Friday, July 30, 2010

Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai review

A designer gangster flick

Director: Milan Luthria
Starring: Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Kangna Ranaut, Prachi Desai and Randeep Hooda
Rating: **

Milan Luthria, who showed promise with his earlier films like Kachche Dhaage and Taxi No 9211, takes a Ram Gopal Varma subject, and treats it how a Karan Johar would. Over-stylised and shallow, the film serves old wine in a new bottle, with none of the grittiness and punch that one saw in gangster flicks like Satya and Company. And even if it tries to be different in tone, it doesn't have the class of a Johnny Gadaar. Luthria peddles a less than serviceable script, perhaps hoping its period details will keep it interesting for the audiences. It tries to capture the zeitgeist of the 70s as seen in Deewar and Trishul, but the setting comes off as too staged - the result being that the film moves in a self-conscious manner, with stock, one-dimensional characters and relentless dialogue-baazi, that is the single-most irritating part of the film.

The year is somewhere in the 70s. Sultan (Ajay Devgn) grows up as a poor, but large-hearted man, who slowly but surely rises up the ranks in Mumbai's underworld - which the film insists - wasn't all that bad then. The goons had a heart and loved the city. So even if Sultan smuggled items and participated in petty crimes, he made sure that Mumbai remained clean from crime. The film keeps re-asserting Sultan's largess and his essential goodness with literal scenes like him distributing cash to beggars at traffic signals and so on. He falls in love with an actress, Rehana (Kangana Ranaut), who he woos until she finally gives in. Sultan has no real enemies and all seems fine. The only minor irritant being an inspector (Randeep Hooda), who keeps issuing threats of arresting him, but never does so. Things change after an upstart, Shoaib (Emraan Hashmi) joins the gang. He has none of Sultan's morals, and once he assumes some power, things go haywire, and herein are sowed the seeds of Mumbai's infamous and gruesome gang-wars.

The subject had potential, but save for a few scenes, the script has little novelty. Also, the three main relationships in the film don't touch a chord. The Ajay-Kangana romance is insipid. The Prachi (Desai)- Emraan track is better fleshed-out, but there is a sense of deja vu. The worst is the Ajay-Emraan pairing; they don't connect as characters at all. It seems odd that a sensible guy like Sultan would hand over the reigns of his gang to a trouble-maker like Shoaib. Omkaara, Company, Satya - all had this angle, and it was deftly handled. Here, Shoaib's accent is forced and unconvincing.

Once Upon a a designer gangster flick, which could have still been watchable, if there hadn't been such an onslaught of smart-alecky dialogues. All the characters spout cringe-worthy lines, that grow progressively desperate in trying to evoke a response from the audience. The writers have obviously tried to match writers of the yore, but they end up with stuff that's so poor, Salim-Javed would disown to have written them even in their sleep. Sample some of the gems - 'mera mizaaj aur mera message Sultan tak pahuncha dena' 'Aaj ka kam kal pe rakhoonga, toh aaj bura maan jayega' ' Jo mauka chodd de woh kaisa mard' The dialogues really interfear with the experience of watching the film.

On performances, Emraan's character is the only one which stands out. It's not particularly fresh or nuanced, but it makes an impression for the simple reason that no attempt has been made to redeem him or give him hero-like qualities. He is portrayed as a petty-minded, morally bankrupt, and an irascible crook. Emraan does well, but the limitations of the script and the lack of subtly on the whole, doesn't it make it a memorable role.

Ajay Devgn sleep-walks in a character that he played to perfection in Company. His body language is lethargic, and his courting scenes with Kangana are so half-heartedly done, you'd think he wants to get on to others scenes where he'd be left alone with his cigarette. The heroines have nothing much to do. As for Randeep Hooda, he has enough screen time, but the actor seems to have been embarrassed about not being considered one of the leads of the film and has accepted a 'special appearance' credit instead
Luthria really disappoints with Once Upon A Time... His direction is heavy-handed and unappealing.
The only person who shins is Pritam. All his tracks make an impression.

