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War (2019)
WAR is ... WOW !!!
3 October 2019
Mass entertainment -- but with a brain.

Without giving anything away, this action-packed "War" is MUCH more driven by both Story and Character than the producers (crafty bastards!) suggested in either their teaser or trailer.

Yes, "War" presents thrilling and truly world class Action that really delivers on its promise to 'raise the bar'. Fast pace and tight script that never falter. The production values are uniformly fantastic, in every department. But it's the unexpectedly complex and satisfying Story that blew us away ... and unexpectedly deep and fleshed out Character, performances unexpectedly nuanced and three-dimensional for the genre, that surprised us with the emotional connect we felt not just for the global stakes and the immediate outcomes but for the characters themselves. VERY well done, all!

First Day, First Show!

(See it once, you'll have to see it again. And probably again! :-)
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Dream Girl (III) (2019)
Amusing fluff ... an undemanding one-time watch
16 September 2019
Dream Girl (2019) was our best available option on a Saturday night when the long-running movie we'd gone to see became rescheduled at short notice.

Nothing to take home. But if all you're looking for is an undemanding lighter-than-air comedy, Dream Girl may fit your bill.

As a writer myself, I would have been happier with a tighter script -- (90 minutes of material drags out to 2 hours 12 minutes) -- some plot and attempt at character development. My personal taste runs more to character-driven humour. But the one-liner gags in Dream Girl are frequently funny in a mild if not particularly memorable way, and actually fairly 'clean' jokes for a mainstream comedy.

Worth a one-time watch.
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Super 30 (2019)
Hope for a Hurting World: 'Super 30' = compelling MUST WATCH true story of one man's journey to "Change the world, 30 students at a time!"
16 July 2019
One of THE very best films I have seen from anywhere in the world in my whole life!

Yes, "Super 30" is THAT extraordinary.

Best of all: it's real.

"Super 30" presents how one Common Man - Anand Kumar, himself a mathematics genius from an impoverished low caste family who won graduate admission to Cambridge University yet saw his own dream crumble when not able to raise money for the airfare to UK - dedicated his life to helping other gifted but underprivileged children attain their dreams. 'Anand-ji' each year since 2002 selects 30 such disadvantaged students - the Super 30 - to whom he provides intensive *free* coaching for the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) which are perceived as the 'golden ticket' to top-level high-status high-paying jobs in India and globally around the world. "Super 30" the movie shows how the real world Super 30 came to be, and how it triumphed (and continues to triumph) against entrenched elites who have fought hard to ... in effect ... keep the downtrodden 'in their place.'

As the film makes clear, "Changing the world, 30 students at a time" for such brilliant but impoverished children changes not just those 30 individuals but everyone in their whole extended families, and by extension thousands of similarly disadvantaged people in their home communities, whose life options now have opportunities and scope.

"Super 30", indeed, is a message of Hope for not just India but our whole planet.

Anand Kumar himself briefly appears (in his real classroom) at the end of the movie, side by side with the Indian superstar actor - Hrithik Roshan - who deftly portrayed him here.

And WHAT a performance!

I have always respected Hrithik as that rarest of creatures: a film star who is also, truly, a great actor. He has no limitations. His proven range and scope are phenomenal. But for "Super 30" he bravely sheds every last scrap of the usual 'filmy' glamour to embody a real person still living, who might have been thought the physical antithesis of himself, so powerfully that the audience is swept into complete belief and engagement. Hrithik as Anand invests us, the audience, not just in his character but in the broader stakes and the outcome. He makes us feel that it is OUR outcome, too - our very own choices and daily decisions which contribute (or not) to a better future and a better world.

Entire star cast gave outstanding performances. But truthfully, it is the 30 students themselves - non-actors all, selected from 15,000 applicants across Bihar and Uttar Pradesh - who with Anand Kumar win our hearts and minds. Their victory, becomes our victory.

Phenomenal work by all departments. A special 'shout out' for the terrific screenplay (by Sanjeev Dutta) which maintains excellent pace yet explores such complex issues with power, depth, and compassion.

It is a curious fact that, despite India's more than 100 years of cinema and vastly prolific film industries spanning the whole range of its ancient languages and regional cultures, to-date India has never yet won the Oscar for best foreign language film. "Super 30" could be the very thing to break that barrier, offering all that 'Oscar' seems to love in that category: crisp writing; sharp direction and brilliant acting; heartfelt, compelling (and true) story fully honest and 'authentic' to its home culture while presenting universal themes and issues that resonate across ALL cultures.

HIGHEST recommendation. See it. See it again! Let "Super 30" bring inspiration and hope to your life, too!
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Kaabil (2017)
Superlative Performances elevate this Simple Story to Something Sublime
30 January 2017
Verdict: an absolute "Must See" for the sheer impact of Hrithik Roshan's groundbreaking performance and an emotionally compelling story, very well told.

The story IS very simple.

A man, Rohan Bhatnagar (Hrithik Roshan) and woman, Supriya Sharma (Yami Gautam) meet, fall in love, and marry. Each has been blind since birth. Despite this, each has been living and working independently – she as the pianist for a dance studio, he making good money as a professional dubbing artist for film and television. (Some of the most light-hearted moments in the movie are watching Mr Roshan physically manipulate his face, nose, and throat to produce the range of voices needed.) But Supriya gives up her job after marriage and stays home during the day while Rohan is away at the dubbing studio. Thus she is alone and without aid when a tragedy is perpetrated upon her by the local 'bad apple', Amit, and his lifelong party pal, Wasim. Amit, we discover, is the spoiled younger brother of a powerful politician who shamelessly "owns" the police and pays them to cover up Amit's misdeeds. Rohan & Supriya's struggle to obtain justice despite corrupt cops and the even more corrupt politician thus forms the crux of what happens.

What makes "Kaabil" (English: "capable") so emotionally satisfying is how the characters and their journey are presented in such a natural way – despite being 'differently abled' – that the audience completely identify with each of the two AND their subsequent choices/actions from the very outset of the film: they feel like people we might know and care about in our own daily lives, so we invest our emotions in their fate.

Hrithik Roshan ...

Mr Roshan has always been unique, even from his début film itself, in his unsurpassed ability to completely 'invest' in each character he portrays and make each performance distinct: each walks, talks, looks, and even moves differently from every other. Thus, the unprecedented range of characters he has successfully embodied on screen. This tremendous range has enabled Mr Roshan to shine where other actors fail in portraying roles where the character is 'differently abled': first in "Koi ... Mil Gaya" (2003) as a brain-damaged adult with the mind and innocence of a child, then later as a quadriplegic former magician, in "Guzaarish" (2010). But with "Kaabil", Mr Roshan has outdone even himself.

As Rohan Bhatnagar in "Kaabil", Hrithik Roshan is not here playing any kind of superhero nor saving the world, but just playing a simple ordinary guy – (well, as 'ordinary' as that impeccably perfect bone structure will allow, which actually becomes a quip in "Kaabil"; the neighbourhood bad guy harasses Rohan with the nickname "Handsome" to play on the character having never seen even his own face) – who just happens to be blind. And there are no acting 'cheats' here. No dark glasses to hide his eyes. No contact lenses to obscure his normal vision. Mr Roshan plays the blind Rohan completely eyes-wide-open – unfocused gaze, yes, but absolutely natural. The sheer subtlety and power of this portrayal! Never, at any point, do you not believe that Rohan Bhatnagar is completely blind. Mr Roshan establishes the "capabilities" of the character so well from the git-go that by the time we get to the action sequences even those, too, seem completely reasonable and accepted.

I understand, now, why critics and audiences have been lauding Mr Roshan's "Kaabil" performance as (yet another!) career best. I would not argue with those who have even hailed this as one of THE very finest acting performances in cinema, period.

His female counterpart, petite beauty Yami Gautam as Supriya, meshes seamlessly. She will touch your heart! Do not be surprised if her "Kaabil" performance propels this previously underrated actress straight to the "A"-List of Hindi film actresses.

Ronit Roy and his real-life brother Rohit Roy make the most of this opportunity to appear together on-screen for the first time, as the power-justifies-anything politician Madhavrao Shellar and his care-for-nothing younger brother Amit.

Narendra Jha – (who, ironically, had just finished working with Mr Roshan in the epic "Mohenjo Daro" (2016) as the madman Jakhiro, a role which could not have been more different from the quiet, reserved character here) – was especially effective in the grey character at the core of "Kaabil", a police Inspector teetering on the brink of the bad side.

Kudos also to Suresh Menon, in a rare non- comic relief role very well played.

A special shout-out to the technical departments which made "Kaabil" possible: Resul Pookutty, whose brilliant sound design enabled our understanding of Rohan's world; ace cinematographers Sudeep Chatterjee & Ayananka Bose, who showed us that world using low-light and other challenging conditions; Ahmed Khan, whose innovative choreography for 'Mon Amour' made us truly believe it was danced by sightless people, and should be up for National Award.

Composer Rajesh Roshan's album is his best since a while. I particularly like the title song 'Kaabil Hoon' that voices Rohan's commitment to Supriya and the poignant 'Kuch Din' that allows him to recall their happiest moments. But even the remix of 'Haseeno Ka Deewana' (originally 'Saara Zamaana' from "Yaarana" (1981)) worked well for "Kaabil", presenting the twisted worldview of the criminally self-centred Amit.

Last but definitely not least: director Sanjay Gupta, whose "Kaabil" far exceeds in quality any of his previous works.

Final note: the general attributes of a blind character doing action in a film, by compensating with hearing and smell, may hearken all the way back to Japan's "Tale of Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman" (1962) and the wealth of later television and film projects which flowed therefrom. But Hrithik Roshan's portrayal of blind Rohan Bhatnagar in India's "Kaabil" is completely unique not just in its visceral power but the emotional engagement he brings for the audience.
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Mary Kom (2014)
Priyanka Chopra's courageous knock-'em-dead performance shines, despite weak script
10 September 2014
I cannot praise highly enough, the power and execution of Priyanka Chopra's performance in this movie.

