Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beauty and the Geek, a la Bollywood

I'm going to do this a little different than I normally do, so as to break the mold a little and make for easier reading. That Aditya Chopra's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi - coming eight years after Mohabbatein (2000) and more than a decade after his modern classic debut with Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) - is the year's most anticipated film is no secret. It is also no secret that in these past two weeks alone it has broken about every worldwide record around as far as Hindi films are concerned. But to what extent does the film itself live up to the hype? The question can perhaps best be answered with a classic case of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly...

The Good:

Novelty: An average, working man marries a much younger girl due to unforeseen circumstances and decides upon the best way to win her heart. Since when do Yashraj films even depict the average, working man? Many plus points for this one.
Loveable leads: 1) Shahrukh Khan's Surinder Sahni is incredibly sweet, someone you truly feel for, even if his logic does irritate you at times. He's like that awkward neighbor who meets you in the lift and very politely says 'hello' but never oversteps his boundaries, and 2) Anushka Sharma's Taani, too, is at times tough to understand, but it's nice to see that she is far from the perfect, saccharine heroines we are often accustomed to. You see her lifestyle with Suri, and you just get her and her motives in what she does.
Performances: Shahrukh truly shines as Suri - it's a heartwarming effort from someone who has pretty much tried and tested just about everything. You can see the little bits of improv that were there in a film like Om Shanti Om, not to mention every time Suri looks at Taani, you can almost see the love in his eyes. Anushka is a welcome addition to the plethora of new actresses on the scene. She is mighty cute and charming and never overplays her part, nor is she simply makeshift. She is given a variety of emotions to work with, and she essays the part like a natural, no simple task when you are matched up against Shahrukh in your first film.
Melodious music: It takes a bit of time to grow on you, but seeing the songs on screen make them somewhat irresistible. Haule Haule is an instant favorite, the accordion also making up a significant part of the background music, while Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai is simply lovely. There are only four songs, which help proceedings greatly in a 2 hr 45 minute film.
Choreography: In a film largely centered around dance, they do well to incorporate the dances, as well as elevate the level of skill in the actual sequences. Anushka is a great dancer, although it is the number she is not in - Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte - that stands out as a work of visual art, a fitting tribute to Bollywood heroes/heroines over the years, even if you do sense a major Om Shanti Om hangover.
Beginning and End: The film opens extremely well, setting up a very intriguing journey, and it ends almost equally well. The last half hour really pulls you back in, as emotions run high and you feel you are in familiar Yashraj territory.

The Bad:

Faulty plot:
The premise is novel, but the plot is not without its glaring flaws. How Taani cannot see that Raj is Suri's alter-ego is beyond anyone, with even his voice being the same as that of her husband's. Also, the transition Suri makes to Raj is far too immediate, even if he is trying to mimic what he sees in films. It would have been so nice to see some awkward moments of Suri trying to become Raj, figuring out a walk, a way of speaking, interacting, rather than just being him with the snap of a finger.
Shahrukh Khan: How is he both good and bad? If his portrayal of Suri is touching, that of Raj is downright obnoxious. He is too loud and too much of a caricature to even like, let alone love. How Taani can fall for him is anyone's guess, as it is only in Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai that we see any nice gestures from him. Yes, he's a mockery of a lot of on-screen personas that Shahrukh himself has played, but somewhere the joke is lost, and Raj becomes Shahrukh Khan just "playing Shahrukh Khan". And that, my friends, is my most unbiased opinion as an ardent Shahrukh admirer since the time I began watching Hindi films.
Pacing: Dear oh dear does this film drag in the middle. For that wonderful beginning and end, there is a repetitive middle where you aren't really sure what they are going for. Raj is annoying, Suri and Taani hardly interact, and you wonder where the 'extraordinary story in every ordinary jodi' went. The placing of Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte is also as random as they come, and it hardly makes sense why Taani will imagine Raj with other leading ladies rather than herself, not to mention why she imagines Raj as a capable dancer when he has been nothing short of disastrous in front of her.
Sumo Suri?: The entire scene with the sumo wrestler leans more on the absurd side and overstays its (non-existent) welcome. Wasn't there any other extreme activity Suri could have engaged in to make his lady love smile?

