Sunday, April 30, 2006

Three This Week 

Gangster: A Love Story

If ‘A Love Story’ had not been appended on, Gangster would have been a misleading title. Because Anurag Basu’s intense, well shot film is not so much about a gangster, as about a triangle involving his girlfriend and a singer.

A gangster Daya (Shiney Ahuja) falls in love with a bar dancer Simran (Kangana Ranaut), for whom he breaks up with his mentor (Gulshan Grover). With cops and a vengeful mob after him, Daya runs all over, leaving Simran to drink herself to stupor in Seoul.

She meet a singer Akash (Emraan Hashmi), who offers her love and stability, but just then Daya returns promising to give up crime, and Simran has to choose between the two men.

Vaguely reminiscent of Mahesh Bhatt’s forgotten Aawargi (which must have been picked from some other film, since Bhatt is not known for originality), Gangster, has an intricately structured screenplay, moving back and forth in time, and goes beyond the standard love triangle, as characters’ motives are unravelled.

Dark and sombre in tone, the film is also slow paced, but always absorbing.
The camera (Bobby Singh) captures the feel of a strange city, while the background music, and judiciously used superb songs (Pritam) add to the atmosphere of passion and lurking danger.

The two men have been sketched and portrayed well. Shiney Ahuja plays Daya with an angry silence and pain, so that when he does speak his few lines, it looks as if it hurts him to talk. Emraan Hashmi is given a mature part (unlike the serial kisser juvenile junk he has been doing so far) and he does it with confidence.

If there’s a downer in the film, it’s the character of Simran—thoroughly wimpy and deserving no sympathy—played by newcomer Kangana Ranaut with a perpetual sour lemon expression and jarring voice. Since she is in almost every frame of the film, she is a constant visual and aural jolt.

Darna Zahoori Hai

The prologue of Darna Zaroori Hai (directed by Sajid Khan) is a hoot. A movie-crazy man (Manoj Pahwa), who doesn’t believe in ghosts, bravely passes through a graveyard to reach the theatre showing Darna Mana Hai. In a sporting dig at himself, Ram Gopal Varma (who produced both Darna films) show an empty theatre and the film fan bored to tears. But the trip back via the graveyard shortcut has unforeseen consequences. Funny and well-acted, this snippet takes the audience through to the rest of the film, which consists of six horror stories, directed by different directors—the earlier film had a single maker (Prawal Raman).

Though Darna Mana Hai did not work at the box-office, it had a sense of humour and inventiveness that appealed to fans of the horror genre. The choice of stories in Darna Zaroori Hai is not as good-- the weakest is the one Ram Gopal Varma directed himself, starring Amitabh Bachchan as a professor who seems to be losing his mind and Ritesh Deshmukh as his nervous student.

Stars like Anil Kapoor, Bipasha Basu, Maillika Sherawat, Sunil Shetty, Arjun Rampal, Sonali Kulkarni have acted in the various stories, but except for one or two, none of the episodes is scary or interesting enough.

The two that stand out are the one in which a filmmaker of social dramas, called Karan Chopra (funny?) who wants to make a horror film, meets his nemesis in the form of a fan (Mallika Sherawat) hitching a ride to Khandala (directed by Jijy Philip). The other (directed by Chekravarthy) was the one in which a man (Randeep Hooda) is possessed by the spirit of a dowry victim.

The films have all the standard horror film elements – rain, fog, spooky houses, people who say they don’t believe in ghosts being gobsmacked for impertinence—what is unacceptable is making children the target of macabre horror in the track that links the stories, and the unnecessary demonizing of old people. Kids trekking through a jungle get caught in a storm and take shelter in the house of an old woman who tells them frightening stories, guess the rest… not tough for those who have seen the earlier film.

If Varma is going to make more of such films, as he threatens to do, a lot more attention will have to be paid to the writing of more watchable episodes.

The Mistress of Spices

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is quoted as having said that her book was in good hands. As it turns out, it wasn’t because Paul Mayeda Berges’ (Gurinder Chadha’s husband) stodgy film version of Divakaruni’s The Mistress of Spices is nowhere as good as the book.

The novel’s magic realism that had held the reader in its thrall is completely flattened here, what we get is an excessively coy Aishwarya Rai (in the book Tilo was an old woman!) trying to look lovelorn and guilty at the same time. Because she belongs to a secret sect, and can work wonders with spices, only if she suppresses her own desires, never touches anyone and never steps out of the spice shop in San Francisco.

While Tilo tries to solve the problems of her customers, she falls in love with a bike riding architect (Dylan Mcdermott) and, well… nothing happens. Except that Aishwarya Rai gets to wear full make up and wear a noodle strap blouse in one sizzle-less scene. No chemistry, no magic, no drama, no passion… not one memorable moment.

Cinematographer Santosh Sivan seems to have spent more effort in making the spices in the shop look glamorous, shooting the poor leading lady in an unflattering light.

The stories of the immigrants, that were such an integral part of the book, a are turned into hasty interruptions (look for a very unglamorous Padma Laxmi in a tiny part) in Tilo’s self-conscious monologues and conversations with spices—the lines crunching unpleasantly underfoot like dead leaves. The music grates on the nerves as much as Tilo’s drone.


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