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?

Advertisements

Inception was a movie that I was really looking forward to. Christopher Nolan, DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe – how could it go wrong? The Matrix references only added to my excitement.

Turns out, it’s a good film. But it’s not a great film. Perhaps I have been let down by my expectations. I have watched every film but one of Nolan’s and, while hard-pressed to point out his best, believe that this particular film is not it. It’s a very novel concept, it’s been well executed, but there’s nothing like the kick in the gut one got when one watched The Matrix. One has to admit, though, that The Matrix is a tough act to follow. Even the Wachowskis could never attain the same heights again….they never even came close.

The best thing about Inception is the idea – it’s unique, and it’s clearly been thought through. Nolan has also kept it taut, even if it runs for almost two and a half hours. It’s a good-looking film, well shot, with competent acting, and is definitely worth a watch. I just wish I could better explain this feeling – of something missing – that persisted with me long after the end of the film.

*

Now to other matters. Two sets of friends are in the middle of divorces. And it just made me realise that men are very often victims as well. In one case, the wife carried on with another man for a long time, and decided to end the marriage. Ok, that happens. You find someone else and decide to move on. The husband, who had no idea, was shocked. But they decided to keep it amicable and civil, and he’s now trying to pick up the pieces of his life.

It’s the divorce of the other couple that has really disturbed me. Wonderful people, both the husband and the wife. I’ve known them for years. They decided to separate, and also figured on doing it amicably and civilly. Things were proceeding well. And suddenly, the husband was threatened with allegations of harassment and torture, and is now being arm-twisted to part with more than he should. And frankly, he was already being more than fair in the settlement. Anyone who knows the couple knows that there is not an iota of truth in those allegations. But the law, when it comes to allegations of this sort, is skewed in favour of the woman, and the man, if he decides to call the bluff here, is in for the long haul – FIR, possible arrest, harassment and possible arrest of his parents, and a long and sapping court battle. With his father having undergone a complicated bypass procedure a few months ago, he is anxious to end this with minimum fuss. Which means giving in to the wife’s extortion.

Most of us who know them are aghast, more so because the wife is also a warm and caring person. At least, she used to be. But greed can, I suppose, make people do strange things.

The unfairness of the law galls me. But it also struck me that this was part of a larger Indian phenomenon – the tendency to cover incompetence and shortcoming in implementation by making tougher laws. So, if women are being harassed and intimidated at home, instead of ensuring that the police investigate such complaints promptly and efficiently, with some degree of competence, we take the short-cut of enacting a tougher law. And as much as domestic violence targeted against women is a sad fact, it is equally true that there are many women who exploit and misuse this law to screw over their husbands.

And we don’t restrict it to that, do we? No. Terror laws, for example. The police can’t competently handle things here as well, so make it easier to pick up people and lock them up for long periods without judicial redress.

In both cases, we have tougher laws – unfair laws, in my opinion – that actually absolve the investigating authorities of the need for any competence and expertise, and instead hand our men in khaki yet another source of income.

It’s shameful – and ironic – how we keep snipping away at the thin sheets of liberty that our constitution gives us, handing over more and more power and control to an already predatory state.

And, as with my friend, it’s always the innocent who bear the brunt.

*

Did I forget to mention that it’s good to be back?

Prakash Jha is a director I like, and amongst all his films, my favourite is Mrityudand, not least for the many themes it so successfully tackled. His later films have tended to be narrower in scope. With Rajneeti, though, he’s taken a very large canvas, and you can see that he’s had trouble keeping all the elements in place. It’s a messy story to begin with, and Jha screws up with the addition of some needless complications. For instance, why is Manoj Bajpai sidelined by his father in the first place? Very unconvincing. As far as a modern-day remake of the Mahabharat goes, I would still rate Benegal’s Kalyug as better than this. Having said that, I am grateful to Jha for at least having the courage to make a somewhat intelligent film. Everytime a movie like Housefull or Wanted works, I feel we have hit rock-bottom, but along comes a movie like Rajneeti that lifts us a few precious inches above cinematic rock-bottom. I suppose we should count our blessings.

Enough has been written about Rajneeti being a sort of shabby cross between the Mahabharat and Godfather. It is. So I shall not touch upon that angle here. Instead, here are the top three reasons to watch Rajneeti:

1. Rajneeti is a ‘must watch’ film if only for the distinction of having the Most Awful Sex Scene Ever. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, ever. There’s an actress called Shruti Seth – she’s really funny, especially when she tries to be sexy – who tries to seduce Arjun Rampal’s character. The scene is hilarious. Even before Arjun touches her, Shruti’s breasts are heaving mightily and she’s biting her lower lip, and grimacing in a manner that she probably thinks is seductive. And then we have what can only be called a WhamMa’am (Arjun dispenses with the Thank You, and was there ever a Bam?), and the brief encounter is over. Shruti’s still heaving and trying to look scowlingly seductive. Hysterical. Well done, Jha.

