Category Archives: Entertainment

Love, Sex Aur Dhoka

films_love sex aur dhokaWhat is cinema? Is it storytelling, technique, or performance? And what is its objective? To entertain, inform, or just shake the viewer out of celluloid apathy? Dibakar Banerjee (Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky Oye Oye) takes on these questions with the noirish Love, Sex Aur Dhoka (LSD).

Shot entirely with handheld cameras, LSD is quite a trip (pun unintended). Three stories from Indian suburbia are loosely knit together, each story told from the point of view of the characters holding the camera; some for reportage, some for digital immortality, some for voyeurism. The stories are hardly unique; one deals with romantic love, one with a Tehelka style sting, while the third capitalizes on the lurid MMS scandals that periodically pop up in the midday tabloids. The plots are familiar, the endings sometimes predictable; it is the filmmaking style that invests them with urgency and credibility. The use of long single shots, necessitated when the characters are not moving and there is only a single camera covering them, challenges the actors to deliver amazingly convincing performances.

Wisely casting unknowns for the movie, Banerjee manages to invest the film with a documentary feel—the characters are completely believable. When bad stuff happens to them, the viewer is jolted by the realism, as if one stumbled on to this cache of home movies and discovered the deep dark secrets within.
The other quality that gives LSD its kick is its authenticity. People fed on a steady diet of Bollywood may find it hard to believe, but LSD is the real India, sometimes gritty, mostly grimy, usually banal. The banality sometimes makes the movie drag, but the performances are good to the point of being hypnotic. You want to know what happens to these flawed souls, much in the way you would follow the lives of your friends from college. The characters represent modern India in a way the Polo-wearing, Gucci-adorned Raj and Simran do not.

The connections between the three stories are not immediately apparent, and the diligent viewer will have quite a few “aha” moments as characters from one story show up in another.

Viewers looking for escapist fare can give it a wide berth—it is just too real and too disturbing—but lovers of serious cinema just have to watch LSD. I guarantee you will be haunted by the movie for days afterwards.

Kid advisory: If you can be called a kid, you better not be watching this movie.

Love Sex Aur Dhoka


Alisha's World

AlishaAnyone who has ever tried to penetrate the world of children’s book publishing will tell you what a daunting task it is. A few fortunate ones, like Pooja Makhijani ( Mama’s Saris) and Uma Krishnaswami (Monsoon) make it to the mainstream, but there are scores more who bravely undertake the project, knowing their chances of breaking through are slim, with every likelihood of their book being consigned to a vast slush pile at the publisher’s desk.

Perhaps we immigrants are inspired by the challenges our children go through to assimilate into this new culture and want to share stories from the war zone. (It certainly isn’t to become the next J.K. Rowling.)

Sanjiv Sinha took a techie approach to the problem of finding a publisher.

A father of 2 daughters from Dallas, Texas, software professional Sinha recalls making up stories for his 4-year-old a few years ago. The stories touched on the common issues faced by desi children in the US – joining a preschool where no one looks like you, bringing lunch that invokes laughter from your classmates, and so on.

alisha's worldThe stories were the inspiration for Alisha’s World, a charming picture book revolving around the eponymous Alisha, perhaps a composite of Sinha’s kids Riya and Shibani, who the book is dedicated to. The book has 3 stories revolving around the third-grader Alisha and her experiences at school. Joining a new school at the start of the book, Alisha faces the typical cultural challenges of a second generation Indian American. She navigates them with the help of a loving family, understanding teachers, and good friends. The glossy book is illustrated beautifully by Archana Sreenivasan.

After exploring options of finding a US publisher or using an American self-publisher like Lulu or Amazon, the software professional eventually settled on outsourcing! Alisha’s World is illustrated and printed in India and sold in the US for $17.99.

The books have been a hit at local schools, where teachers have used them to teach valuable lessons on multiculturalism and diversity. To help things along, Sinha set up the Alisha’s World website, which features information about the book, fun games, and a way to purchase the book.  A Facebook page keeps fans updated on Alisha and her adventures.

The quality of the book notwithstanding, finding a mainstream audience has been difficult. Says Sinha, “I need to sell just 20,000 books per year to break even.” He is looking at the library and school market rather than individuals who, he admits, might be reluctant to dish out over 15 dollars for the 40-page book.

