Monday, July 28, 2003

announcing the varma syndicate... [being also a very enthusiastic plug for Darna Mana Hai]

Go watch Darna Mana Hai if you want to pleasantly surprised at what a group of smart technically sound people can achieve with a budget a significant fraction of that in the Chopra-Baweja-Sharma camp of moviemaking. The film enjoys a great strength that all Bollywood films seem to sorely lack these days: a story. A plot, even. An episodic film at long last (7 friends stuck with a flat tire spend the night telling each other interesting stories "while another story begins to develop around them"), it nests little stories that are sometimes scary, sometimes thrilling, always entertaining and oddball. The film benefits from at-ease turns from the young principles (Sameera Reddy, who heats up the videos for the title song making the runs on music channels back home, looks good on screen and even manages a competent performance --- a rarity in this age of pretty faces moving to the film world with nary a clue about acting). Special mention also for Boman Irani in a splendid turn as the obsessed sole caretaker of the "Good Health" roadside hotel.

The film also marks another exercise in RGV's trademark/patent-pending trick of using famous faces in brief (in the case of Sanjay Kapoor, very very brief) appearances across the different stories . This give us someone easy to remember and associate with, thus dispensing with tiresome footage dedicated to introduction and identification. Alfred Hitchcock was known for doing this too. Talking about Cary Grant he once said: "[Cary] enables the audience to identify with the main character. I mean by that, Cary Grant represents a man we know. He's not a stranger. If you are walking down a street and you see a man hit by a car and you don't know him, you stop and look for a moment and you say, 'Tut, tut, that's too bad', and you pass on. Now, if the person hit were your brother, well, there's a different situation altogether. It's the same thing, you see, as Cary Grant in a film versus an unknown actor." {courtesy: Who the Devil Made it}

The film scores big in the technical department:

* A delicious postmodern Bond sendup in the opening credits (belles dancing against a red -- 'blood' -- background to a dance-floor-worthy title track by Salim-Suleiman, who serve up another cool suite of sounds for an eerie background score)

* The great sound engineering and background score combined with brisk edits and dissolves contribute a great deal to some of the shock effects: Check out Sanjay Kapoor's entry into his home -- the opening door and his entry are underscored with the scary roar of a train in the background. The marriage of sound and film provides but one among several examples of the scare in the ordinary.

* All that steadicam work

* I have to plug for the economy of the film again. It's not a complete lowbie, so there is a level of finesse. The simplicity of locations and the awareness of 'less means more' (Ref: the two versions of Cat People: Tourneur's subtle scary version and Schrader's erotic SFX-rich upgrade)

Some of the stars even manage to do better than in other movies: Shilpa Shetty, Saif Ali Khan (although he has excelled in other films too), Aftab Shivdasani, Vivek Oberoi. The only star who still manages to collapse despite the brevity and limited requirements of his role is the irksome Sanjay Kapoor. Something tells me he came straight off the sets of Qayamat, retaining some of that ham.

Ironically, Sameera and Sohail Khan crashed to ground zero in their début Maine Dil Tujhko Diya {TRIVIA: the instrumental track accompanying the main page on that website sounds suspiciously like nazar ke saamane!}. They manage to save some grace in this venture. Recommendation: take small slow steps, guys. Get some quality under your belt.

The in-jokes are fun, if you catch them. The promos already had RGV bashing his own films up -- I dare any other competent director ... oh never mind, I guess using competent just cleared the field. The film's first vignette has Antara Mali and Sohail Khan. At one point, Antara Mali says Road pe kya ho sakta hai? (or something along those lines). Sohail Khan responds Bhoot aayegaa (or something along those lines). The latter is an obvious reference to RGV's recent success. The former, as alert viewers will note, is a reference to the last directorial début from an RGV camp member, Road, which had Mali discovering exactly what could happen on the road.

Syndicate alert: Edward Stratemeyer was responsible for the most popular syndicate in juvenile reading -- The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew adventure stories were written by a group of people under the monikers of Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene. That was in the 1920s. Nearly 83 years later, Ram Gopal Varma seems to on the way to doing the same thing. The fact that he merely produced Darna Mana Hai seems less publicised. The film is instead seen by many as 'another' offering from Ram Gopal Varma. But there are notable differences that make this a significant 'syndicate': RGV is pushing the envelope for mainstream cinema: eschewing the mandatory songs, affording much-needed importance to plot and story, achieving more out of postmodernism and sendups, making the most out of less (instead of grabbing large budgets to make empty mushfests). This is one syndicate that deserves to stick around. Audiences welcomed Bhoot and I hope DMH gets the same response. It deserves it. Hope the planned sequel, Darna Zaroori Hai proves just as interesting -- although it already stands to lose out in the novelty department. There's one other element that probably contributed to my enjoying the film: the print displayed in Galaxy Cinema had no subtitles. As far as I know, all hindi film prints that spin in the theatres in the US come with English subtitles. The subtitling department usually leaves a *LOT* to be desired, and usually provides fodder for couch entertainment, but it's an annoyance and an embarassment to have to watch the subtitles when the movie dialogue is in a language you are very conversant with.

RELATED POSTS: [soundtrack reactions] [the promos] [initial thoughts]


* In Drohi/Antham, RGV signed on the late R D Burman to compose the songs (although Kirwani/M M Kreem guested for 2 songs. Perhaps in admiration and perhaps acknowledging the importance of Sholay in general, RGV had Raghav (Nagarjuna) play the title theme on his harmonica at a couple of points in the movie. The punchline of the DMH ad campaign (and the songs) has been Gabbar Singh's famous line from the same film: jo Dar gayaa [samjho/wo] mar gayaa. Coincidence, I guess. {Trivia mongers might even recall the song from 100 Days, which shamelessly filched from The Eyes of Laura Mars}. And then there was the puuchho naa yaar makeover in Mast ... Come to think of it, RGV seems to be going back and improving on his past: Satya and Company were retellings of the gangster saga which had its seeds in Shiva; Bhoot was an attempt to right some of the wrongs in Kaun; Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon seems to be another take on Mast ... Hmm. Food for thought.

* What ever happened to the track they were supposed to do (or composed and abandoned) for the second collection of music for Kaante? Although it was highly marketed as containing tracks by Adnan Sami, Salim-Suleiman, A R Rahman and Shiamak Davar, the collection never made it past the hype board, with the producers and PR folks abandoning the idea after the relatively lukewarm response to the film.

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