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Your favourite PSH film?

Philip Seymour Hoffman has left us. But his films will endure.

Which is your favourite PSH performance?

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Review: Ron Howard’s Rush

Formula One has the habit of making other sports look absurdly insignificant.

What, you run real quick? What, you flog a bit of leather? What, you hit another bloke in the face?

Well, I battle gravity and push physics to the limit by hurling myself at the apex of a curve, calculating and strategising about the car behind me, braking crucially late while knowing full well that I could careen into a rival inches ahead of me, and shatter a chassis or two or a neck or two.

rush-movie-1Comparisons will forever appear laughable, but not quite as much as when Formula One was bloodsport, days when — as Niki Lauda says in Rush — two out of 25 drivers died every year. Those insane statistics nutshell the relentlessly, giddily gladiatorial sport F1 had become in its quest to straddle speed and danger, and even by that unacceptable norm, 1976 was a particularly dramatic year.

So dramatic, to be precise, that one would be forgiven for thinking Ron Howard’s film, set around that year’s Formula One World Championship season, is fictional. But sport is where fact often leapfrogs the imagination, when true human conflict supersedes acceptable writing. Where we only suspend our disbelief because we’re told all that’s happening on screen, no matter how preposterous, has its roots in reality.

You couldn’t find more diametrically opposed racing drivers than the technically proficient Austrian great Niki Lauda, and swinging, Union Jacking superstar James Hunt. Lauda was one of the first drivers who understood the importance of aerodynamics, and revered for his excellent understanding of a car’s limits. Hunt was the definitive F1 playboy, a man with the badge “Sex: Breakfast Of Champions” sewn onto his overalls, a lad who’d gargle champagne before winning races. In 1976, these rivals put daggers between teeth, stared death in the face and lived to finish the tale.

Ron Howard’s film is written by the infallible Peter Morgan, the playwright and screenwriter who fashions known historical facts into riveting narratives so laden with plot they’d make George RR Martin jealous. The two had worked before on the astonishing Frost/Nixon, but armed with this much deliriously cinematic meat, they go one better. This is a Scorsese-worthy story, and Howard rises to the moment and does it justice. Rush is not just the best film of Ron Howard’s career — a rip-roaring smash about a great human story, and two damn fascinating men — but among the finest sports films in modern cinema.

The casting is spot-on, with Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth playing the frequently unzipped Hunt and Daniel Bruhl of Inglourious Basterds as the nearly-Vulcan Lauda. Both actors are in exceptionally fine form. Hemsworth gets the swagger right, Bruhl masters that accent, and together they bring to life an intensely passionate rivalry. (To be fair, it is a bit exaggerated. The two fought on the track but never loathed each other like the film showed; by all accounts, their’s was a relationship of competitive respect. But then again, Hunt did always say Lauda looked like a rat.)

The racing action is brilliant, with inventive cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle fitting cameras into peculiar crevasses in the vintage chassis. The viewer is forced closer to the action — and much, much closer to that Sherman Tank of an engine — than television can allow, and the results are dizzying. You do not have to be a fan to love this film, though a fan would derive much pleasure by seeing the doppelgangers cast in important smaller roles, like that of Enzo Ferrari or Clay Regazzoni. (The finest supporting actor here is Christian McKay as the memorable Alexander Hesketh, a whimsical team-owner who introduced the F1 pitlane to oysters and caviar, and a man worth a movie all his own.) The acting is top-notch all around, and the women — Alexandra Maria Lara, Natalie Dormer and Olivia Wilde — up the film’s stakes considerably.

rush-movie-2For there is so much more to this film than racing. There is a whole lot of sex: on the most important day of his career Hunt is shown waking from a Japanese hotel bed with two pairs of feet flanking his own. And then there’s even more insight: Hunt prepares for a Formula One race by lying down with his eyes closed, visualising the Monte Carlo grand prix circuit in pre-simulator times; Lauda learns that no woman can rev up an Italian man’s motor quite like a Ferrari driver can. There are even exquisite details for fans of motorsport history, including quotes that have since become legendary, and women even more so. Also, Hunt’s beloved budgerigars make an appearance.

Don’t look up 1976, don’t look up file footage, just go watch this rousing film. And then get a hold of the BBC documentary, F1’s Greatest Rivals: Hunt vs Lauda so you can watch the real men and marvel at how perfectly Morgan and Howard took the story and ran with it. Many years ago, John Frankenheimer’s 1966 stunner Grand Prix cemented my then-fledgling love for motorsport, and now Howard has, at long last, created another film evocative enough to ignite pitlane-passion in hearts that haven’t yet thumped for Formula One.

