Tuesday, May 31, 2005

goodbye khalid?

At the tail of a generally thumbs-down review of Bunty aur Babli (which gets him only some mercy points after having turned into a sycophant for the Johars, Khans and Chopras), Khalid Mohammed adds a goodbye note (see below). Truth be told: despite all the obvious toadying, his columns have always been fun to read (while his films have remained, sadly, shockingly mediocre and unwatchable). Does anyone know more about this departure?

Personal note

Friends, I've had the best time of my life doing this column. If it hadn't been there for me, the last three years, chances are that I would have flung myself from the terrace of an unguarded skyscraper. Slit my wrists maybe.
Perhaps, many film-makers would have rejoiced, but.

To say it straight, I'm winding up, moving to another assignment.
Salaam Saira, the pixiesh editor who cared.

Salaam to the Sunday gang - to Priscilla more beautiful than any movie star, to Alpana, speedy and smart, my very own Toofan Mail, and to Shradha whom I tormented with last-minute corrections which she carried out despite dealing with a typhoon of copy deadlines.

Not a word, comma or inflection was altered, none of my opinions - for better or worse - questioned, in keeping with the exemplary and independent spirit of journalism.

Thank you, Sunday gang.

Thank you dear readers...with love and gratitude.

Meanwhile, scroll down for finally-posted notes on Impostor, Bride and Prejudice, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 25th hour, notes on two vastly polar flicks (Mona Lisa and Face/Off) and a pair of hindi boos (kasam [the chunky-sunny starrer] and blackmail [the 2005 sick flick]). And then there's an old post about Carlito's Way. And short notes on Cronenberg's Naked Lunch.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

bride and prejudice [may 25, 2005]

The short verdict: Yuck! (against a background of retching sounds)

The long version: Gurinder Chadha (see also: Bend it like Beckham) presents a soggy pathetic Bollywood mainstream yawn-fest that attempts to adapt Pride and Prejudice (where other people have gone before, and done a far superior job). The western audience can lap this up as yet another example of the registered archetype of an Indian film: comes from Bollywood, full of bad over-the-top hamming, random song-and-dance sequences, bad dialogue, extreme emotions, the works. What GC actually achieves, although not in a very rewarding manner, is a spoof of these conventions. Imagine a Bollywood mainstream film with all its trappings (for more about them, rewind to the previous sentence). Of course, you get the market-friendly Anu Malik to conjure a bunch of tunes that give you a bad case of déjà vu. Now take those pesky Hindi lyrics and get some hack to stick a million square pegs of belly-aching words, phrases and rhymes into the holes that Mr. Malik dug (in Blackburn, Lancashire, presumably). And in a last-ditch effort to cover up all the fox paws, they got some geeky sound engineer to run a few transforms on the output to give the whole musical experience a muddy texture (think slush). Given that Aishwarya Rai cannot act, and only relies on a static array of limited egregious expressions, the filmmakers have decided to thrash this array heavily to inflict more pain upon us (what the victims of the Cenobites went through seems like a trip to the Bahamas). And to complement her acting skills[sic] we have adequate fira.ngii wooden foil. The supporting cast actually gets more done. Nadira Babbar rules the house, Anupam Kher offers support (despite having precious little to do). Sonali Kulkarni doesn't have enough screen time to register her terrible accent, Peeya Rai Choudhuri delivers another spunky turn as yet another spunky teen (see also: Chupke Se). If you can survive the Bakshi inquisition, you might even find some strength to applaud the fight in the cinema theatre against the backdrop of Prem Chopra attempting an evil turn on Saira Banu (complete with yucky wig) in Purab aur Paschim. The film's sole claim to fame is in affording mainstream exposure to a word that has long languished in the realm of domestic slang when Nadira Babbar admonishes Lakhi (PRC) about her revealing outfit saying "We want Balraj to look into Jaya's eyes not your mammes". Touché Luckily that happens during the aggravatingly long opening credits, so you can catch that, pat yourself on the back for having witnessed history, and then proceed to the nearest exit.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe [may 23, 2005]

Impostor is yet another unsung adaptation of a Philip K Dick short story. This one reuses sets and costumes from Starship Troopers and unfortunately feels a lot more like a TV movie than an involved atmospheric piece. And dropping references to replicants is not enough to pitch this work for votes in the Blade Runner camp. In fact, there is virtually no suspense in the narrative. Yes, if you've read PKD's stuff, you already know what's coming; but the journey ain't too interesting. Luckily, I had the short story on hand to read and compare. Once again (unfortunately, really: PKD's stuff is promising material for a ton of interesting films), the source material wins. The fatality of the proceedings is something PKD wins hands down in conveying. It's nice to know, though, that John Lee Hooker continues to be played in the future (Boom Boom to be precise).

