Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ingloriously Inappropriate

Mallika Sherawat, who is currently doing the rounds in L.A. in anticipation of her international horror flick Hiss (co-starring Irrfan Khan), showed up at the Inglorious Basterds premiere looking like that.

If her goal was to leave us speechless, she can consider her mission accomplished. In addition to stealing from Lil' Kim's best-left-shut closet, Sherawat met director Quentin Tarantino sporting this ridiculous garb and thereby throwing away any chances of signing a film with the acclaimed director.

We, for one, are crying on the inside. Hell we're even crying on the outside looking at this Hall of Fame for Atrocious Fashion mess. This, too, after all the hard work Freida Pinto did to prove that Indians can work the international red carpet as well as the best of them.

Sherawat wrote on her Twitter page that she 'may have gone over the top this time'. You think? Aside from the trashy skin show, she should also be tried for appearing this way in front of the Jolie-Pitts. The King & Queen frown upon obscenity.

Welcome to the Hollywood D-list, Ms. Sherawat. I suppose next you'll be partying with the Lohans of the world.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Modernity Meets Minimalism

You can check out my official Love Aaj Kal review here:


Leave comments at the blog and share the link with your friends!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Future Looks Bright (Fingers Crossed)

Most summer blockbusters may have been put on hold on account of the strike, but there is still plenty to look forward to in the months to come…

If Indian cine-goers were void of their favorite pastime during the recent three-month strike, there has been little excitement since the Hindi film industry came back into full swing just one month ago. The Yashraj production house quite suitably released one of its own products first, but the big budget New York about minority life in post-9/11 America failed to impress the masses and classes alike. Over promotion and help from the media seemed to have allowed Kambakkht Ishq ‘hit’ status, but most who have seen the film are quick to coin it one of the worst releases of the century. Perhaps the only other releases worth mentioning are Short Kut and Luck – haven’t heard of them? It’s ok, neither has 95% of the public.

But never fear, for there are more highly anticipated releases just around the corner, and certainly one of them will have to hit the mark sooner or later. Here are DesiClub’s Top Five releases to look forward to:

Film: Love Aaj Kal
Directed by: Imtiaz Ali
Starring: Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Rishi Kapoor & Rahul Khanna
Release Date: July 31, 2009
What’s the big deal anyway? Chotte nawab Saif Ali Khan turns first-time producer and teams up with the man responsible for reintroducing girlfriend Kareena Kapoor to stardom. After Jab We Met (2007), Imtiaz Ali is ready to take another stab at the romantic comedy genre with this look at love in the past, present and future. It also pairs Saif with the significantly younger Deepika Padukone, who is most likely hoping the public has forgotten the debacle that was Chandni Chowk to China. Unlike the simplicity of JWM, this one’s been shot in a number of cities across the globe but does boast of a rollicking soundtrack much like its predecessor.

Film: Kaminey
Directed by: Vishal Bhardwaj
Starring: Shahid Kapoor & Priyanka Chopra
Release Date: August 14, 2009
What’s the big deal anyway? Three years ago, in Omkara, director Vishal Bhardwaj gave us a work of art that arguably ranks as one of the best films till date. While this makes it near impossible for Kaminey to meet the subsequently gargantuan expectations, you can’t blame the aficionados for their anticipation. The promos fail to really give much away and if anything toy with one’s curiosity. Add to that Shahid Kapoor in his first double role and acting opposite rumored real-life on-again/off-again flame Priyanka Chopra, and we find ourselves wondering on an almost daily basis, “is it out yet?”

Film: Dil Bole Hadippa!
Directed by: Anurag Singh
Starring: Shahid Kapoor & Rani Mukherjee
Release Date: September 18, 2009
What’s the big deal anyway? The return of Rani Mukherjee. Enough said. Ok, ok…we will give you more than that. In addition to the undisputed queen of new millennium (she remains our queen until someone proves these new starlets can actually act), it also looks like a throwback to the sort of rustic love stories that made Yashraj Films so popular in their hayday. We are not overtly convinced with the cricket sidetrack – did no one learn from Harman Baweja’s disastrous Victory? – it should make for typical Eid weekend fodder.

