Monday, May 31, 2004

take my breath away

(Sunday, May 30, 2004)

0730: a wakeup call from a friend confirming that the trip to the Smoky Mountains was on. There were scattered T-storms in the forecast, but the hiking trails were open, and the weather promised to be good for the adventure. Soon we were packed in a rental car driving on up I-85N and then to 985 and 441. The drive was long, but the music and random casual banter kept our attention off the clock. After a short stop at the Cherokee Visitor Centre, we finally parked up near the beginning of the trail to the Alum Cave Bluff. That promised to be a moderate (a rather loose definition for a non-hiker like me) hike of 2.2 miles (it was probably a good thing that I found out only later how high we had gone!). And so began my second hike in the Smoky Mountains (the first time I hit the Smoky Mountains from Tennessee). The walk was fun, and besides, we were just starting off. Short walking brides, slippery rocks, obstinately curved sly rock steps bordered by looming green rocks, great breathtaking views (how unfair it is to take away from you something that you really need for a hike like this). Finally, we were walking up the sandy porch to the Bluff.

After water and refreshments (a CLT -- chutney, lettuce, tomato -- sandwich and a banana washed down with generous doses of water), we were on our way to the second installment -- a 2.8 mile hike up to Mount Le Conte. This time (not being someone used to scampering in the hills) I took it easy, which led to a reasonable distance between me and the rest of the group. Mount Le Conte turned out to be a junction of several other walking trails, and I had to make an educated guess: "where would these guys have gone?". My eyes fell on a sign for a 0.2 mile walk to "Cliff Top". "Yep, that's where these people would go!" said I, and proceeded to (for safety's sake) eliminate the other possibility (a walk in the other direction to Myrtle Point). I met two people enjoying a snack at a shelter close to one of the two ways to get to Cliff Top and made sure my friends had not gone by. When I got to Cliff Top, the view was marvellous. As I found out later, this was 6400 feet above sea level (and our hike had taken us through a height of about 1500 ft!). At this point, I must note several things: (a) no sign of my friends (b) the camera was in my bag. This meant that they had probably waited a while (confirmed later) and had decided to head back, hoping to meet me on the way (the draft was actually very cold, it turned out, and they split into two parties -- one heading back to the Bluff, and the other heading up to Cliff Top). I met the second party on my way down. Turns out the couple I met had noted my Google T-shirt, and were kind enough to inform my friends that I had headed up Cliff Top (thus confirming their assumptions). Photographs were taken (with due apologies to the first team), and then it was a trudge back to the Bluff. My feet hurt by now, and walking downhill ain't so much fun, really, once you have tired feet. But, I plunged onward -- after all this was a "moderate" hike! Eventually, I staggered out at the start of the trail throwing my arms up into the air, doing a very convincingly comic imitation of a guy who had just discovered the boat on the coast of a strange island that he had been shipwrecked on.

a passage to india

David Lean (responsible for the magical brevity of Brief Encounter and the ponderous bombast of Lawrence of Arabia) returned to direction after 14 years to make THIS piece of crap?? I haven't read Forster's source novel, so an exploration of the translation of that opus to the screen is out of the question. Based solely on the performances and the goings-on, and a narrative thinner than a paper dosa, I have to say this is another fat [as opposed to Lean, get it?] disappoinment. Victor Bannerjee is capable of more than playing such a sorry sop. And getting Alec Guinness to play Gokhale? Yes, his talent with dry wit is useful, but you always know there's something wrong: I mean, he DOESN'T LOOK like a Gokhale, for crying out loud!!! Saeed Jaffrey has precious little to do, Dina Pathak barely registers, and Roshan Seth does the best with his brief role: he chews up everything in sight, just as one would do for a cameo in a mainstream Hindi film. And then we have Art Malik. His performance grates, and the peak (or nadir, if you will) comes when he rushes out of the courtroom, and delivers a people rouser that culminates in "Mrs Moore Mrs Moore" chant. If it weren't for his turn in True Lies, I would have written him off completely. The only person who manages to rise above the surface of this stinking swamp of mediocrity is Dame Peggy Ashcroft as Mrs Moore (Mrs Moore, Mrs Moore). What Lean ends up making is a song-less, lifeless pale image of maudlin Bollywood product, complete with leaps of faith in the melodrama and believability department. Unless you are a Lean fan (or an AFI Top 100 person), give this a wide berth, and get high on decaffeinated low-fat mineral water instead.
lake allatoona

"We're going to see Lake Allatoona. Wanna come along?" was the question I answered in the affirmative, and participated in a drive to Lake Allatoona, after a few false misses. The bulk of the trip was devoted to the Red Top Mountain State Park. Without a planned itinerary, we relished the warm sand and a few short walks enjoying the tranquility and the absence of congested roads filled with irate people trying to get nowhere.

