Thursday, October 29, 2009

Waking up Sid but not quite smelling the coffee

Imagine if an alien landed on earth in India. He is then told that to gain an understanding of India he should a. Watch Cricket b. Watch Bollywood movies. Now apart from figuring out leg before wickets and the subtle differences between fine legs and long legs, the alien can be excused for assuming that everyone in India is rich, work in some kind of creative field or manage their father's business.

We guess by now one would have guessed we are not big fans of "Wake Up Sid". And against this backdrop we present our review. Watching the trailers one can easily make out that "Wake Up Sid" does not claim to have even an ounce of realism in it. So by the time the movie starts you can predict that Sid will fails his exams, meet Konkona, decide that he wants to do something in his life, his coming-of-age moment, that Konkona will be working in some kind of creative/yuppie field like writing/music composing/acting, that her workplace will look uber-bohemian, the mandatory marine drive scene, have someone with long hair at the workplace, that there will be some kind of props referencing cult movies(Annie Hall), authors (Murakami) and watching Sid snapping away at his camera that he will end up becoming a photographer.

Image Courtesy :

We so wished against our better judgment that there would be at least one place where the director could surprise us, like maybe Konkona would refuse to let Sid stay at her place and he instead finds refuge at Kashmira Shah's place and gets a better understanding of life. For once it would have been good if we had Konkona working at a place where has to work with say MS Excel or Cadence or something equally banal since that is what most of our work involves. On the other hand the scene which we thought could have sparked a modicum of interest in the movie, the part where Sid and Konkona talk well past midnight by the sea is such an ordinary, trite, inane piece of conversation that we would prefer "Beta maine tumhaare liye gaajar ka halwa aur mooli ke paratha banaaye hain" any day.

And why this fetishism with Bombay/Mumbai. We had high hopes after "Jab We Met" that maybe someone would actually make movies about Ratlam or countless such towns which we guess have much more unique and interesting stories to say. One only has to watch Dor or Manorama Six Feet Under to realize that life exists beyond what is easily the most cosmopolitan city of this country. By the way the Bombay depicted in Wake Up Sid and which Konkona goes ga ga about in the whole movie, almost going so far as to becoming a character in the movie, all we can say is that the titles of Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na was infinitely more preferable.

Overheard a friend saying "Wake Up Sid a good sing song movie, a bit like Lakshya much better and far lesser senti ness in it". So it seems like this is what the "Multiplex Movies" are all about, make movies which do not tug at our emotional strings. To answer another friend who contends that today's Bollywood movies are better than the 80's, well what can we say that it is still the same escapist fare. Just that the Bollywood movie watcher these days is the kind of person who so wishes he becomes a rock star rather than a I-banker. Leads us to wonder whether having a wide choice of movies to choose from is leading us to choose the kind of interpretations of the world around us that make us happy and maintain status quo rather than ones that would actually provoke one to think, to debate. We have a sneaky suspicion that our previous generation forced to watch movies on DD every Sunday afternoon might have watched a wider range of movies dealing with more varied subjects and settings.

There is a big positive in this movie and that is the casting. Everyone seems to be tailor made for their roles. Ranbir Kapoor is fast evolving into the new Saif Ali Khan, playing roles of overgrown confused boys effortlessly. Konkona is bang on as the girl with big eyes in the big city, Sid's mother is endearingly played by Supriya Pathak. Anupam Kher as the father is refreshingly different from what he was in yer another cult DDLJ. The song "Dil Bole Iktara" has a very high hummability quotient about it.

"Wake Up Sid" reminds us of a great mannequin at a high fashion store. It is exquisitely clothed, the curves are gorgeous, the clothes oh so elegant and the lighting exactly right. But all said and done it is still a mannequin, give us a real lady any day with less than perfect clothes.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Kamina Review of Kaminey

***Minor Spoiler Alerts***

Imagine going to a small shack run by a great cook. The food there is simply awesome, an Indian dal-roti kind of place. Now our owner moves onto a slightly bigger place with chairs and tables. The food is still great, the ambiance slightly better, one could take one's non-existent girl friend there. And finally after making yet more money the owner decided to take the next logical step up the restaurant chain. So now it is the talk of the town, it is going to be the next "multi-cuisine" restaurant in town. So we walk into the new place, the ambiance is simply great, the waiters are dressed very smartly, the menu now is way beyond the dal-roti. But wonder of wonders the food now is passable like most other multi-cuisine restaurants. Such is the experience I had when I watched Kaminey.

Vishal Bharadwaj's more memorable parts of his previous movies have been in the way a shot not pertaining to the plot captures the essence of a character. So we have a genuinely scary Langda Tyagi doing a mad dance with a cummerbund and applying nail polish to himself in Omkara. The one scene where Abbaji becomes angry in Maqbool that lets you in no doubts that this is a man whom you are better off being in the good books of. Kaminey on the other hand is an effort to make a movie of another genre where instead of having a small group of very powerful people whose ambitions and the means (and the consequences as well) they chose to carry out their ends are portrayed; we have a whole range of mad cap characters all trigger happy and all of whose paths intertwine over the course of a couple of days.

And so one has a McGuffin involving a guitar case which has a lot of Cocaine in it (to all those reviewers who thought that Vishal Bharadwaj was not condescending with Indian audiences and that this is Bollywood's answer to Pulp Fiction, well think of the McGuffin there),corrupt anti narcotic bureau officials , sons-of-the-soil politicians, Bangla book makers and the chalk and cheese twins Charlie and Guddu.

Tt the center of it all is Sweetie played endearingly by Priyanka Chopra. Her nuanced almost effortless transformation from a madly-in-love girl to one who brandishes a burnt log of wood against her brother's henchmen and in the end going about firing a shot gun makes hers the standout performance of the movie.

