Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: The Best and the Worst

As 2010 draws to a close, I realised that it’s been quite a mediocre year in Hindi cinema. There have some moments of brilliance, but they have been few and far between. By and large, it has been a disappointing year, with big names delivering small works. But thankfully, there have also been some small names delivering big works. It’s been the year for the newcomers, who have stolen the thunder from the biggest of names. Here are, what I think were, the best Hindi films of 2010:

3. Ishqiya: Where do I begin? There is the fearless performance by Vidya Balan, the best I have seen this year from a female actor; the confident direction by Chaubey-ji, who joins the growing legion of new kids on the block; the impeccable lyrics of Gulzar who captures something highly elusive, the soul of the film, in 8 lines of poetry; Chutiyam Sulphate and other acidic lines from that genius that is Vishal. This was undoubtedly, one of the most involving, path-breaking and innovative films of 2010. It represents the changing face of Hindi cinema. And it is a beautiful face indeed.

2. My Name Is Khan: If Ishqiya and others represent innovative storytelling, MNIK was the finest example of classic Bollywood. Kajol and SRK proved that their chemistry is ageless and timeless. After over two decades in the business, they gave the best performances of their career. The film gave its audiences the best love story of the year, an unforgettable protagonist, stellar performances from the entire cast and uncharacteristically intelligent, if loose, writing on the immigrant experience in post 9/11 America. It was the only Hindi film I bothered seeing twice at the cinema; the only one I cried in like a baby, both times. This is conventional Hindi cinema at its best; unapologetically corny and emotional; epically entertaining and enlightening.

1. Udaan: Good things come in small packages; the adage finds a great example in Udaan. A quiet, raw and intimate experience, this was the best film I saw this year. A brilliant slice-of-life story; an emotionally resonant script, sharp direction and some powerhouse performances: these were the basic ingredients that went into making Udaan. But the resulting product was more; so much more. In Rohan’s poetry, we find a silent cry for people like him, whose creativity and aspirations were stifled by parental and societal pressures to conform. In Arjun, we see a desperate longing for love, attention and affection, a longing subconsciously articulated; something which even his young mind does not fully understand. In  Bhairav Singh, there is a menacing villain, but one which is more complex and identifiable than the legion of one dimensional bad father figures littered across cinema. This is an important film that finds hope in the darkest places; serves as a vehicle for suicide prevention; and tells a story with the power to touch both, the children and their parents. It is passionate as it is simple. This is a far more intelligent and effective film about the pressures, pains and joys of growing up than 3 Idiots could ever be. It is entertainment, but of a very different kind. We need more of such cinema.

Other noteworthy films: Peepli [Live], Love, Sex Aur Dhokha, Dabangg, Break Ke Baad, Phas Gaya Re Obama, Raajneeti and Band Baaja Baaraat.

My list of the worst films of the year was considerably longer. But that is usually the case in both, English and Hindi cinema. However, I list the following three films, as they could have been something more, but fell way behind the mark.

3. Anjaana Anjaani: For its countless absurdities, its sexism, its humourless existence and its squandered potential. Priyanka Chopra’s character needs a crash course in self respect and Ranbir Kapoor looks more like a sub-standard model than an investment banker. They don’t have money to fly to Vegas but they have enough money to rent boats and sail to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Stupid, silly and painful to watch. This could have been an Indian Harold and Maude. Instead, it is one of the worst romantic comedies in a while, by any standard.

2. Kites: How can a film so gorgeous to look at be so shockingly awful? Inconsistent, erratic, hollow and mind-numbing, Kites was plagued with bad acting, bad music, a mediocre story and a disjointed and weak script. As a story, this is the worst kind of 80s road movie, the kind that should have never been made then, let alone now. It makes you wonder how such a script ever got accepted, let alone receive such an enormous budget. The cinematography was the best Hindi cinema can boast of; it had an artistic vision and finesse that was lacking in the rest of the film. Anurag Basu as a filmmaker, always lacked subtlety. But this was an awful film, even compared to his previous films. Hrithik Roshan is a terrific actor. But, he has never been the best judge of projects. Unfortunately, instead of getting better at it; he appears to be getting worse.

