March 31, 2008

Vantage Point

Title: Vantage Point
Year: 2008
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whittaker.


The entire movie is 90 minutes of repeating the same 10 minutes of footage- the movie is shot from a # of cameras, and the audience ends up re-living the whole deal from the "vantage point" of every important character in the movie :S

The plot in faux-operatic/monosyllable-ic-Greek-chorus form:
- The President goes to Spain to make a speech. (Greek chorus: "oh ok")

- There is a terrorist plot going on. (Greek chorus: "oh no")

- The President & his men find out about it and replace the Prez-with a look alike. (Greek chorus: "woo hoo!")

- The terrorists shoot the replacement, blow up everything and find out where the real Prez is hidden, and kidnap. (Greek chorus: "oh no")

- Denny Quaid and Forest Whittaker, in their own small ways, manage to foil the terrorists' evil plans- the latter party all die, and Whittaker even saves a little girl. (Greek chorus: "woohoo", and "awww")

Highlights:
1- Dennis Quaid is seriously getting better with age. From being eminently cringe-worthy in the 80s to a interesting actor (in my book) in the 2000s, he has come a long way- let’s hear it for the man!
2- Matthew Fox gets an unpleasant character, but is hunky regardless, so who cares.....
3- Forest Whittaker's is the only character with some humanity- or perhaps it’s just that the man has superior acting chops vs. that of his colleagues.

Quibbles:
1- HOW can the director milk a paper thin plot for 1.5 hrs??? How???
2- HOW can the director get away with slapping together 1.5 hrs of a movie with just 1/2 hr of real footage???
3- Completely lost opportunity to get in side stories of terrorists/officers into the plot- this could be so much more than just a bunch of camera angles....
4- Why the heck did I waste my time and money????

March 30, 2008

Race

Title: Race
Year: 2008
Cast: Akshay Khanna, Saif ali Khan, Bipasha Basu, Katrina Kaif

Is it a bad movie? Noooooo- but it is eminently forgettable for sure, and I agree with Beth and So they dance that it is a real let down.

And the isuue does not lie with the plot- that is bad- fairly unique for what its worth- 2 rival step brothers etc., sparring for $ and babes. Akshay envies Saif for his success, and plots against Saif. Saif preempts his every move and turns the tables on him. That's it in a nutshell.

Highlights:

The originality of the plot.

Quibbles:

  1. The main problem is that this is a thriller that simply doesn't thrill enough :(. The car races in the climax are too long and get a bit boring (my heart does NOT race, despite the insistence of the background score). That Saif is alive despite the opening scene is a foregone conclusion- the director cannot imagine that the audience are mental cretins who would not get that.
  2. The women are sexy and do some skin show; Saif does it and comes off well, Akshay does it too, and doesn't come off quite so well- which I must be honest about despite my devotion to the man :) The skin show doesn't help .
  3. The plot isn't executed with much finesse- with all the double jeopardy going on, things get way too convoluted at times, and are just not explained well. The director does seem to get that cos we have some wrap-up style scenes in the end which help explain matters.
  4. Akshay's character is that of a mental midget- soooo unlikeable! And that doesn't enlist me as a "Race" fan for sure. :S

March 20, 2008

Baazi

Title: Baazi
Year: 1951
Cast: Dev Anand, Geeta Bali, Kalpana Kartik, KN Singh.

A prime example of Bollywood noir, Baazi is popularly hailed as Guru Dutt's 1st movie as director, and the 2nd production for Dev Anand and Navketan Films. While viewing, we must recall that the now clich├ęd story line was then among the first of its kind, addressing urban crime, and the "good guy gone bad" routine. What is worth a "dekho" are Guru Dutt's camera angles, some of which we will try to bring to your attention via screencaps.

The movie opens with a car stopping in a small side street- a man alights and quickly enters a random building, out side of which a lookout of the gambler's den he is entering sits- the lookout turns around- and we catch Guru Dutt in his Hitchcockian fleeting appearance in the movie.


Inside the small-time gambler's den, the game is afoot, and we now catch sight of a young and sprightly Johnny Walker, who is one of the gamblers and will appear only in 2 scenes in this movie....


