Review: B.A. Pass

Shilpa Shukla in B.A. Pass.
Shilpa Shukla in B.A. Pass.

Saved By The Belle
Review: **

A sleeper film, B.A. Pass was never on my “must-watch” list. But after seeing positive reviews on IMDb, I hopped over to the store and bought the DVD of the film. The DVD cover was provocative, and told me what to expect – Shilpa Shukla is a cougar who preys on the young protagonist. Neo Noir unlimited, I thought.

The opening titles tell us that the film is based on a short story called “The Railway Aunty” by Mohan Sikka. Given the title of the story, you can sense the amount of sleaze and sex the story will have. But, does that make the film lewd? Not really.

Eyes Wide Shut had a lot of nudity. It had a not-so-great story. But, Stanley Kubrick – the legend – kept us invested in the characters. We wanted to know everything about them. Eyes Wide Shut was an intriguing film that ran for more than 140 minutes. B.A. Pass runs for just around 100 minutes when it really feels like 3 hours. The story has been dissected and in the process, the small facts have been enlarged. By doing so, the big picture loses its steam.

But, B.A. Pass isn’t a bad film. It’s just badly adapted. No thought process was put into the adaptation. It plays like a half-burnt kachori. You see the good side and start nibbling. The flavour draws you in. And then, you unknowingly bite the burnt side and taste the charcoal mess your kachori has become. Do you immediately spit it out or do you swallow it? I swallowed and it was unpleasant, but tolerable.

Why was it tolerable? Shilpa Shukla.

She’s the poor man’s Vidya Balan. and the film twin of Mahie Gill. Bold, casual and unbelievably salacious – how did Bollywood give her a miss? Much like Gill, Shukla belongs to that rare class of actresses who can convey without having to speak a word.

When Shukla’s character (aptly named Sarika) sets sight on her prey – a young and naive man – she is poised, and observes his movements before locking lips. She moves her rump and slowly sits next to him, waiting for him (and us) to notice her intentions. She’s delivering a message to Bollywood:
This is what makes you an actor. Not goddamn romantic comedies and L’Oreal commercials!

 

Review: Kahaani

Vidya Balan in Kahaani.

Pregnant, Hacking, Action Heroine

Rating: **

What is it about today’s Bollywood filmmakers that I really don’t understand? They think they’re too smart and can narrate a story as long as they have charming actors filling the scenes. And yes, pregnant Vidya Balan is charming much like the raunchy Vidya Balan from The Dirty Picture. But, this is the Vidya Balan you prefer. This is the one you’ve seen in Parineeta, Lage Raho Munnabhai and Kismat Konnection.

Don’t get me wrong, Kahaani is a good thriller. The motive for Vidya Bagchi to land up in Kolkata is clear, but the follow through is confusing. The motifs were enjoyable in Kahaani. Bringing a pregnant woman to Kolkata right during Durga Puja and then making her do almost anything to uncover the truth. The circumstances provided by Sujoy Ghosh, test the character really well, as she runs down a busy market with a huge baby bump, before slumping to her knees and then asking for soda.

After a plot point is revealed, the film moves from the “search for the husband” stage to “kill every extra” stage where the unwanted characters land up dead. This of course gives Ghosh the chance to pick up Hollywood DVDs and observe the different forms of assassinations. And yes, an assassin in the form of an insurance salesman was ironical. He enters the house explaining life insurance plans and then whips out his gun. You can figure out the rest.

Sadly, Balan’s movies have become stereotypic. She chooses female-oriented movies, and ensures that her role overlaps others. And then, she wins a National Award. The climactic inspiration from Taking Lives was well enough to put Balan in the short list of action heroines.

Kahaani is sure to impress scores of populations who are used to seeing Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar jump buildings and defy realism. Kahaani just didn’t do the trick for me.

Review: The Dirty Picture

Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture.

The dirty things women do

Rating: **

While most Hollywood-inspired Bollywood films revolve around a wafer-thin plot and break box office records through star power and a chartbuster song, some take realism as a way of life and weave an intrinsic tale around it. Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture does neither. It is neither a realistic film focussing on the life of Silk Smitha nor an inspired film. It hogs around taking glimpses from the lives of celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and ends as if the film had nothing else to say. Of course, it didn’t have anything else to say. The film was all about the rise and fall of an exotic actress and that alone fits in the screen.

