Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Summary - Hindi cinema 2010

In a year where most big budget films came a cropper or severely fell short of expectations, it was the smaller films and debutant directors who salvaged what was otherwise an extremely average year

The crisis of content continues for Bollywood and with every subsequent announcement of a sequel or a remake, the industry underlines the fact that is stuck in a critical and commercial rut. In many ways 2010 was a brave year, where many big budget films tried to experiment with their subjects and themes. But since most of them failed at the boxoffice – mostly due to their own limitations of script and execution – and in contrast many some low IQ comedy dramas hit bull’s eye, the message that might have registered is that too much risk isn’t worth taking. This is dangerous for an industry that is fast losing a grip on an audience that is simply tired of enduring sub-standard, nonsensical tripe week after week. Amidst this bankruptcy of ideas, what kept the quality meter from fully dipping were the small-budget films and debutant makers, who infused some fresh life into a cinema that seemed to be plunging deeper under the weight of its mediocrity.

The year of small wonders

There were very few films that were outrightly excellent in 2010. Still, the Anurag Kashyap- Vikram Motwane film Udaan should rank as a commendable effort, that essayed a poignant coming-of-age story of a teenager, who has to reclaim himself from the hostile environment he finds himself in. The setting of the film – the industrial city of Jamshedpur with its fumes and heavy sounds – is a metaphor for this cruel interruption in the young protagonist’s tender, artistically-inclined existence. Ronit Roy, as the boy’s brutish father was a revelation in the film, and overall too, Udaan sparkled with credible performances and many of the scenes would count among the best of the year. Another gem was Do Dooni Chaar, that went largely unnoticed at the boxoffice. Starring Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, debutant Habib Faisal’s film was a satiric take on the teaching profession and the denizens of Delhi in general. His textured, witty writing extended to Yash Raj’s Band Baaja Baaraat, that proved to be one the better entertainers of the year, with spirited performances from its leads, Anushka Sharma and newcomer Ranveer Singh. Otherwise too, most of the good films that were released were the small budget ones. There was Road To Sangam, Phas Gaya Obama, Ishqiya, Tere Bin Ladin, Shahrukh Bola Khubsoorat Hai Tu, Peepli Live, Love Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD) – all of which experimented with different themes, and proved to be winners in their own right. Most of them did reasonably well at the boxoffice, but the high ticket rates and a general mind-set stuck on stars, continued to prove to be an impediment in their commercial success.

Big ones that didn’t make the cut

It’s one thing for small-budget films to aim to be different and non-mainstream. That in many ways is their raison d’etre. This year, however, many risks were taken by frontline production houses and directors, who attempted to push the envelope. The first name that comes to mind is Karan Johar who made My Name Is Khan with Shah Rukh Khan. Known for his frilly song and dance romantic sagas set in lush foreign shores, MNIK’s theme of a Muslim man’s appeal for justice and peace in a 9/10 world was a far cry from anything Johar had done before. The film -though ambitiously mounted and well-shot – needed a more masterful and mature handling to make a real impact. As it stood, it came across more as a bid for the Oscars. But nevertheless, a good departure for Johar and SRK even if the film didn’t make the cut. At the boxoffice of course, the film stayed afloat in India and did marvelous business overseas, courtesy its Muslim-sympathising theme and presence of superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
The other ambitious film that had a tough time with the mainstream audience was Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, attempting a captivating subversion of the Ramayana. Every bit an auteur’s work, Ratnam’s film had unmistakable moments of beauty, and a ravishing Aishwarya Rai at the centre. Southern star Vikram who played the second lead in the Hindi version, came with a smoldering presence that made every one of his scenes memorable. Sadly, Abhishek Bachchan as Raavan failed to register, as the actor floundered in an author-backed role that begged for a more solid actor who could portray effectively the various shades of this very complex man. Abhishek plays Raavan like a maniacal man-child, which would have been as valid as Vikram’s grim-brooder version in Raavanan if only he could have got into the head of the character.

Ashutosh Gowariker tried a well-intentioned historical film with Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se, but the film was so sapped of energy and depth, it proved to be a complete critical and commercial failure. Sanjay Leela Bhansali doggedly stuck to his operatic style of filmmaking with Guzaarish, a film about a quadriplegic who wishes to die. The film was a major departure for Hrithik Roshan, who has mostly been seen in larger-than-life avatars. The film had moments of passion and beauty, but Bhansali seemed interested only in the emotional purging of his characters, without providing enough coherence or arch to his story.

What worked!

The big hit of the year was undoubtedly Dabangg, followed by Raajneeti, Golmaal 3, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, I Hate Love Stories and Housefull. Neither of them came in for any great critical appreciation, but each of them had something or the other going for them. The only film that evoked some hysteria was Dabangg, courtesy a gallant performance from Salman Khan and a chartbusting sound track.