1. Raavan: Like in the case of Ishqiya, where do I begin? Was it the awful performances, the bizarre characters, the stranger story or the self-indulgent direction? It is remarkable how faithful Raavan is, at least broadly, to the Ramayana. However, unlike the epic, it has no depth, meaning or emotional resonance. The characters are awkwardly mixed with shades of gray without much thought and the actors rightly look confounded by them. Mani Ratnam gets it wrong; terribly wrong; so much so, that his previous work, Guru looks like a classic in comparison to this. He is, I think, to blame, singularly and entirely for this disaster. A.R. Rahman’s score, overall, lacks punch. Abhishek and Aishwarya both disappoint, even by their own self-imposed standards. But the fault lies in their characters more than their performances. If there could be a negative star rating, this movie would be a perfect candidate for it. Without a doubt, this is the worst film I saw this year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tees Maar Khan (2010): Sheila's Too Sexy For This Film

Whatever one may say about her brand of cinema, there is one thing for certain: Farah Khan knows her Bollywood. She has proved, twice over, that she is the only filmmaker who can take Bollywood conventions of yore and sell them to a modern audience. She does so by unsubtly, but gently poking fun at the little quirks and details while remaining steadfastly faithful to the broader framework. Her films, for all their fun and humour, have usually a strong emotional core which Indian audiences readily take to. Her films look gorgeous and usually have tremendous entertainment value. Hers is the kind of cinema that would make Manmohan Desai and Mukul Anand proud.

However, it is hard to imagine a Farah Khan film without Shah Rukh. It’s not just the familiarity. There is a certain comfort they had, a unity of vision, which showed in her previous films. I think that is one of the prime reasons why a lot of people have been sceptical about Tees Maar Khan, despite the otherwise appealing promos. A lot is riding on it, and it’s not just the money. It is a challenge for Farah Khan not only in terms of maintaining the same entertainment value as her previous outings but also on establishing a reputation independent of Shah Rukh Khan. It is also a litmus test of sorts for Akshay Kumar who has consistently delivered increasingly bad films such that even his better ones (Action Replayy) got a cold shoulder from the audience. So, TMK carries with it the reputations of some serious heavyweights and needs to satisfy an increasingly unforgiving (and worse, indifferent) audience. The question is: does it deliver?

Tabrez Mirza Khan a.k.a. Tees Maar Khan (Akshay Kumar) is one of India’s most notorious con-artists. He steals from the rich, but does not share with the poor. In his own words, trying to catching him is like trying to save a whore’s dignity. It’s kind of pointless. Like Abhimanyu in Mahabharata, he learned his art from the womb thanks to his mother (Apara Mehta) who feasted on 70s Hindi crime movies. He is dating a half-brained wannabe actress Anya (Katrina Kaif). Now, he must pull off a seemingly impossible task: stealing fabulous treasures worth Rs. 500 crores but weighing 10,000 kgs loaded on a train on its way to Delhi to be deposited in the State Treasury for two international twin smugglers (Raghu, Rajiv). But nothing is impossible for Tees Maar Khan.

The first half of the film is tremendously good. The opening credits may offend a few but the depiction of how TMK learns his skills in the womb is original, inventive and laugh out loud funny. There are some brilliant lines and even better comic sketches which are put together into a silly but rib-tickling narrative. The jokes work throughout. Sheila Ki Jawaani sizzles, and how! The song is electric and the video by itself makes me want to recommend the film. It beautifully pays homage to one of the most iconic item numbers of all time (“Jumma Chumma De De” from Hum). Salman Khan’s cameo, while obviously gimmicky and forced, is entertaining enough to make you forget everything else. The production is fabulous. The composition of each scene in terms of costumes, art work and cinematography is a visual feast. The first hour has Farah Khan stamped all over it.

However, in the post-interval portions, things start to stagnate. Jokes fall flat. The proceedings get too dull and meandering. Thankfully, the penultimate portions featuring the heist itself are quite funny and lift the film a bit. However, the climax (which is more like an extended epilogue) is just painful to watch. Ideally, the film should have ended right after the heist. But the writers stretch an already dubious premise too far; to the point where it stops being funny. The end credits (a hallmark of Farah Khan films) lack the celebratory spirit which her first two films had. The culprit here is the team of writers (led by her husband, Shirish Kunder). It’s in moments like these that you wonder: where is Abbas Tyrewala when you need him? Only he, and maybe Farah Khan herself, can make such absurdities work. In the hands of Kunder and his team, it is a massacre that manages to destroy the what little impact the film had till that point.

