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.

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