Archive for DVD Dissection

Bollywood Goes Blu

Dearie me. Out of sheer curiousity, I opted to glance at the date on which I last posted on this journal and it just happens to be one whole year ago. Two-year film courses are rather time-consuming. While the holidays are still ongoing, I shall take the opporchancity to make mention of the most news-worthy item Bollywood’s now-struggling industry has spluttered out in 2010 - that being the full-blown arrival of Blu-ray to Indian film releases.

It’s truly a treat to witness India’s movie output receive a more worthy treatment on a home video format which it has thus far failed to achieve (DVD now being an inexorably useless way of viewing Bollywood films with any thought given to quality). Such detail, clarity and crisp motion not before seen outside of a cinema can finally be enjoyed watching a Hindi film. This being Bollywood though, screw-ups were inevitable. While many Blu-ray discs offer outstanding quality, others do not - marred as they are by out-of-sync audio, botched brightness levels, waxy noise reduction (an annoyance even certain Hollywood Blu-rays are plagued with) and that old favourite: nonsense subtitles. Here is a choice selection of 10 recommended films currently on Blu-ray that have been given a reasonably high standard presention:

The Blue Umbrella, Dil Bole Hadippa, Dil To Pagal Hai, Dilwale Dulhanie Le Jayenge, Guru, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Jodhaa Akbar (UTV), Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Om Shanti Om, Taare Zameen Par

Sadly, equally as good movies are also available in less-than-stellar quality. Avoid the following 10 mucked-up discs:

Chak De India, Cheeni Kum, Devdas, Dil Chahta Hai, Fanaa, Jodhaa Akbar (Big Home Video), Kabhi Kabhie, Silsila, Swades, Tere Naam

Many more high quality discs are on sale, however the films themselves are less exceptional. Unless lots and lots of Akshay Kumar movies are your thing. Fans of Tamil cinema will also be chuffed to hear that 99% of the Blu-ray releases from distributer Ayngaran are of tremendous quality - though subtitles are, as ever, problematic.

Next week: More YouTube song clips. They’re easy to post!

Posted by Stephen on January 3rd, 2011

Bollywood DVDs: 10 of the best

Anyone who has ever purchased a few Hindi DVDs (or read this blog) will be all too aware of the substandard quality they sadly offer compared with other international cinema. However, amongst all the dross are several genuinely well-authored releases and below is a list I’ve compiled of what I’d consider to be the ten most impressive. And while some of these films may not represent the best of Indian cinema, the discs themselves will be the ideal choices to make the most out of your HD setup.

Taal10. Taal (Rapid Eye Moves, R2, PAL)

This excessive slice of musical melodrama looks splendid on this release from German label REM. Though the image is quite soft, colours are amazingly vibrant (perhaps overly so at times) and the 5.1 audio is glorious, doing full justice to composer A.R. Rahman’s memorable song sequences which are stunningly picturised and more enjoyable than the film itself. No extras other than the theatrical trailer are presented and unfortunately for non-Hindi/German speakers, there is a lack of English subtitles also.

Guru9. Guru (Rapid Eye Movies, R2, PAL)

Another English subs-free, but good quality disc from REM is this fictitious biopic of rags-to-riches businessman Gurukant Desai from acclaimed director Mani Ratnam. Superb songs, terrific performances and a thrilling narrative sadly lead to a limp conclusion, but the journey there is just about worth it. The DVD’s image is rock-steady, dirt-free and with impressive colour rendition. On the audio front, the 5.1 track is excellent as well. Special features include a few promotional featurettes and trailers.

Meenaxi8. Meenaxi (Yash Raj Films, R0, NTSC)

Controversial artist M.F. Husain’s second foray into cinema results in an unquestionably sumptuous visual experience with a couple of fine performances from leads Tabu and Kunal Kapoor, but like his previous film (2000’s Gaja Gamini) the narrative is at times unintelligible and often just plain dull. Still, the sumptuous set design and dazzling cinematography make this DVD, offering a vibrant and detailed transfer, well worth a watch. A ‘Making Of’ feature and adequate English subtitles make up the extras.