The only important discovery as far as I am concerned was that the spelling of the titular word involved an o instead of an e: impostor. The film and its acknowledgement for PKD used this spelling. And I always thought it was imposter. The source story I had used the variant that I was familiar with. Some googling told me that both variants were acceptable, although the one with the o was the first choice.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


In a vague segue from JR's post on ostentatious-yet-specious management terminology on IT projects, I think of two colloquial appendages that make me cringe. The first one is the use of "like" as an element of punctuation (usually a filler while your underfed brain constructs the next incomplete fragment of conversation). The second one is the use of the trailing "or whatever". This one makes no sense. It feels dismissive. It's like (wink! wink!) the speaker just presented a carefully thought out idea and then debunked the whole thing with an "or whatever" (also note the cadence at the end of the phrase, almost irksomely romantic). Bleargh! Could someone revive Joseph Lister so that he could fix me an antidote to palliate the effects of linguistic laceration?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

happiness without a hole in it ... the effluent way to fall asleep [may 17, 2005]

I don't plan to read Henry James ever. Despite countless citings of The Turn of the Screw. Well, I might (make that a italicised bold might). Some day. In the meantime, I take the easy way out. Catch the film adaptations. Always a good substitute in general (although a crappy adaptation can turn you off). I remember fragments from The Portrait of a Lady, and I don't recall being too impressed. Now it's the turn of the Merchant-Ivory production of The Golden Bowl. This boasts the usual M/I trademarks: lavish sets and costumes, attention to detail from the period, a multivariate cast of familiars. And the pace. This time though, the pace is one of the monsters that plagues the film. There are so many invitations to fall asleep (you'd wish the characters would just get on with the truth instead of indulging in all that high-society elision and obfuscation). Lovers end up marrying a father and daughter, and there's this predictable panorama of deception, betrayal, mendacity, stoicism, and play of manners. Along with some of the nice euphemisms of the time ("they were intimate" instead of "they've had several rolls in the hay"). And the use of "affianced" (ah, the beauty of English). And there's an explicit reference to Hamlet. But you also have some of that old dialogue that just sends you rolling off the couch in laughter:

* Charlotte talks of Maggie having relieved her

* During a photo session, the photographer presents the same silly line twice: are you composed madam? ... (yes) ... then we shall expose ... are you comfortable? ... (yes) ... then i shall expose.

The golden bowl referenced in the title has even less screen time (possibly) than Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, but serves as fodder for coincidence, revealing misunderstandings, and a mirror of imperfection (what with the crack in the gold).

Advice: Read the summary of the film and move on. This film justifies some of the rants in Joe Queenan's article on his Merchant-Ivory movie marathon in Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

every man, woman and child alive should see the desert one time before they die [may 14, 2005]

Having finally caught Spike Lee's 25th Hour, I can't even think of a good preview for it. The preview that made the rounds of the cinema halls threw me off (which was sad, given that Spike Lee's been a favourite). Thank God for the impulse that drove to pick this DVD off the shelf for a viewing. This is the story of Monty (Edward Norton), a drug pusher for the Russian mafia in New York, who has been "touched" (betrayed) and has one last day of freedom to enjoy before his sentence begins. We get to meet his bosses, his friends, his love, his family and a flood of emotions and memories. The obvious key offering of the film is the bilious diatribe that Monty's reflection delivers about the city of New York (accompanied by a montage of faces we see later during the drive to the prison). Another nice touch is the site of "ground zero" in the background as Frank and Jake talk about Monty's fate. I also liked the "62 percentile" scene, chiefly for its dialogue, cutting and the acting. Then there's the nice selective use of sound during the final moments that Monty spends with Frank and Jake.

There's a device Lee uses frequently in the film that reminds me of Do the Right Thing. A seemingly simple fragment is revisited through edits from a slightly different camera position (Monty putting Doyle in the trunk of his car, Naturelle rushing to embrace Monty walking towards her with a battered face). And then, of course, there's the nicely done "25th hour" sequence. Terence Blanchard's background score (which employs some Indian vocalising by Manickam Yogeswaran) works well as does the use of The Fuse by Bruce Springsteen over the end credits. Also noted: the Cool Hand Luke poster in Monty's apartment and the reference to Montgomery Clift (from A Place in the Sun) after whom Monty is named.

Lee's commentary track, unfortunately, wasn't too interesting. That and all the other features amounted to an extended junket with everyone congratulating everyone else (and appreciating their presence on the team). Boo!
kasam/blackmail [may 14, 2005]

kasam: Shibu Mittra takes people off the hit[sic] cast of Vishwatma, mixes in a few extra stars, takes the familiar tale of siblings separated by events associated with the murder of a parent only to be re-united in revenge, and then prepares a gourmet serving of yawns. Viju Shah manages to dish out a very dismal and boring set of songs which find fair match on screen thanks to unique combinations of costume, dance movements and locations that have been beaten to death several times before.

