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.

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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)

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.

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.

 

Heroine

 

What’s with the tackiness, ‘babes’?

Pic source: Wikipedia

Madhur Bhandarkar made his name with realistic films like Chandni Bar, which got him critical acclaim, and Page 3, which got him both critical and commercial success. He then decided to focus on doing his brand of exposé films like Traffic Signal, Jail and Fashion. He had found a template, which seemed to work for him as well as his actors. However, there is this tackiness that is clearly visible in all his work, with the exception of Chandni Bar. Despite having A-list actresses doing his films and big corporate houses backing them, his films look like B-grade productions. Same is the case with the much talked about Heroine, which is tacky and in some parts, purely down-market.

Heroine traces the journey of a Hindi film star who struggles with the ever-changing power dynamics in the film industry, her limitations as an actor and perils of fame and the lack of it. Kareena Kapoor was possibly the best choice to essay the role of Mahi Arora, a film star full of insecurities. She lights up every scene she appears in and her real life persona of a star rubs off on the film. Her look, designed by Manish Malhotra is another highlight of the film; he makes her look great and from what I read in the papers, spent 10% of the film’s budget on her costumes alone! This possibly explains why the rest of the film looks tawdry and like a college project, put together by amateurs. The dialogues are cringe-worthy and half the film’s characters love calling each other ‘babes’! The gay characters in the film are once again reduced to over-the-top caricatures who either gossip or sleep around. Small time actors are given roles of superstars and big producers; and they all do not fit the bill. There are some interesting characters like Arjun Rampal who plays a superstar and Divya Dutta as a public relations queen (I will not call her a professional). Arjun suits the character as he has the screen presence and Divya acts well as a ruthless ‘brand maker’.  Randeep Hooda as a cricketer is also cast well but who did his hair? Then there are actors like Sanjay Suri, Harsh Chhaya, Lilette Dubey, Shahana Goswami and Ranvir Shorey in two bit roles along with a huge crowd of extras with garish make-up, outfits and over the top performances.

Coming to the story (Madhur Bhandarkar with screenplay by Anuraadha Tewari and Manoj Tyagi), Heroine is a mish mash of gossip that gets published in the entertainment section of newspaper supplements. From a popular 90s’ actress throwing wine on her husband’s ex to a model-turned-actress’ link up with a playboy cricketer; to the chappati counting, stingy wife of a big producer-director; there is enough masala for those who enjoy Bollywood gossip. However, there’s hardly any story apart from a string of these incidents. Mahi Arora, a successful star starts fading in her career and her personal life; she tries to resurrect it and then fails… haven’t we seen all this before?

Music by Salim-Sulaiman is just about ok and nothing that you’d like to play again after the film. Cinematography (Mahesh Limaye) contributes to the B-grade look and feel of the film, which required a lot more brutal editing (Deven Murudeshvar).

Watch Heroine only if you are a Kareena fan or Bhandarkar’s template is acceptable to you, otherwise there is plenty of good stuff in cinemas or on TV.

Gangs of Wasseypur 2

 

A to Z of Wasseypur

Pic source: Wikipedia

Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur 2 lives up to the huge expectations set by its prequel; the director once again delivers an entertainer that is full of masala but unlike any other revenge dramas dished out by Bollywood. The film picks up the story of Wasseypur and its goons from where the first film left it. Sardar Khan is killed by those he wanted dead in the first place; Ramadhir Singh continues to gain prominence in politics and the Qureshis are left divided between the Khans and the Singhs. Gangs of Wasseypur 2 (GoW 2) follows the story of Faizal Khan as he picks up and lives his father’s unfulfilled purpose – revenge.

Here’s A to Z of Gangs of Wasseypur 2 (minor spoilers ahead):

A – Anurag Kashyap: Writer, producer, director – Kashyap is truly changing the game for Hindi cinema. His keen eye for detail, amazing story-telling ability, penchant for style of a different kind and quirky sense of humour makes him one of the best filmmakers of this generation. GoW 2 is gory, funny and ironic… all credit to the director for giving us a pair of fine and memorable films this year.

