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The Worst Hindi Films of 2012

There are two ways to make a Worst Of The Year list. One is to look at the embarrassing B-grade films, the predictably weak and awful movies that can fight for places in these lists even before they are released. The other is to look at prominent films that carry certain expectations, and how filmmakers who ought to have known better have disappointed.

I’ve traditionally taken the latter route, but this year my Worst Of list is a blend of the big and the banal, the inevitably tacky as well as the fatally flawed. Thing is, a couple of them are so bad they deserve to go cult, and hence can’t be ignored just because nobody’s surprised at their hideousness.

Without further adieu, then, the year’s most horrid Hindi movies:

10. Heroine

Kareena tried hard, but this Madhur Bhandarkar trainwreck was one of the most unbearable films of the year, with all his cliched, feed-the-audience-what-it-knows tropes seeming more tired than ever. The token lesbianism alone, with two drunken girls hooking up and then feeling sickened and ashamed, is reason enough to shun this one.

aiyya9. Aiyya

The most bewildering film of the year, Aiyya sees a caricatured larger-than-life protagonist overshadowed by even more larger than life protagonists. The result is a screechingly annoying film, an inexplicably shrill and stupid film. Rani Mukherji valiantly tries to exert her lovability but it only serves in dredging up repressed memories of her dressed as a young Sikh batsman. Shudder.

8. Jism 2

Only in India, ladies and gentlemen, only in India. Only in India can a pornstar make money by keeping her clothes on. Only in India does a film touted to be the year’s sexiest turn out to be such a damp squib. And only in India can said porn-woman outperform the two ‘actors’ alongside her in the film.

7. Players

On paper, the idea of Abbas-Mastan, our most hardened genre filmmakers, officially taking a remake of The Italian Job doesn’t sound like that bad an idea. Until, that is, they decide to make the classic Italian Job and the Mark Wahlberg remake, and puree them together in an atrocious smoothie, giving us a pair of conjoined heist films, each awful. And whoever okayed that cast? Bizarre.

6. Tezz

You could be forgotten for thinking there are two Priyadarshans. One, the thoughtful and often meditative South Indian filmmaker who churns out emotive art-house fare. Two, the head honcho of the harebrained, the man with movies that hinge critically on both slapstick and actual slaps, falling dhotis and an invariably Benny Hill style run-along climax. Neither man, as the achingly boring Tezz proves, can direct a thriller.

5. Ghost

Granted, it seems like a bit of a cop-out to pick a sub-B-grade film for a list like this, since expectations for a release like this were non-existent. And yet I must single out Ghost — a film the Indian censor board apparently considered “the most violent in the history of Hindi cinema” — for its intolerable tedium, for being a horror thriller than never scares and barely thrills, and for making a valiant stab at the so-awful-its-unmissable genre. At one point there is creepy crucifiction, even. All in the name of tawdry gimmick. This is one all masochists should watch, ideally as a drinking game.

sonofsardaar4. Son Of Sardaar

It’s becoming harder and harder to justify watching an Ajay Devgn movie. They are all increasingly inane, increasingly star-worshipping, and increasingly dumb — a formula that somehow seems to work for Devgn, despite himself being a reasonably solid actor capable of far more than what he does. I refuse to watch Bol Bachchan, but Son Of Sardaar seems to me the most monstrous and unforgivably braindead of Devgn’s films thus far. “But he did Omkara” now feels a lame and rather dated defence.

3. Teri Meri Kahani

Red And White Bravery Awards need to be handed out to producers who continue to finance films featuring many shades of Priyanka Chopra. She’s pretty decent when in a normal, singular role, but more than one PC never ever works. And yet we continue to be struck by films featuring her in multiple avatars, laying it on as thick as the director allows. Kunal Kohli’s film is a terribly hacky bore, but it is Chopra who must be looked on — quite literally — as the repeat offender.

2. Dangerous Ishq

Karisma Kapoor. In 3D. Past-life regression never felt like this much of a “what were we thinking?” hangover — as in, what were we thinking when we watched movies like this, back in the worst of the 80s? Or what were we thinking when we made women like this film’s leading lady, making her comeback after ages, a star? Tackiest film of the year, no question.

