Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review : Peepli Live

In one of the first few scenes of “Peepli Live” we witness Natha and Budhia meeting the local MLA surrounded by his coterie at what looks like his residence. Natha and Budhia are hoping that the MLA can do something about their land that will soon be confiscated by a bank for non-repayment of loans. The attitude of the powerful towards these inconsequential men is full derision and ridicule till one of the lackeys suggest that one of them commit suicide as the government would then pay Rs 1 Lakh as compensation. The seed of the idea is sown and soon enough the shrewder of the two Budhia has convinced Natha that to retain their ancestral lands Natha has to commit suicide. The consequences of this decision lead to something beyond what either of them could have imagined (the dream that Natha has of running in the first scene seems a premonition by the end). It is by-election time in Peepli and a farmer committing suicide has the whole national news media landing up in Peepli. The way the news media ends up invading Natha’s life and their ridiculous attempts at capturing the most inane things and in some cases manufacture news to get TRP ratings forms the rest of the movie.

Perhaps in this also lies the main failing of the movie. Like most “breaking news” stories the real human beings involved get pushed to the background and the media persons take center stage, (one only has to watch the recent Randiv no-ball controversy where every two bit news anchor was bad mouthing a cricketer of the caliber of Kumara Sangakarra) by the second half of the movie we are no longer privy to what Natha is thinking but instead more involved in the way the media handles the whole situation. One cannot but feel that to do such a study one could have chosen from a host of other subjects, the way the news media regularly laps up the official version of events without any question when it comes to police encounters or chooses to remain remarkably silent when the usual suspects are illegally detained and interrogated after any bomb blasts or the uneasy silence that the media is maintaining over the “pay-for-news” controversy just before the elections. Perhaps farmer’s suicide is a much more acceptable issue for the multiplexes crowd to engage with and the news media to feel good about their own “social service”. This is though a very personal quibble.

Debutante director Anusha Rizvi shows remarkable balance in not going overboard with her depiction of the news media to the point of reducing it to a caricature while at the same time not taking a Madhur-Bhandarkaresque moral preachy high ground. Also for a first time director she has a remarkable understanding of the power of the camera. Shots that frame the MLA and his coterie at a much higher level compared to Natha and Budhia, the first shot of the movie where Natha and Budhia are traveling in a Jugaad tightly squeezed in and the shot moves out to show a Hyundai speeding on a national highway on which construction is still being carried out by impoverished children, a whole mela being set up at Peepli—mirroring the atmosphere of our news channels whenever there is an election/by-election. Our favorite though is in one of the most poignant moments of the movies where after the death of a farmer (symbolically one who has dug his own grave and maybe belonging to the lower castes considering the desolateness of his dwellings) a tight rope walker is shown indicating the precarious balance on which most poor farmer’s lives hang.

“Peepli Live” shies away and is much the better for doing so, from using abusive language in local dialects unlike quite a few movies released recently which for some strange reason are guaranteed to elicit laughter from the multiplex crowds. Admirable is also the way that the movie chooses not to have a gratuitous “sex scene” or a couple “making out” with no relation to the narrative. Maybe the budget allowed for it, but this is a movie that has all the actors performing equally well unlike other non-mainstream movies where the acting of the extras leaves a lot to be desired.

An exceptional sound track (by Indian Ocean and folk songs by Ram Sampath and Gangaram Siwar) means that this is the fourth excellent Bollywood movie we have seen this year (Ishqiya, LSD, Udaan being the others).

(Photo Courtesy :

Friday, August 13, 2010

Grace Under Pressure

It is said that in the Hyderabad of yore, one could walk into an Irani cafe to have a chai before the early morning cricket practice at 6am, find two old men debating about politics. Again when one went back at 9am to buy bread one could still see the same two old men this time talking about cricket. A throw back to such times is what VVS Laxman's batting is all about.

In today's times of T-20 cricket and sportsperson's increasingly looking like Hugo Drax's ideal human race it is ironical that the two batsmen who have catalyzed India's rise to the top in the ICC test rankings are both pot-bellied and bald. One only has to think that well oiled assembly line machine called the Australian cricket team and look at the fate of players like Martyn, Symonds, Warne (never to be captain) and Tait to name a few of the fate of players who would not conform to the win-at-all-costs mantra.

Our obsession with statistics implies that a middle order batsman who will probably end up with less than 10,000 runs and an average below 50 may never be counted in the pantheon of great batsmen that Sehwag, Sachin and Dravid are firmly entrenched in. But add 10 runs for each innings for the fact that VVS played at 6 with the tail and mediocre wicket keeper test batsmen (Dhoni included) and you get an average of 56 with close to 10000 runs.