Film: Wanted
Directed by: Prabhu Deva
Starring: Salman Khan & Ayesha Takia Azmi
Release Date: September 18, 2009
What’s the big deal anyway? That Salman Khan’s recent cinematic endeavors have been forgettable is putting it lightly. We are about 99.9% sure that most of you did not even bother with God Tussi Great Ho or Yuvvraaj, and we kind of want to see if Salman can still rock the action hero mould that he once championed. He will also make a curious pairing with newlywed Ayesha Takia Azmi (yes, she has taken her husband’s name), even if this South Indian remake does look very Ghajini. But with dance icon Prabhu Deva at the helm, surely something good will come of it. We may even witness Salman do a decent dance for the first time in a decade.

Film: Wake Up Sid
Directed by: Ayan Mukherji
Starring: Ranbir Kapoor & Konkona Sen Sharma
Release Date: October 2, 2009
What’s the big deal anyway? Art house favorite Konkona Sen Sharma paired with the untapped talent of Ranbir Kapoor? We are so there. The latter has been hard done by eagerly awaited films that didn’t quite live up to the hype, but we see a spark somewhat akin to Hrithik Roshan in his early days. The director may be new, but Karan Johar takes the reigns as producer and looks to be taking a leaf out of pal Farhan Akhtar’s book by expanding upon his offbeat portfolio.

Ok, that list may have extended to October, but we took the leeway of extending beyond the summer given the length of the strike. That, plus the vast majority of films set to hit the marquee in the coming months look abysmal, at best. And on that positive note, look out for our recommendations and don’t make us say “we told you so”!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

From Dard-e-Dil to Dard-e-Disco

Preface: On op/ed on the demise of Indian music. Please note that I am not attributing Karan Johar as the first to use the dreaded concoction of a language below but rather one of the key contributors to the trend of said concoction as a "must have" in each modern-day album...

From Dard-e-Dil to Dard-e-Disco: The Evolution of Hindi Film Music

The ‘When’ and ‘How’ of the transformation of those romantic ditties we once cherished into present-day Hinglish anomalies, minus the ‘Why’…

By Sabrina Siddiqui

Do you ever recall the dreamy duets of yore with your favorite hero and heroine running around trees and through the fields of Switzerland in gay abandon, and subsequently heave a sigh of exasperation at the current state of Hindi film music? Perhaps you wonder when popular wordings along the lines of “tu mile dil khile” turned into “with you, my dil just khils”? Ok, maybe that abomination of a lyric is yet to surface, but it is only a matter of time, my friends!

The truth of the matter is, or so we are led to believe, love songs are out, and disco beats are in. Now we have no problems with dance numbers, and they are by no means new to Hindi cinema. Shammi Kapoor did a “yahoo yahoo” almost 50 years ago in the film that more or less defined his career (Junglee, 1961). Everyone from Amitabh Bachchan to Rishi Kapoor knew how to shake a leg under multi-colored disco balls, and let us not even get started on Mithun “Disco Dancer” Chakraborty.

But who said that the audience no longer wants the soothing, classical Indian percussions that accompany lyrically pleasing love ballads? I, for one, can recall the early incorporation of that must-have Hinglish number, but I cannot for the life of me remember when it became the mandate for every other track on an album.

First off, as is with most modern-day contrivances, you can point your fingers at usual suspect Karan Johar. What started with a simple You Are My Soniya in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) continued in his 2003 reworking of Pretty Woman and mother of all disco songs to follow, It’s the Time to Disco, in Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003). And yes, he merely produced the latter, which was actually directed by Nikhil Advani. And double yes, Shankar Ehsaan Loy were behind the music. But the more important yes, Johar was likely behind the major shot calling, including that of the final music product.

So we embraced the frivolousness that is typically associated with most Dharma Productions’ films, but little did we know that it marked somewhat of a turning point in Hindi music. Because what has followed is five years of ever declining quality of music, said to be catered to a larger (read: global) audience without taking into account the fact that no one ever asked for a ban on the simple and solid tunes about pyaar, ishq and mohabbat.

If my memory serves me correct, the Salman Khan/Sushmita Sen/Katrina Kaif starrer Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya (2005) took the trend to new heights, where all but two songs on the entire album were spared the insertion of Hinglish, deliberately silly lyrics. I will repeat here that this is not an attack on the notion that poorly written dance numbers are fun. Yours truly has those absurdly catchy item numbers from Billu Barber (2009) on repeat on her iPod.

Instead, it is somewhat of a cry for at least some soulful, meaningful music. Because A.R. Rahman is just about the music industry’s own version of a bailout, and even he wants to prove to the world that Pappu Can’t Dance. At least in his case, the tune is subject appropriate and not the summation of his entire album.