With the plot being of such an explosive nature and offering immense opportunities for dark humor as well as an incredibly engaging soundtrack, on both fronts the movie flatters to deceive. What can one say when Bhau tells his name as "Bhau!!! Bhau!! Baw-Bow-Wow-Wow" goes for dark humor, or a dialog about how the non-Maharashtrian Mumbaikars are like sugar in milk to which the riposte is "Bhai ko to diabetes hai" or the genuinely cringe inducing "You two" in the suburban train. Come on Mr Bharadwaj you can do much much better than that at dark humor.

About the sound track, playing a couple of RD Burman "Is zindagi ke din katne kam hain" while bashing someone up or "Duniya main logon ko" when the guitar falls into the wrong hands makes for an extremely dis-satisfying experience. One need not look further than DevD I suppose. And here we are not talking about the full blown songs in the movie which are extremely well written by Gulzar and set to some genuinely good music.

What is admirable though is the cinematography which is extremely slick. Right from the start of the movie involving a chase over railway tracks till the climax sequences this is probably a redeeming feature of the movie. Though quite why the outlandish dream sequences of Charlie were interspersed seemingly at random is probably beyond my comprehension and maybe more educated cinema goers could shine some light on that, but to me it seemed jarring at times.

VB is in great control when shooting ambitious and powerful albeit manipulable personalities meeting disappointments. In his earlier movies one of the best things would be the way a character in the movie was peeled layer by layer like an onion slowly unmasking his insecurities, his internal demons. The "haan ki naa" sequence from Omkara where there is this extremely almost claustrophobic close up on Omi. In Kaminey there is just one such charming vignette that Guddu narrates in a petrol pump about his childhood just before the interval which had me engaged, disappointingly the same cannot be said of the rest of the movie.

The kind of movie that Kaminey attempts to be, needs a larger-than-life-sinister presence in the movie. Think of Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction or Brick Top in Snatch. We were just left guessing till the end who is going to be the imposing guy in this movie. We thought Tashi bhai would be the man considering his introductory sequence, but the moment he says "I like bitches", I turned off, is this the best that Tashi can do!!!! Sadly enough even though Priyanka Chopra does does deliver a power packed performance, this kind of movie needs a bad ass boy who will put the fear of god into everyone else.

If the non existent readers of this blog sense an extreme Maqbool and Omkara fixation with this review, then they would be true. Kaminey made by anyone else would have been a fairly good movie, but coming as it does after Maqbool and Omkara it is a disappointing movie. And it falls far short of either Tarantino or Guy Ritchie, to me the two masters of this genre. To sum up my feelings I quotePauline Kael:

“It really is a wonderfully exciting field to write about when the movies are good. When they’re not so good, it’s to despair. The really bad movies you can write about with some passion and anger. It’s the mediocre ones that wear you down.”

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Bas Ek Kahaani Badle Zamaana -- The Love Aaj Kal Review

(Spoiler Alert, if there do exist spoilers in a romantic movie)

Watching an Imtiaz Ali movie is a bit like driving through a city where there is a lot of Metro construction that is going on. You know where you are starting, you know where you will end up but the journey that encompasses these two points with all the road blocks in between is what the two to three hours you spend watching the movie will be about.(As the lyrics in one of the songs go "Bas ek kahaani, badle zamaana") Such is the case with Love Aaj Kal as well, but the journey this time is decidedly less vibrant than the one we went on during Jab We Met, less darker than Aahista Aahista and definitely much less interesting than Socha Na Tha.

Love Aaj Kal inspired by the Taiwanese movie Three Times depicts two different love stories, one set in sepia tinted times of the past is the story of Veer and Harleen (it is hard to say whether it is the 60's or pre-independence India) and one set in contemporary times, that of Jai and Meera. The movie begins with Jai and Meera breaking up as their work is taking them on diverging paths. At the end of a "breakup party" thrown to celebrate this event Jai meets Veer and so unfolds the rest of the movie flitting between the past and the present.

The essence of the difference between the two stories can be summed up in one dialogue between Jai and Veer about choices. How we as a generation we have infinitely more choices than Veer ever did. As Veer says "Humaare zamaane main to choice nahin tha, sirf majboori thi". And as the rest of the movie unfolds one realizes how what Veer says is a timeless truth when it comes to love.

What made the movie really endearing to me was the set design and the cinematography showing the sepia tinted love story. The shot that cuts from the Golden Gate of San Franscisco to the Howrah Bridge in Calcutta made it for me. But while one could say of the other Imtiaz Ali movies that this was a master in control of his craft all through the movie, such is not the case with Love Aaj Kal. Take, for example the scene shot after Meera marries Vikram and is about to irredeemably break his heart. I am not so sure Imtiaz Ali meant this scene to elicit the kind of sniggering and amusement that it triggered amongst large portions of the audience. Hark back to the last few shots of Aahista Aahista or in Socha Na Tha when Viren and Karen break up.

The minimal characterization of anyone other than Jai, Meera and Veer (played as a youngster by Saif and Rishi Kapoor in the present) also means that this is a movie that has to be carried on Saif's and Deepika's shoulders. While Saif has made the role of a confused metrosexual male (Dil Chahta Hai, Hum Tum) as much a personal trademark as the high backlift cover drive of Brian Lara, as a young Sardar there was something unconvincing, something missing that I just cannot put my finger on. Deepika on the other hand seems only to revel in scenes where she just has to smile or talk about Saif's red shoes, she makes us wish for an Ayesha Takia or a Mahi Gill whenever she has to emote.

All in all one feels that the bigger budget did not necessarily lead to a better movie in the case of Imtiaz Ali. Be warned though that unless you are in love with the idea of being in love the movie will just not work for you.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Eerie, extremely eerie.

Two of my friends both get married in the same year.

