Monday, 29 April 2013


Directed by: Shyam Benegal
Starring: Karishma Kapoor, Rekha, Manoj Bajpayee, Amrish Puri
Released: 2001
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

Everything that is great and wonderful about Karishma Kapoor is in this film. She´s been a very inconsistent performer and her filmography overflows with horrendous movies with some really bad performances, but then there is also Zubeidaa, which in itself is a reason enough for me to have a soft spot for this Kapoor girl. True enough, she also had Fiza, but there she was equaled by both Hrithik Roshan and Jaya Bachchan, and the film had its weak points. Zubeidaa on the other hand is one of those movies that are, according to me, near perfection.

As Wikipedia informs us “The film is based on the life of the ill-fated actress Zubeidaa Begum and the writer of this film Khalid Mohammed is her own son.” That in itself gives the movie a unique feel, and indeed the pattern of the movie captures this. The story of mother is step by step rediscovered by her son, whom she supposedly left for her lover, only to die in a plane crash few years later. However Rizwan (her filmy son), believes there is much more to the tale and tirelessly keeps looking for clues and information that would tell him the truth nobody wants to talk about.

Zubeidaa, a daughter of a wealthy and well-thought-of Muslim family, was a lively and strong-willed girl with a mind of her own, and very much modern in her desires. To act in films, to dance, to study abroad.... all this she sets her mind to, but one by one her hopes are shattered by authoritative father, who may be doting, but at the same time is extremely dismissive to female independence (as is clearly seen in the way his wife treats him – like a God, and thinking of herself as worthless dust). Zubeidaa feels more and more depressed as her father manipulates her and controls her life. Forcing her to marry, forcing her to be divorced, he never asks what she wants. And Zubeidaa bears it, though unhappily, until she actually falls in love – with a Hindu raja.  

Zubeidaa is really a story of a woman, who knew what she wanted, was capable of extreme sacrifice to get it, and accepting absolutely nothing less. A rather unlucky character, destined to be always unhappy. Zubeidaa is scripted with much feeling, unfolding in front of us in a compelling way and nice pace, presenting some of the most difficult human choices realistically. The whole cast is brilliant. The dignified Queen, a father guarding the family honour and never forgiving those who acted against his wishes, a mother in the shadow of her husband, finding just as much courage to carry on, Zubeidaa´s prince Charming, who loves her, but fails to understand her... all these characters are brought to life by a joined effort of the script, direction and the actors with utmost precision.  

But it is Karishma Kapoor as Zubeidaa who is the brightest gem of the movie. Never has she been presented as beautifully, non of her other characters had such depth or scope. She spent the 90s prancing around with Govinda and Akshay, making faces in David Dhawan over the top comedies, wearing the tightest, shortest skirts and doing some of those „PT dance numbers“, but never has she had as much impact as in here, draped in sarees and with abundant curls styled in a period way. Never before or after did she act or looked better.

The music is weaved into the narrative just as flawlessly, with several gorgeous compositions by the one and only Rahman. Be it loving Dheeme Dheeme, or melodious Mehndi Hai Rachnewali, they have a contemporary feel to them, but still fit the era the film captures. The most poignant of the songs – So Gaye Hain – which returns time and again throughout the film in the background, is sung by Lata Mangeshkar. I never really liked Lata´s voice in the 90s and on, not on actresses for sure, but there are some songs, not really picturized on anyone, that she is perfect for, and this is one of them. The main melody in itself, with our without the lyrics, is enough to make one teary.

Zubeidaa remains one of the movies I completely cried through, because it was just impossible not to be effected by the turmoil and pain of a girl denied her dreams, or mother separated from her child, and woman who believed her happiness, earned with so much difficulty, is slipping away from her.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Akele Hum Akele Tum

Directed by: Mansoor Khan
Starring: Aamir Khan, Manisha Koirala
Released: 1995
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

On some levels Akele Hum Akele Tum made me extremely happy. A sensitive, and not being all black and white in its views, story about one marriage´s failure and consequences, is not a common Bollywood (or Indian) concept for a movie. The film caught my fancy because of this venture into an unsure and unknown waters, as well as because it actually does try to show some new dimension and perspective to our heroes and heroines. At the same time the film failed me in some aspects, that are „small“, but seemed quite important to me nontheless. As usual I have not seen Kramer vs. Kramer, and American film this was based on, so there is no question of comparism from my side.