A review of the plot points might prove interesting. Parikshit Sahni has played numerous characters who get unjustly bumped off either before the main credits even begin to roll (thus getting posthumous credit for a special appearance) or a few minutes after the final credit has vanished. He is the perfect choice to play the father: a cop who, thanks to the brevity of his role, only enjoys being referred to as Thaakur saahab by the villagers in shaa.ntii nagar. His wife is played by Anjana Mumtaz, another character performer familiar with the trite trappings of the role of happy-wife-becomes-grieving-widow-who-thirsts-for-revenge. Sadashiv Amrapurkar plays the star villain of the piece, a bandit called kaalaa Daakuu. After attacking and snuffing out Sahni's character, he probabilistically chooses one of the two sons and flees, only to toss the kid over the edge of a randomly chosen mount. As fate would have it, the kid lands safe and sound in the back of the truck driven by Hari Singh (Ranjeet), a reformed goon who reveres Sahni. He waits till kaalaa Daakuu is sentenced to life, before approaching the grieving mother with news that her other son has survived. At this point, in a unique bit of ghastly scripting, she announces her forecast for Operation Vengeance. She directs Hari Singh to hang on the boy and raise him "into a rock" while she will raise the other brother as a soldier. This efficient plan for load balanced revenge with failover goes awry later on when the subtle extra playing the soldier son participates (as the receiving end) with his wife and kid in another kaalaa Daaku-initiated massacre, only moments after we are introduced to him. Luckily, mother dearest has another son to rely on. Surprisingly, however, she has not received updates (her choice, it would seem) on his progress and what he looks like right now (Sunny Deol as sha.nkar, driving a truck and flexing muscles). A few more flies get thrown into this tapestry of intrigue. Chunky Pandey plays a convict on the run after jumping a jail, and Naseeruddin Shah plays a pickpocket (in truth, an ASP in disguise) called ma.ngal. Neelam figures as bi.ndiyaa, the third vertex in a love triangle featuring sha.nkar and CP's convict-under-the-guise-of-an-engineer-from-the-city (we find out only very seldom that his name is vijay). Sonu Walia plays bijalii, who waits tables at a Dhaabaa, has the hots for sha.nkar, and gets to say things like "saalaa, jab bhii dil kii baat karatii huu.N, ko_ii naa ko_ii ##bill## kii baat kar detaa hai". CP gets to mouth several double entendres like chalo ##doctor, doctor## khelate hai.n. Naseeruddin Shah, meanwhile, shocks you by participating in the most inane excursions into humour[sic]. When he first gets to the village, he meets vijay and bi.ndiyaa and asks for directions to the police station. After some convoluted directions, CP proceeds to add "magar ##inspector## saahab bagal me.n rahate hai.n" at which point Naseer proceeds to raise CP's right arm to examine his armpit! Later Naseer's character ma.ngal even participates in an exchange of strange dialogue with the zamiinadaar:

zamiinadaar: tum kis khet kii muulii ho?
ma.ngal: arre mai.n muulii nahii.n Thaakur saahab; mai.n to raajaniitii ke khet kii gaajar huu.N; miiThii miiThii ...
zamiinadaar: ye hamaare jawaab [sic] kaa jawaab nahii.n hai

After several long-winded fight sequences, comic excursions, emotional upheavals, and confrontations, kaalaa Daakuu meets his end by being drenched in miTTii kaa tel and set ablaze by mother dearest before she kicks the bucket herself. Given the rules of romantic triangulation, sha.nkar also finds a bucket to kick.

Another thing you can do to keep yourself awake through this inane-fest is to note the familiar faces in ephemeral roles: hemant birje, viju khote (who gets to almost say the 'chuu..." word), tej sapru, sharat saxena (who gets credited once in the opening credits and again in the closing credits), bob christo, radha seth, jagdish raaj and manmauji.

blackmail: This film should make the record books for being perhaps the first action/thriller that is guaranteed to put any insomniac to sleep.

after a set of opening credits set in good sleek, the first shot we are treated to is a camera-titled view of a church. that tilt is enough of a hint that this film was made with a crew that was fixated on the wrong things about the technical aspects of making a movie -- there's more stuff cogged mercilessly, tastelessly and in a most maladroit way from The Matrix (get a life, guys!). there are, to be honest, a couple of nice shots and frames in the film, but the average audience member for this film is probably grabbing some easily-earned dream time as the images flicker on the big screen (or the small screen. YMMV).

robin bhatt and javed siddiqui take A Perfect World and add desi high-concept to it: we have shekhar (devgan), an escape driver out from an 8-eight year jail stint. he's out for revenge. revenge against the man who was responsible for his arrest, and the death of his pregnant wife (diya mirza). the man is sub-inspector/ACP ajay si.nh raatho.D (suniel shetty). the revenge is nicely funded by a request-for-termination from chhoTaa (mukesh rishi). the desii twist -- wait for it -- comes up here: just when you thought this might have been a film in the psychological-thriller space with devgan scaring the creeps out of raatho.D and his shapely wife sanaa (priyanka chopra) a la Unlawful Entry, our screenwriters toss in the cool bollywood variable -- devgan's son survived, and only raatho.D knows more. shekhar now decides to put the ice-the-cop-who-nailed-me plan on hold, and instead decides to kidnap the cop's son chiraag (irritating little skunk) in order to force the cop into telling all. and now our screenwriters loop in the YouHaveGotToBeKidding twist -- chiraag is really shekhar's son.

