Thursday, October 27

Ra.One 3D - Get manipulated!!

Movie - Ra.One 3D (Hindi)
Director - Anubhav Sinha
Producer - Gauri Khan
Writers - David Benullo, Mushtaq Sheikh, Anubhav Sinha, Kanika Dhillon, Niranjan Iyengar
Cast - Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Armaan Verma, Shahana Goswami, Tom Wu, Satish Shah, Sanjay Dutt (cameo), Priyanka Chopra (cameo) & Superstar Rajnikanth (cameo)
Music & Background Score - Vishal & Shekhar
Cinematography - Nicola Pecorini & V Manikandan
Editing - Sanjay Sharma 
Production Design - Sabu Cyril
Sound Design - Resul Pookutty
Release Date - 26th October 2011

SRK wanted to make this movie for his kids. So being one of the biggest superstars in the country, he thinks that - 'booty going pop pop'; a homosexual getting turned on seeing his pierced nipples and the atrocities that follow; a thesis on gaalis; 'condom-condom' for 'konjam-konjam'; grabbing the (pardon the language) boobs & ass of the actress who plays the mother; and a series of jokes on the crotch are what his kids and a million other kids in this country should watch, then he is indeed a very responsible superstar. 

But yea, this is also a superhero film. The inspiration from every other superhero film made in Hollywood history (mainly Terminator 2 : Judgement Day) and our own Enthiran/Robot apart, Ra.One has to be the most embarrassingly logic-less and convoluted superhero film ever made. And this was promoted as India's biggest film all over the world. So much for our cinema being appreciated globally. 

Apart from that, Shah Rukh Khan thinks its very funny to play a South Indian geek who goes 'Ayyayyo' with every sentence; who has ugly curly hair; who eats sphagetti and curd with his hands; who breaks into random Tamil on one hand and recites Urdu & Hindustani shayari on the other; who has a background score that goes 'Paithyakkaara paithyakkaara' (madman, madman) and much more. How sensitive. And he has the audacity to dub this film into Tamil and release it there as well. The 'thamizh makkal' and their famous pride would definitely not be hurt, SRK!!

There is no point talking about logic because Anubhav Sinha and his team of some 5-6 writers never cared about including logic in this idiotic movie even though its known to every other layman that even in the worst of superhero movies, there is a logic which applies to the world that movie is set in. But SRK doesnt care for a script or anything like that, what he sees are enough opportunities to plug in advertisements, perhaps in every other scene and make money out of that. 

There was this movie called Enthiran/Robot which came out last year. A certain Mr.Shankar spent 10 years writing and re-writing the script of that movie along with a very talented veteran named Sujatha and created a crackling movie which had soul and perfect logic within its own narrative. And moreover, it had a heart, and not something picked up from the Iron Man movie and lamely named H.A.R.T. 

SRK doesnt stop at that. After almost the entire movie was done, he goes ahead and announces that there is going to be a cameo in the movie by Superstar Rajinikanth in the movie as Chitti from Enthiran, so that people dont accuse him of being inspired by that movie. (SRK heard a narration of Enthiran from Shankar and rejected it thankfully). So the fans of the superstar waited with bated breath to see their idol on screen after his hospitalization and period of ill-health, back as the lovable Chitti. But what do we get, a whole contrived sequence and a Rajnikanth looking like a duplicate, overdone, animated version of Chitti who comes for less than a minute and is actually made fun of, in the name of a tribute. Mr. SRK knows that even a blink & miss appearance of the superstar would get all his fans (which is almost the entire population of Tamil Nadu and most of the people in the rest of the South Indian states and his fans in the North as well) to come and watch the movie at least for him. I watched the movie solely for that reason, only to realize later that SRK had taken us all for a ride. Dude or dood (as he says in the movie), be smart, but dont take your audience for a ride. They are the ones who made you what you are. And Thalaivaa, you shouldnt have done this cameo. So disappointing!! 

