Wednesday, February 25, 2004

it's suntory time

I haven't seen Sofia Coppola's directorial début yet, but her followup Lost in Translation exploring alienation and isolation while conferring a sombre melancholy and seriousness to the genre of chick flicks was time well spent. Bill Murray turns in the best performance of his I have ever seen, ably exploiting his iconography as an actor to lend the character of Bob Harris (aging star of movies like Sunset Odds and husband for 25 years to a woman obsessed with interior design) all the worth of the film's length. The film opens unpleasantly with a lingering shot of Scarlett Johansson's derriere. And I found hardly any reason to like the rest of what she did on screen. All the expressions I saw in The Horse Whisperer (was that referenec to horse photography an intentional dig?) and Ghost World reappear. Aside from little truths like the more you know what you want, the less you let things upset you, you have loads of trivia like the pseudonym Evelyn Waugh, a fictitious movie called Midnight Velocity starring Kelly (a dig at Cameron Diaz?) and Keanu Reeves. And a clip from La Dolce Vita, references to Charlie Brown, Joey Bishop, Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinat(o)ra, Dean Martin, Roger Moore and extracts from Scarborough Fair and Nobody does it better. Watchable, sad, yet fun. And refusing to let us hear what Bob whispers in Charlotte's ear at the end is pure genius.

Monday, February 23, 2004

aanch: buried in the marsh

Saw this along with a mixed bag of films (including Kundan Shah's dungfest) and never blogged about it at that time. Trust Bollywood to infect the minds of almost anyone who thinks of a promising idea. One genre of interesting ideas is exploring a conflict between two figures -- usually male (pervasive sexism) -- predicated on causes as clichéd as childhood friendship turned sour by misunderstandings or something as simple yet promising either as the meeting of two different (and conflicting sets of ideals) or territorial strife. And yet the trappings of puppy love and tree hugging have nipped numerous studies in the bud. Take Mahesh Bhatt's Sir. Here you had Naseeruddin Shah and Paresh Rawal doing their acting roots proud, with some cult help from Gulshan Grover. Instead of focussing on this interesting angle, what did M. Bhatt do? Focus on the dumb trite paper-napkin-plotted romance featuring his fidgety daughter Pooja (who has since gone to more involved Paaps) and the stiff Atul Agnihotri. And more recently, a promising directorial début exploring college politics with a rousing turn from the talented Irfan Khan (or Irrfan) called Haasil underwent meltdown as we were forced to watch the confused Jimmy Shergill and the dumb n' cute Hrishita Bhatt indulge in a burgeoning romance that worked more as an exercise in realtime slow motion and a cure for insomnia.Paah!

The latest addition to the pool is Aanch. Drawing from a real life politician, Nana Patekar's dialect-y Mahadev, the spokesman for Mandaur's pride and joy, dorns village garb and Reebok boots and engages in a war of ego and twisted village principles with Paresh Rawal's Jawaahar Pandit. Since we are in the domain of Bollywoodian tradition, we must have a love story to provide conflict. Yet, we get two vastly raw and mostly untalented wannabe starlets. And so we have the usual bag of trite song sequences: the dance routine on the stage of some set or in a club (another set) to introduce the hero; the G-rated wet dream. The film also accomodates the off-the-shelf Karwaa Chaut component, which means we have another song sequence to sit through. A minor bonus hearing Nana lending his voice on and off screen with sun morii raanii. One must also note the presence of Nana's erstwhile muse Ms Ayesha Jhulka, whose cute smile has long since lost its appeal. She has precious little to do (even less that what she had to do when she had top billing as the hero's love interest), and yet gets second billing on this flick. There are painfully obvious gaffes in continuity as well. The most noticeable one is during the opening moments when a Ma.nDaur resident called natthuu beats up a man from the rival village of Amarpur. His "i-do-not-know-what-it-is-called-but-it-is-the-clothpiece-slung-over-the-shoulder" falls on and off at random. And there is a painful leap of faith with the physics of the climax (which, incidentally, also merits cultification). Supporting actor spiders will note the oh-so-special appearance of Vishwajeet Pradhan as Jawaahar Pa.nDit's son Santosh. Still, given the other films I had on my plate, this one was the most rewarding, simply because of good ROI where nothing was expected.

filmfare 49

Filmfare award specialists among triviamongers will rejoice at the factoid of Hrithik Roshan trumping both the popular and critical acting honours at the recently concluded awards ceremony. Except for rejoicing for Irrfan Khan and Bhoot, I have naught to rave about the awards. Of course, I haven't seen the live feed (yet), so I can't say anything about the emcees. What in the name of flying rotten eggs is the Power Award? And why make it obvious that they wanted to keep everyone happy by giving Kareena a special award for Chameli? Karan Johar is probably laughing raucously at the KHNH haul. Yegads! Bollywood has failed to recover from a downward spiral yet again.
RIP Goldie