Can Vidya Balan act? She sure has the looks that was first noticed in Parineeta and then in Guru. Apart from Paa and the hysteric Ishqiya, was there any other film that saw her act? When you play an item dancer, sex appeal alone doesn’t help. You’ve got to be revolting and impulsive. Balan gets the impulsive part right as her dialogues are force-fed with expletives. Luthria has Balan cavorting around lush greens and a field of oranges exposing every part of her body. The guy seated next to me joked “this is a film that should be seen in 3D, not Ra.One!”

We also have Naseeruddin Shah who despite the dyed hair and makeup is easy to be spotted as an old man. We’ve had enough training spotting good old Rajnikanth, that aging cannot escape our eyes. For Shah, this is redemption of his youth. Did he desire to do a film with Smitha back in the eighties?

Tusshar Kapoor arrives as the actor who is least expected to act. All we want him to do is sit in a corner and admire Balan’s beauty. He does the same and often tends to his 80s-like moustache. Emraan Hashmi seems to be improving as an actor. His portrayal of artistic filmmaker Abraham is his best performance ever.

The naivety Balan brings onscreen hangs on to your mind like chewing gum stuck on a shoe. With actors taking the glam route thinking that’ll win them critical praise, I wonder how things are going to be with Bollywood’s glam dolls. Will they have to deglamourize to take the critical praise, or are they like everyone else giving a run for our money.

The Dirty Picture locks horns when it comes to feminine discrimination in cinema. This film believes that women like Silk Smitha chose to discriminate themselves for money, power and undaunted fame. The debate continues…

Rockstar

"I Wanna Rock!" Ranbir Kapoor from Rockstar

Forrest Gump Learns To Rock!

Rating: *

If you’d recall 17 years ago, there was a spectacular coming-of-age fantasy called Forrest Gump, which won Academy Awards for its tearjerker narrative. The appearance of the character alone sympathized with audiences in such a way that Gump speaking to Jenny’s grave was well enough to wet a woollen blanket. The film had a simple message: Love is well enough to pursue your dreams.

Some 41 years ago, we had another film which was a benchmark for several love stories that would follow. The film had an ambitious Harvard student Oliver Barret IV, fall in love with fellow student, Jennifer Cavilleri, who was offensive in all terms. He loved being around because she was outspoken and loved breaking rules. They then broke rules by marrying without their parents’ consent. Aptly titled Love Story, the film broke barriers in the romance genre.

Taking glimpses of these two benchmark films, Imtiaz Ali’s new offering post two bullish romantic comedies, is a coming-of-age musical in which a college-goer wishes to be the next Jim Morrison. Imtiaz is known for his subversive ways of describing his female lead. In Jab We Met, she was a naïve country belle who didn’t know a thing about eloping. In Love Aaj Kal, Gisele Monteiro spoke just one word in her twenty-minute appearance. Heer Kaul of Rockstar is a Jennifer Cavilleri wannabe who however reminds you of Geet Dhillon.

Just like Rishi Kapoor in Love Aaj Kal, Imtiaz uses Shammi Kapoor in Rockstar to mend the broken heart of the protagonist with a few lengthy dialogues and a music contract. While his back story staggers primarily in the “she loves me, she loves me not” stage, his central plot is ridiculed with bad publicity and media buzz. The film follows closely the lives of real rock stars and tries to find a common link.

In most of his films, Ranbir Kapoor tries to act, but slobbers heavily. In Rockstar, his performance seems better, and that’s because Nargis Fakhri does nothing in terms of acting. A typical eye candy, Fakhri, an American-born Pakistani model, zips through scenes and her tomboyish appearance lacks vigor.

Take it easy with Rockstar, the filmmaker had high ambitions but chose the wrong subject. A.R. Rahman’s music is a comforting factor though.