Lagaan7. Lagaan (Columbia Tristar, R2, PAL)

A rare Hindi DVD authored by a top Hollywood label which boasts a transfer far more pleasing than Bollywood’s usual fare. Colours are natural and sharpness is impressive, though the print is marred by the odd tear and scratch. As for the film, even casual Indian film fans should be aware of its credentials - Lagaan tells the tale of a high-stakes cricket match between ten Indian villagers and a regiment from their British colonial rulers. Exhilarating and unpretentious, Indian cinema doesn’t get much better than this.

Black6. Black (Bodega, R2, PAL)

This French DVD is another Euro release lacking in English subs, but the video and audio cannot be faulted. Colours are splendid, the print is squeaky clean and the 5.1 audio sounds terrific. Black has polarised Hindi film fans - some adore it for its haunting score, powerful acting and outstanding art design while others are less impressed by its emotional manipulation and liberal borrowing from 1962’s The Miracle Worker. Regardless, Black remains one of this decade’s most important and must-see Indian films.

Devdas5. Devdas (Diaphana, R2, PAL)

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film adaption of the novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is overwrought with hammy performances, suffocating opulence and sluggish dialogue, but is blessed by some of the most resplendent sets and stunning dance choreography you’re ever likely to see on film. This professionally-authored French DVD release (which lacks English subtitles) features a stellar 5.1 audio mix to give your surround set-up a helluva workout. Interviews, in English, with the film’s stars are among the extras.

Mission Kashmir4. Mission Kashmir (Columbia Tristar, R2, PAL)

Another superb job from Columbia Tristar - this DVD has a near-flawless transfer with magnificent colour rendition and a print free from damage and grain. Only the image’s sharpness could be doing with some improvement and sound-wise, the 5.1 audio is crystal-clear. A shame the actual movie is far less enjoyable. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s take on the Kashmiri conflict starts out engrossingly enough, but descends into standard masala action fare by the end.

Mangal Pandey3. Mangal Pandey (Madman Entertainment, R4, PAL)

Filmed simultaneously in English as The Rising: Ballad Of Mangal Pandey, this fictionalised historical epic attempts to achieve the same patriotic mood as Lagaan, but falls short due to poor scripting and an at times dull narrative. The performances are spirited though and this excellent DVD release from Australian distributor Madman has impeccable colour rendition, good detail and dynamic audio. A plethora of promotional material is on offer among the disc’s special features.

Parineeta2. Parineeta (Excel Entertainment, R0, NTSC)

One of the very few Bollywood DVDs to offer a DTS audio track, this 2-disc set exclusive to India has been given suitably lush treatment from Excel Entertainment. Colours are sensational, the image is wonderfully detailed and the print is free from any grain or damage. Extras are plentiful, with promotional material, documentaries and a director’s commentary on offer. The movie itself is an enjoyable drama of a romance threatened by class division set in 1962 Calcutta.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham1. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Rapid Eye Movies, R2, PAL)

Director Karan Johar’s follow-up to the magnificent Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is a disappointing mixture of bloated self-indulgence and at times grating performances, but does have its moments and is undeniably popular with Bollywood fans and newcomers alike. This digitally remastered 3-disc DVD set from Germany may just be the best a Hindi film has ever looked on a home video format. Mastered in HD, sharpness and detail are highly impressive while the colour rendition is nothing short of exquisite. REM have also split the near-4 hour film over the set’s first two discs to maximise the video’s bitrate. Four crystal clear audio tracks are on offer: the original Hindi 5.1 track as well as three dubbed in German encoded in 5.1, 2.0 and DTS. A selection of promotional material and deleted scenes make up the third disc’s extras and include a recent interview with Karan Johar regarding Bollywood’s popularity surge in Germany. Sadly though, yet again there are no English subtitles to found on this otherwise perfect release.

Posted by Stephen on September 20th, 2007

1 VCD beats 4 DVDs?

Well, not quite. But in the bare scalp-inducing world of Bollywood DVD releases, it can be a close call at times. Take this instance of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge - a classic film reviewed elsewhere in this blog that has just recently seen its fourth incarnation on our versatile friend’s format and for a fourth time disappoints.

