Tuesday, October 26, 2010

'I was outrightly rejected by Aamir'

Pakhi, Abbas Tyrewala’s wife and now the actress of Jhootha Hi Sahi, tells Sandhya Iyer that she always desired to be an actress but Aamir had rejected her in a screen tes

Many would believe Pakhi, the writer and actress of the John Abraham starrer Jhootha Hi Sahi got her big break only because she happens to be the pretty wife of Abbas Tyrewala. Of course that’s not entirely wrong, but not too many know that Pakhi always desired to be a heroine. She was a model to begin with, with aspirations to make it to the big screen. She even screen-tested for the Manjiri Phadnis part in Jaane Tu ...Ya Jaane Naa, and got outright rejected by Aamir Khan. “It was a terrible blow to me, because I hold him in such high esteem. He’s been my idol. I broke down completely and really believed I didn’t have it in me, precisely because it was someone like Aamir who made that call. Now I just hope he sees Jhootha Hi Sahi and if he says I’m okay in it, that will mean a lot to me,” she says emotionally.

In spite of Aamir’s rejection, Abbas took to her and asked her to assist him with the casting, “And he really demands out of you. He didn’t want the same faces one sees in television and ads. He expected me to really find people,” she says. And as one knows, the fresh casting of the film was one of the prime reasons why Jaane Tu.. came in for such enormous appreciation.

The couple also got married in the course of the film, and the spunky Pakhi on her part, started work on a script that Abbas could film immediately after Jaane Tu... Briefly, Jhootha Hi Sahi traces the friendship (and then love) between Sid and Mishka which is forged over the phone. In order to impress her though, Sid makes up several lies which to his friends are amusingly unbelievable. Caught in the web of lies, the lives of the couple go through a series of dramatic turns. The supporting cast includes actors Raghu Ram, Manasi Scott and Anaitha Nair. R Madhavan is also said to feature in the film in a cameo role.

Pakhi says the couple had several disagrements during the scripting stage, but none whatsoever during their long shooting schedule in London for the film. “Looking at the way we fought, most thought our marriage wouldn’t last. But in the end, it all came together well,” she says.

Incidentally, it was her co-star John Abraham, who heavily recommended her for this film, she says. “Abbas was apprehensive. But John liked the way I narrrated the parts and he told Abbas, ‘If you are anyway looking for a newcomer to play the part, then why not Pakhi?’ And it is true. The role does require someone with no star baggage. Abbas thought about it and finally I was cast,” she says.

The experience of working on the film was unbelievable, says Pakhi. “It’s a great feeling to be among people who want the best for you and are a constant source of support. John is incredibly generous actor, who really makes sure that his co-star is comfortable, giving his/her best. It was really unforgetable,” she gushes.

Releasing on October 22 and having music by A R Rahman (which incidentally hasn't caught on all that much), the film is a labour of love, and should be an effort to watch out for.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Jhootha Hi Sahi

Director: Abbas Tyrewala

Starring: John Abraham, Pakhi Tyrewala, Raghu Ram, Mansi Scott, Anaitha Nair, Nandana Sen and Alishka Vardhe

Rating: * *

In today’s technology-driven world, love blossoming on the net or the phone, without the two people actually meeting, is an extremely plausible scenario and throws up several possibilities. Jhootha Hi Sahi starts on such an interesting premise, but gets progressively banal and pointless, with one never really being able to make a connection with the lead pair. Just like Abbas Tyrewala’s debut hit, Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Naa, there are plenty of cameos and some decent punchlines. The whole setting is like a American sit com, with a gang of friends, token gays and so on. There are sporadic moments of good fun, but quite often many of these scenes also come out looking awkward and stagy. For example, John lives with a Pakistani brother and sister duo (Raghu Ram and Alishka Vardhe) whose conscious use of ‘tauba’ and ‘hai allah’ seem so obvious and forced. To be fair, even Jaane Tu...suffered from some of these problems, and yet sustained because there was a semblance of charm and innocence to the relationship of the lead young couple. That is simply not the case here, which makes the story a bit of a lost cause very early on.

