Thursday, February 28, 2008

Movie Review: Sharaabi (Drunkard) (1984) (Hindi film)

Prakash Mehra and Manmohan Desai are the duo directors who most contributed to AB’s image in the early years and he is ever grateful to them. You wont find either PK and MD making movie classics. They made pure masala movies. And you just have to leave your brains aside when you see their movies. This movie is PM’s contribution to the growing of the legend that is Amitabh Bachchan.

So to turn to ‘Sharaabi’: AB is a soppy mess of a man who at 30-35 years of age (presumably) still yearns (in an overly sentimental way) for the love of his father (actor Pran) who is too busy acting the life of a businessman. And so the child turns to drink at the age of 10 or so, we are led to believe. Om Prakash stars as the ‘Munshi’ caretaker of the baby Big B who inexplicably allows (or is unable to stop) the child from turning to drink. So you find AB in an eternally inebriated tone through most of the movie.

But a little aside here on the character artiste Om Prakash. Many mimicry artistes would bless him since people such as him, Pran, AB himself, Utpal Dutt, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Nana Patekar have provided rich grist to the mill for these poor artistes. With each of them and their unique dialogue deliveries, voice modulation and idiosyncratic ways they provide a rich variety of Bolly-personalities. Nowadays in Bollywood however, each girl or boy is just a pitiable clone of the next girl/boy in line. Sad……

Jaya Prada, the South Indian beauty plays AB’s love interest. By now you would already have guessed the happenings in the movie. Well the father starts loving his son again, the son turns away from alcohol, AB’s love for JP is consummated……that’s about it really.

Surprisingly this movie works for me, works very well in fact. You could find fault with almost every aspect of film-making in this movie: the story, the dialogues, the music, the choreography, the editing, the direction…… name it. The crowning glory is watching the villain Ranjeet in drag on stage, dancing to the backdrop of the pyramids and Sphinx. It doesn’t get better than that. But then there are a lot of things that work delightfully well, as well.

It’s its overstylised nature that raises the movie from the depths of ordinariness to classicity. In going over the top it suddenly given an unexpected aerial view that delights. Supported by a very competent cast of Amitabh, Jaya Prada, Om Prakash, Pran the movie is a minor classic: for Bollywood at least. It’s a power-packed performance by AB. And the chemistry between JP and AB is as good as it gets.

I always feel that Hindi cinema tries to propagate those noble truths/ideals and feels the need to shout it loudly from the rooftops. Hence the tendency to go over the top. To be ‘gross’ as opposed to subtle. Those gentle ideals such as the unity of all religions, equality of man, honouring the elders, expressing your joy and sadness openly without embarrassment, not pandering to the ego, for the elders to keep aside their ego when dealing with youngsters, for the young to recognize the wisdom that comes with age, cultivation of the nobility of character, mothers who are the epitome of purity of thoughts and deeds…………etc.etc. And ‘Sharaabi’ in its own way propagates various such noble ideals.

A better writer/blogger might be able to convince someone better why this movie is a minor classic. But till such a time, take my word on it.

And so to turn to the other strong point of the movie: the music and the songs. The music director being Bappi Lahiri (he of the kitschy looks) the master of kitschy music.


  1. Accompanied by some kitschy lyrics, the songs and music makes a deadly combination. Watch ‘Mujhe Naulaka Manga De Re, O Saiya Diwane’ (Buy me a Naulakha (a type of ornament), O Besotted lover) sung with verve by Asha Bhosale. This song is the very kitschy standard image of Bollywood that any Westerner would carry. Watch it, it makes great entertainment. If nothing else watch it for Jaya Prada dancing in the clichéd courtesans dress, a standard fare of that era. Jaya Prada of whom Satyajit Ray (winner of the Lifetime Achievement Oscar award and the famous Bengali (‘art’) film maker) said she was the quintessential Indian beauty. Watch it for some wonderful dance moves (alas all of them go the way of the film extras) including the ladies in the background prancing with sitars. It’s a very moving experience; believe you me. But it is AB and JP who lend a strong integrity and credibility to the song. Any lesser actors and you would have had an unremarkable laughable song. That’s what makes this song a minor classic

