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 31, 2011

Filmstar

Filmstar – another movie about movie industry, for a change this time we have a different set of movie stars than what we got to watch Udayanaanu Tharam or Katha Parayumbole.  Infact it is like Katha Parayumbole without a solid katha(story)/script and some politics of the red kind thrown in for the masala(spice.)

Kalabhavan Mani plays superstar SuryaKiran and Dileep is a down and out commoner turned script writer Nandhagopan. In the age of terse texting it is hard to believe that vacuous scripts like this will sell. Did it?

My hand on TV remote’s forward button did get any rest while watching this movie, maybe you should take it as a sign.

Dec 25, 2011

Chappa Kurish

Chappa Kurish (Kochi speak for heads or tails), whatever the outcome of this coin flip was for its producer, is a definite winner in my book. With a mere 65 lakhs investment(you won’t be able to buy an apartment in Kochi for that amount), I am pretty sure Listin Stephen did get more than her money back.

Samir Thahir, cinematographer turned director has created a technical poem of a movie(if there ever was one) using Canon 7D.

Red One (Yakshiyum Njanum, Unnaipol Oruvan), Canon 7D – digital is surely making inroads into our movie industry. For Malayalam film industry where Indian Rupee is still a scarce commodity, producers will possibly get to spend the money they saved by switching to digital in other much needed areas. 

Chappa Kurish is supposedly a lift-off of a Korean flim, Handphone. I haven’t seen the Korean one but from its synopsis and reviews it looks to me as if the copy was better than the original. Thank your luck, Malayalis! Like many movies of the recent past(Mammootty starrer The Train for one), cell phone plays the leading role and it is not just any cell phone, it is the special one with an I prefix. Mac and its brand placement has it eyes on the right prize – the nouveau  I-nternet enabled I-billion of I-ndia. Blackberry and Android try harder and come up with more candy and icecream, Indian sweet tooth is legendary.

Trying to steal I-balls from the I-phone are our two leading men – Fahad Fazil(Arjun) and Vineeth Sreenivasan(Ansari). It is essentially a guy vs guy over a cell phone story with some girls in the background. Both the guys have played it to perfection. Aiding them in this endeavor is the simple and genuine feeling script which had lots of opportunities to go overboard but conducts itself with restraint.

From Kaiyethum Doorathu(2002) to Chappa Kurish(2011) via Kerala Kafe and Tournament – Fahad Fazil has done quite the impossible – a long invisible absence followed by a reinvention of a comeback.
Rex Vijayan (guitarist of rock band Avial) has composed very contemporary background music to go with the mood of the movie. Remya Nambeeshan who plays the most prominent  female character – Soniya fulfils her role with an understated ease. Other low-key but strong performances come from  Jinu Joseph as Arjun’s Man Friday and Suni Thrissur as the manager of the grocery mart where Ansari .

The attention to details – starting off with one of the most beautiful love scenes ever filmed in Malayalam, leading to the naked vulnerability of Arjun when he learns what he has lost and the dark, gritty and realistic fight finale which ends with the protagonists sitting facing each other – two sides of the same coin, make Chappa Kurish a primer of later day(as in post 2010) Malayalam movies.

Dec 6, 2011

Karyasthan

Karyasthan is the on-screen version of Malayalam soaps. Where else, except in Malayalam TV serial land will you find big joint families still in existence, ready to put on a show at moment’s notice, armed and ready with copious amount of pancake make up, layers of lipstick and draped in heavy silk saris even at 1am at night.

Considering the unsatiated hunger of Malayali audience for such masterpieces of familial theatrics and histrionics, I should say, Dileep made a wise and safe choice for his 100th film. He is the misplaced family scion faking as a manager(Karyasthan) to bring together two feuding families and working to regain his father’s lost status.
The story is forgettable, but be assured, like a zombie it’ll come back in the next couple of months with a different hero belonging to a joint family(prestigious nevertheless) with a different name. Provided the hero is a super star, Malayali audience will embrace the zombie yet again with open arms with all the charm that they should’ve reserved for their own pennukaanal.

There is a host of supporting characters to provide for essential elements of a family drama like pride, arrogance, evil, superiority, helplessness(only female characters),benevolence(father/mother figures), mass appeal & courage(hero’s essential attributes),  stupidity, ignorance(the last two translate as comedy). Actors who were fortunate enough to be be cast in these supporting roles were Madhu, G.K.Pillai, Janardhanan, Sidhiq, Ganesan, Biju Menon, Lena, Suraj, Salim Kumar, Jagathy and umpteen others.

If this zombie has not caught you yet, stay that way.

Dec 3, 2011

Inspirational Songs : Tamil, Malayalam & Hindi

Almost a year ago, I compiled a list of inspirational /motivational songs in this blog. Though all of these were in English that post shows up as one of the top results in Google if you search for Tamil inspirational songs and a lot of people seem to be searching for inspiration in Tamil.

If you are seeking uplifting Tamil songs I am not the best person to provide an answer. But one Tamil song has been making rounds in our house(and probably every South Indian household with an internet connection) for the past week. It is one of the most viewed songs in YouTube this past month, with 15 million views and counting, you know what I am talking about – Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Di. Way to go Dhanush, Aishwarya and Anirudh Ravichander. It is from the movie 3 starring Dhanush and Shruti Hassan.



From Tamil onto Malayalam - one of the most difficult languages to write rock songs and my native language. When I saw Vineet Sreenivasan’s Malarvadi Arts Club, the closing scenes of the movie feature ‘supposedly’ a rock song. At that time I had wonderedand wished out loud that Vineet should’ve let Avial – the first real rock band to come out of Mallu land to compose and perform that song instead of the insipid piece that was in the movie. It looks like some film maker had the same idea as me (and a million others, I am sure.) Salt N Pepper one of the really watchable movies of 2011 hands the screen over to Avial and their musical extravaganza to provide a rocking end to the film. Performed by Avial for Salt n Pepper, here’s Aanakallan. Rock on, Malayalis!

With Tamil and Malayalam covered, how can I ignore Bollywood? Everyone might have an opinion about Ra-One and I have an opinion about his Chammak Challo. With music by Vishal Shekhar and sung by Akon, aimed to rope in a global audience, Chammak Challo is guarenteed to sizzle you. For added entertainment watch the video instead of just the audio, Bollywood as you know is all about color, emotions and music, it has to be enjoyed as a combo package and Chammak Challo will not disappoint.

That's inspiration X 3, in three Indian languages - Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi, take your pick.

Nov 30, 2011

Salt N Pepper

Woohoo! Malayalam has its first real food-porn film. We did not have Babette's Feast, Ratatouille, Julie & Julia or Chocalat but we now have Salt n Pepper.

For a film that is path breaker of its genre  Salt N Pepper  has managed to set high standards to anyone attempting a food-centered film in the future.  At the same time, it has remained a high grosser appealing to different sections of 'discerning' Malayali populace.

Lal, the lead actor in the role of an officer in the State Archeology department(in the pic: wearing blue shirt on the left) whose passion in life is food,  looks like he had his kattan chaya(or kaappi) in the morning and walked right into the set, into the movie and into your life. Shweta Menon has carved a niche for herself in Malayalam with hitherto non-existent roles being  written for her considering her talent and ‘advanced age’, which is a good sign for all actresses in Malayalam film industry. Shweta is in her mid thirties in an industry where it is the norm for actresses of that age to play mother or mother-in-law roles for our forever young fifty and sixty year old super stars. Asif Ali(in the pic: sporting neon green jacket) – the easy going, probably the one of the best in the new crop youngsters in Malluwood has a role that suits his style. 