Sanjiv, Riya and Shibani

Sanjiv, Riya and Shibani

In the works is the second book of Alisha’s adventures. A typical story deals with Alisha’s request for a sleepover and her parents’ misgivings about this quintessential American ritual.

“I find this endeavor just so much more creatively satisfying than my day job,” laughs Sinha.

My Name is Khan – a touch too filmy

MNIKIt’s hard to judge a movie after you’ve been inundated in the pre-release hype. You’ve heard about the billion-dollar deal with Fox Studios, you’ve read interviews with the stars and director, you’ve heard reports from the sets of fine performances, and you have a fair idea of the story line. All that remains is the visual representation of that torrent of information. In the case of MNIK, the real life detention of star Shah Rukh Khan at an American airport gave away ( or was publicized deliberately) one of the key plot points of the movie; his characteristic of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) was endlessly discussed-was he going to do justice to the role? Would professionals think the script adequately explained AS?

MNIK is about Rizwan Khan, an autistic man who goes on a quest to meet the President of the United States after the events of 9/11 turn his happy little world upside down. The movie is largely about the quest, with Khan’s back story interspersed in an occasionally confusing way. Given how much we already know about the movie, I’ll try not to give away any more of the plot, which comes from the fevered brain of scriptwriter Shibani Bathija. (Bathija is a San Francisco University alumna who first made it in Bollywood with Fanaa, another emotional highly-charged roller coaster.)

So does Khan accurately portray AS? My own Aspie son looked confused when the grand revelation was made. “He’s nothing like me!” was his initial comment, and we had to do a quick whispered lesson on how autism is pretty non-standard. Khan the character owes more to Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man; there are the odd phobias, the sensitivity to noise, the unique talent, the discomfort with physical gestures, and the monotonous voice. Khan the actor does his very best, but the effort is overwhelmed by his long Raj-infused filmography and his superstardom. (I felt the same way about Ajay Devgn’s performance in Main Aisa Hi Hoon, the Hindi remake of I am Sam.)

In interviews, director Johar was careful to point out that MNIK was a “serious” movie, tackling not only a developmental disorder and its associated challenges, but also the attitudes towards and treatment of American Muslims in the post 9/11 world. And purely on the page, the movie is pretty serious. There is not only the minor indignity of being body cavity searched at the airport, but also a violent death and a natural disaster.

But on the screen the treatment is pure masala; every revelatory moment is telegraphed and accompanied by crashing cymbals, every character plays their part a little louder than life, and there are scores of stereotypes, (the Gujarati motel owner, the fundamentalist Muslim, the loud but well-meaning hairdresser). The simple message of the movie is “There are 2 kinds of people; good people who do good deeds and bad people who do bad deeds,” Unfortunately the characters in the movie are also as binary. The injection of such a Bollywood sensibility into a movie that is set in the United States is jarring. One expects characters to be a little more subtle, a little more restrained. The scenes shot in Georgia are the worst – everyone hams it up, including the two African American characters who befriend Khan, and the post-hurricane devastation and drama is just too unconvincing.

The only performer who stands out is Kajol as Mandira, Khan’s best friend, lover, and muse. Contrary to her usual high energy performances, here she is admirably restrained, even in an emotionally shattering moment when her life comes crashing down. Age has lent her beauty luminousness-she looks divine in a bathrobe, sans make-up, and she is in better shape than ever before. Kajol is the merciful anchor to Khan’s histrionics and if any performance in this film should be feted, it is hers.

The music, the art direction, and the cinematography are all what you would expect from a Dharma production – excellent and non-obtrusive. Bay Area residents will enjoy the scenes shot in San Francisco; the city has never looked more beautiful.

My Name is Khan has the ambitions of an epic. It wants to be an odyssey set in America; something hatke, something award-inspiring. In Johar’s hands it ends up being a mainstream Bollywood offering. Had movies like A Wednesday and 3 Idiots never been made, it may have even stood out for its bravery. But in the renaissance of Bollywood, its style is just a little too dated, its sensibilities a little too overblown. Will it make money? Perhaps, though that billion-dollar price tag is pretty intimidating. Will it get critical acclaim? From early reviews it seems likely. Will it be remembered as a classic? I don’t think so.