Vijay "Goldie" Anand (the youngest of the Anand brothers; director/writer/producer/lyricist/actor) responsible for several strong entries in Bollywood mainstream cinema (including Guide and Jewel Thief) passed away at 71 today (morning IST), two days after a massive heart attack. {outlookindia}. The last film he was working on, Jaana Na Dil Se Door, a tribute to his brother Chetan Anand, with lyrics by the late Kaifi Azmi faced problems getting released, and early this month, Goldie mentioned that it would see the light of day within the next two months. [an old article in the Hindu with a cool triviamonger-friendly photograph of the late Goldie in one of his rare acting roles] {rediff and more rediff}

Sunday, February 22, 2004

late marriage

even though this simple film is about a conservative Georgian family in Israel pooling efforts to arrange a son's late (he's 31) marriage, I am sure what everyone who has seen it will remember most is the frank sex scene between the lad and a divorcee he is having an affair with. The scene plays slowly, and can get quite uncomfortable. But that seems to be the point. Every other intimate scene of this kind in movies exploits simulated visuals and sounds and end up being cop-outs, adding little to the narrative, and generally being replaceable by a mere suggestion. The film itself is not too bad. The controversy must have helped its market, though. The only film I can think which had an interesting scene of this kind was David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, and that one played itself for a subtle joke.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

adaptation is a profound process. and recursion is the key

I will remember Adaptation, Spike Jonze's followup to the wonderful Being John Malkovich, for extra-filmic reasons. And now, about a year later, I finally managed to watch it. I remember that the premise had me hooked. Any attempt in film at recursion is always interesting. As also time travel and its inconsistencies and paradoxes. This film has real characters playing real characters (themselves or others) as well as imaginary characters on screen engaged in real and fictional circumstances and conflicts. Writer's block. A search for something to be passionate about. Threats of self-indulgence (which, as far as I am concerned, were unfounded). Following up a film about a fractional office floor and a recursive journey into the portal into one's own mind is a tough (insurmountable?) task. And Donald Kaufman (and Charlie Kaufman as well, if you will) measures up just right. I hope director Spike Jonze continues to serve interesting off-beat material like this. The performances are first-rate. And I loved the scene where Susan gets John to help her over the phone to do a dialtone. That the film closes with an extract from Charlie Kaufman's screenplay and is dedicated to him is quite appropriate.
nine queens: mamet in buenos aires

Whatever I had read about Fabián Bielinsky's wonderful con caper flick Nueve reinas when it hit the theatres (and I missed it!) gave me Mamet-ian nudges (what with things as old as The Spanish Prisoner [blog post] and as new as Heist). Turns out this film owes something to an older Mamet flick called House of Games (note to self: grab this). There were no surprises in the storyline -- probably because I've seen so many of these films already. However, the journey oftens offers more rewards than the destination itself. And on that note, this film did not disappoint. Soderbergh's assistant director Gregory Jacobs has decided to make his directorial début with Criminal, the American version of this film. Not sure how I should feel about that.

it's a wonder how Bollywood manages to come up with drivel and crap as the years go by. it's a wonder how American mainstream cinema seems to be inching closer to Bollywood. but what is really wonderful is that there is hope out there. I love con and heist films. And this film is a good addition to the list. The surprises are not what makes the film worth it. Somehow there's a feeling that we are in on everything. The Rita Pavone hook adds a closure of realism to the proceedings. Simple. Elegant. Entertaining. What's so difficult about all this? Aah yes, these guys had a script. Bollywood never knew what that was. Still doesn't.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

hum to mohabbat karega [short version: Eyewitness {Rottentomatoes page} with songs]

It's not bad enough to see a cute-faced monkey called Bobby Deol hop about the screen delivering bad lines in the most pathetic fashion ever. It's not bad enough to see the overrated Karisma Kapoor pound another strong hint that she is not acting material at all. It's not bad enough to see the name Majrooh Sultanpuri associated with such terrible lyrics (Although, as with Jaanam Samjha Karo, I suspect that this has something to do with the creative[sic] aura of Anu Malik). It's not bad enough to hear Anu Malik recycle his recyclable and recycled tunes to give us one bad song after another (and there are SO many). It's not bad enough to see Vijay Kashyap doing a strictly-for-the-money role. It's not bad enough to hear terrible dialogue (although "baap tilak beTaa kaatil" is a gem). It's not bad enough to see 80s style opening titles, clichéd devices like hiding a video tape in a copy of the Bhagvad Gita (as the old saying about old wine and new bottles goes, the only thing different is the edition!). It's not bad enough that promising surreal sequences (Bobby Deol having memories of a place he has never been to, of a Buddhist monk striking a gong, of an abandoned temple) are exploited for the sole purpose of wasting film footage and providing preludes to tired song n' dance numbers. It's not bad enough to see the supporting cast competing for hamming trophies. It's not bad enough to see goons called Raahuu and KeTuu. It's not bad enough to wonder what the point of all those mouth-to-mouth kissing scenes is. It's not bad enough to see a joke set up involving Sadashiv Amrapurkar shooting a bad mouse. It's not bad enough to see another promising comic setup at dhobii ghaaT break abruptly to another song n' dance routine. It's not bad enough to see the Mona Lisa effect exploited in a photograph used to provide directions to the repository for a videotape (see Bhagvad Gita note above). It's not bad enough that you have seen the basic plot elements in a film called Eyewitness. What really sucks is the director of this sorry piece of guano is a guy called Kundan Shah, who was a key player in giving us one of the best comedies in Indian cinema, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. Looks like the Bollywood virus is very powerful. It debilitates your creative ability, knocks out your talent, and replaces it with an uneducated desire to survive and make moolah. At the expense of hapless trusting lovers of interesting cinema. BOO!
satta: the power of opportunity, a descent into mediocrity

