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Dhobi Ghat (2010)
6/10
Dhobi Ghat - baby steps into into the 20th century!
27 January 2011
Hindi cinema, particularly that called Bollywood cinema, is often a pastiche of snippets and vignettes from cinema all over the world. And the influences are usually aged and not modern. Thus Life in a Metro, the film that could almost be Dhobi Ghat if minimalized, took an entire sequence in its interconnecting stories from the Billy Wilder 1960 film The Apartment, but wove in a few other tales around the trysting place to modernize the whole. Others did not care as much - Tees Maar Khan went right to deSica's 1966 film After the Fox and simply added in a few extreme characters and item songs to season the tale for Indian palates.

Now Kiran Rao has dared to drag Hindi cinema into the 20th century by making Dhobi Ghat. Simply for that attempt to move beyond the set narrative based films we should commend her. However, these are still baby steps and a large distance remains to be traversed. The influence of world cinema is very strong on Dhobi Ghat. The set of interconnecting stories shifting and reforming like dynamic puzzle pieces around a teeming city, and the pensive mood set by the reclusive artist as he broods over video-taped letters he finds, makes it easy to spot the unmistakable Wong Kar Wai influence. In 1994 Kar Wai made Chungking Express, a story of two love-lorn policemen, unconnected tales, except for the city they were in, and the fact that both had lost love. There too the mood was pensive, dreamy, and whole film an artist's palette of color, mood and motion. Of course more recently Inarritu has taken interconnecting stories to a different level, starting with Amores Perros. The stories intersect usually triggered by some violent or catastrophic event, something that has no doubt influenced Kiran Rao. Skirting city centric films like Paris Je T'Aime, which somehow tried to connect 20 stories set in the real star of the film, Paris, she makes Mumbai an almost living breathing entity without glorifying it in any way. This is a scary Mumbai, where the watchman does not know what happened to a past tenant and (without spoilers given away) that seems almost unbelievable, there are drug wars and killings, and good looking men pimp their looks for money.

The package is let down by some amateurish writing that is riddled with coincidences, and some miscasting that drags down the effort. There are too many coincident meetings in the metropolis, making the very point about a large teeming heartless city quite pointless. The one dhobi connects all the dots, and everyone can see everyone else from an apartment window or doorway. The dialogs are stilted, and equally jarring when Monica Dogra talks in her Firangi Hindi accent about Dakshini Asia, or Aamir talks in English about his city, his muse, whore. The star of the show is Kriti Malhotra as Yasmeen. Starting out bubbly and vivacious, she goes slowly into fade mode, presaged by her fading into the light in the Elephanta caves (?). Parteik has tremendous screen presence, and Kiran manages to extract much more out of him as the beefed up star wannabe dhobi than Abbas Tyrewala ever could as the artistic self absorbed brat in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. He does have problems with dialog delivery, but who cares when he can smile that, or look so vulnerable. Monica Dogra fits the role but does not add much to it, weighed down as she is by that awful Hindi accent and a monotonous dialog delivery in Hindi. Aamir is the most misfit of all four lead actors. His straining to underplay his role is palpable, forehead veins popping, crooked smile firmly in place. Even he settles in gradually, though is never completely comfortable in this film. Much has been made of the background score - but no one mentions the tracks by Begum Akhtar and Siddheshwari Devi that sublimely elevate the mood.

