Planet Bollywood

Thums Up - Thums Down for the Week - 5 Mar 2009
  Within each of us, there is a Kaala Bandar… ‘Delhi 6’ monkeys around with audiences…and ‘Dev D’ worms his way into your heart!
  - Samir Dave
Selection based on Planet Bollywood critics recommendations           Let us know what you think about this

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra serves up an uneven and at times uninspiring follow up to his classic, ‘Rang De Basanti’, sending audiences seeking their inner monkey. Anurag Kashyap and Abhay Deol push the drug known as ‘Dev D’ and audiences get high!

Thums Up - Recent Films Worth Watching :-)
 PB Rating: 7.0 out of 10  Public Rating (by 410 unique users): 5.11
 Director: Rakeysh Mehra  Producer: Ronnie Screwvala
 Music: A.R. Rahman  Lyrics: Prasoon Joshi
 Starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, Ash King, Atul Kulkarni, Charlie Bayot, Cyrus Sahukar, Deepak Dobriyal, Divya Dutta, Gulshan Grover, K.K. Raina, Nello Del Gatto, Om Puri, Pavan Malhotra, Prem Chopra, Rishi Kapoor,Shefali Shah,Sonam Kapoor, Supriya Pathak, Tanvi Azmi, Vijay Raaz, Waheeda Rahman
 Genre: Drama  Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
The other day, I found myself walking into the neighborhood bar, and then after having several martinis, thought I saw the Kaala Bandar looking back at me from the bottom of my empty glass. You might wonder what this has to do with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s “Delhi 6”. Well, nothing really, but it’s exactly this kind of disconnect that makes Mehra’s film a bit underwhelming to say the least.

Expectations were riding high for this film after the amazing “Rang De Basanti”, but any comparison to that classic film would be unfair for this one. The only thing I will say is that “Delhi 6” completely fails to scale even the heights of the former film. Instead what we get is a film that is maddeningly on the brink of being good, but never quite makes it there.

Where can I start? The script itself (by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Prasoon Joshi, Kamlesh Pandey) is flawed, and for the first half of the film lackadaisically wonders from character to character. Yes, the city is amazingly brought to life and one can see that Mehra really tried to portray it as a living breathing character. The problem is, that the characters within this lively city are ultimately boring. Therein lies the true nature of why the film leaves the viewer dissatisfied and the reason for that is, the characters do not resonate. None are memorable, and after seeing the film, one quickly forgets not only the story, but the characters as well. About the only thing that is memorable about the film, is the portrayal of Delhi. Others can argue that the character development is very subtle with many layers to it, but the problem is that the layers are so subtle that they get lost within the visuals of the film.

It’s not that I don’t get what the director was trying to achieve. He was trying to make a story about a lively city with characters that truly move the viewer, as well as making a comment on the inherent evil Kaala Bandar in all of us. On top of all that, he attempted to tie the story into the classic Ramayana to give it added emotional resonance. It just seems like the writers lost control of the film (and that’s easy to do when there is no completed script on the day filming starts). The first half of the film feels like it was made up as they went along, and then the second half desperately races to tie up all the threads into one coherent whole.

The screenplay details the story of Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) who come to India with his dying grandmother (Waheeda Rehman) as it is her wish to spend her final days back home in Old Delhi. When he gets back to India, he meets all sorts of characters that lead what seems like on the surface to be very simple lives, but when one looks closer, the cracks begin to show. What follows is a commentary on not only emotions, but religious discord, and dishonesty.

What can one say about Abhishek Bachchan? It seems like he mainly excels at comedy (perhaps because that’s closest to how light hearted he is in real life), but when it comes to drama, there is something lacking. The Abhishek of “Guru” fame (his one excellent dramatic role) is not here. Instead we get an Abhishek that is trying to ape the mannerisms of an Indian American, and it comes off as flat. The director would have been better off in eliciting a more down to earth performance from Abhishek, and the writers completely miss the mark when it comes to his dialogue. Waheeda Rehman is wonderful as the grandmother, and steals every scene she is in. Her performance is one of the few bright spots of the film. Sonam Kapoor does well as Bittu, but because she and Abhishek lack the onscreen chemistry that is necessary (and the romantic angle is never fully developed), her performance does not have the impact it should.