Rohit (Aamir) and Kiran (Manisha) are two beautiful young people. Bonding over their love for music, they start a relationship. And sharing the same dream – to make it big in the music industry – promises to bind them even more closely. In spite of her parents´ wishes Kiran accepts Rohit´s proposal for marriage, full of optimism and happy to have a husband, who, as she believes, will support her in her efforts. However reality hits hard. It is not easy to pursue ones dream when she has to tend her busy husband. And all dreams are all but left when she gives birth to their son. While Rohit is toiling, trying to fulfill his musical dreams, Kiran is home bound, being everything a proper wife is supposed to be: a cook, a maid, a nurse..... but unlike many a heroine, she is not happy.

Kiran is one of those rare speciments among Bollywood female characters who actually nurtures ambitions of her own and her idea of happiness does not fully equate tending family. After a while she cannot take it anymore and on verge of nervous breakdown she decides to leave her husband – and also their six years old son, and starts building a career for herself, starting in a chorus in advert jingles and ending up a top film heroine. Meanwhile her husband is all bewildered upon realizing how difficult it is to take care of household and son, and his own promising job turns sour at first, and pretty much dies a slow death....

The story is largely focused on Rohit´s part of the story and his bonding with son whom he neglected till then, while a story of one woman´s emancipation is pretty much just a background. Pity, because both the journeys in the reverse role universe would be worth exploring in detail. We don´t really see as much of Kiran as we should. We do not really feel what she feels and we don´t really know what her expectations or doubts are, apart from the beginning of the movie, when she indeed resembles just a wild animal trapped in a cage. On the other hand we do get a wonderful portrait of a father, who only without wife manages to grow up into a caring and thoughtful man. In the end it is bit of a disappointment for the viewer (or rather for me) that Kiran is indeed painted in the negative colours more than necessary. Her motives and reasons for abandoning her family are left without an attempt to make the audience understand. And while she regrets and asks for forgiveness, Rohit never even apologizes. I would rather believe „we failed each other“ statement Kiran gives rather than „I failed“ admission that is pretty violently drawn out of her a bit later.

The film ultimately belongs to Aamir Khan, who gives a stellar performance full of feeling. From frustration and anger to loving and protective as well as insecure, he gets is right, and his equation with his on screen son is wonderful. Manisha as Kiran is very good, but with less scope that I expected. Akele Hum Akele Tum thus remains a sensitive venture into human (and parental as well as child) psychology, that left me with moist eyes, but it is not exactly feminist friendly.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Special 26

Directed by: Neeraj Pandey
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpayee, Kajal Agarwal, Jimmy Shergil
Released: 2013
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

It is interesting to see how over the years we have abandoned the once so admired honest heroes armed with the flaming sword of justice and spotless shield of patriotism (as well as an A-Z dictionary of morals) for witty Robin Hoods, aka crooks and thieves taking from the rich (and not giving it to others). Stealing from greedy people is "right", but being greedy is not. It is acceptable that you are a thief if you only steal from nasty people. Be it Don, Chulbul Pandey or the gang of this film, we have learned to root for the bad guys. Who are not all that bad. Just outlaws. But still not bad. So steal away, kid, just make sure you steal from the right people. Or something like that I think. Makes my head spinning a bit.

Back in the old 80s (ironically enough the time of the spotless on-screen heroes in white shoes), a gang of several men make their living of crime – which is always the same. Posing as CBI or other government organization, they raid houses of rich people, whom we can suspect are most probably corrupted, and under a pretext of taking all the money and riches found to the authorities, they simply pack their own bags. And live happily until the need for more money and adrenaline lures them out of their homes to try again, some place else. However it seems their wit finally found a match on the opposite side of the law. An actual CBI officer Khan, with a help of a policeman, previously deceived by the gang, manages to locate one of them and through him also finds out details about their next target, which is to be non other than a huge jewelery shop in Mumbai. Will he manage to stop them? Will they outsmart him? Will the law win or will our crooked heroes will? My unfortunate ability to predict twists and turns proved functional yet again, though I dare say not everybody figured the missing piece of information out before it was actually revealed.

