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

DVD reviews

Punisher – the war zone
cast Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Colin Salmon, Doug Hutchison
director Lexi Alexander
genre Action
rating R

Like mindless comedy, there are mindless action flicks too, and this one fits the bill to a tee. Based on an American graphic novel, the director head butts with gory action sequences that would make anyone squirm in their seats.
In this hard-hitting sequel to The Punisher, Frank ‘Punisher’ Castle continues his war against crime. He battles the loss of his entire family by dedicating his life to keep criminals off the streets.
However, one gruesome battle finds Castle on the wrong side of the law when he kills an undercover FBI agent. The war also leaves gangster Billy Russoti brutally scarred, earning him the moniker of ‘Jigsaw’. While FBI agent Paul Budiansky joins NYPD’s Punisher Task Force to avenge his partner’s death, Jigsaw ropes in his psycho brother to take down our hero.
What follows is a deafening, fierce battle which leaves most men violently deformed. Your appetite for action flicks will surely take a knock after watching this bloody flick.
Sneha May Francis

Published in e+, Gulf News, 27.08.09

A slice of Kerala

Treat yourself to dishes that’ll send you on a nostalgic trip, writes Sneha May Francis

here’s no place like home. And there’s no food like home food! And thanks to some restaurants we can treat ourselves to a taste of our mother’s cooking despite being so far away from her kitchen. And that’s why this eatery in Bur Dubai is our number one ‘home away from home’ stopover.
Aesthetically decorated, Kumarakom serves the best Malayali comfort food. Malayalam classics from the radio set the mood as we scan the menu, taking us back in time. The menu has all the favourite delicacies, so picking one dish turns out to be a big chore. After much debating, I settled for the vegetarian Kerala meals and Prawn masala, while the husband chose Appam and Chicken Stew.
Within minutes our table was loaded with aromatic dishes. The delectable Kerala meals spread consisted of an assortment of veggie delights – aviyal (a concoction of all vegetables in a thick curd-coconut mix), beans thoran (sautéd beans with grated coconut), banana chips, pickle, pappadam (crispy bread), sambar (lentil curry), rasam (peppered tamarind curry), and mooru curry (curd-based curry).
The servings were small, but were quickly replenished by the attentive waiters. So chances are that you could pile away without paying any attention to your tummy space! The Prawn masala was flavourful and fiery. Each bite reminded me of home, of my mom. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as her cooking, but it’s definitely the best I’ve tasted in a restaurant.
The appams (hoppers) were served hot off the pan, the edges nice and crispy, with the interiors soft and fluffy. And the lightly spiced Chicken stew proved the perfect accompaniment.
We tucked away to our fill. I guess it’s OK to indulge yourself once in a while!

What Kerala cuisine
Where Atrium Centre, Bank Street; 04 351 2122, 04 351 2124
Why For authentic Malayali food
Cost Bill for two Dh75. (On the occasion of Onam, you can pack and take home a delicious sadhya for Dh45. This offer is available only on September 2)

Published in e+, Gulf News, 27.08.09

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Picture perfect

After his Shakespearean treats, Vishal Bhardwaj hits the nail on the head with Kaminey, writes Sneha May Francis
cast Amole Gupte, Shahid Kapur, Priyanka Chopra, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Tenzing Nima
director Vishal Bhardwaj
rating TBA

It’s predictable, yet there’s an element of the unpredictable. It’s a run-of-the-mill story, yet its treatment is different. It’s this combination of the familiar and unfamiliar that makes Kaminey an extraordinary watch. Vishal Bhardwaj effortlessly takes Bollywood’s tried-and-tested formula and turns it around, à la Quentin Tarantino. It’s a film that credits the audience with some grey matter, unlike other productions that tend to spoon-feed us the story.
It’s a twisted tale about estranged twins who reunite to fight the baddies. Apart from sharing the same features, Charlie and Guddu (Kapur) are as different as chalk and cheese. One lisps (it’s ‘f’ for ‘s’), while the other stammers. While Charlie is unafraid to take on the big bad world to make a quick buck, Guddu is the docile peace-loving kind who gives in to his girl Sweety’s (Chopra) wedding plans. While one tragic incident separates the boys, another reunites them.
Kaminey takes a while to set the mood, but after the initial 15 minutes, you are sucked into the murky streets of Mumbai where a story of survival and grit unfolds. Unlike most Bollywood films, you are required to give this your full attention, as one distraction could cost you an integral twist.
Bhardwaj deserves special recognition for painting the world of crime in shades – completely alien in Hindi films. He tosses the camera around in quick, easy moves, adding character to the evil. His story is tight and the dialogue is exceptional. Bhardwaj goes on to develop each of his characters without overindulging. He packs in a few brilliant tracks – as is the norm in Hindi cinema – but doesn’t disrupt the pace of the film.
Kaminey is packed with brilliant scenes that’ll remain with you long after you’ve left the theatre. The corrupt cop Lobo coaxing Guddu to tune his answers so they’d avoid the delays caused by his stammer; Bhope bribing a little boy with money for a cycle to stop him from letting out their secret, Mikail and Bhope’s eerily childish gun battle, Charlie’s Spiderman ("Fpiderman") theme song and the colourfully rendered De Tana Tan track are some gems that Vishal throws our way. And he ends the drama with an action-packed climax, garnished subtly with humour. Looksl ike he’s taken a potshot at the mad Bollywood endings we’ve grown accustomed to.
Performance-wise, it’s Kapoor who steals the spotlight. His double act is the best I’ve ever witnessed on celluloid. Gupte follows with an equally passionate performance. He teases us with his intense portrayal of the power-hungry don/politician who is willing to sell his ideologies for money. Sanyal plays Charlie’s best buddy to menacing perfection, while Chopra takes on Guddu’s lover with childlike innocence and undying loyalty. And Nima gives the underworld don a thrilling touch.
With gripping performances, a tight script and crisp editing, Kaminey is for intelligent cinema audiences. For those who are accustomed to the sweet taste of brain-dead masala flicks, this could prove a tad tough to digest, but we suggest you give it a go. You won’t be disappointed. For ‘f’ure!

(Published in e+, Gulf News August 20, 2009)

Hitting it off

Luke Kenny started out as a dancer, went on to become a VJ for Channel [V] and is now a Hindi cinema star. Sneha May Francis catches up with Bollywood’s most unconventional actor to talk about his rise to fame.

ong silky locks, a thin lanky frame, pale complexion and a passion for all things musical don’t necessarily make for a quintessential Bollywood hero. But the musical wizard called Luke Kenny shocked critics by effortlessly waltzing his way to cinematic glory. He may not be in the league of the Khans, but he’s definitely created a niche for himself, proving that he’s more than just a pretty face.
Where most people translate their passion for music into merely storing their favourites on their iPods or spending fortunes on CDs, Luke channelled his love into a full-fledged career. He started off as a Channel [V] VJ, moving up the career ladder with a show of his own – the extremely popular Luke’s After Hours and finally taking on the role of the head of music programming and artist relations for the channel.
His Bollywood journey, however, wasn’t as easy. He didn’t hit the right notes with his debut Bombay Boys, a tale of a rock band. The setback, however, didn’t dissuade him from taking on the mantle of a filmmaker with 13th Floor. The film didn’t turn out lucky either, so he leapt back to what he did best – playing tracks for Channel [V].
It wasn’t until Abhishek Kapoor tempted him with Rock On!!! that he decided to take the acting bait again. The movie turned out to be a super hit, making rock music – something absolutely alien to Bollywood ears – a sudden rage in B-town. And the success has paved the way for Kenny’s Bollywood resurrection. We caught up with the outspoken artist before he embarked on the Dubai leg of the Rock On!!! concert to talk about life, music and cinema.
Tell us about your Rock On!!! experience.
"Rock On!!! has been one of the most exciting, fulfilling and exhilarating experiences. It’s rare when filmmakers choose to make films that are so courageous. And to put me into the mix, despite having access to some of the biggest stars… All that has been motivating and interesting for me as an actor and as a believer in quality cinema and a consumer of great stories."
Both Bombay Boys and Rock On!!! revolved around music themes.
"It’s probably the only similarity. Whenever there’s anything to do with music, I’m probably the first person that comes to mind because of my intrinsic involvement with music. Actually, for Bombay Boys, he [Kaisad Gustad] picked me after watching me in a play, not playing music! And when Rock On!!! came along, the music link helped."
How did Rock On!!! happen?
"It actually came out of the blue. It was just a normal day at the (Channel [V]) office when I got a call from Excel Entertainment about Abhishek Kapoor’s interest in me. After chatting with him for a while, he tells me that he wants me to audition for the film. I go ahead. Then a couple of weeks later he gives me another call saying he’s keen and that we should have another chat to finalise things."
You had to cut your hair for the role.
"Abishek explained the poignancy of the role and the reason why it needed to be done that way. I could see where he was coming from. So what’s a little hair here and there? Even though my hair was like my image, my trademark, so to speak, I knew it would always grow back again!"
Can Bollywood headbang?
"Well, there was scepticism! But Hind-rock had already seeped into the consciousness of the Indian music listener. There were bands like Strings, Euphoria and Jal. But Rock On!!! wasn’t trying to do ‘Indianised’ notes. It’s plain rock ‘n roll beats with Hindi lyrics. Once you watch the songs in context with the film, it goes to a different level, that’s why it worked."
Is the Rock On!!! soundtrack pure rock?
"I get asked that a lot. First of all, what is rock? Does rock mean loud and distorted sounds? The Beatles are rock but they were one of the biggest pop bands ever. So, if music fits a particular mindset, I think that’s what constitutes rock. When rock music came about, there was a phase of music being played because of the American conservatism in the ’50s. Then there was a bunch of people who put together the antitheses of the soft melodious sound, which was the hard jagged sounds, and that’s what became rock. So anything that gives the antithesis to a trend is probably what I’d consider rock ‘n roll. Rock On!!! music definitely fits that bill."
So you guys actually perform now?
"So many people want to see the band, knowing that the band is just four actors. I think it’s about recreating the whole experience of the film, outside the film."
Do you really play the keyboard?
" I did learn to play the keyboard for the film. Earlier, I could find notes and melodies. But for the film I got systematic training, because Abhishek was quite keen that we all learnt to play our instruments. It would be cheating the audience if we didn’t do it."
What were your co-stars like?
"The jamming sessions were fun. It’s where you actually grow as a musician. We rehearsed as much as possible before every shoot, every song, so we could develop our body language. I’ve probably performed more on stage with my band in college than the others, which definitely helped. They just had to react to my body language."
What’s next for you?
"I’m the most unconventional Bollywood actor. With more and more unconventional stories, I guess more opportunities will come my way. There have been a couple of scripts that have been sent to me, but there’s nothing that I’ve signed yet."
You’re a mix of Irish, Italian and British...?
"It’s an interesting cocktail. I’m the original Shantaram! Without the conviction, though."

