Friday, January 29, 2010

Film Review: Ishqiya

Nothing to lust after

Starring: Naseeruddin Shah, Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Rating: **1/2

There is a cliché about how some filmmakers get so consumed with getting the look of their film right, working towards that perfect camera angle and shot, that many a times the soul of their film is lost. Vishal Bharadwaj, for some time now, has been the torch-bearer for filmmakers aiming to please an audience with their fine story-telling, even as they impress with their ingenuity and craftsmanship. However, with Kaminey and now, Ishqiya - though it's Bharadwaj's assistant Abhishek Chaubey who wields the camera this time around -- one gets the sinking feeling that the filmmaker is increasingly choosing treatment and style over story. So even though Ishqiya gets everything right in terms of the look, it disappoints heavily in content.

The film - much like Omkara - is set in the turbulent, politically charged, violent interiors of Uttar Pradesh. Here, it's not uncommon to see little children running amuck with guns in their hands. But unlike Omkara, which in keeping with its story, had a dusty, parched look to it, the setting and mood in Ishqiya is more colourful and cheery. The street-side charms and local flavours are well captured, as you watch characters gorging on golas, kulfis and ragda pattice. The background music, with its use of raunchy, B-grade Bollywood numbers, creates the perfect ambiance of the disreputable world the three characters inhabit.

This is where the story begins, with a rather unconvincing marital scene between a young wife, Krishna (Vidya Balan) and her husband, a man fighting a violent, caste-war in that region. Being the leader of the gang, he is mostly busy and Krishna complains of his constant absence from home. The same night, her husband dies in a fire explosion. Krishna turns into a depressed widow. Two small-time criminals on the run - the sleazy, swaggering Babban (Arshad Warsi) and his uncle, Khalujaan (Naseer) escape their old-time enemy, and take shelter at Krishna's place. In quick time, both fall in love with her. Krishna herself is flirtatious, not entirely accepting or refusing either of them. A game of one-upmanship ensues between the two men, even as Krishna comes up with a plan to kidnap a businessman for ransom, which all finally ends with a revelation that is singularly lame.

Let's say the treatment is interesting and some individual scenes are great to watch. But good, engaging story, it is not! Like many Bharadwaj films, the dialogues, though succinct at places, are not audible enough. The motivations of the characters, particularly that of Vidya Balan, is not clear. The way the two men fall in love with her is also scarcely believable. You never really know why someone as promiscuous as Babban flips for the widow. And since this aspect never comes to the fore, you do not care much for his predicament later on. The film lacks dramatic tension throughout, and there is no great suspense created.

As for the performances, Vidya, as the mysterious widow, looks the part but never really becomes the character. One is not entirely convinced about her belonging to this world of bandits and part of the reason is her meditative, suave manner of speech. Even giving her a few expletives to mouth doesn't help the cause. Her equation with the two men is confusing all along - with her turning fiery, lusty, flirtatious by turns. This build up is not very convincing, but it's at least moderately entertaining. It's the utterly trite and filmy climax that leaves you cold. Moreover, the actor who plays Vidya's husband hams like crazy and singlehandedly ruins some key scenes.

Naseeruddin Shah underplays further an already subdued role, while Arshad Warsi plays to the gallery, and does so superbly. It is his lines and expressions that evoke the maximum laughter. And yet, you never really get a sense of the relationship these two men share.

