Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Haider (2014) - Review



The tremendously skilled Vishal Bhardwaj packs a terrific punch with Haider. His technical precision is palpable in every frame. I had no reason to complain about the length. He creates and builds upon every character, every scene with hearty indulgence, letting us soak up and savor every bit of it.

How he adapts this Shakespearean family drama to tell the story of Kashmir, adds a feather to his perfected storytelling!

His poetic rendition and minimalistic tone added to the overall impact. Bhardwaj's direction judiciously and compellingly emphasized reaction over action, which helped connect more passionately with the characters than just the plot. (The song sequence, for instance, where Haider enacts a story and his chacha Khurram's (Kay Kay) response to it or where he catches his mother Ghazala (Tabu) and Khurram sing and exchange a laugh, barely unmoved by his father's disappearance and many more much scenes).

The Oedipus complex between the son and the mother is explored excellently subtly, with just the appropriate overtone to go down well with the Indian audiences.

Shahid Kapoor delivers an explosive performance, reminding us of his remarkable breadth as an actor. From wrath to bewilderment, madness to vengeance, he captures every transition tellingly. Shradha Kapoor is strikingly convincing. Irrfan Khan comes at an important point in the film, allowing the story to shape up further while lending an uncanny edge to the proceedings. Kay Kay and Tabu glide through with mastered ease but it's Tabu who eclipses all and shines in one of the most well-written characters ever. She owns every frame, to say the least.

I could go on but no word quite befits the glory this film deserves. Go watch it!

How about those of you who have seen it? Your views on the film? Let's talk in the comments below. You can also connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
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Friday, September 19, 2014

Khoobsurat (2014) Review


Khoobsurat is as cliched-as-quirky coming together of lovers (and families) with contrasted upbringings.

While Sonam's unapologetically over-the-top act (mostly in the first half) takes some getting used to, she shows steely intensity and is rather endearing in a lot of other scenes.

Her excessively boisterous sense of style can pass for a young, 20-something but doesn't wash for her kind of profession. Or is it just me? Our blue-blood royal Prince Vikram Singh Rathore (Fawad Khan) impressively pulls off every bit of his act with swooning flair and restrained dignity.

Their chemistry is real and palpable. Their exchanges are fun and refreshingly enacted, particularly the scene immediately post interval. I also couldn't stop smiling at Sonam's brash yet innocent admission in a scene that comes towards the end "tumhe dekh kar gande khayaal aate hai."

Ratna Pathak plays the royal, snooty queen to near perfection but the character felt tad bit repetitive for bringing back memories of her famed Sarabhai vs Sarabhai's character. It has a cliched, uni-dimensional streak to it which is an overhang on an otherwise potentially strong role.


Aamir Raza Hussain (Shekhar Singh Rathore, the king) brings a graceful, natural ease to his role, which makes him a delight to watch. Kirron Kher charms and entertains as the loud Punjabi mother. Her timings are unbeatable.

The supporting cast does more for the film or even if as much, as the lead pair together.

Special mention to sound designers/supervisors who managed to address every subtlety, every nuance of a scene. 

With scant expectations, Khoobsurat turned out a pretty decent watch.

PS: Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai was cringe-evoking and a royal misfit in this sober setting.

Have you seen the film? How did you like it? Let's talk in the comments below. Or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
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Friday, September 5, 2014

Priyanka Chopra delivers a knockout performance in Mary Kom


Riding high on emotion and melodrama, Mary Kom packs in enough punch to keep you rooting for the film and our protagonist till the end.

I'm not sure how much of this real-life tale was fictionalized but director Omung Kumar takes enough cinematic liberties to hold the audience's interest and get its cash registers ringing.

For a first-time director, Mary Kom is an above-average attempt. The screenplay is pacy, leaving no room for distractions except the dramatic flashbacks of Mary's child delivery scenes, which intended to create a build up, but end up all sizzle no steak.

If there's only one reason you must not miss this film, it's Priyanka Chopra. Her act is a fitting tribute to the real-life achiever Mary Kom and her unshakeable resolve to fight a hard-won battle.

