Wednesday, December 31, 2008

shut up and blam

At the risk of alarming people, I have to admit that my heart goes out to James Joseph Cialella Jr.

If you're like me, your blood curdles when you're sitting in the movie theatre and hear that annoying cellphone ring or that wretched form of human life sitting nearby jabbering away. If you're like me, you might occasionally politely let the source of this free disturbance know what pain he/she is inflicting on you. If you're like me and this is one of those desii theatres, you don't even mince words and even mix in simian growls and cynical asides. But even I would never do what I admire Mr. Cialella Jr. for doing. When a father and son nearby were talking away while Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was playing, Mr. Cialella Jr., having tried the verbal approach and even the rather subtle move of throwing popcorn at the offspring, pulled out a gun and shot the father in the arm. He then returned to watch the movie until the cops came to arrest him.

It's extreme. I would never be able to do this. And yet, I'm cheering away.

Monday, December 29, 2008

and i wonder

How many different words have been used by those that name all the strip malls that inundate the American geography? I've seen pointes, places, plazas, villages and squares. I'm sure there are more I don't remember and more I haven't seen.

We all remember Sssshhh... (aka S4H3), don't we? One wonders if his appropriation of Jigar Muradabadi's couplet sabhii a.ndaaz-e-husn pyaare / ham magar saadagii ke maare for the song sapane is the only example of the Bollywood lyrical machinery lifting from this poet.

How many people noticed that Anu Malik was lifting his own stuff when he did the title song for Main Hoon Na? Try dha.Dakataa hai dil from Baazi.

Was I the only one who thought of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's be-imaan mohabbat from Ek Aur Ek Gyarah (one of those rewarding songs that seems devoid of any of the SEL trademarks that seem to pepper most of their work these days) when A. R. Rahman's aziim-o-shaan from Jodhaa Akbar started playing?

Didn't anybody notice how Pritam smartly took the a.ntaraa of aage bhii jaane na tuu from Waqt, sped it up, added his trademark wall of synthesised bricks and tossed it out as the a.ntaraa for the Usha Uthup song All Night Long in Dhol?

Did you know that If you navigated to the 00:13:38 mark in your copy of Emmanuelle in Space, you can hear the beat loop that underscores maa.Ngataa hai kyaa in Rangeela?

Did you spot Jatin-Lalit reusing the melody of the a.ntaraa of aa.Nkho.n me.n kyaa in 1996's Khamoshi: The Musical two years later for the second interlude of jab kisii kii taraf dil in Pyar To Hona Hi Tha?

Don't you think it's just a coincidence that an earnest riff played by the string section the second interlude in Anu Malik's teraa cheharaa mujhe from Aapas Ki Baat finds a sibling in the opening of the a.ntaraas in Pritam's lamhaa lamhaa from Gangster?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

extracts from the reading list

I have to toss a sop to coincidence when the phrase tout court shows up in two books that I picked up at the public library on Christmas Eve. I'm sure the phrase is not uncommon, but I have to confess that I haven't seen (or noticed) it before. As a tribute to the coincidence, here are some extracts from each book.

The first is the third book in Donald Spoto's series on Alfred Hitchcock. Spoto's name and work is known to any serious Hitchcock fan; A well-turned copy of The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, the second volume in the series, lies in my bookshelf (gathering some dust, I must regretfully add). Employing a pun, Spoto calls the new book Spellbound by Beauty and it covers, as is evident from the title, the Master's obsession with his leading ladies (and especially blondes). Spoto has been accused of starting to paint a rather uncomplimentary picture of Hitchcock as a person, starting with his second book. This third book, as the preface indicates, seems to promise more material that is bound to offend those that hold Hitchcock in high regard, as a creative genius without blemish. But, as Spoto also points out, genius has never been free of a life peppered with hurdles, sorrow, hardship and personality flaws:

Writing or speaking anything other than the highest praise or failing to promote the most affectionate encomia for so august an icon as Alfred Hitchcock has become, in the eyes of many, equivalent to cultural sacrilege. But the craft of biography requires that the shadow side of subjects be set forth and comprehended - otherwise, their humanity is diminished, their pain minimised, and those they hurt are ignored. Any appreciation of Hitchcock's art and life must take into account the enormity of his psychological, physical and social suffering, as well as that which he (perhaps unintentionally) caused others. From his suffering came the obsessively recurring themes and the constant sense of dread with which he continues to astonish, entertain and enlighten.

The other bit comes from the wonderful introduction by Anthony Burgess to the compilation The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard:

Ballard considers that the kind of limitation that most contemporary fiction accepts is immoral, a shameful consequence of the rise of the bourgeois novel. Language exists less to record the actual than to liberate the imagination. To go forward, as Ballard does, is also to go back -- scientific apocalypse and pre-scientific myth meet in the same creative region, where the great bourgeois novelists of tradition would not feel at home.

The complete text of the introduction is available in the Google Books preview of the book.

The final extract (did I say two? I lied) comes from Emmanuel Carrère's book I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey in the Mind of Philip K. Dick. It's a succinct description of what happens when a cult figure acquires mainstream acceptance and recognition:

Given the uniform Vintage editions of his complete works and the many articles about Dick that have appeared in both academic and popular journals, his fans must feel a little like the early Christians did when their faith was officially adopted by the Roman Empire: triumphant, of course, but also slightly nostalgic for the days when they lived in the catacombs. The Happy Few cease to be happy when they are no longer few. Dick has become part of the mainstream.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

a farewell to YACCS

The precious few visitors that this ego-fondling portal of extremely biased rants and raves may have noticed the results of a forced rhytidectomy. As I attempt to restore elements from the old platter, you, dear visitor, may have noticed that the comments that you may have left/noticed/read/responded to in the past are gone. Kaput. Poof! The kind of thing Griffin was known for. Here's what happened.

It all started in 2002, when YT started blogging with Blogger. It was free, easy, reasonably popular, but lacked certain features that today's bloggers take for granted. One of these was support for comments on posts (yeah, duh!). Google's acquisition of Blogger didn't help matters too much. Comments arrived, along with some other features, in 2004. So what does a hapless blogger do till then? Try a third-party offering. Haloscan and YACCS were the leading offerings then. A mental coin was flipped and I chose the latter. It had its problems, but then so did Haloscan. Procastination and the lack of any easy way to migrate comments from YACCS meant that I never adopted the new commenting system in post-Google Blogger.

The first cog in the merry wheel came in 2006 with a big redesign featuring a new templating system, a more interactive editing experience and more reliability. The only hitch was that YACCS didn't support this new system yet. So I stayed with YACCS, but made a mental note that I'd have to try and find a way to migrate the comments from YACCS to the Blogger system -- either with some convenient piece of software out there or by churning out some code myself.

The final blow fell recently on August 19, 2008, with the announcement that the YACCS service would be discontinued starting December 23, 2008; here's the text of the announcement reproduced from the main YACCS page:

YACCS will discontinue service on Dec 23, 2008

YACCS will discontinue its service on December 23, 2008. After this date, you will no longer be able to access comments, either on your site or through the YACCS homepage. Please download/archive your comments before this date. Thanks to all the supporters, translators and bloggers who have supported YACCS over the past seven years.

This left me no choice but to move to Blogger's commenting system. I went all in and adopted the new templating system as well. As I still continue to restore pieces from the original portal, I know that I'll have to write some code using the GData Blogger API. The good thing about YACCS is that it allowed me to export my comments in CAIF. That's the Comment Archiving and Interchange Format, something that Marcus Campbell came up with.

Thus I bid adieu to Hossein Sharifi's creation that has served this blog well for what few comments it managed to invite.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

was Rock On! meant to Bollywood's first rock movie set in the future?!

There's a moment in Abhishek Kapoor's directorial début Rock On!, as the title song plays in the background, when the camera pans across a set of posters adorning the wall.
the mothership trips time

Starting from the obligatory Che Guevara to a handful of photographs of John Lennon scattered about to one of The Beatles, one of Guns N Roses, a Rolling Stones poster sporting John Pasche's famous lips logo on a jean pocket and then, finally, Shepard Fairey's cover for the 2007 Led Zeppelin compilation Mothership. Whoa! Hit pause please. A few bits of dialogue in the film tell us that 10 years have passed since the band performed last for the contest. That camera pan was part of the flashback. This means that the present (featuring our former band members going through life like it was an endless novocaine trip) takes place in 2017 at the very least. It's nice to see that the film didn't have a dystopian view of Indian rock. Rock on!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

trailer plug: DEV.D

This post was long overdue. For those who haven't seen it yet, may I point to the theatrical trailer of Anurag Kashyap's forthcoming film Dev.D, a contemporary take on the Sarat Chandra Chatterjee classic based on an idea by Abhay Deol. The trailer offers a quick trip (no pun intended) into a daunting, intriguing world of myriad colours and sounds (try combining a street dance party brass band and some angry rock along with a cool hook called emotional [pronounced: e-mo-san-al] atyaachaar) fuelled by addiction and the quest for love in its many twisted forms.

Elsewhere, there's a tame poster along with a more adventurous one (courtesy: PFC).