And their life style pattern is as identical as that of Seeta and Geeta was not. Now they are in different countries but sometime back even that was common though the folks who invented golf might beg to differ. They both do the same activities over the weekend with their better/worse halves, both are regular gymmers, both are presently home makers, both will be joining a masters course soon in the same country (though thank god different specialisations) and both will be on a visit to the home country soon.

Well as one of our favourite characters Monsieur Morse (or was it Father Brown, damn it we are growing old) says "Life is full of co-incidences"

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Yolk

Review: New York

Once upon a time in history, there was this perfect, ellipsoidal-shaped egg. Paraphrasing the Great Reporter himself, it had bumps and dents where it was entitled to have bumps and dents. On seeing such perfection in form and goodness of purpose, the French presented the egg a statue of the lady with a lump lamp. Naturally, the next thing you know, the egg and the eggcup have an "immigrant problem", but that is neither here nor there, since we are not concerned with the egg, but rather with a movie made about the egg.

The movie starts off with NeNiMu, an aspiring Telecom company, who makes his first trip to the land of the egg to do his "further studies" in, apparently, taking on a first-generation unconfused Johnny Baba in various sports, in a failed attempt to win the beautiful Maya. As an aside, Sab maya hai seems an appropriate description for this part of the movie, which is a picturesque, one-sided depiction of that most trite and holy Bollywood cliche, the love triangle. Or in this case, a directed graph with one extra node.

One mugging and a stabbing later, the graph gets pruned, but before the stars could have done their bit in converting what is ostensibly a thriller of a movie into a drama, History with the capital H intervenes in the form of that invention of '01, the manned Jet-A1 missile.

Since I have no qualms whatsoever of spoiling this movie for the readers (both of whom have better things to do than to watch this movie), I will proceed with a straightforward commentary on the plot: in essence, the Baba is arrested on suspicion (or whatever it is called nowadays), tortured, jailed, and so on in scenes that are filmed in such an over-the-top, grand-mal inducing manner that one feels pity for the poor strobe light used for filming. Once this interlude is complete, the Baba goes on a bread-buying spree that finally gets him a slot as the entree in a four-course terrorist cell wherein, by some mysterious process of Bollywoodical natural selection, he becomes its leader, with contacts with the Raashan mafia who supply weapons and bangers(2) in exchange for getting shot.

Meanwhile, the misnamed telecom giant has, in typical inscrutable fashion, managed to become a taxi magnate (or magnet) of sorts, running his own fleet. When a failed smuggling attempt manages to get him the undivided attention of the FBI (about which, by the way, the viewer needs to exercise his sore and aching Suspension-of-Disbelief.) Naturally, what he is asked to do now is to reestablish contact with his old friends (who have, by this time, done their bit in adding to the population problem.) His case officer is Irrfan Khan, who does such a good job of acting that it is actually painful to watch the others on-screen -- even Miss Eyecandy is almost not sufficient incentive to actually watch the screen.

In an interesting aside, you will be pleased to know that Terrorists-R-Us, CEO'd in some mysterious process by J.Babu, is an equal-opportunity employer. All South Asian nations that owe significant bits of their history to terrorism are represented. If what happens to one of them (well, two, actually, with one at the end of the movie) is an unintended reflection of history, it serves in its own fashion to advance the plot.

Speaking of plot advancements, la Eyecandy, after completing an unmentioned course of study and doing her bit for the world's population, also is apparently working in an NGO for, you've guessed it, the rights of prisoners wrongfully taken in The War Against Terror. As a demonstration of "police brutality", it also serves as one of her patients (maybe she was a psychiatrist?) commits suicide, and in the process, la EC gets her chance to see an anticompetitive deal being made between Irrfan and the telecom giant. This naturally leads to the grand denouement, and the inevitable shootout wherein the telecom giant gets to take care of a budding young waste of space baseball star. The END.

For a movie that seems to have gotten a lot of praise about presenting multi-faceted viewpoints, most of the time is spent in attempting justifications for the acts of terrorism attempted in the movie, while only a cursory glance is spared for the alternate viewpoint, and these dialogues are actually the weakest part of Irrfan's repertoire. Perhaps given the current backlash against the less than humane acts depicted and the praise that the movie gives to the Economic Superhero, this is a good thing. Time will tell, even if the Box Office has returned a clear and unambiguous opinion of the movie. Oh, and Maya really ought to stick to ads. Or Item Numbers. Mmm.

(As an aside, an IMDB review calls "Mission: Kashmir" a Bollywood epic. Did I even see the same movie?)

[2] - No, that wasn't a footnote.
[e] - Johnny Baba makes one wonder about strange pecularities of uncivil engineers that is the sort of discussion best taken offline as providing great opportunities going forward.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Movies to watch before you die

Well, it's that seasoning of the year again, and who are we to deny ourself the urge to move fiction away from the first spot (it detracts from the tone of the blog, don't you know) On this note, we present to you some classic movies whose enjoyment is best gotten over with before you complete your transition into decaying organic matter.

  • Gooch Gooch Hota Hai

    After Hum Aapke Hain Khan - an existential subjectivist look at the difficulties of being film-stars in modern India - bombed at the box office, the director decided to go back to Objectivism. With backing from the Bwrdd Criced Cymru a Lloegr, this movie tells of one man on his way to captaining the English cricket team, and in passing proves the Zeroth Rand Axiom, that, indeed, א is א and therefore only Gooch can be Gooch.

  • Show Leh

    In the heights of the upper Himalayas, two lonely young men run into a colony of monks terrorised by the legendary Yeti. Their efforts to free this community embroil them deeper in their quest to turn the monster into a waiter who says: "are o, sambaar"

  • Calypso Now

    A young and earnest musician paddles up the river of life looking for a legendary master of song, and shows vignettes of the life he could have had if he had used a search engine before plunging into his task. Featuring scenes that caused PETA to ask Eva Mendes to shed clothes even faster, this movie was re-released after strict sound editing as: "Calypso: Now Reduced!".

