Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

“It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it”

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani;
Pic Source: Wikipedia

Writer-Director, Ayan Mukerji has done something interesting with his second film, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (his first was the lovely coming-of-age film Wake Up Sid); he has used everything that a typical Bollywood preppy romance has and still managed to keep the film fresh and entertaining. With a predictable screenplay, he has made a film that the country is falling in love with. Partly, the credit goes to the film’s leading man, Ranbir Kapoor who is finally filling the gap left wide open by the erstwhile King of Romance, Shah Rukh Khan. A line in Ayan’s film describes the young Kapoor scion perfectly… “yeh andar se jitna kameena hai, shakal utni hi shareef hai” (he is a roguish devil with an innocent face). He is a perfect mix of talent and other star qualities, just what the Cine-Doctor prescribed for Bollywood. Coming back to the film, it works at many levels and you are able to forget about something called a new story!

Roger Ebert once said, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it”, and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is a perfect example. It is a rom-com with a story-line we have seen in many Bollywood films, especially the ones featuring Shah Rukh… heck, we have also seen similar locations and styling. But Ayan’s film shines as it has heart and you don’t mind tagging along with these good looking youngsters in gorgeous designer clothes as they discover themselves, realize their dreams and fall in love. The film looks at first-world-problems that the affluent urban youth face, which proves why the film is doing roaring business in multiplexes and even in the international markets. It offers three-hours of escape from work, studies and the other big issues like “he/she-never-called-back”… isn’t that what most people look for in entertainment? A part of me says no but a bigger part crushes that and says, “Hell YES!”

Despite all the gloss and filmy formulas, Ayan succeeds in building likable characters and creates moments with the right amount of sweetness. That’s what differentiates Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani from other cookie cutter romances. Bunny aka Kabir Thapar (Ranbir Kapoor) is an ambitious youngster who wants to see the world and has no time or inclination to settle down; geeky Naina Talwar (Deepika Padukone) discovers her inner heroine, falls in love but wants a simple, rooted life; Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) is spunky, behaves like her guy friends but is a romantic at heart; and Avi (Aditya Roy Kapoor) doesn’t want to grow up. These four take a trip of a lifetime and we just enjoy a memorable holiday with them in Manali (shot in Gulmarg, Kashmir actually) till the intermission.

What next? A wedding, of course. Designers, Manish Malhotra and Samidha Wangnoo bring out the best of Spring Summer 2013 wedding collection – their clothes worn by some of the best looking actors in Bollywood. This display of couture takes place at an equally lavish setting, the Udaivilas Palace in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Party after party, ceremony after ceremony and song after song, we proceed towards the climax. Am I complaining? Not at all! In between all this, the director manages to sneak in lovely moments about friendship, loyalty, romance and heart-break.

Songs in the film are beautifully choreographed (Remo D’Souza, Farah Khan) and well performed by the actors. Pritam’s music is good and Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lyrics are catchy… watch the film and try getting “Balam Pichkari” and “Badtameez Dil” out of your head. Talking about the look of the film, full-crowd-applause for cinematographer, V Manikanandan, and Amrita Mahal Nakai with Rajnish Hedao for production design. Akiv Ali (editor) could have chopped the film a bit more, especially the serious part towards the end (ok, ok I enjoyed the song and dance much more), but it’s not an issue. The film has its flaws but I had so much fun that all those small issues can be ignored.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is a fun film, it is not great cinema but is a good entertainer. I promise, you’d come out smiling from the theatre.

The Great Gatsby

Emotions survive beneath the veneer of glitz and glamour

The Great Gatsby; Pic source: Wikipedia

I must confess that I picked up F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby after I got to know that the Australian filmmaker, Baz Luhrmann is adapting it for the big screen. I had not seen the earlier cinematic adaptations and knew nothing about the story. Gatsby was as much a mystery to me as he is to the other characters in the book. I made his acquantaince when I was in his adopted city, New York. I started reading the book at an airport with snow falling outside; the beauty and the sadness of the story enveloped me over the course of a seven-hour flight. By the time I reached the destination, I was in love with the book, the characters and the idea of the film.

I wondered if Luhrmann, known for his opulent and indulgent productions, be able to do justice to the story? When the initial reviews came in, I was most intrigued by this headline in The Playlist: “The Great Gatsby is a decadently empty tale of empty decadence and impossible love”. After watching the film, I can say that it’s partly true and partly not. The Great Gatsby is certainly a tale of empty decadence and impossible love… that’s what Fitzgerald tried to say in 1925, and that’s what Luhrmann has successfully managed to capture in the film. His excesses are breathtakingly beautiful and at times vulgar… we are mesmerized as well as disgusted, just like Nick Carraway, the narrator, the wall-flower in this story – he silently observes, gets seduced by the world of the rich and famous and then leaves disillusioned. The director largely stays true to the book and the theme of impossible love. That’s where I disagree with The Playlist, The Great Gatsby is not a decadently empty tale; beneath the veneer of glitz and glamour, the emotions survive. Luhrmann manages to give you both hope and despair and you’re able to empathise with and hope for Gatsby attaining his dream.

