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Music,Musings et al

Month: December, 2011

Movie Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Anderson)

ttss-title-bannerJohn le Carre’s bristling spy drama plays out as enigmatically as any movie that I have ever seen. It unspools with a clinical lack of drama and at a studied pace that makes it seem longer than its two hour runtime. I could decipher this much – That a reading of the book is not optional but almost essential to enjoy the various shades of the movie. As far as I know there can be two kind of mystery dramas – One, that lay out their cards to you and give you enough to unravel the mystery by yourself and the second kind which let you sit back and let the protagonist do the thinking. I am led to believe that TTSS is the latter kind because we are privy to only so much information about the teeming characters in this sprawling drama. There is not much scope for inferences and deductions because from the little we see everyone seems compromised and suspect.

If one reconciles oneself to this much, as I did after strenuously trying to stay on the hunt as an active participant before being shunted out by Alfredson, there is a lot to savour and enjoy. Firstly, there is the all star British cast at the top of their game. Considering the number of characters, only a few manage to stay on for more than a couple of minutes. Gary Oldman’s (as George Smiley) pensive, measured performance is masterful. It is astonishing how he has managed to summon upon himself the curse of old age so quickly. There are at least a thousand wrinkles on his face, even more adding to them when he is worried, as he is thrown into this quagmire of a mission to uncover the mole at the top of the Circus (The British Spy Agency). We should also keep in mind that he has only ordinary dialogues to say here and is not aided by the crowd pleasing, rousing dialogues of the Batman series or the overtly sinister scenery chewing kind in Leon. He is an old, retired, stolid man for whom life has become a wheezing struggle and this is depicted nicely in the scenes where he chugs through his daily chores somewhat like how he wades through the placid waters in a  swimming pool. Mark Strong (as Jim Prideaux), Benedict Cumberbatch (as Guillam) and Tom Hardy (as Ricky Tarr) are the others who get some screen time and all of them play their characters with remarkable ease.

The second thing I liked about the movie was its elegiac quality. There is a nation’s national security at stake, as it usually is in spy dramas, but more than that there is also personal pride and honour at stake. For Smiley, there is redemption at stake after having to quit unceremoniously. Also these are not young, virile men engaging in a battle of wits but a solitary old man (pardon the pun, if any!) who is past his prime fighting it out.

The use of real world locations instead of sets gives the movie a sense of history and is very appealing. It also kills the little lurking feeling that this might play out like a Hollywood spy drama from the outset. Alfredson captures the lived in decadence of the espionage establishment, the Circus, to show us compellingly as to why the top brass may have been foolish enough to have fallen for Karla’s astute skulduggery. It is not just the mole but the naiveté of the entire establishment that is desperate for success and breakthrough of some kind.    

Tinker Tailor Enemy WithinAlfredson and his team of writers manage to invoke an over bearing sense of intrigue and drama without depicting any overtly. The team of writers do not gloat over the bigger revelations, as and when they arrive, and keep pressing with a sense of efficiency that perhaps diminishes the impact of the movie at certain key moments but also elevates it beyond the realms of melodrama. It is a choice that they consciously make as is evident from how the final act unravels and the mole is revealed – not to any reverberating Zimmer like score but a low key trill. What the movie lacks is a sense of urgency but this is more than compensated for by the various engaging strands of investigation. Such cinema and such understated denouements I have only seen in the likes of Coppola’s The Conversation and Fincher’s Zodiac.        

As it is, TTSS is a movie that you can easily give up on, for it has everything going against it – too much information to process for a movie, too many characters to keep track of, intricate details that lead to further intricate details so much so I still do not have the complete web of connections in my head. In this respect it is somewhat like Altman’s Gosford Park with all the information overload. All I have remaining is a feeling of having had a sumptuous meal whose delicious aftertaste still lingers. It is a movie that cannot be grasped in one viewing for the above reasons, at least for me, and whose appeal lies far beyond the simple click with which the pieces of a puzzle fall into place.

For the second time this year, a Nordic filmmaker shows the way. I would not mind if they take over. 

