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Actor-director Kunaal Roy Kapoor's satirical mockumentary is too incredulous to work as a satire or mockumentary, and edges on farce with non-stop tomfoolery., 20 August 2013

When we were kids, we played a popular game called 'Simon says'. In this game, one kid from the group became 'Simon' and issued instructions to the rest of the group, like 'Simon says sit' or 'Simon says jump'. The person who failed to perform the action immediately lost the game and sat out until the winner was declared. The six contestants who compete in a reality show that offers the winner a chance of the lifetime to shake hands with President George Bush (now former President, of course) are so hare-brained and crotchety they'd all fail in first round of a Simon Says game, forget making the list of NDTV's top entrepreneurs (as the film states. The only way this can be justifiable is if NDTV is equally harebrained) or worse, representing India to greet a President. It isn't just the contestant choice that's ridiculous but the selection committee itself which includes two unhinged women who conduct a series of absurd tasks in elimination rounds. It's really a stretch to believe that the US consulate would these circus freaks to work for them, who seem fitter as inmates of a mental asylum. The only reality shows that fits the bill for these cartoons is the garish 'Timeout with Imam', the Indian 'reality show' (though it's obviously scripted) that's currently polluting MTV India. For those unfamiliar with the show, think Spencer Pratt & Heidi Montag.

Actor-director Kunaal Roy Kapoor's satirical mockumentary is too incredulous to work as a satire or mockumentary, and edges on farce with non-stop tomfoolery. The characters in 'The President is Coming' are so in-your-face obnoxious and in-each-other's faces offensive that they put you off so much, you'd wish that carnivorous plant from Cadbury Bournville commercial would devour them up. These aren't likable caricatures, like Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory or Meryl Streep's wonderful Camilla Bowner in 'Web Therapy', whose verbal darts during their repartees are sharp but don't hurt. In 'The President is Coming', the characters want to draw blood every time they open their mouths. At one point, a guy asks a girl 'Are you a sl*t?... A wh*re?' (later, it is found that the girl had recorded a sex-tape with another male contestant in the past) like he's asking about weather. Even the wicked Barney Stinson from comedy series How I Met Your Mother would've been more tactful.

There are seven contenders fighting for the title of 'The Most offensive character' in the film. Let's begin with the host Samantha Patel, a bossy uptight always-Miss-Right anchor who dons Barkha Dutt's bob cut. There's hardly a moment where we don't see her putting down her timid protégé Ritu Johnson and telling her who has the last word. She's later found to be a kleptomaniac stealing cutlery and statues from the location of the reality show. It's surprising that this character, who wants to remain in the spotlight always, doesn't ask the reality-show's camera-man (who's off-screen, holding the camera, through which we view all the action) for close-ups, or come too close to the camera only to block others from view.

The six contestants include Maya Roy, an author who loves the works of Ernest Hemingway, except she thinks she's better. A strong-minded forward-thinking divorcée, she is irked by the misogynistic, homophobic, antediluvian thinking of co-contestant Ajay Karlekar, a Hindutva social worker who believes he and George Bush share the same qualities (he's got that right, at least). She is also very shrewd, using contestants' weaknesses to get them eliminated. One victim is South Indian Ramesh S., a closeted homosexual who is learns all the rules of straight-flirtation but never gets them right. Then there is billionaire's daughter and budding entrepreneur Archana, a scatterbrained brown skin Paris Hilton without the puppies, and Rohit Seth, an accent trainer running the unimaginatively named 'Speak easy'; this is the couple that was involved in the sex tape scandal. The guy who asks her whether she's a sl*t is Kapil Dev Dholakia, a stockbroker who can speak stocks and shares very easily but nothing else. When asked what the capital of US is, he replies 'Dow Jones'. The film gives this painful guy a sweet revenge by dressing him up as Madonna in the Round 'American Masquerade'.

You just can't choose some who calls Osama Bin Laden as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as one of the top six contestants of any quiz based reality show, especially one where the winner meets Mr. Bush. One just can't be so ignorant, so offensive and so ludicrous unless paid handsomely by the TV to act this way. There's also some obvious blunders for which no explanations are provided. Firstly, where's the entire crew that's shooting the event? Are we to believe one that there's only person shooting AND operating the boom mic (a device to capture sound. Oftentimes makes special appearance in films due to careless editing) and there's no security except one mousy watchman? And why would one character reveal a maleficent hidden agenda in front of TV cams and security cams? All these annoyances and blunders rob the spotlight from moments of mild delight.

Ernest Hemingway once said 'The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof sh*t detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it'. Anuvab Pal may not even make it to the long list of such writers. His film reeks.

Thalaivaa (2013)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Such a god-damn ridiculous piece of trash it should be kept out of human reach. This film doesn't even deserve the controversy it's getting., 13 August 2013

Tamil A.L. Vijay's Thalaivaa has courted controversy after theaters in Chennai which originally intended to play the film received bomb threats, thus leading to a no-show on the first week of its release. It has however reached a cinema hall in the quaint but economically mushrooming city of Vadodara, my home-town. And my brothers, or rather bros, in Chennai, consider yourself saved (except for that poor fan-boy who committed suicide after his idol Vijay 's ( i.e. the lead actor and not A.L. Vijay ,the director) film didn't see a release in Chennai. Bro, a word of advice: there are better things worth giving up your life for)! For the film is such a god-damn ridiculous piece of trash it should be kept out of human reach.

