Monday, June 30, 2008
Konkona Sen Sharma and Rahul Bose (who plays a professor) are a couple. Irrfan Khan plays an executive married to Soha Ali Khan; he ain't getting enough and she thinks he ain't romantic enough. Payal Rohatgi plays an aerobics instructor. The film reportedly deals with friends and complexity of marriage while living in a big city.
Now, I smell Husbands and Wives, which might mark a first for Bollywood: I don't think anyone's had the temerity to try and toy with this director's ouevre before. If this observation's not unfounded, we can only rue the waste of acting talent in the flick. Yes, I'm being presumptuous about the quality of the final product, because it'll take Bollywood a long time to get to making the kind of films Mr. Allen makes.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
30 Days Of Night works as a sombre effective modern-day vampire piece. It's ironic that the comic book miniseries it's based on had started life as a failed pitch for a film. Director David Slade guides the cast through a gory, atmospheric wonderfully lensed narrative that, despite sporting all the familiar elements of the genre, tosses in its share of embellishments. In sharp contrast to Count Dracula and his sirens, the vampires don't have much for looks and speak an argot of their own. This means that there isn't much scope for conversation between the blood-thirsty hordes and the humans fighting for survival. This also means that the vampires are focused cold-blooded killers without table manners; you won't find any tortured soul wearing anguish behind the veneer of the toothed snarl. There's also none of that pop culture awareness and self-referential subtext that breathed life into the Scream series. In fact, the film plays out more as a calm action thriller with the tropes of horror. The opening and closing credits have a life of their own, especially the end credits, which, accompanied by an ominous cue from Brian Reitzell, play out against an epilogue to death comprised of photographs of townspeople viewed through a cascade of shadows and cracked ice.
Owning Mahowny (there's a nice rhythm to that title, especially given the way his name is spelled) is the tale of Dan Mahowny, a boring bank manager who has a gambling addiction (or as he chooses to describe it "a financial problem; a shortfall") and lands up managing a multi-million dollar account. Addiction breeds temptation and soon the bank's money makes it to the casino floor. Based on a true story, the film derives its strength from characters instead of from gambling and the slick glitz associated with it. Philip Seymour Hoffman nails the part yet again, making Mahowny a tragic wretched figure we find ourselves liking, hating and pitying. John Hurt chews with relish on his part as Victor Foss, an Atlantic City casino manager, who recognises Mahowny as a high-roller and also has an appreciation of the inevitable fate of the compulsive gambler: he isn't playing to win; he's playing as long as he can ride from one loss to another, weathering the thrill of a winning streak along the way. We know Mahowny's going to get caught and we share his inability to do anything to prevent it.
The previous cinematic adaptations of Charles Belden's short story The Wax Works have been minor milestones in themselves. The first adaptation directed by Michael Curtiz was the final Warner Bros. film in Technicolor. Its famous 1953 remake starring Vincent Price was the first 3D film from Warner Bros.; the film made it to the Guinness Book of World Records as the first 3D film to be released with a stereophonic soundtrack. The 2005 adaptation sports only the least interesting aspect in the adaptations. Curtiz's film worked as a mystery film while the remake with Vincent Price moved down the horror road. The latest offering from Jaume Collet-Serra takes the easy way out -- it transplants the story into the overpopulated dumb trope that is the slasher flick. It takes the plot element of wax from the original narrative and appropriates elements from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Having Paris Hilton on the roster is another hint about the direction this film has decided to take. If you get a bunch of people you don't really care about, a bunch of people who are quite annoying, would you really care if they were dismembered in the most grisly fashion? The use of the Robert Aldrich classic What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? is perhaps the most interesting bit in this mindless by-the-numbers affair; and perhaps reading up about a Bowie knife, after it showed up in the film (with its share of exposition). "On May 6th, watch Paris die" screamed the promotional T-shirt that Paris Hilton wore, with the studio's permission, to promote the film. That summed up the essence of the film (for another example of cinematic notoriety, try Hounddog and the little scream queen Dakota Fanning). On an unrelated note, Elisha Cuthbert looked like a better version of Kirsten Dunst. A little reading-up told me that she had auditioned for the part of Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man, a part that eventually went to Dunst. It would have been nice to have Dunst show up here instead. That could've given us an artsy title like Waxing Dunst: We'll Always Have Paris. I should stop now, before I explore the jokes about building material.