B – Badla: Faizal Khan is not like is father, he is a different man. He likes movies, he likes to live in his own world… but he is given no choice but to follow the destructive path treaded by his father. Revenge (badla) – an emotion that sets the tone of GoW 2 from the first scene itself and consumes each and every character in the film.

C – Ch**iya: The preferred expletive amongst the inhabitants of Wasseypur along with some others. I chose this one specifically as the two main characters; Ramadhir Singh and Faizal Khan use it quite often and with style.

D – Dialogue: Excellent screenplay, peppered with some brilliant dialogue make GoW 2 also quite enjoyable like its prequel. Though there is less fire in the lines as compared to the first film; full credit to Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh, Sachin Ladia and Anurag Kashyap for infusing humour in a film where there are more gun shots than dialogues.

E – English: These gangsters’ fascination with the English language is simply adorable. There is a whole sequence dedicated to understanding the meaning of the word, ‘Definite’, which incidentally is a character’s name in the film. Then there is this irritatingly sweet song that Mohsina sings for Faizal‘Set Rightva Karo Ji’.

F – Film Festivals: Both GoW films have become the darlings of national and international film festivals – from their premiere at Cannes to Toronto International Film Festival to Sydney to Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival in Delhi; the films have got the film snobs hooked along with the general audience.

G – Guns: From the desi kattas to rifles to AK 47s, there are guns and guns on display and use in the film. People shoot more and talk less in GoW 2. Guns are not the only patakhas in the film, there are apples too… watch to figure out.

H – Huma Qureshi: Delhi girl, Huma Qureshi plays Faizal’s love interest and trophy wife in the film. She is sexy and she knows it… unlike his father, Faizal is a loyal husband and Mohsina stands by him always. He likes to flaunt her with her Ray-Ban sunglasses, carefully styled hair that gives her an unkempt look and bright outfits. She doesn’t have a lengthy role but has great screen presence and is extremely likeable.

I – Ishtyle:  From razor-blade loving young gangsters to the gadget loving mafia dons who flaunt their pagers; Kashyap’s Wasseypur world is carefully designed with small details that show style, reflecting the period and the people’s aspirations. Then there is the gore, Tarantino style – the severed head, the spray of blood and the screw driver in the eye. Faint-hearted be warned.

J – Jail: It is like a comfortable guest-house for the characters in GoW. They walk in and walk out as per convenience and usually use the prison for safety.

K – Keh Ke Loonga: The first film’s attitude stays throughout the sequel as well. Faizal Khan may not want what his father left him but he is not afraid of anything or anyone.

L – Ledar: From the whole soundtrack, ‘Dil Chhi Chha Ledar’ song stands out for me. Not only because it is catchy but it is used with the most amazing chase sequence I have ever seen in Indian cinema.

M – Manoj Bajpayee: While his character, Sardar Khan dies at the end of the first film, one cannot forget him in this saga.

N – Nawazuddin Siddiqui: He had a tough job laid out for him. Manoj Bajpayee was brilliant in the first film but Nawazuddin as Faizal Khan not only met but exceeded expectations. Faizal thinks he is Amitabh Bachchan but the discovery of him being Shashi Kapoor in real life jolts him – the actor brings this alive brilliantly. Honest film award juries will have a tough time choosing the best actor between Bajpayee and Siddiqui next year.

O – For all the moments in the film that make you go – ‘Oh God!’

P – Perpendicular: What a wonderful character and what a wonderful name! Perpendicular is a star – a fourteen-year-old nuisance that plagues Wasseypur and loves a razor blade in his mouth. Aditya Kumar as Perpendicular is fantastic. And where there is Perpendicular, there is Tangent also. Confused? Mathematics nahi padhe ho kya?

Q – Qureshi: There is only one evil Qureshi left in this film, Sultan (Pankaj Tripathi) who is also less menacing than the last film. But he makes up for the entire clan with one heinous act.

R – Richa Chaddha: Where has an actress of this caliber been hiding till now? If Richa Chaddha was good as Nagma Khatun in the first film, she is better in this one. From the fiery wife of Sardar Khan to a vengeful mother, she ages well on-screen. She is fabulous in a scene where she gets emotional while singing a happy wedding song.