Amit Trivedi, who handled the excellent soundtrack of Aamir promises another exciting mixed bag for this film:

We have 15 songs for Dev D. All the songs will be played in the background. There are four lyricists.
It has world music, Rajashtani folk, head-banging rock, street band baaja, an Awadhi song, Punjabi song and 1980's[sic] Euro-pop song.

As that wasn't enough, try appearances by the dance trio The Twilight Players in the film.

update: [december 18, 2008]: The official website boasts more of the variegated palette along with NSFW elements (you thought they were joking about "Lustline," didn't you?). The Tamil dirty talk is especially recommended for chortles. It's bandwidth hungry though and takes its time to load, so make sure you have a tank of patience before you click through the phantasmagoria.

Monday, December 15, 2008

the lord is my business

[february 02, 2008]

The first 20 minutes or so of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (after just the film's title as far as opening credits go) play out like a silent movie lovingly filmed to exploit the rich possibilities of widescreen until the silence is shattered with a Good Evening from Daniel Plainview right before the scene introducing us to him and his audience. Anderson eschews intensified continuity (a term due to David Bordwell), a technique rampant in Hollywood today featuring enthusiastically edited frames devoid of much information (Bollywood has probably taken this several miles further by presenting caravans of meaningless frames). Instead he sticks with patient long takes and a relaxed approach to a narrative embellished by a powerful score from Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. The score, which employs real instruments, is effectively eerie, reminiscent of the haunting motifs of Bernard Herrmann and the work of György Ligeti. All this only emphasises a towering consuming performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as the towering satanic Daniel Plainview embodying the American spirit while giving us a character unpleasant, unlikeable and compelling. I enjoyed watching the uneasy (unholy?) alliance between commerce (Plainview) and religion (the charismatic preacher Eli Sunday) as much as I did the measured steady pace of the film. The final act, however, has me in a pinch. I was impressed with its audacity, but I also felt cheated as the end credits rolled out like those in a silent movie. I just hope there was something I missed, something that a second viewing at some point will help me understand. There's no denying, however, the power of the film with all its warts and confounding elements.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

dibakar banerjee speaks and regales

PFC notches another big fat feather in its cap with a no-holds-barred conversation with Dibakar Banerjee, who scored with Khosla Ka Ghosla and whose bold second effort Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! managed to survive despite the unfortunate timing of Bombay's terror weekend. This is strictly NSFW (you get Delhi-style cussing, comparisons between precisely measured filmmaking and porn flicks among other things) but it's worth every minute. And there's a lot of praise for .

Thursday, December 11, 2008

whom were they apologising to?

[cross-posted on the Passion For Cinema blog]

I wasn't alone in wondering why jalate hai.n from Onir's Sorry Bhai owed something to ballo from Rabbi Shergill's Avengi Ja Nahin. It isn't surprising, really, when you notice that Gaurav Dayal, the music director for Onir's flick is credited as the music programmer and producer for ballo on Rabbi's album. Rabbi sued, but unfortunately the courts didn't heed the wisdom in the Krazzy/Sampath case. The Delhi High Court put a stay on the film forcing the release date to move past November 28, 2008, but eventually caved in and lifted the stay. The observations made justifying the court's belief that there wasn't enough water in Rabbi's claim to bathe the horse of plagiarism are worth a shipment of guano:

We are of the view that the main constituent of the song is the melody and some similarity in the rhythm of the accompanying acoustic guitar can't be sufficient to infer that the music director has plagiarized Shergill's song. In any case, even the lyrics are completely different. So, we are, prima facie, of the opinion that the movie song is not a reproduction

Perfect. The dimwits seemed to have chosen to ignore the similarity in the melody. Also, did anyone listen to the lyrics of both songs? Methinks there's more evidence of a filch there (if anyone cares). Here's more:

[T]he division bench judges also heard the song in the chamber to conclude that the only similarity between the two songs Jalte Hain from the movie and Ballo from Shergill's album was "in the use of guitar". This apart, HC said, "there is some difference in the use of accompanying sounds, comprising other instruments."

So much for being qualified. One hopes that, despite the Supreme Court's refusal to do anything useful in this matter for now, the second RS joins the first RS in finding justice.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

déjà bro

A promo (courtesy: PFC) is out for Onir's next directorial venture Sorry Bhai. The film's already got enough press as the return vehicle (or one of the release vehicles) of Chitrangda Singh. Although lyricist Amitabh Varma returns, the music director this time around is Gaurav Dayal. The song on the promo is a KK song naa jaane khoye kahaa.N. It's a dulcet melody with gentle orchestration that begins as an echo of Vivek Philip's work for My Brother Nikhil, but the tune develops into a set of melodic fragments that sound so much like Ballo on Rabbi Shergill's new album Avengi Ja Nahin. Coincidence, something more, anyone?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

it makes me wonder

If I call you because I'm unable to connect to the Internet, why do you have automated messages telling me to go to your support website for troubleshooting tips? Is there a secret avenue to the Internet when those merry lights on the modem aren't blinking (a mainstream way of telling me that there's no way I'm getting online)?

Did Asha Bhosle sing any more kar le pyaar kar le songs besides one for Kalyanji-Anandji in Sachaa Jhutha (worried about that spelling? go sue the namers of the film) and the unofficially-tuned-by-RDB S D Burman song in Talaash? And that Talaash song seems to contain the seeds of mai.nne dil abhii diyaa nahii.n from The Train, the soundtrack that marked the entry into Bollywood of the music company formerly known as Polydor (it since became PolyGram which became MIL which became Universal).

How can you sleep at night by using a euphemism like rightsizing to describe a layoff? Even euphemisms should have their limits.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

the records of ultra-violet rule

A ghastly spelling like Yuvvraaj at least ensures that you can get your own domain (unless some challenged speller got there first for entirely different reasons). Ghai's next plunge features a lot of firsts. This is his first film with Gulzar as the lyricist. This is also his first film featuring Salman Khan and his first film featuring Mithun Chakraborty. Unless you count their cameos in the SRK vehicle Om Shanti Om (right; that song in Naseeb upset the delicate balance of connections back then too). It's also his first film featuring Zayed Khan. Now that's something. You've really got something stinking in your stable to get the likes of that form of life on the roster. First film to feature Katrina Kaif too. Does that even count as a record? The waif's a hit thanks to being great stuff to look at, figuring in a ton of brain-dead box office busters (Race, Singh is Kiing) and being in the news for being the muse of the beefiest cake in town. Choosing the cello as her instrument of choice is but an obvious move to attempt to steal the thunder of Celina Jaitley's bikini-clad violin stunt in Janasheen. For the sheer low coefficient of clothing, Ms. Jaitley might still emerge (no pun intended) the winner.

yuvvraaj still courtesy

The still above offers some hints at what lies in store in Ghai's bloated opus. Salman Khan looks like he's blind; Anil Kapoor can't read; that old dame can't play and lassie can't figure out what she's doing in the frame. Meanwhile, the production design looks on. As a parting note, I believe the pronunciation of the film's strangely spelled name should be "U V Raaj" which adds a nice South Indian touch to the proceedings in addition to a certain unintentional nod to physics. Then again, UV rays are not visible to the human eye and this is clearly analogous to the film's merits. Over-exposure to UV rays causes sunburn; another analogy is plain to see. This spelling also fortifies a belief that Ghai is working on a light trilogy. After Black and White and UV Rays (it's not hard to go from Raaj to Rays), one wonders what the "showman" will come up with next. Yellow Mein Hari Piya?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

local boo

Creative Loafing, the generous rag of witty riches, has filed for Chapter 11. This isn't as newsworthy as the mess in Wall Street (in which taxpayers lose their money while the executives of the bailed-out AIG partied at St. Regis Resort). Meanwhile, one of those space-filling op-eds on the state of MARTA shows up in the AJC. Insufficient funding and unfair restrictions. Blah blah. The piece doesn't talk about the complete lack of monetary input from the County of Cobb to MARTA, despite the progressive presence of MARTA buses at Cumberland Mall (especially on Sundays when the good ol' boys governing Cobb deemed it fit to shut CCT down). The presidential candidates, meanwhile, continue to "debate" offering more text that should be fed through text retrieval engines -- heck! build a tag cloud -- instead of really promising anything useful. It's the two Joes (Sixpack and Plumber) at one end and "despite being articulate he seems to have that cocky air that cost Al Gore the election to the friendly neighbourhood apocalypse." All they say is like some of those papers you study in graduate school or like abstract poetry -- you make your own meanings; they are essentially saying what you want them to say. They ain't talkin' nothin' that'd help me. Streamline the management of work permits and work visas. Fix your data management systems so that the DHS, USCIS, IRS and SSA resemble a homogeneous governing ecosystem instead of a tragically fractured version of Babel. Project Mayhem makes more sense than any of the drivel about "fixing" health care. Stop running it as a business. Same thing for this gasoline "crisis." It's all hopeless. Everything's a business. That rickshaw driver back home asking for "half return" ain't got a thing on governing bodies that just don't understand the importance of transit in resolving a problem of consumption. Oh well.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

