India Masala

Bollywood and culture in an emerging India

Dabangg: Salman Khan is the saviour

At the “Dabangg” screening, someone sitting a few rows behind me would scream hysterically whenever Salman Khan came on screen. She would cheer, shout out encouragement when he was beating up the bad guys and wolf-whistle when he was romancing the heroine.

DabanggIn the beginning, it was endearing. But then it began to seem contrived, forced and totally unnecessary — just like the film. Unless you are a Salman Khan fan like her, because then you would be able to forgive anything.

This two-hour film looks like it was meant to be a successor to Khan’s 2009 hit “Wanted” and unfortunately, the makers decided to go about doing that in a somewhat calculated manner — ensuring the film looks like it is trying too hard to be “cool”, several times.

The writers try too hard to be clever with the dialogues and the characters seem to go more over the top than they should have. I am not going to talk about the story or screenplay, because I don’t expect that in a film like this, those two aspects would be given much importance anyway. This is a “mass” film you see.

If only Bollywood had discovered Freida

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When Frieda Pinto made it big on the international stage with “Slumdog Millionaire”, there were quite a few who couldn’t quite believe her success. While she was feted all over the world, found herself on prestigious magazine covers, and on high-profile red carpets, in the country of her birth, there was some reluctant praise and a lot of silence, which is unusual for a country that “adopts” anyone who sounds remotely Indian and is a success in the West. After Slumdog, Pinto got to work with two of Hollywood’s biggest directors, Woody Allen and Julian Schnabel (“The Divng Bell and the Butterfly”), and I think I have seen more press about Anil Kapoor playing a bit role in the US series “24” than Pinto’s appearances in these two films. And now that the two films have done the rounds of the festival circuit, and the reviews haven’t been too good, there are media reports again, almost writing her off as an actor. I wish we would appreciate that she has been where even the biggest guns from Bollwyood tried to go and failed. She has shared the stage as an equal with names such as Anthony Hopkins and didn’t have to rely on being the geeky Indian friend/sidekick kind of roles to make her foray into Hollywood. I think we just can’t believe we didn’t discover her first.

friedaWhen Freida Pinto made it big on the international stage with “Slumdog Millionaire“, there were quite a few who couldn’t quite believe her success.

While she was feted all over the world, found herself on prestigious magazine covers and on high-profile red carpets, in the country of her birth, there was some reluctant praise and a lot of silence which is unusual for a country that “adopts” anyone who sounds remotely Indian and is a success in the West.

We are Family: Pretty shallow

We are Family: Pretty but shallow Before I get to talking about the film, I have one question about “We are Family” and films like it — why is it that they are invariably based in foreign countries and feature designer clothes, homes and even designer deaths? To me, this film could well have been based in Mumbai, have had the same characters and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the story or screenplay. Even a person in the last stages of terminal illness has full make-up on. Which is one of the biggest problems of the film — everything about it is so cosmetic, even the emotions, that it’s hard to be touched by anything. Based on the 1998 Hollywood film “Stepmom”, the only Indian-ness the script has is to insert clichés about what an ideal Indian woman should be. Kajol plays Maya, the “ideal Indian mother” who, besides a passing reference to her job in publishing, does nothing besides fuss around her three kids. Her ex-husband Aman (Arjun Rampal) is in love with fashion designer Shreya (Kareena Kapoor) but all attempts to get his kids to like her are in vain. When Maya discovers she has terminal cancer, Aman decides to go back to help her. Maya decides that isn’t enough and wants Shreya to help out with the kids, telling her that every Indian woman comes with a motherhood gene. If this motherhood gene means you take your pre-teen kids to a karaoke pub, where there are people drinking alchohol and the parents are on stage dancing to ‘Jailhouse Rock’ while the kids watch, who are we to question it? Director Sidharth Malhotra plays too safe and doesn’t explore any of the dynamics of a household that has two women fighting for a man and his children. Also, Rampal and the kids put in such a watered-down performance compared to the two women, you wonder why they are fighting for them in the first place. Both Kajol and Kareena Kapoor, however, are excellent in what can only be called stunted roles. Kareena especially brings such an energy to Shreya’s character that you immediately connect with her. “We are Family” is at best a pretty but shallow film.

WAFBefore I get to talking about the film, I have one question about “We are Family” and films like it — why is it that they are invariably based in foreign countries and feature designer clothes, homes and even designer deaths?

To me, this film could well have been based in Mumbai, have had the same characters and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the story or screenplay. Even a person in the last stages of terminal illness has full make-up on.