The rest of the cast come and go, interspersed with scenes from the Ram Leela which is supposed to serve as an allegory to modern society as well as news reports of the mythical Kaala Bandar that seems to be the dark underside of humanity. Rishi Kapoor is wasted (delivering a much better performance in the recent “Luck by Chance”), Om Puri delivers his usual cranky old man performance, Pawan Malhotra is good, Prem Chopra is devilish, and Divya Dutta is the most memorable of the characters as the untouchable with a heart.

The soundtrack by Academy Award winner A.R. Rahman is excellent (as are the lyrics by the very talented Prasoon Joshi), but poorly woven into the narrative. The cinematography by Binod Pradhan is outstanding, bringing Delhi’s beautiful chaos to life.

The end of the film with it’s hindu/muslim riots quelled by the black monkey and mystical appearance by Amitabh Bachchan seems more like a dues ex machina to get the writer’s out of the corner they have written themselves into. It’s interesting that they chose to add the mystical element to an otherwise grounded in reality film. Ultimately, you’ll leave the theater after watching this movie with ambivalent feelings. Oh, and give that Kaala Bandar a banana, would you? You don’t want him coming after you!

 Director: Anurag Kashyap  Producer: Ronnie Screwvala
 Music: Amit Trivedi  Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya, Shellee, Amit Trivedi, Shruti Pathak
 Starring: Abhay Deol, Mahi Gill, Kalki Koechlin, Parakh Mohan, Dibyendu Bhattacharya
 Genre: Thriller  Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
Director Anurag Kashyap has violently taken the classic Devdas concept and turned it into a filthy dark modern masterpiece of a film with the brilliant “Dev D”. Who could come up with the idea for this twisted and frenetic story? Why, the dark prince of Bollywood himself, Mr. Abhay Deol who is given credit on screen for the idea. Gone are any pure thoughts in this take on the classic story. You’ll need to take a cold shower after watching this movie.

Paro is the kind of girl that emails topless pics to her lover, as well as engaging in some solo physical satisfaction (in what is probably the first time that any mainstream Bollywood film has tackled that taboo subject). This Paro is wild, crazy, and sexually charged. She is a force of nature that cannot be denied. I can picture none of the standard Bollywood actresses playing such a sexually charged force of nature, and so the director has made a wise decision to go with a new face Mahi Gill. Mahi plays the character wonderfully, and her every scene is a joy to behold. Upon her petite shoulders rides the crux of the film’s plotline, and she is more than able to convey Paro as not only an object of love, but also as a being fully human in her desires.

Chandramukhi (whose real name is the oddly asexual Lenny at first) is the unfortunate girl caught in a modern day cell phone MMS sex scandal that tears her life apart. After leaving India, her father watches the sex video, and commits suicide and her mother sends her back to India, where she quickly runs away to find herself inducted into the high class Delhi prostitution circle. Kalki Koechlin has an innocent yet oddly sensual look to her. Whether it is dressed as a schoolgirl that has adult relations, to playing multiple characters for her clients, or satisfying customers over the phone, she shows a fragile sense of being lost, yet at the same time is fully in control of her life. She is the perfect anti thesis to Paro, and counter balance to Dev’s insanity. Kashyap adds a wonderful touch of showing scenes from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas at crucial moments of Chandramukhi’s journey. It’s a wonderful way to show how ‘Dev D’ is the shattered realistic version of Bhansali’s more fantastical dream journey. Kashyap almost dares audiences to look in the mirror, for you might not like what you see staring back.

Then there’s Dev as portrayed by Abhay Deol. This is not your father’s Devdas, or even yours. It’s like the dark evil twin of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay`s original. This is a Devdas that is brilliantly lost, startlingly tortured, and emotionally crippled in such a way that you find yourself revoltingly disgusted with the character. It’s a testament to Abhay Deol’s superb performance, that you feel for what would be, in the hands of another actor, a very unsympathetic character. From the first scene to the last, you are emotionally tied to him as he descends into the madness of lost love. While alcohol was the killer escape of the original, drugs take center stage to help this emotional fool on his road to oblivion.