I believe one S R K Karnan has filed petition with the Chennai High Court alleging that the film portrays the lives of his father and grand- father, two social leaders in Mumbai's slum-ridden area of Dharavi, in a highly unflattering light by distorting facts and depicting the two men as dons and thugs. His petition would probably be rejected, but if he does make another one claiming his lineage is portrayed as boneheaded idiots, he'd probably win the claim. Thalaivaa is hardly a biopic. Neither is it about "the people" as the protagonists in the film often claim. It isn't about Anna, who if Karnan's claim is true has been based on his granddad. Neither is it about Karnan's father. It's all about the idiotic hero Vijay. His screen-time and close-up shots confirm this. He dances , he romances, he sings, he jokes, he does dollops of dishum- dishum (fight) and some poor imitation of Robert Di Nero in Godfather and Abhishek Bachchan in Ram Gopal Varma's Sarkar/Sarkar Raj, whenever he gets a free time from all the dancing, romancing and dishum- dishuming.

He's a wannabe dada/don. The film itself is a wannabe Godfather, a wannabe Sarkar, a wannabe typical-Indian-romance (but with twist) and at times even a wannabe ABCD (Prabhudeva's film on dance). It spends much of its time worshiping its hero Vijay, to an extent that it kills of Anna's character (played competently by Sathyaraj) pretty quickly. It wastes little time to reveal its true intentions of becoming another in the endless list of forgettable kitschy 'romance-drama-action' money- spinners that are dumped on mass audiences by Kollywood and Bollywood. Sathyaraj, playing Anna, is a former coolie who eventually becomes the protector of honest slum-dwellers of Dharavi by delivering justice through violence and force. But the film relegates him to a shadow, one appearing occasionally to tell his son how busy he is, as soon as Vijay enters. He plays Anna's NRI son-settled-in-Melbourne Vishwa, and the film abruptly switches gear from dead-serious drama to hokey-jokey comedy. Comedian Santharam joins in as Vishwa's buddy Logu to fuel the film's path of self-destruction, and for a while we get an unappetizing feel of watching 'Sarkar + Comedy'.

Enter love interest Meera (played by dusky beauty Amala Paul) and the film enters 'romance mode', spending almost an hour till we exclaim "Oh my goodness! What happened to the original plot?!!" (that comes right before the interval, so you can be bold enough and try to ask whether you can come in after interval and pay half the ticket price. I wouldn't recommend that either as things get even worse post-interval). Vishwa and Meera participate in a dance contest and win, overcoming hurdles like being attacked by their competitors. But why are these things important in a film about Dharavi, its people and its self-proclaimed leaders? Why on earth would he think including a series of comedy sketches, one involving a cook who cannot cook, another about a bunch of single-men in Melbourne pining for Meera and the third involving Meera lying about her marriage with a sleazy-looking B-grade movie star, would be a good idea? Because they absolutely do nothing to further the plot, and they last as long as Durex condoms. And how ridiculous is it for a film to forget itself, and jump from drama to comedy to romance and return only to kill of the character of Anna, poor Anna in a car blast?

Twists before the second half – Meera and her dad turning out to be undercover police after they visit Mumbai along-with Vishwa under the pretext of discussing with Anna about Vishwa's marriage with Meera, and a guy named Bhima claiming responsibility for killing Anna to avenge his father's murder (Anna had killed a hate-monger named Varadarajan Mudaliar in the past). Bhima is really a weirdo – he meditates chanting Anna's name (then Vishwa's; actually the words chanted during meditation help in relaxation so it's hard to understand how chanting one's villain's name will increase animosity towards that subject: weird spirituality) and he sounds like an evil cyborg, credit awful dubbing (he's played by Abhimanyu Singh, a pucca Punjabi puttar). Vishwa meanwhile spends his time either channeling his inner Sylvester Stallone/Salman Khan, pounding men after men with brute energy, or drinking bhaang and doing masti (fun). The condition of this film post- interval turns from rubbish to muck to sheer atrocity.. I recommend a CT scan after watching this film.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
The Ship of Theseus is a painstakingly dialectical observation of the transient human forms journeying in the sphere of reality., 28 July 2013

The Ship of Theseus is a painstakingly dialectical observation of the transient human forms journeying in the sphere of reality. It examines the paradoxes in arguments about human beliefs, values and ideologies, exploring through the cave of space and time to find answers in the arcane light of truth. The film is deep, sometimes dense enough to put you into a storm of confusion, yet its mysterious powers to stimulate your mind into questioning the basis of existence is nevertheless a remarkable feat for writer-director Anand Gandhi. It's all the more astonishing to know that Ship of Theseus is Gandhi's debut feature film, and wait it you hear the biggest shocker – this work comes from the same man who began the incredibly contrived 'evil mother-in-law vs. saintly daughter-in-law' tradition in Indian television soaps such as 'Kyuunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (Because the mother-in-law was once a daughter- in-law herself)' and 'Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii (Story of Every Home)' more than a decade ago.

This man has completed his journey, his eight-year pilgrimage at last (he conceived his idea in 2005, after making two short films 'Right Here Right Now' in 2003 and 'Continuum' in 2005) and he has found some answers, which he brings to the world in the form of Ship of Theseus. His search is probably still on, yet this film is as good as it gets.

