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Do Qaidi (1989)
Do Qaidi
19 February 2011
Sometimes one gets the impression that during the 1980s and 1990s Bollywood kept making the same movie over and over again. Do Qaidi is no exception: it leaves the impression of a mix of elements that we've seen already hundreds of times. A complete déjà vu. If there is any variation at all, it's just a matter of which actor plays which role. In other words, "movie per meter".

The ingredients. Two small-time crooks, who are each other's sworn enemies, yet both are good at heart (Sanjay Dutt, Govinda). Two sisters who become their love interest (Neelam, Farha Naaz). Two cops, one honest and heroic, the second corrupt (Suresh Oberoi, Vikas Anand). And two gangsters, an old underworld king and his evil, sadistic son (Amrish Puri, Gulshan Grover).

The story. Betrayed by the corrupt cop, the honest and heroic cop ends up in the claws of the underworld, but instead of giving in to the offer made to him by the evil mafia don, he lays down his life for the good cause rather than selling out his soul. The two small-time crooks have to take the blame for his death. Of course, this only turns their animosity into friendship, and together they carry on the good cop's battle against organized crime. We all know how it ends. In the meantime, there are lots of fights and songs with dance sequences. All this happens in a tempo so slow that during the first hour one wonders whether there is any script at all. The film has its moments, but in general it's naive, unoriginal and longish.

The actors do whatever they can to make the best of their cardboard characters, but it's clear that there is not much space for any real acting. Sanjay Dutt and Govinda are okay, but nothing near other things they've done. Amrish Puri and Gulshan Grover are always great as cartoonesque bad guys, but it's not like we haven't seen them playing exactly the same roles in many other films either. The girls are just decoration and don't play a role of any significance in the story. Given the fact that all characters have about the depth of a flatboat, Vikas Anand is the only one who somehow manages to add some subtlety to his role.

All in all, a product quite typical for the mass production of Bollywood entertainment in the 1980s, but nothing that stands out in any way.
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Dobara (2004)
Decent acting, dull movie
12 January 2011
Dobara is one of those movies that are short in comparison to most other Indian movies, but still appear to be longish. The story is pretty thin:

Ranbir and Anjali are a happily married couple, and then suddenly out of nowhere appears Ranbir's ex Ria, who has just escaped from a mental asylum. Ria wants everything to be like it used to be, and tries to manipulate an unwilling Ranbir into renewing their relationship. That's about a last thing Ranbir is waiting for, but because Ria claims she and Ranbir have a son of thirteen, he decides to go with her anyway and meet him in Goa. A jealous Anjali follows them. For a while, the story revolves around the question whether this son is real or imaginary, followed by a not particularly imaginative or unexpected twist, and at last all players are best buddies and Ria is miraculously cured.

The question of the true nature of Ria's disease is left unanswered, and apparently there's wasn't much research done about the subject. In other words, the whole thing is way too boring for a fairytale, and way too improbable for a story about a mentally diseased woman.

That said, the three protagonists did a bang-up job. Jackie Shroff is very a gifted actor, who played his part naturally and convincingly. Same can be said about Mahima Chaudhry, an actress who deserves much more recognition than she is actually getting. Raveena Tandon had her great moments too, although at times she was gravely overacting. However decent the acting may be, it doesn't weigh up against a weak and little exciting story. Since visually and musically this movie has little to offer either, I'm sure it doesn't add anything of value to anybody's film collection, unless he is a special fan of one of the actors.
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Veer (2010)
Salman's magnum opus
8 November 2010
Five things about Veer are actually good, even very good: Jackie Shroff, Mithun Chakraborthy, the music, the visuals, and the basic idea. And that's about where it ends. I won't even start listing those things that are bad...

Apparently, Veer was meant to become The Salman Khan Movie To End All Salman Khan Movies. Salman himself is responsible for the story, which supposedly took him no less than twenty years. The result proves that whatever one may think about Sallu, story-writing is definitely Not His Thing. It should be said, the first 30 minutes of the movie are promising and evoke high expectations, but all the rest is just one big and rather tasteless ego-trip. To such a degree that you can't even say this movie is about Veer at all... no, it is about Salman: Salman dressed up as a Pindari, Salman dressed up as an English gentleman, Salman dressed up as a gladiator, Salman dressed up as Highlander, Salman dressed up as an Indian prince, and of course, Salman in his trademark outfit, his naked muscled chest. The story appears to be completely subordinated to Salman, his poses and his costumes.

The role of princess Yashodhara was obviously meant to be played by Salman's fiancée, but because Katrina had other obligations, he had to find replacement. And so he picked a débutante as his heroine, whose only asset appears to be a certain physical similarity to La Kaif. Mistake number 2, because "Zatrina" quite clearly lacks the talent, the acting skills and the charisma to pull off this one. Her screen presence irritates from the first to the last scene, even though the role wasn't a particularly challenging one anyway. In fact, the film would have been a lot better off without the whole obligatory love story, annoying even for Bollywood standards.

Watching this movie, I got the impression that Salman hoped to create his own "Jodhaa Akbar" or "The Rising". But all he managed was creating his own "Dharam Veer" - without Dharam to that! Manmohan Desai's "Dharam Veer" is at least funny and absurd, however, Salman's Veer is not funny at all. If he would at least have added some humor the Veer character, things might have turned out differently, because Salman happens to a good comedian from time to time. But instead, he left the comedy bits to his brother Sohail who, although not a bad actor himself, is notoriously bad at comedy. And thus, the movie that was supposed to showcase all Salman's abilities as an actor, turns out more successful at showcasing his limitations. The feeling that remains is that this movie deserved to become something much better than it actually became: a major disappointment.
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Umar (2006)
Three old men and an orphan
4 November 2010
"Umar" is the story of three old Indian men: a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh, spending their last years in England, far away from their homeland. They are completely dependent on their selfish children, who insult them, humiliate them and treat them as servants. What keeps them alive is their friendship, and together they are awaiting the inevitable end. Until they become friends with Shashank, a young student/waiter/singer, who unlike their own children treats them kindly and with respect. Things take an unexpected turn when Shashank is suddenly accused with murder. Although the evidence against him is strong, they are convinced of his innocence and even help him escape the police, thus making themselves outlaws as well.

This is, in short, the story of Umar. The basic ingredients remind of another memorable movie, Baghban: the clash between the older generation, who have spent their entire lives working hard for the benefit of their children, and a spoiled and greedy younger generation, who not only cannot appreciate that fact, but openly disrespect and abuse their elders, too. And just like in Baghban, it is an orphan who sets things right, helping the same old people refind their dignity. Of course, both groups have been portrayed in a rather stereotypical way in both movies, but this is an understandable and forgivable move.

It should be said, all three old gentlemen (Prem Chopra, Kader Khan and Satish Kaushik) give excellent performances. Watching them is a pleasure from the beginning till the end. They are joined in their efforts by two other Bollywood actors of the same generation, Dilip Tahil and Shakti Kapoor. The role of Shashank is played by Jimmy Shergill. Although he is definitely a gifted actor, it seems like this role was not exactly challenging for him, so that his performance was acceptable at best. Sadly, the entire rest of the cast is terrible. This goes for Shenaz Treasurywala, Shashank's love interest and basically the pretty face of the movie, murder victim Emily Clark, the unsympathetic children, as well as all other minor roles. The acting of practically the entire supporting cast is at such an embarrassingly low level that it actually damages the movie itself.

The story, albeit not the most probable one, is not really predictable either. The morale about the elder generation deserving more respect might have been spun out a little less heavily. Still, despite some obvious weaknesses, Umar is an enjoyable movie with some great moments.
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Not a masterpiece, but...
7 June 2010
Not a masterpiece, but definitely a friendly and entertaining movie. A tad slow perhaps, but not enough to make it boring. Someone described it as "cute", and that's an excellent description for this one.

