Saturday, 21 September 2013


Directed by: Santosh Sivan
Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Danny Denzongpa
Released: 2001
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

I love history which in many cases leads to my hatred for many a historic film. Because way too often it is taken more as an inspiration for a story, using names and background, but it ends up being so manipulated, so violated, that it is beyond my ability to forgive. Asoka, as I understand, is one such film. Yet it remained spared my hatred. Why? Because when I first watched it my knowledge of Indian history was equal to zero. All I saw was a touching story and well made film. It was only later, when my knowledge increased, that I realized how inaccurate from historical point of view it actually was. Because of this I understand why people have been let down by the film, and why they don´t like it. For me though it remains what it originally was – a good movie. In fact, better than (in my opinion) overrated Lagaan, which it released alongside with and was compared to in many aspects. And to give Asoka some credit, it stated at the very beginning it is not an attempt at recreation of history...

What it is a recreation of, though only partly and I don´t think they admitted it, is a Sunil Dutt/Vyjayanthimala film Amrapali. Asoka makers took the best elements of the story and added them to the historic background of Asoka and his character. And thus we meet Asoka, a prince in disguise, roaming in a foreign country, removed by the wish of his mother from the royal court, where his own brothers would like to get rid of him, since he is extremely capable, and they can only match him as far as ambitions go. Taking a common name Pawan, he encounters another exiled royalty – princess Kaurwaki and her little brother Arya, who are on the run from unknown murderers who took lives of their parents. Asoka and Kaurwaki fall in love, but fate is not kind to them. Bound by a promise Asoka cannot reveal his identity and just a few days of separation from the hunted royal siblings end up in disaster.....

The beginning of the film, especially the initial bits of Asoka/Pawan withdrawing into a self-imposed exile, is actually kind of sloppy. There is bit too much of dorkiness in the prince, in other words Shahrukh is that funny, adorable himself I love, but it somehow doesn´t fit the character. From the profession of love for Kaurwaki, however, the film becomes better and better, causing much of a heartbreak and reaching its bitter, but still satisfactory ending. During this time Shahrukh Khan truly ceases to be Shahrukh and bit by bit he is devoured by Asoka – the character, who comes alive through him. The helpless indifference, the pain that cries for revenge or little moments of gentleness, Mr. Khan gave it all his best.

I recall that Asoka was the very first film I have seen of Kareena Kapoor – and I cannot be grateful for it enough. Had my first film of hers been KKKG, I would probably hate her guts for quite some time. But instead she was introduced to me as Kaurwaki, daring, brave and yet not fearless, very feminine and very strong. I loved her. Sure, I had to tolerate her very much non-historic wardrobe and wondered how she managed to paint her eyes so elaborately even while on the run, but in the end Kaurwaki impresses. Strangely enough I rooted both for her AND Devi, a girl Asoka marries, to have a happy ending. I liked them both, as they were both so full of love and so deeply rooted in their principles. Danny Denzongpa completes the main cast, as reliable and admirable as ever.

Cinematography is – simply put – gorgeous. A times as if camera forgot about the characters and story, and lingered for a while on a minor detail, brought it up to its attention and admired its beauty. Musical score is beautiful – with an exception of the „evil theme“ stolen from the Lord of the Dance soundtrack – and Roshni Se has to be one of the most wonderfully picturized love songs ever.

As I have said before, the film lifts the most important moments from Amrapali. It doesn´t necessarily work as a period film, as mentioned before, but it works wonderfully as a love story with a historical background. And when you get used to Shahrukh´s long hair.... it´s even better :)

In fact... it makes him even more sexy....

Monday, 16 September 2013

Umrao Jaan

Directed by: J. P. Dutta
Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Abhishek Bachchan, Suniel Shetty, Shabana Azmi, Divya Dutta
Released: 2006
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

A story of life of a courtesan transformed from literature into a film that indeed feels like a lifetime. That long and that tiring. And so much concerned about the visual part, about how overwhelmingly pretty everything has to look, that it forgets to bring out emotions, fails to invest the viewer into the heroine´s plight. And since that is essential for quite a non-happening story as the one of Umrao Jaan, the movie stands only for tedious wanna-be try at epicness.

Not much is added to the famous story of a girl kidnapped from her family and sold into a brothel, where she grows up into a stunning and talented tawaif, capturing attention and affection of Nawab Sultan. Even this time the love story is doomed. Compared to the 1981 version with Rekha (the comparisms are simply bound to happen) the story is actually even simpler (not a good decision), leaving out the sub-plots involving a fellow tawaif Bismilah, as well as Umrao´s flight from the brothel to live by herself, and sadly also one of the most bitter twists of a similarly kidnapped girl becoming Sultan´s wife. All we are left with are 3 hours of pining after Nawab and crying without end. Indeed, this Umrao Jaan is not much of a company to anyone except one guy.

