Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Khoya Khoya Chand review

So-ha, so bad

*ing: Shiney Ahuja, Soha Ali Khan, Rajat Kapoor, Sushmita Mukherjee and Saurabh Shukla
Director: Sudhir Mishra

Given its fantastic promos, wonderful sound track and the director’s own credentials, one would have quite literally expected the moon here but sadly, Khoya Khoya Chand falls under Mishra’s least interesting films.
Compared to his highly textured and elevating Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi, which gave us three of the most memorable characters in recent times, Khoya…is a film that is utterly lacking in complexity of both script and characterization. And if you were aiming higher and expecting some kind of subtext in this ‘tribute to the 50s cinema’, just forget about it.

Even viewed as a regular film, KKC is very jerky and inconsistent –for example, the movie starts with Vinay Pathak, an insider of the industry, doing a voice-over and you gather that hewill be the narrator for the rest of the film. But Mishra forgets all about him in the later portions.As the film progresses, you realize Mishra has pieced together some moments and made a film about an era he has a personal fondness for but there's so little depth to his plot (if you can call it one), solack-luster is the romance and so sketchy are his characters that the film never manages to take off at any point.
Also, the director with his design to recreate the 50's cinema, with its whirlpool of passions, professional insecurities, tenderness, volatile lovers, camaraderie… takes on more than he can chew and it becomes a strain to follow the different arcs being thrown at the viewer throughout the film...the characters don't just sustain their trajectories.

Without the firm grip of a director, the film never quite comes together. The film's weakest link is probably Soha Ali Khan, who proves to be a terrible revelation. With her petite frame and limited range, the actress can neither cope with the stature of her character nor can she lend it any kind of depth of expression. Self-conscious and inhibited, Soha's innate reticence is all wrong for a role that demanded certain dare-devil vivacity coupled with gentle vulnerability.
The reason Soha has never been exposed so far is because she's always played herself in most films but here, she struggles. Looking at her made me feel for the first time how difficult acting can be made to look. It doesn't help that the entire film revolves around her! And here Mishra has to take some blame for wrong casting or at least for not succeeding in extracting a decent performance out of her. By comparison, the film's second lead, Sonia Jehan is far more expressive and has a genuine old world charm about her.
Shiney Ahuja is not as bad as he's been in some recent films, though it's annoying how he tries to put in so much intensity into the simplest of scenes. He again has a very underdeveloped, sketchy part. Rajat Kapoor has a meaty role and I thought he was the best thing about the film, though that isn't saying much.
Mishra's strength as a director has always been his ability to etch out uncoventional characters and throw them into a whirlpool of complex, ironic situations through an intellegent, irreverant narrative. Here, he picks up various threads but they're held so loosely that it just doesn't make the cut.
Stars: **

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Aaja Nachle film review

Going Mad(s)

Aaja Nachle

Produced by Yash Raj Films
Director: Anil MehtaStarring: Madhuri Dixit, Irrfan Khan, Kokana Sen Sharma, Kunal Kapoor, Akshaye Khanna, Divya Dutta, Yashpal Sharma, Raghuvir Yadav, Ranvir Shourie
Written by: Jaideep Sahni

Whatever the commercial fate of some of their films, this is clearly turning out to be an excellent year for Yash Raj in terms of them offering quality cinema. Except for that synthetic boutique drama called Ta Ra Rum Pum and to some extent Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (though this film was hardly as bad as some critics made it out to be), the banner has more or less delivered on its promise.
And guess what, Aaja Nachle too makes it to my list of one of this year’s best films –yes, some notches higher than Om Shanti Om.
Dia (Madhuri Dixit) is the heart and soul of a theatre academy called Ajanta, passionately run by her guru ( Darshan Zariwala). When her parents reject her NRI boyfriend and fix her marriage with another man (Ranvir Shourie), Dia takes permission from her guru and flees to America with her lover. This being a small town, infamy is quickly brought upon the family who leave the place for good (This part, just like the central conflict, has a definite Chak De India hangover).

Many years later, when she hears of her guru dying and the theatre academy being n shambles, there’s a passionate urge in her to revive the place. Putting behind a bad marriage, she comes to India with her eight-year-old daughter to rekindle the town’s cultural spirit, a legacy under the threat of complete eclipse. The town’s hip, pizza-eating MP, Udaysingh (Akshye Khanaa) would rather give away the place (no one’s showing up at the theatre anyway, he reasons) for constructing a mall.When Dia counters him, Uday – caught between his undeniable attraction to such a gorgeous woman and his honest belief of the theatre holding no future for the town--- offers her a deal. If she can manage to raise a resident troupe in less than two months and enough people come to see her show, the academy wouldn’t be demolished.Dia agrees and the rest of the story moves on predictable course, with enough interesting characters and twists thrown in.Between creating an epic drama, other real-life subplots – ranging from shifty politicians to unrequited love to ‘how to get your guy interested in you’ kind of chicken soup drama spreads itself through the second half.

Obviously, the story is nothing unusual here –in fact, as I said its central conflict is very similar to that of Chak De India and Dia’s attempts at getting a troupe together is greatly reminiscent of Lagaan. What saves it from being banal—and by a fair margin that too--- is Jaideep’s Sahni’s efficient writing. Really, bringing this guy into the fray is the smartest thing Aditya Chora could have done.Not to add, it’s a highly textured narrative with delightful characters that lend the film a great deal of rustic charm and effervescence.

The film’s strength is also the fact that it has some of the best male cameos-all in one film. Akshaye Khanna is charming for sure but it’s really Irrfan Khan who once again delivers with great aplomb even in his brief role of a shrewd, suave businessman. Konkana Sen Sharma, as the bumbling girl turning babe under Dia’s sisterly tutelage and Kunal Kapoor, as the local ruffian are wonderful to watch.

Lastly, what can be said about Madhuri Dixit that has not been said before? While one always knew she wouldn’t disappoint as a performer, what struck me most was her flawless skin and taut body. And every time she smiles, I think I heard a collective sigh of an enthralled nation, only too happy to have their favourite daughter back.
So fine, the story breaks no new grounds and can broadly be classified as just as a feel-good film but I thought it makes two very important feminist statements (this is becoming a Sahni trait by the way, he just loves offering the centre stage to the women characters, doesn’t he?)

Dia is shown to be a divorcee but she doesn’t let that break her spirit and diverts her attention to the other passion in her life –theatre and dance. Most women, however successful professionally, tend to consider themselves as failures if their personal life collapses. Aaja Nachle, subtle yet strongly sends out a message that a bad marriage is not the end of the world for a woman.

SPOILER ALERT Again, the director Anil Mehta/writer show great maturity in the end when Dia is not shown overly eager when Akshaye Khanna shows interest in her. There is a suggestion that they might be together but nothing overt, signifying that a woman like Dia can still have her options open.
Also, another criticism against the film is that no art in their classical forms are being talked about in the film or are being shown. I think this kind of talk emerges from a certain puritanical attitude about arts and it being corrupted if it is served in a popular format. But yes, the question remains as to what happens to these cultural institutions without sustained patronage. That’s not something the film addresses at all.
The music is good in parts, the title song –used repeatedly for maximum impact works well. So does another love song with Konkona and Kunal. The songs could have been better but its fantastic title track makes up somewhat.
To reiterate, this is a pure family entertainer with enough moments and thrills to keep one engaged. At the boxoffice, Aaja Nachle will be a slow starter but families among others will effortlessly take to this film, making it a commercial success in the days to come.
Stars: ***1/2

What the stars mean:
*: Yuck, what was that!?
** :See it only if you must
***: Neat film
****: Excellent
*****: Send this straight to the Oscars!