Little known facts about Luke Kenny

* 1989 Kenny starts his career as a solo dancer. Later joins actor Arshad Warsi’s dance team as an associate choreographer
* 1991 Drops out of college to play the role of Jesus in a musical interpretation of The Passion Of The Christ
* 1993 to 1995 His journey as a DJ begins when he accepts a position at Channel [V] and becomes India’s first male Indian VJ
* 1998 Works as the head of music programming and artist relations for Channel [V], a post he held until 2008
* He recently signed on as contributing editor for a new magazine, Rolling Stone India, writing columns called LukeBox and Gig-A-Bites

(Published in e+, Gulf News August 20, 2009)

DVD reviews

Pink Panther 2
cast Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Andy Garcia, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Lily Tomlin, Alfred Molina, John Cleese
director Harald Zwart
genre Comedy
rating (G)

Celebrated French Detective Inspector Jacques Clouseau is reluctantly summoned by boss Inspector Dreyfus to lead a top-level international detective team after three treasures go missing from Italy, England and Japan. The only link between the thefts of the Shroud of Turin, a copy of the Magna Carta and a priceless sword is ‘The Tornado’ visiting card left at every scene. And soon after Clouseau sets out on the mission with his dream team – Pepperidge from England, Vincenzo from Italy, Kenji from Japan and Sonia from India – the prestigious Pink Panther diamond gets stolen too. Clouseau’s secretary Nicole, who doubles as his love interest, and detective-friend Gilbert Ponton also join forces. Apart from the investigation, Clouseau’s weakness for all things clad in tight skirts and his racial point of view finds him sitting with etiquette teacher Berenger and also a special place with Sonia. The silly goof-ups and buffoonery make this sequel a dull watch. A letdown for all Inspector Clouseau fans.
sneha may francis

Lakeview Terrace
cast Samuel L Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington
director Neil Labute
genre Drama/Thriller
rating PG15

LAPD officer Abel Turner is a no-nonsense guy. Ever since his wife’s death he’s meted out a military rule of sorts for his kids – daughter Celia and son Marcus. His bitterness translates into his work as well, where he effortlessly bad-mouths his way through each day.
His ire now falls on his new neighbours – Chris and Lisa Mattson, whose inter-racial relationship irks Abel as he believes it’s a bad influence on his children. He continuously tortures the couple in an attempt to shoo them away from the neighbourhood. From placing flashlights that flood the Mattson’s bedroom to leaving warning parking notes, his tactics tick off the couple. But they are stubborn about not leaving their dream house because of an abusive cop.
Despite numerous attempts to reconcile their differences, Chris finds it difficult to convince Abel. Since Abel’s profession proves a roadblock for the couple to file any complaint, they suffer in silence and only rarely retaliate. Often disturbing, this DVD is not for the faint of heart.

(Published in e+, Gulf News August 20th, 2009)

DVD reviews

Gran Torino
cast Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Aheny Her
director Clint Eastwood
genre action/drama
rating PG-15

Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski is a bitter man who leads a secluded life. His reclusive ways make him unpopular among his Hmong neighbours, immigrants from Southeast Asia. He is blinded by prejudice and snarls at his neighbours at any opportunity. The grumpy widower doesn’t share an amicable relationship with his family either. Walt’s unhappy world suddenly changes when he’s drawn into the life of his teenage neighbour Thao Vang Lor, who attempts to steal his car – a classic 1972 Gran Torino, a task ordered by a Hmong gang. Walt helps Lor shake off the clutches of the gang that tries to force the youngster onto the path of crime and violence. Helping the boy out wins over Walt’s neighbours, and he reluctantly gives up his isolated life and forms a unique bond with them. Walt soon finds his new position as the protector of the neighbourhood, safeguarding their lives from the local gangs. This is Clint Eastwood’s second directorial venture after Million Dollar Baby that sees him in the lead role. It’s a sensitive tale that will leave you touched.
Sneha May Francis

Wallace & Gromit – premium collection
voices Peter Sallis, Sarah Laborde, Anne Reid
director Nick Park
genre Animation
rating (G)

You’ll form an instant bond with these two clay creatures from the famous British animation series – the affable Wallace and his obedient dog Gromit.
Wallace is an enthusiastic inventor and he allows the intelligent Gromit to operate them. The inventions mostly turn out disastrous, but that never discourages Wallace from trying his hand at something new. Every morning Wallace is machine-fed his ‘well-done’ toast and is dressed in his regular brown pants and green sweater, while the quiet, geeky Gromit checks out the Evening Post! Besides machines, Wallace also has a weakness for cheese – particularly Wensleydale.
This 2-disc collection includes a host of short funny adventures like the award-winning The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave It also includes A Matter Of Loaf and Death, where Wallace’s heart skips a beat for a boisterous woman, much to the dismay of Gromit. Check out the feature on Wallace & Gromit.This is a perfect mood-elevator.

(Published in e+, Gulf News August 13th, 2009)

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

No real love

Love Aaj Kal
cast Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Rishi Kapoor, Rahul Khanna
director Imtiaz Ali
rating (G)

An uninspiring story with cheesy lines and no real romance makes this flick dull, writes Sneha May Francis

he saccharine-induced love story almost always works its charm in Bollywood and brings instant box office luck. And that’s exactly what Imtiaz Ali banked on for his first two successful ventures – Socha Na Tha and Jab We Met. So for his third project, the filmmaker decided to add a few contemporary twists to the tried-and-tested romantic angle. But in an effort to outsmart himself Ali forgot to concentrate on the basics, leaving behind a bad screenplay, unintelligent dialogues and poor characterisation. Perhaps he hoped the charm of his earlier films would do the magic for Love Aaj Kal.
A few hasty shots spanning across parties, shopping trips and coffee outings, introduces us to Jai (Khan) and Meera (Padukone) – the new age couple who are cool, easy-going and commitment-phobic. We are quickly spun around across time zones, cities and characters, in a song sequence, leaving us thoroughly confused. Only towards the end do we realise that it’s Ali’s musical summary of his film. But what’s the point of summarising it?
In any case, Jai and Meera part ways amicably because they think they aren’t cut out for a long-distance relationship. It’s logical, yes, but it stretches logic a bit too far where they throw a ‘break-up’ party, and female friends are urged to flirt with the now single Jai, as Meera watches with absolutely no qualms. The cringe-inducing corny lines are reminiscent of a badly written school play.
Enter Veer Singh (Kapoor), the chubby turban-ed hotelier who pokes his nose into Jai’s life, urging him to believe that Meera is the ‘one’. He lectures Jai about how romance was selfless during his time and narrates how he travelled miles just to catch a glimpse of his ladylove Harleen. We are tossed across time zones, with each looking at romance, or the lack of it, during different generations, only to be told that no matter what, love conquers everything – even pushing aside personal ambitions.
Khan desperately attempts to imitate Dil Chahta Hai’s Sameer but ends up looking aged and his stiff botox-induced face expressionless. Padukone, on the other hand, looks like a dream but fails to perform. Despite a half-baked part, Kapoor gives it his all, making him a clear favourite. Harleen, whose identity is still kept under wraps for unknown reasons, is uninterestingly pretty. Khanna has a blink-and-miss role, but we do feel a lot more for him than the lead pair. Neetu Singh makes a special appearance and we only wish she stayed longer.
Overall, it’s a fair attempt by Ali, but it’s not perfect. Maybe he should invest more time picking a good screenplay next time rather than casting actors who’d double as producers and coining silly terms like the ‘mango (aam) people’. Surely it’s achievable, don’t you think?

