The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)

US Presidential hopefuls take RVs, Che went on a motorcycle. The point is you need to go on a road trip to become a successful leader of the people

Ee Adutha Kalathu (Recently)

Strange and familiar make an appearance together for the first time in Malayalam cinema and the pair is a hit

Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl

Four feisty ladies, upbeat music and a handsome conman. Anushka gets Ranveer. Bollywood gets Parineeti

Das Boot (The Boat)

Best WWII film ever, in fact the best war film ever. In true German fashion, restraint is applied by shooting the entire movie inside a U-boat

Neelathamara (Blue Lotus)

Blue lotus shares the same stature of blue moon in Malayalam, so do good remakes. This one bucks the trend.

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Dec 31, 2007

Photographer

It is hard to make a realistic film with Mohanlal these days. His superstardom is the stumbling block, especially when it is the younger film-makers who is directing him. That is what happened to Ranjan Pramod. He is not a Shaji N.Karun to make a Vanaprastham. I am not comparing the talents of two directors, but the age and the experience which prevents Shaji N.Karun go weak-kneed infront of the star power of Mohanlal is absent in the younger, first time director. Under such conditions, what results is a fiasco like Photographer.

Mohanlal is a freelance photographer, Dijo John, whose photos have made it to the pages of big name magazines like National Geographic. He married a Brahmin girl against his family's wishes and has a son. Like many of the recent movies which has cashed in on the plight of Adivasis, this movie makes use of the infamous Muthanga Incident of Feb 2003, where Kerala police and the Adivasis of Muthanga(Wayanad Dist., Kerala) clashed in a bloody battle. In the film the Dijo John happens to be in the adivasi village on the fateful day and ends up saving his tribal guide, a little boy named Tami. Tami's father is shot down by police bullets right infront of their eyes and there is no news about his little sister.

This personal link leads Dijo to get involved in the volatile issue which had taken on immense political proportions by then. So far so good. The problem I have with Mohanlal films these days is, no matter what the social standing of the character played by Mohanlal, the rest of the cast act in a way that conveys utmost reverence to him. The final nail on the coffin is driven in by the director himself who gives long, weighty dialogs tailored for Mohanlal - the super star, but is no way justifiable to the character he portrays. This is not exactly his flaw, but it ruins the film. Photographer is just one in a long series of movies with this fatal flaw, but I am sure it is not going to be the last one.

Dijo John, the photographer has loud conversations with God himself. The God of Malluwood 'hotlining' to the God of the Universe. The Central Govt. has its own designs on Dijo and doesn't like him playing God to an adivasi kid and secretly takes him into custody and he disappears from the scene for a while. As if the thousands of movie-goers across the state of Kerala cannot languish in a Mohanlal-less void for any length of time during a Lal movie, the director springs a twin for Mohanlal - Joe John, a planter, writer and a totally uncalled for character. Except that through this double role of Joe John, Mohanlal gets a chance to live unleash his star power, which was kind of restrained in his former character, Dijo. Stunts, cheesy jokes, a beautiful maiden in the wings, exaggerated acting are all part of the Joe John package.

There are a lot of half-baked parts - Biju Menon, the Forest Minister, Ganeshan(ex-transport minister of Kerala) who plays an investigating officer, Manoj K.Jayan as an evil incarnate police officer who disappears without trace from the script in the second half and what was the role of Saranya Bhagyaraj(daughter of Malayalam heroine of yesteryear Purnima Jayaram and Tamil actor-director Bhagyaraj)? It felt as if the director lost the sense of direction midway through the movie and ended up wandering in circles in the forest, like the character of Dijo does in the second half. The redeeming aspect of the movie is the camera which lets the audience take in the beauty of Wayanad's forests and the script when Mohanlal was not mouthing the lines.

Despite all this I'd consider Photographer one of the better Mohanlal movies to hit the screens in the recent past, because of its toned down version of the actor. Probably that was why it didn't sit well with the Kerala audience who have placed Lal on a pantheon with their other personal Gods and ended up being a mega-flop.

Dec 29, 2007

Black Friday

A lesson in contemporary Indian history that no self respecting Indian should miss. Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday starts a few days before the fateful Friday in March(12) 1993 when the city of Bombay was blown apart by extremist bombs and follows the subsequent police investigation that solved the case. Based on S.Hussein Zaidi's book of the same name, Black Friday, despite being a feature film is the most realistic and comprehensive account of the infernal Bombay blasts that I've ever seen.