 The actor who hits a gold mine with this movie is none of the above, it is Baburaj(in the pic: guy in the center murdering the chicken) who has appeared in umpteen Malayalam movies as the quintessential bad guy. Baburaj plays Babu the bachelor, hanuman-devotee super-chef with a personality to match. As an actor, this movie has to be a milestone, giving him a new image to explore.

On a personal front, Salt N Pepper is more attractive to me because it showcases my home city - Thiruvananthapuram and its more likeable parts like the Rajaveedhi from Kawdiar to Vellayambalam, the new underpass at Palayam, Napier Museum  and other familiar landmarks.

The opening and closing segments of the film are entertaining and innovative. Various famous restaurants and foods in Kerala are featured as the opening credits role in, which sets your lip smacking for the movie to begin. Once the whole fare is served – which was indeed a feast par excellence- we have the Malayali rock band Avial (coincidentally ‘avial’ is the name of a Kerala vegetable dish usually served with rice) signing off with foot thumping song, Aanakallan.
 Ashiq Abu has directed an irresistible hit, a delightful entertainer.

Nov 29, 2011

Mujhse Fraandship Karoge


If I am not mistaken(which I often am) Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge is Bollywood’s first movie directly based on Facebook social networking interactions.  Starring four youngsters, set in a modern day fictional campus director Nupur Asthana manages to keep our attention on a much rehashed plot through a fast and fashionable story line.

Saqib Saleem and Saba Azad play the lead pair with  Nishant Dahiya, Tara D'Souzah who have strong supporting roles. It is a easy breezy campus flick if you are in mood for one. It is good to see old war horses like Yash Raj films moving with the times, promoting young directors and contemporary ideas.

Nov 25, 2011

City of God (Malayalam movie)

The end is the beginning is the end as Smashing Pumpkins had it figured out, on behalf of Batman. City of God, the newest movie from Lijo Jose Pellissery lives by this rule. I have decided to craft this review in the same vein – results first, facts later. I liked City of God, one of the better movies to come out of Malayalam in the recent past, Prithviraj’s superman act could’ve been toned down a bit. Well, you can’t have it all, right?

Multi narrative tracks are the flavor of the season in Malluwood. City of God joins Traffic, The Train and The Metro in an ever lengthening list, which I am sure is only in its infancy. I am expecting to see the list mature into a full-fledged Godzilla at the end of this decade. 

City of God is comparable to its Brazilian namesake in that the favelas of Rio are replaced by the cheris (slums) of Kochi and both are multi narrative films portraying the chaotic lives of a bustling, breathing third world metropolis. But I find the story structure more similar to another multi narrative film – Crash, where everything begins and ends with a road accident and the viewers are taken down different threads at the same time to be led back to the beginning in the backdrop of the City of Angels (LA.)

Prithviraj as Jyothilal, a high profile bodyguard/hitman/buddy of young industrialist Sony(model turned actor Vinod Pillai) has been bestowed with a fist and physique to deliver dialog, so he broods a lot and talks less. Reema Kallingal has juicy role as an actress under duress. She delivers a good performance talking in her own voice, literally without any dubbing artists to share her success. So does Shweta Menon  in a short but strong role. Indrajith lands a winner again with Swarnavelu,  a happy go lucky Tamil laborer and we get to see a very different Parvathy (debutante in Notebook) in her comeback to Malayalam as a migrant laborer with a lot of dark grease makeup.

Lijo Jose Pellissery, the director has created an interesting, true-to-life movie, esp. when compared to other movies of the same genre, maybe that's why it didn't set the box office ablaze. Despite its obvious Hollywood and international 'inspirations', it is one of watchable new movies(not for kids though.)

Nov 21, 2011

Shaitaan

Shaitan is like an Indian tribute to Tarantino. It is an A-list film in terms of technical quality with fast paced camera and editing keeping in track with it.  Running around trees when boys and girls meet of the traditional Indian past has been completely abandoned in favor of cruising around in a gas guzzling Hummer.  ‘Bade baap ke bigade hue aulaad’ (Hindi for rich spoilt brats) form one team of actors led by Kalki Koelchen and other talented new comers. 

On the other front we have the locals, everyday Indian and public servant policemen led by Rajeev Khandelval. It's a good long while after Aamir, Mr.Khandelwal. It was good to see Nikhil Chinnappa in a non-VJ/RJ/DJ role. Pawan Malhotra has an interesting role too. 

In the audio segment, Shaitaan has an awesome remix of Khoya Khoya Chand. IMHO this is the first time a modern remix is as good or better than the original classic(from Kala Bazaar sung by Mohammed Rafi.) Produced by Mikey McCleary and sung by Suman Shridhar it jives well with the spirit and pace of the movie.
From the production house of Anurag Kashyap, directed by debutante director Bejoy Menon who comes from the Mani Ratnam line of movies Shaitan is a slick movie to watch. If you are an adrenaline junkie even when you are couch-prone and watching a movie this might be a good choice.


Nov 20, 2011

Three Kings

If there is a category called self depracating comedy movies or what I’d call a contemporary version of slapstick humor, Three Kings will fall into that group.  When a movie knows it is not trying to sell a moral but only some cheap laughs and the audience knows that the movie knows, all that its creators have to do to make it successful is to bring on the laughter. 

Three Kings is a happy go lucky movie with characters to match. Indrajith, Kunchako Boban and Jayasurya are three kings without a kingdom, in search of a lost treasure. To help them in this quest we have three damsels – Samvruta Sunil, Ann Augustin and Sandhya. The movie tries to be funny and nothing else and succeeds for the most part, except when the humor becomes too slapsticky.
Just make sure not exercise your brain at any time while watching the movie.

Nov 18, 2011

Goodbye Solo

Goodbye Solo is a film festival circuit movie  - produced cheap with lofty ambitions starring talented but not big name actors and zero CGI. You’ll like it better if you like the way people from Africa speak English – I like it, the way they talk sound to me like if there was a big-hearted way of  speaking English their way would be it.
        
Solo is an immigrant cab driver in NC and just as I’d have guessed from his accent and place of birth(Senegal) a guy with a generous heart. He befriends an old guy, William who hires his cab once, though William doesn’t care much about Solo’s friendship as he is intent on turning his back on everything including life and the relationships it brings with it.

Nothing much happens, can be used by someone who is interested in studying the art of movie making.

Nov 13, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Philip K.Dick's stories are becoming more relevant as years pass or Hollywood seems to think so. The latest one of Dick's fictional contributions to roll down the California movie conveyor belt is The Adjustment Bureau.

Any futurologist, by which I mean anyone who has ever read their own daily horoscope in a newspaper will find this new class of movies interesting to say the least. If it features Matt Damon, the super flexible man of all trades, the movie is sure to find easy doors to dollars. Doors, by the way are important elements in this film.

The movie starts out with an up and coming young politician, played by Damon caught in an election scandal and has to quit running for whatever political office he was running for. But that's really not the film is all about and you don't want any spoilers, right?

The subject of the movie requires a technical perfection only Hollywood bucks can buy and they do the task as is expected. The Adjustment Bureau is a good watch for anyone who likes romantic sci-fi, Matt Damon or Philip K.Dick or all of those.


Nov 12, 2011

Aarakshan

The triumph of the little guy is often irresistible movie material. In this film the little guy is the tall old man(used to be the angry young man) of Indian cinema – Amitabh Bachchan.  The issue it has tried to tackle, I’d say boldly, because not many movies attempt it in this age of the rising, economically empowered Indian middle class who are not overpowered by the ‘glamor’ of government jobs. And therefore caste-based reservation, which decided the availability or non-availability of a government job to a person belonging to a particular caste is not a hot topic as it used to be. 

