Friday, 25 March 2016

Serenity Now: Dil Dhadakne Do, Kapoor and Sons (since 1921) and the Role of Family in Bollywood

This seems to be the season for dysfunctional families in Bollywood. Off the top of my head, Piku, Dil Dhadakne Do, and now Kapoor and Sons are all recent movies revolving around a family with skeletons tumbling out of closets, mounds of lies building up and then crashing down again, relations being strained, love triangles forming out of nowhere, and a patriarch who seeks to keep the family together.
Family has always played a critical role in Bollywood, right from the days of Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Meena Kumari, when family was this unshakeable institution, with a clear hierarchical set-up, the children meekly obeying their ‘doodh-se-dhule’ parents and realizing that family knows best (especially when a tear-jerker of an ending is required, for families in Bollywood did tend to guide their children towards those). Fast forward to 2015-16, and family is no longer a plot point to bring wayward characters back from the brink through emotional blackmail, but a starting point from where characters realize that everyone has their flaws, leading to conflict, conflict and more conflict. And a little bit of resolution. Maybe.

Is this the sign of a new trend in Bollywood, bringing a sitcom-like setting (very Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, or Everybody Loves Raymond, from across the ocean, for the most part) to a movie and watching a plethora of stars trip over contrived situations that seem more out of a Woody Allen film than an Ekta Kapoor magnum opus? If it is, it’s a fun time to be watching Bollywood films, for the most part.

On to the films then.

Dil Dhadakne Do
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh, Farhan Akhtar, Anushka Sharma, Rahul Bose

“Agar Shah Jahan practical hota toh Taj Mahal kaun banata?”

Plot in a nutshell:
 A wealthy family sets sail on a cruise, organized by businessman Anil Kapoor. Watched by the family dog (perhaps the only really morally likable character in the whole film), their carefully cultivated image starts falling apart even as the ship sails through exotic locales.

And here we go:
 The serenity of the Mediterranean waters is in stark counterpoint to the family’s troubles as they bicker over first world problems such as selling their private jet, over business deals and marriages, over dalliances with nightclub singers and chauvinistic to-be-spouses. Secrets are exposed in full view of watching vultures of the high society kind (the worst kind, from what we see).

The elders of the families are shown to be stuck in a different era (of Bollywood as well), when business deals and relationships are mixed, chauvinism is in and unsolicited advice is generously given to everyone and their dog (quite literally, in this case). The youth are shown to have exuberance and a liberty in keeping with modern sensibilities, as they go about carving their own niche and rebel against the old order.

None of the above is taken seriously though. The film moves at a languid pace, in keeping with the calmness of the azure seas. Witty repartee (which isn’t often found in Bollywood) and engaging characters make for an interesting, light sitcom-like watch. It is a little long, and some sentimentality is thrown in for good measure in the middle- but, over the long (again, quite literally, at nearly 150 minutes) run, it’s a fun watch.

Kapoor and Sons (since 1921)  

Cast: Rishi Kapoor, Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt, Sidharth Malhotra, Ratna Pathak, Rajat Kapoor

“Mujhse nahi hota yeh happy family photo.”

Plot in a nutshell: Rishi Kapoor loves playacting his own death- until, one day, he collapses and is rushed to hospital. Since then his only major request is to have one family photo with all his children and grandchildren, all of whom seem to only be at war with each other as their lives entwine and cause mayhem, making a family photo appear a bridge too far.

And here we go: Just as the serenity of the Mediterranean is a counterpoint to the mayhem of the families in DDD, Coonoor’s hilly expanse forms a calm backdrop before which the Kapoor family bickers and battles with each other.

While DDD has the family elders and youth as the representatives of different mindsets and eras, here it seems to be the two halves of the movie that represent different eras of family in Bollywood. The first half is remarkably different from the second half, with the smoking-up, flirting and freedom of the first half replaced by a melodramatic soap-opera-like second half that drags. Nothing exemplifies this contrast as much as Rishi Kapoor, who is playful and amusing in the first half- playacting, shooting, cheating at cards and discovering the wonders of modern technology- but subdued and morose through most of the second half.

The big problem with Kapoor and Sons is that it starts to take itself seriously in the second half, changing the tone and content of the movie far too radically. It appears almost as if the writers lost confidence in their ability to engage the audience with a different story and screenplay, and revert to a far more predictable, sob-story of a melodrama so as to not offend the audience. I also did not find the characters as engaging as those in Dil Dhadakne Do- the Kapoors seem to be slightly less well-defined than their cruise-ship counterparts.

