Life of Pi

In Lee we trust…

Pic source: Wikipedia

When I first started reading Yann Martel’s Booker prize winning novel, Life of Pi, I left it after a few chapters. It was slow and the author spent a lot of time describing the young protagonist’s religious and spiritual discoveries. I re-visited the book after a few years and it was different this time. I was patient initially but then the book started working its magic… Pi’s unbelievable journey became most believable and I connected emotionally with the 13-year old boy and his sole companion on a life-boat, a royal Bengal tiger called Richard Parker.

The book was called un-filmable not only because of the technical challenges but because the way the story plays out; there are large portions where nothing significant happens and how do you keep expressing what a boy is feeling. However, master filmmaker, Ang Lee brought it alive on the big screen and in a way one couldn’t imagine. Life of Pi is not only visually stunning but is a deeply moving film that despite all the technical wizardry is far from the usual holiday blockbusters.

For those not aware of the story, Life of Pi is about a 13-year old Indian boy, Piscine Molitor Patel aka Pi, from Pondicherry (now Puducherry) who is born a Hindu but is also Muslim and Christian. He believes in God and sees a kind soul in everyone… even wild animals. He loses his family in a ship-wreck and finds himself in a lifeboat with some cargo from his father’s zoo – a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a tiger. The rest of the story is about his amazing journey, survival and faith in God.

David Magee has successfully adapted the novel into a balanced screenplay that does not let the first part of the book slow down the film but still lets us relate to Pi’s belief system. Lee keeps things simple without over-doing the emotions. He does however uses special effects and 3D to create a magical setting that invites you to get lost in the middle of the ocean like Pi. Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is stunning – from the opening sequence in the zoo to the calmness of the ocean, this is the best looking film since Martin Scorsese’s Hugo last year. Michael Danna’s background score is beautiful and reminds you a bit about his earlier Indian outings like Monsoon Wedding and Water. Among the actors, Suraj Sharma as Pi has done a fine job for a debutant and shows great promise as an actor. Tabu as Pi’s mother is as graceful as ever but I wish she had a few more scenes. Like her, other actors including Gérard Depardieu, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall and Irrfan Khan have small roles but all just right. The real star of the film however is Richard Parker, the computer generated tiger. He is so real, so majestic and so beautiful; like Pi, you develop a bond with him and feel disappointed with his indifference.

Life of Pi is not a crowd pleaser but is a cinema lover’s delight, just like Hugo. Some people are not happy with the film’s end but I wonder what else Ang Lee could have done? Those who have read the book may find the end more agreeable than those who haven’t in my opinion. There is a question at the end of the film… ask yourself that, see what answer you get and you’ll know if the film worked for you or not.

 

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Jab Tak Hai Jaan

This is not how I will remember Yash Chopra

Pic source: Yashraj Films

For me Yash Chopra’s cinema is not Waqt, it is not Deewar… it is Lamhe, Chandni and Darr. I grew up watching his beautifully shot romances where the protagonists holiday in Switzerland and London; women wear gorgeous chiffons in pastel colours and men love passionately. I fell in love with the movies after watching Lamhe as a kid and that love continues to grow strong till date. His films are not about logic, they are not about reality… they are about beauty, about visuals that stay with you and music that plays in your ears long after you have left the cinema. He was the master of drama and emotions… remember the scene where Pooja and Anita meet in a shopping mall and discuss the object of their affection, Viren?  This is not homage to the filmmaker who recently passed away but is what went through my mind right after watching his last film, Jab Tak Hai Jaan that released in theatres today. I will miss Yash Chopra and I missed him in his last film; Jab Tak Hai Jaan is not how I will remember the master of romance.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan is about Samar Anand (Shah Rukh Khan), a man who finds his soul-mate and loses her; his undying love for her keeps him alive and also kills him every day. Meera (Katrina Kaif) loves her man more than her happiness with him and Akira (Anushka Sharma) cannot help but fall for the guy who is hopelessly in love with another woman. All three characters in the film do things that are unexplainable, of course in a Yash Chopra romance you expect people to go beyond the normal for love but situations here seem weak and unconvincing. Aditya Chopra and Devika Bhagat’s screenplay is extremely weak and full of loopholes. In the hands of a lesser director, the film would have been a disaster but Yash Chopra manages to make his characters engaging and for him you stay with the film.