Much like the reservation becoming a non issue in the real world, the story of the film also switches its priorities midway. Yeah, it keeps the title the same through out the movie (Aarakshan = Reservation), but the focus shifts towards private coaching classes or tuition centers. The lead characters also go through a confused and stunted growth period in between. When we had just started thinking Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone will be the focus of the story, Saif is torn away from fighting for his burning cause and sent abroad.

With Saif off the scene and Deepika fading into the background, it is Bachchan all the way. The talented and experienced actor that he is, he handles the movie with right amount of restraint and starts a free coaching class for poor students when he is fired from his job, which turns out to be the right thing to do.  Manoj Bajpai gets to play the scheming professor and Tanvi Azmi is the loving and dutiful mother and wife. 

It is an interesting movie to watch movie about social issues and you’d rather watch something Indian than say, Erin Brockovich.

Nov 10, 2011

Violin

Sibi Malayil is a director known to spread emotions real thick on his films. From Kireedam and Dasaratham via Aakashadoothu to Apoorvaragam (2010), many of these hit the right spot with Malayali movie audience who wear emotions on their sleeves. Violin is yet another attempt at the same. Apoorvaragam had a novel story despite the hackneyed currency of emotions it was trying to trade, which made it a surprise hit at the box office. Unfortunately Violin lacks sorely in the story department.
Fort Kochi, Anglo Indians, old money, characters walking around in outlandish 19th century European costumes are all themes that have been done to dust by our idea hungry movie writers.

Now that “nightie” has been anointed as the official casual wear of Kerala women, why are the ladies in this movie still wearing frumpy frocks?

Violin is another example of a recent movie that I’ve seen which is thirty years too late.
The only bearable part of this film is Asif Ali. Nithya Menon’s role demands her to be over the top which she adheres to faithfully. The rest are best forgotten just like the movie.

Nov 6, 2011

Pyar Ka Punchnama


A twenty something software guy from a middle class Indian family, working his as$ off at some corporate code(sweat)shop in Noida, where do you think his priorities lie? Where else, in girls of course.

After probably two decades of strait-jacketed life India’s society prescribes to its kids and young adults, twenties is that short gasp of wild breath before it is all smothered down by an arranged marriage. Pyar Ka Punchnama is peek into that wild place, through guys’ eyes. I am sure there are girl versions of this movie, the most recent one I remember seeing is Turning 30. Compared to that, I like Pyar Ka Punchnama better.
 
Three guys who write code for a living, share an apartment somewhere in Delhi and get caught in some serious girl trouble. This is the male chick flick that Bollywood sorely lacks, in the lines of Superbad or 40 year old Virgin.

It is not a great script but its success lies in the fact that many young males in 20-35 age group can identify with the characters and the life portrayed in the movie makes sense to them.

Divyendu Sharma, Rayo Bakhirta and Karthikeya Tiwari - all three new comers handle the role of the three male protagonists with ease, with Sharma taking the gold medal had they been awarded medals for their acting. Another actor worth mentioning is Nushrat Barucha who delivers a convincing performance.

You've seen chick flicks like this before, now you know if someone had kept a hidden camera in the lives of guys in those movies this is what you'd get to see. 


Nov 5, 2011

Bubblegum

Jamshedpur, Jharkhand is transforming into ‘the’ place for coming of age movies. Maybe lot of new crop of directors/writers grew up as offsprings of steel plant or ONGC employees which provided stable white & blue collar work in Northern India from seventies onward.

Bubblegum is teen coming of age story narrated in first person by a guy who is probably in his thirties looking back at a Facebook-less cellphone-less world. A time of sweet innocence, right? Wrong, FB, Twitter and texting might be new but teenage was a wicked time since time immemorial, even before language and written word started making matters worse. 

A housing society in Jamshedpur is the setting of this good-natured teen drama which has the fourteen year old Vedant(Delzad Hiravali) in lead vying for the attention of girl next door, Jenny(Apoorva Arora.) Two other significant characters are Ratan, Vedant’s arch enemy who has his eyes set on Jenny as well and Vedant’s deaf and mute brother – Vidur.

The life of teens back in that era has been vividly captured by the script and characters, so is the life in a housing society (apartment complex in urban India) of the eighties shown with its small but important nuances. The events of the story happen around the days leading up to Holi and the festival forms the thread that holds the story together.



Stanley Ka Dabba

Stanley ka Dabba is a fresh faced children’s movie about Stanley’s Lunch box. Stanley is an 8-9 year old kid who comes without lunch box to school every day. The interesting thing about the movie is the way it was shot at a Montessori school in Bombay as a part of acting workshops on Saturdays. It has the feel of a movie shot with an invisible camera in an actual class room and school environs.

All the kids look and act natural and the easy going script allows them to be just kids. Amole Gupte, the director plays one of the important roles in the movie as Kadoos, the Hindi teacher and his son Partho Gupte is Stanley.

Nov 4, 2011

Mere Brother Ki Dulhan

To be serious on a Friday evening is sacrilegious. It is also a good excuse not to go at My Brother Ki Dulhan (My Brother’s Bride) with a cinematic laparoscope, when it is not pretending to be anything other than a vehicle for fun. If you want to watch a Bollywood movie, with its staple of North Indian wedding, a few colorful songs, eye candy actors and toned down drama suited for a global audience My Brother Ki Dulhan is a light entertainer for you to consider on a weekend.

Katrina Kaif is getting better as an actress though she is not playing a character far removed from her real life references. Dimple Dixit, a boisterous, fun loving girl had all the fun in the world and is ready to settle down with the man her parents will pick for her via the arranged marriage route. Then the unthinkable happens, that is if this is your first Bollywood film ever. If not, go to kitchen, grab a bag of chips, get back into the story without missing a beat.

Imran Khan, not a comedian by nature, fits well into comic story lines as I had witnessed in Delhi Belly. Ali Zafar is a comedian at heart kept in check by his London address in this movie. I’d like to see more of this Pakistani music star’s Bollywood forays (maybe start with Tere Bin Laden.) It was good to see Kanwaljeet Singh and Parikshit Sahni, old horses from Doordarshan’s hey days, back together in a main stream film.

Music is forgettable, cinematography is neat with shots of Taj from across the Yamuna as our Bollywood cinematographers prefer to show it and the director holds the game together without getting lost in creating spectacles for drama or tears.

Nov 2, 2011

Manikyakallu

A selfless teacher on a mission to set straight a bunch of unruly kids - where have I heard this theme before? Every language in human history with an established film industry might have tackled this subject in one form or the other at some time. Hollywood produced classics like Blackboard Jungle, To Sir with Love and Stand and Deliver where an inspiring educator elevates underprivileged or inner city kids who have no interest in education to shiny beacons of the future.

In 2011 movie Manikyakallu, Prithviraj – Malayalam’s leading contender for the next superstar, goes noble as newly appointed teacher Vinayachandran at Vannamala High School notorious for its 100% failure rate. His altruistic mission to make prodigies out of distracted kids is beset with troubles and trouble-makers. But as expected of an upcoming superstar none of these can rein in our self-sacrificing man on a mission for long. Every enemy is brought to his/her knees through an event or incident reminiscent of Aesop’s fables. Lessons on morals and ethics are served to these fallen adversaries and thus indirectly to viewers in the form of fawning dialogs, songs with lyrical messages and implausible character turnarounds.

Most characters in this movie fall into either black and white category with only a few showing shades of grey. Those who are fortunate to play these roles include Samvrutha Sunil, KPAC Lalitha, Nedumudi Venu, Jagdeesh, Anil Murali, Jagathy Sreekumar and others. By the end of the movie though every part actor has given up his dark aspect and joined the forces with the light, thanks to our self-effacing hero. All I can ask at this point overpowered by a story of gooey-goodness is, isn’t this movie fifty years too late?


