Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kaminey + 2 


Most big budget films are hyped to the skies these days and Kaminey is no exception. So by the time the film actually releases, potential audiences know just how much weight the leading man lost, how he learnt to stutter, how a writer-filmmaker was signed to play villain, how the big hit number Dhan te nan was choregraphed; whether the leading man and lady are together or not, and so on. If you aren’t curious to see the film, you must belong to another planet. Then come the preview hosannas, so after all this it seems almost churlish to say that you didn’t care all that much for the film.

You’d expect a filmmaker like Vishal Bharadwaj to gave gotten over his own and Bollywood’s obsession with Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, Robert Rodriquez, and other Hollywood gurus of violence, indeed gotten over the whole ‘gangsta’ genre (Tarantino has left it behind, so has Ram Gopal Varma) and made something fresh and new. That he has talent and the cinematic language to express it goes without saying. As Bharadwaj goes into the third of his gangster trilogy—without the help of Shakespeare this time-- you admire the work that has gone into it, the detailing, the camerawork, the editing, some of the performances; at the same time you are also constantly alienated by the clichéd images of Mumbai’s underworld, the loud, laughing, greasy gangsters (look what Satya’s Bhiku Mhatre started), the casual violence. Then you laugh at some of the kinkiness—like the villain being Maharashtrian chauvinist with a blood sugar problem, and then groan because the protagonist’s stutter and lisp are used just as a gimmick and not a useful plot device. It goes on like that, one good thing, two bad…

To recount the plot, such as it is, Shahid Kapoor plays twins, nice guy Guddu who works with an NGO and stutters; Charlie the petty crook, who lisps and dreams of being a big bookie. Guddu is in love with Sweety (Priyanka Chopra), who turns out to be the sister of gangster Bhope (Amole Gupte). Charlie is mixed up in the betting racket with three Bengali hoods.

In between there are a whole bunch of gangsters of multiple nationalities, bad cops, a fortune in stolen cocaine and Sweety’s pregnancy problem. So? You might well ask, is there really a plot or just all this chor-police tomfoolery. Mostly, it’s just that, shot in rapid, dizzying style, and restless pace. And a big, old style Bolly blowout of a climax of the kind where the whole cast—or at least those still alive-- gathers together to slug it out.

Bharadwaj’s outstanding directorial (and musical) skills are wasted on such pointless filmmaking, really—he could use them to tell better stories, and not just aspire to be fanboy idol. This whole Mumbai underbelly thing has been done much too often to be of any interest to those looking for truly offbeat cinema from mainstream Bollywood.

The film a may do well, after all that promotion, it would be a shame if it didn’t. Shahid Kapoor does comes into his own here, the sweet youthfulness of his films so far now being tempered with maturity and intelligence. The muscles may get the eyeballs, but the grown-up face is where it’s at. Priyanka Chopra springs a pleasant surprise as the rough girl with a sore-throat voice—who could have guessed she had it in her. As for the rest of the bad guys, they could have walked out of Varma’s or Kashyap’s films, so generic are they all.

Life Partner

A girl from a modern Indian family marries an NRI groom and finds herself trapped in an ultra conservative family. A spoilt, rich girl gets married to a regular guy and realizes that she doesn’t know what it takes to be ‘wife.’

These are age old problems that refuse to go away as India and the Diaspora sway between traditional and progressive values. And Rumy Jaffrey tackles the issue in a comic manner. However, even as you are watching the smartly dressed NRIs prancing around in scenic South Africa, the loud, TV kind of filmmaking seems to be going out of style. Jaffrey may get his stars to wear trendy costumes (except Govinda who is beyond repair), but they are not at all cool by today’s Love Aaj Kal standards. Karan (Fardeen Khan) has been dating the ditzy Sanjana (Genelia D’Souza), while his buddy Bhavesh (Tusshar Kapoor), from a conservative Gujarati family, waits for an arranged marriage. Their third friend Jeet (Govinda) is a divorce lawyer (inspired by Danny DeVito in The War of the Roses?) who is against marriage.

Bhavesh is taken to Gujarat to meet prospective brides and falls in love with Prachi (Prachi Desai) the daughter of their host (Vikram Gokhale) and his father’s (Darshan Jariwala) friend. When they get married, Karan and Sanjana are tempted to follow suit. On their return, the honeymoon ends quite abruptly when problems hit like typhoons and they end up in the divorce court. It’s a commercial Hindi film, it can’t have a bitter end, but at least the dreaded ‘D’ word is spoken, neither bride clutches at her mangalsutra (do they even wear it?) and weeps. At least mainstream films of the social-comedy genre have managed this much evolution, perhaps because of TV soaps. Prachi’s in-laws certainly seem to have come out of a Balaji serial.

The actors are okay as long as they are not made to shout at the top of their lungs, and the David Dhawan kind of crudity (Jaffrey used to work with Dhawan) is kept to a minimum. Surprisingly Tusshar Kapoor turns out to be a very convincing simpleton caught between his authoritarian father and reasonable wife. May not be a must-see, but is a can-see.

Before the Rains

There could be two reasons for Santosh Sivan to attempt filming this dated Raj era story—it has been produced by the internationally renowned Merchant Ivory banner, and it is set in his home state of Kerala The cinematographer gets an opportunity to portray the beauty of Kerala in perfect God’s Own Country brochure splendour. Pity the story he tells is so lifeless.

A British man, Henry Moores (Linus Roache) planning to build a road through thick Kerala forests, had an affair with his domestic helper Sajani (Nandita Das, while his wife (Jennifer Ehle) is away. His aide and friend TK Neelan (Rahul Bose) knows and keeps quiet. The time is 1937, the freedom movement is gathering force around them, it is the back of beyond and a clandestine affair can only end in disaster.

Nandita Das has a brief role, in which she is expected to look beautiful and sexy enough to entrance the stiff British planter, but the character she plays is a little too old to be so naïve as to expect that her romance with a white man could work out in the long term—especially since both were married. Henry is typically a coward, but not evil enough to hate, or tragic enough to like. The film is then about Neelan’s dilemma, as the nice guy caught between two opposing forces. Which is why the scene where he is put through a horrible test by the village council is the most effective.

A story like this, about forbidden passion, should have ended in operatic tragedy, but the climax is wishy-washy too. However beautiful it may be to look at, it is doubtful if Before the Rains did anything for Kerala tourism; or even worked wonders for the careers of any of its actors. It just underlines the fact that Sivan is a great cinematographer, but we already knew that.


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