Friday, January 18, 2008


Halla Bol

The star goes to visit a minister against whom he has lost a case. The minister, apropos of nothing, starts boasting that his furniture is from Germany, chandelier from Belgium, flooring from Italy, carpet from Persia, vase from China and so on… The star pisses on his carpet and says that is pure Indian!

Rajkumar Santoshi’s power-the-the-masses movie, Halla Bol, founders just like that in so many places. The above-mentioned scene is not just meaningless, it is also in bad taste. And along with what’s right with the film’s message, there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense.

Santoshi’s quick guide to the film industry—in which stars praise each to the face, and bitch when the back is turned, girls who will “do anything” for a role, cutting a rival’s scenes, giving an unimportant producer a runaround— is incredibly superficial.

His hero (Ajay Devgan) is a film star, who, from a small town street theatre actor called Ashfaqullah, has become a pompous, dishonest superstar, Sameer Khan. The films he stars in, about angry mill mazdoors, belong to another area, his shabby bungalow doesn’t look like a star’s house—the look and feel of the film belongs to another age. He is estranged from his wife (Vidya Balan), parents and guru Sidhu (Pankaj Kapur), who remind him of his loss of values.

At a party, he witnesses the murder of a girl. Like in the real-life Jessica Lal case, the high society people present at the party refuse to get involved. Only Sameer gets a pang of conscience—after a flashback about the good ol’ street theatre days with Sidhu.

When he signs the statement, he is ridiculed. One of two killers, is predictably the son of a minister (Darshan Jariwala), and the other the son of a liquor baron. The minister boasts, “we have power, paisa, public,” and easily manipulates the media and the public to boycott Sameer Khan.

From a possible scenario, the film goes into the realm of the absurd. It brings in the Hindu-Muslim element, police corruption (there are only two cops in the force?)—a cop swallows a vital piece of evidence, and in the days of copiers, it never occurs to the hero to make a copy? A minor character introduced earlier, as an old filmmaker’s grand-daughter, turns out to be the forensic expert assigned to the case. There’s a jaw-droppingly awful scene in which the minister’s lawyer offers Sidhu a dip in his pool!

The minister wins the case, when the dead girl’s sister is terrorized too. Sidhu’s solution to the problem, is a nukkad natak, which frightens the “Dilli high command” so much that they keep calling the minister to say, “yeh natak nahin hona chahiye.” If the star was so influential that his mere presence on the streets could turn the tide of public opinion, how come he got defeated so easily the first time?

The ever-present media bites into false information fed by the minister, but is ominously silent when Sameer’s his house is burnt, his child wounded and his car run over by a truck.

Santoshi builds up this structure of righteousness and then painstaking cuts the branch he is sitting on, with such clumsy scripting. His making an issue-based film is still commendable, and he gets a fine performance out of Ajay Devgan, who doesn’t flinch from playing a not very nice guy. Interestingly, the big fight scene in the film is given not to the hero, but to Pankaj Kapur, whose kohl-lined eyes exude strength.

The director’s fund of outrage ran out with the genuinely powerful Ghayal and Damini—when he tries it again with Lajja and Halla Bol, he keeps hitting false notes.

My Name is Anthony Gonsalves

E. Niwas was always a Ram Gopal Varma camp-follower; this time he tries to do a Vishal Bhardwaj as well—which is what gives his film My Name is Anthony Gonsalves an identity crisis. It’s too slow to be a commercial film, and too trite to be an offbeat film; influences of quite a few Hollywood films can also be detected. Still it works in fits and starts.

Anthony (Nikhil Dwivedi) is an orphan raised by a gangster Sikander (Pavan Malhotra) and mentored by a priest Father Braganza (Mithun Chakraborty). He works as a waiter in a bar, aspires to be a film star, and gets to audition for a Mark Anthony’s part in a film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar set in Mumbai’s underworld.

Since that world is so close to him—when he makes the ‘Friends, Romans Countrymen’ speech, he imagines Sikander being stabbed by his cohorts—he gets the part over NSD and RADA trained actors. In an inadvertently comic scene, Anil Kapoor seriously gives him a lecture on Stanislavsky, whose name he mispronounces!

The film’s rehearsals give him a chance to romance the assistant director (Amrita Rao, who hasn’t yet learnt how not to simper!). The crisis arrives when a cop gets killed by Sikander’s men, and there is pressure on the gang by a persistent police officer (Jawed Sheikh). Anthony’s loyalty to Sikander is put to the test, and when Sikander is ordered by his boss (Anupam Kher) to kill Anthony, his love for his ward is tested too. A Shakespearean situation that needed a denouement to match.

Niwas, seems to be uncomfortable about making the film too dark or grim, so it moves towards a rather silly, old-fashioned, keep-everyone-happy kind of climax. This kind of subject cannot be done with a slow, wishy-washy approach, it needs energy, pace and at least notional if not graphic violence.

Nikhil Dwivedi makes a confident debut (even if he looks like Shahid Kapoor and copies Shah Rukh Khan), but with seasoned actors like Pavan Malhotra (terrific!) in the same frame, his thunder is often stolen. With a theme of conscience arousal, similar in spirit to this week’s other release Halla Bol, this one’s more watchable and a lot less pretentious.


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