Oct 22, 2011

Kaavalan

Dileep and Nayantara vs Vijay and Asin – which combo is better? I have not seen a full length Vijay movie before, only bits and pieces or songs from his movies made up my fleeting impressions of Vijay. Now after watching him with Asin in Kaavalan I can see how he is an actor at home in Tamil movie industry and having a producer-director father definitely helps. What really surprises me is this guy trumps Shahrukh Khan at not looking his age. He is playing a dude in early twenties in this movie and he doesn’t look a day older, definitely not 37 - his real age


Kaavalan is a remake of Malayalam movie Bodyguard starring Dileep and Nayantara, directed by Malayalam’s ace director Siddique – formerly of the famous Siddique Lal duo. The success of Bodyguard spawned a slew of remakes in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil. I am glad I watched the Tamil version for Dileep could’ve caused a Repetitive Stress Syndrome to my eye muscles. Though he is overwhelmingly funny, if you have seen one Dileep movie you’ve seen them all.

Asin and Vijay are supported by Vadivelu, RajKiran, Roja, Mithra Kurian and a journal. Kaavalan’s story and execution smells of a movie dressed for success. It is the tried and tested to death formula of Indian movie-dom : guy meets girl in the backdrop of a college or university where they can party their days away wearing outrageously colorful clothes, sing around trees, make room for some villains to create a much needed climax and then guy and girl goes off forever-happy land. Same old comfort movie food in a shiny new package – we starry-eyed Indians always fall for this kind of emotional atyachar.

Oct 20, 2011

Plus Two

Plus Two is the newest addition to Malayalam's list of high school romances. Plus Two in India corresponds to junior and senior years at high school in the US. This period is often cited as the years when teenage emotions go haywire in the subcontinent, as rightfully documented in Malayalam movies like Notebook, Kshanakkathu and Venal Kinavukal. Yeah, we are late bloomers, goes well with our arranged marriage system.

Sheby Chavakkad – a first time director uses the niche access door of teen angst and romance to enter Malayalam filmdom. It must have worked as blessing to him and his producer as this kind of entry undeniably cuts production costs by not needing a super star. M&Ms are only in their fifties and it’ll be a few years before they can get past the late 20s characters they are doing right now and tackle more complex teen roles. Till then people < 20 still have a chance.


Even with all new faces, it is a watchable movie. Roshan Basheer and Shafna play the lead pair, with four sidekicks(Justin John, Vishnu Mohan, Deepak Murali, Sajin), all of them are actual teens which also must have saved a lot on wig and makeup costs. Just imagine the state of producer’s wallet if Jagdish was to play one of those roles. Salim Kumar, Maniyan Pillai Raju, Sona Nair, Sai Kumar, Geeta Vijayan and Suraj Venjarmood play supporting characters.

There is not much of story, dialogs are tolerable and I don’t remember the songs (could be me.) What I remember is Shafna walks too slow even when situation demands her to be P.T.Usha and acts timid and helpless enough as is required of Malayalam heroines. Roshan has telltale signs of a newcomer, but as they say – that too shall pass. But what in the world made them name him Prince? Was he MJ’s lost son while he did his secret sojourn in the 90s through Kerala? Michael, rest in peace, I will not blame this on you. Meanwhile if you come across +2, it is an easy watch, go for it (without many expectations.)

Oct 11, 2011

Elephant

Elephant could pass off as a documentary if you didn’t know it was a feature film by Gus Van Sant. It is a typical high school day in the US of A – jocks, nerds, hicks, geeks, druggies, emos and freaks and sometimes that means a gun(or more) might creep up in the middle of all these social strata.

Based loosely on Columbine massacre, it received the Palme d'Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. Like people looking at an elephant from different perspectives and trying to describe it, film’s camera follows different students in long tracking shots on the fateful day.

Shot in an autumnal Portland, van Sant’s hometown, Elephant is a powerful examination of teenage mind within the framework of a single day.

Oct 10, 2011

1408

Had I known it was a Stephen King story, I'd not have taken it. Nothing against the author, just not my style. It is an interesting movie if you are in the mood for some horror. With money, motivation and talent at its disposal nobody does CGI better than Hollywood, so 1408 is riveting, although the premise of a haunted hotel room is as old as bed bugs. The story recognizes this and shows our hero, horror writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack) tracking haunted rooms across the country finally finding the real McCoy at Dolphin Hotel, Room 1408.

This can easily be transformed into a one act play because most of the action takes place inside one hotel room. In addition to John Cusack, Samuel L.Jackson appears in a small but significant part.

Oct 7, 2011

Delhi Belly

If this film was made in Hollywood, ideally, it will be titled Hershey Squirts or McShits, had it been a Canadian indie Beaver Feaver will be the name, in Arabic hands it’d have been called Yalla Yalla. For more ideas for suggesting a location-specific name for Delhi Belly when Aamir Khan Productions dubs the film for international audience and holds a public competition for the title of the dubbed version, visit Wikipedia.

With a team of Indians with roots and learning experiences from outside India, it does not come as a surprise when the movie speaks to the audience in English and identifies more with slick story-telling style of a Guy Ritchie or a Quentin Tarantino flick, with lot less gore and lot more $hit. Script writer Akshat Verma who went to film school in LA to make non-Bollywoodsy films in Bollywood finds his luck with Aamir Khan Productions and director Abhinay Deo.

Imran Khan, Aamir’s US born nephew and an actor in own right plays one of the major roles. The ensemble cast comprises of LA based actor Poorna Jagannathan, stand-up comedian Vir Das, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Shehnaz Treasurywallah, Vijay Raaz and Paresh Ganatra among others.

This is not a film you’ll take your family out to the theaters to watch. It targets the 20-50 urban demographic with connectivity, access and an open mind to non-traditional India. There are not many LOL situations but rather some well-timed brain chuckles and farts (what else do you expect from a film named after traveler’s diarrhea) packed in a tight script.

Quite unlike a typical Bollywood movie there are no song interruptions in the story line. It does have a few songs, the controversial Bhag Bhag D.K.Boss amongst them, but they form part of the background score like in Hollywood movies, marketed later as from the sound track of the movie.

If you are not from India, but would like to get a taste of Bollywood movies and prefer to take it slow and easy, this’d be a good starter. Enjoy!


Oct 1, 2011

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobarah

India’s yuppie film genre is coming of age. It has been a ten year long trek from Dil Chahta Hai to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobarah while the film going populace became economically empowered with BPO jobs, nano (as in the size) cars, cellphones and ‘phoren’ vacations. All those cars and vacations have increasingly led to the development of a new breed of Indian – a road-tripper with an indulgent wallet.

Bromance movies are no strangers to Bollywood – the original woods where the bromantic saga Sholay played out for years in front of generations of changing audience. Today’s crowd will still lap up the bromance, but they know ‘zindagi na milegi dobarah’, so please make sure to delete Gabbar and all the related blood and crime. Keep the motorcycle and the chicks. Better still let’s change the Enfield into a convertible and a SUV, in tune with the changing times. Since everyone Rampur is an NRI, let’s go to Spain.




Road trip + Bromance in an exotic locale and we have Zindagi Na Milegi Dobarah. It is a bachelor-party road trip through a Spain tourism commercial. We have the San Fermin running of the bulls festival and Tomatina festival in Bunol. Had the characters really stayed in Spain and went to Tomatina festival first and then to San Fermin as it is shown in the film they’d have road-tripped thru’ Spain for a year for the Tomatino festival happens in August and San Fermin bull run in July.

Since our director Abhinay Deo is not training to be Ken Jenkins or Watson, only trying to achieve a minor task of scoring a Bollywood hit which I believe he does succeed in doing, I will not engage in a trivial pursuit . Farhaan Akhtar, Hrithik Roshan, Abhay Deol, Kalki and Katrina Kaif supports Deo in his efforts. Although Javed Akhtar’s poetry is nice, had it not been there it’d not have made any difference to the viewing experience (atleast not to mine) or the box office bucks.

