The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)

US Presidential hopefuls take RVs, Che went on a motorcycle. The point is you need to go on a road trip to become a successful leader of the people

Ee Adutha Kalathu (Recently)

Strange and familiar make an appearance together for the first time in Malayalam cinema and the pair is a hit

Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl

Four feisty ladies, upbeat music and a handsome conman. Anushka gets Ranveer. Bollywood gets Parineeti

Das Boot (The Boat)

Best WWII film ever, in fact the best war film ever. In true German fashion, restraint is applied by shooting the entire movie inside a U-boat

Neelathamara (Blue Lotus)

Blue lotus shares the same stature of blue moon in Malayalam, so do good remakes. This one bucks the trend.

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Dec 23, 2008

Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na

Once in a while Bollywood loves to throw a curve ball - this time it is called Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. It just goes to prove how 'anjaan' I am when it comes to forming an opinion about movies I am yet to watch. I had tried to stay 'grown-up' regarding the two phenomena unleashed by this film - Imran Khan mania and Genelia D'Souza making it to the top 10 of Google India Zeitgeist 2008. Imran Khan looked like his uncle Aamir Khan's clone and Genelia, well, what was the big fuss about her, we had already seen her in Boys, right? Well, the credit of all the hoopla goes to the film.

It is the usual handsome guy falls for the beautiful girl type of college romance, but it becomes interesting because it is contemporary, the dialogs are natural so are the actors and have some hummable songs thanks to A.R.Rehman. I think credit for making this run of the mill story a success goes to the writer-director, Abbas Tyrewala.

Also worth mentioning is the unique vein of comedy in the film. There is the framed and revered picture of Amar Singh Rathore(played by Naseeruddin Shah who is a talking picture a la Harry Potter) which conducts an ongoing fight from beyond the grave with his wife Savitri(played by Reena Pathak Shah, Naseeruddin Shah's real life wife) which is entertaining to say the least. Another actor with perfect comic timing is Sohail Khan, another of those unexpected funny characters and yes, don't to forget the horses - the Rajput way of fighting global warming. Review: A timepass full-fledged entertainer.

Dec 4, 2008

Malabar Wedding

When Kathakali started getting old, the tourism industry of Kerala discovered Theyyam - the popular ritual dance of North Kerala, lesser known in the tourism circles but culturally much more alive than Kathakali. North Kerala or Malabar comes to the rescue once more when Malayalam movie industry has started running out of genuine Malayali cultural events as themes for their movies. This time around it is the custom of "sorakalyanam" which often accompanies weddings in North Malabar.

I do not know whether the tradition of sora-kalyanam is still going strong or not, but it was when 10-20 years ago when my cousin-brothers were getting married one by one. Sorakalyanam is an elaborate set of pranks and jokes played by the groom's friends on the newly wedded couple on their wedding day. Sometimes the jokes might get too harsh and end up in something serious, although this didn't happen very often.

Indrajith is the hero, Manukuttan - the local youth leader and organizer of several sorakalyanams. Unlike his brother Prithviraj, Indrajit has shown a wider range in his acting. Whether he is a villian, the comedian or the hero, I am yet to see him in a role that doesn't look natural on him. His team of friends in the film include Mamukkoya, Suraaj Venjarmoodu and others. The film-maker duo of Rajesh-Faisal have tried to tell a simple tale. It is one of the bearable Malayalam films of the recent times without the presence of over-bearing superstars. If not for the totally out-of-place climax and the introduction of a new character, which could have been avoided, it is an ok movie.

Dec 3, 2008

Hello

If Atul Agnihotri is to become a director in his own right, he'll have to come out of the shadow of his illustrious brother-in-law, Salman Khan. Till then he has no chance of redemption as a film-maker. Compromising creativity by keeping it all in the family doesn't seem to be the likely path to success.

Hello, what was with the helicopter, Salman Khan and a team of safar-suited security guys surrounding him at the start of the movie? Even J.K.Rowling, she of the wizards, witches, evil Voldemort and a billion dollar empire travels less obtrusively. Salman Khan conveniently forgets the character he has to play. This is the trade mark of all his movies - he is never the character, he is always the megastar, Sallu Khan. And the opening song - whoa! I'd assume the fantasy of a writer would more be in line with writing a best-selling book or winning the Nobel for literature or at least a Booker and not gyrating bare chested with a bevy of blonds on the dance floor. But then writers are not Salman Khan, what do they know?

Blame me, I had some expectations for the movie after reading Chetan Bhagat's novel, One Night @ The Call Center on which the movie is based. The story was tailor-made for Bollywood. In the hands of a good director, it'd have been a definite hit. The theme was contemporary, the characters were young and vibrant and to the gratification of the Indian psyche even God had a role!

The script by Bhagat and Agnihotri is patchy at the best. There are some good lines but they never find their mark. The casting is horrible! When you read the book(yah, reading is the crime, I should've skipped that and just watched movie), the characters were in the 20-25 age group - right out of college and straight in to the BPO band-wagon, thanks to big bucks.

What do we have in the film - a group of aging lions who are trying to fit into teeny bopper clothes. Sohail Khan and Gul Panag are the worst. Gul Panag is a good actress, but what is she doing here in the clothes that belongs to a roadside show-off ten years younger to her? And Vroom, the character played by Sohail Khan, was a dare devil biker in his early twenties. Early twenties and Sohail Khan?!!! That was a lifetime ago that he might not even remember how it felt like. Sharmaan Joshi is bearable. Esha Koppiker and Amrita Arora could be easily forgotten. The only success achieved by the casting team is Sharad Saxena as military uncle. Dilip Taahil as the evil boss is ok. But none of this is as bad as casting Salman Khan as an author. His father might have been one, but Salman clearly didn't inherit his writer genes.

The movie outplays the book when it comes to anti-American rhetoric. (My review of the book is here.) Maybe it was a ploy to get the money from the nationalistic crowd, looks like that didn't work either.Review: A complete letdown.

Nov 26, 2008

Welcome to Sajjanpur

Ok, this is what happens when old timers decide to wear new clothes of the new times. I am trying to think of Shyam Benegal of Yatra, Mandi and Bhumika. Sajjanpur is far cry from all those, although the camera is still firmly planted in the heartland of India. I had never thought of his 2001 film, Zubeida as a genuine Benegal, from my perspective it belonged to Khalid Mohamed.. For me this is the real Benegal movie after almost a decade.

The strong alternate Indian movie current of the 80s has lost its momentum. Ketan Mehta, Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal - all the aging stalwarts of Hindi indies have been resting on their laurels. Meanwhile many commercial Bollywood movies have been bold and successful enough to cross into the territory of Independent films which is indeed a welcome change.

With Sajjanpur,we have an example how these older generation of film-makers would fare if they were to make a comeback. If you just look at the box-office statistics, Benegal's adaptation as a post-2000 Bollywood director can be touted as a success. But if I were to compare Welcome to Sajjanpur's quality with his earlier works, I'd rate this as a canned Bollywood product.

Sajjanpur is a typical northern Indian village but I as watched the movie it was hard not being able to shake off the feeling that it was just a set of a village. All the villagers who start moving as soon as the camera pans into the scene were just extras draped in the accepted contemporary rural attire. Shreyas Talpade, the hero of the movie, a letter-writer who helped illiterate people by writing their mails and postcards, comes out a little too polished with his clean shaven looks. Most of the actors played parts well (Amrita Rao, Ila Arun, Rajeshwari Sachdev, Yashpal Sharma, Divya Dutta) but something didn't jive. Was it their pancake make-up which looked out of place or their clothes which didn't seem to have been worn more than once, something about that village was not right.

The story is an interesting one. It has tried to bring to focus certain topical issues yet the same time remains entertaining.Review : 3 stars

Nov 20, 2008

Rock On

Rock On has a straight forward title, it is about Rock or rather an Indian rock band. The story is of current interest. In the mid 2000s local rock bands started exploding on the Indian music scene. You'd say it is not a new phenomenon. Yes, we did have Indus Creed and Indian Ocean in the nineties. But now there is a plethora of rock bands out there and many of them can draw a sizable crowd of followers irrespective of the language of their songs.

The glaring difference between the real rock bands and the rock-band in Rock On is the songs. The band in the movie is called Magik and is comprised of Farhan Akhtar as the lead singer, Aditya, Arjun Rampal on lead guitar as Joseph Mascerenhas with Purab Kohli(KD) and Luke Kenny(Rob) making up the rest of the team. It is well-made film, not-so-bad script and camera and the actors don't overdo either.

