Monday, February 28, 2011

ritchie don't lose that number

In Sherlock Holmes, 221B and its occupants get a makeover from Guy Ritchie that upsets everything serious fans of Conan Doyle's most famous creation and Jeremy Brett's interpretation have held dear. If, in addition to all this, you don't care much for the talented Robert Downey Jr. you might want to spare yourself the experience and find another film to watch. Lovers of the Baker Street trivia of the irregular kind (such as YT) will find much to relish in the various references peppering this film. My favourite is the following:

holmes: The question is not if but how. The game's afoot.
watson: "Follow your spirit..."
holmes and watson: "And upon this charge, cry god for Harry, England and St. George!"

I will not insult your holmesian intelligence by trying to explain why I think that is cool.

Watson is less of the bumbling self of the books and stories and more like the Watson in The Doctor's Last Case by Stephen King. This makes the leading characters intellectual equals who are drastically different psychologically and sets the stage for the kind of sparring that embellishes a buddy/action film ideal for the season. Lord Blackwood is a great villain and there are some expected setpieces to justify your overpriced ticket and popcorn, but the CG is painfully obvious in the final crash and bang sequences.

I have to confess being more entertained than shocked at Robert Downey Jr's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. Jeremy Brett's definitive portrayal in the TV series had reportedly taken a toll on the late actor (in a manner similar to what the Joker had done to Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight). I don't see that happening here. Where Brett's Holmes is intelligent, cold, dispassionate, obsessive and depressive, the Sherlock Holmes of 2009 is smart, socially gauche, witty and often sarcastic and yet cares for Watson, respects his intelligence and is also not lacking a soul (watch the eyes). I also liked the short voiceovers representing the mind of Sherlock Holmes as he describes his moves when dealing with goons or boxing opponents. And I loved The Rocky Road to Dublin (used in the boxing sequence and the end credits), which, sadly, was not included on the official soundtrack release. Thankfully, I found a version on a compilation of hits by The Dubliners, and I'm now temporarily swaying and laughing to Irish jigs.

The inevitable sequel is underway and perhaps the mystery of the uncredited voice of Dr. Moriarty will also be solved soon. If they get the CG right (or perhaps get less ambitious with the stunts), this might be a series worth watching. Unless you are a purist. May the dog be with you.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

RIP pankaj advani

If you need evidence that Pankaj Advani was perhaps the best thing to happen to Bollywood in 2009, do yourself a favour and watch Sankat City. It is a wondrous mix of characters (consider for example, a small-time car thief who loves fish and can't stand killing or eating them or a loan shark who pronounces J as Z and has a fetish for dancing to Tamil songs with fat Madrasi girls), a zippy screenplay that mixes humour, violence, drama and surrealism and a great score by Ranjit Barot. Things tumble along like fervid dominoes until the intermission and the second half barely survives succumbing to SSH (Sagging Second Half), the congenital affliction of all Bollyflicks. Kay Kay Menon, Dilip Prabhawalkar and Anupam Kher, Virendra Saxena and ShriVallabh Vyas lead the performances. Any more footage devoted to Rimi Sen would have made it quite clear that the lass is no great shakes in the acting department. Chunkey Pandey manages to ham out of hand, but this mercifully remains compliant with the changing tone of the film -- at times darkly funny, at times strangely serious, at times morbid. One wonders how many such pearls were bouncing about in Pankaj Advani's imagination. He clammed up too early, depriving us of a fresh smart intellect and a promising cinematic voice.

बाबुराव सो गया

It all starts with the title. How does one creatively justify an ode to Bombay's gangster fact and the myth perpetuated by Bollywood that cops out with a title like Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai? The double i smacks of capitulation to astrological mores (should I be surprised given that Ekta "Balaji" Kapoor is the producer?). The choice of the new politically motivated, politically correct and logistically and sensibly offensive Mumbai instead of the more apt Bombay reeks of self-referential irony. A film celebrating our fascination with the underworld of Bombay has to yield to the pressures of a different clique of gangsters (referred to politely as politicians).

Once you get past the title and start hoping to celebrate the look and vibe of the period that the posters have whetted your appetite for, you realise that Luthria and Co. couldn't get their act together. All the visual texture of the film is sadly lacking. The annoying modern device of the steadicam (shakycam, unsteadicam, seasickvision) is seasoned with some unexciting camera setups and embellished by very terrible editing. These are things you could have ignored while watching those 70s powerhouse flicks celebrating machismo and superb dialogue-writing from Salim-Javed had the lines been spoken by the modern equivalents of Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna. Alas, you have to make do with Ajay Devgan (or Devgn as he wishes to spell it now -- he's only one vowel shy of becoming Bollywood's Mxyzptlk) and Emraan Hashmi. While Devgn's sincerity prevents you from getting really upset with him trying his best to hold up a role that is unmistakably fashioned as a tribute to Amitabh Bachchan's ouevre (Deewar, Trishul, Kaala Patthar). Costumes can only help a man so much. Devgn just doesn't have the charisma to make Sultan Mirza as engaging as Vijay (a Mercedes Benz with a 786 number plate is a great way to pay tribute to history and pop culture, but doesn't match up to a बिल्ला). Devgn was far better as Malik in Company, which was a far better film if you were looking for a modern take on the Bombay underworld.

