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Hindi cinema’s half-yearly report card, 2015: The bad (and the ugly)

Half of 2015 has flown by, and it’s a good time to take stock of Hindi cinema and its latest shenanigans. Yesterday, I looked at the good stuff, the films and performers that impressed us in these last six months. Today, however, the red pen is out and offenders must be informed of their grotesquery. It’s time for the bad and the ugly.

psepmThe bottom of the barrel:

There are some films that smell bad right from their posters and titles, which invariably sound like either softcore pornography or MTV spoofs: Sharafat Gayi Tel Lene, Hey Bro, Dilliwali Zaalim Girlfriend, Sabki Bajegi Band, Kuch Kuch Locha Hai, I Love Desi, Mere Genie Uncle 3D and Barkhaa — which is not a biopic, alas — and P Se PM Tak. I usually refrain from picking on such soft targets, but P Se PM Tak — about a prostitute becoming the Prime Minister — is notable because it is a feeble, satirical dud made by Kundan Shah, the man who made Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, a film with enough bite to last us a lifetime. To see him reduced to such C-grade juvenilia is truly, truly tragic.

The colossal disappointments:

shamitabh1Shamitabh

You may level many a complaint against R Balki — his climaxes are unforgivably maudlin, his films rely too heavily on casting gimmicks, he has a weird fetish for precocious, dying children — but one thing you must concede is that he pushes Amitabh Bachchan to absurd extremes. In Shamitabh, not just is Dhanush wasted in a stupid movie about an invention that could revolutionise the lives of ventriloquists worldwide, but Bachchan is forced too far over the hammy line, the film’s nadir coming in a confrontation our legend has with a Robert De Niro poster. It’s a devastatingly bad film.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!

I firmly believe Dibakar Banerjee is one of the coolest, cleverest directors we have ever had in Hindi cinema. He’s fearless, uncompromising, visionary… and yet he took a well-loved fictional character — a character he gets, a character he digs, even (as evidenced by his foreword to an English-language translation of three Byomkesh Bakshi stories) — and tossed him from intricately plotted next-door drama to a gigantic but ridiculous plot that didn’t add up to anything. It’s a pretty looking, well-acted film but what’s the point of a Byomkesh film where the mystery isn’t smart enough?

The Unnecessaries — movies that have no reason to exist:

There are many Hindi films that shouldn’t have been made, but there are some that are completely flawed right from a conceptual point of view: Mr X is a film about invisibility where the invisible man is mostly visible; Ab Tak Chhapan 2 is a sequel to a masterful film that makes Nana Patekar shoot blanks; Hawaizaada is a long-debunked myth brought to life very tackily; Broken Horses has Vidhu Vinod Chopra remaking his classic Parinda for a straight-to-video level English release; and Hamari Adhuri Kahani director Mohit Suri and writer Mahesh Bhatt try so hard to make audiences weep in every scene that they end up making talented actors look pathetic. (And, understandably, heartbroken.)

Worst performances:

Shruti Haasan: Is Kamal Haasan’s daughter pretty? Sure. Should she act? No, please, for the love of God, no. Shruti grates on the nerves excruciatingly hard in Gabbar Is Back, shrill and screechy and horrid. Akshay Kumar must have shot the film with cotton stuffed in his ears.

Sonakshi Sinha: One ought perhaps to admire Sinha’s apparent commitment to furthering Bollywood’s bimbette stereotype and making Bhojpuri heroines look progressive by comparison. Tevar features yet another painful I’m-so-dumb performance from Sinha, and while I agree we should all be used to it by now, it still hurts every single time.

Aamir Khan: It’s hard to make an audience hate an adorable dog, but, as we all know, the word Impossible doesn’t exist in Aamir Khan’s dictionary, and he ensures we spend Dil Dhadakne Do hoping someone would throw Pluto the dog overboard. Voicing a dog who goes on holiday and complain judgementally about his extended family, Khan delivers childishly written platitudes about humans and their habits, never quite lifting a paw — or, indeed, giving a woof—  to help people he is supposed to love.

bombayvelvet1Special Award For Achieving Universal Loathing:

