Sunday, December 23, 2007

Most Welcoming

About two years back, Anees Bazmee virtually rose from the dead to give us a surprise hit in the form of No Entry. Taking us back into the David Dhawan-esque comedy of the 90s and resurrecting the comic streak in a fine Anil Kapoor, the film was lapped up by the audiences and critics alike. Now Bazmee returns with the much-publicized Welcome, his take on the 1999 Hugh Grant starrer Mickey Blue Eyes. Interestingly, the film also has shades of another recent Mallika Sherawat release, Shaadi Se Pehle (opposite Akshaye Khanna).

After feeling somewhat bombarded by the hype and publicity surrounding the film, I was a little hesitant that high expectations may result in sore disappointment. In fact, as the first 15 to 20 minutes passed in front of me and very few laughs were had, that sinking feel began to make its present felt. Why did the jokes seem so contrite? Could the ever-so-reliable Akshay Kumar/Paresh Rawal team truly be running out of steam? Maybe director Bazmee was so keen on repeating his previous success that he got carried away this time around.


Suddenly, along came a scene where Anil literally stops traffic to...paint. I sat up and took notice of a rather humorous exchange between Anil and Akshay, only for almost everything that followed to turn downright hilarious. At one point, I almost wondered if I was watching two entirely different films.

I'll not delve into the plot itself, as most of it is made available through the previews, and the twists are worth seeing for yourself. All one can say is God Bless Nana Patekar. And the aforementioned Kapoor. Both Nana and Anil are what make Welcome everything that it is. Their inane gangsters are probably the most likable characters in the entire film, and yes, they are the same people who kill for a living and ruthlessly force Akshay into an engagement with Katrina. To turn these train-wrecks of people into the more appealing of the lot shows true skill, especially given the fact that they evoke the most thunderous laughter of all. Hats off to Nana, in particular, for playing a character so out of the norm from his usual work and doing so with flying colors. The audience truly lapped up almost his every word and movement.

Of course, both Nana and Anil are ably supported by Akshay and Paresh, both veterans of the "leave-your-brains-behind" humor bracket. Akshay is superb in the first half as the seedha man of principals he portrays, and his shyness around Katrina is both humorous and endearing. Paresh takes his most applauded character to date - that of Baburao from Hera Pheri and mixes him with his stubborn turn in Cheeni Kum. Sadly, both he and Akshay are relegated to the background for a lot of the second half, but since Nana and Anil are quite on top of their game, you don't mind too much.

Katrina looks absolutely stunning, but she is given very little to do other than add the glamor quotient. And after dubbing her own lines in Namastey London and Apne earlier this year, she's back to having her voice dubbed for her. Granted it's the familiar voice that we now associate with the actress, but it would be nice to see her using her own voice after having been around for a couple of years now. Mallika is actually given more meat to show off her funny side, and she does a fair job of it. Although she really is just there as the quintessential sex bomb, and the males around me in the cinema seemed most appreciative.

Feroz Khan is his wacky self. Sometimes one can't but wonder if he is for real, but by now we're used to his queer on-screen persona. Whoever plays his son sure grates on the nerves (even if he is supposed to in the film, at times it's a little unbearable).

If the overall humor and performances lift the films, the length and music drag it down. As said earlier, the film takes its sweet time to pick up. People who rent it on DVD would risk switching it off and missing the revelry that follows once all the characters have been introduced. Also, the last 20 minutes turn into pure Priyadarshan mayhem. And this is not a Priyadarshan film. It gets bad to the extent that you wish you were watching at home with a fast-forward option at hand.

Himesh Reshammiya's music is god awful. The title track is probably the most catchy simply because it graces the TV every five or so minutes on every other Indian channel. Hoth Rasiley
is the most interesting and elevated by Malaika Arora-Khan's sensuous appearance. Much to the audience's dismay, the first song we are subjected to is the agonizing Kola Laka Vellari, for which even Google is yet to come up with an explanation. It's tortuous so much so that I heard groans from various sectors of the screening room. Fortunately, the remainder of the songs are shot keeping the comedy alive, hence it is a riot to watch Anil and Nana's antics in insha'Allah and Kiya Kiya.

Essentially, it's a brainless film with all the wit in the world. It is absolutely incredulous and yet leaves you in hysterics more often than not. Some sluggish pacing at the start and end plus inferior music is not enough reason to not go see the film, and Anil and Nana alone are enough reason to go have a look.

