, I tell stories and this string of success can’t possibly last. One day, you’re going to love my story, the next time, you’re not going to like it all that much. So it’s better if I don’t get used to being successful all the time.

Talking of Chak De India, how did the idea originate?

It happened about 3-4 years back, when I saw a newspaper report about the women’s hockey team, winning a major match. It was covered minimally in 10 column centimeters and that’s what got me thinking. If this were to be cricket, it would have been splashed all over the front and back pages. And I observed that this was becoming a pattern with winning hockey teams. That’s when I started researching on it; I read books on it, visited stadiums, spoke to coaches. So even when I was writing Bunty Aur Bably and Khosla Ka Ghosla, the idea was always taking shape in my mind.

So, this has been an idea for a long time now?
Absolutely. Also, I saw how women from other teams such as Argentina looked three times fitter than our players, so it’s no mean feat to defeat them. In spite of all our disadvantages, we’re doing well. The way I look at it, all these players are three times underdogs. Firstly, In India, being a sportsperson itself is something few would look upon favourably. Then, if, you choose any other sport besides cricket, it’s even worse. And then, if you also happen to be a woman, then you are truly three times the underdog.
So how did you take the idea to Yash Raj?

When I finished Bunty Aur Babli for them, Aditya (Chopra) asked me if I had any other idea. I told him about this concept and said I had not mentioned it to a single soul. He liked the idea very much, asked me to leave everything else that I was doing and concentrate on this idea. That’s how it happened.

Shimit Amin had made a gritty thriller like Ab Tak Chappan. Didn’t you find the choice a bit odd??

This is exactly what Aditya (Chopra) excels in, he knows who can do what. Otherwise, do you think he would have given Bunty Aur Babli to the guy who wrote Company. This is a hell of an action film, besides other things. In any case, I feel few understanding the medium of cinema as well as Shimit. I shared all my research with him and then, we came up with the story.

Was Shah Rukh Khan your first choice?

Yes, when we were writing the film, it was clear in our minds that SRK was the best choice. But briefly, we did consider other names, when we felt the film could not start early, as SRK didn’t have the dates immediately. But then, the training with the girls was anyway taking a lot of time, so in the end, everything fell in place. And Shah Rukh was most excited about the film, he’s been the captain for his college hockey team and has passion for the game. He was more than happy we were making this. You’ll be seeing a very new and gripping SRK in this film.

The general impression is that Yash Raj Films may not exactly be the right platform for niche, edgy creative talents like you and Shimit. After all, they’ve been known to make such unabashed commercial fluff?

You have to understand that Yash Raj has changed enormously over the last few years. It is no longer just a production house, it is an international level studio, where all kinds of films are being made. They’re coming up with films every 2 months and obviously, they cannot be making the same kind of movies –each one will be different. So if they make a Dhoom2, they will also support a Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara. If they make Fanaa, they also finance My Brother Nikhil. Everyone seems to judge them by the last film they make. So, when they made Dhoom 2, it was said they are making pure fluff. When their last film, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom flopped, people said it was a set back to the banner but honestly, it’s very different inside the four walls of Yash Raj. There are so many projects in the pipeline, with ideas brimming all the time. So many directors with varied sensibilities, it’s a very exciting place to be in.

But supporting Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara or My Brother Nikhil hardly puts any commercial pressure on Yash Raj and moreover, it’s good for their image. You’re forgetting they distributed Sins

Oh did they? I don’t know if they distributed Sins but I feel Chak De India couldn’t have been made better under any other banner. It’s no joke to spend so much on training camps and let me tell you, this is by no means, a small budgeted film. In fact, given a chance, I would have loved to make Khosla Ka Ghosla for Yash Raj. At least it would've released earlier.

But by and large, they have made only commercial films, haven’t they?

Ta Ra Rum Pum was a family film….

I thought it was the most synthetic film I’ve seen in my life…I preferred Jhoom Barabar Jhoom...I thought it was trying something new

Shaad (Ali) thought so too. It’s nice you could appreciate it. I liked Jhoom… too and Shimit also liked it. Now, obviously someone stonehearted and commercial minded wouldn’t have supported the film. Adi did. He could see that Shaad was trying to create something genuinely different.

No love angle in Chak De India, I hear
Sports people and faujis are the only people who have emotions at their truest and undiluted best. It’s about that chocked up feeling you experience when you are playing for the pride of your country. That’s what you’ll see here. And without giving away too much, I’ll say that it is not possible to make an honest film without following the graph of all the characters. So you will see emotions flowing at every turn.

-Sandhya Iyer