Category Archives: Entertainment

Dum Maaro Dum – Hindi films go Hollywood

DUM MAARO DUM. Director: Rohan Sippy. Players: Abhishek Bachchan, Prateik Babbar, Rana Daggubati, Aditya Panscholi. Music: Pritam. Background score: Midival Punditz. Writer: Shridhar Raghavan. Dialogue: Purva Naresh.

I saw Dum Maaro Dum at my local Cineplex last night and, for a change, the Hindi film felt right at home among the early summer releases that the Friday night crowds had thronged to.

Slick, glamorous, and frenetically paced, DMD has all the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster – a terrific plot, great music, and the non-stop action that doesn’t leave the viewer any time to ponder the script’s absurdities or inconsistencies.

dum maaro dumWhen local student Lorry (Babbar) receives admission into a U.S. college but without financial aid, the Goan drug cartel sees an opportunity for a mule. After much persuasion Lorry consents, and lands at the international airport with his cocaine-laden bags. The next sequence introduces us to the “heroes” of the movie, and is worth the price of admission. Each character is battling demons, from newly- reformed ACP Vishnu Kamath (Bachchan) to the susegaad Joki (Daggubati), the networked but powerless singer.

Lorry becomes a hapless lever used by Kamath to shake up the Goan mafia in search of the elusive Michael Barbossa, a shadowy entity that appears to exercise control over the various international drug factions that have divided up Goa.

Crackling dialogue and crisp direction move the story along. The one-liners and cheeky references to Amitabh films (Mere paas maal hai!) elevate the film from a by-the-numbers underworld movie and provide comic relief to the grim proceedings. Sippy captures the sex, drugs, and rock and roll atmosphere of Goa perfectly without forcing it on the viewer; the playground of the world is beautiful, sinister, and charming at once. One scene, shot in only the ambient light of a starry night, is a testament to the world class cinematography of modern Bollywood.

Unfortunately, the ensemble cast is picked with an eye to mainstream audiences, exposing the shallowness of Bollywood talent. But Babbar’s turn as the beleaguered Lorry is memorable; he manages to erase the memory of the humble Munna from Dhobi Ghat and the insouciant Amit from Jaane Tu with a sterling performance as the misguided teenager. Daggubati is eye candy and has the most sympathetic role of the lot; the actor from the South makes an impressive debut. Bachchan is competent, but he seems to playing variations of the same role –the suave crime-stopper- in every movie. If he has any plans of salvaging his career, he needs to step away from Bollywood and search out the offbeat indie directors who can give him a new lease on life.

As a gangster flick, comparisons to Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey or Ram Gopal Verma’s Company are inevitable but unfair. DMD has a visual and story-telling style of its own, and makes no bones about being nothing more than a commercial, paisa vasool, time-pass entertainer. It lacks the mad genius of Bharadwaj or the gritty realism of Verma, but it is an unpretentious, highly entertaining piece of work on its own.

As with Kaminey, the director is unable to resist providing a quasi-happy ending for his characters-are Indian audiences not ready for the messy realities of life?

Tanu Weds Manu – Not bad

tanu weds manuIt is a tribute to “India Shining” that the latest popular “away” location for the Hindi film industry is not Switzerland or Mauritius, but the semi-urban environs of North India, where the regional patois offers as much authenticity as the Mumbaiyya Hindi dialect. There’s been a rash of movies based in the North recently, like Dev D., Delhi 6, and of course, Band Baja Baraat, which made stars of two very ordinary looking people by focusing on a tight script, clean editing, and the colorful North Indian wedding ethos.

TWM attempts to cash in on BBB’s success by hewing to the same formula. The script is crisp, the language salty, and the plot heavily depends on the raucous chaos of an Indian wedding.

Despite the tradition it seeks to exploit, TWM’s wedding celebrations are more Monsoon Wedding than Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. In a clever nod to the changing times, we have Tanu (Kangana Ranaut), a foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking Kanpur girl who sole raison d’etre is to rebel, but who is, nevertheless, adored by her hapless parents. Her antics only endear her to Manu (Madhavan), a London doctor in town to get married by his parents.

Much plot-twisting happens before the two get together in classic filmy ishtyle at the end.

