Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Treading the Fire

It was many years ago that Ram Gopal Varma announced himself as one of the most skilled filmmakers in the industry. He is perhaps most fondly remembered for giving Aamir Khan an unforgettable role in Rangeela, a film that also turned Urmila into an overnight star. His Satya undoubtedly won him the most critical acclaim, but it remains difficult to single out just one film from a director whose resume reads of Sarkar, Company, Kaun or even a Bhoot and a Mast. And so far we've only talked of direction. The list of creative films he has written and/or co-produced and the many assistants who turn director and attempt to mimic his style is rather endless. And now, after much talk, hype and controversy, his Sholay-inspired RGV Ki Aag is finally set to release this Friday.

Let it be said right now that the intention of this post is not to undermine Varma or any of his skills. I think the introduction rather proves that I am fully aware of his talent and also believe in his ability as a director. Nevertheless, Sholay is, in my most humble opinion, a film best left untouched. Especially when, as is this case with this endeavor, copyright laws are restricting you from using the same title or repeating character names, thus you end up with names that make your project sound more like a parody than a tribute.

With that, let's have a look at the casting, and where it all went wrong...

Ajay Devgan as Heero (Veeru)

We all know if there is one thing Ajay Devgan cannot do, it is comedy. He has tried and tried again, be it an Ishq or a Golmaal; or how about the recently disastrous Cash (see second post)? And for some reason beyond the world, RGV thought Ajay a good fit to Veeru.
True, Dharmendra was an action hero, too. But Dharmendra also had a flair for comedy that Ajay does not possess. On the contrary, Ajay would have been a perfect choice for Amitji's character, Jai. He's brooding and he's sarcastic - that is, if I'm not wrong, what defines Jai. Ajay getting silly drunk and climbing a tower to declare his love for the chatterbox Basanti? Yeah, I see it as a potential massacre, too.

So who should have been cast as Heero? Good question. I understand Varma's reservations about casting either of Dharmendra's actual sons. Let's face it - neither Sunny nor Bobby are good enough actors. And sure, like I said, you don't have to be a great actor to play the part. So maybe someone like Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar could have very well done it. The character is that of a drinker/skirt-chaser - last time I checked, that was Salman Khan as we know him. As for Akshay, the flirtatious quality + impeccable comic timing also would've made him a good candidate. Plus - both in both age and physique - they are in the right place to make a good Veeru/Heero.

Prashant Raj as Raj (Jai)

I'm sorry, who? While I am all for launching new talent, casting the first runner-up of Mr. India 2004 in a role even the most accomplished actors could have difficulty with is a recipe for disaster. Don't get me wrong - I'm not writing the guy off without even seeing him, but his boyish looks already render him too young for the role and certainly far too young to be playing Ajay Devgan's partner. And why create a cast of strong names like Amitabh Bachchan, Mohanlal, Ajay Devgan and Sushmita Sen, and then throw in a random newbie into the equation?

Young Prashant could turn out to be a surprise package, but he looks like a carbon copy of that James fellow Varma was so adamantly (and unsuccessfully) trying to push into the industry at one point. So who should have been Jai? I know what all of you are thinking - two words - Abhishek Bachchan. But let's face it: while Abhishek is turning out to be a fine young actor, he very much likes to imitate his father. It's only natural. But casting Bachchan junior in a role that his father originally played could really just end with him trying to literally reproduce his father's work. I could just see him playing it the same way his father did. Like I said earlier, Ajay should have been Jai. Even Akshay Kumar could've played Jai - he has that sarcastic humor in him, too.

Nisha Kothari as Ghungroo (Basanti)
RGV seems to have this strange tendency to latch onto one actress and milk her for all she's worth. In the case of Urmila, she actually turned out to be an underrated talent. With Nisha Kothari, I get more of a 'waste of space' impression than I do serious actress. Last I saw her, she was doing what she seems to be known for so far - shedding off clothes and calling it a performance. I don't want to make rude comments on why Varma is so obsessed with her, because well...yeah, I think I just implied it. But he gives her roles that she really shouldn't have.

Again, I understand apprehensions about casting Esha Deol in place of her mother. Esha, too, would probably mimic Hema Malini's classic performance, and given her limitations as an actress she probably would not even mimic all that well. My picks? Kajol, for starters - she could be that fast-talking, borderline annoying but funny village belle. She did it quite well in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, for that matter. I would even call Madhuri Dixit out of retirement to play a role that probably fits her to the T. Sadly, due to the decreasing amount of actresses in the industry who actually know how to act, there is no one younger I can even come up with. Yes, Rani Mukherjee is a great actress. But no, her take on comedy is not her forte. Which is what takes me to the next bit...