Friday, May 28, 2004

a memorial sampling

Something for Niranjan, wherever he may be blog-wise: Zach has a nice long post on the GNTD (Gerund-Name Title Device) (all definitions included) and a growing list of samples. All we need now is more lists on the Bollywood end (my favourite example to start things off is the Hindi:English -- Mudda: The Issue for example format).

Was listening to Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar! and on flipping to the credits on the CD I noticed the name "Piyush Mishra" in the lyrics credits along with Vishal regulars Abbas Tyrewala and Dr Bashir Badr. Is this the same Piyush Mishra who played Kaka (Banquo) in Maqbool?

WBH2P2 Gaffe alert: Arshad Warsi shifts position in the boot (dicky) of the white ambassador in the climatic moments. I don't think there's enough space in the boot to be able to flip on the long side.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

where o where are you?

Kahan Ho Tum (never give up on a friend ...) has triviamonger-friendly attributes: Raghuvir Yadav features on the soundtrack along with Raj Zutshi. It also seems like a classic Bollywood mixie product: take a foreign flick, map to desi ideas and inundate with clichéd desi attributes, stuff with wasteful songs and sauté till unbearably burnt. And then sprinkle some water on top and serve up a "sizzler".
The foreign flick in this case is Joseph Rubin's Return to Paradise, itself a remake (which means this version was official) of Force majeur. Rubin's film is quite effective actually, because it puts every protagonist into a grey area: the two vacationing friends have their share of vices, one of which, substance abuse, implicates them morally in the imminent death of their friend on the island. In the desi take we have no such complexity. We have two vastly uncomfortable mannerism-laden dudes, one all set to join an American company, and the other a prodigious architect about to receive a national award. No drugs. Instead, there's a lame angle straight out of the archives: the rape and murder of a tribal belle (since she has to exude oomph and front-bench sex appeal, she is played by Shweta Menon with the appropriate jhaTakaas and seductive rain song sequence. Director[sic] Vijay Kumar seems to want to assert his FTII roots by using the Vertigo zoom (see also: Good Fellas and Jaws) to introduce Shweta's tribal lass to the voyeuristic audience. Of course, there's the lecherous evil leering sarpanch (deliciously hammed away with pleasure by Kenneth Desai). And instead of Anne Heche's lawyer, we have an awkward lass (Isshita Arun -- what's with the second S?) who has arrived in Bombay from London to do a feature on the jogan tradition (which is the village sarpanch's specious mechanism to provide himself with a steady supply of nubile nymphets from the junior artiste department). Aurally, she ends up being a bad copy of Perizad Zorabian -- and that's bad enough to begin with. She achieves a minor miracle for the film by clocking some cool Hindi/English dialogue (which is not unheard of) in different variants -- both as the provider and the recipient of similarly themed lines: laapataa ... you mean he's missing? and later laapataa ... yes he's missing. Amazing. If you haven't figured it out already, skip this flick and fall sick instead.

Monday, May 24, 2004

maqbool rocks

[previous knot in the 2004 Indian Film Festival in Atlanta thread]

[april 23, 2007]: this post makes it to the Shakespeare Blog-a-thon hosted by Peter Nelhaus, who marks his contribution with a take on Omkara

Yes, I finally get to watch Maqbool, and to top it all, on the big screen. Right from the moment you hear Sanjeev Abhyankar's voice over the pre-film credits for production and release houses till the closing credits, this is one of the most sustained pieces of filmmaking in the last couple of years in the genre that straddles the concerns, demands and merits of mainstream cinema and "parallel" cinema. Cinema as art and Cinema as entertainment come together with a bang as Vishal Bhardwaj's second film as director puts to shame all those wannabes out there, who understand nothing about filmmaking. Fundamental to every film is a screenplay -- even the absence of narrative is a controlled variable. And if you want/have to put in songs, you can do it artfully. Vishal manages all this with consummate ease.