Anand Gandhi captains his Titanic Ship along its course, and it remains totally unhampered by any stupid icebergs. The easy way to look at this movie is that it's about organ donation, but on closer look, you'll see the theme of 'reconfiguration of human psyche by external forces' shining through. The film's structure is so massive, it's themes so multitudinous, that you don't feel sure at times whether you are moving in the direction the film intends you to move. My advice for those who can't understand everything would be to leave it to God and just understand what's easier for your mind to comprehend. Subsequent viewings will reveal further answers.

The cinematography by Pankaj Kumar is extremely fluid, and Gandhi allows the camera to remain static over long periods of time. That's where our actors, Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi and Sohum Shah (also the producer), do all the excellent visual communication, bringing an emotional intensity which gives these philosophical concepts a simpler, human form of expression. There's some powerful imagery here that draws our focus to the grand scheme of things. We begin to question ourselves then, wondering "God knows why…?". Our journey begins.

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Nine (2009)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Nine has characters who represent characters of another film but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions, 24 July 2013

About one year ago, I went to watch a Gujarati play on the theme of 'harrassment of women by their NRI husbands', written and directed by an acquaintance who was pursuing his Postgraduate Degree in Dramatics. As this was a local play with a completely local cast, I decided to bring a buddy along for moral support in case the play stank. Unsurprisingly, the play proved to be a massive disappointment with its crude treatment of the subject matter and ridiculously unnecessary focus on supporting characters (like making the gravedigger the lead in Hamlet). Yet, to my bewilderment, people cheered on and gave it a standing ovation it didn't deserve. I realized later that the antagonist in the play was a very popular name among Gujarati audiences, and so they cheered him on as he hammed endlessly, while I looked on bemused at all the beaming faces around me.

When the seven ladies of Nine (Dench, Cotillard, Cruz, Loren, Fergie, Hudson and Kidman) turn up one after the other in the opening musical sequence of Nine, I sat looking at the screen with the same bemused expression, and the question 'What am I supposed to feel here?' crossed my mind. These seven wonderful dames of acting may have caused a flurry of applauses had this been a live play (Nine is originally a Broadway musical), but they little impact when they such a grand entry on film for the simple reason that the entire thing is 'filmed'.

I have not seen Fellini's autobiographical classic 8 ½ either (on which both the play and the film are based), although the DVD does wait for me in the cupboard (will follow Mr. Roger Ebert's advice in his review and catch the film tonight). This makes me more alien towards Nine but not too much because I have seen Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita' four times and regard it as one of my favorite movies. So the parts which evoked a sense of familiary were Nicole Kidman's 'ideal woman' character and Daniel Day Lewis' 'detached persona looking for a centre', which Marcello Mastroianni played excellently in LDV. The main question here is: does Nine work as a musical and a movie independently in its own right? The answer is sadly a no.

The experience of watching Nine can be compared to visiting 'Marina Abramović's – The Artist is Present' exhibition without having any clue of who she is or what she has done. The film has characters who represent characters of another film but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions who don't really care about each other or this film. They function like the (actually) moving portraits in the Harry Potter stories; they wink, they smile, they laugh, they cry like humans but in the end, they remain portraits. And the worst part is that they're given such dark and ugly sets to sing and dance around, robbing all the richness off the mise-en-scène.

The reason for such unappealing sets is that all the performance pieces are figments of Guido Contini's often prurient imagination. The protagonist suffers from artistic block after two of his films flop following a streak of critical and commercial successes. After one reporter boldly asks him during a press interview whether 'he has nothing to speak about', Contini performs a great escape and books a room for himself at a hotel under a pseudonym. His next movie 'Italia' does not have a script yet and its cast and crew are left stranded without Contini, who spends much of his time at parties and events dreaming and fantasizing about the women in his life. There's angelic Claudia Jennsen: his inspiration, Luisa: his lonely wife, Carla: his sexy mistress, Lilli: his costume designer, Stephanie: an alluring reporter, Saraghina: a prostitute from his childhood, and lastly his Mamma. And unfortunately, everybody gets a number or two to perform (in Contini's mind). This basically goes on in a repetitive manner till the end, where finally the plot decides to move another inch or two.

There is not one song I can recollect now, except 'Cinema Italiano' which too stays in mind only because of its irritating hook. The other reason I think the number is easy to remember is that it's got a livelier and brighter set with performances we can actually see. The rest of the numbers are hampered by lack of light; if one has seen Gene Kelly's super-duper-brilliant 'Singin' in the Rain' he or she would remember the incredibly colorful sets and lighting which instantly evokes the performances to memory. The performers themselves in Nine do not impress us for most part. Fergie, Dench and Cottilard know how to 'sell a performance'; Fergie as most would know is an established singer-performer while Dench has a grande damme showstopper charm. Cruz is predictably sexy (with delectable bosoms) while sex-goddess Loren is motherly. And what about the man of the house: Mr. Daniel Day Lewis?

Oh, what a disappointment. Bringing a characteristic method approach to become Guido Contini, Lewis fails to get the 'performance element' that protagonists of a musical require that too in plenty. And I remember actress Meryl Streep telling in her interview with James Lipton that 'she added the element of performance in her acting after being mesmerized by one of Lisa Minelli's performances'; watch 'Mamma Mia' and you'll get what she means. Actors in a musical should have the ability of selling themselves through their characters. Gene Kelly does it best. Lewis however buries himself deep within his character and makes his whole act damn gloomy. And he ain't that good a singer either. Neither is he as addictive and infectious as Streep, who radiates even in her worst films. In fact, Lewis on a bad day digs the grave for his character and the whole film. That's a tragedy.

