Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Oscar Wishlist 2015

After the debacle of 2014, I have decided I will not be boastful about my predictions. This year, I humbly give wishlist for the Oscars. (These are the nominees I hope will win this Sunday, not the ones I think will win) (I don't think I can make this any clearer) (NOT predictions, wishes)

Best Picture - Birdman; Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers

Director- Boyhood; Richard Linklater

Actor - Eddie Redmayne;  The Theory of Everything

Supporting Actor - J.K. Simmons; Whiplash

Actress - Rosamund Pike;Gone Girl

Supporting Actress - Patricia Arquette; Boyhood

Animated Feature - How to Train Your Dragon 2; Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold

Adapted Screenplay – Whiplash; Damien Chazelle

Original Screenplay – Boyhood; Richard Linklater

Cinematography – Birdman; Emmanuel Lubezki

Costume Design - The Grand Budapest Hotel; Milena Canonero

Film Editing – Boyhood; Sandra Adair

Foreign Language Film – Leviathan, Russia

Makeup and Hairstyling - The Grand Budapest Hotel; Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier

Original Score - The Grand Budapest Hotel; Alexandre Desplat

Original Song - Lost Stars; Begin Again (Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois)

Production Design - The Grand Budapest Hotel; (Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock)

Sound Editing – Birdman; Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock

Sound Mixing – Whiplash; Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Visual Effects – Interstellar; Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher

*I have not included some categories like short live action film, short documentary, short animation and a few others for a lack of knowledge about the nominees.

**The only prediction I am willing to make is Neil Patrick Harris making a '12 Years A Slave' joke about Linklater's Boyhood

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Like dipping your feet in the shallow end and taking the temperature of the water, the first viewing of Haider is simply meant to take all the Shakespeare out of your system. The second viewing, in the wake of an unfounded wave of nationalist protests demanding to #boycottHaider, gets a whole new meaning.

The film begins with a doctor, fulfilling his duty towards humanity by operating a militant just like any other patient, being ratted out and detained for being an accomplice. His house is set on fire, and his wife is a mute spectator as he is taken away by the authorities, only to disappear later. The sequence that precedes this one, is of the doctor leaving home holding an identity card and joining a line of hundreds of locals that walk, under supervision of armed guards, to part-take in a drill to identify the accomplice. The only time we have seen such a visual is when films are portraying the anti-Semitic regime rounding up the Jews in Nazi Germany. And no, we did not expect something of that nature to happen to citizens of our nation.

The doctor is Haider’s father. He returns to his village and is detained for referring to his home town by its alternate name – Islamabad. His girlfriend comes to his aid, rescues him and drives him home. On their way, she explains how she negotiated with the officer and describes Haider as “woh militant nahi, poet hai…” This line is a part of a large dialogue and comes and goes like a silent whisper. But, thereon, it echoes throughout the film. She means to say that Haider does not pose any danger as he is only a poet. The question to be asked is, could Vishal Bhardwaj have elucidated it more elaborately that when tortured, a poet can be far more lethal and dangerous than a militant. Haider himself knows, from having researched on the revolutionary poets of British India – be it Bismil or Faiz, that the poets were the most dangerous minds of that era. If only it were that simple for us to comprehend.

After learning that his father was taken into custody by the army before he disappeared, Haider makes it his life’s mission to find his father no matter which prison he is held captive in. And in a conversation with the two Salmans, he casually remarks that “poora Kashmir ek qaidkhaana hai.” Nobody is free here. A scene with a befuddled Kashmiri standing outside his own house, unwilling to enter without being frisked, further emphasises Haider’s remark. He speaks of how the AFSPA, a tool to facilitate the safeguarding of the people had turned on them, with the army abducting the smallest of suspects dumping them into our lite-versions of Guantanamo Bay and torturing them. Chutzpah, a Hebrew word, illustrates the politics of double standards and highlights how the Kashmiris have been left hanging between a hard place and a harder place.