I suppose the Good and the Bad should suffice, fortunately it doesn't get too 'ugly'. The main plus point is the film's simplicity, in that there are basically three characters, Shahrukh, Anushka and Vinay Pathak as Suri's best friend and one main storyline. At times it's perhaps too simple, but the best thing about keeping it simple is that people will come out calling it a 'nice' film. So maybe we expect more than 'nice' from Adi Chopra, but let's face it - he is unlikely to recreate DDLJ for as long as his career goes, and not every film he makes will be epic.

Verdict? The love story may not be 'extraordinary', but its jodi is heartwarming enough to justify the price of admission.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Get to Know These Friends

The first Hindi film shot almost entirely in Miami with two male leads pretending to be gay to impress a girl and obtain residency. This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but don't let the premise fool you. First things first, Dostana is by no means a remake of the atrocious I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Perhaps the only similarities are that two men are pretending to be gay and at some point they receive a surprise inspection - otherwise their motives for doing so and the core purpose of the film are miles apart. Also, while the latter was sadly unfunny, this outing is supremely entertaining, even if logic ceases to exist in the proceedings.

It is best to let the story unfold before you, not to mention it is hard to say too much without giving away too much. Let it just be said that the film works, and how, because of the chemistry of the three main protagonists: Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham and Priyanka Chopra. The men, of course, deserve special applause for a camaraderie that carries the film on its shoulders. But, it is important to note that the film is not a dostana of two friends, but of three. The scenes shared between the three of them are enough to have you convinced that there is a genuine affection here, a friendship that perhaps evolved as much for them while filming in Miami as it did for their characters while living there.

But chemistry alone is not enough, and luckily the three seem quite aware (for the most part). Abhishek, after a long, long time, hits the nail on the head as the flamboyant, obvious woman in the err, 'equation', if you will. He is downright hilarious and a scene-stealer throughout. His counterpart, John, is used mostly as eye candy and is perhaps as much on display as you've ever seen him, but then I am yet to hear any females (or some males) complain. Although he may not get to 'act' as much, he is endearing enough with that perpetual look of simultaneous innocence and cheekiness.

Priyanka looks downright gorgeous and is also on ample display, but somehow she never once manages to look cheap. It's an achievement in a day and age where many actresses are about excessive skin display but come across vulgar rather than sexy. Priyanka, on the other hand, is dressed like the average liberal girl in Miami, even if there are one or two occasions in the film when you wish she were just wearing some clothes. But then if John refuses, why should she concede? In terms of performance, she picked up where she left off in Fashion. Some may not see anything 'special' in this one, as it lacks histrionics, but that is precisely why it is a good one: it is understated and natural in a film that is otherwise deliberately over-the-top.

Her character may seem clueless at times, but one wonderfully realistic thing about her is that in perhaps one of the film's best scenes, she reveals that she is 27, single, professionally unsatisfied and incomplete. Anyone who's not a liar would have to admit that he or she has come across several such people in their lives, namely women, and thus it's a nice touch that typically goes unmentioned in films that like to churn out 'perfect' characters.

Special mentions to Kirron Kher and Boman Irani for their hilarious supporting roles; Bobby Deol, sadly, is one of the flaws in terms of the casting. He does an okay job in his rather lengthy role, but at 38 he seems out of place in the larger scheme of things. His role also seems tailor made for someone like Arjun Rampal, who may only be a couple of years younger, but career wise is a whole generation younger.

Other flaws are that the film does drag in the end. Also, the plot itself has its share of loopholes, but romantic comedies are not the best to dissect in terms of content now, are they? Some have complained that the portrayal of homosexuals is entirely stereotypical, as they are all made to be flamboyant and sassy. But kindly look at the lead pair: while Abhishek portrays exactly that, John's character has been written to behave as normal, the 'man' in the relationship, save for one scene where he feels pressured to be slightly more obvious.

Also, for the first time in the history of Hindi films, the foreign actors are NORMAL. They are not strange Eastern Europeans posing as Americans or Brits, they do not have absurd accents or shout their dialogues or make comments about how Indians are the greatest people on earth. They just play their parts, and that in itself is a great achievement for an industry that always makes a mockery of foreign characters, often making you wonder if they picked up any random from the street.