You empathize with her, cry for her, smile with her, get inspired by her.

The downside is Mary Kom is not a richly-layered character. She's strong-willed, forever furious (except for rare hints of humor) and loves boxing. That's about it. For a biopic, you'd expect the director to explore beyond this. But Priyanka does complete justice with whatever material she had.

Mary's constant support, husband Onler (played by Darshan Kumar), had a pleasing screen presence. Even as times are changing today, men supporting their wives/families this staunchly is a rarity.


The rest of the cast Sunil Thapa (coach), Rajni Basumatary (mother) and Robin Das (father) fitted well in their roles. 


The film may have been made with a commercial intent, but warrants a one-time watch for the inspiring journey of the wonder woman Mary Kom.


Over to you!

Have you seen the film? What are your views? Let's talk in the comments below. You can also connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
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Thursday, August 14, 2014

...quoted in The Asian Age

The Asian Age ran a story on August 12, 2014 carrying our views :-)





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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I want to work with Gulzaar saab again: Jimmy Shergill


It's hard to come by actors, who can pull off every genre with such brisk ease, you can never get enough. The abundantly gifted Jimmy Sheirgill, who's come a long way from Maachis and dished out films as assorted as A Wednesday, Yahaan, Saheb Biwi aur Gangster, says this is just the beginning. In a quick interview, Sheirgill talks to me about the kind of films he enjoys doing, what he thinks about the "underrated" tag, his upcoming films and more! 


You've experimented with different films. What genre do you enjoy the most? 

I like light-hearted films. There's so much pressure on you all the time and then you do these intense roles, it just adds up. Somewhere while making these lighter films, you laugh, have a good time, enjoy with your co-actors and then you make other people laugh. Vo baat alag hai ki (It's another thing that) I'm always offered really intense, serious roles, and these roles and scripts are so good, one can't say a no. 

Did you always want to act?

Yeah. Once I went to Bombay for my acting classes I knew this is what I wanted to do. When I was In Bombay, I got to know that Gulzaar saab was making a film (Maachis) and I went to meet him. I thought even if he took me in his team I would get to learn -- production, direction or anything, as a student of cinema. But somewhere he saw something in me and offered me one of the characters in the film. That's where it all started. 

Which has been the toughest role/character to portray so far?

Quite a few. But the toughest was Saheb Biwi aur Gangster 2, where I was restricted to this wheelchair. I wondered how much can one do. But Tigmanshu (Dhulia) was very confident that we'd work this out. He assured me he would not make it look boring and I've always believed in him. Finally, when the film got made the kind of reviews we received from both the audiences and the critics were so encouraging.

What are you working on next?

Right now Tigmanshu is shooting for something else but let's hope he quickly gets the script of Part 3 (Saheb Biwi aur Gangster) ready. The work is going on. He needs to finish the script and then decide when we begin shooting. I'm really looking forward to it. Then there is Anand Rai's Tanu Weds Manu 2


A director you'd like to work with? 

I'm already working with Tigmanshu, Anand Rai. Then there is Soojit Sircar, Rahul Dholakia, Neeraj Pandey. These directors did their first films with me and I'm happy that all of them are big film-makers today. But Gulzaar saab is somebody I want to work with again. I did my first film with him and really wish he makes another film and I'm a part of it.

You're one of the most versatile yet the most under-rated actors we have today...

It's better to be called 'underrated' than to be called somebody who doesn't deserve it. I feel good about it. I take it as a compliment. 

Would you like to venture outside of acting, may be writing or directing? 

I'm very much enjoying this phase where I'm doing these different characters. I think it's just the beginning. I would not want to venture into anything else as of now
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Emerging Filmmakers: In Conversation with 'Leeches' director Payal Sethi


After an award-winning debut, writer-director and co-founder of FilmKaravan [which has supported projects like Superman of Malegaon, Sita Sings the Blues] Payal Sethi is all set to kick off shooting her second film, Leeches. The New-York bred filmmaker began her career under the tutelage of veteran director Mira Nair. She assisted on films as varied as The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, before directing her first short, Grant St. Shaving Co., which won her recognition at film festivals abroad. Payal speaks to me about her upcoming film, her journey into film-making, what appeals to her about short films and more!


