Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Apna Sapna Mani Mani

But alas! Mani Ratnam, at least this time round, has compromised his vision to deliver the all-India hit that has proved so elusive in the past - which is not bad, just that its a little sad to see somebody like Mani Ratnam succumb to BO dictates too. He takes bits and pieces from some of his best movies, to tell us the fable of pioneer Gurukant Desai in his latest outing 'Guru'.

Guru, like Anandan of 'Iruvar', is a man of dreams. The difference is that Guru dreams of wealth, while Anandan dreams of politics and power. The similarities don't end here, though. Both Guru and Anandan marry a bold, forthright Aishwarya Rai; neither of them marry for love, at least in the beginning. Neither of them can resist the corrupting allure of power, despite claims to the effect that they do it all 'for the people'.

Guru, like Velu of 'Nayakan', believes that laws are made to be broken, especially if they do not make sense. Neither Guru nor Velu-Nayakan hesitate to intimidate adversaries by barging into their homes uninvited. Both of them stop short, however, from harming an enemy upon the uncomfortable realization that he's married to somebody they love.

Guru and Sujatha, like Shekhar and Shaila from 'Bombay', have twins.

Guru and Manikdas, like Anandan and Selvam from 'Iruvar', split after a clash of ideologies. However, they continue to be respectful of each other, despite being harsh critics of each other too.

Meenu, like Anjali, is expected to die shortly. Yet her enjoyment of life during her brief existence endears herself to everyone around her.

The Mallika number 'Mayya Mayya' serves much the same purpose as 'Nila Athu' from 'Nayakan'.

Despite all this rehashing, the film has some great moments - especially the scenes featuring Abhishek and his dad, Abhishek and Aish (sharing some sort of camaraderie at last, after some 5 films together) after they first come to Bombay, the ones with Abhishek and Mithun together, and of course all the scenes with Madhavan oir Vidya Balan anywhere in the frame.

Aishwarya, easily the weakest link of the cast, manages to hold her end together. Despite retaining her ingratiating voice and style of dialogue delivery, she delivers a competent performance. This is easily her best work after 'Iruvar'.

Mithun is a solid presence in the movie. There's nothing much that stretches the actor in him, really. But its a relief to see him in a normal character role, with a decent part to play (as opposed to stuff like 'Lucky').

Vidya Balan, though saddled with a half-baked role, is very, very competent. So is Madhavan, re-doing his intense act from 'Leysa Leysa'. The proposal scene between him and Vidya Balan was one of the best scenes of the movie.

In the end, this is an out-and-out Abhishek vehicle. I'm no fan of the guy (I didn't like him in 'Yuva', for instance), but here he's outdone himself. Apart from his odd posture at times, he's extremely good here (especially considering the fact that he's barely 20 films old). While it is true that he could have got a lot of the nuances like the accent, for one) correct, his expressions were spot-on. Most importantly, nowhere did it seem that any other contemporary actor might have done a better job.

ARR, surprisingly, disappoints. This is nowhere in the realm of his earlier collaborations with Mani. While 'Jaage', 'Ay Hairathe' and 'Tere Bina' are exquisite, the same cannot be said about the rest of the soundtrack. What's more, Mani disappoints with his picturizations - especially with that of 'Tere Bina', which seems straight out of 'Snehithane' from 'Alaipayuthe'.

In the end, 'Guru' is a disappointment for those who were expecting Mani at his vintage best; I do hope his 'Lajjo' with Aamir and Kareena has a more original screenplay. However - and this holds true especially for those who are not familiar with some of Mani's earlier movies - it most definitely is worth a watch for Abhishek's bravura performance.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

A year ago, one might have forgiven somebody for thinking that Sourav Ganguly was down and out. For one, the verbose coach was against him. For seconds, the chief selector had stated equivocally that Ganguly would no longer be in contention for selection. And to add injury to insult, the best cricketing website of the country seemed to be in cahoot with the new captain and coach. And to absolutely rub salt into raw wounds, players were reprimanded if and when they spoke out in support of the ex-captain. To say the least, this was not the best way to treat one of the greats of the game. To stage a comeback, then, in the face of such opposition, and under such immense pressure, speaks volumes about the man's fortitude and mental toughness.

This time, the man has been diplomacy personified, and has let his bat do all the talking (though I'm sure he must have enjoyed it just a little bit when Chappell got slapped). In the past month, he's outscored all his teammates and ensured himself a berth in the One Day team, and that too in the opener's position that he used to bat best at. His 98 in the previous one-day match must definitely be, to borrow a phrase, the best 100 that never was.

With this comeback, the Prince of Kolkata graduates from being a mere great to a true legend of the game. And, if I may say so, in the current squad he's the only member who is playing like a legend.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Looking Back at 2006

Yeah, we are in a whole New Year all over again...how time flies. Last year this time, I was busy preparing to go home for a much-deserved and much-awaited vacation - and of course, getting to know my would-be-wife better through phone calls, Yahoo Messenger and the then-introduced chat-thru-Gmail.

