Hot Gas

Music,Musings et al

Month: January, 2012

A Separation (Asghar Faridi)

Separation_UKI was torn to shreds by the end of this movie. And the more I thought about the innumerable moral complexities that this movie makes us grapple with, the denser it got. It is a masterful, masterful film and I repeat it only because I have no better word to describe it with and no other way to emphasise it. I have decided that any evaluation of the film will have to deal with the questions that the movie so mundanely yet eloquently poses and quite frankly I don’t think I am worthy enough to resolve even one of them. It will only end up spoiling your viewing experience or, even worse, will be the worst attempt at oversimplication ever. Watch it. It is the best movie of the year. One of the very best, absolutely.

PS: And in case you were wondering, I have seen The Tree of Life and Melancholia. That should put things into perspective.

Businessman (Puri Jagannath)

mahesh businessman movie posters (17)Simmering somewhere deep in this movie is Puri Jagannath’s take on moral nihilism and psychopathy. He feeds them like words of wisdom through the conversations between Surya (Mahesh Babu) and Chitra (Kajal). It is all mighty refreshing and I was, in fact, pleasantly surprised to observe that somebody could leaven them so thoughtfully into, what seemed like, everyday conversations between a couple. Furthermore, it is this casual philosophical banter that speaks a lot about Surya’s character in Businessman than any of the masala punch lines and overt acts of heroism. It is the only thing that kept me from dismissing the whole movie as any other regular potboiler. So the first time I heard Surya utter something about morality and war, I was half surprised and half confused. Surely, it couldn’t be. And I wasn’t laughing also which meant the dialogue had some conviction and thought going into it rather than mere words being thrown around. It was plain curiosity. So the next time around I decided to be on the lookout and surely enough, after some scenes that continued to depict the outrageously simple rise of Surya in the underworld, more philosophy followed. There are dialogues on God, on predators, on human nature – All of them providing a refreshing perspective by playing with viewpoints, taking impish digs at man’s conception of morality and, above all, asking searching questions about our innermost thoughts. I do not know whether this infusion of, what people might dismiss as, pop philosophy was a conscious decision, because it surely elevates this movie and gives the protagonist a rarely found depth and dimension. It surely is consistent and substantial.

But you would be wrong if you thought screenwriting is the highpoint of this film. If Puri shows moments of fascinating brilliance in one scene, the very next scene he drops us back into the rut of commercial cinema blending an outlandish plotline with an unconvincing romance. The idea of charting the meteoric rise of a gangster from simple beginnings is not a theme that hasn’t been dealt before in the cinematic medium. There is the ethereal Godfather Part I & II. Then there is Mani Ratnam’s stunning Nayagan that is also set in Mumbai like this film, where perhaps decades later, after people like Velu Naicker and Dawood Ibrahim have been neutralised or eliminated, Surya puts into motion his plan of creating a business of organised crime. It is a very striking concept although you would need a lot of ingenuity and insightful screenwriting to make the gangster’s growth look convincing. And this is precisely where Puri Jagannath fails first.

Mahesh Babu Businessman Movie WallpapersFor a while Puri actually had me hooked with the eerily silent scenes that follow the hero’s arrival in Mumbai (in a second class train). It is Brahmaji’s character that does all the talking while an intense Surya just observes. I haven’t been to Mumbai but this is probably how you react when you land there; calmly take in all the hustle and bustle, experience the sheer cramped feeling that comes from being in dingy slums and claustrophobic local train compartments. It is a hero introduction scene that is, to put it lightly, completely counter-intuitive, anti-expectations and, above all, myth busting (It is a genre rule that very few directors dare to break). There is not a single line uttered that would have sent the, on-your-marks-get-set-go, expectant, first day crowd into raptures (I have noticed that with the first day crowd it is always like launching a rocket into the orbit. Once the first few good dialogues come and the laughter picks up it never abates). Just an uneasy calm before Surya makes his intentions clear – “Main Mumbai sheher ko pishab karwane aaya hoon” (This is precisely the dialogue I was not hoping for, because this I think – and this is what I felt when I saw the trailer also – is the most lackadaisical writing Puri has ever come up with ever. It is not only gross on so many levels but it just kills the mood. Incredibly enough the crowd seemed to share the same sentiment! What more Surya keeps repeating it like it is his “evadu kodthe dimma thirigi mind block” dialogue – which it surely isn’t.) This is followed by a scene where the hero cons a couple of youngsters by posing as a police officer. Believable, but stretching it. A couple of scenes later he walks into the criminal infested Dongri area and picks up a fight with some jobless gangsters. Umm..Well he is the hero, right? But, say what, this guy has too much dookudu in him. Then, after cleverly masterminding a murder in a jail he robs a bank with his newly recruited goondas. That, my friend, was the breaking point and that was when I stopped taking the movie seriously, till of course those pop philosophy interludes popped in.