Rush is a film about a racing season — and two seasoned racers — so damned thrilling that it would compel the most stubborn Formula One hater, those people who insist mastering technology isn’t a sporting enough achievement and forget every other part of the invariably human equation. For the Formula One fan, this is a film worthy of a magnum of Mumm’s finest champagne — if only for the chance to hear those massive V12 engines explode across the big screen. VrrrRRRRRRooom.

Rating: 4.5 stars

~

First published Rediff, September 20, 2013

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Trailer: Go Goa Gone

Go Goa Gone:

In which Raj and DK direct.

In which Saif brings the cool.

In which I write his lines.

 

(Oh, and did I mention zombies?)

~

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The Best Hindi Films of 2012

It isn’t often that I get to make a top ten list of good films. Most years, there are four or five good Hindi films. Sometimes I add a few more on, with a caveat. 2012, on the other hand, has offered up several shards of cinematic joy, and it is a year that may well prove to be a milestone in modern Hindi cinema. Or so one hopes.

All ten films listed here may not necessarily be perfect (though the ones at the top come dashed close) but each of them gets certain things very right indeed. And are well worth smiling at.

10. Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu

It’s easy to call Shakun Batra’s directorial debut derivative, and indeed the film does owe quite a debt to Hollywood romantic comedies and the work of Cameron Crowe, but it does show off enough charm to earn its own applause. Imran Khan is better than ever, Kareena Kapoor is effortlessly vivacious, while Ratna Pathak Shah and Ram Kapoor appear to be having quite a blast. It’s snappy, fun and — thanks largely to the sudden way it wraps things up, almost as if the screenwriter were afraid to write the final act — mercifully brief.

luvshuv19. Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana

There is quite the surfeit of flavour in Sameer Sharma’s directorial debut, a film that spends a bit too much time on its characters and their earthiness before getting to the actual plot. And yet, despite the lazy indulgence, there is much to warm up to and appreciate here, with a smashing ensemble enjoying feasting on the quirks the screenplay provides. In this film about a forgotten recipe for a famed chicken dish, there’s a wicked twist in terms of the ingredient, and one hopes people experiment with it off-screen as well.

8. Paan Singh Tomar

It’s taken a while to finally reach us, but by golly, Tigmanshu Dhulia’s film about the truly unique life and times of the steeplechase runner provided one of the year’s most enthralling stories. Most of us knew precious little about the titular Tomar when the film began, and the incredulity of the story proved impossible to resist. Irrfan Khan, showing up with one of the year’s finest and fiercest performances, makes sure we’re glued throughout.

7. Gangs Of Wasseypur 2

People who liked the first Wasseypur didn’t care as much for the second, and vice versa. What we could all agree upon, though, was that if these two epics were melded into one and edited as brutally as the characters within slaughtered each other, we’d truly have a masterpiece on our hands. That said, , the very fact that a filmmaker like Anurag Kashyap could realise his massively ambitious dream, is a great sign. I liked Part 2 more than Part 1 simply because, knowing what to expect, I could enjoy Kashyap’s dark lunacy without worrying about how it all added up. A heady film with many a magnificent performance.

6. Barfi

Yes, I’ve seen the Youtube clips. Yes, there’s far too much in this film that comes from other films, and I agree it can’t just be explained away as a tribute. That said, Anurag Basu’s Barfi is a film with genuine heart, and even if Basu borrows sentences from other stories to tell his own tale, it nevertheless remains a tale worth telling. Ranbir Kapoor is extraordinary in the title role, Priyanka Chopra tries hard, and in the winsome Ileana D’Cruz we find a debutant who appears more than a pretty face. And the film, while a bit long and, in my view, fundamentally flawed (Barfi’s relationship with the autistic Jhilmil is one of sympathy and should not be mistaken for one of love) does still transport one to a different world. The magic can’t be denied.

omg15. OMG Oh My God

Based on the Australian film The Man Who Sued God, OMG is a dashed clever project to adapt to an Indian setting, what with our multiple gods and godmen just ripe for a big, no-holds-barred sendup. It’s not the best produced of films, but the points it makes — about false idols, promises to gods, donations, etc — are as effective as they are unsubtle. Paresh Rawal grounds the film with a fine everyman performance, but it is producer Akshay Kumar (in a winning turn as Krishna) and Mithun Chakraborty (clearly lampooning a certain limp-wristed religious icon) who steal the show.

4. Vicky Donor

There’s a little something for everyone in Vicky Donor, a romantic comedy that bucks convention and embraces it at the same time. Shoojit Sircar takes a rather brilliant idea, that of the hero as a prolific sperm-machine, and uses it with warm familiarity, making a perhaps-taboo subject instantly and eagerly accepted by a massive chunk of the nation. The film plays through standard Bollywood ideas — like the cross-cultural wedding cliches, for example — with inspired ease, and a routinely good cast (including the two debutants in the lead roles) makes it a film worthy of repeat viewing.