2. Things get better when Katrina and Arjun consummate their marriage. (The lead-up to that is quite funny too.) Instead of the staple Indian euphemisms for sex (a bright fire, birds pecking, bees on a flower) we have the radically aesthetic shot of fingers clawing their way across the sheets. Hot stuff.

3. Oh yes, there is this scene where a car blows up, killing Arjun Rampal. As Katrina cradles his body in her arms, “Mora piya mohse bolat naahi’, sounding even more mournful than usual, starts blaring…quite loudly too. I remember muttering to myself “That’s ’cause he’s dead, biatch.” Yeah, I know. I am a callous bastard.

I really don’t know why Ranbir has been praised for his acting. What acting? He’s just had to keep one blank expression all through the movie. Katrina Kaif, on the other hand, had a role that required her to be more than Ikea- type furniture. Needless to say, she blew it. Arjun Rampal, surprisingly, was the revelation. For once, he managed to make the transition from Furnitureworld to the Land of the Facially Mobile. As for the woman who plays the Kunti-equivalent – I think her name is Nikhila Trikha –  she’s hilarious. In the tearful scene where she tells Ajay Devgan that she’s his mother, that he’s a bastard, and other such mother-son stuff, many people in the audience cracked up. Not quite the reaction Jha was looking for.

And what is with all the women getting pregnant? Three of the characters in the film get pregnant, just like that. On a whim, almost. Tazeen has touched upon this in her non-review. Whatever happened to safe sex?

Now for the positive bit. Note the use of the singular. The film is accurate in its representation of Indian electoral politics. For example, time and again, we are shown how the electorate falls for the most ridiculous speeches about parivaar, balidan, qurbani, suhaag, and other such shit. And perhaps the most telling moment – and one of the film’s inadvertently-authentic scenes – comes towards the end, where the faithful family chauffeur, the historically maginalised, has to take refuge again at the feet of the dynasty, the very dynasty that put paid to all his dreams and that can still maintain the status quo because his son is now dead. Rubs home the fact that minions like us can rave, rant, blog, tweet and light all the candles we want, it don’t count for nothing in the end. So there is still that touch of authenticity, albeit a very fleeting one, that we expect from Jha.

Finally, while still on the question of authenticity, there’s been a lot of speculation in the media about whether this film is, in parts, a thinly disguised representation of India’s first dynasty. I can confirm to you that all such speculation is unfounded. How do I know? Well, in all the scenes of the party core committee, right from the beginning of the film, there’s this quiet, unremarkable and presumably loyal Sardar present. But finally Katrina Kaif is made the CM. Not the quiet, unremarkable and loyal Sardar. So how’s that real life, huh?

You know what I love about Indian movies shot abroad? The fact that the US, the UK and Australia seem to be predominantly inhabited by Indians, and everyone else seems incidental. And so it is with Kites. An Indian, by his own admission, controls the city of Las Vegas. “Yahan ki business, police, judges, senators, sab apne mutthi main hain.” It’s funny when Indians recreate the world in their own image. And that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about the film. You have been warned.

I read an article in the recent issue of India Today where the cost of Kites was pegged at 130 crores. Too bad for them that despite having shitloads of money, they still didn’t get a writer. And that’s the problem with yet another Indian film. For a movie that’s been touted as a passionate love story, I had to squint rather hard to see the passion, the love was of the “blink-and-you-will-miss-it” variety, and there was no fucking story.

Instead what you got was a terribly boring and pretentious film, where water motifs alternated with shabbily-executed car chases interspersed with some non-existent chemistry between the lead pair.

(Spoilers ahead)

There is – par for the course, again, as far as most Indian films go – the complete lack of logic. Beach house in Vegas? The whole divorce bit? Finding his mobile again? 11 marriages to enable immigration? That whole bit towards the beginning where J has to kill someone to truly bond with his in-laws, and how he gets out of it? Really? The whole escape across at least two states and into Mexico? The repetitive car chases? The cops behaving like a private army? The even-by-our-standards ridiculous escape from both the cops and the bandits at the motel? The I-can-take-a-bullet-in-the-chest-and-drive-for-a-few-hours-until-the-climax bit?