As the title character, Ms Chopra swept me away with the sheer passion, dedication, and grit she brought to this portrayal: a real woman boxer who won five world championships and returned after retirement birthing twins to claim a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Priyanka makes you forget she's an actress – in "Mary Kom" you will believe she IS the athlete.

Taking on this challenging role was courageous, in a male-hero dominated industry where, even today, it's the men who are expected to 'carry' all big commercial cinema. Where even the top heroines – naturally including Priyanka Chopra herself, who co-stars in many of the biggest of the biggies, such as both the hugely successful "Krrish" and "Don" franchises – rarely get opportunity to do much more than 'look pretty and dance a bit'. This is, happily, evolving somewhat with the relative commercial success of heroine-centric films such as Kangana Ranaut's "Queen" (2014), Vidya Balan's "Kahaani" (2012), Priyanka's own "Fashion" (2008), and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's "Provoked" (2007). Yet it is a sad fact that, even today, the much vaunted '200 Crores Club' and even the '100 Crores Club' blockbusters are male star vehicles, every last one.

Against this industry backdrop, I salute Priyanka Chopra even more for not just taking on, but so boldly succeeding with, such an inherently 'unglamourous' role.

All credit to Ms Chopra aside, however ... the "Mary Kom" movie as a whole is frustrating.

It's as though, having committed themselves to making a movie about the real-life boxer Mary Kom, the filmmakers then found themselves not having a clue what to say about the woman.

The coach in the film (Sunil Thapa, who manages a solid performance despite the poor writing) repeatedly tells his boxer and the audience to "Focus! Focus! Focus!" Yet "focus" is exactly what this script (story & screenplay credited to Saiwyn Qadras) completely fails to do. The lackluster music (Shashi Suman) and uncertain direction (débutant director Omung Kumar) do not help.

There were so many potential story lines here which could have been developed into a uniting theme: the physical isolation and political unrest unsettling Mary's home state, Manipur; a young woman's struggle against family and community expectations to walk a non-traditional path; any woman's challenge to balance career and family; just to name a few. And, in fact, several of these themes are suggested ... only to be inexplicably dropped or left hanging. Forget the triumph of last year's groundbreaking ad brilliantly executed biopic "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag", which transcended the personal story of its athlete to present a broader message of societal healing in the aftermath of communal tragedy. "Mary Kom" not only fails to convey any broader meaning, this movie fails to ever settle on any one particular thing to be learned from this one woman's life. Here, what happens just, well, happens. Limply. The filmmakers' lack of direction and focus make everything that happens in this woman's life seem just too ... well, easy. There is no sustained conflict, no driving or sustained challenge for the character to overcome. The would-be climax of the film comes across as cheap melodrama which left the audience emotionally unengaged. The film's end (at an odd place, well before what I would have considered the natural highlight of the woman's career) came through 'flat' and unsatisfying.

Weirdly, I came out of the "Mary Kom" movie less inspired by Mary Kom's life ... than by "A"-list actress Priyanka Chopra's real-life courage and hard work in enacting this role.

Seven stars, STRICTLY on the basis of Priyanka Chopra's powerful knock-'em-dead performance.
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Krrish 3 (2013)
A Landmark Film in World Cinema ... breaks down boundaries and raises the bar for superhero films everywhere, with emotional 'connect' Hollywood can only envy
2 November 2013
Forget anything you may have heard or comparisons you might have imagined about "Krrish 3" – it's just a GREAT MOVIE. Period.

By any standard.

For sheer emotional wallop, "Krrish 3" has no peer among 'superhero' movies anywhere.

Complex and multi-layered story, standout performances, exciting action, memorable characters, and breakthrough visual effects make "Krrish 3" a landmark film in world cinema. But it's the power of its emotional connect with the audience – fuelled as it is by real human relationship, that each of us can identify with personally in our own way – that sets "Krrish 3" above even mega-blockbuster Hollywood movies with 12 times the budget but no soul.

What sets "Krrish 3" apart?

Story. Plot. Character. The three essential elements of any good storytelling. "Krrish 3" not only uses Story, Plot, and Character to tell an inspiring and exciting superhero story, but does so from a uniquely Indian perspective all the more powerful because the relationships portrayed are actually universal to all human life.

Above all, "Krrish 3" is an unparallelled celebration of ... Humanity. In all our strength. In all our weakness.

Master director-producer Rakesh Roshan once again proves his vision to 'push the boundaries' for what Hindi cinema can and does achieve.

Synopsis for anyone catching up: Ten years ago "Koi ... Mil Gaya" (2003) introduced India's first successful science fiction movie by giving us Rohit Mehra, a braindamaged child-adult who befriends a space alien (whom he calls 'Jaadu', meaning 'magic') accidentally stranded on Earth that thanks Rohit for his help by healing, even enhancing, his damaged brain. Seven years ago "Krrish" (2006) gave us Krishna Mehra, Rohit's son, who was born with supra-normal abilities because of his father's 'enhancement' by Jaadu, and eventually takes on the superhero identity Krrish. With the help of a journalist (Priya, whom Krishna loves) Krishna rescues his father, the now-genius Rohit, from long-term imprisonment by an evil scientist. Thus at the outset of "Krrish 3" (2013), Krishna and Priya are newlyweds. Rohit explores how to be a father to a grown son. And 'Krrish' is the public's hero who is an inspiration to all. But trouble lurks just around the corner: a twisted genius known as 'Kaal' has unleashed an army of half-human, half-animal mutants to exploit and then bring down human civilisation.

What Happens Next ... you simply must experience!

Hrithik Roshan ... playing the triple-role which spans the physicality (impressive!) of superhero Krrish combined with the confused 'everydayness' of alter ego Krishna (who can't keep a regular job!) and yet again the residually 'childlike' genius scientist, the aging Rohit. COULD any other actor have carried this off? Period? In a word, NO.

As Subhash K Jha famously said of Hrithik's début, "Kaho Naa ... Pyaar Hai" (2000): "Would Paris be the same without the Eiffel Tower?"

Similarly, the entire Krrish franchise – whether Rohit in "Koi ... Mil Gaya", Krishna in "Krrish", or full-on superhero Krrish in "Krrish 3" – would not, could not, exist without the unique talents and dramatic range of one actor. Hrithik Roshan.

The other primary cast are also great in "Krrish 3". Vivek Oberoi, for instance, makes the most of this opportunity to be very good (which is to say, very bad, as the ultra-evil supervillain 'Kaal') in this very good movie.

Yet top raves for the women in "Krrish 3".

All too often a female actor is given little chance to do more than 'look pretty and dance a little'. This is why it is SO refreshing that both Priyanka Chopra ('Priya') and Kangana Ranaut (the mutant 'Kaya') play such memorably three-dimensional characters in "Krrish 3".

Ms Ranaut is spectacular in this movie! She's gorgeous. She's deadly. She's (literally) a cold-blooded killer, being half-chameleon. Yet her character's discovery of her own latent human side will touch your heart.

Not to be outdone, Ms Chopra's role, too, has unexpected shades to her performance. And watch carefully for one scene where even Mr Roshan is ... not quite what he seems! Exactly the sort of plot twists that keep an audience on the edge of their seat to the final frame.

The technical departments are all top-notch. Hong Kong's legendary action director Tony Ching Siu-Tung returns from "Krrish" to elicit even more breathtaking fight sequences in "Krrish 3", and pushed all actors to their physical limits and beyond. The art design by Sabu Cyril shows you a birds-eye perspective of Mumbai (especially dramatic at night) which only a bird – or a superhero – would normally see. The sound design by Baylon Fonseca was also extraordinary.

Rajesh Roshan's music for "Krrish 3" is not standard Bollywood movie fare, because this music is very specific to this film and no other. Where else, for instance, are you likely to have occasion for a mutant's fantasy about discovering love? Which is why, when you actually see this film, all three of the song sequences work beautifully to underscore the emotional content of the plot.

Special credit to the"Krrish 3" team for bravely keeping all the computer visual effects work (VFX) 100% 'made in India' for the first time ... and on such a showcase project, so brilliantly realised throughout. And at reportedly ONE TWELFTH the cost of similar Hollywood VFX-intensive superhero films, with such results, "Krrish 3" alone could open Indian VFX companies to the international film market.

In sum: a landmark milestone in Hindi cinema. As Hrithik Roshan said recently in a UK interview, "The basic content of a Hindi movie is really being challenged here." The standard-of-excellence has been raised to global level with "Krrish 3", while remaining true to Indian culture and values.

Director Rakesh Roshan deserves HUGE credit for: (1) the Vision; (2) the Courage to pursue that vision; and (3) the Skill to transform that vision into groundbreaking cinema.
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Boss (I) (2013)
Akshay Kumar's athleticism saves the day. Or at least this movie.
20 October 2013
Most of the attempted slapstick comedy notes in "Boss" fall flat. Yet the underlying dramatic storyline proves surprisingly satisfying, and lead actor Akshay Kumar's sheer joyous athleticism keep his latest film worth a watch.

My personal highlight of the film?

A roughly five-minute chase sequence where our unarmed title character leads a whole army of pursuing thugs on a merry chase up, over, and through a claustrophobic old-town: the wit and panache with which Mr Kumar 'free runs' and bounds – with a smile and a laugh – are simply a delight to witness.

Several particularly well-staged fight sequences remind us that, even at 46, Akshay Kumar's real martial arts prowess has no equal in Bollywood.

Other plus points:

• Danny Denzongpa (who has always been one of India's most under-rated actors, in my opinion) as 'Big Boss', the title character's adoptive father – such a pleasure to see him in a more positive role, where he shines!