The film opens with Inspectors Pandit (Om Puri) and Purohit (Naseeruddin Shah) (aptly named counterparts for the witches of Macbeth) indulging in a wipeout (the victim is co-screenwriter Abbas Tyrewala, a talented screenwriter who has worked as a lyricist and screenwriter with Vishal before) and a forecast -- that Maqbool (Irrfan) will rule Bombay. We are treated to a hypnotic image of Maqbool, an image that surfaces in context later on in the film. What follows is study in greed, infidelity, twisted morals, and a sense of eventual impending doom. The performances are all aces: from Pankaj Kapur's Jehangir Khan (which is sure to remind people of Brando's turn in The Godfather), Tabu's Nimmi/Lady Macbeth, Irrfan's Maqbool/Macbeth to Piyush Mishra's Kaka, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah. Masumi Makhija (as Sameera), who made her début in the good-hearted not-so-bad Chupke Se (where the songs, as in this case, were written by Gulzar and set to music by Vishal) and Ajay Gehi (as Guddu) appear as the young couple whose love is threatened by the confusion and misguided ambition of Maqbool. At every point in the film there are excuses to sink into a marsh of clichés and yet it is to Vishal's credit that he refuses to yield. Friends mentioned that they would have preferred a trimmed version of the film, and even referred to Ram Gopal Varma's Company. I contend that Vishal was not aiming to make another Company. In fact, anything but. The aim of this film is not to give us yet another underworld yarn. This film offers instead a fascinating character study, a rarity in mainstream Hindi cinema. The unflinching vision comes through even with the songs. I loved the soundtrack, and was apprehensive (despite assurances from JR, Gaurav and Sudarshan) about the inclusion of songs in the film. Especially so given the presence of the potentially market-friendly jhin min jhinii (which boasts rich lyrics from Gulzar and a quote from Khusrau). All fears were laid to rest. Although, having heard the soundtrack countless times, I could tell which song was coming up, right from ruu ba ruu (which boasts the essential detail of singers singing like it was a daily routine instead of pretending to be fervent as they do in the mandatory song sequences) till ruukhe nainaa (or dhiimo re which constantly appears in the background score), every song sequence is a joy to listen to, helps push the narrative forward, does wonders by letting images speak instead of words (case in point: rone do where Nimmi and Maqbool consummate a complex relationship). The narrative is peppered with great lines (aag ke liye paanii ka Dar banaa rahanaa chaahiye, aaj kal tujhe pyaas nahii.n lagatii miyaa.N), humour, and excellent mappings from the source play ("Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane", the smell of blood, Maqbool's rise to power, the visions that haunt Maqbool's conscience). It might seem elementary that Macbeth could be adapted to describe the goings-on in the underworld, but to Vishal and Abbas's credit, they make it work! Just as in Polanski's adaptation, we see Jehangir Khan's murder (something that the original play only alludes to).

Sampling of favourite moments: Jehangir "Abbaji" Khan's introduction (while everyone else in the film is introduced sans fanfare, when we see Abbaji the first time as the cops fill in their supervisor on his profile, we see every regal quality attributed to him -- in a minimal shot setup), how we hear Tabu's voice first over the phone before actually seeing her, the "invisible" edits during the dinners, how Vishal weaves in jhin min jhini as a song in Mohini's (Shweta Menon) film (what was the title again? hamane tujh se pyaar kiyaa hai? or something to that effect) first, and then later enveloping both her yielding to Jehangir Khan's pressure and the celebration-filled engagement of Sameera and Guddu; Nimmi and Maqbool consummating their complicated relationship; Jehangir's murder; Maqbool's visions (blood on the floor, Kaka's ghost); Nimmi and Maqbool sharing the final moments of their relationship; Maqbool's death; and most of all the interpretation of "when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane".

On the trivia front, there were acknowledgements to Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar(?), Mani Rathnam, Ram Gopal Varma (were the last three for the references to them in the film ?). There was also a reference to Subhash Ghai, but I don't think I saw his name in the acknowledgements. {june 15, 2004: some recent investigation based on the DVD I own indicate that Karan Johar did not figure in the list of acknowledged people ... [more]}

Definitely worth a second viewing. Here's to Vishal's next venture.

Gaffe Alert?: Y noted that Maqbool's wristwatch showed noon as he wakes up from the night of love to see Nimmi performing namaaz. Y insisted that namaaz at noon was impossible. Checked with AS and he said it was not impossible (after all you may have been unable to offer prayers at the usual time and hence decided to compensate).

Get your facts straight please alert!: The lady introducing the film stuck her foot straight into her mouth as she began explaining Vishal's background. Said she was amazed when she found out, from her research[sic] that Vishal had started off as a composer. And then came the moment when the foot rose too late. She proudly noted his versatility by announcing that he had even penned lyrics (which is accurate), and had written a song for one of the films that had played earlier in the festival. This got me interested as I began racking my brain to think of the film she was talking about. She proudly said, "Anything Can Happen" -- which was the English title for WBH2P2. Ugh! Clearly her research failed to indicate the difference between Vishal Dadhlani and Vishal Bhardwaj. Pity.