But VVS's batting is more than just about the numbers. It is poetry in motion, batting as the gods must have conceived it. Throw back to the summer of 2004 and the SCG, the greatest batsman of my time is partnering VVS and for once Sachin is so overshadowed, so eclipsed by the sheer genius that is VVS. It was at this same venue in 2000 (ironically Sachin was captain then) Glenn McGrath over stepped by a couple of inches and so Shane Warnes catch at slip was dis allowed and what would have been a decent 50 from VVS was allowed to flower to an exemplary 167. The BCCI being what it is VVS probably has to thank that no-ball because his test career could have ended very well there and would have been consigned to one of the numerous what-if’s of India’s cricket players.

Rusell Arnold in the present series before the third test match was making a point that neither Dravid nor VVS have done much of note in this series and that they probably ought to be dropped. That great man called Professor Deano jumped to Dravid’s rescue but none was forthcoming for VVS. Three words come to mind to describe his response to such queries on his place in the squad – Grace Under Pressure, because whenever his place has come under scrutiny he has let his bat do all the talking.

Thanks to the BCCI’s magnanimity the final day of the last test match was on a weekend which meant I could watch it in real time. And what a delicious situation the match was in 200 runs needed on a fast deteriorating pitch. Once the formality of removing Ishant Sharma was taken care off by Randiv, VVS joined Sachin. It is very rare that the commentators these days actually say something of value but Arun Lal was spot on as the two removed all the sting out of the Lankan attack by saying “We are seeing two absolute masters of the game in action here”. VVS would have had to play against Mendis who had gotten him out 7 times (ironically in Mendis’s debut series where he ran through the Indians, VVS had the highest average after the openers Sehwag and Gambhir). The kind of form that VVS was in Mendis was greeted by an extra cover drive followed by an on drive the kind of which only VVS could play. Battling back spasms (the break for its treatment leading to Sachin losing his concentration and throwing his wicket away) VVS scored the kind of hundred that is most satisfying to any batsman, one that leads to the team winning. As Raina hoisted Welegedara to the mid wicket fence for a six one could only marvel at what we had watched an innings to treasure.

Arun Lal in a rare display of stating something other than the obvious uttered about Sachin and VVS’s partnership “This is probably not something that we will get to see again in Sri Lanka”. It left me feeling very old but unlike the way a grey fleck of hair this one seemed to leave a richer pleasanter feeling, like wine that that is ageing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Love, Sex aur Dhokha

Rahul : “Director kabhi dikhna nahin chahiye… Uska kaam dikhna chahiye,”

Dibakar Banerjee's third offering "Love Sex aur Dhokha" is an excellent case in point. His first movie "Khosla Ka Ghosla" continues to stay a multiplex favorite since it plays very well into middle class sensibilities that anything is achievable if one puts ones mind to it. This was followed by "Oye Lucky Lucky Oye" a much better movie where the director's disdain of class was depicted in the character of Paresh Rawal. But while Khosla Ka Ghosla may have been run-of-the-mill Multiplex fare and OLLO a chit of a movie, with his third offering he has broken into new ground.

A movie shot entirely with new comers and mostly on hand held, CCTV and sting operation cameras could very well have gone down the path of many other avant garde movies where content was subservient to form. But if one were to define classicism as an effortless intermingling of form and content it is to be found in this movie.

The movie as the title suggest is a collection of three interweaving stories about Love Sex and betrayal. While the first section about love is loosely inspired from DDLJ one can also make out the damning indictment on the mediocre fare that Bollywood mass produces in the name of Cinema by the director. This is about the only section that we had a problem with, where we thought that far too much time was devoted and a few more sections could have been edited out.

The second section and by far the most brilliant one tells the story of the vast urban non-rich. Adarsh seems to be a boy who is related to the owner of a super market looking at the CCTV footage of the shop. Rashmi is a girl working in the super market store who will be used very deviously by Adarsh. I cannot recall any movie in recent Bollywood history that has tried to tell the story of a girl working in a super market. Later in the concluding part of this section of the movie it is not even apparent as to whether the contact number she has given is a real one or not. A vast majority of the urban populace who escape the attention of the so-called new wave directors like Mr Farhan Akhtar.

The third section takes us through the travails of a TV journalist trying desperately to bring off a sting operation. The darkest possible form of humor ever seen in Bollywood cinema comes about in his attempts to commit suicide. Trying to help him in this endeavor is a Bengali girl (Who thankfully does not mouth sweet words in Bangla like "Ekdummmm Mishti") who has come to Delhi with dreams of being launched in a music video.

As Naseeruddin Shah says in this piece, once you cast a star in a movie (and this is true of Abhay Deol as well is what I feel) the movie tends to be about the star rather than the work itself. But in this case since it is a whole cast of new comers there is a starkness to this movie that is unparalleled in recent history and the lives of the principal characters are essentially messy like what most of us go through.

