Hindi movies


I often wonder about star/numerical ratings for films. How does a film earn, say, 3 stars out of four? Is there a sort of formula employed by those who give out these ratings, or is it a quantified version of what is essentially a qualitative reaction? Is there an objective way of doing this?

Here’s a potential algorithm: Start off with a baseline score. Anything the movie does right, it gets plus points. Anything the movie does wrong, it gets minus points. Add them to the baseline and you get your final score. This could be above or below the baseline, depending on whether the movie got more things right than wrong, or vice versa.

According to this algorithm, EMAET would end up with a baseline score. Not because the pluses and minuses even out, but because the film does nothing right or wrong. It has about as much edge as a perfect sphere and about as much personality as a dead bacterium.

If I try really hard, I guess I can come up with a few things to say. On the plus side, there’s this well-observed dinner scene late in the movie where the hero essentially blows up at his parents. The ending seems sensible. On the minus side, the lead character gets totally drunk for no reason other than that the plot needs him to do that and get married in Vegas, the world capital of Marrying While Intoxicated. Okay, that’s it.

Why did they make this movie at all? Even the cast doesn’t seem to care. When Kareena Kapoor screams in one scene, she sounds so tentative, it’s like she’s just pantomiming a screaming action in a silent movie. Her character is written as a version of Geet, the one she played in Jab We Met. Except, this one is played as if Geet fell into a vat of valium as a baby. Imran Khan has an excuse — his character is a milquetoast to begin with, so he can just claim to be faithful to the script. Not that this helps.

There is an exchange late in the film where the heroine describes the hero as being perfectly average. Having had to deal with his parents’ extraordinary expectations of him all his life, he sees this as the nicest thing anyone has ever said to him. Now, I could say the same thing about the movie. It is perfectly average, with no hope of anything on the variance front. But to paraphrase Hans Landa, where our conclusions differ is that I do not consider this a compliment.

 

In all honesty, I cannot claim to be a big fan of Dev Anand. The man kept making movies well past his sell-by date, and barring a few, I cannot bring myself to sit through his films. Having said that, I have nothing but admiration for a man who refuses to retire. It takes a special kind of obstinacy to be able to do that. And what really brought it home was this tribute by his nephew Shekhar Kapur.

Kapur narrates an indicent following the release of his film debut, a film named Ishq Ishq Ishq that his uncle Dev had produced and directed. He speaks of how, just after the release, the man was taking calls from well-wishers and distributors. Over the course of the evening, it became clear that the film was a disaster at the box office.

Then the calls stopped. No one called and the loneliness of failure hung in the room. Dev Anand has just lost everything. All his money and everything he sold to make his most ambitious project ever. There are few more intimate moments you could share with a courageous man than his coming to terms with complete defeat. He was sad. Reflective.

For all of five minutes. He then looked at me and smiled.

” I just be back ‘Shekharonios’ (thats what he called me) and went into the bedroom of the suite. I should have felt sorry for my first foray out as a (minor) actor flopping, but was too caught up in the incredible drama unfolding in front of me.

Ten minutes Dev Anand emerged. His his eyes were vibrant. His face excited. He was unable to sit down for his excitement. Looked me in the eyes.

” Shekharonios, I just thought of a great plot for my next film !!”

He picked up his register. Took out a pen and started to write. How does a man who just lost of everything come to terms with it so easily? I was left gaping. But knew it was time for me to leave him alone. To write and plan his next film. He never talked about Ishq Ishq again.

Thats the Dev Uncle I knew.

But the Dev Uncle I did not know. The Dev Sahib, the Dev Anand that the world did not know, was the man coming to terms with himself in 10 minutes in that room.

If there is a more moving tribute to Dev Anand than that last sentence, I have not read it.

 

Nearly every review of Rockstar will tell you the following things:

  • Ranbir and Rahman are in top form.
  • They are let down by a meandering script that shines in individual moments but lacks brevity in some portions and depth in others.
  • Nargis Fakhri looks like a million bucks. Acts worth a dime, if you’re feeling generous.

For the record, I agree with all of those things. Let me focus, instead, on a few specifics that occurred to me. Sort of like Baradwaj Rangan‘s Bullet Point Review series.