Director Abhishek Chaubey proves his caliber in terms of creating a very lived-in, realistic setting. His style is too close to Bharadwaj for comfort, and he might need some more films to put an individual stamp to his work. Ishqiya also is too conscious of wanting to appear like a smart film, which is never a good thing.
Ultimately, Ishqiya ends up being nothing more than a series of short flings, certainly not the passionate affair one expected it to be.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Name Is Khan: Music review

Music Composers: Shankar-Ehsaan- Loy

If there's one thing that has been a constant with Karan Johar, it has been his terrific music sense. He has a keen ear for breezy, peppy chart-busters --- It's Time To Disco or Kaal Dhamaal, You are My Soniya, Rock N Rock are examples. But the quality that has proved invaluable for the success of his cinema is Johar's emotional staging of romances, that are weaved with rich, silken smooth musical melodies. The chorus, the profusion of sounds - all enable him to achieve the grandeur and larger-than-life picture he loves to create. The celebratory, playful tunes of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gum and even Kal Ho Naa Ho gave way to a pristine, haunting soundtrack with his last film, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna - a superlative one! Invariably then, Johar's music has wonderfully complimented with his stories, making the songs extremely important to his film's narratives.

Johar's latest My Name Is Khan understandably would have posed plenty of challenges before him and his favourite music composers Shankar -Ehsaan-Loy. The essential seriousness of the subject - the film is about an autistic Muslim man whose love for his wife is put to test, amidst the backdrop of the 9/11 terror attacks - somewhat restricts their scope in terms of variety and mood. They've opted for a familiar musical template, with hardly any invension in terms of instrumentation or sound. This makes the album somewhat generic with a certain sense of deja vu.
But commendably enough, S-e-L rise above some of these problems and lovingly put together six musical pieces, steeped in Sufi flavour, that make for consistently good hearing, and occasionally scale some gorgeously melodic peaks. I call them musical pieces because each song appears to be composed part by part, as if meant for different moments and moods in the film. So at least three of the best songs in the soundtrack - Sajda, Noor-E-Khuda and Tere Naina are all very long, with variations in tunes, orchestration and singers.

Sajda is already gaining popularity. Like most of the tunes in the film, this one too is kept simple and easy to hum. But with its earthiness ( brought out by singers Rahat Fatel Ali Khan and Richa Sharma), the classical notes, the awesome orchestration (after the mukhda), Sajda turns out to be a wholesome, rich song that will serve the film very well

Noor-E-Khuda starts out like any other breezy number, alternating between Shankar Mahadevan and Adnan Sami's voice. But it turns out richly rewarding, as the tune rises to a crescendo and then falls to a tragic strain... so that by the time Sami goes on a high pitch with 'rooh jam si gayi, waqt tham sa gaya' in that awesome voice of his, it gives you a few goosebumps. Shreya Goshal's rendition is another high point in the song. This is an elaborately structured song, with a definite emotional sweep.

Tere Naina again starts out in a simple way, only to reach a rare moment of high passion with 'Aise nainon ki baaton mein....' The song has its charm, though one starts to get the feeling that Shankar Mahadevan has overused his voice for the album. He's fabulous of course, just a case of too much of a good thing not being good.

The MNIK theme music is wonderful and one hopes to see some magic on screen with this.

From here on, the album somewhat loses steam. Allah Hi Rahem has a good hook to start off with but it falls short. Compare this with Vishal Bharadwaj's Tu Mere Rubaru for Maqbool and you'll know what's missing. The last one is Rang De which seems to be put together taking bits and pieces from the rest of the sound track.

The lyrics by Niranjan Iyengar is a mixed bag. There are a few lines of beauty, like this one, “Mujh pe barsi jo teri nigahen, Meri saason ne badli adayein' in Tere Naina - Lovely!
But overall, the lyrics don't act as a clutter-breaker at all in this album where all the songs are basically in the background and speak of the same thing -devotional love. So tiresomely, every song almost is an ode to the lady and her eyes! The lyrics only add to the feeling of repetitiveness.

