Sudhish Kamath's Pad On The Net

Film Reviews – 2008

Best of 2008

This year was about friends and enemies. Stories about individuals revolved around relationships and films with social issues used terrorism as the backdrop.

Overall, 2008 brought with it a lot of fresh blood.  Debutants rocked Hindi cinema. Homosexuality came out of the closet. Small films with a big heart won us over as star power fizzled out at the box office.

Usual disclaimers apply. For the record, this is a purely personal list that in no way reflects box office performance. Nor is it based on compilation of reviews, ratings or popular opinion.

 

No. 10:

Dasvidaniya

Though Vinay Pathak delivers one of the finest performances this year, this inspired piece of filmmaking hopes to exploit the dreams of the lowest common denominator with its eyes on the mass market and ends up using every single trick from the Bollywood book of drama – the Maa melodrama, the dost-dost-na raha syndrome, the Deewar polarization, unrequited love among others. Almost a classic.

 

No. 9:

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

This twisted tale with a dark, psychotic subtext should have been rightly called “How To Mess With Your Wife’s Head.” But you can’t deny that Adi Chopra creates some fine moments in this Spiderman-like-tale of the Indian Superhero as the tribute to Indian cinema – Raj, the Mohabbat-Man who can make any girl fall in love with him. Add to that the magic of Shah Rukh Khan to it and you have a Timepass film that simultaneously celebrates the actor and the star.

 

No. 8:

Bachna Ae Haseeno

If only this didn’t take itself so seriously, this well-written film with some warm moments and a refreshing cast is fun for most parts till the sentimentality and the songs take over to ruin it for us. This ‘Broken Flowers’ meets ‘My Name is Earl’ romantic comedy undid the damage Saawariya did to Ranbir Kapoor and the music kept us thoroughly entertained. Also, the leading ladies weren’t bad at all.

 

No. 7:

Tashan

Purely for the vision of the filmmaker to go all out and make a film that celebrated the masala potboilers of the eighties – that era when cinema was devoid of all logic and villains always had a den full of men with guns who couldn’t aim for nuts. What Tarantino-Rodriguez did with their Grindhouse double feature, Vijay Krishna Acharya did with Tashan and reworked the Saif-Akshay magic. Kareena’s size zero did zero for the film but good old Anil Kapoor rocked as Bhaiyyaji.

 

No. 6:

Tied: Mumbai Meri Jaan/ Aamir/ A Wednesday

If it wasn’t so repetitive and redundant in parts, Nishikant Kamat’s film would’ve been higher up the list (lower down this column). Mumbai Meri Jaan does not try to present any convenient solutions but shows us the impact of terrorism on modern day society in a country as complex as India from different perspectives, almost breaking our hearts before uplifting our mood with the subtlety that we are not used to in Indian cinema.

While Aamir’s brilliance was in the layering of its political content around a simple plot shot credibly in the backdrop of Mumbai, A Wednesday’s background detailing worked in a tight thriller that pitted two of our finest actors against each other. Not to forget the cleverly concealed twist. Three of our most relevant films, as good as the other.

 

No. 5:

Oye Lucky Lucky Oye

Just for Dibakar Banerjee’s conviction to make a film that respects the intelligence of the audience with his figure-it-out-yourself storytelling that gives the Answers first, Questions later. It’s a difficult genre to even attempt and Dibakar does great with Abhay Deol and Paresh Rawal. The Delhi-loving filmmaker roots it in the heartland of India and signs it off with his simple, authentic and realistic style of filmmaking that continues to reflect the dreams and aspirations of the Great Indian Middle Class.

 

No. 4:

Mithya

This grossly under-rated film is almost flawless but also too niche in its appeal. Ranvir Shorey shines in one of the best performances this year and Rajat Kapoor mixes up the sweet and the sour and pulls the right strings between comedy and dramedy with a simple matter-of-fact sensibility you can relate to in this fascinating twist to the ‘Don’ plot. The best art-house film of the year.

