Archive for Mini-reviews

Dil Bole Hadippa!

DIL BOLE HADIPPA! (2009, d. Anurag Singh)

There are times when there’s just no pleasing some people. Or in the case of 2009’s cricketing comedy Dil Bole Hadippa! (’The Heart Yells Hooray!’), it would seem there are times when there’s just no pleasing anyone. How such a thoroughly delightful, warm-spirited romp could pass by virtually undetected as it did late last year, garnering little but shrugged shoulders from cinema-goers, truly boggles this Bolly-mad bloke’s brain. What was there not to adore? Two unhealthily attractive leads, a genuinely uproarious cross-dressing plot, one of the catchiest, dance-worthy soundtracks in recent years and boasting more unbridled energy than a Hadron Collider. All this plus more, yet what reactions does it provoke? “Rani’s too old… Not more Punjabi stuff… Sooo clichéd”. Killjoys, I tell thee. Killjoys!

Rani Mukerji plays plucky Veera, a girl who’s crackers about cricket and can run rings around even the male players in her small Punjabi neighbourhood. When village elder Vikram Singh (Anupam Kher) recruits his son, England cricketer Rohan (Shahid Kapoor), to coach his Indian team for a friendly game against their Pakistani rivals, Veera sets her sights on getting selected. After she is rebuffed by the male-only squad, she hatches a plan and swaps her tights for a turban - morphing from feisty female to stern sardar, fake beard ‘n’ all. Her daring scheme proves a success and Rohan takes the newly-named ‘Veer’ into the team, only to ask ‘him’ for an additional service: advice on how to woo ‘his sister’ Veera, with whom he has fallen in love with!


Shahid and Rani dance to ‘Discowale Khisko’, one of the decade’s best songs: See it!

Okay, so the premise may be thinner than Amy Winehouse standing sideways and, yeah, Punjabi culture has been celebrated/mocked in equally liberal doses already in Indian films (particularly by distributor Yash Raj Films), but when one is eating a meal that has been served countless times before yet has now been cooked to absolute perfection, should it be sent back to the kitchen or savoured with a generous tip left? My vote goes to the latter as I had a ball watching Dil Bole Hadippa!, a Bollywood romantic musical that admittedly has nothing new to offer the genre, but what it lacks in originality more than makes up for in sheer entertainment value.

Much of the fun is owed to star (yet strangely second-billed) Rani Mukerji in a comedic part that is poles apart from her role as a deaf-dumb-blind woman in 2005’s haunting drama Black, yet no less engaging. She’s clearly relishing the chance to take centre stage here, carrying the picture as she does single-handedly. Seldom have I seen any screen performer run the emotional gammit of laughs and tears with such stunning enthusiasm, all the while vigorously dancing up a storm inbetween. All other participants simply play second fiddle and with rumours abounding that Mukerji even ghost-directed several scenes, DBH! could easily be considered her baby. Which makes the resulting failure of the movie all the more disheartening. Perhaps audiences of Indian cinema just aren’t ready for a popcorn masala flick in which the girl runs the show, particularly when it’s Rani, who - at 31 - should be smearing white chalk in her dark hair and playing aunties by now as is Bollywood tradition. Certainly not acting alongside hunky Shahid Kapoor, an actor who is (gasp!) younger than she is.


Cross-dressing’s a drag

In a televised interview with filmmaker Karan Johar, Rani Mukerji once revealed that her own mother opined to her that Rani isn’t a fraction of how good an actress Madhuri Dixit was. And she was correct. She’s better. I remain hopeful that Bollywood’s Miss Dependable carries on defying expectations and delivering such lively films as Dil Bole Hadippa!, even though I sometimes fear it will be for nobody else’s benefit except mine. Surely somebody else out there likes this one. Anyone! Koi hai?