Verdict? Worth your RSVP.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Saa-What Now?

Suffice to say, this review is slightly late. Not only has Sanjay Leela Bhansali's magnum opus Saawariya already crashed and burned at the box office, but fairly most of you have also been warned against inflicting its wrath upon yourselves. Especially when, pitted against it, was a far more entertaining Om Shanti Om. Nevertheless, after finally getting around to watching the film, it is only fair that I get to share my two cents on whether new kids on the block Ranbir and Sonam Kapoor are really all that and more. The simple answer to the latter is that they are, best put, promising (more so the Mr. than his leading lady).

Saawariya, quite simply, is a story of love, in all of its manifestations and with all of its trials and tribulations. It's about a happy-go-lucky boy who chances upon a damsel in distress, the friendship that evolves between them and the twist and turns that take their love story into the unexpected (or so they had hoped; in reality it's all very predictable).

It would be difficult to elaborate on the story itself, because there isn't really one as such. Bhansali takes Dostoevsky's short story White Nights and decides to really run with it. Sadly, the man runs in the entirely wrong direction, and someone somewhere along the way forget to tell him. Like his prior adaptation of Devdas, the director devotes all of his attention to the sets, costumes and look of the film, not realizing that it is actually a very simple tale at hand (i.e. there is no need for the gargantuan Venetian nightmare, pretty as it may be, nor should Ranbir be prancing around in silk and satin garments that look a little too pricey to have been sewn for a poor musician).

At least in Devdas, we were able to seek comfort in exuberant performances, superior dance sequences, a steady pace and an overall solid piece of directing. The main problem with Saawariya lies in the fact that it almost looks as if there is no director behind the camera, and the two kids are just living out any day from their childhood as they laugh, crack jokes and revel in the sort of on-screen camaraderie that shows two friends, at best, and hardly anyone who is in love.

In between their interactions we are also subjected to a highly irritating angle involving Zohra Sehgal, a role that was meant to come across endearing and instead falls flat on its face. There is also a highly underdeveloped sidetrack involving Salman Khan, who puts on his best "only for you, Sanjay" face and sleepwalks through his role. Rani Mukherjee plays Ranbir's prostitute friend, maybe because she enjoyed it so much in Laaga Chunari Mein Daag?

So you are made to sit through 2 hours and 20 minutes of what is essentially nothing, admirable as the cinematography and visuals may be. In fact, visually-speaking, it is a work of put in a museum, not the cinema hall.

Most disappointing is Sonam's character sketch; her Sakina is a girl with almost no depth, and her entire interaction with Salman is so vague and poorly drawn-out that you are unable to feel anything for the character at all. And given the film largely revolves around her and Ranbir alone, it is highly necessary to at least somewhat empathize with the young lady who so intoxicates Ranbir that he can think of no one but her. Sonam, for her part, does a decent job with what she is given. She's undeniably pretty, but breaking into a giggle every five minutes hardly gives her any scope in what could have been a smashing debut.

Ranbir, on the other hand, scores big time in his first outing. His character is over-the-top, he is made to do some rather obnoxious (not to mention homoerotic, e.g. towel scene) sequences, and yet he manages to do them almost naturally. At times he overdoes it, but for his first film it's a very confident debut. Yes, there is somewhat of a Hrithik Roshan hangover in his mannerisms, enthusiasm and dance moves, but who doesn't try to recreate Hrithik's debut nowadays?

Rani does well and looks gorgeous, but her role is rather inconsequential. Both she and Salman (who literally does nothing other than mouth "hey, look at me, I'm Muslim" words like Assalamu alaikum, Khuda Hafiz and insha'Allah) are given such insipid roles that you feel for them for owing Sanjay enough to have to appear in the film to begin with.

The music is fantastic, no doubt. Although there is a song every five or so minutes, given the slow proceedings in the actual plot, you sit and pine for another song (which to me is always the sign of a bad film).

Call it expectations, if you will. Or just call it faith in a director who is capable of so much more. Whatever you want to call it, the only outcome 'it' has is disappointment. Maybe it's enough to watch for its visual beauty, Ranbir's "be all that I can be" attitude and some lovely tunes. Just prepare yourself for a confusing journey with one ultimate destination: Boredom.

Verdict? If you absolutely must, watch it for the sake of the kids (not yours - Rishi and Anil's).