Sixteen (2013/II)
4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
A simple story with a share of heavy-duty moments handed to actors who seem less capable of handling the same. The plot makes for an interesting though not compelling watch., 17 July 2013

Sixteen is a simple story with a share of heavy-duty moments that are handed to actors who seem less capable of handling the same. The scene mentioned above isn't the only time Highphill Mathew slips, in fact in another scene coming towards the end of the film, he again isn't able to do much justice to his character. It's a scene which has the actor break down out of compunction for his past misdeeds, and all poor Highphill is able to do is whimper weakly because he's no Laurence Olivier.After hammering his boorish (although caring) dad dead with the same trophy used by his dad as a weapon to verbally denigrate him for declining results, Ashwin flees his home on foot. A few shots show him running hopelessly along the streets of Delhi, and the camera moves in and out during this scene. It's just how this scene should be shot, except that actor Highphill Mathew does not know what he should emote in this short span of seconds. All he does is run- he could be a runner for a city- based marathon, or a guy who's escaping a bunch of thugs or simply a jogger who wants to remain fit. But he's none of that, and that's where Mathew falters; he needs to convey a range of conflicting emotions while he is running, for the simple reason that he's just killed his own dad, whom he loved for his caring nature and loathed for his violent temperament. Alas, all his sweat and his father's blood go wasted.

And this is where the low production value of Sixteen acts against the film because it supplies a theatrical look to the indoor scenes. And the 'stage' needs actors who can bring the fullest of emotions to set the screen on fire, because there is no great locale or elaborate décor to draw attention away from the acting. Its sweet when things work, but when things don't, our actors look like stationery lazy stools and chairs supplied with lazier voice-over. And director Raj Purohit has his own amateur moments; note that he's responsible for most of the creative decisions, also writing, editing and penning lyrics apart from directing Sixteen.

a) Most of the film is captured in mid-shots (head to torso) of two characters occupying the screen. And mostly it's the camera cutting back and forth from one person to the other.

b) There is a soundtrack with about six-seven songs that is completely unnecessary (who is going to buy the album anyway?). Unmemorable numbers with forgettable lyrics penned by Purohit extend the film to over two hours; a taut ninety minutes would've been enough for Sixteen.

c) Characters in this film are neither entirely good nor totally evil. The shades of grey make them interesting. However, Purohit unnecessarily misleads audiences by painting a crucial character as a villain, a sexual predator, a potential pedophile in one scene by adding ominous background music for him, when the guy is just like any other human, with shades of good and stains of bad.

d) We get a cheap little editing technique in one scene. One girl is shown asking many questions to her friend, and the camera cuts repeatedly after each question. After we hear the questions, we then get to know how the other girl has answered the questions. So the camera shows her next saying 'Hmm…' a couple of times. This kind of editing suits a short film, but it looks clumsy in a feature film like this and also confuses the viewer about the tone of the movie. Is the scene funny because the girl isn't paying any attention, or should we sympathize with the girl, whose boyfriend has just dumped her? The latter requires the character to stay stationery so that we can know that she's sad and that her friend is concerned about her. Instead, this is turned into one sloppy gag.

e) Purohit wants a feel-good ending for the film. But he's the guy who wants his audience to smile so he can see their sixteen teeth on the upper jaw and sixteen on the lower. So there's a prolonged happy ending that assures, then reassures, then emphasizes, then marks with a big arrow that the ending is indeed a happy one. I would've smiled showing all my thirty-two brown teeth (thirty-one real and one fake) had the film ended with the other happy ending I saw ten minutes before.

Now that I've scolded 'Sixteen' like a fussy parent for its little mistakes, I can calm down and encourage the movie like a forgiving parent for all its goodness. The plot makes for an interesting (although not compelling) watch and I'm happy this film is uninhibited in its portrayal of young Delhi. The most memorable storyline would be the 'Lolita' inspired love triangle between 16 year old Tanisha, her aunt and a dapper 32 year old writer who lives in their house as a tenant. The story of the two other girls Anu and Mehek also have interesting turns, especially the point where the promiscuous Anu realizes that her parents live an open marriage (my cousin, who saw the film with me, cried 'What!', never having heard the term 'open marriage'). Ashwin's story starts strong but dwindles after his escape, and both I and my cousin totally forgot his character until he came back after a long absence.

I asked my cousin, a regular visitor to Delhi, what she thought about the depiction of these teenagers. And then she began with stories of how absolutely crazy, stupid, looks-and-fame obsessed Delhiites were, just like Anu, Ashwin, Tanisha and Mehek. All at the age of sixteen.

