Friday, November 26, 2010

Break Ke Baad review

Director: Danish Aslam
Starring: Imran Khan, Deepika Padukone, Shahana Goswami, Sharmila Tagore, Yudhishtir
Stars: ***

Heartbreak house

Kunal Kohli produced Break Ke Baad is a surprisingly personal, yet perfectly plausible story of a young girl who cannot make up her mind about love. Taking a cue from Imtiaz Ali's Love Aaj Kal, which brought out the cluelessness of today's youngsters about matters of the heart, Break Ke Baad deals with similar mental vicissitudes, and rather refreshingly looks at the subject from the girl's point of view. Like Deepika Padukone says in the film, 'I am the star of every scene in my life', so the focus is on her throughout, while Imran's is a muted presence.

Abhay (Imran Khan) and Aliya (Deepika) are in a relationship. While Abhay is steadfast and boringly predictable - he spouts romantic lines straight out of cheesy Bollywood romances - Aliya is flighty, self-absorbed and commitment phobic. After some awkward scenes at the beginning, dominated by Deepika's luscious, super-toned waist, the film quickly comes to the point. Aliya wants to explore new things, as she's gotten too used to Abhay's unconditional love. She finds reasons to not like him and ultimately flies off to Australia saying she wants a break from the relationship. Abhay, the ever enduring boyfriend is heartbroken, and soon lands up at Alia's place, a beach side home, where she's staying with two whacked out friends (Yudhishtir, Shahana Goswami.) None of the action that follows is very memorable, though nothing that should particularly irk you either. The screenplay moves fluidly, with some decent punch-lines and light moments, until the film hurriedly arrives at its climax. Fortunately, even if Alia is routinely called 'weird' and 'selfish' in the film, her failings are rightly viewed as a personality type and not an immoral character that needs curing. The climax gets this correctly where she momentarily reverts back to her original skepticism and doubt, once she pleads and gets what she wants.

The theme is a sensitive one, and though debutant director Danish Islam doesn't insult your intelligence at any point, and manages to hit several right notes, the film still doesn't quite pack an emotional punch. For a theme as intimate as this, the characters and setting should have had a far more lived-in feel to them. The use of a foreign location isn't as forced here as in some other films, but it still makes Break Ke Baad seem quite outlandish and distant with a Salaam Namaste hangover. The other issue is Imran's character, which is far too placid and goody-goody - the kind who will carefully pack lingerie into the bag of a girl who has just dumped him. Such men no doubt exist in real life, but unending devotion and mushiness don't necessarily impress a woman. The film gives him no interesting shades at all and merely waits for Deepika to change her mind.

The performances are appropriately in place, though neither Imran or Deepika are the most natural of actors. Imran's dew-fresh good looks and sincere performance see him through, but the actor's lack of expressions and emotional range don't make this role very different from what he did in Jaane Tu..Ya Jaane Naa.
Deepika Padukone is convincing in her part, and delivers what is required of her. Yet, neither actors in the film have the charisma and charm to rise above the limitations of the script at any point. Shahana Goswami is expectedly solid, while Yodhishtir is fun to watch.

Danish Aslam makes an assured debut, with a film that singularly caters to the Facebook generation. What can be said in its favour is that it's not a shallow film, even if it does not end up being an emotionally satisfying story in the end.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

'I choose the best from what I get'

Suriya talks about his debut Hindi film, Raktra Charitra, why he chose Ram Gopal Varma's film and all about his career choices down South

He's one of the most loved stars down South, with a string of hits behind him. His boyish good looks and intense eyes made him an instant heartthrob, and over the past few years, the star - concentrating on massy fares - has seriously got the cash registers ringing. And now, with his first Hindi film, Rakta Charitra 2, the star hopes his act will appeal to an all India audience.

The first time the Hindi audience heard about him was when Aamir Khan announced Ghajini, a remake of the Tamil film that starred Suriya. The ever humble star is full of gratitude for Aamir's gesture of introducing him to the national press. "It was so kind of Aamir sir to call me before doing Ghajini. And when we started speaking it was as if we knew each other for years. It was amazing what he did for me, because he didn't need to. Most actors don't do it, including me. I remember when I did a remake of a Malayalam film, though I spoke to the actor, my interaction was not similar to how it was with Aamir," he says.

Which is why, the actor was rather happy that people in Bollywood were not entirely unaware of him. Yet, Hindi films were not something he planned, he says. The star's modesty prevents him from telling us how popular he is down South, but he states how he is content catering to the Southern audience. Ultimately the break came along because of his keenness to work with Ram Gopal Verma. "He's a filmmaker who attracts me. Whether Rangeela or Satya, he creates his own style and all of us down South have been influenced by his craft. We both wanted to work together and when this opportunity came alone, I wanted to do it," says the actor, who is married to actress Jyothika, who one will remember was seen years ago in Priyadarshan's Doli Saja Ke Rakhna. Today, they are a much adored couple staying in Chennai, with their little daughter.