Except for Shreyas Talpade and the great Naseeruddin Shah (the latter only in a very short guest appearance), all roles in this movie are played by less-known actors. Nevertheless, they perform their tasks very well. Shreyas is both convincing and entertaining as Shankar. Lena Christensen's role was perhaps not a hard one, but she does a decent job nonetheless. Most of all, however, I enjoyed Vijay Maurya in the role of a rapping gangster who deep inside isn't that bad at all, and Manmeet Singh, who for a change plays a bigger role than the occasional taxi driver. I surely hope to see more of both gentlemen in the future. All in all, a well-chosen ensemble cast.

The story itself holds the middle between a road movie, a love story and a comedy of errors. Nothing special really, but good enough for an enjoyable movie.

As for the music, usually I admire the work of the duo Salim-Suleiman, but Bombay to Bangkok is definitely not their best work. The background is okay, but the songs hardly worth remembering. Besides, they don't really seem to fit well within the movie. But criticism aside, Bombay to Bangkok is a nice and entertaining movie, and there is no harm in watching it one time.
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Darwaza (2002)
A masterpiece in the "So bad it's good" genre
24 May 2010
Kanti Shah's "Darwaza" is an absolute must-see for those who enjoy watching such cinematographic curiosities as Indian Z-grade horror flicks. The storyline doesn't immediately become quite clear, because it all happens in different time frames, but here's the essence of it:

Near an ominous-looking cemetery somewhere deep in the Indian woods stands a huge residence, inhabited by two brothers. Thakur Ranbir Singh is a serious and decent man, but his brother Thakur Pratap Singh enjoys scaring the hell out of people by dressing up in a skeleton suit, wearing an ugly plastic mask and making all kinds of scary sounds. Nothing strange, therefore, that one day Thakur Pratap Singh is possessed by an evil spirit himself. A woman (his wife? a servant?) who sees it happening is killed instantly. Once Ranbir finds out what's going on, he doesn't hesitate and calls Baba, an exorcist living at the cemetery dressed up in all kinds of Halloween decorations, for help. With a curious plastic skull, Baba successfully manages to lock up the evil spirit behind a door, which may never be opened.

Now, that would have been the end of the story if many years later a pretty young girl named Asha, Pratap's cousin, weren't having dreams about a mysterious door, from which a hand reaches under her night skirt and starts, hm, touching her breasts. Although she doesn't exactly seem to object against this treatment, after waking up she decides it was a nightmare and is determined to find out the truth. Thus, she travels to the same old residence and opens the door... Again, the Devil is unleashed and starts committing murders. But Dr. (!) Asha, who has established a hospital in the residence in the meantime, is not only very sexy but also very clever, and therefore asks the same Baba for help. The evil spirit is terrified, but Baba mercilessly locks it up in a bottle. Sadly, the bottle doesn't do the trick any more than the door did, because shortly after Baba's aide opens it, unleashing Thakur Pratap Singh once again. The evil spirit, now really ticked off, is determined to take its revenge... But this time, it decides to play it safe and change bodies first: it enters the body of one of its previous victims, a sexy-looking girl.

The fun really starts when Dr. Asha's boyfriend invites a group of fearless friends for a party in the residence. This is precisely what the horrendously evil spirit is waiting for: fresh meat. Already during the first night, one of them (who is remarkably similar to BA from the A-Team) stumbles upon the mysterious girl. She seduces him, they have some sort of sex, and then she murders him. Shortly after, a second guy, equally similar to BA, undergoes a similar treatment, after which BA no. 1 mysteriously reappears, as if the editing department had forgotten the poor fellow was dead already. In the meantime, we get treated on juicy dialogs of the type: "I wonder who killed Shetty", "I just can't figure it out, who would want to kill Shetty?", "I don't know, Shetty didn't have any enemies, now did he?", and that for a good five minutes. But after that, grief over poor Shetty's death fades away: "Sweetheart, it doesn't matter that he was killed. Let's forget about all this unpleasantness and make love instead." "Yes, you're right." At last, it all boils down to the question: does Dr. Asha manage to survive and beat the evil spirit of her uncle?

No need to go on. This movie is bad, really bad, so bad that watching it is a great and memorable experience. Monsters with pizza-like latex masks, making all kinds of idiotic growling sounds? Sexy (though not necessarily slim) girls parading around in their bra most of the time, venturing on dangerous expeditions in miniskirts? Huge and ugly but otherwise completely useless guys with the brains of a shrimp, serving no other purpose than being killed? Actors who are quite obviously reading their dialogs from a board next to the camera? One actor playing multiple roles for the lack of means to hire another one? A touch of comedy in the form of a certain Dr. Motilal, played by an actor who looks suspiciously much like Johny Lever? Thunderbolts concluding every ominous sentence? Sloppy editing, lousy dialogs, unsharp image? Go see Darwaza, because this movie has it all! But don't think Darwaza is the worst movie ever, because whatever can be said about it, it has at least some sort of storyline in it, and the actors may not be topnotch, but at least they are trying. If you really want to see the worst film ever, by all means go see Harinam Singh's "Shaitani Dracula". Yet, "Darwaza" is definitely worth a shufty as well. "Darwaza" is yummy!
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Chandra Mukhi (1993)
Delightfully absurd sci-fi from India
24 May 2010
Science-fiction and fantasy are not exactly common genres in Bollywood, but fortunately for us, there are a few exceptions. And although the Mumbai-based film industry has grown pretty mature over the last ten years, Chandra Mukhi is a cute example from well before that. It's one piece of work, believe me. Don't expect a masterpiece if you decide to watch it, but be in for a real treat.

It all happens somewhere in East Africa, although the only thing that adds some couleur locale are a few zebras, giraffes and a lion at the very beginning of the movie, because during the entire movie we won't encounter a single black person, as if East Africa were inhabited exclusively by Hindi-speaking Indians. The hero of our story is Raju, an about 8 years old kid, who spends most of his time playing around with his friends. Raju's grandfather is a rich businessman, and Raju is the apple of his eye. However, Raju's maternal uncle Madan and his wife Kamini are not pleased with Raju's privileged position at all. Madan and Kamini are evil people ("He could do harm to normal people, but he can't do harm to us, because we are EVIL PEOPLE, mwahahahaaaaa!"). Together they run a small gang of cartoonesque goons, and their plan is to bump off grandpa and Raju in order to get hold of grandpa's huge property. However, their plans don't work out as they should. Because what happens? Somewhere far, far away in the universe lies a heavenly kingdom ruled by a severe but kind-hearted queen. The queen has a beautiful daughter (played by Sridevi) with a peculiar hobby: the princess enjoys floating (!) over Earth, and the queen cannot approve of that, because Earth is a wicked and dangerous place. To prevent her from going there, the queen entrusts the princess with a magical golden leaf, the key to all power in the universe. But of course, the princess goes anyway and stumbles upon Dhola (a huge bald fellow in a superhero suit who wants to kill the princess, steal the leaf and take over power), so that she loses the leaf, falls down and loses her power. Down on Earth, she quickly makes friends with Raju and the other kids. They name her Chandra Mukhi after one of the Devdas characters. When Chanda Mukhi witnesses how bad poor Raju is treated by his evil uncle, she decides to help him, using all the power that is left in her to turn him into an adult muscle-man overnight. Of course, it won't last long before Raju (played by Salman Khan) and the sympathetic alien princess fall in love.

These are the basic ingredients. Just add an evil sorcerer, a tribe, a village, a lonely cannibal and a band of merry thieves - all this apparently within a radius of a few miles at most - to the mix and you'll get an idea. Those who enjoy watching Salman's naked chest will, as usual, not be disappointed either.