Movie Review: Don 2 (Farhan Akhtar)

270808xcitefun-don-2-poster-9OK before you point out the flaw in this review, I’ll lay it out for you myself. I have written this with the assumption that Farhan Akhtar exactly knew and meant what he was writing, unlike say Kanti Shah or Ed Wood who did not have any idea about the kind of stinker that they were making. There’s a only this much difference between Don 2 and Gunda. Except that the former is rip roaringly campy while the latter is uproariously trashy. Because there is no way such an A lister could play out with such B movie tendencies especially when it is helmed by Farhan Akhtar. So I call Akhtar a Tarantino rather than a Kanti Shah. I am willing to cut that much slack for him, a director who has given us the uber cool Dil Chahta Hai, the rousing Lakshya and the devilishly smart Don remake. Not to mention the wicked sense of humour he displays in his TV appearances and movies (as lead) so much so it seems as if he collected all his one liners and gave them to SRK.

Don 2 has loud, brassy, colourful screenwriting that is at times so reckless and inconsistent as to be fatal. But somewhere down the line Farhan manages to strike a balance, I would not say fine, between this pure unabashedness and proficient plotting. It is still all over the place in a likeable way. It is not overwrought with a clinicality that becomes a defining feature of most thrillers. It does not even aspire to be the perfect thriller. Its aspirations are lower and it meets them in sublime fashion.

In the original Don itself, SRK managed to bring in his own mannerisms and quirks to make the character his own. It was a major departure from Sr. Bacchan’s smouldering, dignified performance in the original. Don 2 only ramps up the brashness and quirkiness of Don. It is an extension of SRK’s and Farhan’s personas. So if you can’t tolerate them in real life this movie can become extremely annoying to watch. The plot is centred around a heist that Don, Vardhaan and a man boob possessor called Jabbar, who is like a cross between Parmeet Sethi and Javier Bardem, fashion in order to steal currency printing plates from Deutsche Zentral Bank. There are a couple of plot twists as usual, a comically apocalyptic romance between Don and Roma (Priyanka Chopra in an assuredly dramatic role), his jangli billi who he admits has become a buri aadat, a few double crosses etc.

270809,xcitefun-don-2-poster-8But what you really take away from this movie is SRK’s cheeky bastard swagger and charm that he, in the true tradition of camp and kitsch, overdoes. There are lines like “mujhe apne aap ko zinda rakhna suit karta hai” or “aaj meri maa yeh sunkar kitni khush hoti” that are outrageously funny. With this movie I lost the ability to discern the difference between so-bad-its-funny and actually-funny because it ferociously vacillates between the two although it is mostly of the former variety. Either way it is funny. This is the campiness and excess of the Tim Burton kind and go for broke filmmaking because I am quite sure Farhan could have made a studied thriller with functional dialogue and walked away with so called critical acclaim. He could have put the focus on the story but staunchly refuses to do so. Instead he puts the focus firmly on his lead and tells it in the massiest way possible. He makes the audience laugh at the film and not with it. He gives atrociously clunky dialogues to Om Puri (Who reprises Malik) and basically everyone apart from Don to make them look like moronic characters straight out of the iconic C.I.D. show. All of this is ridiculously joyous to watch.

The second aspect that hits you is the fabulous cinematography that faithfully and evocatively recreates the lushness  of Thailand, the polish of Kuala Lumpur and the icy cool blue tint of Berlin. Jason West, take a bow man! The action set pieces are not extraordinary but definitely Hollywood worthy. Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s soundtrack, as I had guessed earlier, improves dramatically in the context of the film. Their groovy cadences in the background score, derived largely from the first instalment, propel the movie well.

All in all, Don 2 takes hold of the action-heist genre and reconfigures its boundaries to suit its lead’s persona. It feeds and thrives on the energy and glamour of SRK and along the way throws in a modicum of a plot that I didn’t even bother about. Because in the end all the tackiness, cheesiness, ludicrousness and over the top-ness is the real deal, and to quote my friend (who quotes from the movie!), is all part of the plan. Its all part of the plan.                        