Posted by Stephen on January 4th, 2010

Sadma

SADMA (1983, d. Balu Mahendra)

SadmaHindi cinema’s finest era was most definitely not the Eighties. With the industry’s stars of the 70s ageing just as rapidly as the increasingly tired masala plots were, Bollywood looked to the south of India for new blood and inspiration, leading to the arrival of many of the top directors, singers and stars of Tamil cinema making the trip north to Bombay. While this did often result in South Indian cinema’s characteristically violent, crass and low budget styles tainting the already struggling Hindi film world, occasionally the best of Tamil movie-making did inject some life and innovation to Bollywood’s silver screens. One such fine example is this Hindi remake of the 1982 Tamil drama Moondram Pirai that sees much of the cast and crew from the original reprise their roles. The picture tells the story of Nehalata (Sridevi), a young woman who regresses to childhood after suffering a head injury in a car crash. Lost, she ends up trapped at a brothel before being rescued by Somu (Kamal Haasan), a lonely school teacher who falls in love with her.

Released to great critical acclaim but little box office success in 1983, Sadma (’The Trauma’) is an unusual mix of dark comedy, bleak drama and offbeat romance. It is certainly unlike many of mainstream Indian cinema’s output either of its time or of today with a very low-key pace and stripped-down narrative that is centralised almost entirely on its two leading stars, both of whom turn in outstandingly emotive and sympathetic performances.

Having only appeared in a handful of Hindi pictures in supporting roles, the Sridevi of 1983 was not yet the Bollywood megastar she would inevitably become in the late 80s and early 90s. Though a popular leading actress in the South (and having already starred in over 150 films), Hindi cinema was nonetheless mostly uncharted territory for the 20 year-old actress. Her stunning turn as child-woman Nehalata in Sadma was more than enough to leave her mark in the industry however, and stardom in Bombay immediately flourished. While admittedly exaggerated, her take on the character is truly heartfelt and convincingly brings forth both the giddy joy and confused anguish of the little girl trapped inside an adult’s body, thrown from one calamity to another. It is these same innocent, child-like traits that Sridevi would utilise to perfection in shaping her comedic screen persona in the years to come.

In playing the role of Somu, any other actor may have found himself feeling upstaged by the amazing Sridevi - not so if your name just happens to be Mr. Kamal Haasan though. The veteran Tamil actor/writer/director extraordinaire gives one of his most touching and subtlest performances as the withdrawn school teacher, every bit as adrift and damaged emotionally as Nehalata is physically. In her, he finds a soul-mate and a chance at happiness, although fate’s cruel hand has tragically different plans. This happened to be the norm at this stage in the career of Kamal Haasan, whose characters seemed to find more love from cinema audiences the more misery they were put through on screen. The 80s were indeed gloomy times for Bollywood.


Kidding around: Sridevi and Kamal Haasan in Sadma

Sadma is widely available on DVD in the U.S. from Bollywood Entertainment - formerly DEI - which regrettably only offers average quality picture and sound. The transfer is marred by substantial print damage (several seconds are missing at key plot points), weak colours and DNR after effects. Audio is likewise displeasing with treble levels set far too high, leaving the soundtrack sounding screechy as though it were being played over a telephone. A better quality disc is out to buy on India’s Shemaroo label, however this release is marred by a huge subtitle goof-up whereby the top and bottom lines have been reversed. Balu Mahendra’s important and much admired film deserves better, not unlike a large majority of neglected evergreen Indian movies.

Posted by Stephen on January 1st, 2009

Om Shanti Om

OM SHANTI OM (2007, d. Farah Khan)

Om Shanti OmIf one were to select the ideal Bollywood film to show a newcomer to Hindi cinema, then 2007’s smash hit blockbuster Om Shanti Om would a prime example of one of the worst possible choices. Not because it is a lousy picture (though it is far from perfect), but because this comedy spoof of Bollywood itself is so chock-full of in-jokes, self-referential humour and genre parodies that any viewer unaware of Indian cinema’s colourful history will doubtless find themselves utterly flummoxed by it all. For those who’ll manage to grasp even half the jokes however, there is much fun to be had here courtesy of writer/director (and former ace choreographer) Farah Khan’s ode to all that is ludicrous in Bollywood. OSO tells the tale of Om Prakash Makhija (Shah Rukh Khan), a geeky film extra - or ‘junior artiste’ - working in 1970s Bollywood, struggling to make it big as a star and win the affections of his favourite leading lady - ‘heroine’ - Shanti Priya (the debuting Deepika Padukone). Tragedy strikes however, as they are both killed in a fire set by Shanti’s husband producer, the evil Mukesh Mehra (Arjun Rampal). But there is life after death, literally, for both Om and Shanti as they are both reincarnated and again grow up in the Indian film industry - this time though with Om as the top-billing superstar and Shanti as the adoring extra. As the lovers reunite, their killer Mukesh finally looks set to pay for his crimes thirty years prior.