My problem with it? It falls flat on its premise. With such pathetic songs there is no way they could've been a successful rock band. Rock doesn't mean you interject some jarring guitar chords every now and then. I wish they had used a real rock band for composing the music for the film. Anyway Rock On did make an impression on the masses and the producers seem to have gotten back their money's worth.
Review: 3 stars.

Nov 19, 2008

Chak De India

I went through a barrage of movies last month and do not have an ounce of motivation to write reviews except for one - probably the best Bollywood movie I've seen in a while after Aamir - the film that made me hit the computer key board again is Chak De India. This Shah Rukh Khan starrer, with a predictable story line about the rise of an under-dog sports team is one of the well-made, perfectly balanced movies in the recent years.

Like the story, the movie is also the triumph of team effort. You have the Bollywood superstar King Khan, his signature 'King' mannerisms toned down to the bare minimum or practically naught. The film-makers have put together a believable team of girls as the national Women's hockey team picked from various parts of India. I do not know how they went about casting this team, it is so diverse and perfectly cast that it is hard to believe this is not a real team! I reserve my best of the best awards to the script-writer Jaideep Sahni and the director Shimit Amin - they are the ones who had the power to make or break this movie and they did what they wanted to do!

It is a run-of-the-mill story about an under-dog team coming from behind and beating the odds and giving a fitting reply to its detractors. Hindi movies have successfully tried to showcase the underdog sports-person, like in Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander(which was a well-adapted copy of Breaking Away) but Jo Jeeta... was not a true sports film. It had ample Bollywood romance and villainy, buxom girls prancing around trees and dreamy-eyed boys chasing them, sports just added an additional flavor like the desi-favorite Cassata icecream. Then there was Lagaan(India's Oscar entry in 2002) where I'd say Aamir Khan directed his role himself instead of the director, Ashutosh Gowariker. Lagaan because of its sweet 'syrupiness' didn't make as much an impact on me as it did on the rest of the Indian populace, but it was a well-made film that made use of our nation's cricket fever and penchant for breaking off into songs at the drop of a err..ball.

On the contrary Chak De India has nothing but sports and for a change, it is not cricket! India's national game - field hockey finally gets its due and a Bollywood movie starring Shah Rukh Khan! It is the game which won India it's first Olympic gold (Men's hockey,1928 Amsterdam) but is often forgotten under the shadow of the other more popular game in India - cricket.

Chak De India is a loaded movie, the messages it tries to pass on are subtly conveyed, quite opposite to what the conventional Bollywood wisdom would advise. The movie is one of the few which has taken up the cause of the dark horse without explicitly coming on to your face with its messages. In fact there is more than one dark horse. Field hockey is one, women as a gender is another, being the representative of a misunderstood minority(Kabir Khan - the role of the coach played by Shah Rukh Khan) is another.

None of these issues are thrust on to the viewer. If you belong to 'time-pass' denomination you might never see the issues the film tries to bring to light and would be able view it as a pure entertainment package tinged with excitement of a sports event. If you are the serious kind, it has material for intellectual rumination as well. The success (it was the third highest grossing movie of 2007) of the movie is that it was able to tap into both kind of audience,which is a very rare event in Hindi film-dom.

Although the title is Chak De "India", thanks to the story and the script there is no over-the-top nationalistic jingoism. That is what amazes me the most about this movie, its restraint on a subject which could've easily been over-done, like a perfectly cooked shrimp(:-P) in this aspect Review: Chak de!

Oct 15, 2008

Sing is Kinng

From Punjab, Southern Extension aka Bollywood comes the quintessential Panju flick(it is purported to be a Hindi movie) - Singh is Kinng starring Punjab da puttar Akshay Kumar(aka Rajiv Bhatia in real life.) Singh is Kinng is known to have boosted tourist industry in Egypt, Australia and reduced the tourist inflow to Punjab, India (it is just a place full of Sardars, just like Birmingham,UK or Toronto,Canada) - nothing special about it since Makki di roti and Sarson da Saag are available everywhere these days.

Total time pass if you can make the time pass admiring color-coordinated Sardar attire or listen to Katrina Kaif's lilting Hindi or just find some humor(there is some, if you take the trouble) in the dialogs of the coterie surrounding Akshay Kumar. Review: If you nothing else to do, Singh might be able to entertain you with Snoop Dog for around two hours.

Oct 13, 2008

Bhargavacharitham Moonam Khandam

It is not so often that you see Malayalam movies with plots lifted from Hollywood. One that comes to mind is Thoovalsparsham, but then even Hollywood borrowed it from the original French version called Three Men and a Cradle. This time it is the funny movie - Analyze This where the mafia don seeks psychiatric help for his shaky hands.

Mammootty plays Robert De Niro's mob boss character, while Billy Crystal's psychiatrist morphs into Sreenivasan in the Malayalam version. Story and screenplay is credited to Sreenivasan, but this is one of the few times that Sreenivasan has failed to impress me. There is occasional glimmers of brilliance in the script, but they are few and far-between. There is an over-powering element of artificiality in the entire movie, whether it be the pshychiatrist's dialogs or mafia don's costumes. Review:Bearable, barely.

Oct 11, 2008

Bachna Ae Haseeno


An eye-candy movie if you like Ranbir or Deepika. The movie tries to pour Ranbir into the same mold which proved successful for his father, of the guitar totting, flirtatious lover boy. What is absent in the son is his father’s colorful sweaters which are replaced by the rapper-bling necessary to earn street-cred in twenty-first century.

Three leading ladies - Minissha Lamba, Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone line up for Ranbir. Ranbir Raj Kapoor is Raj, a happy go lucky young man who is happy and lucky in love during various stages of his life. But not all his ladies turn to be as lucky as him except for the last one to make an entry, Deepika. The story spans three continents, just for the sake of picturesque songs and the plot-line could’ve done without the intercontinental jumps. But who cares, we get to see all the scenic locales from around the planet without leaving the couch in the company of beautiful people. Paisa wasool.

Two observations: Ranbir is trying to lock on the name Raj. He is Raj in all the movies I’ve seen of him. King Khan has been the last one who had a copyright on the name the last time I checked. Ofcourse Ranbir can proclaim that the Raj mania started with his grand-father, the original and the real Raj Kapoor. Ranbir also inherits it as his real-life middle name from his grandfather, thereby claiming he is the rightful owner of the name, Raj. Anyway Rahuls can rest in peace for some time at least, while we become inundated with on-screen Rajs.

The other Khan territory Ranbir is trying to encroach into is that of Salman Khan’s semi nakedness. The only Bollywood actor on whose torso a shirt never seemed to stick for long was Salman, now Ranbir has been bitten by the same bug. Well, all I can say is Ranbir’s is a bit more bearable than Salman’s body which looks like the playground of steroids.

Back to the movie. It has hummable songs set in Switzerland, Italy, Australia and India. The title of the movie and the title song 'Bachna Ae Haseeno' is from 1977 movie Hum Kissise Kum Nahin, starring Ranbir’s dad Rishi Kapoor and set to music by R.D.Burman. They seemed to be bend upon making him junior Rishi Kapoor at all costs. Director Siddharth Raj Anand has made an ok, saleable Bollywood movie which started off way too sweet for the tongue but made it up later on. Review: Timepass regular Bollywood fare.

Oct 10, 2008

State and Main

State and Main follows the events when a Hollywood film crew arrives in an idyllic Vermont town. It is a script-writer's movie, a 'smart-alecky' one at that. The characters are quite well-formed too. Alec Baldwin's hero with a penchant for teenage girls, William H.Macy as the director of this balancing act, Sarah Jessica Parker - the Hollywood siren, Philip Seymour Hoffman's as the writer who has gotten his first big break, David Peymer as Marty, the producer and Mamet's wife Rebecca Pidgin playing the small town girl who is into theater. David Mamet's film don't usually fail to entertain, whether it was the Spanish Prisoner or Heist, his scripts carry them through to the destination.

Oct 6, 2008

The Pursuit of Happyness

So not the movie to watch during the current financial crisis. The whole concept of investment banking as one of the pit-stops of happiness is not going to sell after the market crash of 2008. The story is an interesting one considering it is the true life story of a man name Chris Gardner in San Francisco of the early eighties.

Will Smith is Chris Gardner, a salesman, with the potential for greatness but poverty keeping the greatness in check. One sun shiny day he finds himself in a street where everyone is smiling, the reason for their happiness : they are all investment bankers!!! In the real world today same street must be the unhappiest and the gloomiest in town. But this movie was made in 2006, 2008 was still in the future they'd not know that we have given up chasing 'happyness', the investment banking route.