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2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Each subplot has been stretched 400m when it could've ended in a 100m dash. That doesn't stop Bhaag Milkha Bhaag from being a thoroughly entertaining biopic, Bollywood style., 14 July 2013

It has been a while since Bollywood has brought out a three hour epic, and therefore I was apprehensive about the audience response towards Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, which runs close to 189 minutes. Predictably, a couple of youngsters began texting on their cell-phones ten minutes after the movie began. This activity however stopped after a while, and the theater hall became unusually silent and more responsive towards the film than the PJs (poor jokes) messaged by their buddies on WhatsApp. The girl besides me too paid attention (reacting stupidly with a 'Eww!' every time Farhan bled or spat) as the movie paced towards its finisher. Just at the end, this same girl who spent the last two and three-fourth hours cackling at the most inappropriate moments (carrying all the symptoms of a 'Dumb Blonde', except she was brunette) said what can be the best way to summarize this film: Every subplot has been stretched too long. I too had the same thought running in my head, but to hear these words from her mouth made it easier for me to understand why this movie doesn't work the way it should.

Director Rakyesh Om Prakash Mehra has indeed stretched each subplot to a four hundred metre stretch when he could've ended it all in a hundred metre dash; this wasn't unexpected really, as his first and probably the best effort to date Rang De Basanti itself lumbered as it came to a tragic close. This is a thoroughly entertaining biopic Bollywood style, which looks back at itself, frets that it hasn't done enough to honor Milkha's glory (and enough to become commercial), and so adds more and more till it exacerbates its weaknesses and exhausts us patience. It's like watching a Life Time achievement honoree who just doesn't know when to end his speech; you either need a Professor Umbridge to 'Hem Hem' him or a Meira Kumar to cry 'Baith Jaiye!'.

Anyone who has seen Orson Welles' Citizen Kane will remember how Kane's life was seen through the eyes of different narrators, each giving an insight of his or her experience with the publishing tycoon. No one says anything he or she cannot know, and that's what makes their stories fascinating and believable. Now what would be the chances of Milkha Singh telling his coach Gurudev that he had slept with the Australian girl on their Melbourne tour? Or that he had snubbed the reigning Indian female swimmer's advances? Writer Prasoon Joshi thinks nobody would notice this implausibility but it ain't that hard to figure out; the story's framing device could've had two narrators – Gurudev, who would narrate about Milkha's training, and Milkha himself, who would take us to more personal memories using flashbacks. We shouldn't be blamed for going 'Huh?! But how does he know that?' often during the film.

There is a 'havan' song in the film which has stirred Hindu organizations, who demand that the part be removed. Yes, the song should be removed but not for the reason they're giving; the real reason is that it's an unnecessary number beginning abruptly and making little impact on the film's continuity. The romance between Milkha and Biro (played by Sonam Kapoor, who seems out of place in every film she has starred in, especially here where she sounds like a 'Mehemsaab' in a little village) is given too much screen time; far more interesting is the romance between Milkha and Australian Stella, which is dominated by music when words could've made their moments sweeter.

Scenes which could've been inspiring are made insipid with unrequired gags, and many points could've been subtler and more incisive. A cutting remark by a Pakistani coach, for example, didn't require to be highlighted with such emphasis (close up shot of Milkha's face losing color followed by another close up of the haughty Pakistani coach) and could've been replaced with subtle digs usually heard among rivals. The felicitation at the end takes too long to end, and I personally felt the film could've ended right after Milkha's personal journey reached its resolution.

Yet, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is an enormously entertaining and sometimes engrossing biopic (Mehra's especially strong when it comes to transitions; the occasional shifts to Milkha's childhood is especially worth a watch); its lead Farhan Akhtar is a strong presence who is consistently watchable, faltering only towards the end when the emotions he needs to bring are too overwhelming for him. It's funny how whenever I heard 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag!' I could also hear 'Run Forrest Run!' in my mind. That's a line from the Tom Hanks film 'Forrest Gump, an emotionally richer (much richer) movie. Try watching that film after Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and you'll see the difference.

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5 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
The sum effect of the Love in The City's six segments is zilch, and that's what makes the film a devoid-of-director's-passion fruitless watch., 12 July 2013

Love is the City is an anthology film of six segments badly assembled. There is a theme of love that underlies each segment in different and unique ways, but there is no pattern or connection that makes this 'love' representative of love in Italy. Without a unifying structure, we feel like poor Daffy Duck from Duck Amuck, constantly subjected to the film's inexplicably changing tones. We give up ultimately, disappointed and spurned.

This movie could've left its happier, lighter moments for the first half, and the bleak, poignant moments for the second. Or vice versa. Its abandonment of an overall rhythm makes it damningly ineffectual. One of the film's directors (and these are major Italian directors whose best films have been regarded among the finest in world cinema) apprises us seconds before first the segment begins, that 'we should not be expecting the genric Hollywood style of representation. This movie shall not rouse our passion like a Marilyn Monroe flick'. I'd rather have switched my DVD to Monroe's Seven Year Itch and be bewitched with her beauty than watch this. Love in a city is sadly a passionless film, cold and colorless as a whole; it's a modified version of the proverb 'Too many cooks spoil the broth' – here, the six cooks or rather Masterchefs together create no broth!

Instead, each one throws in his flavors, ignoring what the others are making. After the dishes are made, there is a chaos in the kitchen because everybody has created something highly dissimilar from the others: now how shall they serve this to the hungry guests? One of the six 'Masterchefs', probably Carlo Lizzani, nervously shows up and tells the guests just how 'different' this experience shall be, because the ingredients include non-actors who give first-hand account of their experience. He fingerpoints rival Hollywood offerings, blaming them for being simple, straight and unmemorable. The guests looks on wide-eyed, anticipating something challenging and unique.

