Friday, November 27, 2009

De Dana Dunce?

Director: Priyadarshan
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Suneil Shetty, Archana Puran Singh, Paresh Rawal, Sameera Reddy, among others
Stars: **1/2

All those people berating Akshay Kumar films for being no brainers, be warned! With De Dana Dan, the actor takes his revenge with a film that puts you through a test for recall ability. So you get a film about supreme confusions all arising out of supreme silliness but you can't get past it unless you follow it! Take that!

Like it's title suggests, there's great rapidity to the action with douzens of characters getting thrown into all kind of confusing events, most of them brought about by their own stupidity, rather than any real situational comedy.
It comes closest to the director's earlier, Hungama (infinitely funnier ) and Garam Masala in the number of sub plots and characters you are expected to keep track of. De Dana Dan offers a few good chuckles and some deftly executed action-comic sequences, but essentially it's a long-drawn 2 hr 40 mins (!) marathon episode about mistaken identities and ensuing chaos.

To its credit, the film starts very well and stays on course right till the interval point. Nitin Bankar (Akshay Kumar) is leading a wretched life in Singapore as Man Friday to a super rich, stingy corporate czarina (Archana Puran Singh). She makes him slog it out in her house, treating him shabbily, in return for an unpaid loan. These portions are hilarious, especially the episode with Archana's pet dog who she treats as surrogate owner of the house, reverentially refering to him as Moolchandji. This is an interesting subversion where Akshay gets treated like the (under)
dog and the dog, like royalty.

Ram Mistry (Suneil Shetty), who comes to become an actor years ago, is now into courier delivery service and is generally unhappy with his lot. Both of them have rich girlfriends (Katrina, Sameera), who are under pressure from their families to get married to rich grooms. So before it's too late, Ram and Nitin need to get enough money. They hit upon a plan to kidnap Archana's dog, so as to extract a hefty ransom. Meanwhile, Sameera's father (Mohan Joshi) fixes her marriage, and a big group of his guests and relatives check into a five star hotel. The entire sequence of events from here on are restricted to this one location.

The film covers a fair bit of the comic drama before the interval itself, which means many of the post-interval portions start to seem repetitive. There are of course funny dialogues and scenes that elevate the film every now and then, but the entire action set in one hotel --- with characters moving in and out of rooms, dashing into people, and other things, mistaking one for another --- becomes a bit too cumbersome to watch after a point. And what's with that awful climax with a flood situation in the hotel following a bomb explosion. There's so much water, the Bhatts would have been delighted to save up money on
Tum Mile sets and shoot here instead.

Comedy of errors are seldom easy to write or execute, but Priyadarshan gives it a decent shot. If the film does not work completely, it's because it is way too long for a comedy of this kind. Many of the confusions arise only because the characters conveniently insist on behaving in the most daft manner (they take everything on face value, without double checking) letting themselves get conned.

Akshay Kumar has his comic timing perfectly in place. His expressions in some of the songs are priceless. Archana Puran Singh comes up with an original, convincing performance, as does Neha Dhupia in a spit-fire avatar. For a good 30 minutes, Akshay misses from the film in the middle, and it's left to the supporting cast to take over. This is an ensemble film in every respect, with Paresh Rawal, Manoj Joshi and others having more screen time in the second half than the leads.

The music is okayish. The film would have benefited immensely with a better soundtrack.
All in all, like a good joke stretched too far, De Dana Dan also overstays its welcome.
-Sandhya Iyer

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vidya Balan interview

Discovering with Paa

Vidya Balan talks about how Paa awakened her maternal instincts, her equation with the Bachchans and why working with director R Balki was so special

What was your first reaction when director Balki narrated the script and your role in Paa?

The first reaction was that of disbelief. I was totally taken in by the story and the role. My first instinct was to go for it, but there were doubts too. At this age and at this stage of my career, I wondered if this was warranted – playing mother to a 13-year-old. And that too to Mr Bachchan! That's when I turned to my sister's husband, who I always rely upon to give me objective advice. He said, 'What is preventing you?' I also spoke to my manager, Sanjay who had the same thing to say. He was like, 'You keep looking for different roles to do, and this one is literally standing in front of you...dancing in front of you' (laughs). So these talks really helped me. But beyond that, it was Balki's conviction and steadfastness in achieving something so unimaginable and unbelievable drove me to take up the film.

