The Dirty Picture (2011)

At the end of it, I felt that The Dirty Picture belongs in the trash.

And if you haven’t seen the film and are looking forward to see it because it is based on the life and times of Silk Smitha, don’t. It is not. The movie begins with a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction.

Rumour and chatter has it that it is indeed (loosely?) based on the life and times of Silk Smitha. In an interview on TV, the writer says, that Ekta Kapoor wanted to make a movie about the underbelly of the film industry in the 80s.

To my mind it is a cheap, crowd-pulling, movie jammed with “sexy” scenes. A few scenes to that effect, would have given the audience an idea of the lead character’s profession, but no – the “sexy” scenes had to continue right to a few moments before the end of the film. The camerawork reinforces this with repeated close-up cleavage shots. Perhaps, close-ups of the actress’ face, would have helped us see some emotion? It is also not a movie about the underbelly of the film industry in the 80s. If it was supposed to be the ‘exposure’ of the underbelly, then for sure, the movie has lost its focus. If it was indeed about the underbelly, the lead character, definitely was the primary stomach content. Ekta Kapoor had an in-house subject matter expert, who worked in enough films in the south. Apparently, they did not consult him. It is not about the lead character, because we never get an insight into that character. Most dialogues are frivolous and misplaced. If you had to glean personality from the dialogues, all you could be sure was that she is a wordsmith. The dialogues are clever, in some instances, but that is all they are. What little insight you are provided is via Emraan Hashmi’s bad diction voiceover.

The performances are slightly above average, at best. Vidya Balan plays her strength: good diction, clarity, and delivery – the dialogues were in her favour. The rest of the film, however, doesn’t provide her a good support. She still does well. Naseer-saab probably underplayed – but it worked against him. The sharp Hindi dialogues did not work with the distinct south-Indian context of the movie – at all. For anyone. It feels dubbed, at most places. Anju Mahendru, for some reason reminded me of the Neeta’s Natter “logo” from Stardust. Small role, but good job. I’ll save your time and not talk about the performances by the others.

The music is a big disappointment – music in the movies of the 80s, whatever their character and content, was memorable. Think Himmatwala (1983)

The art direction was a bit mixed up, I feel. The costumes seemed to be in a moral dilemma to belong to the current decade, while being representative of the eighties. If I am not mistaken, there’s a fleeting shot of a packet of KS condoms – which were definitely not around in the 80s. But then, in all fairness, if they had shown Nirodh, the younger generation would not have understood the context of that scene. And, I believe, it was free then.

The worst part of it all is how Balaji Films has, unofficially, used Silk Smitha’s name to promote the film.

Dabangg (2010)

This review is a bit difficult to write. The paradigm to watch this movie has already been set. And nearly everyone I know has endorsed this paradigm. Watch it in a single screen theatre, whistle, dance, and enjoy the mindless entertainment. I do insist on folks not telling me the story or the context of a movie before I see it. There is a good reason; it affects the objectivity with which you watch a movie.

Nevertheless, that’s what the movie is all about. There’s the review.

People have said things like this movie is now setting the standard; I am not sure how. Violating laws of physics and the limit of enduring pain have been a common feature in Bollywood films, though less common than it has been used in the South. This device has been prominent for a while now. From Amitabh Bachchan to Mithun Chakraborty to Govinda to Salman Khan. Dabangg (2010) has not necessarily used this device for the first time. The larger-than-life image of the protagonist has been the most successful for Indian movies, so I fail to see anything spectacularly different that Dabangg has done, in the use of this device. What it has done, if at all, is that it has revived this device after a considerable gap. To my mind, however, there is perhaps another reason why this has appealed to the otherwise intellectual movie-goers – the ones who like movies in the genre of The Transporter (any of the three) or Shoot ‘Em Up (2007).

It’s the quality of production and the manner of presentation.

These Hollywood films are equally mindless and use the same device. With some application of the Coleridgian concept of “willful suspension of disbelief,” the use of this device is quite entertaining. Earlier Indian movies, with their lack of quality of production, made the intellectual movie-goer drop this suspension and deride the fantasy. With Dabangg, you are able to sustain the suspension of your disbelief.