Once in a blue moon — and usually never around Eid or Diwali — comes a film that makes critics and audiences agree. Last year it was Queen, that saw us all applauding and buying tickets, and this year from the same production house came, well, Bombay Velvet. Anurag Kashyap tried to channel his inner Milan Luthria (who knows why?) but an odd mix of ambition and pretension got in the way of storytelling, and the result is a film with devastating music and fine actors which is amateurishly plotted, never compelling and where we aren’t made to care about a single character. Even Ranbir Kapoor can’t pretend to like this film.
Special Award For Being A Cautionary Tale:

msg1This goes to the one and only Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan, a godman whose history you really should look up. Here, we’re only talking about the already-legendary MSG: The Messenger. In my review I stated that MSG wasn’t a movie, yet, since it wanted to be judged as one, we may as well put its hirsute hero in the dock. If only for believing yes-men, and thinking he — a man who does not watch movies — could effectively be a writer, director, cinematographer, editor, music composer, fight choreographer, and leading man. MSG is incredibly, unbelievably weird — enough to make Saint Ji shoot lasers with his eyes and talk to charred Barbie dolls. Sigh. I almost wish it was in 3D.

~

First published Rediff, July 2, 2015

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Hindi cinema’s half-yearly report card, 2015: The good stuff

Half of 2015 has flown by, and it’s a good time to take stock of Hindi cinema and its latest shenanigans. Today, I’ll focus on the good stuff, the films and performers that have impressed us in these last six months — while keeping the red pen ready for tomorrow’s more ominous instalment of the report card.

nh10aThe best films

Piku: Without a doubt, this is the A+. Shoojit Sircar’s finely crafted and emotional film about a constipated father and his irritable daughter is something special, challenging and conceptually very ambitious indeed. The acting is top-notch, the storytelling is warm and relatable, and it is a film worthy of many a viewing.

Badlapur: Sriram Raghavan’s intense slow-burn drama about revenge is a compelling and visceral work of art, with an arresting, unpredictable narrative, heaps of style, and a deeply introspective core that lifts it above the genre.

NH10: We haven’t done many true slasher movies in India, and Navdeep Singh’s gritty tale of a woman on the run is made unforgettable because of how believable the whole nightmare seems.

The interesting attempts

Dil Dhadakne Do: Sure, it’s a bit too long and there’s that insufferable talking-dog voiceover, but Zoya Akhtar’s film does indeed feature some genuine and rather quotable gems.

Hunterr: Harshvardhan Kulkarni’s film about a horny hero never quite takes off, but has some seriously quirky stuff going on and is bolstered by its performances.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha: There is a lot of marvellous flavour to Sharat Katariya’s film which gets a lot of things right but ends up being a paean to arranged marriage and how we must all settle.

*Tanu Weds Manu Returns: I must confess I was travelling when this released and haven’t yet caught the film, but even trailer-length glimpses of the short-haired (and electrifying) Kangna Ranaut ensure it being ‘interesting.’

The best actors piku1

Deepika Padukone: Is Padukone our best leading lady right now? She’s certainly not playing it safe, pushing it with every role. Piku sees her flanked by two legendary actors, but she is, impressively enough, the one who shoulders the film.

Irrfan Khan: What can one say about the marvellous Mr Khan? Piku features him as the most wonderfully nonplussed leading man, and as always, he brings tremendous nuance to a role that would, in less capable hands, be a mere comic foil.

Anushka Sharma: Sharma is exceptionally good in NH10, stripped of makeup and believably panicked as she tries to survive a hellacious night. A powerful performance.

Anil Kapoor: Kapoor, one of our most consistent performers, rises to his belligerent best in Dil Dhadakne Do, steamrolling over the talented ensemble to ensure you go home wowed by him.

Radhika Apte: Does this actress know what a false note is? It sure doesn’t look like it, and Apte — who is superb in both Badlapur and Hunterr — is excelling with a truly eclectic filmography.

The big surprises ranveer1

Varun Dhawan: Dhawan, so spontaneous and buoyant in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya just last year and, heck, bouncing off walls in ABCD2 a few days ago, dialled it all down and went gruff and bearded and mature for Badlapur. The gradual slide of man to monster is slow and challenging, and Dhawan nails it.

Ranveer Singh: Similarly, Singh, known for his far-out frippery and hammy flamboyance, peels off the moustache and swagger and plays it straight (and bemused) in Dil Dhadakne Do, giving us the kind of calm, internalised performance we really aren’t used to anymore. Bravo.

~

First published Rediff, July 1, 2015

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My picks for the Mumbai Film Festival

The 16th Mumbai Film Festival starts today, October 14.

The official website gives you everything you need to know, and lets you reserve tickets.

But this here link (RS MAMI Picks), gives you a PDF of the schedule with my must-watch films of the festival — based on things I’ve read, heard and trailers of the films playing — highlighted in unmissably bright yellow. Thus, if you like, follow the yellow brick road. I’ll be there.