Sushmita Sen as Durga (Radha)

Sushmita Sen is a very capable actress. But does she give off a vulnerable, almost weak vibe? Not at all. If anything, the lady is known to play strong, independent women. And here she is cast in Jaya Bhaduri-Bachchan's place as a widowed woman who says and does very little in the film. Now, I'm sure Varma has changed this, because no fool casts Sushmita in a quiet role. But honestly, Sushmita could have been Basanti rather than Radha.

I would have brought the aforementioned Rani in to play a role that is all about giving an understated and soft portrayal. She has that sense of traditionalism that sums of the essence of Radha.

The Ones We Allow

Amitabh Bachchan as Babban Singh (Gabbar Singh)

This one, we will condone. Of course Amitjit is one of the greats of Indian cinema. Nonetheless, he appears in so many films/TV commercials/who knows what else these days that he seems to suffer from overexposure. And, as a result, I worry that people are growing sick of him and will therefore not appreciate his reprisal of India's most celebrated villain as much as they normally would have. Still, if there's anyone who can even try to do what Amjad Khan did, it is Mr. Bachchan.

Urmila Matondkar as Mehbooba Mehbooba dancer (as played by Helen)

Finally, a good match. I was almost worried that Varma would fall into Farhan Akhtar's trap and give the cameo to...Kareena Kapoor. It is well known that Ms. Kapoor was perhaps the worst choice to do a Yeh Mera Dil in last year's remake of Don. With her two left feet, it was almost like an unwarranted ambush toward the audience.

Urmila, on the other hand, can dance. So age is no longer on her side and she no longer carries the hour-glass figure, but she is a fair enough choice to fill Helen's shoes. Abhishek Bachchan as the male dancer, on the other hand, will be interesting. He's good at the nautanki style dancing, but his pairing with a visibly older Urmila is rather odd.

Verdict? Watch at your own risk. If you are a fan of the classic, you'd best keep away. If you have not even seen the original, don't even think about laying eyes on the remake before witnessing the masterpiece itself.

Who knows? We may love it. This is all just a cautionary post. I will most definitely share a real review once the film is released.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A 'metro' worth visiting...

Correction: It came to my attention that I originally included Shool as a good performance by Shilpa Shetty. I was kindly reminded that Raveena Tandon was the lead actress in Shool. Ms. Shetty's contribution was the item number, Main Aayi Hoon U.P. Bihar Lootne. My apologies for deeming that a performance. (Thanks Roopam)

In my last post I spoke of gathering an ensemble cast and then failing at extracting any good performances or creating a cohesive story. In Life in a...Metro, director Anurag Basu manages to bring out the best in nine performers while simultaneously narrating six different stories. As if that were not enough, Basu manages to weave them into one cohesive unit without ever delving into the contrived coincidences to which the Hindi film industry is so accustomed.

Metro tells the modern-day tale of a metropolitan area, of the interconnectedness of its inhabitants and the deceit that plagues India's upper-middle class. Never once do you feel as though you are watching something implausible or farcical. The plights of each character are such that anyone can empathize or at least admit to have seen before.

Last time I talked of regressive directing, of how Anubhav Sinha somehow managed to take enormous steps backward with his latest release, Cash. Basu, on the other hand, seems to have improved leaps and bounds in the art of storytelling. For someone who made his directorial debut with Kucch To Hai, a cheap I Know What You Did Last Summer rehash, and then went on to plagiarize every other Hollywood film possible, it comes as almost a shock that he is capable of such meticulous direction; especially considering his list, until now, comprised of the disastrous Arthur remake Tumsa Nahin Dekha and the 'why don't we sell some sex' copy of Unfaithful, i.e. Murder. Somewhere in between was a semi-convincing (but still entirely unoriginal) Saaya, until Basu finally struck gold last year with a dark horse sort of film called Gangster.

And now, as if out of the blue, he's made a film on par with international cinema, something that very few contemporary Hindi filmmakers can boast of. Yes, Karan Johar, we still watch your films. But my oh my would we be embarrassed to watch them with our non-desi friends.

Disclosing the actual plot-lines would risk giving away too much, so I will simply talk about the performances and music. Each and every actor comes out a winner. Kay Kay Menon and Irrfan Khan are already seasoned performances and do not let you down. Shiney Ahuja can add this film to his already-growing repertoire of promising performances. He's definitely a talent to look out for. Sharman Joshi is also quite the surprise package - someone who has appeared in the most useless of films, such as Style, Excuse Me and Shaadi No. 1 seems to have finally found his footing in a more serious, not to mention productive, venture.

