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.

Talaash

 

There are no mysteries in the age of social media…

Pic source: Wikipedia

Pic source: Wikipedia

Before you read any further: I have tried to keep this post spoiler-free and basic plot points mentioned here are already shown in the film’s trailers. However, if you are going to watch the film regardless of the reviews, I recommend reading this or any other review after you’ve seen it.

Talaash may not be the best thriller we have seen this year (my vote goes to Kahaani) but I am glad the makers (Excel Entertainment, Aamir Khan Productions and Reliance Entertainment) tried to attempt something different with the movie. It has an interesting story, great performances by the cast and an unexpected ending, which thanks to loud-mouths on social media got ruined for many including me. I feel bad for everyone who could have enjoyed the film more if they did not know about the big twist in the end. In the age of Twitter and BBM, it is a challenge for filmmakers also to make suspense thrillers that can stay strong despite the spoiler getting leaked out.

Coming back to Talaash, it is decent film that gets many things right but does not keep you at the edge of your seat. People have been complaining about its slow pace, but it worked for me; writer-director, Reema Kagti (screenplay with Zoya Akhtar) creates a mood that brings together the eeriness of a murder mystery with the personal grief that her main protagonists are going through. Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) and his wife, Roshni (Rani Mukerji) are unable to cope with their 8-year-old son’s accidental death, which strains their marriage. Surjan’s investigation of a high-profile death case contributes to his personal troubles as he finds himself drawn to an unlikely friend, a prostitute named Rosie (Kareena Kapoor). Surjan and Roshni’s story is probably the strongest part of the film; their grief is portrayed sensitively by the two actors, especially Rani who has got a role that exploits her talent after very long. Kareena is also good in the film and I hope she continues to choose interesting characters like this, rather than insignificant roles in mega-blockbuster masala films. Regarding Aamir, he is excellent as a cop tormented by his own demons – on one hand he is a tough police officer and on the other a hapless father. Kudos to the casting director (Nandini Shrikent) for also getting a talented supporting cast on board including Shernaz Patel and Nawazuddin Siddiqui – now this man is a chameleon – from a revenge seeking gangster in Gangs of Wasseypur 2 to a pimp’s right-hand man in Talaash, he is a delight to watch.

With superlative performances by all the actors and an interesting plot, Talaash starts on a promising note but does not confuse the audience enough to make it an exciting affair. Surjan keeps finding clue after clue and the film moves in a straight line till the ‘unexpected’ climax. Now, I had a rough idea about the final twist but I was able to piece things together within the first ten minutes of the film. The makers relied too much on the twist, which also is not entirely a fresh idea. Because I had a clue to the end, I may not be completely fair to the film but it is a lukewarm thriller and the murder mystery unfolds in a dull manner, except the surprise element in the end.

Music by Ram Sampath goes well with the mood of the film but is not outstanding (why do most big releases this year have just about average music?) Cinematography by Mohanan is nice and he uses a dull color tone to give a dark and gloomy feel to Mumbai in the film.

Talaash is certainly a one-time watch for the actors’ performances and you may enjoy it more if you don’t know the spoiler. So, go for it before someone tells it to you.

PS: I got my spoiler from a well-known journalist, Kushan Mitra (@KushanMitra) who inadvertently revealed similarities to a Hollywood film on Twitter. So-called actor, producer, Kamaal R Khan (@KamaalRKhan) also tweeted spoilers to the film.