the oven of promise

The Nose has returned to pay tribute to one of the finest paeans to the feathered kind ever written in Bollywood, you are my chicken fry with a track off the forthcoming Karzzzz. The song's called Tandoori Nights; it must not be confused with that TV show featuring Saeed Jaffrey and it also holds no water to that Nagesh Kukunoor project called Tandoor that's seemingly stuck in development hell. This is not your average Chicken Tikkarzzzz ladies and gentlemen; this is not a patch in the slightest on the genius of the bejewelled Bappi. This is a predictably nasal earworm boasting nothing special. Sameer's lyrics, however, are quite promising (notice how he uses the title to fill in the creative gaps) right from the intoxicating mukha.Daa riffing in tribute to Anand Bakshi's antics in his collaborations with Viju Shah, even boasting a quote from a soul hit; Does anyone know where that short riff came from? I know I've heard it somewhere but the brain's a-baking right now:

the nose
(tak ta na na na (tandoori nights) * 3) * 2
samaa sharaabii dono jahaa.N sharaabii rut rawaa sharaabii diladaar ve
hawaaa sharaabii terii adaa sharaabii ye fizaa sharaabii diladaar ve

tanhaa tanhaa hai dil, tanha ##tandoori nights##
if loving you is wrong, I dont wanna be right

the nose
rabbaa rabbaa merii jaan jale (jale (jale (jale)))

ta ta na na na (tandoori nights) * 3

the nose
tere bin, tere bin merii jaan jale (jale (jale (jale)))

ta ta na na na (tandoori nights) * 3

(ta ta na na na (tandoori nights) * 3) * 2

Saturday, September 20, 2008

active intransitivity

Is it just my brethren (read: holders of an Indian passport or bearers of an Indian PAN card or recipients of a fat monthly income commensurate with their ability to churn out code that make Halahala look like Kwality Ice Cream) or are other people afflicted by the rather curious tendency to confer the status of ambitransitive upon verbs when using them in the present continuous tense. It's either that or an incorrect switch from passive voice to active voice. The do-ee appears to become the doer, but it's only a deception. A grammatical wolf trying to pull the wool over your tired eyes. Consider the line "The page is not displaying" -- my friend, "to display" is a strictly transitive verb; this means that the displayer has to display something. Perhaps you meant to say "The page is not being displayed"; this would mean that you were trying to activate a passive entity, which is something that works in the context of freedom struggles and revolutions but not grammar. Cease and desist otherwise you will be killing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

cyberlink's user abuse

Let me tell about this little pile of buffalo offerings called Cyberlink PowerDVD DX. This software to play DVDs ships with Dell computers and represents a new nadir in software usability. Put your DVD in the DVD tray and slide it in and voila, this menace begins to start up (sometimes even bypassing the magic Shift key). In order to offer the best in convenience it "un-mutes" your speakers and turns up the volume so that, if you're sitting there with headphones on, your ears are in for an aural pounding. And if you shut the damn thing down, it even "mutes" your speakers so that you don't have to do it yourself. Did I mention there's no notion of saved "preferences"? After you've recovered from the sound blast and have managed to regain control of your mouse or the shortcut hardware controls to adjust the volume, you realise that you have to wade through all that "unskippable" guano thanks to the software's obsequious refusal to skip the UOP flag. If this is one of the DVDs that begins with one of those loud annoying anti-piracy ads, not even God can save your eardrums. All said and done once you've managed to get past the noisome studio logo and distribution dross and have finally started with the movie, don't worry about such useful things as a time counter. Just sit back and pray you don't have to start the DVD up again and put your ears through another ordeal of decibels. The only reason I don't use VLC is because it's decided to go batty and play DVDs in fits and jerks. If I wanted an epileptic meltdown, I'd ask for one. A pity. Time to get ready with another DVD now with fingers close to the special key in order to bring down the volume levels.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

bappi's back and the truth hurts again

[thanks to Karthik over at I2FS for the pointer]

After raking in a load of dough with the Addictive victory a few years ago, Bappi's back in the news thanks to You Don't Mess With The Zohan using Jimmy Jimmy from Disco Dancer and giving him due credit. It's irony all over again and this time it's because the Bappi hit was a filch from You're OK by disco duo Ottawan. The Calcutta Times interview also includes the classic befuddling line Ottawan copied from me!. A 1980 song is a copy of a 1982 song. Who did it? The Time Traveller, no doubt.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

maverick malik does it again: but no one noticed

In addition to being a font of trashy songs (disco bhaa.nga.Daa from Ganga Jamuna Saraswati, Daddy Cool from Chaahat) and the under-sung classic Do me a favour let's play holii (holii (holii (holii))) from Waqt: The Race Against Time), Anu Malik's also been a champion of the bold and shocking lyric. The stellar example was Sexy Sexy Sexy from Khuddar, a song that caused a storm not when the audio cassettes and CDs hit the market, but when the clips started doing the rounds on countdown shows (Karisma Kapoor's skimpy outfit didn't help matters much). The watered-down version (replace all occurrences of sexy with baby: mercifully, we didn't have lines like he's a sexy elephant) joined the film in the bin of the forgotten forever (a pity, since its convoluted plot and heady mix of Bollwood tropes offers great fodder for a meeting of the sofa spuds).

Years later, after going through an incongruous phase of being a critical darling for stringing decent melodies while working with above-average lyrics, Mr. Malik has returned to flood 2008 with stinker after super stinker starting off with Anamika. Another furball in the kitty was the limpid soundtrack for Love Story 2050 released on the day of American independence. This is a Bollywood skiffy featuring Priyanka Chopra as Zeisha and her man Harman Baweja making his début as a Hrithik Roshan-lookalike. Listen to the classic score that Vangelis conjured for Blade Runner and then weep, wail, lament and convulse in syncopated grief as you listen to Malik recycle tropes from You Only Live Twice (the opening string riff shows up in miilo.n kaa) and Jaanbaaz (Lover Boy's a.ntaraa starts off sounding like an Anu Malik melody and then starts sounding like rejected material from pyaar do pyaar lo). The little gem on the soundtrack is the fruit of a collaboration between Alisha Chinai and Mr. Malik (once again, since the Khuddar song had Ms. Chinai warbling about what people called her). The track opens with a soundscape of electronic sounds against with Ms. Chopra zestfully looping corny lines with as much oomph as in permitted in family-friendly soft-core fare:

Zeisha (pronounced: zaay-shaa). She's tomorrow's woman that yesterday spoke about. She's a mystery. She's an enigma wo (pause) ek raaz hai.

As the track moves along the railroad of rejected samples, Ms. Chinai renders an oh-so-familiar onomatopoeaic riff, before launching into the line that marks a new frontier for Mr. Malik:

Hey you, lover boy. Will you be my toy?

Over and over and over just so that you don't miss it. Lest you are confused, this film was never (I repeat never) going to be called Toy Story 4. The next line, when it finally shows up, registers a knell of danger: kheluu.N khilono.n se phir to.D duu.N; Ouch. Does this mark the first ode to Steely Dan III from Yokohama in Bollywood? "All I can say is that we have not left any musical note or poetic phrase unturned" says lyricist Javed Akhtar in the liner notes. But only the macrobian Mr. Malik could have shown the way. Ave Anu.

Monday, September 01, 2008

killing of the green

The latest bill from a utility company looks different, it's more compact. One of the notes offers more information:

We are pleased to introduce our new and improved monthly billing statement featuring an updated design, new colours, easy-to-read layout and improved arrangement of resident account information.

Sure. Whatever. A drop in rates or a concession would have been more welcome, since the old format wasn't as confusing or intimidating as a BellSouth phone bill. Going green with e-billing is, however, a good way to cut down on the paper trails and stacks in your house (or wherever it is that you store your statements and bills). An electronic version is easier to store, back up and carry around.

However, the final note mentions a new e-bill service. This means I can "go green" and "go paperless" (except in the hall of judgement, if you're living in the US of A).

There's been a strange surge of campaigns for going green. The commercial real estate company owning your office building was probably handing out energy-saving 30 watt bulbs. There are probably handouts sitting a tray (let's ignore the trees killed to create those handouts) championing green computers and pro-green HVAC settings. In a city like Atlanta, you'll also get the "drive less go green" camp, whose arguments are weaker than those of the "drive less save money on gas[oline]" camp. All this is fine and dandy, but I'm waiting for the tax subsidies. There's nothing like a tax cut to get more people involved -- expecting people to go green merely for warm and fuzzy reasons like "saving the environment" or "making it a better place for you and for me" isn't practical.

On the other hand, you will always have utility companies like Georgia Natural Gas that still do not give you a chance to stop the paper bill. You can sign up for OCC (Online Customer Care), you can now even make payments through their online portal without a fee (instead of using your bank's e-Bill Pay service), but you cannot stop them from sending you a paper copy of that PDF you just downloaded. In the eloquent words on the "Electronic Bill Notification" page, You will continue to receive a paper bill. No chance of seeing the Green Green Gas of Home (sorry for that bad paperless pun).

DVD synopses

While casually eploring the catalogue at the public library, I hit the page for a DVD of Pratiggya, a 1975 Dharmendra starrer: Here's the synopsis from the listing: Dharmendra secretly goes under cover and gets revenge on the person that took his childhood and family away from him. "Secretly goes under cover"? As opposed to "loudly"? Makes sense if you consider movies like Haveli, in which Marc Zuber spent his time telling everyone he met that he was an undercover cop and that they shouldn't tell anyone.