Chandra Mukhi has lots of elements that would easily qualify it as a low-budget movie of the "so bad it's good" genre. Yet, that wouldn't entirely do justice to the movie. It has visibly been made with humor and an odd kind of love. Sridevi plays her role charmingly and decently, and besides, she's a terrific dancer. Salman may never have been a great actor, but his acting still had some of the freshness that later got lost in mannerisms. Gulshan Grover is funny in the role of Madan. For the rest, the whole thing is just incredibly naive and delightfully absurd - even for a children's movie.
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Sins (2005)
A pity
23 May 2010
In my experience, Sins is not half as bad as some describe it. Frankly, I don't care whether a movie is a "remake" or "based on the storyline" of another movie at all. Strangely, when Hollywood makes a remake of a European or Asiatic movie, we all should treat that as a great honor, but when the same thing happens in India, we start yelling about plagiarism or ripoffs. I don't buy that.

The problem with this movie is not that it is a remake, not that the story is bad. No, the problem is the language. Why on Earth was it made in English? To be honest, all those English dialogs spoken on the South Indian countryside have a really bad effect on the credibility of the whole story. And the worst is: it's quite obvious that Shiny Ahuja, the main protagonist of the movie, doesn't know the language well enough to perform in a relaxed manner. I generally like Shiny as an actor, but in this movie his acting is so horribly wooden and clumsy, that I can't help getting the impression that he had to waste too much energy on trying to remember his English text. All in all, it's sad to see how an otherwise great actor becomes the one who actually kills a potentially good movie.
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Veer-Zaara (2004)
Beautiful but awfully sentimental
23 May 2010
Veer-Zaara has been in my possession for quite a long time, but somehow I could never convince myself to watch it. Now that I've finally taken that step, I have to say that my fear comes true: a visually beautiful movie (especially the scenes in Punjab), with music that is absolutely wonderful, but the final result is too much of a tearjerker anyway, and a way too long one to that. The love story is nice, sometimes even touchy, but nothing special when you think of it. The scenario... well, I've seen worse, much worse, but if a movie is supposed to absorb you entirely, then the illogical behavior of the protagonists, clearly with no other purpose but securing later events, doesn't benefit credibility at all. What I like, however, is the positive way Pakistan is portrayed, and that is undoubtedly the strongest point of the film. Another morale, related to emancipation of women, is sympathetic as well, although I have the impression that all these morales are a tad too much for one movie that is essentially about something completely different.

The trouble with sentimental films like this one is that they often operate on the verge of bad taste. Sometimes that works excellently, and I have to admit that some of them have managed to evoke a tear or two with me as well. However, for sentimentality to work, it needs to be dosed carefully, because an overdose may cause it to stop working completely, and then the whole thing suddenly becomes ridiculous or even disgusting. And from that point of view, Veera-Zaara is really pushing it, sometimes even pushing it too far. There's nothing wrong with a tear here and there, but too many of them makes the whole thing irritating. Apart from the fact that this movie is obviously too long, this is the biggest minus.

Rani Mukherjee is the saving grace of this movie. Although none of the characters is particularly credible, she manages best in portraying hers. Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini bring in something great as well, but then, they always seem to be a nice pair. I have a problem with Preity: although she is obviously not bad, her character appears to be pale and colorless anyway. Frankly, I don't really understand what Shahrukh likes so much in her at all, especially, what makes her worth the effort of spending 22 years in prison, only to save her from the disgrace of having to admit that she had been in love with a fellow before she got married to another one. But okay, that's the script and nobody can blame Preity for performing it that way. Most issues I have with Shahrukh himself, who is overacting so mercilessly that sometimes I got the feeling of watching Salman Khan instead of Shahrukh. He turns his character into a complete Devdas, the difference only being that Devdas is basically a jerk who is completely in love with his own pain, and while this kind of acting may work very well for Devdas, it obviously doesn't for the much more positive character of Veer Pratap Singh.
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Action movie based on true events
20 September 2009
While watching Dayanayak, I was completely unaware of the fact that this movie is entirely based on true events. In short, it is the story of sub-inspector Daya Nayak, who hails from a small, poor village in Karnataka. When forty innocent people are taken hostage by the Mumbai underworld, he wants to ask his superiors for their permission to interfere, but cannot reach them, and so he takes the decision for himself. He liberates the hostages successfully by killing four gangsters, and becomes a popular hero. His superior officer, tied to the underworld himself, is utterly displeased with Daya's behavior and tries to have him kicked out of the force, but the interior minister himself makes sure Daya Nayak becomes part of a special police unit dedicated to combat the underworld. Thus, Daya Nayak becomes a special agent with a license to kill. During less than five years, he finishes off no less than eighty gangsters in encounters, and becomes an almost legendary figure to the public. From the money collected by him from numerous rewards he received, he builds a school in his native village and hands it over to the government. However, neither the local politicians, nor the corrupt police and the underworld are pleased with Daya's rising star, and to get rid of him, they file official complaints against him for corruption.

On the other side, we have a fearsome, merciless mafia don, Yousuf Khalil, who wants to move his activity from Dubai to Mumbai, turning it into a kingdom of crime. Obviously, he and Daya Nayak are each other's worst enemies, both determined to kill the other.

Dayanayak is an action movie more than anything else. The film begins with a James Bond-like intro, followed by Khalid's arrival in Bangalore. The atmosphere of the movie remains pretty much in the spirit of James Bond, and the "licenced to kill" ingredient only strengthens that impression. Like we can see often in South Indian movies, the film is strongly hero-oriented, turning him almost into a superhero who can easily jump from the 10th floor and shoot a few of his adversaries on the way down. To add some more spice to the mix, "nayak" means "hero" in Hindi, a nomen-omen case of Donald Duck-like proportions, which only demonstrates how reality can sometimes surpass fiction!

That said, I find Sachin's portrayal of Daya Nayak far from impressive. In spite of his thorough preparation and some similarity to the real Daya Nayak, he looks more like a gray office clerk than an Indian version of Dirty Harry. In the action sequences he seems grotesquely out of place, while his dialogs are less than credible. Fortunately, Mahesh Manjrekar gives a sublime performance as the villain Yousuf Khalil. His appearances in the movie are a true lust for the eye. The actor who played Ashok Nayak (unfortunately I haven't been able to find his name) gives a memorable performance as well.

If this hadn't been a true story, I might have said: a weak and unoriginal script full of exaggerations and other improbabilities, resulting in a sub-standard action movie at best. But that wouldn't do justice to Mahesh Manjrekar's fine performance, some outstanding camera work, and the fact that Daya Nayak is a real life character after all. Therefore, I heartily recommend this somewhat obscure Kannada movie, in spite of its numerous imperfections.
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EMI, or: how to turn bank loans into a feel-good movie?
20 September 2009
EMI is the story of several unrelated people and their bank loans. Ryan (Arjun Rampal) is a charming good-for-nothing DJ, who loves beautiful but demanding women, as well as a luxurious lifestyle he can afford only thanks to banks giving him one credit card after another. Chandrakakta (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) is an elderly gentleman whose love for his only son is unlimited, and who takes a huge bank credit to finance his son's studies in London, merely because the latter wants to "explose his life path". Anil (Ashish Chaudhary) and Shilpa (Neha Uberoi) are a young couple who believe married life should start with a minimum amount of wealth, and therefore borrow a lot of money for their wedding, their honeymoon, an apartment, a car, and a laptop. Prerna (Urmila Matondkar) is an elegant young woman, whose husband committed suicide, and because she is not entitled to any insurance money, she cannot maintain herself and her 5 years old daughter anymore.

After a year, all these people are in deep trouble, because they cannot repay their debts. Sooner or later, they all fall prey to Sattar Bhai (Sanjay Dutt), a merciless gangster who owns a recovery agency. Sattar, however, has a major problem: he wants to be a politician, and therefore has to take his mentor's advice: "Treat people with respect, so that they will respect you as well. Then you will win." Thus, instead of having his goons beat up his poor, insolvent clients, he decides to help hem out.

The subject of EMI (Easy Monthly Installment) is far from pleasant: the ongoing credit crisis is proof enough of what can happen when people massively take loans they can't pay back later. That is also the morale of the story: be careful with loans! Yet, EMI is a pleasant and fairly uncomplicated feel good movie, taking the loans problem from a rather optimistic angle.