Madhur Bhandarkar showed promise with the starkness of Chandni Bar. For his second venture, he decides to tackle the milieu of politics. As with Chandni Bar, the twists and turns are not earth-shattering examples of Murphy's Law. Bhandarkar changes the way he does things in this film, though. The problem is: a lot of these changes don't work. I am sure making this film was easier than making Chandni Bar. At least, money-wise. The problems start with the screenplay and the dialogue. The good moments, the ones that work in the film, are in constant danger of being overshadowed by two things: (a) Bhandarkar's flair for underplaying events (b) the bad moments (surprising, eh?). Bhandarkar seemed fair with (a) when he gave us Chandni Bar. The upbeat moments in the film never ended up being mushy or trite and helped buoy the generally down-spiralling path of the narrative. In this film, Bhandarkar takes sides. The moments are badly mixed together giving the film an uneasy unevenness. Not one event measures up to its intended potential. The only one that works a bit, partly because I was hoping Bhandarkar would follow it throught, is when Anuradha gives her husband a kick in his nuts. Everything else gets bogged down by things you would expect to see in a mainstream Bollywood production: bad dialogue (can't we get a break from the Hindi_dialogue_followed_by_the_English_translation pattern please? We can understand both languages just fine -- at least the way you use them -- and so can the frigging characters!). Some other interesting bits: Anuradha is the daughter of separated parents, and her father is only mentioned and never seen. And it is clear that she is very close to her mother. This adds to the woman-oriented bent of this film (something that Bhandarkar retained from his last film). And to his credit, Bhandarkar refrains from using any on-screen lip-synching for any of the songs. Unlike Chandni Bar, this film has its own soundtrack, and all the songs play in the background. Unfortunately, I had to resort to the FF button. Raju Singh's songs weren't too bad (the same goes for his background score as well), but there wasn't much happening on the narrative front. Triviamongers will note cameos by Viveck Vaswani (as a person called Vaswani!), Anant Mahadevan and Suchitra Pillai. Atul Kulkarni returns to play Yashwant Varde, and renders one of the few convincing performances in the film. The others come from Sri Vallabh Vyas and Govind Namdeo. Manoj Joshi as the honest Inspector Pawar comes through only in his first scene. His next scene has him tending towards a Shreeram Lagoo imitation. This is anathema! And before I move to the two key problems of the film, I must note the visible editing colour mismatch when Anuradha is discussing the question of contesting elections with her mother and her friend Neelu (Pillai).

And now, key problem one. The upbeat trite ending. It's one thing to move away from an ending as unsettling as the one in Chandni Bar, but to swing all the way over the spectrum to the other end is a major faux pas. Since there are no surprises in any of the events, a little subtlety would have helped. However, Bhandarkar merits a towel shower just for the yucky climax.

And finally, key problem two. Why in the name of all things sensible, did Bhandarkar choose (a) a beautiful yet untalented ill-at-ease and ineffective Raveena Tandon to play his protagonist? Was it the ill-deserved National Award? Bhandarkar is not an actor's director. Which means he had better play safe when choosing actors. And his big gamble with Raveena fails to pay off. Her Hindi is unnatural, and I don't understand the refusal to sound cosmopolitan. And why does she deliver her lines with a punctuation after each word? Gives me the impression that she needed to use the powder room every time she delivered a
take. As if this wasn't bad enough, we get a brand new face[sic] called Sameer Adhikari playing the man who drags her into politics. This guy cannot act. He can't even speak well -- Hindi or otherwise. If such traits were part of his character, being natural would not have helped him. He would still need to act to make sure I got the right impression. With two uneasy key players hogging screen time, Satta leaves me unhappy. Unhappy for Madhur Bhandarkar. He seems to be moving into the big league now. And that means we have to wait for some other debutante to remind us of what makes a film effective.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

journey to the center of the earth

I picked up this DVD only to give Bernard Herrmann's score a listen. The cue for the opening credits alone, with its mix of church organ tones, brass and cymbals, was worth it. The film itself is a heavily modified version of Jules Verne's novel. All the spectacular sights are clearly sets, but quite well done. And there are several enjoyable moments in the film, a lot of them being staple representations of films in this period. James Mason is entertaining, and this marks one of the few occasions I have seen him in a non-villainous role, and more so in an upbeat mood. Pat Boone is a annoyance for the most part, and especially so, whenever he breaks into song. These elements reminded me of the way Bollywood works. And the sad part is we are still doing the same thing even in the 21st century.