Thrill alert: The Ram/Hanuman Jehangir/Usman line (uttered by Pankaj Kapur himself, not a "flunkey" as reported by the press) is retained (Indian censors had ordered it out ... so much for progressive thinking!)

global mall, chinese rasoi, abhijeet/sadhana

In 2001, my roommates and I ran into Bhagyashree (star of the Rajshri hit Maine Pyar Kiya and duds like Payal and Qaid Mein Hai Bulbul) while exploring Underground Atlanta. While she seemed ill at ease at being noticed, we managed to get autographs on scraps of paper, choosing an apt moment when hubby Himalay was not on the scene (Didn't want his autograph. Would be rude to ignore him were he around). Three years later, while sampling the Indian-Chinese offerings of Chinese Rasoi, one of several stalls in the totally Indian mall called Global Mall, friends and I spotted Abhijeet and Sadhana Sargam, who were performing later that evening. Abhijeet was visibly tired, but was gracious to let us share a photograph. In true tech savvy fashion, my friend whipped out his cellphone capable of grabbing photos, and one of the gentlemen in the entourage offered to take the photograph. That's the good news. The bad news: he wasn't tech savvy. The result: no photograph.

It must be said that Sadhana Sargam could walk past you in real life, and you would never be able to match such a simple unassuming person and the melodious voice behind several hummable songs.

baa.Diwaalii[previous knot in the 2004 Indian Film Festival in Atlanta thread]

That's (almost) how one would pronounce Bariwali. I wonder who came up with the counter-intuitive English spelling. That annoyance (manifested by even more incorrect pronunciation from the person who introduced the film -- with nothing much to say except a fragmented version of the blurbs in the handouts!) aside, my first look at the ouevre of Rituparno Ghosh held out remarkably well. The presence of Kiron Kher as Banolata, the "Lady of the House", had me getting uneasy. A lot of filmmakers have used actors and stars of another linguistic body of film. Several examples amount to these people bringing aboard their iconography and having their voices dubbed by speakers of the language in question (sometimes even famous actors -- like Revathi for Tabu in Kandukondain Kandukondain). People like Mani Rathnam have long used stars in special song appearances (Sonu Walia in Dalapathi, Mallaika Arora in Dil Se). But in Ghosh's film, Kiron Kher not only decides to turn in a poignant performance, but also dub for herself as well (please please correct me if I am wrong). The comparisons to Ray are generous, and Ghosh's patient unsentimental handling of the events that are triggered by the arrival of a film crew at the remarkable residence of a single "unlucky" woman merit the laurels. The colours, the framing and the subtle use of filmic devices were a joy. Great performances all across the board. Wonder if the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (if I remember correctly) was mandated by creative or budgetary reasons ...

Monday, May 17, 2004

kanduokondain kandukondain/wbh2

[previous knot in the 2004 Indian Film Festival in Atlanta thread]

Admittedly, I was one of the few people who turned up for the screening of Rajeev Menon's second directorial venture Kanduokondain Kandukondain without the intention of ogling at Aishwarya Rai. Ang Lee's adaptation has nothing to fear from this adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which could be best described as a bad Hindi mainstream flick made in Tamil. Menon snags the on-screen services of Aishwarya Rai (to draw in the mainstream crowds), Tabu (to draw in the mainstream audiences who would like to think they are patrons of alternative cinema and acting), along with other resident stars and even Mammootty all the way from Kerala (although M's Tamil appearances are not rare). He then snags the lass with the face-splitting grin Pooja Batra and the language-independent-nonactor Dino Morea. And then he gets people to dub for Rai and Tabu (Revathy for Tabu, if I remember correctly). He enlists the assistance of A R Rahman and Vairamuthu (and pays them back with references -- video for Rahman, dialogue for Vairamuthu -- to them in the film). I didn't like ARR's tracks for the film when I had heard them for the first time (except for the Chitra/Yesudas duet in raag natakuranji), and Chitra's voice comes across as a tad too squeaky for comfort. The subtitles sucked on occasion (both by having mistakes like "a women" and by being generally outrageously funny). Although Menon must be credited for his efforts at translocating Austen's tale to the vernacular ambience of the South, he needs to be drawn and quartered for showering us with one unbearable irritating song sequitur after another ... complete with location switches to Egypt and Scotland. Some of the comic dialogue works, but one cannot deny the overarching preponderance of schmaltz and mush. Madame Rai continues to astound me at her ability to snag plum roles with nary a sign of acting prowess. Madame Tabu proves the fragility of her acting abilities as she swings between good and unbearable.

What was more interesting was that while a couple of us nearly died laughing and falling out of our seats in our own Mystery Science Theatre talk on the film peppered with NC-17 rated alternative interpretations, the audience (a good mix of Indians and non-Indians) moved swiftly from being astounded by the randomness of the songs and dances to getting into the spirit of things and laughing out loud at the goings on. The applause at the end of the film could have been interpreted in several different ways, but my stomach hurt so much.