The music grows on you; you may have never thought you would find yourself singing Desi Girl or Maa Da Laadla in your head, but the film has that growing effect on you. Jaane Kyon is the soul of the film and is the perfect way to depict the evolving friendship of the main three. Shilpa Shetty may be aging, but her figure remains as enviable as ever in the opening Shut Up and Bounce track.

Verdict? Go see it, because after a long time there is a comedy that is genuinely funny and a film that relies on pure, Bollywood entertainment, one that may just have repeat value at that, and characters that you actually do care for.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Priyanka Powers Through

After a series of appalling films following a nearly year-and-a-half hiatus, Priyanka Chopra could seemingly do nothing right. In my Drona review, I declared that Ms. Chopra "best hope that the upcoming Fashion and Dostana revive what looks like a sinking career," and damn it the lady has officially made me eat my own words.

That Fashion is Chopra's career-best performance is evident as soon as, just before the interval, she develops a perpetual smirk on her face and settles into her newly-appointed supermodel status. But as ungrateful as her reel-life persona may be to the people who helped her get there, let's hope she shows some real-life gratitude to Madhur Bhandarkar, the man who may have just salvaged her career.

Known for his women-centric subjects in past endeavors such as Chandni Bar, Satta, Page 3 and Corporate, he makes no exception here in a film that essentially revolves around three women: a struggling model with huge aspirations (Chopra); a b-grade model who teaches other wannabes the ropes (debutante Mugdha Godse) and a notoriously diva supermodel on the brink of downfall (Kangana Raunat, of Gangster and Woh Lamhe).

Chopra indeed receives the most scope and makes the most of it, perhaps predicting that this could very well be her last shot. Instead of merely digging herself out of the aforementioned hole, she ends up proving that recent poor film selection notwithstanding, she is in fact the one with the most acting potential of the new generation beauty brigade.

Kangana is bearable when she uses her body language and expressions; unfortunately as soon as she starts shrieking in her ever-shrill voice, it gets to be a bit much. Newbie Mughda is a good find either because she plays herself - a model - or she is in fact talented and one to look out for.

Kudos for the transitioning of Chopra from a small-town girl with bad clothes, cheap highlights and a bit of extra weight to a leaner, high-fashion achiever and then to an over-the-top, borderline tramp.

The main setback is the film's length. At two hours and 30 minutes, it feels more like three due to its often repetitive tendency. At times we feel we have seen enough shows and parties and have well understood the hypocrisy and superficiality of the coveted industry defined by glamor.

Verdict? A definite watch for a new subject and the return of Priyanka Chopra.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Feels More Like 'Rona'...

My initial thought was that Goldie Behl's much-hyped Drona may actually make for decent fair. Abhishek Bachchan and Kay Kay Menon reunited post-Sarkar; Little Bachchan also reunited with his Bluffmaster co-star Priyanka Chopra, whom he fondly calls Piggy Chops; ambiguous promos that fail to give away too much information about this mythological/superhero flick; and a whole lot of talk about the amount of money and time spent on this so-called creative venture.

But we all know that creativity commonly bites the dust in the Hindi film industry, hence we are subjected to a wafer-thin plot that does not actually consist of a concrete story, and three caricatures rather than characters. And, of course, originality be damned, because what the director opts for is a car chase, a sword fight, a villain who holds his finger to his mouth (a la Dr. Evil from Austin Powers), a strange Exorcist-style possession of the hero in the penultimate reel and a desi Gandalf...that's right, I said a desi Gandalf.

What's worse is that Abhishek continues his sleepwalk method of acting and relies upon intense looks and mumbling a few dialogues in old-school Hindi. You know, something about yudh, mayan, poshak, Drona...huh? Yeah, we never really got how that was supposed to be a sentence either.

Kay Kay, the gifted actor of Sarkar, Life in a Metro, Honeymoon Travels and Mumbai Meri Jaan, is made to ham like his life depends on it. At times, his humor works, but then after he repeats his 'gustakhi maaf' line for the one millionth time, the audience is rather over it.

Priyanka looks hot and waves around a weird weapon that resembles a dream catcher. See, she can kill people with it, and decorate her home, too! Yeah...right. Except after a year and a half hiatus, this lady has given us what could rank as three of the all-time worst films, i.e. Love Story 2050, God Tussi Great Ho and now Drona. She best hope that the upcoming Fashion and Dostana revive what looks like a sinking career, now that ex-flame Akshay Kumar has found a new 'friendly co-star' in Katrina Kaif.