In the past you have said 'no' to projects you were not convinced about. Sudhir Mishra was very angry when you refused Khoya Khoya Chand, citing that you could not grasp the character...


So obviously, your own conviction in the project and role must be of paramount importance to you. Considering how different the script looks to be, and the demands of your own character, how did the final leap of faith come about?

Balki was sure of what he wanted. He had these three characters in mind – Abhishek, Mr Bachchan and me and he told me that even if one of us wouldn't agree to the film, he won't make the film. I didn't want to be emotionally blackmailed by that line (smiles), so I took a lot of time before I said yes. I got all the hurdles out of my mind. Because once I start working on a film, I don't like to be assailed with those doubts. But I am so happy I did the film. Like I said during Lage Raho Munnabhai – that it would be a film I could proudly show my grandchildren, Paa is also just the kind of film I will always cherish.

The film is about a rare disease, progeria. In the film, you are not only playing a mother for the first time, but also living with the feeling of nurturing a child with a serious and an incurable ailment. This must have been quite a challenging part to essay....

Absolutely! The fact that Mr Bachchan's character has progeria is an important background in the film, but it is not the film. As a mother, she will always protect her child, asking him if he's eaten well, slept well, had enough water. For her, he's the perfect creation of god. So when she realises that her son looks much older than her – not just physically, he even 'feels' older – it is very difficult to deal with. It is very disturbing. But, Vidya – my character in the film – does not feel any particular sympathy or pity. Yes, there is a certain sensitivity but she takes complete pride and joy in motherhood. Auro completes Vidya. She is his lifeline, and this is a feeling that anyone in the world can instinctively connect with.
I share a very close relationship with my mom, so those emotions I could superimpose into the role. Apart from that, I had to portray affection and ownership towards the child and it had to come through the body language. The words - as Balki has written them- can't convey it. It was difficult because this was a 13-year-old child, so I couldn't peck him on the cheek all the time to show affection. Guys that age don't like it much...

How was your rapport with Mr Bachchan through the making of the film...
There was a respectable distance of course, but once we were on the sets, he was Auro for me. I didn't see Mr Bachchan in him at all. You know, once I went to wish him while he was shooting for Rann, since I was in the same studio. It was so strange to see him as he really is! He really transformed into Auro – he hates girls...he's adorable!

You seem completely overwhelmed with the experience...
Oh yes! You know, I used to get scared to even pick up someone's child. It's not like I didn't like kids but I just felt wary about carrying them. They always cry when they come to me. But Paa really awakened my maternal instincts. And I am not saying it for a quote! It was a life-changing experience for me. I think when I will have a kid of my own and it takes its first step, I will have a heart-attack. It's really something to be a mother when you are not one.

Any research that went into the character?
I read the script a few times. Then I saw a couple of documentaries on the disease, to get a complete idea of what Auro has been through! It was important for me to create a back story in my mind. Besides that, her character is that of a gynecologist, so she's expected to be well-informed. I visited a clinic, and the patients were kind enough to let me observe them as they interacted with the doctors. All that emotionally prepares you for the role.

Balki said that the idea of the film came to him when Abhishek and Amitabh came to meet him during Cheeni Kum. Abhishek was all serious, while Amitabh behaved like the kid. Obviously, the whole idea of how 'the child is the father of the man' is interesting as much as it is subversive, but is there a fear that the film could be engaged in projecting the Bachchans' real life chemistry/relationship more than anything else.....

One wonderful thing about Balki is that he realises that cinema is larger-then-life. So he uses that, and deftly weaves in emotions that are relatable. Look at Cheenu Kum. It talk of a very rare situation, where you have a 34 year old woman and a 64 year old man in a relationship, and yet it works. If you knew Balki, you would see him in every scene of Paa. His personality is an unmistakable part of the film. In the ad world, he's a magician and is very revered. My sisters started her career working for him and she would always be raving about him. I used to be like 'why is he so great?' But after I worked with him, I understand why people admire him so much' He lives to make cinema, but he lives! With all due respect to many other filmmakers, they stop living to make films. Balki is so chilled out. He will take off on a sudden holiday with his wife, he's the coolest guy to his assistants and yet everyone knows who the boss is!