The verdict

The two movies are both alright as a one-time watch, but I enjoyed Dil Dhadakne Do far more. It had a lightness of touch that is not often found in Bollywood, and tried to take on a road not yet traversed much in Indian cinema.

Both the films have family playing a central role, as several key sub-plots involving the various family members lead to amusement that is more often found in sitcoms than on the silver screen. Like a good family, all the strands come together in the end though- or do they?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

And in the End, the Love You Make...

All the attention this week has been focused on one individual.

A legend of the game, Sachin Tendulkar, idol of millions, will be walking out from the pavillion, bat in hand for one last time during the current series against the West Indies.

The adulation of the masses, the glare of the media, the expectations of a nation-all are falling on one man's shoulders. While he does deserve an amazing send-off for his magnificent contribution to Cricket, I feel it's a little over the top to have the kind of circus that we are currently witnessing.

For one, the game isn't about an individual. When all is said and done, this game is a Test match, between two teams of eleven players each. The focus should be on the game itself. That a superstar of the game is playing for the penultimate time is just a footnote. It's insulting to players of the calibre of Chanderpaul, Dhoni and the others to have their contribution to what may just be a fine match completely overshadowed by one individual's reputation.
There are several reasons why Sachin should be considered a legend. There's an equal number of reasons why this over-exuberant showering of affection should not be

But that is for another rant. I'm here to write about something else entirely, that links to this in many ways.

Sachin will be on the field in Kolkata for 5 days, till the 10th.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the nation, another legend of his own sport, Vishwanathan Anand, takes to his own battleground, probably for the last time. The build-up to his game is overshadowed by the build-up to the aforementioned Kolkata match.

Arguably, Vishwanathan Anand is bigger in Chess than Sachin is in Cricket. He has broken several boundaries, and his career longevity is definitely not inferior to Sachin's in any way. Consider his opponent, Magnus Carlsen, who is nearly half his age! Anand has also been the master of all formats of his game: he is widely considered the best rapid player of his generation, but has been reigning World Champion in the matchplay format for several years now. His reign has not been without challenges though: Kramnik, Topalov, Gelfand, to name just a few, have all tried, and failed to topple him.

Why do I say this is his last championship? Simply, age. At 43, he is among the oldest players on the international circuit. Chess may not be the most physically demanding of sports, but nevertheless, age does matter.

What if Anand loses this Championship? Will he accept that he is now past his prime, as so many suggested during his encounter with Gelfand, and in subsequent tournaments? Or will he come back, as legends do, stronger than ever, to reclaim his title from the Pretender to the throne? That's an interesting case to consider. Equally interesting is the case if he wins. How long will it be before he walks off into the sunset? True, people will ask "Why?" if he retires after a victory over Carlsen, but it is better to retire when people are asking that question, rather than its negative.

As for the game itself, it is probably Anand's toughest challenge in a long time (and, to continue the link with the initial part of this post, probably a much tougher, and definitely a much more high-stakes encounter than the one up in Eden Gardens). Carlsen has been rather unstoppable of late, and has obviously put in a lot of preparation for this game. Anand too has put in a great deal of effort, probably learning from his misstep against Gelfand last time around. This match is an intriguing test of styles as well: Anand has been a master of playing the waiting game of late, while Carlsen's temperament generally causes him to attack from the word go. Gelfand frustrated Anand with a water-tight defence. Carlsen now challenges Anand with an open, expansive, all-out attack. But Anand isn't one to stereotype himself. He has reinvented himself successfully over the last twenty years, and grown from a rash, impetuous young Turk (not unlike Carlsen himself today) to the Old Master. Anand is a master of the Game, an old hand who knows all the tricks (as he aptly demonstrated in his matches against Kramnik and Gelfand, two amazing studies in contrast) and has the temperament to take all challenges head on (as in the game against Topalov in 2010). The game will be an interesting match-up, and sparks will fly!

What would make the game interesting though, is if Carlsen wins a game early on, thereby forcing Anand to go on the attack. Will Carlsen change his strategy to see Anand out? And will Anand have the tenacity to fight back against the Mozart of Chess? We'll find out soon enough.

Predictions? Anand to narrowly win, possibly in the last game. Carlsen lacks big-match experience, and could potentially lose his composure should Anand frustrate him with early draws.
Oh, and India to whip the West Indies. No doubt about that.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Transfer Market and Other Tall Tales

The most trying, hair-pulling, annoyingly painful time of the year for football fans is upon us. Yes, it is the summer transfer window. Every year from June to August players leave their old clubs for new pastures, perhaps greener, and are replaced by new faces eager to make a name for themselves.