3. Kahaani

A grown-up thriller with many a pleasure secreted between the lines, Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani is the kind of film Hindi cinema hasn’t seen for a very, very long time. Lovingly showcasing Calcutta both at its most sublime as well as its most slimy, this often-illogical but beautifully crafted thriller features one of the best female protagonists in recent cinema and characters that remain very hard to forget. Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sashwata Chatterjee all do splendidly well, and Ghosh has promised a sequel. For a change, it’s a sequel we’d actually like to see.

2. English Vinglish

Girl power hit a new high with Gauri Shinde’s directorial debut. The trailers promised us hardly anything save for a Mind Your Language takeoff, but boy, were we surprised. A simple film about a laddoo-making entrepreneur forced to double up as a housewife, this happens also to be a sharp commentary on the way we talk down to those unskilled in English. All Shashi (played fantastically by Sridevi) does through the film is take an English-language course, but Shinde makes sure every little triumph counts like a major one, and the film — sensitively and smartly — emerges immaculately balanced. A perfect film, and possibly the definitive what-to-watch-with-Ma movie for our generation.

1. Shanghai

Bharat Mati Ki… Bharat Mata Ki… 

shanghai1It’s hard not to say Jai to Dibakar Banerjee’s bleak and gruesome take on India’s developmental delusion. Banerjee takes Vassilis Vassilikos’ classic Z, about a very specific real-life Greek assassination, and turns it into an unrooted allegory for our times: the city is not quite Bombay, the politician is not quite Mayawati, and the IAS officer is not quite sure where he stands. At a time when our films are content merely flexing cinematic muscle and showing off what they know, Shanghai is a film that probes, that questions, that unsettles, as important cinema must.

Banerjee is a master filmmaker, one of the most fascinating megaphone-wielders in the country, and each of his four features thus far — Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Love Sex Aur Dhokha and now Shanghai — have reached out and connected on a different level. Shanghai is a film with a dismal, nearly fatalistic worldview, and yet a film that highlights just how vital every last glimmer of hope is, and how much of a difference it makes.

Emraan Hashmi delivers a standout performance, Bengali film icon Prasenjit is perfectly cast, Pitobash Tripathy and Farooque Shaikh are sneakily excellent, Abhay Deol stays impressively in semi-smarmy character and Kalki Koechlin makes the most of one glorious, tempestuous scene. Mikey McCleary makes for a darkly dazzling score, and the murky but brilliant cinematography by Nikos Andritsakis is quite something. The script by Urmi Juvekar and Banerjee himself is a strong one, one that builds up the tension, and Banerjee takes all his flashes of individual brilliance and crams them tightly, claustrophobically together: as if packing TNT into a scary scarlet stick.

Boom.

~

First published Rediff, January 4, 2013

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Sentury: The Top Hundred Hindi Films

After 99 Mirror columns, Raja Sen marks his ton by listing the hundred greatest films in the hundred years of Hindi cinema.

 

Click on the image to view the list full-size.

Please debate and disagree with inclusions and omissions in the comments section, but for every film you want to add, do suggest which one to toss out.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, June 20, 2012

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What I love about Mumbai…

The meritocracy. The mania. The home-delivered alcohol. The hours. The fact that we call it Bombay, come what may. The delusion. The complete lack of perspective. The palpable fanaticism about film. The seaface. The honest auto-rickshaws. The dives. The impossibility. The DVD bootleggers. The fanboys. The fact that nobody really cares unless you beseech them to. The self-love. The brick-red powder that accompanies vada pao. The fact that the city moves as if cut to a soundtrack. WTF, Versova. The freaks. The frankies. The dreamers. The old and gorgeous South Bombay buildings. The new friends. The fact that the city sinks fangs into you and tries to make you its own. The sleeplessness.

But, if I were to pick one: the Bombay girl. Epic.

~

Originally published in MumbaiBoss, January 2, 2012

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The girl with the legs

I met Deepika Padukone’s legs at a party once.

They wore blessedly tiny white shorts, as if sunbathing. They looked the part, too, bronzed and toned, sculpted from Renaissance-era marble, just, you know, tanned. Gulp. The actress atop them seemed far more reticent than her sensational stems, speaking softly and keeping mostly to herself. Her, I barely met. The legs, on the other hand, screamed Hi from right across the room. And dozens of us waved moronically back, spilling drinks and walking into coffee-tables as we gaped helplessly.