Kiran Rao is a fresh new talent, and to be applauded for trying something different. Now she needs to make all the pieces fit, and give the whole her own stamp - then perhaps we will be looking at great cinema, but we are far from that yet.
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True Grit (2010)
9/10
A Western with a difference – True Grit
14 December 2010
What would a normal 14 year old in the late 1800s do upon finding out her father was murdered by a scoundrel and a thief? Mattie Ross (played by Hailee Steinfeld) is no ordinary 14 year old. She takes the train into Fort Smith to deal with her father's body and stays back – determined to avenge his death. A poised and fearless young woman (having run out of money, she spends the night at the undertaker's with 4 dead bodies!) with rapier sharp wits, she manages to recoup some of the money owed her father. Mattie also finds out that US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is her man for tracking the murderer Tom Cheney who has fled into the Indian Territory. One eyed, overweight, aging and permanently drunk and disheveled Cogburn is Mattie's choice, she tells him, because she has heard he has TRUE GRIT and never lets go of a fugitive. Rooster agrees to take on the mission for $100, and after trying to evade Mattie by sneaking out ahead of her, allows her to come along when she catches up with him. They are joined by Texas Ranger LeBoef (Matt Damon) who is also hunting Tom Cheney, for a senator's murder in Texas. The grit and patience of each of the three fellow travelers is severely tested along this journey into the wilderness and we see the men gaining a grudging respect for the young girl as she more than holds her own on the trail. The ending is more true to the book than it was in the 1969 version of the film. This Coen brothers' adaptation of the book by Charles Portis is a somber tale that lacks some of the humor and crackling interactions we saw between the leads in the 1969 film. But it also has much less of the coyness and sugar that came in ample measure in the older version. The role of Rooster Cogburn won John Wayne his only Oscar and a memorable role it was! In the 2010 adaptation Jeff Bridges is as good as he can get, which is pretty darn good, but somehow the telling falls just short of all time greatness.

The show is stolen by Hailee Steinfeld – she has a poise and innocent charm coupled with a fierce determination, that makes her one of the more memorable characters in recent films. Matt Damn is more than adequate as a stiff necked Texas Ranger, who slowly goes from boorish to serious and dependable. Jeff Bridges is great as Rooster Cogburn, "a one eyed fat drunk man who cannot shoot straight anymore", because he does show true grit and more, a strong sense of justice and an innate nobleness. John Wayne's iconic persona was utilized fully in the 1969 film by Hathaway, and here the Coen brothers find a persona that matches the Duke's in stature. Bridges brings a loose limbed laziness to his Cogburn, and yet manages, even at his most whiskey soaked moments, to convey a sense of urgency and sharp wit that is required to make the character work.

The film is wonderfully shot on location in Texas with sweeping vistas, bleak forests in fall and winter, and seemingly endless plains. The Coen Brothers go fully mainstream in this film, finally producing one that has the violence mostly reined in (well some guys do die and fingers are chopped off too), and none of the language or situations containing being anything less than family friendly. But what makes this a winner is the remarkable young woman on a quest to see a criminal brought to justice. No simpering miss, she stands tall among leading ladies, as a sharp witted and brave character, honorable and just with all the good qualities that we often find lacking in the world today.

This one is a certified winner and not to be missed.
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Trishul (1978)
8/10
Bachchan at what he does best!
24 July 2008
Trishul has a better cast than Kaala Patthar, but IMO the latter is the better film. Yes, Trishul has Sanjeev and when did he ever fail to satisfy? But his character is most undeveloped in my opinion. In the beginning it is clear that he loves Waheeda, is forced by his mother to marry the rich man's daughter, is torn when she announces she is expecting his child - so he is not all bad. But would just that one act of weak caving-in make him more and more extreme in his dealing with people? No fault at Sanjeev's door, he did a very good job with the material given him. Rakhi was just there, Sachin and his lady, not needed other than to stage a coup against the patriarch. Shashi was quite good, as was Hema - their love story was convincing. Amitabh yet again stole the show with his simmering rage and outrage at the abandonment of his mother. The fight scenes were so real, but the story was somewhat predictable. This one, like Kaala Patthar, was also mostly focused on the story and did not rely on too much romance or songs.

