For a movie that purports to be a serious look into rot in the news media, Rann is a surprisingly amateurish product. The characters are borderline caricatures, and the script isn’t the most intelligent you have come across. The background score and soundtrack are loud and just plain bad. The movie has its heart in the right place – the message it wants to communicate is relevant in our times, but as a movie, Rann is pretty much a failure.

The broad outline of the plot is this – evil politician and evil businessman get together with ailing news channel to do a fake sting operation. The sting operation implicates a sitting minister who is forced to resign, and evil politician becomes the minister, driving up ailing news channel TRPs as well. But the fake sting is exposed with a real sting operation by an honest journalist and all is well in the world.

The story might sound simplistic, but if written correctly, it could have been a good movie. However in Rann, there are no real life characters – they are either uber bad or uber good. So Vijay Harshvardhan Malik is the morally upright news channel host who is only good. And there is Amrish Kakkar, owner of rival news channel who is just sleazy. Newbie journalist Purab Shastri is only good – and so on. The only grey character is Jai Malik, who atleast has a dilemma between the righteous path and his desire to regain the number 1 spot. In most other Hindi movies, such characterization wouldn’t be a target of any criticism, but in a supposedly realistic movie like this, it is just ridiculous.

And the criticism of the writing is not limited to the morality of the characters – some of the other characters and parts are written just written too badly. Witness the argument between Gul Panag and Riteish Deshmukh – couldn’t get more fake than that. Or the scene where Riteish is ‘following’ someone – which is defined as roaming the entire day exactly one car-length behind the target !! Or rival news channel regularly pre-empts your shows and no one even thinks of looking for the mole. There are too many such holes in the script – which would turn off any intelligent mind.

The saving grace is the performance by Riteish Deshmukh and Suchitra Krishnamurthy. Riteish Deshmukh plays Purab Shastri in an understated way, and with the beard, he looks completely different from what we are used to seeing. Suchitra Krishnamurthy comes back to the mainstream after a long while and makes her character half believable just by her acting. Amitabh plays pretty much himself – which isn’t bad, but we have seen it countless times before. His monologue at the end of the movie makes a lot of sense in defining the status of media in the society – but it comes too late in the movie and you have already given up on it.

On the bad side there is Paresh Rawal, with a ridiculous amount of red sindoor on his forehead and dark glasses – he shows a remarkable resemblance to a red-faced languor common in our jungles. There is also Neetu Chandra, who actually stakes a very serious claim to a RGV’s horror-next with her wild eyed performance in the climax.

The look of the movie is very Ram Gopal Varma – anyone who has seen Sarkar (or the miserable few who saw Phoonk) would recognize the close-ups with dark background & shadows as his signature style. But the soundtrack and the background score are just offensive – loud and garish.

Could have been a very watchable movie – but in its current form, give it a miss. And maybe wait for Madhur Bhandarkar’s version.

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Everybody knows there is a Karan Johar/Yash Raj school of filmmaking – there have been a lot of graduates from that school – Siddharth Anand (Tara Rum Pum), Nikhil Advani (Kal Ho Naa Ho), Shaad Ali (Jhoom Barabar Jhoom), Kunal Kohli (Hum Tum), etc. However, Ishiqya announces a new Bollywood school of filmmaking – Vishal Bhardwaj school of filmmaking. They say imitation is the best form of flattery – and Ishqiya has the mark of Vishal Bhardwaj all over it, even though direction is credited to Abhishek Chaubey. I do not mean to take away from the debutant director, but from the setting in a remote village near Gorakhpur to the wry, rustic humour, it’s Bhardwaj all the way.

Of course, it can be explained to an extent by the fact that screenplay and dialogues are written by Bhardwaj himself – and he … err … produced the movie as well. He was the music director too – Dil to Bachha Hai Ji will continue to play in the background long after you have exited the movie hall. But my great respect for the man is because of the performances he can extract from his artistes – be it Maqbool or Omkara or Kaminey. Each of his actors – big or small – deliver their best performances under him – and you will be really hard pressed to find a single fault in his movies as far as acting is concerned. And the best part is, he doesn’t work with the same actor twice (the only exception is Pankaj Kapoor in Maqbool & Blue Umbrella).

So it’s no surprise that Ishqiya has blowout performances by Vidya Balan, Arshad Warsi and a number of small character actors whom probably you would have never heard of. Naseeruddin saab wasn’t mentioned, not because he didn’t do a good job (it’s difficult for him to do a bad job anyway), but because his character in Ishqiya is understated compared to the other two. Arshad and Naseeruddin star as two petty criminals on the run – Babban & Khalujaan. Desperate to find a hiding hole away from their pursuer Mushtaq’s eyes, they land at their friend’s village near Gorakhpur, only to find his widow Krishna there (Vidya Balan).

