Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Guru - Uncomfortably recommended

It could well have been India's answer to The Aviator starring Leonardo Di Caprio. But Howard Hughes was a man who was a different cloud. Gurukant Desai is at a different latitude.

Mani Ratnam's Guru is a landmark film for India. Remarkably shot, it has taken Indian cinema to a new level on a qualitative basis. But there's reason enough to realise why a film of this calibre and conclusion has met with such success.

It is modern India's unflinching attitude to bask in the the underworld of grey shades. Shades similar to Gurubhai's shady deals, all of which came under suspicion. The film does celebrate the mercantile spirit and perhaps the first film to do so. The resemblances to the founder of Reliance Industries, Dhirubhai Ambani, are well-disguised but just not good enough - that figdety laugh, the hair styling and the Gujarati hangover. All of this accompanied with similar policies adopted the Ambani himself, like having thousands of shareholders.

If there's one reason why Guru becomes a fascinating film to watch, it is particularly for the resemblances to Ambani's real life story. It is a rags-toriches story of course, but the premise is always money. Notably so, you realise why Guru loves to hear the jingle of coins while he's returning from Turkey after serving as a petrol pump attendant(Ambani also went abroad and started with a petrol pump.)

It is not Guru's shady deals that came under suspicion. It is rather his phenomenal rise to the top, amidst the private sector and with lakhs of satisfied shareholders, often achieving growth rates of over 300% - a meteoric rise indeed, for a man with such humble beginnings. But with Guru's influence and cunning, no deal is a big deal to catch.

No wonder then, than his well-wisher, the man who brought him into the limelight, in the first place, Manikdas Gupta (ditto Ramnath Goenka), editor of The Independent launched an unforgiving newspaper campaign against him for a period of over 10 years. Shyam Saxena (Madhavan), the investigative journalist bent on exposing Guru's mischievous ways to reach the top.

Is it right to bribe your way to the top, for a larger public good? Is it right to exert influence through contacts for the larger public benefit? Note the larger public benefit involved, hence the trivial nature of the question.

It is exactly this question that makes Guru such an uncomfortable movie. You cannot help but celebrate his rise to the top. It's a story we would love to be a part of, since it concerns the public good and ultimately it shows that India on the path to glory is also an India that likes to get work done through 'confidential documents, envelopes and a box of sweets'.

Most of the time, you're left admiring Abhishek Bachchan's acting skills. It is HIS film, his ticket to fame for the big Best Actor award next year. Aishwarya Rai is amazingly natural. Their chemistry creates magical moments, especially the scene in the bedroom where both hit each other's shoulder.

Rajiv Menon's cinematography skillfuly shifts between sepia tones of Turkey and Bombay and Gujarat of the 1950s. A.R.Rahman's sountrack elevates the film to higher pedestal and grows on you as the film progresses. These are factors that try hard to distract one from the ideological stupor the film imposes in the last 15 minutes. Mani Ratnam has no doubt, come of age through Guru. But the lead character is not someone I'd like to idolise, even though I admire his cunning and influence in achieving so much. Unfortunately, the film never gives any glimpse into the workings on Guru's mind and what circustances led him to be the genius that he is. Gurukant Desai even though a smart-ass, has never been a prodigy.

Guru's success is testimony to the fact that we, the citizens of this country have accepted grey shady deals as a part of our life. And therefore, Guru is a significant film, but by no means a great one.

Bloody diamond

The contrast is unbelievable. It makes me gasp.

A stone of such beauty, sharpness and elegance. Yet the hardest stone on the planet goes through a hard time as it makes it way across the world from the Sierra Leone to your nearest D'damas outlet. Hold on to your purse-strings, ladies and gentlemen, the diamond you're buying could well be a conflict diamond.

Lets get a few facts straight.

What is a conflict diamond?
Conflict diamonds are diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments. They are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments.

How can a conflict diamond be distinguished from a legitimate diamond?
A well-structured 'Certificate of Origin' regime can be an effective way of ensuring that only legitimate diamonds -- that is, those from government-controlled areas -- reach market. You must insist on this certificate when you buy a diamond.

All's not well in Africa. It never was. And perhaps it never will be. Unless of course, the media takes a greater stand in issues like this.