Over all though, My Name Is Khan bristles with sincerity and has its moments of melody. Along with the film, the soundtrack will certainly make a bigger impact.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Review: Veer

Warrior prince wins the day

Starring: Salman Khan, Mithun Chakraborty, Zarine, Jacky Shroff, Sohail Khan, Puru Rajkumar among others

Director: Anil Sharma
Rating: ***

At a time when Bollywood isn't willing to look beyond light comedies and frothy romances for box-office and other reasons, Veer is literally a brave departure from that trend. Also, considering that historicals and period dramas turn out to be expensive propositions, producers tend to give the genre a wide berth. Which is why when someone sets out to make it, and does so satisfactorily, one ought to commend it. Save for a definite lack of finesse and some wrong casting choices, Veer turns out to be quite an enjoyable film, if not a great one. It combines myth, history, legend, nationalism, mythology, tapping well into the collective consciousness. And though it functions within familiar, age-old templates, it surprisingly prevents itself from slipping into clichés.

The film is directed by Anil Sharma, who gave us the mighty, epic-scale Gadar in 2001. While the story belongs to Salman Khan, the screenplay and dialogues are by Shaktimaan – who also wrote Gadar. The other writers of the film are Sailesh Verma and Krishna Raghav. The names deserve a mention because a film of this kind relies heavily on research and writing. There is a Gadar hangover for sure – the train sequence, the heroine's souvenir, the different time spans it covers and so on – but fortunately, Veer picks some of that film's strengths rather than weaknesses. The rhetoric and jingoism isn't as offensive here, as it was in the Sunny Deol starrer.

The film starts with an introduction to the Pindari clan, a large group of feisty, local warriors, who get betrayed by an evil king (Jackie Shroff) of the region. He joins hands with the Britishers and unleashes a war on the clan, killing many. The Pindari chief (Mithun) decides to avenge this treachery by gathering more support and meanwhile preparing his own son, Veer (Salman Khan) for it. Veer grows up to be a rebellious, daring soldier. Along with his brother (Sohail Khan) he is packed off to England for education, so that the clan is better equipped to deal with the British. Here, Veer falls in love with an Indian Princess (Zarine), and as it turns out, she's the daughter of the clan's biggest enemy.

Salman has said the story was inspired from a Russian novel. Still, the actor appears to have a sense of drama – which comes to the fore especially in the second half, when he sets up the romance quite interestingly. The Princess is anointed the heir and she must now decide between her allegiance to her kingdom and her lover.
The second half is a little stretched out, but there are enough moments in the film to keep it engaging. The dialogues are good, the humour is subtle and the war sequences are breathtaking.

Also, one ought to respect the film somewhat for its choice of climax. So even though Veer is a local warrior, by the end of his journey, his character assumes nationalistic hues. Veer easily challenges Mangal Pandey as the more virtuous, brave and splendid first war-hero of Independence.

But the film is not without flaws. Even though there are plenty of shots that are splendidly executed, the portions where 19th century England has been recreated look quite spurious. The scenes are too brightly-lit, the colours and sets are garish, with no lived-in feeling, and overall, there is a lack of finesse.

The casting is a mixed bag. Salman is the apt choice for the role and he is in great form. He has written a dream role for himself and carried it off with aplomb, bringing both panache and plausibility to his character. Mithun Charaborty is in fine fettle, as is Puru Rajkumar, as the Princess' haughty brother.
Debutant Zarine was clearly chosen for her resemblance to Katrina Kaif. That doesn't help at all, except make her look like a poor man's Kaif. Also, someone should have really got her to lose some weight. She looks huge even next to Salman!
As for Sohail Khan – who keeps piggy back riding on his brother– he continues to make the same unfunny expressions that he's been making since Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya days.

A word on Sajid-Wajid's wonderful music for the film. The composers have done an ace job, and must say, Anil Sharma has used the songs excellently in the film.

Finally, Veer – even with its weakness – works out to be a well-told story about a valiant hero and his thrilling adventures. Not bat at all, and full marks to the makers for attempting it.