The big question was also about Suriya learning Hindi. "I don't know much Hindi, but Ramu sir assured me that it wouldn't be a problem because my character of Suryanarayan Reddy is a South Indian and it would be normal for him to speak accented Hindi. I have dubbed for the film," he tells us.

Rakta Charitra 1 & 2 tracks the respective journeys of gangster-turned-politicians Paritala Ravi and Suryanarayan Reddy and their brutal rivalry. Part 1, starring Vivek Oberoi released last month and the film underperformed. Suriya is aware of this. "Yes, it didn't do very well, but I'm confident this is an engaging idea. It will be a very different film for the Tamil audience," he says, adding that the audience won't be at any great disadvantage for not watching the previous part. The first part of Rakta Charitra has been compressed into 20 minutes which will be seen in the second part.

Though Suriya never yearned to be a national star, he says he's nevertheless thrilled to get an all India release. He's also happy about bilinguals coming into the picture with Raavan and now Rakta Charitra. "Who wouldn't want a film that releases all over India and gets accepted? Also, if my film works in the South and earns a few more crores from other states, that would be great," he says.

The actor initially seemed more inclined towards edgy, sensitive films. He did Mani Ratnam's Ayitha Ezhuthu, that was simultaneously re-made in Hindi as Yuva. Then he had other films like Varanam Ayiram, Ghajini and Silluna Uru Kadhal. But off late he seems to be going all out with masala blockbusters, Ayan and Singham. The move has helped him gain supremacy at the boxoffice, but these films have been the run-of-the-mill, potboiler hits. Ask him about it and he says, "You know, I was sitting idle at home for 6 months after Varanam Ayiram. I just wasn't getting any script I liked. That's when I realised that I would have to choose the best from what I get. About Ayan, I thought the customs and cargo angle was relatively unexplored. I like the film's 'catch me if you can' tone. And the film was fairly well-researched an, so I felt it would offer the audience something new and exciting. As for Singham, it was an old commitment. I wasn't sure whether to do it, because I had played a cop in an earlier film, Kakka Kakka. But I eventually did it and the film was a hit," he says.
"When I sign a film, I like it to be a complete package, and offer a different experience to the audience each time. I don't mind whether the film is off beat or an entertainer. I can't cater to a small pocket of audience, I have to think about both my rural and urban audiences," he says, adding that he does care to keep his producers happy.

Tell him about contemporary Southern star, Vikram comment that Surya was earlier more in the Kamal Haasan mould doing edgy films while he was more like Rajinikant doing commercial fares like Kandasaamy, and how there seems to be a reversal with Surya turning to commercial cinema and Vikram doing a film like Raavanan. "Did he really say that? I'm not aware" Surya says. "There can be only one Kamal Haasan and Rajnikant and I cannot dream of being that. But I don't think Vikram will say that about me next year after he sees my line-up of films." The actor's next includes Murgadoss' next with Shruti Haasan, 7aam Arivu and another one with K V Anand (his Ayan director).

"Of course I care about my body of work," says Suriya, as we come to end of our interview. "I don't want them to be just Friday releases. I'd like them to be remembered for long. All films may not be up to the mark, but at least I'd like 75 per cent of my films to be very good." Reassuring words indeed from one of the most talented actors, who seems to have turned too boxoffice oriented in the last few years.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Film review: Guzaarish

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Shernaz Patel, Rajat Kapoor, among other
Showing at: E-Square, Inox
Stars: **1/2

Stung by criticism for his last film Saawariya, one knew that Sanjay Leela Bhansali had immersed himself headlong into his next, Guzaarish, tackling a theme close to his heart - that of human suffering born out of extreme physical handicap. You sit back waiting to be taken through a memorable roller-coaster of emotions, assured in the knowledge that the director -whatever his other weaknesses -will never fail to pour all his energies and passion into his vision.
The emotion of pain is what drives Bhansali's masochistic universe, but in his operatic world, removed from reality, and too self-consciously dolled up, one feels a certain disconnect with his characters and their situations. At least his last Saawariya, with its theme of love and separation perhaps allowed an abstract, poetic representation of the feelings. But this otherworldiness in Guzaarish creates a gulf between the film and the audience, where you are never truly able to feel for the characters.

When the film starts, you see Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan), struggling with his life as a quadriplegic. A great magician at one time, Ethan's world crumbles when one of his tricks goes wrong and he's bed-ridden for life. It's been years now, and Ethan with all his troubles is carrying on well enough, when he suddenly announces that he no more wants to live and makes a plea for euthanasia.
To this bleak world, Bhansali brings a beautiful nurse, Sophia (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) who has been serving Ethan for years now, and continues to do so with a protective, single-minded zeal. The other character to the mix is Devyani (Shernaz Patel), Ethan's best friend and lawyer -fighting his case. Together, they have a nice rhythm going and the film too moves fluidly. The first jerk in the plot is the unlikely entry of Omar Siddiqui (Aditya Roy Kapoor) as an apprentice. Kapoor, who was recently seen in Action Replay, brings too much of his yuppie-ness to the role, and his mocking tone and expression are altogether unappealing. When he's introduced, you think he would have a definite role to play in the proceedings, and some of his actions even suggest this. But like most characters, he's used merely as a prop in Bhansali's canvas.