(Published on e+, Gulf News August 6, 2009)

DVD reviews

Red Dust
cast Hilary Swank, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jamie Bartlett, Ian Roberts
director Tom Hooper
genre Drama
rating PG-15

A country scarred by a gruesome racist past forms the backdrop of this sensitive tale. In an effort to bring justice to the parents of Steve Sizela (Loyiso Gxwala), who went missing after he was arrested for political activism in 1986, New-York based attorney Sarah Barcant (Swank) returns to a sun-kissed South Africa desperately trying to find the truth. Her only hope is Alex Mpondo (Ejiofor), who is contesting the amnesty application of police officer Dirk Hendricks (Bartlett) who brutally tortured him for his political links. Now a member of the South African Parliament, Mpondo is determined to find his missing friend Sizela, and Barcant desperately tries to piece together the puzzle. But Mpondo’s weak memory proves an obstacle. Barcant battles a dark past of her own: she was punished for courting a coloured man. The gripping tale and strong characterisation make for an emotional ride.
Sneha May Francis

cast Julia Roberts, Clive Owen
director Tony Gilroy
genre Thriller/Drama
rating PG-12

They are quick, smart and extremely talented. Yet they’re unable to set aside their professional ambitions and have a normal romantic relationship. CIA officer Claire Stenwick (Roberts) and MI6 officer Ray Kowal (Clive Owen), give up their spy games for corporate glory, only because they figure that’s where the hard cash is.
Together they devise the perfect plan to make some hard cash and keep their romantic inclinations hidden. However, they have to fight their inner contradictions and their inability to trust one another before starting out on the big game.
It’s a race to secure the perfect product formula that’d bring unimaginable monetary gain to the industry that patents it. Corporate giants Howerd Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and Dick Garsil (Paul Giamatti) battle it out to win the secret formula for their own gain. They hire the agents to work towards unearthing the killer secret, only they don’t know that the agents are playing them. With tight editing, a gripping storyline, crisp dialogue and controlled performances, this DVD is a must-see!

cast Brenda Blethyn, Khan Chittenden, Emma Booth, Richard Wilson
director Cherie Nowlan
genre Drama
rating PG-15

Tim Dwight (Chittenden) doesn’t lead the life of a normal 21-year-old. He spends long hours taking care of his disabled brother Mark (Wilson) and drives his comedienne-mother Jean (British actress Blethyn) around in his rickety truck for her night performances. They’ve lead a very sheltered life, with their boisterous mum keeping both boys under her tight control.
But things change when he meets the lovely Jill (Booth). Tim begins to crave for everything that a boy his age does. But his mushy romance is jeopardised by his demanding mother, who is unwilling to give in to her son’s demands. Jean’s sharp tongue leads to numerous conflicts between Tim and Jill. Yet she refuses to tone it down.
Jean pins her hopes on the revival of her comic career and wants her son to keep her happy and leave the girl. It’s an emotional roller-coaster of a movie. Despite Jean’s eccentricities, you can’t help forming a bond with her. But it’s the role of Mark that acts as the glue for the diverse characters.

(Pubished in e+, Gulf News Aug. 6th 2009 issue)

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Out of luck

This action flick is weakened by a poor script, lack of logic and weak performances, writes Sneha May Francis

cast Imran Khan, Shruti Hassan, Danny Denzongpa, Sanjay Dutt, Ravi Kishan, Mithun Chakraborty, Chitrashi Rawat
director Soham Shah
rating (G)

Despite titling the movie Luck, there wasn’t enough of the L-factor to pull this Soham Shah flick through. Shah might’ve hoped that inserting the four-letter word in almost every dialogue would bring him box office luck. Alas, no such luck! In fact, the mere repetition of the word becomes depressing, making us blame our bad luck for having to endure such a dud.
Moussa (Dutt) devises a game that ropes in people, desperate for cash but with unbelievable luck, to cheat death. Helping him scout for prospective participants is his faithful sidekick Tamang (Denzongpa). Once a handful of players is collected, they are packed off to Cape Town for the grand finale, where people from across the globe bet on their lives.
Ram Mehra (Khan) is a miracle boy who learns about his powerful luck after selling lottery tickets to Tamang. But the same luck eluded him when struggling to square up his dad’s debts. The other contenders are Major Jawal Pratap Singh, (Chakraborty) who hopes to treat his dying wife; Shortkut (Rawat), a Pakistani camel jockey dreaming of making it big; Raaghav (Kishan) a serial killer who wins back his life due to a weak rope; and Ayesha (Hassan) who wants to get even with her sister’s ‘killer’.
It’s a neat plot, no doubt, but Shah’s sluggish approach leaves too many loopholes. The game is along the lines of the AXN Fear Factor TV series, only you could lose your life in this version. And unlike the hit telly show, Tamang forgets to brief the contestants before each game, but rather gives them a peptalk on ‘luck’. The participants, barring the lead gang, are a mix of nationalities, some that even speak fluent Hindi! For an action flick that boasts involving an international betting industry, the stunts turn out way too shoddy. It’s ironic how this death-defying game sees almost all the Indian contingent walking away unscathed, barring one minor accident.
Denzongpa outshines the rest with his controlled, classy act. The first runner-up is Rawat for her earnest energetic portrayal, while Kishan takes the second-runner up slot for his menacing performance. The fourth position is a tie between veterans Chakravorty, who appears too aged and muffled in his thick sweaters, and Dutt, who looks bloated as the tough guy. As for debutante Hassan, she hasn’t inherited any talent from her famous actor parents Kamal and Sarika. And lead man Khan is a misfit, he’s more of a young romantic than a rustic action hero. Hopefully he’ll make a more realistic pick for his next film.
For a filmmaker who started off with flop Kaal, this is definitely an improvement. But if you haven’t been subjected to this torturous film yet, consider yourself... er, lucky!

(Published in e+, Gulf News, July 30, 2009)


cast Ed Harris, Renée Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Viggo Mortensen
director Ed Harris
genre Western, Drama, Crime
rating PG

Two fearless men – Marshall Virgil Cole and his deputy Everett Hitch – ride to a town called Appaloosa to protect it from the bad guy, Randall Bragg. Their strong bond, keen interest in good vocabulary and sharp aim, help keep the town safe until a young widow, Allison French, moves into town. In Cole’s famous words: "It’s feelings that get you killed," which conveys the essence of the adventure. Yet the man is unable to break away from the "one-dollar" lady, whose treacherous ways are not unknown to him. But he’s a man in love and his deputy understands his feelings. Ed Harris takes on Robert B Parker’s novel and keeps it stylishly Western.

Sneha May Francis

(Published in e+, Gulf News, July 30, 2009)

Looking Ahead

Calm, unassuming and devoid of any starry airs, Mohanlal belies his superstar stature. In Dubai on the eve of the celebration to mark his 30 years in the film industry, the Indian actor tells Sneha May Francis his long and eventful journey is just a process of life.