 

No. 3:

Dostana

This is a subversive masterstroke, only that the country is in complete denial about the possibility that its too leading men, who are the epitome of all things macho – one, a Ladies Man with chest hair and the other, a homophobic metrosexual – could be gay. That last scene when Priyanka asks the boys if they ever felt anything while they were pretending to be gay, both these guys think about that kiss they were forced into and suddenly, they cannot look at each other. Cut to a song that begins with the introduction: “I am the voice from the sky… Your son is gay” over the end credits with visuals of its two men singing and dancing with gay abandon only to end with a “They lived happily ever after.” It made the family audience including kids share a few jokes about homosexuality.

No. 2:

Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na

No doubt it liberally borrows from Hollywood’s classic romantic comedies, it also incorporates all desi ingredients needed in a coming-of-age film for boy to become man. With some fantastic characters, Abbas Tyrewala makes a delightful debut as a director and introduces the new Khan on the block, making a film that will be remembered fondly by a generation pretty much like how some of us relate to Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Maine Pyaar Kiya or Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa or Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.

 

No. 1:

Rock On

For overall brilliance and all-round achievement in cinema. Never has a film on aborted dreams been so uplifting. A perfectly cast ensemble, power-house well nuanced performances, music that rocked the charts, cinematography so alive, fresh and energetic, great writing that captures modern day relationships as we know them, an editing style so tight and seamlessly taking the narrative back and forth in time and a solidly credible authentic film on the state of Indian rock. It may sound like Dil Chahta Hai meets Jhankaar Beats on paper but as far as execution goes, Rock On is the film of the year.

 

The Others Who Almost Made It:

No. 11: Roadside Romeo/Bhoothnath – Great stuff for kids

No. 12: U, Me Aur Hum – A promising debut by Devgan

No. 13: Jodha Akbar – Despite Hrithik and Aishwarya and the never-ending length

No. 14: Halla Bol – This one almost worked

No. 15: Bombay to Bangkok – A fantastic, gutsy experiment and a cult film of sorts if you’ve just been to Bangkok.

The Some That I Missed Watching:

My apologies to the makers of Welcome to Sajjanpur, The Last Lear, Sorry Bhai, Tahaan, Before The Rains and Halla.

 


Dasvidaniya: Say Hello to the happy tragedy genre

Genre: Drama
Director: Shashant Shah
Cast: Vinay Pathak, Rajat Kapoor, Ranvir Shorey, Saurabh Shukla
Storyline: On discovering he has stomach cancer, an ordinary man makes
a list of things to do before he dies.
Bottomline: Half a classic

The tragedy about Dasvidaniya is that though it is a collection of great touching moments with a fantastic Vinay Pathak in a career best role, as a whole it falls short of being a classic. Hoping to cater to a larger audience, Dasvidaniya is shamelessly manipulative, milking the theme dry for sentiment.

Here’s the List of Things to Do writer Arshad Syed and director Shashant Shah came up with to make this movie as savvy as it could get for the lowest common denominator, deriving from Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

1. The It’s-All-In-The-Name Hypothesis. Call him Amar. It’s a cult
Hindi film name. Poetic for a man who’s dying. Cast the lovable Vinay Pathak in a role that’s been tried, tested and known to be effective by even less talented actors like Jimmy Shergill. If Jimmy could move you to tears in Munnabhai, imagine what Vinay can.

2. The Bad Boss Factor. If he had an evil boss who gave unreasonable deadlines when Amar is on his death-bed, it gives a chance for a conformist to put his feet down and rebel. People like to see the common man screw over the system.

3. The Great Indian Middle Class Aspiration. To buy a car and become upwardly mobile and hope that this would entirely change your life.
But does it really? Pack that angst into the film.

