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)