1. Ishaqzaade

The year’s biggest culprit, the abominably regressive Ishaqzaade was decried by a horrified friend on Twitter as “a rapey romance.” Habib Faisal’s (finely crafted and mostly well performed) film typifies the most irresponsible kind of our cinema.

ishaqzaadeThe film creates a genuinely spunky heroine, then has the ‘hero’ coerce her into marriage and consensual sex before doing an about-face, and then humiliating her by telling the world he ‘took’ her virginity. The girl justifiably sets out to kill the man who wronged her, only to then be bound and gagged by his mother, and told that she’d be better off marrying him instead. Which the hero grudgingly accepts, scowling like he’s being made to eat green vegetables. He then takes her to a brothel, and ties her up again while golden-hearted prostitutes wonder why she’s so angry.

What happens to this captive girl? Ah, she falls in love with the boy, because under all his ruggedness, he is a nice guy after all. (In sum: Yes, Romeo did trick me into sleeping with him, but at least he looks good in stubble, that jawaan chhokra. Aww.)

Faisal defended the film lamely saying that’s how things happen in various parts of the country, but the way his film continued to exult in its hero’s neanderthal mindset, celebrating him like he was blameless and naive, and essentially charming, showed clearly what side the director was on. Tying a woman up till she submits isn’t what we should even momentarily call love, and sending that message out to easily misled masses looking to cinema for role models is an absolute shame. At a time when we are finally, belatedly, definitely looking at ourselves and questioning the sexism in our society, it is films like this that need to be beaten down.

Disgraceful.

~

First published Rediff, January 1, 2013

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Hindi cinema’s best actors of 2012

2012 has been a very, very solid year for actors. We’ve had some sensational ensembles, and many films underscored by standout performances. And yet, ironically enough, this is a list with only eight men, testimony to just how stunning one particular actor has been this year. And even he’s been bettered.

Thank you, gentlemen. For creating and inhabiting characters we won’t forget.

adil110. Adil Hussain, English Vinglish

It’s easy to play a character like a jerk, but Hussain makes sure his character — that of Sridevi’s husband — never knows how badly he’s behaving. To him it’s okay teasing a wife with a recurring joke, or hugging a colleague. He’s being innocently callous, insensitive as well as indignant. It’s what makes his character a real person, one who needs to be cut down to size and yet one who picks out a good saree.

9. Ayushmann Khurana, Vicky Donor

Khurana plays a lout in this film: completely full of himself, rough around the edges, insouciant to the point of being obnoxious, and generally good for nothing. Well, unless you look closer and realise he’s also the first Indian leading man to give out pedicures. Khurana creates a Vicky who is jagged on the outside, swaggering around like his world needs him to, while unmistakably tender and well-meaning. His easy charm goes a long way, and he gets further applause for singing his own songs.

8. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Talaash

The script structure of Talaash goes awry with Siddiqui. He plays Tehmur, a limping two-bit hustler. He’s a throwaway character, a mere sidekick, but so compelling is this amazing performer that he takes over the film, his track emerging the most genuine and most impassioned — even though it’s meant merely as a distraction. Siddiqui perfectly creates a creature of the gutters, one raised on ridicule and lovelessness, and one who thus longs only for love. His eyes do the talking, sure, but that one chase sequence where he bolts through Bombay crowds, still limping, may well be the film’s highest point.

rajeshsharma17. Rajesh Sharma, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana

One of my favourite actors in current cinema, Sharma lights up whatever screen he appears in. But rarely does he get to play this unhinged a character. This one is a wonderfully whimsical wastrel who pretends to be insane just so he can get out of doing the chores. Sharma plays madcap with glorious elan, making even flatter lines work with consistently killer dialogue delivery and immaculate timing. Super, super fun.

6. Abhay Deol, Shanghai

Showy theatrical grandstanding is often mistaken for good acting, and it takes a lot for a leading man in this country to give up the vanity and go deeply internal. Deol plays a stuffed shirt in Shanghai, a conflicted bureaucrat who seems utterly apathetic to the murky world around him. Handed a simple assignment merely so he can shove it under the rug, he discovers there is a certain basic honesty, a schoolboy morality perhaps, ingrained within him. He can’t take it lying down. It’s a deliberate, constantly solid performance.

5. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Gangs Of Wasseypur

Rarely does an actor get a film that steps back and lets him do his thing. And considering he’s the hypertalented Nawazuddin Siddiqui, his thing is very special indeed. With all the rawness of Pacino in Scarface, he starts out intense and keeps it constantly on the boil. We first meet his Bachchan-obsessed Faisal as a doped out wastrel, and can’t help but be awestruck by his fearsome growth into a truly driven mob overlord. Who cries when scolded by a pretty girl. Spectacular.

4. Irrfan Khan, Paan Singh Tomar

With legs of greased-up lightning and a perpetually intriguing personality, Irrfan’s Paan Singh Tomar runs havoc as a character because you have no clue where he’ll sprint next. It’s a searingly honest performance, one that has an actor do so much more than act. Khan’s commitment to the biopic comes through in every frame, and even when the film isn’t working, he’s galloping away, making us gape. Making it impossible to look away.

3. Ranbir Kapoor, Barfi

The finest mainstream leading man we’ve had for decades — or perhaps even ever — Kapoor’s constant and impressive reinvention continues with a film where his effervescence conquers all, from skepticism to disability to violence to, most importantly, silence. Sunnily enthralling and irrepressible, he plays it with a smile. Mostly. Because when Barfi isn’t smiling, he’s busy breaking our collective heart. It’s an anguished, soulful, authentic performance, and balancing it with goofy humour makes it an artistic triumph.

nawaz12. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Kahaani

He was striking in Talaash, Wasseypur might well mark the yardstick by which he’s forever measured, but I firmly believe Kahaani was the ace of Nawaz’s pack this year. There isn’t a single false or indulged note, it’s all prime. Playing a brutal, boorish Intelligence Agent, he brings an interminable ferocity to the role. The unceasing harshness, the cigarette smoke, the constantly threatening aura. The result: an authentically unpredictable character who scares you. In a year where the big three are nowhere to be found on lists like this, it is then Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Khan who deserves to take a bow.

1. Emraan Hashmi, Shanghai

Gobsmacked. Watching Hashmi in Shanghai is an abrupt revelation, like being slapped in the face only to finally see clearer. His character sounds straightforward, a videographer (with more than a passing interest in porn) who chances on a conspiracy and wants to help out, but Emraan plays him nuanced and authentic and, eventually, tormented. It’s a bravura performance, and here’s what I’d said about it in my review:

He occasionally shoots porn — this is off-camera, we see him ask his subjects to clear up and hear the hurried sounds of straps and zippers — and later, when the film’s heroine is about to sit on his bed, he instinctively barks that she sit somewhere else, because the bed’s dirty. It’s a throwaway grunt but Hashmi nails it — just like he nails highly energetic pelvic thrusts in a streetdance, one where he keeps biting his tongue, faux-scandalised by the words of the song. It’s one of the best performances from one of our leading men in quite some time, and in one chilling pre-climactic moment, when sitting on the floor and confounded by the situation, his plaintive wail is fittingly reminiscent of the late great Ravi Baswani’s angst in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’s darkest minute. Bravo.

Incredibly well done, then, Mr Hashmi. Yours is the year’s finest, bravest and most consistent performance. Congratulations are indeed in order.

Now.. Feed us more?

~

First published Rediff, December 25, 2012

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Hindi cinema’s best actresses of 2012

It’s been yet another mixed bag of a year for Hindi cinema, with some fine performances mired in poor films, and some fine films marred by weak actors at their centres. As actresses go, however, it’s been a pretty good year, boasting of some very fine performances from some very talented women. Two come from the same film, and one even pops up twice.

Here, then, is the class of 2012. Give the ladies a hand.

actresses1rani10. Rani Mukherji, Talaash

One of the few things Reema Kagti got truly right in Talaash was the casting, and while the characters may all have been one-note, the actors portraying them fleshed them out into real people. Rani Mukherji, as a grieving mother who has lost her child, was achingly vulnerable and believably devastated. The film didn’t offer her enough, but what little Rani found, she shone in.

9. Kalki Koechlin, Shanghai

Koechlin got the short end of the stick in Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai, a political thriller offering more meat to its male actors and leaving her with a rather annoying character. And yet despite being coiled exasperatingly tight throughout the film, she’s rewarded with a glorious outburst near the end of the film, a helplessly violent expression of impotent rage. Armed with a dinner plate and fury, she’s astoundingly good.