• the storyline between the title character and his real and adoptive fathers

• excellent fight choreography, throughout

• song "Hum Na Tode" immediately after the interval, Mr Kumar's best dance and even a brief cameo by Prabhu Deva – easily the best song of the film

Negative points:

• poor writing – especially, poor character development of the supporting characters

• one-dimensional villain (though ably played by Ronit Roy)

• Sonakshi Sinha's cameo appearance in two songs – just plain fat, embarrassingly so for a film heroine (and the costume designer for "Party All Night" should be shot at dawn!)

• the (literally) sniffling idiot

• background score – inexplicably loud and actively intrusive at poorly picked moments, such as the climactic duel between Mr Kumar and Mr Roy

On the whole, not by any means a 'great' movie. But enjoy for Mr Kumar's performance in top form.
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Do not walk ... RUN to "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag"!
15 July 2013
An extraordinary film.

In one sense a biopic of a real historical person – Milkha Singh, 'The Flying Sikh', the orphaned emigré (from the terrible Partition riots that followed the creation of independent Pakistan and India in 1947) who rose to become India's first world-record setting athlete – this movie gives its audience so MUCH more, in so many ways.

On an individual level, the Hindi film "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" (2013) takes over from the Stallone classic "Rocky" (1976) as a great sport-based 'triumph of the human spirit' story. Yet at a global level this film also succeeds as one of the best movies yet made about the Partition, which inspires much-needed emotional healing for both nations. Many countries, actually, could benefit from this film's message.

(The title – 'Run Milkha Run', in English – were Milkha's father's final words.)

Farhan Akhtar … phenomenal!

Mr Akhtar's mindblowing performance here as the title character will make you forget, for a time, that he is also one of India's best directors. (And a producer. And writer. And lyricist. And singer. None of which hats he wears here.) "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" proves that Farhan Akhtar, at 39, has matured into one of the world's finest living ACTORS.

He has brought the same honesty, subtlety, and power to this role, as an actor, which audiences have come to expect as a trademark of the films he directs or produces. Mr Akhtar engages you completely, from the opening frame to the last. You will laugh. You will cry. You will think. You will feel inspired to fly.

"Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" soars on the wings of Farhan Akhtar's performance.

The sheer … physicality … deserves special appreciation. It is no easy thing, for any mere actor to physically embody a career athlete. Mr Akhtar reportedly conditioned and trained for 18 months, to transform his body and his whole manner of movement. The result is on the screen: you will believe you are watching a world champion runner.

It's an extra plus that Mr Akhtar, the actor, does so strongly resemble the real Milkha Singh – in build, body type, and the bones of the face – as the historic photographs shown over the end credits clearly reveal.

The supporting cast are uniformly excellent, but I single out these four for special notice.

Veteran character actor Pavan Malhotra gives a career-breakthrough performance as Gurudev Singh, the army coach who first introduced young Milkha Singh to competitive running. He becomes the audience point-of-access to Milkha's whole backstory.

UK-based Pakistani-born actor Art Malik receives – and earns – third star billing, despite limited minutes. As Milkha Singh's father, his character is long dead and only appears in the 1947 flashback sequences. But Mr Malik so deftly projects an intriguing multi-dimensional character that his image, his presence, linger in the mind long after he has faded from the screen.

Divya Dutta as Ishri Kaur, Milkha's sole surviving sister. Brilliant! Emotional touchpoint for the whole audience, on both the individual and societal levels.

Last but certainly not least: newcomer Japtej Singh, who plays Milkha as a child. Merges perfectly with Mr Akhtar as the adult Milkha; you believe one would grow into the other. Most natural and 'genuine' performance by any child actor that I had seen in years. (May this be the beginning of a long and great career for young Mr Singh!)

Chief among technical departments, the strong story structure of "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" is a huge plus. The filmmakers chose an unusual starting point to begin telling their story: what might be thought the greatest failure of Milkha Singh's career. (Breaking his own world record, but only finishing 4th – out of the medals – in the 400 meter run at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.) But through deft intercutting between the then-present and selected flashbacks to Milkha's backstory, the film builds to an unexpectedly powerful climax that emotionally satisfies while inspiring on both personal and global levels.

Special credit: without diluting the emotional horror of Milkha's childhood experiences during the Partition, visual horror is kept to a minimum. A very difficult balance to keep, but successfully achieved here. (Note to Parents: film does contain one disturbing image of an athletics injury.)

The taut script by Prasoon Joshi and crisp editing by P. S. Bharathi elevate "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" by an order of magnitude above director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's earlier movies (such as "Rang De Basanti" (2006) which, though fresh and original, was comparatively unfocused and sprawling in its storytelling technique). "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag", by comparison, is so tightly written and well paced that I never even noticed the three-hour length, the film runs so fast and so smoothly.

The music – by Shankar Ehsaan Loy – is so good, so inspiring, that I rushed straight out to buy the soundtrack music CD immediately after leaving the movie!

Pretty easily, "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" is THE BEST film I've seen from anywhere in the world thus far in 2013. (This statement includes the Oscar holdovers from year 2012.) Will prove to be a landmark film in world cinema.
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'Liberation' for India's film dancers – and choreographers!
12 June 2013
For a nation whose film industries have traditionally thrived on lush use of dance in its cinema, it is honestly shocking how so few of India's movies focus directly ON dance. All too often, a choreographer's duty is to distract the audience from the fact that a movie's lead actor or actress cannot actually dance. Even when a lead actor can dance well, backup dancers are usually there just to provide colour and fill out the screen. The dancers are always there, but we do not 'see' them.

Thus "ABCD Any Body Can Dance" arrives like a breath of fresh air!

Here dance and dancers take centre stage – not just as magic elements in and of themselves, but as a celebration of the power of art and dance to draw people together and transform lives.

Vishnu (Prabhu Deva), the longtime choreographer of India's most successful professional dance group, gets cashiered by his ambitious and domineering partner Jehangir (Kay Kay Menon). Vishnu's career seems over. He feels like giving up. But on his way out of town, he spends a few last days with an old friend, Gopi (Ganesh Acharya), a retired dancer who ekes out a small living teaching dance in a not-very-fancy neighbourhood. Through Gopi, Vishnu becomes impressed with the sheer raw talent he observes among an assortment of apparently dead-end street kids whose lives are limited by their inability to get along with each other, their parents, or anyone else. He volunteers to teach these kids dance for free, determined to change their lives through imparting Discipline, Attitude, New(ness), Confidence, and Expression. In the process, Vishnu manages to rebuild not just his own life and those of his students, but even his old friend and later nemesis Jehangir.

Some of India's greatest living dance choreographers came together to make this film happen.

Prabhu Deva himself, of course, is not only a celebrated choreographer (for instance, the National Award winning 'Main Aisa Kyon Hoon' straightjacket dance from "Lakshya" (2004)) and commercially successful director (such as "Wanted" (2009) and "Rowdy Rathore" (2012)) but also probably India's best pure dancer.

(My biggest gripe? Tamil native Prabhu Deva's voice is badly dubbed, in a heavy baritone that suits neither this character nor his own personality.)

"ABCD …" is directed by famous choreographer Remo D'Souza, who also wrote the story.

Ganesh Acharya is so sincere and charming as Gopi in this, his acting debut, that he almost steals the movie. (The elephantine but surprisingly-light-on-his-feet Mr Acharya, despite his bulk, is best known for choreographing sexy item numbers such as 'Sheila' in "Tees Maar Khan" (2010) or 'Chikni Chameli' in the 2012 "Agneepath".)

India's all-time most honoured choreographer – the legendary Saroj Khan herself – dances a cameo over the end credits with Mssrs Remo, Acharya, and Prabhu Deva. Terrence Lewis and Shiamak Davar also contributed to "ABCD …" and are thanked in the opening credits.
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Charming movie for children which even adults will enjoy
5 May 2013
Here is a fun story targeted to and completely appropriate for a child audience, yet intelligently written and engaging enough for adults, too.

"Main Krishna Hoon" is a heartwarming tale which ties the rich tradition of ancient Indian culture surrounding the god Krishna with the very real-world challenges of a very real little boy also named Krishna.

One dark and rainy night, the kindly proprietors of a small orphanage – Kantaben (Juhi Chawla) and Nattubhai (Paresh Ganatra) – rescue an abandoned baby boy from the floodwaters. They name him Krishna, because the way they found him parallels the legend of how the god Lord Krishna came to live with his adoptive parents as a baby. Orphan Krishna (Namit Shah) lives happily in the orphanage with Kanta and Nattu and the other foundling children. But over the years, as one by one his other friends are adopted out to families but he remains, young Krishna comes to believe that he is unadoptable, unwanted, and will never find a family. In despair, all alone one night he goes to a temple and prays to Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna (animated) then comes to Earth in his mischievous childhood 'butter thief' avatar and befriends the young orphan Krishna. Many adventures then ensue, as Krishna-from-Heaven helps Krishna-from-Earth discover his family.

The 'makhan chor' Lord Krishna is charmingly designed and animated. He may be a god, but he never lets you forget that he is also himself a mischievous little boy, too. Animated Krishna's dual-level interactions with his new friend, orphan Krishna (well-played by debutant child actor Namit Shah), are not only engaging and believable but genuinely fun. The business with the kheer (rice pudding), for instance. Or what becomes the obsession of both Krishnas with their namesake Krishna character who becomes a superhero, as played by actor Hrithik Roshan in the "Krrish" movies.

Juhi Chawla's performance here is outstanding, as the kindly headmistress of the orphanage. Even at her most perky and deliberately positive, you feel Kantaben's genuine love and caring for her young charges. Paresh Ganatra as her male counterpart is played more for comedy. But as the story progresses, the audience see and feel that he, too, shares her deep-seated concern for the orphans' longterm future.

Adults will particularly enjoy how ingeniously two real-world Hindi film superstars – first Katrina Kaif, later Hrithik Roshan – are cleverly worked into the story in 5-minute appearances as their actual selves.

(First-time producers Nandan K. Mahto & Promila Hunter are the longtime spot boy and hairdresser, respectively, of Mr Roshan and Ms Kaif, which is why the two superstars both readily agreed to support and be a part of their old friends' debut movie. In industry terms such high-profile commitment would have been key to securing both funding and distribution for the project.)