In terms of performance, Akshay Kumar does the best he can to make the material funny; and he succeeds, at several points. He is a better choice over SRK for such a role and brings tremendous energy to his character. Katrina Kaif looks supremely sexy and looks perfectly natural playing a bimbo. I wonder why that is. Wait, not really. Akshaye Khanna has sub-standard material to work with but still manages to pull in a few laughs. Apara Mehta is hilarious in portions. The legion of supporting actors is sporadically funny, often dull and occasionally irritating.

Ultimately, I strongly suspect that TMK suffers from that “My Hubbie Strongest” Syndrome. Sometimes, it is not a good idea to mix family and work. Kunder is a good editor. However, he has a lot to learn in the writing department. While it is not a complete failure, TMK remains several notches below Farah Khan’s previous works. The emotional resonance is non-existent and the humour is nowhere near good enough to compensate for that. It is a half entertaining, half annoying and a wholly absurd enterprise. Houston, we have a problem.

Rating: 2/5

P.S.: There is one splendid reason to watch the film though: the trailer of Saat Khoon Maaf. It is an audacious project even for Vishal Bharadwaj and may just be the crowning glory of Priyanka Chopra. A haunting and powerful trailer, it makes you wish you were watching that film instead of this one. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

TRON: Legacy (2010): A Wasted Opportunity

TRON is a very iconic film of the 80s where, for the first time, audiences saw the potential that extensive use of CGI held. It involved a programmer Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who takes on a Master Control Programme, which has plans for world domination, and is digitised and transferred from the real world to the digital world (known as the Grid). There he meets some other programmes, including TRON, a programme which was specifically created to control the MCP and launches a massive attack against it. Shot in a videogame format (the kind we played in arcades as kids), visually, nothing like this film has ever been seen before, or after. Its greatest strength was to employ action movie conventions very creatively in the digital world, thereby offering a unique experience. Although as a story, it was riddled with more than a few holes, it was easy to forgive such misgivings and enjoy the experience. Today, it may look a little tacky. But, in the context of its times, despite its meagre returns, it was nothing short of revolutionary. Over time, it has gathered a considerable following not only for its stylistic visuals but also its prescient content. The term “ahead of its time” has rarely found a more appropriate example. 

Now, 28 years later, Disney decided to provide a sequel to the film. As such, sequels are usually judged in comparison to the original. But here, it would be almost pointless to do so as many of the target audience of TRON: Legacy will not have seen the original (which doesn’t enjoy the mainstream popularity of, say, the Star Wars series). Hence, the lengthy background to the original film by way of an introduction. Through its trailers, the one thing that TRON: Legacy promises, both to the fans of the first and new entrants, are eye popping visuals. In the last 3 decades, CGI has undergone a sea change from new to generic technology. Today, the emphasis is not so much on the quality of the effects per se as much as it is on the imagination gone into creating them. Therefore, TRON: Legacy has a new challenge before it: can it offer something new and groundbreaking like its predecessor after all that has followed?

The premise: Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappeared 20 years ago. Some think he is dead; others think he has run away from his responsibilities towards his company, Encom, and its shareholders. Left behind is his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) who believes in his father’s causes (namely free access to technology) while Encom’s new management believes in making them pay as high a price as possible despite the efforts of Kevin’s best friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). A mysterious message from his father’s old videogame arcade leads Sam to discover his father’s old office. He soon finds himself also in the Grid, reunited with his father with a new ally, Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and a new villain, Clu (also, Jeff Bridges), a programme created by Kevin in his own image who has gone rogue and taken over the Grid.

T:L cost a sizable fortune to make (a cool $200 mil) and it shows. The special effects are spectacular and beautifully build on the world created by the original film. This is one of the few movies that is, at least visually, worth watching in 3D. The set design, the programmes, the games etc. are brilliantly realised, even if they are a little short in terms of ideas. There is nothing new here per se from Tron, at least nothing good. The new bits look like they were rejected designs for Lady Gaga videos. However, they do take the ideas from the original and use modern technology to provide some truly mind blowing visuals. The soundtrack by Daft Punk is especially good maintaining a cool, yet menacing tone throughout the film and making good use of electronic pop to provide that metallic, steely, atmosphere to the proceedings, much like the Grid itself.