When I read the book, Fitzgerald’s characters appeared as real in 2013 as they were in the 1920s where the story is set. I had met Daisys and Toms and Jordans and Nicks in my life… but not some one like Jay Gatsby. The film manages to portray the characters in the same manner and the actors are able to draw the emotions just like the book. Leonardo DiCaprio is perfect for the role of Jay Gatsby and he delivers… he is vulnerable in some scenes and in some he shows the enthusiasm and nervousness of a boy on his first day at school. Watch out for the scene where he waits to meet Daisy after many years and the one where he tells Nick that you can relive the past… you know he is in denial and you are Nick at that time. Tobey Maguire is good as a young, aspiring writer and I wish they had done away with the whole writing a book thing with him as a narrative tool. Joel Edgerton is perfect as Tom Buchanan, an arrogant, rich bully while newcomer, Elizabeth Debicki appears cool, calm and confident as Jordan Baker, a golf player and socialite. I actually find Jordan’s character quite interesting as like Nick, she observes the lives of Tom, Daisy and Jay but remains aloof. She says something very simple that defines who she is and says a lot about the story, “I love large parties, they are so intimate; at small parties there isn’t any privacy”. Daisy is perhaps one of the most interesting female lead characters ever written; she is in love, she is emotionally torn but she is also a particular type of person that we discover slowly. Luhrmann and Craig Pearce (screenplay) have tried to balance the flippant socialite side of her with how Gatsby sees her. Carey Mulligan gives a fine performance as Daisy and looks the part with her diamond tiaras and chandelier dresses. Among the supporting cast, the most interesting part belongs to Amitabh Bachchan who plays a Jewish gangster named Meyer Wolfsheim. While the character gets limited screen time, it is an important part and Bachchan manages to carry it off with élan. Myrtle Wilson’s important character in the book gets less prominence in the film but is performed well by Isla Fisher. Jason Clarke plays her husband, George Wilson, the always drunk garage owner; once again it is an under-leveraged character, maybe because of the already long duration of the film (143 minutes).

I’d like to give a special mention for the technicians who worked on this ambitious film project, which in true Luhrmann style is also an over-the-top art project. Oscar winner, Catherine Martin who is also Luhrmann’s wife, takes credit for the opulent sets and costumes for which she collaborated with Brooks Brothers (Gatsby), Tiffany’s and Prada (Daisy). Simon Duggan’s cinematography is good for most parts but the fast (read really fast) camera movements make it a little unsettling for the viewers, especially in 3D. It took me some time to get used to the the film just like it did with the high frame rate cinematography used in The Hobbit. Once my eyes settled and the camera slowed down to rest on the characters, I enjoyed the use of 3D to give depth to the scenes. Another distraction that the makers could have avoided is the highly-stylized appearance of words from Nick’s journal, typewriter and narrative on the screen.

While some of my fellow movie watchers expected a more authentic 1920s style jazz, I quite enjoyed the modern interpretation with hip-hop influence in the film’s score, produced by Jay-Z and music arranger, Elliot Wheeler. The songs I quite enjoyed are Lana Del Ray’sYoung and Beautiful”, “Love is Blindness” performed by Jack White and “Back to Black” by Beyoncé and André 3000. I’d also like to mention the excellent job done by the film’s marketing and public relations team; they haven’t left a stone unturned to make it the most talked about and buzziest film this summer.

Unlike the great American novel, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby may not be the great American film but it certainly is an entertaining one with its heart in place. Do watch it if you don’t mind playing along with the director’s over-the-top style and indulgences. 

The Great Gatsby’s famous first edition cover, illustrated by Francis Cugat;
Pic source: Wikipedia

Bombay Talkies

Celebrating the art of story-telling with 100-years of Indian cinema

Bombay Talkies; Pic source: Wikipedia

Indian cinema is not only about song and dance, colourful costumes and overtly emotional characters. I am glad that the film made to commemorate hundred-years of our cinema looks beyond all these clichés and focuses on story-telling. Bombay Talkies has four interesting short films by four directors who represent the modern Indian cinema (read Bollywood in this case) – Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap. While a true tribute would have been filmmakers from other regions also participating (think of an anthology with films in Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil and English), it would have been a tough project to sell commercially. Maybe, we’ll see something like that soon but for now I applaud the effort called Bombay Talkies, which is not an outstanding film but is a brave attempt that needs to be appreciated.

My views on the four short films in Bombay Talkies, in order of my preference (minor spoilers ahead):

Star by Dibakar Banerjee

Based on Satyajit Ray’s short story, Patol Babu Filmstar, Dibakar Banerjee’s Star is as much about failed ambitions as it is about hope and happiness. It is a poignant tale about a father who does not have a new bedtime story for his ailing daughter… it is about a failed actor who gets a shot at stardom in his own small way. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Purandar is simply outstanding and the last two minutes of this short are bound to leave you teary-eyed and in awe of this actor’s talent. It is also great to see Sadashiv Amrapurkar return to screen in a well written cameo. Banerjee’s style is lucid and the story touches you emotionally more than the others in the film. He puts an emu in the chawl to describe the lead character’s failure in business and you see the bird again in another important scene. Banerjee grows with each film and is not afraid to experiment; from Khosla Ka Ghosla to Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye; Love, Sex Aur Dhoka to Shanghai and now Star, he is what the Doctor prescribed for Bollywood’s problem of recycling everything.

Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh by Karan Johar

He who makes multi-million dollar blockbusters that are known for their flamboyance than cinematic artistry, has turned the tables with this small-budget, realistic short film. With this film, we discover a new Karan Johar where he doesn’t have to stress about the three hundred Caucasian dancers in designer Indian costumes or the waist size of his gorgeous leading lady. He is focused on telling a story here, he is focused on dismantling all that is Karan-Joharesque about his cinema… However, he hasn’t given up on the quality and the people he works with; ace cinematographer, Anil Mehta has shot the film, Manish Malhotra has styled Rani Mukherjee, who herself is a Dharma Productions regular. It is also a film where Johar steps out of a cliché ridden world where homosexuality is about effeminate caricatures (Rishi Kapoor in Student of the Year), scandalizing domestic help (Kanta Ben in Kal Ho Na Ho) or Punjabi mothers (Maa Da Laadla Bigad Gaya in Dostana). He takes a bold approach and establishes the main protaganist’s sexuality in the first scene itself. Saqib Saleem is a great new find; I say new as this is the film that will get him noticed and not his earlier outings like Mujhse Fraandship Karoge and Mere Dad Ki Maruti. He is confident and comfortable with the character he plays – an intern at a Bollywood tabloid who strikes an unlikely friendship with his associate editor. The other male actor in this story, Randeep Hooda is also well cast as a serious news presenter who loves old Hindi music and leads a predictable, loveless life. Rani Mukherjee returns to what she does the best… she is natural and relatable. She plays a wife who knows that her marriage is dead but keeps up the appearances. This is Karan Johar that we have never seen before and hope to see more in future.

Sheila Ki Jawani by Zoya Akhtar

It’s a story about a little boy who dreams of becoming a dancer while his strict father (Ranvir Shorey) wants him to do something ‘appropriate’ for a boy. It is also a story about the relationship between a brother and a sister, biases and unfair societal norms – “a boy should be interested in sports while a girl should be happy with a doll”; “it’s better to invest in a boy’s future than a girl who will eventually go away”. The boy finds himself burdened with his father’s expectations but is not willing to give up on his dreams. He gets this strength from his supportive sister, a year or two elder to him and an unlikely guardian angel, Katrina Kaif. Akhtar’s last film, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was a big hit and it wasn’t only because of the star power and the breathtaking locales; this director knows how to tell stories, which was clear from her critically acclaimed, yet commercially average first film, Luck By Chance. Here, she simply works with an idea and not a fleshed out story, but with her superior narrative style and the lovely performances by the two child actors (Naman Jain and Khushi Dubey), the film works.

Murabba by Anurag Kashyap

Here’s a filmmaker who is truly changing the face of Hindi cinema. His films are bold, have daring or unexpected themes and usually feature new talent. He is what Ram Gopal Verma was to the Hindi film industry in his prime – a promise of changing the way films are made and watched in India; a promise to break the mold and cross the boundaries to create truly international cinema. Where RGV failed, Kashyap seems to be succeeding… films produced and directed by him are a regular feature at prestigious international film festivals including Cannes; Indian audience is open to buying a ticket for a film made by him despite no big film stars. That is why I was most curious about his short film, Murabba in Bombay Talkies. I liked the film but not as much as I liked the other three. Murabba looks at the Indian film-goers and their connection with cinema. We say cricket is a religion in India and so is cinema; nothing binds our people more than these two passions that most Indians are born with. A young man from Illahabad, Vijay (Vineet Kumar Singh), comes to meet Amitabh Bachchan in Mumbai to offer him a piece of murabba (sweet fruit pickle) as per his ailing father’s wish. He stands outside the mega star’s house and waits for a chance to meet him for two-minutes. He is confident of a warm reception on his arrival as he hails from the same city and colony where Bachchan came from originally. He is let down when the star’s guards shoo him away but he doesn’t give up. The other interesting angle in the film is how we Indians like to brag and tell stories. It is an absurd story that holds your interest till a certain point but then it leaves you unsatisfied unlike the other three stories.

Bombay Talkies is good experiment that largely works and in the hope of seeing more such collaborations and innovation by our filmmakers, I urge you all to buy a ticket and see this film.

PS: Please walk out of the theatre before the terrible title song video featuring about twenty stars comes on-screen with the end credits.

Ek Thi Daayan

Once there lived a witch and she promised to return…

Ek Thi Daayan; Pic Source: Wikipedia

“So sweet, I could just eat you up…” how many times have you heard people, especially women say this to cute little kids? It’s meant as a compliment to the kid and nobody cares how sinister it sounds, not even the parents. But when Konkona Sen Sharma says this to a little girl in Ek Thi Daayan, you know she means it. It’s a normal scene and she looks like a regular woman but this time you are scared, just like the kids who are talking to her. That’s where Kannan Iyer’s debut film as a director wins; the sequences that stay close to reality are scary and tense. Once the film starts explaining things, it starts going downwards. A brilliant first half makes Ek Thi Daayan a must watch, even for people like me who don’t enjoy horror as a genre. But post interval, the film starts losing the tension that was built and the climax is a major let-down.

The film revolves around a famous magician named Bobo (Emraan Hashmi) who has a disturbing past… a past that has a mysterious woman who, as he claims, was a Daayan (witch). His girl-friend, Tamara (Huma Qureshi) loves him a lot but is not comfortable with him being secretive. And then there is a young NRI woman, Lisa Dutt (Kalki Koechlin), who shares her name with a woman convicted of murdering children in the 60s. Based on Mukul Sharma’s short story and adapted for screen by Sharma himself and Vishal Bhardwaj, the screenplay is as interesting as it gets till there is time for the conclusion.