Both Khalujaan and Babban get attracted to the demure, alluring but tough-as-nails Krishna – Khalujaan first in the old-fashioned romantic way and Babban’s lust getting the better of him later. But Mushtaq and a lot of other unexpected people catch up with Babban and Khalujaan, leading to story twists you wouldn’t have seen coming. The chemistry between all three is great, and Arshad Warsi gives his best performance since his Circuit act, stealing all the laughs.

The defining characteristic of Ishqiya is the colourful rustic Hindi used – it may be the authentic cowbelt language, but if you are not paying enough attention, you will miss a couple of words completely. And it is liberally sprinkled with Hindi expletives – much more than Omkara, for comparision – so the squeamish ones stay away and the non-Hindi people get at least one proper Hindi speaker with you. Or you could always make do with an engineer (all engineering hostels have this as their lingua franca :)

The other big talking point for a long time is going to be the Arshad Warsi – Vidya Balan kiss. Man that has to be the most smoking kiss on Indian movies – full of lust as they go for each other tongues!! I don’t know how they shoot a scene like that and then go back normally to their respective vanity vans!

Abhishek Chaubey makes a very impressive debut in Ishqiya – it has all the hallmarks of master Bhardwaj himself. I would actually hold back to his second movie to decide whether he is an actual prodigy or it was just Vishal Bhardwaj ghost-directing. The movie is a love story in the rustic badlands of UP amidst its caste wars, the look is very raw & earthy, and there is an undercurrent of dry humour running throughout the movie. There are some elements of gangster caper genre – given Abhishek Chaubey was the screenwriter for Kaminey & Omkara. There is nothing really wrong with the movie, but if I have to quibble, I would say that the second half meandered a bit too much. Overall, I didn’t get ecstatic over the movie like I did after Gulaal or 99. And hence the rating

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Movies to look out for this week

Ishqiya [IMDB]

Two criminals seek refuge in a small village at their old friend's house, but find his widow instead. But trouble follows when you go by looks alone ...

Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi, Vidya Balan

Direction: Abhishek Chaubey

Rann [IMDB]

A Madhur Bhandarkar-esque look at the news channels today - how the lines between reporting and manufacturing news has been blurring

Cast: Amitabh Bachhan, Ritesh Deshmukh, Paresh Rawal, Sudeep, Gul Panag

Direction: Ram Gopal Verma

Road to Sangam [IMDB]

A God-fearing, devout Muslim mechanic is entrusted the job of repairing an old V8 ford engine, not knowing that it once carried the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi which were immersed in the holy river Sangam

Cast: Paresh Rawal, Om Puri, Pawan Malhotra
Direction: Amit Rai

(Has won multiple awards in international film festivals)

The Blind Side [IMDB]

The story of Michael Oher, a homeless and traumatized boy who became an All American football player and first round NFL draft pick with the help of a caring woman and her family

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw

Direction: John Lee Hancock

(There is oscar buzz about Sandra Bullock's role in this movie)

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Movies to look out for this week

Veer [IMDB]

A fictional love story set in the midst of the Pindari War of 1818. The story has been written by Salman Khan himself and is based on Nikolai Gogol's book Tarus Bulba

Cast: Salman Khan, Zarine Khan, Mithun Chakraborty

Direction: Anil Sharma

Zombieland [IMDB]

The horror comedy Zombieland focuses on two men who have found a way to survive a world overrun by zombies.

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg

Direction: Ruben Fleischer

New York, I Love You [IMDB]

An anthology film joining several love stories set in one of the most loved cities of the world, New York.

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Natalie Portman, Shia LeBouf, Orlando Bloom ... and many more

Direction: Fatih Akin, Yvan Attal

Where The Wild Things Are [IMDB]

An adaptation of a classic children's story, Max a disobedient little boy sent to bed without his supper, creates his own world - a forest inhabited by ferocious wild creatures that crown Max as their ruler.

Cast: Max Records, James Gandolfini (voice), Forest Whitaker (voice)
Direction: Spike Jonze

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Chance Pe Dance

Chance Pe Dance has been panned by everybody – and for a good reason. A overly-simplistic screenplay, punctuated with songs with absolutely NO link with the story, it’s a doomed effort - despite the best efforts of Shahid and Genelia. You know something is not right when the opening is a full length song, and THEN the conventional opening credits come. No explanation given about the song and neither does it have any connection with the subsequent scenes. Possibly at the editing table, the makers realised that they had one extra song that didn’t fit in the movie, and they didn’t want to waste the song …

Not to mention, a dance movie atleast can have some hummable tunes – sadly, not even one. Its like these guys never watched Jhoom Barabar Jhoom!