What about Abhishek Bachchan? The promos suggest you've made a great pairing with him...

Thank you so much. There is something about Abhishek's eyes that stirs you...they have so much depth. As an actor, since he never rehearses, you don't know what to expect from him. He's like this volcano waiting to burst. He's a complete live-wire and a switch on-switch off actor!

Your next is Ishqiya with Naseeruddin Shah...for long, you've been saddled with goody goody roles. This must have been a good change...

See, it's important to understand that there can be shades and facets to being a good girl also. Having said that, I really enjoyed playing the bad girl in Ishqiya. Where did it come from? Well, the bad side is very much inside me, as much as it is in everyone! There is a Rambha, Durga, Kali in all of us and we call upon them when it's required.

Lastly, you seem to struggle a bit playing the conventional heroine. Is the whole decking up and excessive designer look entirely up your your alley?

I don't like people dressing up Vidya Balan – that is not something that excites me. If I had to do that, I didn't have to be an actress. But I enjoy the whole process of working on my character and that involves the whole look. Then I am very excited. But I have learnt from my mistakes. Every episode has taught me what works for me and what doesn't.

Ironically, even though you are probably one of the most real/relatable actresses out there, you are still viewed as unconventional by Bollywood standards. Does that affect the kind of work that is offered to you?
I think it's very difficult even to play frivolous roles and look good. I will never think of it as easy. I believe heroines in the past have got some really fantastic and progressive roles. Look at the roles Nutan, Meena Kumari got to do. Then there was this period of anonymity for the women characters post Bachchan and the Hema Malini phase. But I think slowly things are changing. I'm certainly game for more challenges.
-Sandhya Iyer

Friday, November 20, 2009

Kurbaan review

Blood, gore and what a bore!

Starring: Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi, Om Puri, Kirron Kher
Director: Renzil D'silva
Stars: *1/2

The tag line of the film's title reads, 'some love stories have blood on them' –but where is the love story? It has a lot of blood of course, but is wasted on a terror drama that is both predictable and vacuous. Kurbaan borrows elements from New York and the initial parts, shot in Delhi, is reminiscent of Fanaa. But this Karan Johar produced film neither has the prim liveliness of a Fanna nor does it engage you like New York. There is an utter sense of deja vu and ennui to the story. And what makes it unbearable is that debutant director Rensil D'silva approaches the script with high seriousness, inserting arty-looking visuals and creating a forced sense of drama (the last scene where Kareena cries out looks like a farce ) when the film has clearly nothing new to say.

The film's subject once again points at the circle of violence concerning America vis a vis Islamic nations. But it has no fresh insights to offer, nor can the film make up its mind whether it wants to go ahead with the terrorism theme or milk the presence of 'it' couple, Saif and Kareena. The much-talked about backless scene and kissing scenes have no resonance with the rest of the story. In fact, the passion and simmering chemistry that Saif-Kareena (over) exude in the beginning looks rather unnecessary in the context of the story.

Avantika (Kareena Kapoor) is a professor at a University (this has little or no relevance to the story later). In less than a few meetings, she falls in love with her colleague, Ehsaan. Their love story takes off in fast forward mode and it isn't altogether convincing the manner in which they quickly decide on marriage and move to New York. You hardly get a sense of who these two people are, so even an intensely romantic song like Shukran Allah fails to evoke any real feeling.

Once in New York, the couple set up their home. The domestic scenes remind you of Revolutionary Road (several visuals and scenes seem derived from Hollywood flicks). But soon enough, there is trouble, as Avantika discovers an ugly truth about Saif – he's a jehadi, who along with his father and brothers, is planning for a major terrorist attack on the US. So why did he marry Avantika? The juvenile explanation is that Saif conspired the whole University romance because he wanted to be a US citizen “legally only” and that was possible by marrying her. And in another scene you are shown how dreaded a terrorist he is! Surely he didn't have to put in this much effort for so little! Don't let your sense of plausibility be outraged just yet, because there's a lot in the film that defies logic. Masood, (Vivek Oberoi) is a journalist, who enters Ehsaan's clique so that he can thwart their plans to bomb the city. It's strange how he doesn't bother checking up on Masood's background when he joins. Which terrorist outfit works in such a shoddy way? Equally frustrating to watch is the Saif-Kareena 'now-we-are on, now-we-are-off' romance.