Now about the few good things in the movie. Kareena Kapoor looks scorching hot and she is quite likable despite her lame research on gaalis. And boy, does she sizzle in that Chammak Challo song, which is probably the only paisa wasool moment in this 200 crore extravaganza. Her negative turn in one of the scenes is also excellent and it was a surprise to see her like that. Arjun Rampal is menacing, but gets a lame role and some 5-6 scenes in total. The SFX, action sequences and production design are extraordinarily good. The train scene which looks like a combination of scenes from Spiderman 2 & Enthiran and the subsequent destruction of the VT station in Mumbai is done well, but does not evoke any excitement or adrenalin rush which one would normally get while watching such scenes. The same goes for the action scenes. So much for the work put in by all those technicians and setting high standards for post production in Indian films. The Mortal Kombat inspired climax fight is so lame and boring that you wait for SRK to get done with Ra.One. One's feelings actually go to Rampal's Ra.One and want him to kill that boring superhero G.One. Vishal & Shekhar did a good job with Chammak Challo, Dildara and Bhare Naina. But the RD Burman type superhero theme didnt create any impact at all. Vishal & Shekhar did a good job with Chammak Challo, Dildara and Bhare Naina. But the RD Burman type superhero theme didnt create any impact at all. And yes, the cameo by Sanjay Dutt as Khal Nayak was superb. You can actually walk out after that first scene and then come back later for Chammak Challo, and then walk out and leave the hall for good after that. The 3D was done quite well and was not in your face or gimmicky. 

As for SRK, you feel happy when the irritating South Indian geek dies in the first half, so that you dont have to suffer him anymore. And then comes the most boring superhero ever. In fact, he is nothing more than a glorified Bodyguard (not the Salman Khan kind :P), to the kid in the movie and not a superhero who saves the world. His introduction is quite nice, but in the second half G.One keeps changing character quite consistently - he is robotic at many places, then turns into this funny guy, then turns into the usual Shah Rukh Khan who sings and dances in Akon's voice and then tries so hard to be a hero that its really funny. Not in one scene does one feel like rooting for the superhero that Shah Rukh Khan plays in this movie. India is a country where the superhero genre is actually not required at all. All our heroes, from the time of mythology have done anything and everything that a superhero does without having to go into details of how and why he does it, and people happily accepted that. The only purpose of the superhero genre in India is to add logic to such things. Ra.One doesnt even have that. But the one good thing about Ra.One releasing is that SRK's promotional rampage would finally come to an end and we can finally start watching Television or browse the net peacefully. 

Before I forget, there is a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai tribute, a Karva Chauth scene and some family sentiments also thrown in. Thanks to guest director Karan Johar. All this in a superhero film. Like really?? 

But me sitting here and ranting about all this doesnt really matter. People are flocking the theatres and are actually loving the movie and laughing at all the offensive and sexist jokes along with their kids. People might wonder where our film industry is going when films like Ready, Singham & Bodyguard become historical hits. But they never claimed that they are making anything more than senseless, mindless movies just to make instant money. But SRK goes all out and tells the world that this is India's first superhero movie, promotes it as a kid's movie and keeps making claims of this and that. Now that is something really pathetic, considering the product's actual standard minus the visual effects and all that jazz. And for all the people who loved it, Shah Rukh Khan would definitely come up with a sequel, which would be more offensive, crude, racist, vulgar and lame.  

Bottomline - Watch, if you want to be badly manipulated by this shrewd man called Shah Rukh Khan. Else, watch Enthiran one more time instead. 

PS - For THE best review of the movie, read The Vigil Idiot -

Friday, October 14

Snehaveedu - That lovely feeling of familiarity.

Movie - Snehaveedu (Malayalam)
Writer/Director - Sathyan Anthikkad
Producer - Antony Perumbavoor
Cast - Mohanlal, Sheela, Rahul Pillai, Padmapriya, Biju Menon, Innocent, Mamukkoya, KPAC Lalitha, Lena, Chembil Ashokan, Sasi Kalinga, Arundhathi, Appukkutty
Music - Ilaiyaraaja
Cinematography - Venu ISC
Editing - K Rajagopal
Art Director - Joseph Nellickal
Release Date - 29th September 2011

One feels a certain kind of familiarity while watching a Sathyan Anthikkad movie. A feeling that you know this village, you know these people, you know their relationships, you know their problems and you even know how they're going to resolve their problems. And that, for me is the best part about Sathyan Anthikkad movies, and something which he has kept intact even after he started writing his own scripts, which are no match to the ones which he had been directing until then, written by other writers. Even though there are constant complaints about him not experimenting and is sticking to his same old formula, same old characters and actors, he knows what he is doing and he does it well. Unlike other brilliant directors from his period who've tried to experiment with new themes & borrowed story ideas and failed miserably. He is the only one who still has a guarantee of success every year when he comes out with his own kind of cinema, which has become a brand of sorts. And when Mohanlal returns in a light-hearted role with Sathyan Anthikkad in such a film, there is nothing more you can ask for. 