And this quality is apparent throughout the craft – cinematography, the editing, the music. The flagship song is reason enough to pull you to the theatre. Performance doesn’t count heavy in such a film – so I’ll not make a note of that.

This movie is all about presentation. See it, for that.

Raavan (2010)

If I have a choice, give me Isha Sharvani in Kisna over Aishwarya Rai in Raavan. At least Isha does real gymnastics.

And if you have a choice (I am addressing the casting directors, here) please do not cast her in any film. If you do have to cast for any reason, please make sure she doesn’t dance. And for any reason, if you cannot stop her from dancing, please, please, do not make her shriek! Give her the role of a mute.

I have no idea if Raavan is a good film, I was under huge mental stress the moment she stepped in the frame. It didn’t matter what she did (or not), but I was completely unable to concentrate on anything due to a high level of stress watching her dance (I checked; they call what she does dance; they should have a different name for it, just to avoid confusion) or watch her shriek. But then everybody was shrieking in the film.

That’s the only thing that I noticed. Apart from the shrieking.

Raajneeti (2010)

This review is for those who got it wrong. I was trying to be sarcastic on Facebook, when I wrote a few comments about Raajneeti (2010), apparently, I am not very good at sarcasm. Imagine. All this while, I thought that was the only defence mechanism I ever had.

I watched this film for two reasons. Prakash Jha and Nana Patekar. Also, there was gossip amongst folks that Katrina Kaif displayed glimpses of acting. But I didn’t fall for that.

WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS AHEAD.

See, the film is predictable from the first shot of scene one. I can’t spoil it for you. The story-writer and the director have already done it.

The only excitement in the film, is to decipher the source of the metaphors. It’s not very difficult, because Raajneeti is a family film. It is based on the life and times of three families. The Pandav family, the Corleone family, and a very well-known political family. And the stories of these families from different eras have been wonderfully intertwined. So is Arjun Rampal a yuppy Yudhishtra, straight-haired Sonny or a a misunderstood elder brother of a very well-known political family. 553 other such examples in this 180-minute saga, will make you keep going back to the Wikipedia to identify the parallel characterisation of the actors in this drama. Was Ranbir Kapoor Michael Corleone? Was Nana Patekar Krishna or was he Tom Hagen? Perhaps a combination: 86.3% Krishna and 13.7% Tom.

So much for the story.

I have no idea, what people mean when they say they saw great performances. Ranbir is the same as he was in Wake Up Sid as he was in Rocket Singh as he was in any of his films. (I didn’t have the guts to watch Saawariya) He is one consistent performer, irrespective of the character – he gives the same performance. Ajay Devgn (Not a spelling mistake, he spells it like that now) is disappointing. He and Jha have done better stuff, the chemistry was unbalanced. Manoj Bajpai runs the risk of being the next Manoj Kumar (later years). He is still very far away from delivering anything close to what he did in Satya or in Shool. (Useless Side note: Bajpai’s character in Shool was called Samar Pratap Singh. Ranbir’s character in Raajneeti is called Samar Pratap Singh.) Naseer Saab shouldn’t have been on the poster – he is on screen for 2 minutes and 21 seconds (or less, perhaps). I’ll give you this much – Katrina tried very hard. So did Arjun Rampal.

Nikhila Trikha’s one dialogue, undid what semblance of a film, it could have been. I must say – I was surprised that one scene got past the editor and the director.

In a recent interview with Sudhir Mishra on a TV show, Prakash Jha said that he makes commercial cinema to fund his parallel interests. I could pardon Raajneeti on those grounds. But, while Raajneeti will make money, coming from the banner of Prakash Jha, he need not have taken his audiences for granted to such an extent.

So, if you have misinterpreted my sarcasm on Facebook, before; here it is – as I saw it.

Road to Sangam (2009)

Low budget film. Winner of six international awards. I’d usually stay away from such a film. I have a tendency not to understand such movies. The Warrior (2001) was one such film, which I bought only because it had Irrfan Khan in it. Mighty disappointed with that.