8. Ileana D’Cruz, Barfi

Winsome, naive and with enough natural charm to make bicycling boys lose their heads, D’Cruz won us over as surely as she did her film’s leading man. Mushy, moment-laden romance is an obvious screen confection, and it takes something special for a new girl to make her part memorable. This pretty one brought genuine, credible sweetness to the table, and made us believe in, and root for, Barfi’s love.

7. Kareena Kapoor, Heroine

Undoubtedly the weakest film on this list, Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine does nonetheless feature a pretty striking performance from its, well, heroine. Kareena Kapoor is handed a part that has everything, and she takes on this extreme, showreel-y character head on, showing us her powers to cry, to soar, to emote and to scheme. She does brilliantly enough to almost salvage the film, but some things are beyond the power of actors.

actresses2pc6. Parineeti Chopra, Ishaqzaade

It’s been impressive to watch young Chopra steadily grow as a performer, and even though Habib Faisal’s film is ridiculously, regressively cruel to its heroine, Chopra makes sure her Zoya works, constantly. Starting off as a plucky girl brimming with underage enthusiasm and bonafide bloodlust, she manages also to swoon with the helplessness that defines her age. A true firecracker, this.

5. Kareena Kapoor, Talaash

My absolute favourite thing about Talaash is Kareena Kapoor, the actress mouthing lines belonging to cinema (mostly bad cinema) from several decades ago, and yet doing so with a lovely lilt in her voice, enveloping herself with an air of not taking things too seriously — which contrasts her perfectly with the film’s somber hero, Aamir Khan. As I mentioned in my review, she plays her part lightly, mockingly, like Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. And it is this buoyant sense of play that keeps the film afloat.

4. Dolly Ahluwalia, Vicky Donor

Shoojit Sircar’s oft-hilarious filmabout a young sperm donor wouldn’t have been half the joy it is without Ahluwalia as his mother. Playing a delightfully original character, a Punjabi beauty-parlour owner with a sharp tongue and a fondness for the daily tipple, Ahluwalia is amazing in the film, be it when sparring with her mother-in-law, chiding her son or holding on to him because he is all she has in the world. It’s a warm, tender portrayal of an impossible character that seems all too real.

3. Vidya Balan, Kahaani

One has to applaud Balan for taking risks. Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani sees Balan waddle heavily around the city of Calcutta, her belly pregnant to near-exploding levels, as she sweatily negotiates Bengal’s unrelenting sultriness. It is a character unlike any in our cinema, and Balan plays her Vidya Bagchi with nuanced perfection, shifting uncomfortably through a film that cares little for her character’s convenience. Most of the battle is won when a mystery makes us empathise with its protagonist, and thanks to Vidya Balan, we always care.

actresses3richa2. Richa Chaddha, Gangs Of Wasseypur

In a film packed with crazy characters stuffed to the gills with quirks and an ensemble throbbing with authentic, theatrical intensity, it takes some significant magic to stand out. Chaddha does so almost effortlessly in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs Of Wasseypur, right from its uneven Part One where she violently lambasts the menfolk around her till she gets into a position of control, and the madder Part Two, where she, as matriarch, controls the show. It is a stunner of a performance, one that sets up Chaddha — who was so thrilling in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye a few years ago — as an actress with a tremendous amount to offer.

1. Sridevi, English Vinglish

What. A. Return.

I’ve never been the hugest Sridevi fan, growing up decidedly on the Madhuri side of the fence, but this wondrous performance deserves massive, massive applause. Gauri Shinde’s terrific English Vinglish casts the once larger-than-life Sri as a mousy housewife struggling to establish her own identity, and the actress is superb as she deals with bratty children, a smug husband and, of course, the English language, without a grasp of which she is made to feel most inadequate.

It’s a great character, one revelling in audience sympathy, and Sri plays it deftly and tenderly. Her Shashi is flawless, sure, but Sri makes her an irresistible underdog who must be cheered on. There is magic in the way she is spurred on by the minor victories — like learning to negotiate a NYC subway turnstile — and magic also in how believable she keeps things. This is a simple film where things are credible, never melodramatic, and Sridevi — in a range of well-picked cotton sarees — always judges the tone right. It’s the sort of performance younger actresses, including the ones on this list, should learn from. Hats off, Ma’am.