All three characters are refreshing in that they are not the typical Bollywood caricatures or idealized versions of people, but rather all too human in their vices and frailties. The screenplay is very well written, and the cinematography is pure film noir. This film is not for the faint of heart, but for those willing to brave the shattered reality of lost love and how the modern world can make outsiders of even the best of us.

The outstanding soundtrack Amit Trivedi (Aamir) and integration of the music by Kashyap is nothing short of brilliant in the unorthodox use of songs to further the narrative. The wedding band inspired ‘Emotional Atyachar’ is already the rage, which is surprising given that it’s definitely not the typical techno dance song that is the norm at clubs. This strange song that is unbelievably catchy, is just one of more than a dozen tunes that are as captivating as the film itself.

Dev D is like that dream of finding yourself naked in front of a crowd. That thought of that may be uncomfortable (and a bit drafty), but it’s oddly liberating! For anyone who has lost love, and fallen into the well of despair, this is the film for you. For those that are happy and in love, watch the film to see what can happen when things go horribly wrong. It will make you cherish each other even more.

 The Other End of the Line
 PB Rating: 7.5 out of 10  Public Rating (by 410 unique users): 5.11
 Director: James Dodson  Producer: Ashok Amritaj, Pete Chiarelli, Elizabeth Ingold
 Music: B C Smith  Lyrics:
 Starring: Jesse Metcalfe, Shriya Saran, Anupam Kher, Larry Miller, Michael Chen, Nouva Monika Wahlgren, Sara Foster, Tara Sharma, Sushmita Mukherjee, Jai Thade
 Genre: Emotional  Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
In the mood for a sweet romance that defies logic and comes to a typical but emotional ending? Looking for the perfect movie to watch on a date or with a loved one? Then look no further my friends! “The Other End of the Line” will have the ladies running for the hankies and the gents waiting to wrap their arms around their gal. Similarly to the film “Outsourced”, the film’s central them revolves around a call center employee named Priya aka her American guise of Jennifer David (played by Shriya Saran) who provides customer service (and more) from India to a customer named Granger (Jesse Metcalfe) halfway around the world in America. Her fake American accent provides just the right amount of incentive to make Metcalfe’s character breathe heavy in lustful love. Claiming to be from San Francisco, Priya is actually located in Mumbai and is engaged to a wimpy guy that her parents selected to raise their financial standing. The Indian boy she is engaged to, worships his mother and Priya quickly realizes that he is not for her. Instead she starts flirting with Granger as he in turn falls for her. Turns out that Granger is an ad exec who is going to San Francisco for a meeting, and invites Jennifer aka Priya. Thinking that this might be her true chance at love, she leaves India, and flies to San Francisco to meet the future man of her dreams. What follows is an at times silly, but heartwarming tale of cross-cultural love. Shriya Saran stands out in a performance that holds the film together. Jesse Metcalfe provides the necessary beefcake and shares a warm chemistry with Shriya’s Indian sensuality. Anupam Kher is the buffoonish father who rushes to America to “save” his daughter. For fans of the “Sleepless in Seattle” genre, you can’t go wrong with this harmless romance.

 The Stoneman Murders
“The Stoneman Murders” is one of those films that came and went with a whimper. No marketing, and no public awareness, results in a film that is quickly forgotten. What a shame then that the film is arguably one of the stronger Bollywood releases of the year, and certainly well deserving of your attention. Writer-director Manish Gupta crafts a compelling tale that is part fact (based on the true story of an unsolved serial killer mystery) with fiction. What aids Gupta in effectively conveying his tale is the nuanced performance by Kay Kay Menon (one of India’s most under-rated actors), as the suspended inspector who thinks that solving the serial murder case will get him back on the force. Menon excels at playing these emotionally damaged characters and this role is no exception. Arbaaz Khan does quite well as the inspector who is trying to upstage Kay Kay by solving the mystery. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing who the Stoneman murderer is, but needless to say, the reveal is a nice surprise. If you are looking for something off the beaten path, then this film is for you.