“The nationalists having a problem with the film’s portrayal of the armed forces is justified,” is something someone who hasn’t watched the movie would say. In a region of perennial unrest since 1948, vengeance has been the emotion that is as common as snow in its winter. The oppressed take up arms for freedom, and the two oppressors, as it were, have arms for the sake of safety and counter attack. There are militants and armies of two nations fighting in Kashmir since the birth of the nations. On ground zero, it stops being a political issue. A father disappears, a mother is raped – a child picks up a gun. Similarly with the army, the law and order aside, if a man who you share a bunker with, who wears the same uniform do, who is the only friend you made since your posting in Kashmir from some other part of India is killed – the first thing on your mind will not be mother nation and national pride, it will be revenge for a fallen brother. And Haider’s fault is that it shows it. The commanding officer who orders the RPG strike on the doctor’s house mouths “no militant dead or alive is worth the life of my soldier.” Nowhere does he say “kill that terrorist for ruining the peace in my beautiful country.”

Haider, disillusioned by all this and more, loses his mind, and so do we. With every passing scene, the film makes you uncomfortable as you find all this is happening too close to home. The gunshots fired in Kashmir can now be heard from your bedroom window. You don’t like it. You regress into thinking that the film is about Shakespeare’s Hamlet. You want to re-focus your mind to thinking about how this is a story about one man’s revenge. How this is about a story about family, deceit and bringing peace to the dead one. How it’s about a son and his overly attached mother coming to terms with life without the father. But Haider doesn’t let you do that. It feeds you a large spoonful of Shakespearean tragedy and before you gulp it down, stuffs into your mouth another spoonful of a national issue which has either been neglected or portrayed trivially even in the finest of our films (read Roja).

And that is Haider’s fault. It is the film’s fault that you cannot separate Hamlet from Kashmir anymore. It is the film’s fault that it tries to show “Jhelum laal laal hua” to a people who have convinced themselves that “aaj blue hai paani paani” and, it is the film’s fault that the people are who blinded by the “sunny sunny sunny din” completely overlook Faiz’ “laajim hai ke hum bhi dekhein, woh din ke jiska waada tha…”

Whether bad films create bad audience or whether bad films are created because there is bad audience is an endless conundrum. But one thing is for sure, we are a bad audience. We do not like politics in politics alone, how could we be okay with it showing up in our films. Nowhere in our collective idea of entertainment does an honest political drama have a place. Therefore it is necessary to #boycotthaider

The song 'Bismil', which was a revelation in the second viewing, when taken out of context of the plot of the film, has a hidden message - a plea. The people of Kashmir in particular and the people of India in general, are the bulbul-e-bismil, who are innocent and naïve. The gul refers to our first Prime Minister and “khushboo-e-gul mein ishq bharaa tha” refer to the promises that were made to J&K by the government of India – promises that weren’t quite fulfilled. So on and so forth.  “Khushboo-e-gul mein zeher bhara hai” is the warning and the final plea to the people is to come to their senses and see what is happening, which the film so eloquently showcases. Hosh mein aaja, hosh mein aaja, ae bulbul-e-bismil.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Firing Blanks

Film: Bang Bang
Director: Siddharth Anand

Siddharth Anand’s Bang Bang is apparently an official remake of Knight & Day. Pause.

In comparison, it is terribly under-funded and has watered down the plot further for Indian audience. Pause.
Katrina Kaif. Pause.

Hritik Roshan, in his close-ups, makes that face all guys make while playing video games while his body double and or poorly executed special effects do the work for him. Pause.

Danny Denzogpa is the antagonist. And everytime he is on screen you keep thinking why they couldn’t get him for Agneepath. Pause.

You could have stopped reading this after the first pause. Or before that. Pause.

If you want to read further you will be disappointed because factoring in the 150 odd minutes it requires to watch the film, spending any more time over it would make it difficult to look at yourself in the mirror. Period. 

Rating: 7 bananas out of 5 stars

Transcending Shakespeare

Film: Haider
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity suggests that time is relative; contrary to the common understanding that time follows a strict linear path – the one we confine it to for the sake of functionality on a day to day basis. But after Maqbool, Omkara and now Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj has proved that he collaborated with this one guy called William Shakespeare, who was born roughly half a millennium before him.