But I was surprisingly pleased with Road to Sangam. Paresh Rawal is a great actor, though has tended to be a bit predictable in recent times. Yet he hasn’t lost the edge. His performance shines through. There are no facial contortions that would usually be a part of such a film — to display the anguish that the protagonist is going through. (potential spoilers ahead)

I liked the weave of the background and the plot, so to speak. I was not sure if the story about Gandhi’s ashes was rue, but a bit of time on Wikipedia tells me something like that happened. There are many movies today about the Muslim identity and culture and their place in India, which, I think do a disservice of sorts. By asking this question, they cast doubt for people who do not think it is an issue.

For those that are looking at this issue, this movie tries to see if the question of national pride and religion can be seen differently and I think that attempt is a good one. Once again, it is the weave of the context and the plot that enables this.

The music, for most part is background and does nothing to break your line of thought. Better, it works like a vehicle that carries you through the thought. The art direction is basic, not jarring and very relevant and real. The moments, though some feel cliched, are well captured – sensitive and emotional.

A good watch.

3 Idiots (2009)

Given the rave reviews 3 Idiots has received, this is one post you may happily ignore.

I was fairly unimpressed. At no time in the movie, was Aamir Khan believable as kid who is anywhere between the 17 – 21 year slot. It seemed to me that he was caught up confused, between playing the Rancho in the guise of Ram Shankar Nikumbh from Taare Zameen Par (2007). The fluctuation between the wisdom and silliness of the character was screeching like a chalk on a blackboard.

The comedy is in place, but isn’t a surprise given the college context and Sharman Joshi & Omi Vaidya. The film has been compared with Munnabhai M.B.B.S. (2003) which is fair, I suppose – message-in-a-funny bottle. But it did not have the wonderful seamlessness of comedy and social messaging that MMBBS had. MMBBS kept the story on mother Earth, all the while.

The music was uninspiring to a large extent. Kareena Kapoor was fairly ignorable (Why am I writing about her). Boman really needs to think of being stereotyped. I’ll admit I was expecting much more from Madhavan, but that one scene between father-son was worth it. The gimmicks were in place and quite irritating at times. Javed Jaffrey, I know is capable of much more. Did VVC or Hirani not know that?

All in all, it’s well, but not wow.

Ishqiya (2010)

I now seem to have developed a new genre of movies — I call them Traffic Movies. These are the ones that you watch, waiting for Mumbai traffic to slowly dilute, allowing a three-lane road to thin down from a six-lane standstill.

Usually Traffic Movies are painful, and make you think that you were better off suffering the traffic than the movie. Love Aaj Kal (2009) and Kurbaan (2009) were two such movies.

But Ishqiya caused some dilemma.

Here’s why I thought I was better off in the theatre.

I liked the execution, in general. The cinematography, the dialogues, the performances are generally above average. Naseeruddin Shah is his usual self, he is in character, but nothing explosive or different. Arshad Warsi seems to be in some kind of a transition phase, nearly graduating from the usual comic sidekick roles to being a true actor. But Vidya Balan came as a good surprise, where she isn’t necessarily appearing as if for a toothpaste ad. She has done more than smile, and she has done it better than before.

The story itself, is something that leaves you wondering if the movie was good or not. The story has a sense of incompleteness about it, but is very difficult to point out how. For one, the story doesn’t patronise – most Indian movies are used to that – they have to explicitly tell the entire bloody story and each nuance therein. This aspect, relevant more-so, because they have taken the story from the known stereotypes of where movie stories are set, to hitherto unknown locations. How many films we know, were set in Gorakhpur? The story is not apologetic of taking you away from the stereotypes that you know. Secondly, the story chooses to stay satisfyingly raw, which seems to me, is a Vishal Bhardwaj signature. Maqbool (2003), Omkara (2006), Kaminey (2009), e.g. I wonder, however, if that can be applied in the true sense, since it has been directed by Abhishek Chaubey. But, then, he does belong to that team.

The cinematography itself is well-done and doesn’t, by itself, give scope for any complaints. I felt however that the photographic beauty that has been so well-captured, was disconnected, often with the story. It is almost as if it offers breaks from the story, to help you catch up. At times, I felt, Mohana Krishna was at risk of becoming Santosh Sivan like in Before the Rains (2007). I am not particularly impressed with the new “saturation-contrast” style of photography that many new movies have. Kaminey, was a welcome change.

And now, here’s why I thought I was, perhaps, better off in the traffic.