- Sandhya Iyer

Friday, July 23, 2010

Khatta Meetha review

Director: Priyadarshan
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Trisha Krishnan, Neeraj Vora, Rajpal Yadav, Urvashi Dholakia, Makrand Deshpande, Manoj Joshi, Johny Lever
Stars: *

Peppered with blandness

For a while now, director Priyadarshan has been making films akin to how a careless, bored cook would dish out stale food, re-heating it, hoping no one would notice. Akshay Kumar, on his part, stays consistent in delivering duds. However, with Khatta Meetha, their pair touches a new low, churning out a film that is mind-numbingly bad. After remaking each one of his Malayalam hits in Hindi, and finding some measure of success with them, Priyan now with Khatha Meetha attempts to recycle some of Mohanlal's 80s films that were true gems and extremely relevant to their times. However in the hands of an out-of-form Priyan, Khatta Meetha ends up worse than a David Dhavan film on a bad day. As for the peg of R K Laxman's common man, it is precicely the aam janta who ought to protest against such scams in the name of a film.

The action happens in a small town in Maharashtra, where down-on-luck road contractor, Sachin Tichkule (Akshay Kumar) is struggling to find a few lucrative contracts. His ancestors belonged to the royalty, so his family -- which includes his parents, sisters, their husbands --- stay in an antique building, even if they aren't that rich anymore. Tichkule may be a common man, but he has a bunch of contract workers who rather uncommonly keep breaking expensive things in different homes and commiting deliberate mischief - like peeping into bathrooms when women are bathing and so on - and you're expected to sympathise with such characters! They have to starve, because the Municipal body won't pass Tichkule's bills for the substandard roads he has built, even if the roads he makes has led to serious accidents. And how is he justified? Oh, because his brother-in-laws are more corrurpt and have also murdered a guy, so he's proportionally better-off. The new Municipal commissioner, Gehna (Trisha) is his ex, with whom he had a sour parting. The flashback, showing Tichkule as an idealitic, is another ludicrous piece of writing in a script that has so many big holes, it ought to have been broken up into a grave and given a burial right at the start.

The film keeps getting progressively worse and predictable. There's a scene where Tichkule is upset with Gehna for not passing his bills. So he dupes her into taking money, calls up the anti-corruption officers and gets her arrested. She ends up in hospital after her attempted suicide. Feeling sorry, Tichkule lands up at her bed, and narrates his sorry condition to her. And guess what, she not only forgives him, they even break-out into a song!

If Akshay Kumar and Priyan's last few films can be categorised into 'dumb, dumber & dumbest, this one would beat the others hollow. I found exactly two scenes mildly funny - one of them involving Johny Lever. For the rest, the film is offensive in how much it insults the audience's intelligence. Also, the film throws around random Marathi words, as if that was going to bring any realism! And Akshay Kumar repeats his 'Tichkule' surname so many times, and is so obviously delighted with it, it almost feels like the makers thought they'd bettered Archedemes' 'Eureka'.
All the characters ham to their heart's content. Each one screams at the top of his/her voice, perhaps knowing that the audience might go into a slumber otherwise. Such films beg that oft asked question - what is ailing Hindi films these days?

-Sandhya Iyer

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dream catcher - Prahlad Kakkar

Ad guru Prahlad Kakkar, who was in the city for an FTII seminar, spoke to a rivetted audience about the scope and possibilities of advertising. Sandhya Iyer reports

"Advertising in India is the only field in entertainment that is as good as a anything in the world. Our ads can compete anywhere," said ad guru Prahlad Kakkar while talking to students at a highly charged session at FTII. The seminar was on 'New Trends in Television Programming and Broadcasting'. He expressed how some of the most edgy, creative and wonderful work gets done in the sphere of advertisement. "As a training and breeding ground for talent, it is simply unparalleled. It is this little cousin of films in the entertainment industry, but it is superior in terms of all that it can explore in 30 seconds. The biggest plus is that you can experiment with form, technique and content, using someone else's money!," he said, smiling, tongue in cheek.