It is this effortlessly distracting aura that Shah Rukh Khan tapped into as Deepika walked by in Om Shanti Om. He clutched at his heart and swooned, theatrically overwhelmed by prettiness. Deepika was seven when Shah Rukh conquered the nation with Baazigar — the second film she’d ever seen — and yet here he was, holding her dupatta like a schoolboy who’d just swallowed his tongue. It was a dream she’d never dreamt.

Daughter to Badminton champion Prakash Padukone, her childhood treasured sport instead. “It was all about the All England [Badminton and Lawn Tennis Championships] and the World Cup,” she says, speaking about how the family got together once in a while to go watch a film, always something big and dreamy and romantic. “Something YashRaj or Dharma.” She admits to a DiCaprio poster alongside tennis pinups, but films were never something that mattered.

Modelling, however, always did. She pored over magazines, followed pageants, and loved to pose. “I think everybody knew about my passion for being in front of the camera, performing, the ‘glamour’ aspect of it,” she vocally air-quotes the word, almost as if flaunting that gorgeousness is a bad thing. “I think I figured it out in school, because I enjoyed being on stage, photo-shoots, fashion shows and all that.” A career she actively worked towards, she feels, unlike her current one. “I knew that modelling was something I definitely wanted to do. Films… I just didn’t expect [that jump] to happen so soon.”

It happened. At 25, Padukone is one of Hindi cinema’s most recognizable faces. Aarakshan, out this August, will be her tenth film as leading lady, in less than five Bollywood years. What she lacks in range, she tries to make up with gams and gumption. She’s played a movie star, a cab driver, a blind roller-skater, a freedom fighter and even a half-Chinese Ninja-type. “I don’t get to choose what comes to me, I choose from what comes to me,” she explains, a suddenly articulate spark. “I’ve been fortunate that my directors think I can do different kinds of films. But I enjoy doing love stories the most. Those are the films I really enjoy watching.”

Being Cyrus director Homi Adajania’s next film is one of those. She calls it “a hardcore love story,” insists the title Cocktail isn’t final, and, while refusing to spill any beans, dubs it her most challenging role. “This year the films are all different. Aarakshan [a Prakash Jha drama where Saif plays a Dalit] is next and then Desi Boys, which is a romantic comedy, going into Cocktail with Saif, going into Race 2, an action-thriller.”

“There is a kind of cinema [the audience] want to see you in, definitely, but I guess for them also it would be nice to see me in different kinds of roles. Shah Rukh is the perfect example. Everyone loves him as Raj, sure, but they also don’t mind seeing him in a Don 2 or an Om Shanti Om, y’know, doing something different.”

Very telltale, the way she looks to a man, the top man even, as her measure, not to any of her female colleagues. Unlike many of them borrowing accents from Manhattan and Melbourne, Deepika — who says ‘Thin-kuh’ for Think and ‘Wooduntte’ for Wouldn’t — appears a plainer girl who pronounces her apostrophes. An occasional Aishwarya giggle pops up hiccupishly, but vanishes as she talks beyond the rehearsed.

I firmly believe stunners view other stunners very differently from us gogglers, and ask Deepika who in Bollywood looks better than she does, in terms of physical attributes.

“Mmmm. Physical?”

Yes, go on, be superficial. Who do you think has nicer legs or eyes or a smile?

“Well, I’ve always admired Madhuri’s… expressiveness. Oh, and Priyanka’s confidence.”

Cheating. Confidence isn’t physical at all.

“Okay, okay. Let me think. Kareena’s… light eyes. And Katrina, I guess, for the way her hair is always in place, no matter what.”

Deepika, you’re hedging. Point blank: is there anybody in Bollywood you think has a better body than you?

“No.”

Automatic, instant, defiant. With the kind of pluck that shows she’s here to stay.

~

First published ELLE magazine, July 2011.

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Guest post: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Why a guest-post? On this self-indulgent blog of stuff I write and actually like? Well, because it makes sense. Because it needed a space, and I had a particularly thickskinned one right here. Because it says what needs to be said. Because the anger is real and relevant and relatable. The friend who has written this wanted to be called Mr Orange, hiding behind anonymity because the post is directed towards those anonymous haters filling up our timelines. I, however, can’t help but picture him drying his hands. Over to Orange.

Prologue:

Fuck Internet. Fuck Google. Fuck Wikipedia. Fuck Facebook. Twitter. Youtube
and Torrents.

Everybody gets heard. All you need is an internet connection and you have all the
licence to pretend that your opinion actually makes sense and impose them upon
the world.