Dish number one enters. It's called 'Paid Love', and Carlo Lizzani has prepared it. The name itself suggests that its got something to do with prostitutes. There's a narrator here who takes his camera to desolate streets at night to film streetwalkers. Many prostitutes play themselves as if they are being interviewed extempore. Vallie is questioned about shoes, Tilde says she takes ten cups of coffee everyday, another talks about being abandoned at a young age. Anna, a harlot with a manly appearance, if filmed at home where we learn 'she'll read Mickey Mouse before she goes to bed'. All the subjects occupy the centre of the frame. The bleakness of their existence is captured well. Would've been ironic had the interviewer himself used the services of the prostitute at the end, but that's not what this film intends to show. It remains like a documentary for the fifteen or so minutes it stays on screen.

The next dish is brought out. There is a flurry of excitement among the guests when the name Michelangelo Antonioni is heard. Slowly they see a couple of faces usher in and stand in front of a huge wall. Another narrator introduces them as 'people who had attempted suicide and were here to share their experience'. Raw stories of unfulfilled love, of deceit are shared by the people, one after the other as they relive their haunting experience. Many unsettling images come up, like when one woman speaks of the moment when she had fainted after plunging into the river, and as she speaks the image of the flowing water is captured as though it's her that's floating. It's an eerie piece all in all.

Dish three is a peppy one by Dinio Risi with waltzing, dancing, swinging, flirting and wall-flowering guys and gals. That's more than an adequate description for the piece. Dish four soon makes guests quiver with mad excitement as the name 'Fellini' is pronounced. This part includes a third-person view of the narrator, a journalist who investigates marriage agencies to learn what people are willing to do to get married. Led by sprightly little boys and girls to Mrs. Cibele's office, our journalist, after a small talk with her husband, tells Mrs.Cibele about a 'friend who suffers from a werewolf syndrome and can only be cured if he gets married'. To the journalist's surprise (there's no such friend, obviously), Mrs. Cibele agrees to find a girl for his friend and gets him one without any difficulty. Later it's found that the girl is highly impoverished and is desperate to marry anyone who can take good care of her.

Dish five, the most elaborate one (not in terms of content but rather in terms of duration) deals with an impoverished hapless mother's love for her child which reunites the two ultimately, inspite of her attempts to abandon him. A haunting score is heard often, as if angels from the heaven above are lamenting this woman's misery and pathos. But there's little for us to care for this woman or this child to even bother sympathising with them. Dish six is sexyy, perky and quirky, capturing pretty, glowy busty women from far and up-close, and the never-ceasing dirty male gaze.

Each dish has moments but it is when the six (or seven) 'Masterchefs' or directors – Lizzani, Antonioni, Risi, Fellini, duo Zavattini and Masseni and Lattuada – announce 'That's a wrap! Thank you for coming to the show', that the guests (we, obviously) begin wondering "What exactly have you given us?" The sum effect of the six segments is zilch, and that's what makes Love in The City a devoid-of-director's-passion fruitless watch.

The Heat (2013/I)
5 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Although worth watching once for Bullock and McCarthy, The Heat is a lukewarm buddy cop movie that works better when the cops actually solve the crime., 1 July 2013

... In the latter half of The Heat, when an overpowered baddie asks Sarah and Shannon who they are, Sarah proclaims "We are 'The Heat'". The team name is never mentioned again. The title seems apt when you glance at the rocket launcher actress Melissa MCarthy is holding in the film's poster (yeah, and both she and Sandra Bullock have a 'Bring It On!' look), plus you know there's a lot of heat between Sarah and Mullins at first, but to me it seems ridiculous Sarah would christen her team with a name like 'The Heat' when I think I heard the word being used only one in the film in any context. And don't wait for a scene where Melissa's character Mullins blows up helicopters or something using her rocket launcher because the weapon is never used. What is used is a hand grenade, that too one that's bought by Mullins on EBay, but it does work for the ladies at a crucial moment in this film. 

What surprised me was the lack of weaponry used here, even though there's a scene where Mullins shows Sarah an array of gun, grenades and launchers cloistered in the refrigerator in her messy apartment. Yet, the violence in The Heat remains pretty high, and the worst part doesn't come from a Magnum or a shotgun but a little straw. A distasteful moment that's funny but will make you go sour is when Sarah applies her unique technique of treating a guy who's choking on food stuck in his windpipe; she calmly makes an incision in his neck, then injects a solution and finally inserts a straw into the opening. But the poor guy keeps choking and bleeding profusely, and Sarah finally panics and screams for ambulance. Mullins simply thumps him once on his chest and he coughs out the food; the guy is later hospitalised for severe bleeding. Try watching this particular scene while sipping your Coke with a straw! 

Paul Feig's latest offering remains lukewarm until the two lead characters willingly work as a team post interval, and the film pays attention to the neglected case that was waiting for its turn to catch fire. Watching these two ladies bring in their own personalities to handle situations works better than watching them squabble with one another. Watching two ladies with opposite personalities bicker, bitch slap and cat-fight each other is fun for a while, but Sandra and McCarthy are evidently not that great at improvising. They often rely on awkward silences to evoke laughter; this is when a gag leads to an awkward silence where characters stare at one another or at the camera. A sigh is then heard - that's us. 