He also pointed out how filmmakers and advertising guys are all essentially dreamers. "I remember always being distracted in class and being punished for it. All over, the greatest advertising guys are drop-outs from some institution or the other. Dreams are always about a world we aspire for. We never dream about being at the same place, we want something better. Advertising is all about representing this aspirational world of the common man on screen - that is what lies at its heart. The key to good communication is to tap into this collective dream," he said. He also pointed out how it would be an excellent idea if FTII could introduce a weekly session called 'Dream Catcher' where students can come up and exchange dreams. "What a great fund of knowledge, fun and creativity that will be! And all these will be original ideas! It will be electric," he exclaimed.

Kakkar also showed the audience present some of the best ads made in recent times. Some of them included Times of India, Nike, Century Ply, among some others. There was applause after every commercial. "You will notice that these are not your average, hard-sell ads. The story-telling is layered, complex and that is what crafting is all about. You visualise an idea to its last detail. Everything is pre-thought, deliberated. Nothing is an accident when you create something so special," he says.

However, Kakkar also believes that there is need for ad-content to be monitored. "It is not about what is said, but what an ad suggests. That is the power of the subliminals. The Nazis used nursery rhymes to forward their propaganda among children! Currently, it's not happening in India, because the government is not that sophisticated in its propaganda machinery, and their ads are so literal that people can see through it. But once that changes, it will have an impact on minds. We need a body of psychologists, sociologists and advertising professionals, who can take a call on ad content," he viewed.

Some present in the audiences pointed at how the advertising world is ruled by commerce and they don't seem to take on social responsibilities. The example of contamination in soft drinks was taken up, to which Kakkar replied, "Pepsi and Coke are aware that they are political soft targets, and hence they take several intense measures to purify water. You can imagine how much contamination there is in the regular water and milk that you get. I would rather trust myself with soft drinks! The Pepsi and Coke issue is only the tip of the ice berg. The ad world can't concern itself with social issues all that much. It has to be a public-motivated movement," he noted. So can advertising play a proactive role in society at all? "They can, but they don't do it. I can only think of Tata Tea, which took out money from its mainstream ad budget to make 'Jago Re'. Like everyone else, advertisers also chase the eyeballs," he viewed.

As for the future, the ad guru believes ads will become more and more sophisticated in content and technique. "I see ads becoming more interactive like video games. The only thing we need to watch out for is the
subliminals - the message that we give out," he said.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review: Udaan

Starring: Ronit Roy, Rajat Barmecha, Ram Kapoor, Aayan Boradia
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Showing at: E-Square, Inox
Stars: ***

Udaan is easily recogonisable as an Anurag Kashyap-backed project. It has the same desultoriness and teenage angst of a Dev D, there's the anti-establishment sentiment that runs through all his films and of course, dialogues and situations that are provocative. In that sense, the tone of the film and its underlying emotions are not completely new. But as can be expected, the writing is competent, the treatment stays real and the performances are all extremely powerful. While the subject itself has similarities with Taare Zameen Par - creativity getting crushed in a hostile setting and the callousness of adults towards children - the real freshness comes from the dark and rather bold tackling of the father-son relationship. Udaan focusses entirely on it, seeing the father-figure as the foremost symbol of autocracy and rigidity. It perhaps colours him a bit too negatively, but the unfolding of the father's character (Ronit Roy in a once-in-a-lifetime role - brilliant!) stays riveting throughout, and this is what lends the story its freshness.

Rohan (Rajat Barmecha) is expelled from his boarding school along with his friends. He is received by his father (Ronit Roy), who hasn't come to visit him since eight years. Rohan's sense of calm is cruelly disrupted when he reaches Jamshedpur and the noise and fumes fill up the air - the industrial city and its harshness standing in sharp contrast to the soft, wandering mind of the young protagonist.