Friday, June 27, 2008
De Taali marks another Vishal-Shekhar excursion into fun and aural adventure what with two versions of the title track (one dance floor-friendly and the other a sprightly crisp version meandering around the edge of an acoustic guitar riff), a blend of club and Rajasthani folk, a curiously arranged equation of self to a drop of rain and a gentle whimsy ballad of love that deliciously tosses in an English phrase as a punch. What stands out in the context of this post is the Anushka Manchanda/Shekhar Ravjiani duet hone lagii. It's playful like the mischievous Asha Bhosle songs the 70s and the rhythm pattern on the acoustic guitar says it all. This isn't an overt tribute like Jhankaar Beats, but it represents Vishal-Shekhar presenting a tribute to the late Pancham that retains a lot of their creative identity.
After the lushly energetic arrangements and strong melodies of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Ismail Darbar has evolved to becoming more famous now for his tiffs, temper and arrogant veneer. This might explain why the mention of Rasiya Sajan might draw a blank stare from a lot of people. One wonders if a similar fate is in store for his soundtrack for a film starring Ajay Devgan, Sanjay Dutt and Manisha Koirala (will this be the (Yeh) Majdhaar of the 21st century?). In a tragic case of irony, this clearly-germinating-in-the-cans celluloid sin shares its name with a standard Bollywood paean to reincarnation in 1976 that sported one of RDB's most famous songs and one of the best songs in Hindi film music based on raag shivara.njinii. One also fears that the songs will be reduced to smithereens once some hideous visuals are cut together to their melodic shifts and percussive cues. This would, ironically, be in keeping with tradition as far as some of RDB's finest compositions is concerned.
Reportedly, Darbar was channelling Laxmikant-Pyarelal in the soundtrack. The mixed bag includes dilarubaa, which stands out as a fine addition to the long list of songs peppering B-grade flicks like Shiva Ka Insaaf or Raat ke Saudagar as it runs Laxmikant-Pyarelal through a Nadeem-Shravan filter (although the end tosses a brass/drums cue that portends Rafi's voice opening o hasiinaa zulfo.nwaalii). kuchh kar lo boasts characteristic traces of Darbar in the refrains while Kwaabo.n kii raanii joins Anu Malik and Bappi Lahiri in stomping on Beethoven's grave as it recycles Für Elise before sending out musical quotes from Jatin-Lalit.
The most obvious blatant traces in the other songs, however, seem to suggest that the inspiration came from the talented Pancham. You can't miss the a-haa quote from chunarii sambhaal gorii in baabuujii. tuu merii mahabuubaa starts off threatening to sound like Ilayaraaja (or perhaps as Anand-Milind recycling the master), but as soon as the rhythm sets in, you know you're in Pancham land with a Jatin-Lalit wisp. That's ab ke saawan (Jaise ko Taisa) or, rather appropriately, a subset of the composite rhythm of mahabuubaa (Sholay). This brings us to achchhaa to mai.n chalataa huu.N, which is rich with slices from the master. Who would have known that it would take one flick destined to be DOA to revive a song from a flick long forgotten from years ago featuring the one and only Mithun Chakraborty in a double role? The similarity to merii aawaaz ke dosto.n from Aamne Samne is unmissable, although the rest of the mukha.Daa devolves into what sounds like the heavy punchy beat-backed bulk of The Nose's ouevre. It's a song that would fit well in a B-flick although the brass and the heavy vocal sighs bring back memories of Monica and her unnamed man cavorting to piyaa tuu ab to aajaa from Caravan.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Jiah Khan makes a confident bold début and the Big B, Revathy and Nasser throw in sincere performances that save the film from being a complete disaster. RGV has been a man more of the visual than of the spoken word, which means that ineffectual dialogue stands out even more annoyingly in his ouevre. The film works well in the quiet calm retrospective sequences where the Big B's character (named "Vijay" as a strange tip of the hat to the angry young man, who would hardly ended up as this Vijay) reminisces. The other bits that might have offered more promise are the sequences where no one says anything and everything is done with framing and expressions with the director making the audience a voyeur as guilty as (and perhaps even more than) Vijay. But that would have been a different film more faithful to the title and, one wagers, a more interesting film for RGV to have delivered.
But it's the camera that does the most damage. The tilted angles, the frenetic short-lived shots, the swooping descents and ascents make the beautiful Munnar often seem like a Lynchian suburb hiding a dark secret and also makes you wonder if this film was set up as a gangster film or a more intimate exercise in human emotion and social norm.