  • Mongol, paan de!

    Once upon a time in Central Asia, there was this boy who swallowed a stopwatch, and was henceforth known as Timer the Lung. This movie chronicles his journey from Gujarat to Bengal in search of ingredients to make the perfect digestif that would mould his warriors into an invincible fighting machine his descendants would use to conquer the world. Followed by the award-winning "Paan's Labyrinth", this movie marks the start of a series that did its best to paint the town walls red.

  • Tory Zameen Par

    Tracing the evolution of a young Breton, from in impressionable backbencher who falls into scandal, to a respected demagogue and feared political opponent who leads his country into the new world order, while expiating for crimes committed through omission when he was young.

  • Le Daal se Vitamin

    In a top-secret research lab for a major agricultural company, a previously nondescript researcher discovers an answer to the world's hunger problem. But is this really what his organisation wants? Intrigue, suspense, murder and deceit follow him as he fights to present his discovery to the world for peer review.

  • Bhais Don't Cry

    After the success of a number of movies about the underworld, this one chronicles the rise of a new don as she hides her identity from everyone as she climbs her way up the ladder of crime to sit at the top of the deadliest mafia in the world, and the her fall as her real identity: a top police spy, is discovered.

  • Citizen Khan

    When you're the first citizen of a small sparkly town, none of your actions go unremarked, and a good number of them will be slavishly imitated by your fans. In this situation, how does one go about leading a normal life? Sometimes, the answer is to do the right thing, always.

  • Braids on the River Qua

    Long-haired rats are an endangered species, because their hair can be woven into cloth with amazing properties. One such rat rebels against having a haircut, and sails away to the sea, it hair growing longer by the day, until it reaches the beaches where it is promptly mistaken for a carpet.

  • Tray

    When young Paris steals away with a prized tray belonging to the neighbouring gang leader, the leader promptly marches up to his home to take it back, whereupon a pitched battle ensues with the leader finally gaining access to Paris through trickery and guile. However, even if he gets the tray, can he make it back to his hideout?

  • Devi Does Dalhousie

    After a discussion of whether Yandaboo is spelled with one 'o' or two, a young princess discovers that she may have misunderstood the intent and meaning of the Doctrine of Laps while trying to regain her rightful throne.

  • Garam Beer

    Two brothers, separated at birth, do their best to find each other over vast regions of space and time. United by their hatred of warm beverages, they fight against the evil Refrigemonster who has reversed the Second Law of Thermodynamics, making it impossible to get a cool drink at the local bar.

  • Armour Akhbaar Antimony

    Modern soldiers require protection, the daily news, and poisonous metals to fight. Will three brothers, each of whom has received a piece of the puzzle from their parents, be able to unite in time to outfit their army for war?

  • Rogue On

    After a 'job' goes wrong with deadly consequences, a gang of master thieves breaks up, with each going their own way to spend the rest of their lives in relative peace and contentment. When one of them is overcome by a fit a nostalgia, can he convince the rest to join him for one last caper?

  • Bread Eater

    When a legion of elite soldiers ventures into deepest jungle to rescue some of their own, they run into a strange alien life form that eats all their bread, leaving them only cake. Will they prevail against this monster bent upon destroying their way of life?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Strangers in the Night

His Story

"Strangers in the night", Frank Sinatra was crooning. He never understood her fascination with the song, but over time had learnt to appreciate it. They were just about finished with their first glass of wine, at the Cafe Coffee Day next to the International Airport. They were celebrating the 10 years that they had been together.

"Hey weren't you guys at IITM ?" Thick glasses, blue-eyed, long hair tied in a pony tail and a stubble at least six months old seemed vaguely familiar. There seemed to be a scar that started somewhere on his left cheekbone buried under all that facial hair and which seemed to end somewhere below his left ear.

"Yes we were, I am Jai and this here is...."

"Geeta I guess" pony tail chirped.

"Yes I am Geeta" she said with an uneasy edge to her voice. He knew that IIT girls being the rarity they were on campus pretty much everyone remembered her.

"Well I am a couple of years junior to you guys, John do you guys remember ?"

"Aah yes Johnnie "keep walking" Walker right" A nick acquired due to John's typically being found in drunken stupor more often than not.

"Yup, I remember bowling to you and Vijay at IITM"

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Geeta pursing her lips. Vijay was literally the blue eyed boy of his batch. A Comp Sci student, was in the top half of his class but you would rarely find him mugging. A Mardi Gras P-team member, hostel band's vocalist he was also one of the most stylish batsmen of his hostel who batted like a millionaire meant that whenever John was sober he would throw his wicket away. Plus he had that rarest of things at IIT, a girlfriend.

"Yup you really did have Vijay's number I remember, never prepared to ground it out....well what can you say to the style merchants"

"And I don't think you scored too many off me either, I knew your correct batting would always mean that I could bowl to my field"

His time at IIT was a big contrast to Vijay's. He belonged to the "fighter" class rather than the "stud" class. He studied very hard to reach the top of his class and his batting much like everything else about him was a very studied perfected technique. He was no big shot at Mardi Gras nor was he good at any other extra academic stuff, he could not strut a guitar and shout "Born in the USA" or go around in a false accent shouting "rock is dead". In an institution where a lot of emphasis was placed on doing things without appearing to put in any kind of effort he was not exactly very popular except during exam times. People tolerated him because of that. But then he was a stud in one field and it was that he could keep drinking till even the last person in his group gave up. He never could figure out why he never got drunk like everyone else, the more he drank the only feeling he seemed to have was a kind of fury at the world, a dull throbbing pain in his temples. But he rarely gave voice to it and would keep drinking.