Also, pray tell, who in the world is Kay Kay even trying to terrorize in the film? We are essentially introduced to only four to six characters, none of whom are victims of the villain's antics. And so one wonders...is Drona really a superhero or a savior? Wouldn't that entail at least one scene where he actually saves someone? Director saab seems more content making him look the look (and by look, we mean an Indian groom-inspired sherwani best fit for a runway than a showdown) and talk the talk (and by talk, we mean silence, because he almost never talks).

Maybe we'll give the film a +1 for the Drona Redux track that is reasonably catchy. Otherwise, God only knows why Abhi baby is attempting a Gene Kelly-esque dance in the opening reels.

Verdict? Drona makes Love Story 2050 look like a masterpiece. Okay, okay...we won't go to such an extreme. But you get the point now, do you not?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Farhan Rocks, His Voice Does Not...

That's right, folks...I'm back after nearly a month, what with falling behind schedule of late. You'll have to excuse me, but I tend to be highly unproductive while starving myself during the day, and even more unproductive come sunset after consuming enough food to feed a pack of lions.

To save yourselves from boredom, I will be brief and to the point. And lo and behold, I actually have positive things to say for a change, which - if you read my blog at all - is a rarity indeed.

An Indian rock band sounds like risky business. Let's face it...in reality, a group like Euphoria may come and go, and Pakistani singer Atif Aslam may soar to the top of the charts; however, the rock genre is not exactly a best-selling sort in a country that prefers its music either soft and sweet or booming enough for a bhangra.

But it seems Farhan Akhtar is hardly a name synonymous with failure. Hence Rock On, a film made much in the nature of cult classic Dil Chahta Hai, works. It works for its character depth; it works for its well-narrated plot; and it works for the subtlety of its performances. What ironically does not work is the music. Yes, a few songs are catchy, and the filmmakers have done a splendid job turning an unlikely four into rock stars. But as much as Farhan makes a solid acting debut, the same cannot be said about his singing. His off-key voice is a bit much to handle, but then again vocals don't really matter much when it comes to heavy rock.

At least there is a level of maturity that is missing from 99% of the films that release nowadays. And maybe Arjun Rampal will finally be noticed as an underrated talent. Prachi Desai, playing Farhan's love interest, deserves a special mention for making a smooth transition from over-the-top Star soaps to another form of acting all together.

Verdict? Don't say I didn't warn you that Farhan (the actor, not singer) will win you over...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Just Enough Magic

The world of entertainment is all about guilty pleasures, and Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic is about as close as one can get to exactly that...2+ hours of simple, enjoyable fun, albeit the type you may not want to admit to having.

It is, after all, a film made for children - one that borrows from an array of prior children's films, be it Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music, or India's own Mr. India or Raju Chacha. But despite its lack of originality, the film scores through just the right amount of sweet, heartwarming moments, as well as recognizing where and when the 'magic' quotient should end.

It also works for its performances, primarily from the lead pair who did not quite weave magic with their last bachcha-oriented outing, Ta Ra Rum Pum. That Rani is the best mainstream actress in the industry at the moment is no secret and, while this may not be a highly demanding performance, she approaches it with enthusiasm and wit. Saif, too, is seen in far more appropriate territory after the debacles that were Race and Tashan.

It will pain me oh so much to say that even Amisha Patel, the world's worst actress in my book, plays her part...correctly. She is meant to be overtly annoying, and she very much is that. The children are cute and likable enough, with special mentions to the two middle ones, Aditi and Iqbal.

What doesn't work? The music, for starters...Pyaar Ke Liye is the only track one walks away with, and that is also perhaps because it is shoved onto the audience in loud outbursts ever so often to create a mood. Lazy Lamhe is a sorry excuse to show off some sensuality...wasn't this a kid's film?

Verdict? Let's face it...how many Hindi films can you watch with your whole family nowadays? Even if you don't want to tell your friends you saw it, not to mention it's utterly predictable, it's still worth a watch for making a sincere attempt at classic, wholesome entertainment.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Kismat (Dis)Konnection

Typically my reviews are thorough and detailed, but I've been told I need to make a marked effort to shorten my analysis to hold the attention of my faithful readers. As a result, I'm going to get straight to the point...Aziz Mirza, best known for his work with Shahrukh Khan in Raju Ban Gaya Gentlemen, Yes Boss, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Chalte Chalte, returns for the first time in a long time without Shahrukh by his side. And to make up for his old pal's absence from the film, he seems to have 1) coaxed Shahrukh into narrating the beginning portions of the film and 2) cast the undisputed King Khan clone, Shahid Kapur.