Movie Review: Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)

MissionImpossibleGhostProtocol_Poster-546x307Brad Bird fashions a terrific movie in Mission Impossible 4 – a worthy addition to the franchise who’s existence is frequently questioned by critics and threatened by the iconic Bond series and the explosive Bourne series. The Bourne series may have even triggered a major rethinking in the IMF offices leading up to the slapdash serious turn in Mission Impossible 3. JJ Abrams had the penchance for a reboot, after the juvenile attempt by Woo, but the execution was middle of the road, ending in a confused product. MI3 was a blur of a movie. I didn’t remember anything from that movie. Somewhere down the line, the obsession with unravelling the psychological side of the protagonist, making the drama grittier, making the hero vulnerable seems to have gripped the new age franchise directors but this has needlessly led to cutting down on the fun quotient. Not to mention that is Bourne’s universe. Not Hunt’s. Hunt is cool while Bourne is guttural. Hunt doesn’t break a sweat and is not tormented by his inner demons. Neither is he saddled with a fragmented memory. He has a super cool technical crew that has every gadget imaginable while Bourne can only trust his instinct. De Palma’s Hunt could do his own thing. And this is where Bird succeeds emphatically. He reminds us why we see MI movies after all – For pure unadulterated thrills. His Mission Impossible is just that – a pure adrenaline rush of a movie that he forces down your throat in one exhilarating gulp. And before you start breathing again you will see Tom Cruise lathering his charming smile on you and walking away into the smoke, beyond which possibly lay the sets of Mission Impossible 5.(Yes the sequel is not so much as hinted as it is explicitly stated).

The plotting is irrelevant frankly. The devil isn’t in the plot; it is in the treatment. Bird plays it perfectly – The tautness of a chase movie  spiked with delightful self deprecatory and deadpan humour. The punches keep rolling till the end with Simon Pegg hogging the bulk of them. Bird ensures that there is no single dull moment in the movie. His storytelling is frenetic and he keeps whisking away Hunt & Co to a new location after every half an hour. The globe trotting Hunt has his hands full with one task after the other so much so this movie should have been called Missions Impossible. Here too there is a delicate balance to be struck between too many missions tiring the viewers down with deja vu and keeping them invested in the movie. This is where the humour comes in. After every mission – even  during every mission – there is a constant playful banter between the leads that keeps you hooked.

Tom_Cruise_in_Mission-_Impossible_-_Ghost_Protocol_Wallpaper_5_800The stunts are refreshing and thankfully kept to a minimum. I think Hunt gets two major stunt sequences – one in Dubai and one in Mumbai – of which his heroics on the Burj Khalifa are jaw dropping. It is breathtakingly shot and it is good to see Cruise up to it at the age of 50. The desert storm sequence is also picturised well. Tom Cruise kicks ass as Ethan Hunt and roars back to form after some lukewarm releases. Simon Pegg is an amusing, likeable presence while Paula Patton is equal parts gutsiness and sexiness. Renner plays it in a cool, detached manner that is apt for the role. Michael Nyquist is hardly there and looks suitably mad and menacing. The real winner though is Brad Bird and his team of writers who insult our intelligence – take outrageous liberties with it – but still deliver bucket loads of fun. Bird stays true to the grammar of De Palma’s MI be it the self destructing mission messages or Cruise’s lip reading ability but adds his own original touch. It would be interesting to see where the franchise goes from here considering this mighty impressive effort.

PS: I tried to follow the plot as diligently as possible but soon realised that it was not the main deal anyway. I don’t know who the weird guy is who he meets in a port towards the end. I don’t even know why they go to Mumbai.(Ok they have to stop Hendricks (Nyquist) from using the satellite to launch the missile or something but then Paula was looking so ravishing in that green dress, Cruise so charming in his suit, Pegg so amiable with his humour, Renner so sophisticated and Anil Kapoor so jejune that I gave a damn about the details.)

PPS: With regard to Kapoor though the writing could have been better and not so clichéd. I mean,come on!            

