Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ra.One (2011)

The superhero genre in India is still very much in a nascent phase, struggling to find firm ground. In ways, it is similar to the phase Hollywood went through from the mid-1980s to 90s as it concerned itself more with visual spectacle than telling engaging stories. In films like Tron (1982), the story and screenplay took a backseat to pushing the boundaries of computer generated visuals. In that sense, Ra.One is visually impressive. It is bigger and better than than the films that preceded it (Krrish, Robot). However, in terms of storytelling, it demonstrates how far we have yet to go.

Shekhar Subramaniam (SRK) is a nerdy computer gaming programmer married to the beautiful Sonia (Kareena Kapoor). They have a preteen son Prateek (Armaan Verma) who is embarrassed by his bumbling, boring father. To impress his son, he creatss a video game where the villain is more powerful than the hero. The game: Ra.One. However, his company, Barron Industries, is developing technology to give physical, tangible manifestation to data transferred electronically. With the powerful artifical intelligence created for Ra.One, a cataclysmic system crash occurs when Prateek leaves the test version mid way through the game bringing the fearsome villain from the virtual world to the physical world to destroy Prateek. The family's only hope is Ra.One's virtual nemesis, the good but weaker G.One (SRK).

First, the positives. Visually, the film is good. While it is visibly constrained by a budget, the visual effects are excellent in several places. The action sequences make up for what they lack in novelty & originality with intensity & brisk pacing. Of these, the pre-climactic train sequence stands out the most. Despite its clumsy finish, the effects are convincing and the action is thrilling. Another great asset here is Vishal-Shekhar's music which is a deft mix of dark, melancholic overtures and chic retro re-imaginations. Their work is truly world class and brings tremendous energy to the proceedings. Arjun Rampal makes for a truly fearsome Ra.One. Although he gets barely 30 minutes of screen time, he makes a strong impression with his gaunt, menacing look and the ferocious physicality of his performance. Armaan Verma is endearing as Prateek and emotes very well throughout. SRK is SRK, which is a positive in my books. 

Unfortunately, the film isn't without its flaws, and they are several. The initial 45 minutes range from bland to annoying. The film takes too long to set up its premise. SRK has gone overboard in hedging his bets. The cameo by Priyanka Chopra and Sanjay Dutt is just unnecessary and silly. PC's deliberate blonde act borders on the agonising. The product placement is thankfully though almost as subtle as it is numerous.

In terms of writing, Shekhar Subramanian as a character makes little sense. One minute he is spewing deep, philosophical life lessons and the next he is impersonating Michael Jackson to look cool and bad ass for his son. The father son relationship, as crucial to the story as Peter Parker's relationship with Uncle Ben was to Spiderman, is sacrificed on the mantle of the syrupy and artificial. While the picturisation of the song 'Dildaara' does salvage it considerably in the second half, its too late by then. Kareena Kapoor looks fantastic and emotes well. But her character makes even lesser sense than Shekhar. She's a mother who is also writing a thesis on Hindi expletives from a feminist perspective. I mean, seriously. It sounds ridiculous even to say it out loud. Would it have killed the writers to make her character just a little more credible?

The origins story (of Ra.One moving from the virtual world to the real world) is not entirely convincing although one may overlook that. After all, it is a fantasy film. But there is a distinct lack of originality that pervades the film throughout. While one cannot dismiss the film as a rip off, it borrows elements from other movies like Iron Man, Terminator, Spiderman etc. It's almost as if SRK and group walked onto the sets of American studios and picked up various designs at random and decided to put them together. The non-appearance of Arjun Rampal until midway through the second half also is a letdown.

Ultimately, Ra.One is like a passable chocolate pie. The cocoa is rich enough; the pastry old, but edible. However, instead of sugar, you have saccharine artificially sweetening things almost to the point of making it unpalatable. Despite having the trappings of greatness, the film is bogged down by artificial sentimentality, painful cliches and unnecessary gimmickry. Nevertheless, it must be lauded for the effort put in. There will be a great Bollywood superhero movie someday. Of that, I am sure. Unfortunately, this ain't it. However, with the recent severe drought of entertainment, it certainly is something of a relief, howsoever limited. Technically also, it raises the bar considerably. For that, despite its flaws I am inclined to recommend it with caution. 

Rating: 2.5/5

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge (2011)

When a Hindi film with 5 songs feels stretched despite clocking under 120 minutes, you know it’s in trouble. Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge relies on a classic premise of mistaken identities. A comedy of errors, Vishal (Saqib Saleem) pretends to be rockstar Rahul (Nishant Dahiya) on Facebook in order to woo Malvika (Tara D’Souza). What he doesn’t know is that Preity (Saba Azad) is also using Malvika’s Facebook account to get Rohit (which is really Vishal). Just one more thing: Vishal and Preity hate each other. It’s a simple enough premise. The problem is that the film quickly runs out of plot. Ideally, such a film could be easily wrapped up in less than 100 minutes, even with songs. However, to make it a full length Hindi feature, the director stretches the film beyond breaking point making the proceedings almost too agonizing to endure.

Also, the script doesn’t help things. The wafer thin plot is embellished with cardboard characters. Instead of a development graph or even remotely realistic teens, you find characters that oscillate between loving and hating each other randomly at the whims and fancies of the writer. They seemed to have walked straight out of a bad Hillary Duff/Lindsay Lohan chick flick. The jokes and one liners draw only intermittent laughs. Like Vishal, the writers are also delusional about the quality of their humour. The conflict between the two leads in the first half is screechy, loud and very forced. The plotting is clunky and laboured despite steadfastly following formula. The editor and the director are to blame for that. Also, you are constantly left wondering: Do either Vishal or Preity realize just how creepy they are? Where are their parents? Where are the teachers? Why do these guys talk like that? Do they even attend classes? And, what is with the product placement? Has Samsung (and not Y-Films) produced this picture? As these and several other questions claw at your brain, the film becomes increasingly insufferable.

Having said this, the film does have a few redeeming factors. The first is Raghu Dixit’s music which is youthful, fresh and zesty unlike the film and its characters. From the Irish-influences in ‘Uh oh uh oh’ and the cool, urban ‘Baatein Shuru’ to the traditional Sufi flavours of ‘Har Saans Mein’, his tunes light up the screen and go a long way in making the film as a whole bearable! The second is Saba Azad and Saqib Saleem. Both these actors have tremendous screen presence and some great chemistry together. In fact, when the script doesn’t demand that they screech at each other, they actually manage to bring some depth and life into their characters, almost making them endearing. Unfortunately, by then, it’s far too late to salvage the ship, let alone save it.

For all these reasons, I think MFK is a waste of your time and the effort of some seriously talented people. Y-Films has gone the Hollywood studio way; choosing to make generic, silly, substandard teen films, featuring over-aged actors desperately trying to pass off as teens, from a strict, market perspective rather than intelligent or <gasp> realistic ones. It's a pity, really. Do yourself a favour: buy and listen to the soundtrack instead.

Rating: 2/5