Thursday, December 23, 2010

Man Madan Ambu - Yummy Masala Mix

Man Madhan Ambu is a good movie. No argument there. It makes for enjoyable viewing but what irks me is that it could have been a great movie but falls short by a mile. The director K. S. Ravikumar and Kamal Hasan are master craftsmen and yet when they get together they feel compelled to showcase every single weapon in their collective arsenal which leaves the movie dangerously close to an implosion.

We all know that Kamal Hassan is a versatile actor who does comedy, tragedy, sentiment, action, etc. etc. with equal ease. But everyone who works with the dude makes it a point to drive this home and with a sledgehammer at that. The resultant genre - blending can get dizzying and seriously annoying. Sometimes it is important to decide at the onset whether you are making a farce - type comedy or a seriously emotional drama.

That being said the disparate elements that comprise this flick are really beautiful. The love story is wonderfully nuanced and sensitively portrayed. There are some seriously funny gags so the comedy bits are also good. However the manufactured drama and comedy gets a little tedious towards the end when it unravels in an all - out goofball fest.

There are some good performances that contribute towards engaging the audience despite the shortcomings mentioned above. Kamal Hassan is awesome! And then some. How does he do it? He looks great and is very much in his element as arguably the greatest actor this country has produced. His talent as an actor is matched only by his singing. The haunting "neela vaanam" number is guaranteed to make the crustiest soul in the audience weep. Trisha is surprisingly decent and looks gorgeous. Madhavan plays a thankless character, that of a rich, insensitive, crude, jerk/pig but is nevertheless a hoot. A testament to his growing prowess as an actor.

Nobody and I mean nobody does flashbacks quite like Ravikumar and he has outdone himself with this one. An entire song shot in reverse depicts a tragic and heart - warming love story with none of the "lets shamelessly manipulate audience sentiment for all its worth" crap.

The music is another plus. Devi Sri Prasad is really good.

Man MAdhan Ambu gets 7/10, but it could have scored a ten.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Letter to TIME

I sent a letter to TIME in response to Joel Stein's awesome column entitled "The Awesome Column",9171,2033072,00.html They published two lines from my somewhat long - winded letter in this week's edition. (Sighs) Anyways here is the rest of it.

Reading Joel Stein’s awesome column on how his particular brand of narcissistic writing changed the world of journalism forever, reminded me of a definitive moment in my own writing career.
I first read Joel Stein’s column in 2002, on my first day in college. Feeling more than a little nervy, I had borrowed Dad’s Time magazine so that I could pretend to be the intellectual type and hopefully make a decent impression (notice the almost obsessive use of ‘I’). If I hadn’t been feeling dreadfully inadequate and homesick, it would have been nigh impossible for me to wade through the morass of high – brow and somewhat pretentious articles in the magazine. Somehow I fought my way through the treacherous terrain Time had set me and arrived at Stein’s column on the fag end of the magazine and was completely blown away.
Stein had elaborated at length about his first time on the couch, extreme love for pornography, therapist mom, and his inability to feel anything past a passion for simulated passion. All this in the interest of avoiding writing a well – researched, scientific article for that month’s issue based on health (or was it science?)
I loved the piece and could not help loving the guy for writing exactly the way I did. Sure, my similarly “sophomoric, solipsistic, snarky” articles got a lot of heat for their “morally dubious content” and I had been warned that writing in the first person was not the way to go, if one wished to achieve literary greatness. But here was a guy whose column with its predominant focus on porn and sickly self – love, had made it to Time magazine! And if that were not enough, his was the standout number in an otherwise staid and stuffy publication. Thanks to this remarkable phenomenon, I allowed myself to dream of winning the Booker, writing the way I did and have been pursuing the said course with due diligence.
Thanks Joel Stein for giving me the courage to stick to my style – writing in the first person, with highly opinionated views, and private angst squeezed in for good measure. Of course at 26, I am a struggling writer trying to juggle motherhood and a stillborn career, while the fella who writes like me is making beaucoup bucks, schmoozing with celebs and supermodels, and appearing on TV to gravely pass his opinions on “100 hottest whatevers”. Perhaps I should sue… but I’d rather wait for one of the discerning editors at Time (a truly esteemed publication) to visit my blog, and offer me his / her job.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ratha Sarithram (Rakta Charitra II) – Bloody Disappointing!