Aashayein: Don’t hope for much

Nagesh Kukunoor’s “Aashayein is one of those films that you will forget the minute you leave the theatre – there isn’t much in the film that will keep you gripped from start to end, but it isn’t so repelling that you want to get out of the theatre and leave. For a film that is supposed to tug at your heartstrings, this one barely manages to touch them, and except for a few moments, hardly any of the characters or their stories make an impact on you. John Abraham plays Rahul, a compulsive gambler and cricket better who wins a large sum of money and just as he is planning to spend it, he discovers that has lung cancer and only three months to live. Angry at the world, he leaves his city apartment, his fiancée and friends and heads to a hospice where people come to spend their last days. Of course, he meets a whole host of characters who make him realise how precious life is. He also makes friends with a rebellious teenager, Padma, who also has cancer. Together the two of them start a wish fairy club, and go about fulfilling the wishes of all the inmates in the centre. Rahul also befriends Govinda, a young kid with supernatural powers, we are told, who gives him cryptic messages about some tasks that he has to follow. We are then shown dream sequences where John Abraham is stuck in a dungeon with badly made-up ghosts and searching for a elusive whip, of all things. This, it is safe to say is the most ridiculous part of the script. This dream is supposed to represent Rahul’s search in real life, but it ends up looking ridiculous. John Abraham tries hard to make this one work, and Anahita Nair as Padma is very good. The supporting cast, which includes accomplished actors like Girish Karnad and Farida Jalal are under-used and stuck with limited roles. Also, if you are making a film like this, please don’t show us clippings of “Anand” within the film. It will only remind the audience of how your film doesn’t even match up to 100th of the Hrishikesh Mukherjee classic. This is one of those films best watched on television when you have nothing much to do.

aashayeinNagesh Kukunoor’s “Aashayein” is one of those films that you will forget the minute you leave the theatre – there isn’t much in the film that will keep you gripped from start to end, but it isn’t so repelling that you want to get out of the theatre and leave.

For a film that is supposed to tug at your heartstrings, this one barely manages to touch them and except for a few moments, hardly any of the characters or their stories make an impact on you.

Lafangey Parindey: Skating on thin ice

There are some actors who can elevate a mediocre movie to great heights just on the strength of their craft. And there are some who will plunge theirs into further depths of mediocrity. Pradeep Sarkar’s “Lafangey Parindey” falls in the second category. If last week’s “Peepli (Live)” was the best cast film of 2010, this one is definitely a candidate for worst cast ever. Deepika Padukone and Neil Nitin Mukesh do not look remotely convincing in their characters, speaking Mumbai’s “tapori” language with as much panache as a penthouse-owning, six-figure salary earning South Mumbai resident might be expected to speak. (For those out of Mumbai, these two worlds are poles apart). Imagine if you will Neil Nitin Mukesh playing a street fighter who, while on an errand for a local goon, is involved in a hit-and-run, injuring his neighbour Pinky Patkar (Padukone), a dancer who has dreams of making it big. As a result of the accident, Pinky becomes blind and a guilt-ridden Nandu (Mukesh) decides to teach her to “see”, training her to listen with her remaining senses. He is helped by a motley group of friends (one of whom is strangely called ‘chaddi’) All this is established in the first half-hour of “Lafangey Parindey”. After that, director Sarkar meanders along towards an ending we all knew at the beginning of the film. Along the way, there are dialogues like “ek nandu ke liye apne sapne ka encounter mat kar”, a few songs and the token police/goon rivalry which is disposed of so summarily you don’t even know where to look in the end. And a lot of skating. Pinky, you see, is a dancer on skates and wants to enter a reality show to showcase her talent (remind you of any other Yashraj film?) Since her regular partner dumps her after she becomes blind, she latches on to Nandu, teaches him skating and they skate their way through the second half. I am not sure whether Pradeep Sarkar wanted to make a gritty gangster film, a love story or a musical. The story is in shambles and Deepika especially doesn’t convince anyone that she comes from a lower middle-class family — one look at her perfectly made-up face and expensive looking jeans is enough. Neil Nitin Mukesh mumbles and fumbles his way through the film, trying to exude a “strong and silent” vibe but failing miserably. Sarkar could have at least provided a slice of life into the many colonies like Tilakwadi that Mumbai is home to but even that looks half-hearted. This is ultimately a “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” for those living south of Delhi. Watch it if you must.

lafangey2There are some actors who can elevate a mediocre movie to great heights just on the strength of their craft. And there are some who will plunge their films into further depths of mediocrity. Pradeep Sarkar’s “Lafangey Parindey” falls in the second category.