Haider is unrelenting - not the character, the film. Its honesty and courage are only surpassed by its aesthetics. It leaves you dumbfounded with its treatment, overwhelmed by its subject and makes you fall in love, with a story you have loved since the first time you heard it, all over again. It is brave, flambuoyant and intricate, just like its director.

Much has been spoken about Bhardwaj’s karmic connection with Gulzar with every single time they work together. But when it comes to the people he works frequently with, Shakespeare is a close second. With Maqbool which was an adaptation of Macbeth, Omkara which was based on Othello and now Haider based on Hamlet, the director’s appreciation of human history’s most inspiring literary works is absolutely fascinating. Like his previous two adaptations, Haider, which completes the trilogy, too, showcases Bhardwaj’s ability to take Shakespeare’s idiom and internalize it in a setting so rooted that the line between the text and the film becomes imaginary.

Which gets us to Kashmir, where the film is set beginning it’s tale in the year 1995. Haider, a university student returns home from Aligarh after his father has disappeared after being framed for working with militants. On his return, he finds that his mother is too close to his uncle for his liking. He decides to search for his missing father along with many disgruntled Kashmiris, who are looking in vain too. He then finds out that his father has been murdered and pledges vengeance. Well, you know how it goes.

However, where Bhardwaj triumphs, is in presenting an agonizing saga of the lives of many who existed for many Indians only in news bites. The film touches upon the political dynamics, gives a holistic view on the role of armed forces in the region, enlightens you with the causal need for and the horrific consequences of AFSPA 1958 (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), provides various perspectives on the Kashmiri people’s perception of nationhood, freedom, oppression and it does so while, on the surface, playing out a Shakespearean tragedy.

Kashmir’s contribution to Haider is not limited to its socio-political unrest, but it also provides as an excellent setting. The damp, wet winter and the dead-white snow painted with blood tells the story of how things have gone wrong in what was once referred to as the heaven on earth. At the same time, the same setting provides a cool, cozy hideout for Haider and his lover Arshia and show that there is still warmth in the cold wreckage and a little hope in the heart.

It is often said that literature constitutes a large part of cinematic story-telling and contributes a lot to cinema. However, Haider’s dialogues and lyrics are so meaningfully crafted and precisely executed that they could be a great piece of literature by themselves. Gulzar’s “Aao Na”, Vishal Bhardwaj’s “dil ki gar sunoon to hai dimaag ki to hai nahi jaan loon ke jaan doon main rahoon ke main nahi” (on Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be”) and Faiz’ “Gulon mein rang bhare” (which you can hear playing on a transistor in the voice of Mehdi Hassan) make you feel immense gratitude towards your ancestors who thought language would be a good idea.

Amidst this intense drama, Bhardwaj reserves his moments to, in some way, leave a director’s watermark on the film. Right from a subtle reference like Khurram (Haider’s uncle) saying “370 saal se guzaarish kar rahe hain…” to Ghazala (Haider’s mother) to (there couldn’t be a better way to explain this) trolling Salman Khan, he throws punches at you which hit you only if you are in its path.

Of the many departments of the film that deserve individual standing ovations, casting is one. From the extras of little significance to the protagonist, Haider is one of the few Hindi films that get it flawlessly right. Tabu has given one of her finest performances as Ghazala, portraying her with immense vulnerability. Kay Kay Menon as Khurram is tenacious and comes close to having the same effect as his character in Anurag Kashyap’s Gulaal. Shraddha Kapoor’s Arshia exceeds expectations with her heavy emphasis on some English words, but beyond that, she fails to make the most of a golden opportunity.

Shahid Kapoor, on the other hand, is not the Shahid Kapoor we have seen for a decade or more now. He slides into his character and gets comfortable over the first half of the film and as the second half warms up, he takes center-stage and owns it. His disturbed tirade at a square in the city, his description of ‘Chutzpah’ (a word, if you have not heard before, that will change your perspective on things a little) and his “mai rahoon ke mai nahi” monologue are examples of how you get it right. His dialogues, postures, gestures will leave you with some unforgettable images.