It is hard to believe it is a movie and people are acting. It feels like there was a hidden camera recording the actions of the real people as they planned and schemed and died and fled and bled through those gruesome days. Anurag Kashyap wrote the script of Ram Gopal Varma's much acclaimed film about Bombay's underbelly, Satya. This is his second film as a director, although I believe Black Friday reached the public(despite a two year delay) before his first film Paanch did.

For a large part, the movie reminds me of trying to see the world from the other-side, like a German movie about WWII or a Soviet film about the Cold War. Getting under the skin of the character and breathing his air, you realize why people did the things they did. The credit goes to the director and script writer - in this case, Kashyap and the writer Zaidi for providing the original well researched content which the director built upon. Kay Kay Menon plays Additional Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria, Badshah Khan(played by Aditya Srivastav), one of the accused in the bomb case, represents the pawns, who in the hands of terrorist master minds, Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim becomes a terrorist. Pavan Malhotra plays Tiger Memon and Vijay Maurya, who was also in Paanch, plays Dawood Ibrahim.

An important slip that Kashyap has avoided is that it doesn't become another Satya, especially considering Kashyap scripted both the movies and both are about the darker side of Bombay. Black Friday appeals to me because it is hard to come by a powerhouse of a feature film loaded with information and details about contemporary event(s) depicted in a truthful manner.

Dec 28, 2007

The Angrez

For Hyderabadis, Of Hyderabadis, By Hyderabadis - that is the short version of the Angrez. There has been so many movies about Bombay in this vein and probably many of us can do the Mumbaiyya slang without ever having to travel in local trains during Mumbai's rush hour. The Angrez is a tribute to the life and lingo of Hyderabad, an amateurish one, but entertaining nevertheless.

The life of the movie is Salim Phekku(Mast Ali), Ismail bhai(Raju Shrivastav) and the old city gang along with their Hyderabadi Deccani Urdu mixed Hindi. Delivered by true blue Hyderbadis, the movie you takes you on a romp through the Hyderabad of the locals. When you take a movie about the city that makes a living minting NRIs at a record rate, it has to be about NRIs. Nikkil Kunta(the director of the movie) and Ganesh Venkatraman plays the two NRIs who have come to India to become partners in a software company. Nikkil Kunta draws from his real life experiences as an American returned desi and two years of roaming around with his handycam in the Old City of Hyderabad capturing the life and lingo.

If you exclude the Old city guys and their antics, what remains is mostly half-baked, especially the NRI part. I am not sure NRI vocabulary is limited to sh*t and its variations. The last scenes of the movie which involves a girl crying over, what in my eyes, is a very decent way to propose a marriage could have been avoided.

Chudi bazaar,Bonalu prasadam, Banjara Hills, Hyderabadi Biriyani, Ganesha pooja and the quintessential NRI - the raison d’être of this movie was to showcase Hyderabad and it did that successfully. The rest of it could be forgotten, because if somebody had taken a movie about my home-town in this manner I'd have loved every minute of it, no matter how lousy the story.

Dec 24, 2007

Dor or Perumazhakkalam

What I watched yesterday was Dor(a thread, a connection in Hindi), from the NRI turned RI director Nagesh Kukunoor. If Hyderabad Blues - his path breaking first film was a true original in Indian 'movie-wood', Dor cannot be called so. The story is based on a real life event and first time it hit the screens was in 2004, away from the Bollywood spotlight, when Malayalam director Kamal, made a movie out of it by the name Perumazhakkalam. Perumazhakkalam went on to win the National Award for the Best Film on Social Issues in 2004 and numerous awards for its two leading protagonists played by Kavya Madhavan and Meera Jasmine. Kukkonoor supposedly bought the story from the Malayalam film makers. There is still a lot of controversy surrounding it.(Read Here.) I'd say better he than anyone else, Priyadarshan might have cast Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty as the two leading female protagonists who happen to be behroopiyas(person who takes on different roles/costumes to make a living aka an actor) and gotten away with it under the cover of a few kaleidoscopic dance numbers.