Pedro (the guy from the car) huddles close to the game being played on the floor- Madan (Dev Anand) carelessly smokes (you can play a drinking game to the number of time he and others light up in this movie- 2 shots for every time Dev is seen w/ a cigarette, 1 for any bad guy, 1 for any good guy :) )


Madan is a really good at his game, and Pedro invites him to Star Club, an upscale casino, where his job would be to literally cheat customers on behalf of the management. Madan isn’t particularly enthusiastic, but Pedro drags him over regardless, to meet the "boss," but not before another cigarette...

At the Star, Lena (Geeta Bali) is shaking things up as a dancer and singer- she gets the best songs of the movie, and she certainly looks rather adorable here..


Madan is thus tempted w/ drink and our seductress, and then is marched off to meet the boss, who operates from the shadows...(he is smoking too! 1 shot!)


Of course, even though we can’t see his face, we know from his voice, that this is none other than KN Singh, who always strikes fear in my heart :D Madan refuses to join the racket and walks away from Star, and lands home to find his sister sick again.


He takes off to the community clinic, where he finds a new doctor has taken charge- it is Rajni, a very young Kalpana Kartik, who of course argues w/ Madan at first sight, in the tradition of all good Bollywood movies.


She manages to look really silly honestly, and I am not very impressed w/ either her looks or acting skills- Geeta Bali was tons better.


Despite all of Madan's- frankly idiocy, Rajni visits his sister for free, and diagnoses tuberculosis (the killer disease of the time- equivalent to "blood cancer" in 80's Bollywood).


Of course sparks then fly, and we see that Madan and Rajni are getting interested in each other as he borrows a car to drop her home.


However, between a rock and a hard place now, Madan takes up the job at Star- and becomes a jerk! For no apparent reason explained in the plot, he begins to ridicule Rajani at her clinic.


As he becomes a pro gambler at the Star, Lena develops a soft corner for him, and we continue to adore her, as she sways to "Tadbir se Bigdi Hui Taqdeer."


While Madan behaves like a jerk, Rajni is courted (unsuccessfully) by a cop, Ramesh (Krishan Dhawan, who played cop roles forever after this one)- we see some great camera work as Madan continues to smoke,

and Rajni drops Ramesh and kidnaps Madan (really!) for a quick song and dance-


They obviously make up, and go off to visit Madan's sister in the sanatorium Rajni has placed her at. They run into Rajni's dad (KN Singh) there, whose voice Madan recognizes as that of Star's shadowy boss, but keeps mum.


On their way back, KN Singh kicks out Madan, whom he does not want to associate w/ Rajni (why? a card-sharper son-in-law would help business along just fine).


Ramesh in the meantime, is suspicious of racketeering at Star, and calls Madan over to share (what else?) a cigarette and some kindly advice to turn good....


In the meantime, KN decides to have Madan killed off- Lena overhears his nefarious plans, and sings the lovely "Suno Gajar Kya Gaaye," as the attraction that evening- damn I love this song!


Madan puffs away with Pedro while the plot grows thicker-


Lena follows Madan to wherever he is at, and in true Bollywood style, takes the bullet meant for him, dying pathetically in his arms.


Instead of getting killing himself, Madan is implicated for Lena’s murder and thrown in jail.


He vigorously denies any involvement, until a very drunk Johnny Walker is thrown into his cell...turns out Johnny isn’t really drunk, but has been sent by KN to Madan with a letter.


The letter basically says that KN will bump off Madan's sister if he doesn’t accept the crime as his. So of course, when Rajni comes by (the sympathetic cop (remember Ramesh?) has called her in to meet Madan), he asks her to leave, and confesses to Lena’s murder.


Ramesh is a good guy, and goes basically nuts by Madan's confession- he knows Madan is lying, and tells him so, aided by the fact that all evidence at the crime scene disagrees w/ Madan's words. Madan continues to behave like an ass and doesn’t cooperate, to the extent that he is tried by the court and sentenced to hang.


Madan languishes in jail, Rajani sings sad songs at home, and only Ramesh is still out there, trying to make sense of it all (notice the window shot again- oh Mr. Dutt- I like, I like)-


The day of the hanging is here (that was quick), and barely an hour is left to go- this is where the movie stops making sense. Ramesh finds a notepad on which the letter to Madan was written, threatening him. The impression from the pen on the letter is readable, and Ramesh quickly reads through it.


