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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Slow Barracks Forever!

After Aap Ka Surroor and Partner, I watched Anjan Dutt's Bow Barracks Forever! and was thoroughly frustrated. After two masala movies, with cliched dialogues, insane situations, lavish sets and dollops of thumkas, I suppose I wanted a film more in touch with reality. The premise of this picture promised as much, seeing as it's based on an Anglo-Indian community in a ramshackle, claustrophobic paada (dwelling)in Kolkata.

But it was not to be so. Kudos to Dutt for tackling a community-specific topic, and as a director he's in good touch, but its Dutt the screenwriter that lets the story down. He's chosen to depict people whose livelihoods are under threat if their building is taken over by real estate sharks. But Dutt doesnt etch out the characters well enough. Yes, he has a lot of them bus still, they're not meaty enough. We don't know why a few of them are the way they are. They're zombie shadows, either lolling in the background of a bustling city and the issues plaguing the tenants of this run down colonioal building, or they stumble through the odd cracks of positive cinema without giving their characters soul.

And, above all else, the characters are so, so stereotypical. The use of the word "man" becomes immensely irritating three minutes into the film. "What you doing, man?" "Eh what, man? Dont say that, man?" "Eh bugger, man!" Enough.

Some of the families depicted have been living in barracks - once a US army mess - for more than five generations. But they're stuck in some timewarp, depressingly pessimistic and decidedly schizophrenic. You'd be tempted to say thats because they're neither fully Indian nor white, but thats not the case. Its the plot and acting that makes it so.

Its a suffocating, claustrophobic piece of cinema. The scene where Bradley (an awful newbie, Clayton Rodgers) sings some hackneyed version of The Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" as a vague subplot emerges in the background, is annoying beyond reason. Why is the abusive Tom so horrible? And what about the pesky real estate sharks? Why are they dismissed as incompetents?

Dutt had at his disposal such veteran Bengali actors as Victor Banerjee, Moon Moon Sen and Rupa Ganguly, as well as Lillete and Neha Dubey, and the talented Sabyasachi Chakrabarty. But they are all let down, especially Sen and Chakrabarty, by poor narratives and hence they churn out poor performances.

As I sat through the film, I thought about all the English-language Indian movies I've seen. And I couldnt name one that I liked. Call me biased towards Hindi films if you like, but I havent been convinced by many English-language movie made in India. I'm not including Mira Nair, because she comes from a different background, Harvard-educated and what not. I did like Being Cyrus, and Deepa Mehta's 1947:Earth, though the latter had plenty of Hindi and Urdu in it. Nagesh Kukunoor's Hyderabad Blues was patchy, and his Rockford was too ambitious for its own liking. Rahul Bose sleepwalked through English, August. White Noise was terrible.

No matter how well Indians converse in English today, it looks awkward on screen. I dont think its just the actors; its more the poor writing. Everyone thinks in English nowadays, but the writing isn't up to standard.

Bow Barracks Forever! is another disappointing example of this. Sad.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cricket banter

Sachin Tendulkar went past 11,000 Test runs on day two at Trent Bridge. He looked sluggish, but finished the day unbeaten on 57. He needs a big hundred.

Anyways, enough of that. There should be a season for cricket. Not the scattered, ICC-drawn calendar we follow now.

Its not next to impossible, as we're made to believe, given the international teams that play, split by hemispheres and climates.

Look at sports in the United States. There are spring, fall and winters sports. One ends, another begins. Some run simultaneously.

In that sense, there's a certain charm to the English county season. Games begin when the snow has thawed, the greens have been cleared. Thats the romance missing in the international calendar.

Sample this para written by Ed Gammons, one of the best baseball analysts and writers, in the fall of 1975 after the Boston Red Sox lost the race for the World Series.

"We have postponed autumn long enough now. There are storm windows to put in, wood to chop for the whistling months ahead. The floorboards are getting awfully cold in the morning, the cider sweet. Where Lynn dove and El Tiante stood will be frozen soon, and while it is now 43 years for Thomas A. Yawkey and 57 for New England, the fugue that was the 1975 baseball season will play in our heads until next we meet at the Fens again."

Wow. Where do cricket writers get to pen romance like that? We have a jam-packed international calendar; there's just no time for a season to set in. There's too much cricket so you cant absord all of it. Or enjoy it.

Cricket should shut shop for the winter, then slowly stretch and yawn and open up in the spring. The game needs a gap so fans can start missing it. You need that pitter pat of the heart, that slight elevation of blood pressure as the excitement of a new season kicks in. Its a vortex you want to get sucked into.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Himesh bhai nu

Okay, I’m back. A lot has happened since I last got on this page. India elected its first female President in a muckraking political poll, Tony Blair left office, Australia won its third consecutive World Cup, and Paris Hilton went to jail, and the seventh and final Harry Potter book came out.

But yeah, I’m not here to discuss all that. Saw Himesh Reshammiya’s debut film, Aap Ka Suroor – The Real Luv Story yesterday. Sold-out show at 11.00 a.m. in Bangalore, of all places. And get this, there was an auto rickshaw parked on the second to last floor of the mall, smack between an SUV and one of those fancy little cars.

I can just see the rick driver, collar up, taking the morning off and driving through the gate, telling the security guard that he was a paying customer here to watch a film, and that like all the other customers, it was his right to park his vehicle in the space allotted. Awesome!

But yeah, back to the film. You don’t expect much walking into a picture like this, right? I mean, its Himesh Reshammiya, he of the nasal twang, the long coats, the rough stubble, and of course, the colorful caps. He never smiles, he croons about loss and pain, he sleepwalks through so many of his music videos. I didn’t read too much of what the critics wrote, but 99% of what I did come across was trade gurus panning his acting and the entire movie.

I was pleasantly surprised. This is no award-winning performance, the emotions are but scarce, and the dialogues are pretty lame. But surprise, he’s not bad at all. He doesn’t overact, thankfully, and he sticks to what he’s given, or written, with out trying too hard at all. Its because he doesn’t go over the top that he actually works. Check out the scene where his best friend and manager requests him to just drink with him once in life, and the ensuing scene where he does a superb imitation of Mithun Chakravarthy, jig et al! Or the way he agrees to let the investigative reporter Nadia into his house, after he’s totally sizzled. Comic timing is spot on.

For a first effort, it’s commendable.

Is it a pretentious film? Yes. Not just because its about Himesh fulfilling some sort of fantasy or ego trip – he romances a young nubile thing, he sells out entire shows in front of a German audience chanting his name, he has his own jet, foreign bodyguards, fleet of expensive black cars, palatial mansion, he gets to wield a gun, look tough, crack one-liners and hello, Mallika Sherawat drools and throws herself at him! – but because the scriptwriters try to pull

The screenplay is very loose, very convenient. It’s almost as if the screenwriters thought that viewers of this kind of film, Himesh’s fans, wouldn’t be able to grasp something taught and gripping. I think they really misjudged the fans. It’s a shoddy script.

But people can point to ticket sales and say that the exuberant Himesh and the film’s writers and director got big mileage out of a simple approach. The film has been accepted by those same underestimated fans, and is selling out well enough to further Himesh’s stature as a pop culture phenomenon. Caps off….err, or not.