The performances are all fairly good, though the weakness really lies in the plot and the characterisation. For example, Saif's character is inscrutable till the very end. Kareena, surprisingly, has little to do in the film. Also for someone who is a professor is psychology in the movie, she seems to have very little understanding of human motives! As for Vivek, it's nice to see him after a while, though one wishes he could bring some variation to his standard expressions.

This film has to go down as a failure for Karan Johar, who seemed to be acquiring some kind of an edge with Dostana and Wake Up Sid.
Rensil D'silva came into limelight for writing Rang De Basanti, which had its own set of flaws. Yet, even with its muddled climax, it had a core message that made a definite impression. None of that can be said about Kurbaan, which is not just half-baked, but also completely devoid of a voice!
-Sandhya Iyer

Friday, November 13, 2009

Review: Tum Mile

Where's the flow!

Starring: Emraan Hashmi, Soha Ali Khan
Director: Kunal Deshmukh
Rating: **

Mixing of genres can often be tricky, because there's always a chance of the story seeming disjointed. In Tum Mile, while the Mumbai '05 floods add some curiosity value to the film -- which is otherwise an out an out love story -- there is no natural intermingling of these two genres. It could have been any crisis at any place in which these two lovers meet after a period of estrangement and it wouldn't have made a difference. This lack of resonance is one of the reasons why the film doesn't really work as a love story-cum thriller.
Also, unlike Mumbai Meri Jaan, where the sense of pervading dread comes across effectively, partly due to the universality of the subject and the handling of it, in Tum Mile the connection with the city is weak -- as the floods can easily be viewed as an isolated crisis.

Kunal Deshmukh intercuts between the past and the present, trying to balance between the two genres from the very first scene. The weather department in Mumbai gets the signal of the impending crisis but takes it casually. The film then cuts to Emraan Hashmi who is flying to Mumbai and notices his ex flame Soha sitting in a seat nearby in the plane. Through numerous flashbacks, you are acquainted with their past lives. The back and forth lends the film a much-needed sense of urgency, and Tum Mile stays pretty much on course (or at least mildly engaging) till the last 35-40 minutes, when it goes awry.

In Cape Town, Akshay (Emraan Hashmi) is an aspiring painter, where he meets the bold, rich and independent Sanjana (Soha Ali Khan). The two get drawn to each other, in spite of the difference in their economic status. Gradually, they start living together and the couple seem perfectly happy, until Akshay starts becoming conscious of living off his girlfriend. There is a final break-up when one of them wants to move to Sydney. This of course is the flashback, that is intercepted with them meeting again after six years on the fateful day of the Mumbai floods.

All through the film one is never unduly concerned about the floods (the water doesn't even look that natural). Where one is indeed invested in is the love story, which Deshmukh tackles quite well, peeling the layers slowly and gently with compassion. On the face of it, there is nothing terribly fresh in the portrayal of the slow breakdown of a relationship. We've seen that in many films, and yet, Tum Mile stands out for its contemporary and realistic treatment of the complexes and dilemmas faced by couples today. It's refreshing to see people in the film talking and behaving like one encounters in everyday life.

As much as the love story is languorous, Deshmukh hurries through the last 30 minutes. It's not convincing why the couple had to separate earlier. Also, many of the flood scenes are reminiscent of what one saw in Titanic with water gushing through the walls -- even as the couple searches for keys in neck-deep water. Deshmukh tries his best to infuse gravitas to the flood situation - Emraan's friend gets electrocuted due to a short circuit! But save for one scene, where Soha gets trapped in her car, there is no real dread you feel as a viewer.
The music of the film is hummable, but it is also too generic. This film could have truly benefitted with a superior soundtrack and background score, given that the story strives hard to evoke nostalgia. Also, the dialogues - which are generally the high point in Bhatt films - are surprisingly commonplace and lame in this one

Yet, if the film is a decent one time watch, it is thanks to the credible performances. Soha gets a very meaty part and she does justice to it, making her character very believable. Emraan continues to play the hassled guy, so not much freshness there. In fact, his act looks repetitive.