While watching a movie I always engage in this internal tussle where I analyse the believability of certain sequences. This is of course all subjective but there comes a certain point in a movie when I start assuming unbelievable things to be a given just to enjoy whatever else is left. So I started showing interest in the Surya-Chitra romance angle – which is frequently intruded by this utterly crazy accented chick who is Chitra’s girlfriend. To be fair, the romance is accorded more respect than is usually and works not so much because of any realistic portrayal but because of the lazy humour that Puri injects into the lines. There are the usual misunderstandings, the usual fights etcetera but the banter kept my interest alive. For a movie that had only two tracks, one charting the rise and the other traversing the romance, this was the better one. How I wish the whole movie was made around this! But nevertheless this acts as a relief to the increasingly convoluted proceedings in the other half where Surya has befriended a local Mumbai politician, has outmuscled everyone else to put the guy in the Mayor’s post and is now planning to expand his *cough cough* crime business to other cities. I maybe studying law but it does not need any particular understanding of our statute books to see how many crimes Surya can be booked under. Meanwhile, the Police Commissioner, played by a Nasser who alternates between unintentional comedy and mock seriousness before being bumped off for good, plaintively watches, ruing the fact that Surya is so clever that he has everything covered and cannot be apprehended. This guy must be full of shit or the Mumbai Police Services’ training is a joke. Somebody give him the Indian Penal Code. On the other hand Surya, it is apparent, manages to survive because of the combined inefficiency of the Mumbai Police – the same one that at the beginning of the movie proudly proclaims to have eliminated all the crime syndicates in Mumbai but have now become surprisingly impotent – and the expert use of hostages (He keeps shuffling them to keep the police on their toes it seems. One moment it is the heroine and another moment it is some police officer’s mother. Interestingly enough, the villain is also not averse to this ploy and manages to wrangle the hero into a death-trap with the heroine hostage scenario towards the end.) Ok enough nit-picking!

mahesh businessman movie posters (2)Despite all this, I believe, this movie could have worked much better if it had a much better tone and consistency in writing. Pokiri stretched believability too but the writing was very organic there. Here it vacillates between good, bad and deplorable so much that the good gets lost somewhere leaving only a bad taste. There are lines which fall flat because they try too hard to be punchy and then there are lines that have nothing going for them except for Mahesh Babu’s searing intensity. Also the movie would have grown in stature had they not given the twist explanation to the way the hero behaves. The family angle kills the shades of brilliance that Puri manages to bring to the table through the philosophy of the hero, who is an intriguing island of amorality and hardened cynicism till then. It makes revenge the overbearing justification towards the end which would perhaps go down well with the “family” audiences but does make the movie glib. Further, the rise of Surya need not have been focussed upon so closely. Nayagan cleverly sidestepped the issue by showing a couple of acts that seem to propel Velu Naicker to gangsterdom before cutting to the part where he is an established gangster. This technique would have had a far better persuasive appeal than the micro growth that Puri shows by resorting to outlandish schemes. In the end even the philosophy and ideology that Puri infuses is an indication of confusion. Even though the integration is seamless when it comes to the scenes, it does not all add up in the larger scheme of the things. In this respect, he reminded me of Trivikram’s Jalsa where there is a sub plot involving Pawan’s character’s tryst with Naxalism and the reasons leading up to them. The writing is blooded with such anger and angst that I was completely moved  only to be stunned into disbelief when the same Naxal character coolly merges into the mainstream in comical fashion. It doesn’t “fit”.

The songs are good but have been choreographed and shot lazily. The cinematography is excellent for the most part with the title credits scenes being the pick. Very nicely shot montage of Mumbai. The action scenes are par for the course but nothing stands out.

Puri’s vision is a laudable one, with nearly full marks for the concept. The execution however suffers majorly.

PS: What’s with the blurring of cleavages and thighs in the song sequences? For an A rated movie, our CBFC really needs to grow up and not turn so prudish at the first hint of skin. It is also so selectively and arbitrarily done that there does not even appear to be any method to the madness. Cuss words have also been beeped out regularly. Again, when will the CBFC stop acting as the moral compass for grown up people?                