  • It is now well known that this was Shammi Kapoor’s last performance. He appears in just a handful of scenes, and speaks probably 4 lines in all. But I will say this: if the man had to bow out with a brief role, he can be glad it was this one. What stands out, though, is an image of him that appears in the opening credits in lieu of an “In Memoriam” line. That image says everything you need to know about Shamsher Raj Kapoor.
  • Every so often, during the musical performances, you find yourself pulling back for a moment to reflect on Rahman’s genius. My favourite moment came during the Katiya Karoon sequence in Kashmir, when one of the interludes seemed to hark back to the keyboard intro to Pudhu vellai mazhai (Yeh haseen vaadiyaan) from Roja. You could almost see him winking at you.
  • What makes Ranbir’s performance so good is the fact that he manages to create something credible out of an extremely confused character. We aren’t talking about a rebel without a cause — we are talking about one without a clue. Having said that, the scene where he tells his manager (Kumud Mishra is a pitch-perfect performance) that he doesn’t want his heart broken is, well, heart-breaking in its urgency and need. Much of the film shows a character who has erected walls around himself. Even his romance seems not so much experienced as played out, what with all the epigrammatic dialogue and sex-obsessed bucket-listing. This is the scene where the walls crumble. The following scene in the ICU is just as good — it starts off exactly like a lot of melodramatic scenes if that ilk, but quickly descends into a shocked silence.
  • The screen time seems to be more or less equally divided between his romance and his life as a rock star. The bridge between the two — how his life feeds his art — is not built. A few scenes detailing the creative process would’ve really helped.
  • Also, the film seems to suggest that Jordan’s popularity is linked to clever marketing of his negative image. Is that all there is to it? What do his listeners really feel about his music? I would’ve loved to see that.
  • Two siblings (one of each lead character), two shades of loyalty. There is a moment when you see what looks like Ranbir Kapoor staring at his own poster, then the camera pans to reveal his sister. Outstandingly done.
  • The songs are extremely well-staged. Be it Harshdeep Kaur providing a playful soundtrack over the lead pair’s escapades, or the way Sadda Haq builds slowly and then virtually explodes on stage. And if there is a better point in the movie to play Naadaan parinde, I am not sure what it is.
  • Finally, that little gem of a conversation the movie ends on. This is not extraordinary dialogue per se, but its nonlinear placement in the film elevates it. And watch Ranbir’s expression when he looks back at the screaming crowds and sees them as if for the first time. Here is a musician realizing that the music, really, is all he has left.

ps: I was reading a couple of lovely blog posts on the film (here and here) and the term “accidental rockstar” seemed to resonate. So I weighed in with this comment. Thought I’d reproduce it here:

I wonder if Jordan’s career progression as a musician is supposed to be sort of an ironic riff on his mentor’s initial comment about pain being the engine that drives a musician. It appears that his general air of being a bit pissed off and disconnected from the world around him allows his music to mean whatever it does to his listeners.

The Sadda Haq sequence, for instance, shows a whole bunch of folks shouting out that slogan, and none of them probably mean anything to Janardhan, nor does he mean anything to them. But is that the point Imtiaz is trying to make, that the music could mean different things to different people, and that Jordan’s image, however marketable it is, doesn’t really mean a thing to either Janardhan or his listeners when it comes right down to it?

For me, the key moment comes right at the end when the man seems to see the audience for the first time. It’s as if he’s thinking, “So this is what Khatana bhai was talking about. Damned if it didn’t turn out like he said it would.”

A few weeks ago, when my 15 year old cousin was visiting and wanted to watch a funny movie, the first one the came to mind was Arsenic and Old Lace. He loved it, of course.

Once I managed to convince my cousin that my recommendations weren’t hopeless, I went on to recommend The General, Chupke Chupke, Michael Madana Kama Rajan, Pushpak… all of which would make my list of all-time favourite funny movies. Had he been older, the list would’ve included a few more gems. But even if I had a Groundhog Day experience and found myself having to recommend a funny movie to my cousin ad infinitum, I suspect I’d always pick Arsenic and Old Lace first. So there you go.

Drama is a tougher genre, but if I had to come up with just one recommendation, it would be The Shawshank Redemption. There’s a reason why that film is perched atop of IMDB’s Top 250 films list, even above The Godfather.

Action is easier — Sholay, no question. If someone were to screen the movie today in a multiplex and sit among the audience, he’d probably find a whole bunch of voices mouthing the dialogues in sync with the characters. Including mine.

Musicals — Top Hat, I guess. The sight of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing is enough to make anyone smile. Even those who have memories of its remake (Hadh Kar Di Aapne), intruding upon the experience, and that’s saying something.

Romance is tougher. I don’t know if I could pick Mouna Raagam over Once or When Harry Met Sally, or vice versa.

I could go on about other films that stand out in memory. Rashomon, for instance, has had a greater impact on me than any other film I have seenCitizen Kane inspired me to write the short story I am fondest of.

But here’s the thing I realized while trying to compile this list. As much as picking a “favourites” list is subjective, the very act of picking a favourite presupposes, I think, a desire to find someone who likes your favourites as much as you do.