It's also a pity that Vishal Bharadwaj's rozaanaa is nowhere to be found in the flick (not even in the end credits). With a blend of U2 and Dire Straits, Vishal had exploited the most famous baritone in Bollywood to trace an ambitious melody of highs and lows along with the dangling whispery strands of dissonance that are on their way to becoming a trademark of this talented composer; Munna Dhiman's lyrics managed to make the most of simplicity while exploring the feelings of the old Vijay in a manner that eluded the film the song was made for.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
When I heard about the remake starring Ajith, I first wondered if Ajith was setting up a stack of remakes in a manner similar to Anil Kapoor in the 80s and 90s. Ajith had figured in Kireedam, a remake of the Sibi Malayil film that had already spawn its share of remakes. Billa was slated to be a remake of the Rajnikant hit, itself a remake of Chandra Barot's Bollywood classic from 1978.
Ajith's Billa was slated to be a stylistic cousin of Farhan Akhtar's 2006 remake of Barot's film, Don: The Chase Begins Again while still paying its respects to the R. Krishnamurthy adaptation that boasted its own hit title song My Name is Billa (set up as a cousin to मैं हूँ डोंन with Rajnikanth on a dolly approaching the camera with the main line).
Farhan Akhtar's remake had a technical competence and consistency that other big-budget Bollywood actioners and entertainers in their imitative exploration of every technique seen in Hollywood blockbusters had never attained. Since Tamil cinema has often boasted examples peppered with technical excellence, I had wondered if the 2007 edition of Billa would offer something better. Unfortunately, despite being marred by Shah Rukh Khan's inability to imbue the part with more menace, Farhan Akhtar's won by light years. The Ajith film, despite boasting a punchy dance floor-friendly reworking of the title song, resembled an average entertainer laced with technique employed with the same clueless abandon as in Bollytrash. Ajith's Don spent most of the film doing one of three things: walking, talking and killing. With all the walking he did, the filmmakers might have done well to add the texture of public transit and given us a Don who enjoyed his relative anonymity (something you find hard to digest given the overblown unsubtle execution of each thrill) by mingling with the crowd. But that might have been a lot less exciting than featuring Malaysia (yet again), a plump starlet offering daylight Ramsay Brothers delights with her beach dance, blood-letting with a katana and crushed soda cans starring in experiments in movie physics. The language divide notwithstanding, the Tamil remake only tossed more points over to Farhan Akhtar's side of the net.
Friday, June 13, 2008
I had also forgotten about the wonderful soundtrack accompanying the film: the Mad World cover has since acquired even more fame thanks to having featured in the commercial for Gears of War; and the other song that was going to stay in my head for a while was The Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen.
A day later, I turned to page 79 in Vikram Chandra's Red Earth and Pouring Rain and the page began with
beers and talked about Lawrence. The one in the movie, I mean, not the real one. The music suddenly got louder, and it was Echo and the Bunnymen doing "The Cutter"
Spooky. But they have a word for it: synchronicity. I can live with that. The chapter was titled "A Thin Kind of Happiness"; perhaps noticing something like this offers a stab at that.
update: That was Saturday, June 07, 2008. A week later, I'm in the library dropping off some DVDs and picking up a couple on hold for me. I scan the shelves dedicated to new books. I spot a familiar name: Richard Matheson. It's a collection called Button, Button. The little bit "a new introduction by Matheson himself" on the back cover and the simple page inside listing the old copyrights for the individual stories along with information about their renewal are the only indicators of this being a recycled collection. The reason is clear for all to see on the front cover: "features Button, Button, soon to be a major motion picture The Box starring Cameron Diaz"; it's also part of the block on the back cover, just in case you missed it. A few minutes later, I'm sitting in Caribou Coffee sipping on a caramel cooler and exercising their free WiFi to find out more about The Box. The film's wikipedia page tells me that it's been adapted for the screen and directed by Richard Kelly. Whoa! Kelly directed Donnie Darko. I think it might be time to scream.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
In My Brother Nikhil, Nikhil Kapoor was the subject of several flashbacks triggered by various characters talking to the camera standing in for an unseen interviewer. Nikhil Kapoor is dead when the film begins, and we only see the last few years of his life through flashbacks. Just like Charles Foster Kane. In Bas Ek Pal, Nikhil Kapoor fares marginally better: he still plays our ill-fated protagonist but we share his time of existence in the narrative. The nominal dead ringer isn't the only element that returns from Onir's first film. Sanjay Suri plays Nikhil in both films. Juhi Chawla, who played his elder sister in the first film, returns here as a character who might well have been his elder sister, given the allowance of a few plot points. She was Anamika in My Brother Nikhil, but here plays a former Miss India (art imitates life). She cedes the name to Urmila Matondkar in this film (There's a nice play on the name when she refuses to tell Nikhil her name).
The geographical heart of the film is a club called Anti-Clock, a name that means a lot in the film, for what transpires one night at the club sends ripples through the futures of a handful of lives: If only they could turn the clock back three years (2003, when a series of unfortunate events was set into motion) from the present (2006).