  1. ‘Jahan Char Yaar’: AB manages to enact the most stupid of lyrics and dance moves with such sublime ease and sincerity that you are left gaping. No wonder the masses fell in love with him; from India to Egypt. This is still the period when AB can make silly exaggerated faces without looking silly. He has long lost that ability: watch his recent movies and you will notice the difference

  2. Inteha Ho Gayi Intezaar Ki: a riotish mishmash of music and dance styles. Wonderful!!! The trouble that any westerner watching this would find is that the dance moves would be totally alien, silly and funny to him (assuming he is not quickly able to relate the subtitles to the dance steps). But to a person who understands the language, the choreography would gel with the lyrics with no asynchronicity.

  3. Dedey Pyar De (Give me Love) is performed twice, once by JP and then by AB: this marvellously kitschy song alone is worth its weight in gold. Watch out for a lot of funny dance steps, music and expressions. The honey-dripping voice of Asha Bhosale is an extra. As for some queer disco noises, this is Bappi at his best

  4. Manzilen Apni Jagah Hai, Raste Apni Jagah: a surprisingly marvelous song from Bappi-da. Sung in the rich soulful voice of Kishore-da


Screenplay: Laxmikant Sharma

Dialogue: Kader Khan

Lyrics: Prakash Mehra, Anjaan

Music: Bappi Lahiri

Produced: Satyendra Pal

Story and Directed by: Prakash Mehra

To summarize: A towering performance from the Big B in what could easily have been just another inane Hindi film. And Bappi-da’s music is the icing on the cake

Monday, February 25, 2008

Movie Review: Midnight Express (1978) (English film - Hollywood)

The story begins on Oct 6, 1970 in Istanbul, Turkey when William Hayes is arrested at Istanbul airport for possession of Hashish. Initially sentenced to 4 years in prison, the term is extended to life imprisonment by a higher court. The movie is about William’s life in the abominable prison amidst dirt, depravity and torture and his subsequent escape to freedom.

Watch this movie and you see the Turks without exception being depicted as boorish, louts, lecherous, cruel, without a shade of civility, hostile, dirty, incompetent, mostly homosexual, who consider foreigners as dirty. I picked-up this movie because it was an Oscar-winner. And then I discovered that the weakest link of the movie (its totally biased and incompetent script) is what got it an Oscar. The ‘Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium’ Oscar given to Oliver Stone. What a bad joke!! It left me puzzled and sad and wondering about the sensitivities of the Oscars jury.

Happily enough I discovered on the Net that I was not alone in my views. Both the viewers and the critics have soundly criticized these exact shortcomings of the movie. I must say I heaved a sigh of relief after that.

Take the scene where an Enlishman prisoners’ pet cat is hung by the light-bulb wire to death: That is set against the Morning Prayer call of the muezzin. The screenplay probably wishes to point out a direct relationship between the religion and the depravity shown in the movie. I found that quite tasteless, for sure. It only seemed to confirm the clichéd opinion one has of Americans: insensitive to other cultures, arrogant and overbearing.

The Turkish lawyer digs his nose, the ones in power are corpulent, the prison commander looks like a pig and his young sons like piglets.

The father of the imprisoned son shouts at the prison commander: “Take good care of my boy, you hear or I’ll have your fucking head, you Turkish bastard”. For a moment I could have mistaken this jingoism for the Rambo vs the Russians kind of movie. For a movie sanctimonious in tone and patronizing throughout, there are so many examples I can give of jarring movie sensibilities, that probably its best that you just read what others have written about this movie.

The overall tone is that Bill is dealing with an uncivilized barbarian people even in court (when his outburst could have been regarded as contempt of court). There is artistic license but this film makes me think. Bill shouts in court “For a nation of pigs, its funny you don’t eat them” and then he goes on to call the judge a pig and says ‘I fuck your sons and daughters because they are pigs’. Hollywood’s eloquence (or lack of it) stuns me.

And it makes me take a double-turn on the people in the western world that we generally look up-to in terms of evolution in culture and sensibilities.