The stars are out in Om Shanti Om:
(L-R) Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Lara Dutta, Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan

With a plot suitably over-the-top enough to cope with the many equally absurd clichés that this postmodern satire aims to send up, Om Shanti Om works terrifically well as an excursion in cheerfully mocking the Indian film industry. Genuine belly laughs abound as stars both past and present find themselves spoofed in creative and hilarious fashion, often with the actors themselves (both in person and via impressive use of Forest Gump-esque CGI) taking part at poking fun. My personal favourite was Shah Rukh Khan’s dead-on impression of South Indian superstar Rajnikanth in a genius sequence aping the notoriously hokey Tamil movie business. Another scene to savour is the frighteningly accurate re-creation of a bitchy Filmfare awards presentation that sees the admirably game-for-a-laugh Abhishek Bachchan and Akshay Kumer both send up their careers and images so brilliantly, it would make even Garry Shandling proud. As this near-three hour gag-a-thon starts to wind down however, the increasing number of celebrity cameos do tend to outstay their welcome somewhat and by the time we reach the celeb-saturated title song sequence where nearly thirty performers appear one after the other, it does eventually become a case of: “Next!”

Pastiches and parodies aside, as an actual film - even a comedy such as this - Om Shanti Om does not work nearly as well as it should. With its one-dimensional characters and paper thin storyline that sadly becomes progressively more dull, the film winds up ever more reliant on the next batch if lampoons to hold both itself together and the audience’s interest. The lead actors’ performances are likewise below-par with Arjun Rampal positively tree-like in his wooden turn as the villainous Mukesh and newcomer Deepika Padukone offering little more than a pretty smile in terms of talent. And as for Shah Rukh Khan, well, even in intentional self-parody mode there is only so much one can stand of his characteristic über-hamming. Besides his actual performance being at times painful to watch, even his appearance this time around makes for an uncomfortable sight - particularly in the horrific ‘Dard-e-Disco’ song number that sees a hideous-looking Khan sporting a gaunt face and bulging physique that would look more at home in the ‘roided up world of professional wrestling than in a Bollywood flick. Despite the numerous imperfections though, Om Shanti Om still remains a highly enjoyable adventure overall full of good-natured jesting and guffaws aplenty. Just make sure you buck up on your book of Bollywood masala trivia before jumping in headfirst.


“Mind it!”: Shah Rukh apes Rajnikanth in Om Shanti Om

The available 2-disc DVD set from Eros Entertainment unfortunately does not offer the kind of superior quality the label has lately been offering consumers. Instead, problems arise in the form of lacking sharpness (despite allegedly being mastered from an HD source), an unfavourable amount of pixellating and less-than-stellar 5.1 audio. Still, it is a far better effort than the Eros of old would have provided and the extras on the second disc are certainly plentiful, including bloopers, deleted scenes and documentaries among other such goodies. Adequate English subtitles are provided for all content, but are marred by spelling and grammar errors on occasion.

Posted by Stephen on February 29th, 2008

I Want To Be Madhuri Dixit!

MAIN MADHURI DIXIT BANNA CHAHTI HOON! (2003, d. Chandan Arora)

Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon!Erm, no, not me. Well, if the gender change wouldn’t be such a stumbling block then perhaps. Aspiring to be Madhuri Dixit, Bollywood’s queen of the 90s, is actually her number one fan Chutki - the lead character in this charming comedy drama that is ironically better than most of Ms Dixit’s movies. Chutki (Antara Mali) is a fun-loving and high-spirited young village girl who amuses her friends and neighbours with her dead-on impressions of her favourite actress. Singing and dancing her days away, she dreams of becoming the kind of beloved screen heroine that her idol is. Her aspirations are halted though after her distinctly unamused mother announces plans to marry her off in order to get her head out of the clouds. Chutki is heartbroken, but help is at hand in the form of her best friend and secret admirer - the dim yet adorable Raja (Rajpal Yadav), who offers to marry her so that they may both run off to Bombay for Chutki to live out her dreams. However, after the young newly-weds arrive in India’s movie capital, Chutki discovers the path to Bollywood stardom is not all plain-sailing in the harsh realities of Bombay’s city life.


