Thursday, 29 November 2012

Teesri Manzil

Directed by: Vijay Anand
Starring: Shammi Kapoor, Asha Parekh, Prem Chopra, Helen, Prem Nath
Released: 1966
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

Teesri Manzil is a proof that even a thriller with some mystery thrown into it can be a great entertainer wrapped in bright colours, adorned with melodious songs and with some delightful comedy. Ad to it the pure adorable lead couple, and you have a winner.

When a young woman Rupa falls to her death from the third floor of a hotel, everybody thinks she committed suicide. Even her younger sister Sunita, who even has a letter, in which Rupa confesses she fell in love with some musician and even crossed all limits. After some time Sunita decides that the man who „deflowered“ her sister (subtitles were also delightful) should get some punishment at least, and so she plans to use her own beauty to lure him into some deserted place – where her female friends with hockey sticks would give him a piece of their minds (if this does not scream delightful I don´t know what is).

However on her way to the hotel destination already Sunita runs into a happy and carefree „Sona“, who takes immediately liking towards her, but doesn´t really get to her good side with his constant teasing. When he finds out, Sunita is looking for Rocky, he is in real trouble. Because he is the man she is looking for. And because he falls in love with her and to win her over creates a false identity for himself. And because he is going to have a hard time proving he is actually quite innocent.

Teesri Manzil is one of those rare films that have a great repeat value even when you know who is the bad guy. Usually there is not much point re-watching movies like that, but the film´s strength does not lie in that one final twist. It is the way the story is told and shot, that makes it so good. And while I can usually guess who is the villain right from the beginning, Teesri Manzil provided me with three possibilities at once (because which one of you will not suspect Prem Chopra the moment he appears, no matter what he does). Wonderful camera work is most notable during the cabaret songs that feature Shammi and Helen, as they get to dance among some huge and very much 60s sets, that would looks awesome on the big screen even today. Of course the „Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera“ is the most famous of the songs, also because of the iconic „I have just been hit by a live wire“ movements, but all other songs are extremely melodious as well. And to see Helen dance is just an experience in itself.

I don´t know if the Kapoor men have always had a passion for roles of adored musicians, but all have grasped that very well and Shammi as Rocky is no exception. A showman he was, nearly unmatchable. He was absolutely endearing and it´s been a long while since I´ve seen an actor so comfortable in front of the camera! His expressions were priceless and his passion for his art just pure. Asha complimented him beautifully, though the film belonged to him primarily, as she hardly appears in the second part. Like way too many other heroines her role practically ends the moment she stops resisting the man of her heart and agrees to marry him.

Teesri Manzil stood the test of time. It is just as entertaining as it once was, and the 60s styling gives it an engaging background and kind of a verdigris instead of making it look outdated.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

English Vinglish

Directed by: Gauri Shinde
Starring: Sridevi, Adil Hussain, Priya Anand
Released: 2012
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

We can now sleep a bit more peacefully because we have Sridevi back in films. In times when we are really to applaud even a decent performance by some of the Bollywood top stars it is extremely refreshing to see a person like her making movies again. She has always had talent and screen presence, and both remain undiminished. She is looking great for her age and her expressions are still beautiful. True enough – till this day her dialogue delivery is far from perfect. But Sridevi was clever enough to turn this weakness into a strength – by signing the dotted line of English Vinglish, a film that is all about troubles with language - and some more troubles you pick up along the way.

The film tells a story of Shashi, an ordinary Indian wife and mother of two (out of which one is actually a bit too small for you not to wonder how old is Shashi supposed to be. Sridevi looks younger than she is, but not as young for you not to try and think is she had this small child after she was forty? Possible of course....), who lives for her family. Caring about their every need, she definitely doesn´t feel her life would be wasted and she doesn´t complain. She is happy with what she has. The only thing that takes away from her being content is that her children and husband almost daily remind her she doesn´t know English. They tease her about it (in better case) or are annoyed with her for it. Shashi does not seek a way to prove them wrong. And even when an opportunity comes her way, she takes it not to show them how horrible they are (which would be completely understandable), but for herself, to gain some confidence.