Truth is that the whole film is really just a passionate love-affair with Aishwarya Rai´s face. Wintin every five minutes there would be a lingering close-up, obsessing about her eyes opening slowly, closing slowly or staring without a blink, and 80% of the time tears would be flowing from them. Indeed she looks stunning throughout, no matter if she is wearing a bejewelled outfit or a simple one, and to be fair her beauty is definitely not the only contributing factor she provides. Aishwarya suits these roles. The Devdas and Jodhaa Akbra ones. She suited this one as well and her performance, even though unnecessary teary, is among her better ones. Her dialogue delivery in this is very good. But still, the seemingly endless dialogues that sometimes last for five or even more minutes, make the viewer impatient and bored. The script and the way story is crafted doesn´t help Aishwarya to connect and invite the audience into her heart and soul, where we could possibly feel with her – something Rekha did so effortlessly in 1981.

While Aishwarya is let down by the script, but otherwise fits, her beloved Nawab Abhishek looks like he found himself on the sets by mistake. There is nothing even remotely regal or dignified about him, and overal his besotted lover act feels thanda. He and Aish make the cutest off-screen couple, but camera is not really nice to them when it comes to chemistry. The relationship seems a bit forced really, with hardly any base. On what did the love grow one has to wonder.

Suniel Shetty as fierce and mysterious Faizal Ali fares better. The character of Gohar Mirza, played back in the day by one and only Naseeruddin Shah, remains unmatched. The young man in this version doesn´t really have the sneakiness or cunningness, and his feelings for Umrao are – as many other things in this – very much simplified and he thus becomes a lot less important. Shabana Azmi and Divya Dutta both give good performances, which is, after all, expected of both of the talented ladies. Also Ayesha Jhulka, an almost forgotten heroine of the 90s, makes a brief appearnce and is lovely.

A big part of Umrao Jaan are the songs, however the film does not deliver in this department either. Apart from „Salaam“, all other melodies and lyrics blend into one, none stands out and all are forgettable. Picturization leaves a lot to be desired as well, that in spite of Aishwarya being a superb dancer. Choreography concentrates way too much on the hands and neglects the rest of the body (I am no expert, and even I can tell the choreographer did not really have much of an idea what to do), relying, like much of the film, on Aishwarya´s beauty to distract the viewer and detract the attention from anything that may not be good enough. Does this strategy work? To an extent. Mrs. Bachchan is more than easy on the eyes. Unfortunately in the end not even that is sufficient to save the film from sinking into oblivion of your mind, where it by all mean belongs.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

Directed by: Ayan Mukherjee
Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Kalki Koechlin, Aditya Roy Kapoor
Released: 2013
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

While Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani belongs into the Bollywood´s favourite category of young romance, which sustained the industry for decades and will continue to do so, the film´s resounding success at the box office and with critics has, in my opinion, more to do with maturity that the story is weaved through with as well as some truly beautiful dialogues, than with a clichéd yet forever working formula it uses. YJHD has many factors going for it, even though it is not the best movie ever (or of decade – it might be of the year if nothing better comes) – from interesting cast, catchy music numbers, as much realism as you can hope for in a commercial Bollywood movie (by which I mean you must not question a girl who goes trekking in the snow in a mini skirt) to a cuddly embrace of what is probably the best jodi of the new generation.

Three best friends – Bunny, Aditi and Avi – decide to go on a trekking trip to Manali. Joining them is Naina, a dutiful, homely, aspiring-to-be-a-doctor girl, who just feels like she needs a change for a while. She is quickly accepted by the three outgoing friends and to her great amusement and amazement she watches and later joines them in their carefree attitude and antics. Before the trip is over she falls in love with Bunny, but when she find out he is planning to leave India to study abroad, and that his dreams are to travel the whole world, she decides not to ruin the moment and keeps her first love as a cherished memory. 8 years later the four friends are reunited, all grown up. Aditi is getting married, Avi is a bar owner gone bankrupt, Naina is a doctor. Just Bunny seems to be still the same, with dreams of seeing everything and never stopping at one place. Will Naina´s old feelings be rekindled? Will Bunny feel it too? Will it stop him in his eternal hunt for something new?

As said before the plot is nothing ground-breaking or new. And there sure was no need for the stereotypical transformation of a „normal“ girl into a goddess of oomph by simply putting off glasses (at least nobody even dared to hint Naina with glasses would be „ugly“ - a blasphemy forced upon Juhi Chawla in Aaina). However the way Naina, and later also her friends think, is very mature. Matters of the heart are important, but sometimes it is necessary to not allow things happen – and just as important is to go on and not spend your life miserable and whining, because, after all, there is much to do and much to fill it with. This attitude is extremely rare in films. Naina doesn´t nurture hopes that seem futile, because she knew she would end up hurting. Aditi realizes that one-sided crush would make her miserable, and settles for a less attractive, but completely loving guy, who „makes her happy“. What a change from all the selfish wrist cutting inflicted upon us around the same time in another „romantic“ film.....