Will Smith has tried to take a different role in his home production away from the action-hero role he is accustomed to. His son plays same part in the movie as he does in real life, as Will's son. The wife is played by Thandie Newton, I wish they could've built up her role a bit, we don't get to see much character development there. This is Hollywood's take on the common man - one that has to live in homeless shelter, be a single parent, look for a job - all in one breath. Will Smith has director Gabriel Muccino take a leaf from Chris Gardener's biography - one that has the smell of money and the victory of the underdog and present it before a receptive audience, guess it should have made decent profit.

Oct 3, 2008

Ore Kadal

Despite Mammootty, Ore Kadal was a rare treat to watch. Based on Bengali author Sunil Gangopadhyay’s novel Hirak Deepti, director Shyamaprasad tells a story of human relationships in a big city. Mammotty plays a middle-aged economist-author, Nathan who tries to stay clear of meaningful relationships which might burden him emotionally. Although it becomes the burden of the audience to watch him play a romantically involved role with heroine, Meera Jasmine who is younger than his real-life daughter.

Meera Jasmine,won State Award for Best Actress for her role as Deepti, a middle class house-wife trapped without any avenues for self-advancement in a faceless skyscraper. Narain plays her husband and Ramya Krishnan acts as Nathan's female confidante. Shyamaprasad's films has a mature and unique way of treating human interactions and relationships. His earlier films like Agnisakshi and Akale were testament to his creative abilities. Ore Kadal doesn't disappoint either.

The story of Ore Kadal is contemporary, self-centric where the focus moves away from people as pawns in a joint family (like in Agnisakshi) to the people themselves. Many of Deepti's actions reminds me of the role of an individual in a westernized society more than the one in the traditional Indian society that she resides in. The screenplay has been meaningfully translated into the context, no wonder when the director himself is the writer, the quality is reflected in the final product.

I hear that this movie barely ran for a week in cities like Thiruvananthapuram, supposedly this is an award film not fit for consumption by general public. I think more than anyone else it is the public who is responsible for abysmal fate of the current Malayalam movie industry.

Sep 27, 2008

I am Legend

Another one of those movies predicting the human apocalypse and the redemption beyond. Here humanity's only hope is Will Smith, the ace virologist although only about one percent of the human race is left. There is another 10% who have mutated to some kind of gruesome blood sucking bi-peds, there only hope is also Will Smith. They don't know that or couldn't care less.

In the second half of the movie a messenger of God appears before Will in the form of a woman and her son(presumably) going to a survivor's community supposedly existing in Vermont. Dr.Smith denies the existence of such a community, denies the existence of God, only to be wiped off into a legend just before the closing credits come up on screen, hence I am Legend.

Sep 22, 2008

American Rhapsody


American Rhapsody although not a made for TV movie, stops falling into that category thanks to Scarlett Johansson and a pair of Romanian actors who play the role of foster parents to Scarlett's character. Director Eva Gardos tells her own story of spending her early childhood behind the Iron Curtain and re-uniting with her parents in Canada some years later.

Sep 19, 2008

Iqbal


If I do a two way comparison of Iqbal it'll be like this, (IMHO) Iqbal is better than Lagaan in showcasing the spirit of cricket in Indians(I hope no Lagaan lovers are listening) but cinematic qualities of Kukonoor (the director) improves in his later films like Dor.Iqbal gave us Shreyas Talpade, who mentions in one of his recent interviews that how after Iqbal he was flooded with offers to portray sport-stars, but he held off. And that has paid off for Shreyas who has finally become the leading man in Shyam Benegal's Welcome to Sajjanpur, after playing Sharukh's sidekick in the mega hit Om Shanti Om.

Iqbal is about a mute village teen who is obsessed with cricket. Not only is he obsessed with it, it turns out that he bowls pretty well too.It is a story of the triumphant under-dog which'll appeal to the masses, although it is toned down to the everyday level of reality compared to the Bollywood fare. The film has Naseeruddin Shah and Girish Karnad, two of the stalwarts of Indian cinema as cricket coaches who come across the talent of Iqbal(Shreyas Talpade.) Agreed that Shreyas has given an above average performance in the movie but then again he is the central character. The person who struck me was the girl who played Iqbal's sister Khadija in the movie - Shweta Prasad. Although I've not seen her national award winning performance in Makdee, she is a natural actor who acts as literally the 'mouthpiece' for her mute brother in this movie.

I do not know how well it did at the box-office. Nagesh Kukonoor movies all start off with no fanfare, then it is usually the mouth to mouth publicity that drives them forward. Although Kukonoor of the 2005 or 2008 is not the no-namer US returned engineer trying his hand at directing movies with no-name actors, he has grown to become a force to reckon in Indian Parallel Cinema.

Sep 18, 2008

Nadiya Kollappetta Rathri

Suresh Gopi is at it again: Playing a brainiac cop who punches hard and uses English for his punch lines stressing words at the wrong points. Along with a bunch of dumbass assistants who are there for the purpose of doing the hard work and asking crucial questions which could only be answered by His Braininess Mr.Super Cop himself, this is another cop character for Suresh Gopi who doesn't want to shed his police gene. Can't blame him either. If all the roles the producers are willing to offer him are the cop roles, with the meaty ones going to the superstars - Mammootty and Mohanlal, the man has to do something to survive in the industry.

Nadiya Mather, the main character in the movie is played by Kavya Madhavan. This is one of the rare times a female lead gets a double role. Kavya also plays the role of Nadira, Nadiya twin sister. While Nadiya is an ace shooter, Nadira is the more docile classical dancer. On the fateful night, Nadiya boards Sowparnika Express which goes from Chennai to Mangalore and she is murdered in her First AC compartment. The movie has shades of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, but it is not quite that either. Two other murders happen in the same AC coupe on that same night, both are women traveling alone. One is Shreya Mariya(Suja) an NDTV reporter and the other is Thulasimani, a dancer played by Suja Karthika. If you ask me, both murders are totally useless to the plot, probably that's why Agatha Christie left them out in the first place in the original story.

Director K.Madhu succeeds in keeping the audience from leaving halfway thru' the film, which is an achievement considering the fact that if you have seen one Suresh Gopi (as)cop movie you have seen 'em all. Kavya gives a good performance in the roles of twins showing as far as acting is concerned she could be trusted with any role.

The most serious flaw of the movie is a scientific one. We can see that Nadiya and Nadira are identical twins and not fraternal twins. Let me put it this way, atleast no effort was put into making them look not identical. Identical twins have the same blood group because one egg and a sperm creates two people by splitting one fertilized egg. Super cop Sharaffudin Tharamasi IPS (Suresh Gopi) solves the murder case based on the fact that Nadiya and Nadira have two different blood groups. Hard to believe if you know science. They could have gotten Kavya and say some one like Gopika and claimed them they were twins or they could have had Kavya do both the roles but had a good make up expert work on Kavya so that she could look as two different persons, the argument of different blood groups would have worked. In a story where the murder is committed by a surgical blade, they should have cared to get the medical facts straight.

There are other interesting characters who inhabit the confines of the first AC compartment which is the scene of three brutal murders. Suraj Venjarammoodu as Thattamangalam Muthu the Ticket Collector with his trademark Thiruvananthapuram accent which stays put no matter what the name and place of origin of his character is one of them. Bindu Panicker excels as the stereotypical mother of female actresses, one of the passengers. Shammi Thilakan as Tharamasi's side-kick Sudarshan wearing colorful pants and turtlenecks with a belt over the turtleneck, is bound to unleash a red/yellow/orange jeans fashion tsunami in Kerala! Siddique has a funny wig and is a music maestro called Ghulam something, then there is a heavily made up Urmila Unni and a bevy of the other characters that one tends to forget. All in all because of the suspense element the movie is bearable and the director has somehow succeeded in keeping the audience interest barely alive till the very end. Good for him.

Sep 17, 2008

Clockwatchers

Clockwatchers is female camaraderie in the big city before there was Sex & the City. I got a VHS tape from the library thinking that it could be a chick flick from the eighties that I can mindlessly watch (or not watch) on our old TV while I sorted thru' two weeks worth of laundry. It turned out that it deserved more than mindless watching.

It follows four female friends at work. Work means temping at a big Corporation where nobody knows your name but will admonish if your a stitch on your hemline is off because you are damaging their corporate image. Toni Collette, Parkey Posey, Lisa Kudrow and Alanna Ubach are the corporate serfs, each following a dream of their own, trying to get out of their monotonous existence.

The movie could also be seen as a female version of Office Space where you deal with emotions in the raw form, rather than making fun of it like in Office Space. A more serious look at a similar issue, although I would not call it same. The end destination of both the movies was to give an unexpected blow to the corporate entity that was eating away the life of the characters. While Office Space achieved it with on your face "fire", ClockWatchers uses a more subtle and understated route to reach the destination. And I was wrong thinking it was an eighties film, it was from 1997, two years before the underground hit Office Space came out. Kudos the director Jill Sprecher.