The internet has made everybody an expert on everything. From movies to
politics to sport to even medicine. A Superstar falls sick and morons Google
terms they hear to tell the doctors what they ought to be doing. A team keeps
losing matches and everyone on social networks has become a certified coach.
And every Friday, every person with a blog, nay, Facebook account (which is
almost everybody) becomes a movie reviewer because he’s watched Quentin
Tarantino and Guy Ritchie.

Listen up motherfucker. Tarantino has directed five movies. Anyone can watch
them in less than a fucking day. Guy Ritchie has made another six. Most of
their films have a similar structure of parallel narratives coming together for a
common climax. That is not a plot. Or a story. It’s yet another narrative structure,
another way of telling a story.

Tarantino did not invent this structure. Nor did Guy Ritchie. So stop calling every
film with a parallel narrative a rip-off just because you’ve seen Tarantino and/or
Guy Ritchie.

Tarantino wrote Reservoir Dogs as a reworking of Kubrick’s The Killing and
Kubrick wrote The Killing from a novel called The Clean Break. And, Lionel White
who wrote The Clean Break and many other noir novels was a crime reporter
who got his inspiration from his beat.

Every film or story can be traced back to a form of inspiration from life or film.
So here it is, dickhead. Breaking news for you: There are no new stories. Every
story is recycled. From life or from print or film. Postmodern forms of expression
acknowledge that all pop culture is hence, derived. Since you idiots flaunting
your half-baked knowledge of cinema like to Google, here are a few things to look
up.

1. Noir. 1.a. Neo Noir. The more you read up, you will realise how Tarantino
and Ritchie are just two of the most celebrated filmmakers who have
tapped into pulp fiction and stylised them successfully with their distinct
style in the nineties. Since most of you morons grew up in the nineties,
you have obviously seen just their work or were introduced to non
Bollywood films with them. The Coen Brothers do it with a greater degree
of understatement and restraint and quirk. Tarantino says he steals from

every film. Since you like Youtube, do look up a mash-up of all films that
influenced Kill Bill and you’ll see how it is a glorious product of post-
postmodern film kitsch.
2. Monomyth: Anthropologist Joseph Campbell in his book ‘The Hero With
A Thousand Faces’ comes up with an observation through comparitive
mythology that every hero goes through 17 steps before becoming a
hero. Since you like to look up Wikipedia for everything, do read up on
Monomyth before farting about how Avatar is copied from Pocahontas
or how Harry Potter is copied from Star Wars. George Lucas who wrote
Star Wars swears by Campbell’s book and has gone on record to say that
he couldn’t have written Star Wars without ‘The Hero With A Thousand
Faces’. Even the Wachowski Brothers swear by it. The first step to
becoming a movie geek – Go read that book and try to understand it
entirely and then, maybe I may entertain a conversation with you.

Context:

This outburst springs from four isolated incidents:

1. First, an old friend from school who thought Aaranya Kaandam was a rip
off of Snatch. Since he was a friend visiting after long, I politely pointed
out how it’s closer to Inarritu’s or Tarantino’s style than Ritchie’s and
in any case, the story here was different and the similarity ended with
structure.
2. Next, this guy pissing in the loo of the theatre was telling his friend how
it’s a copy of some Guy Ritchie film he saw long ago. Okay, now this I
couldn’t respond. He’s a perfect stranger. But dude, Ritchie has made only
six films and none of them are about how a woman is on top of the food
chain in the survival of the fittest.
3. Three, someone on Twitter eager to pick a fight points out how Aaranya
Kaandam is a rip-off. Out of genuine curiosity, I ask, rip-off of? And the
moron replies saying “broadly of European cinema and Scorsese” and that
auteurs don’t imitate. First of all, Scorsese was inspired from everyone
starting from John Ford to Hitchcock to Kubrick to even Cassavetes. He
does till date continues to refer to their films as a tribute. By now, every
film buff worth his salt knows that The Departed itself was a reworking of
Infernal Affairs.
4. A movie blogger blogs about how Aaranya Kaandam and Shaitan are
similar to Tarantino. Yes, of course, they are. Elementary, dear Watson.
But there’s more to these films than structure. A structure is just a way of
telling a story. Do you compare a film that tells the story from A to Z with
another film with a different story just because of its linear storytelling?
Spotting the genre does not make you a critic, it just means you have
watched some films. Spotting the deviation from the genre is what makes
you a critic.

Reviews:

So here I am, thirsting to vent after listening to four different guys believing
that all stories told with parallel narratives are invented by Ritchie or Tarantino
instead of reviewing Shaitan and Aaranya Kaandam and what about them
worked for me and what didn’t.