When Rohan enters his room, he is surprised to see a six year old boy, who his father casually informs is his half-brother. As for the wife, he coldly states, 'jama nahin!' Soon you find the father behaving like Hitler-incarnate. He insists the boys call him 'Sir' . He will hear nothing of Rohan's aspiration of turning writer, and demands that he should finish his engineering and work with him in the mornings. The factory is a dingy place, and Rohan is treated like a common labourer. It's dangerous work too, so one really wonders if fathers would immediately go to that length. You soon learn that the father is fighting his own private demons and is a control-freak and a sadist. How Rohan escapes from his clutches is what the story ends up being.

The film speaks to all those young men who have felt resentment towards their fathers at some stage or the other. However, once Ronit Roy's character becomes too extreme, it loses some of that resonance. Also, director Vikramaditya (Anurag and his gang actually) appear to model their films on European/American templates. The narrative and style (lots of pauses, lingering on images) is certainly derived from there. In some respects, the writing is also directly adapted. The situation of the 'dysfunctional American family' has been replicated in a desi setting, but not all of it rings true in the Indian setting - especially some of the scenes between Rohan and the father, where the latter asks him to smoke in front of him and so on.
Again, scenes that try to establish Rohan's artistic bent of mind fall sort. He gazes at nature and insists people listen to his poetry, but you get no sense of his genius spark. Taare Zameen Par gave you a definite sense of the boy's latent talent.

Yet, Udaan works fine as a metaphor for any oppressive and rigid system. The film wisely decides that its reformation may not be possible, and escape is the only way out. As mentioned, performances are brilliant. Newcomer Rajat Barmecha does very well. Ram Kapoor is as usual top class. Take this flight, you won't regret it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Interview Amit Trivedi

Music composer Amit Trivedi didn't have the easiest time working with the all women cast and crew of Aisha. Yet, it was worth the effort, he tells
Sandhya Iyer

Amit Trivedi, who caught the fancy of music enthusiasts with his funky, unconventional music in Dev D, followed by Aamir and Wake Up Sid's Ek Tara, is awaiting the audience response for two of his films - the Anurag Kashyap produced Udaan and Sonam Kapoor starrer, Aisha. Giving music for the latter - a mainstream, chick-flick -- was especially challenging for the composer who has mostly done music for serious, dark themes. He's composed six tracks for it, all of which are already gaining a fair bit of popularity. "It was a tough one. It has a salsa number, a Punjabi song and funk rock... the experience was new and fresh. But before I sat down to compose, all the song situations were in place. The film's writer Devika Bhagat and the director Rajshree Ojha gave me a complete narration - all the home-work was done, so that made it quite easy," says Trivedi, who is born and brought up in Mumbai.

Considering he wasn't a natural choice for the film, how did he come on board? “Devika had heard Aamir and Dev D. They wanted young, hep music with an edge to it, something not very conventional. They liked Pardesi and Nayan Tarase from Dev D,” he says.

But working on Aisha was no cake-walk. The talented composer makes no bones about the fact that working with women proved to be quite frustrating initially. Besides Devika and Rajshree, the film's 23 year old producer Rhea (Anil Kapoor's younger daughter) was also taking a call on the film's music. "I would compose one song, which Rajshree would like, but Rhea wouldn't. She would say, 'Nah, scrap it, it's not working.' Then, Rhea would approve a song, but Rajshree would say 'no' to it. Yes, I'd come to a point when I was starting to pull my hair! I had all these women to please. Initially, there were lot of disagreements and I did think too many people were getting involved, but gradually as we got to know each other, things settled down and we enjoyed the process." However, Trivedi is very impressed with Rhea Kapoor. "She was barely 21 when she started work on Aisha. She is so sharp and very clear about what she wants. She'll go a long way," he says.

Trivedi says he enjoyed working with women, but he got along far better with the men while working on Aamir, Dev D, Udaan and Wake Up Sid. "I had a blast with the guys. They knew what they wanted and our wave lengths matched," he says.

