Monday, August 02, 2004

a pair of reel-fests: aging caine and a saga of troubled youth

Bullet to Beijing: This made-for-TV film tail-ends the Harry Palmer series of films, and unfortunately serves not as a fitting coda (as Welles's Touch of Evil was to the film noir genre), but as another example of a bad auto-pilot for-the-money ensemble. Michael Caine delivers the goods with little to no effort. Everyone else plays characters who are not what they appear to be. Friends are not friends, foes appear out of the woodwork. And just to add a touch of nostalgia to a collection of witticisms, Sue Lloyd ( Agent Jean Courtney in The Ipcress File) appears as a voice on the phone. Since I haven't watched any other Harry Palmer movies except the first one, I could only spot the strong echoes from that film. This film begins just as the first one did, with a surveillance setup, except that a lot of the stuff that transpires suffers from déjà vu. After an assassination, the next significant plot move occurs when Harry is laid off and is offered a lucrative contract by a nefarious individual. As if the confusion wasn't good enough, a few lines of dialogue drop hints that Jason Connery's character might be Harry's son. More droll one-liners, action sequences, chases, explosions, and gobs of nudity (enjoy The Village People singing Go West at a strip club) follow before a denouement that is consoling in that we have finally seen the end of the series. If you stick on till the end credits roll, you can pat yourself on the back for spotting a typo("Special Effets Assistant").

Yuva: The vast improvement of Mani Rathnam's second venture into Hindi cinema over his first owes a lot to one man: Anurag Kashyap. The dialogue "keeps it real", keeps the characters believable, and spares us from the pontification that MR is likely to indulge in. The structure of three separate lives linked by a common incident has been done to death already (and with Amores Perros and 21 grams, writer Guilermo Arriaga can easily claim a small crown). But did we really need stylish freeze frames telling us whose story was about to unfold? That and a few other elements in the film still make me wonder what MR thinks of his audience. Is the entry-level value of intelligence the same as that for any mainstream film? Seems unlikely given Abhishek Bachchan's character. But then we have Om Puri hopelessly miscast (what's with that terrible Bengali accent?). And we have a Hindi teacher who mouths a piece of dialogue like "mazaak suujh rahii hai"?? ARR's songs work better on-screen although it would have been nice if they had taken out kabhii niim niim, left Kudaa haafiz in the background, left the title song in the background where it worked wonders and completely eschewed the sequence with everyone singing it on-screen (the first sign of the inevitable MR preachy fallout). And to top it all, the ending in parliament almost destroys all the good that MR achieved with the rest of the film. Still, I'd recommend this film, simply because very few of Bollywood's filmmakers are making movies that don't insult your intelligence. In fact, I even doubt the intelligence of a majority of the filmmakers. Back to YUVA. Most of the cast shines, although Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee take top honours. Ajay Devgan is sincere, but his character lacks the complexity of the beast that Abhishek has to play. Vivek Oberoi should stick to directors like Mani Ratnam who can allow him to develop some acting chops while sticking to his cutey image. Kareena Kapoor continues to look like India's answer to Medusa. On the supporting cast, Vijay Raaz does his bit, but ultimately it's the dialogue and the technical crew that take home all the laurels. And yes, I loved that fight sequence on the bridge (even though one could argue convincingly that the traffic seemed a little unrealistically light). Do I think MR has shaken off his Steven Spielberg-ian goodness-and-virtue-filmmaking habits? Nope, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. This is a man who, like SS, is capable of exploting basic film technique and equipment to good effect. If Yuva is any indicator, we might have darker characters emerging in his films. The days of wine and roses may finally be over. Trivia note: acknowledgements include Shaad Ali, who had assisted MR on Alai Payuthe and helmed its Hindi mush-cousin Saathiya.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.