S – Sneha Khanwalkar: Her music takes the film to another level. Apart from ‘Dil Chhi Chha Ledar’, I loved ‘Kaala Re’ that she also gave vocals for; and ‘Taar Bijli’, which is folksy and captures the mood well in its two versions.

T – Tigmanshu Dhulia: He has played the most memorable villain in Bollywood in a long-long time. Ramadhir Singh will be remembered like Shakaal and Mogambo. Dhulia plays the character with élan and makes him believable.

U – Unexpected: The first film trained us to expect us the unexpected but GoW 2 does not cease to surprise. Bollywood music at a funeral; characters acting against what is expected and a lot more unexpected fun is packed in the film.

V – Vineet Kumar: While Nawazuddin Siddiqui gets all the attention; this man as Faizal’s elder brother, Danish Khan shines in the first half an hour of the film. He is the one who makes Faizal Amitabh Bachchan feel like Shashi Kapoor. This actor certainly deserves more good roles.

W – Womaniya – Reemma Sen: Hell has no wrath like a woman scorned.

X – Xtra: Just like the first film, GoW 2 is extra long and could have done with some editing.

Y – Yashpal Sharma: Cameo of the year. Period.

Z – Zeishan Quadri: He has not only the man behind the story of the film but also plays one of the most important characters – Definite. A Salman Khan fan, Definite is an enigmatic gangster, who proves most dangerous to both his allies and enemies.

Cocktail

Neither shaken nor stirred!

Pic source: Wikipedia

Beautiful people in high fashion labels, partying at the most happening places do not make a good film. Unfortunately, the makers of Cocktail think otherwise. The film is dull, boring and predictable; there is neither smart writing nor great performances to engage the audience. Director, Homi Adajania has failed to live up to the high expectations that were set with the slickly cut promos and the dazzling visuals. Unfortunately, the best parts of the film are there in the promos only and one keeps waiting for some more excitement in the film.

**Some spoilers ahead**

The film is written by Imtiaz Ali and Sajid Ali but there is nothing new in the story. Protagonists indulging in casual sex, drinking and partying hard may have been novel ideas for Indian cinema in the last decade but not in 2012. Even from the love triangle point of view, there is nothing new… there are no surprises on who gets the guy – the girl who wears short dresses and drinks or the girl who worships and puts a blanket on her friends when they sleep.  Your guess is as good as the makers’.

Cocktail is about three friends – Veronica (Deepika Padukone), a rich party girl with parent issues; Gautam (Saif Ali Khan), a Casanova from Delhi now in London; and Meera (Diana Penty), a newly-wed girl from India who comes to London to be with her husband (Randeep Hooda), who had only married her for dowry (though he gets her a resident permit in the UK, which she uses quite well!) The writers’ have shown the most amount of creativity in showing how these characters meet – but nothing really seems believable. Anyway, after two-three party sequences, one friendship song and a fancy weekend break in Cape Town (very efficient Visa service in the UK I must say for an impromptu holiday plan); the awesome threesome get in a love triangle (yawn!) From this point onwards you can actually predict the next scene; if you’re going in a group, it can also become a game.

One thing I quite liked about the film and also got a bit miffed with is the styling. Indian Vogue’s Fashion Director, Anaita Shroff Adajania has styled the film and the three lead characters do wear good clothes. Deepika is styled well throughout and carries the look of a London based fashionista quite well. Saif as usual is well turned out and you cannot miss the Burberry jackets and trench; he only needs a little more lip balm. Diana looks pretty and her styling follows her BTM (behenjiturned-mod) story. This is where I have a complaint with Anaita – when Meera lands in London, she has no sense of style and even lesser money; even after she finds a job as a graphic designer, I am assuming she doesn’t earn loads; but the stylist thinks it is ok for her to sport luxury labels – a Tod’s bag for instance.