Looks like KN handwrote it, and implicated himself- wth- you'd think a successful casino boss would have more sense- but whatever. Apparently the letter itself isn’t proof enough, and so Ramesh rushes to KN's house- its late, and KN is asleep in his chair. Ramesh wakes him in a few minutes, and tells him he has found out that KN falsely implicated Madan for Lena’s murder. Ramesh also congratulates him and convinces him that he is with KN in the whole deal, since Madan's death could mean his finally getting Rajni.


KN warms up to his prospective son-in-law, and confesses the entire deal, in complete detail....
And he is immediately surrounded by police, who have been eavesdropping on the whole conversation...KN goes to jail.


Madan is fine, since Ramesh had set the clock in KN's house an hour back when KN was asleep (where were the hired help? why did no one see him??). Madan does serve a light sentence for racketeering at Star. Ironically, when he is released, before he hugs Rajni, he accepts (what else?) a cigarette from Ramesh.


Notes:

The best songs go to Geeta Bali rather than Kalpana, the heroine! Which is fine by me, since Ms Bali has tons more charisma than the latter.

Highlights:
1- Dev's hair has a life of its own! I llllovve it!
2- While the theme wasn't uncommon, Dutt's treatment was excellent- the movie kept me engrossed throughout. Plus the interesting shots- a lot of actors look through windows at various points of he movie with the camera capturing them from outsside; a lot of shots of people driving in a car - this was supposedly very new technique at the time, and inspired a lot of movies to do the same.

Quibbles:
1- Don’t like Dutt's attitude towards women- they are always so meek- the dying Meena Kumari in "Pyasa", and Madhubala as the shrew who must be tamed in "Mr & Mrs 55"- here we have Rajni who is a qualified, gutsy doctor, but as meek as a lamb in front of her racketeering dad- she doesnt move a muscle to save her incarcerated boyfriend, and seems to forget work completely when they are separated- she sits around and weeps and cries in a rocker in her garden :S Lena serves no better- as the moll, she is delegated to writhe seductively (for that time), but typically, is too impure to live the length of the movie :S. Very frustrating.

2- Whyyy did they get Kalpana? She can barely act, and is absolutely spineless, with not a shred of charisma.

3- Childishly, I wish they had shown Ramesh get together with Madan's sister- then we'd have everyone paired off neatly :D

Trivia (tons of it in this one):
1- Geeta Bali: wife of Shammi Kapoor, and aunt of Yogita Bali (who made some movies in the 70s before marrying Mithun- that makes Mithun Shammi, Raj and Shashi's son-in-law cousin)!!! Gosh, seems like everyone is related to everyone else in Bollywood.

2- Dev Anand's real name was Dev Dutt (no relation to Guru Dutt). He is maternal uncle to Shekhar Kapur, and father-in-law to Navin Nischol (actor from the 70s) and Parikshit Sahni (A TV actor whose dad, Balraj Sahni was a brilliant actor of the 50s-70s, and who also co-wrote Baazi- his only screenplay ever). Both the daughters divorced the men in question though. Aagh! I'm getting dizzy!
3- This was Kalpana Kartik's debut movie, and she only acted in Dev's movies from then on until they married in 1954. Makes sense.

4- This was Zohra Sehgal's 1st movie as a choreographer- she had acted in Afsar (1950) before this. Her real name was Sahibzadi Zohra Begum Mumtaz-ullah Khan- an aristocrat from a U.P. (Uttar Pradesh) Pathan family, and one of the few college educated women of the day.

5- This was Johnny Walker's debut as well (original name: Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi). A bus conductor with the Bombay local buses, he was "discovered" by Balraj Sahni, who was helping Guru Dutt write Baazi at the time.

6- This was Sahir Ludhiyanvi's 2nd movie as lyricist (there is a misconception that this was his debut vehicle too)- ironically, Sahir died in the 80s of a heart attack during a "baazi" (game of chance) of cards.

March 17, 2008

The harbinger of summer movies '08

I think we can safely call Semi Pro the harbinger of 2008's summer movies to come- it is definitely not typical of the fare (read: romantic comedies, and other miscellaneous junk) that we are inundated w/ every spring, and which I resolutely refuse to walk into.