Unfortunately for T:L though, it falls apart in terms of story in the second hour. The premise, that starts out promisingly is destroyed under the weight of some bad ideas, terrible clich├ęs, cringe-inducing dialogues and bad acting. It is just painful to watch the film especially in the penultimate reels because the potential here was immense. They could have taken a film that was visually iconic, but weak in content and improved it to make it something extraordinary. But instead of going anywhere near there, it creates plot holes so many and so large that it has to be seen to be believed. It falls into the trap of providing conventional action set pieces and the story itself suffers on account of that. Actually, “suffers” doesn’t even begin to describe it. The film looses any sense of coherence or originality. The character of TRON himself is just butchered. The plot makes no sense whatsoever. Every idea there has been done better in some other film. The direction is aimless and the emphasis is more on the look of a scene than its content. The dialogues are so laughably bad that the script writer(s) deserves to be shot. On the emotional front, neither the relationship between Sam and Kevin, nor that between Sam and Quorra has been properly developed. Their relationships look more lifeless and metallic than the Grid itself.

In terms of acting, Garrett Hedlund desperately needs some acting lessons. His only expressions here are stone face and constipated. The film rests to a large extent on his shoulders, and he disappoints. Olivia Wilde has to deal with a very badly written character. Jeff Bridges is excellent, both as Kevin Flynn and as Clu. The use of CGI to create a younger version of him was, I think, inspired and he essays both parts effortlessly. Michael Sheen is brilliant in a small role as a Chaplin-esque over the top, loud Zuse, an act which borders on caricature.

Ultimately, T:L is a beautiful body without a soul. It has a good first hour and an abominable second hour. It is a wasted opportunity considering the potential the premise held. It plays like a bad videogame and is just not worth the price of admission.

Rating: 2/5

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Band Baaja Baraat (2010): All Weddings and No Funeral

I love weddings; from the band and the baaja to the garish colours and the decorations; from the sangeet to the shenanigans; from the food to the festivities; from the rituals to the reception where 700 cousins you never know existed show up for pictures. For this reason, and a few others, Band Baaja Baraat was a thoroughly entertaining fare, much to my surprise. It lives up to its title and provides us a delightfully colourful, warm and funny look into the Great Indian Wedding, of all shapes, scales and sizes right from a wedding in a mohalla in Delhi to a royal palatial wedding in Rajasthan. Along the way, it also provides us a fun and likable love story about two wedding organizers and how their affections affect their business.

The premise: Bittoo (Ranvir Singh) is a quintessential Delhi boy. Studying at Delhi University, he spends the day being idle, gawking at Delhi women, eating bread pakodas and gatecrashing weddings. In comes Shruti (Anushka Sharma), a headstrong but fun loving girl who wants to start her own business as a wedding planner. They meet at a wedding, which she is helping organize and he is gatecrashing and soon become unlikely partners for a wedding planning business. They taste success as they organise one wedding after another. Between them, they have only one rule: there is no place for love shuv between business partners. However, romantic comedies have their own rules, before which this little rule obviously does not stand a chance.

It would not be wrong to say that this is the most solid film to come out of the Yash Raj Films banner in many years, arguably since Chak De India. Its biggest strength is that it keeps things simple and the scale appropriate. A Janakpuri wedding looks like a well done Janakpuri wedding. A palatial wedding looks like a palatial wedding. It takes us through the bylanes of the more modest areas of Delhi without being guilty of unnecessary ostentation like previous films made under the banner. The characters look and behave like they come from these sections and that helps us immediately identify and care for them.

The writing is fresh, particularly in the first half which is frothy and cackles with wit and sarcasm. As a storyteller, Maneesh Sharma keeps things straight and saves the film from any serious convolutions. He tells his story with confidence and focuses on getting the look, the performances and the timing right, in which he, by and large succeeds. The film does best in depicting the chaotic wedding planning and the growth of the business. It does stagnate in the post-interval portions as the genre conventions kick in and the obligatory sequences are done. However, the film picks up in the penultimate portions once more and cruises coolly to a satisfying conclusion. The music is good and the production design is fabulous.

In terms of performances, the film would fall like a pack of cards without the performances of the leads. Ranvir Singh proves that one needs confidence, personality and acting ability to be leading man material, and not good looks. He quickly wins you over as the crass but caring and hardworking Bittoo. Anushka Sharma gives her career’s best performance and makes us love and firmly root for Shruti Kakkar. Forget all the Kiara-s and the like, this is the quintessential modern girl with determination, confidence, an acid tongue and yet, some vulnerabilities. Anushka Sharma looks completely at ease with the character and gives a very natural performance. Together, the couple has great chemistry and they carry the film on their broad shoulders.