Indian filmmakers (at least some of them) seem to have woken up to the fact that a good script and screenplay can achieve decent box office returns and have the advantage of being able to keep costs down by reducing the need for star power. TWM chugs along briskly, with excellent turns by the accompanying ensemble cast. There are a couple of holes in the logic, but the pace keeps you from pondering them too long. But if the movie is representative of the social mores in India today, boy, have things changed. Tanu is obviously sexually experienced, but this fact appears to be a mere footnote in the proceedings, daunting neither her parents nor her suitors. Kya baat hai! If it wasn’t for the fact that there are still incidences of honor killings of caste-crossed lovers in India, I could almost believe the premise.

Where the movie stumbles is in the casting of Ranaut as the feisty, trash-talking Tanu. Ranaut has a chameleon-like ability to blend into her movies physically, so that her look here is a 180-degree turn from the drug addicted model in Fashion, but her voice modulation is just awful. And, let’s face it, she cannot do “chulbuli.” Her talents are much better suited to the dramatic roles that have been her forte so far. One can see why she would seek out a role that would stretch her as an actress, but she is just not right for this role. Kareena Kapoor’s turn as the irrepressible Geet in Jab We Met somewhat approximates the Tanuja Trivedi character, and while that performance was not exactly award-worthy, Ranaut as Tanu falls far below even this standard, and drags the movie down. Madhavan, on his part, is endearing as the lovelorn Manu, and his lack of charisma doesn’t affect the movie much.

Another plot weakness is the denouement. Without spoiling it for the reader, let me say that Tanu’s volte face in the final moments is quite unbelievable and I wouldn’t give the new relationship a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. The rapid turn of events in the climax leave a slightly sour taste in what should have been a fairy-tale ending.

Still, TWM is a pleasant watch for the most part. Director Aanand Rai puts in some clever touches, like the sangeet performed to the oldie “Kajra Mohabbat Wala,” and the supporting cast, led by Swara Bhaskar as Tanu’s clear-headed friend Payal, is excellent. Krsna’s music is pleasant, with touches of the Hindustani semi-classical tradition. Watch TWM on a good, legal print on DVD when you’re in the mood for a nice Bollywood film.

Guzaarish: the tears refused to be jerked!


By Rohini Mohan

Guzaarish is another larger than life, flamboyant, grandiose offering of Sanjay Leela Bhansali.  Like all his productions, it seems more like a play than a movie. I enjoy high pathos, but I am not generous enough to call this one a tearjerker.

Hrithik plays Ethan, a quadriplegic, who petitions for the right to die. Sofia (Aishwarya), is his stony faced nurse and Omar(Aditya Roy Kapur)  is his apprentice.

The film is set in Goa and at first you have the unreal feeling of being transported back to the early 1900s- mainly because of Ash’s dreadful costume. With her ankle length red, white, and black skirt and blouse and outlandish jewelry  she looks like she is ready to dance the flamenco any moment (she actually does, in one surreal scene.)

However, I will say that, other than looking like a Gitana with moon eyes and garish red lipstick, the role suited Ash – it needed someone wooden and she delivered. I would question her very relevance to the plot, but will refrain. Movies do need to sell after all.

The house is a bhoot bangla in the boonies; apparently you can get to it only by boat, except when it does not suit the director. Ethan is an RJ and broadcasts from the relative comfort of his bedroom, because of course he has not left the house in 14 years since his accident. (When will we stop making these obtuse references to Chaudah saal ka banwas?)

The doctor, lawyer, and apprentice are all impossible characters – none that you actually come to love, mainly because of the consistently sub-par performances.  Nafisa Ali, on the other hand is absolutely wonderful in her brief cameo role as Ethan’s mother. She has aged with dignity and grace and remains the powerful performer she always was. Her short monologue was probably the only part worth shedding a few tears over.

Hrithik was…well good, I admit, albeit reluctantly, the reason being some moments where I believe he forgot exactly what disability he was portraying and appeared positively maniacal. However, he is, needless to say an extremely talented dancer and an equally talented singer. His rendering of “What a Wonderful World” was quite beautiful. Mercifully, he kept his shirt on.