Sanjay Dutt is great as always, although this is obviously not a particularly challenging type of role for him. If you need a friendly gangster, take Sanju Bhai. More than once, I couldn't help feeling like I was watching Munna Bhai 3 (or 4, if you include Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin), although it should be said that EMI is not as good as the Munna Bhai movies. For the rest, Arjun Rampal does a great job and makes his part into something really interesting, Urmila is beautiful and fascinating, Kulbhushan gives an impressing performance as the honest, static father of a somewhat spoiled son. From the entire cast, I can't really think of anyone who did a poor job in this movie. Even Malaika Arora did not spoil anything.

The movie has a few great moments. I particularly like the scene in which Ryan teaches Sattar, hopelessly in love with Prerna, how to behave at a romantic dinner ("You don't have to kill the chicken, it is already dead!"), and the scene in which Sattar is feeding his sidekick "Decent" huge amounts of alcohol to find out what he really thinks.

All in all, EMI is not too ambitious and quite predictable, a tad moralizing as well, but sympathetic and well-performed.
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Mahal (1949)
Haunted house movie or melodrama?
19 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
A haunted house. An often recurring motive in horror movies, and here we have an early example. It differs from other haunted house movies in several ways. Even Indian cinema has quite a few of them. Thus, we have already seen an evil bhoot (spirit), a sympathetic bhoot, a frustrated bhoot, a bhoot seeking justice, a horny bhoot, a bhoot who loves kids... And here for a change we meet a female bhoot who is deeply in love. She doesn't even look like one: she is astoundingly beautiful, sings and dances, and as if that were not enough, you can have a normal conversation with her as well. Sure, at last we find out that she is not a bhoot at all, but merely the old gardener's daughter playing tricks until she loses it herself. A very pleasant surprise, at least for me; I guess I have already watched so many "real" bhoots that the possibility didn't even occur to me that this one is just an ordinary person of flesh and bones.

Obviously, Mahal differs from other haunted house movies even more. Usually, a new family settles in an old home, and in the beginning little happens. Somebody hears a mysterious noise or sees something odd in the mirror, weird accidents happen... little enough for the household skeptic to remain a skeptic for a long time. But here, things happen very quickly: for Hari Shankar, the love story of the previous inhabitants of the house and a certain similarity of the guy to himself are enough to persuade him. When the pretty lady bhoot starts singing songs for him, he doesn't have to think long. Hari is deeply convinced that he is the previous house owner's reincarnation, and that the bhoot is the great love of his former life. It doesn't take long before the romance starts (once more).

I should add that unlike most other haunted house movies, Mahal is not a horror movie at all. It is more like a drama movie with a touch of the supernatural. More than anything, it is about psychology. All in all, Mahal has more in common with "Kabhi Alvida naa Kehna" than with "Bhoot".

Personally, I like it when a movie has a tempo like Mahal's first half hour. I found myself wondering: if things are moving so quickly, what's going to be next? And here comes a surprise: during the following one and a half hour almost nothing happens at all. All we see is Hari's inner crisis deepening while his obsession with Kamini grows. Until his family and friends convince him to get married to another woman and finally get the hell out of that house. Nevertheless, Hari can't forget Kamini and keeps thinking of her, turning his poor wife's life into hell. That's the first half of the movie. In the second half, we know that Kamini is not a bhoot at all, but suffering from a heavy case of mythomania. Everything evolves now around the question what will happen next. Hari has pretty much lost it, and even though Kamini has already told the truth, he cannot accept that it was all nonsense. Clearly, a story like that cannot end happily, and so, Hari dies a stupid death, his friend has to spend the rest of his life with a gardener's egoistic daughter whom he has nothing in common with but this entire unfortunate history, and Kamini/Asha, instead of having the man she loves, now has two lives on her conscience and a husband she doesn't love and probably never will.

I genuinely love old movies, but there is a lot I miss in Mahal. A story like this is very, very dependent on building atmosphere, and I'm not sure the film makers succeeded in that. Granted, the camera performs true miracles at times, but as a whole, this movie reminds me a bit of a Wagner opera (about which Debussy once said: "wonderful moments, horrible quarters"). Although the music of Mahal undoubtedly belongs to the better soundtracks of old-school Bollywood, I have a feeling that there were too many songs, which made the longish movie even more longish. Although the story is interesting in itself, I have a feeling the script could have done more justice to it. Compared to other film scripts from the old days, when script writing was still an art and not merely a craft, it fails to impress.

With the actors I have a similar problem. The acting is surely not bad, but I miss that... that something. Ashok Kumar obviously does not have the kind of screen presence of a Humphrey Bogart, a Marlon Brando or a Robert Mitchum. Madhubala's role consists mostly of dancing and being beautiful. Besides, it is hard to identify with any of the characters in the movie. Hari is essentially a naive weakling, who in addition to that treats his poor wife more than horribly. Kamini turns out to be a cold, calculating would-be femme fatale who doesn't even seem to feel sorry for all the trouble she has caused. Both Hari and Kamini/Asha are sad examples of how sick and obsessive love can be. Ranjana, Hari's wife, is utterly colorless. The most reasonable person in the story is undoubtedly Hari's friend Shrinath, but at least at the beginning he is portrayed as a complete bumpkin. Together they are a bunch of egoistic, unsympathetic people, who actually deserve all the bad things coming to them.

All in all, Mahal is certainly not a bad movie, but it does not live up to the expectations raised during the first half hour, and more importantly, it could have done more justice to the promising storyline. As a matter of fact, I think this movie could be the starting point for a pretty decent remake. Not that I'm a great fan of Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai, but I'm sure they could do a terrific job here!
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Krrish (2006)
If you like superheroes, than this one is a must!
7 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I can't help it, but I simply love this movie. When I first heard about an "Indian superhero", my curiosity awoke immediately, even though I hadn't the faintest idea about Bollywood at the time. Since then, I've seen it many times, and always with pleasure. The entire movie is carried mostly by the Krrish character: a crossover between Tarzan, Batman and Neo, I'd say. What I particularly like in him is that in spite of his supernatural powers, he always remains a naive boy from the countryside. He cannot fly, doesn't use any gadgets, is not bullet-proof and unable to turn a person into ice with his touch... Krrish is simply a bit stronger and faster than others, and he can jump a little higher. That's about it. Yet, the credits for this charming character should definitely go to the actor playing it. Frankly, I can't imagine anybody else playing Krrish as well as Hrithik Roshan does.

Of course, the movie has a few weak points too, especially when it comes to the storyline. But then, superhero movies rarely have story lines that are particularly clever. Still, it is odd that Nisha managed to give birth to a son, while Rohit had been working non-stop in Singapore for two years (Krishna and Rohit are similar enough to each other to exclude the possibility of someone else doing the job for him). But okay, let's assume Rohit took a short vacation and met his wife. It is also odd that Krishna at the beginning of the movie meets a girl, who shortly after convinces him to travel thousands of miles to visit her in the very same city that by pure coincidence turns out to be the place where his father is still being kept alive artificially by the evil genius Dr. Arya. I mean, he didn't go there to save his dad, did he? Obviously, one of those typical coincidences that Bollywood seems to be fond of. How often have we seen situations like a fellow seeing the girl of his dreams in one place, and then completely accidentally meeting her again in a completely different part of the world, just a few days later?

However improbable, all these things are still theoretically possible. But how about this: after Dr. Arya witnesses his own tragic death caused by Krrish in the near future, he doesn't hesitate, goes to town, shoots poor Chris Lee whom he believes is Krrish, and returns home satisfied. But now he finds out he hasn't changed the future at all: in a few minutes, he is going to be killed by Krrish anyway. And indeed, Krrish appears. But Dr. Arya is well-prepared, because on this very moment he has a surprise for Krrish: Priya, the only weakness of the real Krrish. Could someone please explain to me why Dr. Arya would have abducted Priya, and when?