~

First published Rediff, December 21, 2012

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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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The Best Hindi Films of 2011

In which I tell you what I liked.

It’s been a sloppy year. The Hindi cinema of 2011 has been markedly short of ambition. Most of our brightest filmmaking talents were missing in action, and the majority of this year’s debutants were content to steer clear of the unexplored. Well short of plot and pluck, our biggest hits relied on literal hero-worship and formulae, while our indies, at best, were harmless diversions.

Here, then, are the exceptions. The films that made up the class of 2011 — presented here in ascending, countdown order — and the valiant also-rans that missed the cut due to flaws too hard to overlook.

The Almosts: Delhi Belly gave us uproarious laughs, Vijay Raaz in phenomenal form, and an actual twisty little plot, but I wish it was as true to itself in English as it was in Hindi. Pyaar Ka Punchnama had crackling camaraderie between the leads, a star turn by Divyendu Sharma, but lost all edge when it spent the last half hour crying into its beer. Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster begged for actresses who could even halfway match the terrific leading men. Mujhse Fraandship Karoge impressively avoided mush, but also, sadly, originality. And if only Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap had something (anything!) more to offer than Bachchan having a blast.

#4: Shor In The City: A muddily elegiac ode to Bombay, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK gave us disparate stories brought together by the maddest of cities, and shoved enough heart and sweat into that overdone synopsis to deliver a living, breathing film. Featuring a thrillingly unusual ensemble cast and well-etched characters, not just did Shor have 2011’s most rousing climax, but also —  in a scene where a barely-literate book pirate discovers his wife went to college, and she almost spoils The Alchemist for him —  one of the year’s tenderest, truest moments.

#3: The Dirty Picture: All about the girl, this. Milan Luthria’s shamelessly commercial film wades through over-written dialogue and a predictable narrative, yet stays constantly engaging thanks to unflagging pace, a won’t-stop-winking turn by Naseeruddin Shah and, most of all, a heroine you care about. Vidya Balan plays Silk with unapologetic fervor, making her not just an object of titillation but a real, self-aware woman who knows how best to win with the cards in her hand. It’s a strikingly bold, frequently brilliant performance, and the fact that this is a massive hit — in a year of Readys and Singhams — is heartening news for the Hindi film heroine.

#2: Rockstar: She’s getting married. ‘I have something to ask you,’ he says. ‘I’ll tell the truth,’ she warns. ‘So go on, who’s scared,’ he nudges. ‘Yes,’ she says. Imtiaz Ali’s intoxicating take on Heer-Ranjha has little to do with rock, but, aided by the director’s incisive dialogue and Irshad Kamil’s devastating lyrics, is a heady romantic brew not for the entirely jaded. Ranbir Kapoor, playing a causeless rebel with his head in self-created clouds, shows why he’s the best leading man in the country today, while AR Rahman drops our jaws yet again.

#1: Stanley Ka Dabba: A modest masterpiece is the hardest kind to make, and Amole Gupte’s directorial debut took us back in time just by ringing really, spectacularly true. Romanticising the tiffinbox, this movie about a boy drinking gallons of water and his gluttonous schoolteacher came to us from a knee-high point of view, amplifying the good-versus-evil stakes to those of a spaghetti western. Gupte’s son Partho led a smashing cast of spirited young ‘uns, while the director himself stunned as the mooching muchhad. Made on the smallest of budgets, this movie, shot on what looks like a still camera, proved as natural as the daylight it was filmed in. Magical.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, December 28, 2011

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The 2010 Groanie Awards

Formerly called The Golden Bananas, the Groanies celebrate the worst in Hindi cinema. Rewarded to the most painful work, the Groanies single out those exemplary underachievers who have stunned us with their mediocrity. And this is only sifting through the legitimate, big-ticket releases — who clearly sometimes outdo their B-grade counterparts.

These are the people and films responsible for many a migraine over the last year, and we feel justified singling them out — if only to point, glare and cackle at.

Yet there is something to be said for being the very bottom of the barrel, the dregs, the scum, the worst of the worst.  For this, Groanie winners, we salute you. And sincerely hope these awards are taken in the right spirit: revenge.