Ek Thi Daayan is one of the better horror films made in India. The last good one I remember is Ram Gopal Verma’s Bhoot; the others churned out by the Bhatt camp and the likes are laughable at best. The film’s strength lies in the actors’ performances, especially Konkona who makes evil so deliciously menacing and normal at the same time. She has always been a fine actor who makes it easier for us to relate to the characters she portrays. In this film also, she uses the same quality to make the Daayan so scary by looking and behaving normally. Huma Qureshi is very confident on-screen and it’s good to see her playing a modern character after her small town girl roles in Gangs of Wasseypur and Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana. Kalki brings in the right level of mystery and Emraan strikes the balance between a loving boyfriend and a troubled soul. While Kannan Iyer has done justice to the script, somethings appear funny and take away from the seriousness of the film. For instance, it’s difficult to take a brooding hero seriously if he’s called Bobo; then there are scenes where Hashmi loses his cool and goes after women’s braids – there is a perfectly good explanation for the behavior but it still appears funny. The climax appears straight out of co-producer, Ekta Kapoor’s old TV show, Mano Ya Na Mano. Discount that and you have a near perfect horror film.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s music with Gulzar’s lyrics elevates the film further and creates the right mood at the right moment. Rekha Bhardwaj’sLautungi Main…” and “Yaaram…” by Sunidhi Chauhan and Clinton Cerejo are the best songs from the album.

Ek Thi Daayan is a good attempt and is definitely worth a watch. It could have been a brilliant film if the makers took a different approach towards the end; something that could have been more disturbing and open-ended than the current overly simplified end. Still watch it for a riveting first half and a brilliant performance by Konkona Sen Sharma.

PS: If you are scared of lizards, be prepared for an uncomfortable ride.

Nautanki Saala

The joke is on us…

Nautanki Saala
Pic Source: Wikipedia

Really! Vicky Donor is a big hit? The lead actor, Ayushmann Khurrana has become an overnight star!
Women like him and men relate to him. Let’s make a film with him. Story? Ok, let’s sign him first and then we’ll find a story. Ok.

You remember the makers of Bheja Fry adapted a French comedy?
Let’s do that and make a fun, small budget film with Khurrana… it will be our little-big film of 2013.

Heard of this funny French film, Après Vous? It means After You. It’s about a guy who saves another guy from committing suicide. The one who wanted to die is a total train-wreck and our hero decides to help him by giving him work and winning his girl back. Ok, what else? A love triangle! Ok, that sounds good; we can throw in some songs. Perfect.

So Ayushmann plays the nice guy; who plays the loser? Kunaal Roy Kapoor, remember his ridiculously funny performance in Delhi Belly? Perfect. And the girls? Anyone will do really as our film is about these two guys. Ok. In the French film, the lead character was a restaurant manager… that’s not very exciting in India, what do we do? We’ll make him a theatre actor and director. That way, we can play with the costumes and create a more whimsical mood. Sounds like a plan. Let’s start shooting. Done.

Lights, camera, action.

“Nautanki Saala” – a new comedy starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Kunaal Roy Kapoor

Selling proposition – a bromance… a comedy of errors… a film for all… a multiplex hit!


Film review:

How much can Ayushmann do to save a drab of a film?

Didn’t they see Après Vous’ Rotten Tomatoes rating before remaking it? Rotten at 57%

Dear Mr. Rohan Sippy, did you think you can make a good film inspired by a mediocre one?

Actually, why blame you when the Indian viewers help mediocre films become big hits.

Look at Dabangg 2… it was essentially a collage of left-over scenes from Dabangg.

Coming back to Nautanki Saala; the film has its moments, has a few jokes to laugh at. First forty-five minutes are good but then the next ninety are painful. Why didn’t they make an hour-long tele-film instead?

Ayushmann Khurrana plays Ram Parmar or RP, the Good Samaritan. He acts well and is likable but tries too hard to save the film. And those Angry Bird slippers!

Kunaal Roy Kapoor plays Mandar Lele, the loser. He is a talented actor and will do better with good scripts.

Other good stuff – Using “So Gaya Yeh Jahan, So Gaya Aasman” from the film, Tezaab in a remix version. Sulbha Arya as Ajji, Mandar’s brutally honest grandmother.

Girl 1 – Chitra played by Gaelyn Mendonca. She can act but is quite irritating in the film.

Girl 2 – Sita played by Evelyn Sharma. The brief to her was to look hot and she did.

Girl 3 – Nandini played by Pooja Salvi. Her scenes can be used in film school to show what not to do.
Check out the scenes where she tries to cry.

Cameo by Abhishek Bachchan – bleh!

They made a comedy film keeping in mind our intellect. Dear Hindi film audience, the joke is on us.

The Place Beyond The Pines

Sins, guilt and redemption

The Place Beyond The Pines;
Pic source: Wikipedia

“If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder”, a friend tells Luke. The Place Beyond the Pines opens with an impressive sequence of a local fair where we are introduced to Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a stunt motorcycle driver. We see his tattooed body first – with a ship on his back, his cigarette and his partner – a motorcycle. After performing his act in a “globe of death” for the residents of Schenectady, Glanton comes face to face with Romina (Eva Mendes), a local girl with whom he had a one-night-stand a year ago. He soon discovers he has a son with Romina and decides to take responsibility for both the child and the mother. Glanton’s life of reckless abandon changes forever when he sees Romina with another man, Kofi (Mahershala Ali) at his child’s christening. It is a heart-breaking scene where nothing is said but a lot expressed… that’s the brilliance of director, Derek Cianfrance who has made a crime drama that is emotionally taxing and refuses to give an easy way out, both to his characters and the audience.

