Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Copycats and angry directors

Recently watched Dus Kahaniyan which is to put it politely not worth writing about or wasting time watching. Around the same time I also read this interview by one of the many (mis) directors and producer Mr. Sanjay Gupta who was a very angry man.

In his own words

“At a time when everyone is ripping off films, I'm still being called a 'DVD director'! Every story in DK is original. The other day I met people from an awards jury who told me they couldn't give my "Zinda" any awards because it was a remake of a Korean film. What are some of the recent Yash Raj Films?”

Q: You sound bitter.
A: I've every right to be……..Just because I don't come from a filmy background I'm given a raw deal. I've been attacked for no reason. All I do is make my films. And I'm having a blast. If today I'm called successful, my success lies in being able to make offbeat films like "Pankh", "Great Indian Butterfly" and "Dus Kahaniyaan".”

A very angry (not so) young man indeed. Err but what was the reason for the anger here?? In all fairness I think of Guptajee’s filmography and my stream of consciousness thoughts runs thus….

1) Debut movie - Aatish - a lift from John Woo’s breakthrough classic (and one of the best Hong Kong gangster flicks, your taste is undeniable) A Better Tomorrow…..
2) Biggest hit Kaante is all Reservoir Dogs except for the first 20 minutes which are very precisely lifted from The Usual Suspects. (To be fair you did not savage either Reservoir Dogs or the Usual Suspects the way Vivek Agnihotri did to the latter in Chocolate, but then a more precise job of wringing out every bit of style, substance and logic out of a great movie and finding finance for producing what is left is not a gift given to everyone),
3) Musafir is copied from Oliver Stone’s U Turn (it is probably his worst movie but still better than any of yours)
4) Ram Shastra – Hard to Kill (I think I am one of the very few people to have seen it so you cannot call me prejudiced sir, I am a dedicated consumer of your products)
5) Zinda – supposedly a scene to scent copy of the Korean Oldboy, whose DVD I have been unable to lay hands on (don’t have your contacts sir you see)
6) Hamesha – hmm slightly difficult because rebirth stories essentially have the same story. I am prepared to acknowledge a slight setback here
7) Khauff – This disappeared from the theatres so fast that I really could not catch it there, not that I wanted to and well I haven’t seen it entirely on cable either but the plot from what I little I saw is like The Juror. But I haven’t seen this so I pass.
8) Have I covered everything – I check IMDB just to be sure and surprise surprise, you also directed Jung. That’s Desperate Measures alright…

So, well the score reads 6 to the chaps who call u DVD director or whatever and 2 no results. Leading to the point that what are you really complaining about man? That other people also have access to DVD’s? Or is it that they do not consider your subtle changes as transforming the flick into an original?

Coming to the topic of changes I think one example should rest the issue. Towards the climax of A Better Tomorrow Chow Yun Fat and the lead chap whose name I forget (basically Aditya Panscholi and Sanjay Dutt) are in a church when lead chap asks Chow “Do you believe in God?” Chow with the trademark cigarette dangling from his face gives a piercing stare, the trademark John Woo pigeons fly around, and he says “Sure I believe in God, I am God, any person who believes in himself is God.” Cool… In your version everything goes as per script till Aditya opens his mouth to answer “Tu mera bhagwan hai Baba (that’s Sanjay), mera dost mera bhagwan hai.” Both wipe tearful eyes and hug with an understandably embarrassed Sanjay muttering “Kya bol raha hai yaar.” Should we talk about inspiration…sorry Sanjay ji inspiration is not a word for this.

So save the anger man and rent a DVD….

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Roman History

Just finished reading a book about Rome, rather the Roman Empire and the whole experience has fused all my past knowledge of the Roman empire(literary and cinematic) to create a collage of Roman history in my mind, something like pasting lots of news snippets on a storyboard and creating a tale from those snippets using your imagination to fill the gaps. It may not make you knowledgeable but its fun.

The book is called Imperium by Robert Harris (who is currently my favourite thriller writer, more about his work some other day), and is about a lawyer called Marcus Cicero and his career in Roman politics. Well then in Rome one rose in politics only if you were from an aristocratic family or had lots of money (you will note things haven’t changed much in 2000 + years) but Cicero having no assets except the gift of the gab and an overwhelming ambition (also pretty good resources, mind you) still tried to fight his way up the ladder. Now while the story was definitely very fascinating, fast paced, what made it neater for me were all the characters I had read about earlier or seen in movies who kept popping up for special appearances. There was Crassus (from Kubrik’s Spartacus) and Spartacus himself is mentioned as well as Pompey the great and Julius Caesar before he became the Julius Caesar. And like today, politics had no permanent friends or enemies, everyone is full of deception (the wheels within wheels kind) and continually tries to outplay everyone else.