It is with a sense of desperation that Danny Catcher says in the film, Blood Diamond, "The truth is that God left this place a long time ago." And when Maddy, the journalist looking across a sprawling refugee camp, perhaps the largest in the film, says: "They'll show this report maybe on CNN, between the Sports and the Weather."

Blood Diamond brings into light the wild African side that remains aloof from the media. Yes, we've known Africa is wild for its animals, but this is Sierra Leone - terror struck, thanks to the Revolutionary United Front, which is using the diamond smuggling business to fund their rebellion against the existing government imposed by the Security Council.

And there's a motley of middlemen, mercenaries out there trying to grasp a pie in this diamond business. The text that appears at the beginning of the film is chilling.

"Most of the diamond miners in Sierra Leone have never seen a diamond."

It is here, that Edward Zwick's racy narrative wins as a film, even though it is never pop-corn entertainment. In fact, with all the bloodshed and bodies falling off like a pack-of cards, the pop-corn is a strict no-no. It's an adventure, with a deeper messag, without the sermonising.

A search for a blood diamond and a search by a father for his son. The melange of realistic cinema and edge-of-the seat thrills is what makes Blood Diamond so solid. And the impact, by the end of the film is perhaps responsible for the furore expected at the Oscar awards. Leonardo Di Caprio is of course deservingly nominated for the role Best Actor. But will Hollywood dress up their necks and fingers in the world's most controversial stone?

Keep your fingers crossed. And yes, have a look at that ring finger of yours, because the ring could well have a bloody diamond on it.

Thanks, but Salaam-e-namaste will do

"Jab miyaan biwi ho raaji
Toh kya karega paaji..."

Lines like these and more. Nikhil Advani's Salaam-e-Ishq faces the same problem that the 6 couples in the film share - LOVE. A stand-alone pav-bhaji sounds tempting to me, but place it in a full course meal of Italian, Chinese, South Indian and Mexican dishes and I'd forget how the pav-bhaji tasted at the end of it.

Mind you, the six stories are not bad on an individual basis. Most often you are carried away by Advani's chilled proceedings. But before you can sink into the emotions of one story, pops open another. And you suddenly lose track of the earlier one. Its like adding new ingredients to the recipe before "onions turn light brown in colour".

Like it happened in the John Abraham-Vidya Balan case. Before we could sink their tragedy into our hearts, you have Sallu miyaan surfacing out of the blue in the Kamini (or was it Kamna?) story with Priyanka Chopra.

The Sohail Khan-Isha Koppikar track surely brings the house down with its comic touch. Unfortunately, this story is given minimum screen time. In fact, during the second half, they almost disappear. Sohail is surprisingly good, but his Aryan image gets the better of him on most occasions. The guy is so serious off-screen that when he does comedy, it seems he is indeed 'acting', unlike other actors who're almost living their roles.

My favourite story was Raju-Stephanie - Govinda. The Virar-da-chhokra is excellent in his true comeback form (Bhagam Bhag was a special appearance, trust me!). This love-story captures the possible infactuation of a cabbie falling for his "madame". Govinda's comic timing is impeccable and so is his chemistry with his lady. The Hindi-English divide makes this story indearing, adding humour along the way.

The Anil Kapoor-Juhi Chawla story is KANK extended. Plus a dash of Shall We Dance sprinkled into it and hmmpph... I'm not impressed. Juhi Chawla, my lady, we'd love to see more of you in the movies though.

Love Actually established a crucial element in its screenplay i.e. Love is a complex emotion. Salaam-e-Ishq misses the point completely. Rather it depends on cliches like commitment phobia, infidelity, accidents... which are done-to-death cliches especially in Bollywood.

I think that's where the film fails to have a uniformity - especially the Salman-Priyanka Chopra story. Charming as much as Salman might be, he does sweep the viewer off his feet once in a while, but the story falls flat. So is the John-Vidya story. Accidents, hospital scenes are formulaic tear-jerkers, but with raw performers like John Abraham on board, emotions go in the backburner. And why have the nation's hottie trying desperately to act. But all he does is pop his mouth open to emote and his tresses come all over his face. Its mushy, but I think the impact doubles with someone who can cry well, onscreen.

Salaam-e-Ishq is not a bad film. A six course meal is usually not bad, unless you want to leave the table mid-way. It still manages to offer entertainment at an excruciating length of 3 hours 35 minutes, a total paisa vasool for that expensive ticket. The humour is evenly laid out, thankfully, although it is unsituational most of the times. The music is very good, especially the title track which is skillfully picturised and edited.