One thing I like about these oldies from Yash Chopra is the very matter-of-fact dealing between the sexes. In Kaala Patthar Shashi invites Parveen to stay with him after she is thrown out, tells her he lives by himself, and without any coyness she accepts. In Deewar the relationship between Amitabh and Parveen is most matter-of-fact. In Trishul the same goes for the relationship between Waheeda and Sanjeev. And these were educated people, not from the lower strata - yet they did not have the prudishness one sees on display in modern fare.
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Kaala Patthar (1979)
8/10
Cowardice, self-disgust and redemption
22 July 2008
I thought it was an Indianized version of Lord Jim, which was itself based on the true story of the abandonment of a ship called PATNA! In Lord Jim too the protagonist lives with the fact of his own cowardice and eventually redeems himself by taking on ugly forces that prey on the poor and weak. Kaala Paththar had two other men in the story - and followed the usual 70s/80s cliché of the man with the criminal background having to die in the end. But it was also quite uncliched in having no overt romantic track between Shashi and Parveen Babi, and a very quiet connection between Amitabh and Rakhi. Rakhi never enunciated well in Hindi and it got worse in moments of agitation. Here she did not have to speak much and was OK. I always liked Neetu Singh and she was good in this one too. Shatru was never a favorite but he was quite restrained here IMO. For a film from the 70s, this was indeed quite a different one and I enjoyed it. Amitabh was excellent as the coward, then the slowly burning up with self-disgust man, and finally as the hero. The mine disaster was well shot and the dark and claustrophobic kind of picturization made is seem realistic. There were not really many songs to disrupt the narrative - another unique feature for a film of its time. Fr instance, no sad number with wailing violins as the hero sits and stares at the stars and broods over his past! I gave it 8/10.
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Mausam (1975)
10/10
Love, fate, regret and redemption!
18 June 2008
I managed to catch two gems recently. The first one was over 3 days while I worked out. Maybe the installment approach allowed me to ponder on this film and love it all over again. In Mausam, Sanjeev Kumar rocked as the young doctor-in-training, and then as the older man who comes back to Darjeeling to relive his memories. Gulzar kept many things shrouded in mystery and so many things completely understated - I was so glad he chose to not insult the viewers' intelligence with needless explanations along the way. We never found out if Sanjeev came back to Darjeeling for any other motive than R and R. We were never told if the young Sharmila actually "fell" for this older man or it was pure gratitude, since she knew who he was all along! The flashbacks were kept to a minimum and even the minor characters like Om Shivpuri, Dina Pathak and Agha were so perfect in their roles. Sanjeev was pitch perfect, playing men that were 20 years apart in age, just by subtle changes in body language and some gray hair! And in a surprising twist all the intensity, regrets and anger were portrayed by the older man. Sharmila was excellent in the mother daughter roles, although clearly outclassed by Sanjeev. And the divine music - Dil Dhoondhta Hai Phir Wohi Fursat Ke Raat Din. A perfect 10 from me for this perfect film.
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Masoom (1983)
10/10
The children will set them free!
18 June 2008
I wanted to acquaint a young niece with the song Lakdi Ki Kaathi - so we ended up watching Masoom. Here Naseer and Shabana vied for equal honors - he as the "weak philandering and then unable to stand up for what is right" man, she as the hurt and retaliating spouse. Caught in the mix were three children. This was probably the first realistic portrayal of children in Hindi cinema. Urmila Matondkar as the older sister, I forget the name of younger and cute as a button sister, but of course the unforgettable kid was Jugal Hansraj - oh that Masoomiyat was to die for. As the wife was building wall upon wall between herself and the husband, the kids were breaking barriers and bonding as only children can. Shabana - she was a goddess fighting for the rights of her family with not one false note in the entire film. Naseer had just the right amount of weakness and regret to tell you that he was a man with clay feet. Sayeed Jaffrey was a tiny bit loud but then he was supposed to be a loud Punjabi type. These people lived in real houses in a real city and went to work and shopped and played just like us. Masoom had excellent music too - Huzoor is Kadar, Lakdi Ki Kaathi, Tujhse Naaraz Nahin. A perfect 10 from me for this perfect film.
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Sarkar Raj (2008)
5/10
Ignore the eyeballs and go for the eardrums!
18 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I managed to catch RGV's latest magnum opus. Some thoughts that i penned as I saw the film:

1. There is darkness everywhere in the Nagre household, broken by tiny shafts of light - this place really needs a power plant.

2. Aishwarya is the CEO of the Shepherd Power plant and her adoring looks directed at Nagre senior and junior are really befitting a steely eyed executive.

3. Govindaa Govindaa Govindaaaaaa X 1000 and I am 20 minutes into the film. When Govindaaa stops there are chants of Saam Daam Dand Bhed to fill in the silences.

4. Aishwarya starts calling Abhishek Tum about 10 minutes into the film, and then in a very wifely way asks if she can go to that XXXXXwadi with him!!

5. The Nagres do not take Ghoos (bribes), apparently are not in any kind of salaried office but maintain a huge household with an entourage of staff.

6. The women make puris and sheera all the time. Not Aishwarya though - she wears pants!

7. Amitabh talks as though there is another chamber in his mouth through which every word and sound percolates before coming out - Khilaf is Khunluff, Janta is Jundu.

