Hottest Fillums of 2006

Here are the Top 5 news ‘n noisemakers of 2006 from Bollywood and her Amreekan counterpart. While some of them made noise for the right reasons, others created a racket of the empty pots and pans variety.

 

 

Rang De Basanti

Dir: Rakesh Omprakash Mehra

The first of Aamir Khan’s one-two punch to the Indian box-office of 2006, RDB, as it has come to be called, was a laudable, if flawed, effort on the part of director Mehra to do something ‘hat ke’. The Bollywoodsian fable about today’s aimless, de-politicised, urban youth (though calling its 41 year-old leading man a ‘youth’ is a teensy bit of a stretch even for a Khan aficionado like me) looking for purpose and validation takes its sweet time setting up a believable back story before delivering its whopper of a third act. Therein lay its strength, for by lavishing almost a third of the film’s running time on etching credible, sympathetic characters, Mehra pretty much had the audience in his pocket. Unfortunately, by propagating violence as a viable and justified means to an ambiguous end, he robs his film of the one thing that most filmmakers hope for (other than the cha-ching of cash registers): endurance.

 

Fanaa

Dir: Kunal Kohli

The kind of film that the word ‘blah’ was invented for, this, Aamir Khan’s second big hit of the year, also marked Kajol’s ‘comeback’ to the screen, but sadly is probably one of both lead players’ least memorable films. Writer/director Kohli disappoints big time after the charming Hum Tum. He would have been well-advised to sneak in undercover into one of Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s scripting sessions to learn how to avoid the trap that RDB skillfully skirted and that he readily fell into; namely, relying on the audience’s affection for the film’s stars to circumvent the nuisance of having to actually pen a credible screenplay. The undeniable chemistry between the lead pair notwithstanding, not for a second is the laughable ‘love story’ at the core of the plot believable. Forget about willing suspension of disbelief, one would have to be an utter moron to buy this bag of bull. Aamir Khan’s poetry-spouting hipster tour guide is the product of one flighty imagination; I have yet to meet a tour guide who doesn’t wear a safari suit and sport paan stains as a perennial style accessory. And was there really any point to Kajol’s character being blind for less than half of the running time, other than to set up a lame plot contrivance that is as flat as last night’s leftover soda?

Fanaa’s other big gaffe is to cast known, good actors in criminally inconsequential roles; Lilette Dubey, Kiron Kher, Shiney Ahuja, Tabu – all are thoroughly wasted.

Apparently, Kohli wrote the film especially for Khan and Kajol. Well I say they both deserved a darned sight better than this muddled mess of a movie.

 

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna

Dir: Karan Johar

Wondering what that loud, unholy crunching sound is? That would be Shahrukh Khan chewing down on the bazillion rupees worth of sequin-encrusted scenery of Karan Johar’s mangy opus. King Khan seriously needs to be thwacked over the head with one of Wile E. Coyote’s Acme brand pacifiers; if you thought he had overplayed a tad in Devdas, here he’s in full huffy-puffy mode. Someone give the man an oxygen tank before he overacts himself unconscious.

But SRK’s nostril flaring is the least of KANK’s problems. Add to it an overwrought screenplay, sketchy characters and a terminal case of trendiness and you have a film suffocating beneath the blubber of its own self-importance. Not helping matters any is Johar’s idea of what constitutes good art direction: swallow whole Dulux’s 6,134 colour palette and then regurgitate onto your film stock. And pray WHY does the silly film have to be set in Noo Yawk? It would be just as inane set in Mumbai after all. The saving grace of the film, apart from Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s infectious score, are those two Bachchan fellas. Bachchan Senior does a fine benign lech, and Abhishek again figuratively thumbs his nose at all those early day detractors who cluck-clucked that he wasn’t a patch on his pitah.

 

Lage Raho Munna Bhai

Dir: Rajkumar Hirani

A kind-of sequel to 2003’s hip and hilarious Munna Bhai M.B.B.S, LRMB takes the next logical step from the former’s jaadu ki jhappi to ‘Gandhigiri’ i.e. propagating Bapu’s message of peace and brotherhood. While that may come off as sounding lofty, the film is wise enough to sidestep getting caught up in its own importance by not forgetting to be magnificent entertainment. Like M.B.B.S, LRMB boasts one of the wittiest, smartest scripts of the past decade on any side of the Atlantic – just check out what a zinger it wrings out of the notion of turning the other cheek.

Watching Sanjay Dutt completely own the titular character for the second time round, it’s almost surreal when you realize that this is the same actor who was such a humourless plank of wood in his debut film Rocky more than twenty years ago. And he’s more than ably supported (again) by Arshad Warsi’s adorably effervescent Circuit, destined to be a cult favourite, if he isn’t already. The only sour note is struck by Vidya Balan as Munna’s love interest Jhanvi, through no fault of her own though – the part is grossly underwritten and suffers in comparison with the rest of the cast of weird and wonderful characters.

 

Omkara

Dir: Vishal Bharadwaj

The erstwhile composer’s second Shakespearan adaptation turned out to be arguably an even greater triumph than his first outing Maqbool (Macbeth). Armed with a tighter, more confident script, as well as a more mainstream cast, Bharadwaj cleverly and successfully transported the cautionary tale of the Bard’s Othello to the gangland arena of Uttar Pradesh.

