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Kurbaan – a Review November 22, 2009

Posted by astralwicks in Bollywood, hindi films, india, Jihad Politics, Personal, Review, Saifeena.
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Avantika, the heroine of Kurbaan finds the truth of her neighbour, including her husband’s evil terror designs by the most facile manner. She is under lock and key supervised by highly motivated terrorist’s who forget to search her. She in fact has a phone on her!

Still interested? Avantika who knows that a plane carrying a special delegation to Iraq is about to be BOMBED does NOT call the cops – inspite of having a phone!! She calls up a journalist who is traveling on the said plane – who like most travelers switches off her phone before take-off.

Vivek Oberoi’s journalist character (with horrible accents that change like calamitous weather) again discovers that there is a terrorist cell in operation about to carry a HUGE operation. What does he do? He decides to investigate on his own – without informing the FBI. And better still – he goes and informs his editor that he has LEADS but is not going to inform the FBI! You would assume that the editor would pick up the phone and call the FBI. But no sir, he doesn’t. All this after 9/11.

There is more. Even after knowing that the terrorist cell is targeting the Metro Lines and even after the 1st bombing – people in America go about their daily lives. The authorities continue to operate the Metro instead of closing it down and sanitizing it so that our plot reaches it logical ending.

The clothes of course are good. And the locations. Couple of scenes work well. But does it justify the lack of careful attention to screenplay-detail? Seems like that. We are cagey in our criticism until and unless there is an ulterior motive. A taut flawless script is no guarantee of a film’s success. I like Rang De Basanti (at least I did when I last saw it). My friends laugh and mock me, but I still enjoy it inspite of the inconsistencies and flights of fancy. RDB has a sincere charm – the emotions of those characters are infectious and accessible. You are ready to gloss over because you believe in the film emotionally if not intellectually.

That is not possible with Kurbaan’s because its politics exist in a no man’s land. A Pakistani posing as a professor, charms off an Indian psychology professor teaching in the US so that he can take revenge on the white man and his politics of oil. The story of his idyll being destroyed by America is told by Kiron Kher’s character. Similarly Kiron Kher and family’s rage has a backstory set in Afghanistan.

The complex web of the Jihad – Wahabism, invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets, the Mujahideen, the Saudi funding of Madrasas, the CIA financing of the Mujahideen, the ISI agenda of funding terror for strategic depth in Afghanistan, the radicalization of Pakistan under Zia, the strangle-hold of the military in Pakistan, the emergence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda – nothing is even remotely touched upon. Kurbaa’s reductionism lays the blame on the door of the US of A. Is it that simple?

Do we see any evidence of what Bhaijaan (Om Puri) constantly asserts – that Ehsaan (Saif) is falling for Avantika (Kareena). NO. It is just a bogey so that when Ehsaan actually does have a change of heart without any reason whatsoever (no it’s nothing to do with the kid that Avantika is carrying) you have to gloss over the obvious lack of motivation. Again Ehsaas, the numero – uno terrorist is surprised by the rigging of Avantika’s bag. Is he a fool or a motivated fanatic?

Is Kurbaan a vivisection of the increasing clash of cultures between Islam and Christianity? NO. Is it a study of radicalization of the world per se. NO. Does India play any role in it? Nothing other than the fact that the film starts in India and the heroine has Indian roots.

Kurbaa’s characters lie in a no-man’s land. Are we supposed to like the film because it features 2 of India’s good-looking, talked-about people who are in a relationship? Good ploy but it fails.






Fashion – A Review November 3, 2008

Posted by astralwicks in Blogging, Culture, Films, india, Movies, Opinion, Personal, Review, Writing.
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Fashion is…well it’s a film that will divide opinion. All films, the good, the bad and the indifferent do that. But I am not talking about the easy toss-up of opinion that is garnished with popcorn during interval.

Fashion is not a popcorn film. Thank god for that. It is not without its flaws. In fact it has many. Let’s start with them first.

Chandigarh is supposed to be a small town. It is true, it is not Bombay, but the city’s apparent regressive small-towness can’t even be compared with Jamshedpur – where I come from. Priyanka Chopra hails from this stifling small town. Her parents and especially the godfather of hamming Raj Babbar are conservative.

Coming to family – what’s with Kiran Juneja’s cleavage? That was the moment I started to hate Fashion. Initially I thought the reverse angle would rectify this, but no – Juneja’s exposure, somehow communicates, to me at least, the director’s vision – that Miss Chopra’s ambitions – of becoming a model, which are tainted, supported by Babbar’s opposition on moral grounds, somehow, emanates from the mother.