Shashi´s departure for America, where she is going for a month to prepare and attend her niece´s wedding, was a bit too mopy for my taste. It actually looked like Shashi was leaving her family forever never to return. I understand it was meant to show how distressed and scared she was about stepping into the unknown, but considering all her journey was getting from a car at the airport and getting into a car at another airport (all including family members), it showed her character as perhaps too weak for getting more sympathy. There are limits. And there are more little flaws in the film. They have more in common with one´s thinking and outlook than with the script. For example I found the behaviour of Shashi´s daughter completely unacceptable. I cannot imagine ever talking to my mother like that, not even when furious, because our upbringing was such, and here was a little girl intentionally humiliating her mother – and she was allowed to do so, because neither of her parents bothered to correct her ways. You brought this upon yourself, Shashi. Not feeling sorry for your lack of parenting skills. A scene I sincerely disliked though, and that for me pretty much betrayed the main point of the movie, was when Laurent and Shashi laugh at the fat girl in the subway. Considering Shashi has issues at being ridiculed and put down, this was very nasty of her, one would think she would not do such a thing, especially because with a fat person you can never tell if they are not ill or anything (and even if they are not, it´s simply not done). She and Laurent could have bond over ANYTHING from baquettes to basket full of labrador puppies - but no. Let them laugh at the fat girl.

It is curious that Gauri Shinde did not have any name in mind while writing the story and character of Shashi, because she fits Sridevi perfectly. The shyness, the self-confidence just waiting to be woken up, the struggle with a new language, all that fits Sridevi perfectly – and she melts into Shashi almost literally. It is impossible really to imagine any other actress in the role, she made it her own. Rest of the cast ranks from good to tolerable. I for one was not smitten with Mehdi Nebbou´s long stares and preferred next to everybody else in the class to him (I kept wondering if he knew Shashi was married and if he did.... what exactly did he expect?). Adil Hussain, Priya Anand.... all of them together created Shashi´s reality, but in the end one cannot really talk about performances because it was really all about Shashi and her reactions to them, not about their view on her. It was about little things that were Shashi´s everyday life and that seem more important than anything to women like her. The only exception is the short and delightful cameo by Amitabh Bachchan. In those few minutes he has in the film he steals the show with his comic timing.

Music, editing, pace and visuals again – fitted. The parts on their own may not be amazing, but together they work well. Some of the dialogues are truly wonderful, even thought-provoking. “Do all important things only happen in English” is one of them. And I was very impressed by (quite revolutionary for a Hindi movie) “I don´t need love. Just a little bit of respect” line. I think the greatest strength of English Vinglish, that also resulted in its success at BO, it relatibility to Shashi by thousands (and possibly millions) of women who are like her – dedicated to family and pretty much taken for granted. Shashi emerges as an inspiring idol, who shows that you can have your confidence, feel good about yourself, and there is no need to make dramatic scenes or doing something extremely drastic. I personally could not identify with her (I am neither a housewife nor a desi for that matter), and she did not remind me of my mother (or any other woman from our family, I guess we treat them better) which takes away from the impact of the film for me.

Sridevi struggles with a word „judgemental“ in the film – which, on a plus side, is anything but. There are brown people and white people and „yellow“ people and gay people in the film, all side by side. And nobody has a problem with anyone. The behind-the-scenes-star of the movie, Gauri Shinde, thus gives a lesson in tolerance, without being preachy, but true enough - the film is often riding on stereotypes (OTT gay teacher, lewd joke in the classroom.....), which takes away from the charm a bit.

English Vinglish is a very good and sweet movie that did not left me teary-eyed, but with a smile on my lips. Both Gauri Shinde and Sridevi deserve a big congratulation. Gauri for writing an original and unique script and bringing the best out of her cast, Sridevi for her comeback choice and sensitive performance. It is not about learning English after all.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Directed by: Abbas-Mustan
Starring: Rishi Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Arbaaz Khan
Released: 1996
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