"Jai stop being all nostalgic about your cricket memories, John join us in the celebrations, we are celebrating our 10th anniversary"

"Ah and we are to be having wine I see. The new policy of the government regarding wine licenses is cool."

Another glass was called for and the wine was poured out in the correct manner by Jai.

"Cheers" as the three glasses clinked, "To you guys" John said.

"So Jai what are you up to these days ?" John asked

"Well I always realised I was not really cut out for an engineering job so passed out and did an MBA at IIMA. Now work for Barclay's at London"

He realised that he had done exactly what most of his friends at IIT did, an engineering optimisation problem of making the most money in the least possible time. Was very successful at his job too, but there was always an inner voice that kept telling him that this was not what he had dreamed of all those years back. And these days the inner voice seemed to irritate him all the more and far too frequently for it to be called an irritation.

"Whoa man that must be interesting!! And what are you up to Geeta"

"Oh I have given up my job, keep myself busy by trying to paint mostly"

"Any idea what happened to Vijay ?"

"Well he passed out of IIT, had this fantastic idea that he wanted to be a writer but never did amount to much"

"Ah after my own heart then, I am also a writer you see."

"Oh what do you write ?" Geeta asked

"Nothing path-breaking, right now writing some technical manuals to make ends meet. The idea being that this kind of free lancing work is temporary and with all the free time that I have, I should eventually get down to writing a novel" John said.

"Oh I see" there was a disappointed note in her voice.

"Anyway guys all the best to your future, I have a flight to catch now"

And he left them and walked out of the cafe. Jai envied everything about John, the ease with which he had come over to the table and talked to them, the apparently effortless small talk he made. He himself would have walked out of a cafe if he had to confront people from his past whom he did not know too well. He remembered what Vijay had told him long ago at IIT after getting drunk "Man you are born with style, there is no way it can be taught, not to you".

Her Story

There was the usual music that played at most coffee shops that was playing that night. Ten years since she had been with Jai. Ten years since she had bet on safety.

"Hey weren't you guys at IITM ?" For a moment she thought, but no it just cannot be. The first few years had been great, they had travelled all over the world, seen all the places she had wanted to see.

"Yes we were, I am Jai and this here is...."

"Geeta I guess"

"Yes I am Geeta" Being a girl, an attractive one at that at IIT meant that everyone three batches junior and senior knew you.

"Well I am a couple of years junior to you guys, John do you guys remember ?"

Jai and John seemed to get lost in their cricket reverie. She did not particularly like cricket. She knew that whenever Vijay lost a match he would be irritable the whole night and that the whole evening of hers would be spoilt listening to the ravings of Vijay on what so-and-so ought to have done.

"Jai stop being all nostalgic about your cricket memories, John join us in the celebrations, we are celebrating our 10th anniversary"

"Ah and we are to be having wine I see. The new policy of the government regarding wine licenses is cool."

Another glass was called for and she could even with her eyes closed imagine exactly how Jai would pour the wine out.

"Cheers" as the three glasses clinked, "To you guys" John said.

"So Jai what are you up to these days ?" John asked

"Well I always realised I was not really cut out for an engineering job so passed out and did an MBA at IIMA. Now work for Barclay's at London" This is why she thought she had chosen him, someone who had mapped out his future like all the road trips that they had been together on. Unlike someone whose life seemed to like the innumerable paper boats set to sail in rainwater puddles, taking a course that was so random that one eventually got trampled upon.

"Whoa man that must be interesting!! And what are you up to Geeta"

"Oh I have given up my job, keep myself busy by trying to paint mostly"

"Any idea what happened to Vijay ?"

"Well he passed out of IIT, had this fantastic idea that he wanted to be a writer but never did amount to much" She remembered this same day ten years back. The writing thing for Vijay was not working out too well, Jai meanwhile was having great success as a banker. Today was the day that she told Vijay about Jai.

"Ah after my own heart then, I am also a writer you see."

"Oh what do you write ?" Geeta asked. She had come to see Jai off at the airport and he had proposed to her.

"Nothing path-breaking, right now writing some technical manuals to make ends meet. The idea being that this kind of free lancing work is temporary and with all the free time that I have, I should eventually get down to writing a novel"

"Oh I see" Which was her first awkward response then as well to Jai.

"Anyway guys all the best to your future, I have a flight to catch now"

It stuck her then that she would trade a lot to be liker her husband, always in control. Always knowing what you need and knowing exactly what is needed to achieve those goals.

The third story

Frank Sinatra's exquisite voice sounded over the background "Strangers in the night". Ten years was a long time, but if he knew Jai he knew that he could not resist it and would be here. He was right. As in batting so in life.

"Hey weren't you guys at IITM ?"

"Yes we were, I am Jai and this here is...."

"Geeta I guess" He still loved the way the name rolled off his tongue.

"Yes I am Geeta" and he knew that she was adopting the voice that she used with most IIT guys. If anything she seemed more desirable than she ever was at IIT.

"Well I am a couple of years junior to you guys, John do you guys remember ?" The subterfuge came naturally to him

"Aah yes Johnnie "keep walking" Walker right"

"Yup, I remember bowling to you and Vijay at IITM"

"Yup you really did have Vijay's number I remember, never prepared to ground it out....well what can you say to the style merchants"

Maybe Jai was right after all. He always thought that being a writer meant a bohemian lifestyle. Like everything else at IIT he thought writing success too would come easily to him. Maybe he really ought to grind it out, put in those hours of sweat that he had for the JEE towards his novel as well.

"And I don't think you scored too many off me either, I knew your correct batting would always mean that I could bowl to my field"

He never really understood why he had almost always wanted to put Jai down, both here and at IIT.

