Friday, November 23, 2007

Spotlight on Bollywood

Love -- Dreams, Fantasy & Heartbreak:

Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya is a combination of three sources:
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky's short story White Nights
  • a mix of Bhansali's two older films -- Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam & Devdas
  • Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge.

    If these three elements were not complicated enough, then Bhansali has to deal with the added challenge of debuting two famous Bollywood star kids -- Ranbir Kapoor & Sonam Kapoor. Since Ranbir Kapoor is the youngest actor of the famous Prithivraj & Raj Kapoor family, Bhansali has added a few tributes to the famous RK banner films. When all these elements are blended together and garnished with plenty of songs, the end result is an uneven serving of art, drama, poetry & numbing torture. Sure, at moments the true beauty of Bhansali's vision shines through but overall, this is a pretty disappointing effort.

    As far as the newcomers are concerned, they have done an outstanding job! In fact, both Ranbir and Sonam have captured the true complexities of their Dostoevsky characters perfectly. The script has only tweaked the personalities of Dostoevsky's characters slightly so it is easy to compare the actor's performances with those penned by Dostoevsky. Essentially, Raj (Ranbir) is a dreamer who tries to find happiness in life despite the lonely sadness that exists inside his heart. Sakina (Sonam) is also a dreamer but she can shift from happiness to misery in an instant. In the film, Sonam Kapoor's expressions are perfect in all scenes -- when she is laughing we can detect a hint of sadness in her smiles and when she is crying, we can detect the laughter that is about to errupt. And Ranbir Kapoor brightens up the screen with his refreshing performance and makes watching the movie bearable.

    The sets and costumes are top-notch, as one would expect in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. There is beauty to be found around every corner of the dreamy constructed city. Ravi K. Chandran's cinematography is excellent as well. There are two shots that stand out for me -- one is a hovering crane shot when Raj is running past the bridge and the second is a shot when Sakina is running in an alley. The camera follows Sakina on her run and in that brief moment, the movie does achieve a moment of beauty and poetry. Unfortunately, the numerous songs and the pointless character of Rani Mukherjee ruins any flow in the movie. If the songs were good, then it might have made things a bit more watchable but except the title song, all the remaining songs are average and the videos are badly choreographed.

    Hockey as a unifying sport:

    Rarely has a predictable movie been so enjoyable! The trailers of Chak De India give away the entire formulaic story -- a disgraced ex-field hockey player takes on a coaching job that no one wants and despite all odds, turns things around to become a hero again! But thanks to a fresh and lively cast of newcomers and some smart decisions by director Shimit Amin, Chak De India is a very pleasant film to watch. Two particular scenes stand out as being good decisions by Amin and they both involve the characters of Kabir Khan (Shahrukh Khan) & Bindia Naik (Shilpa Shukla).

  • Scene One: Bindia Naik is a senior hockey player who does not believe in following rules and makes life difficult for her coach, Kabir Khan. After a confrontation, Kabir orders Bindia off the field. The camera follows Bindia from the field to the bench and remains focused on her face while Kabir's character disappears in the background. Normally, in other Bollywood movies this is how the sequence would have been filmed -- after Kabir would have ordered Bindia off the field, the camera would have shown Bindia's face, then cut back to Kabir Khan and then cut back to show that Bindia is seated on the bench. The rule of thumb in most Bollywood films is to always focus on the 'star' whereas other characters mean nothing. In this case, Shimit gives plenty of screen time to a cast of newcomers which is a great thing to see.
  • Scene Two: Bindia is upset that she is not selected as the team captain. She confronts Kabir and mentions that she is willing to do anything to become captain. The camera is only focused on both their faces. We can hear Bindia unzip her top. The camera shifts to Kabir's face. Then the camera moves back slightly but still stays focused on both character's faces. We hear Kabir unzip Bindia's top back up. What is interesting about this scene is that the camera shows the emotion on both character's faces whereas several other Bollywood directors would instead have focused the camera on Bindia's assets and would have had a close-up shot of Kabir's hand on the zipper.

  • Both the above scenes may seem like minor aspects but the movie is packed with plenty of such tiny details. The end result of all these shots is that Shimit has ensured that the audience only focuses on the relevant details. A truly fun film!

    Drama -- Emotion & Tears:

    Feroze Khan's Gandhi, My Father is an emotional voyage about a story that has rarely been told. Everyone has heard about Mahatma Gandhi but how many people have heard about his son Harilal Gandhi? Feroze Khan has based the movie on two novels about Harilal Gandhi and included a few selected events from his life. At the film's start, we see an almost dead Harilal. While lying in a hospital bed, he remembers certain key moments of his life. Via flashbacks we see some episodes from Harilal's life -- his youth, education and marriage followed by his failed business ventures to his religious conversions & eventual decline.