The film takes quite some time before actually taking off, and the plot perhaps could have been more elaborate, and one or two more twists would only ad some thrill and mystery (though after the twistingly twisty Race 2 even a dozen twists might seem too little). Maybe it would have been good to actually give more depth to the characters, who apparently all come from different backgrounds and have families and other bonds, but the sane viewer in me knows this would only slow down the story, that needed to be quick – in fact a lost quicker than it ultimately was.

The love track is one of the most useless ones ever, doesn´t even make anything for the ending. Kajal Agarwal hardly speaks in those four scenes she has, which is actually a plus because I can barely stand her. In any case seeing her with Akshay gave even Mr. Kumar away - he too is, much like his Khan and Devgn collegues, officially looking too old to romance anyone under 30 and pass off as younger than 40. On the bright side his performance was on the subtle side and very good. Hopefully we can see him in films like this and last years OMG more often. The acting stars of the film though are Anupam Kher and Manoj Bajpayee, both dominating the screen whenever they appear. Other supporting actors like Jimmy Shergil (sporting an unflattering moustache) and Divya Dutta (who is repeating one line throughout the film), are alright.

The settings of the 80s India are excellent, at times one truly wonders how in the world did they manage to recreate the Mumbai of that time so flawlessly and on such big scale. The camera work is good, and overall there is nothing to complain about when it comes to technical aspects. Special 26 is a good film, well told, well presented, well acted, well put together. Not brilliant, but good.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


Directed by: Salim-Javed
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri, Pran, Om Prakash
Released: 1973
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

The only good thing about all the sequels and remakes that are slowly becoming more common than new, original films in Bollywood today, is, that I have an excuse to actually find some time in my schedule and watch the prequels/originals and thus also increase level of Bollywood in my life that I need to survive. Zanjeer has been on my radar for quite a while anyway.

The iconic story is actually very simple. Once upon a time a man decides to leave the underworld for teh sake of his wife, son and good conscience. However the former boss doesn´t trust him not to tell anything to the police, and so, during a loud Diwali night, he himself comes into his former employee´s house and shoot him and his wife dead, unaware the child he just made an orphan is hiding in a closet. The child sees everything, and especially is fixated on an elegant bracelet of the killer – with a pendant in the shape of a horse. The kid is later adopted by a policeman, and grows up to be tall and dashing Amitabh Bachchan (sporting a name Vijay in the film), forever haunted by a nightmare of an evil horse rider.

Vijay becomes a policeman – honest yet impulsive and, well, angry 90% of the time. He becomes best friends with Sher Khan (Pran in an AWESOME red-haired get up and sporting ONE outfit the whole film), former criminal reformed by being beaten up by him, and he also takes in a street performer Mala (Jaya), who has made the mistake of identifying a member of crime gang. You guessed it – they fall in love, but without the usual frolicking on the meadows or even saying it. Zanjeer is not a romantic film after all. Picking up loose ends of various strings Vijay ultimately uncovers the man behind all the evil doings we witness in the film as well as getting revenge for his parents.

After an era dominated mostly by Rajesh Khanna and his romancing, Zanjeer started the fashion of action flicks as well as imprinted the „angry young man“ image to Amitabh Bachchan, who then made it his trademark. And indeed Amitabh Bachchan is the life and soul of Zanjeer, with his intense stares, dominating body language and the impeccable dialogue delivery. Both his anger and helplessness are best represented ina scene when he is mocking Mala´s plans of settling their own home, to which he had previously agreed, giving a promise to pretty much stay blind to the injustice in the world around for the sake of her happiness.

Young Jaya Bachchan doesn´t irk me at all, much unlike the Jaya Bachchan from the 80s forward, yet I still cannot count myself among the admirers of her acting. She seems bland, uninteresting. Even Bindu, in her small and plain role of the villain´s girlfriend, is more fun to watch. Pran, on the other hand, is excellent, a quality you associate with him. The film made me wonder if Om Prakash has ever done a role where he isn´t/doesn´t look like a drunkard.

