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Just about makes the pass grade
Kaavalan is the Tamil version of Bodyguard. It was the first Vijay starrer I saw in its entirety.
The first hour is intolerably bad, full of what I suppose is the typical Vijay film schtick. He looks quite funny when beating up a dozen or so thugs simultaneously, so skinny and harmless-looking he is in terms of attitude. Vadivelu plays one of the least funny and least necessary comic reliefs in the history of cinema. Tamil cinema needs to let go this obsession with comic reliefs. It's especially not needed in a film like this where the screenplay is so full of ridiculous characters and occurrences that it's impossible to keep a straight face anyway :D Once the love story begins, the film improves and the last half an hour does manage to make an emotional impact, even if only on a superficial level. Its treatment is like a Karan Johar film and is even largey lifted from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Vijay sobers up and underplays his character, which made me think that he really has the potential to become a fine actor, but always chooses wrong scripts and bad directors like Dharani, Perarasu etc. He must approach some really competent directors like Mani Ratnam, Bala, Vetrimaaran etc.
One of the worst Hindi films I have seen in my life
If ever there was a film which was a shining example presenting how a director "drops the ball" once he smells big money and a way out of the congestion and claustrophobia of regional cinema, all made possible because a star with a humongous fan following took an interest in his screenplay, one need not look any further than Bodyguard. In his review of Ready, Raja Sen wrote, 'In this latest film, Khan seems to be pushing his own rather frightening envelope -- "How little can I get away with?" "Will they pay to just watch me smirk?" "Can I do this scene campy and that scene straight?" "Will the audience eat up random groin thrusts if only I use the hilarious word 'peoples' over and over again?"' But maybe Sen should have reserved these lines for a far more deserving thing which was to be served only a few months later.
At least in Ready, Salman was in his element. His sole strength as an actor and a performer lies in playing smug, self-assured, overconfident macho men with a knowing wink to the audience. Dramatic acting has never been his forte and never will be, since his overall attitude towards his profession and even personal life has always drifted towards imperturbable laziness. Unfortunately, Bodyguard requires the male lead to emote. It asks of him to play a simple-minded loverboy who goes through near-heartbreak at least twice and also a mature man in the last third who is now father and sole guardian to a child. What was going to happen?
By virtue of being a near-remake, Bodyguard inherits all the demerits of Kaavalan. And by letting go of all artistic ambition and control, Siddique lays a load of as many shortcomings on top of it. The combined effect is nothing short of monstrously brain-numbing. In Kaavalan, to his credit, Siddique created a believable set of character relationships and obtained fine performances out of all actors. In Bodyguard everything seems to be on autopilot. Here is an intro song number for the hero, there are couple of action scenes which present the hero to be almost God-like, add a fat guy who is expected to make audience laugh simply by the benefit of being what he is, make the heroine's reason for falling for the hero even more illogical then the original, and completely edit out the relationship between heroine and her best friend. The stunt work is inane, the dialogues are lame, the graphics are astoundingly shoddy for a big-budget 2011 Hindi film. In fact the whole mess reeks of hasty filming and haphazard post-production. I remember that prior to the release there were concerns in the industry circles about the lack of publicity and a lot of work on the final product still remaining till the eleventh hour. Of course, now it has all been forgotten due to obvious reasons.
How this became such a monstrous hit is unbelievable. But what's happened has happened and nothing can be done about it now. We just have to ensure now that this film is forgotten from the minds of viewers and also discourage potential viewers from viewing this and running the risk of damaging their sanity.
Overlong and miscast all around
Malhotra had one thing very clear in his mind: he wanted to make a brutal, visceral film. He wanted to make something that will appeal to the primal senses of male section of the audience. That is why the situations and dialogues cross many lines of decency. This is no ordinary namby-pamby Dharma production. Even the usual music played alongwith the Dharma Productions' logo (the tune of "Kuch Kuch Kota Hai") is changed to the upbeat dhol-taasha of "Deva Shree Ganesha".
Unfortunately, too much of anything starts to grate after a while. The thumping, rustic background score which sounds as a welcome respite from the typical piano-violin type scores we get to hear in so many other Indian films eventually ends up becoming a headache just like Amar Mohile's much-maligned score of Sarkar (another crime flick set in Mumbai and with Maharashtrian background).