I must’ve been as young as eight years old when I was first fascinated by the world of Malayalam cinema. And like every little girl, even I dreamt of rubbing shoulders with famous actors. Surprisingly the dream came true when I was given the opportunity to meet one of the greatest actors of Malayalam cinema – Mohanlal – on the eve of the celebration that marked his 30 years in the film industry.
Lal needs little or no introduction to his South Indian audience. His contribution to Malayalam cinema is unrivalled. His dedication to acting has earned him fame and recognition. From a heart-broken Bharatanatyam dancer in Kamaladhalam to a simpleton cop in the rib-tickling Pattanapravesham series, to the loving brother in Bharatham, to an eccentric psychiatrist in Manichitrathazhu, to an Alzheimer patient in Thanmatra, his roles have been extremely diverse and he’s shown his versatility.
I walk into the Manhattan Hotel one Monday afternoon to meet the Big M. The lobby was decked out for Lal’s film shoot. The actor was delayed, as is the norm, but I wasn’t complaining as I was thoroughly entertained by the bustling activity on the set. An hour later, Lal, dressed in a simple brown shirt and jeans, walked in, greeted the crew and chalked out his interview schedule with his publicist.
My wait soon ended when Lal, with absolutely no prompting from the publicist, finished one part of the shoot and proceeded with the interview. He was at his gracious best, devoid of any starry airs. Quick introduction over and we got down to looking at his 30 year cinematic journey.
"I don’t want to look back, I only want to look forward. Thirty years is definitely a great thing for any actor, but as an individual it’s only a process of life… I give all the credit to my colleagues, my directors, my script writers and my audience," says Lal.
The humble actor is quick to point out that there have been other actors who’ve worked for a greater number of years, and he’s just one among them. But unlike most actors who take on film directing after such a long span, Lal shows no inclination, at least for now. "Direction is an entirely different field. Right now, I’ve no plans. But I may do it if I get a good proposal."
For an actor who studies each character intrinsically, whether it’s learning Bharathanatyam (classical Indian dance) for Kamaladalam or carnatic music for Bharatham, I wonder if he feels the younger generation lacks such dedication. "It’s got nothing to do with dedication. It’s the role. I was lucky to get such brilliant roles. The ’90s had some amazing films, and even now there are good films... films of Blessy, Roshan Andrews or Major Ravi." He’s quick to shoot down any talk about the dearth of good films today. "If you ask, ‘why isn’t anyone making films like Bharatham?’, then I’ll ask you to go watch Bharatham. You can’t make a film like that again," he asserts.
I prod further about the lack of good comedies in Malayalam cinema nowadays, but the actor disagrees: "It’s how you view a film. Even now, there are good films. There may be times when I find something funny but you don’t. But that doesn’t mean there are no good combination comedies."
Still on the subject of comedies, Bollywood has sparked a trend of rehashing Malayalam comic classics – Short Kut, Hulchul, Garam Masala and Bhoolbhulaiya, to name a few – some of which are Lal’s films. "It’s a remake and they incorporate a lot of masalas, according to their taste. Even the entire scenario changes, locations change. So you cannot go back to your film and claim yours was the best. For the Hindi audience it’s a new film. So I have no complaints." Interestingly, Lal is part of a Bollywood remake. He and Kamal Haasan will take on A Wednesday in Tamil with Unnaipolorruvan.
Through his film career, there’ve been talks about his fondness to work only with a select group of people. The actor, however, ridicules the observation and says it’s created by gossip magazines. "There’s no truth to it. We are only a handful of people in the Malayalam industry and we are all friends. So we are bound to work with one another," he adds. Lal also rubbishes reports that senior artistes steal roles from the younger actors. He suggests it might occur among some actresses, but definitely not among the male gang. "I can’t do a 15-year-old boy’s role or a 60-year-old man’s role. We do only five to six films a year and since there are only a few of us we share the films. So there is no question of that!"
The close knit film fraternity leads us to ask about the other undisputed king of Malayalam cinema – Mammooty. "We are friends. We’ve done around 53 films together. Only in our industry would such a thing happen – where filmmakers put two big actors in one frame," he claims. Another actor who is known to get along well with Lal is Sreenivasan. Their on-screen fun chemistry has tickled us silly. And now there’s more to look forward to in the fourth sequel to Nadodikattu, titled Dasannum Vijayannum. "It’s a pipeline project. As of now, we’ve plans to do it."
While his contemporaries were trying their hands at other regional film industries, Lal remained exclusive to the Malayalam industry. It’s only recently that he ventured out to Bollywood with Ram Gopal Varma’s Company and AAG.
"I’m doing some films for Priyadarshan and there are other offers but I can’t take them because I cannot shift from Malayalam to the Hindi film industry. So when I find time and the offer is irresistible, I will do it," he adds.
On the subject of his personal life, there’s talk about his son Pravan’s initiation into films. "He did a small scene while we were shooting in Dubai last time. It was what the producers wanted. My son is more interested in theatre. But there’s no compulsion that he should join films. It’s entirely his decision."
Lal’s association with Dubai dates back nearly 25 years. "I’ve done many films, many shows and many businesses in Dubai. I stay here, I’ve lots of friends. And we’ve 1.5 million Keralites in the GCC or maybe even more. So it’s like a home for me… a second home."
Talking about business, I ask whether he considers himself a better actor or a better businessman? "I’ll say no to both. But I can say I’m a better human being."
Side-tracking from his film life, I pitch the news about his plans to start an IPL team. "Priyadarshan and I have a small cricket team in Kerala and some of the players do play in the IPL. We had a get-together recently but the media assumed that we were planning for the IPL, but that’s not true."
As we wrapped up the interview, his assistant director waited patiently near our table to whisk away the actor for the film shoot. However, despite a waiting film crew, Lal was kind enough to oblige for a few photographs before rushing out. And there ended the dream... with him walking away into the spotlight.

Published in e+, Gulf News (July 30, 2009)

Monday, 13 July 2009

Just Burgers

There's not enough zest to make these meaty monsters tick, says Sneha May Francis

I am a burger fanatic. Give me one any time of the day, and you'll see a happy me! But place one in front of me, and ask me use shiny cutlery to manoeuvre through each bite, and you're asking for trouble. I believe that a burger is meant to be held. So if using cutlery is the only option to get a bite then it's breaking my fundamental burger rule! Burgers should be easy to hold, the bun not too soggy and the flavour intact. It can be a messy affair, no doubt, but the fun lies in holding the burger delight. A question from the waitress: 'Do you like to halve your burger?', should've been an indication of what was in store.

From this tiny JBR joint's menu, which doubled as a table mat, we picked Caliente Tex-Mex burger and Cordon Bleu Chicken Burger. Our curt waiter didn't offer to help with our order and was busy attending to other customers.

My partner's beef burger was dressed in their signature salsa sauce and garnished with chopped veggies, sour cream and a layer of cheese. But the salsa sauce was so overpowering that it eliminated any of the other flavours. His only consolation being, his burger fitted perfectly into his hands.

I, however, had to juggle with the cutlery to get a hold of the large crunchy chicken breast, stuffed with gooey cheese and slices of beef ham. It was like eating a Chicken Kiev in a bun. And each cut would ooze out a layer of cheese-ham fillings, making me stop from attempting to hold the messy bun. So, while I slowly worked my way through the burger, first the meat, then a bite of the bun, my partner finished his burger with ease. I was tempted to trade in, but his burger turned out to be less flavourful. Our choice of fresh juice was refreshing and helped wash down the fatty mess.

And when I tookd a break from the cutting and chopping, I glanced through the menu which offered a host of burger options for vegetarians and seafood lovers. Only, we didn't have the stomach to try anymore.

The joint was so tiny that we were interrupted on more ocassions than one, asking us to shift our table, one way or another, in order to squeeze in more tables to accomodate more customers. Towards the end of our meal, we almost felt like we were sitting in our school canteen!

After the game of musical chairs, we thought we'd indulge our sweet cravings. We chose the NY style Cheesecake - crispy chunks of creamy cheese fillings with vanilla and strawberry ice-cream - and Uncle Brown brownies with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. We have to give points for creativity but the flavour was nothing spectacular.

So for burger cravings we say try something else on the menu. It may result in a happier ending!

(Published on June 11, 2009, e+ GULF NEWS)

Short Kut - The con job

The film about a stolen script is a dreadful rip-off, writes Sneha May Francis
Short Kut – The Con Is On
cast Akshaye Khanna, Arshad Warsi, Amrita Rao
director Neeraj Vora
rating (G)

It’s ironic that a film which centres around a stolen script is actually a rip-off of a Malayalam film (Udayananu Tharam). Although the filmmaker, through this rather painfully boring film, drills in the message that we shouldn’t take shortcuts in life, he clearly ignored that point while lifting the story from the Malayalam cinema. But the agony does not end there. Having watched the original, which was a super-hit with genuinely funny lines, I would never have predicted how dreadful the remake would be. Anees Bazmee effortlessly reduced the brilliant original into a mediocre rehash.
Short Kut is about two guys – Rajesh Kumar (Warsi) and Shekar (Khanna) – who struggle to make it big in Bollywood. Kumar chooses to take the easy way out by cheating Shekar for a bite of fame. The film attempts to highlight the flaws of B-town politics, but falls flat, simply
because of its weak script, bad lines, over-the-top performances, uninspiring tunes, and an annoying supporting cast.
It’s depressing to watch Khanna in this ridiculous comedy. The dialogues are insipid and rarely
evokes a chuckle, forget a laugh! It’s unbelievable that Munnabhai’s Circuit aka Warsi resorts to comedy of the lowest rank. He uses all his facial muscles, in a lame attempt to make us laugh. Rao plays the role of a superstar, an image that’s eluded her in real life, and rightly
so! She tries too hard to be glamorous, but comes out looking daft. Chunky Pandey is deplorable
as the acting guru.
After producing a brilliant film like Gandhi My Father, Kapoor should’ve picked a better film to
showcase. Instead, he took the shortcut and stole a successful script, without even giving credit
to the original. Looks like he doesn’t practice what he preaches, and that’s the film’s and his greatest downfall.

(Published e+, GULF NEWS, July 16th, 2009)

Mindless comedy

Don't waste your money or energy on this Bollywood flick, writes Sneha May Francis

Kambakkht Ishq
Cas:t Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Aftab Shivdasani
Director: Sabir Khan
Rating PG15

When will Bollywood film-makers ever learn that throwing away truckloads of money, roping in a handful of biggies from Hollywood and Bollywood, packing in some hard punches, and dolling up their leading ladies in designer outfits isn't enough to make a film? The main ingredient – the story – is forgotten and that's what makes Kambakkht Ishq such a torturous journey.
It's a typical Bollywood 'masala' film in which the leading couple start off by abusing each other, only to reform and finally fall in love. Surely looking at their rowdy, sleazy behaviour one can't imagine either of them indulging in anything remotely romantic. Forget logic and reason, in fact leave your brains at home before heading to the cinema. That's the only way you'd be able to endure this three-and-a-half hour trauma.
It's about Viraj (Kumar), the star stuntman of the year and Simrita (Kapoor), the skinny, skimpily clad model-turned-surgeon, who proclaims 'men have no IQ'. One wonders if Sabir Khan believes that his viewers lack grey matter, which could explain why he left this mess untouched. He may have tried to work along the lines of American Pie, but ripped off the idea from Kamal Hassan's Tamil flick Pammalkesambandham.
In this crass circus, Kumar leads the buffoonery act by indulging in toilet humour. And he's got Aftab Shivdasani and Vindu Dara Singh for company. The three men resort to humour of the lowest rank. Kapoor tiptoes in her designer shoes and pretty dresses. There's no scope for acting here! Sylvester Stallone and Brandon Routh get away easily with their tiny guest appearances. Stallone's Hindi line evokes a smile, only for his effort. Denise Richards, however, is made to endure a lot more and appears aged. Kiron Kher is painful with her over-the-top Punjabi antics. Boman Irani and Javed Jafferi are brilliant actors but one wonders why they chose to demean themselves in this buffoonery.
Take my advice, don't attempt to watch this film, even on DVD!