A very good thriller, Daraar is actually just one of the three (or perhaps more?) Hindi remakes of successful Hollywood film „Sleeping with the enemy“, that had Julia Roberts as the main lead. I have not seen the third one (Agnisakshi – that is promising to be a real thrill ride by just having Manisha Koirala and Nana Patekar) as yet, and so I have only Daraar and Yaraana (1995) to compare. Daraar is easily superior as a movie overall, although both films have painfully unnecessary humour subplots and Rishi Kapoor in his acursed awkward 90s phase as a very unlikely hero. Other than that a several more plot holes the Abbas-Mustan duo did a good job with the movie.
When awkward looking Rishi, playing a bohemian and popular artist (as he often did in films where he was named a hero but was pretty much just a prop) spots a beautiful, fresh Juhi Chawla running with her little lamb among the green hills, he immediately falls in love. After a time full of her rejections, because she obviously is not excited about a man in her life, and Johnny Lever tomfoolery, she finally accepts Rishi and the two start planning a wedding. But then it turns out that Juhi has a dark secret – she is already married. 
"I married Khan. How can I go for the Kapoor now?"
Indeed! Much before Rishi it was a debuting Arbaaz Khan who flew into her life in a helicopter and absolutely enchanted her with wild dance moves on a sunny beach and later among casino roulettes. So much she married him. But soon after moving into his house, which is cut off from most of the world, one gets a hint that something may not be completely OK with the guy.
Not only he hates untidiness, but he quickly turns out to be obsessive, possessive and jealous sadist, who beats his wife should anyone even see her through a window. And so Juhi finds herself locked in a perfectly tidy and neat house with nothing but perfectly positioned pillows on the sofa. And to her utter horror her neighbour, a doctor completely ignorant about how mental that guy next door actually is, comes for a visit. This results in her being yet again severely beaten – and doctor killed. 

Husband of the year.
Scared for her life Juhi manages to run away, even successfully faking her own death so she has certainty her psycho husband will not look for her. But as soon as she can breathe in peace, she meets Rishi.... who paints a portrait of her..... and it is published in the newspaper....
Juhi was really amazing in the second half (as in the first Rishi and his dream-sequencing took most of the time), and unlike in Darr where I found her innocent damsel in distress disappointing, she actually does something for herself. She is both vulnerable and powerful, and yeah, she looks gorgeous. Her portrayal of the abused woman, who simply decides that enough is enough, is extremely sensitive and believable. She breaks your heart pleading with her husband as he prepares to give her a beating, you fear for her in her plight, and you are proud of her once she faces him, tired of endless running. Her pairing with Rishi is plain weird, but in the end ALL 90s actresses with Rishi are weird. Arbaaz was a damn psycho. He just looked menacing and creepy, and as long as he didn´t speak I thought him brilliant. His dialogue delivery though....ouch. The guy is just so emotion-less.

The ending however takes away from the movie. So after EVERYTHING he did she is all bonkers about saving him? Ok OK OK. So we just POSSIBLY MAYBE could explain that one. But he suddenly turns a good guy? That absolutely didn´t fit. In this one aspect I found Yaraana´s ending much more satisfying and plausible - with the heroine herself actually stabbing Raj Babbar and than laughing and crying at the same time (of course Rishi Kapoor had to be the one to finish him off completely, as that apparently was a man´s job).

Friday, 2 November 2012


Directed by: Madhur Bhandarkar
Starring: Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Helen
Released: 2012
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

Rather tiring, though not without potential, Heroine wanted be a glimpse into the "real" dynamics of the "reel" world, but it doesn´t offer an engaging story. Comparing this work of Bhandarkar´s to Fashion is not in place at all. Fashion had tempo, drive, progressive storyline, more than one interesting character. It was a good film. Heroine on the other hand is a never ending depression without the taste of success and cannot boast of anything - with the exception of Kareena Kapoor. Not even the glamorous bit of what is Bollywood is shown. Parties seem boring, photoshoots unhappening and award shows on the scale of local school´s recitals. Not even well-costumed but badly choreographed Halkat Jawaani salvages that.

In a way Heroine is not about the film industry or uncovering its vices. I don´t think there is anything that would shock anybody at least a bit familiar with film world and tabloids. Affairs, manipulations, promotional strategies, drugs and alcohol - we have heard about it way too often to be shocked when presented that in a movie today. Heroine is rather like being locked inside Mahi Arora´s mind without a possibility of ever getting out. One cannot see beyond what Mahi is seeing, cannot think beyond what is going on in Mahi´s head at the moment. And since Mahi is way too obviously emotionally unstable and completely unsuitable for the profession she decided to pursue, one feels uneasy the whole time. Mahi´s minor ups are immediately becoming deep lows. In spite of the film being completely about her, it is extremely difficult to actually give a proper description of Mahi. There are too many things never told or even touched. Who is Mahi? Where did she come from? Why did she start to act? Why is she the person she is? 

Not even her relationships are explored, although they obviously are the most important thing for Mahi. Her mother makes few brief appearances, but we get nothing but some well-meant, yet unconvincing lecturing. We get a glimpse of Mahi´s psychiatrist, who actually gives her an important impulse, but she is lost in the next moment. Divya Dutta proves her versatility as painfully realistic and even ruthless PR, but again, she is completely sidelined. Mahi´s love affairs with two different men are presented in a very one-dimensional way. And there are other people and other relationships presented, but never looked back again. One in particular was wasted - with briefly appearing legendary Helen. There could have been so much to that particular relationship, especially considering the climax.