In summary, somewhere music directors are missing the cue that many of the most popular songs today remain the Hindi/Urdu-penned, rustic-feeling compositions that most of us have grown up on. Let us not forget that Haule Haule and Guzarish/Kaise Mujhe were the unanimous standout tracks from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Ghajini (2009) respectively. Or the fact that among the top three best-selling albums of the last decade lies one of the greatest gems to have come in recent times, Veer-Zaara (2004), an accumulation of the Late Madan Mohan’s unused tunes dating back to decades prior to his death.

We the people are fine if the music is meant to get us Rocking and Reeling, but an old-school musical intervention is also of the utmost need.

Original Link: http://www.desiclub.com/desimusic/desimusic_features/music_article.cfm?id=279

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Up and Coming

I recently interviewed upcoming R&B artist Sandeep Acharya (not to be confused with the winner of Indian Idol Season 2). His style is similar to U.K. sensation Jay Sean and Canadian superstar Raghav, and he's an ex-member of Penn Masala. He recently got a lot of traction for performing at half time at the L.A. Staples Center during an NBA game in January.

Check out the interview here: http://www.desiclub.com/desimusic/desimusic_features/music_article.cfm?id=273

The video to his debut single "Just Breathe": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9FNpax_ypo


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cannes Continued

We are officially shocked. And by we, I just mean me, because this isn't a co-authored blog (but it just sounds so much cooler to say 'we'). Just when we were giving Ash kudos for finally premiering well at the Cannes Film Festival 2009, she's gone ahead and outdone herself by looking even better on Day 2!

At the premiere of Spring Fever, Mrs. Rai-Bachchan was spotted in a wonderfully contemporary but classy gown from Elie Saab Spring 2009. The soft color is perfect for spring time, and the hair is simple as it should be with a gown that already draws attention via the draping at the bodice and add-on sleeve. The way the gown flows is the stuff enchanted fairy tales are made of.

Furthermore, hubby Abhi is back in full form with a normal black suit and striped tie. We'll bet (there's another 'we' :-)) no one will be confusing him for the hired help this time around!

Covering Cannes

Cannes Film Festival regular Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan finally got her Red Carpet right at the opening day of the 2009 edition. After numerous misses in the past, coupled with just a few hits, the former Miss World looked stunning in a strapless white Cavalli with a regal ruffled train. Not crazy about the up-do, as it is too much given the weight of the dress, but totally digging the bejeweled Swarovski clutch. Looks like India's original international film star is not about to be outshone by the combination of Freida Pinto and her acclaimed stylist George Kotsiopoulos.

Now why Abhishek Bachchan opted for the waiter look is rather puzzling, much as the white blazer is in line with the Bachchan family's 'match much' fetish. Shahrukh Khan tried and failed with the same look at the 2009 Filmfare Awards, but clearly celebs seldom learn from each other's mistakes.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

"I just hope that Neil Nitin Mukesh gets the National Award for Jail."

National Award-winning director Madhur Bhandarkar confusing Neil Nitin Mukesh for some sort of species with actual talent.

Bhandarkar is best known for acclaimed films such as Chandni Bar, Page 3, Corporate and Fashion; Neil Nitin Mukesh is best left forgotten.

A glimpse of said 'National Award-worthy' performance in the upcoming film Jail, also starring Manoj Bajpai and Bhandarkar's Fashion discovery Mugdha Godse:

"Peekaboo, I see you!"

I say leave him in there. But that's just my opinion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Entertainment in Times of Strike

The battle between the producers and the multiplexes might mean that no films will be hitting the marquee any time soon, but certainly there are a couple of DVDs you could (and should) enjoy from the comforts of your home...hence I am going to do this in more of a 'round-up' format rather than the detailed review to either persuade or dissuade your trip to the local cinema.

The President is Coming

What: One of the earlier and largely overlooked releases of 2009, this hilarious film (adapted from a play of the same name) chronicles a contest in which one 'young Indian' will be chosen to shake hands with President Bush during his 2006 visit to India. Get ready for a lighthearted running commentary on topics ranging from feminism to homosexuality and regionalism to globalization.