What Dor has going for it is the finesse, Kukonoor has certainly evolved as a director since the amateurish Hyderabad Blues(despite being a big hit of the times.) Technically Dor is a cut above the usual Bollywood films. Then again I am wrong in two counts. First, Kukunoor is not a usual Bombay masala movie-maker, he is from the contemporary alternate cinema in India, he just happens to be successful(which is a quality that sometimes evades parallel cinema makers.)Second, Bollywood is not what it used to be. Most of the Bollywood movies now have a certain level of perfection which places them far above the majority of mediocre regional flicks. Money could be an element here, but whatever it is the grade of the Bollywood end-product is commendable these days.

Gul Panag and Ayesha Takia have the leading roles in Dor. Gul has the more stronger character and she is the right actress for it. Ayesha Takia is ok, but something is amiss, I cannot point my fingers on to it, but it is there. Shreyas Talpade is funny, a very likeable guy, although he falls a little short of the Rajasthani behroopiya. He'd have been great if he was a Maharashtrian or a Hyderabadi. It looks like he had immigrated to Rajasthan in his teens and could never quite cut-off his central Indian roots. Oh..and the cameo by Kukonoor, is a total misfit. I couldn't take the clean-shaven, too well-mannered to be corrupt Nagesh as the scheming lecherous Chopra Saheb. I mean Nagesh Kukonoor could be a lot of things but he cannot yet copy the flitting evil glint of Gulshan Grover.


Perumazhakkalam on the other hand had an excellent choice of actors. I saw it a couple of years back and my memory is getting rusty befitting my age. So I'll start off with what is easiest to recollect, the title. To captivate the Kerala audience who feast on tears, the title of the movie aptly means the Season of Incessant Rain. The rain is one of the important characters in the film, so much so that it is over-used and you can really make out that most of the rain is coming straight off a fire hose. Kavya Madhavan won the State Award for the Best Actress of the year(2004) for her restrained and teary-eyed performance. Same award cannot be given to Ayesha Takia who plays her role in the Hindi version.

There are no beharoopiyas or Chopra Sahebs in the Malayalam version which is truer to real life. Cannot blame Kukonoor for making Dor a li'l vibrant because the film should be packaged to suit the tastes of the audience. Where Keralites pride in their work horse tear glands and prefer the exact portrayal of the grittiness of real life on screen, Northern Indians fancy fantasy and colorful scenes. Dor is set in two of the most touristy destinations in India - the green snow capped mountains of Himachal Pradesh and the stark, sandy and colorful Rajasthan. Had Kukunoor gotten this 'original story idea' from T.A.Razak(the story and script writer of Perumazhakkalam) before Kamal got hold of it, he might have won the Best Picture award for National Integration, bringing together the Muslims of northern-most Northern India and the Hindus of the cow-belt - Gujarat, Rajasthan, UP region. Alas, original happens only once!

The story of Perumazhakkalam is about a death(or a murder?) which happens in Saudi Arabia and involves two young-men(one is murdered and the other one ends up accused) from India who had gone there to work. Saudi court rules death penalty for the accused and the only way the sentence can be reduced is if the wife of the victim forgives the accused. With the males in the story killed or imprisoned, the film takes on a feministic edge, because the females has to do all the work, like in real life. Gul Panag(Dor) / Meera Jasmine(Perumazhakkalam) is the wife of the imprisoned man. Ayesha Takia(Dor) / Kavya Madhavan(Perumazhakkalam) is the Hindu widow. The untimely demise of her husband has the widow in charge of a super power - the power to give or take the life of a human being(one particular human being, her husband's supposed killer.) After that it is the power play between two women of two contrasting cultures - Hindu and Muslim, translated by two different film makers(Kamal in Malayalam and Kukonoor in Hindi) for two widely differing sets of audience.

Perumazhakkalam is a mature take on the subject for a grown-up gallery who doesn't know or care much about Shah Rukh Khan. Dor is for a congregation of devotees who had just finished watching a King Khan movie, on bended knees and have worked up enough courage to watch a 'really serious' Hindi movie. Both movies, I believe, hit the right spot with their target audience.

Dec 20, 2007

Aayirappara

Aayirappara literally translates to 1000 'para', where 'para' is a unit for measuring rice, one 'para' equals 7.5 kgs. In the movie it is a reference to the Aayirapara paadam(the field that yields a thousand paras or a field of bumper harvest.)

Directed by Venu Nagavalli, the film is set in the rice trough of Kerala - Kuttanad, incidentally it is also his native place(Ramankarry). The movie dabbles in history, it is a period piece, my guess is the story is from the early 1960s, around the time when the first Communist ministry came to power in Kerala.