The Dark Knight Rises

A Fitting Finale

The world is not known for equality… there are the haves and the have-nots; there are the rich in pent-houses and there are the homeless; there are the Michelin starred meals and there are deaths due to hunger. We live in this world everyday and it is more apparent in a country like India. There is latent anger in a large number of people towards this inequality and financial disparity. We have heard and read about the Occupy Wall Street protest movement in New York, where the activists are protesting against greed, corruption and economic inequality. Closer home, Anna Hazare stages regular protests against corruption which brought the Government almost to its knees. What if this anger takes a violent form; moves from protests to terrorism? A storm comes and attempts to change the world order, creating complete chaos… The question actually may not be ‘what if’ but ‘when’. Christopher Nolan’s third and final installment in the Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises takes us in the middle of one such attack that threatens to destroy the financial system and the world as we know it. Similar thoughts were brought up in the first film, Batman Begins (2005) as we understood the motives of the League of Shadows and its leader, Ra’s al Ghul. Unlike the earlier films where the city of Gotham is under threat and faces a few attack; in this film Nolan lets Batman’s city burn and destruct by the hands of a terrorist, Bane who aims to restore the balance in the world by destroying it, and particularly the Gotham city. The film’s tone and the conflict is captured in this one scene where Selina Kyle or Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) tells the billionaire, Bruce Wayne or Batman (Christian Bale), “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne… when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us”.

Bruce Wayne faces the biggest challenges in this film, both at the physical as well as emotional level. The film is set, eight years after the events in The Dark Knight, where Harvey Dent is hailed as a hero who gave his life for the city of Gotham and Batman labeled as his murderer and a hero gone rogue. Bruce lives the life of a recluse until the clouds of war start looming again and his friend, Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) faces the masked terrorist, Bane (Tom Hardy). He realises that his city needs Batman again and his company, Wayne Enterprises needs a strong person to lead it and save its potentially dangerous defense assets. Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), an environmentalist and a business woman shows hope for both Wayne Enterprises and the troubled soul of Bruce. Apart from the Batman film regulars like scientist and President of Wayne Enterprises, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Bruce’s butler and father figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine); we are introduced to a young police officer, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who senses the danger his city is in, much before everyone else.

John Blake and Miranda Tate: http://www.thedarkknightrises.com

Amongst the cast, everyone is pitch perfect and Christian Bale once again shows his versatility as an actor; he is the strong, the invincible Batman and also the broken Wayne. Michael Caine brings emotions to the forefront while Gordon-Levitt adds freshness to the series. Marion Cotillard is enigmatic and beautiful as ever; a little bit more of her would not have hurt. Tom Hardy as Bane looks and behaves like a monster; he is not like the maniacal Joker and comparisons with Heath Ledger (who played Joker in The Dark Knight, 2008) are unfair. It’s a pity we get to see Hardy’s face only once in the film. The bright spark in the film however is CatwomanAnne Hathaway has done a fantastic job with the character; she is witty, unpredictable and kicks a**.

Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s script links back to many elements from the earlier films and closes many loops. The film does slow down in the middle but does not get boring. There are many predictable moments but an equal number of small and big surprises. Batman’s new air-borne vehicle, the Bat is beyond cool and so is his Batcycle. Spectacular special effects and scenes of destruction make your jaw drop and there are many moments that make you nervous. Hans Zimmer’s music is good and the Bane chant pumps up the tension. At about 164-minutes, it is a long film but I am not complaining.

For all its symbolism and grave themes, The Dark Knight Rises entertains and is a fitting finale to the best Batman story ever told on screen.

PS: Read my post on how Nolan made me a Batman fan here.

PPS: Do look out for the ‘Man of Steel’ (new Superman film) trailer with The Dark Knight Rises

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.

 

Agent Vinod

Of Bond, Bebo and Audience Ki Pungi…

Agent Vinod; Pic: Wikipedia

Much awaited Bollywood spy thriller, Agent Vinod, written and directed by Sriram Raghavan released this weekend. Saif Ali Khan has not only acted in the film but also produced it. The film also stars Kareena Kapoor and a series of supporting actors including Prem Chopra, Gulshan Grover, Ravi Kishan and Ram Kapoor amongst others. I was going to review it but then someone sent me this so called secret transcript of telephone conversations between Saif, Sriram and Kareena. It obviously looks like a spoof to me as films are not made like this; but I leave it to you to decide…

Saif Ali Khan (SAK): Hey Sriram! Wanna make a cool thriller? I’ll produce it… Love Aaj Kal made good money.