After emotions-packed Rockstar and extremely heart-touching Barfi, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani shows Ranbir Kapoor in another different kind of romantic relationship, in which he actually doesn´t know he is until the very end. He doesn´t disappoint and delivers a very good performance – something we associate him with for some time now. However it is Deepika Padukone who really comes to her own in the film. Last year she was wonderful in Cocktail, and now she confirms it was definitely not some monetary fluke of luck. She is growing as a performer right in front of our eyes! The chemistry between the two is wonderful. 

Aditya Roy Kapoor doesn´t have much to do, and his character was a bit..... left out really. His drinking problem actually made me wonder if he was switching between the sets of YJHD and Aashiqui 2 and he kinda forgot in which one he was at the moment. Kalki, on the other hand, is a complete darling. There is much to relate to in all of the characters. I found a bit of myself in the shy, quiet Naina from the first half. Who wants to have fun, but it is not easy for her to just throw herself into it. It was also nice that the twist did not lie in making a homely girl the Queen of society, neither it was showing that spending your life abroad doesn´t compare to desi homeland. Both Naina and Bunny learn something, adjust themselves to it and make it part of their own personality. They grow up.

Plot may be bland but the script and direction are winners. As is gorgeous cinematography and play of colours and hues used to enhance the beauty of landscapes and clothes. Much like with his previous venture „Wake Up Sid“ Ayan Mukherjee chooses a slow, even tedious narrative, delving into the feeling of a moment rather than rushing ahead for the sake of somebody not getting bored. If you get bored, that is pretty much your problem, and Ayan is unapologetic.

I need to mention “Ghagra” - the very much hyped special song picturized on Madhuri Dixit. It was a fine song, a good dance number, Madhuri looked gorgeous and to see her with Ranbir was wonderful! It was all too much fun and I loved she also got to mouth several poetic dialogues before the music broke out. That said, Ghagra somehow doesn´t fit the rest of the film. It is brilliant as a separate video, but in the film it does not really serve any purpose and even from the way the costumes and sets look it is clear this bit was quite rushed and added at the last minute. But whatever. I was happy to see Madhuri dance – and thankfully Ghagra turned out quite progressive – as a song in which a younger guy is attracted to and charmed to an older woman – she did not stop being attractive and charming just because she hit 40.

Beautiful actors, beautiful performances, beautiful music, simple story, Madhuri..... What´s not to love?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


Directed by: Rajkumar Gupta
Starring: Emraan Hashmi, Vidya Balan, Rajesh Sharma, Namit Das
Released: 2013
Verdict: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing

So... what exactly is Ghanchakkar? There is not enough fun for it to be a comedy (although that is what I primarily expected from the promos). There is not enough thrill for it to be a thriller. There is not enough drama for it to be a story about relationship trust. All that is kinda sprinkled all over, but ultimately does not make a difference. Ghanchakkar is not a film that would fall into a certain category, and if it was supposed to be masalla it fails to deliver.

It all starts with two not well-introduced and badly drawn characters (even after the film you just wonder who, where, how and why?) of a married couple Sanju (Emraan) and Neetu (Vidya). I suppose he is some renowned criminal because first thing you know he is offered a job of looting a bank. He accepts and does the deed, aided by two goons, and he is given the stolen money for safe-keeping, until the time comes. However when the time comes he claims not to recall absolutely anything and the goons, angry that he is trying to trick them, move in with him and his wife to help him remember. To their despair Sanju has met with an accident after the robbery and suffers from partial amnesia, that one day may progress to the point of him not recognizing anyone and anything.

How to rob a bank: Step 1
Somebody explain to me how sharing a flat with your possible victims helps to trigger a memory? How about taking him to the place where it all happened, trying to remind him of all the details? No. I think threatening his wife and masturbating over the phone will be enough. And Sanju, how about, when you think you have found the money, you open the suitcase to check BEFORE you deliver it to the goons? And director saab, how about some explanations before all that gore bloodshed that was definitely sickening but not even remotely funny, ten minutes before the end? Was there really a need for that happening anyway? Ghanchakkar progresses in the same line as starting your morning with Teletubbies and ending it with Dracula in Pakistan. Except there are no twists and turns. Yep, it is boring.

The film is centered around Emraan, with Vidya Balan playing the second fiddle. That itself, as unusual as it is, wouldn´t be of concern to me, if she actually had something to work with, but apart from screaming in frustration from time to time she is there only to model some atrocious clothes (was that pun at her off-screen persona intended I wonder?). Emraan.... what can I say? The dude is always the same, no matter what film he is at. He is not a „bad“ actor, but he seems unable to make his characters be different from each other and actually making an impact. The two actors playing the lame goons were better than the lead pair, but that does not really say too much.

I really expected more from this. Perhaps because of Vidya Balan. Perhaps because Rajkumar Gupta made rather good No One Killed Jessica. Perhaps because my standarts are set too high for any film really.... Ghanchakkar is nothing you could name. Except if you have your own „what the hell did I just watch“ movie label.