If you think the ladies are around to provide the romance and dance around trees, you better guess again. Each is as strong as her male counterpart. Shilpa Shetty has emerged into a fine actress - it seems that she is finally finding the roles that showcase her acting prowess, some 15 years after she announced her arrival in the industry. Metro will definitely go down with Dhadkan and Phir Milenge as her career-best performances. Konkona Sen Sharma is another phenomenal talent to look out for. She continues to prove her worth post-Omkara and Page 3. Kangna Ranaut also takes one by surprise - while she definitely showed signs of talent in her earlier outings, one felt she was rather over the top. Here she manages to keep herself restrained.

Dharmendra and Nafisa Ali are as charming as ever.

The music is also outstanding - a great blend of Pakistani and Bangladeshi artistes, with some Indian for good measure. :)

Verdict: A must-watch for everyone!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lock this Cash in a safe, will you?

Now, let me get this straight. Anubhav Sinha, a director who showed a decent amount of talent in two (albeit contrived) films, Tum Bin and Dus, manages to pull off a cast reading Ajay Devgan, Ritiesh Deshmukh, Suniel Shetty, Zayed Khan, Shamita Shetty, Esha Deol and Dia Mirza. Or I'll take that back and say Sinha manages to pull off a cast of Ajay Devgan and Ritiesh Deshmukh, because it's no secret that the other five probably do not know themselves how they have managed to persist in this industry for so long.

Then Sinha gets the music-duo Vishal-Shekhar to create a racy, borderline annoying but irresistibly catchy musical score. Sinha gets the foreign locales, he ropes in the high-speed chases and nail-biting stunts. He even brings to the table a cartoonist who bestows upon each character his or her very own animated introduction!

And yet somewhere, perhaps in the middle of all these "important" (?) details, Sinha turns around and realizes that neither he, nor anyone involved in the project, seems to know what the bloody film is even about. Moreover, Sinha surprises us and decides to continue narrating - no, not anything resembling a story - but a chain of more stunts. And lo and behold, there is Cash for you.

The actors, for their part, sing and dance and make a huge fuss about how they've got cash on their mind, making money all the time. What no one seems to have on his mind is how to give a decent performance. Ajay is the biggest miscast here - he looks bored, rather bewildered if you will, and quite uncomfortable romancing the considerably younger Shamita. He also looks far too old to appear in the title song at the opening credits, almost making a mockery of himself. Ritiesh is another talent wasted. Needless to say, the guy has a flair for comedy. Sadly, you see very little of it here. For some reason best known to the animator, cartoon Ritiesh seems to have blond hair. The cartoons, as an aside, are superfluous and obnoxious.

That Zayed is a lousy actor is no secret. Here his hair makes him a step more intolerable than usual. Suniel throws around his fake American accent like his life depends on it.

Of the ladies, Esha comes across insipid and hardly looks her best. She also decides to remove her shirt and fight off the villains in her sports bra, most probably because Ms. Shetty fighting alongside her threatens with her superior abs. Shamita, for her part, actually manages to look convincing as a hot home security official. What's sad is that her character is probably the most clueless security official you will ever see.

Dia looks stunning and is conspicuously absent from the title track (instead we are relegated to Esha's absurd facial expressions). She manages to do a decent job, pity there is so little of her.

The songs are shot with aplomb and are where most of the style is evident. Yes, they all contain English. And no, none are meant to be taken seriously. You will find yourself singing Cash, Naughty Naughty and Rehem Kare whether you like it or not. Mindblowing Mahiya, on the other hand, would have been best left unrecorded (I personally would have shredded the paper it was originally written on, but those are minor details).

Verdict: Isn't it obvious?

Welcome :)

Several years back, I spent about four years writing reviews for DesiClub.com. With time and more important commitments (a little something called university), I was forced to keep my film-watching and review-writing on the back-burner for a while. In other words, unless you were subscribed to my Xanga, you probably never read one.

But now, with my blogging addiction back in full swing, I've decided to create this blog where I can share my thoughts on the latest Hindi films. Of course, I also watch English films, but let's not kid ourselves. It is far easier to poke fun at Hindi films, that too in the satirical tone with which I like to write.

So sit back and enjoy, argue with me if you will. I am always amused by those who disagree and the arguments they put forth. And don't hesitate to share this with your friends.