with these elements in place, it's almost trivial to see that a decent flick could be made. what we get instead is a mix of the following: suniel shetty trying in vain to convince that he can act, be stylish, be cool, be emotionally multi-polar and competent (only coming across as one of the few shettys you wouldn't want to see even waiting tables in a hotel); ajay devgan sleepwalking through a role by reusing components of his previous performances in the brooding, downbeat, measured speech domain; priyanka chopra jiggles about and implements the six-sigma solution to mainstream on-screen histrionics; diya mirza continues to look so fragile she could get blown off by a cockroach breaking wind, traipse and twirl about as flashback material, and look so sad you would think she was a refugee camp resident; mukesh rishi fuming like wet coal. all this mixed with songs and enough footage that if reel-to-electricity conversion were possible, pune would never have any loadshedding issues ever.

a simple example of the inanity rife in the scheme of the goings-on comes when cop boy suniel shetty receives a call from another cop who announces (in the same tone used to announce jail breaks) that devgan's character was released from jail; you would think that if shetty's character were as worried about devgan's character as he is in the film, he would have already found out. and besides, what's the point in getting a phone call in the middle of the night on this account?

do not make the mistake of leaving your brain outside the door as you enter the viewing portal for Blackmail. your empty skull will receive such a drumming that the resonance would kill you.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

mona lisa | face/off [may 13, 2005]

The Criterion Collection DVD of Mona Lisa is rather skimpy: just some sleeve notes, and a rather listless commentary from Neil Jordan and Bob Hoskins. But the film itself seems to defy too much commentary. There are several themes here: the theme of watching and being watched, the tale of an inarticulate romantic, and the "total and absolute gap of understanding between a man and a woman". I remember catching bits and pieces of this film when Doordarshan telecast this as a late night feature. I can't see myself appreciating the film then, and I'm glad that the only memories I had were encouraging enough for me to take another patient look. The film's tone is an interesting mix of the stark and the gentle. This is a Neil Jordan film, and if you remember The Crying Game and the twist therein, you won't be disappointed here (although the twist here is presented in a more sober light, and doesn't attempt to steal the film's thunder).

Face/Off [may 12, 2005] turned out to be as ridiculous and entertaining as I had expected it to be. I wouldn't want to remember it as a John Woo film though (I still prefer the stuff he made before he got a whiff of the Hollywood air). His typical flourishes abound in the action sequences, the guns, the use of slow motion, the shootout at the church, the doves, the Mexican standoff involving mirrors and the two protagonists with faces switched. And then there's the use of Somewhere over the rainbow as diegetic background (playing on the kid's headphones) during the operatic shootout at Dietrich's den. If you want neat references and hints check out (a) the names of the characters in the film: Castor and Pollux Troy, Sean Archer, Eve Archer [there's more on the IMDB trivia page, if you are lost] (b) the meaning of Erewhon, (c) the reference to The Searchers ("That'll be the day"). If you thought Sanjay Dutt's knife in Musafir was cool, check out the origins here. And to think that Sanjay Gupta already fliched material from here for Jung. This film is already almost a Bollywood masala movie (what with the scene where a dying Sasha asks Sean Archer take care of her son), so there's no need for anyone to attempt a remake.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

HCI redux

flashback: Fall 2001 at Georgia Tech: Learning about interesting information interfaces and information map visualization. Found out about a cool thing called newsmap.

the present: Meet amaztype. A demonstration of Amazon's web services that works best as "cool" eye candy. Although it doesn't seem to have any evident practical value, an article on the SitePoint Design Blog has some interesting notes about the user experience ...

interesting rating scales

Borland's Developer Network CodeCentral sports a few interesting rating systems for the tools available there. Here are a few I could find thanks to some random mouse clicks (from low to high, in case you were wondering):

* Batman Characters: Joker | Riddler | Catwoman | Robin | Batman

* Mythological Greek Heroes: Midas | Icarus | Paris | Perseus | Achilles

* Boring Standard: Bad | Poor | OK | Good | Excellent

* Sylvester Stallone movies: Rhinestone Cowboy | COBRA | Tango and Cash | First Blood | Rocky

* Sycophants: No! No! | No | Perhaps | Yes | Yes! Yes!

And then I hit this:

Internal Application Error

multiple rows in singleton select


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

post-modernism meets blogging?

breadcrumb trail: blogging dracula via greencine.