Sriram Raghavan (SR): I already made two cool thrillers but despite all the good reviews, they don’t earn much at the box office.

SAK: Yeah man! Ek Haseena Thi and Johnny Gaddar were good… maybe you need to make a James Bond style thriller starring me. I mean look at Farhan and Shah Rukh’s Don, it became a hit and now they’re working on a sequel!

SR: Hmm… I think we can do better than them.

SAK: Exactly, and with your credentials, my star power and a lot of style, we can actually make a James Bond style film in India.

SR: Of course, now that the James Bond films also look and feel like Bolly thrillers from the 70s.

SAK: Done deal! So what do we call the film?

SR: I don’t know; let me start writing the film first…

SAK: Umm…  Ok but please make me an agent in the film. I’d like to be a secret agent, Bebo loves that kinda stuff.

SR: Ok, let’s call it Agent Vinod then; it was a hit spy thriller in 1977. It’s cool and retro.

SAK: Superb! People will call it a remake and after a while we’ll deny it… think of the double publicity… ok, hold on a minute, Bebo is saying something.

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SAK: Sorry, Bebo says she also wants to be in the film and since she’s already done a Helen aunty style cabaret in Don; she wants a Jayshree T style mujra song in the film. Oh, and she also wants to be an agent. She says she liked Eva Green in Casino Royale, so please write something interesting for her.

SR: Hmm… Ok, I’ll do that. I am not sure about Jayshree T style mujra though.

SAK: Listen, I can’t disturb the peace in my household; I’ll ask Pritam to start working on the mujra and a couple of other fancy tunes inspired by music the world over as we must shoot the film in 12 countries at least!

SR: 12 countries! Ok, I’ll incorporate that in my story.

SAK: Yes, please do that. To make it easier for you, Bebo is discussing the countries she wants to visit with Lolo and Babita aunty. She’ll mail you the list.

SR: Uh… Ok! Anything else?

SAK: No I think, this is enough for now… I’ll ask my team to start working on the brand integrations so that you can keep them in mind too.

SR: Ok, bye.

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A few days later…

SR: Hello!

Kareena Kapoor aka Bebo: Hi Sriram, hope you got my list of countries… I included Russia as Saifu keeps talking about Bond movies having Russian villains. But please do not take me there, it’s too cold and I’ll have to wear jackets; that will make me look fat, no? I’d like to shoot in Europe during summer as I’d like to wear a nice sexy gown for a chase sequence. Manish (Malhotra) was over last night for cocktails and we discussed some ideas. He’s the best you know!

SR: Oh, your character is from Pakistan and an agent so I thought you’d like more rugged stuff, like jackets and all… but it is ok, a gown it is for the chase sequence.

Bebo: You’re such a darling… LOL! Accha, talk to Saifu now… I am off to shoot an action sequence for Bodyguard. They have a killer helicopter robot chasing me during the scene today; you also think of something cool like a deadly box of chocolates or something. OK, Ciao!

SR: Ok Kareena, I will. Thanks!

SAK: Hi Sriram. I have seen loads of DVDs now and I want you to include the following… a Bo Derek style swimsuit sequence, where we’ll have a hot model emerging from the sea in a two piece bikini; and don’t think of Bebo doing it! I watched In Bruges, so let’s have some sort of shoot out sequence in middle of an exotic European city square. The opening title sequence should be at par with a Bond film! We definitely need to have a car chase, a bike chase and a helicopter… Of course, the plot should have the villain planning a nuclear war or something that I’ll thwart. Oh! And I have already placed an order for a Savile Row tuxedo, Casino Royale style… so include a sequence where Bebo and I go for a fancy function or something; Manish is doing a slinky dress for her in gold.

SR: Yes, I will. Anything else?

SAK: Oh yeah! Pritam has got some really original inspirations this time… he’s doing something on the lines of Boney M’s Rasputin and a special item song for me based on some Iranian band number he discovered on YouTube. Bebo’s mujra is also shaping up well; she even chose a fuchsia dress. And Pritam says we can give a retro touch by using old Hindi numbers in the back ground score. I think it’s ingenious! Your views?