I just couldn’t relate to the entire presentation. There was something frequently jarring in the presentation that did not allow me to get sucked in the presentation. And this is where the lack of my review skills kick in — I am unable to say what those were. Also, given that I have never been to Gorakhpur and have no idea how it looks like, I felt that it was shot in the interiors of Maharashtra. This proves either of two things: that there is landscape similarity in the country or that quite a bit of the outdoor shooting was indeed done around here.

Verdict? Watch it when you can. Avoid comparing it to the presentation and finesse of Omkara, however. I think I made that mistake.

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Kurbaan (2009)

If you shoot a majority of a movie in the US, have a large production budget, why do you shoot in India for a really small office sequence?

I don’t know.

If you have seen Fanaa (2006) or New York (2009) there is really no need for you to see Kurbaan. There is no need for you to see Fanaa, or New York in the first place.

I won’t waste blogspace trying to tell you about the acting. Where Om Puri starts acting like the rest of the cast, there isn’t any point mentioning how people have acted in the movie. Kirron Kher completely disappoints with her over-Afghanified accent, which you can just about tolerate, however, Vivek Oberoi should strike out “can do American accent” from his resume.

There is nothing worthwhile about the direction, it is plain and staid. The worst of all is the story. Sorry, my mistake – the story is not bad – it just doesn’t exist!

Predictable right from the word go, Kurbaan is an absolute waste of the money spent in making this film. I feel really sad, I added to the waste.

Love Aaj Kal (2009)

It was the traffic, and the news that there was an accident on the highway that made me turn back to Inorbit Mall and catch up a movie till the traffic diluted.

Ever been tempted to remove the thin plastic wafer on a new mobile phone? The one that covers the screen and such things? It’s almost not there, but of course you know that it is there and there is always a dilemma in your head whether you should remove that thin and transparent plastic film from the screen or not.

That’s Saif Ali Khan in Love Aaj Kal. He is there in the movie, all through, just, it’s very easy to peel him off and he isn’t there. And boy, is he losing touch (rewind to Dil Chahta Hai (2001)) and hair, for that matter. His delivery is losing the smoothness that he once had. Scene: afternoon discussion at he Chowk with Rishi Kapoor. There are instances when he is brilliant – most of the funny scenes – but the moment he tries and emotes, I wish I was in traffic.

Deepika Padukone is good looking. No doubt about it. We all know it. She knows it. The best asset being her smile. She knows it. So, even when she is in bang centre of a heartbreak, she is smiling. When she is drunk, she is smiling. When she is teasing, she is smiling. When she is brushing dust off old fort walls, she is smiling. When she isn’t smiling, she is clumsy. When she isn’t clumsy, I wish I was in traffic.

Rishi Kapoor is his consistent self; his laugh keeps bouncing between the inner walls of his cheek. No one else in the movie is worth a mention.

And then, there is the mystery of Harleen. Doesn’t appear in credits. But what a wonderful blast of fresh air! Giselle Monteiro, a 19-year-old Brazilian model, plays the 60’s village beauty perfectly. There isn’t much for her to do in the film except look beautiful, which she does with exceptional ease, or look frightened, which isn’t too difficult for her either (she probably was imagining working in a Hindi Movie for the first time).

And the highlight of Harleen is when she grows old and becomes Neetu Singh. What can I say? (Update: even if certain filmy types think otherwise) All my wishes of rather being stuck in traffic vanished without a trace.

The concept of the film is lacklustre and trite: discovering love. The movie is often over saturated, and you wish you had a desaturating control in your eyes. Yes, everything Indian is colourful, but we don’t use a ‘photo shop’. The constant saturation/desaturation shift between the 60’s and 2000’s is equally troublesome. On a personal note, I was happy to be taken back to images of London; places I knew and frequented.

All in all a very average film, and bearable only because it was better than being in traffic. Slightly, slightly better.

Delhi 6 (2009)

By far the simplest review I will ever write.

The story was beaten black and blue by the metaphors. Plural. Metaphors.

Everything else about the film was enjoyable, memorable even. Except the story.

Abhishek Bachchan is in desperate need of some soul-searching.

I liked the film, really, but I just cannot write anything about it. Everything I remember about the film, brings me back to the story. Where was it? What was it?