Sep 4, 2008

Akasham


In Akasham director Sunderdass gives Harishree Ashokan his first full length role as a character actor. Ashokan's antics as a comedian used to serve as a warning to stay clear of movies in which he had acted. But then again I understand the reason he continues with that style because that is what people accepted him for and that is what earns him his bread and butter.

In Akasham, none of his over-exaggerated comical mannerisms are there. He is the father, the provider of a small family of five which includes his wife(Jyothirmayi), 2 daughters and his mother(KPAC Lalitha.) Everything is fine with his family life and his work as a mechanic in a car workshop run by a considerate boss(Innocent) till he becomes a suspect in a bomb plot thanks to some facial similarity with the real terrorist. T.A.Razak the story-writer wrote the story with Ashokan in mind. The haunted dog-schizoprenia angles gives a lot of scope to over-act, which thankfully Ashokan has not exploited. But it is not a role which calls for subtle acting either. Ashokan is ok, not heart-rendering as his fellow comedian Salim Kumar's first character role in Achchan Urangatha Veedu. Review: A passable movie in a time when things are not going great with Malayalam cinema.

Sep 2, 2008

Saawariya


Every frame of Saawariya is a visual poem. I have said this quite a few times in this blog lately, I have to repeat it again - Hindi films are going places, where they have never been before. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is known for creatic cinematic verses like Devdas(which I didn't like much), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam(again not one of my favorites although not due to the treatment but due to my basic dislike of the core story), Khamoshi etc. This is perhaps the first Bhansali film that left a positive impression on me.

As is the case with most things in life, it is good to watch a film without expectations. Ranbir, son of yesteryear Bollywood stars, Neetu Singh and Rishi Kapoor and the namesake of his grandad Raj Kapoor(Raj Kapoor's real name was Ranbir Raj Kapoor) stars opposite Anil Kapoor's daughter Sonam(yet another Bollywood Kapoor, but totally unrelated to the first khandaan of Indian cinema - The original Kapoors which includes Ranbir's whole family right from his great grand dad Prithviraj Kapoor to Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor and so on.)

Based of Dostoevsky's story White Nights and translated in to tinsel by Bhansali and his art-director Omung Kumar, Saawariya is a Bollywood musical in the tradition of old style musicals. Although they took the elevator to Bollywood by the virtue of their birth when many others are still panting up the stairs, Ranbir and Sonam do exhibit a flair for acting. But the one who steals the show with her acting prowess is Rani Mukerji as Gulabji the vivacious prostitute. I shouldn't forget to mention 96 year old Zohra Sehgal as "Lillipop." Now did we really need those characters? Probably not. It reminds me of the question my Russian friends have asked me quite often, "why do you Indians spoil good food with all that spice?" It's all upto you to decide whether we need more spice(characters) or not?

Saawariya bombed at the box-office. Ranbir and Sonam seemed to have escaped unhurt. If you peel away the rich veneer of the set and the costumes, Saawariya is not the usual Bollywood staple. The core story is left untouched. St.Petersburg is transformed to an ethereal blue-green-ultra marine-turquoise world. I cannot but marvel at the amazing flight of artistic expression acheived by art director Omung Kumar and the talented camera man Ravi K.Chandran(the cinematographer who started off wielding camera for Malayalam films) whose lens captured it in mind-blowing frames. Of course all thanks to freedom they were given by the director. As some one who was trained in a visual profession, the sheer artistry of the scenes make up for all its flaws.

Om Shanti Om and Saawariya were released on the same day. If I were to choose the first day-first show ticket I'd have chosen OSO for its entertainment value. Saawariya will be reserved for the day when crowds would've thinned out, the movie hall virtually empty and I could lie back and be enveloped by the rich deep blue hues of a fantasy land. If Saawariya made a rather hasty departure in your part of the world as it did everywhere else then this is a movie best fit to watch on your new wide-screen television. My review: unbelievable visuals, good songs and eye-candy actors.

Sep 1, 2008

Gone Baby Gone


Gone Baby Gone is typical Lehane. It is funny that I didn't notice it till the very end, although I've not read this particular novel of his. Again not very funny if you consider my reading habits(reads more by accident than due to habit these days) and memory (once past thirty smog moves from LA into your memories, permanently.)

It is the dark, blue collar side of Boston, Ben Affleck is attempting his first Clint Eastwood venture. Turns out almost as good as the master. Boston-Lehane-Eastwood team did it with Mystic River back in '03. Sean Penn picked up a statue on the Oscar night for it. Here Affleck in his directorial debut puts his kid brother Casey in Sean's place. The kid does good, a restrained performance from him and a mature attempt at direction by his older sibling.

Aug 31, 2008

Salaam E Ishq

Salaam E Ishq was my earthing cable. Spending 2+ hours 'trying' to watch this movie will you kept me earth bound, free of any high-flying fantasies that I may have had of Bollwood. Bollywood still swears by the same naach-gaana,missing locket,amnesia routine. You were wrong, reality didn't make any pit-stops at Bollywood. You were watching the wrong movie. This one is the right one, nothing has changed. And Salman Khan is still totally in love with himself, with accented Hindi to the boot and many a time he wears just that - accented Hindi and the boots, no threads attached I mean clothes.

Aug 27, 2008

Jodha Akbar

They had the money and they made good use of it. Jodha Akbar is the kind of movie you don't get to see very often these days in Bollywood or in any other wood for that matter. A historical romance with larger than life characters, grand-eloquent scenes that overflow the confines of screen, thousands of extras (and the rest CGI?), intricately detailed magnificent sets are just a few factors that make up the grand procession of a movie that is Jodha Akbar.


It tells the story of love between the famed Mughal emperor of India, Akbar and his Hindu Rajput wife, Jodha Bai, a story the film points out that history chose to ignore in favor of the bloodier battles and magnanimous conquests. There are plenty of interpretations of Jodha Bai's story and being India, all of these serve as reasons for protests and bans on the film. Akbar might not have been as handsome as Hrithik Roshan, the actor who plays him in the movie nor Jodha could've been an ex-Miss India as Aishwarya Rai who plays her role was. Neither of them are great actors, but they have done justice to their roles in this movie.

The opening battle-scene is impressive, probably the first of its kind in India. The sets of Diwan-e-Am and Jodha's quarters are very detailed. I have been to Agra Fort and I find that they have made an excellent copy of Diwan-e-Am and its environs. Although we get to see some historical figures like the minister Todarmal, some are noted by their absence like Beerbal or Tansen. Then again the film covers just a few months in the life of Akbar and Jodha, soon after their marriage. My review, I had expected not to like the film but it impressed me, the way the money had been spent to bring a classic of DeMillian proportions. That doesn't happen everyday.

Aug 15, 2008

Roger and Me

Flint, Michigan - I came to know about the existence of this town and the role it played in American auto industry through Michael Moore's later documentaries like Bowling for Columbine and Farenheit9/11. It took me almost twenty years to watch the documentary that kick-started the Michael Moore phenomenon, Roger and Me, way back from 1989, part of which Moore financed mortgaging his home.

Roger and Me is a personal statement for Moore who was born and brought up in Flint and is the son of a former GM employee. It is his first documentary film, the one which changed the way the world viewed documentaries. However big the anti-Michael Moore camp is, one thing is for certain, the man has talent and his works are crowd-pullers or ask Miramax, Lions Gate, MGM or the Weinstein Company or any company who financed him assured of the whopping returns.

Documentaries started beeping in the ordinary film buff's radar after Moore started making them. Of the top five highest grossing documentaries of all time - three are made by Michael Moore (Farenheit 9/11, Sicko and Bowling for Columbine.) So what was it about Roger and Me that clicked?

It was an emotional response of a Flint native who had just been let off from his job in San Francisco, returns home to find that the backbone of economy in his Michigan hometown, General Motors is closing their plant and laying off 30,000 workers. The man had good reason to be angry. Out of his anger and his sense for social justice comes the documentary Roger and Me. Through out the length of the movie Moore is trying to track down GM's then chairman Roger Smith and to make him come down to Flint to witness what the result of his one action(ie closing the plant which was not making any losses per se) had on the community.

Before he beings his quest he presents his credentials, from the old home-movie clips of toddler Michael Moore, black and white photos of his Dad working at GM factory, his job in San Francisco - a city where everyone has a job and although that job seems to be drinking lattes in cafes and how he was let off, to come back as a disgruntled young man back to Flint only to find out things are much worse off in Flint. The scene is set. The journey begins. The destination is Roger Smith. No spoilers here, if you didn't find time to watch this documentary in the last 20 years, don't hesitate now, it won't fail you.