Apart from several holes in the script, I still think Krrish is a great movie. Hrithik Roshan is a fantastic Krrish, and I very much like Dr. Arya, subtly played by Naseeruddin Shah. Rekha does an excellent job as the sexiest grandmother ever. Also, it's hard to dislike Chris Lee, Krishna's Chinese friend. I'm not so convinced about Priyanka Chopra playing Priya, but several of her later roles prove at least that she is growing as an actress. Absolutely worth mentioning is also the wonderful background score by Salim-Sulaiman. The songs, written by Rajesh Roshan, aren't bad either.

All in all, heartily recommended. Eagerly waiting for Krrish 2.
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Cash (2007)
What a mess...
7 September 2009
A horrible film. Simply horrible. Much worse than might be expected of a cast, most of whom have at least played a few really good roles in their lives. My expectations weren't particularly high, and I definitely didn't expect a masterpiece; but even truckloads of popcorn can't turn this movie into something remotely entertaining. I did my very best to follow the story somehow, in spite of its (to put it gently) fragmentary beginning. After that, however, all sense is lost completely, until nobody knows anymore who is chasing whom and what for. Utter chaos. The animated sequences that somehow manage to amuse in the beginning, become irritating soon. I have a strong impression that the director of this movie tries to imitate Oliver Stone's manners, but whereas Stone uses them as a means to convey something, in this case it's nothing but tricks. Add a few misplaced comic sequences to the mix, lots of action sequences that would have worked if we knew at least what they are about, and there you have it. It looks like they tried damned hard to conceal a lack of budget and a lack of script, but failed on both accounts. Expect for the title song, which is sort of funny, the songs aren't worth mentioning either. The background score is better, in my opinion. As for the acting:

Ajay: not bad, but nothing particularly good either.

Zayed: how is it possible that this actor keeps on playing in movies, despite an obvious lack of talent?

Ritesh: a nice role and well performed. The most bearable part in the whole movie, if you ask me.

Sunil: completely colorless, which is a pity, because he's too good an actor for this type of junk.

Esha: never liked her until I saw "Darling"; not too bad in this movie, I'd say.

Diya: hard to say. I like her, but I don't know why myself.

Shamita: it took me a while before I was sure this wasn't Shilpa, but Shilpa's younger sister. They are very similar to each other, in the same way as Kareena and Karisma are. Not so bad either.
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Average romance, completely spoiled by Aishwarya Rai
5 September 2009
"Comantic romedies", as I once called them by mistake, are not my favorite sort of movies, but nevertheless I've hit upon instances I like a lot. Well, "Kyun! Ho gaya na..." is definitely not one of those. The story is one of thirteen in a dozen and unfolds itself without any significant surprises. Already at the very start of the film you know how it is going to end, and that the road towards that end will be tortuous. But then, that is inherent to the genre. Whether such a movie is nice or not, depends pretty much on things like humor, acting, chemistry between the actors and the like. Unfortunately, when it comes to these, KHGN turns out to be a major disappointment.

The best memories I have about it are the roles of Om Puri and Amitabh Bachchan. With both gentlemen, you are in for a real treat. Most important in romantic comedies, however, is chemistry between the protagonists, in this case Vivek Oberoi and Aishwarya Rai, and unfortunately, that is precisely what KHGN completely lacks. I don't think Vivek is to be blamed for that. He does whatever he can, playing the kind of light-hearted, immature joker we've seen him playing before, too, and generally manages well. Aishwarya, on the other hand, is deeply disappointing. I've seen her playing way below her possibilities in other movies as well, but in KHGN her acting is downright embarrassing. If there is anything at all she manages to convey with this role, it must be something like: "God, what evil have I done to Thee to deserve playing in this movie". I'm curious why. Laziness? Arrogance ("I am the Queen of Bollywood, and whatever I do, I am a mega star anyway")? Deep roots in old Bollywood traditions ("Hurry up folks, in twenty minutes I have to be at the next set")? Trouble in her real-life relationship with co-star Vivek Oberoi? Hard to tell. But one thing is for sure: this horrible performance of hers is enough to destroy an entire movie, including the good work of the other actors. A few more of these sub-standard performances, and no director will ever be willing to work with her - queen or no queen. Besides, Aishwarya is not exactly the logical choice for the role of a young girl of less than average beauty, the type of girl boys tend to neglect.

I should add that the movie is way too long for such a thin tale. During most of these 170 minutes I found myself bored or almost falling asleep. Not even because the tempo is slow, but because there is constantly too much of the same thing. Of the entire footage, no more than 100, perhaps 120 minutes is usable, and the rest can quietly be removed: it would undoubtedly make the movie more bearable.

A great asset of KHGN is the music. In my opinion, the score would have deserved a much better movie than this one.
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Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
5 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is a typical example of a romantic comedy. A sympathetic, light movie, far from being ambitious. We have seen stories like this many, many times before, notably in teenager movies. Here's the basic formula of the latter: Nerd falls in love with Beauty Queen, but she doesn't care for nerds, and so, Nerd takes off his glasses, puts on jeans, and suddenly becomes a super-cool dude. Of course, Beauty Queen does not recognize him in his new outfit, and quickly develops a liking toward Mr. Cool. But now our hero has a problem: he is leading a double life, and the girl still does not love him, but merely his creation. His alter ego also becomes his rival. After a while, the girl comes to understand that there's more in life than just coolness, and that our Nerd at least has a good heart. And so, exit Mr. Cool. Nerd and Beauty Queen live happily ever after.

Formulaic, predictable and far from innovative, but let's be fair: that's what romantic comedies like this tend to be like. That does necessarily make it bad, because at last, everything depends on the script, the characters, the acting, the jokes, etc. And here, RNBDJ should be given credit: the story differs from the above-mentioned teenager movies in so far, that the characters are a bit older, and our nerd is not a nerd, but a boring, gray office clerk. Besides, he already is the husband of the girl he loves. His problem is that she doesn't love him, and in his efforts to gain her heart, the husband becomes his wife's lover simultaneously. Funny ingredients, indeed. Yet, RNBDJ has quite a few major flaws.

The first 30-40 minutes are well-made and fairly promising. Unfortunately, after that the whole thing becomes painfully predictable. The level drops and everything goes on as expected, without any particular surprises. But okay, we are dealing with a romantic comedy here, so let's not be tough. There are too many things I cannot buy, though. For example, Surinder's metamorphosis is only a matter of taking of his glasses, shaving off his mustache, a slightly different haircut and different clothes. How is it possible that his own wife wouldn't recognize him, while everybody else recognizes him immediately? Is she blind, or what? I also find the way Surinder handles his wife hard to swallow: he loves her more than anything, but yet, he keeps pretending to be the most boring husband on Earth. But then, she isn't entirely consistent in her behavior herself either. The moment when she finally understands that her husband loves her, comes way to easily, making it look like nothing but a cheap excuse for a happy end. Another weak point is Suri's fight with a Japanese sumo wrestler, especially this easy victory over an opponent who is five times heavier and ten times stronger. It would have been more effective if the wrestler hadn't left him in one piece. Looking how her husband was wounded and covered with blood, Taani might have understood something about his feelings toward her. At last, this whole dance competition was nothing but a joke, without any serious rivals and without any impressive performance. Here, the creators of the movie missed a splendid opportunity to add music and dance sequences in a fairly natural way.

A strong minus of this movie is the limited number of characters. Basically, there are only three: Surinder/Raj (Shahrukh Khan), Taani (the débutante Anushka), and Bobby (Vinay Pathak). All the rest are extras at best. Of these three, I like Vinay Pathak best. Although his role is a minor one, he plays it with so much flair and humor that he steals the entire movie. A really gifted actor, this Vinay, and a true asset for Bollywood. I find it hard to tell much about Anushka's role. Although she plays the female lead role, her character is surprisingly colorless and underdeveloped: a pretty face, nothing else. All in all, I think Anushka isn't doing bad, but nothing memorable either. And Shahrukh Khan? In my opinion, his creation of Surinder is cartoonesque, artificial and little credible. Same goes for his Raj character, although that one was at least supposed to be like that. All in all, Surinder is a matter of clothes, glasses and the like, rather than than a matter of acting. Just look at similar characters in other movies (like Tusshar Kapoor in "Gayab" or even Vinay Pathak in "Aaja Nachle" and "Dasvidaniya") and you will see how a role like that CAN be played. Sure, Shahrukh obviously has some comic talent and there are sequences in the movie where he does very well. But in general, I feel this role was just another piece of hackwork for him. Besides, he is really getting too old for roles like this.