This transfer window however proves to have been a little more interesting till now. It has its usual share of players throwing tantrums to leave and agents giving talks about numerous bids from 'top Premier League clubs' in the hope of getting at least one bid to compete with the existing bid from the Championship laggards. However, the interesting part is the two surprises of the window so far- Barcelona bidding for Torres, and Suarez wanting to move from Liverpool.

Firstly, Torres and Barcelona. The main question is why in the right mind would the runaway La Liga winners, proud employers of Messi want to sign a player who has really not known any sort of form for several years now. People seem to think it is to replace Villa. I have a different theory though, and I feel it is Vilanova's plan to reinvigorate Villa. Villa and Torres were an unstoppable combination through most of 07, 08 and 09, including their brilliant performances in Euro 2008 where Villa won the Golden Boot and Torres scored the winner in the final. Bringing back this partnership would probably be behind this otherwise seemingly inexplicable bid. Forming this partnership would also give Messi more freedom to play as he wants, reducing his goal-scoring burden. This also paves the way for the loan of Sanchez and probably imminent move of Tello, without losing any strike power.

Now, to the more painful bit. Suarez wanting to leave Liverpool. There's no doubting Suarez has been vital for Liverpool in the last season. It is also true that he has been targeted a bit more than he deserved, but he too has not been a saint by any stretch of imagination. However, Liverpool fans have stood by him through all his trials, supported him after the Evra issue (which was completely, and unnecessarily, blown up), forgiven him after the biting incident and waited while he reduced his diving. However, after all that, if he just gives up and leaves, it will be a loss not only to Liverpool, but also to the English game, for , on his day, there is no better striker in the world. I would hope he stays for at least one more season, because right now Liverpool needs stability as they rebuild after the Hicks era. If he does leave though, they should try to avoid the kind of knee jerk reaction that brought Carroll to Anfield after the departure of the aforementioned Torres.

The other reason this window is interesting is because the top 3 clubs of England last season (Utd, City and Chelsea) and Madrid all have new managers (well, even Mou is new) and would be trying to make their imprint on the squad. So, I expect some low cost bargains and high cost flops for Moyes, some big signings for Chelsea (Sneijder perhaps? He was with Jose at Inter during the best phase of both their careers) and City? Well, as always they will bid for everyone who has an ovr of over 80 in FIFA 13. And land a few of those which PSG, Madrid and Anzhi don't outbid them for.

One of the other key matters this window is the thorny issue of Bale. There is always at least one 'will he, won't he' transfer saga, and unfortunately, it always ends in favour of the the richer team (in this case Madrid). I don't expect to see Bale at Spurs come September. His loss will also make the English game poorer, probably more so than Suarez's departure.

For sheer madness though, the transfer window is often unsurpassed. Last season, Odemwingie camping at QPR hoping to wrangle a transfer to the 'relegation-hopefuls' (as ToI, as usual showing their brilliant footballing knowledge, termed them) was just the beginning. Redknapp then went on to say 'Our transfer policy is not to be caught with the owners' pants down.' Or something to that effect, before buying nearly crippled ancient defender Chris Samba for some 12 million. And then barely playing him.

So, predictions for the transfer window? Even Octopus Paul and his various copies wouldn't want to do so. Not with Mourinho having Abrahmovich's chequebook, Madrid wanting to reclaim La Liga ,Barcelona hoping to stop them with Torres and Redknapp still at QPR. Oh, and did I fail to mention our very own Blackburn Rovers still awaiting promotion under the able directorship of Shebby Singh?

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Greatest Movies Ever?

My friends and I often discuss movies, and argue over which we consider to be the best. More often than not, I seem to be on the losing end, having my opinion shot down as 'obscure', 'weird' or sometimes 'absurd' (generally followed by a flurry of comments on my other likes and dislikes, which also suffer a similar fate).
Which brings me to the crux of my argument. Can there really be an absolutely complete, universally accepted list of 'The Greatest Ever'?. In a word, no. There will always be polarised opinions. People will always argue whether The Dark Knight or the Prestige deserves to be higher, or whether Casablanca should trump both. So you may ask-why another list? Why not just leave it to the folks at iMDB? Well, because fortunately or unfortunately, people's opinions are based on other people's opinions. It's not fashionable to dislike Inception, it's not acceptable to prefer Steve Martin over Peter Sellers as Clouseau. So, here are my contributions to the unending argument, my attempt to polarise opinions and get at least a few more votes in my favour.

The list is divided by genre, so that there is no controversy regarding comparing genres. Within each list, there are three movies, which I consider to be the best (in no particular order amongst themselves), and the reasons for doing so.