Personally I like the narrative style of Moore, I think that is what brings him his audience. Though he has been accused presenting a world view to support his arguments, almost all the time Moore sides with the victims and the vanquished not the victors. Contrary to what Churchill famously said, history needs to be written by both sides.

Aug 14, 2008

Taare Zameen Par

Whether it was the hype surrounding it or whether I was too late in watching it that I had become saturated with reviews that called the movie, 'exceptional' I think Taare Zameen Par is a well-made Hindi movie, nothing beyond that. I'd reserve the use of superlative adjectives for some other times. Good movie from a first time director, Aamir Khan.

I am not a big fan of self-righteous movies where the hero tells people (or rather teaches thru' a series of magic strokes / scenes) how wrong they were and how right he is. The central theme, that of a dyslexic child, is new to Indian movie-goers and it is a good idea that Aamir decided to turn the spotlight on dyslexia, an 'invisible' disease, not usually recognized by Indian society.

Darsheel Safary, the child actor who has the central role does his job well. Probably the first time a commercial Hindi movie has been successfully carried on the shoulders of a little boy, although it has happened many a time in our regional languages like Malayalam, Tamil, Marathi etc. Since many of the Hindi film-goers are unaware of the existence of such movies or their pint-size actors, Darsheel is touted as a phenomenon. Remember Manjunath as Swamy or Kumar in Deshadanam or Shyamili in Anjali. Probably not, except for Swamy none of these were Hindi movies.

Part of Darsheel's success should also be attributed to Aamir Khan. The way Aamir directed the boy tapping on to his talent produced the winning combo. I have seen a lot of Iranian directors excel in this aspect, making successful movies with just the child actors as their main focus - Jafar Panahi's White Balloon, Majid Majidi's Children of Heaven, Bahman Ghobadi's Turtles Can Fly etc all use the fresh innocent world view of kids. If executed correctly it is a sure-fire recipe for success, but to win over Bollywood audience you need to accentuate the extreme. The good is really good as Nikumb the art teacher played by the director himself and the autistic little boy wronged by the whole society, the bad is really bad - here it is the father of the kid, an insensitive moron bend on making successes out of his boys and the school authorities in general.

Somehow TZP failed to click with me, it is too much black and white, devoid of shades of gray which is there in every situation like this. But then greys don't sell in Bollywood. My review although not negative is not positive either and ofcourse I understand Aamir Khan needs to make a film that sells.

Aug 13, 2008

Aamir


Aamir is one of those films that merits a review the moment one finishes watching it. But I have the usual every-(wo)man excuse, ‘didn’t get time.’ Excellent movie, nail-biting and laden with dollops of tension at every turn, Aamir is another fine specimen that records the evolution of Hindi movie from not-so-good to best.

Every time we watch a path-breaking Hindi movie the first question is, is it an original or an Indianized Hollywood adaptation? The makers say it is 100% desi as shudh ghee. Although in the internet community there is strong buzz that it is based on Philippino film by the name, Cavite.

We have a fresh-faced hero, Rajeev Khandelwal. Fresh to us, who have not watched Hindi network TV after ‘Shanti’ hit the tube. For most people back in Bharat Varsh, he is a familiar face in Hindi soaps like Kahin To Hoga, Kya Hadsa Kya etc. Basically it is his movie, except for a few supporting characters necessary for the story Khandelwal has the whole movie to himself. He shines in the role with a restrained yet strong performance.

During the first few minutes of the movie I was wondering whether this movie was lifted off of Phone Booth. Although there is no phone booth in the movie, ie no fixed geographic position, the protagonists in both the films are bound to a phone, only difference seemed to be, one was a LAN line while other was a cellphone. But the similarity doesn’t go far, Aamir is an Indian story, shot in the gallis of Mumbai(esp. the Muslim areas of the city like Dongri), the dirt and the grime and the cause and the result are indigenous. My bad, it is not Phone Booth from any angle, phones have starred in many movies. These days a cell phone is just an extension of the human ear and ‘chaining’(not physically) a man to a phone has been exploited in numerous movies like Cellular, Phone Booth, Nick of Time, Cavite etc. Running from something or running to escape something was pioneered by Run Lola Run. There was a quote which can be used to sum up the situation ( I don’t remember the original quote, the rough translation follows.) "Original is the one who can best hide his source."

The film keeps its pace, sustains viewer’s interest and deals with a contemporary issue. For a first time director Raj Kumar Gupta did a neat job. Music by Amit Trivedi sets the tone for the events and is refreshing. Good enough for me.

Aug 12, 2008

Taste of Cherry

Taste of Cherry belongs to an earlier era of masterpieces, when life flowed slower. That it was released in 1998 and was hailed as one cinematic work of genius makes me want to question my cinematic senses, which might not be as evolved as I have led myself to believe. The long takes and the slow moving story reminded me of international films of the sixties, seventies and eighties which won standing ovations at exotic film festivals like Cannes and Locarno.

Maybe it is my years of living in the US of A, my interpretation of the film is very different from what it could have been had I never left India. First few minutes of the movie, I had a bad feeling about the lead actor’s intention (ofcourse looking thru’ American tinted glasses one may say). The rest of the movie was too slow moving to sustain my interest. Review: Way over my head to get the gist. Sorry Mr.Kiarostami. My bad.

Aug 5, 2008

Om Shanti Om

Today is so not an Om-Shanti-Om day. It is overcast,cloudy and even the rain has forgotten how to unburden itself, typical of the summer this year. In contrast, Om Shanti Om(here after called OSO) is all summery, colorful, cheery, loud, bombastic, groovy, best served by Bollywood and only Bollywood.

OSO has everything Bollywood is famous for - a double dose of a superstar (Shah Rukh Khan in a double role), a beautiful leading lady (debutante Deepika Padukone). The hero is accessorized by a filmy Mom(Kirron Kher), an entertaining side-kick(played by Shreyas Talpade) who has no aspirations for himself, the centuries old hangover of the obedient Lakshman serving the King Ram(ref:Ramayana).The sweet innocence and overwhelming charm of the hero is held in check by a villian who as usual is more sophisticated and westernized(thereby really really evil) than the hero himself. This time that mantle falls on Arjun Rampal.

Like the hero and the heroine, plot is also BOGO(Buy One Get One Free.) Well, that's how the hero and the heroine got double roles in the first place. Multiple choice question: Reincarnation or Twins? The director-story writer Farah Khan chose reincarnation, it gives better mileage across decades. Made in the 'Karz' template(is there a more successful reincarnation movie than Karz ever?), we start in the seventies where Shah Rukh Khan is Om Prakash Makhija, a junior artist who wants to make it big in Bollywood one day. He is in love with his screen idol - Shantipriya(most of Bollywoods #1 heroines except Madhuri Dixit were from South India, thus a South-Indian name, I guess.) Deepika Padukone is fresh, beautiful and an Indian a face you could ask for in a Bollywood heroine. I failed to mention talented, especially for a new-comer. His 'dashingness' Mr.Arjun Rampal is her object of affection in the film. Not going to reveal the story much further, as if there is anyone left in the Indian subcontinent and the NRI continent who has not seen this already.

It's fun to see the Bollywood of the yester-years in color, 'Shantipriya' digitally inserted into old movie clips(Forrest Gump style) cavorting with leading men long gone. There are jabs at all the famous actors, careless hints about famous movies placed at careful spots through out the script, a song that brings in the old and the new faces of Bollywood - lots of color and music in a fast groovy tempo. Vishal-Shekar's music is catchy and blends in(and adds) to the hungama of the movie.

Shahrukh reincarnates as Om Kapoor - a Bollywood heart-throb and Deepika(aka Shantipriya) comes back as Sandy,a wannabe actress. With the reversal of roles and fortunes, King Khan has more power - which means more songs, more masti and a sure defeat of the villian in the cards, who unfortunately ages 30 years, no reincarnation for him, but luckily looks just as handsome. I loved the way movie ended where everyone from the hero to the spot-boy walks down the red-carpet.

Whatever the reviews, Om Shanti Om ruled the domestic and international box-office at the fag end of 2007, continues the same with DVD sales. A winner for Farah, ShahRukh and the team. Leave your brain at the door, enter the world of Bollywood masala, don't wear seat-belts(you might feel an involuntary urge to get up and dance), forget Kurosawa, Ray, Bergman, Scorsese(if you can't, get out, this movie is not for you anyway) and enjoy the ride. Review: Well done, Farah.