In the acting department, I am quite impressed with Diana as she has delivered an above-average performance in her first film. I just wasn’t convinced with the way her character shaped up; we are supposed to like her and she is supposed to be the conscientious one but then she does betray her best friend (Tequila shots cannot be blamed for it Mr. Director). Deepika still needs diction lessons but she did go beyond her usual range. Regarding Saif, he was mostly irritating and I mainly blame the character; also he is no longer convincing as a 32-year old! My favourite was Dimple Kapadia as Gautam’s mother who essentially did what Kirron Kher usually does as an aggressive Punjabi lady. Boman Irani was good in his short role and Randeep Hooda was completely wasted.

The film’s music by Pritam is nice and adds a dash of fun (lyrics by Irshad Kamil). I enjoyed ‘Tumhi Ho Bandhu’ (vocals – Neeraj Shridhar & Kavita Seth) and ‘Daaru Desi’ (vocals – Benny Dayal & Shalmali Kholgade) tracks. But my favourite song in the film is not an original one but borrowed from another album; it is ‘Angreji Beat’, sung by Gippy Grewal and Yo Yo Honey Singh. I liked the way they introduced Deepika’s character with this fun song. Cinematography by Anil Mehta is brilliant (as expected); London looks even more inviting through his lens and Cape Town simply gorgeous. Editing by Sreekar Prasad is ho-hum; the film just goes on and on in the second half making you crave for a real cocktail!

Overall, the film leaves you cold and disappointed. This Cocktail is not mixed well; watch it if you don’t mind predictable but good looking stuff.

Gangs of Wasseypur

Revenge is best served on coal…

Pic source: Wikipedia

After watching ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ (GOW) yesterday, a friend tweeted, “go watch, if you have class enough to appreciate crass…” While I am not sure if I agree with her completely, it is certainly a film to watch. Director, Anurag Kashyap’s ambitious saga about coal mafia and revenge, set in Wasseypur / Dhanbad (now in Jharkhand; earlier in Bihar) packs in a lot of punch with its clever writing (Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh, Sachin Ladia & Kashyap himself) and performances. Expansive in vision and scale, the GOW saga spans three generations and borrows heavily from real life incidents from pre-independence era to the modern times. (Minor spoilers ahead).

GOW is a story about men obsessed with power and revenge. Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee) swears to avenge his father’s death by the hands of coal mine contractor turned politician, Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia). He does not want to kill him but savour the revenge by bringing Singh’s empire to a downfall. On one hand, Khan has Singh to destroy in Dhanbad; he has the Qureshi clan in Wasseypur to fight with as well. Butchers by profession, the Qureshis were responsible for driving out the Pathans (Khans) from Wasseypur in 1941. Not that the Pathans were innocent; Sardar Khan’s father, Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) used to loot the British trains by impersonating the legendary dacoit, Sultana Daku, a Qureshi. The film’s plot is complex and this is just the main premise; there are many characters that keep getting introduced throughout the film. However, the director manages keeps it all together and sustains the interest for about 160-minutes.

Kashyap effectively uses humour and music to keep the film entertaining and not only a blood-fest. The film has powerful dialogues that shock and amuse in equal parts. At one point, Sardar Khan’s wife tells him to eat properly so that he doesn’t embarrass himself by not being able to perform sexually at a brothel; she says something like, “Khana khao, takat aayega, bahar jaa ke be-izzati na karana”. Coming to the women in GOW; Richa Chaddha as Nagma, Khan’s fiery wife steals the thunder from Bajpayee whenever she appears on screen. She loves and hates her man in equal parts but stands by him in all adverse situations. Then there is the other ‘womaniya’, Durga (Reemma Sen); like the men in Wasseypur, she does not have any qualms in claiming what is not rightfully hers. Both actresses deliver impressive performances but Richa’s character draws more empathy. In GOW, Bajpayee gets his career’s best role and he shines; the character he plays is not really positive but the flaws make him more real – someone you support at times and hate at others. Tigmanshu Dhulia makes a powerful debut and has a career in acting apart from filmmaking. The next generation of gangsters is also introduced in the film but most of the action is reserved for them in the second part of the film that is expected to release soon. The person to watch there is Nawazuddin Siddiqui whose character, Faizal seems to have been modeled on Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man on-screen persona in the seventies.

