09 June, 2015

Dil Dhadakne Do - A serious wake up call for Zoya

When a director makes a superb debut film, follows it up with a blockbuster hit road movie and has partnered on interesting projects then not only does she raise the viewing audiences expectations but also that of the producers, so what if they are family.

It is like the novelist who after having come out with a spectacular first book is paid a huge advance by the publishers for the upcoming one.

This can be serious pressure. The unexpected can happen too, like if the writer director hits a block on ideas and the delivery date is fast approaching. Then what does the think tank of this project do? Should they still go ahead and launch the project in its expected style ? This one does. Big names are roped in, given the prestige associated with the producers and the successful director involved; the budget also expands exponentially. But still the story idea does not emerge, so what next?

An earlier movie called Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd had a bus journey, the Think Tank searches for inspiration within the same base skeleton of that plot ( after all its their own production) and then they up the ante. The bus journey from Bombay to Goa now becomes a Luxury cruise between Turkey and Egypt. The pieces have begun to fall in place. Soon a screenplay emerges from the one liner that the director had begun this project with. And now what do we get?

We get a superbly packaged film that has a screen play, one that is a medley of scenes. In the process of building the scenes up, now even the one liner story plot is brushed aside and so if we keep searching for it its not a guarantee we shall find it now. Out of Zoya's previous two directed films, “Zindagi Na Miley Dobara” achieved commercial success. It was a great package because it cohesively was held together with exotic locales and a purposeful story that grew upon you as the movie progressed. The first one, Luck By Chance was a searing comment on the Hindi Motion picture industry , made with a lot of heart and hence the most honest of her work so far. ...

“Dil Dhadakne Do” like the title suggests is an entreaty to the viewing audience...please do bring your hearts to this movie because we didn’t put ours into it.

Farhan Akhtar with his cult debut Dil Chahta Hai introduced us to his world of the uber rich and it continues in most of the films produced by Excel Entertainment. Its an altogether special and different world; a world of cut glass and crystal. Here social butterflies bitch serenely over herbal teas and baba ganoush, while their hubbies play golf, have their flings on the side in distant locations and talk multiple billions with absolute impunity, offspring are but mere pawns in their business deals. When they rebel and show individuality, they are screamed at that they never had it so good because they were spawned by self made men. Three such screamers are Parmeet Sethi, Manoj Pahwa and the loudest of the loud (Kamal Mehra) Anil Kapoor. Notable among the wives is Kamal Mehra's spouse played by Shefali Shah. The Mehra’s to celebrate their 30th Marriage Anniversary organize a cruise party. The impact that this cruise has on their two children Priyanca Chopra and Ranveer Singh and their love lives forms the crux of this film. 

What one can look for here if one has to go for this film...is of course the scintillating presence of Ranveer Singh & Anoushka Sharma, they are on fire and their auras grab eyeballs whenever they are on screen. Priyanca Chopra has done a splendid job as Ayesha and looks glorious in the fine clothes she gets to wear. Anil Kapoor is Anil Kapoor and the old dog hasn’t learned a single new trick. He still confuses raising the performance bar to increasing the sound decibel levels and that he does at regular intervals. The worst part is that he has been given the maximum screen time and this blunts the edge of the film. The other metabolic waste in this film is Rahul Bose. Small mercies is that he is accurately cast as the constipated chauvinist; his is the most exemplary of performances because he lives the part and brings it to life just by being. He does not act at all...why? Did someone consider the possibility that maybe because he just can’t? There is a dog Pluto who narrates the side stories. He sounds like Aamir Khan and on closer look even resembles the finicky star. Divya Seth has by now become the symbolic token of anything Delhi in a cinematic plot just like Victor Bannerjee once upon a time was of anything Bengal.

Ranveer – Anoushka – Priyanca keep the filmy ship cruising. The Anil Kapoor- Rahul Bose combo almost sinks it but the other characters in sheer numbers balance them out and prevent the mishap. Farhan Akhtar should get back to direction quickly, he is looking jaded and the thrill of being seen on screen is long gone, acting now definitely seems to not be his metier. Shankar, Ehsaan & Loy are uninspired.

Zoya needs to pull up her socks. What one feels when one comes out of the cinema hall is being short charged and quite arrogantly too. 

The product has been released and is now so in your face, god forbid if you don’t like it, because then you may even be brashly told it’s maybe too classy for you. 

This film is a wake-up call and hope she reads it well, because one doesn’t like to see ordinary stuff from talented directors. If it makes tonnes of money, that would make it even sadder. 