Zanjeer is a movie that one has to talk about with a certain amount of respect simply because it was a trend-changer and trend-setter. That aside it had been surpassed in all the departments since its release. It´s like with the Beatles. There has been loads of better music than theirs. But they were pretty much the first, having new ideas and rebuilding the way music industry functioned, and for that they can only be respected and loved. Zanjeer as a film left me rather bored, I found it difficult to concentrate on the storyline. I kept having a feeling this is one of those films that had to be watched at the time of their release, but will no longer charm the audience today. Is Zanjeer iconic? Yes. Is it timeless? No.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Jab We Met

Directed by: Imtiaz Ali
Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor
Released: 2007
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

If we were to make one of those obnoxious „the best of the past decade“ lists, then Jav We Met logically has to appear in it. And why just decade? It is one of those rare films that, I dare say, will always be relevant and loved. Appealing especially because of its simplicity and light-heartendess, yet not lacking emotions, Jab We Met is a great film with repeat value, that is given by a certain pleasant predictability of the plot, but at the same time being full of delightful surprises and funny twists.

Aditya Kashyap (Shahid) is a wealthy young man, who has interited a business from his late father not long ago. Yet he shows no interest in his work, and his personal life too is a mess. His mother had left the family years ago for another man, and the girl he loves is just getting married to somebody else. In a sudden moment of „burning out“, Aditya leaves his car and mobile phone on a street and after roaming aimlessly for hours he boards a train, without even knowing where it´s heading. Perhaps he would just let his loneliness and misery engulf him, perhaps he would have jumped out of the train, but instead he meets Geet, a young girl and, as it turns out, rather a nutcase!

Geet is everything Aditya is not. She doesn´t think, she just acts. She is confident and an optimist. She does what she wants. And she never shuts up. She is, in fact, the most talkative film character ever, it would seem, beating even Basanti from Sholay, yet staying „adorkable“ (while Basanti I just wanted to smack repeatedly with a dead fish or something). Within minutes Aditya is flooded with information. Where she is from, who are her relatives, where she studied and what was her dorm like and oh, by the way, she plans to elope and marry a guy her family would disapprove of. Within several hours and two missed trains later Aditya finds himself stuck with Geet in a cheap hotel, and then has to run away before the police, and finally soon after arriving at her home, he helps her to elope among other things.... And the wonderful thing about all this? We´re only as far as the interval!

Oh have we not seen the „opposites attract“ and „the jolly ones has a good influence on the moody one“ before? Sure we have (Junglee immediately springs to mind), but Jab We Met does great job with the same plotline, bringing lots of freshness, unseen situations and reaction, and ends on a rather crazy note, bringing us back to the endearing first half after some emotional bits, that easily could have swallowed the story and lead to a teary drama. But Imtiaz Ali did not let that happen. That Geet realizes what she wants doesn´t mean she is going to „grow up“ and be a perfect heroine repenting her previous wrong choices and turning into a responsible, obedient and shy maiden. She remains mad and we all love our Geet mad!

Kareena Kapoor probably found her role of a lifetime in the chatterbox Geet. And in return she gave her so much energy and life that Geet became pretty much iconic. Kareena is the soul of the film, believable in her dorkiness, madness and grief as well. At the same time it is impossible not to give credit to Shahid Kapoor. He may seem a bit overshadowed, because his character of Aditya lacks the drive and loudness of Geet, but in fact his restrained manner is just as believable and it is what makes Geet so unique – because we actually see the story told through Aditya´s point of view.