~

Worst Actress:

Aishwarya Rai, Robot

Like watching a feared fast bowler try vainly to bat, this was just sad. Ash, never the strongest of actresses, was purely embarrassing in SUPERSTAR’s latest smash. She rat-a-tatted eyelids, popped open mouth obscenely wide in astonishment and smirked exaggeratedly, punctuating the proceedings often with an overdone, childish pout. Just when we thought her worst was behind her, here’s a performance to make item-girls rejoice and Barbie-fetishists cringe.

Worst Debut:

Luv Sinha

In the same year that his sister Sonakshi had the year’s biggest hit, this Shatrughan-son popped up in a turkey called Sadiyaan, a dated, awfully acted spectacle showcasing a singularly uncharismatic leading man. Almost in tribute to another harebrained 2010 film, Sinha made us, well, hate Luv Storys.

Worst Casting Decision:

Abhishek Bachchan, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se / Neil Nitin Mukesh, Lafange Parinde

A tie, this one. Ashutosh Gowariker somehow decided to cast an increasingly annoying and significantly spineless cellphone-salesman as a revolutionary, a leader of men. Meanwhile, Pradeep Sarkar took the palest of our lads, a blue-eyed pretty boy who specialises in looking nervous, and made him a ghetto streetfighter. Not wise, no.

Worst Actor:

Salman Khan, Veer

Tremendous screen-presence be darned, Khan bellowed his way through this Anil Sharma monstrosity, making it hard to even look at him. Overcommitment to the part scarcely looks this ugly, as Khan — who also wrote this script, apparently taking several years to do so — played a period warrior in leather chaps, his kajal’d eyes frequently bloodshot. Just imagine Conan the Barbarian hitting the clubs on ladies night.

Worst Cameo:

Suhel Seth, Guzaarish

Any current film worth its salt features a celebrity or two popping in, either for a song or in a bit role, essentially showing their allegiance to the filmmaker. Mostly, these are fun or make sense, and it takes an alarming lack of grace to turn two minutes of screentime into a disaster.

Yet when Sanjay Leela Bhansali inexplicably cast the chubby columnist / TV talking-head as a humane doctor, something hadta give. It was impossible to stifle giggles whenever Seth started blubbering, and climactically, when he — tears trickling, porcine cheeks bouncing with emotion — hops aboard the hero’s bed, it marks the only time our heart really goes out to the film’s leading man.

Worst Line of Dialogue:

Raavan

Ram, having rescued Sita from Raavan’s lair, stands with her on a moving train. His enthusiasm at having her back by his side is dulled by the suspicion that her demonic kidnapper might have rocked the casbah with his wife at some point, and he scowlingly asks if anything happened. She, dignified even when played by a constantly-startled Aishwarya Rai, assures him that nothing has. He can’t believe that, says she was there for a long while. She smiles and reiterates her promise, and he comes up with a solution:

Toh phir polygraph test le lo,” he grunts, immediately, casually, devastatingly reducing the agni-pariksha of the Ramayana to one of the year’s most tasteless jokes. It is an unbelievably bad line, the nadir of a fatally flawed film.

Worst Original Screenplay:

Siddharth Anand, Anjaana Anjaani

He wants to kill himself because he’s in debt. She wants to kill herself because… well, because she broke up with Zayed Khan, an occasion that should rightfully bring about champagne, not hara-kiri. A pair of inept suicidal losers, they throw their lot in together and journey through bad clichés, the worst of which is his being a virgin who now wants to fall in love and change that — then die. Moronic beyond belief, this.

Worst Unofficially Adapted Screenplay, ie Ripoff:

Action Replayy

I must confess I haven’t watched Priyadarshan’s Bum Bum Bole — where the filmmaker takes on Majid Majidi’s classic Children Of Heaven, turning the climax into a sneaker commercial — and have heartfelt sympathy for anyone who actually witnessed that piece of celluloid blasphemy, but what Vipul Shah did to Back To The Future was nothing short of rape.

A Lockhorn’d old couple, all leathery faces and greyed hair, has a son fed up with it all. One night, after a party where a family friend he’s never met starts sexually abusing his father, he goes off to his girlfriend’s uncle’s garage and hijacks his time machine. Back in the 70s, he befriends his geeky father, has horribly awkward birds-and-bees conversations, and tries to set up the square with the shrew. All the time-travel cleverness is sucked out of the script, and yet the film miraculously emerges much longer.