Sid (John Abraham) is a nerdy book-store owner, whose phone number gets accidentally mixed up with that of a suicide hotline. One of the callers is Mishka (Pakhi), who in a fragile state opens up to Sid, thinking of him as a counsellor. The script never explains why these two should like each other so much in such quick time, but what you see next is Mishka falling in love with her phone pal and Sid on his part realises that he is not happy with his current girlfriend (Mansi Scott). Sid recognises Mishka in his book store and falls head over heels in love, but feels reluctant to reveal his real self. So he meets her as Sid, and keeps talking to her as her phone pal also. There are some other sub plots, one including a pregnant Alishka, who for some reason refuses to marry her boyfriend, who is also the father of her child. He pursues her almost to nauseating levels, and as an audience one has no idea what is going on between these two. The other more funny plot involves Raghu Ram and Mansi Scott and their love-hate relationship.

Pakhi, as the lead actress and writer of Jhootha Hi Sahi, lets down the film on both counts. It’s not so much of a problem that she has three men in her life at one point (the two Johns and R Madhavan in a cameo), but Pakhi isn’t able to convey these emotions at all and not once do you get into the head of her character. The fact that her part is the pivot does not help at all. The role required someone younger, vulnerable and alluring. Pakhi is not any of that. Also, her being Abbas Tyrewala’s wife could have something to do with it, but the filmmaker shows almost every male in the film to be in love with her. And this comes across as grossly exaggerated, because there’s nothing to her character or the way she plays it that seems attractive. In fact, the other women (Mansi Scott and Alishka) play their parts with far more spirit and chutzpah.

The other big let down is A R Rahman’s music, that is as listless as it comes.

John Abraham is sincere, the other supporting cast is equally good. However, the film just doesn’t come together as a whole, and in the end, Jhootha Hi Sahi ends up being quite lame.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: Aakrosh

Director: Priyadarshan

Starring: Ajay Devgn, Akshaye Khanna, Bipasha Basu, Paresh Rawal, Reema Sen

Rating: * * 1/2

The problem with director Priyadarshan’s recent films is that though they’ve seldom been outrightly bad, they’ve also stopped being interesting altogether. Like a practised old hand who has a certain proficiency, but too fatigued to try anything new, Priyan clearly has been making Hindi films out of habit for a while. Whether Billu or De Dana Dan or Bum Bumm Bole, all have been passable at best.His latest, Aakrosh is the most serious film Priyan has attempted in a while. And thankfully, the maker has opted for some fresh faces. Also, unlike what he is notorious for, Priyan has chosen an authentic location this time, and not tried to pass off some place in South India as a crime-ridden North Indian town. The setting is real, and cinematographer S Tirru captures the Hindi heartland well, adding the requisite atmospheric depth and texture to the narrative. The other highlight is to see Akshaye Khanna and Ajay Devgn teaming up once again after Deewangi years ago. The script itself does not allow anything spectacular to emerge out of this pairing, but these two talented actors at least ensure that the proceedings don’t dip too much.

The story is heavily inspired from the Oscar nominated, Mississippi Burning, which was about two FBI officers who go to investigate a case involving the disappearance of some civil rights activists. A hard-hitting drama, it captured up close the issue of racism and the tragic plight of African-Americans. In Aakrosh, the issue of racism has been turned into casteism that has led to several appalling incidents like honour killing in places like UP and Bihar. It’s not a bad subject to adapt, and for some time, the film stays on course. But too many filmy flourishes with loud scenes and unidimensional characters dilute the realistic tone and essential seriousness of the subject.

Siddharth Chaturvedi (Akshaye Khanna) and Pratap Kumar (Devgn) are two CBI officers given the charge of investigating a case, wherein three medical students have gone missing from Delhi. Both land up in a lawless North-Indian town, infested with goons and corrupt policemen. The chief perpetrator here is Ajatshatru Singh (Paresh Rawal). He does not co-operate with the CBI officers, and along with a local rogue group, tries to derail the investigation at every point. The whole system seems hand in glove, and both Siddharth and Pratap have several narrow escapes. There’s an inane plot involving Bipasha Basu, as Paresh Rawal’s wife, who gets slapped and kicked around by him. Then in a flashback, you see her with Devgn wearing skimpy outfits. The sub-plot makes no sense, and Bipasha is painfully unconvincing in her two bit role.