Deshmukh has today's sensibilities which serves him well in the film. But if Tum Mile doesn't work very well in the end, it is because the mixing of genres leaves the audience with a muddled feeling. Ultimately, the Bhatts too - like rest of Bollywood- seem to be going through a phase of narrative exhaustion.
- Sandhya Iyer

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Review Wake Up Sid

Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Konkona Sen Sharma, Anupam Kher, Supriya Pathak and Rahul Khanna
Directed by: Ayan Mukerji
Stars: ***1/2

Siddharth - the new enlightenment

A filmmaker can only convincingly create that world which he has closely seen or lived in. So you have Farhan Akthar and Karan Johar recreating their affluent South Bombay lives in their films, where men and women have little to worry beyond the affairs of the heart.

Wake Up Sid walks the same path, where your protagonist is a lazy brat, spoiled with luxuries and clueless about the practical side of life. The guy gets up late, ignores the elaborate breakfast that is brought to him, keeps partying till the wee hours, is curt to his adoring mother, chomps pizzas and leaves his room in a mess, fails in his exams….

The film has a familiar template and it would have probably been difficult to sympathise with a slothful rich kid like Siddharth (Ranbir Kapoor), — when so many youngsters clearly do not enjoy those privileges —- had it not been for director Ayan Mukerji’s deft and mature handing of the subject.

Mukerji probably feels closer to Siddharth’s universe in real life, but unlike Johar or even Farhan, Wake Up Sid casts a more incisive look into the significant ‘other’ – a largely middle-class society where nothing is easy to achieve and everything comes with its share of responsibility and sacrifice.
Also, the film succeeds in bringing out certain facets of today’s generation. Siddharth’s mother (Supriya Pathak - superb) tries hard to be friends with her son, but her lack of sophistication and struggle with English irritates him and he’s often callous towards her. She gently says to him, ‘Bring some organisation to you room beta’ when she sees it all messed up. This humble background of the mother proves essential later when Sid’s father (Anupam Kher – wonderfully restrained) in an emotional showdown with his son tells him how they’ve come up the hard way to achieve the life he’s taking for granted.

The film stays on an interesting track when Sid leaves his house in anger to stay with good friend, Aisha (Konkona Sen), an independent girl aspiring to be a writer. She’s older than him and treats him like a kid friend. For the longest time, there is nothing but friendship between the two and this is brought out really well in the film. The only wrong note here is Aisha joining a magazine as an assistant to the editor. She argues about this in the film but still it’s not clear how getting coffee and clearing her boss’ (Rahul Khanna) desk would help her in anyway. But that glitch apart, nothing really hits a wrong note in the film.

The narrative is seamless and though there isn’t much action by way of story happening, there’s a definite appeal to the quotidian urban life that is portrayed. The emotional scenes, without slipping into melodrama, manage to touch a chord. It’s after a long time that a mother-son relationship has been so well captured.

Since your sense of probability is never outraged in the rest of the film , the resolution to the Aisha- Sid story appears a bit sudden. You are not entirely convinced they are meant to be together. The last 15 minutes is probably the weakest part of the film.

But again, commendable efforts are made by the writers to bring about a transformation in both characters. To start with, Aisha is enamoured by her ‘mature’ boss, but his intellectual arrogance makes her appreciate Sid’s instinctive, child-like joyousness all the more. She is gently chided by her boss at a Jazz event for not appreciating ‘good music’ and she returns home to see Sid giggling with a kid over a scene from Mr India.

