Reviews


The Dark Knight Rises, but that has a lot to do with all the fluff.

To be honest, I think it’s a victim of the success of the last instalment. But whichever way I look at it, it’s a poorer film than the last one. Not just thematically, but otherwise as well.

The Dark Knight, I thought, was a fantastic film. And while I admit that it would be very difficult for a sequel to live up to that, one would have expected Nolan to have done a better job.

As is often the case, the problem starts with the script. For starters, unlike the last time, when we were confronted with the question of how to deal with Evil that exists purely for the thrill of doing evil, and with no other ambition or motive, this time we are treated to an unconvincing Revenge Drama reminiscent of dhishoom dhishoom Bollywood.

As if this weren’t bad enough, clumsily woven into the narrative from the very beginning is this angst of the 99% against the 1%, starting with Hathaway spouting her equivalent of  the “main chor paida nahin hui milord, mujhe samaj ne chor banaya”  dialogue. That strand is picked up later, culminating in the liberté, égalité, fraternité bits, complete with the storming of the Bastille and Guillotine sentencings.

The characterisations are nothing to write home about either. The whole Bane thing was another throwback to the good ol’ Hindi flicks of the 70s and 80s, where villains like Shakaal, Mugambo, Kancha Cheena and Whatsisname terrorised the local population until they had their comeuppance. That scene in the stadium was reminiscent of Evil Thakur holding sway in Village Square, with Hirsute Henchmen terrorising Helpless Villagers with their Double-Barrelled Guns before spiriting away Voluptuous Village Belle on horseback. Please, Nolan. Been there, done that.

And while it is par for the course today for a movie to have that obligatory twist in the end, must Nolan have fallen prey to that clichéd and desperate attempt of filmmakers to extract some more oohs and aaahs from the audience?  And if it had to be done, it should at least have been done well. As it happens, I guessed the twist(s) fairly early on. Yes, all of them.

Even the action was not as great as it was the last time. Remember the moments leading up to the revelation of the Batpod in The Dark Knight? Nothing close to that here. There’s an extended sequence towards the end with the Batpod, the Bat, a Truck and some other armoured car type thingies that’s good, but not great.

So – not a great script, no great action, mostly pedestrian acting. All in all, a disappointing effort. Coming from a director whom I really admire, the only rationalisation I have is that Nolan is fatigued.

He is fatigued because a franchise kills your creativity. How do you excel in your craft when you are constrained by the specifics of the franchise, hemmed in by the constructs of the initial instalments, and yet under pressure to match not only your own previous works, but also the other I-am-a-Superhero-battling-my-own-demons-and-flirting-with-the-dark-side franchises that seem to be crawling out of the woodwork?

And that’s the problem with The Dark Knight Rises. It’s a product of fatigue. Nolan’s fatigue is evident, as is Bale’s. And when the director and the star both seem to be going through the motions, what more can one expect?

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I can understand why Bond fans have had mixed feelings about QOS, Daniel Craig notwithstanding. For the reinvention of Bond in today’s competitive scenario has taken away many of the attributes and quirks that defined 007 – at least the cinematic 007. This is not to say one wishes the present Bond were a throwback to the androgynous Roger Moore, but, somehow, a lot of characteristics that we came to see – rightly or wrongly – as defining Bond are not there in Craig’s 007. On the other hand, I have to hand it to the makers; it is not easy taking a well-known but fading brand, and in the face of increased competition in the last few years, being able to re-invent the formula successfully. At least in the commercial sense.

Darker times, I suppose, demand darker heroes. And so, the once suave hero, among whose peccadilloes one could list an overactive love-muscle and some endearing superciliousness, is now transformed into a brooding and emotionally scarred killing automaton (yes, that’s a cliché!) for whom the end completely justifies the means……and it’s not even one of those ‘larger-good’ ends…..it’s personal. And you get the distinct feeling that had MI6’s and 007’s interests not coincided – however imperfectly – 007 would pretty much have turned rogue to get what he wanted. The morally ambiguous hero has been notably successful of late, as Jason Bourne, Tony Stark and most spectacularly, Bruce Wayne, would testify. And it was a no-brainer that 007 would, perforce, have to follow suit.