I love that Roman history has so much drama (beating any soap opera hands down) that it all almost seems unreal. Now I have read a bit about the Roman era, from Robert Graves’ ‘I Claudius’, which is about the Roman era from the reign of Augustus, Tiberus and the very (in)famous Caligula followed by the crowning of Claudius himself, and its inferior sequel, Claudius the God and the very scholarly ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’. Through all of them I have liberally dropped my jaw in disbelief as to whether all this actually happened, though I loved them all.

So I was quite stunned yet again when the notes at the end of the novel mentioned that all the events actually happened and there was no liberal garnishing of fiction into the storyline with real characters thrown in for effect. So when I wikipediaed and found that not only did the entire Cicero story (more or less) actually happen but what happened to Cicero after this book ends is 10 times more dramatic than the book, I dropped my jaw again albeit for the opposite reason. This is possibly the only time in life I will actually be very disappointed and pissed if there isn’t a sequel. Now how many books can you say that about?

Chennai travails

I spent a bit of last month in Chennai, which is not my favorite city in the world, by any stretch of imagination. The only thing which in the past has made my trips bearable is browsing in Landmark, which is (or atleast was) by far the best book store in India. Now what literally broke my heart is the serious decline in the range of books. This place used to have a phenomenal selection of Scifi/fantasy and now it was even beneath Crossword standards. NOEL TATA WHAT ARE YOU DOING???? I even mentioned it to the staff, who actually seemed sheepish and muttered something about inventory. Buck up guys…..


But when God and Satan close a door they open a window. I discovered a killer dosa joint, Saravana Bhavan, which very surprisingly has branches in Canada, USA, Singapore, Malaysia and I think also London& Dubai. The Ghee Roast Masala dosa fried in pure ghee isn’t light on the waist but boy does it taste heavenly. Not to be missed…

Could not see Sivaji – the Boss, only running for matinee L When is the bloody Hindi version releasing????

Btw had a historic low of one argument with an Chennai auto driver. No, neither have developed human qualities of honesty and judiciousness nor have I become a better bargainer. I just hired a taxi for the whole trip.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jaani Dushman - Ek Anokhi Kahani - The Review

Well the blog is finally up but as expected I am quite at a loss on what to put up next. But as I have spent some 50% of my life watching Bollywood movies, that seemed to be a good place to start. And since quite a large proportion of that 50% was devoted to movies that most people have not seen (or heard of) I thought that I shall share my experiences of a few of these lost celluloid wonders, these classics of camp etc etc….

One such unforgettable experience is Jaani Dushman – Ek Anokhi Kahani, the magnum opus of Raaj Kumar Kohli – veteran Bollywood director & greatest daddy in the world. After three crash-landed launches for son Armaan Kohli the never say die doting daddy; to ensure Armaan’s rightful place in the echelons of cinema rehashed his 70’s hit Nagin, named it after another of his 70’s hits Jaani Dushman, added the ‘Ek Anokhi Kahani’ to patent the originality of the story and pulled in every struggling/ wannabe/ semi employed star(let) in Bollywood (Sunny Deol, Manisha Koirala, Akshay Kumar, Sunil Shetty, Arshad Warsi, Sharad Kapoor, Aditya Pancholi, Aftaab Shivdasani, Sonu Nigam, Atul Agnihotri, Raj Babbar, Rambo…oops Rambha, Rajat Bedi, Siddharth, Raj Babbar and last but not least several aspiring Dev Anand discoveries) and had beta dearest bash all of them up.

The movie begins long long long ago in a land far far far away with two icchadhari naags Vasundhara & Kapil (Manisha Koirala & Armaan Kohli), dancing around as madly in love people and snakes generally do in Bollywood. Getting a bit overenthusiastic in her prancing Manisha causes a mountain (or is it a molehill) to cave in on a meditating ascetic (Amrish Puri) just as he is about to achieve his life’s goal – nirvana, omnipotence, divine procurement of weapons of mass destruction whatever. Anyone looking at Manisha’s bulk in this movie would realize this was an honest mistake but not the old acerbic ascetic who curses Manisha to die that very evening. A very horrified Manisha and Armaan then proceed to bang their heads on the rocks chanting “Hame kshama kar dijiye maharaj” till Amrish (probably terrified that the ground would cave in like the mountain) agrees upon a compromise formula.