Published July 2, 2009, e+ Gulf News

B-town's new rockstar

He wasn't a favourite with the critics. His transition from modelling to the big screen wasn't met with enthusiasm. Yet, he stuck to his guns and was rewarded in the end. Sneha May Francis spoke to heart throb Arjun Rampal

His husky voice makes many women go weak in their knees, no doubt, but you wouldn't imagine that a voice like that could be fine-tuned to suit Bollywood. Rock On's Joe Mascarenhas did just that. He uncovered a new facet of the rugged Arjun Rampal. He croons and strums the guitar with ease, quashing myths about models being nothing more than a pretty face for the cameras. His confident portrayal of the pony-tailed Joe won over the critics, audiences and even earned him a few honours for the best supporting actor. So nearly seven years since his disastrous debut with Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat, Arjun Rampal is finally finding his place in B-town.
With a winning streak in place, it's not surprising that Arjun continues to play Joe Mascarenhas off-screen as well. He and his on-screen band – the Magik boys: Farhan Akhtar, Luke Kenny and Purab Kohli – continue to perform off-screen with their Rock On concerts. With none of them, barring Farhan and Luke (one being the voice of Rock On and the other a famous Channel [V] VJ) having any musical inclinations, it's surprising that their Majik rock shows continue to play to packed houses across India. And it was ahead of his Dubai performance that we caught up with the actor for a quick telephone chat. Since the Rock On concert in Dubai took place soon after he won the Filmfare award, the opportunity of recreating the magic of Rock On was "extra special" for the actor. "It's wonderful to see the amount of love and adulation that we got because of this film. I've received a lot of support from my fans in Dubai," he says.
Going back to his Rock On days, he tells us about how he zeroed in on the pony-tailed Joe Mascarenhas. He explains that it was a chance meeting with Akhtar in Jodhpur that lead to the start of the Magik association. "He (Farhan) told me about the script where he'd be playing the lead singer and that he'd like me to take on the role of the lead guitarist," he says. And the plan appealed to Arjun, because, "just like most other young boys, I've always wanted to be part of a band".
The decision, he says, led to getting his hands on the script and reading it. "And as soon as I finished reading it, I called Abhishek Kapoor (the director) to congratulate him on the brilliant script. And I really wanted to do it because it was something new and different.
I knew it was the kind of film that I'd watch even if I wasn't part of the cast. And that's the reason I picked it."
Once the decision was sealed, there was no looking back. "I got down to working on it, by attending workshops to learn to play the instruments. And in the end, it turned out to be a fantastic experience," adds the suave Arjun.
While most Bollywood actors rarely put on a genuine musical act on-screen, Arjun went a step further to learn the right chords. "All of us (Farhan, Luke and Purab) love rock music and grew up listening to it. Anything from Pink Floyd to The Doors to Led Zeppelin. So we knew we were not going to play the wrong chords on the guitar," he asserts. However, after watching him airbrush his guitar on stage, we'd like to believe he forgot his guitar lessons with time! The Dubai concert didn't quite recreate the Rock On magic. Arjun clearly lost points on the musical front, but he definitely worked his magic on his fans. The crowd merely looked happy to see their screen star in flesh and blood. Many of them, rushing backstage only to get Arjun to ink his autograph or pose for a photograph.
So after all those musical concerts, does he plan to start his own band? "We've got our band – Magik – and we're going to do everything we can for it. Shankar (Mahadevan) has done a brilliant job. The musician trio – Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy – who tuned the Rock On tracks are mind-blowing," he adds.
The transition from the ramp to the big screen wasn't an easy one for the neatly groomed model who dreamt of making it big in Bollywood. Most critics had written him off, almost as soon as he made his first appearance. A few terrible films later, Arjun retired only to be resurrected by Shah Rukh Khan.
It was in 2007 that Arjun did the unthinkable. He took on the role of a bad guy in the hugely-budgeted Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om.
His negative portrayal of Mukesh Mehra was the turning point in his career, breaking all Bollywood conventions that a villain's role can resurrect a falling actor. The role won him the critical acclaim that had eluded him so far.
And did he ever imagine that a dark role in Om Shanti Om would place him firmly back in Bollywood? "Of course I was sceptical initially. I didn't know if people would accept me. But I saw the confidence that Shah Rukh and Farah had in me and that really made me take up the part. I had faith in their decision. And Om Shanti Om allowed me to go out and explore," he adds.
"The adulation I got from that role became far more encouraging for me to take on different kinds of roles. Roles that are capable of taking you to another level."
This explains why he teamed up with the legendary Amitabh Bachchan on an off-beat journey with The Last Lear.
"For me it's been a great inspiration to work with Mr Bachchan. Working with him is an experience. He's so professional... so generous. He's an institution. Just giving brilliant performances and keeping everyone on their toes is commendable," he adds.
The success of Om Shanti Om gave him a sudden surge of energy to take on Bollywood, and defy almost all of its rules. When most actors would opt for single appearances after hitting the jackpot, he took on Rock On, a multi-starrer flick, only to emerge successful again, shocking film critics and audiences alike.
Despite hitting on rough roads early in his career, Arjun looks back at his struggle with a shade of optimism.
"It happens in every industry. It takes a while to get the groove of things especially since you don't belong to the Hindi film industry. I think there's a lot to understand about yourself as well," he says. Arjun's quick to extend his gratitude to his friends and family who've stood by him in those difficult times. "Most importantly, the people I've worked with... especially Mr. Bachchan (Amitabh), who has been extremely inspirational."
So his hard work and dedication is finally helping him see the light of day in Bollywood. He's finally taking on interesting projects.
"As we speak, I'm in Bhopal shooting for Prakash Jha's Rajniti, in which I play the role of a politician. It's got a power-packed star cast of Ranbir Kapoor, Ajay Devgan, Manoj Bajpai, Nana Patekar, Naseeruddin Shah and Katrina Kaif. It is going to be a strong film. Later, I start work on Action Replay and team with Mr Bachchan and Tabu for Kunal. After that I start work with Sajid Khan's film titled Husband," adds Arjun.
Judging by his busy film diary for the coming year, we think he needs an overdose of the coffee, the one that he claims he "brings in specially from London", to keep him up for the big game!

Little known facts about Arjun Rampal
- He was born on November 26, 1972
- He hails from a Ramgariha Sikh Punjabi background. His father is Sikh and his mother is Dutch
- Arjun and his younger sister attended the prestigious Kodaikanal International School located in the Palani Hills, Tamil Nadu, where his mother was a teacher
- He was proclaimed Society's Face of the Year in 1994
- He married Mehr Jessia, a former model
- He has two daughters – Mahikaa and Myra
- He has got both his daughter's names tattooed on his arm
- He was discovered by designer Rohit Bal while he was at a discotheque in Mumbai
- Ashok Mehta's Moksha, released in 2001, was supposed to be Arjun Rampal's launch film but his second film Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat was released before

Published: July 01, 2009, e+ GULFNEWS

Terror talk gone wrong

By Sneha May Francis

New York
Cast John Abraham, Katrina Kaif, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Irrfan Khan
Director Kabir Khan
Rating PG-12

Bollywood may have, finally, discarded the tiresome love stories for more realistic plots, but it's still wary about cutting short its run time. And that's the biggest downfall of Kabir Khan's New York. It attempts to be realistic, yet fails to cut out the candyfloss and mush. Apart from the jarring logical goof-ups, Kabir could've effortlessly edited his story to run for a little more than an hour. But instead, he stretches it out to more than two hours, making it almost impossible to sit through the movie! The fact that Kabir decided to make a thriller in slow motion is baffling. Even an act of terror is muddled in Bollywood-style drama.
New York could've been an interesting tale on the post 9/11 prejudices, but it lacks conviction. Early on we are introduced to the Patriot Act (for detaining any terror suspect) when Omar (Mukesh) is taken into custody by FBI agent Roshan (Irrfan) and tricked into spying on his old college mates Sameer (Abraham) and his wife Maya (Kaif). Roshan suspects Sameer will trigger a terror attack and wants Omar to help him stop it. This forms the crux of New York.
As for the performances, Abraham has improved a lot but he's still not perfect. Kaif is just a pretty face, sashaying around in pretty clothes. Mukesh lacks conviction merely because of the weak script. Irrfan, however, waltzes through his role.
Kabir makes an effort to portray the issue objectively but there are way too many glaring loopholes. It's rather weird that the FBI doesn't detain or probe Sameer even though they have enough proof about his wrong-doings. Also Sameer, despite living in the US since he was four, speaks with an Indian accent!
Clearly this is a film that you'd watch only if you are a die-hard Katrina Kaif, John Abraham or Neil Nitin Mukesh fan.