And the reincarnated Bond could not have found someone better than Daniel Craig to carry it off. The man is outstanding as the New (Improved?) Bond, and after watching him play 007 in QOS, one realises there is actually no doubt as to whether this avatar of Bond is the ‘correct’ one or not. Is Daniel Craig’s character more relevant, more in-sync with our times? Undoubtedly so. Is he more believable in this high-octane action set-piece than his predecessors, displaying flair and remarkable athleticism? Again, emphatically yes.

Let’s look at the film now. Marc Forster was perhaps handicapped by the lack of a strong script. Because the story is infantile. And that is being charitable. The action, though, is breath-taking, comparable to any other film of the same genre. Nevertheless, one did get the feeling that in his zest to take the fight right to John McClane, Iron Man and Bourne, Forster made the cardinal error of taking his eyes off the plot. And the result is QOS, really nothing more than a spectacular collection of this year’s The World’s Most Extreme Sporting Videos, interspersed with Cultural Primer 101, la National Geographic, but not as good), some standard Environmental Platitudes and some done-to-death Third-World Corruption and Human Suffering.

During the course of the film, you realise that Bond and Bourne now have far more in common than Fleming, Ludlum, Forster or Greengrass intended – and this is even if I ignore the roof-top chase. And that’s when you understand the gripe Bond loyalists have.

If you don’t have predetermined notions of what 007 should be like and if you feel a credible plot has no place in cinema, you will enjoy the film – if nothing else, at least for the mindless yet dazzling action (land, sea and air…..); for some sardonic lines, again not from Bond (though he has one, as far as I remember), but from M; and for the smouldering Daniel Craig and the hot and delectable Olga Kurylenko.

You may also want to check out Shefaly’s review.

I am back (Applause?). And decided to watch Fashion. I suppose all that travelling did end up addling my brain.

I think Madhur’s a decent filmmaker. I also think he’s been milking this ‘high-society exposé’ bit for too long now (Traffic Signal being an exception). Here he comes back to what he’s been doing since Page 3 – and somehow, after watching all his films since Page 3, the effect seems diluted. For one, watching yet another film created in the same mould was tiring. And Madhur, usually ever aware of the value of brevity, goes and makes an interminably long film. The upshot is, not only are you watching something you’ve watched before, you’re watching more of it.

What about the film itself? With a plot that would have made a just-about-tolerable 60 minute film, you can guess what I have to say about that. It’s a very tired, hackneyed story. Small-town Girl wants to make it big in the fashion world. Typical Indian Father sulks, but she heads to Mumbai anyway. With stars in her eyes, a couple of suitcases and a roll of fat around her tummy. Then comes the ‘struggling phase’; except she never really struggles (I know people who have struggled, and believe me, this was no struggle!)…..and some time later, is on her way to success. With success comes arrogance, and with arrogance comes downfall. And then, since we like our movies to give us hope in these dark times, there’s resurrection and redemption. That’s it. Complexity, layering and freshness are obviously things this director can’t be accused of.

Madhur’s world is populated with stereotypes. Nothing new there. All male fashion designers are gay. All ‘good’ girls have been raised with ‘Indian’ values – ergo, no alcohol, no tobacco and obviously no sex. But wait – there’s hope in the big bad city. Don’t write them off just yet. Madhur gives us every cliché in the book when it comes to successful women in the larger entertainment world. So, after the mandatory, perfunctory protestations, out comes the alcohol. Then comes the tobacco and then comes the sex. Or did the sex come before the tobacco? I forget. Anyway, after the sex, there’s coke. And, just to rub our faces in the fact that smoking’s not quite Sunday school, the director reinforces this with the plot structure: we know Priyanka is well and truly on her way down when she lights up, just before the interval. And somewhere in between the (awkwardly shot) lusting and the smoking and the drinking and the snorting, there’s the evergreen ‘main tumhare bachche ki maa banne wali hoon’ moment. Thankfully, the moment’s in English. I would have regurgitated my dinner if it were said in Hindi.