Fie, Vipul Shah. And to do this on BTTF’s 25th anniversary? Sick.

Worst Director

Mani Ratnam, Raavan

One of the country’s most respected filmmakers, Mani Sir showed off a disturbing lack of judgement with this film. Aimed at taking on the black and white good/evil dichotomy of The Ramayana, the film tried to humanise Ravan while showing Ram’s flaws. Except the script went too far, and just reversed the order of light-sabers: suddenly Ravan was valiant and misunderstood, while Ram was cold and monstrous. Add to that Abhishek Bachchan as a schizoid hero bordering on lunacy, making faces at the chaste Aishwarya Rai, generous with cleavage and tears in equal measure. Shudder. The only reason this isn’t Worst Film is Santosh Sivan’s luscious cinematography, but only that much can be said for prettiness in an epic attempt. Raavan is an overtly, childishly literal adaptation, one that shows a great director at his most amateurish.

Worst Film

Anjaana Anjaani

There is something very, very wrong when a film about suicide makes you desperately want the protagonists to succeed, as soon as possible. It is also most unforgivable to take two of the industry’s best A-listers and straddle them with a film so inert that their most valiant efforts –spontaneity from the boy and short shorts from the girl — aren’t enough to make you give a damn.

There have been numerous insensitive, offensive, clichéd, badly acted films this year: Anjaana Anjaani just happens to be far more boring. And even a silly film about suicide ought be anything but lifeless.

~

First published Man’s World, February 2010

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My Republic

The Ideal State as dreamed up by the film critic

 

I went down yesterday to the local theatre and watched an incandescent, energetic new film, packed with the visceral sort of entertainment that justifies our existence: by which here I mean both us as humans, as being capable of crafting and being awed by art so dizzyingly high, as well as our rather more limited existence as film critics, me and my brethren trudging routinely through several feet of celluloid quicksand to find rejuvenation through rare gems.

And so it is on this day, countrymen, that I choose not to speak of the fine film I watched but instead to decry the fact that they don’t come our way more often. These, then, are some disjointed thoughts about utopia as craved by the lowly critic:

# The Blacklist: Directors of irredeemably bad films shall be put on a Blacklist following three cinematic disasters in a row. Critics are rarely unanimous except when merciless, ergo only those monstrosities — Aag, Love Story 2050, Anjaana Anjaani —  savaged by all and sundry will count. Directors striking out thrice will face a two-year sanction — from filmmaking or giving interviews — during which they will be forcefed a diet of films chosen by FTII graduates.

# The censoring of the Censors: With enough whimsy to make Terry Gilliam envious, our censor board routinely, inconsistently removes sex from adult films and bleeps out swearwords, while conversely remaining stubbornly pro-raunch. Despite the potential fear of all cigarettes being replaced by reefers, actors stopping shaving, and significant focus on deprivation, I hereby propose that iconoclast Anurag Kashyap chair the censor board. Ideally with a shotgun in hand.

# The Actor Project Electorate: Often is a fine actor wasted on an unworthy film. There needs to be a voting process in order to safeguard the squandering of, say, an Aamir Khan on a Ghajini, or an Irrfan Khan on a Knockout. This look at the film’s casting should be monitored on the Internet by vitriolic, vehement fanboys and film bloggers, who spend lifetimes perfecting wishlists and petitions almost exclusively read by themselves. A supplement of the Actor Project Electorate is the actor-director ban, used to keep a Paresh Rawal away from a Priyadarshan, for example.

# The Background Score Bureau: The continuing abuse of background score in our cinema is an issue this writer and his ears personally take umbrage to. I therefore suggest that a two-person team be set up to monitor background score and provide expert analysis: they declare when a scene needs a screeching violin, for example, and when it can’t possibly stay silent. The two men here should be, of course, Ram Gopal Varma and Dharmesh Darshan, and after they give in their esteemed feedback, filmmakers should be instructed to do the exact opposite.

There is much more to be emphasised and suggested — Prohibition on Pretention, The Cliché Committee, The Ministry Of Silly Scripts, for example — but let us for now consider this missive a first evocation of the way things ought to be.

I am more than aware that this is a juvenile utopia, yet one we must reach out towards. We must at least start. For the beginning is the most important part of the work.

~

First published Mumbai Mirror, January 26, 2011

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