Thursday, 15 October 2009

Not a child’s play

Reality shows should desist from exploiting audiences in the name of entertaining them, writes Sneha May Francis

The telly is supposed to entertain, not infuriate. However, while watching the latest reality show entrant Pati, Patni Aur Woh I was filled with negative emotions. It’s a show that ignores basic ethics and propagates tacky concepts, blatantly abusing our sensibilities on the pretext of entertaining audiences.
While the US churned out reality shows by the dozen, India made a slow move. Only when B-town’s glamour doll Shilpa Shetty returned home a winner from the UK’s Big Brother did the Indian TV channels wake up to the idea of milking such concepts. Immediately production houses worked overtime, rehashing international reality shows. From American Idol to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, we’ve seen it all tweaked to Indian tastes. And the latest to join the bandwagon is Pati Patni Aur Woh. Based on BBC’s Baby Borrowers, it has courted more controversy than fame because watching an infant being jostled around by a bunch of inconsequential TV actors is not amusing at all.
Instead of celebrity couples, the original show tracked teenage couples in a bid to teach them the nuances of parenthood. So I cannot comprehend why the channel traded the basic concept with immature telly actors; surely this is beyond reason. Is the channel trying to propagate the idea that couples should refrain from having babies? Also, the original format included a nanny who monitored the children. But the desi version went a step further and planted real parents next door. Watching those helpless teary-eyed moms watching their babies howling on screen is disheartening.
Barring one couple – Rakhi Sawant and Elesh, who dubiously hooked up on another reality show on the same channel, the rest of the faces aren’t remotely famous. Forget parenthood, these fancy non-entities can’t even brew a cup of tea without making it seem like a herculean task. It’s dreadful to watch them cribbing and whining about every-day chores.
I recall empathising with Jim Carrey’s character in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show, where he objects to being made a scapegoat for telly viewers. Out here, the sympathy lies with the viewer, instead, for being subjected to such sub-standard shows. Guess it’s time to switch off and read a book!

After tricking its viewers into believing that B-town’s item girl Rakhi Sawant would tie the knot on reality show Rakhi Ki Swayamvar NDTV Imagine is back to squeeze out more from their drama queen in Pati Patni Aur Woh. The show sees five celebrity couples – Debina Bonnerjee and Gurmeet Choudhary, Rakhi and Elesh, Juhi and Sachin Shroff, Gaurav Chopra and Mouni Roy, and Shilpa and Apoorva Agnihotri – tackling parenthood challenges under the constant glare of the cameras. The show, shot over 30 days, will be divided into five stages, namely pregnancy, infants, toddlers, teenagers and the elderly. There are no winners or eliminations in this game.

(Published in e+, Gulf News, Oct 15, 2009)

Go on, slurp it up!

The new menu at this noodle spot is mind-blowing, writes Sneha May Francis

This place has perfected the art of noodle treats. The Noodle House tempts us with irresistible dishes of the noodle kind. So when the popular joint cooked up a new menu, we couldn’t resist a visit to slurp up what was on offer.
Getting a table at The Noodle House is a nightmare, almost always, but on this particular Friday afternoon we were lucky. After being seated at a table overlooking BurJuman Centre’s water landscape, we immediately got to business. A menu sheet was torn out and our preferences ticked.
We decided to play and pick a thing from both the old and new menus. For entrées it was the Beef Ruby dumplings that caught our attention from the new edition, and the Crispy Duck Wontons were the old favourite we went for. The dough pouches filled with lightly spiced beef balls were extraordinary. The assortment of spicy sauces helped accentuate the taste further. The wontons were crispy, just as we had remembered, they were flavoured minced duck treats fried to perfection.
Then we chose the Wok Fried Honey and Sesame Chicken and the Yakisoba and Vermicelli Noodles with chicken and seafood. The crispy chicken garnished with twirls of orange peel was impressive, but it was the noodles that made an impact on our tastebuds. The magic soy sauce base, which our waitress explained was a special kind from Singapore, blended the thick and thin noodles intensely.
A few minutes after we were done relishing our spread, we shifted our focus to the desserts. OK, we cheated here, skipping the new sweet treats for old favourites – the Crispy Fried Bananas and the Mango Pudding. The batter-fried banana slices were at their crunchy best and the pudding was simply delicious. Our only regret was our inability to finish the pudding due to a lack of tummy space!
If it’s a noodle treat you’re after, then this is your place.

(Published in e+, Gulf News, Oct 15, 2009)

Wipe it out

This action thriller lacks real punch, hence it failed Sneha May Francis acid test.