-Sandhya Iyer

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Interview with Siddharth

Siddharth, who made a splash with Rang De Basanti, returns with Striker again. He talks to Sandhya Iyer on why he stayed away from Hindi films all this while and how he has enormous hopes from Striker

Siddharth, as the brooding cynic in Rang De Basanti, became an immediate sensation when the film released in 2006. However, the star did a disappearing act and went back to his Telugu films soon after. Beyond the gossip concerning his now-on-now off relationship with Soha Ali Khan, there was no news of him and one wondered if he had given up on his Bollywood dreams altogether. Now, as it turns out, the actor is back with Chandan Arora’s Striker that releases on November 5.

So where was he all this while, we ask him. Male stars from the South have mostly struggled it find a firm footing in Bollywood and Siddharth just seemed to throw it all away. The actors accounts for his absence by saying he was waiting for the correct film, among a few other reasons. “Rang De Basanti was a lovely experience. None of us expected it to become the kind of success it became. And I was also happy to break into the industry. But after RDB, I set my expectations very high. I also wanted to consolidate my position in Telugu films. I had just started out there and didn’t want to be a passing cloud. Now, I am a bonafide star in Telgu cinema, so that is not a worry. From a long time, I was waiting for the correct Hindi film. I wanted to play the solo hero, also I didn’t want a role that was an extension of RDB. So when Striker came along, I felt it satisfied all the criterias,” he says, speaking with great rapidity.

One believes he was also offered films like Rock On!! and Delhi 6, which he turned down? “ Yes, there were these films, and Hook N Crook also, which I didn’t do. I feel one has to do a film for the right reasons. I don’t regret those films, whether they turned out to be very good or very bad. I turned them down for my reasons,” he stresses.

Talking about why he accepted Striker, he says, “I had loved both of Chandan Arora’s earlier films ( Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon and Main Meri Patni Aur Woh.) and wanted to work with him. We were in talks for another film actually and during the pre-production, he narrated a few scripts to me, and Striker was one of them. It was the best script I had read and we decided to go ahead with this one,” he says.

The film set in the mid-80s in a Bombay ghetto in Malvani. The protagonist, Surya (Siddharth) is born into a poor family and often suffers from poor health, which confines him indoors. His brother introduces him to the game of carrom and he proves to be an ace in it. As he grows older, he’s keen to find a job in Dubai – as was the trend among the youth of the ghetto in the 80s – but gets duped by the employment agency. All his hard-earned money is lost, Surya is forced to cross paths with Jaleel, a shady, feared figure in the ghetto. He is introduced to the underworld carrom scene by a friend, and the rest of the story is about how Surya takes on Jaleel on his own turf.
Corrom is used as a metaphor in the film, one that points at human relationships and its ups and downs.

According to Siddharth, Chandan’s biggest quality as a director is his attention to detail and his honest sense of story-telling. “This is a huge film for Chandan and I can tell you that the film will bring him a lot of success. And in the future he will be able to make exactly the kind of films he wishes to do,” he says.

Doing his own kind of films seems to be one of the actor’s priorities and he isn’t humble about it at all. That’s one of the reasons why the actor is keen to do solo hero films. “It’s important that I become a salable star myself, so that I am able to do the films I like. I do not wish to be an ensemble-cast specialist or a shadow to someone. First I would like to set myself as a commercially viable solo actor, and then I don’t mind taking up all the ensemble cast films in the world. Look, in Telugu films, I can commission any script I like. I okay it and in three weeks, the film goes on floors. That’s what I want to achieve in Hindi films also,” he says.
Now that Siddharth has set his mind on a career in Bollywood, he says, he will be actively shuttling between the two industries – Hindi and Telugu. In fact, the actor is even looking for a home in Mumbai.