Imagine Harker posting his letters to Mina as blog entries ... Brilliant! I can see the follow-up efforts queueing up already ...

engagement 1101ring10bullet111swipe ... 01silver010dollar [may 09, 2005]

That title comes from the superficially intriguing content of the opening credits of John Woo's directorial adaptation of Philip K Dick's short story Paycheck. Unfortunately, that opening credit sequence is the only guaranteed success of the film: The credits appear in white against a background of streaming text (words -- most of them names of the different objects in the envelope that Michael Jennings receives --, the name of the production studio, all interspersed with 0s and 1s). The other meritorious achievement might come from the SFX for the film. However, these effects suffer from two problems: (a) they jut out of the narrative wave and demand attention ("look at me, ain't I cool") (b) they don't assist the goings-on in the way that Spielberg manages to effortlessly achieve (see, in a related way, Minority Report). There are also lots of plugs for Pepsi, and a couple of good lines (If you show someone their future, they have no future; you take away the mystery, you take away hope) as well as some bad grammar (if I knew it wouldn't work out for you and I, before we were together, would I have done it? ... besides, some of the best things in life are total mistakes). The little nuggets in the envelope are more interesting than this flick that seems to try and be a by-the-numbers action thriller and failing to get over a subconscious desire to be a tad more cerebral than the genre might demand. And if you're awake you can even appreciate the homage to Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (the Roger Thornhill-esque aspects of Affleck's character Michael Jennings). Do yourself a favour: read the original PKD story (vastly superior), and then go catch Bullet in the Head.

Monday, May 09, 2005


The details: Kushal Das on sitar accompanied by Abhijeet Banerjee on tabalaa; May 08, 2005; Emory White Hall.

The best ICMS venue hosted a wonderful improvement and a return to form (at least the form I cherished as a member) for the ICMS concerts (after what I -- as part of a minority of one, probably -- considered an unsatisfying opening this year). Abhijeet Banerjee is a familiar face now (and he continues, like all great tabalaa players, to make the most complicated improvisation look so effortless), but Kushal Das was a welcome surprise. With mii.nDs that would give blues guitarists nightmares he presented some wonderful vilambit explorations and offered some cherishable melodic fragments in the madhya and drut sections of his performance. And then there was the interplay between his offerings and Abhijeet Bannerjee's masterful fluent tabalaa improvisation.

The first half was comprised of a performance of raag maarawaa with the alaap followed by explorations in jhap taal and tiin taal. After the break ensued a lamentably short session beginning with a short alaap and a tiin taal (madhya lay) performance of raag baageshrii before the concluding dhuun in mishra pahaa.Dii (keharawaa taal). When it became evident that there was going to be no bhairavii (ASIDE: "Music from India" on WRFG 89.3 FM opened its classical section with a performance by Kushal Das of raag bhairavii, so I could take consolation in that!), I just hoped that the pahaa.Dii would make up for it. It almost did (Seriously, how can you make up for a bhairavii?) with some wonderful mixing in of other raags (too fleeting to make a guess -- unless you were a raag monster). All in all, a great antidote for that mainstream do last month. Next up is Padma Talwalkar who was responsible for the only morning concert I have attended in Atlanta (and that was in August 2003!). I could almost wager a fortune on a good time.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

mediterranean food served up in obscurity with a dash of bollywood and followed by a staggered queue of capitalistic freedom

A gathering to celebrate two friends getting post-PhD jobs. The location: Falafel Cafe on Cobb Parkway in Marietta. The driving directions included a couple of steps that are easy to follow and understand ONLY IF you have taken them before. Tip on the directions: if you're taking I-75N, just get onto Cobb Parkway the usual way (assuming you've been on Cobb Parkway at least once), and just keep on it. It's not as interstate-friendly, but you'll get there instead of embarking on a voyage of suburban discovery.

The place itself seems to have achieved more success with obfuscation given its turn-after-turn-into-obscurity location in a blink-and-you-might-miss-it stripped-down strip mall.

After relishing some great kabaabs and strange exotic entrées that look deceptively lean, we were treated to some familiar music on the overhead speakers: the songs from the SRK starrer Chalte Chalte.

As if we hadn't inflicted enough grief on the servers with the large contingent, we proceeded to add another time-consuming chore for them. The rest of us split a portion of the tab, which meant that we queued up chatting and consuming free candy from a jar while the server processed 14 credit cards, one after the other.

All that surreal business aside, I must announce my growing appreciation for mediterranean food. Perhaps because of some of the qualities that overlap with Indian cuisine (brickbats anticipated).

soundtrack notes ... and a musical tail

Shantanu Moitra (Ab ke Sawan, the Mann ke Manjeere project) produces what might be a fatal mistake so early in his career as a music director: a great soundtrack. Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (have stopped hoping to catch this in a theatre in Atlanta, GA) boasts a different melody for the Gaalib verse made famous by Jagjit Singh. JS's version boasts comfortable pathos, this one seems best treated as a a smouldering lament. The other songs work wonderfully towards a composite mood, but the extra tracks (courtesy: the strange space-filling approach adopted at Virgin Records) don't quite cut it (after all, how can you expect to react to the familiar beat of My Sharona just after Mudgal's voice has faded away???!). Pritish Nandy's poetry reading doesn't add much value and I keep knocking those two tracks off my playlist. I keep settling for the tracks featuring lyricist Swanand Kirkire on vocals. And Shobha Joshi's wonderful Thumarii naa aaye piyaa.