There are sporadic moments of thrill and drama, and the dialogues are good. Ajay Devgn and Akshaye Khanna look fresh and give their best shot. Yet, the narrative is neither layered nor incisive. There is a general lack of subtlety that takes away from the credibility of the proceedings. The policemen are not just inept and corrupt — they are also murderers and womanisers. Ditto with the local politicians. There’s not even a good-natured quirk in any of them to distract from their jet black characterisation.

In the end, the film looks a bit under researched and unimaginative.

The title is borrowed from the Govind Nihilani directed, Om Puri starrer that was one of the most grim films of the art film movement in the ’80s. If Priyan’s Aakrosh hoped to be anything like that, it’s obviously not. However, for those who don’t mind actioners, steeped in over-the-top drama, it’s not a bad deal either.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Do Dooni Chaar

Starring: Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Aditi Vasudev and Archit Krishna
Director: Habib Faisal
Showing at: E-Square, Inox
Stars: ***1/2

You can count on this

Do Dooni Chaar is perhaps the next best thing if you're a fan of Dibakar Banerjee directed Khosla Ka Ghosla. It's probably not as witty or sharp, but the film certainly has its heart in the right place, and is a small gem that delivers a worthy message, without being overly preachy. The teaching profession - for all the token nobility it carries - has always been a low-paying and often thankless job. Of course, the last few years have seen a drastic improvement in these pay scales, but still Do Dooni Chaar emphasis this point further about the dejection felt by teachers at neither getting the respect due to them, nor being compensated adequately.

Duggal (Rishi Kapoor) is a middle-class man in Delhi who has a family consisting of an understanding wife, Kusum (Neetu Singh) and two teenage children (Aditi Vasudev and Archit Krishna). They live in a one-bedroom flat and have all the aspirations that today's generation has. Unfortunately, they do not have enough resources and each penny has to be accounted for. Duggal has an old scooter, which is a source of embarassment to his family. A mini crisis occurs when Duggal's sister pleads with him to buy a car or at least hire one during her daughter's wedding to keep her 'izzat'. Severely complexed about her position at her inlaws' due to her modest family background, she is overjoyed when Duggal and family do manage to arrive at the venue with a car (a borrowed one from a neighbour). But more problems come calling, and the rest of the film is about the family's struggle to come up with finances to buy their own car.

The film is engaging throughout and has no rough edges at all. The mood and setting is perfectly captured. Not all plot points are equally clever, but there's an understated charm to the scenes and the performances - even by actors with bit scenes - are all endearingly real. Of course, the star holding it all together is Rishi Kapoor, who delivers a sincere, heart-felt performance. Over the years, the actor has been so solid with his acts, that one would think it impossible for him to surprise now. Having played a rich man in a majority of his films, and his stature as an actor, one would perhaps have doubts about him playing a struggling, middle-class man that convincing. But the actor effortlessly slips into the character of a well-meaning, hard-working Maths teacher, who can't help but feel downcast at seeing the world move ahead of him and all the students he taught earning in lakhs, while he continues to languish where he was.
The film also marks the comeback of Neetu Singh, who made a terrific pair with Rishi Kapoor, until she married him and gave up her career to look after house and the children. The director weaves these real-life similarities into the film. So in the film Kusum talks about how they would have been better off if he hadn't made her quit her job as a librarian. Again, Duggal's essentially nervous nature and inability to handle pressure is offset by Kusum's great presense of mind.
Neetu Singh is decent, though she's never quite reaches her husband's level of performance. Her long sabatical from acting make her seem mildly uncomfortable in the role of a middle-class housewife speaking accented Hindi. Yet, it feels nice to see both husband and wife on screen together and there some lovely, tender moments that the two share in the film.
Do Dooni Chaar has its flaws, in the sense, it's not really concinging when a moral issue is made about their son making some quick bucks through cricket bettting, but the family seems game to accept the money that a student offers in return for marks. But for most part, Do Dooni Chaar stays very identifiable in capturing middle-class aspirations and their oscillating emotions with every small change in fortune.
An admirable effort from Habib Faisal and producers Walt Disney and Arindum Choudhury, and a film that 'drives' home its point with elan.