Apart from horrible placement of songs and indifferent songs themselves, the movie suffers from a clear lack of thinking in the script. While watching Chance Pe Dance, I kept going back to Kaminey, Shahid Kapoor’s last outing – how meticulously thought out each dialogue, each scene was. Compared to it, Chance Pe Dance feels like a really amateur attempt – hard to believe it’s a seasoned director’s movie. (Before you jump on me, there is no similarity between Chance Pe Dance & Kaminey – only the same lead actor)

However, any dance afficianado (or Shahid Kapoor fan) would probably find a lot to like in the movie. Shahid looks good, emotes very well and dances fabulously. His dancing was known to be good, but in this movie he is in Hrithik Roshan territory. Genelia plays the bubbly-girl role that we all know by now – but my ears are still hearing a strong southie accent in her hindi. Overall, her’s and Shahid’s chemistry is pretty good.

The plot – Sameer (Shahid) is a son of a sari-shop owner (Parikshit Sahni) in Delhi who has been struggling in Bombay for 3 years now. He happens to catch the eye of a prominent director at a pub, and lands the lead role, only for it to slip it away from his fingers. He is also thrown out of his apartment for non-payment of dues. But he meets and befriends a choregrapher Sonia (Genelia) – who convinces him to take part in a talent hunt competition. Meanwhile, Sameer becomes a dance teacher at a school to bunch of no-hopers – I guess you can work out the rest.

If the script had been worked on a little more, it would probably have made a successful underdog movie. To director Ken Ghosh’s credit, he has tried to show how a struggler’s life can be – the opening scenes of the movie are good that way. But then goes and spoils it by giving Shahid’s character a car – how many strugglers can afford a car ? And for such a fabulous dancer, the finale song was such a damp squib – with six-packs, yes, but the dance was just ordinary.

And that is unfortunately, how its best to describe Chance Pe Dance – ordinary.

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Did You Hear About The Morgans

It is really hard to convince people that a romance between a 50 year-old Hugh Grant and a 70-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker is worth watching. Especially since romantic comedies usually star really cute females who can make you smile. (Okay she is 35, but she looks atleast 60 and absolutely anything but cute). However even if you completely discount her, Hugh Grant can still sneak up the odd joke now and then, with his trademark British accent and make you chuckle – and this is the only reason why you should consider watching this movie.

But then again, if you do not like Hugh Grant’s style of humour, then this movie is definitely not for you. Hugh Grant, as one of my friends put it, is the Shahrukh Khan of Hollywood. In all his movies, he essentially acts exactly the same – his straight faced jokes, slight stutter and the likeable-soft characters he always plays. Which is not a bad thing apparently, because he seems to be doing pretty decently. And has a fair share of fans – I too confess to enjoying his brand of humour.

Sarah Jessica Parker, however is a completely different story. I just don’t see what makes her worthy of 2 mintues of anybody’s attention, let alone any adulation! Millions of her fans worldwide believe otherwise surely – however from what I have seen, most of her fans tend to be women – I really haven’t met a guy who likes her. In the movie too, she is a strung-up character, who doesn’t really give you much reason to like her.

Did You Hear About The Morgans doesnt have much of a story. Paul and Meryl Morgan are a professionally successful couple on the verge of a divorce, living in New York. They unfortunately, happen to witness a murder, and the murderer happens to get a even better look at them. Fearing for their lives, the state puts them on a witness-protection program in rural Wyoming. Where Paul and Meryl rediscover each other.

All this happens amidst the usual comic episodes – in this movie its grizzly bears, horseriding and the city-versus-rural incidents. Their two respective secretaries are a delight as well. On the flip side, everything is really predictable – and done in many movies before. So it all actually comes down to how much you like Hugh Grant (or Sarah Jessica Parker, if you are a female reader). I fairly enjoyed the movie, but then I am a sucker for romantic comedies. You take your own call.

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Movies to look out for this week

Chance Pe Dance [IMDB]

New love convinces a struggling actor and dancer to enter a talent competition that could make him a superstar.

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Genelia D'Souza

Direction: Ken Ghosh

Did You Hear About the Morgans ? [IMDB]

In New York City, an estranged couple who witness a murder are relocated to small-town Wyoming as part of a witness-protection program

Cast: Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker

Direction: Marc Lawrence

Case 39 [IMDB]

A social worker (Zellweger) fights to save a girl from her abusive parents, only to discover that the situation is more dangerous than she ever expected.