In its entirety, Haider has crossed many a boundaries to become something big and powerful. It is bigger than the characters’ tragedy, it is bigger than the condition in Kashmir, and if you can fathom it, it takes Hamlet’s central theme of vengeance and goes beyond it. Haider humbly transcends Shakespeare and stands before us as a cultural mammoth that will be remembered for many years.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Friday, September 12, 2014

Three weddings and four funerals

Film: Finding Fanny
Director: Homi Adajania

It is said that a film can change your day, your mind or your life; and Homi Adajania’s Finding Fanny is a strange little tale that, if nothing else, will make your day. The director’s third, this film unfolds comfortably around you and makes you live its story while it is happening to its characters.

The film opens with a first person narration by Angie (Deepika Padukone) who leads us into a quiet village called Pocolim in Goa, where Ferdinand Pinto (the post-master of that village, played by Naseeruddin Shah) receives a letter he had sent 46 years ago – a letter expressing his love for Stephanie ‘Fanny’ Fernandes. For those of among you who are immune to irony, read the previous statement again.

Pocolim is a small village, and as Savio da Gama (Arjun Kapoor) promptly states in a scene, “Here, everyone’s business is everyone else’s business.” Angie is a widow, having lost her husband Gabo (played sportingly by Ranveer Singh who lights up his 15 seconds on screen with as much joie-de-vivre as he does in that Ranveer Ching song) on their wedding day. Oh, let it be mentioned that he dies due to choking on the figurines atop the wedding cake. If the irony in the film was not clear to you with the postmaster’s mail not being delivered, here’s your second chance.


Angie’s mother-in-law, Rosalina ‘Rosie’ Eucharistica (Dimple Kapadia) is a woman of repute and a control freak. Now, add to this mix a renowned painter (Dom Pedro played by Pankaj Kapur) with a fetish for big women, and you have a melting pot of quirkiness.

Here’s a legend to help you link the five characters quickly. Angie, a widow, wants to help Ferdinand find Fanny, using Dom Pedro’s car, which he bought from Savio. She convinces Dom Pedro to lend the car by allowing him to spend some more time with his muse and her mother-in-law – Rosie. And since none of this sorry lot can drive a car, Savio, Angie’s old flame, is compelled to do so. Also in the car - Rosie’s cat.

There you have it, an unlikely group on an unlikely mission to find love. The only thing common between all of them is longing and the quintessential need for love. The outcome of this crazy road trip is quite predictable, however, this predictability does not stem out of you having out-witted the writer and the maker, but instead out of hope. The film does to the characters what you wish to be done unto them.

The humor of Finding Fanny is its situations, more than its words, which means irrespective of whether you watch it in Hindi or English, you will have laughed at the same instances. Most of this aforementioned humor is embedded in irony and unless you watch closely, you may miss out on certain jokes that have been painstakingly constructed within the narrative. However, it must be said that the writers have caught the right vein in writing the dialogues for the English version of the film. “Waiting for Christmas or what?”, “Why means what?”, “I think there’s a robber outside!”, are the dialogues that seem like a part of the setting. One simply cannot pull off writing Hindi dialogues for a Goan character without ridiculing the Goan or Hindi or both.

The setting plays a very important role in the story. First and foremost, these characters could not exist outside the realm of Goa – the perfect blend of eccentric, compassionate, loving, comical, simple-minded and otherwise content folk. Secondly, it sets up a great backdrop for a journey, especially those where you end up finding something completely different than what you set out to look for. To top it off, Anil Mehta’s camera has managed to capture some splendid landscapes of a vintage car easing through the twirls and swirls of exotic locations.

The ensemble cast further outline the caricatures of their characters. Naseeruddin Shah is underwhelming, albeit sweet, as Ferdinand. Pankaj Kapur as Dom Pedro is sincere and does no more than is asked. As for Dimple Kapadia, this is perhaps one of her career best performances and emphatically stands out among the group. Arjun Kapoor as a disgruntled lover is bearable but can do much better. And Deepika, whose character is a personification of The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, is simply adorable.

