Saturday, December 10, 2005

Taj Mahal & EKEH 

Taj Mahal

If Akbar Khan actually spent 12 years on researching Taj Mahal and reportedly spent 75 crores and three years in making it, then he deserves a lot of sympathy and a bit of contempt for this colossal waste of effort and money. Far from being a magnum opus, Taj Mahal is a bloated, garish, overlong history lesson—and not a very interesting one at that.

How can a filmmaker claim authenticity when every female character is made-up in the most loud, and definitely modern make-up? What’s the use of spending all that money, if the cast is made up of actors one worse than the other.

There is an extended prologue in which Aurangzeb (Arbaaz Khan—the only decent performance in the film) kills his brothers and imprisons father Shajehan (Kabir Bedi) along with sister Jehanara (Manisha Koirala). The battle sequences are rather grand (though almost bloodless, considering the number of men gored or dismembered!), but just a bit of filmmaker’s vanity, because they have no direct connection with the Shahjehan-Mumtaz Mahal love story.

The young Shahjehan or Prince Khurram is played by a very wooden Zulfikar Syed and Arjumand (who was later named Mumtaz Mahal) by a bland-looking Sonya Jehan. Their passionate love story is reduced to some dreary scenes, while footage is hogged by the villainous Queen Noorjehan, played by Pooja Batra, who imagines herself as Cleopatra!

Her famed political acumen is downgraded to some internal zenana string-pulling, as she seeks to install her daughter Laadli (Kim Sharma) by her first marriage as the queen.

The story, perhaps to show that their history is sound, goes every which way but towards establishing the classic love story. The making of the Taj Mahal is dispensed with over a song. There is no human back story happening here (the artisans slogged for 22 years, and legend has it that they had their thumbs chopped off when the monument was complete), and absolutely no emotional undercurrents.

In style, Akbar Khan goes for the theatrical Mughal-e-Azam treatment, but when an Arbaaz Ali (as Jehangir) tries to do a regal Prithviraj Kapoor, he evokes giggles instead of fear or awe. Sohrab Modi’s costume dramas are still lessons in historical movie-making, not to mention Hollywood recent fascination for the genre – with such rich fonts of inspiration, Akbar Khan’s effort seem amateurish at best.

Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena

It requires a certain kind of panache to carry off a stylish caper movie. Somehow, our Hollywood copycats can borrow the style, but how can they possibly replicate that ‘cool’ if they don’t have it in them.

Writer Suparn Verma, borrows heavily from Confidence and a bit from House of Games (not such great source material to begin with), and attempts a thriller, which turns out to be a lot of talk and no thrill.
When conman Arjun’s (Fardeen Khan) partner (Rohit Roy) is killed after they steal from a don called Sikander (Gulshan Grover), he plans revenge, that is so intricate that is ends up being tiresome. Sikander, who is the kind of chavanni gangster for whom 25 crores is a big heist, is given such a grand introduction (the man who cannot die, etc) that you’d think Don Corelone had risen from the dead.

Anyway, the con job involves Sikander’s henchman Kaif (Kay Kay Menon), a psychiatrist-turned-criminal Natasha (Koena Mitra) and an assortment of chamchas (one of whom communicates by whistling). The 25 crore swindle involves something as mundane as a bank loan from the bank of Jehangir Khan (Feroz Khan), who, we are told is very powerful; but expect for a scene in which he is delivering veiled threats to the Chief Minister, there is no indication of what this guy’s all about. Or why a small bank fraud would matter so much to him!

In the end, when Arjun explains what he did and how, most of what went before makes even less sense.

Try as they might, none of the actors manage that mix of menace and insouciance that is needed to play street smart crooks. And since when do small time Mumbai tricksters go about dressed in suits? And why that erotic hotel scene with such a build up—just so that it could be used in an MMS publicity stunt? (Koena Mitra tries so hard to look sexy that it has the opposite effect.)

Feroz Khan and Fardeen have no big scene together, except for a casual conversation in an elevator—which is another flaw in an already deeply faulty film.


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