(Oh, and I haven’t highlighted Richard Linklater’s Boyhood because it’s a no-brainer. Watch that cinematic marvel as many times as you can.)

Have a great festival, and holler a hello if you see me. (Just not if a movie’s playing.)

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Review: Siddharth Anand’s Bang Bang

Action films aren’t what they used to be. Gone are the days when a girl would heat a knife on a candle and dig out a bullet while Amitabh Bachchan threw out a trademark grimace. Nowadays all the girl needs to do is shine a torch while the guy puts on a bandaid. Expecting these insipid heroes and heroines then to, well, bang-bang seems like too much of an ask, especially from the man who made Ta Ra Rum Pum. All we end up with is a film full of bad foreplay which cuts to a song just when the characters should go bang.

They aren’t even good looking songs, alas. Every song sequence in Bang Bang, as well as the many uninventive but expensive action set pieces, looks like a television commercial for something: deodorant, talcum powder, lavender scented bath soap… This aside from the fact that the film is positively mired in grotesque product placements for pizza and fizzy drinks. This, of course, is what happens when a film happens to star two celebrities who are completely packaged products in themselves. Unfortunately for director Siddharth Anand, however, his actors have zero chemistry.

On paper, I admit it’s a good idea, to try and give us the Dhoom 3 experience we never had — by bringing back Hrithik Roshan, heists and a hot girl — and to improve it by removing Uday Chopra from the equation. Somewhere in the middle of this restructuring, somebody had the bright idea to call this an official remake of Knight And Day, a Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz romp that had a ridiculous plot but worked because of how gamely the two superstars dealt with the material. Roshan takes the material lightly and goes through the motions charismatically enough, but the formerly svelte Katrina Kaif — trying too hard to recapture Diaz’s sprightly goofiness — comes across as insufferable. Perhaps she’s been drinking too many of those artificially-sweetened mango-flavored drinks she flogs.

Bang Bang is all about Roshan stealing the Kohinoor — which, given the film’s advertorial bent, I’m surprised wasn’t a product placement for basmati rice. The world is thus after him, but he falls for a naive girl dreamily hunting for a “kitna susheel” boy, possibly the only girl in the world who takes one look at the legendary diamond and asks what it is. Brilliant. Besides the consistently cringeworthy dialogue, all Bang Bang holds are stunts.

Oh, if only they were good stunts. Alas, every over-choreographed look-at-me sequence looks like something we’ve seen a dozen times over, never thrilling and fundamentally unexciting — if for the simple reason that Roshan’s unstoppable character, much like the director, never does anything fresh or clever. He gets into big-budget fixes, sure, with cars and buses and seaplanes, but unlike in the original, where Cruise would actually do something ingenuous to get out of a jam, here conveniently timed coincidences do the job for him. As a result, the stakes never seem significant.

This is a stupid, stupid film trying to be slick, a B-grade film made on an A-list budget. The one saving grace is to see Deepti Naval and Kawaljeet, fine and underused veteran actors, playing an old married couple. Except they live in a house named House. Everything else is like bad guy Danny Dengzongpa likes his pizza: mass-manufactured, with a cardboard crust and extra, extra cheese.

Rating: 1.5 stars

~

First published Rediff, October 2, 2014

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20 reasons Pulp Fiction is better than your favourite film

On 23 May 1994, a film called Pulp Fiction won the Palme D’or at the Cannes film festival. Twenty years on, Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece is hailed as an absolute classic, and is arguably the single most influential film made in the last fifty years. It defied screenwriting rules, courses with wit and originality and is the very opposite of square, daddy-o.

To commemorate twenty years of worship, here are twenty things about Pulp Fiction that make it better than your favourite film, no matter what it may be. The Godfather didn’t have a katana; 400 Blows didn’t discuss a Royale With Cheese; Breathless didn’t have Mrs Mia Wallace; Vertigo didn’t have The Wolf; and Casablanca is sorely lacking in shots of adrenaline.

In appropriately non-chronological order, then, here goes:

1. The scripture-quoting

Preachers do it, bad guys do it, zealots do it, teachers do it, even educated fleas do it — But nobody ever quoth The Bible like Jules Winnfield. Played by Samuel L Jackson, Winnfield chews the angry words with great deliberation before spitting them out with, as he says, furious anger. So memorably impassioned is Jackson’s Biblical spiel that his misquoted version of Ezekiel 25:17 has become bigger than the real thing.