Madhu and Narendra Prasad in Aayirappara


Aayirappara paadam is owned by the benevolent landowner, played by Narendra Prasad and his faithful servant, Pappi. - a role veteran actor Madhu carries of with ease. The central character in this movie is the colorful Shauri, Pappi's son, played by Mammootty in perhaps the only Venu Nagavalli(directed) movie where Nagavalli chose someone else other than Mohanlal to play the lead.

The film portrays the tumultuous period of economic and social change in Kerala, where the land and the earnings from the land started to be distributed more democratically, religious tolerance increased albeit as a result of numerous sacrifices from the people involved. Actress Urvashi has the female lead, as the daughter of the landlord. Music is composed by Raveendran and one of the songs 'Yathrayaayi' is quite a melodious number.

Dec 13, 2007

Cheeni Kum


Thanks to the presence of the oldest angry young man in Bollywood, sixty plus guys have finally received the green signal to go ahead to fall in love and marry women half their age. If not for Amitabh Bachchan, Indians could not have been persuaded to sit and watch such a 'sacrilegious' movie(lol.)

Cheeni Kum has the sixty four year old, sharp-tongued, restaurant owner-chef Bachchan wooing Tabu, a woman half his age. Tabu with her carefree elegance is just the right person to match up to the sarcastic and proud Bachchan. Thankfully Zohra Sehgal is still live(let her continue rocking us with laughter forever and ever) which is good news for Jaya Bachchan otherwise she could have been called to play his mother's role. Let us not forget Paresh Rawal(Tabu's Dad in the film), he has evolved as a comedian so much so that I've forgotten that he used to be the stereotypical bad guy once upon a time.

All could have gone well and we could have gotten a new age Hindi romance if they had not imported the cruel stock villain which guaranteed a flood gate of tears at the box-office in the seventies and eighties - blood cancer. IMHO the overly-'literate', smooth (adult-)talking kid was a needless character. The screenplay is really a long tit for tat affair, quite enjoyable one at that. Direction is also good for a first time - R.Balki. If not for the abnormal proliferation of leukocytes which ruined the movie, it'd have been one of the good modern Bollywood movies of recent times.

Dec 3, 2007

Disco Dancer


A decade of video players imported by NRIs from Arabian Gulf were tested using this movie, Indo-Russian bilateral relations reached a peak in the eighties, even in the absence of Raj Kapoor, thanks to this dance musical and with this movie Bengal added a Bollywood superstar(ofcourse his national award winning feature Mrigaya came long before that, but who watched award movies?) to its already bursting bag of talent, filled with Nobel laureates and freedom fighters. You know the movie I am talking about – it defined a decade, with its legendary stature it has etched its name in history as the icon of the eighties – Disco Dancer.

As a kid I was one of the under-privileged who never got to watch the said film but only heard exponentially glamorized versions from our lucky friends who had not only seen it, but also had the video cassette in possession, thanks to their Gulf-employed relative. The unpardonable crime of not watching the Disco Dancer struck back in my late twenties when I met the Russians. Being close to Bering Strait and Siberia our neighborhood is overrun my Russian émigrés, most of them close to my age who try to strike up friendship with us with the intro, "Mithun Charkraborty. Disco. Disco Dancer," with accompanied animation and dance moves. The immense gravitas of those opening words, they believe, is enough to forge a lasting bond between two great cultures. Who grew up in the eighties India without knowing the power of the Bollywood cultural ambassador, Mithunda?

The situation was rectified this weekend. We learnt to spell D-I-S-C-O and refreshed our memories with eighties costumes, hairdos and those hit songs which made Disco Dancer what it was. The one who was most entranced by the movie was our one and half year old, which brings me to the point that it is like a fairy-tale. You don’t need any language to understand it, that’s probably why the Russians and the Middle-Easterners took to it so easily. The story is rich vs poor singer, rich defeated by singing, poor guy gets the rich girl via disco and in between a terrible disease called ‘guitar-phobia’ makes a guest appearance so does Rajesh Khanna. Karan Razdan(ex-husband of Priya Tendulkar of ‘Rajni’ fame) plays the bad guy along with Om Shivpuri –the bad guy’s dad who is a really bad guy. Mithun is his lithe rockin’ younger self, a treat to watch. Other than that there is not much in the movie story-wise. I’d take Disco Dancer as a vehicle to deliver Disco to the masses and Mithunda to the Russians. Think it accomplished both those tasks successfully. End of review.