Stargazing: Rajpal Yadav and Antara Mali in MMDBCH

This criminally overlooked and undervalued gem of a film employs a plot device all-too familiar to Western film-making, yet rather sparingly used in Indian pictures - the ‘fish out of water’ scenario. This makes Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon! particularly accessible to newcomers of Bollywood, even those who are entirely unfamiliar with the work of Madhuri Dixit. Those who are though should doubtless get a kick out of seeing the various nods and tributes to her throughout, all of which are enacted to perfection by leading actress (and real-life Mads aficionado) Antara Mali. Mali was one of the more promising newcomers of Hindi cinema in recent years - A product of the Ram Gopal Varma production camp (which also shot Urmila Matondkar to fame), she gave memorable performances in 2002’s thriller Road, the 2003 horror Darna Mana Hai and most notably 2004’s moody drama Naach, opposite Abhishek Bachchan. Perhaps prematurely, she then took control of her own career in 2005 resulting in her disastrous directorial debut Mr Yaa Miss - a near-scene for scene copy of the 1991 Hollywood farce Switch. Mali hasn’t been seen since.


Antara as Chutki as Madhuri in MMDBCH (left) and the real Mads in 1990’s Sailaab (right)

Nonetheless, MMDBCH showcases Antara at her best and most joyful and special mention must also go to her co-star, the diminutive Rajpal Yadav. Almost always cast in the role of a slapstick comedy supporting character due to his appearance, Yadav gains plenty of opportunity to subtly flex his comic muscles here, but is for the most part given dramatic material which he handles equally as expertly. His character of Raja as the rather sad and forlorn fusspot torn between his unrequited love for Chutki and her dreams of stardom is well-written and wonderful to watch. Sadly though, the combined efforts of the talented actors and writer/director Chandan Arora did not bear fruit at either the Indian box office or from the critics, who awarded the film only mildly positive reviews. This never ceases to amaze me - to me, MMDBCH is a classic example of a feel-good, rags-to-riches adventure with no barriers of culture clashes or arty pretensions to alienate any viewers. So who knows why it didn’t click with the public? Perhaps it was the lack of star power, the occasionally dark narrative, the stinging satiric digs at some of Bollywood’s foibles or even some perceived plot hangover from 1995’s similarly-themed Rangeela. But whatever the reason, I would still certainly give it a high recommendation - Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon! is one fun and touching little jaunt.


Aping Madhuri again in MMDBCH (left) and the genuine article in 1996’s Rajkumar (right)

The available DVD of MMDBCH from Venus Entertainment offers very well-translated English subtitles, superb 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, but below-average (though watchable) anamorphic video quality.

Posted by Stephen on June 5th, 2007

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna

KABHI ALVIDA NAA KEHNA (2006, d. Karan Johar)

Kabhi Alvida Naa KehnaMush master Karan Johar’s latest three hour-plus opulent extravaganza is a rather embarrassing attempt at a serious subject matter - in this case, infidelity. A topic rarely covered in mainstream Hindi cinema, but nonetheless treated with far more sensitivity and maturity in past films (such as 1981’s Silsila - ‘The Affair’) than Johar has seen fit to unleash upon the public here. Johar’s previous movies have been accused of being too ‘candyfloss’ and featuring insufferably nice and all-too-perfect characters. This moodier drama is presumably his retort, but Johar seems to equate imperfection with downright nastiness rather than simple shades of grey. You’d be hard pressed to find a single sympathetic character in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (’Never Say Farewell’), what with everyone wallowing in their own self-pity as their respective relationships crumble inside their swanky New York apartments that even the cast of Friends would struggle to afford.

The darker narrative is equally as difficult to take seriously thanks to the frequent undercutting of some truly cringe-worthy comedy sequences – mostly involving Amitabh Bachchan as ‘Sexy Sam’, a shag-mad pensioner whose favourite pastime is bedding prostitutes (all non-Asian, of course). The rest of the cast have a hard time escaping this one with any dignity also – in particular Shah Rukh Khan, who reaches an all-time hamming high, and Preity Zinta, who is as vapid as ever. Only Rani Mukerji manages to salvage some empathy with a typically restrained and heartfelt performance. Karan Johar’s earlier films may have been frivolous fluff all right, but they were at least entertaining and full of heart. KANK is just painful, self-indulgent and pretentious claptrap. Stick to the candyfloss next time, Karan – for all our sakes.