What we end up with is a strangely half-baked effort from an otherwise competent filmmaker. It's simple and sweet, sure, but for some reason there is something largely missing from Kismat Konnection. One is certainly the chemistry between alleged off-screen pair Shahid and Vidya Balan. Vidya not only looks too old opposite the ever baby-faced Shahid, but the two look far from on-screen lovebirds.

The next thing missing is a powerhouse performance from either of the leads. Shahid tries, but he tries a little too hard. He puts on his best Shahrukh expressions and essentially does a repeat of his Jab We Met performance. Vidya acts reasonably well, but her wardrobe remains ever atrocious, and the woman just looks some 15 pounds too heavy to be a leading lady.

The third and also important factor that's missing is good music. Save for Atif Aslam's new gem Bakhuda Tumhi Ho, there is no other track that really sticks with you. Aye Papi may be popular, but it is certainly no Mauja Hi Mauja.

Finally, what is missing is the ability to captivate and hold the viewer's attention. After a while, one can't help but wonder what the film is about. Is it a love story between two enemies-turned-friends or a social message about respecting the elderly? In the end, the film seems to be about neither. Instead, we yearn for continuity and a purpose, one that the film overall clearly lacks.

Verdict? Worth a look purely for the sake of good old timepass. Ah yes, and it's nice to see Juhi Chawla back on-screen, even if she is some strange psychic.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Of Baaps, Betas and Boredom

Now, I know what you're thinking. Why does Sabrina even waste her time picking up the most unappealing DVDs and then proceed to actually watch them? Well, let me put it this way, I was genuinely curious with this one. Curious to see what the overdone comic Priyadarshan had up his sleeve when he decided to replace his favorite Akshay (Kumar) with...well, Akshaye (Khanna). I also recalled that Priyadarshan and this Akshaye did manage to churn out a reasonably funny Hungama some years ago, even if they did follow it up with the disastrous Hulchul. Oh, and I was curious to see what Genelia D'Souza is about, given that she seems to be all the rage at the moment with Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na emerging as the biggest hit of the year thus far.

I know my reviews are always detailed, and this one looks as if it will follow suit. But it will not. Because all I have to say is that this film was one of the biggest wastes of my time. It's a film about nothing. From the first frame to the last, all you do is sit and wonder what on earth the filmmaker is trying to get across. Is it a comedy? No. You hardly laugh. Is it a drama? No. You definitely do not cry. Is it a romance? Absolutely not. There is no Shahrukh Khan flaunting his dimples toward a shy damsel in a white sari atop a mountain in Switzerland.

So what is it? It really is what I just said - a whole lot of nothing. Akshaye does his bit and really isn't given the chance to show off any acting skills, while Paresh Rawal looks bored. Although Genelia is charming as the typical girl-next-door, I must admit.

I would comment on the music, but the fact that I do not remember a single song speaks for itself. I think it is safe to say that we are sick of the Priyadarshan comedies. The least he could do is resort to his lucky mascot Akshay Kumar...that would guarantee him a hit, if nothing else. And clearly, in this case, there really is nothing else to speak of.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Tale of One Too Many Bachchans

I must begin by saying I found the original Sarkar to be highly overrated. Before the vast majority of you reach for your daggers, I will admit it was good. But to try and remake something so epic as The Godfather series would always leave one treading thin waters, even if that someone was Ram Gopal Varma. Once an esteemed storyteller and director known for delivering critically-acclaimed films like Rangeela, Satya and Company, he for some godforsaken reason lost his marbles and, somewhere along the way, the consequences were ghastly: Darling; Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag; Nishabd; and Darna Zaroori Hai. While Sarkar Raj, the follow-up to the overblown Sarkar, is a decent attempt at salvaging a fading director's career, it sadly falls extremely short of what could have been.