"Jai stop being all nostalgic about your cricket memories, John join us in the celebrations, we are celebrating our 10th anniversary"

"Ah and we are to be having wine I see. The new policy of the government regarding wine licenses is cool."

Another glass was called for.

"Cheers" as the three glasses clinked, "To you guys" John said.

"So Jai what are you up to these days ?" John asked

"Well I always realised I was not really cut out for an engineering job so passed out and did an MBA at IIMA. Now work for Barclay's at London"

And the memory of a frustrated James Stewart kicking his car in A Wonderful Life came to mind.

"Whoa man that must be interesting!! And what are you up to Geeta"

"Oh I have given up my job, keep myself busy by trying to paint mostly"

"Any idea what happened to Vijay ?"

"Well he passed out of IIT, had this fantastic idea that he wanted to be a writer but never did amount to much"

But then again those are the problems when one belongs to the stud class at IIT, the expectations are almost always sky high.

"Ah after my own heart then, I am also a writer you see."

"Oh what do you write ?" Geeta asked

"Nothing path-breaking, right now writing some technical manuals to make ends meet. The idea being that this kind of free lancing work is temporary and with all the free time that I have, I should eventually get down to writing a novel" John said.

"Oh I see" he could figure out that she was lost in thought and maybe had overstayed his welcome.

"Anyway guys all the best to your future, I have a flight to catch now"

Walking out he thought that Geeta probably led the best life of them. Married to someone rich enough to take care of all material comforts and so afforded her the time to follow her hobbies. On the ride back home he slept on the bus and dreamt of marrying a rich heiress and writing books just for the joy of it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dev-da the bewda

It is rarely the occasion that everything fits well enough in a movie, that one has to actually sit and dig through fuzzed memories to find out what didn't fit. Dev.D does this. Now, it's definitely not a great movie - competition for that apellation requires that one can actually sit through the movie twice - but Dev.D is by far the best movie out of Bollywood so far this year. Given past standards, that makes it likely the best movie that escapes from there this year.

What can you say about a Bollywood movie that begins with the hero asking the heroine if she touches herself? That it is made by one of the most avant-garde directors of the industry, that it stars two leading ladies who are so good one is left wondering if this is one of their first movies, that the movie is psychedelic enough to be compared to our own cinematic equivalent of “The Wall”.

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There's an interesting story about how censorship in Sweden was changed due to work by Bergman of the Svensk BlondskindustriFilmindustri, who is one of the few non-cricketing impersonalities to have a semipermanent shrine on this blog. Sadly, it turns out this is partially untrue (500-9 might be relevant to some nsfw google-fu here). One can only hope that Dev.D proves to do something similar in this country. Most of the requisite elements are there.

As the jobless readers of this blog would have realized by now we are talking about DevD. Directed by Anurag Kashyap and staring Abhay Deol (who is a personal favorite HTPL notwithstanding) in a role that is tailor made for him (the credits read “Concept – Abhay Deol”), DevD is “loosely” inspired (re-interpreted is probably a better word) by the Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay book. DevD is the story of Dev’s life, his successes and failures in falling in love. It is also the story of Paro Dev’s childhood sweetheart and Chanda rendered brilliantly by Kalki Koechlin. In the inspired version the notable differences occur in why Dev and Paro cannot get married and the reasons Chanda is forced to turn to prostitution (a college going one by day at that). There are also pointers to the BMW case, the DPS MMS leak amongst other real life incidents.

Anurag Kashyap, apparently with help from the eponymous lead actor, came up with the script and direction for this movie. Now, functional illiteracy prevents me from reading SCC's দেবদাস, and a pact of mutual non-aggression between the shreds of common sense and insanity serves as an effective deterrent from watching any of the multiple prior efforts. Under the distinct and unheard-of handicap of judging a movie purely on its own performance, let's see why you may want to watch this movie in a theater.

DevD offers a reflection of the Indian male’s attitude towards female sexuality in our times. Dev is not able to handle the fact that Paro probably slept with someone else, when he is guilty of the same offence. Chanda’s father, who views her MMS clip, comes up with the following pearls of wisdom “She knew what she was doing”. There is also a scene involving the guy who shot the MMS landing up at Chanda’s house with an offer to marry her (Raja Ki Aayegi Baarat anyone), pointedly he talks to Chanda’s mom before talking to her. To cap it all there is a brilliantly shot scene of Dev waking up after passing out the previous night and looking at Chanda with intense scorn and contempt.

Dev.D works well because the rapid-fire succession of memorable scenes forces the suspension of disbelief in order to concentrate better on the creation of hilarity through vulgarity. Add on quite a bit of "inspired" gorgeous camerawork (which inspiration, by the way, we applaud wholeheartedly), unsubtly subtle tongue-in-cheek humour, and if these aren't reasons enough to watch it on the big screen, well, there are other, more effective reasons to do with (lack of) plot and execution.

DevD is a movie where the two leading ladies show excellent character, while all the males are at the other end of the spectrum. When Paro comes to meet Dev the first thing she does is clean his room and wash his clothes while all Dev can do is sit back and allow her to take charge. According to a book we read a long time ago one of the reasons for this is the extremely lavish affection that most Indian guys get as kids. Towards the end of the movie when Dev comes home to attend his father’s funeral, his mother rains slaps and fists on him and you wonder whether she was not twenty years too late in meting out the treatment which might have given him a bit more spine to go through life.

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The movie starts of with a young Dev and Paro having a catfight of sorts over the hygienic nature of canal water on its banks, whereupon young D is sent off to school in the land of the former colonial masters. Naturally, there persists (one of those incidents of suspension of disbelief) a relationship between them over what ought to be an absurdly long time, and the next thing you know, a much older D comes back[1]to the vaterland. Oh, and it turns out that one of the perks of transplanting the movie from the east to more agriculturally rich areas is that Dev and Paro do not expand as expected, while C does.