Jul 25, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited

First, get this: There is no Darjeeling in The Darjeeling Limited. Maybe Wes Andersen, the director wanted to make the India connection obvious without having to literally title the film The Great Indian Train Adventure (where India = Rajasthan.) Darjeeling tea is synonymous with quality "Indian" tea all over the geographical vestiges of the former British empire. Darjeeling Tea cannot be grown or manufactured anywhere else in the world. Just as Champagne is indigenous to the Champagne district of France, so is Darjeeling Tea to Darjeeling. Thus the naming proves beyond reasonable doubt that movie was indeed shot in India, although sweet lime not Darjeeling black tea is the official drink of the movie.

To me, Wes Andersen's movies are slow-going, out-of-the-box characters are kept in a box and their interactions are observed. Check out his movies before this one, like The Royal Tenenbaums where a family of child prodigies were assembled in one house or Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou where a bunch of oceanographers were kept inside a submarine. In this latest offering, we have three somewhat-estranged brothers reuniting on a spiritual re-invention trip through India - the mother lode of spirituality on the planet, in a colorful moving train.

Andersen, a Satyajit Ray fan uses music from Ray films through out the movie, his tribute to the master. The film is bright, loud and colorful, the way India strikes a western tourist. Most of it is shot in Rajasthan, the place Andersen fell in love with while he started writing the script in a rainy and overcast Darjeeling - not much scope for color there.

Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody and Jason Schwartzman play the three brothers trying to find themselves and reconnect with each other in a strange land. Since no movie of Wes Andersen can be made without Bill Murray, the opening shot has Murray running to catch an unruly Indian train, he has no role afterwards. It is a slow and strangely funny movie, interesting if you are interested in the interpretations of India or Wes Andersen's style. Being an Indian, I'd count myself in the first category, curious to know what other people make out of my homeland.

Jul 23, 2008

Best of Youth

Best of Youth started as a mini series in Italian TV. It's popularity won the series a spot in BBC4. It didn't stop there, this six hour movie went on to win the prestigious Un Certain Regard award at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. A story of two brothers, it is also a portrayal of the evolution of contemporary Italy, from mid twentieth century to the present. Luigi Lo Cascio and Alessio Boni stars as the two brothers, birds of the same feather yet different as chalk and cheese. The film is a grand procession of faces and places through the lives of the brothers as Italy evolves into a twenty-first century nation.

Jul 11, 2008

Sunshine

If you like an overload of Ralph Fiennes this is the movie for you. A three hour saga of five generations a Jewish-Hungarian family in Europe, where Ralph Fiennes appears as the male protagonist in three successive generations. He plays three roles through the course of the movie, each time from youth to old age. Man, that's a lot of Fiennes! It is an interesting story for 20th century European/Jewish history enthusiasts. The major historical events are assimilated into the evolution of the main characters. Although I found it a little too polished, a bit contrived, maybe not raw enough as Schindler's List.

Jun 24, 2008

The Lives of Others

My home state Kerala has an incurable addiction - Communism. Our ideological gurus, the beacons who had showed us the course in the fifties and the sixties - the Russians and the Chinese have fallen or adopted a brand of capitalism that is their own. But Kerala staunchly remains in the race to claim the title as the last bastion of Communism in the world - being nestled inside a democratic framework surely helps.

Many a time a thought crosses many of us - the ex-Keralites(or non-resident Keralites), that we should put all these Communists in a real communist state like China or North Korea and let them 'enjoy' the fruits of the system. Since that is practically impossible, the next thing would be to show them a movie, made by the intellectuals who had languished under the Communist regimes in different parts of the world. The 2006 Oscar winner for the Best Foreign Film, The Lives of Others is one such film. I don't think a few movies can cause much damage to my Communist brethren. Their genes are hard-coded with principles, first created in nineteenth century Europe as a cure for a vastly different world order. But this movie is a gem, worth a watch for anyone following any kind of '-ism'. An incredibly true-to-life portrait of the life of people under the eagle eyes and iron hands of the former East Germany regime(German Democratic Republic.)

The film starts in the early eighties where a STASI officer, amongst other things is put in charge of a surveillence-wire tapping operation on a prominent German playwright. How the officer gets entangled in 'the lives of others' he is supposed to keep a watch on, without being physically present, forms the crux of the movie.

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
, the director-script writer has done a job par excellence. The film's 56 wins and 22 nominations at various film festivals across the globe speaks its merit.

Although the film starts off slowly, it become pretty intriguing and builds up to a crescendo in the second half. The work of all the actors, especially the one who played the central character of the STASI officer(Wesler), Uhlrich Muhe is commendable. The last hour of the movie is what carries it to the realm of the classics. It has one of the best endings I've seen in a movie of our times. Review: 5 *****

Jun 10, 2008

Akkara Kazhchakal

It had been a long time since I watched any Malayalam TV serial. Living close to the the Arctic circle has served as a natural inoculation against the said TV serials. The Malayalam channels understood(rightly) that Malayalam is not a popular language North of 60 deg N. It had worked well in my favor keeping me safe from the onslaught of emotianally charged pixel streams till Akkara Kazhchakal - a serial in Kairali channel recently crossed my radar. I chanced to see a mention of Akkara Kazhchakal on one of my virtual voyeuristic sallys in Orkut, searched youtube immediately afterwards and have been hooked on the serial ever since.


Akkara Kazhchakal is such a realistic portrayal of East coast Achayans that it is hard to believe it is not a reality show. Ajayan Venugoplan, the writer seems to have an indepth understanding of the East Coast Malayalis, most of them Christians who came to the US as nurses or husbands of the said nurses from seventies onwards.

Goergekuttychayan, the lead character is the life-breath of the serial. He carries the show on his capable shoulders with his mannerisms, accent and his general outlook on life. Other characters like Gregory aka Girigiri, Rincy - Georgekuttychayan's wife,their two kids, Mahesh and Babykuttan aka Bobby - the fresh-off-the-boat male nurses, each one embodies a unique segment found in every US Malayali community. The story ideas for each episode is refreshing and topical. It has been a long time since Malayalam TV media has come out with something that is entertaining and believable at the same time. Kudos to director Abi Varghese, Ajayan Venugopalan and the team at Kairali TV.

Edit 2011

Akkarakazchakal - the movie is coming soon. You can see the stills here.

May 30, 2008

Chocolate

An entertainer that does its job. Shafi's Chocolate has the sellable environment of a college campus as the background. That itself calls for young fresh faces and a lot of color, songs and drama. The youthful cast is led by Prithviraj and Roma, with Jayasurya, Salim Kumar and Samvruta Sunil.

Except for premise of the movie, which is about what happens when a guy is admitted to an all girls college, the story is composed of nuances we've seen many times before. But the treatment of the theme, finesse and the technical quality of the final product makes this movie a winner. Prithviraj is sizzling hot and just the right dude for the role. Roma as the female lead for Prithvi is a good choice because she is one of the few who will not wilt away on the screen in the presence of such super-hot co-star. Salim Kumar's dialogs are witty and he acts well although he feels kind of old for goofing around with college kids, but then again our fifty year old superstars do that all the time, then why not Salim Kumar? Some of the old faces from the past make appearance in the supporting cast like Shari and Vanitha.

Only thing I don't understand is why this name? The mention of this dark gooey substance occurs once in a song, which was probably written after name was chosen. Well, you can't have everything. Review: A good entertainer.

May 29, 2008

Naqab



It was supposedly a thriller, but we were laughing the whole time. Our bad. Bobby and Akshaye won't let us have it any other way even when they were seriously 'acting'. About the movie,bah humbug.

May 28, 2008

Blood Diamond

This was one movie I have been waiting to see. My reading habits over the years had ensured that I was enlightened of the truth about diamonds at an early age which cannot be said of the majority of female population in the United States. Blood Diamond is Hollywood's translation of the evil truth behind the 'forever-diamond' for the masses. Hope it was successful in educating atleast some.

The movie is Hollywoodsy in parts, then again Hollywood cannot escape Hollywood. That can be excused when movie is doing a social service. The three main anchors of the story are Zimbabwean white-farmer's son turned diamond smuggler Danny Archer played by Leonardo Di Caprio, the Mende(an African tribe) fisherman from Sierra Leone, Soloman Vandy(Djimon Hounsou) and an American journalist Maddy Bowen(Jennifer Connelly.)

Coincidentally just before this movie landed in my hands, I was reading African novelist Ahmadou Kourouma's book "Allah is not Obliged" , the novel about a child soldier in West Africa. There were parts of the book which were hard to digest, the inhuman transmutation that ordinary children undergo to become child soldiers. The movie shows that it is the reality in the war-torn regions of Africa, portrayed by the ruination of Soloman Vandy's family. Di Caprio is a good choice for these exotic white man roles.