When I said "fatal mistake" I was using context without prelude. The context was the disappointing soundtrack to the Parineeta remake (I've stopped shuddering at the thought of the visual onslaught when the movie hits the marquee). The only tracks I could stick with were the Chitra/Swanand Kirkire duet raat hamaarii to (although I still can't quite welcome Chitra's timbre) and kaisii pahelii zi.ndagii with Sunidhi Chauhan doing a great job as a club crooner against a doo-wop progression arranged with some nice bass and a brush pattern on the drums.

The new Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy/Gulzar collaboration Bunty aur Babli has to be evaluated without recalling the last time they worked together (the fabulous aasamaa.N ke paar from Rockford). The froth of the arrangements and the presence of Gulzar as a lyricist are evident in an album (no guaranteed longevity, mind you) whose only failing seems to be an inability to function as a coherent collection.

Elsewhere on this blog my notes on the recent Zakir Hussain/Shiv Kumar Sharma concert at Atlanta surface with disappointment.

laughter-inducing soundtrack of the year: jo bole so nihaal

The latest Rahul Rawail/Sunny Deol collaboration is on its way. Meanwhile, the soundtrack (with lots of reuse from Anand Raaj Anand) is out to whet your appetite. The usual JaT-Punjabi dhin-chak, of course, but two tracks make it a resounding success for lovers of bad lyrics (courtesy: Dev Kohli) (mai.n yaar pa.njaabii jaT) or riff-laden dance music (raat kuchh aur thii -- both in virginal and remixed-with-rap form). The second track features Sunidhi Chauhan in predictable glory, but the first, the key to success, features her with Udit Narayan (appropriate for this genre of soundtracks) and features some rib-ticklers. Here's the muKa.Daa:

mai.n yaar pa.njaabii jaT
##fit## kar duu.N tere ##nut##
o mai.n yaar pa.njaabii jaT
##fit## kar duu.N tere ##nut##

o tuu yaar pa.njaabii jaT
##don't touch## mai.nuu piichhe haT

oy! maar naa ##baby## tuu a.ngrejii
mai.n to jaanuu giT\-piT desii
##if## jaanuu.N naa ##but##

howlarious review elsewhere, complete with detailed notes on the influence of the subject and the regional background on the lyrics and the music (such faithful appreciation for front-bench material!!!).

And just in case, you were unsure of the focus of the film, here's a photograph:
cover art for JBSN
should I even read this?

[source: Rediff Movies]: I am not a printing press screams the headliner linking to In conversation with Kya Kool.. actress Neha Dhupia.

[source: you know, the same]: Rediff is polling readers[sic] about which Hollywood films they would like to see remade as Hindi films. Just what we need now: encouragement for the increasingly powerful wave of dumb-me-down pervading the sociosphere.

[source: sudarshan]: Ash to date stripper on US show screams a TOI headline (not surprised, are we?). The essence: her smart PR agent got her onto some variant of the Jerry Springer Show. Another milestone for our cultural[sic] ambassador.

Elsewhere in this sandbox, notes on My Brother Nikhil emerge, nesting a reference to a tridium of movie reviews (Naach, Raat ke Saudagar and Phir Milenge)

Monday, May 02, 2005

black: oh, look at me, i'm so sensitive

[may 01, 2005] {official website}

Sanjay Leela Bhansali does it again. He puts together a sound technical team and blends together a set of soundly framed and lit images rich with meticulous set design. Almost every frame boasts its planning. He gets big stars (Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee) and actors (Dhritiman Chatterjee, Shernaz "Khandan" Patel) and newbies (Ayesha Kapur, Nandana Sen) into the mix and lo and behold, we have a long loud paean to cool disability that completely lacks a crucial element: a sense of narrative propriety and a coherent script. For a look-and-feel fetishist like Bhansali, the average length of a Bollywood potboiler offered a great window to indulge in his whims. This time he challenges himself by taking out two of the most important sales props for his talent with visuals: songs and time. While the former is a blessing, the latter seems to have thrown everyone involved into a frenzy. The film begins falling over itself from the word 'go' and almost beats the fastest performance on film (the Big B as Debraj Sahai) to the finish line. And that loss of counterpoint is only the first casualty. The subject offers great potential for design in the visual and aural scapes. Ravi K Chandran, along with the art direction and production design, pulls off a coup by hurling one beautiful frame after another at us. On the aural front, however, things are markedly different. The background score swells like a flood of Oscar-friendly tripe threatening our ears with a fate alike Michelle McNally. And everyone screams and shrieks like there's no tomorrow. The adjective 'subtle' never figured in any document detailing the requirements and design[sic] of this movie. The script chooses to mix a lot of English and Hindi into the dialogue. How Michelle McNally can comprehend both (see also: how can some of the scenes can randomly switch between the two at a whim?) is beyond all comprehension. For a film that seemed to focus on being tight and to-the-point, there's far too much exposition. As for the performances, I am not sure what to think. Shernaz Patel is earnest, Dhritiman Chatterjee flounders badly on numerous occasions, the Big B's reading of his part seemed very very wrong, Ayesha Kapur will get plaudits for her performance that only made me wish we could get on with it, Rani Mukherjee has guaranteed herself a few popular awards for a performance that enjoys less screen time and barely any structured approach. For a film about such an interesting subject, sensitivity is the one thing the performances lack. Everyone seems intent on breaking the sound barrier. And Bhansali, the evergreen visual fetishist, hurls one photographically resonant image after another at us (coming into full bloom with the Christmas party), and refuses to provide any foundation for all these embellishments. The background score and all the goings-on hit the hilt with their intent on making this less of a serious effort at telling a human story and more of a look-mainstream-cinema-can-be-serious slapdash effort.