Milh Hadha al-Bahr (Salt of this Sea)


It was time to give Palestine a shot. I had seen a few Israeli movies like Late Marriage, The Band's Visit and Paradise Now(the best of the three), Salt of this Sea is my first true-blue(or kufiyyah) Palestinian film. Made by Annemarie(is that an uncommon name for a Palestenian?) Jacir, supposedly first woman film director from Palestine, this film made it to Cannes in 2008 and received Camera D'Or nomination.



Soraya, born in Brooklyn to exiled Palestinian immigrants, travels back to rediscover the land of forefathers, the land from which her parents had to escape as refugees. The best thing about the film is it shows how ordinary Palestinians go on about their daily lives and the stark contrast of Palestinian areas with Israeli territories which are usually just separated by a wall and guarded check points. The ordeal of tough scrutiny, pat downs and questions on faith, dignity and last names every person of Palestinian descent has to go through at check points , counters and even on open road surveyed and manned by Israeli guards is an eye-opener.

Every year thousands of Western tourists arrive in busloads to visit the holy sites in Israel. Sometimes, on rare occasions they encounter stone-throwing Palestinians – the one and only face of Palestine they see while they are in Israel – the militant face. Salt of the Sea, shows you the other side, Palestinians as ordinary people trying to make ends meet, who wants to make movies, sing and study, presenting them as a bunch of people with aspirations like the rest of us. The only difference is, they are foreigners in their own land, living under a grim exclusionary shadow which makes them carry visas, IDs and endure fierce police questionings while they go on with the business of life.

My only gripe with film is, can a person who has not grown up or lived in Palestine who only came to know of it from the stories and thoughts of her parents be so attached to a house which she is seeing for the first time? I cannot empathize with the character, a progeny of displaced people maybe because I have not undergone a similar experience. Still I could not justify Soraya flaring up at the Israeli woman who welcomed three complete strangers to stay at her house as long as they wanted after they told her that it once belonged to Soraya’s grandfather. The reason for Soraya’s outburst was that the affable Israeli woman refused to take up Soraya’s offer to get kicked out of her own house since the Soraya’s grandfather used to own it 70 years ago before he had to flee Palestine and Soraya who has never lived in that house wants to have it back.Talk about trying to cash in on generational guilt.

Another way of looking at it is metaphorically – similar to Israeli justification of its occupation of Palestinian lands based on Biblical and pre-Biblical facts/stories. If that is the case, point taken, Anne Marie.

Sep 22, 2011

Sankaranum Mohananum


This is Malayalam’s own “I can see dead people” film. Here Jayasurya has the Haley Joel Osment condition otherwise known as the Sixth Sense. He also gets to play double role as brothers Sankaran and Mohanakrishnan. Sankaran - an itinerant spirit is dead for most part of the movie but shows up in interesting costumes throughout and Mohanan, an ad photographer represents the living world.

Jayasurya has bagged many interesting roles these days – from the incidental villain in Cocktail and the happy go-lucky dude in Payyans to a forty five year old balding ghost spouting perfect Kannur Malayalam in this movie, he has shown quite a range. He is supported competently by Reema Kallingal, Meera Nandan, C.V.Sreeraman, Valsala Menon and others. Except for Kalpana who felt like an import from Travancore to Malabar, everyone else seemed to belong.

Most of the reviewers have been hard on this film, maybe they were expecting a more heavy-duty product from T.V.Chandran. Oh, can’t a man let his guard down once in a while? I, for one, in fact liked the existential comedy, a tad ‘Woody Allen’esque had Allen moved out of Manhattan to Malabar. The idea of 9 months grace period after death, the explanation for it and the new take on life after death titillates me enough to find pleasure in the film.

Wikipedia informs me that there is an autobiographical aspect to Sankaranum Mohananum. T.V.Chandran’s own brother died in Nigeria at an early age and the story setting in North Malabar where T.V.Chandran’s own birthplace(Thalassery) is serve as pointers to this fact. Now if I could lay hands on Alicinte Anweshanam and Susanna, I can be pre-qualified to give free unsolicited opinions on T.V.Chandran’s films, the only one I remember watching is Padam Onnu: Oru Vilapam.

Sep 15, 2011

Band Baaja Baaraat

If anything sells in India, weddings will top the list. Band, Baaja and Baaraat, the three irreplaceable components of a typical North Indian wedding make the title of this recent sleeper hit movie from Delhi boy – Maneesh Sharma and his script writer Habib Faisal. I had no clue it was Habib Faisal who wrote BBB before I googled, although it strongly reminded me of Do Dooni Char – another one of Faisal’s scripts. No wonder.

BBB does not approach the wedding using the tried and tested Bollywood formula where the whole movie is a giant excuse to showcase hero-heroine's wedding. In BBB the spotlight is shifted towards the back, behind the scenes of a planned wedding - a role traditionally played by parents but fast being taken over by professional wedding planners.

Like Do Dooni Char, Band Baaja Baaraat is a tribute to Dilli. Dilli 6 may have Dilli in the title and Chandni Chowk’s galis as shooting locales, but Band Baaja Baaraat and Do Dooni Char live and breathe Delhi. Punjabi infused Hindi delivered effortlessly by Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh – the actors who play the two main characters of Shruti Kakkar and Bittoo Sharma, lifts you from your couch and puts you right into a Janakpuri kind of day.

The film is also an acknowledgement to a new brand of Indian - the young entrepreneur. Shruti Kakkar - the wannabe business woman who dreams of making it big as a wedding planner personifies the optimistic and daring new India. Anushka Sharma gives her best shot to-date as Shruti Kakkar. So does newcomer Ranveer Singh, a virtual nobody before he landed this gig.

It is good to see production houses like Yash Raj films coming out with quality films, giving opportunity to emerging directors - Chak De India, Rocket Singh and Band Baaja Baarat, the list is growing, these movies can cover up their mistakes like Pyaar Impossible.

Aug 30, 2011

Definitely, Maybe

An urban love story. New york and the interesting political climate of the 90s form the backdrop of an otherwise ordinary story. The creators have tried to inject a sense of mystery by hiding the identity of her mother from a child so that the whole movie could be passed of as a child's cryptic bedtime story. Somehow unlike the child the viewers never get drawn into the mystery. Fail.Then again love stories are always a fail with me. Meh.

Aug 29, 2011

Gaddama (Khaddama)

Women in flight (no, not Amelia Earhart), escaping their wretched existence make good movie material. If they are fleeing Middle-East, the place already has a shady reputation when it comes to women’s rights, it is even more convincing. Or ask Betty Mahmoody. Hollywood took a stab at this subject with Mahmoody’s real life escape from Iran with her little daughter in the film "Not Without My Daughter" adapted from her book of the same name.

Kerala, the Indian state which sends the largest number of workers to the Gulf countries in the Middle East should definitely have some stories, right? But who cares about the stories of maids and ayahs, drivers and construction workers unless there was a Cinderella factor at the end.

Looks like Malayalam director Kamal does. He knows a sellable story when he sees one.  He chanced upon the harrowing real life story of a maid named Subaida from a Malayali journalist in the Middle East, K.U.Iqbal . It had the makings of a best-seller, no doubt. If it was in the US a paperback would have been out first. To Kamal’s credit he put Subaida’s story on fast track, skipping the book stores and direct to the big screen.