If Sanjay Leela Bhansali took the color blue in Saawariya and really ran with it, RGV opts for extreme close-ups and shadowy locales in Sarkar Raj. Unfortunately, that is about all he does - shower the audience with playful camera angles, most of the time giving the filming of his story more importance than the characters, dialogues and actual proceedings.

And so we have the Bachchan family, complete with papa Amitabh, beta Abhishek and bahu Aishwarya, coming together for a confusing and seemingly pointless two hours. There is no need to delve into the plot, as it is widely known and can easily be found on the Internet. Essentially it is a concoction of the mafia, a power plant and some caricaturish politicians, with a few Gandhian morals thrown in. Confused? So was I.

Because we are constantly barraged with faces, an overbearing (and repetitive) background score and a number of those splendid moments where RGV chooses to drown out dialogue for music, it is hard to really follow what is happening in the circus that is the Sarkar household or feel for any of the characters, for that matter. From a film-making perspective, RGV's experimentation with the camera is most welcome. But as was the case with Ajay Devgan's directorial debut U, Me Aur Hum, after a while you really have had enough.

The best scenes are often those that draw on the original, such as Amitabh and Abhishek's discussions on Kay Kay Menon's death in the first film (the latter played Amitabh's elder son in the first installment, whom Abhishek himself had to shoot down). Other than that, the climax may come as a surprise, but then the last couple of reels lack any real power.

The worst of the scenes are those in which the tears shed, and RGV opts for the Amitabh Bachchan show, complete with the Yashraj sitar booming alongside his heavy words. Why RGV thought it necessary to transport us to the world of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Mohabbatein is beyond anyone's guess. Isn't this the crime world we're talking about? Surely this is no place for the old headmaster of Gurukul...

Nonetheless, Amitabh of course performs with conviction. He is softer (for the most part) and really takes over in the last half hour or so. Still, one was hoping RGV would have in this case stuck with The Godfather theme and shifted the focus more on Abhishek.

Although it could be that this was made impossible by Abhishek's obvious boredom from start to finish. For any emphasis to occur on his character, the man would have to first actually speak, but God forbid he was made to utter more than a 'no' here and a threat there. Bachchan Jr. can act. He proved so in Yuva and excelled in those affable, Bunty Aur Babli sort of roles. But here, the man simply looks uninterested. He sleepwalks through his role, relying heavily on piercing the camera with his eyes, but let's face it...he is not his father, and it takes a little more than that to garner the audience's empathy.

His wife, on the other hand, is tolerable from an acting standpoint, yet suffers from the most poor character sketch of them all. When she first appears in the film, Aishwarya is depicted as a tough, unyielding sort of businesswoman who has every intention to get what she wants. Cut to all of two scenes later, and she is a teary-eyed lass who falls for the junior Sarkar and suddenly seems to be present in his house, morning, day and night, sitting in on his conversations with senior Sarkar, casually batting her eyelids without so much as two lines. It almost becomes evident that she is there for the sake of being Abhishek's real-life partner, although Mr. RGV would have done well to note that of the pair's five films together, only Guru sent some ripples through the box office.

The rest of the supporting cast comes and goes. Tanisha Mukherjee should very well quit the film industry or take some fast acting tips from sister Kajol. She doesn't really do anything wrong in the film, but at the same time she lacks any screen presence whatsoever (and we all saw in Neal n' Nikki what happens when the girl does try to act).

Verdict? It may be worth the DVD rental, given it is slightly better than the larger amounts of garbage out there at the moment. On the other hand, do we not see enough of the Bachchan trio in the press as it is? You may just want to revisit the old Sarkar or - even better - the old RGV, i.e. the films mentioned at the start of this review.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ajay, Kajol aur The Notebook...

Making the transition from actor to director is no piece of cake. Not to mention when your name is Ajay Devgan, and your predecessor is a certain Aamir Khan who set soaring expectations post-Taare Zameen Par from any future wannabe actor/director. Except for one thing...

Comparing TZP with U, Me Aur Hum would be like comparing Gandhi: My Father with Race. Two completely different films geared at entirely alag audiences. So while critics galore are beginning their reviews of U, Me Aur Hum by placing Ajay alongside Aamir in a "whose debut is better" contest, I simply begin by warning you that there is nothing at hand that merits such a comparison.