The Hype vehicles that crashed

There’s a long list of films that made the audience suffer. But leading the pack are two Akshay Kumar starrers, Khatta Meetha (terrible!) and Action Replay. His Tees Maar Khan has also had extremely mixed reactions, but nothing to beat the earlier two, which were torture chambers. Anees Bazmi tried to pull off another Welcome with
No Problem, but failed miserably. The idea that any multi-starrer comedy – however forced and unfunny – can work at the boxoffice was finally debunked. Hrithik Roshan’s Kites had been in news for almost three years and was supposed to be the star’s grand introduction to the West. But its uneasy mish-mash of theme and treatment found no takers and the film was a resounding flop.

Overall, it was a year where big ideas could not be adequately backed with equally compelling scripts. Hopefully, Bollywood will find its balance next year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tees Maar Khan

Director: Farah Khan
Stars: Akshay Kumar, Akshaye Khanna, Katrina Kaif, Apara Mehta, Sachin Khedekar
Rating: **1/2

Farah Khan's much-hyped Tees Maar Khan is sporadically a very funny film, but as a whole never really comes together. Akshay Kumar aka Tees Maar Khan is a self-proclaimed con artiste who when arrested and flown down by two CBI officers, locks up all the four pilots(!) while he uses the loo and then turns savior for everyone as he uses his special skills. How he actually achieves this con is glossed over and there's only a stylistic representation. So you never get into the head of this character or know why he's so clever. Once home, he lands up on the sets of a sleazy B grade film, where his girlfriend, Anya (Katrina Kaif) is a starlet. And this is the situation for Farah's all-eggs-in-one-basket song, Sheila Ki Jawani that never really rises beyond being a manufactured hit. Katrina tries too hard to be sexy and many of the body movements including one where she's heaving heavily behind white sheets are downright tasteless.

For one of his biggest con jobs, which involves a train robbery, Khan realises he can't do it without some serious man power and security. Hence he comes up with the idea of shooting a film on the location that would enable him to get to the loot. He approaches superstar Aatish Kapoor (Akshaye Khanna), who spends his time ruing how he missed Danny Boyle's call and thereby losing out on the Oscar moment. (One would know Farah's best friend turned foe Shah Rukh Khan had been offered Slumdog Millionaire. Later there's also a reference to SRK's 'back problem'). Once Kapoor agrees, what follows is a farce that quickly degenerates into the realm of the ludicrous and juvenile.

The central plot - copied entirely from the 1966s Hollywood film, After The Fox - sounds great on paper, but it's not the most easy idea to pull off. This needed a masterful screenplay and more than just a serviceable director with a bent for irreverent humour.
The story has ambition, but lacks in execution. In that sense, the film is about cleverness and ingenuity, but it been treated in a brain-dead, over-the-top and completely unrealistic way, which makes it fall flat.
On the plus side, there are more than a couple of sequences which are genuinely hilarious. In fact, some scenes including the 'Master India' - Mr India's son gone wrong, and the Manoj 'Day' Shyamalan sequences sparkle with imagination. The whole of the first half - in spite of its premise and characters being superficial - is still fairly entertaining.

But once the film-within-the-film part arrives, Tees Maar Khan loses steam. This is primarily because you don't for a second believe the characters or their situations. It becomes a spoof within a spoof, so you are never ever invested in the plot.
The songs are a sad let down. Farah's earlier, Om Shanti Om and Main Hoon Naa were never anything more than strictly time-pass fares, but they rode on the back of a peppy soundtrack and other effervescent highlights. The Sheila Ki Jawani number, the Salman item song ...all seem very forced this time. And the other numbers are not even worth a mention.
On the performance front, Akshay Kumar is earnest and does his job well. Katrina however gets the worst role of her career as the dumb, wannabe starlet and does a miserable job of it. Akshaye Khanna is funny in a role that requires him to go completely over-the-top.

The majority of the contribution for the film has come from Farah's husband, Shirish Kunder (script, screenplay, background, dialogues) as the end credits show - an Oscar ceremony where the entire team ends up winning. In the film, this team unintentionally end up making a classic. This is only asserted and not once do you sense this, which is why the film ends up being so lame.

There was perhaps a very good movie in Tees Maar Khan, but it's so absorbed in its flippant humour and spoofs, and so smart for its own good, that it ceases to be a life and blood film. For most part, it ends up being an unimpressive caricature of itself, though some of its humourous sequences are among the best of the year.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Film review: Band Baaja Baarat

Knot to be missed!

Director: Maneesh Sharma
Starring: Anushka Sharma, Ranveer Singh
Stars: ***1/2

Yash Raj's last release of every year is turning out to be their best. In 2008, they gave us Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, a charming film that has aged rather well. Last year, there was Rocket Singh and though it proved to be a non-starter at the boxoffice, it went on to amass plenty of critical acclaim. The banner often berated for high-gloss, shallow, assembly line commercial tripe have still been coming up at least one good film a year. And that film this year is Band Baaja Baarat. In a pleasant surprise, it hits all the right buttons. The script has vigour and swing, crackles with humour and for the better part of its running time, is very entertaining.