The theme is euthanasia (or “Ethanasia,”  if you will) which if treated right could make a powerful and poignant story. I have seen it handled much more creatively and effectively in ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.

The worst casualty of the movie was subtlety. What happened to symbolism and the art of suggestion?  What happened to saying something without shoving it down your throat? I have seen Mili, and Anand, and Million Dollar Baby and countless other movies which utilized these subtle techniques and made me cry buckets. Sorry Sanjay, you pressed and you pressed on my tear ducts, but they would not give.

Good music, lovingly photographed. Ok for all ages.

Do Androids Dream of Item Numbers?

endhiran-poster2As writer Grady Hendrix puts it in this awesome profile, superstar Rajnikanth is a force of nature. Despite never having seen a previous Tamil movie of the man, I put aside precious time this weekend to go see Enthiran in the theater, bravely casting aside the protection of my trusty remote control, knowing I would be stuck in the theater for three hours, unable to fast-forward unwanted scenes and songs.

The movie, which has created hysteria in the otherwise sanguine Indian diaspora, lives up to its hype at first. As we watch Dr. Vasigaran build a robot (technically an android) in his image, the special effects measure up to international standards. Even Rajni’s makeup is marvelous, making the 60-year-old grandfather’s romance with the lovely Ms. Bachchan way more credible and way less creepy than it should have been.

It’s easy to see why fans are crazy about this humble bus conductor from Bangalore. There’s a cheekiness in Rajni’s portrayal of both Vasi and the robot Chitti that suggests the actor is in on the joke—it’s all a big spectacle for the audience’s benefit and not one bit’s meant to be taken seriously. (Memorable lyrics to Rahman’s peppy numbers include comparing the heroine to honey-soaked wasabi, for the express purpose of rhyming with gulabi (rose)).

As Vasi delivers his quips with panache, and Chitti the robot breaks into bharatanatyam moves, the audience claps and howls in appreciation. Even the plot moves along at a fairly crisp clip, as the good doctor enhances his robot to make it more and more humanoid. There’s plenty of opportunity for situational comedy arising from the robot’s literal interpretation of language, and there are a couple of bumbling sidekicks thrown in for good measure. The yawning cultural gap between East and West is never more apparent as when it is revealed that the robot is built for the express purpose of being used in the military, usually the point in Hollywood movies where the hero gasps and resolves to liberate the lovable machine from its nefarious destiny. Instead, the villain in Enthiran has a far simpler, ethically unquestionable motive for stealing the robot; he just wants to sell it for megabucks.

At intermission, an hour and a half later, Chitti has been programmed to have feelings, and the plot has been set up for an exploration of what it means to be human, previously tackled in movies like the darkly thrilling Blade Runner and the sentimental Bicentennial Man.

Except for the unfortunate circumstance that this is a Tamil movie with an apparently bottomless budget.

The second half of Enthiran goes completely haywire, as director Shankar indulges in what can only be his fevered adolescent fantasy of more and more improbable special effects, culminating in an orgy of Chitti clones that stack like Lego pieces to form shapes that the zombie priest in The Mummy would be proud of. The internal logic that exists in the first half (yes, I can live with a futuristic Chennai, even if the cops don’t seem to have evolved) just vanishes in the second, with every scene prompting the question “Why?”

Then there are the dozen or so song and dance sequences, filmed in baffling international locales, with Bachchan gamely peacocked up in bizarre outfits that would have made Telegu heroines from the 80s proud. My thumb furiously savages the cell phone in my hand, vainly searching for the fast forward button.

Only the 20 bucks I have paid for my ticket prevents me from leaving the theater (I believe ticket prices were as high as 30 dollars in some places). The ending, which arrives after about the 500th time I check my watch, is amazingly tame, glossing over the fact that the body count numbers in the tsunamis, and that the robot has destroyed property and technology worth the equivalent of current Indian GDP.

In the end, Enthiran is just a special effects indulgence, sprinkled with enough genuine Rajni to keep the fans coming. It is easy to see why the actor is so beloved; even in the stupidest of scenes he plays it straight and true, with a sincerity and humility that is at odds with his fame.  Despite the challenging characterization and the double roles, the movie uses him and lets him down. Watch the entire movie only if you are a hardcore Rajni fan. If not, leave during intermission, content to have seen an ageing superstar still bring his A game.