Instead, what you can compare Ajay's work to is those breezy-turned-dramatic romances of the 90's that are now a rare sight. Rather than going into the story, which is by now widely known via the wonder known as the Internet, I will simply say that Ajay's film is a bit of The Notebook blended with a little of Mann (Aamir Khan, Manisha Koirala) and even a touch of A Beautiful Mind.

And so the audience is initially introduced to the lead characters on a cruise ship, sadly a flashback that is so torturous that you wonder if Ajay's film will sink faster than the Titanic. Essentially through 45 minutes of 90's antics and overacting (one wonders what the selection criteria was when casting Ajay's dimwit sidekicks), you sit there in shock, wondering how this can possibly be an accomplished actor's directorial debut.

Cut to the post-ship portions, and suddenly you have a whole new film on your hands. The story chooses to pick up where most other films leave off...what about those people who don't get their happy endings? For once, we see a take on marriage from the perspective of something so common and yet rarely talked about - disease.

"In sickness and in health" go the vows, regardless of anyone's religion or race. Ajay's film becomes a testament to the true meaning of those words and how far most couples will go to live up to the promise they made.

His film spans about 2 hours 30 minutes, and it really is a shame that he wasted nearly 45 minutes on that dreadful ship. While there are some clever details inserted into those introductory moments - little nuances to Kajol's character Pia that the attentive viewer may recall later on - the whole meeting on a cruise/falling in love/parting ways has been done to death. Not to mention the fact that Ajay's humor is silly, to say the least, and he himself is a far cry from being the 'suave' individual he wishes to portray.

What does work is the electrifying chemistry between husband/wife, ever apparent in every frame the two share. Every look, every embrace, every tear seems heartfelt, thus making this one of the most endearing on-screen romances in a long time, as well as saving the film entirely.

And so you have Ajay's unfaltering love for his wife, most convincing when the actor resorts to his tragic best in the second half, and you have Kajol's sheer brilliance. The likes of Preity Zinta, Kareena Kapoor, etc. would do well to watch and study her performance, as it more or less defines the art of natural acting. People may say she's married, finished, retired or whatever you will, but if there is one thing Kajol does prove, it is that almost no modern-day actress has an inch on her.

Sadly, the supporting cast is no more than a pack of buffoons. They all go entirely over the top, save for Sumeet Raghavan as Ajay's best friend, who improves significantly in the latter portions. Isha Sharvani is around to show some skin and flex her body, while Karan Khanna, as her boyfriend, suffers from a serious Zayed Khan hangover. Which, in turn, begs the question: Who actually wants to be like Zayed Khan?

The music, too, leaves a lot to be desired. Those insipid English lyrics that are now commonplace in Hindi songs ruin the proceedings, although Jee Le manages to register somewhat of an impact. Mercifully they are all shot very well, saving some of the headache.

Speaking of which, as a director, Ajay has an eye for interesting shot techniques. His cinematographer does not let him down in the slightest bit, even if some of the hatke angles do verge on overkill. What Ajay also has is the gift of how to weave together scenes from past to present. We can forgive him (ok, we can almost forgive him) the cruise sequences for the incredible manner in which he narrates incidents during Kajol's disease. They are disturbing and poignant, never resorting to the melodrama often associated with showing mental illness in Hindi films.

Overall? While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, nor is it anything path-breaking by any means, U, Me Aur Hum is a nice film. It's a film about hope, it's a film about love, and above all it's a film about commitment. If you can get through the lengthy and mostly unnecessary first half, a pleasant surprise awaits in the second.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Makdee Man?

Rumor has it Shahrukh Khan will be starring in the Indian version of comic book/Hollywood blockbuster Spiderman.

Am I the only person who is slightly disturbed by this?

Last time we checked, our beloved Peter Parker was most certainly not 42. Unless Shahrukh wants to create the first ever Pranay Patel urf dadaji Spidey, we're pretty sure he should leave the building-hopping to a certain Hrithik Roshan.

Then again, if he can romance 21-year-olds, he can become the web-spewing hero. Any guesses for Mary Jane?

Apparently the film will be the most expensive venture to ever be launched, and at this moment Shahrukh is searching for a 12-year-old who can swing through buildings and atop cars along his side.

He could just ask beta Aryan. Although, age-wise, methinks Aryan himself would make a better Spidey...

I'm back.

Get ready.