But throughout "Main Krishna Hoon", experienced children's director Rajiv S. Ruia (the "My Friend Ganesha" movie series) keeps the focus on children and completely child-friendly for all ages.

For instance, when actual villains are introduced into the story (in reference to the legendary battle of Krishna with the tyrant Kans) director Ruia presents the historic Krishna-Kans battle solely as animation, which lessens the potential fear factor to a child audience. The live action equivalent 'Kans' – gangleader Angar Singh (Raj Premi), his lieutenant Paddu Singh (Rajan Verma), and their goons – are kept light and played for comedy. Even the gang's crimes are deliberately made crimes with which child audiences can instantly identify.

This is the sort of refreshingly straightforward movie where, if 'The Hero' doesn't exactly ride into town on a white horse, he at least rides in on its 21st century equivalent!

The music by Amjad–Nadeem is generally good.

Juhi Chawla herself beautifully sings 'Om Namo Namah' over the opening credits, as we watch the infant orphan Krishna grow into the boy (Namit Shah) we will follow for the rest of the story.

The title track, 'Main Krishna Hoon', is catchy and stays with you.

A particular highlight is 'Govinda Aala Re'. The song is choreographed by ace dance director Ganesh Acharya against a traditional dahi handi human pyramid festival celebrating the birthday of young Lord Krishna. Aspiring stars Rajneesh Duggal and Misti Mukherjee appear briefly as the featured male and female dancers for this song.

Hindi cinema badly needs more good movies for children, which their parents can also enjoy. "Main Krishna Hoon" delivers!
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Poola Rangadu (2012)
Deliciously funny comedy ... and a rare opportunity to watch an actor redefine his career before your very eyes
9 December 2012
The storyline of the 2012 Telugu hit comedy film "Poola Rangadu" ('Colourful Ranga') is deceptively simple: an educated and ingenious young man from the city seeks to recoup his struggling family's fortunes through a rural real estate deal that proves to have potentially deadly consequences.

The fun is in the details.

Ranga (Sunil) and his business partner Bosu (Satyam Rajesh) acquire 30 acres in a rural farming district that is scheduled for industrial development. But the deal really is too-good-to-be-true. Upon arrival at the site, Ranga discovers that his 30 acres are wedged between the lands of two rich landlords who hate each other so much that each will kill to keep the other from any advantage – including this 30 acres. Through his childhood friend Vasu (Ali) whom he takes into his confidence, Ranga infiltrates the gang of Konda Reddy (Dev Gill). But this strategy proves to be a dead end, he hopes not literally. At this point Ranga's only hope is to befriend the daughter of the equally vicious Lala Goud (Pradeep Singh Rawat) – Anitha (Isha Chawla), a medical student who is no dummy – and beguile her into intervening with her father on his behalf. Ranga will need all his wits and daring to succeed. The tangled tale of how Ranga negotiates these competing perils makes for a very funny ride indeed!

Some favourite funny highlights: • Konda Reddy's 'dragonfly hunt' • Lala Goud's 'music appreciation' • Ranga's 'blasting with English' speech, that becomes more and more outrageous once he realises that no one else can understand a word of what he's saying • Ranga's subsequent nonsense 'blasting with Hindi' • how clever Anitha trips Ranga up with all this

"Poola Rangadu" was NOT a big budget project. No exotic locations. No expensive visual effects. But it succeeded very well – (theatrical run over 100 days) – and did very special things with what resources it had.

I particularly enjoyed the relish both Dev Gill and Pradeep Singh Rawat, respectively, brought to the two bloodthirsty landlords. Both actors famous for playing hard-core villains seemed to thrive on this opportunity to play characters so refreshingly three-dimensional and multi-faceted.

The music by Anoop Rubens and dances by Prem Rakshith went a long way to ground the story. The songs are progressive and underpin much of the story, all by themselves. The title song 'Poola Rangadu' (jaw-droppingly danced by Sunil) introduces Ranga through his dream of becoming cool, 'Colourful Ranga' who succeeds in life through taking risks. 'Nuvve Nuvvele' captures Ranga's futile attempts to win over Anitha. 'Okkade Okkade' is the turning point of the whole film. 'Nuvvu Naku Kavali' presents Ranga's first fantasies of love, and the jubilant 'Chocolate Kannula' Ranga's (premature) exhilaration at success. The background score – especially for the climax scene – was also outstanding.

But what will everyone MOST remember about "Poola Rangadu"?


Good god, who would have thought?

If anyone who had already appeared in some 160 movies over 12 years could be said to have a 'debut vehicle', "Poola Rangadu" is Sunil's debut. It is that much a showcase of range and talent.

Typecasting in India, North or South, is peculiarly rigid – once a villain, always a villain; once a supporting character, always a supporting character – and leading man 'hero' opportunities are all too often rigidly bound by family associations. For an outsider like Sunil totally unconnected to any of the great film families AND career-typecast as a comic supporting character (and specifically, 'the hero's funny fat friend' at that) to break into hero roles – and succeed, as Sunil has – is almost unprecedented.

His first leading role, "Andala Ramudu" (2006), was a one-off 'comedy entertainer', an extremely low-budget movie with limited release that performed unexpectedly well. Four years later, however, the breakout success of S. S. Rajamouli's sly masterpiece "Maryada Ramanna" (2010) proved that Sunil-as-hero was no fluke; Sunil won raves from audiences and awards from critics citing the unexpected range and depth and charm of his performance in the central role. Then in Ram Gopal Varma's biting industry satire, "Katha Screenplay Darsakatvam: Appalaraju" (2011), Sunil deservedly won raves as the straight man of the piece, aspiring director Appalaraju, about whom the whole mad mess revolved. Showcased Sunil's non-comedic dramatic range ... though still as a fat guy.

But in "Poola Rangadu"?

The training wheels as hero – and the extra pounds – are finally off. And HOW!

Trimmed down to the proportions of ... well ... exactly what one expects of a regular leading man, Sunil in "Poola Rangadu" conclusively proved the following:

1. Sunil need not be fat, to be funny.

2. Now that we can actually see what he looks like, sans the fat – surprise! Give the man a neck and a waistline, and Sunil is quite remarkably handsome.

3. (Prabhu Deva having retired to a director's chair) Sunil may be the best male dancer currently active in South.

4. Yes, the ever-amiable Sunil can find a 'mean gene' – and carry off a believable fight scene.

For me, the revolutionary thing about Sunil's climax scene in "Poola Rangadu" was less the much-vaunted 'six pack abs' than how Sunil demonstrated so convincingly that he CAN do a serious action sequence – and make it 100% believable.

In "Poola Rangadu", Sunil has arrived as a legitimate film hero.

Tall, dark, & handsome ... action hero, romantic hero ... good dramatic range ... comedy genius ... box office success ... brains AND now body ... 'Skinny Sunil' works for me!

No wonder, directors are now reportedly falling all over themselves to sign Hero Sunil to high-profile "A" list projects.

But while we wait for what he does next, we can all have lots of fun enjoying Sunil's purely delightful "Poola Rangadu".
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Delightful Screwball Comedy
14 August 2012
Sometimes ... we want to Just Have Fun.

"Carry On Jatta" is happy to leave 'solving the problems of the universe' to other movies.

This deceptively simple but extremely effective comedy transcends all barriers of time, or language, or culture, because its humour turns on basic quirks and basic relationships fundamental to the entire human race and thus immediately accessible. Young men will fall in love. Fathers and sons will misunderstand each other. Friends will try to 'help' but inadvertently make things worse.

Mix all these elements together with classic comic timing and perfect plotting under the deft hand of Punjabi director Smeep Kang ("Chakk De Phatte") and the result is ... very VERY funny!

Two lifelong friends – Jas (Gippy Grewal) and Honey (Gurpreet Ghuggi) – eagerly support each other through thick and thin and are basically good guys, despite being disregarded by their respective families. Jas lives with his father, a successful lawyer (Jaswinder Bhalla), and his older brother Goldy (Binnu Dhillon) and sister-in-law Diljeet (Anshu Sahni), while Honey is perennially chastised by his father, a police inspector (B. N. Sharma), for having no goals or ambitions in life. But this is not quite true. Honey has one ambition: his lovely girlfriend Preet (Khushboo Grewal). The lives of everyone, however, get turned topsy-turvy when Jas also falls in love, with the newly met but lovely Mahie (Mahie Gill). Jas and Honey will need all their ingenuity – and luck! – to outfox their families and achieve their objectives.

Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Yet in the right hands even 'the obvious' can be much cleverer than it appears.

This 2012 Punjabi movie "Carry On Jatta" is one of those truly rare comedies that succeeds, not through attempting surprise twists (that rarely surprise, anyway), but by putting its business right up there in open plain sight for the audience ... and then skillfully playing on the audience's anticipation for everything that follows.

This is VERY hard to do and do well. But "Carry On Jatta" succeeds – largely through the impeccable comic timing and talents of its ensemble cast.

Special credit to the two leads – Gippy Grewal (who even sang all his own songs) and Gurpreet Ghuggi (nice to see him in a bigger romantic role) – whose mutual comic chemistry went far to carry all this off so effectively. But the supporting performances by Jaswinder Bhalla and Binnu Dhillon as Jas' father and brother, respectively, were so delicious they almost steal the whole show.

There's this bit with a ladder ... ! ;-)

One minor quibble: it would have been nice to see the two heroines – Mahie Gill and Khushboo Grewal, who were both quite good – given more to do. Also, when the 'sins' of Jas and Honey finally come home to roost, the pacing of the denouement could have been slightly tighter.

But these are minor quibbles indeed, for a movie that otherwise manages to be so damn funny. Even the music by Jatinder Shah contributed to the delightful madness. The title track, "Carry On Jatta", is introduced over the opening credits and its theme reappears at such perfectly timed moments throughout the rest of the film that, long before the end, even just the reintroduction of that musical theme is enough to set the audience howling with laughter again.