If last week’s “Peepli (Live)” was the best cast film of 2010, this one is definitely a candidate for worst cast ever. Deepika Padukone and Neil Nitin Mukesh do not look remotely convincing in their characters, speaking Mumbai’s “tapori” language with as much panache as a penthouse-owning, six-figure salary earning South Mumbai resident might be expected to speak. (For those out of Mumbai, these two worlds are poles apart).

Peepli Live: Brilliant, nuanced satire

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Peepli LiveThere are a lot of nuances in Anusha Rizvi’s “Peepli Live” that you may not get at once. There will be a comment on the health system in villages or the lack of hygiene but they are so subtle that it may escape the notice of the less attentive viewer.

It will be your loss if you do miss out on these small details because this film thrives on subtlety — something we aren’t too used to as viewers.

Aisha: Desi chick flick

As the end credits rolled in “Aisha”, I noticed that the credits for stylists/designers and clothes sponsors never seemed to end. That should tell you something. This is a film that is a lot like the characters in it – very very pretty, but, as a character in the film says “very shallow”. This is India’s first chick flick though, and even though there are holes in the script, plot points are very badly explained and Sonam Kapoor’s acting hampers the film significantly, it does tell you the story of India’s luxe set, for whom a Chanel bag is an important accessory even when you are roughing it out on the banks of the Ganges in a tent. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sonam Kapoor plays Aisha, ditsy, but well-meaning girl who wants to play match-maker to everyone around her. She comes across the perfect “project” in Shefali, an enthusiastic, but unsophisticated girl from a small town near Delhi, whom Aisha promises to take under her wing, and find her a “good boy.” She is aided in this endeavour by her smart-talking best friend Pinky, (Ira Dubey), while family friend Arjun (Abhay Deol) firmly believes that she should stay away from what is none of her business. Aisha of course, goes about her project with the attitude of a horse with blinkers, listening to no one and ignoring the obvious signs around her, until everything falls apart. Set in the upper-class Delhi milieu, Aisha does have a lot of fun moments and captures the essence of that milieu really well. Needless to say, the clothes, the bags, the set design (who has kitchens with all white cabinets and perfectly placed jars of pasta on shelves?) are all top-notch. Of the cast, Abhay Deol does what he is expected to do – look good and act well. Ira Dubey as the caustic Pinky is great, but the real star is Amrita Puri, who plays the wide-eyed small town girl thrown into high society with great élan. The film’s main star, Sonam Kapoor, disappoints coming off as awkward at some of the most crucial moments. The story is a straight lift-off from the Alicia Silverstone starrer “Clueless”, which in turn was an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, so you can’t help thinking that if only the script were tighter and plot points weren’t so abrupt, this could have been a better effort. However, you might be willing to forgive the emptiness inside, because this film is oh-so-pretty on the outside.

aisha-1As the end credits rolled in “Aisha”, I noticed that the credits for stylists/designers and clothes sponsors never seemed to end. That should tell you something.

This is a film that is a lot like the characters in it – very very pretty, but, as a character in the film says “very shallow”.

Once Upon A Time in Mumbai: Blast into the past

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Milan Luthria’s “Once Upon A Time in Mumbai” is a mostly-gripping, but dumbed-down mafia thriller that focuses on two men who dominated the Mumbai underworld for the most part of the seventies and eighties.

Despite denials from the makers of the film, it is easy to see that the story is based on underworld don Haji Mastan and his one-time protégé Dawood Ibrahim.

from Photographers' Blog:

Come, fall in love

I first encountered the 52-year-old Maratha Mandir movie theater while I was on one of my walks to explore Mumbai. Being new to the city, I do this often. It was just a casual walk down the lanes of the city when I saw a huge billboard promoting a film outside the cinema. The billboard proudly advertised it as the longest-playing film in Indian history.

A cinema goer buys a ticket for Bollywood movie "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" (The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride), starring actor Shah Rukh Khan, inside Maratha Mandir theatre in Mumbai July 11, 2010.   REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The film "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" (The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride), starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, is a simple romantic film shot in Europe and India, where a boy meets a girl and falls in love with her - girl is about to get married in India - boy takes the journey from Europe to India to win her over.

Tere Bin Laden: Average but harmless fare

laden1Abhishek Sharma’s “Tere Bin Laden” is a sporadically funny but badly made film that tries a little too hard to draw out laughs from the audience and fails for precisely that reason.

The plot revolves around a young Pakistani reporter Ali whose biggest dream is to go to America and make it big but after an incident on a plane involving a knife, he is deported back to his homeland.

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