Shaitan began with the promise of delivering us to the dark side of mind with
its irreverence and in your face nihilistic attitude. First, Kashyap and Co need
to be told that a girl asking someone about their sex life is not shocking or
cool (Remember Abhay being asked in Dev D, here it is Kalki). It’s just reeks of
wannabe-ness and is outrightly corny. If you’re a girl, try asking that to anyone
you don’t know and be sure to be perceived as behenji-turned-mod. If you’re a
guy, you’ll be called obnoxious, creepy and nosey in real life.

None of it contributes to cool quotient or a nihilistic streak or the rebel without
a pause button. But let’s forgive that given that these things are considered
shocking and irreverent in the context of mainstream Bollywood. Maybe girls are
depicted as modern day rebels only if they pry about your sex life and guys are
rebels if they say stuff like Suck My Dick-ra or make Dildo Paagal Hai jokes. Like
all Bollywood films that wear T-shirts that spell out character, one of them sports
Joker to let us know that these Shaitan log want to unleash chaos by driving
around the city drunk in their Hummer.

But thanks to the catchy score and gorgeous cinematography (Oh look, it’s
raining popcorn – someone knows to use fast shutter speed, how cool – and
similar student film gimmicks done with professional flair), we drive along with
these kids wanting them to wreck havoc and chaos, given the promise of nihilism
spelt out scene after scene for the first 20 minutes.

Sadly, it turns out that all of that anti-social-Fuck-You-World doesn’t amount to
squat as psycho-babble in the form of Kalki’s disturbed past is fed to us in small
doses in an irritatingly stretched out fashion all along the film till the very end
that when the reveal happens, you realise it was much ado about nothing.

What begins as a misadventure of De-Generation Next as a continuation of Dev
D from the accident scene and a reworking of Paanch’s plot of fake-kidnapping
a friend gone wrong gets into safe-Bollywood territory with a sudden change of
heart and a morality shift, afraid of flirting with the “Very Bad Things” sort of a
snowballing bloodthirst. What we get instead is more gimmicks. Yes, it is totally
cool to see a shootout picturised in slow motion to a version of Khoya Khoya
Chand but it is indulgence really.

What begins as “Prison Break” sort of misdirection (If you’ve watched this show,
you’ve probably rolled your eyes at the number of times this technique has been
used in multiple episodes – the cops rush to a location on a tip-off as Scofield
and Co hide in a warehouse, tension builds as the narrative intercuts from the
hunter and the hunted and culminates with the police breaking open a door and
we learn they’ve reached a different warehouse) is stretched out beyond need
because, well, it all looks bloody cool, so what if it is irrelevant to the plot.

Scared to go all out evil, characters who we were told were nihilists, don’t do
everything they do because they hate the system. We are told that they are
in this situation because the system forced them into it. Lame. Suddenly, the
whole film goes weak because the gang of Jokers have become clowns who want
to go back home to their Mummy-Papa Bollywood style and they blame it all
conveniently on a corrupt cop. And a mentally disturbed cocaine addict suddenly
finds closure because she killed someone haunted by the visuals of her mother’s
suicide. Shaitan is what happens when you watch too much Hollywood but need
to make a Hindi film. You are neither there nor here.

Film noir is about the triumph of evil, not about the abrupt recoil into the shell of
the family. Dear wannabe rebels, evil becomes stronger every time it gets away,
it doesn’t undergo a change of heart in a noir film! It does ONLY in a mainstream
Bollywood film. So dear Shaitan, stop pretending you are not one. It’s okay to be
Bollywood, it’s okay to be flawed. At least you are not using slow-motions like
Sanjay Gupta in rehashed versions of Hollywood films. No, wait…

That said, I did enjoy all the gimmicks in Shaitan simply because I haven’t seen
too many Hindi films that are half as stylish, however influenced, but I seriously
hope Bejoy stays true to what he wants to do in his next films.

There were moments when I thought the film is going somewhere. Especially,
when the Shaitan bunch hide under the garb of religion (burkha) and find a
convenient hiding place in places of worship (church) and also manage use a
ritual (Hindu procession on the road) to dodge the cops but it ends with that.
But it all amounts to nothing really as the film shifts the entire blame on to the
failure of the law and order system as if the root of the issue – the baggage of the
dysfunctional Indian family – had absolutely no role to play.

A complex subject like this required a filmmaker with more experience and
understanding of the social fabric. Not just some whizkid with a camera who
found out how to use fast shutter speed and slow motion and splash his name
out in bold typeface against a red backdrop just because it’s cool when Robert
Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie does it.

Bejoy, I believe you when you say you haven’t seen Paanch. I suggest you do it
rightaway. Or the other release of the week.