Review: Aisha

Sonam Kapoor in and as Aisha

Sonam Kapoor’s cumbersome ramp walk

Aisha (U)

Director: Rajshree Ojha

Starring: Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol, Ira Dubey, Cyrus Sahukar and others

Genre: Westernized Romantic Comedy. *sigh*

Rating: *

Overdosed in fashion, Aisha struggles to fight between a romantic comedy and a mush film. The cinematic experience could be called flirting with disaster. In almost every scene, the film promotes Sonam Kapoor, Dior, Volkswagen and L’Oreal. Why did we have to look at ancient Victorian styles in New Delhi? We’re just ripping off the story, not the whole darn setting. Jane Austen’s novel sounds better to me.

The cinematography seemed to be the only catch. As the cheesy BGM proved nothing, one would have to focus on the screen and spot wonderful visuals of Aisha (Sonam Kapoor) jogging down parks, Aisha and her BFF, Pinky (Ira Dubey) checking out costumes in a Dior showroom, Aisha and Arjun (Abhay Deol) arguing in broad daylight, dusk, rain or shine. It’s such a fashion in Hindi Cinema to let those arguing characters fall in love. Well, Aisha and Arjun are not just the only ones.

For someone who has pepped us with traditional glimpses in Sawaariya and Dilli-6, Kapoor’s transformation to a fashion figure looks condescending. The glowering skin, the reddish lips, the fashion labels, everything makes Aisha, a preppy Indian fashion film. “I’m not manipulative” Aisha retorts with sneaky eyes after Arjun comments on her disastrous match-making abilities. Yet, she performs the mentioned activity throughout the movie. Her romantic intercuts with various actors in the film appear less interesting as we know whom she’s really interested in.

It is of rare nature that a westernized Hindi film like Aisha failed to work in a multiplex audience. Although met with heavy laughter, the film had nothing to prove, nothing to motivate, nothing to keep the audience buzzing about. The ‘watch it and forget it’ situation applies greatly in Aisha. Apart from those comic patches, Aisha is a half-baked pie, just like the one, Kapoor bakes in the movie.

One factor to determine the film’s compassion for the book is that the mischievous match-maker is seen in every scene. She’s trying hard to let the unknown hearts meet while the known hearts relentlessly try to budge in. But, the adamancy of Aisha keeps every second choice out of reach. “Go by your heart. You’re a Kapoor. You must shout out your heart.” Advises Mr. Kapoor to daughter, Aisha, and she runs to a wedding reception and screams out her heart to the audience in the wrong venue. It’s of such stunning nature that the filmmakers never realize their comedy is overused and is apparently failing to amuse the audience.

Aisha was Sonam Kapoor’s call for sex appeal. Her job in the film was to try out different outfits, lipsticks and by Jove, she does her job well. Aisha can be quoted as an example for a senseless romantic comedy.

Review: Rajneeti

Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif in Rajneeti

Politics and Problematic Brotherhood

Rajneeti

Director: Prakash Jha

Starring: Ajay Devgn, Nana Patekar, Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai, Naseerudin Shah, Shruti Seth and others

Genre: Mahabharatha inspired Godfather styled Gangster Drama, or is it called politics?

Rating: *

Hindi Film Industry primarily revolves around the foundations set by many noted filmmakers. Some of these filmmakers may have made better movies once upon a time. You can’t expect them to revive the magic again. There are several ways to attack the current affairs and these men have been trying their best to bring out a political drama which everyone would call cult classic. But, no one has been able to sit down and think as time is of the essence. Hence, we rip storylines from famous Hollywood films. If not, there are always novels which buzz about politics and harsh Indian summers.

Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti is a collage of these created products. It mixes The Godfather and The Mahabharatha. While the latter is used in the backdrop, much of the action is rehashed from the former.  The car bomb that kills the innocent American girlfriend of Samar Pratap (Ranbir Kapoor) along with his brother Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) or the disloyal Minister waking up in a bloodstained bed to find his gay lover dead remind us of The Godfather. The sibling rivalry of Prithvi and Veerendra (Manoj Bajpai) and the brotherly relationship between Veerendra and Sooraj (Ajay Devgn) resemble The Mahabharatha. On the political front, Katrina Kaif’s costumes and makeup distinctly allows her to impersonate Mrs. Gandhi. In one way or the other, Rajneeti becomes influenced and Jha never gets to perform the duties of a filmmaker working on an original script.