For now of course, he can’t contain his excitement over Striker, which he believes has turned out brilliantly. But what about competition from the biggie, My Name Is Khan that arrives one week after his film. Siddharth is quick to reply, “I think we underestimate the power of the boxoffice. It can accommodate even four big films at one time. And it’s good for the audience that they will get to see two beautiful films in one month. We feel very special that an extraordinary filmmaker like Karan Johar is releasing his film along with ours. It would be a nice feeling to see an Shah Rukh Khan poster at the same time as ours. Also, you won’t know where you stand unless you run the race with the big horses. We are happy to run this,” he says.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Film Review: Chance Pe Dance

A chance taken in vain

Director: Ken Ghosh
Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Genelia D'Souza
Stars: **

Director Ken Ghosh is best known for some of the wacky music videos he made in the 90s - one of them being the quirky Roop Tera Mastana remix where you had a housewife dancing with a broom in hand. Ghosh has a sense of the ludicrous, which adds freshness to his subject. But beyond that, the story of Chance Pe Dance is so serviceable and basic; it makes the film look like an extended music video. You can well forget things like a plot and climax.

Clearly, this is a collaboration of convenience for Shahid Kapoor and Ghosh who've come together for Ishq-Vishq and Fida earlier. Ghosh probably got the idea after the talent-hunt show he judged on television a few years ago. Dance has been incorporated into the theme so that Shahid can exhibit his skills and wonderfully toned body. Both Shahid and Ghosh however, have nothing new to offer.

Shahid plays Sameer, a struggling actor who finds his hopes getting dashed constantly. He gets his chance when a big producer-director, Rajeev Sharma (a hammy Mohnish Behl) sees him dancing at a club and offers to launch him. But commercial interests prompt the director to change his mind and he decides to go for a nation-wide talent-hunt show instead. This leaves Sameer broke enough to use his car as make-shift home and teach dancing at a school. There's a heavy sense of déjà vu in this story in which our struggler, after a few more hiccups, easily wins the contest and walks down the red carpet to his premiere in style with his lady-love (Genelia).
The ending of this film is so abrupt and sudden that one wonders if producers UTV pulled the plug on the film, asking the maker to wrap up things. Even otherwise, there is scant novelty to this subject. The wonderful Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon, the largely overlooked Kunal Khemu starrer Superstar and last year's Luck By Chance all offered keen insights into the workings of the film industry and poignantly captured the journey of their protagonists. Chance Pe Dance comes too late in the day and offers a token glimpse into the field.

Where it perhaps succeeds is in portraying the daily grind of a man trying to make it big in the city. Sameer keeps his bread under the iron to toast it. The portions where he lives in his car and hurriedly uses the school washroom in the mornings everyday gives an authentic sense of a struggle. With a subject such as this however, with no plot or real conflicts, the film ultimately turns out way too regular and pointless.

The film could have still been redeemable if it had a good enough music score. But Adnam Sami's music for Chance Pe Dance is utterly insipid. The electronic-techno music does nothing for the film.
A word on the dance – the world knows that Shahid is a great dancer, but he focuses so enormously on getting his moves perfect that the dancing doesn't appear too much fun. Strangely, in spite of being superior dancers, somehow neither Shahid nor Hrithik Roshan appear half as exciting as Govinda or Mithun. Could it be because they are too consumed in looking at dance as a serious craft, while the others just let themselves go?

Chance Pe Dance has a few fun moments, but in totality, it is mostly just an excuse of a film.

-Sandhya Iyer

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Interview with Ram Gopal Varma

The Dark Knight

In an exclusive interview to Sandhya Iyer, Ram Gopal Varma speaks about his forthcoming Rann and how he is itching to make an intense love story in his style

Ram Gopal Varma may be busy with his new film Rann at the moment followed by Phook 2 and Raktacharitra, but his restless mind is already onto other things. Prod him a little on the themes he would like to tackle in future and he reveals he's really keen on making a modern-day love story.
The only vibrant musical love story that Varma made was Rangeela a decade ago and the film went on to become a major craze.
How does he look back on the film, now that he's in a mood for a love story? “I tend to dislike most of my films when I revisit them. Within four-five months of their release, I start seeing flaws in them. I feel I could do it so much better now. But Rangeela is one film which I think works on every level. I like that film quite a lot,” he says.