As for the music, I'd say it is neither particularly bad, nor particularly good. A fairly good background score, one great song, the rest of the songs nothing special. Unfortunately, the video clips with song and dance have surprisingly little in common with the rest of the film (which really is a bad thing in a movie in which dancing plays a central role). To me, they are little more than grotesque showoffs of Shahrukh Khan's glitter and glamor, and all they seem to communicate is: "Hey folks, don't forget that I'm not this boring Surinder or this idiot Raj at all, because... I am Shahkrukh Khan, the superstar you all love and adore, the King of Bollywood!"

All in all, for a movie that is brought with much fanfare as the new Shahrukh Khan movie, I think RNBDJ is slightly disappointing. However, in spite of its several major and minor flaws, it should be said that it is still a nice and pleasant piece of footage, absolutely worth the effort of watching it at least once.
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Kabzaa (1988)
Decent remake of "On the Waterfront"
5 September 2009
Kabzaa is a Bollywood movie from the 1980s, so don't expect subtlety, carefully elaborated characters, ambitious plots, interesting subplots, or highly consistent storytelling. But then, who said we can't enjoy a movie with a simple, straightforward story, cardboard heroes and a villain who is really BAD, if the actors manage to entertain? The movie begins with a young Sanjay Dutt (still known as "Sunjay" in those days) covered with blood, with four bullets in his chest and one in his head, trying to save himself. The rest of the movie lives up to the expectations raised by its catchy prelude.

Ravi (Sanjay Dutt) and Ranjit (Raj Babbar) are brothers. Ravi is a good-for-nothing without a job and without a purpose in life, Ranjit is a successful lawyer who works for the local don, Velji Bhai (Paresh Rawal). Velji Bhai wants to purchase a piece of land owned by Ustad Ali Mohammed (Alok Nath) at any cost, but the latter intends to use it for building a children's park instead, and thus refuses. When Ravi is sent out by Velji Bhai to persuade Ali Mohammed with violence, he is so impressed by the man's kindheartedness that he starts protecting him instead. Velji Bhai, of course, is furious...

The story is very similar to that of another movie, Ghulam, made ten years later by Mahesh Bhatt's nephew Vikram Bhatt. Both movies are based on (let's avoid the word "remake") Marlon Brando's all-time classic "On the Waterfront". Whatever one may think of Bollywood-style remakes, it means at least that we can't complain about a bad story. And indeed, unlike many other Bollywood movies from the same period, Kabzaa is a movie one can watch without ever getting bored: the tempo is decent, drama and action sequences follow each other quickly enough to keep one's thoughts from drifting away. Fortunately, Bhatt refrained from inserting obnoxious comedy elements, and the obligatory love stories are kept to a minimum. Still, it is the actors that make this movie worth watching. Sanjay Dutt, Raj Babbar, Paresh Rawal and Alok Nath all give fine performances. The two female roles, played by Amrita Singh and Dimple Kapadia, add little of value, but at least they don't spoil the movie, which is already an achievement in itself.
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Ei8ht Shani (2006)
Nice try, but no cigar...
20 August 2009
Raj Rai lives in England with this brother Suraj, his sister-in-law Radha and his cousin Neetu. Relations between Raj and his brother are tense, as the latter blames him for the death of his son. Raj has a unique gift: he can see the spirits of deceased people. One day, he discovers the ghost a mysterious woman is persecuting the family. He also finds out that all the subsequent events are somehow related to the number "8", the number of Shani (Saturn)...

Here we have the ingredients for a nice supernatural thriller like the Sixth Sense, that might even have worked. Alas, it doesn't work, and the whole thing becomes a failure. The plot is a mix of various subplots and other wild ideas, and it looks like the script writer couldn't choose which path to follow. Therefore, the story simply doesn't stick together. Now, there is a lot I can buy in movies like this, but there should at least be some internal consistency. We have a dead boy and an angry ghost who has all kinds of reasons to be angry at the family, we have this mysterious number 8, we have a fairly bad love story... But none of these things actually come together. It looks like most of these things were simply added to the mix to add some mystery. A good example of how NOT to write a script.

The acting is bad. The only person who deserves respect for his role is Raj Tara, who plays the male protagonist. Obviously, this role was his debut (and as far as I know, it was also his last role), but he should be given credit: he really does his best, and manages to play his role convincingly, naturally and with humour. Unfortunately, that's about it. Gulshan Grover is an actor I generally like a lot, but in this movie he plays with the engagement of a shuffling hospital clerk on Monday morning. Meghna Naidu is good at being voluptuous, but she should stay far away from any real acting. If playing in erotic movies is her specialisation, that's what she should stick to. Padmini Kolhapure and Surbhi Purohit (another debut) give performances that are acceptable at best.

At last, the creators of this movie shouldn't have tried following the Bollywood convention of adding song and dance numbers to the movie. It doesn't even remotely fit the story, and neither does the whole love thread trying hard to justify it. Besides, except for one song, the music is pretty bad, just like the rest of the movie. All in all, a major disappointment.
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Jung (2000)
Jung: a movie that could have been nice
18 August 2009
The idea is promising enough. Police inspector Veer Chauhan's son is deadly ill, and the only person who can save him is Balli, an extremely dangerous criminal who was locked up in jail thanks to Chauhan's efforts. Initially, Balli refuses and even starts poking fun at Chauhan. After a while however, Balli pretends to have changed his mind, but seizes the opportunity to escape from the hospital and disappears. For his son to survive, Chauhan must find him quickly. However, his partner, "bad cop" Khan, is determined to find him first and "kill him in action".

Call it unlikely, but at least it makes for some good storytelling; worse cases of coincidence are perfectly normal in Bollywood movies. Besides, the DVD cover with Sanjay Dutt locked in chains looks more than promising. And indeed, the beginning of the movie has quite a few really good moments. Sanjay Dutt is terrifying in his role of a chained prisoner who pretty much resembles Dr. Hannibal Lecter. His friendly conversation with the boy, as well as his subsequent actions, make for some really good cinema. Enough to give me the goosebumps, anyway. But unfortunately, this is where it ends. I have never seen a potentially great movie derail to such an extent. After Balli's escape, we watch Chauhan and Khan constantly getting into each other's way, while Balli is making a quick career as a crime lord. And in no time Balli's character evolves from evil impersonated into a good-natured, Munna-Bhai styled kind of don who wouldn't hurt a fly. Shilpa Shetty and Raveena Tandon serve as attractive female decoration.

I would recommend watching this movie until the moment right after Balli's escape, as an unfinished masterpiece of some sort. In this first part of the movie, Sanjay Dutt is awesome, while Jackie Shroff does a decent job as inspector Chauhan. Anything that comes after that is nothing but a horrible mistake. If it is true that director Sanjay Gupta left the production half-way, than this must have been the moment. Believe me, the rest of the movie is not worth the effort of watching it even once.
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Kaal (2005)
Exciting story about a killer tiger
18 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Krish, a biologist from National Geographic, is sent out to investigate the case of a killer tiger haunting the Indian jungle. On his way, he joins a group of youngsters who are out for adventure and some hunting. Deep in the jungle, they meet the mysterious Kali, who warns them to go back. Of course, they refuse, and the more they get lost, the more the plot thickens. For a horror flick from Bollywood, Kaal is not a bad movie at all. It is, in any case, way beyond the monsters-with-faces-like-pizzas kind of horror that used to dominate Bollywood in the 1980s and 1990s, and unlike horror flicks of the "who's next?" type, it keeps you focused from the beginning till the end, and at times really manages to surprise. Sure, there are things we always know in advance: if there are a few better known actors and a few unknown, we all know who is going to be eaten first. But that's a minor thing.