The film fails to achieve the high levels of emotional drama played out in the original. The mother-son fracas is largely avoided and when it is finally touched upon, it is let go too soon without any emotional high point. Still, what comes as a surprise is the scene/sequence where Shiksha meets and spends a day with Vijay. It is the most touching and involving sequence in the entire film and for a short while you actually think that you are watching a film where human emotions do carry some weight and are not steamrollered under the weight of cold inhumanity which the film otherwise revels to show and wallow in.
Rishi Kapoor's second inning as an actor has now well and truly begun and I hope that it does last for a considerable while. I heard from someone/somewhere that he remarked in an interview that he has been enjoying acting much more now than he did in his heydays as a leading man because of the variety in roles and subjects that he is being offered. His casting was a masterstroke; not as much because he is a capable actor but because it was so unexpected. Not many people would have believed that he had it in him to play such a vicious, immoral character whom we end up loving to hate. The lines that he has to mouth and the attitude he has to sport are a stark contrast to all his earlier good guy roles. In fact, we can extend it to the roles played by all the males of Kapoor family. I wonder if his mother Krishna Raj Kapoor made her erstwhile good lad wash his mouth out with soap and phenyle after this? Kidding.
This one piece of casting stands out in stark contrast to the rest, who are uniformly miscast. The horrible example of Shabd should have drilled one thing in everyone's mind by now that Sanjay Dutt should never be given pure Hindi lines to mouth. It's hilarious to hear him pronounce "moha" as "moe". Not that he is entirely at fault; the way his character is conceived and written made me think if Malhotra and the other two writers were not on a cocaine binge all the time. Danny Denzongpa's Kancha Cheena worked because he was a familiar, archetypal villain working on familiar, archetypal lines the audience was comfortable with. Dutt's Kancha belongs to a different sort of film, not the typical good-versus-evil film which this is. Hrithik Roshan does not make any impact at all: he is either morose or displaying cheeks-and-nostril-flaring kind of anger. I do not wish to compare him to the verbose grandstanding flair of Amitabh Bachchan's Vijay Deenanath Chauhan. This Vijay is differently written. He is closer to the brooding Vijay of Deewaar than the Vijay of the original Agneepath. But Hrithik lacks the inner fire which is visible in the eyes of such a person all the time and threatens to erupt any time. Priyanka Chopra has nothing to do except shimmying in skimpy sarees, singing, dancing, injecting some minor humour and glamour and weep in some scenes. If all her scenes are edited out, nothing will be missed. Why, it will be half an hour lighter! Master Manjunath who was so believable in the original as the innocent boy who gets toughened up by circumstances is replaced by an untalented little runt who is only fit for appearing in Complan ads. Master Deenanath Chauhan in the original (Alok Nath) was loud and theatrical but at least he was believable as a passionate idealist. The actor who plays the role here just appears and then dies. No conviction of purpose is visible in him at all. All other actors are either not upto the mark or are similarly wasted.
Luckily the raw and largely un-stylized action sequences are the film's intermittent high points. This is not the kind of action in most Hindi films accompanied with the "dhishkyaon" and "dhishum" style sound effects which have been such a constant source of hilarity for cinema viewers for so long. Such things only take us away from the seriousnesss of the fighting and the bloodletting. Here, when a character punches or stabs another, I could almost feel it myself.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Now THIS is an EPIC.
Had heard about this for years but never got an opportunity to view it before now. Turned out to be slightly different from my expectations. It turned out not to have a well-defined plot but more a series of random incidents - at least in the beginning - which somehow lead the protagonist to the ultimate confrontation as if destiny has preordained it. There is also an emphasis on minimal dialogue which works in the film's favour by reducing clunky exposition and making it more of an action-packed visual spectacle. And of course Arnie is not the most lucid English speakers around so it's good that he has so little dialogue.
The film is full of gorgeous scenery and production design. II found it to be very different from the usual medieval fantasies - a lot more animalistic and primal, to be exact: notice the heads of animals carved on the ends of each of the arms of the Wheel of Pain and also the snakeskin-like outer walls of the Tower of Serpent.
A lot of people have lamented that Conan is made out to be a buffoon which clashes with the source writings. I did not consider it to be a problem within the film. Had Conan had a normal childhood with his parents by his side, there was a chance that he would have turned out to be an erudite and well-balanced individual. But this was not to be. He was forced into slavery and isolation at first and mindless fighting machine later. Doubtless his social skills would not have had much chance to develop. Once free, he passes through the world with a wide-eyed countenance which lends an aspect of apparent buffoonery in some people's eyes.
That doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of hilarity and weirdness in the film. The camel-punching scene is, of course, legendary but there are plenty other moments in the film. Why was Conan freed? Why were dogs set upon him afterward? Every time Conan sees something inexplicable, all he can manage to say is, "Crom!" in an awed voice as if it is a final, irrefutable explanation of things. Thulsa Doom and the wizard also provide plenty of entertainment with their restless, manic behaviour.
Thulsa Doom's temple reminded me strongly of Col. Kurtz's compound in Apocalypse Now. Since Milius was involved in both films, the connection is intentional, I guess.
Max von Sydow appears in only one speaking scene. The lines he is given are not exactly top-class but it is a proof of his brilliance that he makes them sound so good. In the hands of a lesser actor the performance would have been cringe-inducing.
All in all, I loved every bit of it. Basil Poledouris's magnificent score towers above everything. It takes its time in setting up the characters and their dilemmas instead of rushing into it in a workmanlike fashion, which was what the sequel did.
Murder, My Sweet (1944)
An enjoyable film based on a novel I don't like much
"Murder, My Sweet" is first proper adaptation of a Raymond Chandler novel featuring legendary detective Philip Marlowe. Title was changed from "Farewell, My Lovely" because it sounded like another lighthearted Dick Powell musical.
Speaking of Powell, I was not aware of his matinée idol image prior to doing this film. I haven't seen him in anything else, though as the director of the WWII submarine drama "The Enemy Below", he left a good impression on me. But I admit that I was skeptical. I cannot be blamed for being so because my idea of a perfect Marlowe is Bogart's portrayal of him in "The Big Sleep". I had my doubts whether Powell could match up to it. So you can imagine my pleasant surprise when it turned out that he did have it in him to match Bogart. Maybe he wasn't as outwardly tough but he definitely nailed it in the clinic scenes where he is in a drugged state and then coming out of it. I felt that he gave Marlowe a vulnerable and hence relatable edge.
I don't like the novel much. It has the expected hardboiled dialogue but I could not bring myself to care about any of the characters or the mystery, unlike The Big Sleep. Many fans of the novel crib on this film's board about the changes it made to the novel but I think that at least a few of them were for the better. I liked that the role of Grayle's aged husband was enlarged. It injected some genuine emotion in the film which otherwise might have ended up being another cold exercise in mystery solving. It also suited me better that instead of Marlowe stumbling into a mystery by accident, he was expressly hired by Moose Malloy to solve it.
Even if he is working on a low budget, Dmytryk employs a lot of interesting gimmicks and tricks to make the film interesting to look at. I loved the way Moose Malloy was introduced as an ominous reflection in the window. The design of the drug trip/withdrawal scene in the clinic had to be believable for it to work and it is certainly a striking feature, but my most memorable single image in the film would be the perfect match cut when Marlowe holds Marriott's driving licence in his hand and then it cuts to the same card in the hands of a detective.
And before I forget, Mike Mazurki was simply awesome in his role as the soft-hearted toughie Moose Malloy. He perfectly managed to make his character look dimwitted and menacing simultaneously.
Dick Tracy (1990)
Warren Beatty directs and stars in the first colour live-action adaptation of the iconic comic strip. Most characters find a place in the film, some of the villains having substantial amount of screen time roles like Big Boy Caprice, Flattop, Itchy and Pruneface, while some others like Little Face and Johnny Ramm make fleeting appearances. The cast is solid all around - Beatty, Pacino, Madonna, Glen Headly, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, R.G. Armstrong, Charles Durning, Seymour Cassel, Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino and Dick van Dyke. James Caan shows up in a great cameo as a bitter rival of Pacino's, plus Estelle Parsons is there as well and I was surprised to see Kathy Bates in a blink-and-miss bit part.
Many people dislike this one because it is 'cheesy'. I will admit that its sense of perfect good against complete evil is old-fashioned but it is based on a comic strip which originated in the crime-ridden 1930s, after all. For what it is, it is decent entertainment. The plot starts to come unravelled in the third act, since the storyline with "The Blank" and the twist about his identity makes little sense. A lot of footage Beatty had shot could not find its way in the theatres, maybe it contributed towards making the twist clearer. If the footage exists I would like to see a Director's cut some time. The film also features some excellent montages mostly set to songs.