Music Review: The Businessman (S Thaman)

Mumbai sets the mood with its noir’ish undertones although the singing and lyrics could have been better. It is very Mani Sharma’ish in its approach, which also raises the question, without doubting the competence of Thaman per se, as to why Mani isn’t doing this soundtrack? Sir Osthara (or rather Saar Osthara) features Thaman’s cultured ambient sound that he perfected in Bodyguard and it is mighty addictive. I like this revamped Thaman sound a lot. It is a clean and refined sound and has shades of Sandeep Chowta’s techno oeuvre. Chandamama Navve has an intriguing tune with its alternating staccato burst of vocals and music. Thaman also nails it with the minimalist arrangements. Pilla Chao is passable fare. Bad Boyz is quite obviously the obligatory Puri Jagannath item number and its not bad. Bhaskarabhatla’s lyrics do not make any qualms about their lack of subtlety and are more or less of the run of the mill variety. Businessman theme is heavily Dookudu’ish but shrugs off the influence with Thaman’s lurid sound, Mahesh’s trademark dialoguebaazi and Puri’s adrenaline pumping aggression that brings back good memories of a certain flick that we all fell in love with.

Businessman has competent, engaging music that has enough for the masses and the connoisseur.It also marks an important evolutionary stage in Thaman’s music. 

Music Review: Bodyguard (Telugu; S Thaman)

Bodyguard surprisingly has a lot of soft melodies on offer and Thaman is in silken form here. Yevvaro and Hosannaa are fabulous ambient ditties. The former has a lovely thump to it while the latter is a pure delight with its shifts in tempo. Both are nicely sung as well. Jiyajaley is interestingly tuned and the sparse arrangement gives it a clean sound. Another good song. Endhuko leavens melancholy with an icy cool sound even as Thaman brings back echoes of Yevvaro with breath taking results. Bodyguard is a mash up of all the masala songs that Thaman has done so far; hence its low appeal. Better used as a background song. Oh My God again has a sound that has been done to death by Thaman.

Despite the tame title tracks, Bodyguard’s music is quite enjoyable what with Thaman discarding his penchant for excessive percussion for a more ambient sound.     

Music Review: Agneepath (Ajay-Atul)

I haven’t heard much of Ajay-Atul’s music but I have heard a lot about them. From the little I have heard (Singham and Shock) they seem like strong melody driven composers in the traditional mould. Agneepath is a very interesting album in that sense. Chikni Chameli is an upbeat cocktail that is drunk on its own feverish pace although it is slightly unidimensional tunewise. Deva Shree Ganesha is another high octane number sung by Ajay who sounds a lot like Sukhwinder Singh in a good way. The mesmeric chant like mukhda works wonders and so do the portions leading up to it. Both these songs, put together, bring a strong Marathi flavour to the album. Talking of Sukhwinder Singh, he also gets to sing here, along with Krishna and Anand Raj Anand, in a qawwali’ish Shah Ka Rutba. The song has an engaging rhythm except for its situational appeal.  Gun Gun Guna is amateurish, tune wise, and unexciting. O Saiyyan puts the soundtrack firmly back on track with a very Vishal Bharadwaj’ish opening. It sees Roop Kumar Rathod in spellbinding form, gliding over the dulcet melody with ease. Lovely song. The soundtrack has a gem of a song in Sonu Nigam’s Abhi Mujh Mein Kahin. It promises one endless hours of repeat listening with its fabulously intricate tune and outstanding orchestration. What Ajay-Atul do well here is to unshackle the tune to give Sonu free reign over it and his vocals are a soaring triumph. The background is nicely clutter free. Notice how there is just a piano accompaniment at the beginning of the antara before a tabla slowly kicks in and melds into a hide & seek playing santoor orchestral. Sonu’s soulful singing, which is so calibrated in the antaras, rises emphatically towards the end. This is a mature performer at his peak and I hope to see more of him in the soundtracks of 2012. Ajay-Atul provide stirring orchestration to the song, the high notes etched by Sonu feeding off on the powerful orchestration; not to forget the morose violins that give it an atmospheric feel. Wonderful,wonderful song.

Ajay-Atul are a compelling addition to the talent explosion in the Hindi music industry and consolidate well after the delightful start in Singham.More power to them!   

