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Archive for December, 2009

Don’t Worry, Rocket Singh. Aal Izz Well !!

December 30, 2009 2 comments

Two postings ago, I had expressed my concerns around how some of the brightest directors of Bollywood had failed to deliver in 2009.  I had also hoped and prayed that the year ends well and on a positive note, with the latest offerings from Shimit Amin and Raju Hirani.

To repeat what is easily the catchiest and the most popular phrase of the year:  AAL IZZ WELL!!  Very well, indeed.

Shimit Amin’s “Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year” came in early December like a breath of fresh air.  The movie was a pleasure to sit through, despite its predictability and at times, a cliched approach.  Here was one of the most focused films to come out of Bollywood in a long time, with both Shimit Amin and his writer, the wonderful Jaideep Sahni, never deviating from what they had set out to achieve and show on-screen.  Gone were the unnecessary songs, the excessive dosage of melodrama, the boring romantic angle and the sappiness that Bollywood is a master at. 

Instead, what I saw was crisp-filmmaking, a well-thought of storyline and above all, an ensemble of actors who were a sheer joy to watch.  Here was a group of people…mostly unknowns, who gave performances that were simply wonderful.  (This year, we saw a burst of new talent onto the hindi movie scene, in films like Dev D., Gulaal, Wake Up Sid, 99 and Rocket Singh, where the real scene-stealers were those unknown actors…and not the true leads of the films.)  And then there was Mr. Rocket Singh himself…Ranbir Kapoor. The opening sequence of the film, where you see his expressions change from apprehension to relief to happiness within a few seconds, are a testament to his acting abilities.  Don’t worry, you Khans!!  Your worthy sucessor is here….to stay.  Aal Izz Well.

Which brings me to the other release of the month…the movie that seemed to have taken the world (of Indians…) by a storm….Raju Hirani’s “3 Idiots“.  Yes, Raju’s film is purely commercial at heart.  Unlike Rocket Singh, which did not seem to care for the box-office response, 3 Idiots is full of masala moments.  Including a couple of scenes in the second half that almost make you go “What the hell are you doing, Raju?” (The child-birth and the marriage sequences..)!  But don’t worry…Aal Izz Well.  These are all minor irritations.  And if such long scenes are “minor irritations”, then you can very well imagine what a wonderful story Raju Hirani must have weaved that it still stands tall despite all the afore-mentioned shortcomings.

3 Idiots has a chock-full of glorious moments, some of them straight out of those long-lost college days of ours…when the fear of exams and assignments reigned supreme in our hearts and yet all we wanted to do was to live our lives.  The acting is great (with the new guy “Chatur Ramalingam” once again stealing the scene from the movie’s leads…his “auditorium speech” sequence is easily the one where I have laughed the most this year!!), Shantanu Moitra’s music is spot-on, the melodrama is such that Raju inserts a hillarious ending to every such scene effortlessly, thus forcing a smile to our lips at almost the same time when the tears are swelling into our eyes.  What a master!!  Oh, and India has never looked so beautiful on celluloid since a long long time, with C.K. Muraleedharan’s cinematography capturing the beauty of hilly Simla, Manali and Ladakh in its full bloom.

Yes…my faith has indeed been restored.  Both Shimit Amin and Raju Hirani have proven their abilities one more time and I am proud to have seen all of their offerings.  Here’s looking forward to putting my hand on my heart and saying “Aal Izz Well…Aal Izz Well” a lot more times at the movies in 2010 than I did in 2009. 🙂 🙂

Categories: Bollywood

The Invasion of Technology

December 27, 2009 1 comment

So “Avatar” is now out and is being hailed by a lot of people as a “masterpiece”.  Whether its a US Critic like Roger Ebert (The Chicago Sun Times) or Manohla Dargis (The New York Times), or an Indian critic like Raja Sen (of Rediff.Com) or Mayank Shekhar (The Hindustan Times)…everyone is heaping loads of praise on the film and on the creative juices of James Cameron.

I too saw the film a few days ago (albeit not in IMAX 3-D) and would tend to agree with everyone on the ingenious filmmaker that Cameron is.  The movie is surely a creative wonder, with eye-popping visuals that seemed wonderous even in non-3D and a seldom seen-before attention paid to the details of the planet Pandora that Cameron has created.  He has amazed us in the past with his creative abilities in smashes like the first two “Terminator” films, “True Lies“, “Titanic” and my personal favorites, “Aliens” and “The Abyss“.  But with “Avatar“, James Cameron has alas gone the George Lucas way, letting technology take control and pushing the “human factor” into the background.  Which is why, IMHO, “Avatar” is a very good movie, but a masterpiece?  Nah!!

The first 15-20 minutes of the movie brought back memories of the space/aqua stations created by Cameron in “Aliens” and “The Abyss“, and I started looking forward to a ride into Pandora through the eyes of Sam Worthington’s character, Jake Sully.  But what the film instead turned into was an extended stay on Pandora, with the audience spending all the time with Pandora’s Na’vi clan sans any “human aliens”.  Which means that, for me, the movie became a display of how advanced technology has become today and of what it allows you to do, while playing with the mind of the audience.

In short, “Avatar” looked great and had jaw-dropping visuals….but it never transported me to Pandora.  It just felt “not real” to me!!

I had the same issues with the second and third installments of the “Matrix” Trilogy (The first one kept the “human” quotient fairly high).  As well as with “The Lord of the Rings” and to an extent, the “Harry Potter” series.  But the worst of them all, was of course “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones“, which, in my opinion, almost destroyed my entire respect for the legendary series.  “Clones” came to me as nothing more than a computer generated video game, where I searched hard in vain for the human factor throughout the movie.

I call this the “Invasion of Technology” into our movies, where filmmakers let technology speak instead of their actors.  Undeniably, technology has advanced with leaps and bounds over the years…especially in the past 10-15 years (and Pixar is the prime..and the brightest example of that).  Things that writers/directors could only fathom in their imagination are now possible to translate onto the big screen with the help of those machines called computers.  But I feel that it has also, at times, relegated the most important aspect of a movie….the story…to the background.  Yes, technology allows you to show what you are thinking of, to your audience, but don’t forget that we, the audience, are also suckers for memorable characters which remain more etched in our minds than a vision of a huge vision tsumani wiping out earth (“2012“) or the Na’vi clan riding their mini-dragons and flying in the air.  I would always prefer a “Joker“, a “Dark Knight” or a “Green Goblin” over any of the afore mentioned because those directors never took their attention off of the fact that special affects should only be used to enhance the experience for a moviegoer.  At the end of the day, it is always the story that reigns supreme.

The jury will always be out on this topic and discussions are ongoing between the two groups of people even today — one that loves technology-dominated flicks and the other that always craves for “substance over style”….not that style does not matter for them.  I have take my side.  Are you ready to take yours?

Categories: Hollywood