8. There is a very endearing moment with a little girl throwing color at him.

9. Govindaaaa and Saam Daam are replaced by Jheeni Jheeni as Aishwarya looks adoringly at Abhishek for more time.

BAS, BAS before the Govindaaas start up all over again, I have to stop watching this dark noisy film that is going nowhere.

I wonder who wrote the dialogs for Ramu. Now I know why Raja Sen said they were not talking they were "Dialoguing"!!

Ande Tode Bagair Omlette Nahin Banta. Jazbaat Zindagi Mein Bhaari Padte Hain Sab Kuch Niji Hai, Sab Kuch As in everything is personal

Anita Mujhe Jo Sahi Lagta Hai Main Wohi Karta Hoon

Mujhe Koi Mazaa Nahin Aata hai Ki Main Aise Jiyoon, Dushmani Mol loon, Biwi Ko Kho Doon, Bhai Ko Maar Doon!!

And the long pauses between dialogs punctuated with the ubiquitous Govindaaa, Govindaaaa! Then Big B spent 20 minutes explaining the TWIST in the story to us.

I have to be thankful to the noisy background score for one thing. I forget if it was Govindaaa or Saam Daam that was loudly playing over Aish's screaming as you know who died. So we were spared the HDDCS like screaming moments.

Big B was decent at moments, but he has chosen a really weird nasal echoing intonation for his dialog delivery. Aish was a complete cardboard cutout, as in she has nothing to do. If you like burnt sienna, ochre and muddy brown tones throughout then you would love the way the film is shot, because those are colors in every frame with the only light being on certain faces. For a serious film the villains are extreme caricatures. But above all it is a rather boring tale that left me completely un-engaged.
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6/10
Kahani Kho Gayi
3 June 2008
Expectations that were never met - that is the sad story of Khoya Khoya Chand. Who would think that the man who gave us the mesmerizing Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi would now try to foist this film on us? This is a story of a greedy grabbing star actor, Rajat Kapoor, playing yet again an oily villainous type, the vulnerable and abused actress, Soha Ali Khan playing Nikhat, the dreamy idealistic poet, Shiny Ahuja playing the novelist/script writer. There are casting couches, there is crude (sorry, blunt) language, there is simulated sex with lots of oohing and aahing while clothes do not come off, and there are interminable scenes of films being shot. But somewhere along the line the filmmakers lose the plot and forget that in this collage of events they are also obligated to have a thread of a story. There is the thinnest of tales and unengaging at that.

The movie is visually stunning, an excellent period piece, also interesting for how it hints at real life stories like Guru Dutt and Waheeda and those countless women who were sent to earn a living in the biz at a very young age. The direction is sub-par, in the multitude of bodies milling about the key elements are never really isolated well enough, and the leads are quite wooden most of the time. Rajat Kapoor is great, as is Vinay Pathak. Sonia is quite good too. But Soha and Shiny disappoint hugely. In the hands of a more experienced pair of actors this could have risen to greater heights. As is, this is no Kagaz Ke Phool, but rather Kahan Hai Phool.

The music is mediocre (except the title number) and the sound is one of the most annoying parts of the film. The director wanted realism in the form of the hustle and bustle of a real set, but what we get is a background of cacophony in every scene, so much so that it is hard to hear what is going on. The story moves in fits and starts. The leading lady suddenly develops a hole in her heart, and the director has to go on blogs to tell us that the final shot is her orgasm! What the fish? Then we are told the rest of the tale in a written narrative - as if we cared by then what happened to this tepid tale.
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6/10
A sledgehammer approach!
3 June 2008
Finally caught the film and now I am wondering what the fuss was all about. If there was ever a film made for NRP (as in Non-resident Pakistanis or NRM - NR Muslims), and overseas audiences, this is it. The story is most mundane and boring in how every stereotype is exploited to the hilt - the cohabiting with a Englishwoman Muslim father who is still adamant that his daughter marry in the faith(shades of East is East), the non-religious seculars, the religious fanatics, the stupid or ignorant (where is Pakistan) Americans, the "establishment" demons. The story moves from country to country without really changing in its feel - except the village in Afghanistan everything else has such a sameness to it. Compare this to that other overseas "Indian" film, Namesake to see what I mean. When Mira takes you from NY to India you are in India with a bang!