Kavya Madhavan gets to play the role of Aswathy, the Khaddama(Gaddama or the house maid), the lead character. Since it is a story of escape, the captors(or the employers) are not shown in a flattering light. Suck it up, one family does not make a country, the director is not here to make generalization he is presenting a story, of which he does a commendable job. He is aided by a set of talented actors including Kavya, Sreenivasan, Suraj Venjaramood and Murali Gopi. Kavya as always, has acted well, she is such a seasoned actress. Then again this is like "the" default role for a Malayalam actress – defenseless, teary eyed, at the mercy of man- her protector, speaking volumes with huge helpless eyes rather than using real dialogue.

It was interesting to get a peek into the social fabric of Middle East composed of two distinct layers (maybe more if you count the Western expats, but I am not going there)– one, of the rich natives and a nether world of their coterie of servants and aids, two streams running parallel but never polluting each other by crossing. Khaddama is a window in to this sub strata of Middle Eastern society, made up of foreigners, whose survival in the desert is at the mercy of their rich Arab employers. Definitely worth a watch.

Aug 24, 2011

My Top Ten Hollywood Movie Recommendations of 2000s or A Movie 101 for N00bs

If someone who is new to this whole Hollywood business(any takers? aliens, you guys listening, maybe they are already watching our movies before they have their earthly releases, anyway), wants to know what are the best movies to watch to get an intro about the 'stuff' that goes on in Beverly Hills, then this list will be useful. And oh yes, the requester has also put in a conditional clause - only the movies made in the last decade or so. This eliminates some movies I desperately want to include like Office Space, Happy Accidents, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, American History X etc, but I can always have a list for each decade, right?

Unlike me, I hope all the readers (if there are any) will be more considerate and won't blame me if this list includes more English movies made outside Hollywood than the native-born and bred ones. So here is my list of top 10 Hollywood / English movies of the noughties which defies any sort of sorting.

In Bruges: Con men in Belgium. Comedy dunked in powerful script.

Hot Fuzz: Action + Comedy, no one does comedy better than the Brits, they are learning to do low-cost action that looks good.

Inception: Brain crackling entertainment, a mega movie Hollywood style.


Kick-ass: Comic book lovers and those waiting for second comings and super heroes, this one's for you.


Idiocracy: The closest you can get to time travel in the US, brilliant low budget caper.

Babel: Multiple narratives racing against time, Inarritu directs for a global audience.

Avatar: If you missed Dances with the Wolves, this one's even better, it is set in a different planet!

Blood Diamond: Ladies, this is the one about your engagement / wedding rings.


Source Code: Included because I watched it recently and it is fresh in my mind.

White Chicks: I love black(oops, politically incorrect, shame on me) comedy with white titles.

Aug 12, 2011

Paul

Paul, the movie is more English than American. Paul, the alien, is well…an alien who wears shorts and talks street-smart English in the voice of Seth Rogen.  This is going to be a biased review because I am awed by the creative aura of Simon Pegg – Nick Frost duo. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People are all nerdy movies I recommend to other people.

Greg Mottola – the director of Paul has a very different take on films, his movies Superbad and Adventureland were as American as it gets, but nerdy nevertheless. Paul therefore had to be an interesting product, a fusion of British humor and American nerdiness.

Paul does not disappoint. The British lads (Simon Pegg & Nick Frost) land at Comic Con in San Diego and take off on a road-trip through the sci-fi ridden landscape of America’s Areas 51 through 100 and all that comes after that. On the way they give lifts to a friendly alien and a bible quoting All American Girl (Kirsten Wiig.) Their interesting social encounters provide insights into differences between things American and non-American. Paul is not Hot Fuzz, but it is definitely a good entertainer.

Aug 10, 2011

Source Code

In another world this movie might be called 8 Minutes. Somehow that reminds me of Eminem and 8 Mile which is totally irrelevant to this movie because in this world it is called Source Code. Computer geeks amongst us might think the story may have something to do with hacking, computer programs or how the mighty can be brought down to its knees by changing a few lines of code here and there. Others might have visions of neon green 1s, 0s and other related jumble scrolling down their giant flat screens. This movie is not about that either.

Although the core of Source Code is a scientific break-through which facilitates a short rewind of time in the minds of those involved, the story asserts again and again through its characters that it is not dealing with time travel. What it is about is, the human longing to outlast beyond our times, to poke a finger into the great beyond and feel what it is like, even if it is for a tiny fraction of time. Jake Gylenhall gets to push the envelope on life as Captain Colter Stevens in Source Code where he is supported by Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright.

This must be what a romantic sci-fi story should be like, we are not talking about the boy-meets-girl kind of romance, though shades of that is there in this film. It is romantic as in the yearning for life, being so overwhelmed by the beauty of it that brainy scientists develop source code for life (in terms incomprehensible to most viewers including myself but that’s beside the point.) It is a starry eyed what-if of alternate worlds and thwarted disasters thrown on the face of the audience by director Duncan Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley. It is the soothed ache of soldiers who get to say their last words to the people they intended to deliver it to. In short Source Code is pure desire for life and all that is beyond, a sci-fi romance at its best.

Aug 5, 2011

Traffic - Malayalam Movie Review

Is this the first multi-narrative movie in Malayalam? I do not remember watching any other good one. (Good being the operative word – I am thinking of The Metro which was released a month before Traffic and was a letdown on all fronts.) It is an easy formula for success, provided you have a fast-paced story to back it up. Alejandro Inarritu's Death Trilogy - Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel employ this narrative style to keep audience at the edge of their seats while raking in awards and box office bucks. Even the Hollywood namesake of this movie, Traffic(2000) is also a multi-narrative movie. It looks like Malayalam Traffic also fared predictably as its illustrious predecessors and gave back the producer - Listin Stephen, his dues and more.

Bobby and Sanjay, the writers of Traffic get the credit of bringing a new wave of stories and narration to Malayalam cinema. Remember Notebook, a boarding school drama with a touch of seriousness, just like a Malayali would like to have his movie with his parippu vada and chaya and a topical issue with some gravitas – a teen pregnancy in Notebook. Unlike Notebook, Traffic does not really allow the viewer to relax before introducing a somber twist. Traffic is intense in the story department with a frantic build up within a fixed time frame which is a pre-requisite for multi-narrative story lines.

One of the benefits of having intertwining plots is the variety of acting talent viewers will get to see representing equally important characters. Traffic has Vineeth Sreenivasan, Asif Ali, Rehman, Sreenivasan, Sai Kumar, Kunchako Boban, Sandhya, Lena, Anoop Menon and others sharing screen time. Except for the Namitha Prasad, the actress who played Rehman’s 13 year old daughter, who looks too old for 13(and we know the movie is not about 13 going on 30) everyone fits well into their roles.

Traffic is interesting because it is the first successful movie of its kind in Malayalam. The inevitable fate of this kind of success is a deluge of movies made in the same mold for a foreseeable future. In such a case, Bobby, Sanjay and director Rajesh Pillai can be held responsible, in the mean time - enjoy the movie while the theme is still fresh.

Jul 26, 2011

Gandhinagar 2nd Street

Old people are notorious for perpetuating a dreamy dewy eyed view of the past – a bygone better age. A golden era when teens listened to mellow music and respected their elders, milk came in glass bottles, mail was delivered by mail man instead of Google and NASA was still capable of putting a man on the moon. Yeah, the good old days!

For Malayalam cinema, old is gold is a truthiness a Malayali cannot deny. Things were really better for Malayalam movie industry back then and don't doubt for a moment that it is my age doing the talking. For if you ask me the same question about Hindi movies I’d say Bollywood never was half as good as it is now, their eighties were trash or travails. 

If one decade has to be chosen to represent the entire Malayalam movie industry, it has to be the period from 1985 to 1995. Or maybe we can restrict it to include, just the late eighties (85 - 90). And if there is one combo you are going to order again and again from that time period – it has to be – Sreenivasan(script writer + actor), Sathyan Anthikkad(director), Mohanlal(actor) combo.  Gandhinagar 2nd Street is one of the best flavors from this team of three at their prime.