Published: July 01, 2009, e+ GULFNEWS

Bollywood News

By Sneha May Francis

Kat shows she still cares...
It's standard in Tinseltown that when loved-up couples hit the rocks, the lovebirds quickly collect themselves and pose for happy-couple shots for the media in a lame effort to shut off rumours of what's going on behind closed doors. Well, the scene was no different in B-town: first we hear about Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif's allegedly nasty break-up, with Sallu throwing Kat's shampoos out of the window and Kat supposedly having an SMS link-up with John Abraham. But now we see Kat rushing to be by Sallu's side. For a woman who's never really acknowledged their romance, this outing was definitely a first! Clearly, she's out to prove her love is real and that she's here to stay, that is until John Abraham's back on the market!

Sanju gets folks' name inked on him
He may have had little luck in Indian politics, but hunky Sanjay Dutt is determined to get back on track. After proclaiming to the world how lovely his wife Manyata is and that his marriage is rock-solid, he then took off to finish his existing Bollywood commitments. He has now returned on the scene, only to ink the names of his parents, both legendary actors, on his chest.
A little birdie tells us that Sanju has headed to the beachy town of Goa to get his mom Nargis' name tattooed in Urdu and his dad Sunil Dutt's name in Devnagari script. We hear the act is to show the world that his folks will always remain close to his heart. His darling Manyata has certainly found a place in Sanju's heart, but when will she find one on his tattooed chest?

Big B rejects aussie honour
After news of 'racial' attacks on Indian students in Australia, Amitabh Bachchan decided to show his solidarity by refusing to accept an honourary degree that was to be bestowed on him by an Australian university. On his blog, Big B reprinted the letter of regret that he sent the educational institution. It's heartening to see that at least some Bollywood stars stick to their guns and actually act on their conscience.

Published: June 10, 2009, e+, GULFNEWS

Pamper Zone

Sneha May Francis tests four treatments that'll help you relax and feel rejuvenated

Natural Healing Wellness Spa, Al Wasl Road
What: Payot Deep Cleaning Facial The interiors of the spa can be a bit too brash; a tiny stream near the reception desk is a little over the top! But once you walk in, the rest of the area is tastefully decked out in cane.
I'm asked to fill the mandatory health form before being lead to a spacious, cane walled treatment room.
My therapist starts by cleaning my face with a cleansing milk and then massages an aromatic cream. Her hand movements relax my facial muscles. Next she smears a calming face mask. I'm asked to wait for the mask to set in, and I immediately tune in to the repetitive background instrumental score. However, my thoughts are disrupted when my therapist returns for my face clean up. She taps on a special skin toner for the eyes and leaves me alone to unwind. Unfortunately, the gap isn't long enough to steal a nap!
In any case, the treatment gave me a remarkable uplifting feel. My skin felt alive and refreshed, and genuinely soft. A cup of green tea later I was ready to take on the world!
Cost: Dh420 for a 90 min treatment
Contact: 04 348 3896
SensAsia Urban Spa, Palm Jumeriah
What: Asian Spirit MassageDriving to the magnificent Palm Jumeirah is almost always done to satisfy touristy needs, but mine was purely to indulge my skin. I was welcomed into a match-box sized reception where I was asked to complete the health form, before being guided to the artistically decorated treatment room. Before the massage, my therapist washed my feet in a large bowl filled with bath salts and petals floating in water. Truly royal!
As the soothing music played in the background, the masseuse rubbed aromatic oils, and kneaded her way through every muscle on my body, leaving me energised. The scent of the oils numbed my senses, and I dozed off! After the pampering session I was ushered to the blue relaxation room. Large ceiling lamps, blue lounge furniture and a wall decorated with green apples completed the decor. Fresh fruits, a hot bag for my neck and pipping hot tea helped me loosen up.
I was advised to leave the oil on for a few more hours, to enable it work its magic on my body. I must admit that it was so powerful that it left me fighting back sleep while driving home. I think it'd be wise to sneak in a power nap before heading out.
Cost: Dh295 for 60 minutes
Contact: 04 422 7115
Spadunya, JBR
What: Facial and back massageYour choice of colours help determine what therapy your body needs. Spa consultants at this JBR outlet will educate you about colour orientation and how it affects your body's wellness.
After you fill out your health history you are taken to a tiny consultation room where a lady expert will ask you to choose four colours from a pallete. And each time you pick one, she'll pick a fragrance bottle (of the same colour) and spray it on your palm and ask you to inhale the aroma, before explaining the impacts of that colour on your body. Towards the end, she chalks out a therapy plan that your body has chosen for you. The spa is so well colour co-ordinated that even the gowns come in different colours!
You are instructed to your assigned room where the therapist waits with a sheet detailing your therapy. The treatment begins with a relaxing back massage. The gentle hand movements and the aroma of the turquoise oil is sleep indusing! She then uses indigo oil for the facial massage. She works her magic on the neck, head and facial muscles. Once the massage is over, I'm lead to the rest area – a neat corner with books, neat lounge furniture, snacks and fresh juice. The oil left me feeling a bit slippery, but I was asked to leave it on for a couple of hours! Must say, a nice warm shower at home later my mind and body felt unclogged!
Cost: Dh550 for 90 minutes; you can avail a 30% discount on all treatments through the summer
Contact: 04 439 3669
Akaru Spa, The Aviation Club
What: Payot Body TreatmentNestled in the deep interiors of The Aviation Club, you're taken to the aesthetically designed spa on a cutesy buggy. Once in, the polite staff quickly checks you in and hands over a questionnaire that allows you to mark your preferences and health issues, if any. Interestingly there's even a slot to select your choice of music.
After the writing exercise you are escorted to the change room and then a quick meeting with your therapist later, you are taken to your appointed room. The lights are dim and the curtains drawn, setting the mood for the payot body treatment. My therapist starts out by polishing my body with a balm containing semi precious stones. The mix has energising powers, she tells me. After the scrubbing, she covers me in white mineral clay mixture and wraps me, like if I were a spring roll or something, in a tight plastic sheet. She leaves me to soak in the soothing effect of the body mask.
After about 10-15 minutes, I was sent for a shower. I came out feeling refreshed and my skin felt silky smooth.
My therapist finally kneads her way through my body with a precious energising oil. Her rhythmic hand movements soon put me to sleep! She woke me, long after the massage was over, and escorted me to the relaxing area for fresh juice and fruits. A tiny corner in the spa, cane lounge furniture and a wall of trickling water on one side set the mood to unwind. A snooze later,I was up, feeling refreshed and energised!
Cost: Dh395, the offer is valid till end of June
Contact: 04 282 8578
Spa treatments on offer at DSS
Dubai is rightly titled the spa capital of the Middle East, what with the highest concentration of spas in the emirate. This year, DSS brings a unique collaboration that puts on offer special spa packages and promotional prices that cover a wide range of spas in the city.
Till August 14, 34 spas will offer over 50 special DSS spa experiences. The featured treatments will draw on a wide range of therapeutic traditions like Ayurveda, Tai Chi, Aromatherapy, Oriental Hammam, traditional Swedish massage techniques and also include luxurious treatments like the Cleopatra Bath, a pampering floral milk bath, and the Royal Javanese Lulur Ritual, a skin softening treatment.
For more information call Ahlan Dubai on 600 54 5555 or visit

(Published on June 25 2009, e+)

The Number Game

This hilarious ride is definitely worth your time, writes Sneha May Francis

Cast: Kunal Khemu, Cyrus Broacha, Boman Irani, Soha Ali Khan, Mahesh Manjrekar, Vinod Khanna
Director: Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK
Rating: TBA

Ever met a tall, heavy-built bodyguard named "Dimple"? The chances of actually meeting a gangster may be remote, let alone finding one with such a silly name. But this is not uncommon in Delhi. Most gangsters have a mean-looking sidekick, with an equally ridiculous name. It's this hilarious gamut of naming traditions in India, each finding a quirky mention, that actually works at some level for the film. It's also the incredible ability of the filmmakers to take a realistic yet humorous twist on India and to poke fun at these eccentricities.

Every city has its idiosyncracies, Delhi and Mumbai are no different. "One is city of actors and the other a city of politicians". And the directors pick out all the minute details and weave it into the plot, without compromising the essence of each city.

Comedy in Bollywood is almost always restricted to the slapstick-kind, mainly acts of buffoonery seen in Coolie No. 1 or Hero No. 1. But 99 has a different take to most comic films. It presents real situations and real people with genuinely funny lines. There's no fluff, no unwanted drama just pure entertainment.

They say it's easy to make dramatic films but not comedies. It's true. And you know a funny film has worked its charm if you walk out of the cinema hall with funny images playing in your head, making you sit back and smile! And that's exactly what good comedies like 99 are made of. It's remarkable how directors Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru cooked up such a fun concoction after their first Bollywood outing with Flavours.

99 is an unusual title, no doubt, but it works for its symbolic overtones. It talks about a situation in the cricketing language where any score less than a 100 (century), apart from the 50s, doesn't work for a player.