“Wish I wasn’t here”: Rani cringes alongside the Big and Little B in KANK

For fans of KANK (and there’s plenty despite my take on it), the DVD on offer from distributor Yash Raj Films provides excellent audio, a fair selection of extras and adequate subtitles. Unfortunately though, the video has been subjected to the dreaded Blue Tint Effect that’s been marring Indian DVD releases over the past couple of years (see ‘Bollywood’s Got The Blues’ in DVD Info). Still, for once it’s appropriate - it’s a colour that reflected my mood upon viewing the film.

Posted by Stephen on May 22nd, 2007

Awara (’The Vagabond’)

AWARA (1951, d. Raj Kapoor)

AwaraThough the first Indian sound motion picture was released in 1931, it was not until the fifties that Hindi cinema truly hit its stride as it gradually developed the distinctive characteristics that make up what we now call Bollywood. One person largely responsible for creating this magic formula was actor/director/producer Raj Kapoor, dubbed the ultimate ’showman’ of Indian cinema. Kapoor belonged to one of the greatest family dynasties in Bollywood, with members of five generations ranging from his grandfather to granddaughters all having acted in the film industry. None were more respected or loved than Raj himself however; the influence of his work (particularly as a director) continues to be felt in Hindi movies even to this day.

This atmospheric and brooding social commentary was Raj Kapoor’s third as director and producer which was shot at his own production studio, R.K. Films. Though Kapoor would later enter a career-best acting performance in 1955’s Shree 420, I would consider this film his finest achievement as a filmmaker. Remarkable that he was aged just 27 at the time. Kapoor plays the part of Raju, a cheerful young Bombay slum-dweller who has taken to petty crime to feed himself and his ailing mother, Leela. Both were thrown out on to the streets by Leela’s husband, the misguided district judge Raghunath (performed by Raj Kapoor’s real-life father, Prithviraj), who wrongly believed his son to not be his own but that of a sworn enemy, the conniving bandit Jagga. While on a thieving caper, Raju meets up after many years with his childhood friend, the beautiful and wealthy budding lawyer Rita (Nargis). The two fall in love, but little do they both know that Rita’s guardian is none other than Raju’s estranged father himself. A violent encounter follows the discovery, which leads to a date in court for Raju and a difficult first case for Rita.

Awara is a true landmark in Hindi cinema. Though it is preceded by other important films such as 1949’s Andaz and Barsaat, it can still nonetheless be considered an unofficial starting point for Bollywood as we know it. Almost all the hallmarks are on display; from the romance hampered by a rich/poor divide, to the fantasy dream song sequence (making its debut here), to the testosterone-appeasing fist fights, to the infamous ‘item’ number picturised on a fair-skinned female performer barely related to the story. But while subsequent filmmakers - including today’s - might make little attempt at connecting these components cohesively, Raj Kapoor showed ‘em how it was done. Awara combines its various plotpoints admirably (some smoother editing is called for in parts), ensuring all play an important part in its subdued, critical tale of caste dogma and the inevitable grim outcomes. And while undoubtedly Indian in spirit, the film abounds with clear Western influences too. Kapoor’s vagabond characterisation bears obvious comparison to Chaplin’s tramp persona, while the moody and offbeat set staging evokes the work of Orson Welles.

Despite the often dark narrative, the movie is perhaps best loved and remembered for the radiant chemistry of the two leads, Nargis and Raj Kapoor himself. The pair’s love affairs (both on and off screen) are the stuff of Bollywood legend. Though Kapoor was a married man, it was no secret that he and Nargis were lovers - a blind eye was turned by all thanks to the magic both delivered in the numerous films they appeared opposite each other in. Such was the fondness Kapoor had for his leading lady, he would always ensure she received top billing above himself - a rare practice still. Awara sees Nargis at her most resplendent; sporting an infectious, gap-toothed grin and 1940s Hollywood good looks, her magnetic screen presence is undeniable. In her solo song number ‘Jab Se Balam Ghar Aaye’ (’Since My Beloved Came Home’), her smouldering camera looks are irresistibly seductive while her feisty, hyperactive antics during a subsequent duet with Kapoor exude both innocence and a burning sexual desire. This scene and the ensuing love-making (only hinted at, obviously) perfectly highlight the progressive nature of this magnum opus from Raj Kapoor that has aged far better than even the more celebrated Sholay. Awara has never failed to make for grand viewing, no matter what the time period.