Music Review: Ekk Deewana Tha (AR Rahman)

When Rahman failed miserably……

This is Rahman’s worst soundtrack in a while (probably his worst ever) and I can’t believe that he managed to achieve it with the same wondrous tunes he had composed for Vinnaithaandi Varuvaya. Whatever were the high points of VTV have been brutally stripped, strewn on the ground and trampled upon here. There is little redemption and solace to be found in the snatches of wizardry that Rahman’s creaky soundtrack delivers. Its like a Bentley has been ransacked and fitted with the parts of a Maruti 800.

The unkindest of cuts is dealt to the gorgeous Hosanna. Vijay Prakash who was the heart and soul of the song is mysteriously eschewed for a Leon D’ Souza. It is a pathetic decision not only because (a) Vijay Prakash can sing Hindi with command but because (b) Leon D’ Souza sings worse Hindi. It is a ruthless desecration of a memorable song. Leave alone the gravelly majestic voice of Vijay Prakash this guy sounds like a teenage Bieber singing about his wannabe love. There is absolutely no idhayam in this song. And this is not even the worst. You know what is the worst? What has been done to Aaromale and Dost Hai. The former completely loses its fragrant, enchanting quality because it is heartlessly shoved with Hindi lyrics that are not only insipid but border on funny. (Did Javed Akhtar really write them? Seriously?) Even though the wrapper for Aaromale is psychedelic, it is a song that is steeped in South Indian’ness right from the way the phrases break, the chant like interludes…everything. At the heart of the problem is the clash between the south Indian idiom and the north Indian idiom of music that Rahman can’t reconcile. Remember S.P. Balasubramaniam plaintively singing Roja Jaan-e-mann with his thick south Indian accent. It is like that all over again except that the roles have been inverted.

Dost Hai is the Hindi version of Kanukkul Kannai. Now, pray tell me, what was the selling point of that song? Wasn’t it the constant strand of mesmerising and intrepid violin work that almost reached Broadway’esque proportions? Wasn’t it the infectious energy of Naresh Iyer’s singing that somehow attained a free floating quality? Please find me that in this watered down remix of a song that is filled with techno and plastered with the occasional burst of violin only to be later suffocated under the debris of offensive rapping. This is a song that a mediocre DJ would be proud of. Not Rahman.

Phoolon Jaisi is somewhat salvaged by a fabulous Clinton Cerejo but again the question stares in the face of the listener – Couldn’t they find better set of lyrics than this? The original phrase Omana Penne was so ingenious and layered that the lyricist for this song already had an impossible job on hand. In the movie the boy was a Tam; the girl Mal. The phrase, in Malayalam, referred to a girl (Omana Penne) while in Tamil the same referred to a bride (Oh Mana Penne) and this was brilliantly brought out in the chorus (when both the shades of it were touched upon). How beautifully wrought the meaning was, till this Phoolon Jaisi and Pari Jaisi strikes it a debilitating blow. Funnily enough, the maragadha thottilil interlude is retained in Malayalam and not subjected to a suicidal translation. Wonder why Aaromale wasn’t spared from the same fate though. Any answers?

Sharminda Hoon is one song that manages to escape unscathed from this merciless butchering spree. Madhushree’s honey coated voice attains the same seraphic lilt of Shreya while Rahman’s melancholic vocals gush forth with the same intensity and resonance.

Sunlo Zara is rendered well by Rashid Ali and Shreya Ghoshal who capture the boundless enthusiasm of Devan and Chinmayee even though the choice of singers could have been much better. They are after all not even close substitutes. For one, Rashid Ali’s baby footed anglicised voice lacks the assertiveness of Devan’s timbre. The biggest and cruellest blow, however, comes in the form of the first interlude which featured a lovely amalgam of Christian choir music and traditional Hindu shehnai music, with both playing wedding music, in the original. Rahman somehow does the unthinkable here and decides to change the shehnai part to something else. Goddamn it!

Zohra-Jabeen, the Hindi version of the title track, loses it icy cool quality because it no longer has Karthik’s vocals gliding over the lines serenely. Javed Ali sings with felicity but his voice does not meld into Rahman’s sparkly orchestration and form that silvery strand of magnificence that was seen in the original. Akhtar’s verses, for once, shrug off the indifference and shine through.