   
The fab(ulously awful) four.

Shrugging, I assumed it probably wouldn’t be until the next generation of HD discs take off (whenever that’ll be) until we see DDLJ actually looking like the splendid film it is. Then I discovered a cheap, no-frills VCD from India that bewilderingly looked far superior to any version I had previously seen on a home video format. Gorgeous colour and splendid contrast; if this had been a DVD, I’d forgive the cropped video, bog-standard mono and lack of English subs. But as it is, this is still a VCD and while it would look amazing over at YouTube, on your telly it still can’t cut it. Nonetheless, hope for the future that Raj and Simran will one day shine on a TV screen as they did and continue to do in theatres.

(For more info on these releases, have a gander at the screenshot comparison review found at my new site BollywoodOnDVD.com, which has geeky technical info aplenty.)

Posted by Stephen on January 1st, 2007

Bollywood’s got the blues

This week sees the release on DVD of one of this year’s most successful Hindi films – the romantic and dramatic multi-starrer Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (‘Never Say Goodbye’) from writer/director Karan Johar. 2006 has been a tremendous year at the box office for Bollywood thanks to smash hits such as the superhero actioner Krrish, the rollicking comedy Lage Raho Munna Bhai and the fabulously entertaining Kajol comeback vehicle Fanaa. Most of the above films have also received refreshingly pleasing treatment for their DVD releases, boasting cracking 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, a plethora of extras and detailed, progressively-encoded video. However, they (along with many others) all unfortunately share a common niggle – they’ve all got the blues. An ugly blue tint to be exact.

These days, most Indian DVD distributors have their biggest DVD releases authoured by a company called Prasad Labs. When given ample resources, Prasad have been known to churn out some of the highest-quality Indian discs ever seen. Their work for Tamil DVD distributor Ayngaran in particular is very highly regarded. However, over the past year or so, many of their discs have seen a new colour-correction filter implemented that has greatly spoiled otherwise first-class transfers. The filter appears to maximise every blue/turquoise hue in the picture, rendering it looking far different than was intended. Last year’s sunny comedy Salaam Namaste wound up appearing cold and damp thanks to a dose of the blue stuff. It may be a case of Prasad merely working with the materials they’re provided with, but whoever is responsible, hopefully they’ll soon cheer up and remove this peculiar pigment from our TV screens. In the meantime, here’s a little visual evidence to back up the crime…

Salaam Namaste - The Film
Salaam Namaste - The DVD

Fanaa - The Film
Fanaa - The DVD

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna - The Film
Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna - The DVD

Rang De Basanti - The Film
Rang De Basanti - The DVD

Krrish - The Film
Krrish - The DVD

Posted by Stephen on October 16th, 2006

Dil Se on DVD

Dil Se DVDs

Even those only mildly familiar with Hindi films will no doubt have heard of 1998’s Dil Se (’From The Heart’). A flawed, but mesmerising tale of love and terrorism; it flopped in its home country upon release, but garnered massive praise from critics and film fans alike - even becoming the first Bollywood film to crack the UK box office charts. It has since gained further recognition as the movie that inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber to pen the Broadway musical Bombay Dreams and also earned a spot in Channel 4’s top 100 musicals programme. More recently, the instantly memorable ‘Chaiyya Chiayya’ song played out in every multiplex cinema in the world during the opening credits of Spike Lee’s hit Inside Man, spreading the word even further.

So, while Dil Se may currently be one of the most famous Hindi musicals out there, it unfortunately has garnered a rather more infamous reputation when it comes to its treatment on DVD. One would think Indian DVD distributors would be chomping at the bit to capitalise on Dil Se’s acclaim by producing and marketing a world-class DVD release along the lines of fellow mainstream favourites Lagaan and Asoka, but alas no. As it stands, there have been a total of four sub-standard releases so far - each doing little justice to the film, its renown or Indian cinema. Here is a rundown of each, along with the various positives and (mostly) negatives that go with them…

DEI - Platinum Edition (USA/Canada, 2000):

Regarded as the best of a bad bunch by Indian movie lovers when it comes to their DVD releases, DEI nonetheless didn’t provide as definitive a disc as you might expect from a release labelled ‘Platinum Edition’. Still, it’s a cut above the usual junk churned out by Hindi DVD makers and does boast a cracking, 5.1 Dolby Digital track with crystal-clear clarity and booming bass that may just be the best a Bollywood film will ever sound on your home theatre system.