1) The Pink Panther (2006): Right from the absurdist beginning of a France vs China football match, the movie is one rollercoaster ride of laughs. Some of the scenes are fairly well known comic set pieces: the destructive rolling globe, Clouseau's attack on Dreyfus thinking he is an intruder, the disastrous date and so on. However, most of them are executed so well that you can't help laughing. The acting is also brilliant, with Martin nailing down the annoying Clouseau and Kline perfect as the ever-suffering (but extremely ambitious) Dreyfus, and Jean Reno as the deadpan assistant Ponton.

2) Johnny English (2003): Spoof movies are very easy to make a mess of, especially when what you are spoofing has degenerated into a farce itself. Released soon after the amusingly horrible 'Die Another Day', Johnny English lampoons everything that James Bond does, and makes you roll on the floor laughing while doing it. From the villain's crazy scheme, to the chase sequences and the whole MI setup, Johnny English makes everything from the James Bond universe laughable. Rowan Atkinson, the master of the goof-up, is a natural for the man who knows no fear, knows no danger, knows...nothing!

3) Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993): Woody Allen's movie isn't much of a murder mystery, since we all know what has to happen. Woody, as usual, is neurotic, with more disorders than you would believe. Diane Keaton is brilliant as his wife, who is convinced that her friendly neighbour is too good to be true, and hence, has murdered his wife. Alan Alda manages to play the 'charming' friend pretty well, and seems to be the only person in the whole movie in control of the situation. The set-pieces are hilarious- like Woody Allen (afraid of open spaces, closed spaces, darkness, and of course dead bodies) being stuck in an elevator with a dead body, a dead body that keeps vanishing and reappearing, and Diane Keaton getting locked into the murderer's house. Sometimes, being in the wrong place at the right time can be very funny!

1) Charade (1963): Romance, suspense and laughs in beautiful Paris, a star cast that includes Cary grant, Audrey Hepburn and Walter Matthau, a Henry Mancini score and a movie that Hitchcock himself loves. What more can you ask for? The mystery is brilliant- not only is it difficult to guess who is the killer and what is the mysterious object (no spoilers here) but even Cary Grant's character is questionable (yes, he is the hero, but this movie keeps you on edge). Brilliant performances, a great story and great cinematography. Too good to miss.
2) Vertigo (1958): James Stewart is the acrophobic detective who finds himself getting obsessed with the very subject of his case, a very alluring Kim Novak. Right from the beginning, with the rescue from San Francisco Bay, to the unforgettable climax, Vertigo makes you shudder and gasp at every twist. Every scene has a purpose, with no time wasted getting into the mystery. The cinematography is so good, that it alone scares you very often. 

3) The Third Man (1949): When Joseph Cotten starts his search for Harry Lime (Orson Welles), little do we know what is in store. The chases through the sewers, the policeman who always seem like they are hiding something, the mysterious death of Lime and one very, very persistent friend. Add it all up, put in a haunting Zither theme and you have a thrilling mystery on your hands. The movie is short, sharp and powerful. As for the ending, it is simply a triumph of acting, dialogues and cinematography.


1) Skyfall (2012): I don't like Daniel Craig as Bond, but Skyfall was arguably the best Bond film of all (fyi, the other options from the Bond series for this list where The Spy who Loved Me and Casino Royale). It took over a franchise that was beginning to look jaded and had just lost a lot of fans with the abysmal 'Quantum of Solace'. To say that Skyfall rejuvenated the series is an understatement. The beginning is thrilling, with Bond 'dying' (it's just 20 minutes in, so we aren't particularly surprised when he returns), the villain is scary in his simple agenda, the action is brilliant and the cinematography exquisite. The fact that Judi Dench (who is a wonderful actress), finally gets a part worthy of her stature is alone a testament to the writers and director. The film dismantles many of the cliches surrounding Bond, but at the same time seems like a loving homage to the series- not an easy feat!

2) Mission Impossible (1996): Ethan Hunt may not feature on lists of greatest characters ever, but he is definitely a force to be reckoned with in this film. With a few wonderful twists, this movie can surprise you just when you feel that it's degenerating into another run-of-the-mill action movie. Tom Cruise is an entertainer, and that's precisely what this movie does- entertain.

3) Patriot Games (1992): Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan is just another analyst, until he becomes a front-page hero and gets an IRA bounty on his head. This movie is in this list simply for the brilliant action sequences, which seem so apt for the situation. The editing is brilliant, and a movie that could easily have becoming boring in the middle remains thrilling throughout.