The curse cannot be taken back but Manisha would be reborn in the 21st century as a woman while Mr. Kohli would turn into a tree waiting for her to be reborn and then they can well presumably take things off from where they left. Manisha is accordingly reborn as Divya, thunder thighs intact, but by the time Mr. Kohli sheds his bark and reminds here of her prancing snaky past she already has a 21st century fiancée in the form of Sunny paaji.

While Divya is battling the moral dilemma of choosing between her two loves past and present murkying the waters are two of her class mates (yes yes she is in college) Rajat Bedi & Siddharth, who attempt to rape her. After one foiled attempt Manisha’s entire group of friends (Akshay, Sunil. Sonu, Arshad, Pancholi etc - all students on the wrong side of 30 a la Dil Chahta Hai - and hereafter referred to as the gang), in a scene which has to be seen to be believed, plead with her to forgive the two rapists. Faced with dialogues of astounding originality like “Tum ho hi itni khoobsoorat ki koi bhi bahek jaayega” and “Divya, jahan sab log tumhe itna mana rahe hain, tumhe man lena chahiye. Naheen to hum samjhenge tumhe apni khoobsoorati pe kuch zyada ghuroor hain. please…maaf kar do unhe” our Divya is left with no choice but to grant the required forgiveness.

However since bad boys will be bad boys, our serial rapists through the ploy of imitating the voices of all the above mentioned ‘friends’ entice her to a party an hour before the party begins and proceed to well consummate their plan. Since this is an occult movie Manisha promptly proceeds to commit suicide and become a powerful ghost but not before cursing the entire gang with gruesome deaths for being part of the attempt to ravish her.

Now reunited with Kapil, who proceeds to inform her that as a ghost her powers are limited but as a snake he is omnipotent (!!) the two merrily set about killing the gang one by one in multiple innovative ways. How the clueless gang gathers their wits and combats the deadly duo the ghost and the shape-shifting snake while trying to stay alive forms the thrilling core of this movie.

Arming the gang with a staple diet of occult weapons including magical lockets which render the wearer immune to ghost or snake attack, is Raj Babbar, Professor of Paranormal Studies in their college (no tantriks, this is the 21st century you see) who can summon ghosts & heavenly bodies at will. Why despite such all encompassing powers he is content being a simple professor teaching louty students is one of those mysteries that only a sequel can answer.

Not to be left behind our snake - ghost duo seamlessly change shape transforming themselves not only into other people but also inanimate objects such as motorcycles and weapons. Transcending physical laws they even dissolve into liquid and rematerialize, move through walls, possess people and generate force fields.

A story like this requires immaculate special effects and flawless performances from the cast to keep the incredulous viewer glued and on both counts the entire team rises to the occasion. The special effects are truly path breaking and have been shamelessly aped in Hollywood movies as diverse as The Matrix, Mission Impossible 2, Terminator 2, The Mummy & Anaconda. That some of these movies were released before Jaani Dushman is not relevant because as the astute reader has already deciphered, concepts like time and space hold no relevance for such a monumental path breaking work.
Among the cast Sunny paaji bends iron bars, hurls javelins and fights 10 people at a time like never before, Sonu Nigam plays a irritating spineless pansy to such perfection that the entire audience roots to kill him themselves and Akshay and Sunil are so aptly cast as the brawn of the gang that no viewer could ever suspect the existence of a brain. Special mention must be made of Sunil Shetty’s perfect expression of acute constipation when, possessed by the ghost of Manisha, he attempts to prevent himself from being hurled off a building. A Kodak moment if ever there was one! And towering above all is the re- re- re launched star son Armaan, in a towering performance blatantly mimicked by Keanu Reeves in the Matrix from the costume to the utter absence of expression; he undoubtedly lays to rest all doubts as to his acting prowess.

But in the end the movie belongs to Daddy. Combining a variety of genres from horror, action, fantasy, science fiction, romance and comedy Kohli senior drives home his mastery of the medium transfixing the audience to their seats, holding them in utter suspense as to who and how the next person will be killed, confusing and enlightening the viewers at will but never boring them for even a second. That this movie did not get the audience it deserved upon release is one of the great tragedies of Indian cinema though repeated TV viewings have increased its popularity. However let nobody doubt that Daddy is already planning the next launch for Armaan. We wait in rapt anticipation…..

Thursday, November 15, 2007

EE Cummings

I really dont have any claims to being a poetry fan. The beauty (and quite often the point) of the stanzas generally manage to evade my grey cells quite effectively, but recently i came across two very nice poems by the same poet EE Cummings in two different movies that I thought I may share. Pretty good stuff. The first appears in Curts Hanson's In her Shoes & the second in Woody Allen's Hannah & Her Sisters .