“I strongly want to work on a realistic love story. But not the kind of romances that are made in Bollywood. I really don't know if these are love stories, they look like fairy tales to me. Too picture-perfect. You have good-looking people, shot in soft light, romancing in Switzerland-New Zealand kind of locations, singing songs. It resembles a thali plate to me. The other day I was looking over a beach and I saw a couple sitting together at 11 am. It was hot and they were sweating. These lovers were there probably because didn't have any other place to meet. If I make a love story, it would be on such a couple, ” he says.

He also believes true love can only strike post 40. “Teenagers don't fall in love – I am convinced of that. The idea itself is stupid. At that age, say 16-19, there is only lust and your hormones are at work. Only when that novelty wears off can you fall in love. True love comes with maturity, so post 40 it is more likely” says the filmmaker who is self-confessedly 'unsentimental' and 'unemotional'. “Maybe that is why I can be more objective about human relationships. Like a zoologist examining his animals. I see them from a distance. Which doesn't mean I don't understand them,” he adds.

Varma's detached attitude to relationships extends to his films as well. “I don't understand when people call their films 'my baby' or that 'they stand by their film' and so on. I am not attached to my films. What is a film ultimately? It is an idea and then you make a series of decisions to execute it. The director basically brings together various creative aspects -- music, technology, actors and puts his own stamp of taste and sensibility to it. Once it releases, it is someone else's film,” he says.

Turning to his new film Rann – an exploration into the world of media -- are there are many real-life references he's taken? “When a film is realistic, there are bound to be some references. For example, I based Amitabh Bachchan's character on Prannoy Roy to begin with. For me, there was something incredibly sincere when he started out. I wanted to create the same aura and impact. So to that extent, I have used real-life references, but all the characters are a combination of many people I've seen. It has been mostly used to create a particular impact around a character,” he tells us.

He quickly clarifies that it was not his personal experience with the media that prompted him to make the film. “I haven't spoken about the entertainment media at all. I have only dealt with the political news channels in Delhi. The idea was to show the media's influence, because they ultimately shape the country's opinion.”

From Urmila Matondkar to Antara Mali, the filmmaker has had many a female muse. How come Mr Bachchan has become his new muse now? Varma smiles and heaves a sigh of relief, “Thank God, you said Mr Bachchan. I feel he fits well in my world of larger-than-life characters. I consider him one of the few realistic star-actors we have. Also, Paa has given me new ideas in terms of how much I can push him as an actor. Till now, it was his voice, his seriousness that one captured, but Paa really shocked me. It opens up a whole new dimension to him,” he says about the actor who has worked with him in a number of films.

Varma has had a rather uneasy equation with superstars Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan. Is it thrilling at all for him to work with stars now? “ I will cast someone if they suit the character. I have no fights with anyone. But no, I've never been thrilled to work with any star, apart from Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi. These are actor for whose films I stood in line for tickets. I was awed by them. The other actors either came along with me, or after me, so I have no feeling of thrill while working with them,” he says candidly.

Finally, what's the news on his production house, Factory. The man who kept coming up with one film a month has drastically cut down on his work. But the director says he's slowly stepping up activities. “There were multiple films happening and all of it could not be handled. I wanted to set things right, bring more discipline into it. But there will be plenty of films starting soon,” he says.

Finally, he signs off with the promise that he will be working on a love story soon. “It's there on my mind,” he says. And we all know Varma doesn't waste too much time when an idea grips him.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Finland's Forbidden Fruit

Is Passion the road to Perdition?