Music (Sneha Khanwalkar; lyrics: Varun Grover, Piyush Misra) is one of the best parts of the film and you often hear unexpected tracks playing in the background (background score: G V Prakash Kumar). The song, ‘Teri keh ke loonga…’ defines the film and its attitude; ‘Womaniya’ and ‘I am a hunter’ are both enjoyable and thankfully none of them disturb the film’s narrative. The only real flaw I could find with the film is its length; however, that can be forgiven if the film is good overall.

I strongly recommend watching Gangs of Wasseypur but those who are averse to violence and blood on screen, may avoid.

 

Shanghai

A smart political thriller

Pic source: Wikipedia

 If made a decade or two ago, Shanghai would have been bracketed in the art film genre and nobody except the film festival audience and a few intellectual types would have seen it. But Indian audience has evolved; if a Rowdy Rathore does blockbuster business, there are houseful shows for Shanghai as well, at least in the multiplexes. And director, Dibakar Banerjee does not disappoint; he has made a political thriller that is realistic and brave. Congratulations to him and Urmi Juvekar for the fantastic screenplay, which is based on the novel ‘Z’ by Greek writer, Vassilis Vassilikos.

The name, Shanghai is an interesting metaphor used by the filmmaker to describe the hollow promises of development by our politicians. Whether it is turning Mumbai into a world class city, modeled after Shanghai or transforming Gurgaon, the goal has not been reached but the so called progress has its costs. Banerjee’s Shanghai delves deep into the murky political games, scams and crimes that take place in the name of development. Set in a fictitious town called Bharat Nagar, the film reflects the political realities our country faces today. You can identify the real life politicians that have inspired Banerjee while writing the political characters in the film – there’s the lady chief minister who is called ‘madamji’ and has ambitions to become the Prime Minister; then there are the coalition troubles; a South Indian Home Minister and more.

Banerjee has also developed his characters really well and with superb casting, has hit the bull’s eye. There are layers to his characters and the director leaves hints for the audience to figure out more. For instance, Prosenjit Chatterjee plays a political activist named, Dr. Ahmadi; he is a bestselling author, who stays in the US but is passionate about the cause of the poor in India. He travels by a private jet (funded by whom?) to Bharat Nagar; does a photo-op with a Bollywood actress in town for his rival camp and his wife (the fabulous Tillotama Shome of Monsoon Wedding fame) is not convinced of his style of activism. He gives his life for the cause and is given god-like stature but there is more to the character that is left to be imagined. Similarly, the character of T. A. Krishnan, an IAS officer who is in charge of investigating the attack on Dr. Ahmadi is fascinating. Played superbly by Abhay Deol, Krishnan is a devout family man, who is torn between his ambitions and the right thing to do. While Emraan Hashmi has a crowd pleasing role, for me Abhay Deol steals the show with his perfect South Indian accent, mannerisms and restrained performance. Emraan on the other hand plays Joginder, a videographer who makes porn to supplement his income as a freelance media representative. He helps Shalini Sahay (Kalki Koechlin), a close aide of Dr. Ahmadi to unravel the real story behind the attack. Hashmi is good and has proved that he is much more than his serial-kisser image. Kalki also handles the character of an activist well who appears to be more in love with her teacher than his cause. Then there are small yet impactful roles played by Farooq Sheikh, Pitobash Tripathy and Supriya Pathak.

There is tension in each scene of the film and the director successfully maintains it till the end. The songs however could have been used well as background music instead of suddenly appearing in the film. Music by Vishal Shekhar is fine and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ song captures the essence of the film with words like ‘Gud bhi hai gobar bhi, Bharat mata ki jai’ (There is jaggery as well as dung in the country, hail Mother India) (lyrics: Dibakar Banerjee). Editing by Namrata Rao is perfect and cinematography by Nikos Andritsakis good, except the patchy difference in the way ‘Imported Kamariya’ song is shot and the rest of the film (it looks like a separate music video inserted in the film as a second thought).

Shanghai is amongst the best Hindi films I’ve seen in the recent times. Do watch it.