4. The Unrequited Love Syndrome. Which is more effective if Amar has been in love since his school days. If a full-grown man like Vinay could extract sympathy, imagine what a chubby little boy can do. Borrow that heartbreaking scene from Castaway. Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) goes to meet the love of his life only to find her married with
a kid and walks out in the rain and the camera stays on him long enough inside the car to move us to tears. Add a little Hindi film melodrama there (Read Kuch Kuch Hota Hai). Like a dumb charades game to profess his love. Vinay Pathak could be quite a killer here. (And he is!)

5. The Escape Methodology: What do you do when you reach a dead end? In a Hindi film, you take a flight to a foreign location for a little song and dance. It’s there in every common man’s list of things to do. To go to a place he’s never gone before.

6. The Dost Dost Na Raha Paradigm: What if you flew miles to meet your childhood friend and you are misunderstood? This has to be an equation where you have always shared everything with him and insisted he had the bigger piece.

7. The Devdas Effect: What if Chandramukhi was a Russian hooker? What could be more bitter-sweet than to find love just when your life is about to end? Heart-choking huh?

8. The Deewar Polarisation. Have one successful brother who has everything but Maa, a contrast to Amar, the other dutiful son with nothing else but Maa, cancer and a list of things to do. To make sure people get the tribute, throw it in casually with Suresh Menon doing a spoof.

9. The Maa-melodrama Staple. It’s most exploited if Maa also has some sort of a disability. Have a montage that underlines the mother-son bond having Amar sing ‘Mumma’. We know how ‘Maa’ songs work, especially after Taare Zameen Par.

10. The Immortality Paradox. Everyone wants to be famous even if it’s just for a day. And the obituary space is as far they get. Not too many people get to plan their funeral. Make Amar the exception. Now, that’s poignant.


Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi: Or How To Mess With Your Wife’s Head

Genre: Romance

Director: Aditya Chopra

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Vinay Pathak

Storyline: A very ordinary-looking common man brings home a pretty wife and hopes to make her fall in love with him

Bottomline: Return of the ‘Raj,’ the Mohabbat-Man

At the surface level, the story of Rab Ne seems to be screaming for a different genre of filmmaking – a creepy, psychotic thriller exploring the dynamics of arranged marriage, infidelity, cinema and escape.

Seriously, how else would you treat a film about an introverted, ordinary-looking, boring man who develops a split personality on learning that his wife would never love him and then, conspires to make  her cheat on his boring real self by messing with her head and complicating her already vulnerable state!

But this isn’t an art-house Anurag Kashyap-experiment to end with political incorrectness.

It’s as mainstream as it gets as Aditya Chopra sugarcoats this dark subtext, treating it like any other superhero story.

Considering that the ‘Raj’ type in Hindi cinema is a superhero of sorts in the sense that he always wears a flashy costume and can make any girl fall in love with him, Aditya treats this character type like Sam Raimi would treat Spider-Man and also borrows a trick or two from Hollywood’s romantic comedies – the makeover segment or the dance competition ploy to weave the plot around.

Superhero ‘Raj’ slips into costume and out, complains how it gets uncomfortable around the crotch, to win over his Mary Jane with not much saving-the-world business to keep him busy. But while Spidey does it for a bigger reason than just MJ, Raj’s sole motivation is to stalk his wife and play out his fantasy as somebody else. His obsession with his alter-ego reaches new heights when he wants his wife to cheat on the  real him – the goofy Surinder Saini who starts off well.

Every few scenes, at every stage of complication, the voice of reason and romance in the form of the larger-than-life Vinay Pathak asks Surinder why doesn’t he tell his wife the truth. But Suri Paaji just wants to mess with wifey’s head.

If that aspect of the film does not irritate you, you can be assured that you will be thoroughly entertained watching Shah Rukh Khan’s dual role as a superstar and actor. While a superstar plays the same type over and over again, an actor tries to break the mould and reinvents himself.

Rab Ne is that rare film where an icon gets to feed both the actor and the star in him and Shah Rukh Khan revels in both these roles, breathing life into the longest of monologues, to the point of making you shed a tear for the character, which at least on paper, fits the description of a psychopath.