Starring: Brad Davis

Directed: Alan Parker

Produced: Alan Marshall and David Puttnam

Screenplay: Oliver Stone

Based on the book by William Hayes with William Hoffer

Made on location in Malta

Movie Review: Johnny Gaddar [Johnny (The) Traitor] (2007) – Hindi Film

About 20 mins before the end of the movie I was scared. Scared that till that point I had been mighty impressed and that the last 15 minutes would be a wash-off. That feeling continued till the last 10 minutes. I am happy to say that my fears didn’t come true; substantially

Johnny Gaddar is a pathbreaking movie for Hindi cinema in modern times. Taut! Taut! Taut!.......(tight script and editing) is what I can say about the movie.

JG is a thriller. It is director Sriram Raghavan’s 2nd film; the first one being ‘Ek Hasina Thi’ (There was once a Beautiful Girl). The 1st movie too was a thriller and quite enjoyable and very different for a Hindi film (watch it and you will know)

After these 2 films, the director is without doubt on my radar.

The plot: A gang of five embarks on a short-term high-profit deal, on the wrong side of the law. They contribute big amounts of money with assured (!) returns within a week. A slight hiccup and the guy carrying the money gets murdered on a train and the money goes missing. Shortly after that the rest of the guys keep getting bumped-off too. Whodunit?

  • Dharmendra stars as Sheshadri: the suave gang-lead prone to nostalgia over his dead wife.
  • Vinay Pathak as Prakash: the small-time gambling-den owner who dreams of much more. Ashwini Kalsekar is his sweet wife emoting a surprisingly wonderful performance
  • Zakir Husain as the portly middle-aged Shardul: the comfortably rich club owner with a very good-looking wife: Rimi (who is completely un-enamoured of Shardul)
  • Neil Nitin Mukesh (in his debut film) as Vikram: the stud in love with Shardul’s wife and who dreams of emigrating to Canada with her
  • and finally XXX as Shiva, the guy who gets bumped-off on the train

Very few parts of the movie are jarring. The pace is fast, the editing very effective, the camera speaks, the songs just enough to set the right kind of atmosphere, the acting: mostly top notch, the outdoor scenes very realistic and well shot. The action is believable and reminiscent of a Jeffrey Archer novel.

Perhaps the weakest links in the movie are the main characters: Dharmendra, Neil Nitin Mukesh and Rimi. Although all 3 are competent they deliver an average performance. A great performance from all of them would have raised the movie a notch higher in terms of effect. Neil Nitin’s dialogue delivery particularly leaves a lot to be desired, so too Dharmendra’s when he starts speaking in English. But don’t let that take away the kudos from the other characters in the movie: Zakir Hussain and Ashwini Kalsekar in particular are very good. Vinay Pathak too does well in a small role. These are a set of actors who revel in the medium.

The ease with which characters dispose-off bodies and the ease with which they handle guns was one of the weaker points of the movie.

But all that is trivial when faced with the strengths of the movie. And when you hear the murderer claiming “…bhai, aap mera vishwas nahi karenge. Main kisi ko marna nahi chahta tha” […bhai, you will not believe me. I didn’t intend to kill anyone], it’s a tribute to the script that you too believe him.


Dedicated to the Masters of Thrillers: Vijay Anand and James Hadley Chase

Written and Directed by Sriram Raghavan

Also Starring:

Rimi, Ashwini Kalsekar, Rasika Joshi

Editor: Pooja Ladha Surti

Lyrics: Jaideep Sahni, Neelesh Misra, Swanand Kirkire, Hard Kaur/Des.C

Music: Shankar Ehsan Loy

Director of Photography: Muraleedharan C.K.

Closing Comment: Why the hell does Dharmendra use a rotary phone when the movie is set in the current era (‘Go Air’ planes attest to that)?