Who: Konkona Sen Sharma leads the way as a pretentious novelist whose lyrics poke fun at the likes of Arundhati Roy and Jhumpa Lahiri; acclaimed character artist Lilette Dubey's daughter - Ira Dubey - makes a welcome entry as an Indian version of Paris Hilton. Vivek Gomber (Rohit), Namit Das (Ramesh), Satchit Puranik (Ajay)...everyone deserves a mention, really. Hats off to debutante director Kunaal Roy Kapur for bringing together a quirky ensemble cast that is more than up to the challenge.

Warning: Certainly not a family film by any means...if you are embarrassed easily, watch it with your friends or on your own.

Verdict? The mention of George W. Bush has never spelled this much fun.

Billu Barber

What: It's the stuff child bedtime stories from your nani/dadi were made of: a small town with simpleton people interrupted by the grandeur of a popular but humble king. Albeit here it refers to a barber (Irrfan Khan) and his unbelievable friendship with superstar Sahir Khan (Shahrukh Khan playing a variation of his real-life persona). It's actually made more so with the kids in mind, but adults will find a nice message and perhaps enjoy what is at the film's sweet core.
Who: Irrfan seldom gets it wrong, and here he is able to be his unsuspectingly good self. Lara Dutta is a pleasant surprise in an ordinary role as his wife. And yes, there is Shahrukh who struts in every now and then to perhaps be a little kinder to everyone than he is in real life. But he certainly does a nice job in the climax by keeping his monologue on the restrained side (see what happens when buddy KJ isn't at the helm?).
Warning: Don't be fooled by Shahrukh's item numbers with various members of the industry's elite. Those are about the only aspects of 'commercial' cinema to be found, but rather the film is essentially about an extremely simple tale of friendship. It moves at quite a sluggish pace, so you must have patience.
Verdict? Shahrukh the producer is even smarter than Shahrukh the actor - the film does not promise great heights and therefore doesn't necessarily deliver them. Instead it is what it is: a sweet and simple film laden with a downright absurdly catchy soundtrack and welcome item number insertions featuring Gen X Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor; ah yes, and with a proper moral of the story to boot.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Year in Review

Ok, so I got behind and Filmfare already happened, but IIFA is yet to come! Lo and behold, my Top 10 Films of 2008, IN ORDER OF RELEASE, i.e. NOT RANKED IN ANY ORDER.

Jodhaa Akbar

Ashutosh Gowarikar may have tried to recreate a Lagaan period piece, but it’s no epic, this. Instead, the easily irritable (Star Screen Awards, anyone?) but talented director served up an homage to Akbar the Great vis-à-vis a nearly four-hour enterprise that must at least be lauded for its technical achievements, as well as extracting surprisingly confident performances from Hrithik Roshan and a more expressive-than-usual Aishwarya Rai. Said lead pair’s chemistry picked up from where Dhoom 2 left off, and Rahman’s music also was suitable enough.

Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
Every now and then a film comes along that redefines a generation, and Jaane Tu… achieved the rare feat of reigniting the sort of post-college fervor that only Dil Chahta Hai managed in the recent past. No prizes for guessing then that Aamir Khan was at the producer’s helm, launching his affable nephew Imran opposite the ever-likable Genelia D’Souza. Fun, frivolous and all the while insightful, who would have thought so much fun could be had in a film where a certain Pappu just can’t seem to dance.

Mumbai Meri Jaan
I said these are not ranked, but if I were to award the ‘Best Picture’ to any one Hindi film of 2008, this would be it. A heartbreaking, thought-provoking account of Mumbai’s train attacks in 2006, it’s rare that you see such an intriguing narrative structure laced with fine acting and crisp editing all in the space of a 2.5 hour Hindi film. If you haven’t seen it, you are doing a huge injustice to meaningful cinema.

A Wednesday
Interestingly tackling a subject very similar to Mumbai Meri Jaan and releasing all of a week or two later, A Wednesday was more of a critics/crowd/award favorite. This is not to say that it is undeserving of the recognition, but this gritty take on domestic terrorism played between two central characters was only marred by the fact that it read more like a sermon than a script. Thus while Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah served up the goods, at times it felt more like a documentary than an actual film, and the characters became borderline caricatures. But having said that, it remains superior to 99% of the films that release nowadays.

Rock On!!
If there was a Slumdog Millionaire of Indian cinema, it would probably be in the form of this low-budget film centered around a wannabe Indian rock band by a debutante director and starring no real big names (save for Arjun Rampal who, while incredibly underrated, has never been a crowd puller). The result was somewhat of a cult phenomenon that catapulted Farhan Akhtar into a new kind of super stardom; and, much like the aforementioned Slumdog, it swept the award season by storm, while people either loved it or they hated it.