Many of the jokes aren't inventive either. Plus, some go on for too long. Take the scene where Mullins refuses to let Sarah intervene in her case and takes the male police chief to task for being helpless. In a rampage Mike Tyson mode, she fires verbal shots by humiliating the chief in front of the entire police force - she asks loudly whether anyone has found his balls around somewhere and proceeds to give an unflattering description of the same. I did laugh, for a while I did, but McCarthy seemed to go on too long, and the camera doesn't cut quickly enough to reaction shots of the humiliated chief and others.   

Yet, you never get fatigued watching Bullock and McCarthy on screen and that alone makes The Heat worth watching once. This film serves the role of both a prequel and a sequel; the first half, with Mullins and Sarah adjusting to each other is like a prequel and the second, where the two ladies whoop butt, a sequel. The only thing this movie needs now is one more sequel, with maybe a guy joining the two ladies, and nothing more.   

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5 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Until interval, your eyes don't open with the usual sense of wonderment while watching Pixar movies. Post intermission, they do, oh yes they do!, 22 June 2013

A timid clownfish who travels hundreds of miles in search of his son and an amnesiac regal blue tang who guides him along. A rat who can cook teams up with a prestigious chef's illegitimate son who can't. A trash compactor robot on Earth who falls in love with an advanced robot visiting from outer space to inspect for signs of life. A grumpy old retired widower who flies along with his entire house to Paradise Falls and a tubby little sprightly boy scout who is accidentally carried along. These are some of the unique pairings that have wonderfully driven Pixar Animated Studios to Oscar glory. Now consider this : a green little monster who knows each and every way to scare but can't actually scare anybody, and his mighty college companion who can frighten one to death but is a one-trick pony. Does this Pixar pairing seem unique enough to hold up to its predecessors? No really...

That's problem number one Pixar's latest venture MU has to overcome. Problem number two: the movie is a prequel. Pixar is hardly known to make prequels or sequels; its only super successful franchise is the Toy Story Series, which began in 1995 and has continued with two hugely acclaimed sequels, the third part being nominated for the prestigious Best Picture at the Oscars. The other known franchise is Cars, whose sequel Cars 2 cold barely score among critics (I adored both the films though). 

This seems to be the decade of sequels of Pixar; on one hand, MU comes ten years after the brilliant Monsters Inc, while on the other, Pixar classic Finding Nemo continues its legacy with Finding Dory, to be released in two years. Sequels or prequels is equal to familiarity, and we always expect Pixar to give us something new and original. Nobody bothers when rival studio Dreamworks clings to its green ogre Shrek to ask money, but we have come to expect much greater things from Pixar, so the thought of watching its memorable characters do another act disconcerts us because we've seen the best already. 

Problem number three: this movie is set in a college. You'd ask what's wrong about that? American Pie was set in college and it worked. But keep in mind why American Pie worked: it was an R rated comedy about the three-letter-word with a lot of four-letter- words used in their three-letter-word context. MU is G rated, and it's comedy involves watching the lunch lady serve garbage to students while freshers are given a totally positive picture during an orientation of MU conducted by a hyper-cheery girl. There are jock monsters, geek monsters, blonde monsters, prep monsters and other monsters of different shapes, sizes and colours in this university led by a staunch female dragon Dean. Oh so familiar you'd think if these were actors instead of monsters, this film would have been instantly forgotten. 

Some of the names are cringe-worthy too - the movie's protagonist Mike goes to 'Frighton' Elementary School as a child. Its a take on the word 'fright', get it?Uhm... not so bright. Also, you'd be surprised during this film to find sequences that remind you of other films. There's an 'initiation ceremony' that'll take you straight to the Ring of Fire sequence from Finding Nemo. The first part itself with the monster introductions feels similar to another animated film Hotel Transylvania, which albeit spent too much time showing one monster after the other. Five problems or rather challenges already, and does Pixar manage to overcome all of these? Yes, to a large extent it does.

I'd probably use the word 'redeem' than overcome here; MU redeems itself by getting back its Pixar magic post interval. Until then, your eyes don't open with the usual sense of wonderment while watching Pixar movies. You want to be googly eyed like the protagonist Mike when he steps into MU for the first time, but you are unfortunately squinting instead. When you see his initial rivalry with Sullivan, you feel like you've seen all this before. Even when actress Helen Mirren unleashes her Miranda Priestley cum Sister Aloysius as Dean Hardscrabble, you still wait longing for signs of Pixar again, feeling as though you're watching a Dreamworks film that's been mistakenly marketed as Pixar's. 

By the interval, I'd coined the term 'Pixar's blot' for this film, because I found nothing to positively surprise me in this work. This term would not be used for this film at all, however, as the second half surprised me - in a big way.

The film wakes up and becomes altogether special once Pixar's magic slowly fills in like the scare-meter used by students of MU to record scare-levels of children. Once Mike makes a wager with Dean Hardscrabble to retain him into the 'Scare Program' (he is suspended from the same for creating a chaos during their exam) if he stands the winner of a college event called 'Scare Games', he teams up with four other not-scary-in-the-slightest fraternity guys and his rival Sullivan, who's also suspended and joins their team Oozma Kappa only to get back into the program; when the team begs to understand each other's strengths and capabilities, you begin to see Pixar's flashing light that you were waiting for so long. There's an unexpected surprise I won't disclose here, and eventually the film's broader themes seem to have the depth of Pixar's earlier efforts. The only problem in the end is the first half itself, which although seems necessary after watching the whole film, has no moment of Pixar spark. That jumpy little lamp you see every time he logo appears (he's Luxor Jr., from an earlier short film) was probably on low voltage until the interval. Thank goodness everything turned out right afterwards and it burned bright. But I constantly was worrying the little bulb would blow out, and I don't want to get that that feeling again, not from Pixar.