Yes, but such fun.

I describe this 2012 Punjabi film "Carry On Jatta" as a 'screwball comedy' because I think this movie shares its comic heart with great old Hollywood classic screwball comedies from the 1930s – like "The Awful Truth" (1937) or "My Favorite Wife" (1940). This film plays on the timeless element of brilliant witty farce that dates back through human history all the way back to Greco-Roman times, like "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum" (1966, that lifted much of its material verbatim from the ancient Roman comic playwright Plautus).

Times change. Civilisations change. But no matter what, no matter when, human beings still need a good laugh!
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Sometimes they get it ALL right!
28 June 2012
The 2010 Telugu comedy thriller "Maryada Ramanna" completely delivers.

Perfect casting. Brilliant performances. Inspired direction. Deceptively simple but fiendishly clever script. Tight editing. Good thrills. Engaging romance. Delightful music. Witty dances. Emotionally satisfying. AND deliciously funny!

Best of all?

"Maryada Ramanna" is a straightforward (but amazingly effective!) cross-cultural adaptation of a 1923 silent movie classic: Buster Keaton's "Our Hospitality".

In place of the notorious Hatfield-McCoy feud in the 19th century U.S. skewered by Buster Keaton's movie, "Maryada Ramanna" takes us to India's modern-day Rayalaseema district, infamous for its centuries-old legacy of deadly 'factionalism'. But Rayalaseema, like the American 'Old South', is also famous for its culture of gracious hospitality toward guests. And therein lies the tale ... .

A young man named Ramu (Sunil) has grown up in the city, innocently unaware of having been orphaned in infancy through a family dispute-of-honour in his ancestral village. So when he learns he has inherited land in that far-off village, he immediately sets off to claim it – not knowing that his cousins have sworn to kill his entire family. On the train Ramu befriends a fellow traveller, an artistic young woman named Aparna (Saloni Aswani) whose family belittles her gift. They are accidentally separated when the train arrives at the village. But when the unsuspecting Ramu asks for help with selling off his inherited property, he is directed to the local zamindar Ramineedu (Nagineedu) who graciously invites Ramu to his home for lunch before settling their business. Ramu happily discovers that his train-friend Aparna is Ramineedu's daughter. But only after Ramu is inside the house does Ramineedu discover that Ramu is, in fact, THE very man he and his two enormous bloodthirsty sons – Mallasuri (Supreet) and Baireddy (Venugopal) – have sworn to kill. However, their tradition of hospitality does not permit them to kill any enemy so long as he is inside their home. How will Ramineedu, Mallasuri, and Baireddy scheme to get Ramu outside the house? How will Ramu scheme to stay inside? Will Aparna help her family, or help her friend? How will ALL of us get out of this one! :-)

Ace director S. S. Rajamouli is best known for mega-hyped and epic-scale dramas such as "Chatrapathi" (2005) and "Magadheera" (2009), the latter reportedly the highest budget and highest grossing movie yet made in the Telugu industry. But it is this small budget, comparatively low-profile yet equally successful "Maryada Ramanna" that demonstrates Mr Rajamouli's real genius as both writer and director.

Casting extremely talented but relatively unknown actors was a calculated risk that paid off big time for Mr Rajamouli in this project. "Maryada Ramanna" was a film without a name 'star' in the traditional industry sense. Film newcomer Nagineedu deservedly cleaned up Best Villain awards as the loving-father/evil-avenger Ramineedu. The physically enormous classic bad guys, Supreet and Venugopal, had lots of fun as Aparna's angry brothers. Saloni Aswani was fresh, subtle, diverse, glowingly beautiful, and completely charming as Aparna; Saloni has more range and brings 'much more to the table' than most actresses in South and deserves more opportunities as Lead Heroine.

But Sunil? What a revelation!

For a man making only his second start as 'Hero' (after more than 100 movies typecast as the 'Hero's Fat Friend', always a comic supporting character), all I can say is: Why on earth did no one give him a chance before this?

As the hapless – but not helpless! – hero Ramu, Sunil proves himself a genuinely charming romantic lead, projecting excellent chemistry with his co-star Saloni and engaging the audience fully into the dramatic challenges faced by his character. Shed of his usual extra flesh, Sunil proves a surprisingly handsome hero, too. And a positively brilliant dancer. Yet with the peculiarly demanding requirements of this inherently-comic-but-must-be-played-straight role, Sunil's years of perfect comedy timing enabled a performance no one else currently alive, perhaps, could have carried off so deliciously.

'The Great Stone Face' himself – Buster Keaton – must be smiling in Heaven, at "Maryada Ramanna".
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Agneepath (2012)
Bloody, Brutal ... but Brilliant
29 January 2012
A fascinating tale of moral redemption.

Images so powerful they linger in the mind hours after they've left the screen.

And the eyes, always the eyes … the eyes of Evil, the eyes of Truth.

A young man (Hrithik Roshan) must tread the dark and difficult 'path through fire' -- lit., 'agneepath' -- of challenge and personal sacrifice to avenge his family against the crimelord (Sanjay Dutt) who brutally murdered his father, dishonoured his family, and corrupted their whole community.

If the classic 1990 "Agneepath" pioneered one of the strongest stories ever in film (and was way ahead of its time, for Hindi cinema), this 2012 "Agneepath" preserves the most effective elements of that brilliant original story and revamps what needed help. Our villain is even more evil, and the road of challenges our hero must overcome to defeat him is correspondingly an even darker, more treacherous journey.

Raw. Powerful. Primeval.

Sanjay Dutt's Kancha is a villain for the ages. Visually, he scared me just on the poster! A big, bad, very bad man. The bald head, the tattoos, the smile, the laugh, the spreading shapeless pale blobbiness of his huge bulk, and above all those hauntingly sick eyes, combine to render Mr Dutt's Kancha one of the most naturally frightening villains ever conceived. Where the original 1990 Kancha Cheena played by Danny Denzongpa was sleek and smooth and sophisticated, his evil was very modern and straightforward in open pursuit of power and wealth – and thus more familiar. Mr Dutt's Kancha, however, is pure psychopath: he destroys and kills because he LIKES it. And even though the audience understand how he became so twisted, that sickness makes him very scary indeed … the visual embodiment of human evil.

What I could *not* anticipate from the trailers, though, is how Hrithik Roshan's Vijay Dinanath Chauhan would prove equally intimidating and visually frightening as Mr Dutt's Kancha: with those keen clear eyes knifing through his face awash in blood, Mr Roshan's Vijay looks purely the Avenger-from-Hell. Director Karan Malhotra effectively channels Mr Roshan's natural intensity into a human sword of vengeance – a quiet character who 'says' a lot from the shadows, projects mountains of lurking threat and menace, even where he has no dialogue. Again the eyes, always the eyes in this film! Never before had any director so effectively used the sheer glow-in-the-dark luminosity of Mr Roshan's eyes. The iconic 1990 Vijay created by the great Amitabh Bachchan (one of his most memorable roles) was significantly older and more verbally aggressive, the character more seduced by the trappings of power and wealth, only refocussing on his essential task toward the very end. By contrast, Mr Roshan's Vijay leads a haunted, almost monk-like existence, never losing focus down the years toward destroying his enemy. Obsessed, relentless, deadly – and a perfect showcase for Mr Roshan to demonstrate, yet again, his great dramatic range as an actor.

Mr Roshan and Mr Dutt are so riveting in this film that any scenes they are not in, separately or together, honestly feel like a distraction.

Despite 12 intervening years these two great actors have lost none of the chemistry that powered 2000's excellent "Mission Kashmir". Mr Roshan is slightly the taller actor, Mr Dutt significantly the heavier, but the two are so perfectly matched and the build-up so well laid that by the climax of this "Agneepath" audience anticipation could not be higher ... or more well-rewarded.

An unforgettable, 'must-see' film!

This, despite certain of the supporting roles being poorly cast (rather shockingly, for such a high-profile project from a major production house). The performances of both Vijay's new parents were competent but undistinguished; Alok Nath as Vijay's father in the 1990 film was far superior. I quite liked the concept behind the new dark character Rauf Lala; however, naturally clown-faced Rishi Kapoor brought inadequate menace to this baddie, at least for me. (And I'll swear they made Mr Kapoor's wig out of cheap carpeting!) But easily the worst miscasting? The 12-year-old Vijay – any boy less likely, in form or colouring or behaviour, to grow into 'Hrithik Roshan' as an adult Vijay would be seriously hard to find! What were they thinking? Anyone curious about what did grow into Hrithik Roshan need look no further than 1986's "Bhagwaan Dada", wherein you'll discover that Hrithik Roshan himself at age 12 looked exactly as any reasonable person might expect: a tall skinny boy with fair skin, light green eyes, brown hair, and already the distinctively-perfect profile. But the young Vijay cast here looked so glaringly out of place – too loud, too heavy, too dark, too coarse – that every flashback (of which there are far too many) with this boy jerked me completely out of the story. Again, the original casting in the 1990 film was much more believable in that specific role.

On the plus side, however, certain female characters are much stronger and more three-dimensional in this 2012 version. Priyanka Chopra was simply outstanding as Vijay's lover and only friend, the new character Kaali – one of her best-ever performances, despite limited minutes.. Newcomer Kanika Tiwari also impressed, as Vijay's younger sister.

Veteran actor Om Puri was also extremely effective as Commissioner Gaitonde, Vijay's sometime-conscience and sometime-ally. His scenes with Mr Roshan were particularly good.

Even Katrina Kaif's jaw-dropping item number, "Chikni Chameli", may prove classic: who would have thought one could do THAT with a booze bottle!