While a perpetually brooding Ajay Devgan played the title character of Omi Shukla, the film belonged in toto to Saif Ali Khan, barely recognizable as a bald, yellow-toothed Langda Tyagi (Iago). Menacing and vulnerable all at once, Khan nailed the complexities of his character with panache; just watch him in the scene where he is passed over for Vivek Oberoi’s Kesu (Cassio). Those remarkable moments are enough to punctuate just how far Khan has come from the days of – yikes! – Parampara, through Dil Chahta Hai, Ek Hasina Thi, and finally here to a performance that is sure to be remembered for all time to come, much like Amjad Khan’s as Gabbar Singh, or Amitabh Bachchan’s as Anthony Gonzalves.

Where Fanaa wasted its big-name bit players, Omkara extracts gold from its heavy hitters, Naseeruddin Shah and Konkona Sen Sharma among them. Kareena Kapoor, fresh-faced and admirably restrained as Dolly (Desdemona), is the tender heart of this oft brutal film. And by George, if the collective smorgasbord of Bipasha Basu’s two numbers ‘Beedi’ and ‘Namak’ aren’t some of the smoking-est ten minutes ever committed to film, I’ll eat my own foot.

Eat your heart out Kenneth Branagh!

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Dir: Gore Verbinski

I doubt very much that even Uncle Walt Disney could have imagined that 40 years on from his death, the biggest box-office hit of the year would be a film based on one of the rides at his beloved Disney theme parks.

Unfortunately, the sequel to 2003’s wildly successful and popular Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl was very much like a theme park ride: repetitive and predictable. A film that thinks that it is cleverer than it actually is, Pirates was big on action but little else. And director Gore Verbinski seemed to take a wholly unnecessary cue from his first name to make this a rather bloody affair. While Johnny Depp was again a delight, taking his flamboyant, Keith Richards-inspired Captain Jack Sparrow to even greater heights of loopiness, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley seemed to be just hangers-on, thankful but also slightly resentful to be along for the ride. 

Here’s hoping the second sequel, At World’s End, due out May 2007, is more Pearl and less Dead.

 

The Da Vinci Code

Dir: Ron Howard

Ron, Ron, Ron, when are you going to get it? Making modern day fairytales – Splash, Cocoon et al – you weave magic. But when you attempt to get all heavy and dramatic – A Beautiful Mind, The Missing, Cinderella Man etc. – your work is the cinematic equivalent of an overweight, whiny elephant.

This snore-inducing adap of Dan Brown’s novel has much in common with its source, apart from, you know, the story: both are mammoth sales-wise and elfin brains-wise. All the uproar and the weeping and the wailing rising from umpteen religious quarters over the film’s so-called sacrilegious content should have instead been directed against its silly, silly screenplay, the egregious miscasting of the otherwise delectable Audrey Tautou, and Tom Hank’s laughable hairstyle. Give me The Last Temptation of Christ and Dogma over this plodding heffalump any day.

 

Superman Returns

Dir: Bryan Singer

It surely is a sign of qayamat; the hitherto invincible Man of Steel a.k.a Kal-el a.k.a Superman, found himself a box-office pygmy compared to once-second-rate superhero Spiderman. After years of delays, with Nicolas Cage (!) once attached to star, Superman Returns finally saw the light of day with the unknown Brandon Routh as the man in tights, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. The film got some of the best reviews of the year with Routh getting the thumbs up from most critics as a worthy successor to the legendary Christopher Reeve, and the film earned $200 million at the U.S box-office. Except that the film’s budget was $270 million.

Ouch.

So why did this surefire hit become an all-out miss? Beats me. Perhaps its gentle fable-like quality was lost on an increasingly younger, impatient, MTV-addled movie audience. Or maybe people just no longer believe that a man can fly.

 

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Dir: Larry Charles

Sacha Baron Cohen’s other alter ego, the outrageously gauche, sexist, anti-semitic faux Kazakh reporter Borat, proved to be even more offensive than his hilariously inept white homeboy Ali G. His debut cinematic outing sent the American media into a frenzy with its proudly flagrant political incorrectness and sly exposition of xeno-homophobic prejudices underlying the PC fabric of American/ ‘Western’ societies. The film was not only slapped with lawsuits left right and centre from many of Borat’s unsuspecting ‘victims’, it was also denounced by the Kazakh government for maligning its people and culture. The notoriously private Cohen who neither appears in public nor gives interviews as himself, finally came forward and said with a whiff of incredulity, “The joke is not on Kazakhstan. I think the joke is on people who can believe that the Kazakhstan that I describe can exist — who believe that there’s a country where homosexuals wear blue hats and the women live in cages and they drink fermented horse urine and the age of consent has been raised to nine years old.” The Kazakhs eventually saw the lighter side of the matter and invited Cohen to visit their country. Meanwhile, inspite of the controversy, or perhaps because of it, Cohen and company laughed all the way to the bank with a booty of over $120 million.

 

Casino Royale

Dir: Martin Campbell

I’ll admit it. I was one of the naysayers who tied themselves into a hernia over the casting of little-known Layer Cake actor Daniel Craig to replace beloved Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming’s über spy James Bond. He’s blonde! He has batwing ears! He pouts! We want Clive Owen!

And then I caught a dekho of him in the Casino Royale trailer, emerging out of an azure ocean dressed in those skimpy azure shorts… And, well, excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor. Ok, so he is flaxen haired and his ears stick out a little, but double-oh my, the man fills out a polo shirt nicely. Plus, he has the acting chops and brings a roughened, almost brutish edge to Bond that we haven’t seen since Sean Connery.

And the film itself too marks a return to basics: less CG razzle dazzle and more animalistic, good ol’ fashioned bare-knuckled mayhem.

Will Craig last? Who knows, but as it stands, Casino Royale is well on its way to becoming the most profitable Bond film to date. I would say that bodes well for Blondie.

 

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