Movie Review: Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) (English Film - Hollywood)

I thought it was time I started blogging-on non-Hindi films too. Kramer vs. Kramer was a much acclaimed movie that I’ve wanted to see for a long time. It stars 2 Hollywood greats: Dustin Hoffman as Ted Kramer and Meryl Streep as Joanna Kramer

The Kramer couple separates in the first 15 minutes of the movie (they do it fast in Hollywood). Joanna has long felt stifled in her marriage with Ted, a corporate go-getter and decides to leave him abruptly (that’s what it seems for Ted at least), on one of the 5 best days of his life. Joanna leaves the son with Ted since she is quite unsure about what she is going to do in life. Ted then has to learn to raise his son by himself and at the end of the next 18 months or so has had quite a decent shot at it. Until…. his ex-wife returns to claim custody of their son. The battle ends in court with a Kramer vs. another Kramer.

The movie won 5 Oscars (DH for Best Actor, MS for Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium). That alone could be reason-enough to watch the movie.

The poignant story in one form or the other is something that I can identify-with, even though I belong to quite a different culture. Although in our culture the wife would probably not leave the husband (at least in the previous generation), the various episodes in their life do touch a raw nerve of memory at one point or the other.

The scene at the beginning symbolizes the break-down of the Kramers’ marriage: The departing wife says to her husband who is on the phone ‘I am leaving you’. And he pauses mid-sentence to reply to her ‘I can't hear’. Too often in any relationship, this active ‘listening’ has drifted away and that’s the start of the end. Joanna Kramer is on the verge of a breakdown facing a total loss of identity as a subservient housewife to Ted. She believes she does the right thing by walking out on her husband even though to Ted, she is deserting the child. That’s the conundrum. Ted (who except for his inattentiveness to his wife, doesn’t depict any characteristics of a ‘bad’ husband) has an ego which is hurt badly and a career which suffers. But he learns to love his son more, as a result.

Having stayed in the US and in Europe I must say the isolation in life there scares the shit out of me. Especially the life faced by the kids of separated parents. Justin Henry as Billy Kramer brings the right amount of sensitivity and poignancy to his character. As a 7-8 year old kid in the movie, you feel like reaching out to him. The progression of the relationship of father and son is depicted through various scenes: such as making a meal, at the school’s Halloween Day, learning to live and adjust with each other and the vacuum in their lives. I think this is the weak link of the movie. This evolution of their relationship doesn’t seem very convincing. The angst of caring for his kid all by himself doesn’t come through very well at all.

You have snippets that would hold true for many other cultures: the kid spilling juice over his fathers business papers and the father sermonizing and sending him on a guilt trip, the father forgetting which grade his son is in, and getting late when picking him up, pushing the kid faster into becoming a more responsible youth before he has lived his life as a child. But there is a hurriedness in these scenes. Inspite of a high pressure job, I wasn’t really convinced how DH finds the time to care for his kid, nor was this well-elaborated.

DH as the father is competent but I felt that MS far outshone him in the movie. And that brings us to the strength of the movie. MS as the guilt-wracked woman leaving her husband, the mother in the court desperate to have her child back, and the understanding woman right in the final scene of the movie. MS swallows DH in those scenes. While DH seems competent, MS is brilliant. Maybe it’s only due to the lesser screen-time available to her, that she got the Best supporting actress award while DH walked-off with the Best Actor award.

And as for the end-play in the movie, it seemed more Bollywood than Hollwood. I wont reveal more at this point. But I must say neither was it unsatisfying.

And as for bloopers, there is particular scene where MS calls DH to a restaurant and reveals her intention of taking custody of their son. And DH has to fling a glass against the wall while departing. Just before he does that, he places the glass in an inconvenient position, realizes that and re-places the glass in the correct position before flinging it against the wall. Tacky direction and editing, that.

And I do have a crib about one shot in the film: This is where DH has just slept with his business colleague at home and the nude woman finds her way to the bathroom at night encountering the Kramer kid in the passage-way. I am quite uncomfortable about the ethics involved in this. Don’t they have any laws in the US to prevent such shots of children encountering nudity? Need to check-out what the laws in other countries have to say on this.