Ultimately, there are several reasons to recommend Band Baaja Baraat. If you like weddings, this is a delightful treat of one kind of Indian wedding after another. If you like Delhi, few films have captured the essence of what it is to live in and be from Delhi than this film. The lingo and the characters are straight out of day to day life. Finally, if you like romantic comedies, this is a lovely little exercise in pure formula that should keep you entertained mostly throughout. This isn’t groundbreaking cinema. But it surely is good cinema.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guzaarish (2010): Good's Not Good Enough

Sanjay Leela Bhansali brings dreams to life on celluloid. He is perhaps the only Indian director that can qualify for such a statement. In each of his films, good or bad, right from Khamoshi to Saawariya, he has an eye for visuals that is unparalleled in Hindi cinema. This makes his cinema, for better or for worse, unique. Sometimes, his visuals can add considerable depth to the story as in the case of Black. In other times, it can overpower the story altogether as in Saawariya. However, irrespective of the film in question, a common thread throughout Bhansali's considerable repertoire (both, in terms of accolades and money) is the weak scripting. At best, the scripts he co-authors and works with range from well-intentioned (Khamoshi: The Musical) to the downright deplorable (Saawariya). Further, his direction, though technically flawless, is loud and hammy in technique. Black is the only film where the performances and the sensitivity and daring in addressing the subject matter overcome these flaws. It is, in my opinion, not only his one masterpiece but also his only truly memorable film. However, his films are usually an uneven balance of style and substance.

In terms of subject matter, Guzaarish is the kind of film one would expect Bhansali to make after Black. It is a bigger challenge as it involves greater complexities and nuances. The topic of Euthanasia is not, in any way, an easy one, especially in cinema. The challenges are not only emotional but also political, ethical and legal. The final product we get, is a mixed bag.

Ethan (Hrithik Roshan), once a world famous magician is now a quadriplegic after a near-fatal accident at one of his performances 15 years ago. He is paralysed the neck below and is entirely dependent on his nurse, Sofia (Aishwarya Rai) for his care. Sofia cares for him more than a friend, a wife or a lover and has even given up on her marriage to attend to him. He is dying as his organs give way one by one. He calls upon his lawyer friend, Devyani (Shernaz Patel) to file a petition in court for euthanasia. What ensues is a legal battle where a man seeks a right to die within his fundamental right to live. 

Visually, the film is stunning, as is expected. Each frame is a canvas and on it, Bhansali and his cinematographer paint a portrait so beautiful that it is simply breathtaking to behold. Some have criticized the film for looking unrealistic and nothing like what Goa and its people are really like. These people I think miss the point entirely of Bhansali's films. His films take place in moments largely suspended in space and time. The costumes, the sets and the production are meant to provide a surrealist look and add to the visual appeal. It is this surrealism that adds a certain amount of universality to the story. Guzaarish is no exception where Aishwariya Rai appearance seems to be a cross between gypsy and Victorian styles. The house is again Gothic/Victorian in Architecture. A wide palate of dark, deep, moody colours is used to paint the visuals and it helps set the atmosphere of the film well. Ethan's memories as a magician take place in the same theatre in front of similar, if not the same crowds. This is because the importance for him is not so much because of the place or the people before whom he performed but simply the joy and thrill he got from the performance itself. The only time his audience ever mattered was when he performed his first magic trick. The music, also by Bhansali, is an eclectic mix of styles ranging from Westerns classics like Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" to Arab and Turkish influenced tunes.

On the emotional front, Bhansali manages to give us characters we care for and creates some truly wonderful cinematic moments. The sequences involving Ethan's first magic trick, for example, are wonderful as much as they are painful. However, it is hardly an unqualified success as the script falls prey to loud, painful emotional overkill, especially in the later reels. Although the relationships are well defined and carefully developed, the abandonment of any semblance of restraint in the second half of the film severely dilutes the impact. While Ethan's individual relationships with Sofia, Devyani and Omar are beautifully defined with considerable maturity and complexity, on the whole, especially in the collective moments, the film falls prey to severe emotional spasms with one too many passionate outbursts. Also, the one relationship that deserved more was that between Ethan and his mother (Nafisa Ali). The potential there was immense and the ease with which she acquiesces to the idea of mercy killing for Ethan seems a tad unbelievable.