Aaranya Kaandam is exactly how you must adapt, or as Tarantino would
say, “steal from every film” you see. Because, despite its obvious influences
and derivation, it has an original flavour, plot and a story to tell and a point to
make. And Aaranya Kaandam unfolding at a confident leisurely pace, with just
43 scenes, compared to 140-200 scenes in a typical Tamil film, tells us this story
about the survival of the fittest, chapter by chapter, shifting focus from character
to character, without the maddening hurry Ritchie is in or the bizarre quirks that
Coens bestow their characters with or the pop kitsch Tarantino is addicted to.
Though he does resort to pop culture references in a couple of places, the big
joke (the Rajni-Kamal one) here is to underline the overarching theme of the film
about the sexual politics of gender unlike the randomness and the irrelevance of

the Big Kahuna Burger to Pulp Fiction’s central noir plot.

There’s also a huge hangover of retro Tamil music thrown in in generous doses
along with a curious blend of world music but then, it comes with the genre. Like
most post-postmodern nineties neo-noir films, Aaranya Kaandam too recycles
pop culture and reinterprets it – BUT – to tell a story that belongs essentially to
today’s society.

But instead of blindly following the trinity of the late eighties-nineties neo-noir
filmmakers (QT-Coens-Ritchie) in terms of pop art and pulp fiction, Thiagarajan
Kumararaja is more interested in the philosophy and a deeper understanding of
the mechanics of the modern day jungle. The film begins with a quote: “What is
Dharma? Dharma is what is necessary to survive.”

He’s more influenced by Inarritu’s laid back zen-like approach of the universe’s
inter-connectedness and the primal nature of man to survive in the most hostile
of environments. What then, is the role of the woman?

Spoiler Alert: Do not read ahead if you haven’t watched Aaranya Kaandam

Kumararaja’s femme fatale (also his weakest casting choice that stands in
the way of his film’s greatness) is a masterstroke because she offsets every
chauvinistic joke and archetypal alpha-male dominance in the film. The woman
here is on top of the food chain and she needed to be played with an actress of
substance. She’s smart, educated but knows to play dumb and has the smarts to
manipulate her way out to freedom without needing a Ram to save her from her
captivity. “Men are idiots,” she says and adds: “But luckily, it’s a man’s world.”

Though the “hero” of the film, Pasupathy (Sampath) also needs to save his wife
from captivity, he’s not the smartest guy around as the kid points out: “You
couldn’t save your own wife. How do you expect me to trust you to save my
father?” Every man in the film is deceived in one way or the other except maybe
the kid whose strong innocent belief is that you need to do what you need to do
to survive, even if it means stealing. The child is the father of the man but the
woman, she’s the one calling the shots. What man will not do for sex!

Every line, every scene in the film is just another excuse to get to this point that
men, like their character-names suggest, are like animals who live off each other
and would do anything for food. Yes, even the astrologer who seems irrelevantly
inserted (for the Prabhu-Khushbu joke to diffuse the tension during a scene
when the gangsters are waiting outside the police station) is accosting a dreaded
gangster because it’s a matter of his bread and butter.

Nothing is used as a gimmick (except maybe Jackie Shroff’s literally stylised Lion-
like gait, snarls and flashing of teeth) and everything comes together as a whole
towards the end. And there was Shaitan which was all style and no soul.

I wouldn’t have had a problem even if Shaitan just remained about the
degeneration of youth as it began. The problem is that it does not know what it is
about.

~

Gang, do leave your comments below. May this post not be Mr Orange’s last.

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The world’s shortest love story

How romance began, blossomed and withered all in the space of an epic 98.

 

I first saw her at the Arts Centre. The University’s cricket-loving population was sprawled under a giant screen, a distinctly visible demarcation between hundreds in blue and an equal number in green. Actually, I had seen her before — even held the door open for her, thanked refreshingly by a ‘shukriya’ instead of the ubiquitous ‘cheers’ — but with her beaming and bouncing and cheering, looking drop-dead delicious in her Pakistan tee-shirt waving some rude-yet-clever slogan at us, 1st March 2003 was the first time I had actually stopped to look.

An enthused Pakistani fan cheers her team to victory against Canada.

Wasim Akram began with two dot balls. I, with shaggy hair much bluer than my team tee, kneeled next to a friend and watched Sachin Tendulkar cream the next ball to the ropes. Obviously, I stayed on that left knee for more than half the match, while Sachin layeth the smacketh down, but, every time He wasn’t on strike, I pivoted back. To auburn curls, light eyes, an electrifying smile and lots of flag-waving sass. Eye-contact was made over Shoaib getting spanked, and there was much playful slogan-warring; she even thumbed her nose once and irresistibly stuck out a sharp tongue. I decided that I would keep the post-match gloating to a minimum, and instead offer to take her out for a consolatory slice of pie or something.