So unlike the synthetic clean lives that the principal protagonists of DCH led (ever wondered what Saif did for a living or how Akshaye could so easily earn so much as a painter) this in more ways than one mirrors everyday lives captured through a novel medium that of a much smaller camera. That is why we think this is easily aeons ahead of any Bollywood movie of the past decade (yeah DevD and DCH and Omkara included).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa

Back in college while reading Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" one of the sections that stuck with me over time was the fact that one never is really very vocal about the obvious. If my memory serves me right the passage went "The sun rises from the east, but no one shouts that it rises from the east". And so when in Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya (VTV) Gautham Vasudev Menon's (GVM) latest movie the protagonists Kartik (Simbu) and Jessie (Trisha) decide that they will be "just friends" and keep repeating it over a space of a few scenes one realizes that over the rest of the movie they are going to be anything but just that. For before this conclusion to be "just friends" is reached Kartik travels to Allepey (but not before one of the endless self-referencing ode to other lovers who have traveled to the US for love) where he apologizes to Jessie for declaring his love to her to be an act of impulse and you notice as Jessica's eyes flicker that this is not what she had hoped for. And hence the vociferous declarations of being "just friends" which precedes yet another brilliant sequence shot in a train after the absolutely charming one in "Vaaranam Aayiram".

And let us make no mistake, this is a movie driven entirely on the weight of the conversations throughout the movie between Jessie and Kartik and occasionally between Kartik and Ganesh. (As an aside how long has it been since we have had such situational humor that Ganesh creates in the movie while at the same time staying relevant to the advancement of the plot.) It may not be entirely in the "Pulp Fiction" class, but I cannot recall any Tamil movies that have made me pay so much attention to the dialogue in the movie with me straining to not miss any word that is being spoken. Handled excellently by a director who is on much surer ground than either Minnale or Vaaranam Aayiram both of which we personally were very dis-satisfied with, especially since both promised so much but followed an all too familiar path.

GVM is probably to Tamil cinema what Imtiaz Ali is for Bollywood. And in what must be an astonishing parallel we see an almost Rashomon-esque story presented from the point-of-view of Kartik and so are left guessing as to what is the truth and what is a product of his imagination. A similar thing can be seen in the love story of Rishi Kapoor in Love Aaj Kal where we thought the whole black-and-white part of the movie may or may not be reality. It is also quite novel to see a Tamil heroine who wears normal clothes, seems to have a normal job and speaks Tamil the way it is spoken.

But there are still some discordant notes in the movie especially the part about the hero being a boxer and having the mandatory fight scene where one hero bashes up an army of goons. The sequence at the end of the movie where what we consider a holy tenet of film-making "Show-don't-tell" is violated while explaining the difference about what happened in the movie-within-the-movie and in VTV. That was a let down, almost seemed patronizing about the way the director thinks about his audience. The endless self-referencing petty jokes about his own movies was a source for irritation for us throughout the movie.

But these are minor quibbles about a movie which is so far above the average that we are seriously tempted to buy into the "Tamil New Wave" argument.

P.S : While we had immense respect for the ending, we have come to know that they are now running a modified ending in the theaters which makes me wonder about this post by Jai.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Tamil New Wave and Classic Hollywood

Since we are too lazy to write our own reviews of these movies, we link to :

Ebert on an old Hollywood Classic

And Bharadwaj Rangan on the emerging Tamil New Wave.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Review : Ishqiya

Ishqiya begins with a blank screen and the melodious Rekha Bhardwaj crooning "Ab Mujhe Koi" and the first visual we get to see is that of Krishna Verma (Vidya Balan) in bed with her lover. While we were expecting to see a set piece involving the two main con-men of the movie director Abhishek Chaubey instead shows us a voluptuous woman (And thank god we do not have yet another heroine who seems digitally produced to be size zero) much in love with her husband. In fact over the whole movie the director does this skillfully, just when we think that we have a grip on the proceedings on screen the director yet again pulls the rug from under our feet. In fact it is almost like an Agatha Christie novel in so far as that the clues are all there in the scenes building up to that point but one almost feels stupid for not seeing them for what they are. Such a movie runs the risk of coming across as contrived (Think Race) but until maybe the last 15 mins of this movie full credit has to go to the writers that they don't fall into this trap.