I can totally understand if you (like many of us) are totally into the whole Farhan Akhtar is an actor scene. With his excellent performances in “Rock On” last year and “Luck By Chance” this year, he’s proven to be one of the most versatile of artists that Bollywood has to offer. Yet, let’s not forget that first and foremost he is a very talented director, responsible for the classic “Dil Chahta Hai” and though he may not have been able to scale the heights of his first film, each film that he has directed after that has been technically very well done. So, let’s take a moment and look at this perhaps lost and overlooked gem of a short film that Farhan directed in 2007 titled, “Positive”. As the title indicates, the film deals with the controversial topic of AIDS, the positive in the title specifically referring to the disease itself. This excellent short film never preaches to the audience and packs more emotional punch than most three-hour Bollywood films. Sure, the direction is marvelous, and Farhan excels at making each character shine, but the reason that he is able to pack so much of an emotional punch to the film is because of the very well written screenplay by Rajesh Devraj.

The storyline focusing on the brittle relationship between a cheating husband, his emotionally tortured wife and the volatile relationship that both have with their son is incredibly moving. What would you do if you see your photographer father always cheating on your mother with the models in his studio? Would you tell your mother? If so, how would you handle their fights? What would your relationship with your father be like and what if you were called back from abroad to deal with your father contracting AIDS from one of the numerous women he’s had affairs with?

All of these questions have no easy answers, yet this short film combines three very important aspects of filmmaking. First, an excellently written screenplay is a must. Second, the director should know how to frame a scene and elicit the best performances from his cast. Third, the cast should be up to the challenge. That third part is strikingly clear, as Boman Irani delivers a powerhouse performance as the father whose cheating leads to his ultimate downfall. Opposite him, is the very talented Shabana Azmi, whose portrayal of the suffering wife has many layers to it. Both of these actors are a delight to watch on screen. Rounding out this troika is Arjun Mathur who plays the beleaguered son dealing with his dad and mom. Throw in the beautiful cinematography by Hemant Chaturvedi and the haunting music score by Ram Sampath, and you have a short film that is so good, it feels like a full-length feature. Beautiful and emotionally stirring, “Positive” is a short film that deserves to be seen.

Thums Down - Recent Films that Disappointed :-(
 Kash...Mere Hote
Run! Run! Don’t look at this film! Whatever you do, if you want to keep your sanity, you’ll stay away from this warped love stalker film. In another version of the classic, I love you, I’ll kill you genre of film, this film falters from the first frame to the last. Kumar Sahil in a debut performance is totally unconvincing as the male lead for whom all women lust. His acting is wooden, but is made even more one-dimensional by the unconvincing amour of his co-star Sneha Ullal who looks beautiful but is an emotional black hole. Pity poor Rajesh Khanna who finds himself stuck like a fly in amber, the once icon of the 70’s is now reduced to films like this. What’s worse, after you watch this film, you’ll want to stalk the director and screenplay writer in the hopes that they never make another film like this again.

 Bad Luck Govind
Oh..haha…haha…oh…haha..haha! I’m sorry; I’m trying to really raise some honest laughs while watching the film, “Bad Luck Govind”. The premise is interesting, in that one poor unfortunate soul is the unluckiest slob on the planet. If he’s part of your gang, what do you do with him? Why you send him to be part of the rival gang so he brings bad luck to them. Hmmm…I think I have some friends like that. Doesn’t that sound funny!?!?!?!? Ahem, if you aren’t chuckling yet, then don’t bother seeing this mess of a film.

 Siddarth - The Prisoner
I usually try to catch any film that stars Rajat Kapoor as he usually delivers the kind of off beat twisted cinema that appeals to my inner rogue. Unfortunately even this talented actor can not save the film from it’s weak screenplay. The plot’s premise has Kapoor playing a author released from prison, who writes a new novel, but loses his only copy of the manuscript. Instead of the manuscript, he is left with a briefcase full of money and a shattered life. Director Priyas Gupta is unable to save the film from the overly convoluted script. Relationships are not well developed and the ending is not a satisfying conclusion. Skip this film, otherwise you will feel like a prisoner who was never released!