To Aditya Chopra’s credit, Rab Ne is a fairly engaging tribute to cinema and its function over the years with some finely written and choreographed songs (music Salim-Sulaiman) that provide the perfect platform for debutante Anushka Sharma to dance her way into the big league.

Ravi K Chandran’s obvious attempts to fill up the frames with yellow and earthy tones do not go unnoticed and that’s never a good thing. Extras strut in and out of frames with cued in precision even in the scenes that call for realism. Three-film old Chopra Junior needs to mak  more films before he’s completely out-dated especially since today’s young filmmakers pay much more attention to background detail.

Rab Ne is an adventurous experiment, a happy albeit superficial compromise between art-house and commercial cinema, a product that’s best described by the leading man’s moustache and glasses. Clearly fake and wannabe art-house but as long as there’s the familiar Raj around to entertain you with his flirting, singing and dancing routine, you really don’t want to complain.


Meerabai Not Out: Silly Point Really

Genre: Comedy
Director: Chandrakant Kulkarni
Cast: Mandira Bedi, Eijaz Khan, Anupam Kher, Mahesh Manjrekar
Storyline: Anil Kumble has bowled a maiden over, and she has a tough time juggling cricket with cupid.
Bottomline: Mandira shouldn’t step out without noodle straps

I knew there was a good enough reason why cricketers don’t become film stars in our country despite the huge fan following. Despite all that experience with endorsements.

Good old Kumble finds himself on a sticky wicket and Mandira Bedi’s cheerleading minus the outfits is a no-show.

So, are you game to see Mandira Bedi in ‘Poore Kapde’ is the real question you must ask yourself because obviously how good can a movie be with no real sense of conflict, a completely understated attitude to drama, zero humour (okay, except for that one constant joke on herself that develops into the punchline for the film) and an underwhelming, stilted performance by the leading lady.

An Ugly Betty look alone isn’t enough to register this beti from the middle class family who finds the idea of going on ‘date-wait’ too modern, especially when you can see her tats. Yeah, her nape tattoo peeps out carelessly from the back of her blouse and yet, she insists we believe she is Meera Achrekar and not Mandira Bedi.

But for a few puns on cricketing jargon going over the top, there are too many slips (and none that you would associate with Mandira) and no fine legs. And the result makes you wish Navjot Singh Siddhu wrote the lines instead.

Sample a saree-clad Mandira spelling out her predicament to the guy who’s interested in her, despite her psycho behaviour. She says: “You will always be a non-striker in my life.” Does this mean he lost his mid-wicket?

Seriously, nothing happens. They just keep establishing her character again and again till the end. We know she’s a cricket fan from scene one. There’s no real need to say it another sixty times before the climax spells out the conflict.

The filmmaker wants to keep it realistic and subtle but then suddenly feels the need to slap a larger than life third act, to give it the romantic comedy spin.

With hardly any excitement, this Mandira versus Anupam match is a Test heading towards nowhere.

You just can’t make any movie on cricket work without understanding the simplicity of the sport.

Six balls make an over. This one takes over 120 dull minutes before it is. Over.


Dil Kabaddi: The anti-date movie

Genre: Comedy
Director: Anil Senior
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Konkana Sen, Rahul Bose, Soha Ali Khan, Rahul Khanna, Payal Rohatgi
Storyline: Two couples learn a thing or two about marriage and infidelity
Bottomline: Watch it for this cast

Due to the unavailability of the DVD of Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, it maybe difficult to comment about how original Dil Kabbadi really is.

Having rarely reviewed films without watching the original, I find myself a little confused. Dil Kabbadi with its cast is certainly one of the funniest films of this year and probably the most intelligent of them all.

But then, a lot of the writing in the film sounds so much like a Woody Allen film that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hindi script is a mere translation from the English subtitles.