Adorned with pleasant song and painted with vibrant colours (yet not to the unrealistic point YRF likes to do it), Jab We Met is one of the high points of modern Bollywood filmmaking, proving that a simple romantic story will never really be out of fashion, and also gives me hope we have not seen everything just yet.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Race 2

Directed by: Abbas-Mustan
Starring: Saif Ali Khan, John Abraham, Jacqueline Fernandez, Deepika Padukone, Aditya Pancholi, Anil Kapoor, Ameesha Patel
Released: 2013
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

It´s all bigger than the last time. Our „players“ are unimaginably more rich. Our babes are even more sexy. Our cars are even faster. And our plotholes even dumber. First Race was a decent flick, but definitely not in a need of a sequel. I must sheepishly admit I ended up far from hating this one, in spite of all its shortcomings. I blame it on the fact I was busy with a family celebration for a few days and then just collapsed in front of my laptop, wearied by loud uncles and criticizing aunties, and was just happy I could switch my brain off and watch some moneywalas pretend to be serious about something that kinda resembled a story. While the first Race was ultimately a story of two brothers and their endless rivalry, Race 2, though not short of numerous twists and turns, doesn´t really care about creating an interesting plot, that would back up what was happening.

Last time we saw the hero Ranveer Singh he was speeding away into the sunset with his lover Sonia, but now, as we are told, „they are no longer together“. Instead Ranveer cleverly cons a (seemingly) random casino owner, leaving him penniless, and gaining (seemingly) trust of Armaan Malik, a guy who has so much money he can buy a small island every week and has a palace with so many room he wouldn´t be able to even see them with his own eyes in more than ten years and probably has a unicorn pooping a rainbow on his backyard as well. As you could have guessed he did not earn this quite legally (but how is never answered, because obviously even hinting how a common street fighter managed to earn as much money is a waste of precious time, that can be spent on capturing somebody´s butt, that is to be blurred from the screen anyway), and he runs his Empire with help of stunning step-sister Alina and girlfriend Omisha. 

"I´ll never let you go!............ LOL just kiding."

But why does Ranveer bother befriending him? Oh yes, Armaan is the one who ordered that Sonia would be killed (remember that not at all subtle hint on „they are no longer together“?). That´s right, Ranveer Singh, this time, play for revenge!

Twists and turns, though plentiful, are not nearly as shocking as in the first film. Mainly because that´s what you expect – that nobody is actually honest. You also simply know Saif is going to win the „game“, so you don´t feel worried when he drinks „poison“ 30 minutes before the film´s end. Loopholes are for everyone to see, from a professional killer who instead of simply shooting Saif decides to abandon his weapon and experience ten paagal minutes of an insane chase only to be killed himself to completely dumb nuns and guards of the Shroud of Turin (hopefully the real guards are not as stupid).

As many have said already, Race 2 is all style and no substance. Computer effects look like something made 20 years ago and most of the action in the finale will give you a good laugh instead of „wowing“ you (yep, I´m talking about the flying wonder car).

Whooo hooo! I want one!
All the actors are actually also all style and no substance in this. Saif churns out a decent performance, but his Ranveer has no real competitor that would elevate him among a truly interesting characters. Akshaye Khanna is badly missed, because John Abraham does not have it in him to convince you he is menacing, scary or witty. He pretty much sucks in this, the highlight worth mention is his really brutal fight in the ring. At first it seemed Jacqueline Fernandez would steal the show, but as the film progressed she kinda vanished. Meh. Deepika Padukone has next to no role. Those 15 minutes she gets show how she improved her dialogue delivery in the past year and also that she is damn stunning, but this is not a film anyone will remember for her or rememeber her for.

Person who doesn´t have much to do is also Aditya Pancholi, then again his was only a cameo, and unlike Johnny boy his mere presence can make you shiver as if you indeed foudn yourself in presence of a dangerous mafia boss.

The greatest mistake of the film, loopholes and shallow characters notwithstanding, was including Anil Kapoor´s character from the first film in this. Even in the first movie Anil was just horrible and needless, and it is even more so now. Super annoying Sameera Reddy disappeared, but just as annoying Ameesha Patel steps in – and Anil and her reprise the EXACT same thing we have seen, with NO difference whatsoever. Just the jokes are more crude and disgusting.

And seriously - who insisted on having this in the film? (since you can´t even show it?)
Race 2 is a film you don´t need to see, even if you are a fan of any of the actors involved. It is not a downright „bad“ movie, since it definitely has a potential to entertain (I am a proof of this). It has a rather good pace, great cinematography and even unintentionally hilarious stuff can actually be counted as a plus point. One of those flicks for the undemanding.