On the cricketing field, it's never the 99s, but the 100s that matter. Similarly, the number 99 sets the pace for the film, where its lead characters have worked hard but keep missing their chance to make it big. But eventually, they get just one shot at setting things right.

The tale
Sachin (Khemu) and Zaramud (Broacha) are techno-thieves who get busted and steal a white Mercedes car for their escape. Only, they end up crashing the car, not knowing its owner is a notorious gangster AGM (Manjrekar). He soon finds the men but decides not to kill them and instead asks them to work for him.
They do well in the beginning and share a good rapport with AGM. But the crazy ride kicks off when they are sent to Delhi to catch an evading businessman and complusive gambler Rahul (Irani), who absconded with AGM's money.
Now the duo must retrieve what Rahul owes the goon. The chase, however, takes an ugly turn when local, petty criminals get their hands on the money, forcing the two to team up with Rahul to make some quick money to keep AGM happy and fix the situation.

We've seen Cyrus Broacha as a funny man on the telly and he's equally, if not more, hilarious on the big screen. He doesn't go overboard with his comic act but handles the obese Zaramud with finesse. Kunal Khemu works well with him. From his early days as a mature boy in Zakm to the more recent angry lover in Kalyug, he's definitely got what it takes. Soha Ali Khan, on the other hand, despite some good performances in the past has very little to do, except sip coffee and grin widely. But the real winners are Boman Irani and Mahesh Manjrekar. They add just the right amount of colour to their characters. Even their eccentricities are protrayed with a maturity that only comes with experience. Vinod Khanna has a small role, but he walks away with class and sophistication. And there's the wimpish money-collector played by Amit Mistry who is mind-blowingly funny and my personal favourite.

Usually, Bollywood prefers to ignore the time frame in a narrative, unless it's an epic film ofcourse. 99 is an exception to the rule. From street posters of Bill Clinton to old, chunky Nokia cellphones, it takes us back to 1999 without any jarring sets.

The verdict
With the Hindi cinema strike dragging on for nearly two months now, we are glad this one braved the battle. This film is definitely going to tickle you silly! I'd suggest a quick trip to the cinema halls. Pack in a big box of pop-corn and some colas. Sit back and have a hearty laugh!Reel romance turns into real love story A little birdie tells us that while filming 99, Soha and Kunal hit it off. The two have been dating on the sly and telling the world that they are just 'friends'. But they've been spotted together on numerous ocassions, at coffee shops and cinema theatres for all to see. However, their on-screen romance has failed to ignite the big screen. Maybe they're better off blaming the script for it!

(Published in e+, Gulf News on June 6, 2009)

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Bollywood's blog bubble

Sneha May Francis takes a journey through Bollywood’s virtual world

Wouldn’t you love to become part of Amitabh Bachchan’s extended family? Barring a few genetic glitches, establishing a familial bond with the legendary actor is just a click away. Enter the virtual world of blogging, an area that opens up a whole new dimension of communication, threading thoughts and opinions on a personal level.
The image of having a conversation with an actor of such legendary stature will definitely see millions nod in the affirmative. But do bear in mind that chances of actually meeting the actor in flesh and blood or even being invited to his family parties may be remote, or non-existent. However, the mere thought of communicating with him one-on-one is nothing less than extraordinary.
This virtual reality eliminates scouting around for gossip magazines or watching entertainment shows on the telly. Now, all you need for your daily dose of Bollywood gossip is to log on to the blogs and read about it all, first hand!

The Bollywood dream
There’s this inexplicable charm that the world of glitz and glamour entices millions, leaving them with a desire for a large chunk of Bollywood. And it’s this craze that prompts the stars to setup these connections. Hollywood’s been there, done that; but virtual communication is still a fairly new concept in Bollywood.
The reasons for the need to establish such a deep link can be many. Some might look at it as the Indian gliteratti’s most befitting gift to their fans – an extension of themselves, in their own words, floating on the web for their followers to soak in. Or the desire to express their views could be an indication of the poor media projections actors are often subjected to. The postings, mostly personal with huge undertones of narcissism, work on many levels as the actors’ propaganda to shut off the media and communicate straight with the public. Also, it makes for cheap and good marketing stratergy. Actors can play their PR personnel and promote their films and themselves through the mere click of a button.

Meet the bloggers
One of Bollywood’s first to hit the blogging radar wasn’t an actor. Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap wrote about his initial struggles and how he finally succeeded in finding his spot in Bollywood with interesting tales like Black Friday, No Smoking and Gulaal. His blogs take a dig at film critics who’ve applauded or ridiculed his films, producing apt response for each comment. He’s a talented filmmaker, no doubt, and his writings speak of his incredible understanding of cinema.
Another filmmaker who’s creating quite a stir on the web is Ram Gopal Varma. A man buried in pointless controversies, his blogs too reflect his confused state of mind. And when there’s no topic of relevance, he pops up pointless reactions to vague questions. His blogs, most often, are engaging, but not of any consequence.
Sudhir Mishra is another one from the creative fraternity who takes a potshot at his critics. A filmmaker who has effortlessly blurred the line between commercial and meaningful cinema, Sudhir refrains from writing about his personal outings and restricts his views only to his films.
For a man of ‘many talents’, what with his ability to juggle effortlessly between TV talk shows and films, Karan Johar finds the word game a tad too demanding. Looks like the man has way too many obligations to invest time in his own blog. His last update dates back to an outburst after the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008.
There are numerous other filmmakers who are regulars on the blogging circuit, namely Santosh Sivan, Onir, Revathy and Kunal Kohli. Even the acting brigade isn’t far behind.
Leading the gang is Amitabh Bachchan. He’s impressionably regular with his writings. Barring a few pompous notes about his family, he opens up to his readers, whom he affectionately refers to as his ‘extended family’. There are personal photographs, tales about his pet dog, links to his recent interviews, etc. He also uses his virtual power to spit venom at the media, stressing the ‘inefficiency’ of the Fourth Estate.
Aamir Khan’s infamous blog about naming his dog after his contemporary Shah Rukh Khan, made for hot news a long time ago, even triggering a war of sorts between the two. But looks like all the bad publicity has forced the man to slow down on his thoughts. His posts are few, and sometimes consist of no more than four lines. His most recent blog, however, is a detailed description of a day out with his kids.
The beefy Salman Khan has been on a mission to try out different professions. After an attempt at painting, the actor takes on blogging, albeit for his TV game show. The only hiccup being the blog hit a limbo after the show went off-air.
Little known actor Rahul Khanna too had a shot at the written word. He started a blog in 2005, added a few thoughts till 2007, only to give it up completely. His namesake, Rahul (Bose), who might prefer to be known as an intelligent actor, has made little effort towards maintaining his blog. There’s one post for the year 2008 and none for this year. He also began writing in 2005, but his posts dried up soon after.
We even got an itsy-bitsy glimpse of DevD-starrer Abhay Deol on the web. His writings proved as entertaining and unconventional as the actor himself. But the portal’s poor design made navigation difficult and reading tiresome.
The word game extends to the female fraternity as well, even though the numbers don’t run into double digits. Shilpa Shetty, who was resurrected to fame post a British reality show, tries a tad too hard to fit in. Her writings are amateurish, with smiley faces pasted all over. And for those who’ve missed out on her IPL drama, she’ll even word it out for you.

The followers
While Amitabh Bachchan rules the roost with a massive fan following, the others aren’t far behind. Aamir follows close behind, with the number of comments running into thousands. Just like the Big B, he too responds to a select few comments. Ours, however, went unnoticed! Shilpa is still to gain online admirers, her comments mainly run into single digits.
And we have also been told that Amitabh Bahchan has been paid a hefty amount to keep his blog alive, but since there’s no evidence, we will remain tight-lipped.
For the love of cinema
There are numerous other actors who dedicate websites to promote their films. They throw in a few interesting personal tit-bits to lure in the crowd, but once the film is released and the promotion done, the site is forgotten. Case in point being, Anil Kapoor and Ajay Devgan who’ve used the web for their films – Gandhi, My Father and U, Me Aur Hum, respectively.
Blogging might still be in its nascent stage, but web portals have aways been a rage in Bollywood. These are either put up by fans, who’ve dedicated the space to their favourite stars, or it’s the actors themselves who manage it. Celina Jaitley, Mallika Sherawat, Ajay Devgan, Dino Morea and Lara Dutta are among the many who use the web to give their fans a sneak peek into their lives away from the spotlight. These sites are rarely updated and often offer nothing more than what’s already available in the media.