Bollywood DVDs have long boasted some of the most entertaining synopses. A trip to the local Indian grocery store can prove rewarding as you scan the paragraphs on the backs of the numerous covers on the shelves. Laced with sentences that betray an uncomfortably weak grasp of English grammar, idioms and vocabulary, the synopses often end by posing a set of questions to the reader -- these aren't questions of the kind that plague the existence of a PhD student but questions that are more on the lines of teraa naam kyaa hai basa.ntii?.

A few samples exist in the archives of this basket of bile: Aag Se Khelenge, Trimurti). There is, however, always more grass in the field where that cow came from. Consider the synopsis of Baaghi, which includes the nugget: [...] Sajan along with his friends rescues his love from the brothel and feels happy about it (also note have Kajal becomes Kajol by the time the synopsis is done).

We end with the synopsis of Naaraaz, which revels in the strict cliché stereotyping, high concept character development and the catastrophically convoluted tapestry of coincidence that passes off for plot in Bollywood.

NARAAZ is a strange love story of two friends who are from opposite backgrounds.

We are thus introduced to the concepts of foreground and anti-foreground; since these never attain the appropriate quantum states in Bollylore, such buddies rarely destroy each other, despite the presence of a temporary mandatory conflict.

DEVA (Mithun Chakraborty) is from a low caste poor family and due to this kind of background, he is an angry person.

There's a sample of the abuse of the material conditional; low caste implies kashT and someone who's very very frust. gariibii implies gussaa. It must also be noted that well-off low caste people don't make very good subjects in Bollysagas.

There is a dramatic confrontation between the two loving friends who are both angry with the society following opposite paths.

That bit hints on the Dilemma of Societal Divergence, a theme common in numerous reeling excursions served up by the Bollyfilm fraternity (sorority too, whatever).

There's more where all this came from. But the archaeology of the asinine must wait for another day. In the meantime, the plots of Bollyspiced dishes, often complex enough to discombobulate the best experts in correlation and chaos, deserve their space. But that too must come in good time. Bhuvan Panda said it right: bhuukh ke binaa bhog swaadishT nahii.n lagataa. It's time to bring on the hunger first before the meal is served.

more power to few

Amogh points me to a article about supermarket juggernaut Tesco replacing its signs to say "up to 10 items" instead of the grossly incorrect (and yet colloquially acceptable) "10 items or less." The article also includes helpful notes on the difference between less and few for those interested.

In closing, may I serve up a tidbit from an old issue of the World Wide Words newsletter: A mother in Stockport got Marks and Spencer to correct a grammatical error (an incongruous apostrophe) in text on a pyjama top. In the newsletter, Michael Quinion notes perhaps it could amend the "Five items or less" notice that I spotted on Friday in the Bristol branch. The Tesco change might offer a glimmer of hope. I don't think we'll see a change as far as the TV show and the film are concerned.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

don't they call it steadicam for a reason?

Aesthetic choices in recent action thrillers seem sharply at odds with what I can stomach when I watch them. Two recent movies, the Will Smith blockbuster Hancock and the Don Cheadle vehicle Traitor, found their merits overshadowed (nay squelched) by creative choices in the departments of cinematography, editing and colour grading.

In addition to its other problems (a promising germ of an idea sacrificed at the altar of Akiva Goldsman and eclipsed by the star power of Will Smith) Hancock boasted footage guaranteed to induce motion sickness, headaches and general annoyance. All the stunts and special effects, all the simple dialogue sequences, all the simpler establishing shots were charged with the anxiety of an incontinent person desperately trying to find a ceramic seat of solace. While bobbing in ecstasy, the shots also swing in and out of focus (mostly out) making one wonder if these represented experiments in combining the techniques of action thrillers and those of cinéma-vérité. When this stylistic approach is extended to the action sequence, one laments the lack of dollars to fund a simpler, more coherent and more effective approach.

Traitor takes a great premise, interesting ideas and a serious earnest performance by Don Cheadle and sets them up against a battery of technical clichés that mount an assault on the senses that is comparable to the terrorism in the film. Clearly in the running for the award for low average shot length, the film employs desaturation and oversaturation of colour randomly (I'm sorry I didn't get the "different look for a different locale" device), enthusiastic energetic cuts even in the calmest of moments (the familiar flash-cut technique from Japanese horror films also makes an appearance) and, of course, the faux cinéma-vérité. The material is more engaging than in the Will Smith vehicle and manages to soothe the senses. There are sequences that are familiar to viewers of thrillers; and yet, what little remnant suspense they may hold is eroded by editorial decisions that seem to come from a different school of thought. Had it switched to a simpler mode of cinema, this film, despite its rather cursory handling of interesting characters and ideas, would have, thanks to Cheadle's performance as Samir Horn, been a lot more watchable. It was a surprise to see Aly Khan -- I remember him from Banegi Apni Baat, Private Detective and S4H3.

If you want to see how to shoot an action sequence more effectively, look no further than The Dark Knight). If you want to learn how simpler effective cinematography can contribute to your narrative (especially when you seem to have technically competent creatively challenged people on board), go watch the films of Sidney Lumet. And please add a note on your film poster about how shaky things can get. If I wanted to throw up (especially after a buffet at one of the many local Indian restaurants), I'll know which hall to walk in.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

white comanche: when the B stings

A very very good reason to watch White Comanche is that it features William Shatner in a double role. It gets even better when you find out that the man who made the howl "Khan!" a classic plays twins born of a white father and an Indian (read: the American kind) mother; hence, the title, O gentle reader. Thanks to the uneven distribution of genetic contributions from each parent, one's more American/White and the other's more Indian/Comanche. After exercising his chops playing evil alter egos of James Tiberius Kirk, Shatner found the perfect project to unleash one of his finest slices of smoked ham. Since it's Shatner playing both parts, the differences between them are subtle: the American twin is named Johnny Moon and spends most of his time in the film fully-clothed, while the Comanche twin is named Notah (which means "Snake") and rides about topless with a foul mood and a mean streak. The acting, led by His Highness Ham Kirk himself, is lamentable and the dialogue is loaded with strings of surreal non sequiturs and flights of facetious fancy (eat the peyote, drug of the devil – dream your dreams of hate!). Joseph Cotten had notched up a formidable list of credits on B-schlock and foreign productions (Syndicate Sadists showed up in the following decade) and shows up here as the Sheriff, spitting his lines with professional distance. A special note must be made of the background score that mixes Morricone and echoes of cues from Star Trek: The Original Series along with a strange blend of skiffle and brass.

Such names as Cotten and Shatner most likely seemed spectacular struts for the producers of this enterprise, but they bargained not for the power of the one playing two. Should you not be able to summon the courage to endure this enterprise (no pun intended), you may wish to skip ahead to the climactic duel between the two brothers. It starts off with an exchange of lines whose order may have relied on pure combinatorics and momentous metaphors:

Notah: Johnny Moon!
Johnny: Up here.

Johnny: You're as the wild duck that sits on the pond.
Notah: I have promised my people you will burn in the fire.
Johnny: I'm coming down.

SYN/SYN-ACK/ACK was so much easier. The quid pro quo builds up to a final duel -- both men, bare to the waist race their horses towards each other as they try to get a good shot for a kill; Notah's war cries punctuate the beginning and end of each run. It's worth the price of admission.

Monday, August 25, 2008


(in which he shares some pointers to online treats)

The Parallel Universe Film Guide combines the detail of Wikipedia and the unlimited expanse of a creative mind on the loose and serves up a buffet of reelfests that exist only in the ether of its pages. A few samples include I Know What You Ate For Breakfast, its sequel I Know What You Did That Day Last Week You Took Off For So-Called Religious Reasons and The Erotic Neurotic. There isn't a Scott Of the Antarctic, but there's enough for a chuckle or two.

If you've had enough grief dealing with all the cruft scattered about your hard disk like confetti by various applications in the MSFT Windows universe, try CCleaner. It's small, fast, free and extremely effective (it took less than 45 seconds to determine that more than 1 GB of assorted scattered bits of binary poop would not be missed and cleaned it out all out in less than 35 seconds).

Ever noticed the product placement for Cadbury's chocolate in Andha Kanoon ? there is no such thing as free lunch[sic] said Akshay Kumar in Aitraaz, a film that also had Annu Kapoor going Karbuuzaa Kud chaakuu ko majabuur kar rahaa thaa ki aa kaaT; ##come and slice me##.

I leave you with a pearl of wisdom buried deep in a line of dialogue from Tauba Tauba, one of the few films in Payal Rohatgi's skin-flick kitty: When everything is nothing, then i'll show you something. As Bappi Lahiri sang (with Kishore Kumar and Mohd. Rafi, no less), nothing is impossible.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

stuck in the groove

terii aa.Nkhe.n bhuul bhulaiyaa (hare raam hare raam) from Bhool Bhulaiya was admittedly catchy and well-mixed. But it's also one of those sticky lingering artifacts of a music director's work that refuse to fade away as he/she moves to the next project. I can't shake off that feeling of hare vu as I listen to tuu hai merii soNiye from Kismat Konnection and bas ek from Singh is Kinng -- that Neeraj Shridhar, who belted out the original song of devotion and skimpy damsels, shows up again on both tracks doesn't help matters.