Onir ropes in a few more people into his drama of people doomed by fate, indecision and choices. We have more characters vying for our attention here and almost all of them get the requisite brush of grey; it's a pity, however, that Rehan Engineer's Steve gets very little screen time: he's more spoken of than seen and even though his character's arc plays out satisfactorily, I wouldn't have minded a little more insight into his life, something that added to the sum of the parts we gathered from conversations about him and the few scenes he has in the film. Every character is in search of love, and the search is confounded by ambition and indecision. Those driven enough to seek what they want seem destined to meet with failure just as those who can't muster the courage to take the big leap. Emasculation (jail time, being crippled in a wheelchair unable to consummate a relationship or surviving the death of a child, afflicted by drink and an aggressive sense of inferiority) meets confusion, thwarted goodwill and unfulfilled love. At one point in the film, a character tosses the line itane taras ke saath jiinaa mushakil ho jaayegaa to another; later on in the film another character tosses this character a line that's an echo and yet a distant cousin: itanii saarii nafrat lekar jiinaa mushkil ho jaayegaa. When the end credits roll, we are left with victims of Shakespearean tragedy and noir-ish doom.
Onir and writer/editor Irene Dhar Malik have gone to great lengths to imbue the characters with the complexity of real life. Nikhil's single-minded desire for Anamika, Anamika's uncertainty of her feelings of love tinged with pity and guilt, Rahul's guilt-driven existence compounded with the prospect of living the rest of his life in a wheelchair, Steve's helpless frustration manifesting in a violent irascible self that hurts those close to him.
In addition to the competent performances and the unyielding patient pace of the film, Onir tosses in small flourishes -- like the fish tank that's a rather obvious motif or the thukpa that Steve is cooking for dinner (clearly an artefact from Onir's years in Bhutan). One would also be amiss if one didn't note the wonderful work Onir elicits once again from the talented underused Vivek Phillip, in addition to a bonus song from Pritam and another from Mithoon Sharma (who has since gone on to more success). The songs remain mostly in the background, either in the diegesis (hai ishk ye kyaa (aa zaraa) is introduced in Anti-Clock as a song spun by the DJ with a prefatory "KK and Sunidhi rock 2003," tere pyaar me.n (bas ek pal) also ends up being a song in the club on Valentine's Day and zi.ndagii hosh me.n plays at another club) or in the narrative texture of the film (ashk bhii, dhiime dhiime) with tere bin bouncing from the background into the foreground to complement a tapestry of images in Nikhil's imagination.
There are moments when you wince at the occasional departures from the sobriety of the piece: Jimmy Shergill at Marine Drive (during dhiime dhiime, the video of which seems to violate the point-of-view of the person whose flashback it's placed within), the rather overtly showy framing for the scene between Ira and Rahul (bahut der se aaye tum merii zi.ndagii me.n). These quibbles aside, Onir's churned out a worthy successor to My Brother Nikhil.
Between the time I saw the film and actually managed to clean up a collection of thoughts about it, I had hoped to catch Pedro Almodóvar's Carne Trémula, a loose adaptation of Ruth Rendell's Live Flesh that is said to have been the "inspiration" for this film. Unfortunately, that has not happened. One hopes that the similarities are not damning enough to reduce all the praise above to dust.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a skeptical writer debunking the paranormal, imbuing the character with a genuine credibility. The elements are familiar tropes of horror, and specifically of the he-who-scoffs-at-the-haunted-house-has-it-coming subset of stories. Despite his sarcastic asides and dry wit, Enslin's a tragic figure dealing with the death of his daughter and a separation from his wife (a trait shared by several characters in King's fiction). The film takes its time setting things up for us as Enslin makes his way into room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel (despite the fervent pleas of hotel manager Gerald Olin played by Samuel L. Jackson). There's great restraint in the narrative as the screw begins to turn and the inevitable unfolds, backed by the inspired use of We've Only Just Begun by The Carpenters. Right until the end, the film refuses to yield to the temptation of devolving into a mess of flash cuts, moments of quick shock and cheap thrills. This doesn't threaten the rich curve of Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining, but has no need to fear joining the ranks of Maximum Overdrive. It's an evil f*cking room, said Gerald Olin and you had better believe it.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
[Cross-posted on the Vishal Bhardwaj blog]
In one shot in Bhoot after the car leaves the basement the shot changes with the sound of a dolby click.