Review: Robot/Enthiran

Not quite the ‘Rajni’ experience

Director: Shankar

Starring: Rajnikanth, Aishwarya Rai, Danny Denzongppa

Rating: * *

Considering Rajni’s demi-god status down South and his colossal fan following, one has long stopped looking for a story in his films. It is just the experience of watching him that makes it worthwhile, his million plus fans will tell you. Even going with this knowledge, his latest, the mega budgeted Enthiran/Robot is an extremely lacklustre affair, with poor music from A R Rahman and an overdose of technology that gets tedious to watch after a point.

Dr Vaseegaran aka Vashi (Rajnikanth) is a scientist, who spends several years of research in creating a robot called Chitti with a face like his. The robot can perform several tasks, is highly accomplished and has knowledge of all arts and sciences. The only thing he lacks is human emotions. When the time comes to evaluate the robot before a panel, Vashi’s ex prof and rival Dr Borah (Danny Denzongppa) is consumed with jealously at his own failed attempts, and rejects the model on grounds that Chitti does not have human sentiments and therefore can be a threat. So Vashi reworks on his robot and gives him human qualities of love and hate. But it creates a confusion, as Chitti starts to love Vashi’s beautiful girlfriend, Sana (Aishwarya Rai). This causes complications, with Vashi ending up dismantling Chitti. Borah, under pressure to deliver a robot to a foreign company desperately looks out for Chitti and gives him destructive tools. Chitti — now a man with sinister intentions — models many other robots that look like him and builds an army of iron men. It’s left now to Vashi to find his own creation and put an end to his evil deeds.

Knowing how much money has gone into making the film and the unprecedented hype associated with it, the makers probably wanted to ensure there was enough and more of Rajni. So not only is the superstar in a double role, millions of his prototypes have been created. The problem with such splintering is that you never know whom to root for really. Is it Vashi — the creator, a man who gets jealous of his creation, or the robot Chitti — who turns evil? The film has too many Rajnis walking around, as if providing the audience with a wish-fulfillment where each can take one of them home.

Yet, the first half is somewhat watchable. There are some light moments between Chitti and Aishwarya, and a few of the thrills — though not very ingenious — that keep you at least midly interested. But boredom sets in, in the second half, as the storyline takes a predictable turn where the robot falls in love with his creator’s girlfriend. It’s not so much the plot that is to blame, as much as the insipid treatment and screenplay. The Tamil dialogues are just about passable — there’s none of the chutzpah and humour you associate with a Rajni film, and the romance is altogether serviceable.

In a film about robots, real emotions actually go missing and what one gets is a synthetic film, where one doesn’t feel like one has experienced a Rajni film. The sheen and setting of the film was almost surely going to take away a little from the rawness and fun that has come to be the hallmark of all of the superstar’s movies, but even otherwise, Enthiran is not even a good sci-fi film. Even fantasies must have a semblance of truth to it to be effective, and especially with sci-fi, one has to imagine the happenings in the realm of the probable. The film doesn’t quite achieve that and becomes too much about nuts and bolts and mindless action.

The songs by A R Rahman additionally are a huge disappointment, that lowers the fun quotient considerably.

As for the performances, Rajni will be liked and adored by his fans again, but they might miss his usual histrionics, given he’s playing a robot here. Aishwarya is simply the romantic interest, and has nothing comparable to the challenging role she had in Raavanan.

All in all, an average fare, with a story that defies common sense at several points, and never quite hits the high notes in terms of entertainment.