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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Feb 28, 2011

Malarvadi Arts Club


Einstein once famously said, the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. Only creative people know how messed up it has been ever since Google made its appearance. I read some reviews comparing Malarvadi Arts Club (MAC) with Subramaniapuram and Rock On. Why stop running the similarity-checker after coming up with just a handful of films, that too in “foreign” languages. If you feed in the same variables - friendship, unemployed youth and music – a truckload of movies will come up. Throw in a filter for Malayalam and we have a manageable quantity. “Ganamela”,  “In Harihar Nagar”,  “Friends”  etc come to mind.  

This is to say the theme of Malarvadi Arts Club is not anything new.  There have been innumerable movies which showcase a bunch of jobless youth (the species was more rampant in the eighties, now call centers have become their calling) extolling their fathomless friendship set in a particular geographic location which brings with it, its own quirks. There will be a singer in the group belting out Ekantha Chandrike …while others provided the chorus. These days the one guy who can hold a tune inevitably finds himself as a participant in a music game show (Malarvadi Arts Club, Katha Thudarunnu.)  

What is an Indian movie without its trademark romance angle, right?  For this we will employ heavily made-up ladies who have escaped from teary-kajal-laden-soaps for their chance on the celluloid. The whole package of drama, mellowed drama and over-the-top drama will be propelled towards the inevitable climax (or climaxes) to bring in the money and keep people guessing.  One would think all the guessing should be done by now, after a generation of such movies.

No, Malarvadi invites us to play the same old guessing game. In MAC Vineeth Sreenivasan returns to his roots  - North Kerala. Gibran is good guide for those of us who make the mistake of thinking Vineeth as a clone of his father, Sreenivasan.  I don’t think I can imagine Sreenivasan singing without a seriously raised eyebrow(mine), while Vineeth is a fairly decent singer. In the same vein, Sreenivasan in his heyday wrote several noteworthy scripts keeping his funny pen moving in tune with the pulse of society. If Malayalam had an urban dictionary, the dialogs from Sreenivasan scripts would own half of it. But MAC is no world changer when it comes to scripts, it has an average script, tolerable by current standards, nothing compared to the witty eighties spearheaded by the director’s own Dad.

Despite all such flaws I liked Malarvadi Arts Club, the reason is personal. I am from Malabar. Manassery, the fictional village in which it is set, could be my village. I feel kinship with the carom board in the Arts Club, the red flags, the slogans, the framed portraits of European and Latin American comrades in the party office and the revolution simmering in young heads. The five guys, the lead characters, whom Vineeth had the good sense to cast all new comers, could’ve been my brothers growin’ up.  He has captured the essence of a North Malabar village/small town and the lives of youth (male) in a way no one has ever done before. He has done it so well that I felt the characters of Jagathy Sreekumar, Kottayam Naseer and Suraj Venjaramoodu were misfits in a perfect Malabari small town.

The new kids on the block are good, although I don’t think any of them has the guts to take a stab at the superstar crown Prithviraj has his eyes on.  Dileep proves he has good business sense and luck on his side investing in a movie that was guaranteed to bring him profit and trusting a new director based on just his genes.

The songs are hummable from my tin-eared receiver. The last song which signed off the movie should have been more of a power ballad with uplifting, foot thumping rhythms. Instead what it felt like was actors were trying to lip and body sync to a rock song in their heads while an insipid Malayalam song played in the background. The kind of language that Malayalam is, it is hard to come up with something that will sit pretty with a rock tune, but Vineeth Sreenivasan was/is a singer before he became a director or he could’ve let Avial compose that one song ;-)

p.s: Young directors, and old ones too, who is going to do a Malayalam padam just like that Thamizh Padam?



Feb 26, 2011

Tees Maar Khan

Tees Maar Khan has Bollywood's most reliable profit-guarenteed star in the lead - Akshay Kumar as Tarbez Mirza Khan, the super thief. There is nothing cerebral about the movie, does Akshay Kumar make the mistake of acting in anything cerebral? He knows what he can do - he can be the earthy Punjabi munda who will laugh showing his gums through his mistakes, silly to comical and everything in between. That is what Teez Mar Khan tries to bank on, I hope the producers got some money back banking on Akshay.

The husband-wife team of Shirish Kunder-Farah Khan and  Akshay Kumar-Twinkle Khanna are behind this movie, keeping it all in the family. Shirish did the editing, story(inspired by Hollywood's After the Fox), little bit of music whatever Vishal-Shekhar let him do and a bit of production. Farah directed and Akshay played the lead role, while Hari Om Producations, Akshay and Twinkle's production company footed the bill.

Tees Maar Khan is a spoof built of spoofs, I don't think they were concerned about quality more than saleability, looks like it achieved those ends. As far as the viewer is concerned if you are in need for mindless comedy, doesn't mind Akshay Kumar, Akshaye Khanna and Katrina Kaif(the gori mem wearing Indian dresses), the last two, both have self-depracating comical roles, go for it.Better watch it at home where you have the remote handy and you have the power. The power to fast forward !