Before watching Kaal, all I knew was that it was some sort of Indian "Jaws" with a tiger instead of a shark. And I am grateful for that, because otherwise the appearance of Kali, a mysterious inhabitant of the jungle, might have evoked the wrong kind of expectations. I for one found myself utterly surprised when he turned out to be the "bhoot", the ghost he had been telling about, himself. A fascinating character! What I like best about him is the fact that he never hurts anybody, on the contrary, he keeps warning everybody. Nobody dies because of Kali or a tiger. All those who die, die merely because of their own stupidity. They should have listened to Kali.

The film has another huge asset: the excellent background score by the duo Salim-Sulaiman. That said, there are a few decisive minuses as well. First of all, the movie begins with a completely idiotic video clip featuring Shahrukh Khan in a wet shirt, which has nothing in common with the movie whatsoever. They might as well have filled the same space with a commercial, or, for that matter, with a black screen. Another weak point are the characters. Ajay Devgan does an excellent job as Kali, but the script fails to work out any of the other characters. Even calling them flat or cardboard would be too much, because frankly, there's no character in them at all. Vivek Oberoi manages best, but John Abraham fails to impress and especially the women (Lara Dutta and Esha Deol) serve no other purpose than being pretty and constantly afraid. This poor characterisation has a major disadvantage: you can't identify with the characters and never really care if someone dies or not. But all in all, the exciting plot makes up for this weakness. It didn't stop me at all from enjoying "Kaal".
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Something between absolutely wonderful and really, really bad
18 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is a typical masala movie: a love story, a bit of comedy, a bit of drama. Let's first take a look at the story.

The first half of the movie is about the young Italian Sameer who comes to India to be taught by a famous classical singer. The latter has a beautiful daughter, Nandini, who is not too keen on giving away her room and decides to make life sour for him. Nonetheless, he falls immediately for her charms. During the first one-and-a-half hour, this is basically what happens: first, he wants her, but she doesn't want him; then, she wants him, but he doesn't want her; at last, they both want each other, but don't tell anyone about it. After eight months Nandini's dad thinks it's time to get Nandini married, finds her a husband, is furious once he finds out about Sameer, and sends him away. Exit Sameer, Nandini and Sameer both in tears. Intermission.

In the second half of the movie Nandini is married to Vanraj, an honest and sympathetic lawyer who genuinely loves his wife, and is completely unaware of anything that happened before. Unfortunately for him, Nandini treats him awfully. Vanraj is puzzled and asks her what is wrong, but she does not even talk to him. He finds out about Sameer by accident, and then takes a decision: he won't stand in the way of true love, and so he will take his wife to Italy, so that she can be happy with Sameer. Now, if you have survived the movie so far, you are about to make some interesting discoveries about Italy. First of all, Rome looks suspiciously much like Budapest. Buildings are decorated with Hungarian texts, cars have Hungarian registration plates. The Italians we meet on the road all speak Hungarian, and we are treated with some authentic Italian folk song and dance, that is remarkably similar to those of Hungary. Anyway, Nandini keeps treating Vanraj as a piece of junk, nobody knows why. Vanraj is patient like an angel, constantly looking for Sameer without Nandini even helping him. Yet, at some point she finally starts appreciating him a little, and they sort of become friends. Then, she starts appreciating him even more, and after a while, her heart is in doubt. When Nandini finally meets Sameer, all she does is telling him that she has changed, she is married now and must go back to her husband. Sameer angry and frustrated, Vanraj and Nandini at last happily together. End of the movie.

Now, it would be unfair to criticise the plot for being bad, because plots in Bollywood movies from the 1990s are generally a lot worse. Also, for melodramas like this you need to have a solid stomach, but again, you can't blame the movie, because this is inherent to the genre. This kind of films stand or fall with the characters and the actors who perform them. And alas, this is were the Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam fails. Neither Sameer nor Nandini are particularly likable or interesting, which makes the first half of the movie almost unbearably boring. Besides, neither Salman Khan or Aishwarya Ray are up to playing these roles. Aishwarya... well, I should give her this: she looks gorgeous, she cries nicely, and she is a terrific dancer. However, as an actress she is mediocre at best. In HDDCS, her acting is wooden most of the time. And Sallu? I have never understood how this man made such a career in the first place. His entire performance is a poor combination of grave overacting, relying heavily on his perceived masculinity, and showing off his chest. Although I don't particularly like Shahrukh Khan either, I found myself longing for him repeatedly, as he has a way of achieving what Sallu fails to achieve: bringing a character to life. The saving grace of this movie is undoubtedly Ajay Devgan, whose performance of Vanraj is superb. Vikram Gokhale does an excellent job as Nandini's father.

Some criticise this movie for defending arranged marriages. Personally, I didn't take it that way, and so I can't say this particular element disturbed me. What I do find disturbing, however, is the way Hungary is used to serve as Italy. Another movie, Mission Istaanbul, has been criticised for a Turkish character named Rizwan Khan and a Turkish TV station named Al Johara, but then, Mission Istaanbul is a stupid action flick that doesn't pretend to be anything more than that. In a refined and slightly pretentious movie like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (Best Bollywood of 1999!), however, grotesque inaccuracies like this look like a huge spot of pigeon coo on a white wedding dress.

To the defense of the movie the following should be added: it is a truly beautiful movie visually, and the music by Ismail Darbar and Anjan Biswar are absolutely gorgeous. Enough to make this movie worth a watch in spite of its many weak points.
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Jigarwala (1991)
Boring and formulaic curry western
17 August 2009
A small village in India lives under severe oppression of the Thakur family. Amar (Anil Kapoor) returns from the city and pledges to free the villagers from the tyranny. He does so with considerable ease: all he needs to do is speak a few sentences to suddenly turn a bad guy into a good guy, even though sometimes he has to kick some asses to support his arguments. No matter what, within days he becomes the hero of the village that even changes its name after him. Obviously, the members of the Thakur family don't give in as easily as the rest, and that is essentially what the movie is about. Now, Jigarwala wouldn't be a masala movie without a dose of slapstick humour and a love story here and there. As for the latter, Jigarwala has two: the love between Amar and village belle Soni, and the love of one of the villagers for Tara, the evil sister of the Thakur brothers. Add a few song/dance numbers to the mix, and there you have it: a curry western named Jigarwala.

All in all, a simplistic story that is formulaic in every aspect. Flat characters, zero character development. When a character already does something unexpected, it is not because it is makes any sense, but merely because the story requires it. Okay, I know, we are dealing with a disease of pre-2000 Bollywood movies in general here, and it wouldn't be fair to slaughter an individual movie for it. But in this case I find this utter lack of insight in human nature particularly disturbing, as there is so very little that makes up for it: colourful characters, good acting, beautiful images or whathaveyou. Honestly, an average episode of the A-Team needs half an hour to tell the same story that Jigarwala needs over two hours for, in a way more colourful and amusing way to that!

I generally like watching Anil Kapoor, Amrish Puri and Gulshan Grover. But in this case the roles they played (the hero Amar, the leading Thakur brother, the evil Lakhan) suffer heavily from the movie itself. We have seen them all in very similar roles in much better movies. The rest of the cast isn't even worth mentioning, as the acting is generally poor. As for the musical intervals... well, it's a matter of taste, I guess. I for one am thankful for the invention of the fast forward button.
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Stupid action movie, but with funny moments
14 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
For a stupid action movie, Mission Istaanbul is not thát bad.