Mohanlal living a double life to make ends meet plays one of the most unforgettable roles in Malayalam cinema as Gurkha  Bheem Singh ka beta Ram Singh (..hoom hain hoom..) at a housing colony, Gandhi Nagar in Anywhere-City, Kerala circa 1980s. Like all Sreenivasan scripts of those days, Gandhi Nagar 2nd street is a brilliant social commentary of the times. Each character however small or big, is a well thought-out, developed and executed. Its simple but succinctly humorous dialogs have stayed on in Malayalis’ shared memories ever since. 

The movie is so powerful (without flexing any visible muscles) that sometimes I wish there was a housing colony called Gandhinagar Second Street, for real. I wish, if we walk down that street we will accidently run into Ram Singh or Nirmala Teacher(Seema) or Maya(Karthika.) We can chat up how they are doing after all these years, who got married to whom and who moved away to where.

If wishes were horses there’d be a sequel, but the first major obstacle would be the man who was the life breath of Gandinagar, Ram Singh aka Mohanlal, the actor. Today’s Mohanlal would be a Godzilla to Gandhinagar’s little Tokyo – uncontainable, alien and ultimately a nightmare.  The second problem will be Harihar Nagar, the other famous housing colony from the world of Malayalam movies which has spawned a few sequels. If Harihar Nagar sequels are any indication to what lies in store for Gandhi nagar(I cannot imagine it being any different), then one Gandhinagar 2nd Street is enough – let it remain a beautiful memory in our collective consciousness.


Jul 24, 2011

Guzaarish

Sanjay Leela Bhansali School of Cinema is where you should enroll in if you are interested in perfecting set and costume design and the visual art of cinema as a whole, with emphasis on 'visual'. Every frame in a Bhansali movie is a consummate painting, to the last detail of a withered plant, out of focus in the right shade of yellowish green tucked away in a hazy corner. Like one of those Dutch masters’ works done in the medium of motion picture, four hundred years later with richer colors and crores at his disposal. If there was a court painter for Bollywood, Sanjay Leela Bhansali will hold that title for life. From Khamoshi and Hum Dil de Chuke Sanam to Guzaarish, his films have taken the meaning of visual extravaganza to new heights.

But personally I’d rather watch his movies with my fingers in full control of the fast forward button. Well, that’s me, spoiled by the fast and the furious flicks. Somewhere along the way my slow movie appreciation gene mutated, succumbing to the pressures of reality real time media. Guzaarish, despite the art appreciation class I tried to view it as, was painfully slow for me.

The magic of the story was bed-ridden along with the magician in the story – Ethan Mascarenas, played by a wide-eyed crazy Hrithik Roshan. Aishwarya Rai as home nurse Sophia, in gorgeous foreign costumes shed by the Portuguese when they first arrived on the shores of Konkan and Malabar half a millennium ago, makes an a-muse-ing distraction. Aditya Roy Kapoor was brought into add some youthful energy – a bold swash of color in a house of impending death and grays. Some Indians, who look European, like Nafisa Ali and Shernaz Patel, in spite of their six yard of saris, also made the cut.

Most of Bhansali’s movies give me the impression of a baby switched at birth. Actually it has to be more specific than a simple switch of similar looking babies, it always look like a gora or gringo baby mistakenly given to a dark-skinned couple. Everything about his movies is so nobly European – the costumes, the characters and their interactions, most of the times the core story itself. This finds Bhansali running back, time and again to the most “European” of India’s states – Goa.

In Bollywood anything goes, if it is dressed in a frock and speaks pidgin, provided it is from Goa. So in Guzaarish we have a paralyzed magician and his coterie of mismatched assistants grappling with the very un-magical concept of mercy killing in a crumbling old mansion located where else, in Goa. You watch the rest, if you’ve time to kill.

Jul 19, 2011

Tournament

Lal is one of the underestimated directors in Malayalam. His pairing with his childhood friend Siddique gave us some of the game changers of the 1990s. Majority of Malayalam movies made today for the commercial market still follow the formula perfected by Siddique-Lal duo twenty years ago.

Lal’s real name is Paul Michael? Wow! That’s a revelation to me. I did watch the Harihar Nagar sequels he directed on his second coming as a director – To Harihar Nagar and In Ghost House Inn , both were commercial successes. Although aging dudes (Mukesh and co.) in garish garbs, decorative facial hair (purported to be representative of present day youth culture) and fake hair-pieces failed to elicit any laughter or interest in me

Tournament, Lal’s latest offering evoked a different response. It was in fact interesting despite heavily borrowing cinematic techniques from world over. Malayalis were never too big on road trips, which will explain the lack of Malayalam road trip movies till now. As residents of Kerala forced to use Kerala highways to get out of the state we used to heave a sigh of relief when we finally left the pot-hole ridden Kerala section of National Highway behind and entered the smooth tarmac favored by Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Does a road movie like Tournament mean our highways are getting better or our railways are getting worse?

Replay or rewinding the movie to explain the story for the viewers, borrowed from Run Lola Run is used in abandon. Using cricket as the binding theme also serves the purpose of using replays to unravel the inner workings of characters. I don’t mind, we live a TiVo world, after all.  Then there is a bit of Gods Must Be Crazy with Indrans and a runaway jeep. There might be other cinematic ‘tributes’ included that I am not aware of.  What pleases me is there are no tributes to mega-serials or there is no pancake –laden Revlon lipped Malayali penkodi traipsing across green fields with a  thulasi kathir in her blow-dried and straightened hair, fluttering her false eyelashes.

In Tournament we have 3 main players and a female lead. Replacing Kunchako Boban, Sudheesh and company(who have interminable no-bid contracts for playing college students in Malluwood), with fresh new actors is a bold move from Lal. That and the script which stays true to the characters are the strength of the movie. I love the way the guy from Thrissur sounds exactly like a guy from Thrissur and the Malayali cricketer brought up in Mysore sounds exactly like my cousins in Bangalore.  Details, God is in the details, usually an area Malayali film makers stay out of. Bravo, Lal!

Jul 8, 2011

Two Weeks

If you are ready to watch a serious film, a family drama which is not a concocted fake 'Hollywood-sy' version, Two Weeks is a good pick. Oh, and it is about death, if you are not in the mood for dying today, skip it.

If you do, you'll miss Sally Field - yes Forrest Gump's mother, of course. I think there is something instantly likable, motherly yet the same time peppy about Ms.Field. The dying character(Anita Bergman) she portrays deals with death like a good sport, at no point asking for audience's mercy or tears. As the mother lies dying, her four children descend upon her home she shares with her second husband, to be with her in the final part of her journey.

Steve Stockman who wrote and directed Two Weeks takes his material from his own life and his mother's death for this semi-autobiographical work. There are minor flaws in the characterization of the four children, Ben Chaplin as the eldest son Keith gets most of screen time. I didn't really get the funny parts, maybe it was my upbringing in a different culture. Despite all these the film gets many things right, like the finer aspects of care, the final farewells, the hospice situation, sibling rivalries and the life-like portrayal of a dying person (no pun intended) by Sally Field. Watch it for her.



Jul 7, 2011

Patterns

Patterns is more relevant today than it was in 1956 when it was written by Rod Serling, he of The Twilight Zone fame. This is the age of corporations, we are at that stage in the circle of economic evolution where the small and the meek gets taken over and are merged into big corporations. The corporate ruthlessness of the character Walter Ramsey(Everette Sloane) can be easily identified by majority of world’s urban population who have at some point in time worked for a conglomerate or a company.