This is just one example of what Bhandarkar does best – pins and paints characters with large brushes of generalizations. Wants to be a success, has ambitions so must be having a promiscuous grain, and if the profession entails wearing clothes that more often than not reveal more than they cover…you get the message.

Coming back – Piggy Chops sleeps her way to the top and forgets the gentle conservative, small – town values that she had landed in Bombay with. She meets and uses people close to her, basically exploits them, so that the ride is quick and at the same time strangely expects a non-exploitative relationship from her exploiters.

Success corrupts her; she becomes a Diva; loses friends, love, contracts and ends up being a nervous wreck….like she is warned by one Shonali, played by Kangana Ranaut. Meghna Mathur’s career, now a spiraling trainwreck, is punctuated by sexual acts…in increasing order of sin…first with Maanav, her ostensible love; then with Arbaaz, the owner of a fashion magazine and the last but not the least with an unnamed black person she meets at a party, fueled by drugs and booze. The last encounter shatters her and she returns home. A dream ends.

NO. The perpetually silent daughter is now given a boost by guess who – Raj Babbar – another convenient and hasty device. She returns to Bombay, mends fences with Mugda Godse’s Janet, becomes mother Mary to Kangana’s Shonali, now on the streets and shorn of all glory and sense fails but doesn’t give up. Our heroine picks up the pieces and in a neat swelling of the chorus and rolling of the drums moment, her redemption is achieved.

Inspite of the facile generalization of the industry and its people – Fashion works. It works because it doesn’t shy away from the dark and gloomy and depressing; a constant now with the director’s films (don’t count Trishakti, Satta, Corporate and Traffic Signal – all 3 fail because of bad casting, acting and his over-confidence at picking a subject fit for an expose). People are shown doing coke, shooting heroine and having sex for the sake of furthering one’s career. People are shown ambitious, manipulative, weak and succumbing to their ambition. They are ruled and are slaves to their desires of fame, fortune and not to some abstract or subservient to some finally excusable family emergency.

Other than Chitrashi Rawat and Raj Babbar, most of them do a good job. Miss Godse, Bajwa, Kittu G, Arbaaz, Harsh Chaya, Ashwin Mushran, Sameer Soni – all do a good supporting role.

And Priyanka the heroine? It is her best performance till date. The film rides on her wispy shoulders and she succeeds – from a wannabe to a Diva to a wreck to her eventual resurrection – she might never get a character like Meghna Mathur.

Which brings us to Kangana. She ends up a cliché she has popularized – of a perpetually tortured woman – addicted to her white line of coke and booze – a Diva on the loose, high on her success. People get tired of clichés. But Shonali’s 1st entry shows that Kangana can walk the model’s talk as good as any. I was impressed.

Her second entry – a hand held / steadycam shot following her full frontal – gave me something that happens rarely in the darkness of a theater – a memory. Vanity, contempt, arrogance, over – confidence, madness, beauty and charisma – the minutiae of her character coalesced in perfect harmony in that walk. When did I see that last?

Tale of Two Movies – Sawariya & OSO November 12, 2007

Posted by astralwicks in Bollywood, Culture, Entertainment, Farah Khan, Films, india, Movies, Om Shanti Om, Personal, Ranbir Kapoor, Review, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Sawariya, Sonam Kapoor, Writing.

Welcome to 2 films that are similar and separated at the same time. Both are loud, over the top. Both peppered with songs. Both introducing the future stars of the industry. Both by one time choreographers who are now directors. One is Bhansali and the other Farah.

Sawariya and Om Shanti Om have hit the silver screen. OSO is a runaway hit as expected, whereas Sawariya is trudging along, although Sony Pictures who debut in India with the mega-hyped Sawariya, would make us believe otherwise.

Bhansali is considered an Auteur…in India and abroad. He shares a love – hate relationship with the critics for various reasons. His films are anticipated with bated breath…right from casting to music to publicity and release. It’s an event in the cinema – calender of the country.

Sawariya was no different. It was the launch vehicle of Ranbir Kapoor, the 3rd generation of the Kapoor Klan and Sonam, another Kapoor, but daughter of Anil Kapoor. A star son and a star daughter being launched by presumably the biggest film maker in the country; a healthy budget, a Dostoeivsky short-story as original content and songs…the forte of SLB…all in one film. It couldn’t have been bigger than this.