Kid advisory: Not suitable for kids under 10.

Once Upon a Time In Mumbai

OUATIMThe Mumbai underworld has been fertile soil for gritty Bollywood movies. Directors on a slump often return the well to reestablish their credentials; indeed, there are some directors like Ram Gopal Verma who have found success almost exclusively in this genre. The familiar territory of the Mumbai underbelly and its colorful characters have made it easy for scriptwriters to capture authentic gangster dialect and mannerisms and set up gripping conflicts, all the way from Parinda in 1989 to Kaminey in 2009.

Director Milan Luthria, known previously for pale Bollywood remakes of Hollywood B movies ( Chori Chori, Kacche Dhaage), also reaches for the real life drama of the Mumbai mafia to give his sagging reputation a boost, and the magic of the underworld rubs off on this movie as well.

But Once Upon … is no Satya. Rather, it is a somewhat sanitized version of the conflict between Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim that played out against the backdrop of the Bollywood industry in the 1970s, a period brought out with great care by the film’s designers. The dialogues are cleaner, and a touch florid, as in a play. The violence is muted and the characters larger than life. The plot is quite predictable to anyone familiar with the story arcs of mafia movies, but the editing is tight, and this makes the movie less tiring than you think it would be. Competently directed, Once Upon is a far more palatable movie for the family audience than previous movies on the subject have been.

Adding to its mainstream value is a stellar cast  – Ajay Devgn plays Sultan Mirza, the gangster with the heart of gold , with his usual panache. Kangana Ranaut, as his movie star love Rehana, displays her amazing chameleon-like ability to look entirely different in different roles. Her diction and voice modulation need work, as do those of most Bollywood heroines, but she is well cast and performs competently. Emraan Hashmi is perfect as Shoaib Khan, the young upstart, chafing at the constraints set up by Mirza, and itching to prove his worth and supersede the king. Randeep Hooda as ACP Agnel Wilson, the police chief who unwittingly sets off a train wreck of events, is excellent as ever.

But because of the conscious attempt to create an epic of sorts, the movie ends up losing a little bit of the grit and the dirt that give Mumbai movies their realism. Instead, as the name suggests, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai is a fairy tale, albeit one without a happy ending.

My rating : 3 out of 5 stars.

Note: I’ve heard that Haji Mastan’s children have tried to stop the screening of the film. Given how positively the film treats the Sultan Mirza character, that is a bit of a mystery.

Hiding Divya – An Indie Movie

hiding DivyaWrites filmmaker Rehana Mirza –

I’m writing to appeal for your support for the film HIDING DIVYA, a small independent film opening in theaters on August 20th.

It’s been a long journey and we are incredibly excited to be able to bring the film to the big screen. When I first started writing this film, it was because of a family friend, Rashi Shyam, whose father had shot himself. No one within the South Asian community even knew how deeply he was struggling with depression. No one acknowledged his depression even after that, when he was hospitalized. So we decided to make this film, hoping to de-stigmatize mental illness and bring awareness of the issue to all cultures.

Over the course of the film’s production until now, things have changed – Rashi’s father died after years of suffering in the hospital. Her mother recently passed on, too, from hiding the stress of having to deal with the fact that her husband suffered from an illness that no one understood or wanted to acknowledge. And so the importance of the film has become even greater.

The film is a dynamic drama that explores the effects of bipolar disorder on Divya (played by the esteemed Madhur Jaffrey), her estranged daughter Linny (Pooja Kumar of_Bollywood Hero_), granddaughter Jia (newcomer Madeleine Massey), and the surrounding community in New Jersey. It’s a wry, emotional, and sometimes humorous look at one family struggling to keep things together.

As with all independent film, HIDING DIVYA hinges on word of mouth to help determine its future. We would like to ask you to spread the word about the upcoming release. Independent film live or die by the attendance at opening weekend, and so we hope that you and your circle will be able to lend your support. The film will be having a limited release in 6 cities: New York City, NY; Edison, NJ; Novi, MI; Peachtree, GA; North Bergen, NJ; and Fremont, CA.