Glanton starts using his best “skill” to rob banks and riding away to safety on his trusted bike. We are treated to some stunning escape and chase sequences before we meet Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop who turns into a local hero. He is uncomfortable with the new developments in his life and the corruption at the Schenectady Police Department. The director makes us empathize with Cross and when we think the story is going in a certain direction, it takes a sharp turn again. The final act, though dramatic and grand, leaves a lot to be desired… but then you can have your own interpretations.

Written by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, The Place Beyond the Pines is not an easy film to watch and that’s where lies its brilliance. It is an ambitious film that explores the themes of father-son relationship, crime, remorse and redemption. Gosling delivers a brilliant performance as a brooding criminal who just wants to take care of his girl and his son. Cooper on the other hand has a more complex character and he does full justice to it. In one scene he finds himself holding a baby at a suspect’s house where they are conducting a raid; we can feel his guilt in this wonderfully written, directed and performed scene.  Eva Mendes manages to make her presence felt even while the film essentially focuses on the two male characters. Her scenes, though short, show her as a confused girl to an angry lover and later, a desperate mother.

Cinematography by Sean Bobbitt is another highlight of the film… grand shots of Glanton riding through the pines to the more intimate and disturbing scenes, everything is perfect. Music by Mike Patton is excellent, especially this hauntingly beautiful track “The Snow Angel” that you also get to hear in the film’s trailer. At 140-minutes, it is a long film but if you don’t mind movies that make you uncomfortable, then this is ticket you should buy this weekend.

PS: The Place Beyond the Pines gets its name from Schenectady, a city in the State of New York, which roughly translates to “place beyond the pine plains” in Mohawk language (source: Wikipedia)

And the OSCAR goes to…

Best Picture Oscar Nominees 2013
Pic: The Academy and Gallery1988

Here are my Oscar predictions made on the eve of the biggest entertainment show in the World along with the winners updated after the ceremony… For most categories, I listed who I thought will win and who was more deserving in my opinion. I did not include documentaries and short films in my original predictions (winners are updated now) as I have not seen them except Paperman – nominee, favourite and eventual winner in the Short Film (animated) category.

Let’s see how many predictions came true, how many favourites won and how many upset wins ruined the leading nominees’ evening…

Best Picture

Will win: Argo, unless the Academy voters do not want to own up to the mistake they made by not nominating Ben Affleck for Best Director

Should win: Zero Dark Thirty, but there is too much negative (and unnecessary) buzz around the film

Upset potential: Lincoln – a good film, but not the best (drags too much). However, it is tailor-made for the Oscars… the Academy loves biopics and add the element of patriotism to it… oh, and there is the Spielberg factor!

What about the others: The Academy seems to love Life of Pi but it’s more like Hugo – too many nominations, too little love in the main categories except the technical ones. Silver Linings Playbook is really a romantic comedy and the Academy rarely rewards rom-coms with the top prize. Django Unchained is a serious contender for Original Screenplay, not for Best Picture. Amour should be happy with an assured win in the Foreign Film category. Beasts of the Southern Wild… other nominees are asking this question – “where did this come from? How many people have seen this film?”

Who actually won: Argo. Hoorah!


Will win: I do not want to name him but I have no choice, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln

Should win: Ben Affleck for Argo or Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty; but I’m in denial, these

two are not even nominated

Upset potential: Michael Haneke for Amour, though I want Ang Lee to be the one for Life of Pi

Slim chances but Affleck’s votes may go there: David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook

Good intentions but seriously, who? Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild

Who actually wonAng Lee. Not as predicted but as I hoped. Respect.

Actor in a Leading Role

Will win: Daniel Day Lewis for Lincoln – the safest bet and he was very good in the film

Should win: Daniel Day Lewis (since John Hawkes is not even nominated for The Sessions)

Upset potential: Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables – who doesn’t like a singing Wolverine?

Upset delight: Denzel Washington for Flight… his win calls for a round of Tequila shots!

Academy is too snooty to vote for you but if you win, it will be the Sandra Bullock moment once again: Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook

You killed your own chances: Joaquin Phoenix for The Master. You don’t call the Oscar season bullshit while the voting is on.

Who actually won: Daniel Day Lewis

Actress in a Leading Role

Will win: Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty… for all the negativity around the film, her performance has been unanimously appreciated

Should win: Jessica Chastain or Jennifer Lawrence, though the latter can wait for the next time

Upset potential: Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, if the Academy shows extra love because of her age. Naomi Watts for The Impossible – it was a film designed to make you cry but Watts’ suffering in the film does not match up to Maya’s (Jessica) determination or Tiffany’s (Jennifer) craziness.

Not possible: Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild… she has too difficult a name to be pronounced by any presenter for a live telecast. On a serious note, she is sweet in the film but I was surprised with her nomination.

Who actually won: Jennifer Lawrence. She was in my deserving list but this one belonged to Jessica Chastain really. 

Actor in a Supporting Role

Will win: Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln

Should win: Tommy Lee Jones or Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master or Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook… all are so good!

Upset potential: Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained

Why was he nominated again? Alan Arkin for Argo

Who actually wonChristoph Waltz. What was I thinking?

Actress in a Supporting Role

Will win: Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables because life killed the dream she dreamed as Fantine

Should win: Anne Hathaway or Helen Hunt for The Sessions (but hers was really a lead role)

Upset potential: Sally Field for Lincoln if the Spielberg love rules the evening

Did we forget she’s in the running? Amy Adams for The Master

Why was she nominated again? Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook

Who actually won: Anne Hathaway. It came true.