What shocked me in the wake of this film was the review of the film in the latest issue of Creative Loafing. The review makes uncomfortable references to this as a Bollywood product. Clearly, the reviewer knoweth not the difference between Bollywood and Tollywood Kollywood (as it were). The film pokes fun at Bollywood's ludicrously over-the-top production values while deriving a great deal of visual pleasure from their toe-tapping excesses. Nope. The film continues to subscribe to the Bollywood excesses, and makes no conscious attempt at satire. And then it even gets the cast wrong: clubbing poor Abbas, Srividya and Shamili as one entity and Ajith and Mamootty as another. I'm no longer surprised about how the West gets Indian cinema wrong. Just as Hong Kong flicks have their own Americanised mythology, the West will continue to regard India as a producer of brain-dead, feelgood, unreal sad sacks of mush like this and celebrate the "exhuberance" and "opulence" of sick pieces of drivel like Bhansali's Devdas, or extoll the celebrations of Monsoon Wedding and Bollywood Hollywood and churn out their own carbon copies (which, like Moulin Rouge often turn out with superior production values) of their idea of a "Bollywood musical". A pity.

It was unfortunate that a projection failure interrupted the screening of Waisa Bhi Hota Hai on Saturday. And the "long version" as they called it was shorter than the version on DVD. This has to be the only desi flick where the subtitles were bolder and more obscene than the actual dialogue. Of course, those not in the know probably lapped all this up with nary a doubt. The "genericisation" problem of subtitles persisted as all references to Mahima Choudhary were replaced by references to an "actress". So be it. Couple of other interesting things of note were the photograph of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani on the wall of Ganpat Godhi's living room, and that in one scene Gangutaaii's underlings are clad in desi ripoffs of popular American brands. Still love the flick. It's not perfect, it's not great, but it's definitely fun. [NOTE: the version of allaah ke ba.nde in the film differs from the one on the soundtrack -- it's a single-voice version with different recording embellishments. Moreover, Kailash Kher doesn't even strum the right chords all the time]

Friday, May 14, 2004

current listens spinning away

Raju Singh's joyous mix of Celtic melodies and moods into an infectious riff-laden heady concoction aided by Sunidhi Chauhan's enthusiastic warbling makes bam bhole off the Charas [movie notes] soundtrack a great pick

Every track on Highs of the 60s {and, incidentally, The Count Five's Psychotic Reaction can segue into Raju Singh's track ever so easily}

The swirling ambience of Led Zeppelin's towering opus Kashmir, which almost takes your attention off the time signature counterpoints on the guitar and the drums

The interesting time signatures on The Best of Shakti

Thursday, May 13, 2004

entertainment electorales

This is surreal and outrageous. Aside from Chandrababu Naidu being ousted (that image floating about in cyberspace of him logging onto is howlarious!), the news bullets that hit me as I opened up the Tabloid of India homepage sent me rolling: not only did Govinda win (yay!), but also Navjot Sidhu, Jayaprada, Dharmendra and Vinod Khanna. Look out for subsidies on movies, joke books, Bagpiper and Cinthol:))

True to form, rediff jumps onto the wagon with a slide show

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

k for crap

K-fetishist Ekta Kapoor returns after Kucch to Hai with another filched-from-the-west-and-blended-with-desi-ineptness waste of film called Krishna Cottage. Originally titled Kimberly Cottage (naam me.n honestly kyaa rakhaa hai?), the film was retitled to suit EK's numerological whims. The directorial[sic] credit[sic] is claimed by Santram Verma, who has been responsible for the TV K-infestations like Kyunki SBKBT and Kahin KR. The utterly unqualified Nataasha (who was Anita before EK's numerological demons kicked in) returns along with other ineptia from KTH. The last time around we had Rishi Kapoor filling in as the 70s/80s icon. This time it's Rati Agnihotri. The coolest aspect of her presence in the film is that when she is possessed by Isha Koppikar's spirit during a seance she looks like Raakhee. I must confess that I hadn't expected such appropriate dramatic realism from this bunch of incompetent $$$-savvy jerks. Anu Malik goes through another phase of auto-déjà vu by recycling dil Daa.Ng as bi.ndaas and getting Shreya Ghoshal to sound like Anuradha Paudwal for the FF-friendly suunaa suunaa (which suspiciously keeps riffing something from RDB's classic jaane jaa.N Dhuu.NDataa phir rahaa). In terms of source material, viewers of The Ring will note familiar moments. Throw in some reincarnation nonsense and you get a splendid sequence where Sohail Khan gets to look in the face of a dead himself. Priceless. And instead of a video that kills you it's a book written by Professor Das (Raj Zutshi in a blink-and-you'll-miss-me strictly-for-the-money role) called Kahi Ankahi Baatein, which contains 9-and-a-half (surely, the Fellini angle is unintentional!!!) stories. The film takes its title from one of the stories in the book (and we find this out later in the second half, that is, if we are still around). There's an uncredited abuse of Love me do and the sole Vishal-Shekhar contribution to the soundtrack figures neither on the screen nor in the credits.