SR: It’s your film buddy! I am only the writer, director.

SAK: Good! I promise we’ll make money on this one… I have a good feeling about it.

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March 26, 2012 – After the first weekend of Agent Vinod’s release

Audience:

Agent Vinod should have been called Travel Agent Vinod! (Read on Twitter and Facebook)

Agent Vinod ne pungi baja di… I’m never getting my Rs. 250 and three hours back…

Critics:

Sriram Raghavan what have you done? We fanboys are disappointed…

Producer’s Office:

Film’s budget + promotion: Rs. 50 Crore + 12 Crore = 62 Crore approx

Music & Satellite rights sold: Rs. 30 Crore approx

First weekend worldwide collections: over Rs.  25 Crore approx

We’ll make a profit hopefully…

Kahaani

A Paisa Wasool Thriller…

Pic source: Wikipedia

Bollywood is not very good with thrillers, especially nothing beyond the fast cars, snazzy hero types… While the Dons and the Agent Vinods create a lot of buzz and earn the moolah, there are hardly any thrillers that play with your mind and keep you on the edge of your seat. Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani successfully manages to do that and Vidya Balan’s superb performance along with the current ‘India’s darling’ status helps the film to draw in the audience.

A thriller with a pregnant woman as the protagonist is something new for the Indian cinema and it seems the viewers are also growing up along with the filmmakers. A few years ago Sriram Raghavan made an excellent thriller called, Ek Haseena Thi starring Urmila Matondkar. It was a slick film with a fabulous plot and a chilling climax. Whoever saw it loved it but the box-office figures were not very encouraging. Thankfully, with Kahaani it is different and the film has already been declared a hit within four days of its release. So what works for Kahaani? Here’s my list (there are minor spoilers in the post):

An interesting story and a clever screenplay (story: Sujoy Ghosh, Advaita Kala; screenplay: Ghosh, Suresh Nair & Nikhil Vyas): The plot is intriguing, about a pregnant woman (Vidya Bagchi, played by Vidya Balan) who comes to Kolkata looking for her missing husband… the screenplay does full justice to it, with smart and at times misleading scenes and situations. Vidya’s condition immediately draws your support and you join her in her search, just like a young police officer, Rana. You are concerned about her well being and actually get worried when you know something wrong is going to happen next. I also enjoyed the dialogues (Ghosh, Ritesh Shah & Sutapa Sikdar) that were peppered with Bengali lines and terms.

Inspired casting: Kudos to the casting director who managed to put together a stellar cast of Bengali actors who make their characters so real and believable. Parambrata Chatterjee as a young cop who assists Vidya in her search is extremely likeable and sincere. Saswata Chatterjee as Bob Biswas is simply outstanding; full credit to the writers for creating an interesting character like Bob – an insurance agent who is also a contract killer. Other characters including the senior pot-bellied police officer, Mona Lisa Guest House receptionist and the little kids, all have done a fabulous job. Finally, Vidya Balan as the lead; I can’t think of another actress who would have been able to pull off this role except her and Konkona Sen Sharma. Vidya once again does a stellar job and is extremely convincing as a pregnant woman who is determined to find her husband. She is vulnerable and at the same time stronger than any of the other characters.

Kolkata: Those who have been to Kolkata will enjoy the film a bit more than those who haven’t. And those who haven’t may want to visit. Sujoy and his team (Cinematography – Setu; Art Direction – Kaushik Das, Subrata Barik) bring alive the many faces of the city on screen – a buzzing metro with traffic jams and crowded local trains; a sleepy town which still appears to be stuck in the last century and a city soaked in celebrations. I almost cheered at the mention of Park Street’s iconic restaurant, Mocambo and at a glimpse of New Market…

Kahaani starts slow and you get a chance to empathise and connect with Vidya. However, once the action begins, you are in for a roller coaster ride. Vidya’s flashbacks about her husband are irritating as they hamper the pace of the film. The film has many loop-holes and a lot of things are a little hard to digest. However, those can be overlooked for the ultimate effect that is created. Music by Vishal-Shekhar is good and goes very well with the mood of the film.