Music Review: Veedinthe (Yuvan Shankar Raja)

Yuvan’s music for Veedinthe is melodious and enjoyable but it is also a marginal work. He threatens to wield the sledgehammer of creativity, once in a while, only to return to his comfort zone. Laddu Laddu is highly obnoxious. It is with Manase Paikegire that Yuvan is back to his old self. It is a harmless ditty with some deft touches yet it is from the same mould that tens of other songs of his have been carved out of. So it is his bread and butter work. Pasivadi Padamai has a swinging tune that drones on rather monotonously although it is mildly impressive at places. With an album that has Karthik and Haricharan you hardly expect Mano to steal the thunder. But steal he does with Veeradhi Veerulu an upbeat, punchy number with thumping masala orchestration.

Veedinthe is largely a couple-of-listens album.Nothing more.  

Movie Review: Panjaa (Vishnuvardhan)

Panjaa-Poster1There was an interesting discussion on a social networking platform about what constitutes ground breaking cinema; is it novel storytelling, is it a novel storyline itself, is it philosophical depth and so on…The idea seemed to be to isolate that one quality that takes a movie from the realm of good to ground breaking. It would of course not be out of order to suggest that it could also be a confluence of two or more of these elements. That, however, is not the point. The essential point is that, considering the glut of movies that get made these days, it is hard to expect novelty even in good movies leave alone great movies. Some movies, and Vishnuvardhan himself would attest to this considering the kind of reviews he got for Billa, get criticised for giving precedence to style over substance. “All style, No substance” is probably the most common refrain in film criticism and deserves to be a distinct category in itself. However, there are also certain movies where style is in fact the substance. Backed with even a wafer thin storyline but just a little bit of thoughtful attention to detail a style over substance movie can actually deliver. Like it does in Panjaa. The storyline is not its strongest point; it is even vaguely familiar – A hitman coming into conflict with his gangster boss due to certain circumstances (Its the unhinged son played brilliantly by Adivi Sesh who provides the conflict here). So what works in Panjaa? It would be unfair to just paint it all as simply style but it comes in various forms. It can be something as trivial as Pawan’s beard to something as critical as how well the gun battles are fashioned (Its an incredibly satisfying feeling to see that gangsters in telugu movies have graduated, even if temporarily, from sickles and swords to modern equipment like machine guns, grenades and gelatin sticks. Is it the Cal effect? Hmm..).

It is also a sign of intelligent screenwriting when certain ground rules of gangster movies are adhered to even though they are all movie-book creations themselves. The hero, for example, cannot just enter the enemy’s territory and hope to blow them away just because he happens to be the hero. He does it, however, not without tempering his bravado by saying that it is something that is next to impossible. So when he is actually pulling it off, in the next couple of scenes, we understand or at least reconcile ourselves to the fact that he was lucky rather than resigning ourselves to the fact that there is a certain inexplicable Chemical X in our heroes which makes them do such stuff. We admire a hero who actually knows his limitations for he is intelligent and more real. The Bocchicchio’esque guarantee that Jai (Pawan) insures himself with by kidnapping the rival’s son before entering their territory is another example of smart writing. Above all, there is the looming influence of The Godfather which is hinted in the way in which the gangster families are ordered and the way in which the chains of command, at least rudimentarily, work. So if Bhagwan (Jackie Shroff is effortlessly stylish and proficient) is the Godfather then Guru (Tanikella Bharani going through the motions) is like his consigliore, Abbandando, and Jai is like his Luca Brasi.

 

pawan-kalyan-panja-new-picThere is a heartening consistency to Pawan’s characterisation also. His usual flamboyance is discarded for a slightly moodier disposition. He is a gangster, remember. So no lively banter. Or at least lesser amounts of it. A scrunched up, shaggy face. Only the heroine’s chirpiness manages to put a faint smile on his face, once in a while, which means that in the larger context of the movie he is alive to the fact that he is a gangster. As the heroine notes, but cannot explain, he always has his eyes on his watch and his hands in his pockets. Even though we do not know how gangsters live it seems highly likely that they live like this, in constant fear, always alert to any eventuality. Small details like this can do wonders to the tone of the movie especially when it permeates like this into the other aspects of the protagonist’s life. To his credit Pawan plays his role with remarkable precision and ease. He is the lifeblood of the movie and is outstanding. Sarah Jane Dias, who plays an effervescent botanist, is refreshingly good and has more acting chops than the garden variety Ileanas. Anjali Lavania has a brief role, where when she is not looking hot, she ecstatically exposes herself as a dud actor.