11 May, 2015

Piku : This Sircar Delivers

The Bengalis are back into Hindi Cinema and how? Dibakar Bannerjee had his Byomkesh Bakshi and now Shoojit Sircar releases Piku...the year couldn't have begun on a better note.

When one looks at Narendra Modi, a closer observation shows him up more like the Prime Minister of Gujarat than the Prime minister of India. Similarly the Hindi film industry had started looking more and more like an extension of Punjabi Cinema.  Now, I have nothing against the Punjabi language and culture, it’s great on its own but how much of Balle Balle and Shawa Shawa can one take? The way ahead had to be variety and not some one insisting "That's the way...Mahi ve". 

Shoojit Sircar has scored a hat trick. After his superb Vicky Donor and Madras Cafe, one had raised expectations of him in his next offering; a director who ideally married the art of telling a simple story simply into a commercial format and one who sated the sensibility of both the critic and the front benches. It is a huge ask. Very few film makers have managed to walk this golden mean...Sujoy Ghosh with his Kahani, Zoya Akhtar with her Zindagi Na Mile Dobara, Anurag Basu’s Barfi , Sircars own Yahaan, Vicky Donor and Madras Cafe, Sriram Raghavan with his Johnny Gaddar, Ek Hasina Thhi and Badlapur and the champion of them all Raj Kumar Hirani with all his films. Anurag Kashyap is another maverick but like his mentor Ram Gopal Verma quite inconsistent. Now you can see the dilemma that when one can capture all of such Hindi Cinema inside of one paragraph we have a crisis on hands. With Salman gone for a while the hundreds of crores shall come from Aamir, Shahrukh, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgan...commerce never had a worry, sense had. The tragedy of Hindi cinema is that the industry has far smarter individuals than the products they dish out ; Dumbing down a product has become the default norm. 

Piku : The Movie

Not so with Piku, here Sircar takes us into the life of Piku and Bhaskar Bannerjee, a dysfunctional father-daughter pair. The father is an eccentric, constipated widower who has a penchant for linking every issue in the world with this particular bodily anomaly of his. 

Amitabh Bacchhan as Bhaskar Bannerjee shines after a long time in a role that he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed playing. 

Piku his daughter, is a smart young woman of the world who is in charge of their lives, completely submerged in the task of managing her own work, and a domestic life kept interestingly complicated by her eccentric father. Theirs is an interaction that is a delight to watch. Deepika Padukone has come into her own in selecting the right kind of cinema , one that raises her own bar of performance in the company of a vintage Bacchhan and the super savvy Irfaan Khan. 

Their lives are made fuller by the presence of her maternal aunt , Moushumi Chatterjee - superb, Raghubir Yadav extremely able as the family doctor and friend  & Jishu Sengupta as her working partner - credible . Into this life crashes Rana Chowdhary ( not a Bengali announces Bhaskar Bannerjee with the same dry cheekiness that he introduces his daughter Piku, not a virgin ) and thereon begins a journey from Delhi to Kolkata. In the simplicity of this story lies its elegance. Anupam Roy’s lyrics and music fits into and enhances the tapestry of the fabric of the film with gentle notes. The songs remain in the background but are profound.

"Dheere chalna hai mushkil, 
to jaldi hi sahi,
Aankho ke kinaro me 
bahane hi sahi
Hum chalein baharon mein, 
gungunaati raaho mein,

Khwahishein Anjaan hai, 
ab kya karein
Shabdo ke pahado pe 
likhi hai dastaan,
Khwabon ke lifaafo me, 
chhupaa hai raasta
Hum chalein baharon mein,
gungunaati raaho mein,
Dhadkanein bhi tez hai ab kya karein"

Piku is genteel cinema for the refined sensibility. The toilet humour just remains as the spice on the side while the characters grow on you in their journey. It is a charming little film and is a must watch for all. Amitabh is splendid but it is Deepika who holds the eyeballs every single time she is on screen. She delivers an absolutely riveting performance.  This is like driving all the way to Gariahat from Howrah to eat the fare at Bhojohori Manna...the experience is exactly the same, Sublime.  

06 April, 2015

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy - A Hilsa curry that used Pomfret

The detective template & early avatars of Byomkesh

Nearly fifty years after Arthur Conan Doyle penned the most replicated detective character template in Sherlock Holmes & Watson...the Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandopadhyay created Byomkesh Bakshy and Ajit in the milieu of Calcutta. Now Byomkesh in Saradindu babus short stories never addressed himself as detective. He preferred the term “Satyanweshi” or the truth seeker instead.  The same template was picked up by Satyajit Ray a few decades later in 1965 to fashion his Feluda , Topshe & Jatayu and detective fiction flourished in India with Byomkesh & Feluda leading the pack of popularity.

