Saturday, 22 February 2014

Film Review - Highway

The Good Road

Film: Highway
Cast: Randeep Hooda, Alia Bhatt
Directed by: Imtiaz Ali
Duration: 2 hrs
Rating: * * *

Director Imtiaz Ali steps out of his comfort zone to make a film that attempts to stray away from the weekly Bollywood fare. The result is mixed, while you appreciate the attempt, the script doesn’t have enough fire-power to push it in to the big league. Nevertheless, here is a film that either you might love or ‘not like it so much’. There will be a few reservations but chances of detesting it are slim and not many films fall in that bracket these days.

On the positive side, there is a lot to be admired. This is one of the most beautifully shot films in recent times and Alia Bhatt as an actress springs up a surprise. She plays Veera Tripathi who gets abducted by Mahabir (Randeep Hooda) just before her wedding. The kidnapper with his gang (a terrific ensemble cast) keeps moving from one place to another giving ample scope for a road movie.                   

Even though she is captive, she starts enjoying her ‘freedom’ from her family and it is not too long before the Stockholm syndrome kicks in. In Hollywood we have seen more than a dozen films on this subject and though it is not a first in India (Subhash Ghai’s Hero is perhaps the most popular film), it is not explored in depth here.

Being a thoroughbred criminal she has no qualms about it; he is a hard nut to crack but gives in eventually. The two are on the run, moving from one place to another till they settle down in one place and the second half of the film is more like a promotion for Himachal Pradesh Tourism. Visually it does look gorgeous but it does not do the story a world of good.

The finale where some uncomfortable secrets are revealed also stretches on after the point is made and I wish the film had ended a few minutes before it actually did, at the high point.

But again, the film holds your attention even when it is not all gung-ho. There are some splendid set pieces, like the one where she breaks into an impromptu dance to an English song. If you dig deep into the issues brought up here, you might draw a few blanks (like the girl suddenly discovering a new world out there) but the point about the dangers at home and outside are well intended, a little subtlety would have helped though.

A.R. Rahman’s score is music to ears and veteran Anil Mehta’s cinematography is clearly one of the assets of the film. Add to it the cast - Durgesh Kumar (as the sidekick) and Saharsh Kumar Shukla (as the creepy gang member) are unknown names, but they deliver a remarkable performance. 

Randeep Hooda plays his part well, his character demands that he grimace for most parts in the film, which he does with conviction. Student of the Year was not an ideal film to show her talent but Alia Bhatt proves she has that spark in her and credit should also be given to Imtiaz Ali for extracting a superlative performance.

You may not go gaga over this Highway but overall, it is not a bad trip at all.

Published in The Navhind Times on 23rd Feb 2014

Film Review - The Monuments Men

Art For Art's Sake

Film: The Monuments Men
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray
Directed by: George Clooney
Duration: 2 hrs
Rating: * * *

The Monuments Men directed by George Clooney is based on a true story and make no mistake; it is a great story but doesn’t quite translate into film that is in the same league.  Is the world’s greatest art worth risking one’s life to save it? During the World War II when the Nazis were on a rampage, a bunch of good men thought it was well worth it.

The veracity of the details may be disputed, but considering this is a film, (there is also an excellent documentary made in 2006, The Rape of Europa) you are willing to overlook the authenticity of the proceedings. After all, these men did exist and helped save a lot of treasured art.

The Train (1964) starring Burt Lancaster had a similar story where the Resistance had to stop and salvage a train carrying precious art to Germany. While that film was an absolute edge of the seat thriller, the flaw with Monuments Men lies with the script which has a bit of action, buddy bonding and the occasional bout of thrill without really digging deep in to any of them.

‘Why the three stars then?’ you might ask. Well, consider the story –as WWII was coming to end, the Nazis were looting or destroying all sorts of precious art and sculptures. Monet, Picasso, Matisse, Rembrandt, you name it they were all stolen and Hitler had a grand design of making a Fuehrer museum.  

Enter the art historians and curators, led by the American Lt. Frank Stokes (Clooney) who gets on the scene of action in Europe with his men that has an excellent cast of John Goodman, Billy Murray, Matt Damon and Bob Balaban. Jean Dujardin plays a Frenchman who helps them in their endeavors. Together they help retrieve thousands of prized artworks, which were meant to be purged by the Nazis. Cate Blanchett also plays an important role as the curator of a museum who supports the Resistance and keeps a close eye on the movement of the paintings.

While lots of scenes are sugary, the film succeeds in making the point about how important our art and history is. As Clooney says in the film, if a generation is wiped out, a new generation will come up but if our past culture is destroyed, there is no bringing it back.   

The screenplay should have been more terse, most of the time it appears to be skimming the surface as far as the individual stories are concerned. Nevertheless, it serves as a great lesson in history and serves ample food for thought. 