Even when I pick a film like Before Sunrise as my all-time favourite (and it is), I know it isn’t a movie that will appeal to everyone. But by making this statement, I am also expressing the hope that someone who hasn’t seen or heard of this film will be tempted to seek it out. Come to think of it, that is as good a reason for blogging about the movies as any other.

Because let’s face it: there’s a certain pleasure to be had in hearing someone else shriek in delighted laughter when Cary Grant says in Arsenic and Old Lace, “When you say others, you mean… others? As in, more than one others?”

Through their experience of discovering those films for the first time, I relive my own.

ps: This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by wogma.com and reviewgang.com.

Ra.One is a pitch perfect example of a wholesome family entertainer. It is a touching story about a father’s love for his son, and how it lives on in the form of a video game character come to life, set amidst a high-octane confrontation between a seemingly indestructible villain and a seemingly vulnerable and “human” hero.

While the title refers to the villain (an oblique nod to Ghajini, yet another great action entertainer named after its villain), the film focuses its attention on its hero, played by the inimitable Shahrukh Khan. Especially noteworthy is his work in the first half, which showcases his ability to play a Tamilian to perfection.

Apart from his performance, what really stands out is all the little touches that make you realize how much care has gone into making this film. The costumes for the backup dancers in the Chammak Challo song, for instance — I’m sure every TamBram dad would want something like that for his daughter’s birthday. Or the humor, much of which seems to revolve around the the twig and berries. Side-splitting, I tell you. And of course Rajni’s guest appearance, which is perfectly timed, perfectly executed and perfectly concluded.

In summary, I would like to thank Anubhav Sinha and Shahrukh Khan, not only for providing me with such a wonderful movie-watching experience, but also for the little bag of weed they mailed me this morning. Just imagine, I got to write this review after having smoked the same stuff they smoked while making the movie. How awesome is that? Huh?!!!

 

Maria, Amrita & Beth go medieval on Karan Johar’s a** in their latest podcast:

Filmistan High Class Reunion: Koffee with Karan Season 3 in Review

I watched a fair bit of Season 1 of KwK, a little less of Season 2 and not even a single full episode of the last season. But from what little I saw, I think they absolutely nailed it. Definitely worth a listen.

Towards the end, they turn their attention to Simi Garewal’s new show, India’s Most Desirable. All I’ve watched of that show is a few promos and about five minutes of the first episode. There’s something very creepy about the show, don’t ask me what. After the first three episodes (Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Siddhartha Mallya), I was quite tempted to label it India’s first sexually transmitted chat show, then they broke the cycle with Sonakshi Sinha.

Unless of course… ah, never mind.

Okay, so it’s not a great film. It doesn’t even seem to aspire to greatness, it’s a little longer than it needs to be, there’s nothing outstandingly funny or profound or dramatic about it, there are moments when it feels like an extended program on the Travel & Living Channel…

On the plus side, Katrina Kaif looks awesome and has finally added sultry to her repertoire, especially in the scene where she saunters over to Hrithik and plants a big one right on his lips. There is the odd laugh-out-loud scene, like the one where Kalki Koechlin sings while driving or the one where Farhan Akhtar gives Hrithik Roshan a new cellphone. And yes, the visuals are gorgeous.

At the end of the day, ZNMD isn’t an utter waste of celluloid. I realize that It could’ve been worse is hardly a ringing endorsement, but for what it’s worth, there are a few outstanding moments thrown in amidst the fluff.

The standout is Farhan Akhtar’s conversation with Naseeruddin Shah, his biological father whose existence he wasn’t aware of for a very long time. Nor is the father, for that matter. There’s a nice little prelude to the conversation when he comes to bail the trio (Farhan Akhtar, Abhay Deol, Hrithik Roshan) out of jail and stands there not knowing which one of them is his son. The conversation that follows is written with such admirable economy and power that it belongs in a top-notch drama. There is not a single word in that scene that is superfluous.

A contrast of sorts is provided by the conversation between Katrina Kaif and Hrithik Roshan where he defends his money-is-everything attitude and she responds with: If that is indeed the case, then why did you cry after your deep-see diving experience? If that scene had ended there, or at least not had any more dialogue, it would’ve been fantastic. There was absolutely no need for all that trite advice about living one’s life to the fullest.

This inability to trust the audience and not spell everything out is probably the film’s greatest weakness. The film seems to end, for instance, with an absolutely wonderful shot of the three protagonists running for their lives, literally and metaphorically. Why tack on that utterly useless wedding scene over the end credits after that?

Although there is a lot of evidence to support the Sophomore Jinx theory, I have found that it is often applied not just to performance but to ambition. I am perfectly content with a fluff piece made by a director whose first feature was as wonderful as Luck By Chance, but I expect good fluff.  ZNMD isn’t Citizen Kane, nor is it bad fluff, but by reminding us every once in a while of how much better it could’ve been, it doesn’t do itself any favours.