Om Shanti Om, in contrast is a tongue in cheek film about the Hindi film industry…it jokes about yesteryear actors, acting styles and the innumerable Bollywood cliches that we love and hate. It is also a tribute to a narrative style that many say is on its last legs. OSO is a nostalgia laden roller coaster…at least in the 1st half. It has many a moment that congratulates Farah Khan, its director. Shah Rukh, playing an extra, is memorable. Deepika the lissome lass, all agree, is here to stay. The 9 minute star – studded song is grating and unnecessary but Hindi films have never been known to have strong 2nd halfs.

So one doesn’t mind OSO. One appreciates the Devil’s sense of humour.

Sense of humour is something that Bhansali doesn’t seem to have. Bhansali’s aesthetic is one of EXCESS. In laughter, tears, song, dance, melodrama…his leitmotif is excess. Excess can and has been an aesthetic. Film makers, past and present, have taken recourse and make memorable films. The same holds true for Bhansali.

From the fantastic palace setting of an Indian classical musician in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, its hyperloud Salman Khan to the prurient Aishwarya of the same film; Devdas’s melodrama in style and content; to the caricaturish Rani in Black to Ranbir’s imitation of Raj Kapoor (his grandfather) and the BLUE that pervades the entire film…Bhansali can be equated with a kitsch that is unique but sadly deliberate.

Sawariya takes place somewhere in sometime. A train, a guitar and what are they called ‘mirchi lights’ that decorate the pubs in this fantasy land give clues that this is located, rooted in…god knows where? A Buddha statue there, a mural here, a gandola, a bridge, a jazz pub, some whacked out (literally) prostitutes and fleeting extras inhabit this Tim Burtonish landscape. I think this idea of being Tim Burton might have weighed heavily on the film maker. Fantasy.

Fantasy. Place the film in a land and time that nobody knows. That land and time has its own rules; its own mores; its own customs and its own idiosyncracies. Nothing wrong with that. So Sakina and Ranbir the singer meet on deserted cobble-stoned streets that could be Venice. They meet, talk, share sweet-nothings and sing songs and pine…Ranbir for Sakina and Sakina for the mysterious, boxing bag weilding Salman Khan and Gulabji rooting for Ranbir.

Ranbir the lover falters in love and the 2nd half is him trying to redeem himself…with a little help from Rani, the prostitite with a conscience. You need a climax to end a film and as things would be Sakina is on the verge of falling in love with Ranbir when the bag weilding Khan called Imaan enters once again muttering ‘Masha Allah’ and all’s well. Er…not really.

By then you are BLUE. Blue is the reigning color of the film. There is enough Blue to last a lifetime. Who is an Auteur? One who has a vision or one who imposes a vision? Is it a way of making a film? Is it an approach to art? Is it an approach to the language of the medium? Is it in making one’s own distinct dialect?

Bhansali’s films are Bhansali’s films. And so is Karan Johar’s and Rakesh Roshan’s. Means that everybody in India is an auteur. Is it so?

Bhansali’s are angst ridden tales of unrequited love, great suffering, masochistic heroes, sacrificing heroines, unreasonable emotions…his films have grand passions and grander settings. True. But grandiose ideas, a big budget, a stellar cast maketh not a film.

Bhansali no matter what his problems was a great choreographer. I say WAS, because with Sawariya, Bhansali has reached the nadir as far as song picturzation is considered. The Rani + gang song is one of the worst in recent times. The Id song is bizarre to say the least.

Bollywood makes musicals. Sawariya too is a musical but what went wrong…?

Is it a showreel gone wrong? Or is it about a director who is overwhelmed by his IDEA about HIMSELF. It has happened in the past. Your own art and craft or one’s assumptions about one’s art becomes bigger, more important and powerful so as to blinker the maker’s vision.

Why do the 2 shots of the sprawling city with a train chugging exist? Does it represent something? Is the director hinting at something? About the caged existence of Gulabji, the prostitute, and the forgotten Parsi/Christian landlady played endearingly by Zohra Sehgal? Why does the cardboard wall of the set move when Ranbir writes Sakina’s name for the first time?

Why do we as audience are unable to willingly suspend our disbelief, wink at the fantasy and move on with the story of love, redemption, pain, suffering and enjoy a catharsis? Why don’t we cheer for Sakina’s foolish belief that Imaan, her love will return. Why don’t we also not root for Raj’s love for Sakina? Clap when he burns the letter. Cry when he feels the pangs of guilt?

Because the idea of ‘OPUS’ smothers love, feeling, emotion, sentiment of the young protagonists. Because the IDEE FIXE of the director is the director himself. And not the story. It’s time Bhansali needed a Knight.