You love the characters, care for them and you feel the same way about life as they do. And somewhere in the first half hour, the story doesn’t matter anymore. You simply take a seat in the car with and try to find Fanny. Aren’t all our lives simply a search for the proverbial Fanny? (Pun intended, totally. Just like in the title.) A gamble, a venture in the dark, a chance…all of it built on hope. And amidsty its three weddings and four funerals, if there is one thing Finding Fanny does, is tell you that you are not alone in your search, it is with you.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Friday, September 5, 2014

Punching thin air

Film: Mary Kom

Director: Omung Kumar

If you walk into this Omung Kumar film with the expectation of being blown away by India’s most celebrated south-paw, you are in for a surprise. You do get punched after watching Mary Kom, however, it is not by of the inspiring story of MC Mary Kom, but by a glove filled with melodrama, unnecessary sympathy, in-your-face patriotism, untimely product placements and what feels like a bag of loose change.

The film begins with a little girl picking up a boxing glove from a wreckage and ends with her winning the world championship for the fourth time; between which, she faces opposition from within the community, fights corruption from within the association and all that comes with being an athlete, and a woman at that. The film journey’s through her life as the eldest daughter of a rice farmer to a national champion to being a wife, a mother and a world champion.

Frankly, there couldn’t be a better story to tell, and the failure here lies with the storytellers who simply glance through the important milestones and stitch those moments with melodramatic overtones. The screenplay is haphazardly strung together and there are moments in the second half where you are left disinterested as Mary oscillates between training and looking after her children.

The supporting elements to the narrative too fail to integrate and bind it into one compound and there are always little shots of melodrama to distract you from thinking how a lot of issues are being omitted. Right from the trivialization of the rebellion in Manipur to a caricatured portrayal of corruption in the system, the film overlooks many a fundamental problems. Be it the long scene where Mary is made to apologise for her outburst to the federation or the causal outburst where she, with no prior hints at the issue starts screaming that the federation is being prejudiced against her for being a Manipuri.

That apart, comparison to other boxing films would come automatically; however, that only weakens the case for Mary Kom. The moment you start thinking Million Dollar Baby or Raging Bull or Rocky (if you are into that), you realise how poorly shot it is. The scene where she picks a fight with a boy, or the montages of her training just highlight how uninspired and non-committal the film is.

There was a huge outcry about Priyanka Chopra playing the lead in the film, but after having watched the film, that criticism can finally be validated. Priyanka as Mary Kom is as poor a casting as it would be to cast Mary Kom to play Priyanka Chopra in a biopic about her life. It is the equivalent of Zack Galifianakis portraying the Mahatma in Attenborough’s Gandhi. The other characters in the film are too uni-dimensional, be it the no-nonsense coach, the skeptical father, the supportive husband, the spiteful federation representative and the fierce German nemesis.

The mushy background score, the perennially weepy protagonist and the patronizing story make for a tableau of sympathy-seeking story, which makes the treatment of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag seem neo-real. It is high time we stopped spoon-feeding emotions to our audience and leave it to them to appreciate the beauty of a life well lived. Mary Kom the person, Mary Kom the persona, and Mary Kom the phenomenon, are all let down. We are sorry magnificent Mary, we owe you a film.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A well-done rant on commitment

Film: Shuddh Desi Romance

Director: Maneesh Sharma

The title, Shuddh Desi Romance; and the fact that the 27 kisses in the film have been overtly publicized might trick you into believing that this is some kind of a gooey, romantic film. However, Maneesh Sharma surprises yet again by bringing something new to the table, with a subject that has been beaten to death by our very own Hindi film industry - commitment.

Raghu (Sushant) has cold feet before his marriage to Tara (Vaani) and his doubts strengthen as he meets Gayatri (Parineeti) on the baarati bus. He runs away from the marriage and then falls in love with Gayatri. However, the two confused lovers have their own trust issues and face similar problems as they plan to get married. A series of coincidences follow which see the tables turn, and exposes the flaws in every character.

A decent screenplay, apt background score and visuals to match the mood, make Shuddh Desi Romance a great product. Contemporary dialogues that gel with the setting make the overall experience more authentic. The film instantly establishes a connect with the audience, thanks to the main characters breaking the fourth wall ,time and again, and addressing the audience directly.

The chemistry between the couples is a little iffy, but forgivable. Vaani Kapoor puts up a good performance on her debut and Sushant picks up from where he left in Kai Po Che. Parineeti's character is well within her comfort zone and she pulls it off pretty well, making her actions look seamless and habitual (even smoking).