 Billu Barber
 PB Rating: 3.0 out of 10  Public Rating (by 410 unique users): 5.11
 Director: Priyadarshan  Producer: Gauri Khan
 Music: Pritam  Lyrics: Gulzar, Neeraj Shridhar, Sayeed Quadri, Aashish Pandit, Mayur Puri
 Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Irrfan Khan, Lara Dutta, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Asrani, Om Puri, Rajpal Yadav
 Genre: Comedy  Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
If you bought into the pre-release hype of “Billu” (formerly known as “Billu Barber, but changed by Shah Rukh Khan due to complaints of the use of the word barber to describe…barbers (aka hair stylists). The interviews all proclaimed that this was a pure family entertainer, the promos conveyed that it would be a virtual laugh riot, and the music is bombastically danceable indicating that the female actresses would be for the most part, scantily clad. So, you had the family crowd, the comedy crowd, and the rather excitable crowd all looking forward to this movie. Well, faithful PB readers, I, your guide and seer into the inner workings of Bollywood films am here to tell it like it is. “Billu” is neither here nor there, but rather is like a bad haircut. Let me explain. Picture this: You are strapped into your chair by Priyadarshan, who shall be the director for your barber Irfan Khan. Irfan Khan is told how to cut your hair every step of the way but shows no interest in cutting your hair. Shah Rukh Khan dances around the chair distracting you every once in a while with scantily clad women, Rajpal Yadav cackles every other moment, and Asrani screams at the top of his lungs. Take all of that and you get the gist of how you shall feel after watching “Billu”. Let’s start with the direction. Priyadarshan is an immensely talented director who for some reason seems to be a bit stuck in a one-note rut. The kinetic direction that his trademark (characterized by characters running or speeding into a scene for no reason other than to convey excitement) is very much intact. The straightforward, crowd-pleasing direction is quite evident, but there’s a sense of quiet discord within each frame. Priyadarshan seems to be trying his best to hammer the absolutely absurd screenplay into some kind of entertaining film, but the story completely fails him. It’s like a ten-minute hair cut spread out over two and a half hours. What should have been fun instead falls flat.

Irfan Khan as the lead character Billu delivers a bland performance and the weakness of his character’s storyline really hurts his attempts to endear himself to the viewer. During an interview, the actor slyly complained that Priyadarshan’s directing style is very controlling, and that he wasn’t able to express himself as an actor the way he normally would. He found it to be challenging. Unfortunately, this isn’t the Irfan Khan seen in “The Namesake” or even the one seen in “Slumdog Millionaire”, but rather one that fails to carry the film.

Shah Rukh Khan plays the superstar actor who shares a past with Billu (and never the two shall meet, till the last fifteen minutes of the film that is). He delivers his usual trademark style dialogue, and manages to instill some excitement when he is on screen. Or, it could be that during the songs he has a very scantily clad Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra (throw in Kareena Kapoor as well) gyrating to some catchy music that makes the film a hit with the lonely male crowd. Sorry gals, you are out of luck, no beefcake for you this time around. That SRK, he sure is a sly producer. He knows that the songs and gals will serve to distract the audience and perhaps make people believe that the film is a hit. It’s totally another thing that the film is touted as a family entertainer, when you’ve got Ms. Padukone and Ms. Chopra showing as much skin as possible, but that’s the conundrum of apna Bollywood films isn’t it? A family film with a little bit of naughty sin is our motto! All of this can’t save Shah Rukh Khan’s performance, especially considering he has shown he is capable of more. I will say that the little inside jokes are pretty clever, but alas not clever enough (though the bit about Bollywood being a big family brought a well enacted tear to my eye).