There are problems in terms of plotting as well. The changes in public opinion hardly seem believable. The legal portions, while somewhat convincing in the courtroom, become really half baked once the drama shifts to Ethan's house. The authenticity of the proceedings is done great disservice by shoehorning emotional moments. Further, going beyond the emotional issues, the political and ethical dimensions are so poorly explored here that the film comes off as amateurish, a fall in standards for Bhansali who addressed some difficult and complex issues in Black. By couching Ethan's plea for Euthanasia simply in terms of personal choice, the film stops short of exploring the real issues of why a person would opt for mercy killing like dying with dignity etc. 

In terms of performances, Bhansali succeeds in extracting some wonderful ones from the entire cast. I have said this before and I will say it again. He is the only director capable of extracting a powerful performance from Aishwarya Rai. She was stunning in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas. Guzaarish is no exception. Here, she has a chemistry with Hrithik Roshan that goes far beyond the damp couple that they were in Jodhaa Akbar. Their relationship is more complex, more endearing. Hrithik gives a lovely restrained performance. The still water runs deep act suits his character perfectly. One can't say that he takes giant strides as an actor or manages a performance like Rani and Amitabh's in Black but it's nevertheless a very good performance. However, the real find in this film is Aditya Roy Kapur who pitches in a solid performances as the relentless, determined but extremely endearing Omar. He demonstrates talent both as a comic and dramatic actor. Shernaz Patel is one of my favourite character actors today. I have seen her both on stage and screen and she is a dazzling actress who deserves more footage. Here also, she excels as a friend who is called upon to put aside her personal opinions and fight for an ailing man's right to die with dignity. Rajat Kapoor, her partner in several stage productions, is wasted as the opposition lawyer.

Overall, Guzaarish is an improvement over Saawariya and yet, several notches below Black. Although it boasts of a daring story with wonderful visuals and performances by the entire cast, it is severely afflicted with emotional overkill that takes away from the political and ethical dimensions of the theme and robs some great individual sequences of their gravitas. It is like an omelet with too much oil in it. Its failure has been likened to Guru Dutt's Kaagaz Ke Phool. However, I think it has more in common with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Delhi-6: well intentioned, in places good even, but nowhere near the standards that the material could have reached. But maybe it's just me: Euthansia is very important to me not only as a liberal but also on a more personal level. I have seen someone suffer like Ethan in the film with no escape and therefore, have some idea what that feels like. Maybe that's why I think a topic like this deserves a better film than this overproduced, over the top film. If you don't mind watching a film trying to attach a vacuum cleaner to your tear-ducts, be my guest. If not, do yourself a favour: rent Million Dollar Baby or Mar Adentro instead.

Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Anjaana Anjaani (2010)

Anjaana Anjaani is perhaps one of the most annoying films I have seen in recent memory. That is not so much because it is a terrible film but because it had potential to be infinitely better. It is an excellent example of how you cannot take an offbeat and quirky premise and employ mainstream romantic comedy conventions to tell the tale. It just does not work. For that reason, Anjaana Anjaani sits uncomfortably in an odd place where a few strong sequences dissolve thanks to too many weak ones. It's like a drop hydrochloric acid mixed in a gallon of water. It is ineffective at best, and a complete waste at worst.

Akash (Ranbir Kapoor) and Kiara (Priyanka Chopra), two strangers, meet at the George Washington Bridge in New York City on a cold December night. Both come there with the intention of committing suicide; he because of losing everything in the 2008 Financial Crisis; she because of her boyfriend (Zayed Khan) issues. Unsuccessful, they make a pact to commit suicide on New Year's Eve which is 20 days away. In the mean time, they intend to do everything that they always wanted to do but kept putting off. Thus begins a journey that makes them rethink their entire lives.

The premise had immense potential I think for providing a refreshing, daring and interesting romantic comedy. However, the film collapses under its own weight as it tries to be faithful to rom com conventions. It tries to be youthful but comes off as achingly artificial. It attempts humour, but comes off as awkward. It tries to be serendipitous but appears too unbelievable. It throws logic out to the winds, at too many places. For example, there is a particular sequence where they are both in the (literally) freezing ocean about to drown and it is there she decides to tell him her life story. They decide to drive from New York to Las Vegas. In addition to showing them reach rather too quickly, they also get their car stolen in the middle of the desert and still manage to make it look as if finding civilisation is an easy task.