Adapted Screenplay

Will win: Lincoln or Argo

Should win: Life of Pi, this book was once considered un-filmable!

Upset potential: Silver Linings Playbook

Who actually won: Chris Terrio for Argo

Original Screenplay

Will win: Django Unchained

Should win: Zero Dark Thirty or Moonrise Kingdom

Upset potential: Amour

Who actually won: Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained

Animated Film

Will win: Wreck It Ralph

Should win: Wreck It Ralph

May have a chance: Frankenweenie

Major upset: Brave

Who actually wonBrave. The most undeserving winner. It is not about the animation only but how the whole film was! Brave is one of the dullest films from the Disney stable. I have a theory here… Disney really pushed for Brave and got what they wanted. It makes business sense as they are trying to establish Merida among the other much loved Disney princesses – Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, etc. Just go to any Disney store or Disney Land and you’ll see how much they are pushing Brave and most merchandise is on sale. After the Oscar win, I think Merida has a second chance. Sorry Ralph, she stole your Oscar.

Foreign Film

Will win: Amour (Austria)

Should win: Amour

Upset potential: I have not yet seen Kon-Tiki (Norway), War Witch (Canada) and No (Chile) but Amour seems to be the favourite. A Royal Affair (Denmark) is good but not better than Amour

Who actually won: Amour

Film Editing

Will win: Argo

Should win: Argo

Upset potential: any other film will be an upset if Argo doesn’t win

Who actually wonArgo


Will win: Life of Pi

Should win: Life of Pi or Moonrise Kingdom, which is sadly not nominated

Upset potential: Lincoln

Who actually wonClaudio Miranda for Life of Pi

Original Score

Will win: Mychael Danna for Life of Pi

Should win: Mychael Danna for Life of Pi

Upset potential: Lincoln

Who actually wonMychael Danna for Life of Pi

Original Song

Will win: “Skyfall” from Skyfall (Music and Lyric by Adele and Paul Epworth)

Should win: “Skyfall” from Skyfall

Upset potential: “Suddenly” from Les Misérables as a consolation prize (Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; Lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil)

Who actually won: “Skyfall” from Skyfall (Music and Lyric by Adele and Paul Epworth)

Visual Effects

Will win: Life of Pi

Should win: Life of Pi

Major upset:  any other film

Who actually won: Life of Pi

Costume Design

Will win: Anna Karenina

Who actually wonAnna Karenina


Will winLes Misérables

Who actually wonLes Misérables

Production Design

Will win: Anna Karenina or Life of Pi

Who actually wonLincoln. Did the voters even watch Anna Karenina?

Sound Mixing

Will win: Les Misérables

Who actually wonLes Misérables

Sound Editing

Will winZero Dark Thirty


Who actually won: Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall (a tie)

Other winners (not predicted in this post earlier):

Animated Short Film: Paperman

Live Action Short Film: Curfew

Documentary Short Subject: Innocente

Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man

Out of 20 predictions, I got 15 right. Happy about getting the Best Director prediction wrong and pleased with the Best Actress too (Lawrence was in my “should win” bracket along with Chastain). I under-estimated Christoph Waltz’s potential win (his nomination was in my upset category); I should have seen the signs! Regarding Brave’s win over Wreck It Ralph and Lincoln over Anna Karenina for Production Design, I stick with my picks and think the Academy voters failed the deserving winners. 

Post updated: February 25, 2013


The Perks of Being a Wallflower

We accept the love we think we deserve…

Pic Source: Wikipedia

Stephen Chbosky’s beautiful novel (1999), The Perks of Being a Wallflower, can be summed up in this one line from the book – “We accept the love we think we deserve”. Told from the point of view of a freshman year student, Charlie, it is a coming-of-age story about friendship and love, insecurities and fear, exclusion and acceptance. Last year, the author managed to do something exceptional – he adapted (screenplay, direction) the acclaimed novel to a superior motion picture. Yes, in my opinion The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those rare films that surpass the beauty of its much-loved source material. It is also the most ignored film of 2012 with none of the major film award shows acknowledging the film and the fine performances by the three lead actors. For me it is not only one of the best films of 2012 but also among my favourite films of all time.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a shy teenager who in his own words is both happy and sad. He is nervous about high-school and his only real friend committed suicide a year ago. He hates school till he meets two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), who become his best friends and much more. Sam is a free-spirited girl with excellent taste in music; she is smart, beautiful but not popular because of her excesses in the freshman year. Her step-brother, Patrick is flamboyant, witty and in love with a jock from the school football team. Sam and Patrick welcome Charlie to the island of misfit toys and for the first time Charlie feels like he belongs somewhere. They understand him and celebrate him for what he is – a wallflower that sees things, keeps quiet about them and understands.

Writer-director, Chbosky makes us a part of this intimate group of friends and we find ourselves driving with them through a tunnel, listening to mix tapes and feeling infinite; drinking and playing truth-and-dare; having a crush and falling in love; sharing their disappointments and consoling them when they suffer heartbreaks. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is sincere, heartfelt and very well acted. Emma Watson manages to break free from the image of Hermione (Harry Potter series) and delivers a mature performance… for me she is no longer a young witch from Hogwarts but Sam of “Slut and the Falcon” fame (watch the trailer below to know why, or better watch the film).  Logan Lerman is also the introvert Charlie now and not Percy Jackson (which isn’t a great franchise in my opinion anyway). But the show stealer is Ezra Miller who has the smartest lines and gets to showcase a wide range of emotions. He is one fine actor who is at equal ease with a likeable character like Patrick and a disturbing one like Kevin in 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. The film has an interesting cast of supporting actors including Paul Rudd as Charlie’s English teacher, Joan Cusack as his psychiatrist, Mae Whitman and Johnny Simmons as other students.