The composer believes the current phase is the best time for music, as filmmakers with fresh sensibilities and an experimental bent of mind are dominating the Hindi film scene. "I firmly believe that the future will be better and will mark the return of the golden era. There are so many talented composers, singers, bands and technicians coming to the fore. Also due to the net and DVD parlours, the awareness about international films and music has grown a lot. Many influences are coming in," he say, adding that music composers in Bollywood have never had it better than now!

The role of the composer has altered in some ways, says Trivedi, who gets deeply involved with every film, taking a keen interest in the script. "Gone are the days when actors would break out into a song with no real connection to the story. These days, songs are used to forward the narrative and elevate the mood and emotions. It has to be a blend of creative elements. Look at Vishal Bharadwaj - he writes his films, directs it, does the dialogues, gives great music - he's literally a one-man industry. Those are the kind of people we need," he says.

While composers are in great demand, the singers - coming in dime a dozen - aren't in such an enviable position. The insistence for fresh voices and the profusion of talent hunt contestants has reduced a singer's shelf life, or so it appears. Trivedi believes true talent will survive. "Due to these various reality shows, there is a perception that singing is a ready vehicle for fame and money. There is too much bombardment of new singers. But just having a good voice or tonal quality is not enough. The person has to be an excellent singer to play a long innings ," he says.

The composer has been selective with his work, and that's how he intends to be. "I don't want to burden myself with work. I don't feel the need to compose every day. I take my Sundays off. I compose instinctively. Once my songs are out, people put labels on them, but I don't think about it when I'm making them. They are what I am," he says.
Given his enormous talent and panache, one can safely expect some very memorable music from him in the time to come.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Not so red-Hot - review Red Alert

Director: Anant Narayan Mahadevan
Starring: Suniel Shetty, Ayesha Dharkar, Seema Biswas, Naseeruddin Shah, Makarand Deshpande and Ashish Vidyarthi, Vinod Khanna
Rating: **1/2

Given how the Naxalite movement is assuming dangerous proportions in the country, Red Alert is an extremely timely theme to tackle. Anant Mahadevan’s name as director doesn’t inspire all that much confidence for a serious subject of this kind — he’s made masala fares like Dil Maange More and Aksar — but its sheer relevance makes you sit up and take notice.

With writer Aruna Raje on board, the film starts off by acquainting you with some facts about Naxalbari that is spreading its tentacles across the country, and is posing a huge internal security problem. You’re told the story is a real-life one and tracks the life of a poor cook, Narsimha (Suniel Shetty), who is asked to drop off food at a forest for a group. Little does he know that they are Naxalites. The police manage to get there by following Narsimha and what follows is heavy cross-firing. The Naxals don’t let Narsimha leave and the group’s leader in particular (Ashish Vidyarthi) is quite rough with him. The former needs money to send to his wife and children, but his requests are constantly dismissed.

The film’s setting is a small town in Andhra Pradesh and much of the first half gives you a fairly realistic idea of how Naxals live and function.
Red Alert succeeds in bringing out the ideological extremism of the Naxals, wherein they seem so consumed by their cause that they fail to recogonise the day to day problems of the ordinary citizens.

Narismha finally escapes the camp and finds himself in an unenviable situation, where both the Naxals and the police are chasing him. But he decides to go with the ‘lesser evil’ in the end.
Red Alert — while it does not make outright villains of anyone, takes a politically correct position where it stresses on how the Naxal movement is misplaced and is harming the very people it’s claiming to help. There is no ambiguity in this respect. Narsimha represents this exploited class that feels threatened from both sides.
The film is engaging through its first half and succeeds in unmasking some of the ‘martyrdom’ associated with Naxalism. It asserts that there can be no excuse for violence. But beyond that, there are no insights or a complex study into the problem.
The second half is no different from a regular commercial film, where the hero is on the run. It loses steam after what appears initially to be a genuinely different film. The ending especially takes a filmy turn while suggesting other alternatives to Naxals.
Yet, it’s a decent effort from the team of Red Alert. The performance from the cast — Suniel Shetty (effective), Seema Biswas, Ayesha Dharkar, Naseeruddin Shah (only there for one scene!) Sameera Reddy, Makarand Deshpande — are uniformly good. But Ashish Vidyarthi in particular is superb. It’s a bit of a shame that the actor has not got enough roles to showcase his immense talent.
Director Mahadevan’s treatment is realisitic and he creates some moments of simmering tension in the first half. Sadly, his bent as a commercial filmmaker takes over in the second half, and what you get is a film that falls short of its potential.