More cool stuff: there's a character called Amar (meaning: immortal) who is dead. Isha's character is called Disha (meaning: direction), and it's really outrageous to see (a) her walk aimlessly throughout the film, and (b) see Sohail Khan keep screaming out her name on a snow-clad mountain top. The irritating noisy character that Nataasha goes through the motions for is called Shanti (meaning: peace). And there are such priceless examples of dialogue and inference: when Disha drops the title of a book, Maanav (SK's other character) concludes that she is an avid book reader (even though the book is staring him in the face!). There's some technical merit to the flashes of memory that inundate the film, but all that is lost in this morass presented by Jeetendra. Another ball of bombast from Balaji Films.

Monday, May 10, 2004

the spanking new blogger interface

ROCKS!! more info here. An index of my posts. A way to add my mugshot (for all those who really care to see what I look like ... I hear silence). A way to 'Nuff said. Segue to Anti's take

Tigmanshu Dhulia's directorial début Haasil featured Irrfan, Jimmy Shergill and Hrishita Bhatt. The most heartbreaking moment for me in the film came early on when Ashutosh Rana's character was bumped off. Just when I was looking forward to some great acting, one of the two people who could have provided me this pleasure (the other being Irrfan, JUST in case you were wondering) was wiped off the face of the film. Dhulia then proceeded to demonstrate his inability to sustain pace and interest by flogging a flagging sappy love story by loading with narrative-unfriendly ballast (coy looks, lovey-dovey exchanges, saccharine songs -- Jatin-Lalit, clearly).

Now Dhulia returns with Charas. The three aforementioned players return. And Irrfan relishes every one of his brief moments as the blond Policeman, a drug pasha safely hidden away in the jungles of Manali. Jimmy Shergill continues to function as a non-entity, and Hrishita Bhatt does her bit playing close-to-life dumb and cute. My-biceps-are-larger-than-my-face Uday Chopra wanders in and out and competes for on-screen time, but can't transcend a bare modicum of competence in the acting department. Namrata Shirodkar butts in to confuse us by starring opposite Shergill, while Bhatt swaps for Chopra. In this casting confusion, we have a voiceover (more on this later), and a host of other characters. The one thing that made me sit up was the overflowing emphasis on style and slickness. The film has a great look, and the technical department doesn't go overboard fellating themselves on their style (for an example of style eroding minimal substance, see Kaante). The background score worked for me too (thanks, perhaps, to fragments that seemed straight out of Salim-Suleiman's work for Darna Mana Hai). There's an urgency to the proceedings and the songs work (except for the disastrous Sholay-esque ham hai.n diiwaane). The voiceover introductions include little hints about things about to be resolved later on in the film (that's if you are paying attention). There's a strong sense of nothing being what it seems to be, including identities and motives. And the flashback explaining the origin of Irrfan's character's name is very very Hong Kong-action flick-y. Despite these positives, the film suffers because the frenetic pace of the proceedings overtakes the narrative and also leaves us with characters who are not fully developed to gain our sympathy or hatred. This works for a character like Policeman and for the general vertigo (intended?) of events, but not all across the board. Still, I'd like to watch this once again, just to catch some of the stuff I might have missed out in the first viewing (which was dominated by cooking and consuming bhajis and sipping hot tea and indulging in NC-17 MSTK as well as an interesting discussion on the importance of cleavage and ogle-able assets in Hindi movies).

Saturday, May 08, 2004

hellhound on my trail

Hellhounds On My Trail: The Afterlife of Robert Johnson, a documentary covering the events at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of Robert Johnson in 1996 takes its title from one of Johnson's most poignant songs. The discussions get boring occasionally (mostly because people don't really have much to add or say). The debunking of the apocryphal film footage of a cool guitarist (with a note that Page and Plant, when shown this footage, were impressed by the fingerwork) was welcome. But the bulk of this documentary (and the most entertaining aspect, clearly) comprises performances and interpretations of Johnson's ouevre. I still have to recover from the widespread use of the bottleneck slide ...
Cinema India 2004 opens [previous knot in the 2004 Indian Film Festival in Atlanta thread]

with Sumantra Ghosal's engrossing 2-part documentary on Ustad Zakir Hussain The Speaking Hand: Zakir Hussain and the Art of the Indian Drum. Lots of great performance extracts (although unfortunately none of Shakti even though John McLaughlin's name pops up in the acknowledgements), but no mention or appearance of Taufiq or Fazal Qureshi. It was something special to see Ustad Zakir Hussain's father, another tabla maestro, Ustad Allah Rakha, who passed away in 2000. Excellent subtitles too (although they inevitably missed out on some of the regional flavour of the original dialogue). My favourite moment would be Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma talking about a 11-beat cycle taal called chaar taal kii sawaarii, immediately followed by an extract of the performance -- a little learning along the way. Noticed Ram Madhvani credited as a producer. Is this the same Ram Madhvani responsible for Let's Talk?