The film makes a not-so-veiled finger-pointing at the diamond giants De Beers, by calling the main diamond merchants with another Dutch name, Van De Kapp. I do not know whether the exaggerated over priced stone that cost millions of third world lives each year will fall from grace in the eyes of dreamy brides in Western world with just one film. But Edward Zwick, hats off to you, you did put some of Hollwood's money in for a good cause. More than what most people do. Review: Go watch it and remember diamonds are forever once you buy them, they have little or no resale value. You can be fooled once, but fooled forever?

May 15, 2008

Pranayakalam


It is often said that the reason Malayalam movies are made with aging superstars is because they are the only ones who can guarentee a return for the producer. With newcomers it is hard to sell the movie to distributors and there is no assurance that it'd succeed at the box-office either. Or you can go the way of Pranayakalam, use the age-old no-fail formula to win Malayali hearts - lead them to the deepest dens of despair and let them howl their heart out for two hours. A truck-load tears, even in these days, even in a movie with new-comers can give a decent run at the box-office.

But that is not all, Pranayakalam starring Ajmal Ameer and Vimala Raman does have its merits. It has a not-much-nonsense life like script, photography and editing are above par and the director Uday Ananthan succeeds in holding all this together in a nice bundle embellished with some good songs. All in all if you have tears to spare, it is a time-pass movie.

May 14, 2008

Khoya Khoya Chand


Welcome to the Bollywood of the Fifties! Khoya Khoya Chand is a peep in to the lost world of India's early dream merchants in the company of the beautiful Zoha Ali Khan. There have been a lot of scathing reviews about this movie, many of them commenting about the lack of acting skills in Zoha, thrust in to a role too big for herself. For me she was perfect. If Mommy Sharmila Tagore was beautiful, Zoha in this film is close to perfection and I fail to see any glitches in her performance (found out just now that she has a Masters in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, wow!) .

Rajat Kapoor, Shiney Ahuja and Vinay Pathak play the male characters. We follow Nikhat(Zoha), an aspiring extra, then an actress in bit parts and finally thanks to Prem Kumar, the mega-star(Rajat Kapoor) she makes it to Bollywood as a leading lady. It is a story about the rise and the times of Nikhat as the Bollywood star, men she get involved with, the prominent among them Zafar(Ahuja) - another Bollywood aspirant like herself, who becomes a famous writer-director later on.

Love the technical perfection of the movie, the sets, the old Bollywood, the costumes, the music, the sepia-sodium vapor lamp tinted era of black and white stars and their hazy, tangled lives behind the screens. Kudos to director Sudhir Mishra.

May 6, 2008

The Last King of Scotland


I was not able to find Forest Whitaker in the movie, all I saw was Idi Amin. The transformation of the actor in to the dictator was so complete that you forgot Whitaker is your familiar Hollywood actor. Wow! The man really deserved the Oscar.

It has an interesting and captivating story. Told from a Scottish physician's(Dr. Nicholas Garrigan played by James McAvoy) perspective it is easier to digest and sell it for a Western audience rather than telling bluntly about yet another African dictator's blood-letting and inhuman saga. It is based on Gile Foden's novel of the same name partially based on real-life events. Review: Good movie, mind-blowing acting.

Apr 28, 2008

Vinodayathra

Sathyan Anthikad tackles the picnic that is life in his 2007 movie, Vinodayatra. The literal translation of the title means 'Picnic' or 'Excursion'. It also means the 'journey of Vinod', the central character of the movie, Vinod played by Dileep. Somehow this reminds me of Benigni's Life is Beautiful, who made an imprisonment at a concentration camp in to picnic. This is a far less harmless situation, but the idea of life as a picnic is common to both.

Director(in the center), with two lead actors - Dileep and Mukesh
It looks like lately I tend to like every alternate Sathyan Anthikad movie. Gone are the days when all them were equally appealing. Narendran Makan Jayajanthan Vaka was interesting, but Yathrakkarude Shradykku and Manassinnakkare were so-so. Achuvinte Amma was good, but I stayed away from Rasathantram. Now in Vinodayatra, I could glimpse the shades of old Sathyan Anthikkad magic.

Dileep, contrary to what has been stated in the popular reviews of the film, I think has acted well. He has showed restraint and maturity in a role where he could have gone easily overboard. The first half, which has a 'larger' presence of Mukesh(who is getting rounder by day) is rife with comical situations, which thankfully doesn't fall in to the lows of forced rib-tickling fare. Thanks to the director and the script.

The second half gets more serious and focus is shifted to from Mukesh-Dileep duo to Meera Jasmine and Dileep. Murali, Vijayaraghavan, Sabitha are some of the faces who comes in to the movie in this changed scenario. Mamukaya and Innocent also has some subdued but natural roles. The songs are commendable in the sense that the lyrics are meaningful yet melodious. Probably won't be great hits, but they are hummable. That itself is a lot to ask from a Malayalam movie these days.

The bottom paragraph is the movie is a light, good entertainer. Although not in a class of Sathyan Anthikkad movies of the 80s or early 90s, it is a breath of fresh air in the current suffocating climate that exists in Malayalam cinema.

Apr 25, 2008

Goal


In the casual slang that floats around Kerala's college campuses there is saying, "Goal aayi", which could be loosely translated as 'inflicted a self goal.' That's the feeling one gets after watching Kamal's Goal. It looks like it is trying to cash in on the fame and success of Rosshan Andrews' Notebook. But Goal falls painfully short of the goalpost that was Notebook.

Only believable and interesting characters are the school boy villains, soccer coach played by Rehman, Captain Raju as the headmaster and to an extent, the teenage hero - Rajith Menon. And what was Mukesh doing in the movie, he was supposed be at the Howrah Railway station?! This movie will win one award definitely, Best Performance of an Actor as a Hammer in Hamming Role for Mukesh. Maybe he was used as a convenient excuse, if nothing justifies the soccer talents of the hero, atleast an insane fifty year old dad who used to play soccer would. Talk about genes that never lose their way to reach their goals.

The film-makers also resorted to an awful lot of CGI to make a soccer superstar out of Rajith Menon, the number 10 jersey alone didn't seem to suffice. All of it looked totally crude and a la Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with our soccer star as Roger Rabbit. Overly made-up girls who were supposedly teenagers make up the rest of the story, serving as colorful dolls, doled up in pancake and mascara. Then there was Salim Kumar in another wasted role. Review: "Goal Aayi"

Apr 23, 2008

Devil Wears Prada

One chick-lit book I really enjoyed reading was Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. Not that 'am averse to chick-lit but most of them bore me, like the yada yada yada sisterhood or the shopaholic series neither of which I could go past a few pages. But Lauren Weisberger's novel was of the un-putdownable kind, but the movie not much so.

Meryl Streep as the devil boss of the fictional fashion magazine Runway, modeled after the Vogue's Anna Wintour, didn't seem evil enough. Probably after seeing Ms.Streep in so many different roles, the shades of her other roles come through. Anne Hathaway as the protagonist was a good choice, but somehow the transformation of the character from a booky duckling to a fashionista is not as subtle as it was in the novel. Then again unlike in the book where I could sympathize with the main character ruled by an evil boss, the movie dwells a lot more on fashion - an area I don't have any clue about. When you have one wallet for all occasions(not even a purse) and one pair of shoes for every kind of surface, fashion could be as alien as Martians drinking martinis, Review: A time pass movie for the urban female.

Apr 21, 2008

Shaurya

Shaurya is K.K.Menon's film. He probably did the movie for free.The story takes place in the innards of Indian army, a territory I am not too familiar with. It is about the court-martial of a soldier who is accused of murdering his fellow officer in Kashmir, a fertile ground for such incidents.

Rahul Bose has the leading role. A happy go lucky army lawyer who tags along with his buddy, a stellar army lawyer played by Javed Jaffrey. When Jaffrey's character is assigned a case, just so that he can be along with his friend, Bose's character takes up the post of defence lawyer in the same case and both reach the 'haseen waadis' of Kashmir. If these character relationships don't sound gay enough, there is always Rahul Bose's wardrobe which looks like it has been handpicked by the same people who attired the cast of Reno 911. Another total miscasting is Minisha Lamba as a journalist. Her acting puts too much oomph in to a serious investigative role. After watching Koel Purie switch between sexy and serious roles in two different movies I think it is all on the actress, what she wants to convey and how she goes about achieving it.