- Sandhya Iyer

"Small films MUST experiment' - Interview Udaan director, Vikramaditya

Vikramaditya Motwane, director of Udaan, talks about how the multiplex era has opened up the market for small-budget films, which will usher in a lot of fresh stories

Small-budget films must always explore and experiment. What’s the point making a love triangle with non-stars?,” opines first time director Vikramaditya Motwane, whose film Udaan — a coming-of-agedrama — and an official selection at Cannes, releases this Friday. “In small films, the star is the story. Look at Love Sex Aur Dhokha — who were there as actors? They are all newcomers. The subject makes it unique,” says the debutant director, who co-wrote Dev D with Anurag Kashyap and was an assistant director and sound designer to Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

Udaan is the story of an 18 year old, who is abandoned for eight years at a boarding schools. When he returns back home he finds himself amidst an authoritarian father and a younger half brother who doesn’t even know he existed!
Forced to work in his father’s steel factory and study engineering against his wishes, he tries to forge his own life out of his given circumstances and pursue his dream of being a writer.
Vikram wrote the story as early as 2003 and showed its first draft to his “out-of-work director-friend” Anurag Kashyap, who was impressed with it. He promised he would produce the film at a later stage. “In March 2009, after years of trying to get an producer on board, Anurag and his friend Sanjay Singh raised enough money for me to turn that script into a film. They packed me off to shoot and backed me all the way to make the film I always wanted to,” says Vikram. Incidentally, his initiation into the field happened because his mother worked as a production manager on documentary films. She later went on to do talk shows for television, and Vikram’s love for making movies grew from there.
Although Udaan took flight after several years, the director says he has no regrets. “The struggle period is fairly normal. I was a debutant and mine was not going to be a masala film, so I can understand the reluctance on the part of producers. Also, around that time, multiplexes weren’t that dominant, so in a way it’s good that Udaan is releasing now. This is the right time for it to release,” he says.

“Besides, all directors need reference when you narrate a story. They have to relate it to something, otherwise they don’t feel confident of it. Give them a DVD of a Hollywood film and they will find it safe. Here, I had no reference to give for Udaan,” he says.
Once the film got made, they showed it to UTV who immediately decided to buy it. “They absolutely loved the film. Its budget is just 3 crores and if you add the distribution price, it comes to 6 crores. That’s hardly much to recover. When producers and distributors are confident of not losing money, they will back you,” says Vikram.
In the days to come, Vikram believes a wide variety of films for all age groups and segments will become a viable proposition. “Things take time to evolve, but I already see it happening. We’ve had films like Dev D, Taare Zameen Par, Kameeney and LSD all managing to attract audiences,” he says.
So how confident is he feeling about his own film?
“I would like to think I’ve made a good film, but you never know. Yes, the film has won accolades at festivals, but for both me and Anurag, the focus is always on the domestic market. We want it to appeal to our own audience. It’s important that Udaan does well, because it will pave the way for other independent filmmakers to go ahead and make the films they want. There’s no time like now!” he says.
We agree with him on that.