The movie has been called a tragedy. The only tragedy is that it was ever made. If the lack of logic wasn’t enough, there’s the inconsistent characterisation. Like how the bad guys always shoot first and say hello later, even shooting guys at random in Arizona (or was it California) and Mexico, but towards the end, on their own turf (remember that little speech about owning Vegas?), they turn surprisingly chatty. And then there are the moments that make you nostalgic about the spectacularly bad days of Indian cinema – especially when every car involved in a collision flips over twice in the air and then explodes in a ball of fire. And let’s not forget the moments just before the climax, when Hrithik finally gives it back. Very reminiscent of a bad ‘80s film with Mithun Da firing a Sten-gun at the villains and all the bad boys falling to the ground. Luckily it’s been shot at night, and in the rain. The fact that you can’t see much makes it less painful. But that’s essentially the thought process of Papa Roshan and Anurag Basu. “Take a bad and tacky film from the eighties, and make an even worse and tackier remake. Oh, and let’s shoot it in the US and Mexico, with Hrithik showing off his torso, and Barbara stripped down to her underwear. The gullible audience will buy it.”

(Spoilers end)

And even though they still might have the last laugh about the gullible audience bit, the following questions must be asked: What were these guys thinking? What had they been smoking? Who let them out?

Women who just want to watch Hrithik, everything else be damned – be advised, it will be much cheaper, and less masochistic, to just watch all his endorsements on TV. Not much difference. As for the men, well, Barbara Mori isn’t all that hot. What’s that you’re mumbling? The bikini shot? Sorry, dude. The movie still ain’t worth it. Trust me. This is one instance when I wish that what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas.

This is an Indian movie that has pretensions of going international. Given the lows to which Hollywood has sunk in the recent past (Avatar, Transformers 2, Iron Man 2), one might have thought this was a good idea. But this film makes the three I have mentioned look like classics.

I hear the international version is apparently a trimmed-down one. That’s a good idea. If they trim 129 minutes of its approximately 130 minutes running time, and retain only the first shot of the kites in the sky, the film just might have a chance.

Then again, it might not.

Have we all played into the hands of a master-publicist? 6 months ago, there was a perfectly executed publicity stunt to promote a film. There was enough written about that little incident. I, too, got conned into writing about it, though there were some people even then who suspected that this was nothing but a means of promoting the film. Now, on a much grander scale, we see the master-puppeteer at work again. It is my opinion that he has timed this controversy brilliantly, and we – the citizens, the state, the media – all have trampled over ourselves to ensure unprecedented publicity for the film.

Hats off to the man. Not only has he come out of this smelling good, he’ll also end up with some additional millions of our money. Money that we’ll spend watching a film where the lead character seems to have been written keeping our patriotic friend’s histrionic style and abilities in mind.

It’s another matter entirely that his role in the film has been dwarfed by two Oscar-worthy performances in real life.

*

Having said that, I must admit that this whole tamasha over the last few days has been paisa-vasool, and the film will find it difficult to match the entertainment quotient that this spectacle provided.

Ram Gopal Varma is well and truly lost in the woods. A gifted film-maker, his self-belief quickly turned into arrogance and over the years, he has bombarded us with abomination after abomination. Rann, unsurprisingly, doesn’t buck the trend. It’s a patchy, hollow effort that jars from the beginning and bores to the end.

But why go any further? Suffice it to say that whatever I said about Dil Bole Hadippa applies equally to Rann.

*

But the weekend wasn’t a total write-off. Abhishek Chaubey ensured that. For once, the glowing reviews weren’t too far off the mark. A brilliant debut and I have to say this – Ishqiya is definitely worth a watch. A decent script, competent direction, good music and some great acting make for a wonderful package.

While all the actors have done well – yes, even Vidya Balan, despite her sometimes stilted dialogue delivery – Arshad Warsi is outstanding.

Sure, Abhishek makes the same mistake that Vishal Bharadwaj made in Kaminey. (Though I must say that on the whole, Kaminey was a much weaker film) Which is to say that the ending unravels a lot of the good work that goes before it. The end does leave a lot to be desired. But you still leave the theatre satisfied. I do hope Abhishek lives up to the expectations set by his promising debut.

By the way, for those who have seen the film, did the end leave you with the feeling that a sequel is a very real possibility?

*

It’s a little ironic that a politician talks about not tolerating “a single instance of graft in the army”. Don’t get me wrong, the sentiment is unexceptionable, and, while rumour has it that the person who made the statement has retained his integrity despite being a politician, the fact remains that politicians talking like that about anyone at all simply brings to mind the words “pot-kettle-black”.

And why is it that we, the citizens of India, expect members of the judiciary and the armed forces to adhere to a higher standard of morals and accountability than the politicians who sit at the top of the pecking order? Why must the cross of honesty and the burden of integrity be borne by everyone but the politicians?

We have enough instances of politicians abusing their power and position. I don’t remember seeing any politician being held accountable. But when it comes to any other occupation or profession, we set the bar very high. So you cannot become a clerk in a government department if you have a criminal record of any kind against your name. But you can become a Chief Minister even if you have been convicted of murder. You can continue as Minister even if the actions of your ministry have allegedly resulted in the government losing thousands of crores. Yet we are ready with the tar and feathers when it is an army officer that has committed a misdemeanour.