Tell us about your film, Leeches. What drew you towards the subject? 


Leeches is a fictional tale based on the myriad stories of one-day brides that I came across while living in Hyderabad. The female protagonist, Raisa, is a young, fiesty girl of sixteen, the eldest daughter of four to a single mother. When she learns that her innocent little sister has been promised in marriage to an old man in exchange for money, she decides to protect her by taking her place. Except, she's not a virgin anymore and the suitor in question has paid for a virgin bride. Her quest to restore her virginity leads her to discover a forgotten old wives' trick, but the ensuing consequences are devastating in ways that she could never have imagined.

After delving deep into the subject of contract marriage, my co-writer & I realized we didn't want to tell yet another story of child marriage. We were drawn to the idea of a young girl, powerless but for her virginity, who tries to get the better of this well oiled system of sham marriage. We explored this idea towards a shocking conclusion, which becomes the twist in the tale.

Where are you right now in the project?


At the moment, we are raising funds to make the film through Wishberry and have successfully cleared our production budget of INR 6 Lakhs (USD 10,000) in just 15 days. We have 23 days left to raise an additional INR 5 Lakhs, which goes towards post-production, paying our cast & crew, and bringing down my Director of Photography from New York, who shot my last film. We have also started the casting process & done a preliminary recce in Hyderabad for locations. Meanwhile, I am looking to bring on board an excellent production designer in the next few weeks.

Anyone, anywhere in the world can contribute to this project on Wishberry and believe me when I say, every little bit matters. In India, we offer cash & cheque pick-ups from your doorstep, so I hope that people who want to become funders and were deterred by the credit card option will take action. We only have 23 days left for this campaign. 

When do you plan to begin shooting?


We begin shooting this film in September. My goal before we begin production is to reach a wider audience through the campaign. As we now know, crowd-funding is a great audience builder. This story deserves to get out and I would encourage anyone who wants to support our film to check out the page. Anybody can get involved for any amount, however small. Rewards start at US $4/INR 250. Ultimately, it is the show of hands that will matter.

You went the traditional way to fund your first film/short. It was backed by Mira Nair. Why did you choose to crowd-fund this one?


Actually, we crowd-funded the post-production of my first film as well, through Fiscal Sponsorship, which we received through Fractured Atlas. We just didn't know it was crowd-funding back then. Mira was one of the first to pitch in, and with an incredibly generous contribution. Her support to Grant St. Shaving Co. was wonderful, on so many levels. [You can watch her short film here].

What got you interested in films? 


I always wanted to write, but my interest in Creative Writing, which I started to pursue at Vassar College during my undergraduate years, was replaced with writing for films after a fortuitous lecture on Film History & Theory during my sophomore year. It was in those lectures and screenings that I discovered the desire to write films & eventually, to direct them. Then, during my Junior Year I went off campus to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts & pursued the 16mm Sight & Sound program, which put a Krasnogorsk (camera), lots of black & white 16mm film, & a Steenbeck into my hands.

After film school, I started working with Mira Nair as her assistant, and slowly grew through the ranks of Mirabai Films, over four lovely years. I had declined admission to the Columbia MFA to work with her, because the Dean at the time assured me it would be the best film school for me. He was very right.

Looking back, I realize, this was so much more than a job. It was an education gained while peeking over the shoulder of one of the finest filmmakers of our time.

After Mirabai Films, I became a freelance AD, working on a friend Soman Chainani's thesis film, and then Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. In the US, being an AD is a professional career track, unlike in India where it's a stepping stone to directing. For about two years after KANK, I worked on some incredible film festivals, including Tribeca, IFP, Hamptons & the NY Indian Film Festival, in various capacities, from programmer to industry manager. The exposure to current films from all over the world was an immersion that cemented my passion for film-making.