The only moment I could relish was the small fragment when Mrs McNally thanks Debraj across a locked door for making a "fine lady" out of her daughter, and you can also catch the Big B's reflection in one of the glass panes in the door. Pity that the rest of film was so caught up in itself to notice its merit.

While everyone in Bollywood has been fellating Bhansali with hosannas, a few dissonant voices have been heard. There was Anurag Kashyap's diatribe (and I must confess: I honestly can't tell you what the key differences between external representations of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are, so I can't voice agreement on that aspect; besides, Kashyap's credibility, regretfully, takes a beating, because not a single movie he's made has managed to hit the marquee -- and that, unfortunately, is how his comments will be contextualized). Subhash K Jha came forward to slam Kashyap and even note the plight of Paanch and Black Friday and "pawed his own foxes" (personal pun on a French phrase) in the first two paragraphs itself. My thoughts agree best with what Sudhir Mishra had to say in an interview with Rediff:

What do I think about Black? I don't like hamming in films, and it's a film where everybody's hamming, including the cameraman. Everything is setup for effect-- 'look how sensitive I am.'

It's not really a film about the girl who's blind. It's like you make a film about a guy who's lame, then you take the crutches away, then you hit him on the head, and he falls and you point and say, 'look how he's suffering.' When everything is for effect, it becomes boring. As a filmmaker, you start predicting.

For me, it's a very manipulative film. It's always manipulating me to cry. It's asking for too much sympathy, and I don't have that much sympathy to give. It's like emotional blackmail all the time, and I find that very unattractive. Some people might really like it, but it's not for me.

I think (Sanjay Leela) Bhansali is a good filmmaker; he's a person who's trying to tell a story visually. So he is a guy to watch out for. Like when he told stories which are musical in a way, in a milieu that he knew, like in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam-- it's a film that works where it is.

Why are we even talking about Black? Well, because we're reacting to the fact that they brought out ads saying this was the best film ever, and some critics said this was like Kieslowski. And since all of us somewhat like Kieslowski (laughs) and have grown up on Red and Dekalog, we feel its our duty to say, 'Hey, wait a minute.' And set the record straight.

What I hate now is that everybody's become a fascist. And dissent has gone out the window. It's not important whether I like Black or not, it is a personal opinion. Suddenly the whole 'how do you dare not like it?' backlash...it's ridiculous. I mean, come on, if you don't like my film, do I say anything?

a soufflé of music and guilt [april 28, 2005]

After catching an extract of Dance Like a Man at a reading event at Emory University over a year ago, I treated myself to a generous dose of Mahesh Dattani's plays with a purchase last December. I chose to read the plays in an order different from the chronological one in the collection and was rewarded with a visible sense of improvement in the audacity and bite of the material. News of filmic adaptations of his work have, hence, been of even more interest to me. The initial offerings seem to be more original material than adaptations. The only adaptations I know of are Dance Like a Man (directed by Pamela Rooks; won the National Award for the best feature film in English: all of which means nothing, really) and Mango Soufflé, and all I know about the latter is that the DVD exists. The other filmic exercise that he had writing credit on, Ek Alag Mausam, was an unfortunate disappointment. And now, after catching Morning Raaga, I only hope Mahesh Dattani reconsiders his plunge into film direction. Adapting plays for the big screen has always been a challenging task, and Morning Raaga does not enjoy much success. Devices associated with the mechanics of filmmaking (editing, photography, background score) threaten to destroy the firmament of a familiar set of narrative ideas. Having music as a backdrop while tackling guilt and the need to find a place for oneself in this world offers potential. Dattani, unfortunately, doesn't exercise his options well. The dialogue mixes English and the vernacular, but a lot of what is said is uneven, unfinished, ill-at-ease and pretty much a bumpy ride. The film also can't seem to make up its mind about its tone, eventually ending up as an unsatisfying (often confused) mix. All epiphanies seem trite, all resolutions clichéd, and all complexities rendered specious. The only merit the background score (which continues to live up to the tradition of trying to become a "foreground" score) achieves comes in a brief moment during abhinay's first boat ride. The singing voices are extremely talented and it's a pity that nobody on screen (except Ranjani Ramakrishnan who plays vashNavii {may 03, 2005: see addendum at the end of this post}) does justice in lip-synching for carnatic music. Shabana Azmi does a good job with her accent, but that merit threatens to go unnoticed as she struggles with a part that deserved more attention from the writing department. Perizaad continues to irritate me, and Prakash Rao (no surprise about the choice; he's the son of the producer) playing Abhinay seems perpetually sad with one expression to fit all emotions. Lillete Dubey tackles her part with gumption, but she rarely gets to take it beyond the frivolity that occupies a majority of her on-screen time. Nasser offers as much support as he can, as does the buffalo playing the buffalo named annapuurNaa.