Feluda’s world was cleaner, what with Ray also being a film-maker. Maybe he thought in a cinematic perspective first and then the writing emerged, fashioning itself around that vision... on the other hand Saradindu babu was a sharp penman who had no such compunctions about the environment in which his detective resided...His pre-independence Calcutta is sordid, dark and has a seedy underbelly much like Conan Doyle’s London. This is the world that Dibakar Bannerjee successfully recreates...in bold colours and with superb detailing.

The interesting coincidence is that the first time the Satyenweshi breathed on screen was under the baton of Satyajit Ray the creator of Feluda, with Uttam Kumar as Byomkesh & Shailen Mukherjee playing Ajit in “Chiriyakhana”, the year 1967. Many other movies followed till Basu Chatterjee in 1993 & 1997 across two seasons adapted each of his 32 short novellas into a TV series with Rajat Kapur as Byomkesh & K K Raina as Ajit. Outside of Bengal,  this is the most enduring image of the detective.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy – The Movie

Detective fiction readers are known to have short attention spans. Bandopadhyay with Byomkesh, wrote only short stories or novellas. For cinema then it becomes doubly imperative that the screenplay over the 120 plus minute period holds the audience enthralled throughout.

Bannerjee, here does something very interesting. He takes three separate stories from the author’s collection and picks the primary characters from them. Then he weaves all of them seamlessly into one plot while keeping the original flavour of the stories intact. This is the best part of the movie, it's screenplay by Dibakar Bannerjee & Urmi Juvekar. 

Ajit engages a fresh out of college Byomkesh to locate his father Bhuven babu and the story takes off, taking us along with the protagonists on a joy ride that is truly mysterious...wheels spin within wheels and the knotty situations don’t unravel easily...and this is the beauty of the screenplay, it keeps the viewer totally engaged. Byomkesh finds obstacles, love and adventure in his resolution of the larger plot that emerges out of the simple missing person case.

The music by Sneha Khanvalkar is psychedelic and adds a different dimension to the spectacularly bold visuals on screen. The 1940’s Calcutta recreated is simply superb...with attention to even minor detailing like film posters on walls. The support character cast of Anand Tiwari as Ajit, Swastika Mukherjee as the sensuous siren Anguri Devi, Meiyang Chang as Kanai Dao, Aryan Bhowmick as the dispensary boy  and Neeraj Kabi as Dr Anukool Guha are first rate and rise above their characters.They are the ones that lift the plot into another zone...the newcomer Divya Menon as Satyaboti wades through and manages to hang in there bravely, doing nothing much but look pretty.

There are several quirks and physical traits of Byomkesh Bakshi as sketched by  Saradindu  babu that have fit and been picked up by the varied actors who have played him earlier in the past ...right from Uttam Kumar, Sattindra Bhattacharya, Subhrajit Dutta to Rajat Kapur...they lived the role. 

No one but a Bengali director could have directed Byomkesh was a given, because the spirit of the ethos unless authentic would certainly have destroyed the fabric in Bandopadhyay’s tapestry. Here Dibakar Bannerjee is on the ball. Has Sushant Singh Rajput done a good job? If there existed no past comparative memory then, yes he is OK...But having read Bandopadhyay and seen earlier performances, now if asked again does Sushant  make a good Byomkesh...definitely no.

Dibakar attempted to cook up an Illish Maach ( Hilsa fish) curry , the spices are correctly ground and mixed and the curry looks and smells right...but when he was to drop the piece de resistance, the fish into the curry,  Aditya Chopra handed him a “Pomfret” instead of an Ilish.  At that very moment what may have been a possibly perfect dish went for a toss.  Someone may very well ask, so what is wrong with a Pomfret? Well...nothing, except that it is not an Ilish and hence quite simply doesn't cut the mustard .

12 January, 2015

Movie Review : Ugly ... so ugly that it is brilliant !

Viewers or Voyeurs?

Some times, just some times, one goes into a cinema hall expecting nothing and comes out with a screen experience so stark and real, it leaves one totally gob smacked. ‘Ugly’ is one such experience where the viewer is turned into a voyeur.
This is on account of the events taking place in front of his eyes are so bare one doesn't feel one is watching a movie. You the viewer are the invisible participant that sees all of the ugly slice of life unfolding before your very eyes.