None of this is to say that all members of the armed forces or the judiciary are above board, untouched by scandal and uninfected by the rot that is the hallmark of Indian public life. None of this is to exculpate the officer in question. If he is guilty, he should be punished. I just wish that our political leaders show the same zeal in their quest for justice and ‘cleaning the system’ when it comes to one of their own.

As long as we allow men of dubious merit and questionable integrity to crowd the ranks of our elected representatives, it is hypocritical of us to expect anything but the same from any other branch of government.

*

On the other hand, isn’t Lt. Gen. Prakash now eligible for a Padma Bhushan?

I have been a fan of Shimit’s since Ab Tak Chappan, and while disappointed by Chak De, still went into this film hoping he’d redeem himself.

The story is fairly simplistic – and I shall get to its flaws later – but writer Jaideep Sahni sticks to what he knows best – the realistic middle-class Punjabi milieu. Note the phrase ‘realistic middle class’. As in Khosla Ka Ghosla. This explains why his worst efforts have been set in Sarsson-da-Khet-land, populated by Chopra-esque Punjabis. Fortunately for us, this film has none of that.

The characterisation is good, and the casting is perfect. The porn-addict Giri is brilliantly cast, as is Nitin Rathore. Gauhar Khan slips into her role of Koena Shaikh with ease. Boss Puri is good. Even the other salespersons are outstanding, right down to their attire. Ranbir is superb. The only sore thumb is the Padamsee girl, but if you can accept her as a flaky SoBo (sorry, SoMu) type, she passes muster. So what if she’s a Dadar girl in the film.

It is a story that most of us will identify with – we’ve all had to sell something at some point in our lives, and we’ve all had to deal with pesky colleagues and a prick of a boss. While Shimit initially captured the office politics perfectly, the politics quickly changed into more of middle-school-classroom-type bullying. And you kind of wonder at HP’s (as Ranbir’s character is known) restraint, till you realise that the full effects of any incident hit him with a lag. And is that why the otherwise calm HP gives in to some late and uncharacteristic ranting? You feel for HP, but you wish that Shimit had dared to attach some questionable morals to the character. In my opinion, that would have raised the film to another level. He’s tried a middle-of-the-road approach that works in parts but leaves you wondering about what might have been. But – and this is saying a lot – even when you know how this is going to end, you still wait for it to happen, to reach its very predictable conclusion, because the character works for you. And I also felt it was paisa-vasool just because of the great dialogue and witty lines.

The film plays out at more or less a low level and we thankfully do not have the melodrama that most Indian directors love to resort to. And no songs!

And just in case you were wondering, of course it has its flaws. The whole romance bit, even though its tone was low and even, seemed grafted on as an after-thought – and Padamsee’s lacklustre performance only makes it worse.

Let’s look at the glitches in the story. There’s the bit where HP refuses to bribe a Purchase Manager and even puts in a written complaint against him. For some unfathomable reason, he’s not sacked, but let off with a tongue lashing, and is even given time to complete his training! Convenient, and, in a film that relies simply on the power of a realistic script, it struck a very jarring note. As did the part in the second half where Boss Puri discovers the secret of the phone numbers. So far so good. But why would he keep calling the numbers when it is clear – especially to him – that the office is empty? The reveal was such that it would be clear even to a moron that the receptionist was involved. Why the drama? Why the pathetically amateurish attempt at suspense and entrapment? He could have simply called in the morning. More effective, greater probability of success and, as far as the audience is concerned, more plausible.

Then, the ‘evil’ Boss finally gets his comeuppance, but his resultant change of heart is so mysterious, it comes so suddenly and silently that you go “What the fuck made that happen? What epiphany, what catharsis?” And the explanation seems contrived, inadequate. But I suppose God and Indian film-makers work in mysterious ways.

Having said that, I would still recommend you watch Rocket Singh to see a different kind of Hindi film. Refreshingly low-key. Free of hyperbole, item-numbers, mustard fields and Manhattan. It’s quite likely that you will watch the film in a near-empty theatre, and that will make you truly understand just how painful the tastes (Love Aaj Kal, De Dana Dan) of the Indian movie audience are. I am one of the harshest critics of the Yash Raj School of film-making, but I wish we had given this film a chance. And that’s the unfortunate lesson the fate of this film teaches all of us, including Shimit – in real life, nice guys do finish last.

But for a couple of hours in that dark and depressingly empty theatre, this film made me wish that weren’t true.

*

Poonam, Vee, Vimal and the rest have come up with the Avant Garde Bloggers Award 2009. Please visit Poonam’s blog or Vee’s blog to learn about the categories and the rules. There’s just a week left before nominations close, so get over there and nominate your favourite posts!