Monday, February 16, 2004

an introduction to rurouni kenshin

A friend gave me a crash course in the bloody anime phenomenon that is Rurouni Kenshin. Provided a better bridge to Kill Bill Vol I's anime violence and gore. Looks like another hobby horse I could ride.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

LOC: Kargil

DVD mastering rant: Fire everyone who does non-anamorphic aspect ratios. Fire everyone at Eros who doesn't understand the task of mastering a film so that the left and right sides do not get randomly chopped off.

The film opens (after dedications and acknowledgements to all the people who are subsequently embarassed and insulted in the footage that follows) with a note that "cinematic constraints of screentime" prevented it from butchering the reputations of more people. It then opens with prescient scenes loaded with bad acting, a jaded low-budget TV serial look, and a flood of familiar faces playing characters that don't seem important enough to merit some explanation. By the time this flick reaches its end, your rear end feels sore. Very sore. And, little ones, if your parents have been diligent about your language, this film, despite its U certificate, has taught you a lot of new cuss words: bahen[mute], maadar[mute]. And if you, on the sly, have learnt to read lips (something you could easily do with the 15 minute news bulletin on Doordarshan on Sunday afternoon), then you would get other opportunities to utter these loud when the director chose to drown the on-screen invocations with bathetic background music. And you could even learn the F-word.

And now for a lesson in Object-Oriented moviemaking. Every real-life person involved in the Kargil fracas is reduced to a 1-dimensional verbigerator with lards of bravado, oodles of jingoism, and (as long as the budget permitted), a star to play his significant other (read: someone to make sure that all the glycerine we got on discount from the warehouse is used before its expiry date). And there's even a pattern that develops: anyone who delivers a piece of dialogue that attempts to endear him to the audience is sure to be bumped off in the scenes that follow. And if you utter one cuss word too many (unless you are Sudesh Berry) you've just made yourself a marked man. After J P Dutta assembles a bunch of badly designed cliché objects, he calls up Aadesh Shrivastava and tells him he needs more of the senseless, mindless, juvenile soundfest he had done with Border. Aadesh obliges, and gives us a background score's equivalent of a pesky fly. With no respect for silences, the rising and falling sounds of his "foreground" music complement J P Dutta's pleionosis. And the music also provides the most subtle cliché of the film: when the mandatory flashbacks start off for each "hero" of the film, we are treated to specious improvisations of Raag Desh (patriotic film. "Desh" raag. Pound! Pound! Pound! Get it??). The only time anything works in this department is the silence that surrounds and follows Ajay Devgan's dying sigh.

The only quality JPD ever possessed that would make him a filmmaker of interest was his talent for visuals. Yet, his wagon seems to have crashed a long time ago. I have never seen anything from him that matches the shock and impact of the opening moments of Ghulami. Or any visuals that match to the horrifying beauty of the desert in Batwara. In an attempt to be Bollywood's Altman (something that has been achieved more successfully by serendipity), he eschews (as do most of our "successful" filmmakers) the most important ingredient: the script. Splicing together scenes of repetitive violence, jingoistic chants and romantic clichés and passing the stew off as a tribute to those who fought at Kargil does not cut it (since JPD also masquerades as an editor, that last pun is intended). And with the history of jingoism in Bollywood, and the baggage that each actor brings from his previous forays in such exercises only serves to confuse me about what is truth and what is fiction. For example, one of my favourite brief sequences in the film is the exchange between a Pakistani soldier and Vikram Batra about Madhuri Dixit. This rings true despite the bad dialogue delivery and klazomania. Another sequence where Sunil Shetty's rifleman performs a barrel-grabbing stunt seemed to be SS's answer to his tank encounter in Border. Yet, as a friend informs me, this actually happened. File this one as a case of crying Wolf for Dutta. The third and final favourite sequence is Lt. Vishwanathan (Mohnish Behl) dying as we hear his wife's voice over the phone. There are promising moments at the end when all the female stars are shown grieving over the deaths of the loves of their life. Bad editing and shot composition, however, mar anything memorable from surfacing.

Having an FF button meant that I didn't have to sit through the long long long long songs (any irony in the line ek saathii aur bhii thaa at the end is lost as Nigam voice drowns even the foreground music!).

And acting? ROTFLMAO break. Anyone who even makes a decent effort gets a chopped-up role. Cases in point: Ashish Vidyarthi (who even has his name incorrectly spelled out in the closing credits), Saif Ali Khan. Or they get enough bad lines to wipe out any memory of a good turn. Cases in point: Manoj Bajpai, Ashutosh Rana. Special mention must be made of Bajpai, who is the only one who makes the cussing seem authentic. Everyone else including the overfed paper dosas called Sanjay Dutt, Bikram Saluja, Sunil Shetty (the dosa pun is intended), Nagarjuna, and Sharad Kapoor. There are people who barely even make it onto the screen: Milind Gunaji, Avtar Gill, Puru Raj Kumar. And we have people who seem to be digging graves for their careers: Abhishek Bachchan. And Sanjay Kapoor with his moustache spends most of his time grinning like an emaciated monkey or providing a poor imitation of his elder brother's turn in Woh Saat Din. There does not seem to be any need to cover the bases on the heroine front. Each one of them, good, bad or ugly, hopefully, has either a fat paycheck or some patriotic satisfaction at having participated in this cinematic enema.