Depicting the story of a con duo Khalujan (Naseeruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi)on the run from their sadistic boss Mushtaq (Salman Shahid). Their different attitudes to life are captured during the song Badi Dheere Jali (our personal favorite and yet again Rekha Bharadwaj) sung by Krishna during Sunrise , while Khalujan rushes to find the source of the vocals, Babban is none to impressed and wants to get back to sleep. So while Khalujan and Krishna have debates about whether a music piece is SD Burman or Hemant Kumar, that of Krishna and Babban is sheer smoldering physical love with a post-coital swinging to Mika's "Dil Main Baji Guitar". All this set amidst a visually tantalizing confusing back drop of Eastern UP where kidnapping seems as much of an everyday occurrence as traffic jams in Bangalore, Millionaires indulging in S&M in what is ostensibly a beauty parlor, well armed caste based armies in a state of conflict, which in one of the most mischievous dialogue Nandu educates a wide eyed Babban by saying "Kids here learn about guns before toilet training". (One needs to listen to it in Hindi to appreciate it).

But the real hero and the central figure in this movie is Krishna. Playing a femme fatale who is the defining feature of any film noir she manages to pull off the twin role of the smooth seductress with her old world charms to keep Khalujaan hooked, while using her body with Babban all the while manipulating them like chess pieces in her master plan. Though Vidya Balan has done an admirable job much to my surprise by not screwing up the movie totally for me, this is where I think the movie suffers, she would have cut more ice as a Tier II town femme fatale rather than a village belle. The rusticity is short of the mark even though I believe she has done her best. (Think Konkona Sen Sharma in Omkara). But that is a minor point to nitpick over in what is otherwise an excellent movie.

The cinematography is consistently excellent throughout the movie and one can detect the influences of some other directors whose movies we are big fans of.

And what better tribute to pay the movie than that after watching Babban we are seriously thinking of growing a mustache!!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Review : 3 Idiots

*** Extremely high spoiler alert, please watch the movie before proceeding ***

Early on in the movie when Farhan Qureshi walks into his hostel at the Imeperial College of Engineering on his first day with a character called Millimeter (where else but in a Rajkumar Hirani movie can one encounter such a marvelous name) towing his bags, he pauses and starts taking photos of a few pups. And you know all too well what his choice of profession is going to materialize in this movie which is built on the premise that we all have a passion for something, something which we are good at and that our education system ought to allow us to find that passion rather than just make us bricks-in-the-wall to quote Floyd. Do not expect any surprises in how the other characters lives turn out in the movie though it does have its moments.

As is Hirani's forte his execution of some of the set pieces mainly involving the lighter moments in the movie is impeccable. The by now popular chamatkaar-balaatkar speech followed by the drunken stupor scene following it, where the Type-A Chatur taken for a ride challenges Rancho (yet another stereotype played by Aamir Khan of the guy who tinkers with machines and tops the class without apparently studying) to a Henry-esque 10 year later meeting or the dissolve into black-and-white whenever Raju's (Sharmaan Joshi) poverty ridden family is shown. What really impressed me though was the song "All eez well", which almost like a spinners flighted delivery lulls you into this happy feeling only to end abruptly with a student hanging himself. At times though the movie seemed a pastiche of Dil Chahta Hai (the by now bride ditching the groom at the wedding all too conveniently), Munnabhai and even Scent of a Woman in the scene where Raju is told that in order to save his backside he needs to kick Rancho's.

As much as the first half sets up things deliciously on how life will turn out for all the four protagonists in the first half, the post-interview flatters to deceive. What we really didn't need was Chatur being reduced to a caricature even in his post college life. We have known a lot of such people in my college and they tend to end up being extremely successful by their own definitions of what constitutes success. We also know of a lot of people who take up photography and other non-mainstream engineering professions and cannot make it big like Farhan (publishing > 5 books) and Rancho (more than 400 patents). It maybe speaks of a lack of conviction on the director's part himself that we end up seeing such an obvious affirmation of his message at the ending leaving no room for uncertainty of any kind. Another sore point for us was that for the vast majority of the people in the real world there is really no passion or at least nothing tangible that they can readily and/or easily identify which the movie does not portray.*

Much as we believe that the Hollywood movie It's a wonderful life had a lot of shortcomings, there is a sequence where some of George Bailey's friends come from the city in their fancy cars. When they leave one can sense the frustration of Bailey that everyone else has gone ahead while he has stayed at the same place where he was 10 years back and kicks his car. Though George Bailey's feelings are temporary one can sense that it is not easy to be always convinced of the choices one makes, such things are sadly sandpapered over in 3 Idiots which would have otherwise made an excellent movie instead of just a decent watch.

And finally a word about the performances, for the lead actress of the movie :

1. Do not kiss on screen
2. Do not cry on screen
3. Do not do scenes where you are drunk.

Happy New 2010 to all you folks who still follow this blog, hopefully we will be more regular this decade around.

* -- But a counter point can be that the movie was not even intended for that purpose, which we personally think limits its enjoyment factor for us.