Beatty is alright in the role, a bit stiff, but his character is of a one-dimensional good guy so I guess he couldn't do much. Charlie Korsmo does a decent job as well, there is a very nice emotional scene with both of them towards the climax, which was a surprising change from the tongue-in-cheek mood of the film till that point. Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice has the best role in the film, and he pantomimes his way through it in truly theatrical style. He is like a powder keg and goes completely bonkers in the end in spectacular fashion. Dustin Hoffman is also hilarious as Mumbles, I wish there were more scenes with him, his role in Big Boy's gang is not defined at all. The best appeal the film boasts of is its visual aesthetic, high on bright primary colours, impeccably framed by the Italian legend Vittorio Storaro. Madonna's poor performance and the weird final twist are the only major drawbacks.
Not a patch on the original.
"Ghilli" is the Tamil language remake of the Telugu film "Okkadu".
It is unfortunate that Dharani does not show any directorial stamp of his own, instead relying on the same techniques Gunasekhar had employed in the Telugu original. He makes a few (detrimental) changes in the screenplay to suit the star Vijay's image, such as addition of annoying comic sidekicks and making the scenes with his family more comic and OTT than the original, deleting all the sweet and enjoyable character interaction. Even the climax is hastily put together, without any buildup that the climax of the original had. The only two aspects where this version scores over its source is that Trisha makes for prettier eye candy than Bhoomika Chawla, and Vidyasagar's music is ROCKING and 100x better than Mani Sharma's forgettable score. Every song is enjoyable, but "Sura Thenga Adra Adra" which is the hero's intro song is my favourite, can't get enough of it.
An uncomplicated screenplay executed skillfully.
The most enjoyable Telugu film I have seen till date. This film does not try to force any message down our throat, or does not even try to be profound. It chooses a one-line straightforward story line and sticks with it till the end. That is the film's biggest strength : it is uncomplicated. It stays true to all the classical conventions of melodrama. There is a hero who is courageous, a heroine who is in trouble and needs to be saved, and a villain who is downright evil and obsessed about the heroine. These archetypes never waver during the course of the film. The hero has no deeper agenda to push other than helping a fellow person in distress and never falters in his self-imposed mission, the heroine is always weepy and surrounded by trouble until the hero's heroics instill a sense of confidence enough for her to grow some balls (metaphorically speaking, of course) and openly challenge the villain to prove his machismo to her by defeating the hero, and the villain never undergoes the slightest change of heart over anything. This single-minded focus on keeping things simple and yet highly engaging is where Gunasekhar and team achieve a victory.
Moving beyond the basic story, there's a lot to admire in the screenplay and direction. Gunasekhar loves overhead camera shots and uses them skillfully - whether it be in the opening scene where the hero is surrounded in a circle by the members of a rival street gang who are later upstaged by the hero's friends who surround them in an even bigger circle, or the same shot repeated in a different setting yet similar context when the villain surrounds the hero with his gang of henchmen, only to be upstaged again by the hero's gang.
Gunasekhar also banishes the achilles' heel of far too many south Indian films - the mandatory presence of a comic relief subplot. Instead, he utilises the time to build the portrait of the hero's caring family, with every member getting the due attention. The hero has a tendency to get into trouble with rival gangs, but he is also a dutiful son who helps his mother in kitchen. His father is a police officer who is obviously worried about his son and even angry at him at times, but their relationship never gets overly antagonistic as it could have been had the writer tried to resort on tried-and-tested character building tricks. In fact, it is interesting to look at the families of the three main archetypal characters - the hero's family is near-perfect, the heroine's family may be ravaged due to the villain's overtures but still hasn't collapsed, and the villain's family is quite unique : his mother, played with a great sense of joy and forcefulness by Telangana Sakuntala, is an extremely formidable and domineering woman who looks like she might exceed even her son in villainy. She loves to smoke cigars - cigars, mind you, not those puny cigarettes - , chomp on green chillies and always has a faithful dog right beside her.
This is the best Mahesh Babu performance I have seen till date. He is a one-note actor and he suits this mostly one-note character very well. He does not make a good anti-hero like he played in Pokiri. He should stick to characters like these. Bhoomika Chawla is rather annoying with her constantly weepy expression in the first two acts but as I have written above, does change her mannerisms for the better in the last third. Prakash Raj is good as usual. He has played similar characters so many times that it might give a deja vu feeling, but this film was where his reign as the top villain in south cinema started originally.