The film has an interesting soundtrack; it’s actually a mix tape with songs by various artists and original score by Michael Brook. My favourite track is the catchy song that plays in the film’s trailer also; it’s called “It’s Time” by a band named Imagine Dragons. The cinematography is nice with Andrew Dunn maintaining an intimate feel along with the 90s look for the film. Congratulations to Mr. Rudd Productions (the guys who made Juno) and Summit Entertainment (distribution) for backing this gem of a film.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is now available on DVD in the US and for digital download on iTunes/amazon. I also recommend reading the book, which is simply unputdownable.

Best of Bollywood in 2012

I know I am late but there is never a wrong time to discuss films… here is my list of the best of Hindi cinema in 2012. It was an average year for Bollywood with most big films ending up as major disappointments but there were some innovative films that put script, great acting and technical talent in focus. From Sneha Khanwalkar to Juhi Chaturvedi to Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bollywood had a lot to cheer in 2012 along with some embarrassing films churned out by major stars and filmmakers. So, here it is… My Bollywood Top 10 from 2012, in this order:

Parma and Zoya’s violent love story

10. Ishaqzaade: When are we ever tired of the Romeo-Juliet saga? This one is set in a trigger-happy small town in Northern India and director, Habib Faisal gets the small-town details right. Parineeti Chopra and Arjun Kapoor are confident new-comers who make the same old doomed lovers’ story refreshing and entertaining. Yes, there is too much violence and sexist remarks in the film but a lot of it is reality. Shalmali Kholgade sings “Main Pareshaan” beautifully and Amit Trivedi’s album has some more good tracks. Gauhar Khan is another highlight of the film (she needs a bigger, meatier role now). Read my full review here.

A refreshing rom-com

9. Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu: I have often complained about Bollywood not getting it right with romantic comedies but I was pleasantly surprised with Shakun Batra’s Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. It is a refreshingly different rom-com from Bollywood standards and I quite enjoyed it. Boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy falls in love but… that’s where the writer wins by redefining what happens in a Bolly romance. Kareena Kapoor is a good actor when she wants to be and in this one she did well but I was surprised by Imran Khan who was not his usual lost self here by playing a lost guy. Read my full review here.

A better study of grief than a suspense thriller

8. Talaash: With all its flaws, Talaash is an interesting film for Indian cinema. There is an interesting plot and an unexpected ending from Bollywood standards. While the whole thriller bit did not work for me, the film tackles the emotions of grief and guilt very well. Aamir Khan and Rani Mukerji are brilliant as grieving parents and director, Reema Kagti presents their story sensitively. Kareena Kapoor and Nawazuddin Siddiqui make the film even more interesting despite a different yet disappointing climax. Read my full review here.

A taut political thriller with great performances

7. Shanghai: Since Prakash Jha stopped making good political films, I had given up hope on the genre but Dibakar Banerjee brought us Shanghai. It is a brave film that exposes the murky politics, scams and crimes that take place in the name of development. We can be proud of all the progress we have made as a country but at what cost? Emraan Hashmi and Abhay Deol have winning roles, with an excellent supporting cast. Read my full review here.

Cheeky, bold and fun

6. Vicky Donor: This one clearly belongs to the writer, Juhi Chaturvedi. Who would have thought that Bollywood will deliver a crowd-pleasing entertainer about a sperm donor? Director, Shoojit Sircar gave us a light-hearted comedy with two promising new actors – Ayushmann Khurana and Yami Gautam. The best scene in the film: Vicky’s mother, Dolly (Dolly Ahluwalia) and grand-mother, Biji (Kamlesh Gill) enjoying whiskey and discussing the disappointments in their lives, including each other. Despite a dull ending, it is one of the most enjoyable films Bollywood has produced in the recent times. Read my full review here.

Smile, you’re designed to do so

5. Barfi!: Leave all the plagiarism debates and enjoy the sweetness in this film. Yes, there are scenes that remind you of Charlie Chaplin films or the more recent The Notebook, but it is a different film that will bring out the child in you. Director, Anurag Basu creates a special mood with the film that takes you back in time when life was simpler, childhood meant chasing fireflies and playing with soap bubbles. Ranbir Kapoor once again proves why he is the ultimate combination of an actor and a star; Priyanka Chopra and Ileana D’Cruz also do not disappoint and what lovely music by Pritam… Read my full review here.

Sridevi’s on-screen triumph after 16-years

4. English Vinglish: What a beautiful film and what a wonderful come back for 80s and 90s reigning diva, Sridevi. Gauri Shinde made a brilliant directorial debut with this sensitive film that hits the bulls-eye on most parameters. A regular Indian housewife whose kids make fun of her broken English decides to learn the language in Manhattan of all the places! A refreshing new concept and the simple narration make the film enjoyable and make you aware of all the times you have not valued your parents. Sridevi makes it look so easy on screen after a long hiatus and you want to see more of her. It is definitely the heart-warming film of the year from Bollywood.