It happened when Vishal-Shekhar moved on from Cash -- the rhythm track in Tashan's chhaliyaa owed something to naa puuchh. And when Raja Hasan's voice broke out on maarii tiitarii in De Taali, it was as if he had begun to sing taalii bajaawe (Tashan me.n) from Tashan.

If memory serves me right, A R Rahman's Taal leaked into one of Padayappa or Sangamam (all I remember is my reaction; alas, I wish I could be confident about the Tamil film).

This isn't meant to stray into territory covered by long discussions on the "signatures" of music directors or on how they reuse their tunes in part (an interlude in one song becomes the mukha.Daa of another; a motif on the background score evolves into a song for playing hide-and-tree) or whole (Hridaynath churned out a robust melody for Lata to sing both Ghalib's rone se aur and Lekin's suniyo jii). This is thus not the place to mention that kisakaa hai ye tumako i.ntezaar mai.n huu.N naa (Main Hoon Na) was born as dha.Dakataa hai dil in Baazi; this is not the time to note a little interlude on the flute in Abhay's koyal-sii milii tumako prefigures the title song of Kal Ho Naa Ho.

Rajesh Roshan found inspiration in When Johnny Comes Marching Home when he delivered na bole tum na mai.nne kuchh kahaa in Baaton Baaton Mein (Had you already watched Stalag 17 or Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, you'd have been wise on the lift; or perhaps it took the third edition in the Die Hard saga to jog your memory). Have you ever noticed how that tune shares a lot with the title whistle in A Fistful Of Dollars?

We end with offering a musical reason to remember and talk about skin flicks. Wild Orchid, one of the more famous works in the canon of Zalman King, boasts an interesting soundtrack, a song from which, Bird Boy features prominently in a scene as the camera follows Mickey O'Rourke and Carré Otis walking -- that melody showed up later to contribute to Nadeem Shravan's success with koii na koii chaahiye in Deewana; years later, Anand Raj Anand made jaane kyaa hogaa raamaa hay in Kaante). And if you want to hear that loop from maa.Ngataa hai kyaa from Rangeela, go watch Emmanuelle in Space.

ooh la la la ... raindrops keep falling on my head

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

one man, one take, one stunt

Titus Tinnitus is back. As the Melodious Monty all set to melt the earwax and the Rhinal Romantic all set to breathe new life into allergic clichés, the Nasal Nawab impresses his fans with another stellar achievement: a stupendous display of jumps, kicks and yells (a tribute to the late Bruce Lee, no doubt) for an action sequence -- and in a single take at that.

An audio feed of the event would no doubt have sounded like this: and ... Action!! ... Tish. Tish. Tishuu.N. aa-Tishuu.N. Tishuu.N. ... uu.N uu.N. Tishuu.N. ... and Cut!!.

The bearer of Bollywood Bonanza Blower revealed the secret of his ability to deliver such an efficient single take:

I am a huge movie buff and have grown up watching only movies. I have watched each superstar carefully and every good performer is like a guru to me. They are inspiration to me. So acting comes as naturally to me as music. That is the reason I was comfortable doing those scenes.

And I thought I was comfortable doing those scenes was usually something people tossed out when talking about sequences of on-screen intimacy. I like the implication that an inspiration is enough to fuel excellence. uu.N shaa.nti uu.N.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

holy linguish!

Please tell me someone didn't get paid to write inarticulate (no pun intended) drivel like this (unless they were talking about Shahid Kapur's passion for photography).

The exploration of painful Inglish (that's Indian English for you puTTan) continues with a look at the shadow of a doubt. That's doubt used as a verb in a sense as to mean exactly the opposite of convention. Consider the statement I doubt that this is what is causing the problem. This does not mean, dear hapless reader, that the speaker does not believe that this is the cause of the problem. Au contraire da befuddlement. The speaker, should he/she own up to having an Indian passport, means to say that he/she suspects that this indeed is the cause of the problem. One pities the ears and eyes that are at the receiving end of such oppositely coded pronouncements. Should you choose to subject your brain to some more topsy loops, try the entry for doubt in Eric Partridge's Usage and Abusage.

Before the closing rites, let us pray for the soul of the dative case in German that seems to have inspired (without official credit, of course) concoctions like "I replied him yesterday itself" and "Can you explain me this?" Note that both examples sorely lack an appropriately placed "to." Note also the appearance of the familiar "itself" topping off the first example -- this word along with "only" serves to emphasise, assert and underscore what has transpired before it. Mind it itself. We are like this only.

In closing, allow me to recommend George Orwell's excellent article Politics And The English Language. One hopes that this encourages those that fight against the abuse of the apostrophe, against the singular decline of the plural, against the ubiquity of specious verbosity and crap-speak and noisome neologisms. You ain't never alone.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

in which RGV writes and talks to enthrall

It's always fun to listen to RGV talk even though the films he's produced and directed of late have comprised some choice zingers and stinkers -- veritable challenges to the faith of his fans and those who still believe in him as a director. PFC snags a slice of the maverick filmmaker's time and gets him to go voluble on reel matters and familiar subjects. The fragments are a delight and one wishes they'd uploaded more material. One of the things that comes up a couple of times is the tussle between craft and content. The Breathing Method contained what has now become a classic Stephen King line (he even uses it to open Different Seasons, the collection containing the story): It's the tale not he who tells it. Arguably, the teller is inextricable from the tale (consider Satya directed by Karan Johar as an example -- It's all about loving your shooting). RGV brings it up too, noting that if people noticed the craft in his movies, he probably wasn't working with subject matter that was strong enough to hold the attention of the audience. The craft exists to bolster the content. That along with why he thought Om Shanti Om was the most honest film he had seen.

Meanwhile, back at his blog, a new post talks about the genesis of Rangeela and offers some fine words about Aamir Khan; it also casts an arc light on the cause of the famous tiff between the two while dropping an all-too-familiar name in the process. It takes a great deal of courage to write some of the things he's written there and the closing block says it all:

And before some minds out there jump to this conclusion that this is an effort on my part to patch up with him in order to do a film with him I want to categorically state here that I will never ever do a film with him and the reasons for that are:
(a). I am not as sincere or as committed as him.
(b). I don't have his patience.
(c). Above all I truly think he is a far better filmmaker than me.

One could be forgiven for mistaking all that he has said and written as some sort of sop to all his critics (although there's enough evidence that he doesn't care much either for sycophantic bearers of praise or of sprinklers of caustic bile), but there really can't be any denying his ability to entertain as an interview subject. Few Bollywood filmmakers can manage that.

[august 16, 2008]: Elsewhere, Baradwaj snags an interview with the man and watches how RGV turns the tables and takes control. It's also interesting to see (as BR has noted as well) how some of the things RGV echo his statements in the PFC interview (not to mention stuff on his blog).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

capitalist JDBC and more lingua frantica

[with acknowledgements to JR for the samples we exchanged while discussing this many months ago]

Is it money, phone plans or calling cards? What affects the mind so much that you describe prepared statements as prepaid statements?

Homophones are a great cause of mirth and misery. Like the times people write "in sink" instead of "in synch" -- or were they offering subtle commentary on Timberlake's band of yore?

Then there's the apparently Indian (aka desii) fondness for the past tense of will in statements. Would, when used correctly, conveys a sense of the past or of the remote conditional (e.g. I would have said that if I could, If I had wings, I would fly) or even the touch of the formal (e.g. I would like a glass of water without ice please). But the desii take is a unique improvisation. Reading lines like I would be doing this tomorrow or I would be coming in late [did he/she mean I would be coming in late if I could? -- a case of elision feeding ambiguity that's highly unlikely] makes me cringe. Here's an article online (chosen purely at random, mind you) that opens with a salvo of teaky torture. I really wish they wouldn't do that.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

casablanca without heroes

I've never read a John Le Carré novel. Ever. Not even that precious weathered copy of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (retrofitted with a photograph of Richard Burton from the film adaptation) acquired in one of the numerous raddii shop runs years ago. But I've been aware of the adventures of George Smiley and of the film adaptations including The Russia House starring Sean Connery.

pinter, tailor, spy
pinter (centre), tailor (left), spy (right)

The first film adaptation of a Le Carré work I ever saw was The Constant Gardener. That solemn brooding piece of work could hardly have prepared me for The Tailor Of Panama, adapted for the screen by the writer himself (the only one so far) and directed by John Boorman. John Boorman creates a version of Le Carré's book that gets a life of its own on the screen. This is a film that works more as an acting piece than a thriller laced with spectacle and the players don't disappoint. Pierce Brosnan ends up being the second Bond actor to figure in a Le Carré adaptation and makes the most of his chance to play the "antithesis of Bond". His Andrew Osnard is an MI-6 agent, whose cover has been blown after an affair with an ambassador's mistress; Osnard's boss manages to get him a final chance -- he sends him off to Panama to try and uncover something; Osnard knows how to play people and especially women (a Bond-ian trait taken past the PG-gilded curtains of the franchise). Brosnan riffs on his image as Bond, as he imbues Osnard with a familiar charm and yet also spikes him with a dose of nastiness. Geoffrey Rush plays the titular character, Harry Pendel. Harry is a tailor, but the trouble with Harry (aah the pun!) is that he spins tales. Pendel is a nice timid and tragic figure; The shifting evolving relationship between the two men occupies the bulk of the film.