One thing that I did not like about the film is its ending. The director spends too much time in explaining everything after the final revelation or the main climax. The film soars high but lands with a thud. It would have been more impactful if the end was open to interpretation.

Overall, Kahaani is one of the best Hindi films I have seen in the recent times and I recommend you watch it if you haven’t already.

– Shrey Khetarpal

Don 2

The King is back… or is he not?

Don 2; Source: Wikipedia

Shah Rukh Khan’s second outing as Don may not be an edge-of-the-seat thriller but it has enough action and style to qualify as an average entertainer. Directed by Farhan Akhtar, Don 2 suffers from the same old Bollywood problem – a weak script (story & screenplay – Ameet Mehta, Ambrish Shah and Akhtar himself). Instead we are offered fancy locales, exciting stunts and oodles of style… oh, and of course, King Khan.

While the first Don (2006) was a remake of Amitabh Bachchan starrer of the same name (1978); it packed a lot more punch and a killer twist in the end as compared to its sequel. The biggest strength of the film is SRK who seems to enjoy playing the bad guy. He is effortlessly cool and sinister in most sequences but has some cringe-worthy moments towards the end where his ‘love-interest’, Roma is involved. Priyanka Chopra reprises the role of Roma, the tough Interpol cop who is still licking her wounds after being fooled by Don in the first film. She has nothing much to do in the film except being called ‘Jungli Billi’ (wild cat) by Don and a little am-a-cop-and-I-can-kick-ass sequence towards the end. Lara Dutta in her brief role steals Ms. Chopra’s thunder in the glamour department and sheer screen presence. Newcomer, Saahil Shroff sadly doesn’t get enough scope and other actors including Om Puri, Boman Irani and Kunal Kapoor are fine in their respective roles.

The film’s other strength is its style quotient for which the Akhtar siblings are well known for. Don 2 is the first Hindi film to be shot in Germany (Berlin) and naturally the locales look refreshing. There are some interesting stunts including SRK’s 300 metre jump from a skyscraper (though it pales in front of Tom Cruise’s Burj Khalifa adventures that we recently witnessed in MI4) and an elaborate car chase sequence where sponsor, Hyundai’s cars prove to be the best. There is an elaborate bank robbery meets 26/11-style hostage crisis sequence that forms the second half of the film. The actors’ styling in the film is quite impressive including Don’s menacing long-haired and un-kept look in the Malaysian jail, followed by well fitted jackets and over coats. Lara looks stunning while Priyanka has some off moments, including one where she chases Don in a slinky designer gown (costume: Jaimal Odedra; hair: Walter Dorairaj, Diane Commisariat). Cinematography by Jason West is also first grade with fantastic aerial shots of Berlin, Thailand and Malaysia.

While the film scores high on style, its slow pace and the length prove detrimental (editing: Anand Sobaya). Despite borrowing heavily from the first film’s soundtrack, music director trio of Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy deliver a below average music score.

Overall, Don 2 disappoints and is certainly not a fitting return for the King. However, it is also not a bad film and is definitely a one-time watch for fans of the franchise and SRK.

My rating: * * * Three on five

– Shrey Khetarpal

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster

Oh see, they have a script…

Meet Saheb (Jimmy Sheirgill), a royal who has the status but no money; Chhoti Rani (Mahie Gill), his alcoholic and volatile biwi (wife) and Babloo (Randeep Hooda), a local goon (can’t really call him a gangster) who becomes her driver and later, lover. Tigmanshu Dhulia’sSaheb Biwi Aur Gangster’ lives up to the interesting title and keeps you engaged till the last sequence. In a time where film makers struggle to have a basic plot or present downright stupid stuff, Dhulia’s film has an interesting story (written by Dhulia himself and Sanjay Chouhan) and some interesting dialogue (cheesy at times though). Having said that, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster falls short of being a perfect thriller due to its length.