It is a short and perspicacious film, directed by Fielder Cook and starring Van Heflin, Everette Sloane, Beatrice Straight, Ed Begeley and Elizabeth Wilson in main roles. If you want to know how it was like working in corporate America after WW2, this could be a good choice especially because it is reality and not Ayn Rand.

Jul 6, 2011

Nizhal

Nizhal probably was a low budget movie considering its choice of actors. Directed by Venu B.Nair, it is a movie that’d not make its presence known unless you accidently find yourself watching it, lacking anything better to do. It turned out to be a not-so-bad one at that.

The best thing about Nizhal is its script and dialog – which seemed natural. My peeve with it is, its lead character played by Jagan. There is nothing unbearable about his acting. But who are you trying to fool here with a man who looks old enough to have children who can enroll in engineering colleges and calling him a first year engineering student? Well, may be that’s a bit of a strectch, but still Jagan and his foot wide moustache does not look 17-18 years old from any angle, the current normal age of a freshman engineering student. Other than that it is a watchable movie, one of the few recent ones which feels less like a mega-serial and more like what is meant to be.

Jun 26, 2011

Lovely Bones

Lovely Bones was devastating when I read it long time ago. It made reserve every book written (or about to be published) by Alice Sebold at the library. Not many favorable reviews for the movie though. For one thing, it is more Peter-Jackson than Alice Sebold which I don't mind much. It is like a different take on a same dish even if it came of the same recipe. Those slight differences are exciting to me.

Peter Jackson's Lovely Bones is awash in a perpetual CGI autumn. It is heart wrenching as the book was but somehow the depiction of heaven or the whole concept of it becomes lame when presented visually. In the book it had seemed okay.  But I'd feel the same for any movie that shows the non-existent universe that goes by the name 'heaven', it is not the movie maker's fault. He had to show it in someway without being over the top, for the whole story rides on the premise of main character's musings on earthly going-ons from the celestial beyond.

Actors including Saoirse Ronan, Rose McIver, Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon and Rachel Weisz did justice to their parts - big and small. I can turn a bit judgmental of Weisz's mother character but that'd be unbecoming of this blog, so I will stop here. If you need a tear-jerker for a Saturday night without the unnecessary romance thrown-in, Lovely Bones is it.

Jun 22, 2011

Angadi Theru

Angadi Theru is one of those no holds barred movies which wants to do a show-n-tell how unfair life really is. It grabs you and thrusts your face on that gritty reality and lets you go after two and a half hours. It is like a good cry you needed to let all the emotional burdens flow away, it is melancholic yet it releases your mind. In those two hours you’ll live with those characters, identify with them and fight their losing battles.

Angadi Theru is the Salaam Bombay of Chennai. The hopeless, helpless lives of Ranganthan street might not capture a foreign award committee’s attention as easily as a festering red-light district in a third world metropolis, but a discerning audience can find parallels. I have heard that more than half of the movie was shot with hidden camera in actual locations. From the cinematography and the choice of lead actors, who were either making a debut or were only a couple of films old at the making of this movie, that seems totally plausible and it is one of its strengths.

Mahesh, Anjali and Pandi who plays the main characters steal the show. Even others who had small roles are very non-filmish and natural. The film maker has also inserted some documentary-like scenes into the story line which although doesn’t relate to the main story, adds to the knowledge base of the viewer. Now I’d like to see all the previous films of director/writer Vasanthabalan. The best lesson I took away from this movie. Respect. Treat every fellow human being with respect, they deserve it.

Jun 10, 2011

Payyans

Payyans is Malayalam version of dude or chap or lad, depending on your location in the English speaking world. The informal nature of the movie title means that I should go easy on it, for it is not pretending to be His Highness Abdullah or Pazhassi Raja, it is a story of an everyday youth not pretending to be anyone else but himself.

Jayasurya is the Payyans or Josey John - that is the name Payyans go by. As expected of his fashion sense (a weird Mallu mullet?) and carefree ways, his character is another brick in the Great Wall of Engineers of India. Everyone who is literate and is under twenty-five is an engineer or an engineering drop-out in our little sliver of a state of Kerala. Engineering being the gateway degree for any kind of job ranging from vegetable vendors to the President of India and everything in between, it comes as no surprise to the viewers when Payyans finds a cosy spot somewhere in the middle as a radio jockey.

The story is oh-so predictable. **SPOILERS** The moment we see Lal's garlanded high resolution photo on the wall (as Payyan's posthumous father) we are guaranteed a back-from-the-dead twist. Rohini's overly loving and naive mother is similarly assured an early demise for the requisite sentimental edge. Jayasurya is funny and convincing in his acting but he looks older for the purported 23 years Payyans is supposed to have spent on this planet. Anjali, a Tamil-Telugu actress gets to be Payyans' girl friend. As all good Malayali girls are supposed to behave, her character is first intent on murdering Payyans for his eve-teasing, then makes a 180 degree turn, falls for the eve-teaser and afterwards is seen pestering him to marry her.

Suraj Venjaramoodu, the salt of current-day Malayalam cinema curry turns into an Anglo-Indian from Kochi for this movie. Accessorized with subtly colored locks and a cap-wearing Anglo-Indian Dad(Janardhanan), the Nedumangad (Trivandrum) accent he continues to spout could  only be blamed on the geographical proximity of Kochi and Nedumangad, a mere 200 kms.

The movie is a romp, it definitely won't make the 2010-2011 merit list. If you like the actors who play the main characters it is worth a watch.


Jun 7, 2011

Karayilekoru Kadal Dooram

An Ocean to traverse before reaching shore - is the most literal translation of this movie's title. I cannot be more poetic than that because I am still at sea after watching the movie. By the way the official English title is 'A Sea Away to the Shore.' It has one of those Kafka-esque themes that Malayalam movie intelligentsia is obsessed with, where a thoroughly perplexed audience is taken as the sign of movie's complexity and therefore its superior art quotient. BS.

The actors have performed their parts the best they can. Indrajith, Mamta Mohandas, Sarayu, Dhanya Mary, Lakshmi Sharma all try to guide you through the maze, but to no avail. Will Vinod Mankara pleae stand up and own this? Yes, that is our director right there, a national and state award winner for numerous documentaries he directed, he also won the the best directorial debut award with this feature film. Well, in a way you cannot blame the award committee, it is a world better than what is offered by commercial Malayalam cinema these days.

May 18, 2011

Tanu Weds Manu

Tanu weds Manu is a new-age Hindi rom-com starring R.Madhavan(Manu) and Kangana Ranaut(Tanu) in leading roles. It is an interesting movie at many levels at the same time there is something missing from its core. To me that something missing was the lack of believability of Tanuja Trivedi aka Tanu's character. She is a small town girl exposed and transformed by big city glitz thanks to a stint at Delhi University. Her boyfriends are temporal as Julian Assange's looks. She smokes, drinks and swears in abandon. In short she is Billy Joel's woman. Now what is guy like Manu(Madhavan) - docile and homely, doing with The Piano Man's rambunctious lady is anybody's guess.

Tanu is overly made-up all the time, that seems to be a Kangana Ranaut trademark. Madhavan is older, chubbier, but his understated acting keeps it in tune with his character. There is nothing that keeps you at the edge about the story, it has all been said and done in the title itself. In the absence of excitement in the big picture, it is the small stuff that help us stay in our seats,the little goodies in the film in no particular order are,
  • Deepak Dobriyal's earthy and natural right-hand man act as Pappi.
  • Jimmy Shergill, in a small but crucial role with a heart-rending closing dialog which all the toughies should learn by heart for their own good.
  • Kanpur and Kapurthala and the life and sights in small-town North India have been captured beautifully.
  • Most of the supporting actors have done their parts well, whether it is K.K.Raina or Rajendra Gupta, Eijaz Khan or Swara Bhaskar.