JPD made me think again about Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. The stark tones of this film are one reason. And the utter immaturity displayed by JPD makes me see Kubrick's questionable masterpiece in a different light. JPD even almost makes it to Kubrickian territory: at one point in the film, Kiran Kumar speaks to each member of his unit (in IT, we call this "customization"). Luckily for us, there aren't too many people in his unit. Thus we come to an end of another self-indulgent Bollywood imbonity. And we walk away asking ourselves a question that we have asked ourselves before: Why do flash flashbacks for a person always happen with them in the third person? But the most important question is: What will JPD's ploitering result in next? For the sake of hapless filmgoers, I would urge India and Pakistan to cease hostilities and make peace.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

metropolis and nurse betty{WARNING: spoilers}

Osama Tezuka created the original manga for Metropolis based on a poster of Fritz Lang's classic. He claimed to have never actually seen the film. If this were true, the parallels are amazing, but merely in the core ideas: Tima is the fake Maria. But everything else has a different spin. We still have the crazy scientist. The dystopia is replaced by a world where humans and robots coexist uneasily, with zones for social classes. The focal point is a Ziggurat, a complex tower where the mecha Tima will rule the world (There are explicit references to the Tower of Babel, something more explicit in Lang's original). There are even generous fade-out/fade-in irises and dissolves. Wonderful visuals and moments with generous quotes from Triumph of the Will and Blade Runner. There are several western elements in the way the visuals and narrative fragments play out, but the most glorious achievement of the film is its coda: an apocalyptic explosion that opens with visuals backed by Ray Charles singing "I Can't Stop Loving You". The song soon cedes to the diegetic sounds of the Ziggurat crumbling, and explosions all around. As the rubble settles and we reach closure: the Ziggurat is destroyed, Tima is now a hero to the other robots, and the little red transistor radio we have seen before continues to echo Tima's fundamental question: "Who am I?". Go watch it.

Nurse Betty: All I knew about this film when I picked it up was that I had heard about it. Pretty slim background for me. Yet, it was probably a good thing. The film itself is a modern version of The Wizard of Oz (note the numerous references in the movie) mixed with a recursive soap-opera-within-a-soap-opera and character parallels between two unlike people: Betty (Reese Witherspoon, in a wonderful performance), sweet oblivious innocent, married to a philandering criminal jerk, serving coffee to people at the Tip Top, and fixated on the lead doctor in the TV soap A Reason To Love; Charlie: an aging hitman (or, in his own words, "a garbage man of the human soul") who believes in the angelic aura of Betty and a special purpose for her existence as he trails her along with his reckless son down the "yellow brick road". Everything that unfolds in this film takes its time, and if you follow the narrative carefully, the end is very very rewarding. And there has never been more appropriate irony than in the use of "Que Sera Sera" on the soundtrack. Jay Livingstone (who wrote the song with Ray Evans) got his song from the family motto of Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rozzano Brazzi) in The Barefoot Contessa. That little Italian angle comes back in full bloom.
TRIVIA: Sheila Kelly who has a brief role here as Dell Sizemore's secretary was also in the other soap operatic flick I enjoyed called Soapdish (besides being on L. A. Law). {shooting script}

Monday, February 09, 2004

TOIlet paper
{link courtesy: sudarshan}
Clearly I am not alone (not that I ever doubted it!) in moaning the descent of the TOI into tabloid hell (or heaven for them). Mahim Mishra at CMU has a more detailed take on the deplorable.

ek hasina thi

another stupendous offering from RGV's Factory. The nominal implications of an assembly line are ominous. But Bollywood has filmmaking families that generate lovey-dovey mush in a similar fashion. And given that those products are decidedly inferior wallpaper packaged in exquisite wrapping paper, why should I complain about the assembly line in RGV's case when I am assured good content in addition to good packaging? The storyline is simple and straightforward. Yet it is tight. And aided agrave; la Soderbergh by technical flourishes that afford brevity, pace, and symbolic allusions:

  • The TV and radio channel surfing gives us diegetic counterpoints to the on-screen action. This is a device that has devolved to being a cliché, yet Sriram Raghavan manages to make it work, just by resisting any temptation to zoom the camera in to change a tolerable metaphor to an unbearable simile.
  • When Sarika agrees to confess, a left-to-right pan aided by the invisible cut takes us and her from the meeting room to the courtroom
  • A havaldar's side of a phone conversation tells us about Sarika's father's death, and the only thing needed to complete the moment is the expression on Sarika's face as she takes the phone. No drama. No tamaashaa.
  • Just after this, we see flames. Just before we can moan "oh no. not the funeral pyre again", the camera moves back and we are at the chuulhaa in prison. Sarika is heating roTiis. And brevity wins again. The symbolism, although blatant, makes up for valuable footage.