Welcome to Sajjanpur
No one does it like Shyam Benegal. After a hiatus of several years, it’s almost uncanny how one of India’s all-time great directors can come back, cast two young and underused stars in the form of Shreyas Talpade and Amrita Rao, and make it work in a small village by the name of Sajjanpur. It’s a comedy of nuances and subtlety, a far cry from the Singh Is Kinng (Read: overrated, self-indulgent absurdity), and entirely worthy of far more accolades than it actually received.

This was a tough one. While Fashion did receive a generally favorable review by Yours Truly, in retrospect it was not nearly as good as people have made it out to be. But women-centric films are like diamonds in the rough, and only Madhur Bhandarkar has really been open to exploiting the superficiality of several high-power industries (Corporate, Page 3…). Priyanka Chopra may largely be playing herself, but then few of the younger lot can act half as convincingly (point in case her ever-shrieking co-star, Kangana Ranaut), and it also came at a time when films like God Tussi Great Ho, Drona and Love Story 2050 almost indefinitely ruined her career.

Until now, no film on this list has been truly ‘commercial’. Jaane Tu... is about as close as it’s gotten to safe, song-and-dance territory, but no one would call it an out-and-out entertainer. Dostana, on the other hand, is the stuff NRI dreams are made of. Foreign locales, designer clothing, flippant music, three A-list stars and plenty of skin show, of course Karan Johar would be an integral part of the proceedings. Debutante director Tarjun Mansukhani looks like the new protégé Yashraj Films was looking for, and Abhishek Bachchan – like his good old friend Piggy Chops – breathed some remarkable (and much-needed) new life into his also sinking career. Drona really was kind to no one.

Dil Kabaddi
It went a little unnoticed, but if you are an art house junkie like myself, the ensemble cast was simply too delicious to ignore: Konkona Sen Sharma, Irfan Khan, Rahul Bose, Soha Ali Khan and Rahul Khanna all in one film? So the film is entirely awkward, embarrassing and inappropriate (i.e. NOT one to watch with the parents, younger siblings, unsuspecting cousins…hi guys!), but it is also hilarious and well-acted, albeit a little too inspired by Woody Allen.

Oye Lucky Lucky Oye
Before the more hyped up Delhi 6 came to fruition at the start of 2009, another film that tried to and admirably captured the culture of Delhi was this small, unassuming film starring Abhay Deol, the leading candidate to join the aforementioned art house brigade. It’s light and simple, sometimes slow but also charming and, well, just about ‘lucky’ enough.

Before You Complain: Ghajini would have made the cut if it were not so over-the-top, full of plot loopholes and had Aamir not been surrounded by a plethora of idiots; Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi would also have come close had Aditya Chopra not missed the boat this time by casting the next Gracy Singh in the form of Anushka Sharma, on one hand making Shahrukh Khan irresistibly sympathetic as Suri but then simultaneously insufferable as Raj and had the film just been better than the equivalent of a Hollywood rom-com with a little more heart and plenty more Shiamak Davar routines.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Flying High with Farhan Akhtar

Check out the Farhan Akhtar interview by Yours Truly in the latest edition of The South Asian Times at:


Page 29.

Do it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Musical Greats of 2008

Award season may be verging upon completion in Hollywood, with the mother of all ceremonies falling this Sunday in L.A. (the Oscars, for those of you perhaps living on another planet), but they are all but halfway done over on the other side of the world. The Hindi film industry’s two main ceremonies, Filmfare and IIFA, are in fact yet to occur, and hence I will be taking you along my Top 10 lists for the year 2008.

Given music really is the first thing that attracts us to – or in some cases detracts us from – many a Hindi film, it only makes sense that I begin by outlining my Top 10 Songs of the year. Let it be known that these songs are chosen based on a combination of lyrics, melody and vocal performance rather than anything else, which is also why you will not see foot-tapping chartbusters along the lines of Maa Da Laadla, Talli Ho Gayi and Pappu Can’t Dance. It’s not that those songs are not enjoyable in their own right, but rather the fact that there is a huge dearth of the classic, Indian music that once defined Indian cinema – a genre of music that did not have to rely on 2/3 of a song being in English rather than just about every participant’s mother tongue…

Top 10 Songs of 2008, in Order of Release

1. Jashn-e-Bahara (Jodhaa Akbar)

It makes all too much sense that A.R. Rahman kicked off 2008 with a stellar album for Ashutosh Gowarikar's magnum opus. While Khwaja Mere Khwaja may be the most unique and inspired track on the album, the soft sweetness of this ditty and Mr. Javed Akhtar's incredible lyrical imagery leave it with a much wider appeal than any of the other tracks can boast of.