2. The five-dollar milkshake

Five dollars was a lot to pay for a milkshake back in 1994, something even a well-tailored hitman like Vincent Vega (John Travolta) understood  while entertaining his boss’ wife, Mrs Mia Wallace, at her favourite 50s-themed restaurant, Jack Rabbit Slims. Vega acknowledges the milkshake is pretty good “though I don’t know if its worth five dollars” but when we see Mia, played by Uma Thurman, sip it while looking over at Vincent, we realise Tarantino could have chosen no better beverage to underscore comfortable silences.

3. The Wolf

Like a criminal concierge, The Wolf comes in and takes care of the situation, whatever (and however bloody) the situation may be. He’s in charge, curtand always fast because time, for him, is the most vital factor. Played by Harvey Keitel, he’s an invaluable character with one of the sharpest lines in all of Pulp: “Just because you are a character doesn’t mean that you have character.”

4. Personality

The two enforcers are at a diner. Vincent offers Jules some bacon. Jules passes on it, saying he doesn’t dig swine, because pigs are filthy animals. Vincent (justifiably) argues in favour of the merits of bacon and pork chops, but Jules isn’t dissuaded.

Jules: Pigs sleep and root in shit. That’s a filthy animal. I ain’t eat nothin’ that ain’t got sense enough to disregard its own feces.

Vincent: How about a dog? Dog eats its own feces.

Jules: I don’t eat dog either.

Vincent: Yeah, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?

Jules: I wouldn’t go so far as to call a dog filthy, but they’re definitely dirty. But… a dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way.

5. Misirlou

Pulp Fiction kicks off with an innocuous conversation that suddenly but assuredly leads to a hold-up. Just when the victims are screamed at, Tarantino cuts to his opening credits, kicking off an inspired musical choice, Dick Dale’s rendition of Misirlou, the ferevishly-plucked surf rock guitar-track setting the stage for the riot of colour and character and carnage Quentin would lay upon us. It was a choice of music so iconic that it resurrected Dale’s career, introducing the veteran to a new, hungrily appreciative audience.

6. The gold watch

Many a film involves a protagonist’s quest for a family heirloom, but things are wholly different with Butch Coolidge’s gold watch, passed on through the men in the family ever since World War I. The line from Coolidge man to Coolidge man is mostly unbroken save for the time Captain Koons, a friend of Butch’s father, stashed the watch up his rectum while the two were prisoners of war. The one and only Christopher Walken plays Koons and delivers the monologue so expertly that — for all its scatological hilarity — it remains touching.

7. The adrenaline

Mrs Mia Wallace, the white-shirted fox eager to powder her nose, mistakes a baggie of heroin she finds in Vincent Vega’s pocket for poorly ground cocaine and gives it a quick snort. Soon, she’s convulsing and Vega’s panicking. He takes her to his dealer, Lance, who — frightened and clueless — reads from a little medical book, following which, in a harrowing (and perfectly shot) moment, Vince and Lance stab her in the chest with an adrenaline shot — a scene filmed in reverse so as not to break Uma Thurman’s breastplate — and she sits up.

8. The Urge Overkill

As audiences, however, the very act of meeting Mrs Mia Wallace might be the most thrilling of all, thanks to the way the foot-fetishising filmmaker shoots her in pieces — back of head, feet, tiptoeing feet, waltzing feet — after her slender hand hits play on a hi-fi and Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” comes through the speakers, ours and hers. Except it’s not Diamond’s version but a cover by Urge Overkill, a cover that arguably betters the original.

9. Gourmet coffee and corpses

Our two favourite hitmen are being hosted by the director himself playing Jules’s buddy, Jimmie, who is giving them some gourmet coffee while they figure out what to do with a corpse in a car they’ve driven to Jimmie’s place. Quentin, ever-comfortable mouthing angry profanity, is at his best, furious at the men for bringing a dead man to his house — largely because he needs it up and cleaned before his wife, a nurse called Bonnie, comes back home.

10. The twist and the trophy

On his date with Mrs Mia Wallace, Vincent isn’t keen to dance. As he’d told Jules earlier, he planned to “sit across from her, chew my mouth with my mouth closed, laugh at her f***ing jokes, and that’s it.” Except the boss’s wife isn’t used to hearing a no, and thus do Uma Thurman and John Travolta memorably burn up the dance-floor. And memorable as their twisting to Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell is, it’s not enough to win “the world famous Jack Rabbit Slims Twist Contest,” so while we see them giggling and running into the house, trophy in hand, it’s actually a trophy they’ve stolen from the place — as the radio informs us.