The real hero of this film, however, is Rishi Kapoor, who plays Tauji, a local businessman who provides everything from catering, to bands to hired baraatis for weddings. Surprising the audience yet again with a different role, Tauji is the innocent bystander as the three leads bring the place down.

Addressing issues like the fleeting nature of today's young mindset, the film indirectly touches upon a lot of adjacent problems like fear of commitment, indecisiveness and a general sense of immaturity when it comes to handling relationships.

Maneesh Sharma's film is a sad commentary on today's youth and their construct of romance. However, Shuddh Desi Romance does not restrict itself to commentary, and dodges the bullet of becoming too preachy. It shows a really beautiful mirror, lined with pink confetti and bokeh, which shows what the lesser-photogenic couples do in contemporary urban India.

Nothing new in its philosophy, but the ease with which the film puts forth its point without losing its humour is noteworthy. If a Hindi film is what you want to watch this week, this is the one. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Published in DNA (Pune) on September 7, 2013 

Carnival of 'Rust'

Film: Zanjeer

Director: Apoorva Lakhia

Prakash Mehra's Zanjeer (which was made in a much simpler time when it was acceptable to see an angry young man take on an army of goons), charted a path for Amitabh as the angry young man, gave Pran yet another unforgettable role as Sher Khan and was laden with heavy duty dialogues and story of the hit duo Salim-Javed. Apoorva Lakhia's re-make, starring Ram Charan, is simply a loud, confused tale, oscillating between the genre of the angry young man and the new-age Dabangg sensibility.

The adapted screenplay, written by Suresh Nair and the director himself, doesn't deviate much from the plot structure of the original, save for setting the film in contemporary times (something that the re-hashers of Agneepath did not do). The protagonist, Vijay Khanna, who is tormented by the same dream of a masked murderer on a horse, kicks the chair and says “yeh police station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahi. Jab tak baithne ke liye kaha na jaye, chup chap khade raho” and has the swagger of a young man whose blood is boiling. However, this, and many more parallels that are subconsciously made by everyone who has seen the original, make Lakhia's film look like a cheap imitation.

Prakash Raj, who re-creates Ajit's character on screen, is reduced to a comic relief element for almost the entire first half. His opening scene, which shows him slit a man's throat after a house-servant whispers “Sir, gaddaar Shaun hai” in his ears, makes him appear more amusing than intimidating. Majority of his scenes are laden with unnecessary sexual overtones and see him reduced to a joke. Similarly, Mahie Gill, who plays Mona, is a colossal waste of a talented actor, as she moans and grunts her way through dialogues that add absolutely no substance to the film.

The only plus point of the film is Ram Charan's physique, which for the first time, allows the angry young man to take off his shirt and not look like a malnourished child from Sudan (apologies to AB of 40 years ago). Priyanka Chopra too is reduced to a good looking girl, who is just a narrative tool for a few moments of romance and intimacy.

The lesser said about Sanjay Dutt's Sher Khan, the better. Comparison with Pran is a sin we aren't willing to commit. But getting to re-live those lines itself would have been a good experience, had Dutt not spoiled it with his monotony.

Having made this film when police officer protagonists are selling like hot cakes, Zanjeer struggles to find its identity as whether it wanted to be a re-creation of the seventies' sentiment or a remix, which incorporated the story in today's age of Singham and Chulbul Pandey.

The film doesn't actively bore you, but leaves you with nothing to cherish. And if by the end of the first half, you're still not sure if this is a remake, Mahie Gill says to Prakash Raj, while watching Ajit and Bindu in the original Zanjeer, “Tumhari personality kitni milti julti hai.” Well, you decide.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Published in DNA (Pune) on September 7, 2013


Film: Percy Jackson - Sea of Monsters

Director: Thor Freudenthal

Having long given up on the wish to see a good cinematic adaptation of a series of books, it is now easy to enter the cinema hall expecting to be letdown. Sadly, Thor Freudenthal's Percy Jackson - Sea of Monsters is simply an addition to yet another god-awful book adaptation of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series.