2. Pehli Nazar Mein (Race)

The term ‘overplayed’ was no match for Atif Aslam in what could very well be termed the love anthem of the year. The lyrics may be nothing spectacular, but it’s the melody and Aslam’s soulful singing that rendered this song a favorite for slow dances, Valentine’s Day surprises, long drives and even entrances/first dances at weddings. Who knew a simple song could go such a long way?

3. Falak Tak (Tashan)

In the midst of the loud, borderline strange music of Tashan that could probably serve as a pinnacle for how Hindi music has changed over time, this Udit Narayan/Kavita Krishnamurthy duet almost seemed recycled from the 90s. But let’s face it: Wouldn’t it be nice if those hilltop love songs weren’t so few and far between? We did, after all, listen to them for the last 60-odd years.

4. Zara Si (Jannat)

Love him or hate him, Emraan Hashmi never ceases to deliver at least one chartbuster per film. Kay Kay’s crooning could easily be confused for the aforementioned Aslam, as could this song for Hashmi’s own Tu Hi Meri Shab Hai (Gangster). Nonetheless, it’s devotional enough for girls to wish a guy would sing it to them, and for guys to wish they were clever enough to do so.

5. Kabhi Kabhi Aditi (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na)

This Top 10 may not be ranked in any particular order, but you better believe if there was a song of the year, this would be it right here. It’s an unconventional song with an equally unconventional singer and alarmingly has nothing to do with romance. But who said a song about embracing the concept of loving, losing and moving on in life would have no takers? Even if in the end it was all about a cat.

6. Bakhuda Tumhi Ho (Kismat Konnection)

Some people referred to this album as a meek attempt to recreate the success of Jab We Met. Those people may be on to something, but on that same token so were the music directors. In another album full of club-like, Hinglish numbers (what else would Shahid Kapur gyrate to?), what really stood out was a song that utilized the Urdu of yore and called upon magic man Aslam yet again, and the now sadly underexposed Alka Yagnik.

7. Khuda Jaane (Bachna Ae Haseeno)

Real-life lovebirds Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone may have failed to live up to on-screen chemistry expectations in the majority of the film, but somehow they absolutely sizzled in this song more or less akin to a breath of fresh air. With unusual lyrics and the picturesque backdrops of Venice and Capri, to see it was to further appreciate it. If there would be one complaint, it’d have been to find a better singer than the rather one-tone Shilpa Rao.

8. Tu Muskura (Yuvvraaj)

It was a near two-way tie between this and Tu Meri Dost Hai, but then I decided not to be as accommodating as our desi awards sadly are in reality. The album as a whole may have been a disappointment from the Rahman-Subhash Ghai (read: Taal) combination, but it was a sincerely welcome return to classical music. You know, the one that makes use of an orchestra and lives on for generations? It was also nice to hear Alka Yagnik back in full form, after having sadly been replaced with the Shilpa Rao’s of this world.

9. Haule Haule (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi)

Again, I was tempted to create a tie between this one and Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai. The latter may have superior wordings, but it’s Sukhwinder Singh’s rustic outline of slowly falling in love that was as infectious as they come. The accordion base that also made up a large part of the background score could not have added a better touch.

10. Guzarish (Ghajini)

If Rahman kicked off the year, he also rounded it off. The sad case of Guzarish is that it maybe promised more in the promos than it turned out to be as a full song, but that does not take away from the fact that this series of ‘requests’ from a love-stricken Aamir Khan were all that disappointing. We do wish Sonu Nigam had sung it instead of Javed Ali, because what we ended up with was Ali putting on his best Nigam impression. That notwithstanding, it is the one song you truly take away from the film.