Of course, the film wouldn’t have been what it is without Ranbir. It is to his credit that he brings a fair amount of freshness to a character that has been attempted before (first by Aamir in Dil Chahta Hai and then Hrithik in Lakshya). But there is a difference. Aamir in DCH is a smug character, even if he lives off his father. Hrithik does the same, but in a desultory manner and seems trapped in his sloth. There is self-disdain and self-pity. Ranbir’s character in Wake Up Sid comes closer to Hrithik’s role in the sense that he isn’t proud of the life he’s leading. But one can’t help but say that Ranbir is the more natural actor here, because he easily ‘becomes’ the character. With Hrithik, it was a ‘performance’. Also, compared to Aamir and Hrithik, who played the character when they were in their 30s, Ranbir looks more appropriate age-wise.

This also should count as one of Konkona’s better performances. Rahul Khanna looks far more comfortable in the part of the editor than Bobby Deol could in Dostana.
Ultimately, Wake Up Sidis a wake up call for a class of today’s youngsters who desist from taking on responsibility. It also works out to be a thoroughly enjoyable film.
- Sandhya Iyer

Friday, November 6, 2009

Film Review: Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani

Frothy fun all the way

Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Upen Patel and Darshan Jariwala
Director: Raj Kumar Santoshi
Rating: ***

Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani may never have officially claimed to be a sequel to the 90s cult hit, Andaz Apna Apna, but it is, in fact, a cocktail of frothy romance and giddy-headed comedy in the same vein. The hilarious ‘purish nahin, aap mahapurish ho’ dialogue is altered to ‘toph kya aap toh pop ho’ here.

The playful ‘Elloji sanam’ is evoked in the background….two rival gangs hatch a kidnapping plan, there’s an ineffectual don a la Crime master Gogo and the climax has all the riotous, slapstick fun elements one saw in Raj Kumar Santoshi’s earlier comedy.It probably isn’t as zany as Andaz Apna Apna, but it still confidently holds up well as a frolicsome joyride, weaving a charming tapestry of quirky episodes. The comic-book touch enables Ajab… to work as part comedy and part fantasy, and the result is a feather-light, feel-good film.

Prem (Ranbir Kapoor), having left his schooling half-way, spends his time goofing around with friends and running a club that tries to bring together lovers. One such instance brings him close to Jenny (Katrina Kaif), a recent entrant in his neighbourhood. The two become friends, with Prem making several life-style changes in a bid to win her over.
There is a rather charming touch to their characters, where both stammer whenever they get upset or emotional. Santoshi makes the romance kick in a tad too quickly, where the couple fight and the episode is followed by a song.He introduces a few twists and turns along the way, but they seem too trivial to cause a serious impediment to the love story. This is where the film’s path diverges slightly from something like an Andaz Apna Apna, which could revel in its silliness without a care. This being a love story, however flippant it maybe, one is expected to invest a little more in the characters’ lives and their emotional somersaults. However, the script and essential lightness of the narrative makes it difficult for you to really sympathise with Prem and Jenny’s affairs. There’s complete absence of any real drama or conflict.

Yet, the film stays enjoyable if you’re willing to go with a non-serious love story interspersed with peppy songs, charming lead stars and goofy fun. In the climax (a very extended one), you have a sequence where Ranbir is fighting the goons all alone and Katrina in a bid to help him, swings the baton too. But it always ends up hitting Ranbir instead of the bad guys. So after two or three mishaps, Ranvir grabs her shoulders and says, “Tum mere side se ho ya unke…Jaake kone me baitho’. There are many such cute moments.

Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani is another great showcase film for Ranbir Kapoor, who displays his fine abilities not just as an actor, but as a dancer too. There is great assuredness about him as an actor, but one also gets the sense that there is something lacking in terms of originality in his act. There’s too much studied proficiency to his performance, and this brings a certain emotional disconnect with his character.

Katrina Kaif, natural as always, shines in the part of the lovely Christian girl. The actress always works her charm in characters that are somewhat extensions of her own personality. Upen Patel looks bulky and ill-at-ease. The episode involving him and Katrina is not so bad, but Santoshi resorts to quick contrivances in the end. Darshan Jariwala is superb!

The film should count as a successful attempt from Raj Kumar Santoshi, who was running out of form for a while. Like all his films, this one too is a relatively lengthy film. Not a film that will stay with you, but a perfect date movie nevertheless.
-Sandhya Iyer