The plot is nothing new, and is very simplistic. Ajayan (Mohanlal) has been living with his mother with his daily dose of nostalgia in his village after toiling for years in Madras, Bombay and the Gulf to make money. He doesnt want to get married because he wants to spend the rest of his life looking after his loving mother Ammukkutti Amma (Sheela). But Ajayan's life and repute in the village goes for a toss when Karthik (Rahul Pillai) lands up in his house claiming to be his son. Snehaveedu tracks Ajayan's journey to prove that Karthik is not his son, while Karthik forms a rather strong bond with Ammukkutti Amma. Now that reminds a lot of Priyadarshan's Minnaram, but his friend Sathyan Anthikkad doesnt go there at all, even though the plots are slightly similar. 

The plot unfolds at its own pace with a lot of montages accompanied by Raja Sir's familiar but soothing background score, and has an end which may look unconvincing to many, but is perhaps the only way this story could have ended. You've seen everything in this movie earlier in a Sathyan Anthikkad village - the gorgeous locations full of greenery, achappams, kuzhalappams and different kinds of food, the host of goody good villagers including Innocent, KPAC Lalitha, Mamukkoya and party, cottage industries, Raja Sir's familiar music, a sub plot revolving around a family belonging to a different religion other than the main family, a Tamil connection, the same names in the credits, and most importantly, something which we loved to see in his 80s & 90s movies - a wonderful Lalettan in an unbeatable form, making you love every second of his screen time. All these familiar things made me feel like I was going back home, to my family. Why shouldnt I love this film then? I didnt go in expecting new generation cinema or a high intensity drama. This was exactly what I expected from the movie and I got that completely. In fact, watching Mohanlal alone was the worth the price of my ticket. And of course, the new additions to the Sathyan Anthikkad village - the talented lot of Biju Menon, Lena, Padmapriya, Sasi Kalinga and of course, the young Rahul Pillai made a wonderful impression as well. The dialogues laced with humour are perhaps the best dialogues Sathyan Anthikkad has written since he began writing. And I particularly loved the way how he weaved in references to his own films (along with Mohanlal) into the dialogue. 

And the most important reason to love this film is this man called Mohanlal. In this movie, it is not the Mohanlal of today who had become slightly distant from his audience due to certain choice of movies, it is the Lalettan we all love and we all relate to, the Lalettan who goes 'Uyyo' whenever he's in trouble, the Lalettan with his innocent and embarrassed smiles and expressions. I can go on and on. He plays the chubby, lazy, gulf returnee who lives life with his daily dose of nostalgia and takes the audience on a nostalgic trip reminding us of the wonderful roles and moments he created along with Sathyan Anthikkad. There is this mind blowing scene where Mohanlal explains his escapades with women in Chennai to his group of friends. Me, sitting in an almost empty theatre in Mumbai couldnt resist myself from getting up from my seat and clapping loudly. (How I wish I saw that scene along with the audience in Kerala!). Thanks to Sathyan Anthikkad for bringing the innocence back to him, which is the most relishing thing for a fan after having to endure him doing a bad comic performance in a horrible movie like China Town. It is also the result of the amazing rapport he shares with his friend and director, that he can be at such ease while doing such a simple role and charm us completely. 

Sheela is radiant and lovely as Ammukkutti Amma. After a graceful and memorable performance in Manassinakkare, she is wonderful in this movie and her chemistry with both Mohanlal and the young Rahul Pillai is great. Newcomer Rahul Pillai looks and acts like a young Dhanush, as referred to in the film itself and is a very good find. Padmapriya who has toned down a lot, looked gorgeous and did well as usual in the short role that was given to her. Biju Menon, joining the Sathyan Anthikkad camp for the first time, was a complete natural and it looks like he will be a regular in Anthikkad films from now on. Lena is growing into a very dependable actress with her performances in Traffic and now Snehaveedu. And it goes without saying that Malayalam Cinema's golden couple, Innocent and KPAC Lalitha are brilliant. Chembil Ashokan, Sasi Kalinga and Tamil actor Appukkutty are good in their roles. The girl Arundhathi who played Innocent's daughter looks like a cute younger version of Nithya Menen. Even the dog is quite impressive. 