Nargis and Raj Kapoor
Screen legends: Nargis and Raj Kapoor

Widely available on DVD from distributer Yash Raj Films, the preferred option to own is nonetheless the harder-to-obtain but vastly superior release from India’s Shemaroo label which boasts surprisingly excellent video and audio quality for a film of this age. Picture clarity is very good and dirt, grain and print damage are kept at a minimum. Some excessive DNR spoils moving shots somewhat though, while a PAL-to-NTSC conversion also leaves us with some ghosting problems. Still, all in all, an undoubtedly pleasing treatment of an evergreen classic Indian musical.

Posted by Stephen on March 4th, 2007

Kannathil Muthamittal (’A Kiss On The Cheek’)

KANNATHIL MUTHAMITTAL (2002, d. Mani Ratnam)

Kannathil Muthamittal

This astounding drama from south India’s Tamil cinema is one of the most brilliant works from acclaimed filmmaker Mani Ratnam. Known for his controversial and hard-hitting ‘terrorist trilogy’ of the 90s, made up of 1992’s Roja (centered around the Kashmir conflict), 1995’s Bombay (a gut-wrenching portrayal of the religious-fuelled riots that ravaged the city in the early 90s) and 1998’s Dil Se (a juxtaposition of the extreme state of mind driving a suicide bomber and her equally obsessed lover/stalker). Ratnam again turned to terrorism as a subject for his first film of the millennium, but on this occasion used the theme instead as a mere backdrop for the more intimate central story of a young, mischievous girl named T. Amudha. Amudha (P.S. Keerthana) has just turned nine and has her world turned upside down when her mother Indra (Simran) and father Thiruchelvan (Madhavan) reveal to her that she is adopted. Angry, confused and determined to seek out her biological parents, she embarks upon a quest with her family that leads them to strife-ridden Sri Lanka where they are caught up in an ensuing war.

Commercial Tamil cinema is often mocked by many, even within the country. Though local audiences lap up the undemanding masala action from their favourite home-grown stars, outside it is known for its obviously low budgets, impenetrable language and culture, crude and clichéd storytelling, amateurish editing and direction, ageing (and expanding) male actors and a seemingly endless revolving door of pale, nubile female performers with careers shorter than your average Big Brother contestant’s. Nonetheless, for all its foibles, the industry has also produced some of the finest talent ever seen in Indian films such as hugely-revered actor Kamal Haasan, music maestros Ilaiyaraja and A.R. Rahman, expert dancer/choreographer Prabhu Deva and, of course, writer/director Mani Ratnam himself. Ratnam’s pictures certainly stand head and shoulders above those of many of his peers in ‘Kollywood’ - and even by his high standards, Kannathil Muthamittal is still an exceptionally accomplished piece of work indeed. Less intense and much lighter in tone than many of his previous efforts, the film nevertheless tugs at the viewer’s heartstrings with ease as they journey with each acutely-crafted character in their respective emotional voyages which the ensemble cast all play to perfection.

The Chipmunk-esque Madhavan tones it way down as Amudha’s father Thiruchelvan; a thick-skinned, hot-headed poet who yet can’t bring himself to discipline his daughter or hide the truth about her past as she has forever inspired his poetry. Simran has our sympathies with her sweet turn as his wife Indra; constantly driven mad by her little she-devil’s antics, she no such qualms about telling her off though her paranoia about losing her girl’s love to her birth mother reveals her vulnerability. Meanwhile, the superb Nandita Das makes a lasting impression with her brief role as Shyama; Amudha’s true parent, torn between the duties in her war and the daughter she’d been trying to forget she had. And then there’s the little hell-raiser herself; all credit to Mani Ratnam for not going the usual route of creating a cuter-than-cute kid character, dimples ‘n’ all. Amudha is in fact a supremely selfish brat, throwing tantrums at the drop of a hat - so kudos then to wonky-toothed child actress P.S. Keerthana for still garnering audience empathy thanks to her wonderfully brassy and likeable performance.

