Archive for September, 2011

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara: A Review

September 14, 2011

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara – Dir: Zoya Akhtar; *ing: Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Abhay Deol, Katrina Kaif, Kalki Koechlin, Naseeruddin Shah

If you grew up in Pakistan in the 80s, you must surely remember this ad for a lemon-flavoured clear carbonated drink in which a cowboy encrusted with dirt staggers into an Old West-style tavern on a blazing hot day, and in a tortured voice asks the proprietor to give him a pack of potato chips. Then, as the proprietor looks on in amazement and horror, the cowboy starts chomping on those razor-like chips, his face screwed up in torment as the voice-over man tells him to “go ahead… build up that thirst until you can’t stand it anymore…” Finally, the cowboy whips open his leather bag, filled to the brim with chunks of ice and two bottles of the beverage in question, and proceeds to blow his thirst away.

Now imagine that those chips are the current circumstances in Pakistan, as well as all the depressing films you might’ve been watching lately, and that refreshing beverage which blows it all away is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. It’s pretty simple really: if you want to exit the cinema wanting to plunge a dull knife into your skull, watch Bol or the like; if you want to come out humming ‘Take the world and paint it red’ and ready to book a flight to Spain (or Google Earth it, at least), go for ZNMD. For in these decidedly unpleasant times, the film is panacea, an unapologetically cheerful, optimistic, and, yes, uplifting diversion that, despite some well-spaced weighty moments, never takes itself seriously enough to become a bore.

The narrative structure is a familiar one, as is the story of three friends with unresolved issues in their lives taking a road trip together. As in Zoya Akhtar’s first directorial venture, the brilliant Luck By Chance, the characters are fairly broad ‘types’ – Arjun (Roshan) the ambitious workaholic, Imran (Akhtar) the jokester with hidden depth, and Kabir (Deol) the slightly geeky everyguy who also plays referee in any and all conflict – but somehow, yet again, she makes them work, as believable individuals to be identified with, instead of mere caricatures. And of course their journey (both the physical and the figurative one) offers up life-changing episodes. For Arjun it’s finding out that money isn’t everything when he meets diving instructor Laila (Kaif, finally relaxed and unselfconscious in a relatively brief but well-sketched role), while for Kabir it’s coming to the realization that in being the nice guy always trying to please everyone else but himself, he has perhaps painted himself into a corner with pixie-ish but compulsively jealous Natasha (Koechlin – superbly on-the-outer-edges-of-reason). And Imran has to decide whether he wants to risk putting his own sense of self into jeopardy by seeking out his long-absent father (Shah). Along the way, you can feast your eyes on some jaw-droppingly handsome Spanish landscapes.

But all the geographical eye-candy in the world would have come to naught if it had come accompanied by a trite script. Thankfully, that is far from the case here. The Akhtar siblings along with co-writer Reema Kagti keep it snappy with dialogue that is smart, fresh and engaging. It also helps that the three lead actors are so comfortable in their parts; Roshan mixes it up for himself by playing against type – Arjun is not an immediately likeable character. Deol and Akhtar are a delight, together and apart, whether going for laughs or tenderness.

Comparisons with Dil Chahta Hai are inevitable of course, and perhaps not unfairly so, both are essentially bromances, but ZNMD has actually added something to the narrative. If DCH was a coming of age story, then ZNMD takes a peek at what comes after, so don’t be surprised to see that becoming an adult doesn’t necessarily mean growing up.

Saat Khoon Maaf – A Review

September 14, 2011

Saat Khoon Maaf – Dir: Vishaal Bhardwaj; *ing: Priyanka Chopra, Vivaan Shah, John Abraham, Irrfan Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Annu Kapoor, Aleksandr Dyachenko, & Naseeruddin Shah

Oh how the mighty have fallen! Actually, scratch that, it was a terrible way to begin. For that particular phrase carries in it more than a whiff of glee, a triumphal giggle-snort at witnessing a stumble from a heretofore infallible entity, like a pompous vicar passing wind during his fiery sermon on social etiquette. Let’s face it, we enjoy the air of embarrassment when a world renowned chef inexplicably serves up a turd frittata on live TV. But there is none of that vengeful mirth in one’s reception of Saat Khoon Maaf, the latest entry from Bollywoodwünderkind Vishaal Bhardwaj. After the director’s triple-whammy of MaqboolOmkara, and Kaminey, we the audience probably got a bit too fat-headed for our own good and superimposed on Bhardwaj a mantle of invincibility – he is film’s über mensch and he can do no wrong! And being so invested in his awesomeness, the feeling one is left with at the end, and indeed through much of SKM, is one of disappointment and helplessness – our hero let us down? How can that be? Does he not love us anymore? But perhaps we should be thinking of our own culpability in the scenario, maybe the guy was under too much darn pressure to keep beating himself at his own game; just how long can we keep flogging that prized horse to indefinitely maintain its maximum speed? At some point it WILL either a) drop from exhaustion, or b) kick us in the mouth – in this case, both. After all, pretty much every great artist in history has at one point or more, laid an egg that no mother could love.

Based on Ruskin Bond’s short story ‘Susanna’s Seven Husbands’, the film lays out its central premise pretty plainly: Susanna (Chopra) marries, and marries often, for love, duty, convenience, pity, but she is let down every time by her grooms who turn out to be psycho (Mukesh), junkie (Abraham), sado-masochist (Khan), bigamist (Dyachenko), annoyance (Kapoor), and gold digger (Shah Senior). Through her endless and fruitless quest to find amour parfait, Susanna is loved from afar by Arun (Shah Junior), a servant’s much younger son (who also tells the story through flashbacks), and aided in her romantic and murderous endeavours by a trio of domestics who presumably constitute a kind of Greek chorus to the proceedings, except they keep rather quiet for a chorus.

It’s not difficult to spell out what some of the problems with SKM are. It’s too episodic and, surprisingly enough, despite the subject matter, lacks that seductive, dark intensity that marked Bhardwaj’s earlier films. It has neither the haunting quality or characters of Maqbool, nor the discomforting menace of Omkara, and certainly not the frenetic allure of Kaminey. Where Susanna’s story could have been used to explore a subtext not only on questions of prescribed feminine roles but also notions of family, marriage and honour within a patriarchal construct, the film merely meanders on the surface, seemingly content to relate anecdotes that, beyond the initial appeal of the macabre, have little substance, and become less and less interesting as the film progresses. The final nail in the coffin is Susanna herself, a character so sketchy and ill-defined as to be rendered utterly implausible. In traditional grand guignol and théâtre macabre, improbable characters are still plausible because of the heightened stylization of their entire milieu. In SKM, that is not the case, and as a result, Susanna and her predicaments and her actions come off forced and lacking in both logic and cohesion.

Still, this is our man Bhardwaj we’re talking about, so let’s consider this cinematic hiccough a momentary lapse in judgement – as batting averages go, his is still near impeccable. It’s alright man, we still love ya. If nothing else, we’ll always have ‘Beedi’.

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