The Brahmanandam track appears a little forced in this largely humourless movie. This could be one reason why certain village scenes make the screenplay sag. In fact the soft humour that plays out between Pawan and Sarah is more likeable. And mind you, this is not a criticism of the movie for it allows the focus to remain firmly on the story.

There are two technical departments which deserve substantial praise; the background score and the cinematography. Yuvan Shankar Raja blows the fucking lid off with a pulse pounding score be it the fabulous opening credit sequence or the action sequences. Most of the cues are fascinating derivatives of the Panjaa theme track with the industrial electric guitar being more pronounced and explosive. There are also some lovely acoustic cues for the romantic scenes. The cinematography is stunning and extremely slick. There seems to be more emphasis on natural colours than DI. The locales in Calcutta are beautiful and the labyrinthine alleys and rooftops, where one of the action sequences happens, add character to the film. The village scenes are also gorgeous. The whole movie has a music video like appeal.

The dialogues are mostly functional and this actually works to the advantage of the movie for it fits the hero’s characterisation. Bombastic dialogues would have mutilated the tone of the movie. The writing is slightly uneven at times, which means that some scenes do not have the desired impact.      

There are some meta references which are hard to miss like the heroine remarking that Pawan has springs in his feet, or the mention of his karate skills. A Chiranjeevi cut-out in a photo studio figures prominently.

Eventually, a film like Panjaa is a director’s film. It is a script that needs every ounce of style to be extracted from all the actors and technicians. Vishnuvardhan keeps it understated when it comes to the drama and piles on the glitz when it comes to the action sequences. Every car has been shampooed and waxed before being shot; that’s how shiny they are! Every unkempt hair has been groomed to actually look unkempt. Dishevelment is manufactured and not unintended. Every frame of the movie has been spit polished to exude a lustrous glow. After all, style is also a vision.

Music Review: Players (Pritam)

Jis Jagah Pe Khatam, Buddhi Do Bhagwan and Ho Gayi Tun are catchy, templatised tracks that Pritam churns out by the dozen. They are lively but eminently forgettable. The soundtrack gains massively from Dil Yeh Bekarar, a gorgeous slow burn melody that has Mohit Chauhan in fabulous form. Pritam hits prime form here and the song carries his distinct stamp of a carefully constructed ballad; soulful vocals, a smattering of lilting orchestration and more importantly the melancholy tinged antara portions dissolving into surging, rousing crescendos. There is also a beauty in repetition and each time you hear Mohit imploring Dil Yeh Bekaraar Kyun Hai? it is a refreshingly delightful experience. Jhoom Jhoom is another insanely addictive track, even in the alternate versions sung by Siddharth Basrur and Shruthi Pathak. However I like the male renditions better simply because this song seems to play out better in a livelier edgy format. Overall it is another solid soundtrack from Pritam although I would really like to see him composing for a musical. Its also been a while since he’s dusted of his electric guitar and belted out coarse, gut wrenching ballads powered by a James or a KK. His last great soundtrack was in 2009. So its time he brings back the good ol’ days.

Moving on, I also hope that the concept of alternate versions catches up. I do not know what kind of effort goes into producing them but I would rather listen to upcoming singers like Nikhil D’Souza crooning Dil Yeh Bekarar, which he does here by the way, rather than listen to a bouquet of hectic techno remixes that have little respect for pacing and nuance. It is a desecration of the original intent of the composer as all of it, or atleast that is what I can infer, appears to be created with only one objective in mind; that of catering to the crowds in a night club. That the DJs are there for. So the sensible thing to do would be to have more variants of a couple of songs that the music director deems worthy of. This is good value addition and adds flavour and variety to the album. Hope Pritam keeps up the trend.

My Picks: Dil Yeh Bekarar, Jhoom Jhoom