This is Irrfan Khan, not the one in The Amazing Spiderman

3. Paan Singh Tomar: An army man, an athlete, a father, a husband, a dacoit… Director, Tigmanshu Dhulia tells us everything about Paan Singh Tomar’s life and his relationships in this brilliantly made biographical film. Irrfan Khan is first rate in this compelling real life drama. It is a tragic film that does not glorify the lead character but portrays him as a regular man with needs, desires and hopes like everyone else.

And that’s how you make a thriller

2. Kahaani: You don’t need to blow up cars and have complicated stunts to make a good thriller. You can make it with a heavily pregnant woman as the lead character. Director, Sujoy Ghosh hit gold with this Vidya Balan starrer that presents Kolkata as one of the lead characters. Nawazuddin Siddiqui delivers a powerful performance and Saswata Chatterjee’s Bob Biswas, an LIC agent who is also a contract killer, is probably one of the best written characters in recent times. Read my full review here.

Hunter, Womaniya, Perpendicular and Tangent… superb writing wins

1. Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2: Over five hours of violent revenge drama with a lot of style and humour… Director, Anurag Kashyap’s Tarantino style pair of films not only entertained but brought to light a number of talented actors and technicians. From Richa Chaddha to Huma Qureshi and of course the brilliant, Nawazzudin Siddiqui, GoW made stars of these actors. Sneha Khanwalkar’s music combined folk, Bollywood and even Chutney music from the Caribbean to deliver a fantastic album. We re-discovered the talent powerhouse called, Manoj Bajpai and the acting prowess of filmmaker, Tigmanshu Dhulia. The real winners however are the writers, Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh, Sachin Ladia and Kashyap himself, who wrote the films without any inhibitions. Read my full reviews here and here.

Disappointments of the Year

While these are my favourite films of 2012, I was disappointed by biggies like Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Agent Vinod, Agneepath, Cocktail and Dabangg 2. I never expected much from films like Rowdy Rathore, Student of the Year, Housefull 2 and Heroine but they managed to go further below my expectations. Thankfully, I did not watch films like Players, Raaz 3D, Jism 2, Bhoot Returns, Khiladi 786, Tezz and Chakravyuh among others… I understand and relate to your pain if you have watched any of these films and so do the folks at the third annual Ghanta Awards. Vote for the worst film and other categories for the Ghantas here and watch the show live/online on February 15, 2013.

Les Misérables

Passion. Music. Love. Cinema.

Pic source:

The longest running musical, seen by over 60-million people worldwide and a much loved novel by Victor Hugo… Director, Tom Hooper took on a mammoth challenge when he decided to direct Les Misérables, the film.  He retained the musical format, which makes it a very different viewing experience, but also requires a little patience. At two-hours and forty-minutes, it is a long film with a lot of singing and even more heart.

Les Misérables is nothing short of magic on big screen – it looks spectacular and has outstanding performances by all the actors, who performed their songs live on the sets and not lip-synched. It is a triumph for Hooper and his brilliant team of writers – William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg (the last three are also behind the on-stage musical adaptation). After a spectacular start, the film does drag a bit in the second hour but the sincere and heart-felt performances by the actors keep you involved.

Set in the nineteenth century France, Les Misérables begins with a man named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) being released from a prison after serving a nineteen-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. He is marked as a dangerous man with a life-long parole, which he breaks and is pursued by a law-obsessed policeman, Javert (Russell Crowe). While Valjean gets a second chance to turn around his wretched life, a beautiful factory worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is doomed after her co-workers find out about her illegitimate child. The film spans two-decades and we are introduced to numerous characters including Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen as a child and Amanda Seyfried as an adult); Cosette’s greedy care-takers, Madame and Monsieur Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen); Thénardier’s children, Éponine (Samantha Barks) who is as old as Cosette and the young street urchin, Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone); Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who loves Cosette and is also a student revolutionary along with Enjolras (Aaron Tveit). It is a great ensemble cast and I cannot point at one actor who did not live up to the characters they portrayed.

Pic source: Wikipedia

The film opens with a prisoners’ song, “Look down” where we see hundreds of famished prisoners pulling a ship to its dock, while Javert supervises them. It is a grand visual with the sea, large ships and so many wretched souls including Valjean. The film strikes the perfect balance between real emotions and a magical setting, which is almost unbearably sad at times. The costumes, the wigs and make-up, the production design and cinematography are all first-rate and make it a spectacular viewing experience. The music is from the stage musical (lyrics – Herbert Kretzmer; music producers – Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg) with an additional original song, “Suddenly” that is about Valjean finding Cosette and the sudden change in his life. It is performed beautifully by Hugh Jackman who is simply brilliant in the film. My other favorite songs in the film are Fantine’sI dreamed a dream” in which Anne Hathaway confirms her Oscar shot; young Cosette’sCastle on a cloud”, which has a haunting melody; the revolutionaries’ “Do you hear the people sing?”, which is still playing in my head and Valjean’sWhat have I done?” Apart from Jackman and Hathaway, I loved what the two little kids brought to the film. Isabelle as Cosette looks exactly like the famous portrait by Emile Bayard from the original edition of the book and Daniel as Gavroche is the star in the last forty-minutes of the film. Special mention for Aaron Tveit who plays Enjolras with so much conviction that you almost forget to look at Marius.

Les Misérables is made with passion, love and hope, which is visible on-screen. It may not be the most entertaining film you’ll see this year, but it is everything that great cinema can offer a true film-lover. If you like musicals then do not miss it on the big screen.

Watch this great video about the actors singing live while filming:


And here’s Fantine’s heartbreakingly beautiful “I dreamed a dream”: