Zero Dark Thirty

The Best Film Of 2012

Source: rottentomatoes.com

How do you make a thriller that’s more than two-and-a-half hours long; keeps the audience in a constant state of tension, despite them knowing what’s going to happen next? Ask director, Kathryn Bigelow and screen-writer, Mark Boal – the Oscar winning duo who are all set to be contenders again after their win in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.  Zero Dark Thirty is easily the best film I have seen in 2012 and to put it mildly, it simply blew my mind.

Zero Dark Thirty spans a decade, following a team of CIA agents whose job is to find the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks and gather intelligence on any more acts of terrorism planned by Al Qaeda. The film focuses on one CIA agent, Maya (Jessica Chastain) who gets obsessed with one lead and despite many setbacks, stays firm on her trail to catch Bin Laden. We first meet her as a young agent, sent to the field (read Afghanistan and Pakistan) in 2001 where she’s visibly disturbed at the way detainees are tortured for information. We see her character’s growth over the course of the film as she stands her ground and is instrumental in creating history.

We all know what happens in the end with Bin Laden getting killed in a Seal Team Six operation in May 2011; but the build-up to that finale is what makes this film brilliant. For ten-years, not only Maya’s patience is tested but the audience is put to test too as the director puts together all the pieces slowly. She makes you re-live the horrors of the terror attacks around the world, staring from 9/11 to London to Islamabad, Saudi Arabia and the Camp Chapman suicide attack in Afghanistan. With his brilliant screenplay, Mark Boal depicts the frustration that the CIA operatives feel after every terrorist attack and their failed attempts to capture and kill the top brass at Al Qaeda.

Jessica Chastain is brilliant as Maya and this could very well be her shot at all the best actress trophies next year. From a nervous new recruit to a determined agent with nerves of steel, she plays the part perfectly. In the supporting cast, Jason Clarke as another CIA agent, Dan is very good and like Jennifer Ehle’s character (CIA agent, Jessica) you think there will be a romantic angle between him and Maya. However, the film-maker does not shift her focus a bit and it is all about getting the job done. Joel Edgerton has an interesting cameo where he plays the squadron team leader who leads the final attack on Osama in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Cinematography by Greig Fraser; editing by William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor; music by Alexandre Desplat are all perfect. The film comes together as a well-researched docu-drama and a brilliant thriller that keeps your heart pounding hard. Do not miss watching this one on the big screen.

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Ishaqzaade

New stars are born in this old-fashioned love story

Pic source: Wikipedia

Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade is an old fashioned love story that we have seen many times on-screen. It is not exactly an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet but the basic premise of lovers from warring clans is the same. Faisal (director and co-writer with Aditya Chopra) has set the story in a fictitious small town, Almore in Uttar Pradesh where only the law of the gun works. His characters are violent with the background of political and religious conflict. There are other twists and turns but you largely know where the film is headed, especially after the interval.

So is Ishaqzaade worth a watch? For me, yes! Newcomer, Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra are compelling as Parma Chauhan and Zoya Qureshi respectively, who inherit the legacy of hatred but later fall in love. Kapoor makes a confident debut and has good screen presence; he is not perfect as an actor yet but for his first film he does justice to the character. After winning accolades for her small role in Ladies vs Ricky Behl, Parineeti Chopra confirms with this film that she is here for the long run. She is simply brilliant as a firebrand, small town girl who dreams of following her father’s footsteps in politics. She looks good, emotes well and owns the screen whenever she is there in the scene. Surely after this film, she will not be known as the cousin of another B-town actress. The director’s decision of having an all new supporting cast works as they all are believable – from helpless mothers to loathsome head of the families for whom political ambitions are more important than anyone’s life, including their own children. Gauhar Khan is the only known face in the supporting cast and is likeable in her clichéd role of a courtesan with a golden heart.

Faisal gets the details right of small town northern India, from the language to the clothes to the locations. There are the mandatory dance numbers but they do not take away from the feel of the film. Amit Trivedi’s music is outstanding with ‘Main Pareshan…’ and the title track, ‘Ishaqzaade…’ being the best songs. Cinematography by Hemant Chaturvedi is nice but the film could do with some brutal editing (Aarti Bajaj).

Ishaqzaade has nothing new to offer but for me a love story wins if you find yourself empathizing with both, and I repeat both the lead characters. The film works for me on that parameter and is a one-time watch.

Peepli Live

Good film, better promotion…

Pic: Aamir Khan Productions

Whattay debut bhaiyyaAnusha Rizvi’s first directorial venture, Peepli Live is bahut badhiya! Congratulations to producer, Aamir Khan for backing a project like this and to the promotions team for making it a big success. By attributing the film’s box-office success to promotions (read marketing and public relations), I am not taking away from its good content but just highlighting the contribution it makes to help a film. A few weeks ago, a brilliant film released called ‘Udaan’; unfortunately there were not many people in the cinema halls due to in-sufficient promotional support. Similarly, Shyam Benegal’sWell Done Abba’ also didn’t set the cash registers ringing despite being a good film. In Peepli Live’s case, everything worked out well; after doing the festival rounds, the buzz around the film was kept alive till it got a wide scale release this weekend. I hope that after Peepli Live’s success, producers and corporate houses will put their money behind good content and not only big star cast led duds.

Coming back to the film, Peepli Live is a satire on the issue of farmers’ suicide. The film effectively captures the government’s apathy towards this serious issue and media, especially broadcast media’s opportunist behaviour. The film is smartly written (Rizvi) and well performed by the actors, mostly theatre artistes and newcomers.

Peepli Live is about a poor farmer named Natha who decides to commit suicide so that his family can benefit through a government compensation scheme. Natha’s half-hearted decision gives an opportunity to our ‘exclusive’ hungry media to cover a suicide ‘live’, right before the elections. Keeping the issue in focus, Rizvi’s smart writing ensures that the film doesn’t drag like a documentary but presents the whole situation in a light manner. Sharp dialogue and compelling performances by the cast make the film hilarious and disturbing in equal parts. Omkar Das Manikpuri as Natha and Raghuvir Yadav as Budhia (Natha’s brother) are good but the real winners are the caustic women in Natha’s household, his wife Dhania (Shalini Vatsa) and the venom spewing mother, Amma (Farookh Zafar).

Music by Indian Ocean also deserves a special mention; not your typical filmy score, the music goes well with the mood of the film and is quite enjoyable. Shankar Raman’s cinematography is simple and doesn’t glamourise the real look and feel of the film. Editing (Hemanti Sarkar) could’ve been a bit tighter in the second half as the film gets a bit repetitive.

Overall, Peepli Live is a good film that entertains and at the same time questions us about our ignorance of the real issues affecting our nation. Ironically, the media coverage around the film matches the madness shown in the film itself; check out some of the stories I came across in the last few days:

  • Natha wants to meet Katrina Kaif
  • Not Katrina, Natha now wants to meet Deepika Padukone
  • Natha gets gifts for Deepika and Katrina
  • Property prices go up in Peepli
  • Aamir unable to go to Peepli due to security concerns
  • Aamir did not interfere during the making of the film; only visited the sets once, etc

My rating: * * * ½ Three and a half stars on five

– Shrey Khetarpal

Raavan

The master falters, but…

Pic: Raavan; Reliance Big Pictures

A lot is being said about Mani Ratnam’s Raavan and the movie’s fate has become front page news material… it almost seems like everyone was waiting for the master film maker to fall once to rip him apart. Critics and fans blamed Ratnam for losing his maverick style by focusing more on the commercial aspects and staying away of any direct political undertones. Raavan may not be what an Iruvar or Roja or Bombay or even a Guru was but it is a film that took a lot of effort to make, which went completely unnoticed. I am not saying that we should like a film because it was a difficult one to make but let’s not be so harsh on a filmmaker whom we have revered for so long. Mani Ratnam is one of the finest filmmakers we have in India and that is indisputable.

Based on the Ramayana, Raavan is set in a fictitious town called Lal Maati, surrounded by dense rain forests and is unofficially ruled by a tribal leader named Beera aka Raavan (Abhishek Bachchan). Beera fights against the system and the forces for the injustice done towards the locals who worship him like a god. The conflict resembles the Naxalite movement; however the director steers clear of any direct reference. Beera abducts the local police superintendent, Dev aka Ram’s (Vikram) wife, Ragini aka Sita (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) to extract revenge. While Dev embarks on a search for his wife and her kidnapper; Beera finds himself drawn towards his beautiful and brave hostage.  Raavan is partly a love story and partly a story about the good and the evil that resides inside all of us. The concept is interesting, however the screenplay gets too literal at times, such as the sequence where Govinda’s character (Sanjeevni Kumar aka Hanuman) is shown jumping from tree to tree.

