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.