Sunday, April 17, 2005

1good film out of 4 

Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi

Hindi cinema has, by and large, kept away from contemporary history and dealt with politics in a superficial manner. So Sudhir Mishra can be commended for taking on a difficult subject at a time when audiences seldom look beyond popcorn entertainers—though Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi is in English, it is a ‘Bollywood’ product.

Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi (from a Ghalib poem) is not easy viewing; moreover it demands thorough knowledge of the politics of the period in which it is set, since it provides no bite-sized pieces of reference. It will go totally over the heads of today’s generation (intoxicated by the Page 3 culture) that doesn’t remember what happened yesterday, forget about knowing any details about the Emergency or the Naxalite movement. Even those who grew up in that period might have to jog their memories. But the JNU ‘jholawalas’ of the seventies would understand and identify with the film completely – unfortunately that is a minuscule section of the moviegoing audience.

Delhi, at a time when echoes of the Beat generation were being heard on college campuses, and students were seriously giving up their privileged upper class lives to work at the grassroots level. Siddharth Tyebji (Kay Kay Menon) is one such, who goes to fight alongside oppressed villagers in a Bihar. His girlfriend Geeta (Chitrangada Singh) marries a bureaucrat (Ram Kapoor), leaves him and joins Siddharth in the village too. The man who loves her deeply and unconditionally is Vikram Malhotra (Shiney Ahuja)—son of an honest politician, now rising rapidly in Delhi circles as a “fixer”.

The Emergency is imposed, opportunistic politicians change sides, the good ones are imprisoned, and deep in the rural areas, along with the forced sterilization camps is the crackdown on Naxals. Siddharth and Geeta are also rounded up and tortured, but it is the noble Vikram who faces the consequences.

Combining the sensational (Sanjay Gandhi’s lawless coterie), the stagey (a morcha of Jai Prakash Narain supporters crossing Vikram’s baraat), the shocking (police brutality in Bihar), with the intense relationships between Geeta and the three men in her life, Mishra creates a deeply felt and cerebral testament to the times.

Shiney Ahuja is outstanding in the role that combines the street savvy of the Delhi social climber, with the sensitivity of a man who never stops loving even though he gets nothing in return. So powerful is his role and his portrayal of it, that Geeta Rao’s character inadvertently becomes grey. Able support comes from Kay Kay and Ram Kapoor, and some of the other unknown actors, like the one who plays Siddharth’s father.

Mishra tries to pack in too many issues and ideas into the film and in many places lose grip, but the near-perfect period details, the sparingly used but haunting music and a remarkable visual quality make Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi an undoubtedly a superior film—totally non-commercial though.

Kuchh Meetha Ho Jaye

When an aircraft malfunctions, in Samar Khan’s Kuchh Meetha Ho Jaye, a character comes to the pilot and says, “Captain, I think we have a problem.” The audience must also be thinking on more or less the same lines— problems with a majorly malfunctioning film.

The many characters are introduced in a very unimaginative fashion— their photos and a voiceover into. Once you know that they are all a bunch of losers with totally trivial problems, what’s to keep you interested in the remaining 145 minutes?

Set at an airport in small town Ganganagar—where in India do we have airports as swanky?—the film takes off when a flight to Delhi gets delayed. The airport manager is a drunken clown Saif (Arshad Warsi, acting as if he were auditioning for Munnabhai) and his skeletal staff includes a dumb Sardar (Jaspal Bhatti) and a moron who has lost his ‘murgi’—and that makes for a most unfunny running gag.

Among the stranded passengers is a girl who has sneaked off to meet her internet ‘boyfriend’, the pilot and airhostess sorting out their adulterous relationship, a couple divorced but still in love, two women fighting over a bachelor as if he were the last man on earth, a newly married couple with the husband already hen-pecked, two overage codgers kindling a romance, a Booker prize-winning (too many Booker winners in Hindi films these days, how about a Nobel now?) author and his disgruntled wife (Mahima Chaudhary), who is the reason why Saif swigs steadily from a hip flask. And there are more…

Such a bunch of crashingly dull characters has seldom been assembled (though this week’s other release Khamoshh gives KMHJ tough competition on this count) and since they are mostly unknown faces or TV actors, they are not capable of grabbing the audiences’ attention with their presence or performance. (Why are the women all over-dressed in gaudy clothes?)

If you think of the films from which Samar Khan takes his inspiration—whether it’s The Terminal, Love Actually , Airport or Casablanca—how come at least some of their sparkle or brilliance didn’t rub off on this film?

A structure going awry, jerky editing, weak screenplay and the cheesiest dialogue imaginable make Kuchh Meetha Ho Jaye (which takes its title from a chocolate commercial) as unappetizing as a chocolate with worms.

Mumbai Express

Kamal Haasan’s self-indulgent productions are getting from bad to worse. Mumbai Express, directed by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao (Pushpak, Appu Raja), a convoluted comedy tries too hard to get its laughs. It succeeds a few times, but both Rao and Haasan have seen better days.

Shot on DV, the film looks fuzzy and too add to its woes, most of the actors in it are unattractive, to put it politely.

Digamber (Vijay Raaz) is the leader of a woebegone gang of kidnappers, who want to pick up a builder’s (Saurabh Shukla) son for ransom. Before their ‘fool proof’ plan can be carried out, all the members of the group are wounded.

The help of a hearing-impaired ‘well-of-death’ motorcyclist Avinash aka Mumbai Express (Kamal Hasaan) is sought. The money is delivered, and then it is found that the kidnapped kid belongs to the ACP (Om Puri) and his mistress Ahalya (Manisha Koirala).

Now starts the confusion and comedy of errors as phone calls fly to and fro and are invariably misunderstood. Ahalya, fed-up of being the other woman wants the money, Avinash wants to return it, and the kid just wants a father.

It takes too long to reach the climax, but in a classic happy ending, everybody gets what they want.

It’s not one or Kamal Haasan’s better performances, lesser-known members of the cast like Dinesh Lamba (as the dumb crook Johnson) and Ramesh Aravind (as the wily insurance agent who wants a cut) are really hilarious.

There are a few genuinely funny bits, like a school chorus going off key as the kids watch Avinash hanging in the air from a crane, or the scenes in which a hapless ACP tries to juggle the kidnapper’s demands and his daughter’s wedding, the rest of the film is just about endurable.

Khamoshh Khauff Ki Raat

Deepak Tijori merrily lifts Hollywood flick Identity, dumbs it down, has the girls flash some skin and turns out Khamoshh Khauf Ki Raat, that looks like an assembly line slasher flick.

On a rainy night when the roads are flooded and the phones are down, an assortment of people (a hooker, a honeymooning couple, a wounded woman and her husband, a tantrum-throwing actress and her secretary, a cop and convict—all wooden actors) find shelter in a creepy motel in the middle of nowhere. The motel has one receptionist-cum-caretaker (Vrajesh Hirjee), who is a dispassionate spectator of all the drama happening around him, till the guests start getting bumped off.

Intercutting with the motel murders is a prison psychiatrist (Juhi Chawla)—since when do our prisoners have their own special shrinks?—pleading for the life of a death row prisoner, who is, she reasons, “a killer but not a criminal.” Right!

In Identity, a lot of what happens is the murderer’s schizophrenia playing up, Tijori does not get into all those complexities and makes a straightforward thriller, but then why retain the other track, which looks forced here?

He does a fair job of creating a dark and eerie atmosphere, it’s just that the same shock tactics are used in so many movies, that they fail to scare any more.


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