The singular lack of an emotional arc - both in the growth of the characters and the narrative as a whole - is Guzaarish's biggest failing. Bhansali brings you to the third act directly, and goes headlong into a purging exercise. The script asserts that Sophia has been serving Ethan for 12 long years, and that he's lived the life of a quadriplegic with dignity and so on. But this emotional journey is never truly felt and Ethan's own trauma and why he wants to die, his motivations and so on, are sketchy at best. Bhansali doesn't let you invest in any of the other characters either. For example, Sophia is given a serviceable back story of a husband who beats her up (Makrand Deshpande -refreshing choice), but beyond that, you have no idea what this gorgeous woman, wearing flowing gowns and lovely stone earrings is doing with Ethan.
The tragic twists are all cliched, and there is no thought or idea that the film dealing with such a theme leaves behind. There are all the feel-good, pop spiritual messages peddled around, as one would expect from a dying protagonist.

Yet, expectedly, the film looks beautiful. There are moments of sheer magic, literally and otherwise, and Bhansali once again manages to extract superb performances from the leads. In spite of the limitations of the script, Hrithik Roshan is exceptional in his role of a man who lives life on his terms. It's a controlled, believable portrayal. Aishwarya Rai is more alluring than she has ever been, and it's only Bhansali who can get her to act in such an uninhabited, natural manner.

Overall, the film is not the profoundly emotional experience one might have hoped for. It's got some merits, but Bhansali doesn't quite touch the high notes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Film review: Action Replay

Comic collapse

Director: Vipul Amrutlal Shah
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Aishwarya Rai, Om Puri, Kirron Kher, Aditya Kapoor
Stars: *1/2

As the film opens and you see Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai in hideous make-up, with the latter hamming it up as a shopaholic wife, you suspect this might not be an easy film to watch. And true enough, Action Replay gets progressively bad, and you rue about how much star power and money gets wasted on subjects that amount to zilch.

Heavily inspired from the Hollywood flick, Back To The Future, director Vipul Shah attempts a rom-com with a science fiction twist. But it fails sadly on both counts. As a science fiction, it simply isn’t convincing, and save for a few scenes, the comedy is not remotely funny. Vipul Shah’s own credentials as a director have been curiously mixed. He made the edgy Aakhen and then followed it up with a loud film like Waqt. He made a perfectly watchable Namaste London and then had a potboiler, Singh Is Kinng. His last London Dreams didn't do well, but it was not without potential. With Action Replay, he makes a film that is possibly his worst.

Bunty (newcomer Aditya Kapoor) is saddened to see his parents, Kishen and Mala (Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai) bickering all the time. His girlfriend’s granddad happens to be a scientist (Randhir Kapoor), who is working on a time machine. Bunty uses this to go back in time to 1975 and meet his parents to set things right between them. He is shocked to see his father as a complete loser who is relegated to cooking and hence referred to as 'Kitchen' instead of Kishen. His mother, Mala is a tomboyish, gorgeous beauty. Both are indifferent to each other, but Bunty plays cupid. He gives Kishen a complete makeover, and offers him all the clever tips on how to make Mala fall in love with him.

Now, this film could have worked perfectly. But Vipul Shah ignores that even fantasies need to be grounded in reality and some theoretical plausibility needs to be established for the viewers to take a leap of faith. The maker is in a tearing hurry to get on with the film and heads straight to the lead pair’s antics, and hence all explanation is done away with. Randhir Kapoor looks bemused, as if he can't believe someone would think of casting him as a scientist. The Mumbai of the 70s is as shoddily done, with men walking all over in bell-bottoms and women dressed like Christmas trees. Forget any lived-in feeling to the sets, they look outright fake and tacky – even the plants and trees don't look natural in the film.

The film has plenty of flaws, but the gravest one is its appalling lack of attention to detail. When the screenplay itself is a dud, one could have at least expected to be charmed by the period look. But no such luck, because Shah invests little time or effort in it, and seems to have dumped the work on his dress designers and background composers, who go in for loud, literal choices to capture the 70s flavour. The comic drama itself is far from interesting. One has already seen Akshay playing the loser in one too many films and the ensuing drama — if it can be called that — is so limp, it seems to have been scribbled in a hurry on a piece of tissue paper. Except for a few scenes involving Kirron Kher and Om Puri, the rest of the comedy is puerile and on many occasions, tasteless even.

The film is par for the course for Akshay Kumar, but it is certainly an embarrassment for Aishwarya Rai, who not only finds herself in an extremely poor film, but her own performance is abysmal as well. Always a director's actress, Aishwarya can be ethereal and effective in the hands of an able filmmaker. Here, she is supercilious, pretentious and loud. In a comic drama, acting is all about reactions, but Aishwarya seems content performing her own part and exiting a frame, without even bothering to acknowledge or making eye contact with her co-stars in the same scene.

The other big downer is the music. Pritam has rarely given such forgettable music, but to be fair, nothing could have saved the film. The only chance Action Replay had, was if Vipul has chosen to use the time machine for himself and gone back and made a better film.