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it inmy heart)
i am never without it(anywherei go you go,my dear;
and whatever is doneby only me is your doing,my darling)
i fearno fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)
i wantno world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

ee cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond by E. E. Cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equalsthe power of your intense fragility:
whose texture compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closesand opens;
only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Octopussy – Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Eat an Octopus

The octopus seemed to glare at me though its expressionless eyes, viewing with distaste the intruder in its territory. The salmon next to it was appeared quite at home as did the prawns, the calamari and the assorted varieties of fish. The only things out of place were the pizza bread and the oodles of cheese beneath it. For my part I viewed the octopus as remorselessly as it did me and lifted the sharp knife in my left hand. After all what had to be done had to be done, the post mortems, the wherefores and the why nots could wait another day.

With my other hand I lifted my fork and proceeded to cut the octopus’s head in one swift motion. In another moment I had taken it in my fork and put it in my mouth as my wife watched me with a distaste bordering on repulsion. With my most British expression, I slowly masticated and then swallowed it. There was a moment of silence, I took a deep breath and then with a slight flicker of expression slowly pronounced “Not bad.” My wife said nothing in reply but the expression in her eyes spoke volumes, “Murderer”; they said. How had things come to this pass? Things had been just fine such a short while ago.


We were on our honeymoon and Sydney is an inspired place for such things. Wandering down the beautiful King Street Wharf promenade, we passed the fountains and the birds drinking in the water from the ponds. The paved terracotta paths led on to the quiet waters of the Darling Harbour and we joined the Japanese tourists in taking photographs of the immaculate sunset. The slight breeze across the sea caused an aimless rumbling to occur in our stomachs. It was time for dinner and we were in the right place; for the entire stretch of the promenade was among Sydney’s most happening eating spots cum watering holes - for all budgets and across a variety of cuisines, a number of bistros, bars and restaurants cater to famished travelers which is what we were.

We walked up and down the wharf, the ultra friendly Australians (I could hardly walk a 100 meters without hearing a “How ye doin mate?”) had been considerate enough to put up the menu outside all the cafes, which made possible proper analysis of food served vis-à-vis budget required. Like a good South Indian I proceeded to narrow down on all places the chosen cuisine (continental) & furiously proceeded to convert Australian dollars into Indian rupees. Having arrived at the optimal goal programmed cuisine – cost solution we proceeded into a restaurant. Now I have always had an adventurous streak in my culinary endeavors, I am always open to experimentation of all kinds. However that day, being slightly hungry and also seeing some animal’s tongue (I don’t remember whose) being advertised as the special of the day I was in a slightly chastened mood. I decided to play safe and order a seafood pizza. I should have remembered what they said about the best laid plans….

We had our drinks as we waited for our food to arrive. When the dish arrived well there were two complete baby octopuses in the centre of the pizza as garnish for everything around it. With the pale coloration of good ol’ Casper and proudly showing off 8 legs which seemed to have suction pads all beneath them, they weren’t going to win a beauty contest anytime soon to put it mildly. I glanced at the octopus, then at the waitress, my wife, the chaps at the next table and then back again at the octopus. I was unsure what to do so I gave a stupid grin at all the parties concerned. None of them were considerate enough to grin back and the waitress walked away. I took a bite of a slice which was left untouched by the octopus and found it very tasty especially the salmon. So I took a second and a third bite and polished off two slices in that manner. By now I was fortified enough to look at the octopus again. Its beauty had not improved in any way during this passage of time. The devil in me (my alter ego with a pointed tail) then proceeded to whisper “Why not try it?” My good South Indian self protested but the devil won out by a small margin (as it usually does) by offering the compromise solution that I try the head and leave the horrible looking legs alone. And I proceeded with the actions described at the beginning of this tale, which kind of brings us all up to date….

The rest of dinner passed silently interspersed with a few ‘eeesh-es’ from my wife (synchronized to a ‘T’ with each bite of the octopus) and a few characteristic mumbles from yours truly. And to end an already elongated tale we went back to the hotel, I gargled, brushed my teeth and awoke the next morning without any untoward impact on the digestive system but slightly wiser perhaps, wiser enough that is to ask waiters for greater clarifications where they aren’t naturally forthcoming. And although they don’t taste as bad as they look the next octopus I see I’m going to follow what another unwilling cinematic bakra once said “Good morning and just in case I don’t see you for the rest of the day, good afternoon, good evening and good night.”