On the video front, things aren’t quite as peachy, but still acceptable all the same. The NTSC transfer is progressive with minimal dirt/speckles and sharpness is well rendered. Colour rendition is respectable, if rather cold, but contrast levels are far too dark, leaving black shades crying out for more detail. Annoyingly, brief cuts in the print negative occur from time to time as well. The original 2.35:1 aspect ratio has also been cropped to 1.85:1 and letterboxed with no anamorphic enhancement.

The English subtitles provided are adequate - translations are decent, though occasionally some words and phrases are ditched for the sake of keeping the pace slower. The biggest detriment is a lack of subtitles for the film’s five songs. Though not crucial to follow the story, the lyrics offer a metaphorical insight into the characters’ state of minds.

EROS (USA/Canada/UK, 2001):

Currently the most widely available release of Dil Se, this DVD is actually a reprocessed version of the above DEI release, but of even lesser quality. Though taken from the same print, the transfer is lacking DEI’s sharpness and clarity, resulting in a very soft look and with numerous instances of dirt and speckles. The video is also deprived of DEI’s progressive encoding, instead merely making do with psedo-progressive interlace.

Otherwise, the disc is much the same as DEI’s - only just slightly more mediocre in every departmet. Colours are a little more bleak, the 5.1 Dolby track remains a great listen albeit at a lower bitrate and the English subtitle track is also unimproved upon, but sports an ugly bold Times font this time around instead. Distributor Eros boasts the biggest selection of hit Bollywood movies on DVD in the world, but their reputation for quality is far less illustrious as is evident here.

AYNGARAN (UK/USA, 2001):

Now this is more like it. Anamorphic transfer (cropped only slightly from 2.35:1 to 2.20:1), glorious colour and contrast rendition with excellent sharpness/detail and a superb 5.1 Dolby Digital track that rival’s DEI’s. The English subtitle track even includes those elusive sing lyric translations. It seems this is about as perfect a Dil Se DVD as anyone could hope for, right? Well, it would be were it not for one slight snag - this release from South Indian DVD label Ayngaran offers the dubbed Tamil version only. And it was all going so well too.

Now that the wind has been sucked from your sails, it may as well be the best time to list the other negatives affecting this otherwise first rate disc. A low bitrate applied has meant some ugly MPEG compression artefacts appearing now and then. Like the Eros disc, the NTSC video is not encoded progressively; pseudo-progressive interlace is used instead. And much like every other South Indian DVD release, the English subtitle translation is extremely sub-standard with awkward sentence structure and grammar.

While a Hindi audio track would’ve still made this by far the best option for the film on DVD, it is instead only a worthwhile purchase for Tamil speakers and/or die-hard Dil Se fans.

RAPID EYE MOVIES (Germany, 2005):

Bollywood is currently enjoying massive popularity in Germany, so it’s not surprising German DVD distributor REM would choose to release their own disc of Dil Se for the German market. Unfortunately, they have done an even greater disservice to the movie than their Indian counterparts with a truly atrocious PAL transfer. Sharpness and detail are non-existant, colours have a hideous green tint to them and while the anamorphic video offers the widest viewing angle of all four discs, the picture has been squashed slightly in the process. There aren’t much better things to report on the sound front, as the Hindi track provided is a distorted, scratchy 2.0 stereo. No English subtitles are provided.

SCREENSHOT COMPARISON:

DEI Platinum Edition

Eros

Ayngaran

Rapid Eye Movies

So, weighing up the pros and cons, it looks as though DEI’s original release is the best option to go for overall - although good luck in finding it, as only a limited number were ever produced. Until Bollywood really hits it big in the West and a Hollywood studio bags the rights to the film, Dil Se fans will have to make do with the above flawed four.

Posted by Stephen on July 28th, 2006
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