Cast: Renée Zellweger, Bradley Cooper

Direction: Christian Alvart

The Spy Next Door [IMDB]

Former CIA spy Bob Ho takes on his toughest assignment to date: looking after his girlfriend's three kids. And when one of the youngsters accidentally downloads a top-secret formula, Bob's longtime nemesis, a Russian terrorist, pays a visit to the family.

Cast: Jackie Chan
Direction: Brian Levant

There is one more movie releasing called The Waiting Room which I cant find any information about
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Paranormal Activity

Horror movies as a genre is not as prolific as say, romantic comedies or action movies – and most of them seem to be tied to the possessed-child or the zombie/undead phenomena. Only once in a while does a Ring or a Blair Witch Project break the clutter – and manages to scare the daylight out of most people. Paranormal Activity is another such breakout movie which succeeds in scaring - because psychologically, your home is your refuge against everything ‘out there’. But what if something is inside your home ?

Paranormal Activity works because it does not indulge in gore or visuals – it thrives on sounds and suggestions – and forces our imagination to work on what is haunting Katie and her boyfriend Micah. It is spookier because most of the movie is a handycam style visual record of several days and nights in the life of the young couple as they are disturbed by someone – or something. Most of the events happen in their bedroom at night, when both are asleep – and you cannot help but remember the bedroom scene (atleast once) when you are about to sleep on your own bed.

The movie begins with Micah setting up a night-vision camera in the bedroom to try and capture ‘paranormal activity’ that has been following Katie around since her childhood. Micah is quite excited by the prospect of capturing something on camera while Katie is indifferent – in a way all girlfriends are when boyfriends get very excited about their latest gizmo. (Micah carries around the camera in daytime as well – so all the footage that we see is mostly first person. Although his zeal for recording everything on camera does seem a bit excessive at times, you can to overlook it as a farcical reason to shoot everything from the same camera.)

I have to check myself from revealing more of the story as I don’t want to deprive you of the joy – or horror - of watching this movie. The director Oren Peli starts with a very slow pace – with scenes of domestic bliss and happiness, and then things get progressively creepy. By interval time, you are quite intrigued by the story. Though scares are almost non-existent till then – unless you are a little fainthearted, and loud thud noises are enough to scare you. In the second half however, a couple of times wifey almost broke my finger …

I didn’t quite get scared till the very end of the movie – but it does have several thrilling moments en route. Good horror movies are hard to come by and this one is highly recommended simply because it succeeds in carrying the idea over to your own home.

PS – The entire movie was shot in just a week in the director Oren Peli’s own home in San Diego, where he continues to live today. There was no cameraman in the crew as the lead actor does most of the shooting himself. The total production expense was just $15,000 and the lead actors were paid $500 only. Last counting, it had grossed over $100 million in collections, leading to the tag of ‘the most profitable movie ever’.
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Movies to look out for this week

Pyaar Impossible [IMDB]

A romantic comedy in which a geek and the most sought-after college beauty are paired together by a twist of fate. And under all odds, an impossible love story begins

Cast: Uday Chopra, Priyanka Chopra, Dino Morea

Direction: Jugal Hansraj

Sherlock Holmes [IMDB]

Detective Sherlock Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson engage in a battle of wits and brawn with a nemesis whose plot is a threat to all of England.

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams

Direction: Guy Ritchie

Paranormal Activity [IMDB]

After moving into a suburban home, a couple becomes increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence.

Cast: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Direction: Oren Peli

Dulha Mil Gaya [IMDB]

Dulha Mil Gaya is a heart warming tale of four individuals each of whom have different takes on relationships in their lives, with some comical tints

Cast: Fardeen Khan, Sushmita Sen, Shahrukh Khan
Direction: Mudassar Aziz

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Great movies of 2009

I considered and quickly discarded the idea of making a top 10 list for 2009 because so many people already made them and I didn’t think they would be any different from mine. But after going through some of them, I felt that a couple of very deserving movies were left out of all lists. And not to mention, most of the lists concentrate on hindi movies exclusively. So here is Bombay Cinephile’s top movies of the year in the order of their release

Revolutionary Road – A wonderful tragic story of a suburban couple who couldn’t come to terms with an ordinary life and yearned for something special. Director – Sam Mendes

Gulaal – Raw, gritty and dark story of student politics in Rajasthan – and an innocent student caught in this vortex. Director – Anurag Kashyap

Firaaq – A sensitive, non-political take on Gujarat riots which somehow seemed to have slipped under everybody’s radar. Definitely a must-watch for its poignant portrayal of how every side only loses. Director – Nandita Das

99 – Another movie which everyone seems to have forgotten about. A superb gangster caper with really wacko characters and hilariously funny sequences – named so because all characters seem to fall short of a century in real life. NRI directors Raj Nidimoru and DK Krishna

The Hangover – The movie has already become a cult movie, so not much to say which hasn’t been already said.

