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)