The acting is most mediocre - the British Muslim father was decent - he too was like the Rajat Kapoor villain (Monsoon Wedding), creepy but so very real and not an out and out demon. The leading lady is like our countless model turned actress ladies, and has as little to offer by way of charm or talent. The heartthrob from Pakistan, Shaan, is flat and mostly uninteresting. Plus he says the most ridiculous lines in the film - "Taj? We built it you know. We also ruled India for hundreds of years!" "What do you mean?" "I mean the Muslims!" I guess the Indian Muslims do not exist or their effort in Taj building and ruling India is negligible. He follows this up with "Pakistani music" in the form of a full raga saregamapa classical number - I am prompted to say to him and the makers "We invented that you know - the Hindu musicians that is!" Naseeruddin Shah has a brief (6 minutes or so), effective role - but that is small satisfaction in a 2hr 45 min film.

The production values are on a rather small scale - but I have no real quibble with that. But why go from London to Lahore but still not really give us a feel for Lahore? Ditto with Chicago! In a film that talks incessantly about whether or not music is prohibited in the Quran, where two brothers are musicians, and one goes to music academy, the music numbers are mundane. I was amused at the fact that the MOST appealing music was a record that Naseeruddin Shah was playing - it was an oldie from KL Saigal "Kyun Mujhse Khafa Hai Tu Kya Maine Kiya Hai, Duniya Ko Khushi Aur Mujhe Rona Diya Hai!!" And do not get me started on the torture sequence - it seems inspired by 12 Monkeys type fare with fat women in masks and weird wiry men with wire rimmed glasses.

I'll be generous and give it a 6/10 for trying..
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8/10
Life and death
1 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The Terrorist by Santosh Sivan I finally caught this film, but unfortunately not on a big screen. It is the story of a teenage girl, Malli, who is part of a gang of LTTE fighters. Her family, including a famous "soldier" brother, have been killed in the civil unrest and she is an orphan who was brought up in the camp. The commander needs a volunteer for a suicide mission to kill a famous personality in Tamil Nadu. He asks for and gets many volunteers, but eventually picks Malli and sends her off through the jungles to board a ferry to India. In the jungle she is guided by the child-man, Lotus, and then put on the ferry. She lands up in TN and rooms in a house belonging to an old couple. The lady is in a coma since her son "went away" and the husband looks after her. The landlord bonds with Malli while she prepares for her lethal mission with single minded focus. Events happen around her that recall some of her past and the present merges with it for an interesting finish to the story.

The cinematography is simply stunning. The locales are lush, real, and every drop of water and ripple in the river is in intense focus the entire time. It is almost as though the focus is so sharp that you are kept on edge from the pain of it. The characters are well etched for the most part. I did have some issues with the way the story was written and I will talk of that in the context of the characters. Sivan direction's keeps the pace brisk and the transitions from event to event, including the very emotional flashback sequence, are fluid and deft.

The central character is Malli - she is the mainstay of the film and on screen for 90% of the run time. Ayesha Dharkar portrays Malli by as a wide-eyed, innocent looking, but brutal "soldier" who succumbs to emotions one time, as seen in those flashbacks. She identifies with the cause and can see the emptiness and pain in Lotus' life. But once she is asked to pretend an ordinary life with the landlord and his comatose wife her focus begins to slip. The ordinariness of that life, the pictures n the son's bedroom, the staring comatose wife, the neighborhood children running to school, all jar her complacent soldier attitude. Without giving away any spoilers, in the end Malli has to decide if she will choose life or death, and Ayesha is able to show the inner turmoil very well. Lotus is played by Vishwas as the most complex mixed up character in the film. This child-man is rough and tough, but also extremely vulnerable inside and easily shocked by Malli's actions. He is heartbroken when he realizes that Malli is just like those others and cannot be his lost family for him. That brings me to the landlord. I found him the most confusing and poorly written character and it was this that single handedly brought the film down a couple of notches for me. The character was decently acted - but incongruous for the setting. None of his actions or words made sense in the milieu where he existed. That made the finale unreal too.

But this flaw notwithstanding, I really think The Terrorist was a fine film, lushly beautiful, soulful, and ably carried on the young shoulders of Ayesha Dharkar. 8/10
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