UPDATE: We saw the movie in the BIG cinemas multiplex in Fremont, the theater that used to be Naz 8. I think not many people know about the change yet, as the hall was not packed. The concession stands are better staffed and the ticketing system is more efficient. There were also greeters before and after the movie..I’m guessing that service is going to be temporary! The floors are still sticky with popcorn and soda, but I’m reserving judgment till a few months have gone by and they’ve had some time to clean it up. If anyone can tell me about the state of bathrooms, go ahead, add it in the comments.

My Name is Khan: *ring Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, Zarina Wahab, Jimmy Shergill. Directed by Karan Johar.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Kid advisory: Not suitable for pre-teens and under.

3 Idiots

3 idiotsHow is it that a movie with grim themes (academic pressure, student suicides, frustrated ambitions) can make you feel uplifted and hopeful as you leave the theater? Director Rajkumar Hirani accomplishes this neat trick in 3 Idiots, the blockbuster movie of 2009/10. Loosely inspired by Chetan Bhagat’s debut novel Five Point Someone (also a mega blockbuster), 3 Idiots takes on the Indian academic establishment the way Hirani’s two earlier movies took on the medical establishment (Munnabhai M.B.B.S) and apathy in Indian society (Lage Raho Munnabhai).

The cleverness of the movie is to knead its core message of following your dreams with a crackling good tale of college friendship and a neat little mystery story to serve up an authentic Indian tandoori roti. The gentle directive is not under-emphasized, but by letting the suffering of the characters convey the message and allowing for plenty of college high-jinks to divert the audience, writers Hirani and Abhijat Joshi keep the viewers’ attention engaged and, at the same time, make us care fiercely about the fates of these hapless youth.

When friends Raju Rastogi(Sharman Joshi) and Farhan Qureshi(Madhavan) discover a lead to their missing friend Rancho(Aamir Khan) several years after they have parted ways at college, they drop everything to follow the clue, such is their loyalty. They connect with the fourth protagonist of the movie, Chatur Ramalingam(Omi Vaidya), the hard-working, rule-abiding nemesis of their college years (and an unfortunate revert to stereotype) and set off on a journey to find Rancho.  The story of their years in the Imperial College of Engineering is told as a flashback narrated by Farhan.

Each Idiot represents a type: Raju is the bright son of an impoverished family; their hopes and finances depend on him so completely that he is terrified of failure. Farhan is the wannabe wildlife photographer whose parents’ ambitions for him completely subsume his own as he resigns himself to a future in engineering. Rancho is the only one of them who loves engineering with a passion, but his back story is pretty complicated too. Ultimately, the movie seems to say, it is the blindly obedient Chatur with his marble-topped, maple-floored home with matching Lamborghini who is the real idiot.

Chatur being ragged

Chatur being ragged

Aamir Khan is completely credible as a college student; I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen the film. As a friend joked, “Engineering college tends to age you. You look like a 40-year-old once you’ve been through it.”  Aamir is ably supported by Joshi and Madhavan but the scene-stealer of the movie is Omi Vaidya as Chatur, whose obnoxious behavior will be so familiar to collegians of any age. Kareena has a pretty minor role, but Boman Irani as her dad, the dreaded Professor Viru(s) Sahasrabuddhe hams his way marvelously through the movie, complete with lisp.

3 Idiots makes no claims of being a “meaningful” film. Rather, it takes the prevailing educational environment in India (bright children forced to go into medical or engineering) and weaves a ripping good movie around it. Its focus on entertainment rather than didactism is its strength, even if that allows for a really absurd situation of a baby being delivered via vacuum cleaner! It is a completely mainstream movie, with all the masala movie’s exaggerations and drama, which is perhaps why it found such a responsive and diverse audience around the world.