Venu's camera captures the beauty of Palakkad in every frame, which has now become a regular thing in Sathyan Anthikkad movies. Ilaiyaraaja's music, even while sounding familiar, is wonderful, especially the song 'Amrithamay, Abhayamay'. Contrary to his usual style, he has used a lot of silence in his background score this time around. One never gets to feel the presence of an editor in Sathyan Anthikkad movies as shots, scenes and sequences flow so smoothly and that is K Rajagopal's success.

Yes, the movie has a lot of flaws. But the wonderful humour, warm relationships and great acting cover up for almost 90% of the flaws. The ending might not be acceptable to many people in the audience, but Sathyan Anthikkad movies were never about how good his climax portions were. It is the journey till there which is always good. In this industry where watching 80% of the commercial movies makes you cringe, Sathyan Anthikkad makes sure that you have a good trip back to familiar people and places. He doesnt make any high claims about his movies and he sticks to whatever he knows to do best. Yes, we can still hope he joins hands with good writers to take his films to the next level, but this level aint bad either. I may not remember this movie for a long time, but whenever I watch it, I would have a great time.(As the dialogue goes, 'Then kudikkunnu, parakkunnu, paraaganam!') And three cheers to the director for making the general public go back to addressing Mohanlal as their Lalettan all over again. :) 

Bottomline - Watch it for Mohanlal in superb form, and that lovely feeling of the familiarity of it all. 

Friday, October 7

Adaminte Makan Abu is poignant.

Movie - Adaminte Makan Abu (Malayalam)
Director - Salim Ahamed
Producers - Salim Ahamed, Ashraf Bedi
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - Salim Ahamed
Cast - Salimkumar, Zarina Wahab, Mukesh, Nedumudi Venu, Suraaj Venjarammoodu, Kalabhavan Mani, Thambi Antony, Gopakumar
Music - Ramesh Narayanan
Cinematography - Madhu Ambat ISC
Background Score - Issac Thomas Kottukappally
Editor - Vijai Shankar
Release Date - 24th June 2011

A movie which came from nowhere and swept National and State awards this year and now, it is the country's official entry for the Academy Awards of 2012. Naturally the curiosity about this small film all over the country became quite high. And for Malayalis, it was even more shocking when Salimkumar, an actor underestimated as just a slapstick comedian suddenly won a National Award for Best Actor, something which we expect Mohanlal or Mammootty to win every year, for this film nobody had ever heard of, before the National Awards. I missed watching this wonderful movie during its very short theatrical run in Kerala and was finally able to catch it on DVD after the DVD released last week. As I watched it, all my speculations about it being just another pseudo-art movie or as many critics would call it, poverty porn were proven wrong by the simple and beautiful film Salim Ahamed has made as his first movie. 

The premise of the movie is extremely simple - Abu (Salimkumar), an Atthar merchant wishes to achieve his lifetime dream of going on the Hajj pilgrimage along with his dear wife Isu (Zarina Wahab) suffering extreme financial difficulties and health issues believing in his faith and principles till the very end. Now, turning this simple story which could have easily made for a 20 minute short film into a 100 minute feature film, which is extremely engaging is not an easy task. Salim Ahamed, with no background in filmmaking achieves what many filmmakers in our industry have been failing to do. Telling an original story in its most deserving fashion through an organic and engaging narrative without falling into the traps of commercialization, cliches or melodrama. 

Salim captures the goodness, hope, faith and devotion of his protagonist Abu beautifully through his film. The character of Abu is one of the strongest we have come across in Malayalam Cinema recently. Never does he back out from his single, most important goal in life and consistently struggles to reach there, with his faith and ideals intact. The other characters in the village may come out as too idealistic as all of them are goody-goody and well-wishers of Abu, with not a tinge of negativity in them, but given the milieu and the tone of the story, they turn out to be believable as the narrative progresses. And Abu's journey was never against any external antagonist. He had to complete his journey himself, on his own grounds, with just his wife along with him. This, according to me was the unique aspect in this film. The estranged relationship of the couple with their son, whom we never see on screen has also been brought out effectively. We, the audience, smartly predict what all troubles Abu would be facing right from the point the plot is established, but Salim Ahamed cleverly avoids all those cliches and gives us a different experience through the wonderful character called Abu. Having worked in the Akbar Travels firm, he uses the institution very well in his narrative, giving it ample promotion as well as taking the story forward with its help - a perfect example of product placement done well. The film progresses in a slow and steady pace, but neither does it bore you at any point, nor does it turn into one of those slow and boring arthouse films, and really comes into its own towards the climax and proceeds to a poetic and poignant end, leaving a smile on our faces. 