Finland's young director, Dome Karukoski, whose film, Forbidden Fruit was showcased at PIFF, speaks to Sandhya Iyer about its theme and gives a glimpse into Finnish cinema

The Pune International Film Festival (PIFF) on Monday saw the screening of Forbidden Fruit (Kielletty Hedelma), a film from Finland that explores the lesser known Laestadian community, which believes in following every single word prescribed by the Bible. The sect, though a forgiving one, sees sex as a tool for procreation and not enjoyment. Condoms are not allowed, and sexual urges have to be repressed. Also, music, films, alcohol, swearing are all prohibited and seen as an invitation to the devil. This revivalist movement, spread across 16 countries, has about 1 lakh followers around the world, most of them concentrated in Finland and Scadinavia.
This cult makes for a vital backdrop in the coming-of-age story that the film's young director Dome Karukoski narrates by way of some beautiful visuals and dramatic scenes. Forbidden Fruit follows the life of the Lolita-like Maria, eager to experience life beyond her conservative Laestadian setting and move to Heilsinki for a summer job. The community back home is concerned of the potential dangers of a single girl moving to a big city and assigns her prissy friend Raakel to join her. However, they do not bargain that Raakel herself will fall prey to her vulnerable side.

The film's obvious strengths are it's stunning visuals, it's dramatic flourishes and engaging narrative. Also, the film successfully brings out the moral and ethical dilemmas that one struggles with, because they often run contrary to our basic human nature. However, it has to be said, that the transition that both girls go through is not always very convincing. Also, in today's time and age, the philosophy of the Laestadians – demanding such inhuman levels of self-repression and self-reproach --- seems quite absurd, especially coming from the Western world. Yet, it's a film that is significant for bringing a community into sharp focus and exploring the theme of female sexuality and morality.

What was your inspiration behind Forbidden Fruit?

I used to know a girl like Raakel in the film. I was in love with her and whenever I love, I tend to get overwhelmed. She, on the other hand, was a control freak and the most complex girl I had ever met. She kept me forever at an arm's length. I kept at it for a few months before giving up. The character in the film is modelled after her. I've known girls who leave their 'faith' (as it is called) and move out of their Laestadian community. When one in the family does it, the other siblings follow suit. It was a story I wanted to tell.

How did the Laestadian community and the media react to the film when it released this year?

The Laestadians are really nice people, in spite of theirs being a difficult community to get a grip on. Also, they are in very important positions everywhere in Finland, because they are so efficient – one of the reasons being they don't drink. Naturally, the media was not prepared to offend them, and hence remained neutral. Yet, a lot of television discussion happened following the film's release. Many of my friends are Laestadians and they used this as an excuse to see a film at last and they liked it.

Yet, most things in the film appear to be black and white. One doesn't really get an idea of what the Laestadian point of view really is...

To a libertarian, the film will seem black and white, but many who understand the community will vouch that in fact, I have been far less cruel in their portrayal than I could have been. Women are idolised only as mothers, not as women – which is why the film shows them having so many children. Many women from this community do not get married even after they turn 30 because they realise that they would have to get into the role of motherhood immediately. They don't want to abandon their careers and yet, they don't wish to leave the Church either, because their friends and family belong to it. The one aspect about the community that binds them together is that they are forgiving as people. No matter what 'sin' you commit, they will accept you back if you are willing to repent. Also, they look after the interests of each one within their fold.

How conducive is the Finland film culture to different themes?

The good thing about cinema here is that there is a ready audience for art house films. There are kino schools where films are taught as part of the syllabus. Finland does not have a big population and yet Forbidden Fruit when it released was a boxoffice success. Art house films runs successfully along with Americal blockbusters and local comedies. But the funding continues to be a problem. It's a three dimensional system – that includes the government, TV channels and local distributors. Unless all of it falls in place, it's difficult to make films.

How do think cinema in Finland has progressed over the years...