Why so serious?

If it’s a Ranbir Kapoor starrer, you have to think that Ranbir is always the last man standing, no matter whatever the baddies bring with them. He has the charm and wit to take on anything. However, his character, Samar, becomes a Michael Corleone-like figure. One question struck my mind after watching him pull on a serious Al Pacino-like expression in the second half. Hey Ranbir! Why so serious?

Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti relies on its ensemble cast. Most of them deliver by all means while some appear for the sake of an intimate scene and disappear the morning after.

Review: My Name is Khan

Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol Devgn in My Name is Khan.

His name is Johar and he’s back

My Name is Khan (U/A)

Director: Karan Johar

Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol Devgn, Jimmy Shergill and Sonya Jehan

Genre: Coming-of-age Drama

Rating: ***

My Name is Khan reunites Hindi Film Industry’s beloved acting couple, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. This time, it’s Khan who makes the brave effort in bringing out an applausive performance as an autistic Muslim. Minutes into the film, you’ll start appreciating the efforts of Karan Johar to recapture a picture perfect America before 9/11. Sadly, there are some clichéd scenes which remind you of Johar’s previous films.

The film quickly moves into the “rediscovering oneself” stage. Screenwriters love this stage where they can write millions of pages on how a man/woman takes on an unknown path and finds a lot of tacky situations that remind him/her of their past and probably the love of their life. Here, Mandira (Kajol) asks Rizvan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) to meet the president and tell him “My name is Khan and I’m not a terrorist.” Well, this line alone would go on to capture millions of hearts.

A death probably slows down the film. But, death can also be a plot point. Here, the death of their son, Sameer (Yuvaan Makaar) is the plot point. His death sparks arguments and results in the journey. So, we have an interesting plot point. Okay, the death isn’t a real imaginable one. But, Makaar plays a worthy role and certainly deserves a mention. When Khan tells President Obama “This is my son Sam. He’s not a terrorist either” You’d want to get up from your seats and clap for the man who employs you to take out your handkerchiefs. Shah Rukh Khan has played Rizvan Khan spectacularly. When Khan speaks towards a certain crowd inside a church in a fictional Georgia town, you’d wonder if Khan, the actor, took on the personality of Khan, the character.

Mandira makes the lonesome lady longing for a man to love her unconditionally and Khan fits the bill. The black costumes which Kajol frequently wears can also be an indication purposely made by Johar to show her loneliness. But, when she befriends Khan, she turns chirpy. Does Khan possess some kind of magic inside him or are people applying sympathy towards his condition.

The best scene in My Name is Khan involves Khan and a handful of African-Americans rebuilding a hurricane hit town. But, when Muslims start aiding them in the process, you may wonder if we really misinterpreted them. As Rizvan’s mother says “There are two kinds of people in this world – Good and Bad.” Shah Rukh Khan’s narration also proves worthy as sometimes you wonder what’s going on.

Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s background score is hard hitting with folk beats and rhythmic humming. The trio score well in songs such as “Tere Naina”.  Despite some cringed holes, Shibani Bathija brings out the grit in her screenplay. When compared to Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, My Name is Khan’s screenplay is less convincing. It’s almost as if she lost herself in there. She brings out a certain group of Muslims in a mosque as terrorists while others like Khan, his brother, Zakir (Jimmy Shergill) and his wife, Haseena (Sonya Jehan) seem to be on the better side of the law. In their supporting roles, Jimmy Shergill and Sonya Jehan make wonders. It’s a really good casting call.

For Karan Johar, My Name is Khan is his fourth directorial venture and this seems to be the turning point in his career after directing three melodramatic soap opera-themed films. For Shah Rukh Khan, this is his prized tulip. For Kajol, this is her career’s renewal.

My Name is Khan has plenty of visuals to keep you seated. At the same time, there are a few clichés which remind you of the melodramas, Johar has previously created. Being the third film about Muslims post 9/11, My Name is Khan may become a breakthrough in Hindi Cinema.