Title: Semi Pro
Year: 2008
Cast: Will Ferrel and a bunch of other folks.

This is seriously NOT BAD. But that is honestly all you can say about it, since the premise is typical of Will Ferrell movies of the past year or so- a sports movie about an underdog. Ferrel is Jackie Moon, owner-coach-team member-promoter of the American Basketball Association's (ABA) Flint Michigan Tropics. The team is terrible, but through the course of the movie, Moon rallies his teammates to make their NBA dreams come true. Been there, seen that.

What keeps it together is that the jokes are fresh and laugh-out-loud funny, and Will makes a damned good effort, which is why this movie even deserves a mention- the man puts in 100%+, and you gotta applaud that. Plus he is from my school, and I've admired him for years on SNL, so I'll watch everything he plays in anyways :)

Other mentions: Outkast's Andre does a pretty decent job as one of Moon's team mates, and I hope to see him in other stuff too. It was also fun to see Woody Harrelson in that crazy 'do :).

Happenings: I am working on a posting of Baazi (1951), which is going super slowwwwww. I also hope to catch Vantage Point (2008) later this week- enthu about that.

March 5, 2008

The way we watch

I found myself shaking my head at all the Anti Jodha-Akbar hoopla. Now that the bans on it- or some of them anyways have lifted, there is still some animosity palpable in the news reports. Really, who cares about historical facts or reality while watching a Bollywood movie? What about freedom of speech? We watched some pretty actors looking good, and that should be enough for anyone. Right?

And then I paused, and remembered my own trashing of 'The Train" here, and how very offended I was by that movie with its poor portrayal of women and children. Perhaps there are folks out there who regard authentic portrayal of history as important as morality in a movie. And who am I to judge what should be important to people?

But then how important is history to us?
Having a heritage with family from all over the Indian subcontinent, has encouraged me towards Indian history, and therefore I have some modicum of knowledge of it. I strongly believe that only with knowledge of a country's past can the country make true progress. But that doesn't necessarily imply that everyone should have that interest- and that everyone can understand the poetic license that Ashutosh has taken with the movie, and laugh it away. I would think that the new generation, has probably little interest in history, since it solves little "practical" purpose. Despite knowing this fact, I still don't find Ashutosh''s take on history as something that should have been banned, since it wasn't essentially harming anyone (duh?).

On the other hand, we have Bollywood disasters glorifying abuse of women, older people and children; we have prime examples of poorly sketched "foreign" characters, slandering other nations- but that doesn't seem to cause tumult. The fact that glorifying such abuse may help propagate it doesn't seem to strike many people's fancy either.

I shake my head again, and conclude I simply lack a good understanding of people's priorities.

March 4, 2008

Chaudvin Ka Chand

Title: Chaudvin Ka Chand
Year: 1960
Cast: Guru Dutt, Rehman, Wahida Rehman, Johnny Walker

This is considered a Bollywood romance classic. I had seen bits and pieces of it over the years, but somehow never saw the whole movie until very recently, and didn’t regret the experience in the least.

Set in pre-independence Lucknow, the movie showcases the friendship of Nawab Pyare Mian (Rehman), Aslam (Guru Dutt) and Mirza Masaraddik Shaiza (Johnny Walker). While Nawab and Mirza, are titled gentry, Aslam is an orphan who has been patronized by Nawab- he now owns a small business in Lucknow, and is honor bound to Nawab for all the help the latter had given him for life. Mirza is a never-do-well, whose dad is in the police, and who also eventually joins the force later during the movie.



One day, Nawab spots a beautiful woman in the street, and promptly falls head over heels in love. He runs into her again at his sister's birthday celebrations, but due to the social niceties of the day, cannot find out her name.


In fact, due to a hapless maid's interference, he mistakes her for another woman. Nawab shares his happiness with Aslam and Mirza, who encourage him to locate the woman of his dreams. At home, Nawab finds his mom is quite ready to go to Hajj (Mecca- the Islamic pilgrimage), accompanied by the local priest. However, the priest has refused to go anywhere until a suitable groom is found for his daughter Jameela and she is married off.