Pratima Kazmi (see also: Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II) joins a strong cast of regulars (Urmila, Saif, Aditya Shrivastav). And would someone give backgroundsman and RGV camp regular Amar Mohile more due? He's no Chowta or Salim-Suleiman, but he delivers the goods. The opening visual (what is it?? a diagrammatic mirage?) is accompanied a rare (triviamonger alert) foray by Pandit Jasraj into Hindi film singing. The other vocal track is the title song that serves as a background for a chase later on. It doesn't score high, but gets the job done. And will someone tell me why the cuss words (delivered by Aditya Shrivastav and Pratima Kazmi) were muted? With a A certificate already slapped on (although there's enough gore and bloodletting to merit that), the fickle censor board should have just things be. I wonder if the process of film certification has been automated with neural networks and decision nets.

Gaffe note: You can see the fake slap when Karan roughs Sarika up in the second half.

Inspiration note: While Double Jeopardy, Bangkok Hilton(remember Mahesh Bhatt's Gumrah?), Return To Eden (remember Rakesh Roshan's Khoon Bhari Maang?), Brokedown Palace are close echoes, a more appropriate source would be the only Sidney Sheldon book I might read again, If Tomorrow Comes. While Tracy Whitney becomes a con artist and gets back at the people who wronged her, Sarika's revenge is more domestic. There end the similarities. Thanks to Harish for the memory jog.

private detective/two plus two plus one{do jamaa do jamaa ek}

Aah. There is some justice in the world when decent filmmaking efforts still manage to get funding and distribution. Rajat Kapoor is already a familiar face thanks to diverse turns as Mahesh Uncle in Dil Chahta Hai, and the paedophile uncle in Monsoon Wedding. He was last seen in friend Saurabh Shukla's directorial début Mudda. Private Detective marks his own directorial début. Naseeruddin Shah effortlessly adds another acting laurel as the retired military officer who makes his money sticking his nose in the private affairs of the rich and strange. Rajat Kapoor employs elements of surrealism (Kenneth Desai's dinner conversation, the chaachaa who can read futures), and noir (minus the black-and-white mood) with a generally straight narrative based in realism. There is no desire to provide clean closure or happy endings. Watchful viewers will enjoy the uncommon use of slides as a motif. Got me thinking of Laura. The acting swings the gamut from questionable (Shambhavi Kaul) to bearable (Aly Khan, Kashmira Shah) to capable (Irfan Khan) to Naseeruddin Shah. Triviamongers will note Saeed Mirza's cameo as Meghana's (Kaul) father. That little appearance adds an implicit connection to another wonderful NFDC production from a talented clique that Mirza was part of: Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. And another character actor pops up: Rajendra Mehra as Naseer's client. Was the name of Naseer's character ever mentioned in the film? Given Bollywood's tendency to filch without as much as a by-your-leave, it's nice to see acknowledgements at the end of a modest flick such as this one for all the sound bits used in the film (Culture Beat's "Mr Vain", Savage Garden's "I Want You", Krupa's "Apollo 440", and Robi Rob Club World's "Shake that Body"). Here's wishing Rajat Kapoor all success with Raghu Romeo. And Mr Kapoor, please please don't succumb to the wiles of Bollywood.

Friday, February 06, 2004

suraj ka satvan ghoda

Judging by what Benegal did before and after this great adaptation of Dharmvir Bharti's novel, I'd have to call this a major milestone in his career. Everything went downhill after that. The Making of the Mahatma and his collaboration with Khalid Mohamed {see also: Tehzeeb, Fiza} went from embarassing to barely bearable. This film, however, stands tall. It gave us the uneven talent of Rajit Kapur (his sincerity could do little to help either the mess based on Mahatma Gandhi's life in South Africa or the strictly-by-the-numbers character of the Rod Steiger ripoff in Ghulam). The background score by Vanraj Bhatia relies on revisiting a motif in Raag Megh and does little else besides sounding like a melange of cheap synthesizer tones. And the stark simple look marks the film as another product of the "parallel cinema movement". All these cribs notwithstanding, the film is still a must-see and (unless the future has something else in store) Benegal's last opus of merit.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

blog bits

In California, basil is a vegetable. A big bunch costs $1.79. In Arkansas, basil is an herb. It still costs $1.79, but it comes in a little plastic zip bag containing about ten leaves ... {Leonard Richardson}

It's ironic how most Indians living in the United States desperately strive to create a mini India inside their homes, while outside their homes they?re busy trying to live up to the Jones?. In India there are people who are struggling to create an American atmosphere (the language, the fastfood etc.) at home, if not, struggling even more to come to the United States. It's very difficult balancing the part of their identity they give up to be American-ised and the part of identity they preserve to remain Indian. After almost four years, I still fail to comprehend who is fooling whom? ... {Tharunya's}