The film is set in Delhi, where Shruti (Anushka Sharma) having assisted her aunt as a wedding planer has plans of branching out on her own. She meets Bittoo (newcomer Ranveer Singh), who dreading having to go back and help his father in his sugarcane farms, pleads with Shruti to take him as her business partner. Once they start working jointly as wedding planners, they are an immediate success. They move on to bigger things and all seems well. High on success, both give way to their passion on a particular night. While Shruti falls headlong in love with Bittoo, the latter gets nervous and confused. His immaturity and bravado, in spite of his essential goodness, make him fail to recogonise love and he inadvertently hurts Shruti. Along with his North-Indian Jat machismo, there is also a hint of chauvinism in Bittoo's attitude. The couple separate acrimoniously and the rest of the story hinges on whether these two will ever come together again.

The film is set in the heart of Delhi - a city often defined by its ostentatious show of wealth, and the setting therefore compliments the theme of the film perfectly. The director does not satarise its denizens like how Khosla Ka Ghosla or Love, Sex Aur Dhokha did, but there are moments that gently touch upon the frivolity and excesses practised in high-profile weddings in the city. For example, there's a scene where an affluent family talks to a elite wedding planner about how it was embarrassing to see lilies instead of roses being showered on the groom. The wedding planner herself talks to prospective clients about how she likes to keep her wedding classy without the high-decible tackiness. There are such telling scenes that bring a smile to your face.

The detailing and authenticity keep the film rooted and likable. From the succulent bread pakodas that the characters bite into to the pitch perfect accent to the colourful local lingo, all of this helps to wonderfully bring out the atmospheric flavours of Delhi. The director has taken many fresh faces and extracts understated yet striking performances from all of them.
But the two actors leading the show are obviously Anushka and Ranveer. Both are highly effective in their parts and effortlessly 'become' their characters. Anushka has an especially meaty role and she shines in her part as she portrays all the contradictions in her character. Ranveer makes a smashing debut - extremely confident with a crackling comic timing. This film allows him to showcase his skills without it ever becoming a conventional Bollywood launch for a hero. The characters are all well-etched and the conflicts are all reflective of today's generation and echoes themes seen in Break Ke Baad and Love Aaj Kal, where the couples battle with their emotions vis a vis friendship and love, love and marriage and love and sex.

The film has no glaring flaws, but a better music score would have aided it greatly. It has 'Lut gaya...' which is its best bet, but all the others are sub par. The other niggling criticism is about the pre climax dance sequence with Shruti and Ranveer taking centre stage. Now, which wedding planners would have time to perform in such an elaborately choreographed dance sequence?

But on all other counts, this is a refreshing ride by all means.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Sikander Kher, Vishakha Singh
Stars: **1/2

No 'Jaan' in this Khel...

Ashutosh Gowariker probably meant well when he thought of bringing alive the Great Chittagong Uprising of the 1930s and the life of young Bengal revolutionary Surjya Sen who helmed it. The episode is not too well known and certainly, a figure like Surjya Sen ought to be more nationally recogonised. So the effort is commendable and sincere.

Unfortunately, Gowariker's execution is unbelievably flat and lacklustre. His actors are weak, there is no lived-in feeling to the characters and the period look is a fake. For one half of the film, the action just doesn't move and every actor (a whole bunch of unknowns) appears too self-conscious about being transported into a period set, wearing dhotis and speaking sanskritised Hindi. There is nothing organic about the characters' action and reactions, result being that the film comes across as a poseur. The film was shot in Goa, when it actually needed an authentic Bengal texture and topography. Deepika Padukone (horribly miscast) paints her nails in transparent gloss and makes sure to tantalisingly keep her shapely waist exposed in her starched cotton sari. This attempt to create an illusion of the real thing makes Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Say greatly disappointing.

The film captures a valiant chapter in history, where Surjya Sen (Abhishek Bachchan) along with his trusted friends, form a group of young revolutionaries, training them in guerrilla tactics. Many of them are impressionable teenagers and two of them are women (Deepika Padukone and Vishakha Singh). They plan an armoury raid, with the idea of launching an attack on the Britishers. They succeed only partially and soon enough, the British start chasing them down with a vengeance. The revolutionaries put up a brave fight, but not many survive in the end.

The first half, where the director tries to establish the setting is terribly drab. There's so much artificiality, with Deepika perennially standing like she's about to recite poetry, that you don't buy these characters at all. The screenplay again is limp. For example, there's an episode where Surjya Sen agrees to admit the two women into the fold - but only if they can prove themselves with a particular task. Gowariker spends a long time setting up this sequence, but there is no pay off, because the next thing you know the goal has been accomplished! How it was done you have no clue. The second half gets more interesting, but there's not much even here that is truly spectacular.

It's fine for Gowariker to recreate a period in history, but he ought to have added more depth and contemporary resonance to his narrative. The episode itself, about revolutionaries attacking the Britishers, was never going to be terribly unique -unless it had other interesting period narratives added to it. If nothing, the film should have rivetting characters to hold the drama. Khelenge...unfortunately has none of that. You don't ever feel for the characters, because Gowariker's characters are all so tepid. For a film about Surjya Sen, Abhishek Bachchan doesn't have one worthy scene or dialogue in the film.

This is certainly one of Gowariker's weakest and most sluggish films. The filmmaker needs to revisit his own Lagaan to see how to combine patriotic flavour with hard-hitting drama.