Things don't bode well on the technical front. The editing is dismal, there seems to have been a complete lack of vision as far as camera angles and camerawork was concerned (was D/P Rajeev Menon having a bad day?), the lighting is egregious (note the general irritating wash of light in several scenes).

Oh yes, one more thing. There is no way someone can pick up carnatic music and expound profoundly in so short a span of time as seen in the film. That aspect alone trivializes the discipline and virtually spells doom for the film's intent.

If someone knows the meaning of the following set of strings that comprise a recurring graphic adorning the main menu of the DVD, please drop me a line: a meeting of worlds; rhythms; embellishments; sanskrit, literally; musical tone, colo[u]r; awaken the Gods.

An aspect ratio of 2.35:1 meant that I kept seeing plump squashed versions of everything on screen. Either this was a mistake at the drawing board or the DVD people took 16:9 and twisted it. Or the Indian store probably screwed up the aspect ratio while making a VHS copy ... yet again!!

{may 03, 2005}: Addendum: Checked my copy of the soundtrack CD on a whim and -- sure enough -- the name "Ranjani Ramakrishna(n)" shows up on the credits. Some googling got me more information from a mouthshut.com review by spacejunk and comments accompanying another review by satishkl. Turns out RR is a violinist/vocalist who , in addition to performing on the album, also featured on screen as vaishNavii and a music coach for Shabana Azmi and Perizaad Zorabian. There are a few grey areas on the names though (at least for me): are the "Gayathri" credited on the album and Gayatri Iyer (maar gayo re, haa.N mai.nne chhuukar dekhaa hai) the same person? Also, aside from Bombay Jayashree, no other names ring immediate bells, so notes from people in the know are most welcome. Obviously, I think the soundtrack was the best part of this enterprise!

albert pinto ko gussa kyoon aata hai [april 24, 2005]

Saeed Akhtar Mirza deserves a place in the record books for his collection of films with long names (in sharp contrast to the specious word selections that adorn our marquee today. To review: Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho, Arvind Desai ki Ajeeb Daastan, Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai, Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro. Each of these works presented biting social commentary seasoned with humour and a sense of fatality and inevitability. Some of the efforts are extremely downbeat (MJHH) and some mix in a subtle element of the surreal and the abstract (ADKAD). This time around our protagonist (who works more like a suutradhaar and our eyes into the world gone mad) is a mechanic in a garage who has a very short temper and is extremely opinionated. Naseeruddin Shah gives us Albert Pinto with an ease that downplays the complexity of the role. The supporting cast is rich with familiar talents: Smita Patil as Albert's sister Joan, Shabana Azmi as Albert's girlfriend Stella (whose boss, in a typical nod from Mirza, is named Arvind Desai), Dilip Dhawan (who played Arvind Desai in ADKAD) as Albert's vagrant brother Dominic, and Arvind and Sulabha Deshpande as the Pinto parents. Other familiar names relegated to smaller parts include Om Puri and Madan Jain as other mechanics at the garage, Rohini Hattangadi as the wife of a frequent customer at the garage, Avtar Gill and Satish Shah as Dominic's buddies, Mushtaque Khan as a lecherous shopper, and Achyut Potdar as Chandumal Potdar, the adhyaksh of the Bombay Textile Mill Owners Association. And brother Aziz Mirza pops in too. While presenting us with events in the life of Albert, Mirza also explores the influence of the industrial behemoth (the textile mills of Bombay) and the communal insecurity of the Christian community. It's an interesting mix: human and social drama served up with numerous flourishes from theatre. The most overt moments in the film come from the song-and-dance sequences: Dominic improvising words onto changing melodies and rhythms he is playing out on his guitar; the street play-esque tableau that Dominic and his goon buddies break into while on a job stealing stuff from a warehouse. Even these sequences (especially the second one), although drastically out of place when given the tone of the rest of the film, have a point to make (although it's less depressing that the goings-on in MJHH). It's a pity Mirza seems to have stopped delivering such movies. It's a clear indication of the times. Take a look at the credits roster again. The late Renu Saluja handles the editing, and the currently ineffectual Kundan Shah assists on script and direction. All members of one of the most talented cliques ever to come out of the FTII. Commerce and the need to make a profit have, over the years, eroded the fine sense of creative adventure and audacity they demonstrated. Films like these thus serve as an important testament of the good old days of experimental cinema.

Trivia:: Music director Manas Mukherjee is the father of singing sensations Shantanu (Shaan) and Sagarika. The title of this film pops up as a code phrase in the quintessential black comedy JBDY.

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