Why does corporate America insist on taking your job away from you if you're good at it and serve it up as a promotion? ... {Fast Company Now}

shaayad Gaalib kaa hai ... {the welcome moments of Chupke Se ...}

This was the Vishal soundtrack I couldn't bring myself to like the first time I heard it. Since that time things have changed (thankfully!). And the film wasn't as bad as most people (make that "ALMOST EVERYONE") made it out to be. Masumi (directorial débutante Shona Urvashi's sister) is appropriately gawky and ill-at-ease. The climactic beauty paegent is more organised than in the B-movies (ref: Miss India). The first three-quarters of the film makes for fairly pleasant viewing (although being a Vishal fan, I sat through the occasionally clichéd song sequences). Zulfikar Syed does a pleasant turn as the youngest millionaire in town (and the most eligible bachelor around). Peeya Rai Choudhuri (TRIVIA: played Juliet in Alyque Padamsee's recreation of Shakespeare's tragedy in 2002 Bombay. all set to be in Gurinder Chadha's Bride and Prejudice) deserves plaudits for her spunky Sheetal. There's Raman Lamba as "heart me.n bullet" Rizwan. There's Reema Lagoo as the girl's mother. The ever-dependable and long-missed Jayant Kriplani as the boy's father. The always inept and marginally bearable Rati Agnihotri as the evil Almira Kochar. Tinnu Anand as her hen-pecked inept husband. And save the applause and whistles for the winners of the pack: Dilip Prabhawalkar as Timgire, the girl's father, an income tax collector (sheer stroke of genius that!), and Om Puri as Qasim Khan Qayamat, the don that no one has heard of and who spouts the worst shaayarii on the planet (and topping it off by crediting Gaalib). Sure there are flaws: by the time we get to the fifth song, a number for the aged romantics, what with the voices of Yucky Ali and aging Ashabai, we're running out of patience; and why they . But there are so many right ingredients: the dialogue has lots of funny and interesting moments for one. The heart's in the right place. And there's probably a reason for this piece of clean entertainment (NOTE: when Om Puri screams " ... kii maa.N kii aa.Nkh", why mute out the "maa.N"?? Didn't Rajnikant make a collection by uttering that phrase throughout Chaalbaaz??). Shona Urvashi is the granddaughter of P L Anand (hence PLA productions) and the niece of Gul Anand (last film seen: Chashme Baddoor), whom the Big B loaned many a special appearance. A sure box-office failure. Sigh. Clean entertainment loses again.

The rediff review notes a similarity in Drop Dead Gorgeous. Haven't seen that one, but from the looks of it, it ain't a farthing as bad as the lifts in the Bhatt family.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

nice little musical moments

the short female harmony (how did this slip by before this?) in the extended version of jhin min jhinii (Maqbool remember?): starts off at 5:03 into the song and fades out by 05:13.
return of the ebay troll

At long last my mites.

* BOLLYWOOD PSYCH JAZZ FUNK BREAKS KHIL: KHIL 45 EP by BAPPI LAHIRI (1977): Funky,sometimes psychish,sometimes jazzy dreamy Bollywood EP 45! Funky basslines and guitar licks mixed with sax and psychish organs. Tremendous upbeat jazzy vibraphone workout. Mystical acoustic guitar lines. Great orchestral stuff. Bellsy xylophone. All around great and hard to describe. Playback singers are Kishore Kumar, Amit Kumar,Sulakshana Pandit,and Yesudas.

* BOLLYWOOD FUNK SYNTH BRASS BREAKS SHAH: SHAH by ?(1987): {what the auctioneer is referring to is a vinyl of Amar-Utpal's soundtrack for Shahenshah}

* BOLLYWOOD FUNK MOOG PSYCH BREAKS DADHI/INSANE PSYCH GOGO HIPPIE FREAKOUT INDIA STYLE: DADHI EP 45 by ?(1974): VERY rare soundtrack. AMAZING LISTEN. THIS IS AN EP 45! You've never heard anything like this ever,Bollywood or otherwise. Best described: Let's drop acid and play what comes to our head. Gogo psychedelic organ stabs,brass,electric and bass guitars. Crazy vibraphone lines. Funky guitar lines. Early reggae sounding track with sick horns and moog stabs. Interesting and sometimes hilarious singing. Scat vocals. It is all here on this little 45. One of the best Bollywood pieces I have, and it keeps getting better on every listen!Playback singers are IS Johar,Bhagwan, Sunder,Maruti,Bappi Lahiri,Kishore Kumar,and Asha Bhosle.
HAA HAA kaar

Paresh Rawal found a dude called Sudarshan Rattan and a group of associates (including two people called Kukoo and Cuckoo) to make a film that he could hog. Clearly, this has to be the reason a film called Haahaakaar was ever made. Alok Nath plays a Muslim righteous police inspector. Paresh (complete with wig and bland cheap wardrobe) plays his evil step brother Raunak, an antisocial corrupt baddie. Alok Nath begins to work on a VVIP File (conveniently coloured red and labelled "V.V.I.P File" for the benefit of blind viewers) that will lead to the arrest of Raunak and his gang (which includes the clichéd corrupt politician played by Sudhir Pande, corrupt policemen including Shafi Inamdar's Inspector Pradhan). There's a love triangle of sorts (although one vertex, Neelima Azeem, is credited for a "very special appearance", knocking her out of the running). Akshay Anand swings between being clean-shaven and sporting a fake-moustachioed look. Chandni (last seen in Sanam Bewafa) touts her assets and oomph, while providing more ham to the proceedings. Shreeram Lagoo (who does not die in this film) spends his time making faces like he was embarassed at inadvertant flatulence or a bad early-morning shave. The song-track (an audio CD seems to be available) from Bappi Lahiri includes badly written gems like pyaar kaa ek hii ##exam## hotaa hai, koii fail hotaa hai, koii paas hotaa hai, ## i like you i care for you i need you i love you## and hello mr handsome (which includes a dress belt comprising paper hearts with years written on them!). The dialogue is loaded with gems and there are even some visuals that aim at art: a parrot in a cage in the foreground reflecting Amita's (Chandni) captivity, a left-to-right receding shot featuring an XCU of a loaned police kii Topii, Alok Nath, a famous sidey playing a corrupt policeman, and Akshay Anand. Lots of bad (enjoyable) moments. The only Haahaakaar ends up being of the HAA-HAA kind. Most welcome.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