Honorable Mention: Teri Ore (Singh Is Kinng)

The song is very much as pretty as can be, but what prevented it from making the list was: a) the idea of anyone lip-syncing to Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, especially Akshay Kumar in a pagdi b) the video’s attempt to unsuccessfully do its own Suraj Hua Maddham and c) the fact that for all the nice little wordings in there, 80% of the song still passes with nothing but the words ‘teri ore’ on repeat, at times making you wonder if it was your track that was skipping.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Winner By Chance

It is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of Hindi film viewers that any seemingly intelligent film, one that invites its audience to use their minds and embark on a truly engaging journey, are immediately branded as a form of parallel cinema, also known as being 'offbeat' or on occasion referred to as 'art films'. As a result, these realistic and often thought-provoking projects - that are so few and far between - seldom get their due. Zoya Akhtar's directorial debut Luck By Chance could very well be a prime example of one such endeavor, a film that is truly a cinematic treat and in any thinking cine-goer's book ranks far ahead of the more commonly-found commercial successes with absurd titles along the lines of Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehke Bhi Aap Se Shaadi Na Kar Paaye (HADMRBASSNKP for simple reference).

With her insight into the trials and tribulations of the world's largest film industry, Ms. Akhtar emerges like a breath of fresh air with a cohesive script, stellar cast, appropriate balance between humor and hardship and, above all, an eye for continuity and purpose. Rather than simply creating an exposé on the inside world of Hindi cinema, Ms. Akhtar rather hits the nail on the head in showcasing the deeper facets on the other side of the camera: the personalities, the aspirants, the networking, the production; you name it, she addresses it.

To aid the director is an outstanding cast that would be a shoe-in for Best Acting Ensemble in a Motion Picture, alas if only such an award existed in the subcontinent. In the lead is Ms. Akhtar's own brother Farhan, who recently made his foray into acting via the cult hit Rock On, and you better believe he does not disappoint. Transitioning from director to actor is no piece of cake, but Farhan truly gets right the nuances of his character and delivers a performance that is both understated and as good as any accomplished actor.

By his side is the wonderfully gifted Konkona Sen Sharma who wouldn't know bad acting if it came knocking at her door. She remains as delightful as ever, someone who achieves the rare habit of silently suffering from the sidelines without ever losing grip of her integral role in the proceedings.

But what truly separates LBC from your average fare is that every member of the supporting cast more than pitches in with their best efforts. Rishi Kapoor is in full form, downright hilarious at times and walking away with most of the laughs, while Juhi Chawla's return to the screen is a pleasure in the role of his wife. Dimple Kapadia is elegance personified and particularly shines in her character's telling moment toward the climax, whereas Isha Sharvani is miles better than her outings in Kisna and Rocky. Sanjay Kapoor gets into the spirit of his role, while Arjun Mathur strikes a significant chord as Farhan's secretly envious friend.

Hrithik Roshan, although credited as having a Special Appearance, is around for many of the proceedings and is downright perfect for the role. He exudes confidence and charm and, of course, he dances his heart out in Baware. A plethora of celebrities make fleeting appearances, but Aamir and Shahrukh Khan register the most impact, the former poking fun at his perfectionism and the latter sharing his haunting words of wisdom.

Shankar Ehsaan Loy once again come up trumps for the Akhtars, lending a soundtrack that is both catchy and situational, a rather rare feat. From a listening perspective, Sapno Se Bhare Naina is perhaps the pick of the lot, while visually Baware is worth the admission price alone. The homage to all the behind-the-scenes individuals during the opening credits is admirable and beautifully shot.

Verdict? Luck By Chance is a monumental achievement for a first-time director, a film that is simultaneously enlightening and enjoyable, full of character and even replete with an underlying moral message. Hats off to Ms. Akhtar for a welcome entry into direction, and here is hoping for more films of this caliber to come soon.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Aamir the Incredulous Hulk

This review is long overdue, largely due to a relatively busy period but also perhaps out of fear of all the die-hard Ghajini fans out there. That the film is a success is no question, what with its status as the biggest hit of 2008; one of the biggest hits of all time; and enough to inspire an actual video game of the same nature. But I’m going to break down for you why I think this is a classic case of much ado about nothing, and thus I will begin with what is wrong with this entire endeavor:

Return of 80s Cinema

Based on a Tamil blockbuster which was in turn inspired by Christopher Nolan’s cult classic Memento, this film takes the serious and intriguing subject of a revengeful man with short-term memory loss piecing together clues to reach his target. Fair enough, except sadly this version lacks logic and consistency.

· Aamir Khan is a suave CEO, cute, charming and little, who strangely dresses like a bodyguard to show off his newfound biceps. We never learn just how he turns into an oversized superhero. Are we meant to believe he really just trained himself in each 15-minute period that he remembers the loss of his ladylove? For that matter, sometimes he forgets in a 15-minute span, and other sequences are so long and drawn out that you know he has exceeded this “15-minute limit” and yet is still going about with what he was doing all along.