Lately there’s been a controversy surrounding the movie about its fidelity to Bhagat’s book and how much credit to be given to the latter. I have to confess that I read the book a long time ago and recall only the haziest outline. It seems there have been some characters drawn from the book and some situations, but the consensus opinion seems to be that the movie has departed significantly from the book. Also, Bhagat’s initial acceptance of the movie undermines his later claim that he was given short shrift.  But no matter who ultimately gets the credit for the story/screenplay/script, 3 idiots is a terrific movie that thoroughly deserves its success.

My rating : 4. 5 out of 5 stars.

Rocket Singh, Salesman of the Year

rocket singhAfter taking the new kid on the block to soaring heights of success with Wake Up Sid and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, the capricious fame gods brought Ranbir Kapoor crashing down to earth with Rocket Singh. On paper the ingredients were all there; Chak De India director Shimit Amin, successful screenplay writer Jaidev Sahni, the hottest ticket in town to play the lead, and an interesting story. But Bollywood is the ultimate gamble; no one can quite explain why weird movies like Wanted do well while competently made movies fail to capture the imagination of the audience.

Rocket Singh, Salesman of the Year, is a throwback to the light-hearted, low budget movies of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee. Like many movies of their oeuvre, the hero is a simple-minded, optimistic, and cheerful middle-class guy with modest dreams. Barely B.Com pass Harpreet Singh Bedi (Kapoor) wants to be a salesman, since he feels this is an area where his academic shortcomings won’t matter quite as much. His outlook on life gets a serious jolt when he realizes the compromises he has to make to get ahead. After a disastrous mistake on the job, he decides to moonlight at his own venture, not realizing that for all his brilliant planning and maneuvering, he has left a backdoor open for the whole structure to come crashing down.

Rocket Singh is a pleasant movie, but with 20/20 hindsight one can see the flaws.  They are minor ones: The academically challenged dude with his two wise friends…hmmm…where have we seen that before? Perhaps audiences who loved Wake Up Sid felt a sense of déjà vu and could not connect.

Also the pace of the movie feels really rushed. Too much happens in too short a timeframe; the initiation into the mysteries of salesmanship, the fall from grace, the success of Harpreet’s new endeavor (named Rocket Sales after his unappreciative colleagues at his day job throw paper rockets at him), its collapse, and even the denouement, which wraps up too quickly to be satisfying. The entire romance with Shereena (newcomer Shazahn Padamsee) is taken care of in a song. The moral superiority that we are invited to share with Harpreet as he eschews the dirty practices of his firm is undermined by the fact that he is operating out of its premises at night and poaching its employees.There is really no soundtrack to pre-sell the movie; indeed the entire feel is that of a independent film made on a small budget. No harm in that, but perhaps Ranbir Kapoor’s emerging stardom set the expectations too high.

It is a pity, because the performances are just excellent. Kapoor gets into the skin of his character, and he gets terrific support from Naveen Kaushik as Harpreet’s boss Nitin, and theater actor Manish Choudhary as the owner of the firm. Prem Chopra as Harpreet’s grandfather is unrecognizable from the memorable villains he used to play. Gauhar Khan as Koena, the receptionist whose talents are unrecognized, is fantastic. Padamsee has a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it role but she is sweet and adequate for what little the script demands of her.

I think Rocket Singh will turn out to be one of those movies that people will enjoy watching on DVD and wonder why the movie never succeeded in the theaters. And I would love to see a uncut director’s version of the movie, perhaps an hour longer than the screen version, which fully explores the story at leisure. Asking for a Bollywood movie to be longer is perhaps the highest praise you can give and Rocket Singh deserves it.

My rating : 3 stars out of 5.

Book review: One Amazing Thing

one-amazing-thingI remember being blown away by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Arranged Marriage. At that point in my life, it seemed to perfectly capture the cross-generational conflicts that were swirling around people my age. After that it became a ritual to grab a copy of her newest book at the library or bookstore.

But, eventually, her writing palled. Exposed to other diasporic writers whose craft was leaner and less florid, Divakaruni’s gushy style grew a little tiresome. I think I must have stopped reading after Unknown Errors of Our Lives (though I did read the Conch Bearer aloud to my child).

With One Amazing Thing, though, Divakaruni returns to a crisp, almost minimalist, style of writing that reminds one of all the reasons why she was so popular in the first place. It is a slim tome, barely 250 pages or so, and so absorbing that the words whiz by at warp speed, not even allowing one to pause to admire the literary style.