Coming to the performances, Salimkumar has nailed it as the frail and old Abu. It is hard to believe that it is the same man who has been doing to anything to make his audience laugh over the years, from delivering classic one-liners to jumping into cow dung pits; coming up with such a glorious performance. Never do we see the Salimkumar whom we are all used to seeing, in this film. He has transformed into Abu completely, so much so that, the North Indian friends who watched the movie along with me believed that he was actually an old man in his 70s. (Credit to Pattanam Rasheed for his make up as well). [I had to show them a clip of his hilarious Michael Jackson act from Chathikkaatha Chanthu to make them believe that Salimkumar was a much younger comedian]. The actor had proved his mettle some years back in Lal Jose's Achanurangaatha Veedu, but his performance in Adaminte Makan Abu is leagues ahead of his first foray into serious cinema. The scenes with Kalabhavan Mani and Mukesh towards the climax and the scene where he faints in the bus are all beautifully performed by our beloved Salimettan. Also it would be unfair if I do not mention the subtle touches he gives every now and then, like the slight bewilderment when he gets clicked for a passport photo. 

Zarina Wahab as the ever-smiling pillar of support for Abu, is wonderful. The positive energy of her character wonderfully comes out through her performance. There is some wonderful chemistry between the actress and her screen husband Salimkumar which gives rise to lovely moments like the one where they're admiring each other's photos in their newly received passports. Mukesh as Ashraf, the travel agent who goes out of his way to help out the couple is believable and genuine. Kalabhavan Mani in a short cameo is effective. Nedumudi Venu is as usual, brilliant even though he is cast in a miniscule role. The only thing which sticks out as a sore thumb among the performances is that of Suraaj Venjarammoodu. His attempt to do something serious, especially in the scenes after the death of the 'Ustad' character, looked very caricaturish, and spoilt the mood of the film whenever he appeared. Thambi Antony appears in silhouette shots as the mystic character Ustad. Except for Suraaj, Salim Ahamed's casting desicions are bang on and could not have been better. 

Salim Ahamed shows the traits of a seasoned storyteller in his very first movie itself. The metaphor of the jackfruit tree as their son comes out beautifully. The only part where he falters a bit is the portion revolving around the mystic character called Ustad. That bit wasnt actually necessary to the movie and does not add anything further other than an element of mysticism. 

Madhu Ambat, one of the country's finest cinematographers lending support to such a small film is indeed a reassurance for good, indpendent cinema. He has shot the film digitally and the results are extremely good, except for some rare occasions where you feel it would've been better had it been shot on film. His work in the film won the Best Cinematography National Award, a first for any feature film to be shot in the digital format in the country. Ramesh Narayanan's songs are good, except for one song 'Mutholakkunnathe' which is placed a little oddly in the film. The song by Hariharan, 'Kinavinte Minarathil' is beautiful. Issac Thomas Kottukappally plays with subtle music and silence in his background score for the movie, which won him a National Award. Vijai Shankar makes sure that the film flows seamlessly through his editing. 

We do not know if the film will make it to the final nominations list at the Academy Awards, but that does not take away anything from the film. Like its protagonist Abu, the film is sincere, genuine and heartwarming. There is this strong positive energy and feeling of hope which is extremely difficult to ignore while you watch the film. Salim Ahamed shows great promise as a sensitive storyteller and filmmaker and it will be interesting what he has to offer us next. Salimkumar is back to doing his regular comedy roles, after being declared the best actor in this country, which shows his simplicity. But one really hopes that the actor in him gets challenged in more such roles rather than being wasted in terrible roles in films like Tejabhai & Family, etc. Adaminte Makan Abu leaves you with hope, positive energy and a feeling to revisit our goals and deeds to see if they were right, after all. Lets hope this small, genuine, heartwarming and poignant film goes on to receive much more awards and accolades and do Malayalam Cinema proud. 

Bottomline - Poignancy through simplicity. Must watch!!