That was not a dolby click. It is the igniter sound which Urmila uses on the gas stove. Anyway as long as you felt the impact it does not matter. The psychology of that shot is that the audience would be used to the fact that the shot will be cut after the car left the frame. But the fact that it lingers on automatically puts them into a heightened tension thereby making them anticipate something terrible will happen and that's why even an ordinary click sound will scare them. Similarly one more example of this is when Urmila comes down into the hall to go into the kitchen for a glass of water. In a wide-angle shot I show the audience that there is no one in the living room. If the camera follows behind her they will be half expecting something to jump on her from of the frame. But the fact they can see the whole room their eyes will be darting all over to see if anyone is hiding somewhere. Meanwhile Urmila takes her time to drink water and comes back. As she goes up the stairs I cut to top angle where the audience can see behind her.
Now as the audience can't see anything in the back and from Urmila's expression they can see that there is nothing in the front, they slowly relax as she comes close to the camera into out focus distance thereby expecting the shot to be cut. But as she crosses the camera we reveal Manjeet under the stairs making them jump out of the seat.
But, we must leave you with a flavour of the quintessence of RGV:
How does Sarkar make a living?
He didn't tell me.
Monday, June 02, 2008
Remember a Rajiv Rai dud called Asambhav: The Impossible? Lifting Loser Apoorva Lakhia (Ek Ajnabee, Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost) has decided to follow up on the shocking success of Shootout At Lokhandwala (In Which Big B Gives It Those Ones) with what must be a tribute to the inanity of Rai's cinematic dreck. The flick's called Mission Istanbul and is an example of Waiting List Bollycool.
How much can a motley crew comprising Vivek "I knocked off the unlucky vowel" Oberoi, Zayed "Is it Mirinda or Melinda" Khan and Suniel "Too bad to wait tables" Shetty promise? If the trailer's offered as People's Exhibit A, lots. After all, a film that integrates the slogan (डर के आगे जीत है) of a soft drink whose marketing campaign exploited extreme sports and video games can't be that bad, can it? After a relatively quiet 2007, Anu Malik has returned with nothing exciting so far (Anamika), but this title track might buy back some of the lost glory of nashaa nashaa (Aan: Men At Work). Or perhaps, as the title of the TV show and movie franchise that share the initials of this movie suggest, this might not be his day.
Consider now, the lyrics of the title track (imagining the energy of the utterances is left as an exercise to the listener/reader):
bull! it's possible
bull! it's possible
bull! it's possible
miishaan miishaan miishaan
miishaan miishaan miishaan
can you handle it?
ye miishaan nehii.n aasaa.N
ye miishaan iistaanabuul
jaayegii isame.n to jaa.N
ye mishaan istaa.nbul
Don't you just love that play on (istan)bul?
The video features the four leading men beefed up from hours in the gym oozing machismo to back the rocksy pump-it-up throb of the track, dressed in black vests and black pants; they switch between looking like pimps feeling up foreign lissome lassies clad in uniform (or unclad in black lingerie) and swinging in the rain in the aforementioned black outfits (along with, needless to say, more phaarin phlesh).
Lest we forget what the film is really about: Zayed Khan plays a promising journalist, Suniel Shetty, the head of a Turkish news channel, Vivek Oberoi, a Turkish commando and Shabbir Ahluwahlia ... oh! who cares.
This transgressive mix of Zalman King, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Snoop Dogg and Ilsa, She-Wolf Of The SS would've been promising had the rest of the film promised any of the sleaze that the trailer tantalisingly offered. Alas, this is but one more in the long line of films that rely on such tropes that toss all character development, plot and sanity into the nearest exhaust fan to lure Bollywood's faithful ticket-buying audience that is only out for a good time. One wonders why they bother with story or even the ruse of substance. Here's hoping that Apoorva Lakhia draws inspiration from Steven Seagal and Krista Allen and breaks new ground in Bollywood filmmaking.
update [june 11, 2008]: The complete song (written and sung by Hamza Faruqui -- last heard on the soundtrack of Super Star -- and composed by Chirantan Bhatt) features another (rare) example of the F-word on a Bollywood soundtrack: Now it's getting deep with all the secrets that I keep, I'm outta luck ... what the f**k! (a line repeated with carefully placed engineering just so that you don't miss it). The last time I found that colourful kernel of profanity on a song was in Rock Dancer (music by Bappi Lahiri) where Bali Brahmabhatt got to rap I'm like Mickey Mouse / I've come to take down the house / I'm like Donald Duck / I don't give a f**k (Kamal Sadanah does the on-screen honours for the song). Looks like this film's all set to make a mark for itself with one of the oldest tricks in the book -- baiting controversy. Is anyone from the Sena or the BJP tuning in to these songs?