Kannathil Muthamittal is a movie which is entirely character-driven. The plot is utterly basic and with Ratnam’s trademark political and social messages no longer at the forefront, all 135 minutes are instead simply devoted to covering each of the family members’ relationships, conflicts and own personal journeys. Some may search aimlessly for a point to it all, but those willing to just be swept up by the absorbing narrative will surely reap the rewards. Ratnam’s scripting is after all impeccable here as is his direction, painting a glorious picture of emotions and visuals on his celluloid canvas that is free from any cultural barriers - this is one movie that will be accessible to all. Innovative camera angles add a trippy touch to some already mesmerising musical interludes that make excellent use of A.R. Rahman’s energetic and uniquely offbeat songs. And cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran adds invaluable support in the form of some of the most beautiful photography you’ll ever see on film - Kollywood, Bollywood or otherwise. No matter whether you’re a casual or die-hard fan of Indian cinema, Kannathil Muthamittal is unquestionably must-see material.

The available DVD release from South Indian label Ayngaran International boasts generally excellent quality both in the audio and visual department, though the presentation is marred by a large on-screen logo that appears on several occasions as an anti-piracy measure. The optional English subtitles provided are translated fairly well, though there are numerous short gaps in the dialogue and no lyrics are offered for the song sequences. This seems to be a frequent occurrence in Ratnam’s films as the same subtitle problems have arisen in his other works such as Dil Se as well as the recently-released Guru.

Posted by Stephen on February 14th, 2007

Rangeela

RANGEELA (1995, d. Ram Gopal Varma)

RangeelaRemember when Ram Gopal Varma used to make good movies? Yes, back when he wasn’t churning out bad remakes of his own films and desperately trying to salvage his ‘retelling’ of Sholay dream project, Bollywood’s answer to Quentin Tarantino actually produced some of the most fresh, slick and unique cinema in mainstream Hindi films. In fact, there was even a time when he veered away from his usual violent gangster fare and directed fluffy romantic comedies, such as here in this light-hearted spoof of Bollywood itself.

Actress Urmila Matondkar became an overnight sensation thanks to her role of Mili, an aspiring film heroine discovered by the famous action star Kamal (a likeable Jackie Shroff), who falls head over heels in love with the sprightly young girl. As she hits the bigtime however, she finds herself growing further apart from her best friend Munna (Aamir Khan, taking a backseat from the spotlight for once), a poor black market ticket seller whose heart also belongs to Mili. Rangeela (’Colourful’) is not amongst the very best work of RGV, but the film’s warm-heartedness, toe-tapping score from A.R. Rahman and mind-meltingly sexy histrionics from Urmila Matondkar all add up to an enjoyable romp that makes for a worthy addition to any collection.

A young Urmila Matondkar sexes it up
A young Urmila Matondkar sexes it up in Rangeela

A multitude of DVD releases of Rangeela are available, most of which only offer an average presentation of the film. The best of these is the Indian version from distributor Shemaroo which boasts rich, deep, natural-looking colours and decent detail, though the image is cropped from 2.35:1 to 1.85:1 and is not anamorphically enhanced. Well-translated English subtitles are also included.

Posted by Stephen on January 28th, 2007

Dil Chahta Hai

DIL CHAHTA HAI (2001, d. Farhan Akhtar)

Dil Chahta Hai2001 was a big year for Hindi cinema. For the first time in over a decade, an Indian film had secured an increasingly-elusive acknowledgement at the Oscars in the form of a nomination in the ‘Best Foreign Feature’ category for Ashutosh Gowariker’s cricketing extravaganza Lagaan. In the same year, Santosh Sivan’s fictionalised account of the life of Asoka made tremendous waves at international film festivals and secured a worldwide distribution deal in the process. And while these two period epics had enough arthouse-esque elements to rise above the usual Bollywood fare and please the Western critics, 2001 also produced another stunning breakthrough film that not only was hip and modern while still being unashamedly filmi, but was also the best of the lot.