What appeals to you about short films as a medium? Do you plan to make Leeches into a full-length feature?


Short films are self-contained – they are abbreviated, but intense. They are not small versions of feature films, and the narrative path can be quite different, if needed. I enjoy exploring certain ideas as short film, while other ideas are better suited to a feature treatment. Leeches is a complete film & will probably end up being around 20 minutes. However, there are several stories of girls just like Raisa – heartbreaking stories that unveil a set of human emotions that I find disturbing & fascinating, in the way that a horror story can be. So yes, I am certainly thinking about a feature.


Who is the audience that you think this film will engage?


This is not a documentary or a social-issue film in the sense that I use sham marriage merely as the backdrop for a story about a young girl & her fierce love for her sister. But since this is no ordinary girl her actions drive the plot towards strange & unpredictable outcomes, and the climax, well, I hope you will watch the film & see for yourself.


Promoting indies by prominent mainstream names, helps get the word out. Ship of Theseus, for instance, had Kiran Rao supporting it. Do you plan to get someone involved with your film at any point?


Why not? The right partner can bring visibility to this film and one of my goals is to spread awareness about this particular practice -  legalized prostitution under the guise of marriage - to as many people as possible, through a story that above all, engages its audience. I wouldn't name names simply because support is given when there is a connection. If I manage to make a connection with a 'persona' through this film's story it would, of course, be great to work with them on this together. I'd love to see that happen organically.

A film-maker who inspires you the most?


I could never pick just one, because there are aspects of each person's film-making technique that inspire me. Here are some, in no particular order. Mira Nair, Cristian Mungiu, Asghar Farhadi, Pedro Almodovar, Emir Kusturica, Jeunet & Caro. I could go on and on.

What next? What kind of films are you looking to make in the future?


My path has been a joyful potpourri up to this point. I have written, directed & produced a personal short film in New York. I have also written two feature scripts: a surreal dramedy about a mother & daughter in Ooty as they traverse the tricky path of a regional beauty pageant; and a wildlife crime thriller, which was developed under Asia Society's New Voices Fellowship for Screenwriters. Leeches, which relies heavily on realism, is my second film as writer, director & producer. I can only wish the road ahead continues to be just as unpredictable & enjoyable.

Leeches in 3 minutes:

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In Conversation with Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan


From being the star kid, you're slowly becoming one of the most bankable actors in Bollywood. How has the experience been so far? 


Alia: This is something I've wanted to do ever since I was a child. It wasn't because my parents were actors. It has always been in me to want to be an actor. You can call it genes cause my father's father was a filmmaker, father's mother was an actor, my dad is a director, my mother and sister are both actors, so it does run in the family but I also work towards it a lot. I make sure the choices I make are different and at the same time entertaining and substantial.


What's your earliest childhood memory when it comes to films?

Alia: I recall sitting in front of the TV in my shorts and a gunjee. We had a small silver TV back then. I was watching Karishma (Kapoor) and Govinda (it has to be one of Varun's dad's films), dancing in the garden, and then on the road, and then in the bedroom, and I was just wondering how they were doing it, how quickly they were changing clothes, and why are they dancing on the road? Why isn't anyone stopping them? (laughs). And my first feeling was wow, I want to be there. I didn't know who I wanted to play - Karishma Or Govinda (laughs) I just knew I wanted to be there. That was my fondest first memory of knowing or realizing this was it. And from there on, my fondness just grew to a point where when I saw Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, I cut my hair 'cause Kajol had short hair.

Do you take advice from your parents? 
Alia: I take my own decisions when it comes to choosing films. I go with my instinct and if there's anyone I will need to talk to, it will be Karan (Johar).  

Varun: Not really. I think once I've chosen the role, and if my dad knows the character, he gives me a few references from the past that I can use, but I never take advice on choosing a film. 

This is your second outing together and your onscreen chemistry is quite palpable in HSKD. How comfortable are the two of you otherwise? 