Katrina looks beautiful and is perfectly styled (Manish Malhotra) in true Yashraj tradition… she is presented like a dream but seems a little uncomfortable in the extensive emotional scenes. Shah Rukh is effortlessly charming and romances Katrina like she has never been loved on-screen before.  He is in fact the strongest part of the film and shows he still is the best romantic heroe we have in Hindi cinema. Anushka’s character is a little irritating and she does not get the dream Yashraj supporting actress role that Karisma Kapoor got in Dil Toh Pagal Hai and Rani Mukerji in Veer Zaara.

Anil Mehta’s cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful but that’s no surprise… Yash Chopra knew how to set up elegant scenes. Editing by Namrata Rao is not the best as the film gets tedious in the second half. The other big disappointment in the film came from the music department. With names like A R Rahman (music) and Gulzar (lyrics) attached, one expected magic but we got a mediocre album at best keeping in mind the genius of these two artists.

Overall, Jab Tak Hai Jaan disappoints which can be attributed to the sky-high expectations and the unbelievable story. Watch it for Yash Chopra but I am sure you will remember him fondly for his earlier work… jab tak hai jaan.

Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana

The case of the missing ‘masala’

Pic Source: Wikipedia

Bollywood has made a habit of churning out irresistibly fun trailers for films that are ordinary at best. The funniest parts of the films are incorporated in the two-and-a-half minute preview and the rest of the 118-minutes dull minutes are served after you shell out a hefty sum for the ticket. That’s the problem with director, Sameer Sharma’s first film, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (LSTCK). It is not a bad film but does not live up to what one expected after watching the trailer.

LSTCK has a very interesting premise with a man looking for his grand-father’s secret recipe for the famous dish of Chicken Khurana (Hollywood can think about making Ocean’s Fourteen where Clooney and friends go about stealing the secret recipe of KFC’s fried chicken or Coke’s formula). With this interesting premise and a few interestingly written characters, the film is watchable and enjoyable in parts. But it lacks the chutzpah of a fun film with Punjabis as main characters like Vicky Donor, Khosla Ka Ghosla or Oye Lucky Lucky Oye.

Kunal Kapoor plays Omi, a Punjabi guy in London who returns to his village in Punjab to get some money from his family to pay off his debts – a family that he abandoned ten years ago. However, he finds that the source of his family’s fortune – the famous dhaba (highway restaurant), Chicken Khurana, named after his Daarji (grandfather) and his popular chicken dish – is now shut. Daarji (Vinod Nagpal) now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and no one else has the secret recipe for the dish. He also meets his cousin Jeet (Rahul Bagga) who has a secret of his own; his childhood sweetheart, Harman (Huma Qureshi) who is now engaged to Jeet; his maternal uncle, Titu Mama (Rajesh Sharma) and a great-aunt, Buaji (Dolly Ahluwalia) who is a self-proclaimed spiritual guru.

Writers (Sharma and Sumit Batheja) have developed some good characters but been unable to give them enough witty lines and situations. There is a scene where the whole family expresses concern over Omi not having a change of underwear; then there are a few with Titu Mama that leave you laughing out loud. But that’s about it; the emotional scenes do not do much for you and Omi and Harman’s romance also does not have that spark. The revelation of Chicken Khurana’s recipe is an interesting twist though.

Casting (Mukesh Chhabra) for the film is perfect except for one major role which is Omi’s. I like Kunal Kapoor a lot and his sincerity and charm worked well in Rang De Basanti. However, he seems a misfit in the role of a rascal in this film. Rajesh Sharma as Titu Mama is the highlight of the film and Huma Qureshi has an amazing screen presence. Music by Amit Trivedi is largely based on Punjabi folk and goes well with the film but nothing memorable.

Overall, LSTCK is an average entertainer but I wonder if you’d choose this one over Mr. Bond’s next adventure that hits the theatres on the same day.