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 (saut├ęd 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