Boundary. Six. Pivot. Boundary. Dot ball. Pivot. Pivot. Halfway down the 28th over, Tendulkar was out. On 98. We sighed and fretted, but we knew he’d already given us an innings more special than many of his tons, and that the match by now was won. We patted each other on the shoulder as if we’d been running those ones and twos, smiled and applauded. Pivot. She stood atop a table celebrating the master’s dismissal, her eyes gloriously, gorgeously aflame as she mouthed and gestured ‘get out of here.’ To Sachin. If my left knee wasn’t already ground into the carpet, it might have buckled. The friend amused by my Pakistani preoccupation clapped his arm around my shoulder. I’m not sure, but I think he might have offered me pie. Or something.

You get it, right? I’m all for a pretty girl vociferously egging her team on and willing ours to lose. That’s passion, and that’s sport. But doesn’t Sachin move beyond merely geographic boundaries? Doesn’t everyone just want to watch Him bat?

From opposing bowlers to infamously partisan Australian crowds, they all applaud and marvel and wistfully, briefly picture Him wearing their own colours. In the IPL, I used to support Kolkata Knight Riders, but when we faced Sachin all I wanted to see was that legendary drive straight past the bowler. Or an audaciously square cut. Or just a bullying six. We all want to watch Sachin bat — like Warne turn or Murali decieve or Wasim york or McGrath castle — because that is as good as cricket gets.

Many years ago, at an Eden Gardens game, my mother cheered Viv Richards on to hit a six. This was admittedly because she wanted to see the handsome Nawab of Pataudi, then fielding near the outfield, to get closer to her stands while retrieving the ball. Still, dubious motive aside, her aghast fellow-spectators had to concede that they all wanted to see the same piece of savagely sculpted poetry. Because magic is for everyone.

I don’t know where that girl from eight years ago is, or even her name. I just wish, by now, that she’s learnt to appreciate Tendulkar. Because just watching cricket is a darned sight less lyrical without Him. And Sachin belongs to us all.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, April 6, 2011

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The Big Filmmaker Fight: Choose your destiny

Makers I’d Like to Follow: or, as is easier and catchier, #MILF.

Welcome to the funnest fantasy league in showbizland.

The game: Simple. 3 dream teams made of some of the industry’s finest directors — with some inexplicable choices thrown in. @Harneetsin, @PratimDGupta and yours truly have each chosen sides with very distinctive identities, and the winning team will, rather obviously, be the one with the highest score. The game runs from Diwali 2010 to Diwali 2011, which means this Friday onwards.

Scoring, too, is simple: No box-office, no other critics. The three of us rate films on a scale of 1 to 10, and you, fellow filmbuffs online, rate them on a scale of 1 to 5. So each film eventually reaches a x/35 rating, and then we total the scores.

The teams: We took turns picking favourite directors, and then handicapped each other by giving rivals directors we feel likely to lower their ratings. So each squad has 5 filmmakers we like, 2 we’d really have liked to avoid, a Mentor who acts as a mascot for the team, and one english-language filmmaker. Here they are:

Harneet Singh: The Dark Knights: Imtiaz Ali, Sriram Raghavan, Dibakar Banerjee, Rajkumar Gupta, Anees Bazmee. Plus Sajid Khan (via Raja) and Rajkumar Santoshi (via Pratim). Mentor: Rajkumar Hirani. English-language maestro: Martin Scorsese.

Pratim D Gupta: Glorious Basterds: Zoya Akhtar. Farhan Akhtar. Rohan Sippy. Anurag Kashyap. Anubhav Sinha. Plus Vipul Shah (via Harneet) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali (via Raja). Mentor: Aditya Chopra. English-language maestro: Danny Boyle.

Raja Sen: Goodfellas: Vishal Bhardwaj. Farah Khan. Kiran Rao. Tigmanshu Dhulia. Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK. Plus Ram Gopal Varma (via Pratim) and Ashutosh Gowariker (via Harneet). Mentor: Gulzarsa’ab. English-language maestros: The Coen Brothers.

Now, before you finally make up your mind: check out the posters (which I say with a shameless little bow, since I made all three). Ta-da!

Now pick a side already. All feedback about #MILF teams and their potential over the next twelve months to be posted in the comments below, and trust me, we’re planning a bunch of things to make #MILF fun for all filmbuffs, from director interactions to livechats where we can all hurl fanatical slurs at one another. Start by following the teams — and us, if you like — on Twitter simply by clicking on the poster names, pledge your allegiance below, and buckle up: as movie posters often promise, the madness begins this Friday.

Choose. Follow. Fight.

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