It also has too many songs. Despite the glossy production and the good music, that is a hindrance as it adds to the already long runtime. At a time when Hindi movies are restricting music on a need to use basis, this film goes mad with it. Further, its placement of songs is problematic to say the least. Songs like "Aas Paas Khuda" which should've come in the penultimate portions is the first song in a completely wrong context.

Further, it has problematic characters. While I love Priyanka Chopra, and she does do extremely well as an actor in the emotional sequences, her character is just plain stupid and for all her modernity, is in desperate need of a crash course in self-respect and maybe, feminism if her tiny little fictional brain can handle it. Ranbir Kapoor hardly looks like the investment banker he apparently was. He is funny in places but his character has none of the brains to look even a wee bit convincing. They have great chemistry together but that cannot cure the disease of inept writing which plagues the film. Even something serious like the Financial Crisis is used so carelessly and with such little regard for its impact that it is frustrating (How many times can you say "The Market has crashed" and its grammatical in a single scene? According to this film, the answer is countless. The more you say it, the more you will make the audience feel sorry for you.)

I did start this review mentioning some strong sequences. I like the back story of Kiara even though it is horrible placed in the narrative. Priyanka Chopra I thought did exceedingly well in those portions. There were some small scenes here and there as well. However, overall, this is a shockingly bad film that had the potential to be an amazing one, maybe even an Indian answer to Harold and Maude. Do not bother with it unless you are stuck in a long plane ride and this is your only option. That was the case with me.

Rating: 1.5/5

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

The Narnia series had, in my opinion, a fantastic start with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I haven’t read the books but the film was a gorgeous production with a coherent story (unlike most Harry Potter adaptations), an exuberant spirit and loads of heart. It provided us a magical new world with characters we could care for. Prince Caspian was an adequate and yet, in every way, underwhelming follow up which was too dark, too dull to enjoy the same kind of reception. The film was weaker both, visually and as a story. However, when Andrew Adamson who helmed the first two films, was replaced by Michael Apted, I was even more skeptical as his only film I have seen is one I have disliked with some intensity (The World Is Not Enough). However, I was pleasantly surprised with this one.

The premise: Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are now teenagers who are living a mundane life in the middle of the War with their Uncle Albert and irritating cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) while Peter and Susan are in the US with their parents. They find themselves called into Narnia once more, this time with Eustace and find themselves on the Dawn Treader, the finest ship in Narnia in the company of Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) and Narnian sailors. But there is no war going on this time. Instead, they are on a voyage to investigate into the fate of seven warriors who supported Caspian’s father before his death. What starts out as a simple voyage becomes a quest against something far more sinister that threatens the new established peace in Narnia.

Although the third instalment still falls short of the standards set by the first film, it is an improvement over Prince Caspian in every way. Visually, it is stunning, not just in terms of the scale of production but also in terms of the imagination. The film has an epic look in that classic way and considerable imagination has gone into creating the worlds. Several moments in the film are simultaneously terrifying and awe-inspiring.

In terms of story also, it is far more enjoyable a tale with the right mix of humour and drama, good and evil, swashbuckling action and magical fantasy. What I particularly liked in the film is that the way the human relationships were handled. Characters were better developed and each relationship signified a different theme. In Eustace and his relationship with Reepicheep, the film explores what it means to live for something more than yourself and finding courage in the most difficult of circumstances. In Lucy, we see the importance of self-worth and individuality. In Edmund, we see the struggle to understand what it means to be a man. In his relationship with Caspian, we have the exploration of what it means to be a brother. These are themes and ideas that both, kids and adults can engage with. These are dealt with simplistically, but well (at least considerably better than Prince Caspian) It is endearing to see the growth of Lucy and Edmund as characters, more so than Peter and Susan’s.

Ultimately, Voyage of the Dawn Treader falls short by a margin in matching up to magic of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. However, it is a vast improvement over Prince Caspian, in every department and makes for a thoroughly entertaining fare for people of all ages. It is an epic film with a marriage of scale, content and spirit that has become seriously rare in American productions.

Rating: 3.5/5