Even if you do not live in one of these cities, please send a message to peers or friends who do. Many, many people have helped to make this film possible in many different ways. We’d love to count on you as well. Become a Fan on Facebook, and invite others to be a fan here:

Please purchase tickets for August 20th or for that opening weekend. Thank you in advance for your support.

Rehana Mirza

Rehana Mirza

Raavan: Richly Atmospheric

raavanBefore Tulsidas’ retelling turned him into an infallible God, Rama was designed to be the first self-aware, doubt-ridden, painfully human avatar of Vishnu. In Valmiki’s epic, he makes many questionable moral choices, like the killing of Vali and the banishment of Sita. By contrast, Ravana, the king of Lanka, is a renowned scholar, lover and patron of the arts, and a great king, a civilized demi-god whose power blinds him to good advice at crucial moments.

The idea was to create a complex fable of good and evil; how they both can lurk in the same human being, and how circumstances can bring out surprising elements of our personalities, to our shame or pride.

Mani Ratnam takes that basic idea and weaves it into Raavan, a lush, atmospheric epic that plays similarly with the moral grayness that is the central trait of humankind. Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) is the jungle lord who rules his domain with a firm but just hand. After his sister Jamuniya (a lovely and husky-toned Priyamani) is assaulted by a group of policeman under the command of SP Dev (Vikram), he decides to take revenge by kidnapping and killing Dev’s wife Ragini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). Other elements from the epic are randomly sprinkled. There is the forest guard, Sanjeevani Kumar (Govinda) who bounces from tree to tree, Jamuniya is obviously Surpanakha, but there is no cohesion or chronology to these allusions; they are placed at the will of the director, not Valmiki.
I won’t give away any more of the plot, but suffice to say that Beera is not the inhuman monster that he has the reputation of being, and Dev is not as morally pure as his name and position suggest. Only Ragini is created as a paragon-brave, fearless, and compassionate, with a luminous beauty that can drive men mad.

Abhishek hams it to the hilt as Beera; manic eyes invoke the rakshasa, and schizophrenic mumblings suggest the ten heads. Vikram as Dev is perfectly cast; there is a credible moral ambiguity in the typical cop get-up – aviator glasses, tucked in shirt suggesting the beginnings of a paunch. Aishwarya does quite well; she is not a great actress, but here she is the personification of Sita, a delicate vine with a core of steel.

But the real hero is the atmospherics, richly shot by master cinematographer Santosh Sivan (V. Manikandan began the movie, but left early on). The opening scene, where Beera’s large craft bores down on the Ragini’s fragile vessel, is stunning, and the visual gifts keep coming. The scenes in the jungle are a rain-sodden gray green, and set up a terrific contrast to the bright colors of the flashbacks to happier times. Spectacularly shot on location in parts of Kerala, Karnataka, and Maharashtra, the cinematography is a revelation of the many unexplored places in India that are still unspoilt and gorgeous.

Indian critics have been divided on the movie, but if there’s one thing Mani Ratnam can do, it is tell a story with style and panache. Raavan is a feast for the senses, and I highly recommend you watch it in the theater, where you can best experience the oppressive power and the thrumming beat of the jungle. Rahman’s music does not stand out on its own, but it sets a good percussive mood towards the inexorable cliff-top conclusion.

Every element of the movie is beautiful, but it is not an insubstantial beauty. This is a strong tale, well told.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 5


Raajneeti-storyIt is often said that every story ever to have been told is in the Mahabharata. It is no wonder that the sweeping epic has been the inspiration for books and movies like Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel and Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug.

Director Prakash Jha uses contemporary Indian politics as a setting for Raajneeti, his version of the Mahabharata, and it makes perfect sense. Despite the focus on the climactic 18-day war, the epic is more about the politics of kingship and the toll the quest for power takes on families and relationships. In this case we have the political family of the Prataps, two brothers who control the politics of a central Indian state. When the older brother gets disabled by a stroke, the delicate power equilibrium gets disrupted, leading to an all out war between the younger generation of cousins. Elements of the Gandhi dynastic rule are also woven in, with a foreign-returned brother being co-opted into the family business.