Without any consultation with him, Nawab's mom has pledged Nawab's hand in marriage to Jameela (yes, Waheeda). However, since he himself is in love with the beautiful unknown woman, he convinces Aslam to marry in his stead. The marriage occurs, and Aslam falls head over heels in love with his wife. He serenades her with "Chaudvin Ka Chand," (which Doc Bollywood has written beautifully about at his blog).


Nawab still doesn’t know Jameela is the one he has been looking for. He goes visiting to Aslam's house one day, and sees Jameela by accident, and simply assumes that she is Aslam's sister. He shares the happy news with Aslam, and begs to marry his sister, to which Aslam agrees immediately.

The wedding preparations begin, and we know we are headed straight to disaster- Nawab finds a photograph of Jameela, and goes with it to Aslam's shop, kissing it (the pic, not Aslam dammit :D) with great abandon. Aslam, the fool that he is, doesn’t say a single word to correct Nawab's confusion. Instead, he decides to become an alcoholic and vagrant, so that Jameela would divorce him.


He carries this plan to great effect, and even though his friends give up on him eventually, he finds Jameela will not divorce him under any circumstance.

Driven to idiocy, he decides to commit suicide on the very day Nawab is getting married to his sister. This would prevent the marriage from occurring, Jameela would become a widow, and Nawab could then marry her. Of course, no one else knows of this plan. Unfortunately for him, Nawab comes to pick him up on the day of the wedding, but sees him with Jameela instead.


It finally dawns on Nawab that Aslam was feigning vagrancy, drunkenness etc. simply to sacrifice his own love for Jameela for Nawab's sake. Driven to intense guilt on what he had unknowingly forced his friend to do, Nawab rushes back to his home, followed by Aslam, who has just realized his presence.

Nawab reaches home, declares the wedding cancelled, and locks himself in his room, overwhelmed with anguish and shame from having desired his friend's wife. When Aslam breaks the door in, he finds Nawab has commited suicide. It ends, and Aslam gets to live happily every after w/ Jameela :S

Highlights:
1- Rehman owns the movie- he is intensely handsome, assertive and manly, and I do believe I have developed the most idiotic crush on him :D
2- Johnny walker has a real role- he is not simply the comic relief here, and it is fun to watch him act.
3- Guru Dutt is truly a consummate actor- it is very easy to hate Aslam for his weak and idiotic behavior, which is attributable to the man's portrayal of the role.
4- Waheeda is a goddess- so beautiful that YOU know that she is prettier than the moon!

Quibbles:

I have yet to admire the characters Guru Dutt always plays- so weak and spineless, usually alcoholics. He is a fantastic director (though Saddique direct this one, Guru Dutt directed some scenes), but always picked the worst roles for himself, and Aslam is definitely a real ass. Rather than make things transparent, he carries on the ruse, making Rehman believe in his love, and unwittingly leading him to his death. Ughh!

Random trivia:
1- Watch out for Farida Jalal- this was her debut movie, and she plays Farida, Mirza's kid sister.
2- Guru Dutt had two younger brothers, Atmaram and Devidas, and a younger sister, Lalitha Lajmi (whose daughter is Kalpana Lajmi.
3- Guru Dutt was a trained dancer in Uday Shankar's troupe, and was also second cousin to Balakrishna B. Benegal, Shyam Benegal's uncle.
4- Aside from giving breaks to Johnny Walker and Waheeda Rehman, Guru Dutt also introduced Zohra Sehga as a choreographer in Baazi (though she had done minor movie roles as a supporting artist earlier- I LOVE ZOHRA).

5- It is common knowledge that Guru Dutt, Rehman, Johnny Walker and Dev Anand were very good friends in real life. Dev Anand introduced Guru Dutt as a director in Baazi, but both he and Rehman distanced themselves from Guru Dutt once the latter began to lose himself in alcohol (while pining for Waheeda, who had walked away). Johnny stuck by him to the last.

March 2, 2008

An announcement

I have a new blog "No more curry powder" at http://nomorecurry.blogspot.com, aimed specifically at food and my miscallaneous ravings. Apni has become very topical to Bollywood, and I hate mixing in the posts with non-movie stuff- it'd be just too cluttered. Since there are actual recipe requests coming in (will wonders never cease???), I figured a new blog will just help me keep things in perspective. All prior food postings will be moved to the new blog in the next few weeks.