Pentane, a gas that temporarily wipes out memory, intrigued film-maker Suparn Verma so much so that it prompted him to make a film about it. However, the idea, a rip-off from Colombian flick Unknown, didn’t actually translate into a good film. Instead, the attempt turned out to be so torturous that after watching the movie I wished to lay my hands on the gas, inhale it and erase Acid Factory from my memory!
Verma lacks maturity as a story teller. His obssession with car chases, inability to break away from Bollywood cliches and poor character sketches leaves us with a lame thriller. In an attempt to be clever, Verma pushes in twists around the plot, making the ordeal more painful for the viewer. In fact, the entire premise that locks up six characters in an acid factory, makes it a little hard to believe.
Despite being a rip-off, writer Milind Gadagkar didn’t tweak it enough to give it an edge over the original. Dialogues by Saurabh Shukla border on the inane, with "I’ll kill you" shouted randomly by almost all characters at various points in the film. The screenplay by Verma, who earlier reviewed films for online portal, and film-maker Sanjay Gupta, known for his Hollywood re-hashes like Kaante and Musafir, leaves a lot to be desired. The only point Verma scored was for chopping the film to two hours!
With so much going on with the script, it was Bajpai’s killer act that made the journey a tad tolerable. Despite being a badly-etched character, he magically pulls it through, even evoking some genuine laughs. But even his tiny role can’t save the film. The casting clearly divides the talented lot of Bajpai, Irrfan Khan and Denzongpa, from the wannabes like Dia Mirza, Khan, Dino Morea and Aftab Shivadasani. Looks like the younger team concentrated more on their looks than their acting skills.
It’s time our film-makers learnt that there’s more to making intelligent action thrillers than merely copying a script.

(Published in e+, Gulf News, Oct 15, 2009)

Perfect Take

This refreshingly realistic look at life is not to be missed insists Sneha May Francis

Imperfections and a lack of insight into his own weaknesses are what make us instantly connect with the affable, pizza-loving Sid. Ayan spins an incredibly fun tale around Siddarth Mehra, a spoilt brat loaded with cool gadgets and cooler t-shirts, who makes no qualms about living off his rich dad’s money. He lives life without worrying about its consequences, and it is his soul-searching journey that we witness in Wake Up Sid. This coming-of-age story is no Dil Chahta Hai, but he pays tribute to Farhan Akhtar’s cult film, with Sid mouthing some legendary dialogue from it. This ability to show realism without being pretentious is what works for Ayan throughout the film.
Ranbir Kapoor gives droopy-eyed Sid a charming twist, and Konkona Sen Sharma brings a mature take to Aisha, Sid’s highly motivated friend. Sharma is a natural, and it’s commendable to watch Kapoor effortlessly match her at every level. Good genes are nothing to ridicule!
A strong supporting cast pulls the film forward. Anupam Kher plays Sid’s dad – who runs a blooming business selling showers – to controlled perfection. Apart from evoking a few giggles, Supriya Pathak’s efforts to learn English to befriend her son are genuinely poignant. Newcomers Namit Das and Shikha Talsania make us realise how friends made college so much more fun. And Rahul Khanna’s charismatic yet tiny role makes for good eye-candy!
Niranjan Iyengar pens some interestingly funny dialogue and Anil Mehta’s cinematography paints Mumbai in vibrant shades.
The film lacks a meaty ending and needs tighter editing, but like its protagonist, we are so floored by its soul that minor downfalls are forgiven.

(Published in e+, Gulf News, Oct 8, 2009)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Desi twist to idol

A satire on the Indian-American fixation on all things Bollywood, writes Sneha May Francis

Loins of Punjab presents
cast Shabana Azmi, Ayesha Dharker, Ajay Naidu, Jameel Khan, Darshan Jariwala, Loveleen Mishra, Michael Raimondi
director Manish Acharya
rating (TBA)