Many themes from the Mahabharata can be quickly identified; Raajneeti is not the most subtle of adaptations. Ajay Devgn’s character, playing Karna, is left as a baby in a basket on the river. He also wears the trademark kundalas (earrings), and has a riverside showdown with the mother who abandoned him.

Raajneeti is bolstered by a large celebrity cast, with some unlikely faces like Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif obviously signed on to give a touch of glamour to the project. They are supported by a commendable ensemble cast. Nana Patekar plays the wily Krishna and Manoj Bajpai is dependable as ever as the perpetually frustrated Duryodhana. Every actor has the opportunity to emote, given the drama inherent in this story of family rivalries, and they all do a good job. The one sour note is Arjun Rampal as Bhim (or Sanjay Gandhi, depending on which epic you’re referring to at the moment) whose Hindi accent is even worse than Kaif’s at times.

Where the movie stumbles is in its predictability. I could foresee nearly every plot twist before it occurred, and assassinations are telegraphed seconds ahead by ominous music and obvious setups. When Ranbir’s character, Samar, returns a cell phone to a traitor with the instruction to always pick up his call, you know that the device is going to be used to blow the guy up pretty soon.

Despite the strong and complex plot, courtesy Ved Vyasa (who, I think, should certainly have been given screen credit) Raajneeti ends up being more ho-hum that hoo-haa. The movie will leave you with nothing more than a faint regret of having spent 3 hours in the theater (yes, it is that long) and a slight trepidation when you unlock your car in the parking lot and put your hand on the door handle to open it.

If you have a hankering for a reworked epic, wait for Mani Ratnam’s Ravana, out on June 18.

Update: I wanted to mention that this movie gives you a frightening picture of law and order in central India. Desis planning to return should watch this movie and reconsider! ( though I believe the situation has improved tremendously these days. Or so I hear.)

Update 2: I hear there are several elements from the Godfather movie too. Not having watched the movie recently, I wasn’t able to catch the references.

Update 3: Watch the previews for upcoming Bollywood releases. Then notice how the odd one out is the mainstream, Dharma Productions rom-com I Hate Luv Stories with the big production numbers and the good-looking leads. It is a testimony to the maturing of the Hindi movie industry.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Kid advisory: Not suitable for kids under 13 years.

Kites – a flight of fancy

kitesCritics in India panned it; critics in the US have gushed with praise. What’s a desi to do? Should one assume that Kites has certain Western sensibilities that backwater hicks in the homeland can’t appreciate and fork over the 11 dollars in the theater? Or trust in the instincts of a billion people and go for the two-buck pirated version at the Indian grocery store?

Well, here goes – I hope this helps.

Kites is mostly a paean to beauty; the sculpted, six-packed fabulousness of Hrithik Roshan and the olive-skinned exoticism of Barbara Mori. To my Indian eyes she wasn’t a patch of any of our desi kudis, but I am willing to concede that this may be a cultural bias and that she may be, in fact, drop-dead gorgeous to any red-blooded male west of Mumbai.

The film therefore spends most of its time leisurely panning over the two lovebirds as they gaze soulfully at each other. Well, Hrithik does the soulful bit mostly; Mori just looks (again, could be cultural bias; I had a real problem with the Close-Up smile that didn’t quite reach the eyes). There is a story around this hazardous romance between English/Hindi speaking boy and Spanish speaking girl, but that story is just a vehicle to display the awesomeness of the two. Every scene moves at glacial speed as we contemplate the sheer physical perfection of the lead pair; they are displayed in the rain, on a train, in the desert, at the casino, in the pool, in the sea, each at various stages of undress. Even the chase scene, where the lovers are in immediate peril, feels like a weekend outing to the country, as a soft ballad plays in the background.

Director Anurag Basu has been a staple of the Vishesh Films/Bhatt family stable, churning out decent movies like Life in a Metro and Gangster and Murder. His forte is style, and Kites is a very stylish and stylized movie. What is lacks is pacing and drama. Perhaps that was intentional, but I think having a producer like Mahesh Bhatt would have made Basu haul up his socks and fix the problem double quick. Instead he has Papa Roshan, who probably has no problem with the many, many minutes devoted to the admiration of his gorgeous son.