Other networks
Apart from the conventional portals, there are social networking sites like Facebook, Orkut and Twitter that are proving quite popular for the actors to project themselves and bond with their fans.
Looks like today there’s a considerable change in the way stars perceive their admirers. No more waiting, hours on end, for an autograph or even a snapshot. Now, the stars are willing to invite their fans into their lives for an indepth conversation. And judging by the tremendous response, we are sure the fans want more!

get linked
Aamir Khan:
Abhay Deol:
Amitabh Bachchan:
Anurag Kashyap:
Karan Johar:
Ram Gopal Varma:
Rahul Bose:
Rahul Khanna:
Salman Khan:
Shilpa Shetty:
Sudhir Mishra:

Published in e+, gulf news (May 28. 2009)

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

A taste for Thai

Give your tastebuds a wake-up call with the Thai Kitchen food, writes Sneha May Francis

Every cuisine has its signature dish, which is promptly placed on a pedestal, pushing the other lesser-known dishes into oblivion. It’s the Tandoori Chicken for Indian cuisine or Chopsuey for Chinese, making one wonder if there’s anything more on offer from that region. Thai cuisine has also suffered similar generalisations, with the fiery coconut red/green curry being declared the most obvious choice. But we were in for a revelation at the aesthetically decorated Park Hyatt Dubai’s The Thai Kitchen. With each dish, we discovered a culinary world beyond the typical Thai curry and rice.
The bustling contemporary interiors, complete with four open kitchens, each with its neat pile of pots and pans and ingredients, painted a colourful gastronomic image. Mesmerised by the chef’s juggling act, we found it tough to decide where to sit. The cool exteriors, which boasted panoramic views of the Dubai Creek, didn’t take much convincing though.
The uncomplicated menu was neatly divided into wok, salads, noodles, clay pots, fried, grilled, steamed and sweets. We were spoilt for choice but our lack of Thai culinary knowledge prompted us to opt for the set menu, which offers a little of everything.
Our two-hour long dinner saw an assortment of tiny flavoured dishes, making their way to our candle-lit table. The unpretentious tiny helpings made for perfect sharing, enabling us to try out a variety of flavours without compromising on tummy space.
Chef Supattra’s authentic spread had us floored. Blackened, crispy beef strips and a tangy sauce set the mood. Armed with our drinks – a reddish juice and plain orange juice – we were ready to tackle the fiery dishes. Our tastebuds were in for a rush of flavours, some timid, others flaming hot. Considering the helpings were teeny, tasting and choosing our favourites was a game we enjoyed immensely.
The Shrimp Toast with Seasame bowled us over with its tough crispy exterior and soft textured interiors. The accompanying sauce wasn’t overpowering: just enough to give it the much-desired twist. The Green Papaya Salad and Spicy Pomelo Salad looked pretty on the outside but was packed with a powerful spicy punch on the inside. For the faint-hearted, we suggest a spice check before placing your order. It was the Roast Duck Curry that floored us. The subtle dark, sweetened soy sauce perfectly dressed the thin slices of roast duck.
We had started off by saying that we’d give the coconut curries a miss, but the Green Beef Curry paired with a neat pile of chilled white noodles proved an interesting twist to the regular coconut fare. The Red Vegetable Curry was spot on, only proving why this concoction is such a rage across the globe.
Our lack of Thailand’s sweet inclinations could’ve made us skip the desserts, but a bite into the sweet dishes left us amazed at how simple mixes of tropical fruits and crushed ice turned into something so awe-inspiring. We relished the Sago with Pomelo, an enchanting milky coconut blend.
After savouring our huge spread in the most romantic setting, we decided we’d have to give this trendy spot a revisit.

What Thai cuisine where Park Hyatt Dubai, Dubai Creek; 04 602 1234Why For a spicy trip to the Asian coastCost Bill for two Dh530

Published in e+, Dubai (May 14th issue)

Making his mark

Legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan’s blue-eyed boy, Abhishek, believes there’s more to acting than just a glorified bloodline, writes Sneha May Francis

Here’s a man blessed with an envious star lineage, smart looks, and a gorgeous green-eyed actress for a wife. One would think his world couldn’t get any more perfect. But despite all these glorious frills, there’s something that’s eluded Abhishek Bachchan so far – recognition. The man is popular, no doubt, but very rarely for his acting escapades. Bachchan junior has had to work extremely hard to create a slot for himself in Bollywood without depending on his illustrious bloodline. It took him 17 films to prove he’s got the stuff that actors are made of, but he’s still a long way from matching up with his legendary parents – Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. His happy act in Dostana might’ve helped garner some critical acclaim, but it wasn’t enough to wipe away the bad after-effect of his clumsy performance in Drona.
We caught up with Abhishek when he visited Dubai to showcase Delhi-6, a film he promised would be a revelation, but which we later found out to be a tad disappointing.
We rewind to our ‘10-minute’ interview slot.
The rush of sunlight at the hotel café set the perfect mood for our rendezvous, only this time we had other journos for company. The hustle and bustle is a given, considering Dubai rarely gets treated to Bollywood visitors.
In any case, the man arrives, bang on time, dressed in a quirky white shirt, blotched on one side with a large blue eagle. It’s hard to ignore the bizarre shirt, but we try. It’s his well-toned body and cropped hair-do that’s caught our attention next. We speculate it’s for Mani Ratnam’s next flick Ravaan, but Abhi shoots that down with "that’s not the title of the film" before conceding, a tad reluctantly, that we are spot-on in our theory that it’s for the film. We ignore the curt response and quiz him about his association with filmmaker Mani, who gave his career the much-needed push with the rebellious Lallan in Yuva and the ambitious tycoon Gurukant Desai in Guru. "He’s (Mani) a dear friend and a mentor to me. I’d do anything for him. He doesn’t need to show me the script, he just needs to tell me when he wants to shoot. That’s the kind of love and respect I have for him," claims the Bachchan boy.
Since we’ve read enough about his "brilliant" sense of humour, we thought we’d put it to test it by asking him to pick one thing he doesn’t like about his Delhi-6 co-star Sonam Kapoor. But Abhishek stalls, looks uneasy and shouts out to Sonam, who’s seated around the corner, for an answer. When we protest, he blurts out a lame: "She’s always wearing flats. I don’t like that. She’s tall and should wear heels". We could comprehend what was really funny about that line, so we let the humour angle pass and allow Abhishek to hide behind his shades and mumble away in his husky voice.
We note his interesting association with Delhi-6 director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who was supposed to launch Abhishek in Bollywood with Samjhauta Express. Fate, however, played spoilsport, leaving it to JP Dutta to do the introduction with Refugee. We prompt him to reexamine his career and ask how it would’ve shaped up had he waited for Mehra’s golden touch. But Abhishek doesn’t believe in looking back. "I only hope it’s the start of a wonderful collaborative relationship between Rakeysh and me, and that we go on to make some wonderful films," he adds.
It’s Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance that we take on next. A film that narrates the smooth ride most star kids enjoy, contradictory to Abhishek’s tough real-life story. He accepts there are perks, but not enough to see you through. "Let’s be very honest. It’s definitely easy to get your foot in the door. There are millions of other actors who are hundred times better than us but don’t get an opportunity to make a film. But I do everyday. I’m blessed, I’m lucky and I’m thankful for it," he adds. But he disapproves of the negativity surrounding the inheritance of such a glorified status. "It shouldn’t be held against us. It’s not our fault. It’s a bonus that our parents have been in this industry. I don’t think anyone blames the son of a business tycoon when he takes on his dad’s business. So why are we being alienated?"
Abhishek claims he was warned about the harsh realities of the film world by celebrated filmmaker Yash Chopra. "He told him that people won’t spend their hard-earned money on you only because your dad is a superstar. Your father will only bring the public to your first show, after that you have to prove who you are." Abhishek went on to do just that. After 17 films, he’s finally getting a stronghold in Bollywood. And this star kid isn’t bitter about it: "Most actors don’t get more than one film to prove themselves, but I got 17! And I owe it all to my parents."
Considering he’s had a rollercoaster outing in Bollywood, we ask if there’s anything special he does to soothe his nerves before his film releases. "I have a disorder: I speak a lot. I meet as many journalists as possible. No, I’m kidding," he adds, hinting he’s got a funny streak after all. He quickly reverts to the serious tone and informs us that he watches all his films at the theatre. "Apart from Dostana, I’ve watched all my films in the theatres. Maybe not the first show, but definitely on the first day," he informs.
While on Dostana, we congratulate him for his brilliant act and confess our love for the character Sammer. "So did John!" he quips. Abhishek adds he’s won a nomination for the Filmfare Best Actor Award for the film as well.
We move onto his latest Bollywood outing – Delhi-6, a film touted as filmmaker Mehra’s semi-autobiographical film. Abhishek corrects us: it’s not semi-autobiographical but has "certain visuals which he [Mehra] had experienced before." We wonder if that’s not what "semi-autobiographical" means, but we don’t argue and allow him to continue.
He adds that Delhi-6 is a film that hopes to revive two things. "It makes you question yourself, which I believe is important. Secondly, it portrays today’s youth in a different light. A section that’s always been accused, wrongly so, of being very complacent and impatient. This film is a wonderful answer to all those accusations."
No interview would be complete without allowing the man to gush about his lovely wife. So we give in. He details how it’s great to work with his wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (who also stars in Mani’s Ravaan). "It’s wonderful. We are very professional but the great thing [about working together] is that the minute you wrap, you get to spend time with your wife," he adds.
Our 10-minute slot draws to a close, with just enough time for Abhishek to fill us in on his future projects. "After Mani’s film, I start work on Balki’s Pa, with my dad and Vidya Balan. And then a film with new director Abhinay Deol," he adds.
Looks like it’s about time Abhishek got his fair share of the big Bollywood bite. Considering he’s got another chance in Bollywood, we only hope he doesn’t take his second innings for granted.

Published as cover story in e+, May 14th issue