The wistful Kya Mohabbat Hai’s jazzy style is reminiscent of Rahman’s I’ve Been Waiting. Rahman’s singing is a good touch. The lyrics are passable.

The rest of the soundtrack is taken from the VTV collectors edition. Of these Shreya’s version of Aaromale, titled as Broken Promises, is excellent and a must listen.

In an interview Rahman (or Thamarai) had said that he composed the music for the Tamil soundtrack after the lyrics had been written and this was quite evident from the way he played around with the phrases – twisting & breaking them at will – and the scintillating free form rhythms that his songs took. It was unpredictable, edgy sometimes and thoroughly exhilarating. There is nothing of this sort in the Hindi songs because Rahman’s decision to go with the same tunes (I do not know who made the fatal decision) meant that the lyricist had to pigeonhole lines into the tune – something Akhtar has shambolically and spectacularly failed at. Will the real Akhtar stand up or bring back Gulzar please!

Rahman’s Ek Deewana Tha might delight first time listeners but it has only heartbreak for lovers of the Tamil soundtrack. The soundtrack is unimaginably mutilated with some horrible chances taken by the composer. The vocals are decidedly juvenile for the most part till Cerejo, Rahman and Javed Ali step in.  The lyrics are consistently sloppy. There are innumerable bad musical choices.This movie’s only redeeming factor seemed to be its music. But alas!             

PS: I am revisiting VTV’s music again just to relive the brilliance all over again.

Sherlock Holmes and the Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie)

Too tired to write a full fledged review.But here goes what I felt about this rip roaring Ritchie serving –

* Don’t. Don’t expect a purist’s take on Sherlock Holmes. Guy Ritchie is too incorrigible to let go of his stylistic moorings. Here too you have Ritchie style blazing action with the camera zipping around madly. Ritchie makes great use of this technique to explain/recap events quickly for the viewer. There are slo-mo sequences that seem absolutely out of place but this is one director that just refuses to grow up!

* I don’t understand why they even have to call this movie Sherlock Holmes because it has nothing, zilch, nada to do with the iconic detective apart from the name, some characters and the famous address. Holmes is a predominantly Ritchie’esque action character. Nothing more. Nothing less. Hell, they could have called it Downey Jr. and the Game of Shadows and people would have queued up equal fervour.

* Having said that, this movie is great, great fun for the most part. Downey Jr. hits top gear and his one liners, witticisms and tantrums are a joy to behold. This movie is nothing without him. He is probably the only actor who can get away with anything (Even a drag). Such effortless timing. Such rapid fire dialogue that you think somebody will get hurt.

* The movie hurtles from the start with a colourful set of characters and a plot that capably puts Downey Jr. on screen for most of the time. Ritchie’s lines are funnier here as compared to the first one. There is also more enthusiasm and vibrancy to the movie as Holmes’ literally trots across Europe.

* Hans Zimmer’s score is functional for the most part with different bars of discombobulate featuring prominently. But what blew my head was the melange of some quaintly eastern European violin riffs for an action scene that takes place at a club (Noomi Rapace’s place). The action piece was very ordinary but Zimmer elevates it with his propulsive score so much so that it seems stunning. Earworm moment!

*The movie builds on Holmes’ terrific ability to premeditate action sequences. This is taken to ecstatic levels towards the end when Holmes and Moriarty, both consummate at the skill, plan out moves and counter moves without so much as moving a hand. Rollicking stuff.

* Jude Law is surprisingly in great touch. He is not usually an impressive actor but he shows great flair for comedy and shtick here. Noomi Rapace sounds like the exotic gypsy she is, while Stephen Fry is barely tolerable as Mycroft Holmes (The scene where both the brothers attack each other with deductions is imaginatively transformed from prose to screen). Jared Harris as Moriarty is not sinister and intelligent enough. This is not merely the actor’s fault as the rivalry between Holmes and Moriarty is not gestated enough like it is done in books. Irene Adler is cruelly bumped off. The screen won’t be lit anymore by the luminous smile of McAdams. Sad smile 

* This series continues to have incredibly good set design and locations – giving the movie a magnificent period feel. The cinematography is first rate. Editing could have been tighter. There are scenes after the rambunctious first hour which seem to drag for a while.

Ritchie’s new movie is a swashbuckling adventure that is not as “deliciously complicated” as Downey Jr. puts it. But it is delicious and compelling nevertheless.