Ultimately, cross-cultural romances work if there is a sizzling chemistry between the lead pair. Hrithik and Mori do look good together, but I didn’t get it (CB? Maybe?) The last one I remember was Ek Duuje Ke Liye with Kamalahasan and Rati Agnihotri, which worked because there was a charming awkwardness between the lead pair and you could believe that, as teenagers, they would do stupid and grand mistakes. But here both Hrithik and Mori are just too well put together. They are just not credible as down-on- their-luck deadbeats. Seriously, can anyone think of the six-foot, green-eyed Hrithik as a struggler?

There is a silver lining, though. As I mentioned, the key problem with the movie is pace. Now this Friday the English version of the movie, directed by Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, released. It is 40 minutes shorter than the Hindi version, which means a lot of the pacing problems may have been taken care of. It still won’t be a terrific movie, but it may be passable. If you are a fan of Hrithik, it might be worth checking out. Plus, the pirated DVD has awful subtitles! (And unless you know Spanish, you’ll need them.)

The Blue Mug

Blue-mugPrologue: Even in laid back Silicon Valley, the arrival of The Blue Mug was big news. Breathless emails were exchanged about the date, rueful regrets were broadcast about not being able to score tickets, and in general, a frisson of excitement rippled through the area, thanks to the amazing cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Ranvir Shorey, Vinay Pathak, among others – the new wave of “actors” in an otherwise scorned Bollywwood pantheon.

So the lobby outside Malavalli Hall (India Community Center, Milpitas) on Saturday was packed to stifling, and I mean that literally. Asked to arrive at 7:30 for the show opening at 8, even typically tardy desis showed up punctually, only to wait..and wait..and wait. There was a crush at the ticket redemption tables, the sides of the already small lobby were lined with tables for vendors and non-profit organizations, and the doors to the venue stubbornly stayed shut. The good-humored crowd slowly became restless, and progressively uncomfortable.

As it turns out, the delay was probably because some good-for-nothing promoters were placing pamphlets of upcoming events and ads on the chairs. When the doors finally opened at a quarter to 9, the crowd’s boiling point had just about been reached, and the mood did not improve when we saw how closely the folding chairs were packed together. Worse than an airplane setup, our knees squeezed together, and butts cuddled, and necks craned in uncomfortable positions to find a vantage point to see the stage.

Let’s face it, Malavalli Hall is not meant for plays. ICC, stop hiring it out for events like these – it is a disservice to both the actors and the audience. Not having a slope means that any activities below eye level are invisible to all except the first few rows.

Despite the delay, the organizers decided to continue with the scheduled program, an opening act by Project Pulse. An idiotic decision, given the angry sentiments of the crowd at this point; the dancers almost got booed off the stage (sorry guys, but your performance was not up to par either, not that I can blame you). When the emcee came up to make more announcements, one could almost sense the vibration of pitchforks; my husband and I cast nervous eyes around for the nearest exit, in case of a riot.

Eventually the play began, and things settled down, even after the disclosure that Konkona was ill and could not be a part of the show.

The Play: The Blue Mug is an experimental sort of play. It does not have a story, being a series of monologual vignettes about remembering and forgetting. The existential question it asks is, “Are we a sum of our memories?” Actors take turns to reminisce, weaving in and out of the stage to tell their unique stories. There are enough autobiographical touches thrown in to seamlessly blend truth and fiction, till it feels that you have been invited into their lives. I found that their recalled memories fired up my own synapses, throwing up moments from my past, as I listened to the players.

It works beautifully, though for it to make the maximum impact the viewer has to be Hindi/English bilingual and have a distinctly north Indian background. Having grown up in Kanpur, I could instantly identify with the stories, though I am not sure how those south of the Vindhyas reacted to it.

Above all, The Blue Mug is a master class in acting. Though Rajat Kapoor, Shorey, and Pathak are the star names, the other actors do as fine a job. Each performance is pitch perfect and completely engrossing. The play is only about 75 minutes long, but every minute is a theater lover’s treat. This is a great touring play, since there are no props involved, and I believe there are more shows scheduled throughout the United States.

If yours is one of the lucky cities to stage it, be sure to check it out. And here’s hoping the organizers have a little more respect for their audience this time.

The play’s schedule can be found here.