But the movie is definitely a big disappointment. Not that we were expecting a Love Actually, but I remember being totally mushy at the end of that one. With Advani's film, I feel exhausted with a severe headache, mainly because of the tiring climax lasting about 40 minutes, backed by Kailash Kher's chest-beating vocals.

Kal Ho Na Ho also faced a similar problem with its last 40 minutes. It seemed to go on and on, with Sonu Nigam's vocals. But KHNH was minty fresh in its approach, especially the screenplay. Salaam-e-ishq is a different story, though.

"What's the time, again? Ain't the movie supposed to be over yet?"

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Man of the year - 2007

Long time since my last post. Here's a hilarious article from NYT which got me rolling over the floor, giggling. Enjoy!

Get Your Resolutions Here

Bottom of Form


Published: December 31, 2006

The New York Times

Hey you, Person of the Year. Never mind what Time magazine announced on its year-end cover about the culture's being revolutionized by millions of MySpacers and YouTubers like yourself. The year is over, and tomorrow you'll be nobody again. May as well step aside now. Person of the Year, it's not about you anymore. It's about me.

And in the words of our commander in chief, I'm the decider, and I decide what's best. In a self-serving spin on tradition, here are my New Year's resolutions. For you.

Get off the computer and back into the recliner. Networks and cable television companies are spending millions a year devising entertainment with story structure and character development to keep your attention. They're also devising clever new ways to spin "reality." Show them some respect. Leave the computer and get back to the TV where you belong.

And give up the blogging. All you emo teens, militant 12 steppers, sexual conquistadors and fetishistic foodies: enough with the unsolicited opinions and diaristic diarrhea. Remember that just because something happened to you doesn't mean that it's interesting. There are plenty of self-important professionals like me who are paid to have opinions and rarefied tantrums for the reading public.

It's time for you to go back to buying newspapers and movie tickets.

And please remember to turn off your cellphones and pagers.

If you must telecommunicate, text. Then we won't have to hear it.

And by the way, I don't care if you're Anna Wintour's driver or Harvey Weinstein's assistant, stop trying to get a book deal out of your blog. Assistant lit is as tired as chick lit. And if you're a Frenchwoman who doesn't get fat, we get it, thanks.

Next? Urban mommies of America, enough with the maternal anomie. You have overshared your guilt and conflicted confessions about motherhood's dark side. You're bad. You're resentful. You're partial to black and to having a couple of martinis at play dates. We get it. Next!

Dads, stop pushing your taste in music on the children. We know it's hard for you to accept that you're not a kid anymore or that you never became a rock star. But that doesn't mean you should impose Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix on the defenseless.

Note to enthusiastic customers of Fresh Direct, the grocery delivery service sending its trucks all over the overcrowded streets of my Manhattan: Use the supermarket. It's right around the corner and a great convenience of city living. And while you're paying the cashier, keep your eyes off your BlackBerry, unless it's the edible kind.

Novelty ring tones? They're a bore. Keep it simple or put the phone on vibrate. Nobody wants to listen to the " William Tell" Overture or Beyoncé while on the bus.

As for your voice, consider keeping it down in the new year. There is no reason everyone on the train or airplane has to hear your conversation with your spouse.

What else? Give up the bottled water. I know your body is a temple, but we live in one of the few countries where you can drink from the tap. And don't kid yourself about recycling. All those little plastic water bottles are going to be around forever.

Stop all the carbs obsessing, too. It's tedious, and you haven't lost weight anyway.

Now a few brief notes to the bigger fish:

Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell, you need a timeout. Mel Gibson, the next time you apologize on television about your indiscretions, I want you to tuck in your shirt. Naomi Campbell, your cellphone privileges are suspended until you learn that phones aren't projectiles and mallets. Eminem , you are not allowed to marry your wife again. You have now divorced her twice. That's enough. And to all the "cause celebs" pushing their enlightened worldviews, which make the rest of us feel guilty, back off. When we have what you have, we'll evolve, too, O.K.?

Finally, everyone: When you go back to the office on Tuesday, disconnect the instant messaging software, resist Googling yourself and stop downloading photographs. It may not be revolutionary, but why not try working in 2007? It's good for the economy.

Person of the Year, this year was all about you.

Next year it's about everyone else.

Starting, of course, with me.