The beginning seems to be a middle of some other film, the ending is a huge huge let down. After everything Mahi (and the viewer) has been through, we only get 30 seconds of a dull hint that fame sucks when you cannot bear it. Truth is, that the feeling of disappointment is something one gets throughout the whole picture. So many opportunities up for grabs, hardly any taken. When I think about it, we never really even get to know how big star Mahi is. Is she at the top, up there with the greatest, or is she simply just another actress with few hits under her belt, but loosing her position as soon as she makes one wrong step? To me it actually seemed Mahi Arora was some show-piece B-grade starlet whom nobody would take seriously. We get to see few bitchy actresses whom she is pitted against in the race for a role, but there is hardly any sense of competition. In this, more than anything else, I was lovingly remembering Fashion, where the rat race among models was chilling and unmerciful and one could truly feel it.

Kareena Kapoor delivers a nearly flawless performance. She is not over the top, she is Mahi. And Mahi is mad. She is mental and desperate. Eager to learn, but continuously surprised that things don´t last. Occupied by herself and absorbed in herself, pathetically indecisive and not sure of what she wants. I was not sorry for Mahi. She was too unfit for what she was doing and brought most of the bad things upon herself without anybody´s help. At the same time Kareena definitely sends out genuine feelings and emotions. She is not artificial crying machine – something that could have easily happened had some other actress taken up the role. The supporting cast is fine, but without much impact, Arjun´s dialogue delivery was so extremely monotonous I could cry. It was lovely to see Helen. To sum it up Kareena Kapoor delivers, Madhur Bhandarkar does not.

What's Your Raashee?

Directed by: Ashutosh Gowariker
Starring: Priyanka Chopra
Released: 2009
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

I did not expect much of it and thanks to that I did not find it as bad as some people say. In fact it suited quite well to my mood and I calmly had dinner, corrected few papers for my mum who is a teacher, fed our lambs and did my manicure - all while watching the film. At the same time the fact it fitted my mood does not mean it is a good movie. It is dull, really, and drags terribly – after all it has almost 3,5 hours, that are not exactly thrilling or action-packed, neither do they bring out much of an emotion. So we have an obviously useless member in a family, who not only is good for nothing, but actually makes huge debts for which he could go to prison - so let´s all sacrifice ourselves so we can ensure his well-being. What??? That guy should have just gone in jail. But then again.... there would be no film if he did.

The thing indeed worth watching though is Priyanka Chopra, who does exceedingly well and pulls of one of the most unique stunts ever – she enacts 12 different characters, one of each „rashee“, and truth to be told, she is not repetitive in the least! I definitely could see the differences between all 12 characters she had to deal with, and she really used everything from expressions, manner of walk, signature gestures to manner of speech to full advantage. Sadly everything around her is dull and the dullest of all is the lead actor, who looks nice and dances nice, but completely lacks X-factor. That his character is completely one dimensional nice guy without much of a personality does not help. 

The main excuse for 3,5 hours is as follows: The hero, promised by his grandfather he would get loads of money on his wedding day, sets out to find himself a bride. Not because he would be wealth-hungry, but because, as already mentioned, his useless and stupid brother made huge debts and family is willing to do anything to get him out of trouble (I wouldn´t.) Poor hero thus decides to leave everything and starts searching the right woman under a guidance of a match-maker. But because there are too many girls and too little time, so he decides to meet only 12 girls, one representative of each zodiac sign – because obviously ALL people born in the same rashee are the SAME. And in the end he chooses one. Yes. That is all there is to the plot.

I must give the film the credit for excusing Priyanka´s face on all the girls without much pain. Suspicious, but not completely dismissable explanation by an old grandpa, that once you´re set up to find your life-partner, you see them all in one light/with one face, actually didn´t seem that bad... And Priyanka indeed doens´t make you sorry that she is that one face. She looks lovely in all the avatars and captures both huge and gentle nuances that define her characters very well. Be it self-conscious Anjali, mystical (and kinda horny) Bhavna, hot-tempered exhibitionist Mallika, modern feminist Rajni or traditional and romantic (and kinda off-her head) Chandrika (my favourite!), they all are believable and credit goes solely to Priyanka.

What´s Your Raashee is really a film bellow par. It got me thinking though, that as a 12 episode TV series it actually could have been great.