petrels and papyrii ... kiss kiss

JR unveils a new blog dedicated to quizzing. Interrobang is a great name. The URL, should you choose to read it, refers to the primary ingredients of those memorable Saturday afternoons at the COEP (renamed to the horrendous PIET) Boat Club Lawns: notes (referring to scraps, sheets and files of paper with questions and random connections scribbled on them) and stones (aimed at the quizmaster for coming up with either a permanent groaner or another edition to the annals of great questions). This does not mean that the blog is devoted to nostalgia. And it's not even for posting questions either. This is a place for exchanging thoughts, ideas and patent-pending algorithms for organising quizzes, coming up with questions and the like. No affiliations to professional/commercial/pretentious/all of the above organizations that have made this their occupation.
fractal tribute

This has to be a first. Google is running a new logo based on the Julia fractal set. Why is this a first? Well, clicking the logo runs an an image search instead of the usual web search.

Google's 2004 tribute to the Julia Fractal Set

Monday, February 02, 2004

fragments completed and old memories revived

* Gaja Gamini: M F Husain's Madhuri obsession culminated in his second film exploring the role of woman in history: as a mother, as a wife, as a lover, as an elusive muse. There's a lot of art and some interesting mix of performing arts on display. The Benares Ghat set notches a lot of points. Given her grace and beauty on screen, MD works well as a muse. The film suffers from a few problems though: the SSH syndrome (this coincides with the arrival of Shahrukh Khan in his cameo -- a phenomenon last seen in Hey Ram) is the most important one. And the bula.nd darawaazaa set suffers as a consequence. The second half also goes haywire in other departments as well: MD is called upon to act (which she can barely muster, to be honest); Shabana Azmi gets another thankless avatar; the dialogue begins to reek like rotten eggs; members and friends of MFH's family are called upon to act[sic], the end loses any charm by being abrupt and sudden; despite the evident roots in theatre, the whole affair takes on a very stagey look and feel. That said, the overall experience wasn't so bad. The songs were great (although the drum and rhythm track on merii paayal bole was a little to incongruous for me). Trivia note: Khalid Mohamed is credited with "English subtitles". Wonder what that meant, 'cause I didn't see any!

* Paisa Vasool: Despite the obvious uncredited debt to High Heels and Low Lifes, this woman-buddy flick is a rare something for the male-dominated Bollywood. Anurag Kashyap's contribution to the screenplay and dialogue benefit the funny and dark-comic moments. Sushmita Sen has a whale of a time as Baby, while Manisha's stiffness aids and hinders her performance as Maria Rosario. Sushant Singh lends able support (but we're a little tired of that clichéd Christian-Indian dialogue track now!). Makrand Deshpande takes his time relishing the role of Biryani. Tinnu Anand, Vijay Patkar (famous Marathi actor last seen in Mudda), and Kunal Vijaykar (to be seen again in Ab Tak 56) join the pack to provide laughs and gloom. The songs by Bappi and Tutul (responsible for in din hai naa ye raat inBhoot) are fair enough (the fast-running remix medley featuring , and except for a dance bar song are all part of the background texture), but the opening credits needed better design and a LARGER font. The in-jokes are fun too: The Maria Mhatre bit is clearly an ode to Satya (co-written by Kashyap), and Sush's introduction featuring a Salman spoof and a dig at her height. And her character's name has a welcome religious ambiguity (in addition to being the butt of a recurring joke). That said, this isn't a perfect film, but it was fun to watch. I had expected worse (who is Srinivas Bhashyam?).

* Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (yep, that's how the official title spells it, even in Hindi -- without the dot!): Nothing needs to be said. This is still a masterpiece of collaborative inventive cinema. The best black comedy in Hind cinema. One of the best Indian films ever. Period.

* Finding Nemo: Still entertaining. Still mindblowing. Still deserving off every accolade. Just keep swimming.

* Chashme Baddoor: Finally I got a chance to polish my memories of this romantic comedy that spoofs Bollywood's romantic song-laden comedies[sic]. Great songs. Lots of trivia (Director Sai Paranjpye's daughter Winnie's cameo, for example). Lots of memorable elements: Leela Mishra flipping through an issue of Playboy (in horror, mind you), the opening credits employing cutout animation and lots of generous looks at women in lingerie, the never-starting motorcycle, the multiple-harmony pyaar lagaawaT, Yesudas singing two songs for Vinod Nagpal (who has nothing else to do in the film). And Kimti Anand as the waiter serving up tutti fruity (thanks to JR for that nasty nominal reminder).
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