In any case, given that it is quite difficult to find the DVD, Dil Kabbadi might be worth your time if you want to see Irrfan Khan rock this role as the infidel husband, with an innocent charm.

The actor has us in splits in this conversation-driven film in the ‘Life in a Metro’ genre while the rest of the ensemble delivers a first rate performance. Konkana Sen as the passive aggressive housewife, Soha Ali Khan as the easily irritable prude, Rahul Khanna as the charming romantic and Rahul Bose as a thirty-plus lecturer on cinema make Dil Kabbadi work and how. Even a loud, shrieking Payal Rohatgi works here because she’s meant to be annoying.  Kabbadi also features, by far, the best onscreen kiss of the year in Hindi cinema. Debutante Saba Azad is seriously hot, super talented and a star in the making.

There’s not a dull moment in this bitter-sweet take on marriage, infidelity, love, sex and power as Anil Senior takes a subject usually used as a staple for slapstick (remember No Entry, Masti and similar multi-starrers) and deals with it with inspired maturity and light heartedness. Or maybe the credit should entirely go to Woody Allen.

Strictly for the multiplex audience. Not the kind of movie you would take your girlfriend to. Unless, you are married.

Disclaimer: The critic reserves the right to hate this film, once he gets to watch the original.


Oye Lucky Lucky Oye: Go Lucky, Be Happy

Genre: Comedy
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Cast: Abhay Deol, Paresh Rawal, Neetu Chandra
Storyline: A petty thief becomes so popular that he becomes a celebrity
Bottomline: Only Bunty, no Babli. But uncork the bubbly anyway.

On paper, Oye Lucky seems like Bunty aur Babli without Babli.

Maybe because Dibakar Banerjee and Jaideep Sahni (who wrote Bunty aur Babli) go back a long way (they collaborated to make Khosla Ka Ghosla), there’s a lot that’s common about these films.

Both films are about protagonists from the Great Indian Middle Class who decide to take the short-cut to the top and have a little fun on the job.

Both films are rich in local flavour and transport us to the heartland of the country where people speak in distinct dialects and not from the generic vocabulary of Hindi film appropriations.

And yes, they both feature thieves who can con their way through charm.

But while Bunty aur Babli was all about the adventures and orchestration of the con jobs, Lucky’s operations are relatively simpler because the thief here sticks to basics. No Oceans-Eleven-planning. No disguises. No guns. No casualties. No smart deceptions. He just takes what he wants, from where he wants.

Maybe because Banerjee does not want you to look at Oye Lucky as just another caper. He doesn’t spell anything out ever but it’s all there between the lines.

Oye Lucky is an all-subtext sandwich between a wafer thin cat-and-mouse plot that keeps the screenplay ticking.

The non-linear storytelling here is backed with some smart editing that holds back the cards, intrigues and eventually reveals the missing detail. In a normal film, when we see a boy ask his dad for a bike and his request is turned down, conventional storytellers would then tell you how the boy gets the bike before his date with the girl he likes.

But Banerjee believes that the Indian audience has come of age and will eventually figure it out when he suggests it in passing, after the date.

The idea here is probably to show us that Lucky, with his straightforward stealing is probably the cleanest in a country full of people with secrets and lives they aren’t proud of. To do this without overstating or underlining the message is quite an achievement in the context of Hindi cinema and Banerjee is a master of subtlety.

The humour in the satire is largely cerebral. Which is why though you may never laugh out loud during the film, you go home thoroughly entertained and chuckle at its heartwarming simplicity and native charm. More so if you’re familiar with Delhi.

It is difficult to think of anyone else who would’ve played Lucky with such casual ease, his dimple doing most of the work in this film. A deglamourised Neetu Chandra is revelation. It is refreshing to see the versatile Paresh Rawal play three different roles (he’s a volcano of emotions as the father, a smooth slimeball in one and a deceitful gentleman in the other) in one film after watching him play the same type in three hundred different Priyadarshan films or less.