Even talking about Emraan Hashmi's presence in the film would be giving him more credence that he deserves. Nothing has changed really since he chewed cinema screens while screaming his lungs out under the pretence of acting in Footpath. You cheer each time he is beaten up and cringe every time he gets upset. Vivek Oberoi, in his début, fared far better in Company.

The women (Prachi Desai, Kangana Ranaut) remain human versions of low-fat salad dressing and make all those trite parts for heroines in the revenge flicks of the 70s and 80s seem better written and better developed.

And then you have the songs where Pritam delivers the goods for a saleable soundtrack but fails to choose arrangements and styles appropriate for the period. A remix of R. D. Burman's 70s hit duniyaa me.n is quite strange for a film that is set in the same time period. Why not just pepper the soundscape with songs of the time? Since each song is non-diegetic and only employs the familiar Bollywood tropes, this department delivers a complete dud.

The biggest gripe, perhaps, is that the sum of all this merits the use of an adjective last appropriately used in Chemistry classes when discussing helium, neon, argon, kryton, xenon and radon. It's as inert as they come. Luthria may have succeeded in creating the largest, most expensive cure for insomnia ever in Bollywood. The film almost makes Govind Nihalani's Party look like a summer action blockbuster in comparison.

Milan Luthria's filmography gives me the impression that he might be capable to delivering something interesting while never departing from the conventions of Bollywood. Unfortunately, the problem of delivering more promise than product plagues all his stuff that I have seen including Deewar: Let's Bring Our Heroes Home and Taxi No. 9211. There are rumours that a sequel is in the works with the focus moving from Haji Mastan and Varadarajan Mudaliar to Dawood Ibrahim. Don't hold your breath. Go watch Nayakan, Deewar and Company again instead.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

suprise! i'm turning

Georgia state law requires that turn signals be installed and functional when you are selling a car. Surely this means that the buyer and subsequent user of the car should use it. Why then do so many drivers glide across lanes and weave through lines of cars without ever letting you know what they are about to do? Don't they understand that they are contributing to the danger of driving?

What is so important that you have to zip out into the right lane from behind me, zoom ahead and zip back in front of me and past me into the left lane and onward (without ever flashing either the right or left turn lights), when we are destined to see each other at the next light?

Do you think you will be struck down by lightning if you miss that turn into the Papa Johns passing by? If not, why do you insist on suddenly stopping and whipping to the right, startling the person driving behind you? I'd understand if you were a felon and I was a police man chasing you with the lights atop my cruiser flashing loud, but you aren't a felon and I am not chasing you.

There is also a very special group within this large horde of those who abhor turn lights. This group specialises in occasionally using the turn lights. These occasions are also quite remarkable. A typical driver belonging to this group is seen to zip or glide from one lane to the next without ever tapping that lever sticking out of the steering column. This driver then ends up in a left-only lane or a right-only lane and then promptly sets his/her turn light on to let you know that he/she wishes to turn left in a left-only lane or turn right in a right-only lane. Is there no room between minimalism and redundancy for courtesy?

cook, don't laugh

I bear no ill will to those who painstakingly put up blog after blog with post after post dedicated to all sorts of traditional dishes from all over India. I really can't help convulsing in tears of laughter when I read pages like this. The typos are both harmless (protiens instead of proteins) and howlarious (sweat instead of sweet). The e gets knocked off the edge of minute and peel becomes peal (the transitive slicing of tapioca -- spelled tapyoka through -- becomes intransitive ringing). You drop an e at the wrong place and something as simple as make the[sic] paste of cumin seeds becomes make the past of cumin seeds (when was the last time you heard of जीरा getting into the witness protection programme?). And what does one make of Peal the Kappa and boil till soft (around 15 minuts)in sufficient water after it become soft, stain the water.? stain the water? with a flourish like Jackson Pollock? Still, at the end of it all, मसालेदार कप्पा is ready for consumption.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

from a distance

SRK's upcoming flick Ra.One is, no doubt, meant to dispell all the bad memories you may have had after watching Mani saar's paean to mud-covered hams leaping from precipices into picturesque waters. The poster on the wikipedia page dedicated to the film is another matter altogether. It appears, at first glance, to be a tribute to some of the works of Salvador Dali (consider, for example, Fifty Abstract Paintings Which as Seen from Two Yards Change into Three Lenins Masquerading as Chinese and as Seen from Six Yards Appear as the Head of a Royal Bengal Tiger, a copy of which you can see here). How else does one explain the tagline introducing gone? ग़ायब आया? It is only when one sits on the camera dolly and moves in closer that one appreciates the importance of punctuation. The tagline, correctly read, is introducing Whether you had learnt Hindi in school or from Bollywood, you know that is, while complying with the nomenclature adopted for all hamdroids in this flick, a riff on जीवन (aka life). Like that old song ये जीवन है (aka this is life). The singular theme is, unless one is digging too deep into the septic tank of pop culture, a tribute to what was supposed to be the cinematic début of the offspring formerly (and still) known as Mimoh. What other offerings will this anuptamaniacal film have? How about what comes after six? (answer: Or the hamdroid working in the USA for an Indian consultant? ( Whom am I trying to kid? (answer:
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