Friday, May 07, 2004

fish without chips

After having hit the end of the experience yesterday, my final impressions of Meenaxi differ slightly from my initial take. The songs still don't work as well as they could have, which is a disappointment considering that I actually liked ARR's work after a long time. Chinammaa had its moments as did do qadam aur sahii, but I could never understand what the camera was up to: constantly fidgeting, tilted, zooming in and out, shaking about like nobody's business. MFH's sense of visual composition is evident, but fails to find enough support in the photography and editing departments. Tabu didn't quite cut it, overall, although the Prague segment and the eventual coda of the film were more interesting than stuff that preceded. Kunnal Kapoor (as Kaameshwar, an allusion to the God of Love that continues from Gaja Gamini) was probably chosen by MFH to serve as his narrative doppelganger (although MFH does make a small appearance in the film, and I am convinced that it was for more than a lark!). The dialogue continues to be forced at times. Khalid Mohammed is credited again for the subtitles (see also: Gaja Gamini) and his reviewing the film must qualify clearly as a conflict of interest. They aren't too bad, but I could see room for improvement in places. There were two things about the film that really irritated me. The first was the lack of any richness to the conflict between creator and creation (and no nods to Pygmalion either), or, for that matter, to anything that transpired as the film spun by. Given its standard length, MFH could have had a field day making a film that invited more than one viewing. Strangely, the only thing he offers is a big bag of visuals and moments that are either too brief to merit observation or bogged down by the trappings of mainstream cinema. The second is how MFH insists on providing explanations for things that are obvious (the meaning of Meenaxi, that Maria (Tabu's Prague avataar) is rehearsing for The Passion of Joan of Arc) and denying any insight on any of the random visuals that pop up like Bugs Bunny from a rabbit hole. There could have been several tones that MFH could have lent the film, and one of them, surrealism, only crops up near the end of the film. All in all, this ode to Tabu and his last ode to Madame Dixit lead me to believe that MFH starts from scratch each time, rarely carrying over anything he learnt from his previous venture. This is not to say the film is a complete waste of time. But patience is essential, and hopefully, MFH will have a clearer vision the next time around (the rumours of a fun film with Urmila make me cringe, but then, kuchh bhii ho sakataa hai).

Wednesday, May 05, 2004


This blog emerges as the only result for a Google search on Carrucans Kurrajong {thanks to a comment left on the "bill, once again" post} [the googlewhack home] [more on googlewhacking]

Monday, May 03, 2004

distant thunder, nasty intruders and stilted conversations

It was good fortune to find a tape of Ashani Sanket, Satyajit Ray's adaptation of Bibhuti Bhushan Bandhopadhyay's novel about the 1943 Bengal famine (actually, I knew it existed, but never found it on the shelves). Although the specs indicate that this is a colour film, the print was washed black-and-white [even the vidcaps on the page are in B&W!]. I must say that accidental(?) act aided the tone and content of the film. The subtitles were perfunctory on occasion, and this will continue to be a personal grievance when watching any film with English subtitles. The film itself is a masterpiece. I remembered only fragments from the Doordarshan marathon that ensued after Ray passed away in 1992, but the intake of films and theory in the interim before Sunday afternoon was helpful in allowing me to relish some great filmmaking. Highly recommended.

The next tape in was Kaun. This flawed RGV horror venture (I contend that all his forays in this genre, although well-intentioned, always seem to fail in delivering cohesive satisfaction) was what educated me on the cruelties of box-office black marketing in Pune. The film was playing in the matinee slot at Rahul, and the x-kaa-y (where x represents the number of tickets available at a scalped rate represented by y) dudes bought out virtually all the tickets even before the box office opened and then proceeded to strike gold as people continued to flock to watch the film. Disgusting. Had to wait a few more weeks before I could just walk over from COEP and catch a screening. Everything in the film until the appearance Bajpai's enormously outstanding performance as the grating hapless salesman feels gimmicky (and it gets worse once you know the predictable twist at the end). Ms Matondkar ain't no actress. I still like the moment when Urmila finds her house filled with people, and the badly filmed quote from Polanski's Repulsion. Ultimately, Bajpai's performance (aided by a brief competent turn from Sushant Singh) still becomes the sole grace of this RGV venture (he is credited as Ramgopal Varma ... when did he move to "Ram Gopal"?).