A motley group of would-be travelers waits for visa approvals at an Indian visa and passport office in an unknown city. When a massive earthquake strikes, they are thrown together in a struggle for survival. Quickly, roles are delineated; the leader, the caregiver, the rebel. After an abortive attempt at escape, the group realizes they are better off waiting for rescue. As water slowly seeps into their safe haven and  oxygen levels deplete, they decide to share the tale of one amazing thing in their lives to keep their minds off impending doom.

Not all the stories are equally compelling, but Divakaruni makes a capable attempt at creating the voices of a varied cast-there is an old white couple, a punk Chinese teenager and her grandmother, a black army vet, an Indian graduate student, Indian visa office bureaucrats, and an angry Muslim young man. The voices are credible and the stories interesting. As they tell their stories we get a glimpse into these diverse lives, only to witness the common thread that makes every human story recognizable and familiar.

With One Amazing Thing, Divakaruni gets her writing mojo back; fans will be delighted with the book and new readers will be appreciative.

This is an early review. The book arrives on the shelves in February 2010 and is available to pre-order at Amazon.

Blue – all wet

blue-1206The camera lovingly follows the contours of an underwater paradise. Incurious fish gently swim away from the light as the camera glides over sting rays, around coral and through populous grottos. As the credits roll, Shreya Ghoshal’s powerhouse voice begins the opening notes of the Bondesque song “Rehnuma.” It is a promising start for an underwater adventure, but when Shreya crescendos to “Katilana Adaaa” and it is not accompanied by a similar visual crescendo on screen, you first get the stirring of doubts about the competence of the filmmaker.

Set in the Bahamas, the titular Blue is the Lady in Blue, a British ship carrying Indian treasure that sank off the coast immediately after India’s independence. Sagar, a happy go lucky fisherman( Sanjay Dutt), is pressurized by his friend Aarav(Akshay Kumar) to help him look for the treasure. When Sagar’s young brother Sam gets into trouble with some Thai goons and has to come up with 50 million dollars ( an absurd sum that even the character demanding it seems to realize he’s pulling out of thin air) Sagar agrees to go on the treasure hunt.

The movie inexplicably spends only about 15 minutes on the actual treasure hunt; the rest is spent on motorcycle chases, boxing bouts and completely unnecessary songs and dances. This is especially true of the item number with Kylie Minogue, whose taut stretched face and body belie her age(41). (Farah Khan was probably busy enjoying the island atmosphere-the choreography is uninspiring.)

Director Antony D’Souza  was surely born with a silver spoon in his mouth; getting over a 100 crores to indulge in for one’s debut movie is an amazing achievement. Like a kid sent into a candy store with unlimited money, D’Souza just keeps gorging on the goodies. Like motorcycle chases? Here’s two. How about a bunch of helicopter shots of the beautiful Bahamas? And here’s a scene with jet-ski stunts.

But the phenomenal budget (Blue is reportedly the most expensive Hindi movie to make) obviously wasn’t enough. By the time the underwater scenes and the stunts were shot, and the stars paid, obviously there was no more money left over to pay for a good script or a screenplay writer. The actors seem to be improvising dialogues on the spot. Seriously. In one scene Aarav asks a Bahamanian hottie for a ride home. “Can I ride you,” he asks, a deliberate double entendre. Then he apologizes and asks, “Can you ride me home?” a Punjabi-ism if I’ve ever heard one. Other inane dialogues like, “Don’t worry, everything will be all right,” and “Just give me a gun, I will kill him” abound. The budget also apparently ran out before the props for the precious Indian treasure were purchased; there is, believe it or not, a trunk with gold coins and jewelry spilling out of it that could have been assembled in the local craft store.

One can tell the passion of the director was reserved for the cinematography; there are several scenes in the movie that stand out as visual works of art (one, in particular, is the scene of the red motorcycle in a sepia forest) but as a moving picture there is no connectivity between the scenes and no drama to engage the viewer. It feels as though D’Souza composed the movie entirely as a series of pictures and ignored the sound and fury that make a photo gallery a movie.