Editor: Jerry Greenberg

DoP: Nestor Almendros

From the novel by Avery Corman

Produced by Stanley Jaffe

Written for the screen and directed by: Robert Benton

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Say It With Numbers: #4-2008

  • India
    • Foreign tourist arrivals in India touched the 5 million mark in 2007 (it was 4.45 million in 2006) earning USD 11.96 billion in tourism
    • Indian travel and tourism industry directly and indirectly accounts for 5.5% of the country’s total employment and 5.3% of its GDP
    • Manufacturing sector in India contributes just 17% to the GDP while its over 50% in China and over 40% in Thailand
    • More than 50% of India is under 25, more than 33% under 15
    • Over 72% of India’s population lives in rural India
    • 75% of India’s poor are in the villages
    • Nearly 87% of India’s 640,000 villages have population clusters of 2000 people or below
    • Nearly 35% of India’s villages are yet to be connected by roads
    • Tele-density in rural India is barely 1%
  • Last year the US consumer spent $9.5 trillion, the Chinese consumer $1 trillion, the Indian consumer $650 billion
  • Of the about 8 million population in Israel, 1 million are Muslims
  • A recession is 2 consecutive quarters of negative growth
  • The US economy accounts for 30% of the worlds GDP
  • It took the US almost 50 years after its independence to give the vote to 3% of its population and at that time even the UK had only 3% of its population with the right to vote. In the US, it took almost 100 years to have universal suffrage. India started its democracy granting the universal right to vote.
  • Indian IT industry
    • Total revenue of the IT-IT enabled services (ITES) industry is expected to be $47.8 billion this year up from $37.4 billion last year
    • Software and services export continues to grow at around 30 per cent and has reached $31.4 billion
    • The contribution of IT-ITES industry to country’s GDP grew to 5.4 per cent from 4.7 per cent of last year, thus providing employment to more than 1.6 million of our youth.
  • In the last half century alone, the world has lost 1/4th of its topsoil and 1/3rd of its forest cover
  • In the past 3 decades, 1/3rd of the planet’s natural wealth has been consumed

Friday, February 15, 2008


We are the miracles that God made
To taste the Bitter fruit of Time

Come, come whoever you are, whether you be fire-worshippers, idolaters or pagans. Ours is not the dwelling place of despair. All who enter will receive a welcome here – sign at Jelaluddin Rumi’s mausoleum

By Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Damn it, I thought, blushing is so disloyal

I returned home tormented by the little demon who whispers into our ear the devastating replies we didn’t give at the right time.

it was in reality a difficult conversation between cordial enemies

Now you know Delgadina, that fame is a very fat lady who doesn’t sleep with you, but when you wake she’s always at the foot of the bed, looking at us

Sex is the consolation you have when you can't have love

Don’t let yourself die without knowing the wonder of fucking with love

In the end it is impossible not to become what others believe you are – Julius Caesar (?)

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent – Eleanor Roosevelt

It may be better to simplify a process rather than train people to cope with the complexity – Edward de Bono

Movies ‘R’ Us: #3-2008

1. Hyderabad Blues 2 (1998)

A Nagesh Kukunoor film. Hyderabad Blues 2 was presumably created to encash on the success of the 1st of the series. Not having seen the 1st of the duology, I can't comment on it.

As regards this movie, it is blessed with an amateur script (the kind a kid fresh out of the film institute would write as a debut script), low budget and fairly bottom of the barrel actors (starting with the hero himself: Nagesh Kukunoor). Thankfully for us, in his subsequent films Nagesh handed over the acting department to more competent artistes. Thank god for small mercies.

So HB2 deals with the post-marriage blues of the protagonist which include the decision to have a kid, sexual attractions and frictions at the workplace and handling marital tensions.

So you have amateurs delivering dialogues with a dead-pan face, a patchy script which tries to gel together individually thought-out humorous situations into one whole

About the only scene I would recommend is when the divorced wife (Rajshri Nair) begs her husband (Nagesh K) at a marriage, to return to her. A great piece of acting there. In fact come to think of it, Rajshri is more than competent throughout the movie.

