Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bollywood's Fab 4 in Three Takes

Take 1: Johnny & Manorama -- Partners in Crime

"Bol kya naam hai tera" (Tell me your name)
"Johnny Johnny.....telling your mouth."

When I first saw the trailer of Johnny Gaddaar, I was intrigued. Then I heard the music and I was hooked. I couldn't wait for the film but considering that this was not a big budget Bollywood movie, I knew it would be a long wait before I would get my hands on this film. In the meantime, I marveled at the film's simple yet perfect title. "Gaddaar" can be roughly translated as Traitor. But traitor can't fully express the emotion involved -- Gaddaar is not just a traitor but a sinister person who has gone over and beyond the limits of decency; the emotion contained in the word 'Gaddaar' reflects both the anger and disgust over such a person's action. Johnny Gaddaar's trailer shows 5 men sitting at a card table, cut to images of piles of cash, cut to fast paced action, a speeding train & a beautiful woman. Who is the Gaddaar? Johnny, ofcourse! But which of the 5 men is Johnny?

While I was waiting to learn about Johnny, I came across Manorama from the film Manorama Six Feet Under. The trailer indicated a murder mystery/darkish film cut in the mould of 2006's Being Cyrus. Now, I also wanted to track down Manorama.... But just like Johnny.., it would be a long wait. And thankfully, in both cases, the wait was worth it.

Johnny Gaddaar (2007, Director Sriram Raghavan): Rating 9/10

Usually when one has high expectations from a movie, they tend to be disappointed. But any such fears were dispelled within a few minutes of the film. Johnny Gaddaar's opening credits are probably the best I have seen in a long while and are modeled on 70's Bollywood movies where melodramatic music accompanied large bold text and images of the film's key moments.

In that regard, it is clear that Johnny Gaddaar gives a nod to those Bollywood movies from an era long gone.

The film is a delightful look at the 5 con men's lives and the women who live with these men (either physically with them or in their mind).

The movie's opening minutes give us a short but relevant look at the 5 men going about their regular life. From those few shots we can gather enough about their personalities and the weakness that exist in these men's lives. None of the characters are good men but are people who walk the gray line between good and bad. Shardul (played by Zakir Hussain) is the only person who appears to swim regularly in the pool of evil

while the leader of the pack, Sheshadri "It's not the age, it's the mile-age" (Dharmendra)
is someone who has gotten out of that same pool long ago and now simply arranges under the table deals.

Very early on the film we know who Johnny is.

But the true fun is watching how the other characters react -- no one knows who this Gaddaar is, so they all try to guess the culprit by analyzing the people around them. This is where we truly get a glimpse of the evil that lurks in these men's hearts. Sriram Raghavan has done an amazing job in allowing the film to continue long after when other movies would have ended. With a body count of 2, many other directors might have let the film end. But Johnny Gaddaar continues and throws in one final wicked twist with a subtle deceit.

It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a Bollywood film as much as this. Plus, the film contains many great one-liners, something that was present in all those 70's Bollywood movies. On top of that, there are plenty of references to old Bollywood movies and the sinister plot in the movie is inspired from Amitabh Bachchan's Parwana.

Manorama Six Feet Under (2007, Director Navdeep Singh): Rating 8.5/10

Ah Rajasthan! sultry, colorful and exotic Rajasthan.

Errr, this is not that Rajasthan!

This is a hot, dry and dull Rajasthan. A small village where nothing happens. Nope. Nothing. It is a place where a writer Satyaveer (Abhay Deol) lives with his wife and his child.

His first novel (a pulp mystery) was a flop and sold only 200 copies. Satyaveer is ashamed of his novel so much that he doesn't even keep a copy at home. But everything changes in his life when one night a mysterious woman visits him. As it turns out, this woman's name is Manorama (played by a very graceful Sarika), same as the character in Satyaveer's novel. Coincidence? Manorama wants Satyaveer to investigate the local politician P.P Rathore and take pictures of Rathore's possible affair. Even though Satyaveer has no experience in spying on people, Manorama encourages him because she is a big fan of his book and thinks that if he can write such an interesting detective story, he can surely catch P.P Rathore in the act.

But Satyaveer finds nothing out of the ordinary in Rathore's life. And just like that, Manorama disappears. He tries to find her but only runs into a dead end. Did she even exist? Just when he has given hope of finding her, he runs into a scared Manorama one more time where she blurts out that her life is in danger and if something happens to her, he should remember two facts -- her name is Manorama and her age is 32.

This is where the story could have ended had Satyaveer chosen to do nothing. But his curiosity gets the better of him and he tries to dig up more about her life.

Each door that he opens leads him into more trouble -- he is beaten up by thugs, has his motorcycle stolen, his wife leaves him, he falls for another woman

and is constantly threatened & under watch. Alone and helpless, he has nothing to turn to except two facts -- the name Manorama and age of 32. Only then, does the bright sun-light finally make his mind tick.