If you loved the brand of humour in Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky is a landmine of laughs.


Yuvvraaj: Meet Prince Harming

Genre: Drama
Director: Subhash Ghai
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Salman Khan, Zayed Khan, Katrina Kaif, Boman Irani, Mithun Chakraborty
Storyline: Rain Man set in Austria with paintings and music, minus the best parts.
Bottomline: Ghai lives in the eighties

The best part about Yuvvraaj were the trailers that played during the interval.

Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance seems like an insider’s take on the Hindi film industry starring Farhan Akhtar, Konkana Sen, Rishi Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Sanjay Kapoor, Isha Shervani, Dimple Kapadia and surprise, surprise… Hrithik Roshan.

The promo of Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky Lucky Oye entertained much more in a minute with its fun vibe than all of Yuvvraaj and Sunny Deol seems to be making a comeback to serious cinema with a courtroom drama ‘Right Yaa Wrong’ opposite Irrfan Khan. Whoa!

The future is bright. Truly time for Ghai to gracefully raise his hat and retire. No self respecting filmmaker would have continued to make films after a film like Kisna. But Ghai is made of thicker stuff.

If you’ve forgotten your moral science lessons from school or the villains from that era, you have to thank Mr.Ghai for taking you back to that time in Hindi cinema when greedy relatives used poison to kill the rightful heir to a huge fortune.

That long forgotten era when dialogues were considered to be subtle as long as the hero didn’t introduce himself as “Main Salman Khan Is Film Ka Main Hero Hoon.” In Yuvvraaj, the vamp never expressly uses the word “gold-digger” to admit that she’s one. She just says she wanted him only as long as he had his money and style.

Subhash Ghai is the master of that kind of subtlety (We suspect he also interned with Sanjay Leela Bhansali during Black and Saawariya).

It’s quite subtle how he quietly sneaks in a huge painting of wolves to form the backdrop of a scene where the villains get together to conspire against the hero.

A few scenes later, he shows us multiple shots of masks to suggest that one of the characters has started to believe that people are not what they are. Just to make sure you got that brilliant metaphor, the showman also shows us two characters literally holding the masks and taking them off. Cue in the music and the melodrama. What a waste of truly epic music. Let’s hope Rahman got paid a bomb for this. It would hurt any creator to see his work used like this, no matter how grand the sets look.

Yuvvraaj, like its title, is so beyond its expiry date and old fashioned, that Ghai probably wrote his script in hieroglyphics. That should explain quite a bit of that visual cues that dominate production design.

After taking half the length of the film to do what Barry Levinson’s ‘Rain Man’ did within its first ten minutes, Ghai tries to set the stage for Anil Kapoor to do a Dustin Hoffman in the second half of the
film. He replaces mathematical prowess with musical genius, trying to recreate the Taal effect.Anil is quite sincere too but what can he do in a role where he comes across like Michael Jackson in a room full of children. But obviously, Ghai has filled his room with children to subtly show you that this mentally ill man may need to constantly dye his hair black but he is like a child too.

Salman Khan is good where he has to fool around and just chill, chill but when it comes to heavy-duty drama, you just can’t take Sallu wearing a shirt, a suit and what not… Obviously he would be suffocated. And what’s with bad hair dye in this movie?

Katrina is quite natural when she has to moon over Salman and honestly, she does not need to act to win us over. Zayed Khan gets plenty of action here in a role that just needs to him act cool and
slap the hell out of Anil Kapoor. From what we see of the vamps, it is obvious that Mr.Ghai knows what the front-benchers want to see. He simply must graduate to porn for he seems to have a natural flair for erotica.

Unfortunately however, Yuvvraaj isn’t amusingly bad as Kisna and features no kinky Tarzan dance. This is the kind of bad film that you can’t even laugh at because when you have been held hostage for over three hours to endure painfully staid moral science lessons, the joke is on you.

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