· Rich CEO that he is, whose love life is splattered across the tabloids, how did this whole case go unnoticed? His model girlfriend’s death yields no investigation, and Aamir is left to fend for himself? His manager and doctor showing up at his doorstep with pictures of themselves and then leaving is hardly convincing. Would they not check in the time that passes what he is up to, how he is surviving, etc.?

· He is followed around by the biggest dimwit on earth, a “medical student” obnoxiously played by Jiah Khan who is the single dumbest girl you will ever encounter, let alone trust as a future doctor. When she discovers he is plotting against some Ghajini, she picks up the phone and calls Ghajini? Did she forget the part where she learned Aamir’s state is a result of a brutal attack in which he was struck in the head by an iron rod? Instead she mumbles something about being too scared to talk to the police and hence reaches out to Ghajini directly. Yeah…right.

· Aamir, oh Aamir. His physical transformation is incredible, no doubt, but why on earth does he shout, erupt and growl like some sort of maniac at the drop of a hat (namely after being stuck in the hostel)? He is at his best in the flashback scenes playing the besotted and witty rich boy in love with a lower-middle class girl. And before you say he is just doing what he was asked, no director in India tells Aamir Khan how to play a role. Aamir Khan tells the director how he will play a role, and after a long, long time he has missed the boat with this performance.

· Absurd characters: How is it that all the characters are so incredibly one-dimensional and plain stupid? Save for maybe Aamir who is just confused, the other characters make the most idiotic decisions at the most inopportune times. Maybe that’s how they want to build suspense, but it’s no fun watching a plethora of dummies in what is supposed to be a serious film.

· Ghajini, the title character, is some horrible actor who cannot even say a single line appropriately. Naming the film after him is being touted as some incredibly selfless act by Aamir the actor, but that is beside the point. Is this really the best they could find? He apparently played the same role in the Tamil counterpart, but he is simply appalling here.

· A.R. Rahman sure is making us proud out West with one award after the next and hopefully a historical Oscar, but the only track in this enterprise that truly makes a mark is Guzarish. The haunting Kaise Mujhe is a nice effort but not one that makes for easy listening. Both Behka and Aye Bachchu try too hard and are ruined by strange verses.

And now, the few saving graces…

· Aamir, as mentioned, shines in the flashbacks and reminds us of the commercial Aamir of yore. A smitten lover boy with a flair for comical situations. Why he made his plight in the revenge saga so over-the-top is the film’s biggest tragedy.

· Asin – although portrayed as that annoying, do-gooder girl with the heart of gold – is both pretty and endearing enough to set herself up for a commercially viable career. It’s a nice change to see a curvy heroine, even if she is mostly found in ill-fitting clothing. We certainly could have used more of her as opposed to that inane Jiah.

· The love story itself is entirely moving, which is ironic given most critics blame the film’s downfall on the romance. I say the opposite: the love story makes for the actual enjoyment as Aamir is humbled by the lifestyle of the lower-middle class and sees another side to life. The scene where he loses Asin is far more heart-wrenching than any of the illogical proceedings that formulate the revenge angle.

Alas, that’s about all I have in my list. This is no superhero flick, and yet Aamir’s character is made to be far more powerful than Hrithik Roshan’s Krrish could ever aspire to be. Training and muscles notwithstanding, this is the sort of 80s action that sees one punch throw down 10 men, except in this case the hero almost never speaks. He glares and growls, he screams and shouts, but unless he is found by the beach with his sweetheart, he seldom has any lines, much to everyone’s dismay.

Just to point to another example, just look at the difference in how he reacts to Asin's death when it is actually happening versus toward the beginning when he is looking in the mirror. In one, he is so effective, heartbroken, weakened and shedding meaningful tears. In the other, he pulls an Amrish Puri with his eyes, heaves his chest, flares his nostrils and turns into a beast. And this is a 'serious film'?

Verdict? This is a public service announcement to both Aamir and Shahrukh Khan: Different as your most recent films may have been, the similarities in both of your approaches is unmistakable; the two of you are 43-year-old senior actors who have both taken it upon themselves to only appear as a lead in 1 or 2 films a year. Find some actresses your own age and give us a little more than mere timepass.