The actors just try their best to look good and swim well. Lara Dutta looks amazingly hot. Her toned derriere is just one of the many that D’souza lovingly pans over. Akshay is a good male equivalent, though Lara is inexplicably paired with the dissipated and unfit-looking Sunjay Dutt, whose spreading abdominal girth is just barely constrained by his wetsuit. Katrina Kaif makes a special appearance for which one hears she was paid an obscene amount of money.

The songs have been mostly panned by reviewers, but I think they grow on you. Blue is not A.R. Rahman’s best work, but “Rehnuma” and “Shara ra ra” and even the poorly choreographed “Chiggy Wiggy” sound appealing after repeat listening.

Blue will appeal to an audience unfamiliar with classic underwater adventures like The Deep and The Abyss but I am still surprised at its success in India. Unfortunately, the box office success of movies that are all style and no substance only spawns a dozen more copycats. Don’t be surprised if an Indian Jones-style jungle adventure is in the works as we speak. They can always call it Green.

Wake Up Sid – Buttered popcorn

wakeupsidWake Up Sid can be described in half-a-dozen words: Rich Spoilt Slacker Dude Grows Up. This much-used theme has been the premise of several multiplex movies starring (the now-aging) Saif Ali Khan, who passes on his mantle to the younger, hunkier Ranbir Kapoor.

Sid (Ranbir) is content with his aimless, carefree life even after he finishes college. His lack of responsibility irks his parents, till one day a showdown with Sid’s dad (Anupam Kher) causes Sid to move out and find his way in the world. He bunks with his new friend Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma) till he figures out what to do.

The movie is set in Bombay, not Mumbai, and the nomenclature brought the wrath of the Shiv Sena Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (thank you Geeta!) upon the head of producer Karan Johar, who ended up having to apologize. But the decision to keep the old name is completely understandable; cinematographer Anil Mehta creates a vibrant, colorful, happening, city that is as far from the grit and grind of Kaminey and Slumdog as foie gras is from pav bhaji.

In fact, Bombay looks so crisp, clean and beautiful that it almost teeters into Disneyland artificiality. What prevents that from happening is the presence of Konkona as an independent-minded, sensible, career girl bemused by Sid’s slackerdom. She brings a depth and gravitas to the movie that serves it well and makes it difficult for one to dismiss it as fluff. The lead pairing is odd, but credit must go to debutant director and screenplay writer Ayan Mukerjee for making it work.

He is also assisted by a terrific music score. Shankar Ehsaan and Loy deliver yet again, with a contemporary sound that is perfectly in tune with the aesthetics of the movie. Mukherjee makes the most of this gift, teasing out the songs in a stop/start fashion that works because of the quality of the music. The best song, though, is Iktara by composer Amit Trivedi, whose tunes for Dev D won him critical acclaim. One complaint I have is that some songs in Wake Up Sid don’t feature in the CD for the movie, a puzzling omission that I hope a reader will solve for me.

The performances are uniformly good. Ranbir Kapoor is not one of my favorite actors, and his slack-jawed cluelessness can grate after a while, but he suits this role to a T. Anupam Kher brings nuance to his small role and demonstrates why he is one of the finest actors in mainstream Bollywood. Supriya Pathak is wasted as Sid’s sentimental mom, but she brings sweetness to her role. Konkona, of course, is the jewel of the movie. In her simple kurti, jean, dupatta ensembles she is the living heart of the city of Bombay. It is her remarkable talent that has overcome her unconventional looks to propel her into a lead role in a Dharma Productions film; the success is well deserved.

Wake Up Sid is like a big tub of buttered popcorn. It’s not particularly nutritious or fulfilling, but great to have in the dark of the movie theater. I highly recommend a dekko if you’re in the movie for light, uncomplicated fare that will cheer you up.

Wake Up Sid
*ring Ranbir Kapoor, Konkona Sen Sharma, Anupam Kher, Supriya Pathak
Directed by Ayan Mukherjee
My rating – 3 out of 5 stars

Dil Bole Hadippa – disappointing

hadippaScript! Script! Script! It’s true that there is a dearth of good screenplays in Bollywood, but if the most influential production house in Mumbai cannot attract the right kind of talent, it is a sad commentary on the state of the industry.