The film’s strength, as mentioned earlier is its writing; while the story is largely predictable, you enjoy the numerous twists and turns in the screenplay. The other good thing about the film is an interesting cast and all of them justify their roles. Jimmy Sheirgill has great screen presence and his stylist helps him get the perfect royal look and demeanour. He is also an interesting choice to play a raja who has different moral yardsticks for himself and others; you don’t dislike him and yet you do not approve of his actions. Mahie Gill is confident and brings equal amount of madness and vulnerability to the character. And lastly, Randeep Hooda who is the surprise factor in the film; he shows how much he has grown as an actor since his first appearance as an NRI in Monsoon Wedding. He is convincing as a cheeky driver who has other motives on mind. His body language changes basis who he interacts with; he is submissive with Saheb and rogue with Saheb’s Biwi. The supporting cast however disappoints a bit as no one stands out; Deepal Shaw is completely wasted in a character that doesn’t grow.

The film’s music is nothing that you’d remember but the opening track, Jugni (vocals: Babbu Maan; music: Jaidev Kumar) is catchy and has some funny lyrics. The songs, especially the one where Saheb’s mistress is introduced could have been avoided. They do not help the movie but act as speed bumps in the otherwise engaging narrative.  Aseem Mishra’s cinematography is nice and so is the production design; they help set the right mood, which could have been a challenge keeping in mind the setting and the low budget of the film. The editor, Rahul Srivastava could have been a little bit more brutal and kept the film under two-hours to maintain the pace. Overall, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster is an interesting one time watch if you’re willing to forgive some silly things here and there.

My rating: * * * Three on five

– Shrey Khetarpal

 

Contagion

Don’t talk to anyone… don’t touch anyone…

Contagion; Pic: Warner Bros.

How many times you touch your face in a day? Three to five times every waking minute says Dr. Erin Mears, an epidemic investigating officer in the film, Contagion; which means about 4,800 times in a day.  What surfaces you touch that can give you a deadly virus… peanuts in a pub, door knobs, handshake with a colleague, your own desk at work… there is no way you can avoid touching things or people… what happens when a deadly virus spreads around the world through surface contact (fomite transmission, explained in the film)? Contagion, a riveting new thriller by Steven Soderbergh presents a similar scenario tracing the lives of the affected families, doctors, scientists and investigators as a global pandemic explodes.

The film begins with a dark screen where you hear a woman coughing. You see a business traveller, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) at an airport bar sniffling and fighting a bad case of flu. ‘Day 2’ flashes on the screen and the camera focuses on the bowl of peanuts lying in front of her. You know it’s not good. Day 3 and she is dead along with the others in London, Japan and Hong Kong. The reason is unknown and the toll rising very fast. Professionals at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are already having emergency meetings. The film begins at a tense note and stays like that throughout; though serious and scary, the director maintains restraint and avoids sensationalizing the subject. The screenplay moves at a breakneck pace except a few parts in the second half. Contagion scares but presents a very realistic picture of what may happen in a crisis situation of a global pandemic.

The film boasts of an enviable ensemble cast of Academy Award® and Emmy® winners and nominees, but the director ensures that none get precedence over the film’s lead, the deadly virus. Matt Damon plays Mitch Emhoff, a grieving husband who is concerned about his daughter’s safety; Kate Winslet plays Dr. Erin Mears, a scientist for whom duty comes first; Marion Cotillard is WHO’s Dr. Leonora Orantes who is on the job to trace the virus’ origin; Jude Law, a conspiracy theorist and blogger; Laurence Fishburne, Dr. Ellis Cheever, head of CDC who finds himself in moral dilemma; and Jennifer Ehle is Dr. Ally Hextall who is working round the clock to develop a vaccine to fight the virus. There are many plots in this global drama that Soderbergh brings together perfectly without giving too much importance to a particular star or character. Look out for the scene where two scientists in isolation suits discuss their weekend while investigating a deadly virus strain. Also, the scene where Mitch checks his wife’s pictures of her fateful trip to Hong Kong, months after her death.