Dil Chahta Hai (’The Heart Desires’) is the story of Akash, Sameer and Siddarth - three inseparable college buddies with three distinct personalities. Akash (Aamir Khan), the wise-cracking slacker; happy to carry on with his two-week flings and to put off getting a job for as long as possible. Sameer (Saif Ali Khan), the dim-witted hopeless romantic; desperate to find love and settle down. And Sid (Akshaye Khanna), the misunderstood dreamer; a painter in love with a divorced mother battling a drink problem. All three graduates are entirely clueless where life will now lead them and as their lives take the next step towards an unsure future, so too does their friendship.

Writer/director Farhan Akhtar certainly broke the mould in terms of mainstream Bollywood filmmaking with this refreshingly contemporary, heart-warming film that is distinctly Hollywood in execution and Indian in spirit. His debut effort adapts the standard filmi conventions of musical interludes and family melodrama seamlessly to a Westernised narrative, eliminating just enough needless masala elements to please just about everybody. This truly is one Bollywood movie that can appeal to one and all with no cultural or stylistic stumbling blocks. Technically, ’DCH’ also just happens to be one of the most understatedly well-made and well-written Indian films ever produced. Direction, scripting, editing and cinematography are all first rate, while the performances from the three leads all deservedly went on to become award-winning. Viewing such a superlative piece of work like Dil Chahta Hai makes it all the more bewildering that Farhan Akhtar subsequently has since gone on to squander his reputation with two wholly uninspired and dull follow-ups; namely 2004’s dire war drama Lakshya (’Objective’) and 2006’s entirely pointless (but nonetheless box office-friendly) remake of the 1978 adventure classic Don. Topping ‘DCH’ will always be a difficult task, but these two didn’t even come close. Here’s hoping Ahktar manages to rediscover his filmmaking talents in the near future.


Cool dudes: Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna and Saif Ali Khan

Dil Chahta Hai is available as a bare-bones release on DVD from Elite Films in the Unites States. Picture and sound quality are both excellent, while the English subtitles are well-translated. Avoid the U.K. release from Spark Worldwide, which features an inferior print and numerous MPEG compression problems.

Posted by Stephen on January 14th, 2007

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

KUCH KUCH HOTA HAI (1998, d. Karan Johar)

Kuch Kuch Hota HaiKuch Kuch Hota Hai (’Something Happens’) was the first Bollywood movie I ever laid eyes on and right from the get-go I was hooked. A viewing experience the likes of which I had never witnessed before, I was in utter awe of its exuberance, colour and magic and completely taken in by its emotional manipulation and unabashed cheese. There are very few films of any kind that I would dub perfect, but ‘KKHH’ is definitely one of them. It’s possible this nostalgia may cloud my judgement - after all, the film boasts an incredible amount of ‘cutesiness’ and I can understand how some may find it unbearable. Nonetheless, for those who are willing to dive head-first into this sea of twee and let the waves carry them away, I whole-heartedly recommend it.

A huge hit in 1998, ‘KKHH’ is an unusually and refreshingly female-dominated story that revolves around the triangle love tale of college pals Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan), Anjali (Kajol) and Tina (Rani Mukerji). The three-hour musical offers all the expected ingredients such as comedy, drama and song-and-dance sequences, but director Karan Johar keeps the tone light and breezy for the most part without resorting to too much ham or forced melodrama. Sadly, Johar’s subsequent films, while just as successful, have become self-indulgent and almost self-parody with bigger star casts, more extravagant sets and hammier acting with little of the warmth, fun and charm of this, his debut.

The biggest kudos in ‘KKHH’ must go to the cast who all put in sterling performances, particularly Kajol who gives a career-best. Despite her superstar status, Kajol has made very few films compared to her peers and has had even fewer hits, but if there’s one movie that perfectly displays her charisma, comedy expertise, acting prowess and dazzling beauty it’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai - the Kajol show!


Love triangle: Kajol, Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukerji

The DVD release of ‘KKHH’ from Yash Raj Films offers a decent quality transfer of the movie, but one that’s marred by slightly dark and murky colour rendition. A satisfying 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is also on offer as well as adequate English subtitles and heaps of bonus features made of up interviews, deleted scenes etc.

Posted by Stephen on November 10th, 2006
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