ame has an enticing power. It lures people and causes them to push their limits so they too can have a slice of the popularity pie. It’s this desire to be number one that forces an eclectic bunch of Indians to flock to a little town in New Jersey for the title of ‘Desi Idol’. It’s American Idol, flavoured with desi style.
And like all talent hunts, this one is also more about the politics and less about the talent. Sponsored by Loins of Punjab, the contest is spread over three days, with filmmaker Acharya introducing us to the eccentric contestants one by one. Each contestant is determined to impress the judges just as they are in American Idol, except there’s no tight-lipped Simon Cowell here.
As each contestant is called in for the audition, you witness the most amusing vocal presentation, which paves the way for some hilarious moments. The only difference is Acharya’s potshot at the Bollywood obsessed Indian-American community who fine-tune their vocal chords to Indian movie songs.
The ‘Desi Idol’ contestants are put up in a hotel much to the dismay of resident guests, namely an elderly and paranoid post 9/11 American couple!
Only a handful of performances stand out – Shabana Azmi excels as the highly-strung socialite Rrita Kapoor, Ishitta Sharma plays the docile Gujarati girl Preeti Patel to a tee, Ajay Naidu’s act as a bhangra-hip-hop singer who wears a turban is a riot, Darshan Jariwala and Loveleen Mishra (Humlog’s chirpy Chutki) give the caricaturish Gujarati bandwagon a mature touch. In addition to directing the movie, Acharya doubles up as contestant Vikram Tejwani, a jobless IT geek who jots down life in percentages. Michael deserves a special mention for portraying an American participant with maturity – it’s probably because he had the talented Ayesha Dharker to give him support.
On the whole, this 90-minute flick is the perfect recipe for an enjoyable evening. Go on, buy a bucket of popcorn and get ready for some entertainment.

Published in e+, Gulf News, 03.09.09

DVD reviews

Phantom Punch
cast Ving Rhames, Stacey Dash, Nicholas Turturro
director Robert Townsend
genre Action/Drama
rating PG-15

Set in the 1950s, this is a touching tale of how an African American fights against all odds to win the world heavyweight boxing championship. Sonny Liston isn’t the crowd favourite; the prejudice of others and his fiery temper don’t gain him approval.
But this beefy boxer isn’t deterred and is a complete knock-out in the ring. His agent Cesar packages him well and helps him move up the ladder. From grim prison walls, where a priest spots his true strength, to his journey to the boxing world, we see Sonny in different shades throughout the film. Despite the tough exterior, he has a soft spot for romance, marrying his ladylove Geraldine.
But his career slides downhill after a torrid dalliance with a woman who’s off limits, and then Cassius Clay (aka Mohammad Ali) delivers the infamous ‘phantom punch’ in the ring. Sonny’s career, and life, never recover.
Rhames plays the passionate boxer to perfection. And the swift shifts from ‘vintage’ frames to colour are an aesthetic portrayal of the timeline. This is a must-see for any boxing enthusiast.
Sneha May Francis

Published in e+, Gulf News 03.09.09

A lost childhood

Sikander is a sensitive tale in which two children lose their innocence, writes Sneha May Francis

cast Ayesha Kapoor, Sanjay Suri, Parzaan Dastur, R. Madhavan, Arunodhay Singh
director Piyush Jha
rating G

ny kind of conflict can shatter the innocence of a child. Whether the turmoil is experienced at home or outside, it is bound to adversely affect their psyche. No war is fought in isolation, some survive the bloodshed unscathed, while others are roped into the mess. And it’s this harsh truth that’s depicted in Sikander.
Minutes into the film, we are rudely awakened by images of innocent school kids being dragged into the deadly game of power in Kashmir. The camera pans from violent bombings to the serene Kashmiri valley, contrasting the grim situation in a state that has for years been wracked by violence.
Sikander Raza is a normal 14-year-old Kashmiri boy, whose life revolves around a game of football. He dreams of it, plays it and always wears his spikes on his shoulders. After losing his parents in a terror strike, Sikander moves in with his aunt and uncle, for whom he’d do anything. However, Sikander’s life is made miserable after he becomes the target of three school bullies. It’s his meek behaviour and unwillingness to complain that instigates the bullies to pick on him every time. Enter the docile Nazreen, who instantly befriends the boy and offers him support. Their lives, however, become embroiled in the larger Kashmiri conflict after Sikander picks up an abandoned gun on their way to school.
Piyush Jha strikingly portrays how children can be easily lured into the bloody battle for want of a washing machine or an MP3 player! What forms the essence of the film is how low cunning politicians and malicious terrorists would stoop to use children to their advantage. Parzaan Dastur has come a long way from the star-counting Punjabi tiny-tot in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. He handles the turmoil of Sikander with maturity. After playing a blind girl in Black, Ayesha Kapoor does a fairly impressive job as Nazreen. Despite having a smaller screen presence, Sanjay Suri etches the character of a politician remarkably well, while Madhavan adds his touch to the dedicated army cop. They are both fine actors who believe in the strength of character. But the surprise package is debutante Arunodhay Singh’s menacing act as the crude terrorist. The soundtrack is pensive and pushes the story along.
Despite its slow pace, what works for Sikander is the intensity of the impact that violent situations can have on young minds. Jha exposes a side of war that’s often ignored. A remarkable effort to look at the other side of terror.

Published in e+, Gulf News, 27.08.09