Special credit is due the highest standards of craft professionalism that distinguish this 2012 "Agneepath", notably these departments: Cinematography (exceptional lighting and shot selection, especially with the principal actors) – Kiran Deohans and Ravi K Chandran; Sound and Sound Editing (variety and scope, silent private moments to mass public festivals, all perfectly managed) – Stephen Gomes; and Stunts/Fight Choreography (so many action scenes, but each distinct and cumulatively building to the truly epic climax) – Abbas Ali Moghul.
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Disappointing on every level
3 November 2011
When I happened upon "Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic" at my local library, knowing nothing else about this film beforehand, the DVD presentation caught my eye as a good bet for an undemanding evening's entertainment: a simple light-hearted nanny story along lines of "Mary Poppins" or "The Sound of Music", presented by a solid star cast (Rani Mukherjee, Saif Ali Khan, Amisha Patel) whose work elsewhere I have much enjoyed.

How could such a project -- with so many good things going for it -- go so terribly wrong?

"Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic", however, disappoints in every way.

The script/dialogues were so stale and hackneyed the writer should be shot at dawn.

The director (Kunal Kohli) was asleep at the switch. Or so obsessed with packaging a 'commercial' project from tired formulae that he disregarded any concern with sense or quality.

['Commercialism' didn't work. The film lost money bigtime, anyway.]

Casting? The four children (who looked completely unalike) cast in the key roles as the four orphans at the heart of the story have to be THE least engaging, THE least talented, even THE least 'likeable' child actors I've seen in any movie for many years ... such completely unappealing, even outright repulsive children, that while watching this movie I found myself actually thinking the dead parents had had a lucky escape!

Rishi Kapoor's cameo appearance as God -- and a strangely ineffectual god at that, whether large or small "G" -- was a complete throwaway, underwritten and charmless.

What bothered me about this film most of all, I think, was the fundamental 'meanness of spirit' that pervaded the whole movie ... a meanness, even open maliciousness, that felt especially out of place given the genre and context.

Even music by the normally gifted Shankar Ehsaan Loy couldn't save this turkey.

"2" rather than "1" (IMDb's lowest possible rating) purely to credit actors Saif Ali Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Amisha Patel, and Sharat Saxena for their brave efforts, through individual performance, to try bringing anything useful whatsoever out of their poorly conceived and badly written characters in this hopelessly failed story.
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Bhagwaan Dada (1986)
Hard to find ... but 25 years on, still well worth a watch
11 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The 1986 Hindi film "Bhagwaan Dada" remains significant today, for any number of reasons.

The core storyline is compelling: a criminal (the title character, played by Rajnikanth) becomes morally redeemed through his love for a child.

This was an early North India film for Rajnikanth, who was already in 1986 the ultimate film action hero of South India.

The fight sequences are exciting and entertaining throughout, consistent with the acrobatic action style preferred at the time. The climactic battle of Bhagwaan (Rajnikanth) with his former crimelord 'dada' Shambu (Danny Denzongpa) is simply classic.

The story explores how this reformed criminal, ostensibly all alone in the world, gradually builds a 'family' about himself and unites a whole community. A subplot develops a romance between gentle Swaroop (Rakesh Roshan), Bhagwaan's adoptive 'brother', and the brave young woman Bijli (Sridevi) whom Bhagwaan ultimately adopts as his 'sister'.

Several charming dance sequences showcase the versatility of Sridevi, and the music by Rajesh Roshan (Rakesh's brother) also delights.

Altogether, a complete entertainer.

25 years on, however, "Bhagwaan Dada"'s most enduring legacy: future Hindi film superstar – Hrithik Roshan – in his only real role as a child actor.

As young Govinda, Bhagwaan's adopted son, his role was central to the whole storyline and necessarily entrusted with carrying more of the plot than is usual with child parts. For this film to work it was essential that the audience fully accept Govinda, not just as the motivation for Bhagwaan Dada's reformation, but as the cherished heart of the whole larger community around them. Young Mr Roshan's endearingly mischievous but earnest and good-hearted Govinda completely delivered.

Even raw and untutored at 12, the man-who-really-would-be-Emperor – "Jodhaa Akbar", 2008 – showed in this early "Bhagwaan Dada" fascinating glimpses of things-to-come.

There was already a distinctive ease and ... naturalness ... of expression and movement, all the more remarkable in an untrained child. Physically at that time he projected, as preadolescents will, a charmingly 'puppy-ish' quality of waiting to grow into their feet (already, in his case, longer than any of the adults in the film). But there was no awkwardness, somehow. "Bhagwaan Dada" required him to share dialogue with some of the biggest stars of the day, dance with first Rajnikanth and later Sridevi, even sing a short song a capella. No problem! Perhaps even more remarkably, this film required the child in this role to fight adult characters. And make it believable. And ... he does. Just freeze-frame his early training sequence on the beach (initial song with Rajnikanth) and you'll see what I mean: the total focus and almost frightening intensity in that young face, an early harbinger of what would later become a trademark in the man's adult work. Hey, this kid even died well! Sorry for the spoiler but yes, Govinda dies in the film. Govinda's brutal murder at the hands, or rather feet, of the evil Shambu Dada is the catalyst that drives the climax of the film, so it was absolutely critical that Govinda's death scene 'work' for the audience. How did young Mr Roshan respond to the challenge? Only deliver what has to be reckoned the best dramatic performance in the whole film – heartwrenching yet completely natural in delivery, in a way that was not at all the style prevailing in Hindi film at the time. Clear foreshadowing of "things-to-come" later as an adult.

And the face? Even as a preadolescent child with swollen cheeks from cutting teeth, this was so clearly THE face we now know so well as Hrithik Roshan's and Nobody Else that it honestly comes as a shock, when the character opens his mouth to speak for the first time and a little boy's voice comes out.

Perhaps the most telling glimpse of this "things-to-come" element is apparent in the unguarded reactions of the adult actors to young Hrithik during one take which, probably, they all assumed would be cut from the final edit ... but which, no doubt thanks to an adoring Grandpa behind the camera (Director J. Om Prakash is Hrithik Roshan's maternal grandfather) was retained in the final film.

Remember, in 1986 Sridevi and Rajnikanth were already both major superstars. Rakesh Roshan (Hrithik's father, whom he resembles in colouring but thankfully in little else) was himself an established leading man as a Hindi film actor, soon to become an even better director. The fourth adult present was the veteran character actress playing Swaroop's mother. The shot is Govinda dancing across in front of the four adults and singing his little song about his 'uncle' Swaroop's marriage procession and how he, Govinda, will "dance with joy". All of which he does. So far, so good. But then Hrithik keeps going. Still singing his little "dance with joy" song, he moonwalks backward á là Michael Jackson – (which all the kids were doing those days, as witness 1987's "Mr India") – executes a perfect little step turn, and moonwalks back again. He earns, and receives, a gentle swat from Sridevi herself for his efforts. But look at the faces of all four adult actors throughout all this bit: they're absolutely cracking up, every single one of them, Sridevi on down. Real-life daddy Rakesh Roshan gestures to screen daddy Rajnikanth as though to say, "You see what I have to put up with?" Delicious! And since the sheer outrageousness of the moment does work, to underscore the charm and playfulness of the Govinda character, the full take was retained.

The world of film today is hugely fortunate to enjoy the accomplished adult work of 'That Kid' whose early childhood promise clearly impressed those seasoned actors so many years ago.

25 years later, "Bhagwaan Dada" still has much to offer anyone interested in the development of the industry, in the craft of performance and acting ... or simply the enjoyment of an entertaining movie well told.
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Perfect summer movie about the journey of Life
15 July 2011
"Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" (ZNMD) is a complex, honest, and thoroughly refreshing story about friendship, about love, about choices, about ... well ... the journey of Life (lit. 'zindagi'). Writer-Director Zoya Akhtar takes three characters we might think we've seen before ... but deftly makes them original, fresh, and unexpectedly engaging. Her intelligent script perfectly balances the very real, even painful, personal transformation of each character with moments of joy, wit, charm, and humour.

No one's Life Journey is ever quite what one plans!

Our protagonists? Three best friends since childhood: Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), now an investment broker in London; Imraan (Farhan Akhtar), an advertising copywriter in Delhi; and Kabir (Abhay Deol), a construction architect in Mumbai. Ten years after college Kabir's imminent wedding impels 'The Three Musketeers -- all for one, and one for all!' -- to finally embark on the many-times-deferred adventure challenge they'd always planned.

ZNMD explores whether three grown men can survive a 3-week road trip together *and* still remain friends *and* still be the same people.

Think you've heard similar, before? Guess again! Ms Akhtar elevates the basic 'road movie' premise into something rare and sublime: brilliant character-driven comedy never cheap but often laugh-out-loud funny, and so true to life and people each of us actually know that it genuinely moves the heart as well as the mind and funny-bone. As each ZNMD character in turn challenges his own fear, whatever personal demon that has been holding back his life, it becomes our victory, too.

See ZNMD and discover: *your* life may change, too!

Such strong story and plot would be lost, without great acting.

Farhan Akhtar just gets better and better, as an actor, every time out of the gate. Already one of India's best young directors, his deceptively brash but sensitive and layered acting in ZNMD is quiet excellence ... and deliciously funny.

Abhay Deol is not exciting, but I like his potential. A good foil for the other two.

However the real revelation in ZNMD is, most surprisingly, he whom we might have *thought* most familiar. Hrithik Roshan we see so often in heavy dramatic and/or demanding multi-part roles -- because, let's face it, he's that rare actor who CAN do them, and do them brilliantly well -- that it's easy to forget just how plain damn funny and versatile he can be. Casting one of the world's more notorious compulsive workaholics as, well, a compulsive workaholic? Absolute genius!

On the distaff side ... Katrina Kaif. Wow! Where did this performance come from? She's always been beautiful, of course, but in ZNMD for the first time she shows subtlety and depth as an actress. Easily, her very best work to date.

Cannot finish without special mention of the fantastic music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy, long my favourite Hindi film composers. Their ZNMD soundtrack perfectly backdrops the film's emotional journey. Irresistibly hummable music spans the full range of moods and emotions, much like our three main characters: everything from amusingly lighthearted ('Senorita', sung by Mssrs Roshan, Akhtar, & Deol) to cool and modern ('Ik Junoon -- Paint It Red') to reflective ('Der Lagi Lakin') and even unabashedly romantic ('Khaabon Ke Parinday').