Once the staple of the stable, the Yashraj romantic comedy has seen a sad decline after the reins of production passed from the hands of papa Yash Chopra to son Adi. The heart is in the right place; devoted husband poses as young lover to win his wife’s reluctant heart ( Rab ne bana di jodi); high end escort finds acceptance and redemption after a brutal introduction to life in the big, bad city (Laaga chunari mein daag); young girl realizes her dream of playing cricket by cross-dressing and playing on the boys’ team (Dil Bole Hadippa). It is the execution that’s the problem.

From the opening moments of the movie, where the refrain of “Ik Omkar” plays against the backdrop of a pristine gurudwara, it is clear the movie is going to be a stinker. And as the movie progresses, this realization does not inure against disappointment; rather, there is a crushing sense of missed opportunity and potential, as two fine stars struggle against the weak material they have to work with.

Veera (Rani Mukherjee) is the village belle with the silver jewelry and colorful clothes who plays cricket like a dream. Rohan (a post-Kaminey buff Shahid Kapur) is the cricket champ imported by his dad (Anupam Kher) from England to create and vitalize a local team that plays an annual match against a Pakistani team from across the border. To get into the team, Veera becomes Veer and the movie culminates in a twenty-twenty cricket match against the Pakistani rivals.

Both Shahid and Rani give it their all; Rani in particular works very hard at the male impersonation and even does justice to it. But all their efforts cannot make up for the inane screenplay, empty dialogues and sub-par direction by Anuraq Singh, who seems to have absorbed all the Yashraj lessons of glamour and slickness but none of the heart. The screenplay reads like it was made by a computer program:

Religious pandering? Check!

Family strife? Check!

The dumb but sexy Other Woman? Check!

Bhangra-infused songs featuring honed bodies and suggestive moments? Check!

Cricket as a metaphor for patriotism? Pind check!

Indo-Pakistan rivalry? Check! (And it is unforgivable that they make the Pakistani team cheat at a crucial moment of the game – Pakistanis as villains is so passé)

And in the interstices between these various themes is … nothing; literally sometimes, as there are moments where there are pauses between dialogues, with the actors fidgeting with nothing to do with their hands. There are many pointless moments in the movie, which could have been left behind on the editing room floor without anyone missing them. The movie plays to the most simplistic audience, and it is not surprising that it has been roundly rejected by a majority of viewers, possibly outraged at the insult to their intelligence.

One feels sorry for the leads. They try their best, especially Rani, but she has to escape from the gilded Yashraj cage and try her hand at some indie films that give her the chance to show off her prodigious acting talents; I still remember her in Hey Ram as Kamalahaasan’s ill-fated Bengali wife. The romance between Rohan and Veera is weak, as she seems to be more bemused than anything else at his (quite inexplicable) ardor. And no, Rani does not look older than Shahid, but she does look more experienced and knowing, and not quite a good fit for the gung-ho Veera and her innocent dreams.

Give Hadippa a miss, unless you’re a masochist for formulaic Bollywood movies that lack any redeeming qualities. Even the most diehard Bollywood masala film fan will find it difficult to sit through this one.

Dil Bole Hadippa

*ring Rani Mukherjee, Shahid Kapur, Anupam Kher

Director: Anurag Singh

My rating: 1.5 stars out of 5.

Drishya Kaavyam Kautvam: A review of Mythili Prakash's presentation

By Lehkikaa

drishya-kavyamA decent turnout on a Friday evening-Sep 11, 2009 at Cubberly Auditorium, Palo Alto- was ample proof that Mythili Prakash’s debut of the Drishya Kaavyam production was eagerly awaited by the serious rasikas of Bay Area, CA. It was indeed a treat to the eyes; almost every piece had the dancers in different costumes, and every group piece was a visual delight. The pace throughout was…well, Mythili-esque- fast and staccato, a shot of mental caffeine. The lighting and orchestra deserve special mention, as both were outstanding.