2. Aks (Reflection) (2001)

To digress slightly, I need to note down a beautiful sher (verse) on ‘Aks’ before talking about the movie itself

Meri Zindagi Kisi Aur Ki (My life belongs to someone else)

Mere Naam Ka Koi Aur Kai (Someone else lives bearing my name)

Mera Aks Hai Sare Aaina (You see my reflection in front of the mirror)

Pase Aaina Koi Aur Hai (Behind it is someone else)

Rakesh Mehra is the acclaimed director of ‘Rang De Basanti’, a big Aamir Khan starrer hit in the recent past. Aks was his experimental debut which though technically acclaimed, probably never recovered its money.

Synopsis: A police inspector (Amitabh Bachchan) arrests a super-criminal (Manoj Bajpai) (with a predilection for masks and murdering high-profile personalities) and murders him later in an escape attempt. The criminal (who is fond of quoting the Bhagavad Gita) returns in spirit form to occupy the body of AB and goes about on his evil business. Oh, and by the way, Raveena Tandon plays the role of club dancer (stripper) girlfriend to Manoj Bajpai.

The movie itself fails to be gripping. Lengthy monologues abound to give the impression of something substantial, but alas, it does nothing to raise the wreckage of the film above water. And you have to wade through scenes depicting an aging Amitabh with a school-going kid to boot, a villain with a raspy voice going down to bass spouting verisimilitudes from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita. It’s a movie quite puerile in its plot, execution, script, vision. Lofty moral lectures and inept dialogues eat away at the movie’s integrity. The songs unfortunately do not add to the film, instead they are unwelcome instrusions.

Amitabh disappoints and sorely at that. He remains Amitabh through and through instead of stepping in the shoes of the character: grand gestures and baritone voice modulation abounds.

The love scene between the possessed Amitabh (possessed by the villain Manoj Bajpai) and Nandita Das is pathetic to say the least. If ND feels that silly giggling = foreplay then watch this scene if you have the guts to digest it.

What is slightly unusual in this mainstream hindi movie is the villainy of the villain and the lengths he will go with his depravity. Perhaps one reason why it did not do well is because it’s a thriller, it aims to be scary and that is always going to restrict your viewership in India.

So all-in-all it’s a film that tries to be smart……..and ends up with its face flat in the dirt. If you must insist on some takeaways from the film, watch the song ‘Ye Kali Kaudiyali Raat’ starring Raveena Tandon. I couldn’t find it on Youtube though.

3. Pukar (The Call) (1983)

Pukar does have a rather unusual setting and era for the movie. It’s Goa when it was under Portugese rule. Its a Big B movie that hardly has anything else to recommend to it other than the man himself.

The movie lacks refinement, whether in script or story or flow. Perhaps the only saving grace is the songs. So without lingering on anything else let me turn to them.

Amitabh Bachchan seems to have been at the peak of his X factor powers around this time. Watching him is a delight, especially in the songs. The music is by R.D.Burman (2nd husband of playback singer Asha Bhosale) who is supposed to be a genius.

I really don’t know what to make of the songs of this ‘genius’. His voice (he has sung a few of these songs) seems so raw at times if not off-key and some of the tunes seem to have been under the influence of alcohol. But some tunes are delightful and wonderfully different too. Check it out and decide for yourself.

Samundar Mein Nahake

Tu Maike Mat Jaiyo

Are Jaane jigar Duniya main

Tera To Mai Hu Diwana

Bach Ke Raina Re Baba

So to summarize; if you must see the movie then you must be a die-hard Amitabh or RD Burman fan.


Produced and Directed by Ramesh Behl

4. Yaarana (Friendship) (1981)

Another one of the Big B’s stupid movies lacking in execution, vision, style, effort….

And another movie where the only reason you might choose to watch the movie is the Big B himself or for the songs.

AB has obviously not yet lost his funny bone the time this movie was made (he seems to have lost it these days). The movie is silly, downright silly. Yet what makes it watcheable is the Big B. He plays the village buffoon, displays unerring instincts to appeal to both the urban and rural class. You can see a fierce determination in his eyes and an X factor that would make him much loved amongst all sections of society.

And as for Kishore Kumar who has sung many of the songs in this movie: You hear him sing and you know he is something special

Watch this movie as a tribute to both of them.

Bhole O Bhole

Chookar mere man ko kiya tune kya ishara

Tere Jaisa Yaar Kaha

Saara Zamana