At first, it appears the movie is going to be about the horrors of terrorism, with images about Al-Qaeda, heads cut off and all that, but those who dislike pointless cruelty can rest assured: terrorism is merely the excuse for a lot of action, and especially, for the heroes of the movie to venture into the lion's den. The entire storyline is weak and its credibility is far below zero. Obviously, the film makers haven't wasted much time and effort on doing even a minimum amount of research: they might, for example, easily have found out that "Rizwan Khan" is not exactly a typically Turkish name (not even for a Turkish freedom fighter!), and that "Al Johara" is not a likely name for a Turkish broadcasting station either. Indeed, Istanbul is an odd choice for the place of action, and the capital of any Arabic-speaking country would have been more suitable. But then, does it really matter? Action movies of this type rarely try to be clever, and this one doesn't even pretend to be.

In any case, I felt pleasantly surprised when after lots of shooting and stone throwing, we are treated with some nice intrigue, too. More or less at the same time, the mysterious character of Rizwan Khan enters the scene, and Vikas' employer turns to be more than just an independent TV station. Once we find out that Al Johara is nothing but a nest of terrorists, and that Rizwan Khan is their worst enemy, the movie is mainly about the way Vikas and his new friend beat the bad guys.

Rizwan is undoubtedly what makes this movie worth watching in spite of all the rest. Mr. Cool to the Xth power. Whatever difficult situation he finds himself in, he always treats it lightly, with humour, turning everything into a joke. Memorable are the following two scenes (quoting from the top of my head):

(Rizwan cuts off an arm from one of Al Johara's employees in order to use it for fingerprint identification. The poor fellow makes a lot of noise when it happens. After that, Rizwan joins Vikas)

Vikas (terrified): "And what if this is the wrong arm?"

Rizwan (hesitates for a moment): "Hey, there you have a point."

(Rizwan goes back, and again we hear the same noise)

Then, a bit later on, Vikas and Rizwan find themselves closed in a departed building. About the entire army and police in the city are looking for them, clearly with the instruction to shoot on sight. Vikas is terrified, Rizwan comfortably watching TV. When their "wanted" description is broadcast live on TV, Rizwan to Vikas:

"Hey, look, they're talking about us! Mmm, want some crisps?"

With all his humour and optimism, Rizwan, excellently performed by Vivek Oberoi, is the biggest advantage in a movie that is otherwise fairly dark and violent. As for the other main protagonist, Vikas: well, Zayed Khan is not a great actor and in all probably is never going to be one. Is it because he reminds me of Tom Cruise? I don't know, but he has a way of always working on my nerves. But it should be said: in "Mission Istaanbul" he does a fairly decent job - not a particular demanding or complicated role, I should add, but decent nonetheless. For the rest, the movie offers a lot of naked male chests in Rambo style. Lots of girls seem to find this, and this particular appearance of Vivek Oberoi, particularly sexy.

As for the music, the title song is sort of funny (one of my parakeet's all-time favourites!). For the rest I find it uninteresting, irritating and needlessly noisy. Besides, it almost never stops pounding, so you'll never get a chance to relax from it even for a moment. But at least it fits the movie. What I really don't understand, however, is Abishek Bachchan's special appearance, which has completely nothing to do with the movie at all and exists there merely as a comma. They might have tried to make it fit somehow, or added it to the very beginning or end of the movie, at least.
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Bhoot (2003)
All in all, not a bad movie
14 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The story of "Bhoot" is one of thirteen in a dozen. Far from being a horror die-hard, I can't avoid the impression of having seen the same story in many, many other films before. Horror is clearly not Bollywood's strongest side: if an idea is good, it is generally stolen, and when an idea is original, it is generally bad. In comparison to horror from countries like the USA and Japan, Bhoot is weak. There is no point in denying that. However, in comparison to other horror flicks from Bollywood, it should be said that Bhoot is different and... considerably better. Ram Gopal Varma has raised Indian horror to an entirely new level, which is still way below Western standards, but way beyond Indian horror flicks from the 1980s and 1990s.

The acting work is pretty much okay. Not surprising, given the cast of gifted, versatile actors. Virtually every haunted house movie has a skeptic who does't notice anything and starts believing something is wrong only when he sees it happening with his own eyes. He acts as a liaison between the audience and the scary stuff: just like you folks, he doesn't believe it, and yet it is happening to him, so y'all better be scared! In "Bhoot", our skeptic is played by Ajay Devgan. His performance is not bad, but it is not impressing either. Probably not Ajay's fault, though: it is just that the role is little interesting. He is merely there to be the skeptic, but that is about all the depth there is to his character, and that makes him hard to identify with.

Urmila Matondkar plays the leading role of a woman, who is possessed by a "bhoot", a ghost. She received quite a lot of awards for this role. In my opinion, she is doing a fairly good job, but calling her performance a masterpiece would be a grave exaggeration. With all the weird faces she makes with the bhoot inside, she looks more funny than scary. But then again, that is not the actress's fault, but rather of the whole concept of the movie.

The most memorable roles are in my opinion: Nana Patekar in the role of inspector Qureshi, Rekha as a "witch doctor" (this woman has such a screen presence that she merely has to be there to steal the show), and Victor Banerjee as the psychiatrist.

However, the best thing about "Bhoot" is undoubtedly the music by the duo Salim and Sulaiman. Luckily, there are no typically Bollywood-style songs in the movie, but then, what a terrific background score! Obviously, the director asked them to make the most horror-like music imaginable, and so the brothers were free to do what they were really good at. From the beginning till the end, the music creates an atmosphere of evil lurking, no matter whether something is going to happen or not. Of course, sometimes a horror film is more effective when the music doesn't give away everything in advance, because then at least there is an element of surprise. But that is a matter of choice. If you want some really horror-like music, Bhoot is one of the best examples I have ever seen or heard.

All in all, 3/10 for the story, 6/10 for the acting, 7/10 for the direction, and 9/10 for the music.
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Ghutan (2007)
Pretty bad horror flick with a good beginning
6 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Whatever can be said of this movie, it has a strong beginning: we see a cemetery in the night, a female corpse, and two men obviously planning to bury her. Suddenly the corpse wakes up, it comes to a fight, and the two men decide to use force and bury the woman anyway, in spite of her cries. The poor thing is buried alive.

Subsequently, we find out how it came that far. Ravi and his close friend Jaggi are in charge of a company owned by Catherine, Ravi's rich wife. Ravi, however, is a womaniser of the worst kind, and completely neglects Catherine, who therefore seeks refuge in the alcohol. One day, it comes to a physical fight between Ravi and Catherine: he hits her, she falls down on a glass table, and appears dead. Afraid of the consequences of this perceived murder, Ravi and Jaggi decide to bury her in secret. Even once they find out that Catherine is still alive, they bury her anyway.

So far so good. But after that, the level drops drastically. We see Catherine crawling out of her grave, and just like she does, we believe that she managed to escape. However, it turns out she is dead already. Once she finds out, she reunites with her body and becomes "evil". She starts haunting the house of Ravi and his new lover, Priya. She might as well have killed off Ravi and Jaggi right away, but apparently she wanted them to suffer a bit first, and so, she starts teasing them. It looks like the creators of this movie couldn't really decide what sort of creature Catherine had become after her death: we know she is a "zinda laash", a living corpse, and we also know she is "evil". She looks like the average zombie and pretty much behaves like one. However, sometimes she is invisible and even manages to find herself inside a locked bathroom. She stumbles like a zombie, but clearly she has the power to movie very quickly from one place to another when she wants to. Although she is still able to speak normally, she prefers to use a ghastly voice. In other words, effects and clichés have completely taken over from the plot.

All in all, a movie that started off like a fairly decent thriller quickly turns into a Z-grade horror flick. Even the quality of the acting seems to suffer from the change. Yet, it should be said, I found this movie a pretty entertaining one anyway. Not exactly from the "so bad it's good" kind, not exactly scary either, but I repeatedly had a good laugh (with many thanks to my favourite character in the movie, inspector Khan), and I can't say I've found it boring even for a moment. The music is fairly good as well.
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