Ram Gopal Varma should have left well enough alone. The sequel to Rakta Charitra I is seriously disappointing. The story resumes where it left off in the first instalment but with a new character picking up the strands of the narrative. Surya is out to get Pratap Ravi, played by Vivek Oberoi (whose meteoric rise was chronicled in part I), who was responsible for the loss of his family. So far, so good but unlike its predecessor where the pace was fast and furious, this time around everything is in slow – mo... literally.

Surya as Surya is mostly competent, good in parts, and even superlative in one intense scene where he receives a miraculous opportunity to avenge himself upon his nemesis from a slimy and self - serving politician. But he never makes the transition to greatness the way Vivek Oberoi did in his turn as the man on a mission of revenge. RGV is to blame for this though. In his bid to make his movie appealing to a wider populace, he makes Surya ditch his shirt at every opportunity, show off his ripped bod, and bash up baddies to pulp with his bare fists or handcuffed wrists.

Unlike Oberoi who had to rely on his wits and weapons to stay alive, Surya has to rely on his pretty muscles and superhuman ability to morph into the “Incredible Hulk” to help him through tough situations. Consequently the movie makes a sudden switch from hard – hitting realism to masala – movie nonsense.

The deadly cat and mouse game played between the two should have been nail – biting, but it fell flat more often than not. This was particularly obvious in a scene where the two antagonists come face to face with only the prison bars separating them. It is an unnecessary scene that had to be squeezed into the script in a transparent attempt to make cinematic magic by showcasing the heavyweights who are in the fight of their lives to outperform each other.

The movie has some positives – Oberoi is still brilliant and manages to garner sympathy even as he becomes increasingly like the men he abhorred and killed. Priyamani is decent but she is becoming repetitive. Apte as Pratap Ravi's wife shines. RGV manages to get across the point that violence begets violence and the vicious circle of revenge and hatred has to be broken. That is commendable. But the negatives ranging from bad - dubbing to contrived plot devices are too many to be ignored. Sudeep, who plays the DCP is insipid and makes you miss Bukka Reddy who despite all his faults was never boring.
I could go on in this vein, but I don’t want to be a drag like the movie.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rakta Charitra I - Bloody Brilliant!

Ram Gopal Varma has bounced back from his "Aag" or was it "AArgh" debacle and how!His Rakta Charitra I is bloody brilliant. It is absurdly violent but all that stomach - turning blood and gore is delivered with so much cinematic panache and verve that it is not only palatable but absolutely delicious in parts.

Based on the life of Paritala Ravi (Pratap Ravi in the movie), the film takes a long, hard look at the factionists who run the country today. Narasimha Rao is the head political honcho in Anandpur and Ravi's father Veerabhadra is his loyal right - hand man. The latter becomes increasingly influential and earns the ire of party member Nagmani Reddy, who engineers a series of misunderstandings which end with Veerabhadra's brutal assassination. The son then seeks revenge and is thrust headlong into the murky world of violence and political intrigue.

It is not the most innovative script in the world but the narrative is so gripping and the screenplay so taut, you find yourself thoroughly engrossed by the happenings unfolding on screen. And the powerhouse performances by perfectly cast actors is a major plus. Abhimanyu Singh as the psychotic rapist/ evil killer is a revelation. Radhika Apte, Shatrughan Sinha as the superstar turned crafty politician, and Kota Srinivasa Rao who plays the scheming Nagmani Reddy especially, deserve a round of applause.

Vivek Oberoi gets the role of a lifetime and it is a pleasure to watch him sink his teeth into it as he devours scene after scene with gritty elan. The bit where he sees his brother's corpse in a dingy jail cell and the one where he kills Narasimha Rao, all the while staring unapologetically at his hysterical wife are simply brilliant. His attempts to change the system while being forced to play the baddie make you love him all the more for he is a bad boy who endeavors to be noble. An Oscar - worthy performance!

You have to be a nitpicker or cursed with a weak stomach to find any negatives in this masterpiece. This reviewer belongs to the former category and had a problem with the scene where a female cop lowers her gun while on a mission to arrest a loathsome criminal and touches his shoulder (maternal affection?) just because he is shedding crocodile tears and winds up with a bullet in her head. An unacceptably dumb scene in an otherwise clever pic.

RGV can take a bow and poke fun at Karan Johar all he wants as this superbly crafted flick has earned him the right! Can't wait to see Part 2 in this delectable revenge saga.