For the longest time, we were under the shadow of Finnish masters like Aki Kaurismaki, whose films were minimalistic and melancholic (where characters drunk themselves to death). That posed problems for new filmmakers internationally, because our films were measured on those standards. My films are more optimistic, joyful and humanistic. So yes, new filmmakers are bringing their own sensibilities to cinema now. Is there an influence of Swedish films on us? Well, considering that Finland was occupied by Russia and Sweden for years, we tend to view their cinema with a mixture of envy and hatred (smiles). For a long time, I did not see Swedish films, but when I opened up to them, I had to admit their cinema is richer than ours. What I find admirable about their cinema is that they know how to make even art house films entertaining – that is something we in Finland should learn.

Any thoughts on India vis a vis Finland...

Yes, I see people smiling a lot here. It doesn't happen in Finland. You go to a restaurant and the waiter will grunt at you. Grunting and drinking are national characteristics.

Any views on Bollywood films?

I enjoy the emotional moments, but suddenly the characters break into a song. I cannot adapt myself to the lip syncing. I have seen Lagaan and there is great craftsmanship at work, but as I said personally, I cannot relate to the singing.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dulha Mil Gaya review

Sush's Shimmer saves the day

Starring: Sushmita Sen, Fardeen Khan, Ishita Sharma, Shahrukh Khan (special guest appearance), Viveck Vaswani among others
Director: Mudassar Aziz
Stars: **

Dulha Mil Gaya is viewed as a film Shahrukh Khan did as a favour to producer Viveck Vaswani who’d given him his first break in Bollywood. Barring the superstar's presence, the expectations from the film were nil and it didn't seem to have any hope in hell at the box-office.

And true enough, with its rather cheesy story-line and an insipid leading man, Dulha Mil Gaya could well have become a torturous affair, were it not for an utterly winsome performance from Sushmita Sen. The actress plays the part of a high flying super-model with such panache and flair that she completely dominates the proceedings. Sen's luscious presence fills up the screen; and if Dulha Mil Gaya is worth a watch, it is solely for Sush's terrific return to form.

Tej Dhanraj (Fardeen Khan) is a spoilt bachelor staying in the Caribbean with no plans of getting married. But he's in a fix when his attorney (Viveck Vaswani) informs him of his deceased father's will which states that Tej shall get access to the family wealth only if he marries his father’s best friend's daughter, Samarpreet (Ishita Sharma). Also, he mustn’t divorce her for a minimum of ten years. With a plan in mind, Tej arrives in Punjab, marries a besotted Samarpreet and leaves with a promise to return. When he doesn't, Samarpreet takes off to the West Indies where, following an accident, she meets Shimmer (Sushmita Sen), a prima donna of sorts. From there on begins the familiar yet entertaining routine of turning the ugly duck into a swan, while the vain characters (Fardeen and Sushmita) discover true love for their respective partners.

The story is a flimsy one and director Muddassar Aziz seems to suffer from a serious Yash Raj hangover. So you have your petite heroine cycling amidst Punjabi mustard fields with loud bhangra beats reverberating in the background. It must be said that the director doesn't make a mess of the film in any way, and there's a focussed approach in the narrative, however trite it might be. This prevents the film from appearing long-winding or tedious. For a good 40 minutes in the middle, the film moves very smoothly and is a treat to watch.

Now to the main highlight of the film- Shahrukh Khan. In a film where the other main lead sleepwalks through his role, the makers didn't have much option but to bank on Shahrukh to lend the requisite star wattage and charisma. And expectedly, even at his worst, Shahrukh is imminently more watchable than a hamming Fardeen. His pairing opposite Sushmita's character is an exciting bit of casting. Thiers is really the interesting love story. Yet, it must be said that Shahrukh is looking terribly old and drained. The dimpled smile he brings on his face after tiredly enacted scenes, suggest that he was either not in the best of health or his heart was simply not in the film.
The music by Lalit Pundit (of Jatin-Lalit fame) is very good, though one wishes he had made a chartbusting number for the time when Sushmita and SRK come together for a dance. He misses out there.

All in all, Dulha Mil Gaya works out to be a half-decent, time-pass flick, if you keep your expectations low. And yes, as we said, see it for Sushmita, if nothing else.