Anurag Kashyap’s direction is awe-inspiring. For a change we do not have the heroine look as though she has just walked out of a Beauty Parlor while walking through Punjab’s fields or a hero who for a change only drinks rather than sports six packs. The teasing and mocking references to that totally lacking in soul and the endlessly grimace inducing Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movie Devdas are well placed. I could count at least three and the one we liked the most was the very off hand way in which Paro and Chanda meet in DevD on a train, after which Chanda boards a bus and the song “Dola re Dola” is playing on the bus. There is a long contrived plot to get Chanda and Paro to meet in SLB’s Devdas and the conversation they have is probably much more boring than the Monday morning 0730 lectures of Physics-II in SN Bose Auditorium. The way the titles come on both at the beginning and the end of the movie is something we liked and if you have not seen to watch out for. The other thing is the way a drunken Dev is handled, instead of the usual Bollywood way of the hero ranting and raving at God for all the injustices doled out to him, we find Dev more often than not yielding to Newton’s forces in a random but all the same natural manner.

Now, there's no point in outlining the plot (well, there might have been, if the movie had anything worth spoiling), so we can skip right on to the interesting parts. There's a nice bit of ambiguity on whether P has a relationship with a third, unnamed person with a head that doubles as a dysfunctional corkscrew. While a cursory view of the movie might reinforce one side of this argument, there remains enough doubt as to what the correct answer is. The script works harder than expected to keep this as an open question, so we leave it that way. (Such small touches - there are a few more - make this movie an enjoyable watch for someone doomed to absorb such questionable pearls of wisdom as might be provided by observing TV quiz shows.)

The cinematography is also of a standard well beyond most Bollywood movies. The first half of the movie has so many uses of mirrors that we are reminded of our personal favorite the incomparable Ingmar Bergman. The second half showcases Delhi in a way that we have never before seen in Hindi cinema. The shots of the Hotels in Paharganj makes one feel like RK Narayan’s books do, you think you are right there
on the same street with the characters and as much part of the action as they are. Watch out for the scene with Hotel Grand in the background when Dev and Chunni meet for the first time. The shots of a drunk and stoned Dev apparently thanks to Danny Boyle’s camera are also the first of their kind in Hindi cinema, the way the whole world around Dev seems to whirr faster and faster. Talking out of personal experience (for obvious reasons we do not remember most of them) this is exactly how one feels when drunk, for stoned we probably need to wait for a certain sheermelody writer to second.

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Next, of course, is the inevitable MMS scandal. AK has drawn a lot from once-current events in this part of the world, and this one seems exquisitely appropriate for some reason. Relying on imperfect memory with AWGN, it seems that the original scandal had surreal moments, such as when certain bloggers in the proximity of the original Lenni demonstrating the breathtaking stupidity of posting real names online (an inevitable consequence of an unjustified sense of entitlement meeting a functional internet connection). We ignore (for obvious reasons) other antics from this time entirely. While remembering whether more mainstream news sources handled things any better isn't feasible (and is probably not worth the effort), one lesson the "great opportunity going forward" types ought to have learned is the unusual persistence of anything ever left on the internet. The other lesson, regarding blogs in general, and blogs by people originating from a particular timezone in particular, we leave out owing to our fear of the blogwa.

The sound track of the movie is yet another unique aspect. I don’t think that I have ever heard a Hindi movie having such a psychedelic sound track. Almost all the songs are played twice consecutively, once when Dev is drunk and immediately followed by for a lack of a better choice of words the morning after version. If we had to pick personal favorites they would be “Saali Khushi” and of course “Emosanal Attyachar”. And the dance that “The Twilight” folks perform in the bar simply left us gaping with our mouth wide open.

We move on (change, etc.) to Chandramukhi/Lenni, a proficienct juggler who is also fluent in Tamil and French (but apparently not Bengali), and has a tendency to read pandaic literature (did I mention my hate of schmottasses?). She's the (cute, when not all dolled up) third main character, and not so surprisingly the only one we feel any real sympathy for, even if her methods of learning to drive are better called accident zones. As a completely unrelated aside, what's with the designery rooms, Che ashtrays and coffee machines? It certainly incites unrealistic thoughts about recession-proof careers.

The casting director deserves full marks. Abhay Deol is tailor made for the role of Dev. Playing a rich spoilt clueless passive personality should come as natural to him as throwing pitty files out of the lab comes to Electrical Engineering professors. Mahi essays the role of the pragmatic Paro with an ease that is rarely seen in most heroines of Bollywood. In one of the best scenes in the movie Dev tells Paro “Main tum se pyaar karna chahta hoon!!”, Paro replies “Log pyaar karte hain, pyaar karne ki koshish kaun karta hai!!”. Those two lines in a most succinct manner sum up the two characters. But the real star of the movie is Kalki Koechlin playing Chanda. The portion where she talks on the phone in Tamil followed by French and then back in Tamil, end the call, call her boss and inform in the coolest possible tone the time shows us that this is a lady who means business, that it is just a profession for her. The pain her voice as she says “And they call me a slut” makes one want to reach out and comfort her, this goes down at least in our book on cinema as comparable to “I could ‘ave been somebody”.

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Old man D remains thoroughly detestable, right from his initial appearance, a tendency to view the world from a Dannyboyle-enabled bottom-of-the-bottle, and finally to the demonstration of why ethanol-powered automotion might not mean what you think it means (with, of course, apologies to I. Montoya.) D's procurer, who apparently has enough clout from the original to be listed in IMDB's cast, has a viciously two-dimensional character, and one wonders why he's in the picture at all, particularly since his second-in-command was competent enough to do his job. P is the central object of affections for D, real or imagined, but apart from the beginning of the movie, and a delightful little detox interlude, doesn't really figure much in the latter half. Not that we're complaining, of course.