Sankat City – Another gangster caper which outshines Kaminey by a fair margin (though Shahid Kapur’s acting is really something). Great combination of good acting and imaginative wackos. Director – Pankaj Advani

Waltz with Bashir – A graphic novel about Israeli director Ari Folman’s effort to exorcise the demons of his past – his part in the Israel Lebanon war in 1982 – and the events of Shatila massacre.

District 9 – Fabulous sci-fi movie about aliens that land on earth – and are confined to a ghetto called District 9. Its setting in Johannesburg and gritty documentary style elevates it to an absolute must-watch. The movie also subtly raises questions about racism and apartheid.

Inglorious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant movie about a group of renegade Jew soldiers who paradrop themselves in German occupied territories to sabotage German military and execute mayhem.

Rocket Singh – A realistic look at a salesman’s world – especially how contrary it is to honesty and ideals. Ranbir Kapoor confirms his superstar status in a no-frills role and a superb support cast make it one of the most refreshing movies to come out of Bollywood. Director – Shimit Amin

3 Idiots – Finally Bollywood’s biggest grosser of the year. It’s a little preachy, and the makers have done a little injustice to Chetan Bhagat, but nothing can take away the fact that its a very enjoyable and heart-warming movie. A great way to end 2009. Director – Rajkumar Hirani
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Raat Gayi Baat Gayi

There is something about ‘wordy’ ‘conversational’ movies which makes you feel all intelligent – even with not-so- intellectual dialogues. With a cast comprising of Vinay Pathak, Rajat Kapoor & Ranvir Shorey (cameo), you know you are going to get an intelligent movie – even though occasionally the same crowd does produce a Via Darjeeling too. So atleast for a few people, this star-cast is enough to make the movie a must-watch. For most other people, they need a little more convincing.

Unfortunately, in the case of Raat Gayi Baat Gayi, I wont try to convince you that this is a movie you have to watch. Because even though it takes a refreshing look at marriage in our modern lives, it doesn’t give you any new insight or break any new paths in filmmaking. The end is a bit predictable and unlike the promos, the movie is non-frivolous for the most part. It’s a fresh story with great acting all around, but the story falters just enough in the second half to make it miss the recommended tag. However, if you enjoy your ‘intelligent’ movies, you should probably catch this movie

Raat Gayi Baat Gayi starts off in the morning with a hungover Rahul (Rajat Kapoor) trying desperately to remember what happened at a party the previous night after he was flirting with the mysterious & sexy Sophia (Neha Dhupia). To make matters first, his wife Mitali (Iravati Harshe) seems in a foul mood. Fearing the worst, he calls on his friend Amit (Vinay Pathak), only to find him having his own issues with his wife Nandita (Anu Menon). They seek the help of their third friend Saxena (Dilip Tahil), host of the party, to find out what happened to Rahul the previous night.

If the outline seems like the plot of the movie Hangover, you are mistaken. Because the short memory-lapse is the only common thing between the two movies. As Rahul and Amit desperately try to figure out who Sophia was and what happened last night, we are introduced to all the three wives and we go back and see the party from the view point of all the 6 people. The individual flashbacks introduce new facets of the story, like layers of a cake – in a manner similar to the Ayesha Takia-starrer Sunday or Via Darjeeling.

The first half of the movie is more enjoyable as Rahul and Amit talk about their respective problems and the previous night’s party. Vinay Pathak really shines in these kind of conversational scenes – stealing a laugh with a straight face - while the director keeps the proceedings as realistic as possible. The only fly in the ointment is the slow pace of the narrative as conversations in the party introduce us to the main characters. The story moves quickly in the second half, but after Sophia’s discovery, it loses its sense of mystery.

Acting is laudable by all the 6 major characters – especially Anu Menon (or Lola Kutty) turning in a surprising non-caricaturish performance and Iravati Harshe reminding us what a sublime performer she is. Neha Dhupia makes a very alluring Sophia, without any needless sleaze - the backless party dress being a masterchoice. Makrand Deshpande, Sudhir Mishra, Ranvir Shorey all have cameos – and their performances leaves nothing to complain about.

Raat Gayi Baat Gayi suffers in the closure of the story – where the makers try to become conventional after building an entire movie on errant behaviour. Funnily, my last thought while walking out of the movie hall was whether I would have been able to tolerate a Jolly Saxena in real life. I am just a pompous ass sometimes :)

3 star
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