Gulaab Gang—The Review

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I have known the director of Gulaab Gang, Soumik Sen, for years now through my blog and have had the good fortune of meeting him at the reading of “The Mine”. When his movie came out, I knew I had to go see it but the problem with seeing anything done by a friend is that it is difficult to be totally unbiased. Also you are kind of afraid of not liking it. What do you do then? Pretend that you didn’t see it. Be brutally honest and say the truth? Since I write books and my friends read them, I am intensely conscious of the same dilemma that I put them in and always wonder how much knowing me affects their perception of the book.

Anyways, I went to see Gulaab Gang, trying to be as fair as possible, determined to tell the truth no matter how it turned out.

My verdict?

I loved Gulaab Gang.

Of course, I will accept my bias here, not for Soumik but for Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla.

I grew up on them. I lived QSQT and Tezaab. I will also accept my bias for old school Bollywood, sans the nauseating wannabeness of what has come to sully its good-name, a  Bollywood of larger-than-life characters and conflicts, script-writers who could craft memorable lines and actors who could deliver them. Dilip Kumar. Raj Kumar. Shotgun. Amitabh. Sunny. Dharam. Prabhuji. Gulaab Gang stays true to the spirit of that masala Bollywood. And in a refreshing departure from current fashion, it is reverential to its roots rather than mocking in the way the Dabangg, Singham  and that Rohit Shetty-Akshay-Kumar-Ajay-whatever-how-he-spells-his-last-name-as-now school of forty-feet-jumping trucks is, where the conventions of classic Bollywood are extravagantly exaggerated and played for comedy and nothing else.

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Dhoom 3—The Review

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uday-dhoom2-630Rahul-Gandhi-campaigning--002

In 2004, two initiatives were launched to pass off mediocre blue-blood Babalog as superstars, while making a shitload of cash for their stakeholders.

One was the UPA government. The other was the Dhoom franchise.

In both these, the trick was essentially same. Smoke. Mirrors. Hype. And for smarter people to hold up the halo for the mediocres.

By 2004, the powers-that-be had tried, with no success, to pass Uday Chopra, the scion of one of Bollywood’s richest and most powerful families, off as a romantic hero. But after the spectacular tanking of his solo “Mere Yaar ki Shaadi Hai”, the writing was on the wall.

It was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it was to make Uday Chopra’s fantasy of being an A-list hero comes to fruition.

But they didn’t give up.

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Krrish 3—The Review

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The nation needs a superhero. Some try to bring one back from the pages of history, make a big statue and, through it all, generate political capital. Some create a superhero from imagination, make a big statue of him on film, and from that generate actual capital.

Like Rakesh Roshan. And his immortal “Krrish” (the only superhero with a numerically correct name) franchise, which may miss a number (Krrish 1 is followed by 3) but never an opportunity for nifty surrogate advertising. Products dot the landscape of Krrish 3, like pictures of Gandhi, Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi at a Congress convention, and had not the movie been so stupendously original and exciting, one might have thought that more attention was given on product placement than things like plot, characterization and dramatic conflict.

Fortunately, that is not the case. Krrish is stupendously original, in every sense of the term.

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Lootera—the Review

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{Has spoilers}

Before I start to review “Lootera”, a disclaimer is in order.

Regular readers of the blog would know that I am a Bollywood-outsider. Which means, I have never had any personal connection to anyone in a film that I have reviewed.

Till now. Vikramaditya Motwane, the director of “Lootera”,  is an acquaintance through the blog, and hence what I am going to write, may or may not be influenced by that fact. Too often, I find reviewers in mainstream media not exactly up-front with connections to their subjects (“The director is a friend with whom I have drinks with”, “I am looking to work with the production house that made the film”, “The director rejected my script. Twice” and “the PR took me out to dinner”) and I will be damned if I do the exact same thing. I don’t think my opinion of “Lootera” is influenced by my knowing the director, and those that know me from the blog and on Twitter would know that I don’t hold back on my opinions, no matter how negative, even if the person concerned is a friend. But still this needed to be said. So there.

Now the review.

“Lootera” is gorgeously mounted, every frame is like a painting,  the cinematography/art-direction/lighting/use of music is awesome. Even the bad reviews of “Lootera” say this. Which is why I shall not delve into this any more . Beautifully shot and technically sophisticated movies, by themselves, do not impress me even a bit (and that may be because I do not fully appreciate some aspects, lacking as I do any form of formal training in filmcraft). Which is why I have more or less hated, with a vengeance, most of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s creations, since I have failed to find anything else in them other than this obsession with “Wah kya frame hai”.

“Lootera” though, at least in my opinion, is not merely an action flicker of beautifully lit images. It has, embedded within it,  two fascinating interleaved narratives—the minor and the major.