On a conceptual level, which is the inheritance of the novel, it seems like such an exciting prospect that the protagonist is an offspring of an Olympian god. Like Hercules, but contemporary. But if this film and its prequel, Percy Jackson - The Lightning Thief, are to be believed, life as a demi-god in the modern setting is duller than the life of a balloon salesman on FC Road.

Picking up from where the prequel left us, the film gives a back story to the shield that protects the half-blood camp. A flashback, shows us how Talia, the daughter of Zeus, sacrificed herself to save three others. Zeus then gave her life in the form of a tree which marked the boundary of safety for the half-blood kids. But our lightning thief returns, breaches the wall and thus begins Percy's next great adventure, the search for the Golden Fleece that has the power to save lives.

A few tedious references to Greek mythology apart, the film lacks humour, compassion and a general ability to keep you engaged for 100 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, which have you convinced that nothing good can happen in the film, you conveniently disengage yourself from the screen and argue with yourself as to which character is the lamest. Unfortunately, the film isn't long enough for you to conclude that debate satisfactorily.

The one thing you deserve out of every film which makes you wear those bulky 3D glasses, is some quality visuals. Alright, make a lousy film, but atleast give the viewers half-a-dozen moments where they live the movie. But no, the imagery is largely derivative and intriguing on no level. The biggest monster of the film titled 'sea of monsters', immediately reminds you of the Kraken from Pirates of the Caribbean. At that point, you know that the makers too want you to think of other things, and not watch this unimaginativeness.

You don't see Zeus, or Poseidon or Haedes in this one. You don't even see Pierce Brosnan in this one. The only god in the film, is the one overlooking you – Boris, the Greek god of Boredom. 

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 

Published in DNA (Pune) on August 31, 2013

A revolting experience

Film: Satyagraha

Director: Prakash Jha

Satyagraha, Prakash Jha's recent endeavour to take up a socially relevant topic and make a film about it, raises the same question as his previous films Chakryavyuh and Aarakshan did. Why? An overburdening series of topical events woven haphazardly into a dramatic narrative, Satyagraha too trivializes a rather deep issue of revolution.

The charges against the film are similar to his previous films. Watering down the intensity for the masses, the film further dilutes its contexts with unnecessary item numbers and romantic scenarios. Set in a town called Ambikapur, somewhere in Central India, the film addresses the rampant corruption that exists in the system and how the people's representatives are detached from the common man himself.

Jha uses his technique of archetypal characters, each of whom stand for a section of society and takes the story forward. Amitabh Bachchan plays Dwarka Anand, an idealist, fondly referred to as Daduji. Ajay Devgan is Manav Raghavendra, an opportunist and the face of modern India. Kareena Kapoor plays Yasmin Ahmed, a tough spirited TV journalist and Arjun Rampal plays Arjun, a youth icon committed to becoming a leader. Manoj Bajpai, who plays Home Minister Balram Singh (the nemesis), is a personification of all the corrupt practices in politics.

After a half-decent build-up in the first half of the film, the film ends up being a victim of some rogue screenwriting. The satyagraha itself, falls on the backdrop of a series of political moves which turns this film into yet another Rajneeti without the obvious parallels to Mahabharat or The Godfather.

The multi-starrer film has some unintentional moments of irony. Amitabh's opening scene in the film sees him curse the officers of 'Alliance Power' a private company that provides electricity. And Ajay Devgan, who in Yuva fought the misgivings of the system by entering it, comes to that very conclusion at the end of this film, after all is lost.

With a loose narrative which doesn't engage you, the film fails on multiple levels. It fails to reflect the gravity of the situation; it fails to put forth the commandments of the philosophy of satyagraha (aside from a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the town's main circle and a fast-unto-death plot point) and it fails to create the atmosphere of urgency, by lingering on the unimportant scenes longer. Let alone the story, the setting of the film lacks cinematic singularity, which we more recently saw in Dibakar Bannerji's Shanghai.

The film has to be discarded primarily for its immature stance and secondly for it being titled Satyagraha. If someone wishes to watch this film to learn about the spirit of non-violent revolution, they'd gain more knowledge by simply looking up the word on Wikipedia. If films could change society instantly, this film would take us one step closer to being naive.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Published in DNA (Pune) on  August 31, 2013