11. Mongoloid

Played by Bruce Willis, Butch Coolidge is a fading boxer who — after having taken money from mob boss Marsellus Wallace to throw a fight — accidentally kills his opponent in the ring. He comes home, shaken, to his lovely girlfriend Fabienne, played by Maria de Medeiros. Their pillow-talk is wonderfully disjointed, during which she says she’d love to have a pot-belly and he casually calls her mongoloid, then compensating by calling her a beautiful tulip. “Ah, I like that,” says Fabienne softly. “I like tulip. Tulip is much better than mongoloid.”

12. Marvin

In the funniest — and most horrifying — scene of the film, Jules and Vincent are driving along with a hostage, a young boy called Marvin, in the back seat. Vincent’s waving his gun around as he talks, and very suddenly his gun goes off and Marvin’s head splatters all over the car. It’s the most bizarre of accidents, one that leads to a side-splitting conversation between the hitmen arguing about the mess. It’s a singularly disturbing scene, one where Tarantino shows us a truly gruesome moment but masterfully makes sure we laugh instead of care. Scarily good manipulation, that.

13. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny

Sitting in the same diner Pulp Fiction starts and ends with, “Pumpkin” (Tim Roth) and “Honey Bunny” (Amanda Plummer) are a couple conversing casually about how liquor stores shouldn’t be robbed anymore. They’re weaselly, fascinating from the minute we first see them, and more than a bit stupid — Pumpkin even calls the waitress “Garçon,” meaning boy in French. And boy, do they pick the wrong day for a robbery.

14. Amsterdam

Vincent has just gotten back from Amsterdam, a country of hash-bars and legal marijuana, and Jules is utterly fascinated by this odd legality and by Europe as a whole — especially when he hears about being served beer in a McDonalds, a quarter-pounder with cheese called a “royale with cheese” in France, and the fact that in Holland they drown french fries in mayonnaise instead of ketchup.

15. “Ketchup.”

Ketchup, in turn, happens to be the one-word punchline for the kindergarden-sized joke Mrs Mia Wallace tells Vincent Vega at the end of their eventful night together. It’s a joke from a failed TV pilot she acted in called Fox Force Five. She’s embarrassed to tell it, and they both know it isn’t funny, but in the telling — and coming right after her almost having died — it is a remarkably tender moment, almost achingly romantic.

16. The foot-massage debate.

Just how inappropriate is it to give your boss’s wife a foot massage? A conversation as long and intricate as the unbroken tracking shot following the two men having it, this is a Pulp Fiction centrepiece. Jules and Vincent, on their way to a potentially lethal shootout, discuss the magnitude of the sin, disproportionately violent reactions, technique, foot-massage mastery, until — finally — Vincent says he’s getting tired and could use a massage himself, much to Jules’ ire.

17. The katana

Chased by Marsellus Wallace, Butch lands in a pawnshop where the owner and his friend — a chopper-motorcycle owner named Zed — capture them at gunpoint and decide to make their own, well, entertainment in the basement. A leather-covered ‘gimp’ is released, and Marsellus (played by Ving Rhames) is debased and sodomised. Butch, having freed himself by knocking out the gimp, goes up to the shop and — weighing the considerable options available — picks out a big katana to go save Wallace.

18. The Big Kahuna Burger

All that talk about quarter-pounders is clearly weighing on Jules’ mind when he walks into a room and towers over three young boys, one of whom is eating a burger. It’s from a new Hawaiian burger joint Jules hasn’t tried yet, and — gun in intimidating hand — he asks the “kid,” Brett, if he can try his burger. Jules thoroughly endorses this Big Kahuna burger, lamenting his girlfriend’s vegetarianism — “which pretty much makes me a vegetarian” — with his every casual word scarier and scarier, especially the noisy slurp as he tries Brett’s Sprite, while Samuel L Jackson builds to an unpredictable, brutal crescendo.

19. The briefcase

What is in Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase, the case Jules and Vincent went to pick up from Brett? The case that made Vincent whistle, casting a glow on his face?  The combination is 666, the number of the beast. Add that to the fact that Marsellus has a band-aid at the back of his skull, leading many obsessive viewers to think Wallace’s soul is in the case. Tarantino’s answer was always that the case was a mere Macguffin, a box with an orange light-bulb in it during filming — but then he’s always been one for hidden meanings.

pulp-quote20. The definition.

The movie opens with a dictionary definition of the word Pulp, printed in white text on a black background, with Tarantino offering a self-referential hint of the events to follow.

~

First published Rediff, May 23, 2014

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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

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First published Rediff, September 20, 2013

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