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.