Raavan is a visually stunning film and the two cinematographers, V. Manikanandan and Santosh Sivan have well captured the natural beauty of the locales as well as the harsh conditions faced by the actors. Music by A. R. Rahman with lyrics by Gulzar is a winner too with the songs presented in a breath-taking manner, especially ‘Kata Kata…’ and ‘Thok De Killi…’ What does not work very well is the film’s editing (Sreekar Prasad) and the screenplay (Mani Ratnam) as the first half moves at an extremely slow pace and the climax not that impactful. The actors have all worked very hard and it clearly shows on screen. Abhishek is good but does not seem menacing enough that one would expect from a character based on a demon; Aishwarya emotes well, while Vikram only grunts. Nikhil Dwivedi in Lakshman’s character is good and so is Ravi Kishen as Beera’s brother; Govinda in Hanuman’s character does not work very well but that’s probably because his character is not that convincing in its modern avatar. Priyamani as Jamunia (Beera’s sister) is an important find for the Hindi film industry this year; she has great screen presence and I am looking forward to seeing her more often in Bollywood.

The film may not match up to the high expectations we have from Mani Ratnam but I agree with what I read online, ‘his worst is also better than the best works of some other directors’.

My rating: * * ½ Two and a half stars on five

– Shrey Khetarpal


Raajneeti

 

Lust, Power & Deceit

Pic: Raajneeti; Source: Wikipedia

It is one of the greatest stories ever told and writer-director, Prakash Jha along with co-writer, Anjum Rajabali manages to narrate it again in a fascinating manner. Raajneeti takes its inspiration from Mahabharat and the current state of politics in India; from caste based politics to dynastic rule to horse-trading, the film touches upon a lot of issues. Having said that, Raajneeti is not a boring issue based film but a riveting drama-cum-thriller.  At 2 hours 45 minutes, the film moves at a breakneck pace from the word go, only faltering towards the end. You can predict what is going to happen overall but the clever screenplay still manages to surprise you with sudden twists.

Raajneeti is not about the battle between the good and the evil; it is about the lust for power and how far people can go for it. The first half of the film is taut while the second half has a lot of ups and downs as the director tries to pack in a lot. Those looking for the Gandhi family saga will be disappointed as the film only borrows the dynastic politics theme from the family and Katrina’s look from Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra.

The real winner in the film is its characterisation; there are no heroes or villains but strong characters that are superbly written and enacted (barring a couple). Nana Patekar makes an impressive comeback with a restrained yet powerful performance (no banging his head business happening here); while Ranbir Kapoor once again proves that he is going to rule the Hindi film industry in the years to come. Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpayee and Ajay Devgn, all deliver impressive performances along with Katrina Kaif who fits in the character well with her accent. Special mention for Shruti Seth who manages to shine in a brief role that is completely new to her sensibilities. Nikhila Trikha whose character is inspired by ‘Kunti’ from Mahabharat seems uncomfortable in her role as she is supposed to be at least 20 years older than her real age. In one of the critical scenes towards the climax, her exchange with Ajay’s character is actually funny, while it was supposed to be an emotional one. One actor who didn’t get his due in the film is Naseeruddin Shah who has a guest appearance like role but was promoted like one of the leads.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the film, I have one issue with the script; there is just too much violence as if the police and the judiciary do not exist. It would have been more interesting to see further Machiavellian mind-games and attacks rather than shootouts and bomb blasts. The production design is quite elaborate and you get to see palatial political homes to rallies with thousands of extras braving the heat and dust. Sachin Krishn’s cinematography is impressive and Santosh Mandal’s editing could have been a bit better in the second half. Thankfully, the songs are mostly in the background and do not hamper the narrative except one silly item song featuring Barkha Bisht (why, Mr. Jha, why?) that lasts around a minute only. ‘Mora Piya…’ composed by Aadesh Srivastava and ‘Dhan Dhan Dharti…’ composed by Wayne Sharpe on Vande Mataram theme are two songs to remember.

Raajneeti may not be Prakash Jha’s best work (my favourite is Gangajal) but is definitely his biggest and most commercial film. With the film getting a good opening at the box office, I sincerely hope that we’d get to see more political films in India. Since we are talking politics, my favourite film on the subject is Mani Ratnam’sIruvar’ (The Duo) (1997, Tamil), which was based on the lives of Tamil Nadu politicians, M. G. Ramachandran and M. Karunanidhi. The film bombed at the box office but is considered a masterpiece amongst film lovers. If you haven’t watched it, do try to find a DVD (it is difficult to find one with subtitles, but a big DVD store can get it for you on order. In Mumbai, try Landmark at Palladium); till then do catch Raajneeti on the big screen… it is worth a watch.

My rating: * * * ½ Three and a half stars on five

– Shrey Khetarpal

 

Well Done Abba

 

 Well Done Benegal…

Pic: Reliance Big Pictures; Source: Wikipedia

 

Shyam Benegal was never known for comedies but for meaningful cinema that was labeled art-house and alienated mainstream audience. Films such as Ankur, Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, Mandi, Mammo, Sardari Begum and others may have been extremely good but not money spinners at the box office. Even Zubeidaa featuring Karisma Kapoor, which was almost a mainstream Bollywood flick, pleased only the niche Benegal audience and not the masses.  However, with the evolution of the multiplex audience, Benegal has started dabbling with a genre that he hasn’t attempted before – comedy. Well, actually it is satire and he touches upon a lot of relevant issues through his latest films like Welcome to Sajjanpur and Well Done Abba. This new Benegal brand of cinema is extremely refreshing when all we get today are sexist and vulgar jokes in the name of comedies.

Well Done Abba is set in a village called Chikatpalli, somewhere near Hyderabad and focuses on a number of issues such as corruption, water shortage, illiteracy, emancipation of women, amongst others. Boman Irani plays Armaan Ali who is concerned about his daughter, Muskaan Ali’s (Minisha Lamba) marriage and wants to get a baori (well) dug in his fields under a new scheme by the government. The film traces Armaan’s journey as he struggles with the corrupt government machinery and later his battle against the same, which is master-minded by his fiery daughter.

Boman Irani is simply outstanding in the film and proves that the character and the actor playing it are more important than the star. Minisha Lamba is the film’s surprise package and is extremely confident even with the Hyderabadi accent. Other supporting actors like Samir Dattani, Ila Arun and Ravi Kissen are good but fine actors like Rajit Kapoor and Sonali Kulkarni are not given substantial roles.

The film’s strength is its simplicity and situational comedy while its length is its weakness (nearly two and a half hours). The first half of the film moves slowly establishing each of the numerous characters and the film picks up post interval. The editing could have been much better to make the film crisp and more impactful. Music by Shantanu Moitra is nothing great and the songs were not required at all; why couldn’t they just stick to only background score?

Overall, Well Done Abba is a delightfully refreshing film but requires a little patience due to its length.

My Rating: * * * ½ Three and a half stars on five

Shrey Khetarpal

 

Rann

 

Is Rann Mein Nahin Zyaada Dum Hai

Pic: Rann; Source: Wikipedia

 

The camera goes in a tizzy… swings left and then right, focuses on the table and then Amitabh Bachchan and then the table again. Ram Gopal Varma’s Rann can give you motion sickness, not because it is a bad film but his camera does not stay still. Jokes apart, I like his style of using the camera (Cinematography – Amit Roy), giving the film a handy cam feel, which actually goes well with the film’s subject – the broadcast media.

Rann boasts of an ensemble cast with heavyweights like Amitabh Bachchan (good, as usual) and Paresh Rawal (good again); a range of actors playing small yet significant roles including Rajat Kapoor (likes playing baddie), Mohnish Behl (his most significant role since Hum Aapke Hain Koun), Riteish Deshmukh (I thought he was the lead, but…), Rajpal Yadav (funny, his character makes the real comment on the TV news channels) and Suchitra Krishnamurthy (yes, Anna of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na); and then there are the guest appearances (or they seemed like that) by Simone Singh (graceful as ever), Neetu Chandra (dressed in lingerie most of the times, no reason) and Gul Panag (I think she got a raw deal, such a small role). All of them are good but there is one actor who shines in the film, Kannada actor, Sudeep. He plays an ambitious media baron who does not agree with his father’s (Bachchan) ideologies and chooses the wrong path to get those viewership ratings. Sudeep’s is probably the most significant character in the film and he makes it even better with his fine performance.

Now, coming back to the film; it set out to be an exposé of the TV media that could have been explosive and hard hitting. The film starts strong as we are introduced to a number of interesting characters (written by Rohit G Banawlikar); an interesting plot begins to form, which disintegrates completely in the second half. The film questions the value and the credibility of media today, especially the TV news channels; it showcases what greed can do and all possible poster boys of greed including corrupt politicians and cold businessmen are shown. However, the film falls short of making that powerful comment that forces you to think and generate emotion. The intent is good here but once again, a weak script spoils the game.

Though there is not much scope for music, whatever is there does not impress. The music is forgettable and the lyrics are quite bad (maybe an experiment that didn’t work). 

Overall, it is an average film and I would recommend it as a one time watch, just for Sudeep.

My Rating: * * * Three stars on five

Shrey Khetarpal