Feb 25, 2011

Oru Naal Varum


It felt too good to be true, as if the unbelievable chemistry of Mohanlal and Sreenivasan that once lighted up the screen twenty plus years ago had finally succeeded in making a comeback. Not like the botched up attempt in Udayanaanu Tharam, this was almost like the real second coming.  Then the tape got stuck. Ouch!

In Oru Naal Varum, for a brief span of time, poetically akin to a single wing flap of a humming bird we could catch a glimpse of that old Mohanlal, before the weight of superstardom and wig was added to his persona. Mohanlal – Malayalam’s original bumbling, likeable, mischievous dude-next door. His old pal Sreenivasan was there to keep him company, in another of his self-deprecating, slightly dark roles. Then the story took a turn for the worse and the Superstar emerged. 

After that, the fall was quick, the illusion of a second coming of the legendary pair shattered mercilessly by a weakening plot and a superstar gaining power by the minute. Have you ever felt like rooting for the enemy, wishing corruption had gotten the upper hand and signing a pact with the Devil ? I get that feeling once in a while, especially when watching self-righteous characters, which Mohanlal seems to do in abundance lately, including the one in this movie as vigilance officer Nandakumar.

Devayani and Sameera Reddy are odd choices for the film’s two female roles. It was good to see Devayani after a long while, though who ever did the dubbing made it sound as if I had heard this female a zillion times in a zillion Malayalam movies. Why, Sameera Reddy, I have no clue, we will have to ask Maniyan Pillai Raju, the producer. The kids in this move are normal, it was refreshing to see a change after the hyper-active 'smart' kids infesting present day Malluwood. 

The lesson learned again today, if it is too good to be true, it is not true.

Feb 24, 2011

Phas Gaya Re Obama

Yes, we can! Possibly this is the first mass market commercial movie in the world with President Obama's name in the title. Yes, Bollywood, you can and you did too! The movie is what is part of the thriving Bollywood indie movie genre, the one which replaced the award-hauling parallel cinema of the eighties, which were made under an altruistic sky with little or no profit motive. The new indies are funny, contemporary and bring in the bucks, good for them!

Looks to me it was a low budget film which trusted on its strong actors and tight script to see it through. Rajat Kapoor, Manu Rishi, Sanjay Mishra, Neha Dhupia reigning and rising stalwarts of the new Indian parallel cinema shoulder the film as it takes dig after dig at the contemporary politics and policing in bhaiyyaland. Obama's inclusion as an invisible but driving force and the pervading ambience of recession reflects on the trickle of globalization that has reached even the remotest corners of India's heartland.

It is an interesting movie for someone who loves current politics and comedy(one and the same), intelligent caricatures of everyday people and is interested in the way India is developing in the global scene as echoed back from its villages.
                                  


Feb 23, 2011

Alexander the Great

Alexander, the original Greek version must have belonged to the prestigious royal lineage of Mediterranean Varmas because his Malayali namesake definitely does. Varma, a surname attributed to the ruling Kshatriya clan(back in the days when royals were still in fashion) in Cochin and Travancore is  a favorite class of Malayalam film makers. Anyone with the name Varma is attributed the extremes of everything - money, power, greed, beauty, intelligence, good nature, evil. You say it Varmas have it.

Alexander Varma is the out-of-wedlock son of a major Varma in a major Varma family, who is now spreading their wealth all over Middle East, as if the sheikhs haven't gotten it right. Mohanlal, not to be left behind Shah Rukh Khan(My Name is Khan), Hrithik Roshan(Koi Mil Gaya), Anil Kapoor(Yuvvraj) and Dustin Hoffman(Rainman, which is supposedly the inspiration for this movie, looks like even inspiration is affected by recession, nothing much can be seen) takes on the role of an autistic genius. His acting reminds me of early 80s kids' dubbing in Malayalam movies where you know the words spoken by the kid on screen is actually mouthed by someone middle-aged who think they are doing a pretty good job of impersonating a child's voice, when in reality they sucked, big time. If only they had let the kids use their original voices.

There is Sudha Chandran, surprised to see her here, did Ekta Kapoor let her go? Then there is Bala, Jagadeesh, Nedumudi Venu providing the necessary moral support for the autistic genius and also a host of others like Siddique, Ganesan etc who are waiting for the genius to bite the dust, as if that'll ever happen. But I've to appreciate the film-maker for showing restraint in one thing - not conjuring up a nubile 19 year old heroine for our wig-clad hero. Bravo! Keep it up.

Feb 22, 2011

Action Replayy

The outer package is India's version of That '70s show, inside you'll have the familiar flashbacks from Back to the Future(1-3) , all this packed and released under the 'numerologically'-deemed-safe title with an extra y at the end - Action Replayy. Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai are at the helm of this retro Hindi movie, playing the same characters in two scenarios(in their youth and middle-age) twenty years apart.

Akshay Kumar and his bucktooth, ages well, whereas Aishwarya just does a dress change from polka dot bell bottoms to silk saris to age twenty years. Curiously enough she doesn't look a day older than when she was twenty, maybe the makeup wasn't right. Former Channel-V DJ Aditya Roy Kapur stars as the couple's son who is into time travel. Om Puri and Kiran Kher has the roles of feuding in-laws, which they'd do in their sleep if needed.