But the rocking 'Dil Dhadakne Do' seems to capture the very Joy of Living ... and that is the ultimate spirit of Zoya Akhtar's ZNMD.

Perfect summer movie! 10/10

Best film I've seen yet from anywhere in the world, thus far in 2011.
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Sit back, and watch The Man go to work!
14 July 2011
"Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap" is -- first, last, and altogether -- an Amitabh Bachchan vehicle. And how!

The Man may be, bless him, all of 68 years old (69 in October, apparently) but he hasn't lost a step. Charming, witty, even sexy, he's still an effective action hero in a role that, honestly, I don't think ANYONE else could have pulled off.

For a film sporting the tagline 'Big B Is Back' ... (where had he gone? an actor who shoots as many films as HE does every year?) ... this completely character-driven action comedy about a supposedly retired hit-man showcases all the full range of qualities Amitabh Bachchan can bring to the screen. Drama. Romance. Action. Comedy. What doesn't The Man do? Here he even sings -- in his uniquely growly, gnarly voice -- every song in the film.

Absolutely delicious!

The character, if not the story or scenario, is fresh and original.

Most of the supporting cast take a back seat, here. Sonu Sood, for instance, merely had to look butch and hit the gym, for his undemanding role here as an honest policeman. But who really cares?

And, to give credit where credit is definitely due, two Actors-Not-Called-Bachchan also brought particularly good work.

Prakash Raj -- the South Indian veteran lead actor from such disparate films as charming Telugu comedy, 2009's "Aakasamantha" and classic Tamil political drama, 1997's "Iruvar" -- matches Mr Bachchan shot for shot, as the evil mafialord Kabir. Their final confrontation delights.

Special credit, though, to a lesser known actor who proves anew that old saw about 'no small parts, only small actors'. Makrand Deshpande, whom I last saw beating up Mr Bachchan's real-life daughter-in-law (Aishwarya Rai) in last year's brilliant "Guzaarish", here converts a small but much more sympathetic part as a would-be bad guy into someone the audience unexpectedly enjoys and connects with.

Bottom Line, though: Amitabh Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan.

Savour while ye can!
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Perfectly charming -- and original -- family comedy
16 March 2011
Raghuram (Prakash Raj) and his wife Anu (Aishwarya) seem to lead a perfect life. They love each other dearly. They are financially comfortable, owners of a tea plantation near Coimbatore. They enjoy a lovely home in a garden-like community with good neighbours. They have no health or other major problems. Best of all, they have been blessed with a wonderful child, a daughter named Abhi (played by 3 different actresses at different ages).

But trouble looms in paradise ... .

Raghuram loves his little daughter so much that he becomes obsessed with trying to guide, or control, her every step. Thus as Abhi grows, the real challenge for both daughter and mother is helping the father learn -- with charmingly comic results -- how to trust his daughter to live her own life. By the time Abhi (now played by Trisha Krishnan) reaches adulthood, Raghuram finally realises he has had to 'grow up' even more than she has.

I found this 2009 Telugu film "Aakasamantha" (DVD English alternate title "I Love My Daughter") enormously refreshing.

Although perfectly suitable for all audiences, "Aakasamantha" never condescends to any. Children will understand and enjoy this story at the same time their adults appreciate whole other layers of meaning from Raghuram's experience.

Thankfully!, this film avoids completely the nauseating sappiness or oversentimentality, predictable melodrama, that plague most so-called family films, East or West. Just as "Aakasamantha" never condescends to its audience, neither does it condescend toward its story or characters.

Frequently laugh-out-loud funny -- "Aakasamantha" enjoys a particularly well-written script, presented by a skilled cast -- the humour is fresh, complex, and completely character-driven.

I particularly love how 'real' these characters felt to me. Despite being a fictional story in another language from the opposite point on the globe from my own, each character felt like someone I already know and could recognise from my own life, my own neighbourhood.

A charming and original film. Highly recommended.
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Guzaarish (2010)
Absolute Must See film -- 'come fall back in love with life'
19 November 2010
Yes, "Guzaarish" is THAT good.

"Guzaarish" will not just upgrade your expectation of what is possible to achieve through the medium of film. "Guzaarish" will change your life.

Easily the best film of 2010 -- anywhere -- "Guzaarish" joins the ten or so truly seminal movies throughout cinema history that are so groundbreaking and perfectly executed that we leave the experience seeing the world, even our own lives, in some fundamentally different way.


"Guzaarish" is the masterpiece of famed director Sanjay Leela Bhansali ("Black", "Devdas", etc.) who here not only directed but wrote the script, co-produced the film, and composed the music.

The core storyline is borrowed from the 1981 classic "Whose Life Is It Anyway?", in turn adapted from the Broadway and West End multi-award-winning play of the same title: an artist (originally a sculptor, here a great magician), quadriplegic after an accident, when his internal organs start failing petitions a court for the right to end his own life, inciting a whirlwind of controversy in the lives of all those who love and care for him. But do not be deterred by the bleak-sounding premise. Through the genius of Bhansali -- and actors Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan -- "Guzaarish" transcends any and all preconceptions. "Guzaarish" becomes a joyous celebration of Life, of living every moment to the full and living with dignity.

Mr Bhansali stated at the music launch that unless both Mr Roshan and Ms Rai signed for the project, he would not have attempted this film.

The resulting film proves Bhansali's point: no other actors but the individually so-gifted Mr Roshan and Ms Rai -- AND their matchless on screen synergy together -- could have brought "Guzaarish" its power and magic.

But in the safe hands of Bhansali, Roshan, and Rai you really will 'come fall back in love with life'.

"Guzaarish" joins my personal list of the 10 Best Films Ever Made.
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Kites (I) (2010)
ALMOST a great movie . . .
11 November 2010
"Kites" is a bravely attempted film well worth watching for many unique elements. The occasionally mystifying failures of "Kites" fascinate, as much as its often noteworthy achievements.

I wanted to like this film ... .

The casting was good and performances excellent. The endlessly gifted Hrithik Roshan is, simply, the best actor of his generation. The mature and even compelling performance he delivers here as a grey character lifts "Kites" to another level. The Mexican costar I'd never heard of before, Barbara Mori, was alright. Kangana Ranaut was even better, as the rather sweet rich girl Mr Roshan's character targets to exploit. Kabir Bedi, as the girl's father whose casino ownership covers mob activities, was very good and could usefully have been given more story in better balance with Nicholas Brown, the brother who served as chief baddie. Special recognition is due Yuri Suri (general Bairam Khan to Mr Roshan's emperor, from "Jodhaa Akbar") for an outstanding performance in a small but critical role as the mobster family's chauffeur.

Unfortunately the story – and direction – fail the performances.

To understand why "Kites" disappointed at the box office, look no further than the weak ending. After two hours bonding with a film's protagonists and following their troubles an audience expects and has even earned some emotional payoff at the end. Whether positive or negative, the tone of the outcome should mesh with the overall tone of the story. But "Kites" in a sense cheats its audience: its set-up does not justify this particular end.

The multiplicity of languages doesn't help. Subtitled English or Hindi dialogue is one thing, but when they start throwing in Spanish, too ... the resulting babel was confusing enough even for someone like me who's used to reading subtitles. What Indian audiences, many of them native speakers of languages other than Hindi perhaps, might have made of this three-language mess I can only imagine.

I am not impressed by Anurag Basu's direction. So many of this film's basic story and communication problems could have been fixed simply by unfolding the story strictly from one point-of-view: Jay Ray (Mr Roshan), the central character, so that the audience understands – and where necessary, misunderstands – everything from that one perspective. But when Mr Basu repeatedly has Jay understanding one thing and the audience, through misleading subtitles, something else altogether, the story spins out of control and loses focus.

There ARE some truly brilliant moments here. The shadow puppet sequence. The yellow van scene. The champagne-on-the-rooftop 'divorce'. The whole '3 months earlier' sequence introducing Jay's life in Las Vegas – performance, editing, cinematography, musical score – is fantastically effective to establish the character and set tone and mood, climaxing in the mindblowingly powerful 'Fire' – gods, can that man dance! – which leaves the audience totally primed to follow this character anywhere. But Mr Basu's direction is not able to sustain that same energy as the story progresses.

I believe Mr Basu's greatest single failure, however, is not convincing us how, why, or even if Jay and Linda love each other. This is fatal, since the whole plot turns on it. When Mr Basu leaves his audience wondering if their love is only situational (i.e., we're-in-this-together-because-people-are-trying-to-kill-us), it undercuts the whole story. Despite the director's repeated and very visual emphasis on the physical perfection of his two stars – bare chest and bikini shots abound – he does not, for instance, have them react to or even much notice each other's character's physicality. And under Mr Basu's hand the misunderstandings and miscommunications between the two central characters, even when quite remarkably funny, come through much more strongly for the audience than anything seeming to draw the purported lovers together. What kind of 'love story' is it, if an audience reasonably has cause to doubt whether the couple could be happy together even if they do get together?

Still, a bold and intriguing experiment, well worth watching.

In Hollywood this story might have been pitched as "Saturday Night Fever" meets "Thelma and Louise" with narrative structure from "The Hangover". And it ALMOST works.

The production values – cinematography, sound, musical score, visual design – of "Kites" are uniformly excellent. The action sequences are well-mounted, even expensively mounted. The outstanding, complex, and challenging performance by Mr Roshan is almost, by itself, enough to raise the film beyond the limitations of Mr Basu's flawed direction.

There are great pieces within "Kites" ... even if those pieces do not, in the end, fit together as the same puzzle.
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Our Mutual Friend (1998– )
Exceptional Cast crippled by Failures of Plot and Story
8 November 2007
This recent BBC filmed version of Dickens' "Our Mutual Friend" was a big budget project that fell far short of lofty ambitions. The film clearly wanted to be a grand sweeping epic of the Victorian Era, but ultimately this story did not have much to say.