There are a few flourishes that I liked: The film opens with an interesting use of descriptive text over the film that describes the Panama canal and finally marks a segue to the main title. It's an interesting alternative to the voiceover; call it a "text-over" if you like. The other is a scene in a brothel where Harry tells Andy about the President's plans to sell off the canal as they sit on a vibrating bed while a porn film featuring Asian girls runs on the television set in the room. It's set up without fanfare and manages its effect thanks to the actors and a camera setup that eschews any attempt to draw your attention to the elements of the production design. Then there's now-Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter showing up as Uncle Benny, Harry's dead uncle and conscience. And there are references to Casablanca, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a Richard Blaine here. It's not that kind of movie.

Triviamongers will also spot Daniel Radcliffe making his film début, playing Harry's son; years later, Radcliffe has made the journey from Pendel to Potter to become famous for playing a Harry of his own.

retorts to billshot

JR's put up a splendid compilation of "malapropriate" crapspeak. Anyone who's been in corporate meetings or presentations will no doubt recognise these verbosely vapid samples of aeriform excess born from the unholy union of elision, obfuscation and political correctness. He's promised another post dedicated to retorts to stupefy the purveyors of spissitudinal codswallop; I cannot resist contributing a teaser for that: He brought a great deal to the table -- A great waiter, was he?.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

all about ash

image courtesy: the boston phoenix
The Evil Dead is perhaps the scariest of the trilogy that made Sam Raimi famous, even though it is not without touches of humour and moments where you wonder if you're supposed to laugh or scream (or, perhaps, both). The presence of footage from the film in Donnie Darko (which I caught again recently) might well count as a repeat viewing.

The Evil Dead II was a little more overt about its debt to The Three Stooges while still heaping up gore and comic horror. Issues with rights prevented this sequel from using footage from the original and it consequently ended up starting off as what looked like a re-interpretation of the events in the first film. The first time I saw it, the scene that lingered was the light bulb filling up with blood before inevitably exploding and splattering the basement. The second time I saw it, the wonderfully ingenious twist in the sequence when the force chases Ash into the house won. That scene merited an instant rewind.

Surprisingly, I ended up watching Army Of Darkness rather late (last year, to be precise). The verbal essence of this film and the two films that preceded it was already familiar thanks to heavy use of lines in Duke Nukem 3D, an old favourite on the PC. The film continues to riff on The Three Stooges, but its props betray a debt to Jason And The Argonauts and The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad, both featuring the classic stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen. Besides boasting the hilarious appearance of Evil Ash, the film itself proved to continue to showcase ingenious approaches to low-budget filmmaking: my favourite would have to be that they used women (dancers, especially) for the skeletons, because they had a more amenable body frame. Consider that a skewed example of forced perspective if you like. One must not forget Sam Raimi's multiple cameos.

But all this is really an excuse to show off the cool poster, which is one of several showcased in a book called Translating Hollywood: The World of Movie Posters that contains several samples of international posters for Hollywood movies. The use of Campbell soup cans is priceless.

Friday, August 01, 2008

balaji's angel

Celina Jaitley, who will always be known for the remarkable method acting employed in faking it at playing a violin in a bikini, has finally answered her true calling by appearing in her first item number. Who better to showcase her talents that the grocer of serial saponification, Ekta Kapoor. The film, which, as mandated by the Kapoor Klan Kasting Klause stars little brother Tus[s]har K, is called C Kkompany (why not just K Kkompany? creativity, perhaps) and revolves around three best friends and a harmless prank, which turns their lives topsy turvy. Sounds like Khel Khel Mein. While Ms. Jaitley attempts to meet or surpass the expectations set by RGV's uninhibited screen kitten Nisha Kothari, we can rest assured that the film's going to be a piece of Krap.

past popcorn-free experiences: breach, exotica

At the end of Breach, I saw it as The Ipcress File stripped of its humour and genre-spoofing, but with an extra helping of the mundaneness of espionage that went by on display in first half. It's a sweeping generalisation, of course. Yet, the calm patient narrative in Billy Ray's film manages to deliver a sense of tension while remaining primarily a drama whose outcome we are aware of simply because the film is based on true events: the arrest of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who was a spy for the Soviet Union. Without doubt, the film belongs to Chris Cooper's performance as Robert Hanssen, although our protagonist is Eric O'Neill, an FBI operative working undercover to snag evidence to bring Hanssen in, played by Ryan Philippe, who, despite turning in a competent performance, doesn't quite offer a convincing nemesis for Cooper's Hanssen. Hanssen was an interesting character (a devoted religious family man with a penchant for making amateur porn films and selling his nation's secrets to the enemy) and Cooper's performance draws you in. It, however, isn't enough for a film that is perhaps a tad too restrained, a mite too under-stated and rather "under-exciting." Cooper's performance offers a compelling reason to watch the film but also sets it a really tall order to live up to.

Atom Egoyan's Exotica uses a nightclub as a focal point in a film about characters very different and uniquely strange and yet very believable. Aided by strong performances and a wonderful sense of design, Egoyan uses a non-linear odyssey into a world of intimacy, aloofness, desire (or the lack thereof) and cold business. Mychael Danna's tapestry of Middle Eastern and Asian influences lends the film an appropriate aural texture as do the songs (listen carefully and you'll hear tumhe.n yaad karate karate). Lives and hearts seek ways to communicate in a claustrophobic world that encompasses the restricted carnal pleasures in the densely atmospheric strip club that gives the film its name and the cramped bustle of the exotic pet shop whose owner smuggles rare bird eggs into the country. There's no way I can forget Leonard Cohen's voice singing Everybody Knows after this.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


When their car breaks down on a lonely road, a couple on the verge of a divorce finds a room in a motel from hell. That brief does gross injustice to Nimród Antal's Hollywood début Vacancy. The wonderful opening and closing credits echo the work of the legendary Saul Bass, whose credits include the titles for Hitchcock's Pyscho, the film that established the evil motel as a classic trope.

Despite being faced with making a genre piece that treads familiar ground, Antal chooses to tackle the material with intelligence, patience and respect. Frames are imbued with a sense of dread, no thanks in part to Andrzej Sekula's cinematography and Paul Haslinger's score. The aspect of selling terror and fear exists not only in the film's genre but also in its disturbing sub-plot involving a snuff film ring. Antal stays away from stuffing the film with standard elements of shocking gore and flash-cut torture porn; he instead allows our minds to make the scary moments even more frightening. The characters that pepper the film, including our leads, exist instead of merely showing up as familiar props. The film's end offers another surprise for those used to having their terror flicks topped with a twist ending, a sequel-friendly switcheroo or a segue into expository calm. It only comes as fine dessert for a fine main course. This is a film that respects its genre and its audience and that's saying a lot in the present climate of Saw and Hostel wannabes.
PS: In its infinite wisdom, Hollywood has found a way to feed a franchise. A sequel, written by Mark L. Smith, the writer of this film, is in the works. It's direct-to-DVD, though.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

short notes for reelers from the past

Ahista Ahista: Shivam Nair's directorial début boasts Imtiaz Ali's second writing credit and a return of Abhay Deol to play a character penned by Ali. Shivam Nair unfortunately can't do what Ali did with Socha Na Tha. Deol's character, Ankush, is a witness-for-hire outside marriage bureaus (which reminds me of Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan playing courtroom witnesses-for-hire in Immaan Dharam). The premise is sound and promising, but the film sports the song-and-dance breaks that destroy any hope for a sober narrative. Soha Ali Khan doesn't quite master her interpretation of Megha Joshi, something that can't escape your attention given that the film sports sequences where the camera lingers on her. The background score is obtrusive and bland, laced with irritating persistent motifs. The pace (no pun intended) is another problem. The problems of speed are nowhere evident than when the end credits begin to roll. We hit the FF button on the remote to speed things up only to find that this only made the film play in normal speed! So much for a title being such a big hint about what was in store.

Sleepaway Camp: [warning: spoilers] This cult classic from the 80s rode on the wave of the success of slasher flicks at the time, in particular the Friday the 13th canon. Director Robert Hiltzik adopts the summer camp device made famous in Sean S. Cunningham's film; he also proves deliciously creative with the deaths (the chef at the camp is viciously scalded by the contents of an overturned cooking vat, a kidtaking a dump dies after the mystery figure tosses a bee hive into the cubicle, a face of a victim is smothered by a pillow while the body is squeezed between the bed and the wall) along with a shower killing that by existence alone is a nod to Psycho. Hiltzik's face is loaded with clichés (kids mouthing obscenities; bullies getting their comeuppance) and bad acting, but has a strong pumping campy heart. The film's claim to fame, however, lies in its "gender-bending" twisted twist (you heard that right) that also takes care of another not uncommon device in films about serial killers -- gender confusion as a motivation for the killings.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

fracture: homicidal modern

Lt. Robert Nunally: Your wife? Is she OK?
Ted Crawford: I don't think she is. I shot her.