The film is badly shot. A good cinematographer would’ve shot the film in a way that didn’t make Priyanka look fat. Given Madhur’s penchant for ‘realistic’ films, one might’ve thought the casting would be better. Priyanka, god bless her, doesn’t look like a ramp model from any angle. She’s carrying excess weight and it shows. Kangana is the only one who looks the part, and she does a great job. Though I do think she was made to be a movie star in the Silent Era. Mughda is competent, and will hopefully invest the proceeds of this film in a good orthodontist. Harsh Chhaya is excellent as the effeminate designer who lisps. The less said about Arbaaz, the better.

The film says nothing new, reinforces clichés and, for a film set in the fashion world, looks really tacky. That’s three reasons right there for it to appeal to the discerning Indian audience.

Begin review. In the beginning there was darkness. And then there was a hen-chase. And then there was a headache. And then there was darkness again. But the headache refused to go away. End review.

Here’s my choice for “THE scene of the film”: We’re in a penthouse kinda place in Oz, celebrating Lucky (Sonu Sood) aka Kinng’s birthday. There’s an attempt on his life. The assassin escapes on a bike. The Kinng decides to chase him and so – gasp! – jumps off this really, really tall building.

But voilà – he has a parachute. Why does he have a parachute? Now that’s a stupid question. It’s his birthday and the party is in the penthouse of a high-rise, so it makes perfect sense that Kinng’s strapped a parachute on his back. Duh!

Assassin’s on a bike and Kinng chases him, gently floating along on the parachute, but not coming down to earth. Assassin tries taking winding streets – no luck; Kinng is still miraculously slightly above and behind him. The bike’s subject to the vagaries of traffic and traffic-lights, while the parachute simply floats above all the chaos in the streets. What an idea, sirjee!

Anyway, after what seems like an eternity (the second time one feels this, after the oh-so-sublime pursuit-of-the-hen scene), the director decides to cut to the chase (as you can see from this incredibly corny line, today’s not a good day) – so Kinng manoeuvres himself above Assassin’s bike, bobs, steadies himself, dips, lifts Assassin off the bike and, in an elegant solution worthy of Lucius Fox, and all those who think gravity is a con, ascends again, parachute, Assassin and all. And when Kinng figures he’s at a reasonable height, Assassin gets his just desserts.

This sets the tone for the rest of the film, where you sit through an agonising two-and-a-half hours of excruciatingly puerile crap, ridiculously contrived situations and disastrous attempts at humour. The film is not funny (there are a couple of decent lines, though), Akshay Kumar’s wasted (he is capable of so much more when it comes to comedy or action) and any script is conspicuous by its absence.

A lot of people may disagree with me, arguing that movies such as this are best seen after “leaving one’s brain at home”. But why should it be so? Why are we so easily and willingly entertained by such unforgivably horrid bilge?

On the other hand, I’m obviously in the minuscule minority – the film’s been raved about, been lauded, is a candidate for ‘Block-buster of the Year’ and is clearly going to make a lot of money.

Either I’m stupid. Or stupid sells.

Call me finicky, but neither answer makes me happy.

I’m still recovering from last night’s ordeal. What ordeal? Well, some ostensibly harmless channel-surfing has scarred me for life. I made the mistake of watching the new Mahabharat on TV. (I know, I know, what was I thinking?!)

There’s just one word to describe that experience. Awful. Actually, let’s add a few more words – abysmal, appalling, abominable.

If you thought the older version was bad, you really ought to see what Ekta’s done. The casting’s terrible, the sets unimpressive, the much-publicised costumes a letdown, the dialogues poor, the special effects tacky, the background sound (can’t dignify it by using the word music) grating, the attempts at humour tragically bad, the direction and editing equally poor and the actors – well, the actors just ham and ham and then ham some more. Yes, this series is a hamsome piece of work.

Ok. Let’s see. Surely I can find one – just one – good thing to say about her magnum opus. And, after much reflection, I can. The saving grace is that it’s only 30 minutes long.

But is that really such a revelation? Surely, anyone with half a brain (I realise I’ve left myself wide open here!) would’ve expected Ekta to stick to what she knows best.