Raanjhanaa (2013)
5 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Makes you want to thump your forehead with a sledgehammer. It's less painful to gouge out your eyes than to watch Dhanush and Sonam attempting to romance in Raanjhanaa., 22 June 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sonam Kapoor is box-office poison, and it's entirely her own bloody fault for poisoning her films with her forgettable performances. In Raanjhanaa, she plays Zoya, a rebellious Muslim girl who participates in anti-government rallies and satyagrahas along with her boyfriend Akram, a student leader. Both study at Jawaharlal Nehru University, a prestigious college in Delhi which may get a bad name now because the film suggests that all the agitations and fierce political and philosophical debates held by it's students fall useless to a common man's smooth-talk and makhan-maroing (buttering).

I digress here but I cannot help it; my mind is boiling with such an intense agitation, I can't stop complaining (read: spewing venom) about each and every frame of this 'ch*du' film. Raanjhanaa has little to do with politics, and its basically about a loafer named Kundan being besotted by Zoya since childhood but losing her after her parents find out she's in love with a Hindu. The political angle is basically to add some complexity to their love story, and Sonam's part involves falling in love with Kundan, losing him, falling for the JNU guy and later losing him forever after his death, and then the gradual reconciliation with Kundan  but with a twist. 

Sonam seems like an actress who must've slept through all her acting classes and needn't have to sleep with anyone to enter the industry, being the daughter of actor Anil Kapoor. She does not know how to pause, how to intonate and how to feel her lines; she has a few stock expressions (adding a few with each film. In a previous debacle called 'I Hate Luv Stories', I remember she just had two) to fall back upon and enough of glycerin to help her cry. But she has next to nil screen talent.

Complementing her in ineptitude is Dhanush, a National Award winning Tamil superstar who may have some screen talent (didn't see much here through) but has zero screen presence as lovestruck Kundan. Even an apparition would've had more screen presence than what Dhanush had in this film.

 Let me prove this. He has a stick figure for a body but so does Nawazzudin Siddique, so this point isn't valid. He moves as though there are strings attached to his hands and feet, especially when he dances. When he acts it seems as though he's thinking how he shall speak the next sentence in Hindi convincingly. It end up looking like he is practicing how to act on screen than actually acting. His diction is poor, and his narration is very flat because he is afraid he might screw up if he takes any intonations. He has zero charisma and little confidence here; it's better he literally glue himself to the South and never ever look North towards Bollywood - the pole star doesn't shine on him.

His character Kundan has a dreadfully ill-defined characterization; he spends the first forty (agonizing) minutes of Raanjhanaa hitting on Sonam's Kappor' character Zoya, first as a teenager, then an as adult. He saves her from getting married to a suitor chosen by her parents, and later convinces her father to allow her to marry the man she loves, all while loving her unconditionally himself. 

After her boyfriend is discovered to be a Hindu and is beaten up by the Muslim community (throw in caste issue just to make the film more controversial), Kundan accompanies Zoya to her boyfriend, who has been shifted to Delhi.

On reaching his home, Kundan releases that he is dead; the man is so shattered he runs out crying and vomits (buttermilk most probably, judging from the color) in the garden as though HE was the guy's lover. Later he becomes a chai-walla at JNU and joins Zoya and her fellow student protesters in rallies.

 It doesn't take much time before he replaces Sonam as the leader in their youth party, and then Raanjhanaa's director Aanand Rai decides a further twist of betrayal is required, along with an obligatory 'American Beauty'-like monologue at the end, where Kundan narrates the fate of each of the film's major characters. Of course, as nothing in the film can be taken seriously, the monologue sounds just as cheap as everything else.

'Ch-tiya' (stupid) is used a couple of times in the film and some people in the audience snickered like ten-year olds only because Dhanush was mouthing them. They really should've sat next to me because the words that flowed from my mouth while watching Raanjhanaa were way worse than ch-tiya. 

This is a movie that seriously lacks in all aspects of good film-making; along with weak and inept performances, it has horrid writing, weak cinematography and wasted music. The movie doesn't give the feeling of Benaras, where much of the film is set and many of the scenes have an artificial look look like they were shot on ready-made sets. The writing keeps adding new elements recklessly, like it mixes politics into the film in the second half just to tick the f**k out us. Nobody in the cast or crew knows how to 'capture a moment' and that is what good film-making is about. And its funny how composer AR Rehman's name roars out firsts in the closing credits, because the music is forgettable and functions only to fill the runtime, which should've been filled with good writing instead. 

Raanjhanaa is a kind of film that makes you want to thump your forehead... with a sledgehammer. It's less painful to gouge out your eyes than to watch Dhanush and Sonam's attempting to romance in this movie. It's Benaras is 'bina ras' (without essence), there's only 'vish' (poison) here. But it was kind of expected when the film's lead is the one and only Ms. Box office poison herself. 

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