Javed Jaffrey's portrayal of his serious subdued role is decent. But it is K.K who takes the acting cake. His portrayal of the stubborn high ranking officer, almost a God for those under his command, originally played by Jack Nicholson, is done with elan. Forgot to tell you, this is A Few Good Men, with those famous dialogs translated to Hindi, verbatim.

Apr 13, 2008

ArabiKatha

There is hope, still. All is not dead and ready to be written off in Malayalam film industry. There might still come a day of liberation for the natives from the Taliban rule of M&Ms. As long as the rebel forces under the command of Northern Alliance led by Sreenivasan don't let their pens lie silent, I will still believe in the promise of a new dawn. Arabikatha(An Arabian Tale), directed by Lal Jose is awash with shades of that hope.

Personally this movie resonates with my concept of Kerala's communist system, its evolution, ideologies and the people devoted to the cause. Being born in the heartland of Kerala's revolutionaries, it feels to me as if many of the characters in the movie were my real life neighbors and relatives. If you had lived in North Malabar, you'd realize that every aspect of the a die-hard Communist reflected in Cuba Mukundan(the main character portrayed by Sreenivasan)'s character, be it Coca-Cola or China is true and exact in its description. The way the Iqbal Kuttipuram's screenplay brings it out is laudable. There could have been no one else but Sreenivasan to fit this role.

Lal Jose is a director to watch. The choice of his stories gives the impression of being fresh and different without trying too hard. His selection of actors is commendable, everyone molding perfectly in to their roles. The supporting cast includes Jayasurya(in one of his rare negative roles), Indrajith, Nedumudi Venu, Salim Kumar, Samvrutha Sunil and a Chinese actress Chang Shumin. Cinematography is another praiseworthy aspect of the film. Manoj Pillai, the cinematographer comes from Sivan's Studio, the school which has given Malayalam and the Indian film industry some of the best in the field including Santosh Sivan.

The movie has bowled me over. The way things are going with Malayalam film industry, if another review of this kind is going to happen in this blog, looks like I might have to wait for a long time.

Mar 28, 2008

It's Breaking News


The breaking news is about a TV journalist covering a sensational case. You'll get to see the channel wars, news manipulation, corrupt police officers and poor girls who are exploited by the high and mighty. Koel Purie plays the leading role of the TV journalist,Vidya Sehgal supported by a number of new faces. I didn't know anyone except Harsh Chhaya(from his TV serial days.)

Mar 25, 2008

Inspector Garud

What makes money is what is made. So we have Inspector Garud. A corrupt but entertaining police officer, Garud(a) nicknamed after his swooping(money-off other people's hands) prowess. Corrupt by default is entertaining, in the same way straight talk is not. Dileep who stars as the inspectors and the producers have tried to cash in on the entertainment value of corruption. But since heroes cannot remain the bad guys for long, Dileep has a life-changing accident, comes back a new man from the verge of death to annihilate all the real bad guys off the face of the planet.

Kavya Madhavan is Dileep's wife in the movie, wears a sari like a strait-jacket with an expression to match. Guess that is the image of female IAS officers the movie intends to promote, the other IAS officer being Aishwarya (daughter of actress Lakshmi.) She is also seen wearing similar outfits along with blouses with collars which signifies a no-nonsense approach. Neither of the ladies have much to do in the movie, except act tough and ultimately show their vulnerable side.

Another presence worth mentioning is Vijayaraghavan who is the main villian Chettiar. In addition to speaking Tamil like a Malayali, he goes thru' the entire movie looking like someone slapped his face after he had a paralytic seizure. Probably this movie might have kept the ticket counters ringing for Dileep and cheap seats clapping and the rest rattling their jewelry.

Feb 25, 2008

Palunku

Palunku means crystal in Malayalam, the movie is the third offering from Blessy one of the much touted directors of contemporary Malayalam cinema. The wiki link for Blessy I've posted above makes me want to bang my head against the wall and question the basic concept of wikipedia letting no-namers no-experts(like myself) update crucial information about people, places and history. The link equates Blessy's talents with Padmarajan and Bharathan - the maestros of Malayalam cinema which is like saying moon could take the place of the sun if only it rose during the day. Blasphemous!

Anyway moving on with the movie, the central character Monichan, a high-range farmer who migrates to the city with his family is played by Mammootty. The film starts off in serene village settings, where in spite of the burgeoning odds against survival in the form of un-payable loans, schools without teachers, the world is still fresh and innocent. That is one thing I've against Blessy's interpretation of stories - the absence of grays. The idyllic scenarios like the 'golden past' or the 'unspoilt village' is juxtaposed against the 'dreadful present or the 'sinful city.' One has all the good qualities and the other has all the bad qualities and the characters invariably have to fit in to either of these settings and are devoid of any shade of gray.

Monichan's family of wife and two kids are living in a blissfully tranquil high-range village with cows, tailor-birds and chickens when the children's school run out of teachers. This forces the family to shift their base to the city which is like the hot-bed of evil. But the Monichan parivar is unaware of it, they remain largely innocent and wide-eyed except for Monichan who takes to the city like a fish to water. From there on he takes the worst route possible to making a living in the city. The story despite its shortcoming becomes more interesting in the second half.

Mammootty is a good choice for the role, atleast he is 'acting his age.' Blessy introduces Kannada actress Lakshmi Sharma as Monichan's wife,she's good too, so are the two little girls who play the roles of their kids. Jagathy has a very interesting part. The story is tighter in the second half. There are no diversions from the main theme and it progresses fluidly on to the ending, which although I didn't see it coming, was not a total surprise either. It was like the movie had to impart this message of poetic (or is it Biblical) sense of justice or there had to be a 'moral to the story'. Afterall you spent two plus hours watching the film, did you get to take home a message? That is what the current Malayalam film makers are aspiring to achieve, which makes their stories predictable as fairytales or nightmares - whichever is the flavor of the moment.

After the much hyped Kazhcha which fell flat on my face and the award winning farce of Thanmatra, Palunku is infact a winner. It looks like Blessy is getting better as a director and a script-writer, although he has a long way to go before he can be anywhere near his mentor - Padmarajan.

Feb 11, 2008

Idavela

Many of the cult classics in Malayalam came out in the early eighties and escaped media attention because most films made in that era were of above average quality. Today, looking back at those, a quarter century later, all that I could do is to lament and curse at the speed with which the value of Malayalam movies have eroded to pathetic nothingness.

Idavela is one such classic movie of the eighties(1982.) The humble beginning of the movie without any flashy overtures, how the story progresses in a natural manner unpretentious of its merit and reaches the final crescendo which itself is underplayed is not achievable these days. Idavela stands in stark contrast to what could a present day director could have made out of its story. If it was today there would be rib-damaging tickles meant to invoke laughter, ostentatious costumes and over-the-top dialogs that bear no resemblance to life in campus - living or dead, strict adherence to the formula loop one has to follow- comedy followed by a song n dance routine, followed by a tension-some chase scene, a fight - it is all oh-so-predictable these days and the only difference to look for is, which of the 50 year old M and M superstars duo is playing the 'college kumaran' in the particular film.

M.Mohan's understated classic starts out as a campus story involving four boys. Much of the credit goes to the script, written by one of the master writer-directors of Malayalam movie-world, Padmarajan - he who never wrote or directed the same story twice yet churned out refreshingly new movies and scripts one after the other. The main two characters are played by Ashokan and Babu(who later became famous as Idavela Babu after this movie) who are themselves in their late teens or early twenties. I do not know the name of the other two actors although one of them seems to be familiar.

There is the usual pranks that the boys of the age do, although the movie doesn't just revolve around these. Every character including the ones of the boy's family members, the college staff is explored and evolved to exact proportions as is required, nothing more, nothing less. The conversation and the story is natural and free flowing. Somewhere halfway through we get an inkling that this is going to be a coming-of-age movie. But like in real life the coming of age does not happen with fan-fare and hoopla, it just unfolds along the narrative path.

The second half of the movie takes us to scenic locales of Munnar, which itself was an unsullied hill station in Kerala in the eighties, away from the beaten path of tourists. The second half also introduces the major female character, played by Nalini, an eighties actress and the story takes a turn. It is a relief that the characters talk like you and me and not like people from soap operas, even in situations which could've justified the insertion of soap talk. The ending is perfect and there are no sudden jumps or cuts to reach that conclusion, things just fall in to place.

I wish the present day Malayalam directors would take some time out and sit down and watch eighties movies produced by the same industry they are affiliated to now.



(p.s- It's interesting to note the extent to which IMDb is riddled with mistakes when it comes to early eighties Indian regional language movies and actors. So much false information which is worse than no information. )