Alia: We've known each other before we were anybody, before we were actors. So that ways we share a very special relationship. We've never lost touch. We just became better friends but doing this film together was not because we were such good friends but because we both really believe in the story and love our characters. The characters in the film share a love-hate relationship, which is pretty much our equation in real life. 

Any fun, memorable moments on the sets? 

Varun: I remember in Chandigarh, after we had wound up for the day, Shashank (director) had asked me to stay back to shoot a scene. There was this rope with which I was supposed to climb three floors. And he had scheduled this for five in the morning. I wondered why. Alia had already packed up for the day. It was freezing. I could barely move. Somehow, I eventually managed. To my utter shock, when we saw the film, the scene had been removed (laughs).

Alia: We were shooting in Delhi for a scene outside the Delhi University, where we were supposed to eat kulche chole. It was a montage cut for the song Samjhawan. And I was so busy eating that I almost forgot the camera was rolling. I think it is one of my favorite moments. It's come out so natural 'cause we were genuinely enjoying ourselves, eating and playing pranks on each other.   


A director you'd like to work with? 

Alia: Ayan Mukherjee

How do you take to criticism?

Alia: I think if one can accept praise, one should also accept criticism. Even if you don't believe in the criticism, you have a motivation to prove somebody wrong and that's the best feeling in the world, because that gives you the most drive.  


What does success mean to you?

Varun: Audience's love.  

Do you fear competition? Who is your biggest competition?

Alia: Without competition, there's no fun. Honestly, your biggest competition is with the last film you've done. If it is a hit, you try to make a bigger hit or at least as good as the first. Ninety percent of the time, the competition is with yourself and of course, looking at other people do good work, good films and make the right choices also inspires you to do the same. 

Varun: I second what she's said. I once told Hrithik how amazingly well he dances and acts, and he told me that the fact that you can see it in me and get inspired, means there's something of it within you. I think someone's success should always inspire you to believe that you can achieve it too. 


Of all your films, which has been the most special?

Alia: Each film, each experience gives you something different. It's tough to pick one. It's like having to choose between your kids. But I definitely feel each film changes you as a person and that process started for me with HighwayThat has been my biggest changeover as a person and as an actor. While all films are very close to my heart, Highway remains exceptionally special. 


Varun, would you do an adult comedy if offered? 

Honestly, I would have a lot of apprehension for the fact that Student of The Year and Main Tera Hero have brought along young fan following, most of who are children. I wouldn't want to disappoint them. May be I'd have done it earlier but not now.
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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya (2014) - Review

Unlike so many remakes and rehashes (many of which only make you squirm) of Bollywood's most loved films, this modern-day spin to the classic DDLJ has a charm, a soul of its own. A cracker of a love story with a sparkling chemistry between the leads, Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya entertains all along. It revives happy memories of all those filmi love stories we've grown up watching (and fancied) over the years. If you're a sucker for Bollywood films, how can you miss this one!

Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt win you over with their honest, unbridled performances. Humpty Sharma is no hero. He plays the boy-next-door, who woos his girl and her family, with an affectionate innocence and is unlike any other character we've seen in a long time. While Highway helped Alia Bhatt show her range as an actor (after she could've unapologetically been forgotten post a film like SOTY), 2 States and Humpty... let her prove her versatility even in the commercial genre. As Kavya, she effuses genuine verve and just the right amount of sass and spunk. It's one thing to get the right kind of opportunities (even if you come from a filmi background) and quite another to play your cards right. The world is her oyster. I hope she continues to surprise. 

The interesting part about Humpty... is while it's an out-and-out commercial film, our actors don't play it loud or hammy. Supporting characters are not mere props in the film. Humpty's friends (Sahil Vaid and Gaurav Pandey) evoke the loudest laughs. Ashutosh Rana, playing Alia's father, balances the stern and the skeptical with convincing ease. 

Except the borrowed 'Saturday' and the amazingly redone 'Samjhawan' (originally sung by Rahet Fateh Ali Khan), the music is mostly forgettable.

I won't be surprised to see Humpty... turn out the top grosser of the year. Have you seen the film? How did you like it? Let's talk in the comments below. You can also connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
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