 

So my first spoken blog post is up, courtesy the wonderful folks who run Masala Zindabad. Thanks, Beth & Amrita for putting this up on your site!

This one’s about my experience of going to the movies. Specifically about watching B-movies in a ramshackle single-screen theatre in a little village in Rajasthan. You can listen to it here.

 

How did I not get to this film earlier?

As rom-coms go, this is among the best in recent memory. A near-flawless script that concentrates on dialogue rather than copping out with a montage, a lead couple who click together perfectly, an utter paucity of over-the-top scenes… But what really makes this film work, I think, is its language. The actors never step out of character when they speak — business is always pronounced binness, Shruti is always Shruttee. Their Janakpuri and Haryanvi origins are never pushed to the background to make way for cookie-cutter dialogue. Baradwaj Rangan, in his glowing review of the film, calls it the rom-com Dibakar Bannerjee might have made (a reference to the Delhi he brings to life, most notably in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye)

That may be why one of my favourite scenes in the film is the one right at the end where Bittoo declares his love for Shruti. As far as rom-com dialogue goes, this is often where all the heavy artillery comes out. This is true here as well, but the language remains what it was until that point. Look at the use of the word mauj and think of how different it is from words like khushi – it is pretty much the exact word one would expect Bittoo to use in this context. Ranveer Singh absolutely nails the delivery and makes it among the most heartfelt scenes I have seen in this genre. Rarely do debutants get it so gloriously right.

ps: A few other observations about the film:

  • Has there ever been a more well-shot and acted kissing scene in Hindi cinema? I doubt it.
  • The offhand references to other films — is that deliberate, I wonder. Some of the same actors from Rocket Singh, another film about a small-time business that grows because of the sincerity of the people involved. One of them even plays a very similar character here. The ganne ka khet reference — is that a nod to Jab We Met?
  • The big production number towards the end — was that really necessary? It struck an unrealistic note in what had been a wonderful movie so far in many ways. A more down-to-earth approach that justified the Janakpuri chaap description would’ve worked better, I think.

There is a voiceover narration by the Rani Mukherjee character (a TV journo named Mira) while the opening credits roll, that contains the following statement: “Everybody is somebody in Delhi. Nobody is nobody.” The corollary to that sort of Orwellian equality, of course, is that some somebodies are more of a somebody than others. Jessica Lall’s death and the subsequent events provoked a widespread sense of outrage, I think, because as far as anyone could tell, she was closer to the “nobody” end of the spectrum. Like most of us. When Sabrina says, “Jessica could’ve been anyone’s sister,” this most cliched of lines manages to work because the ordinariness of those people makes us think, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

What Raj Kumar Gupta accomplishes most effectively in No One Killed Jessica is provoke the sense of outrage we all felt when Manu Sharma was acquitted by a lower court. Since most viewers already know the broad outlines of the case, he chooses wisely to focus not on what happened but on how it made us feel. And he does this, paradoxically, by recounting what happened in as low-key and dispassionate a manner as possible, and letting us fill in the emotional gaps. In this endeavour, he is aided by a superb cast headlined by Vidya Balan who, over the last 3 years, seems to have finally made good on the promise she showed in Parineeta. By choosing understatement over histrionics, Balan creates a quiet, strong character in Sabrina, Jessica’s sister. Although the story is narrated by Mira, it is through Sabrina’s eyes that we view the trial for the most part. Her frustration echoes our own.

In direct contrast is Rani Mukherjee’s brash, foul-mouthed Mira. Maybe there are reporters who behave like she does, but I suspect that her character has been fashioned this way primarily for dramatic impact. If you want parallels, think of Sunny Deol in Damini or Aamir Khan in Taare Zameen Par. In real life, the shenanigans of the defence were exposed by a whole bunch of new magazines and TV channels. Compressing all those achievements into one character and her cohorts feels a bit like a crowd-pleasing ploy and constitutes one of the few weak points in the script — wouldn’t it have been better to show a whole bunch of journos taking up cudgels on Jessica’s behalf? Still, it doesn’t torpedo the movie, and Rani Mukherjee sells it better than she’s sold just about everything else in the past few years. Gupta earns himself a few more brownie points by not making her a saint — there are enough throwaway lines that suggest unexplored subplots about Mira herself, but the choice to keep the focus on this case is wise.

At the end of the day, this story is not so much about Jessica or Sabrina or Mira. It is about our collective outrage. On that front, No One Killed Jessica is as faithful to the source material as one had hoped it would be.

ps: This is the film Raj Kumar Santoshi’s Halla Bol could’ve been. Maybe the directors’ version of Schrodinger’s Maa ought to be renamed Schrodinger’s Jessica?

 

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