Action Replayy is essentially what you watch when you have run out of watching re-runs and replayed your entire dvd collection. I cannot even bring myself to conjure a closing sentence for this review.

Feb 21, 2011

Alaipayuthey

It is a wonder to me that I missed this movie all this while. I had seen Saathiya - the Hindi remake around the time it came out and thought it was ok. It never crossed my mind Alaipayuthey might put a different spin on the same story.

The credit for this beautiful movie should go to the script, its lead actors - Shalini and Madhavan and the director, Mani Ratnam. There is nothing new with the story, it is an ordinary everyday love story that happens in every railway station / bus stop in urban India. That is also its selling point, that it could talk to the average Indian viewer and the language - the script of the film, achieves in reaching out to the audience in a simple unhurried fashion. Shalini and Madhavan, the lead couple in Alaipayuthey are definitely better choices and have better chemistry than Rani Mukherjee and Vivek Oberoi in Saathiya.

The songs are incredible, we have hummed those for the last 10 years ever since the movie hit the screen in 2000, some of the very best of A.R.Rehman. Growing up in urban India of the late nineties I love this movie because I can relate to it, I know those characters. Shalini is the girl next door, Madhavan is the representative of motor bike romeos which is an ever present species in all Indian cities.

And just in case, I am not bowled over, Mani Ratnam has included Kannur(my real home town) and the laterite cliffs of Payyambalam beach which buys my loyalty every time. If there is a love story/movie I'd be asked to pick, Alaipayuthey will be it.

Feb 5, 2011

The Social Network

You are not on Facebook? You are kidding, right? No? Of course, you live in Brazil then. No? You mean to say you are not a flickering dot on the virtual social network that wraps around the planet million times over and can stretch all the way across to Alpha Centauri and back? Then this movie is not for you. If you believe in parallel universes and login into one called Facebook multiple times a day then you must have already watched this movie by now and must be singing praises of it, then you shouldn't read further. Stop, go back to your facebook page, check if anybody made any updates during the time you wasted reading this post so far. Others read on.

Social Network is a well-made movie. The actors are good, they fit into the movie like parts of a Swiss watch. My bouquet stops here. It is very documentary-ish, but the word on the street it is far-removed from reality of the real Facebook story although the characters and the general flow of events are similar. If you are not in the US of A, this movie might not mean sh#@#t  to you, it is a very American movie, very Silicon-valley, start-up saga.The people who will like, identify with this movie will be in the 20-35 age group, preferably tech savy, Gen Y or the Millenials. My gripe with the movie, there are no tech-savy girls, it looks as if boys do all the coding and the cool stuff, when girls are shown as mindless idiots who light up fires with silk scarves or take off their shirts so that others can snort coke off their belly button.

I still believe it is a good movie for a very specific group of audience. If you belong to that group, you'll think this movie is the best thing to come out in 2010, otherwise....whatevah.

The Age of Dreaming (Book review)

When you watch old black and white movies from the twenties and thirties, do you ever wonder what happened to all those people? It is much easier nowadays because we have IMDb and the Wikipedia. I sometimes wonder how many of these people might be still alive. Those who have the highest chance of being alive are the children who appear in crowd scenes. Did they know they were caught in a moving image and where are they now? Random thoughts on a random day by a random being, totally inconsequential in the giant scheme of things, but what can stop of us from wondering and dreaming, right?

The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr is a book about a silent movie star looking back into the 1910s and 1920s, the beginning of Hollywood from the 1960s. It is a book for the serious reader, it is also a page-turner if you are interested in the past. The book has just enough 'masala' to keep the reader hooked without going overboard. It definitely won't come out as a paperback nor will it grace the counters of the airport bookshop, but if you could land a copy it won't disappoint you during your flight.

I found this book browsing thru' the library stacks, the same way I usually find most of my reading material. I liked the cover and the excerpt and I watch a lot of old timer movies, I love the art-deco architecture of the twenties, I love the reading about the history of places before they became places of repute(Hollywood in this case.) The Age of Dreaming fulfilled my quest in these aspects. There might be some short comings for the books, the main character being a tad shallow(?), I really don't care for I can fathom how hard it is to write a book. If you are a serious reader, not the one who falls for the cheap thrills of paperbacks, this might be an interesting read for you.


Feb 4, 2011

How to Train Your Dragon

Avatar for kids? Dragons are having a commercially successful run from 2009 onwards and this "training" movie cashes in on the trend. That said it is an interesting movie to watch, kids will love it for sure. It's about Vikings and dragons and everyone speaks English with a Viking accent(if there such a thing) except for the main character, a tween(or a budding teen?) called Hiccup. He sounds American as Dreamworks Animation Studio.

Even back then it was written in Vikingese that geek shall inherit the earth, so the movie is pretty predictable. The best actor in a comic role Oscar should go to Toothless, the lead dragon in this movie. So if it is a bring-on-em-dragons day at your village, this is the movie to choose. Haven't everyone watched Avatar already?