1) Dirty Harry (1972): Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry is one of the greatest characters ever. This is the movie that started the series, and is an amazing tour-de-force. The story keeps you on the edge, right from the cafeteria scene in the beginning to the bus scene at the end. San Francisco is shot brilliantly, and the editing is taut. Eastwood is brilliant as the tough guy cop who shoots first and asks questions later. And need I mention the dialogues? Go ahead, this movie will make your day!

2) Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995): Bruce Willis' John McClane is also a tough guy cop, though of a different type from Harry Callahan. When Bruce Willis and Samuel jackson team up, you know the movie will be brilliant. The plot is pretty standard- a villain intent on revenge creates a series of challenges for the hero, and a simple, innocent guy (never thought that'd be Samuel Jackson did you?) gets caught in the midst. This movie keeps you entertained and hooked right through. You know that in the end McClane is going to win, but the fun is in watching how, and cheering the Yippee-ki-yays.

3) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989): Why Crusade over Raiders? Well, because Crusade is more of an entertainer, with a lot of humour added to the usual action-adventure that you expect from Indy. Add Sean Connery and you have another powerful performer who can keep your interest. Some of the scenes are brilliant- like the scene where Indy and his father are imprisoned in the German castle, or the scene where they are forced to escape in an ancient aircraft. Watching Indy with his father is fun, and thrilling too!


1) Casablanca (1942): Humphrey Bogart is Rick Blaine, arguably one of the greatest characters ever. This movie is exceptional in every department- the dialogues are brilliant, the actors are stupendous (not just Bogart and Bergman, but even small characters like Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre), some of the scenes are unforgettable (the La Marseillaise scene, or the superb finale) and the story is so good, that even though it seems dated and cliched now, it still keeps you riveted throughout and when it ends, you have a great feeling. We will always have Casablanca!

2) Serendipity (2001): Romance movies are all about the feel-good factor you get at the end, and this is one of those movies that warms you once it's done. Another important factor for a romance film is that it should not drag on, and once more Serendipity seems just the right length, neither too short nor too long. The premise is a fairly cliched one- lovers who are meant to be together, but rely on Serendipity. I'm not a fan of mushy romance films, but this one goes easy on the mush. It makes you laugh a bit, makes you think, and makes you believe in the power of Serendipity.

3) Walk Don't Run (1966): Of all my choices, this is probably going to be my most controversial. However, I stand by my choice. Walk Don't Run is an unheralded masterpiece. Cary Grant gives one of his best performances ever, and Jim Hutton and Samantha Eggar are worthy supporters. The premise is wonderfully absurd- a sportsman who is embarrassed of his sport , an English businessman and an American girl sharing an apartment in Tokyo during the olympics. The love story is well handled, and Cary Grant remains the star of the movie. A movie that makes you laugh a lot, but remains a romance at its heart.

First up, this is more than three, simply because of the vast number of genres to be covered.

1) The Godfather (1972): Brilliant acting, superb dialogues and a great story. An institution in itself. Enough said.

2) Where Eagles Dare (1968): Brilliant actors and a war thriller that takes your breath away. There's a brilliant twist in the end, but there is enough before that to keep you more than entertained. The action is good, the suspense is strong and the dialogues are pretty good. 

3) The Dark Knight Rises (2012): Again, I must first defend this over 'The Dark Knight'. Yes, this doesn't have anyone as memorable as the Joker, but it is a more complete story unto itself. Both are superb action adventures, but this Batman is more human, and hence provides more room for suspense. Michael Caine has a larger role this time, and he definitely doesn't disappoint. The story is thrilling and you can't help but cheer for the 'rise'.

4) The Italian Job (1969): The heist film to beat all heist films, The Italian Job has it all- comedy, thrills, a memorable character in Charlie Croker, great dialogues, brilliant filming, a larger than life storyline and an ending that leaves you wanting more. It has a good score too, and is a perfect entertainer.

5) The Maltese Falcon (1941): I'll be frank. This movie is here because of Sam Spade, or to be more accurate, Bogart's portrayal of Spade. The character is brilliant enough to sustain pages and pages of praise. This movie adds a good storyline, an alluring woman who knows more than she reveals and wonderful dialogues to the mix. Neither a mystery, nor a thriller, this movie is a genre of its own-the stuff that dreams are made up off.

6) Top Gun (1986): Fast planes, a decent love story and a great soundtrack. This is one of Tom Cruise's finest, most mature performances and the other actors are good too. The filming of the aerial fight sequences is brilliant and they are definitely unique. There are raw emotions as well in the movie, and it is a movie that can make you smile, shed a tear, feel the power of love and gasp in awe at the Top Guns.

That's my list then, waiting to be attacked. Now, I'll pick up my popcorn, rev up the VLC player and embark on another journey into the wonderful land of films.