Conceived as a massive 6-hour work to be presented in four ninety-minute segments, the plotting is so heavy-handed and obvious, even tedious, that lopping a full quarter out of the whole could only have improved the story and pacing. As it was, the primary plot elements were so unoriginal and timeworn that – even though previously unfamiliar with either this Dickens original book or other filmed adaptations of it – I found no suspense whatsoever to one of the two main plot lines to the story. What Happened was clearly implicit to me from the get-go. The timing of When this What later Happened thus presented comparatively little incentive for my interest..

The fatal script shortcomings of "Our Mutual Friend" appeared to me even more striking by contrast against another recent BBC release – "Under The Greenwood Tree" (2005) – which I had just viewed for the first time a short while previously. Where "Our Mutual Friend" squandered so much time and talent telling an ostentatiously complex story that proved superficial and obvious, "Under The Greenwood Tree" succeeded brilliantly in conveying ... (despite only ninety minutes, and a much smaller budget) ... a deceptively simple story that nonetheless captured layer upon layer of universal relevance and deep meaning.

By no means, however, should the failings of "Our Mutual Friend" be attributed to its performers, who were uniformly excellent from top to bottom.

In form "Our Mutual Friend" presents two separate but occasionally intersecting plot lines. Through the strength of their performances, Steven Mackintosh and Anna Friel brought to the Painfully Obvious half of the story more interest than the weakness of that storyline could otherwise have generated. Paul McGann and Keeley Hawes, however, were even better – though it must be confessed the beautifully modulated tones of Ms. Hawes seemed a long way from the docklands dialect her role suggested. Supporting performances by such veteran character actors as Peter Vaughan and Pam Ferris (as the inimitable Boffins) brought richness and depth to material that otherwise would have been completely forgettable, though if I had to pick one actor who triumphed far and above the limitations inherent in his role it would be David Bradley (best known as Argus Filch from the "Harry Potter" canon) creating a memorably rascally Roger Riderhood.

Sit through "Our Mutual Friend" – once – to enjoy exceptional performances from a great cast of exceptional British actors. Rent – once – but not buy.

3 out of 10.
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Under the Greenwood Tree (2005 TV Movie)
Quiet Revolution
18 October 2007
A simple love story on the surface, the deeper genius of "Under The Greenwood Tree" lies in the understated brilliance with which it encapsulates – in a particularly moving and emotionally evocative way – the great social revolution that underlay the 19th Century.

The young schoolmistress newly arrived in a small rural village is sought in marriage by each of the three men who fall in love with her. But in this tale nothing, not even romance, proves quite as simple as first it appears.

We discover that the woman, Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes), is herself the product of a classic misalliance. Torn between the conflicting classes and cultures of her heritage, she feels herself part of neither. Her great life challenge is finding where she belongs in the world, and this internal conflict deeply colours her struggle to choose among her three suitors.

None of the three suitors, however, is quite what he first seems either – and yet each, in his own particular way, does love this woman.

The richest man in the area, Farmer Shiner (Steve Pemberton) we learn is a self-made man of a uniquely 19th Century sort. He may be descended from the traditional English yeoman farmers who had been small freeholders since Saxon days. But the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution would increasingly benefit larger scale farms over small. Farmers who, like Mr. Shiner, had the daring and foresight to increase their holdings beyond that held by their fathers were best positioned to survive and prosper under these new economic conditions.

Parson Maybold (Ben Miles) represents traditional birth and education, as opposed to new money, in the world of this village. But even he describes himself as a 'modern man' who believes in 'Progress'. As Mr. Maybold says in his Christmas Day sermon at the film's outset, 'The world is changing, and we must change with it.' To this end, he has hired Miss Day as village schoolmistress, so that even the poorest children in the area will learn basic skills they may need to cope with the changing world. All these values would have sounded alien just a generation before.

Yet it is the man who initially appears most straightforward who ultimately proves the most complex: Dick Dewy (James Murray), whose family have been the local carters or carriers in the area since time immemorial. When we first meet young Dick he seems simple, lighthearted, and uncomplicated. But as the story progresses, the challenge he faces becomes nothing less than the great social revolution of the 19th Century: men suddenly realising that their life choices need not echo that of their fathers. The evolving relationship between Dick and his father, Reuben Dewy (Tony Haygarth) is central not just to the film but to our understanding of the whole era. Dick's response to what I shall describe only as the 'Tea Incident' subtly presents a Declaration of the Rights of Man. Dick's later victory for self-respect thus becomes, in a sense, a victory for us all.

I find it significant that in this story the gentry, or traditional ruling class, is completely absent. This would not have been possible in an earlier generation. Jane Austen, for instance, could not have written this story. But by 1840 (when our story was set), and even moreso by 1872 (when the original novel was published), the real power structures throughout the rapidly industrializing world were changing, making omission of the gentry in both book and film not only reasonable but appropriate.

This recent BBC release of "Under The Greenwood Tree" is distinguished by brilliantly nuanced performances, not just from all principal actors but an extraordinarily strong supporting cast. Special credit is due Ashley Pharaoh for a truly inspired screenplay which is both more focused and more emotionally moving than Thomas Hardy's rather rambling original novel.

Beautifully realised in every detail, this village of Mellstock exists simultaneously nowhere – and everywhere. This is a romantic idyll of a time and a place where even the village idiot, Thomas Leaf (deliciously played by Richard Leaf), could feel accepted and part of a warm and loving community … whatever deep currents disturb its deceptively still waters.

10 out of 10. Highest recommendation.
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An Unexpectedly Haunting & Beautiful Film . . .
21 June 2006
There IS a quality to "The Lake House" that lingers in the mind days afterward.

For a film in which the element of Time is uniquely important, "The Lake House" manages to convey an odd sense of universal timelessness. It is as though the specific When is less relevant than the universality of human thought, feeling, and decision. An almost mystical quality.

"The Lake House" is that rare film which not only invites but welcomes a repeat viewing. The first time simply follow What happens in the story. See the film again to more fully enjoy How this story elegantly unfolds.

This is NOT a time travel film. Repeat, NOT. Each character in this film experiences only his or her own natural time moving forward in the usual linear chronological way. What changes is each character's perspective on what they are experiencing over time, and how each's perception of their Past informs Present decisions which impact Future events.

If I had to pick one theme to describe this picture: at the time they occur, we may not even recognize the most important encounters or events in our lives.

Alex (Keanu Reeves) and Kate (Sandra Bullock) are two seemingly unconnected persons who have lived in the lake house of the title – exactly two years apart. Through seeming accident they find that they can communicate with each other directly, in immediate personally experienced time, through the mysterious mailbox at the lake house. We then follow the often startling events each experiences – and writes about to the other – over the next two years of their lives, Alex from February of 2004 to 2006, Kate from February 2006 to 2008. The result is . . . an extraordinary film that both satisfies the intellect and engages on a surprisingly emotional level.

Their roles here are a significant departure from usual for both Reeves and Bullock, but not to worry. Individually, this is either's best work anywhere. Collectively, their chemistry is exceptional. Subplots in the story are developed through some superb supporting performances, most notably the two parents. Christopher Plummer is achingly brilliant as Alex' demanding genius architect father, and Dutch actress Willeke van Ammelrooy positively oozes wit and warmth as Kate's mother.

The lake house itself . . . physically brings out so much emotional subtext in this film that it ought to be credited as a separate character. (If no artist/architect has actually built this house, they should!)

Altogether, "The Lake House" is one of most rewarding films of any type I have seen in many years.

HIGHLY recommended.
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An Absolute Delight! -- Brilliantly Brings to Life Emotional Core of the Classic Love Story
16 May 2005
"Bride & Prejudice" is truly a 'labour of love': co-written by the British expatriate Indian director Gurinder Chadha and her real-life Japanese-American husband, Paul Mayeda Berges, from the original novel "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.

Translating a 200-year-old novel, which addressed a very acute slice of a very specific culture, to a modern cross-cultural story that embraces three continents . . . cannot be a simple task. Add the decision to incorporate the conventions of India's 'Bollywood' musical films – literally "laughter, colour, light, and sound" – and shoot the film with separate film crews in three countries, with actors from three highly disparate cinematic traditions . . . this was a daring project, to be sure. But in the deft and loving hands of Ms. Chadha ("Bend It Like Beckham", "Bhaji on the Beach") the end result is amazingly successful: all the fun and colour of a full-scale Bollywood extravaganza, yet remaining true to the timeless emotional core of the classic original material.

This adaptation works because Ms. Chadha reminds us – in a particularly loving and life-affirming way – of certain universal truths about human behaviour that are just as powerful today as they were during Ms. Austen's time, truths we recognize from our own experience. Lovers DO have misunderstandings and make painful mistakes. Lovers DO behave in peculiar ways that might appear ridiculous. Lovers can only succeed if they DO persevere and work through their misunderstandings and obstacles.

The Bollywood musical form employed here by Ms. Chadha expresses particularly well the sheer emotional quality of falling in love that Hollywood seems to have forgot.

The power of this classic love story between the enigmatic Darcy (Martin Henderson) and the intrepid Lizzie Bennet (here "Lalita Bakshi", in the justifiably much-vaunted English language debut of Indian superstar Aishwarya Rai) continues to affect us today because it taps into this timeless fascination with lovers and their follies. These are fictional characters. Yet they 'feel true', because we as real human beings can identify so directly with what each is going through.

The Bollywood sensibilities employed in this film to tell this story dare to remind a Western audience that there IS more (or should be more) to love and romance than lust. The symbolic emotive power . . . of a single red rose, or a midnight dance in a fountain, or a quiet embrace in the sunset . . . feels fresh and original after the bone-chilling cynicism that dominates Western film.

If you cannot enjoy "Bride and Prejudice" you should be looking hard within yourself at the reasons why . . . and perhaps check for a pulse!
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