Contagion’s success lies in creating fear in the minds of the audience without making it appear over the top like other disaster flicks. Scott Z Burns’ screenplay is taut and editing superb (Stephen Mirrione), which along with the gripping background score (Cliff Martinez) makes it a must watch thriller.

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

Shaitan

Hindi cinema is no longer a lesson in moral science…

Pic: Shaitan; Source: Wikipedia

In the seventies, we saw the rise of a Hindi film hero who was anti-establishment and ‘amoral’ (mostly Amitabh Bachchan); but his evil deeds were mostly limited to smuggling of gold or infiltrating the villain’s gang to avenge his father’s murder or his mute sister’s rape. He was never into drugs himself and protected the heroine’s honour with his life. In the nineties, we saw the evil protagonist return with the hero pushing his fiancée off a high rise (Shah Rukh Khan in Baazigar), once again to avenge his father; or the obsessed lover who tries to kill the other guy in order to get the girl (Shah Rukh again in Darr). However, viewers were always given reasons to like the anti-hero with a sad background story… It is only in the new millennium, our filmmakers really started exploring dark themes and the audience started accepting them as well.

New age filmmakers like Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Sriram Raghavan present their characters as flawed human beings who are jealous, greedy, selfish and at times evil as well. Hindi cinema is no longer a moral science lesson where the good triumphs over the bad but is more real or more fantastical where the good co-exists with the bad. This allows directors, especially the new ones to be brave and present innovative and path breaking ideas. Debutante director, Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan also explores something different; it is about the inner evil that over takes all sense and the characters are the victims of their own excesses.

Shaitan is bold, shocking, disturbing and an entertaining thriller… its strength lies in the writers’ (Megha Ramaswamy and Bejoy Nambiar) ability to shock; the principal characters’ vulnerability while they project complete control (great job by all actors); along with the technical finesse. It is a story about five friends who live life on the edge; they trust each other and believe they can do or achieve anything when they are together. They are not go-getters and achievers in the traditional sense but rebels without any cause. Amy (Kalki Koechlin) has not been able to get over her mother’s demise and finds solace or a sense of escape with her new friends in Mumbai; KC (Gulshan Devaiya) is a rich brat who thinks he owns the world and all the women in it; Zubin (Neil Bhopalam) is a geek who is happy to go with what his friends say or do; Tanya (Kirti Kulhari) is bulimic, insecure and dreams about her future with KC; Dash (Shiv Pandit) is the group’s master mind who has nothing to lose but everything to gain from his friends’ insecurities and vulnerability. Things go wrong one day and they need a lot of money to get out of the mess. They plan Amy’s fake kidnapping but things go out of control. An aggressive and sincere cop, Arvind Mathur (Rajeev Khandelwal) gets involved in the whole drama that unfolds in a way that the youngsters had not envisioned.

The film moves at a fast pace apart from the sequences involving Amy’s memories of her mother and Arvind Mathur’s marital discord. While too much focus on Amy’s story distracts from the film’s mood; the scenes between Arvind and his wife are sensitively shot and help empathise with his character. Cinematography by Madhie is outstanding especially a shoot-out sequence in slow motion, set to a remixed version of ‘Khoya Khoya Chand’ in the background. Music by Prashant Pillai, Amar Mohile, Ranjit Barot and Anupam Roy is impactful as it works so well with the film’s narrative. The two remixed tracks, ‘Khoya Khoya Chand’ and ‘Hawa Hawai’ (which appears for only a few seconds) are outstanding. Editing by Sreekar Prasad is also good but the second half could be much tighter.

Overall, Shaitan is a well made film and we have a brilliant new director to applaud. Congratulations, Anurag Kashyap (producer along with Viacom18) for introducing new talent like Bejoy Nambiar and Vikramaditya Motwane (Udaan).

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

– Shrey Khetarpal

Video Courtesy: T-Series