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Into Darkness and Man of Steel

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Being a father of a five month old, it is tough watching in theaters as many movies as I used to. However, this being summer and the time for “franchise” releases, I had to (than you wife) just had to see “Star Trek: Into the Darkness” and “Man Of Steel.” (I have always found Iron Man to be very meh)

“Star Trek: Into Darkness” has big explosions, big intergalactic set-pieces, Cumberbatch’s accent and lens flare. It has little else. Now I am a big fan of Star Trek’s original series, which I consider to be some of the best science fiction ever to have been produced. I  have see every episode many times, read Star Trek themes books and these to the left are 1) on one of my walls and 2) one of my cushions [Read this older post for a more full treatment of my love for Star Trek] The original series was very minimalist in special effects (this was the 60s), almost like a stage play, and hence all of its impact came from dialog, characters and story. JJ Abrams turned the whole thing inside out in his 2009 reboot, sacrificing depth of story for the slam-bang. It still worked for me perhaps because of those lump-in-throat moments when characters you grew up with come back on screen, albeit in a different avatar (Kirk and Spock are almost dead ringers of the original) and because, the character development has already taken place for me before I had entered the theater. For Star Trek: Into The Darkness I had expected depth, since the first one could claim was just the set-up. In that I was disappointed. But the disappointment was made up for by  homages to the old show, littered as Into the Darkness is with “in-jokes”, including a play on the “Wrath of Khan” story with a possibly tongue-in-cheek re-doing of possibly one of the hammiest scenes ever in a mainstream Hollywood. Though for someone not steeped in Star Trek lore, I would think that “Into the Darkness” would be another by-the-numbers summer pop-corn blockbuster.

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On Kai Po Che !

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[Has spoilers]

Finally.

A male-bonding Bollywood film that does not have 1) Rich men driving down to Goa in a Mercedes for together-time 2) Even more rich men, meterosexual enough to make David Beckham look like Merv Hughes, driving around Spain, struggling with first-world problems of designer bags and commitment 3) Genius men doing a baby-delivery using improvised devices or 4) Angsty men getting into deep depression of the breakup of their music band or 5) Shirtless men running through the fields, high on life.

All right. Kai Po Che does have number five. But it still is a breath of fresh air in the world of  the dick flick (the male analog of the chick) crafting as it does three compelling and relatable characters who, for once, do not inhabit the history-less alternate dimension that forms the backdrop for almost all of mainstream Bollywood’s popular fantasies. History here exists and it is cruel and merciless as it tests their resolve, breaks them apart and unites once again, bringing success, ruin and tragedy to  three friends—the pragmatist, the believer and the idealist.

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The World of Master Criminals

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[Has spoilers for Players and Race 1 and 2]

An Abbas-Mastan is an acquired taste, like single malt or Cuban cigars. Not everyone can appreciate the meticulous research that goes into the making of their crime-thrillers and the believability of their characters and situations. Even those who do often miss the small touches of consummate artistry that is their hallmark. For example in Race 2, a tense sequence in which world-famous stud-art-thief is pulled out through a manhole into the bottom of a get-away-truck (this you have seen in a Mission Impossible movie) is as much as about the heist as it is about comely lass Amisha Patel’s first-day-GABBA-pitch-bouncy  cleavage, delegated as she is, of all the characters in this crime caper, to bend and lend a helping hand to the world-famous-stud-art-thief (this duality I can guarantee you have not seen in any Mission Impossible movie).

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Gangs of Wasseypur—The Review

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Gangs[More a deconstruction I guess than a review, (despite the title) this post has spoilers]

There have been very few movies that have had as much influence on its genre as The Godfather. When I say influence, I am of course using the Pritamian euphemism for “provide a treasure-trove of characters, situations and set-pieces on which the carrion-feeders of Bollywood can feast on for decades as they produce one aatank (terror) after another, including a movie titled Aatank Hi Aatank”. A part of the blame for being ravaged lies with the victim itself (and how often do we hear that). So epic is Godfather’s scope, so compelling are its protagonists and so eternal its dramatic conflict  that it becomes genuinely difficult to extricate oneself from its influence, even with the best of intentions.

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Talaash—The Review

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If you are an alien from outer space and your idea of humanity is formed solely on watching mainstream commercial Hindi movies, you could not be blamed for thinking that human beings are defined by two primary emotions. Anger and love. And that’s about it. Even in this rather restricted palette, there exist little in terms of shades. Anger is typically Sunny Deol snarling “Balwant Rai ke Tattu” (or Taate I forget which) or Amitabh Bachchanian “Aaj Khush to bahoot honge tum” angst. Love fares even worse, that many splendored thing reduced to juvenile “oohing and aahing” of the Ishq-wala love variety, an over-the-top concoction of roses-and-chocolate hyper-romance which frequently requires multiple adjectives to (“Pyar Ishq Aur Mohabbat”) hammer in the “Kaheen na kaheen koi hai” lovey-loveiness. Other expressions of emotions, when and if they are shown, are almost always concomitants to love, “Pyar ke Side Effects”. Thus melancholia has to stem either from the pain of separation between mohabbateins or from unrequited puppy-love. Even lust (“jism ki bhookh”) is defanged and transformed into a pink syrupy love-goo (“pyar ka ehsaas), bypassed from the loins to the heart in a masterful feat of moral surgery.

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