Husain's latest filmic venture (aka an ode to Tabu) Meenaxi couldn't have found a worse time to be in the VCR. After Ray's skilled piece of work, I was treated to another journey through the same things that plagued the more interesting (so far) Gaja Gamini. There are enough interesting visuals, but the proceedings have a cluttered, unfinished feel to them. Everything falls short of grace, failing to live up to promised potential. Tabu fails to impress me again -- she just doesn't have the grace required to play a muse. The dialogues are forced, and the camera angles and the editing have baffled me. Ultimately, I might be inclined (unless the tide changes) to agree with the front-benchers who stepped out of a Bombay theatre to note that Husain had better stick to painting The wonderful red opening credits emerging from a parchment add to MFH's points for a sense of visual style. What he needs is a more controlled hand behind the camera that can channel the creative tumult of ideas into something satisfying in a filmic way. And I can't believe I hit the FF button the moment nuur\-un\-alaa came on. I hope things get better later.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

saturday whizzes by

laundry. a bout of tennis (imagine lethargic me taking this giant leap of faith from the indoors onto a tennis court thanks to some persistent friends). a commencement ceremony (which added more meat to my contention that these are some of the most boring proceedings ever). kite flying in piedmont park {the wind was not too kind, but we did our best. the sprinklers cast some cool rainbows as they sprung to life and whirled around. and the other proceedings at the park merited addition to the script of an art movie about three guys in the park with a kite}. a gathering of friends {the occasion: one of us will soon leave this city to pursue a PhD elsewhere. cool snacks, including samosas, bhel, helpings of paneer and green bell peppers, and soda. champagne was cracked to mark another one in our midst who just walked -- that's Americanese for "graduated"}. and then back home to join the largest gathering of people ever in our living room for a midnight birthday cake-cutting ceremony. and an rather interesting introduction to the complete lack of usability in the Mac OS when it comes to dealing with CD-ROM drives and the like.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

third atlanta film festival of india opens

[first knot in the 2004 Indian Film Festival in Atlanta thread]

with Mani Ratnam's Kannathil Muthamittal. First off, I have to say that the film was not as bad as I had feared it would be. MR's Spielbergian tendencies have always been a cause of concern for me. While there is no denying his talent and genius at using technique and style to achieve his ends, I failed to find closure even with this flick for a pet peeve of mine: how his well-shot song sequences fail to mesh in with his well-shot narrative moments. The songs (especially the Amudha-dedicated gimmicky su.ndarii) jar. MR strikes a decent balance between his pet themes of terrorism, its impact on families of different kinds (cross-religious unions in Bombay, cross-geographical and cross-cultural matches in Roja, and now adopted children of interesting parentage) and position on the fence between art and commerce. ARR's songs and background score function best when they accompany the on-screen happenings while being relegated to the background. Every time they came to the fore I found myself uncomfortably shifting in my seat. Just about the only interesting (and relevant) visual moment I noticed was Amudha imitating a statue in Sri Lanka at the close of the Madhavan-driven version of the title song. There seemed to be richer content in those few seconds than in the rest of the beautiful yet incongruous songs. P S Keerthana goes through the motions of being the daughter trying to deal with the truth that she is an adopted child, but occasionally grates with a limited palette of expressions (some of which seem to stem from a refusal in the script to attempt to present us complex moments). But there are undeniably good moments, some of which reminded me of Spielberg's Ryan outing (for no particular reason, really). And MR is less simplistic in presenting the effect of terrorism here than in Bombay (where the strict religious polarity resulted in an inundation of clichés). As may be expected, MR chooses a strong technical team to build his vision giving us treats like Sabu Cyril's production design (I kept thinking of Kerala every time they showed the jungles of Sri Lanka, and an online article underscores my reaction by informing me that SC built a lot of the film's Sri Lanka in Kerala!!), Ravi K Chandran's camera (this is Chandran's first film with MR, and is probably known for his two collaborations with Rajeev Menon and his work on Virasat and Koi Mil Gaya). The ARR/Vairamuthu combination struck gold at the National Awards. It was interesting to see Prakash Raj pop up as Harold Vikramasinghe, a guide to the troubled family in war-torn Sri Lanka. Which brings me to another irksome aspect of the film: hardly any character development. Arguably, this works to the benefit of the focal point of the narrative: the family. But it doesn't offer us enough counterpoint when the focus shifts occasionally to terrorism. Thankfully, MR doesn't take a stand on that front. But these recurring annoyances aside, I have to say it was a satisfying experience overall. If only they had an MR showcase ... Aah yes, must also note strains of puuryaa dhaanashrii in ARR's background score as well as a portend to Meenaxi's chinnammaa chilakamma.
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