Although packaged as a mystery thriller with twists awaiting the viewer in the final feet, Fracture is clearly a chamber piece for two set against a larger cinematic canvas. Anthony Hopkins plays Ted Crawford, a wealthy structural engineer who kills his adulterous wife and then gets himself exonerated by employing a convoluted scheme. His adversary is Willy Beachum, played by Ryan Gosling fresh from the praise for his performance in Half Nelson. Crawford's profession provides the source for the film's title and dominant idea (everything and everyone has a weak spot). Working like the Rube Goldberg machine seen in the opening credits, Crawford's scheme exploits Willy's over-confident disregard for the case. Hopkins has the charisma to steal the show in scenes set up for the actors to bandy chops; despite this, Gosling holds his own rather well by delivering an unforced interpretation of the ambitious Willy Beachum, who tries to come to terms with being taken for a ride. There is a lot of welcome detail in the film's texture that often assists exposition (the sign in the meeting room noting that there's no time limit for attorney meetings, the various artifacts in the courtroom). The background score by Mychael and Jeff Danna is dramatic and brooding; despite the synthesised elements, it echoes the tropes of film noir (there's even a rather Herrmann-esque motif at an early moment in the film), offering a complement of tension to the on-screen proceedings. The narrative and the performances make for a reasonably engaging viewing experience, although things might seem a bit too relaxed (or boring, as the case may be) for people who're used to their thrillers served up with more action and edited by Edward Scissorhands. And yes, everyone in this universe seems to use a Mac.

Friday, July 18, 2008

things we said today

A post on Salman Khan's blog about marriage contains a nugget that writers of Bollywood comedies[sic] might like to use:

... the oldest popular statement is that 'Shaadi ka ladoo jo khaye who bhi pachtaye aur joh na khaye who bhi pachtaye'. I don't like sweets so it doesn't concern me.

Amogh points me to the second nugget, a reminder of the tragicomic state of Indian politics:

Earlier in the day, BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu presented to the media independent MP from Amroha in Uttar Pradesh Harish Nagpal, who has decided to oppose the government and vote against it. Mr. Nagpal said: "I have not read the documents related to the nuclear deal and I do not understand the issues. But I am against the deal."

And here's where the title of this post came from.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

misspelled assault at the marquee

While one flick with an overzealous moniker is set to hit the stands, the whatabouts of He Who Recently Decided To Chuck His Cap promise more mayhem at the marquee and in primary schools where spelling is taught with great difficulty. First up is A Love Iiiisshtory, a pronunciation guide for which will (no doubt) be handed out to every patron during the premiere. The spelling differs from the last time this flick was mentioned hereabouts. The correct number of Is (2, 3, 4, more?) will also be revealed. It would be quite tragic if the ordinal magic was not configured correctly. The Supposed Singer Of Sufi ("I have realised that comedy is my forte") marks another first in this film by doing stunts (not to be confused with the frenetic facial jerks in his videos).

Cooking elsewhere is another flick directed by Satish Kaushik. A creative partnership seems to be burgeoning between the director of such tongue-twisters as Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain (translated: I dwell in your heart) and Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai (translated: my heart is with you ya) and the hirsute nasalite who popularised snot-free sa.ngiit. The film's called Hhey Gujju! (a tribute to the typographical horrors of Sajid Khan's Heyy Babby) and features The Walking Sneeze in a double role. Two for the price of one. Very very saaruu. One of the nostrils is a Gujarati bhaaii from Rajkot named Karsanlal Trikamlal Gandhi, who lives in Chandni Chowk, New Delhi; the other nostril is a non-resident Indian casanova (clearly) named Akash Patel. Ardent listeners of Tishoo Tunes can expect a lot of Gujarati folk fusion music. Quentin Tarantino was criticised for the racial epithets (especially the N-word) that he peppered his films with, while it was fine for African-American filmmakers to bandy the word around. He Who Is From Gujarat should thus have no problems with the title of the film. Yet, one never knows. Singh Is Kinng (ugh, SI[C]K!) had to negotiate some tricky Sikh waters. Satish Kaushik's reelfest might not have it all fine and Daa.nDiyaa.

The fresh lassie roped in is Lakshmi Rai (chosen because of her Punjabi looks), who's already made a name for herself in South Indian cinema. As a parting note, here's the song Can You Feel My Love featuring the said lassie in a flick called Kanchanamala Cable TV.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

one N to ruin them all

one N to find them, one N to bring them all and in the darkness blind them (John Ronald Reuel Tolkien about the inane misspelled title of the newest offering from Akshay Kumar and Vipul Amritlal Shah ... wishful thinking)

Akshay Kumar is slated to be the next Tom Cruise. Even in the garb of a Sikh, complete with the Bollywoodian flourish of a fluorescent lime turban he remains Akshay Kumar in every epileptic gesticulation, in each frenzied flail, in all conversations in abandoned forms of sign language that pass off as dance. One contends that even when he plays a priest wearing a Surf-white cassock, a purple epitrachelion and a flaming red belt in a movie purportedly titled "John Is Donne." He will remain eluctably Akshay Kumar. One M only. The extra N is, as you may have guessed O victims of word abuse, a numerological safeguard. VAS puts it thus: As a Producer I have my film's interest to caretake. We need success at any cost. My view has always been that whatever can be done to better the vibes of the film or add to the 'luck' factor should be done. So simply, the extra N is only to bring it numerologically to an auspicious number. What that auspicious number is, we'll never know. It probably becomes inauspicious, if revealed. Count your blessings. This film will probably add Sikhs to the list of objects that can be mocked.

ranbir steiger?

After having scored big at the box office by milking the economic potential of nostalgia in Veer-Zaara , the purveyor of DVD detritus, Yash Raj Films, is back with another pair of hands eager to squeeze the udders of the cow of fond filmy memories with Bachna Ae Haseeno, starring Ranbir Kapoor, the owner of the famous fundament in Saawariya as the only male corner in a square along with Deepika not the TV Shanti Padukone, Bipasha Dhoom 2 Doppelgänger Basu and Minissha "Hipster" Lamba. Teen Deviyan it ain't. The title doesn't merely hark back to the Pancham classic. You are also reminded that the film starred the Daddy-O of young Marcello. That track gets dressed up with Sumit Kumar in a duet with his late father's voice and Vishal Dadlani rapping effortlessly to boot. Unforgettable.

Although the plot of such an enterprise is purely a matter of procedure and decorum , one wonders if, by some eerie surreal quirk of creative fate, this film could have been based on a 1968 Rod Steiger starrer No Way To Treat A Lady. That flick was a dark comic thriller and filching it would surely mark a little leap for Bollywood. Alas, one predicts numerous shots designed to make the guys drool and the girls sigh, more examples of bullet vision abuse and cutting that would make you wonder if the editor was fighting a losing battle against incontinence. The film's title lends itself to an initialism that summarises this wistful whine of a post. Humbug.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

the tashan of the Christ

image courtesy: Entertainment.OneIndia
Rajnikanth, Kamal to attempt a Ben Hur! screams the hyperbolic headline of a blurb at What follows is a note that the recently ravan-ous Kamal Haasan and the raato.n kaa raajaa (not to be confused with that Dheeraj Kumar "classic") aka the CAD (Computer-Assisted Do-gooder) are all set to appear together in a film based on the life of St Thomas, the apostle of Jesus Christ. The report notes that the film's going to derive its approach from films like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur (hence, dear reader, the big leap of faith to the headline).

Kamal Haasan's barbigerous claim to playing the Saviour is backed by the possibility that Rajnikanth can play the doubting disciple and say tum ##Jesus## nahii.n ho sakate!. To which Kamal saar could respond with his patent-pending grimace (the resigned acceptance of yet another familiar calamitous happening -- one could imagine Atlas when presented with another world to shoulder right after having famously shrugged).

Then again, perhaps it is best for the superstar to sport the stigmata, don the flowing robes, grow a silvery beard, convert familiar Tamil-Fu moves into divine gestures (minus the juggling acts with the cigarette -- no smoking please, we're saints). He's already played the title role in Bhagwan Dada. He could also offer an interesting interpretation of the infamous Einstein/Bohr exchange (Einstein: God does not play dice; Bohr: Don't tell God what to do!). Besides, if Rajnikanth, who can?

Sunday, July 06, 2008


The Village Voice is carrying a review of the latest collection of reels to bear the name of Kunal Kohli as director, Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic. This in itself isn't shocking/alarming/heartening (depends on how you want to look at it); journalists and film writers in various rags have been carrying capsules dedicated to the big Bollywood releases in major cities in the USA (The New York Times is an example of one such bearer of said reviews). Unfortunately, these journos (barring people like Anupama Chopra) don't strike me as the kind of people who've had enough exposure to Bollywood. As a passing curio, Bollywood flicks work fine: the surreal mix of non sequitur song and dance sequences, high melodrama (nothing mellow about it mate), tacky costumes, misplaced technique and the world's most convenient coincidences would have made Buñuel proud had it been an created with the intent of being surreal). And if you're a PIO living in the USA, chances are that the flicks you'll catch, if at all, are the big banner releases with big names, the flicks that seem to promise some profits to the local distributors.