Published in The Navhind Times on 23rd Feb 2014

Film Review - Darr @ The Mall

Boredom @ The Theatre

Film: Darr @ The Mall
Cast: Jimmy Shergill, Nusrat Bharucha, Arif Zakaria
Directed by: Pavan Kirpalani
Duration: 2 hrs 5 mins
Rating: * 1 / 2

In the good old days, horror films used to be set in haunted houses and mansions but with the changing times, they have moved to places that are more sophisticated. Director Pavan Kirpalani of Ragini MMS fame has set his story in an urban shopping mall this time and barely six months ago, Vikram Bhatt’s Horror Story had a similar premise which took place in a multi storey hotel.

The kind of horror films that are made in Bollywood, you want them to be snappy-establish the scenario quickly, bring in the ‘ghost’, bump off some characters, give a couple of scares, make sure the ghost keeps appearing now and then and finally resolve the situation by showing why he (or she for that matter) is so angry.   

What you don’t want in a horror film is song and dance and chaos as a substitute for tension and drama.

Jimmy Shergill plays a security guard at a shopping mall, there have been nine mysterious deaths there and we are told about the last guard who was charred to death in his car. They must be paying the staff very well invoking jealousy in the ghost. But that was on a lighter note.

On a serious one, strange things keep happening, there are the wise security men who decide to check the security cameras at 1.30 in the morning giving the ghost an ideal opportunity to make his presence felt.

After a party at the mall (read item number) the gates automatically close leaving some of them inside to fend for themselves. Expectedly, the rest of it is more predictable than India’s overseas performance in cricket.   

The film drags its feet for too long and like the characters, you want the ordeal to end soon. Thankfully, there is no religious mumbo-jumbo attached to it, as is usually in such films. 

Unless you are a dire hard fan of this genre, Darr at the whatever is avoidable. 

Published in The Navhind Times on 23rd Feb 2014

Film Review - Pompeii

Mountain of a Mole Hill 

Film: Pompeii (3D)
Cast: Kit Harrington, Emily Browning
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Duration: 1 hr 30 mins
Rating: * *

You don’t go to a movie with a lot of expectations from the director of the Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil franchise. It helps because Pompeii is one of those run of mill films that involves slaves, kings, Romans, special effects and a natural disaster. The story is lackluster and to add to it, the performances are no great shakes either.

Set around 79 A.D in the city of Pompeii, Milo (Kit Harrington) plays a slave turned gladiator who falls in love with Cassia (Emily Browning) who comes from a noble family.. The evil senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) also has his eye on the lady and considering he is close to the Roman emperor he also wields considerable power. Milo meanwhile is looking for an escape route, which doesn’t come easy.

The climax when Mount Vesuvius erupts is the only time you want to stay awake because of some good visual effects. There is chaos all around town as fire and ash destroys the town and Milo also has to rescue his girl who is kept captive. The action scenes will put you back to sleep again and like T-1000 in Terminator 2, Corvus refuses to die and keeps popping up, no matter what.

The only good thing about Pompeii is that there won’t be a sequel.  Unless of course if they make films on the subsequent eruptions of Mount Vesuvius. 

Published in The Navhind Times on 23rd Feb 2014

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Film Review - Fandry

Shaken And Stirred

Film: Fandry (Marathi with English subtitles)
Cast: Somnath Awghade, Kishore Kadam
Directed by: Nagraj Popatrao Manjule
Duration: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: * * * *

It is not very often that when you come out of the theater your mind and heart is racing with so many emotions. Anger, exhilaration, joy, sadness, not necessarily in that order, you feel it all at the same time. Most films nowadays hardly evoke even one those sentiments.

I felt anger because that is what the main protagonist went through, I was exhilarated because of the craft shown by the director, I felt joy because films like these are getting made and the sadness came from the fact that the brutal reality shown in it is true and still exists in the country.

Set in a village in Maharashtra, Jabuwant aka Jabya (Somnath Awghade) a young boy hails from the lower caste and is in love with a girl from his school who happens to be from the upper caste. Given his dark complexion, he even applies that tinge of talcum powder to look fair. The discrimination and taunts that he faces everyday keep reminding him of who he is and where he stands. His father (Kishore Kadam, terrific as usual) does small time jobs in the village, mostly those that no one else will, like catching pigs (Fandry means pig) that cause upheaval there.

Jabya’s sympathizer is the local villager (played by the director) who asks him to burn a black sparrow and sprinkle its ashes to bring good fortune. The young boy’s quest for the elusive sparrow is very effectively used as device to rein in the change.

The last 20 odd minutes where the family chases the pigs will knock your socks off. There is irony (people using Facebook to update the proceedings), dark humor and exceptionally brilliant scenes. I can’t think of a film in recent times whose climax weighed in so heavily on the overall impact of the film.

Manjule depicts the facts as they are – there is no sugar coating or any preachy social commentary. The music score by Alokananda Dasgupta (daughter of the acclaimed film maker Buddhadeb Dasgupta, she also composed the music for Shaala) is evocative. On the acting front, Somnath Awghade is convincing, especially in those parts where it matters the most and Kishore Kadam plays his part to perfection. 

Do yourself a favor and watch Fandry. At the end of it if you don’t feel emotions stirred in you, go and see a doctor immediately.    

Published in The Navhind Times on 16th Feb 2014