The beginning of “Aum, The Sound of Silence” was spellbinding. Shiva (Mythili) was silhouetted on a pedestal with the dancers assuming various static poses below. As the music chimed in, some danced while others spun, some others paused while the rest performed frantic nritta. Out of this clamor arises Shiva, with his damaru punctuating the chaos. However, the damaru sounds were not heard above the orchestra; this could’ve easily been achieved by the percussionist. Also, the narration stated that the piece was about the sound of silence, yet, that was the only thing missing. What was sorely missed was the Aum- the effect of pulsating silent vibration. Were it not for this conflict between title and description, the first item would be faultless.

“Surya Kanti Nalini”, the blossoming lotus was well conceptualized. The group seemed to hold their own without Mythili. Some of the formations were refreshing. The flower was multi-layered, and the most lotus-like of all stage depictions. The blossoming was explored individually, and in teams; keeping time with a fast and then faster beat.

“Prithika” deserves a thorough critique, because it shows promise of being a great piece. The idea of showcasing paths to Divine Love always holds appeal. Choreographed as a solo, Mythili first portrayed the jeevatma transforming to paramatma: Radha-Krishna’s sensual devotion to one another, via the ashtapadi Kuru Yadunandana. Mythili’s portrayal was more youthful than the usual quiet presentation of shringara, but held true to the spirit of familiarity between the lovers. One could feel Krishna’s presence by how Mythili showed herself being lifted by him.

The choice of the Taj Mahal as the next showcase piece was an indicator of the originality that drives Mythili to excellence. Shah Jahan’s pining for Mumtaz Mahal was well depicted, the highpoint being him resting his head on her tomb. The piece was set to Jagjit Singh’s Hoton Se Chulo Tum, which, while a match in its mood was not a match in the lyrics- Shah Jahan’s was a pining for the dead lover, not the elusive lover (the song talks about “ban jao meet mere”/ be my lover). A humming of the soulful melody might have been more appropriate here; also because a comparison to Jagjit Singh’s stirring original is inevitable. Showing Mumtaz Mahal reaching down from her spiritual self was a touching tribute to Divine love. The jarring note though was that Shah Jahan reaches for her hand and places it on his head, a distinctly South-Indian gesture. It would be more in keeping with the Islamic practice to place it on his cheek or even touch his lips to it. Mythili’s interjection of the lines in between the pieces “…take away everything that takes me away from you…”, while innovative, because it was in English, seemed repetitive. She could’ve used the same words but done it BharataNatyam sanchari style- different gestures to depict the same meaning. The use of the dupatta was excellent symbolism.

The third snippet was the fusion of male and female energies in Ardhanari. Taken in isolation, it was great. It was a visual feast to see the superb choreography giving the illusion of two divinities fusing and dancing in tandem. However, it took a while to get used to the fast pace after the gentle touch of the preceding song. She should have this be a stand-alone piece and look for a different third love-couple or another Ardhanari song to complete the trio in her Prithika.

“Dashavataram”, right after the Intermission, was steroid-fast. It was superbly choreographed and presented; highlights being the depiction of Rama’s life in couplets; Parashurama’s ending; and Kalki avataram. “Current” was a marvel to watch, and with all of Mythili’s pieces, one needed to catch one’s breath at the end. It could have been christened better, though…even Currents would be a better title. Nobody said “SwaraLahiri” was going to be just the orchestra, one kept waiting for the dance to begin. Since it was designed as an audio piece, they should’ve identified the raga first; the presentation was good but not superlative. A long strip of cloth could be used here, to show the movement of currents, and depict petals/ lake-surfaces as the wind presses down on them- to make for more visual allure.

The thunder from “Khuda Ki Tasveer” was stolen by other dancers dancing to other Sufi songs in the years past. The notable difference here was the singing- Flautist Mahesh Swamy somehow coaxed a Nusrat sound from within himself. The qawaali-esque clapping and vocal support was impressive. Mythili could’ve used more dancers here, especially at the end, it would’ve been diverting to watch several dancers doing the Sufi trance-twirling.

All in all, Drishya Kaavyam was a noteworthy presentation, Mythili has a sense for drama. With some tightening of the storyboards and more props to heighten the visual poetry already accentuated by great lighting effects (if it is drishya kaavyam, then more attention must be paid to the drishya elements), it will blossom into a memorable production.

Lehkikaa is a Bay Area dance and drama critic.