So unless you're really following Bollywood films in totality and finding ways to fill the gaps for the smaller films (or, for that matter, for the other big flicks that didn't make the cut abroad), you're likely to really off down the wrong road as far as reading the Bollywood flicks you watch, especially when you attempt to evaluate them in the context of Bollywood (I really have no problems with you going Lacan on the films or comparing them to oeuvres you're more familiar with). The aforementioned review seems guilty enough, given fragments like the following:

Yes, the film is glossy and colorful, and yes it features a dancing velociraptor, but Kohli’s film stands out from the glittering Bollywood oeuvre for its refusal to capitalize on America’s caste-fascination and its conspicuous paucity of glitzy song-and-dance numbers.

Promos for Bollywood flicks continue to focus only on the songs. Be it a murder mystery, a romantic comedy, an intense drama about communal tensions or an action spectacular, you're going to get the same bland overexposed dissolve-montage of frames featuring people in costumes and poses. The promos for Kohli's flick (some of which feature that velociraptor -- a poorly animated creature too) are enough evidence that there's no paucity.

Instead, the bulk of the movie consists of inscrutable character psychology in (dis)service of a messy plot, all layered with a less-than-subtle comic critique of American cultural dominance.
Kohli is clearly jostling for a slot as a serious filmmaker—eschewing airier Bollywood themes for (often implausible) knotty emotional entanglements[...]

Sigh. Are we talking about the same movie here? Is this the movie featuring that shot of Rani Mukherjee riding a bicycle looking like Medusa after an appointment at the beauty clinic or are we talking about a special version released only for journalists? Serious filmmaker my fundament! airier Bollywood themes? Is that a euphemism for hot air and ballast? I wouldn't know. I'm not on the same wavelength here. Very very tragic.

PS: That title's not exactly Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but you get the idea.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

ek ajnabee: a boring stranger on fire

[thoughts on Tony Scott's Man On Fire and Apoorva Lakhia's uncredited reworking of the film, Ek Ajnabee (rants dedicated to that may be found here and here and there's something dedicated to Taran Adarsh's egregious reviewing habits as well)]

Reportedly, when Brian Helgeland was in a video store, Quentin Tarantino, who was working there, recommended the 1987 adaptation of Quinnell's novel Man On Fire. Seventeen years later, Helgeland's adaptation made it to theatres as a Tony Scott vehicle. One almost wonders if Apoorva Lakhia went through a Helgeland-like experience himself before he decided to execute a false shuffle with the elements of the film and script his "original" follow-up to the uncertified cure for insomnia named Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost.

Tony Scott’s version, despite being a serviceable action thriller, also finds the director out of control with his technique. The dynamic camera, kinetic style and greedy editing cartwheel into overdrive in an explosion of jump cuts, pan, sweeps and jitters soaked in a diseased veneer that augments the feeling of a bad trip. The script and the performances bolster the latent themes of retribution and redemption (which, with the American Joe sweeping in the aid of the Mexicans, fuel a right-winger’s wet dream), but Scott’s style constantly draws attention to itself and nearly destroys the experience. “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) is a quote that comes up in a conversation between John Creasy and Sister Anna; Scott seems to have appropriated it and presented his version (“Do not be overcome by the screenplay but overcome the screenplay with technique”). This is the altar where Sanjay Gupta attends mass.

With the bids rather low on Scott’s original, Lakhia, it would seem, had an easier task before him. All he really had to do was translate things to a suitable milieu, make things believable in the desii universe and, with a few competent performances, he’d have a reasonable copy that bore only a whiff of kerosene. Alas, Mr. Lakhia had bigger fish to fry in castor oil.

He cooks up a script with dialogues laced with cuss words destined to be bleeped in all releases. These include the F-word, anatomical slang and an offensive term owing its origins to the female of the canine species. Since the Big B has been game for all sorts of new age on-screen excursions, he gets to drink Starbucks coffee, mouth some of these in addition to the familiar set of pronouncements that kept dialogue writers busy and paid in Bollywood for decades (बुरे वालों को सज़ा देना ऊपरवाले का काम है और ऊपरवाले तक पहुंचाना मेरा काम है). Perizaad Zorabian stands in for Radha Mitchell, Arjun Rampal for Christopher Walken and Rucha Vaidya, who was last seen standing in for Dakota Fanning in the I Am Sam ripoff Main Aisa Hi Hoon (translated: I Am Like This Only), stands in for her again.

A character that seems to have received a lot more attention in the writing and the making is that of Wong played by Raj Zutshi. He has a ball with the makeup and some choice lines. In 1972, Anand Babu (Rajesh Khanna) repeatedly voiced his hatred for tears in Amar Prem; here Wong expresses his hatred for crowds. He also gets a mouthful of non sequiturs to spit out: a coward born is a coward dead; कमजोर लोग मुझे बचपन से ही पसंद नहीं ; life's a b*tch. It's a pity the film's about someone else.

The songs and background score from Amar Mohile along with the title track from Vishal-Shekhar emerge as the only interesting fruit in this catastrophic cultivation. In addition to Lara Dutta's cameo at the end, we also get yet another one from Abhishek Bachchan. Another bit of tradition gets its due when Sanjay Dutt shows up in a music video during the end credits. All this doesn't do much to hide Lakhia's conceit best evidenced by the cap that the Big B is wearing in the scene where the family is headed for London. The cap bears the name of Lakhia's last film and serves as a reminder of the kind of misguided self-congratulatory entity we are dealing with.

Friday, July 04, 2008

aggar: a triumph of disaster

The extra 'G' is but one of the things in Aggar, yet another addition in Anant Mahadevan's exploration of the thriller form as a dentist's appointment. Mithoon Sharma's songs offer some relief best sought in aural form, separated from the trite tapestry of images and moments spun to their cadences. The Nose was the original choice for music director and one wishes that he had stayed on to offer more nostrills. The premise seems oddly familiar to things in Asylum, a novel by Patrick McGrath that was adapted to film in 2005; but enough has happened to it to save it from indictment.

What we have is the unholy triangle of a shrink, his wife and his patient played respectively by the talented Shreyas Talpade, the perennially irritated Udita Goswami and the chaetophorous tragic Tusshar Kapoor (two S, two O, where will my career go?). The casting choices alone offer enough hints should you wish to try and crack the narrative twists and save yourself time.

The destruction of promise starts off early. The opening credits are revealed against a background of smoke through blinds-like black bars running outward left to right and right to left. These are intercut with fast-cut shots of the characters. The surprise at seeing something reasonably competent is short-lived as soon as the the main title pops up in a tacky not-quite-haematic red font. We are then treated to a host of tropes that are permanent fixtures in the quivers of incompetent filmmaking in Bollywood: a languid pace, misconceptions about the purpose of editing and, the most common one of them all, earnest hamming.

This is a world where everyone has a Nokia cellphone, uses only Lenovos and drives white Toyotas. If you look at the call history in Udita Goswami's cellphone, you'll know that this movie is set in December 2006. If you look carefully at the cellphone numbers that figure in the movie, you can also nail the twist before it nails you.

This brings us to what each performer got out of this film. Tusshar gets to dance to a Mithoon ditty with a George Michael poster in the background; he riffs with Shreyas Talpade about windows (the opening/shutting kind not the perpetually crashing kind); he gets to compete with Celina Jaitley's bikini/violin shtick by hamming it on the flute. He even gets to pay tribute to Daler Mehndi by showing up in triple form in ki bin tere. He gets a combination of IPC 305 and 306 (aiding a suicide -- go figure!) tossed at him. Meanwhile, Udita Goswami pronounces vinyls as wii-naails. The two are also the participants in the obligatory fully-clothed sniff-a-thon that passes off as the family-friendly desii steamy sequence. The film also attempts a new record in information hiding by delaying the occasion when we actually find what the name of Udita Goswami's character is. She also ends up notching another record for the film when she spits the F-word, in uncensored fashion, at Tusshar Kapoor (the line, dear reader, is I f*cking hate you!): more proof that the censor board had nodded off in boredom. What of Shreyas Talpade? He gets to mouth bits of deep zen like अब अगर दुनिया को पीठ दिखाओगे, आर्यन, तो दुनिया भी तुम्हें पीठ दिखायेगी (translation: if you turn your back to the world, the world will turn its back to you; alternative translation: if you back the world, the world will back you; how's that for back-to-back alternatives?) and ख़ुदा नहीं बस थोड़ा ख़ुदगर्ज़ हूँ (translation: I ain't God, I'm just a bit selfish; selfish? Fish. Ichthyus. Jesus. But ... that means he's the Son Of God and hence, by definition of the Trinity, God. O Theology!).

Special mention must be made of the annoying character serving up the obligatory comic interludes that should have died several years ago. This character is responsible for groan-inducing utterances like इस route की सभी लाइनें मस्त हैं and जिसे मैं अपना cyrus समझता था वो बाजूवाले का virus निकला.

And what of the subtitles? Rest assured, dear reader. The gems continue to inundate the ticker; whether they are products of a cogent mind playing a joke in glee or outpourings of incompetent putzes on the payroll. Consider as a sample the subtitle "for those who don't believe in court?" which accompanies the line "for those who don't believe in God?" This is either a hint at a subtext about a legal system with its roots in a code of morality motivated by religious beliefs or the result of bad hearing.

It's all about a 200 crore company and a 50 crore insurance policy, but one doubts that anyone really cares. After all, when the end credits roll, the cast is seen dancing in a video for the title song. So much for believable characters.

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