Although the film's pace is leisurely and tends to dip in parts, this is still a finely crafted film. The most impressive aspect is how much attention Navdeep Singh has paid to tiny details like getting the locales and feel of a small Rajasthani town right. There is one scene in the movie which is genius if Singh intended it to be. P. P Rathore (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) is giving a speech at a school function. Then Rathore does something which appears to be harmless but certainly catches the eye. I must admit this scene forced me to think of the mystery in a different light. When we finally learn the truth in the end, this scene takes on more importance because it fits in with Rathore's personality. But can any director intend such tiny detail? Or was Kharbanda diving too much into character? Or was that simple scene just a coincidence? Whatever the case maybe, Manorama Six Feet Under is certainly a film that deserves to seen and not buried under the massive pile of Bollywood movies.

Take 2: Lights, Camera, Action...arrey Cue music.

Om Shanti Om (2007, Director Farah Khan): Rating 8.5/10

Song, Dance, Melodrama, Action, Tears, Emotion! That is Bollywood in a nut-shell. I grew up watching these fascinating talkies. When I was a child, I too was in awe of the stars -- I spoke the famous Amitabh one-liners from his films and listened to all the songs. Only when I grew up and looked back on these movies did I realize that these movies were quite bad. Most of those 70's and 80's Bollywood films had choppy editing, songs which popped out of nowhere and featured over the top acting. Even though Bollywood has improved since then, some of those old problems of recycled stories still exist. Farah Khan's enjoyable Om Shanti Om is a celebration of not only those horribly cheesy Bollywood films from 3 decades ago but even the bad Bollywood trends that exist today.

The first 30 minutes are a hilarious poke at elements which plagued Bollywood movies from the 70's -- melodramatic acting (if a son arrived home late at night, the mother almost had a heart-attack), bad costumes, cartoonish dance stops (only Bollywood can turn a badminton court into a song prop) and egoistic actors. Then just before the interval, the humour is put on hold when a darkish element creeps into the story. But even this dark tragedy is in keeping with the movie's overall theme of poking fun at Bollywood as the story is an updated version of Subhash Ghai's Karz. And keeping with the theme of modern Bollywood, Om Shanti Om takes the essence of 1980's Karz and spices it up with a twist element now found in many Bollywood films.

The acting and story are top-notch. As are the special effects of the film, especially the ones which inject a modern day Bollywood heroine into songs from 3 decades ago. If there is a let down with the film, it is with the music and some of the videos. Considering that Farah Khan has been one of Bollywood's leading choreographers and her first film Main Hoon Na featured lively videos, the average subdued videos in Om Shanti Om are disappointing. Also, the music is too low key. Now that could have been an intended choice but if a movie is poking fun at films, it should atleast have better music than the movies it is making fun of. Although, the finale song is a perfect update of the climatic song from Karz. I grew up loving Karz -- the reincarnation story really was something that has stayed with me over the years. And watching Om Shanti Om made me realize why one loves Bollywood in the first place -- that oh so Happy Ending!

Kudos also goes to Farah Khan for rolling out the red carpet for the film's cast and crew in the final credits. Just like in her first film, Farah turns the camera on all the people who worked on the film right from the producers to the spot boys.

Take 3: No Lights but just smoke

No Smoking (2007, Director Anurag Kashyap): Rating 10/10

The best Bollywood film of the year has finally arrived. Everyone step back and mind the smoke.

A nightmare that gives way to a grey reality which leads towards a dark path into hell, which switches back to reality before finally diving down the hole into a hellish climax. And then after the flames die out, a soul-less body exists!

Huh? What does it all mean? Does it really matter what it means? Even if one tries to analyze cinema objectively, a person still reacts with a dose of subjectivity to what one sees in a movie -- one can't help reacting by instinct. Watching this movie, I remembered such films as The Game (1997), Fight Club, Alejandro Amenábar's Open Your Eyes (remade as Vanilla Sky) and the The Devil's Advocate. Call me crazy but one scene reminded of David Lynch's Inland Empire. There is a scene in No Smoking where the main character's memory is portrayed as a soap-opera with canned laughter. I thought of those soap-opera rabbits from Inland Empire.

And then there is the reference to Kafka. The main character is simply named K, a person (John Abraham) who can't stop smoking. He is beyond addiction. His wife Anjali (Ayesha Takia) wants to leave him because she can't stand his smoking. Finally, K decides he will try to quit. He is referred to a guru who can help him but his search leads him into the lower depths, literally. What follows is only a horrific nightmare.

There are plenty of clues in this non-linear film which give an idea as to the film's meaning but I still need to see the movie a second time to exactly draw lines at the moments of dream-reality sequences. Although, there is one scene, only one, which might give us a glimpse into the true reality of this movie. But at the end of the day, despite the questions, I can't help respond to this film instinctively. A fascinating mind bending roller coaster nighmarish ride of a person's soul through the darkest paths of hell. Wow!

Note: Updated comments added here

The versatility of Vinay Pathak:

One of the best characters of 2006's Khosla Ka Ghosla was Vinay Pathak's Asif who teaches the film's characters on how to get revenge with a land shark. Vinay Pathak also played the idiot in Bheja Fry, an Indian remake of the delightful French comedy The Dinner Game. Now he has turned in two more colorful performances in Johnny Gaddaar and Manorama Six Feet Under. In Johnny he plays a gambler who can't avoid the cards

whereas in Manorama he plays a well meaning cop who is Satyaveer's only real friend in the movie.

Vinay has a few more interesting films coming up and one of them is Sudhir Mishra's slick looking Khoya Khoya Chand. I can't wait to see more of him on screen!

1 comment:

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