Billu and Khan run around in circles, and what could have been a sweet movie about lost friendship, instead turns into a boring movie full of cliché’s. The problem with the film is that other than the character played by Shah Rukh Khan, none of them are very likable. Lara Dutta plays Billu’s wife, but only succeeds in being irritating. Billu’s children are so annoying, that by the end of the film and their obvious redemption, one couldn’t care less what happens to them. The same holds true for all the side characters, the rich man without a heart, the jealous barber who is Billu’s competition and others. The usual Priyadarshan suspects are around, the already mentioned Rajpal Yadav, Asrani, plus Om Puri, but all fail to really convey anything other than the fact that their characters are ultimately meaningless. Rounding out all this is the music by Pritam who is India’s premiere bubble gum dance pop composer. The tunes are catchy, but I’m already beginning to forget them.

All in all, “Billu” is an exercise in wasted potential. So many talented individuals, yet they leave you with one big bad haircut. Do yourself a favor and skip this snoozefest, instead watch “Hera Pheri” again to see what Priyadarshan is capable of.

 Chandni Chowk to China
 PB Rating: 5.0 out of 10  Public Rating (by 410 unique users): 5.11
 Director: Nikhil Advani  Producer: Ramesh Sippy, Mukesh Talreja, Rohan Sippy
 Music: Kailasa, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Bappi Lahiri, & Bohemia  Lyrics: Rajat Arora, Shaily Shailendra, Kailash Kher, Bohemia
 Starring: Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Ranvir Shorey, Mithun Chakraborty, Roger Yuan, Gordon Liu
 Genre: Action  Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
Hear that? Hai ya! It’s Akshay Kumar’s unbelievable hit spinning track record ending, as the audience karate chops him back to Chandni Chowk! Have you ever seen a film that simply made you squirm in your seat as you thought to yourself, “What where they thinking”? This is one film that will simply leave you with your mouth hanging open, and not in that amazing kind of way. Pity Warner Brothers for not being able to produce a decent Bollywood flick, as this big budget overly hyped film simply fails to deliver the “ka-pow” goods. One doesn’t know whom to blame for this debacle. Is it Nikhil Advani, who hasn’t been able to deliver a decent film since the excellent “Kal Ho Na Ho”? Is it Akshay Kumar who fell prey to the hype roller coaster that loudly proclaimed that Akshay is Kiiiiing? One thing is for sure; the poorly written screenplay totally fails to deliver.

The film’s story is taken from any numerous stereotypical martial arts films that have come from China in the past decade, with a little bit of “Kung Fu Hustle” thrown in for good measure. It could have been a roller coaster ride from beginning to end, but it seems like the writers and director had no idea what kind of film they wanted to make. Is it a complete comedy? Is it a martial arts action film? Is it both? Instead what we get is a film whose first half showcases Akshay’s brilliant comedic talent (which isn’t enough to save the film), but does little to move the story forward and a second half that changes tone to become a hard core martial art’s film that is rushed towards its inevitable conclusion.

It’s sad to say, but Hollywood’s “Kung Fu Panda” did this genre of storytelling better. Akshay Kumar is one of the highlights of the film, and his sequences are very well performed, whether it is comic timing or action timing. He gives a good performance as the buffoonish oaf who may be the reincarnation a great Chinese warrior and who is the only one who can take down the big boss. The film is worth a watch just for him. Deepika Padukone basically serves as window dressing, as she plays (in a ludicrous story twist) two twin sisters separated at birth whose father has seemingly been murdered by the vile villain of the film. Ranvir Shorey is unfortunately just not up to par and his comedic scenes fall flat. Gordon Liu as the inanely named villain Hojo doesn’t really have much scope and fails to convey the menace necessary for the role.

Hopefully Akshay Kumar doesn’t give up on his wish to make a really good Bollywood martial arts film. It’s too bad that “Chandni Chowk to China” lacks the karate chops to be that film.

Previous Weeks Thums Up - Thums Down »
 • `Why "Krrish" 3 wasn`t so super!`
 • BWAHAHAHA….`Grand Masti`!
 • ‘Besharam’ is no ‘Dabangg’!
 • `Shuddh Desi Romance` Sheds New Light on Love!
 • Ranbir and Deepika ‘s chemistry burns up the screen in ‘Yeh Jaawani Hai Deewane’
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