    While the movie has some flaws (pacing mostly), it can't be ignored. Khan has set up his scenes in such a manner that we can truly focus on Gandhi's son. Even though Harilal made some wrong decisions in his life, the film tries to simply depict his gradual decline and misery without passing judgment. Sometimes, incidents in a person's childhood forever alter the course of their life. In Harilal's case, at a very early age his father's principles alienated him and shocked him deeply.

    Personally, it was difficult to watch this movie because it was clear that there was no happiness around the corner. Even when people help Harilal or offer him shelter, it is clear that nothing can save him from the path of destruction. Gandhi death's shocked the nation whereas Harilal quietly disappeared from the world 5 months after his father. Credit goes to Feroze Khan for making this movie. It is not an easy film to watch but it is one that I can't get out of my mind. Even writing these words makes me shudder at the thought of Harilal's fate.

    Comedy -- Ghosts, Treasure Hunts & some romance:

    Did Priyadarshan get lucky with his 2000 film Hera Pheri? That movie is still one of the best comedies to have come out of Bollywood in the last decade. But since then, Priyadarshan has directed a handful of comedies with mixed results -- movies such as Hulchul, Hungama & Garam Masala had plenty of hilarious moments but the movies were also plagued with poor stories. Based on that track record, I didn't have too much hope from Bhool Bhulaiyaa but was pleasantly surprized! The movie is an easy mix of humour, horror and mystery. The first hour flows at such a leisurely pace that it is difficult to believe that this is a Priyadarshan film. But things pick up considerably as soon as Akshay Kumar enters the screen at the hour mark. In fact, within two minutes of screen time, Akshay Kumar injects more life into the film than that of the previous hour. Eventually, things settle down and head towards a very interesting climax. Not bad.

    Well any good work that Priyadarshan achieved with Bhool Bhulaiyaa, he wasted it with Dhol, a terribly boring comedy about 4 friends who want to get rich quickly. Awful screenplay and bad acting.

    Dhamaal is also a comedy about 4 men who want to get rich fast but it is a much better effort than Dhol. The humour in Dhamaal is good and the jokes are evenly distributed throughout the movie so that the comedy does not get too dull. Even though the movie was decent to watch, a better story with some additional editing could have made this a much better film.

    David Dhawan made his name in Bollywood with crude & vulgar comedies in the early 90's with Govinda as his star. Eventually, Govinda dropped out of the pictures and Dhawan moved onto less crude comedies with Salman Khan. Over the last few years, he has tried different pairings for his comedies -- Salman Khan & Sanjay Dutt, Govinda with Sanjay. And now finally he has paired Govinda with Salman. Unfortunately, Dhawan forgot to have a screenplay. As a result, Partner is just a painful movie, even by David Dhawan's standards. In fact, Partner is so bad that it makes me long for his crude comedies from the 90's.

    Cheeni Kum may have sounded like a good idea on paper but ends up being a pretty dull end product. Yawn.

    Action -- Fight, Explosives & Loud Noise:

    Watching Anubhav Sinha's Cash was pure torture! The pointless loud action sequences combined with awful performances and a poor screenplay made Cash a real waste of money. The best aspect of the movie is the closing credits song -- "Aye Chorrey". That last song is pleasant to hear and shot in an easy cool manner, unlike the rest of the film. Yuck!

    Sholay is still considered to be one of the best Bollywood movies ever made! It is perfect in every aspect -- great screenplay, fascinating characters (the villain Gabbar Singh is still the greatest ever villain in Indian, yes Indian not just Bollywood, film history) & memorable music. So when Ram Gopal Varma wanted to remake the movie as a matter of tribute, it sounded like a bad idea. But no one could have ever imagined that the director of such cutting edge films as Rangeela & Satya would go on to make one of the worst films in Bollywood's history. It is shameful to even say Aag is someone's tribute to Sholay. Every scene is packed with mistakes -- bad acting, poor screenplay, terrible characters and forgettable songs. Unfortunately, I still can't give this movie a Rating of 0 because there are some decent camera angles in the movie. In some scenes, the camera hovers effortlessly over the characters and in most scenes, the camera is below the waist level and glares upwards towards the characters. Ofcourse, one easily forgets this good camera work when any character opens their mouth. Painful, utter torture!!!

    Film (Director): Ratings out of 10
    Note: All movies released in 2007

    Chak De India (Shimit Amin): 8.5
    Gandhi, My Father (Feroze Khan): 8
    Bhool Bhulaiyaa(Priyadarshan): 7.5
    Saawariya (Sanjay Leela Bhansali): 7
    Dhamaal (Indra Kumar): 6.5
    Cheeni Kum (R. Balki): 5.5
    Dhol (Priyadarshan): 4.5
    Partner (David Dhawan): 4
    Cash (Anubhav Sinha): 3.5
    Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag: 2

    1 comment:

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