Perhaps what I was expecting was something along the lines of Mrityunjay, an elegant, minimalist version of Karna’s story as told by Chandraprakash Dwivedi. It was on DD many years ago, and as was DD’s wont in those days, anything good was yanked off the air in a few weeks. (Krishi Darshan and Pragati Ki Ore, on the other hand, went on for ever!) So it was with Mrityunjay. Another series that depicted Ancient India beautifully – and by that I mean in visual terms – was Bharat Ek Khoj.

But of course, that was before good ol’ Rupert and his henchmen unleashed Ekta on the unsuspecting Indian audience, and changed India forever.

I haven’t had the courage to check out Ramayan yet, but going by the copious amounts of lipstick the male actors use while smiling beatifically down at us from billboards, I suppose it’s just as well I gave it a miss.

I wonder if Krishi Darshan’s still on.

I picked up Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions last week and just finished reading it. It’s been written by Smita Jain (she’s a fellow blogger on WordPress), and is about a hysterical television soap writer who gets blocked, decides to spy on people for inspiration and witnesses a murder. Except the murderer has seen her, and the cops think she may have done it.

It was a good read, though it got slow in parts during the third chapter. But then the pace picked up again and didn’t really flag after that.

What I liked about the book was that it is a spoof on the Indian film and television scene – all the K serials – and the convoluted, filmy plots that the protagonist comes up with are really funny. It’s very satirical and irreverent, and for me that’s always a good thing. The other nice feature is that you can sense a lot of care has gone into the crafting of the murder and its solution. It’s an intelligently plotted whodunit, even as it is a twisted homage to India’s obsession with the K-people (who I think are actually aliens, since they don’t resemble any man, woman or beast I know.) The boring bit was the whole romance angle – that was predictable, since you know that the duo that can’t stand each other has to end up in bed!

For those so inclined, there is some kinky role-play sex thrown in!

All in all, a good racy read. Paisa vasool.

I watched some interesting films over the last week; one of them being Transamerica (WARNING: SPOILERS IN LINK), a story of a pre-op trans-sexual’s journey – across America and across the shadows of the past.

Transamerica is a beautifully told tale of Bree (Sabrina) who used to be Stanley. Having discovered early in life that she was a woman trapped in a man’s body, she’s saved and scrounged and arrived at the point where she has the money and the paperwork to go in for the final cut – literally – such that the last vestiges of Stanley are excised. Her therapist’s signature is what she needs to close the loop for good. Except she inadvertently mentions a phone call from a son she never knew she had in New York . To cut a long story short, the therapist insists she travel to New York, meet with the son and – presumably – gain some sort of closure before the operation.

How does Bree tell the teenaged gay hustler – Toby, her son – that the woman he thinks is a missionary is actually a man and his father? Does she tell him? How does Toby take it? What happens?

Toby wants to go to LA to become a porn-star – that’s up the ladder for a hustler – and so consents to drive from NY to LA in Bree’s car. The revelations are made – some voluntarily, some accidentally – on this journey. It is a wonderfully told tale, and Felicity Huffman carries it beautifully. She is controlled, measured, the epitome of the somewhat withdrawn but extremely proper lady in your neighbourhood. And it is this easy identification with someone all of us could have known that makes it work. The director never succumbs to the temptation of resorting to stereotypes, or of trying to take it a little over the top, or even of making it all seem a little exotic. It’s all very matter of fact. The restrained performances and direction are what make this film such a treat.

The director manages to cover a lot of ground – trans-sexuality, filial relationships, family, the treatment of the societal “outsider”, the inter-relationship between members of two ‘fringe’ groups, and their relationships with others – without at any time making the film preachy, pedantic or plodding. No mean achievement. It leaves you with a sense of satisfaction, a feeling of time well spent, and with – hopefully – a more accepting view of those who exist on the margins of our sanitised consciousness.

That brings me to my pet peeve – why is it that we can never make such films in India? Why is it that the adjectives “restrained” or “underplayed” do not exist in the collective Indian consciousness? OK, those were rhetorical questions, but feel free to answer them if you think you have some great insight.

As for me – tomorrow, I’m going to present my version of “If Transamerica Were Made in Bollywood”.