-Sandhya Iyer

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Interview - Aisha director Rajshree Ojha

Rajshree Ojha, director of the forthcoming Sonam Kapoor starrer Aisha - that is an adaptation of Jane Austen's book Emma - speaks on the various challenges before her while turning the classic into a film, her disagreements with Sonam and Anil Kapoor, and how her film is not similar to Clueless

'I've stayed faithful to 'Emma'

Rajshree Ojha is ready with her new Sonam Kapoor-Abhay Deol starrer Aisha that releases on August 6. The film is an adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 classic, Emma about a rich heiress with a penchant for match-making. This is the director's first commercial outing in Hindi films, but she has to her credit several short films which made it to numerous prestigious film festivals. In fact, she informs us that one of them was even selected at the Oscars in the 'student's section. She also studied filmmaking formally at a foreign university. "Aisha is my first mainstream film, but I have a lot of experience behind me," she says.

So how did Aisha come about? "I was always interested in adapting Emma in a desi setting. So I wrote the script along with my writer Devika Bhagat and we pitched the project to different producers. I'd never thought of approaching a star as such. But it did land up with Sonam, who loved the script. When Anil Kapoor heard it, he loved it too and wanted to produce the film. At that time Anil had just done Slumdog Millionaire so he could understand where I was coming from and what our vision was for the film," she says.

But Ohja agrees that she had to make a few compromises, so as to fit in with Bollywood conventions. "I don't make loud films. But then, too much subtly can also be a problem for Hindi films. Yes, there were times when I would be told that things are not looking 'happening' in the film, and I would try to enliven the narrative. On certain points, I was very adamant and had my way. On other occasions, I relented as I saw the other's point of view. Finally, I am happy with the film and I think the compromises I made have been for the betterment of the film." says the director.

Incidentally, there were several rumours emerging from the sets about disagreements on how the film was being shot. Ohja does not clearly state this, but she admits that initially she wasn't happy with he way Sonam was playing her part. "She had some pre-conceived notions about how to play her character and I had mine. I didn't want her to play her role in a goody-goody way. I like my characters to have shades. I wanted her internal struggle to come to the fore. Sonam had read Emma and she loved the story, but she was quite lost when it came to pitching the character. But after some initial hiccups, she understood where I was going with her role, and it turned out fine," she says, adding, " Actually, I learnt through this project to give my actors freedom. I would encourage them to make their own back-story for their characters. Earlier, I would hold everything and not give them enough space. So it was a learning process for me too," she says.

So why Emma? "I am an Austen fan, much like all women are. Her two novels which I've always been interested in adapting are Mansfield Park and Emma. I love the grey shades in Emma. She is strong and yet a bit lost, not knowing what she wants from life. In fact, even Austen said about Emma that she's a heroine who only she loves and not many others will. She's an interesting character. Sometimes, she's manipulative, at other times a lost child. Also the theme of the novel ie match-making is very prevalent to our society. Everyone indulges in it at some point or the other. The book is also about a woman's yearning for love and finding the perfect a man - that's a theme that is universal and evergreen. Whether 19th century England or 21st century India, women haven't changed in that respect," she smiles, explaining why she was drawn to the classic.

And while the makers have fully contemporised the subject and have based it in Delhi, showing Sonam Kapoor - who plays Emma - as a young, rich girl, who loves shopping and being with friends, Ohja says she's stayed quite faithful to the original. "There aren't too many changes, though we've tried hard to keep the setting and characters as real as possible. I had to condense a few characters, because, it's a two and half hour film after all. Also, we haven't treated any character as fully negative. There is some bitchiness among the women, but no one is all bad. We've treated it like a romantic comedy, nothing too dark," she says.

While her words for Sonam are measured, her praise for Abhay Deol - who plays Sr Knightley of Emma in the film - is wholesome. "Abhay was the best casting decision we made. He's always done very different films, so he could see where I was coming from. Now when I think of Knightley, I can't think of anyone else besides him. He's made it such a flesh and blood character - you'll love him in the film," she says.
But in the book, Knighley is a fairly mature man - 40ish perhaps. Here the character is younger. Ohja says she's happy with the age difference between Sonam and Abhay and didn't want anyone older. "I think there is a 10 year age difference. Abhay is 35-35, which is good enough for me. I didn't want the character to be a father-figure," she says.