If one asks me what has been Ram Gopal Verma’s biggest contribution to cinema, unhesitatingly I would state that it is his ‘Factory’ that makes those entire mercurial and eclectic films. It is from here that Hindi cinema has been introduced to talented actors, writers, cinematographers and directors. Anurag Kashyap is one such find that came from the Factory and made his mark with his unique brand of cinema.

Worlds of Cinema

In Ugly we get into Anurag Kashyap’s world. If you notice there are different worlds in Hindi cinema, there is a Yash Raj World that has daffodils, Switzerland, love, good songs and more over it is beautiful and no one is poor. It is a trip to a five star hotel’s restaurant, where the cuisine could be anything but the ambiance rules paramount. This world has been extended into two stylized worlds, one owned by Dharma Productions or Karan Johar’s world that is young, candy flossed to the extreme; there are extra terrestrial colleges the kind one may never have encountered on earth. Moving in it is like a visit to a franchised outlet on the lines of a McDonalds or KFC...everything looks & tastes the same the only variation in the equation is the shape of the restaurant, which could be different. The other stylized extreme to it is owned by the Bhatt brothers of Vishesh films. Locations are hip, clothes are chic, there is tight young flesh on display and wonderful music to back it up, the plots are real exposing the underbelly but without getting the hands all dirty. People may die at inopportune moments in this world and there is weakness of character generally that flashes about predominantly. This is Mahesh Bhatt’s world. It is like visiting a multi-cuisine, Grade –A restaurant where the ambiance is clean and all dishes served are either orange or green. His nephew Vikram Bhatt is stylizing a world left vacant by the Ramsay Brothers and Mohan Bhakri’s . Vidhu Vinod Chopra was the king of soft focus romances till he stopped making films and handed over the baton to his two assistants Raju Hirani and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Raju Hirani and Abhijat Joshi made a world akin to Aesop, meaningful yet funny and having a moral. It is a community kitchen like MTR, where the focus is on wholesome food of superior quality served in a middle class neighbourhood.

 A visit to Bhansali’s world is still being figured out by Bhansali, no one else can understand it and comprehension is a far cry. RGV crashed into this party with his own take and pushed the envelope in a different direction. His cinema was technically superior, dark had blood and gore and his speed of making films was mind boggling. Quantity replaced quality and for every four times one takes a trip into this world you get a good ride only once, but that one ride shall be spectacular making one forget the sheer ordinariness of the previous three. RGV was the Pizza Express all offerings reach you within half an hour, excellently packed and only once ina while you make the right call with the toppings...

Anurag’s world is a visit to the back of the by-lanes kebabwallah’s where the neighbourhood is filthy but the kebab’s are skewered fresh from the mince rolled right in front of your eyes. The process is Ugly but the result is always delicious, his cussedness lies in making us a part of his process, if you can withstand that then you shall enjoy the ride. It’s not for the faint of heart, this world.

Ugly : A Movie or Reality...go figure

Ugly lay’s it all out there. Human weaknesses, Corruption, Crimes of the depraved and petty mind & power games in a plot so intricate that if you miss a scene you shall miss the momentum of the bus that is hurtling to an end at breakneck speed right from the moment you boarded it. 

A ten year old is kidnapped and the plot touches upon one of the worst crimes in the roster child trafficking. From this event begins the game of search and whodunit. Every single person in the frame is Ugly...the soul less eyes of the lady trafficker as she blows a plume of bidi smoke and denies everything while being interrogated by the cops, to the starring characters of Inspector Shoumik Bose ( Ronit Roy, outstanding ), His wife Shalini played brilliantly by Tejaswini Kolhapure, Rahul Bhatt  as the out of work actor Rahul Kapoor& Vineet Kumar as his casting agent, part time producer of B-grade films(By far the most stand out performance in the film), Girish Kulkarni as Inspector Jadhav ( effortless, like he was in the Marathi film Deool) and a support cast of excellent actors like Ajay Purkar, Jayant Gadekar, Madhavi Singh  and the late Abir Goswami. All are ugly.

The technical cast and crew has supported the film brilliantly but at the end of it all it is the director who stands tallest in making a movie with as much honesty and not taking the viewer for granted even once in this amazing and horrifying tale, Anurag Kashyap. It is difficult to stand up to one’s own work at times and after Gangs of Wasseypur one wondered what would come next whether it would enthral and disturb equally.  With Ugly, you have gone that extra mile, take a bow, its well deserved. This movie is a must watch for all those who like real cinema, going to the movies shall never be the same experience after this.