Roger Ebert felt that the reason Pulp Fiction is a great movie, is due entirely to the high quality of dialogue in the movie. DevD is right up there in this regard. From “Main aa raha hoon” to “Dilli main billi ko maarna chahiye, khaana chahiye lekin paalna nahin chahiye” it is one roller coaster of a ride. The clincher though is how a migration from east-west-east made a certain man change from a) Whiskey to Vodka, b) Chicken to Fish c) Voluptuous women to size zero men with b****s!!! Be warned though that some of the dialogues being in Punjabi may not be easily comprehended.

The movie is split into three parts, one for each main character, and one not-part that ought to have been for the intermission, which of course was noticed later than it should have been by the projectionist or its modern equivalent in the modern multiplex. Each part has what one assumes are to be subtle events that dovetail them together, and this could have been done using much less film: the movie is just too long, particularly since there are elements that either should have been developed more (like the brother and the sister of the brother) or just been completely removed.

The one complaint we have with this movie is that the ending was too good to be true. But then again we have a thing for dark despairing endings, we would have much preferred an ending where Dev dies on the Tso-Moriri plains and the last shot is of some scavenging birds tearing his innards apart. (Here is when you readers are supposed to go “Thank God, he studied Thoka and does circuit design and not make movies”)

The music deserves firm applause, for firmly sticking to the background where it belongs. It's a decent score, even though its very aptness condemns it to the grey oblivion of forgetfulness. Emosanal atyachar notwithstanding.

All in all this is a cult movie. There have been comparisons with this being the Indian equivalent of “English August”, “Catcher in the Rye” or the equivalent of “The Wall” due to its psychedelic music. To add our two penny’s worth to the comparisons, if it did remind us of any book, it was Midnight’s Children. Like the book we hope that the movie ushers in a whole new genre of Indian film making, and like the book which had a quality of sustained brilliance to it, the movie is similar in scene after scene one encounters cinema of a very high quality. And to a movie that I can compare it with, if I may do so without inviting the wrath of anyone, I think it is in a way like “La Dolce Vita”. While LDV is the story of a writer trying to write his great novel, DevD is the story of Dev trying to do possibly the most creative thing possible, live one’s life and try to find meaning in it.

It is the ending where this movie really disappoints. It may not be realistic to expect a commercially unviable ending from a Bollywood movie, the current unsatisfactory ending only leaves us wondering why anyone who demonstrates the catalytic action of alcohol and additives to convert mechanical perfection into a ton or so of instant death actually deserves a happy (for some questionable value of happy) ending. Or even any ending but one at all. What might have been a worthy equivalent of 'Requiem for a Dream' ends up as the Slumdog Love Triangle.

And the greatest incontestable proof that this is a great movie is that The Alternate Moebyus promised to strangle our necks once he was done watching the movie with us. But the fact that we are writing this review and TAM came up with “This is a decent movie” after watching it should educate you on really how good the movie was.

[1] No, he does not, apparently, return.

(Bah. not posting regularly here means that the story of when the Brain watched Pinky confront the molar police is necessarily out of date. Sheer pity.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Just watched Slumdog Millionaire yesterday. It was a bit disconcerting to watch it with just maybe ten more people in a theater and none of them Indian at that.

The plot of the movie is the most engrossing part. Jamal who grew up in the Slums of Mumbai is on the verge of answering the final question in KBC*. In police custody and accused of cheating, Jamal narrates to his interrogators how each question related to different incidents in his life and as a result his knowing the answer.

The movie starts off with a particularly well filmed scene of the cops chasing a very young Jamal as he is playing cricket on the outfields of the Mumbai airport. As the cops wind up running through the nooks and crannies of the slum, for me these were the most vivid images of the film. But sadly what started off as a very promising beginning only ends up going south after that. In a particularly improbable series of events involving Jamal escaping onto a train, landing up in Agra becoming an official tour guide at the Taj Mahal which by a more gifted director/cinematographer would have probably been the high point as far as visual imagery was concerned, in Danny Boyle's hands turns out to be a underwhelming experience.

Anil Kapoor perfectly plays the part of the show host who cannot put up with the fact that someone else will earn in a couple of hours what probably took him decades to achieve**. But what really spoilt the whole movie experience for us was the obvious mis-casting of Dev Patel as the grown up Jamal. He has the same I-am-lost-get-me-out-of-here expression in all his scenes without exception. One could probably understand the sense of awe in the scenes involving the TV show but in scenes involving Freida Pinto*** the love of his life the results come off very badly.

AR Rahman has done a wonderful job with the sound track of the movie and we think we will be buying the music CD*** soon.

To sum it up all, the plot is great, no thanks to the film crew and all credit to Vikas Swarup. With no dis-credit to Danny Boyle but this is probably the best he can do and it just did not pass muster for me. A good movie should never leave one feeling "if-only-someone-else-had-made-it"*****, unfortunately the same cannot be said of Slumdog Millionaire. If you are really tempted to watch a similar movie that is infinitely better we recommend City of God. We are sorely tempted to pick up the book though.

P.S : Any movie that shows the great Sir Jack Hobbs as Jack Hobbs is surely mediocre, the cricket aficionado part of me says.

* In the movie the show name is changed to "Who wants to be a Millionaire" targeted towards the American audience I guess.

** At the beginning of the movie his making fun of the chai-wallah is very improbable, thought most of them would probably have the same opinion but they would have expressed it in private rather in full public view. Most of our super stars are very very careful under the flash lights.

*** And we seemed to have developed a massive weakness for Ms Pinto now.......

**** If we shake off our customary laziness and get our Car CD player to work again that is.

***** Krzystof Kieslowski or the late Satyajit Ray, yeah we know we are being unfair to Boyle but then again the plot was so good it deserved a better director