Finally, there is some speculation that Aisha is closer to the 1995 Alicia Silverstone starrer Clueless - that was also a modern-day adaptation of Emma. The director denies the similarities. "Yes, there is a fair bit of fashion in Aisha too. That is natural, because Emma is rich. But this is not based in high-school, like Clueless was. Aisha is a 24- year old, a typical Delhi girl. It won't be similar at all," she says.

For now, she's delighted with the final product. "I am very satisfied.” she says. Hope the audience is too.

- Sandhya Iyer

Friday, July 2, 2010

I Hate Luv Storys

It's all about loving Johar

Director: Punit Malhotra
Starring: Imran Khan, Sonam, Sameer Dattani
Stars: **

One can almost visualise how director Punit Malhotra must have pitched the film to his boss, Karan Johar. Let's have Dharma Productions as the setting for the film - so ready-made references available. The hero hates love stories but is reluctantly working for a hot-shot director (Johar?) who makes mushy love stories that he calls 'sagas'. The hero mocks at romantic films - so in the garb of spoof (that favourite excuse to make a film when you have no original ideas), each one of Shah Rukh Khan's films from the Johar-Yash Raj stable is plugged. It's like Johar will either make movies only with Shah Rukh Khan or have a proxy for him. The heroine is the art director on the sets and is a die hard romantic - the kind who carries a white gerbera in her purse every day to work. So after turning his nose up at his boss' films till interval point, the hero magically realises that all those love stories were true after all and turns all puppy eyed by the end. After such thumping validation for his films, getting a green signal for the project from our Koffee man may not have been too difficult.

The hero, Jai (Imran Khan) is modelled on Aamir's character in Dil Chahta Hai (DCH), a non-believer in love. In fact, a large chunk of the film is a remake of the Farhan Akhtar coming-of-age comic-drama. Jai is a flirt, looking for short-term affairs. He cringes when the topic is romance. He is irreverent and comes up with wise-cracks. The girl, Simran (Sonam Kapoor) believes she has a perfect love life with boyfriend, Raj(Sameer Dattani), until cupid strikes again. Problem is, Jai does not believe he is in love, so Simran ends up hurt and disappointed. But sooner than later, he too is headlong in love, but now Simran has second thoughts.

The film may or may not have intended it, but it brings to light how confused our generation is about love and relationships. And this little complexity is achieved because the writers do not attempt to present Simran's boyfriend in a bad light. He's a gentleman, attentive and caring - a bit too much probably, but this is done subtly. So you stay mildly interested in Sonam's conundrum of choosing between the two men.

The vacillating heart of a die-hard romantic, who swears by movies might have perhaps made for an interesting film, but the makers operate in extremes throughout. Sameer Soni, who plays the director in the film admits that he sells the same mush to audiences film after film, but his movies have some magic that people connect with. This is the argument that the makers want to peddle in Johar's favour, so Imran after being the nonchalant, non-believer turns only one peg short of becomming Devdas by the end. There's a scene where he builts a tent of red baloons, wears a red shirt and then goes on his knees to propose to Sonam! This transition is far too dramatic and unconvincing. The nuances are simply not there. You don't get enough sense of how they fall in love. Imran is supposed to be a brash charmer who mouths some smart-alecky lines. But frankly, his act comes across as quite rude and annoying for anyone to fall for it. Compare this with SRK's act in DDLJ, where he is a cad in the first half, and falls in love later. His personality doesn't altogether alter. That restraint that SRK brings to his role or the one Aamir brought to DCH is not there here.

Imran has great presence and shines in some of the earlier scenes and is at home playing the cynic (though he didn't convince me as womaniser for a moment). He's awkward in the second half. Sonam looks pretty, but like most of her contemporaries, no depth in acting. Also, she needs to work hard on her dialogue delivery. Since neither of them engage you particularly, the film does tend to become a drag in the middle.

In the end, I Hate Luv Storys serves more as an ego massage for its makers. Imran's character has to grovel and be a total convert to Johar's idea of love before he can have the girl. Other than that, the film is just passable fluff.

-Sandhya Iyer