Biggest Change of 2006: Is that I'm now married, of course. Earlier, come the weekend I'd be out of boring Long Island in a flash. But now, traveling on the spur of the moment is no longer so easy (or cheap) as before.

Whirlwind Activity of 2006: Our travel to the US. Got married in Aug, came to Chennai in mid-Sept and played housie over there until mid-Oct. Then we had to pack up everything (including dispose off the stuff that we'd bought over there), and then head out to the US. There, we stayed in a hotel for a week (for which we had to do some mini-unpacking), after which we moved to an apartment (where large-scale unpacking began on an earnest note).

Best one-liner of 2006: After the marriage was all done, and everybody concerned had a big sigh of relief, there was a brief get-together function organized at my wife's place, with just close relatives attending. And of course, being a Mallu function, there was alcohol in abundance. I timidly - it being THE BIG OCCASION after all - expressed my desire for a small peg, to be met by the remark: Not Today, Alcohol Decreases Performance. My FIL's face was a sight to behold :).

Best Movies of 2006:
From what I've seen so far,
5. Pudhupettai (T) directed by Selvaraghavan. Showed us what imaginative direction was all about, especially considering that we have been badgered by gangster movies off late. Dhanush proved yet again that he's a decent performer, given the opportunity.
4. Thanmatra (M), directed by Blessy. The movie was certainly a bit on the slow side, with a definite similarity to Iris. However, some astounding acting by Mohanlal saw it through. Bachchan and Bhansali could take a cue from the movie as to what Alzheimers is !!
3. Lage Raho Munnabhai & Khosla Ka Ghosla. Simple down-to-earth movies, both of them. The former saw Munna & Circuit (trhey're fast becoming the Indian Asterix & Obelix, IMHO) reunite to give us a grand movie about Gandhigiri. The latter saw Anupam Kher giving a good performance after ages, plus Boman Irani in yet another wicked role (I'm a huge fan of this guy).
2. Omkara, directed by Vishal Bharadwaj. An adaptation of the Bard's Othello, the mainstay of the movie was certain Saif's turn as the despicable Langda Tyagi. Who'd have believed that this effeminate young man, labaled the official Anari of Bollywood, would end up chewing scenery?
1. Rang De Basanti, by Rakeysh Mehra. Aamir Khan, notwithstanding his age, mingles among a group of young college kids and proves yet again that he's easily one of the best actors amongst his generation. All the actors deliver, in fact, but this is a real triumph of screenplay. Even though the climax was weak, the movie made you do what nothing else had done in a long, long time: sit up.

Also notable were Being Cyrus, Woh Lamhe, Gangster and Pattiyal (T).

Best Actors of 2006:
Again, based on what I've seen so far:
5. Konkona Sen: Despite not having author-backed roles, she managed to shine in both Omkara and Yun Hota To Kya Hota. Easily the finest female actor of the current generation.
4. Kangana: For a debutante to deliver power-backed performances like Gangster and Woh Lamhe was nothing short of astounding. That the movies were tightly edited and directed well helpted add allure to her performances.
3. Arshad Warsi and Deepak Dobriyal: two of the best performances this year, in Lage Raho Munnabhai and Omkara respectively.
2. Saif: For an actor originally labeled effeminate to do a volte-face and deliver a knockout performance as a crude, uncouth villain is no mean feat. Saif managed to do that with panache this year. Lets hope he proceeds in the same vein.
1. Mohanlal: Thanmatra was a challenge for any actor, even for one of Lal's calibre. Mohanlal enacted the role of an ordinary man afflicted with Alzheimer's to perfection in a manner few others can even think of. Undoubtedly one of his career-best performances.

Others who delivered memorable performances this year were Dhanush (Pudhuppettai), Kamal Hassan (VV), Bharath (Pattiyal), Sanjay Dutt (Lage Raho..), Boman Irani (Lage Raho.., Khosla Ka..), Anupam Kher (Khosla Ka..), Shiney Ahuja (Woh Lamhe), Mallika Sherawat (Pyar Ke Side Effects), Kareena (Omkara), Ayesha Takia (Dor), Shreyas (Dor).

Worst Movies of 2006:
Too many to list; some of the more popular ones were:
5. KANK had Karan Johar trying to be different. Well dude, either don't try again, or try real harder.
4. Chandramukhi (T): to take a perfect screenplay like Manichitrathazhu and ruin it in such a spectacular manner deserves special accolades.
3. Malamaal Weekly would have made poor Ned turn over in his grave thrice over (the movie was a remake of the awesome Making Ned Divine). Can some association please ban Priyadarsan?
2. Krissh & Dhoom-2: Salvaged only by the biceps of Hrithik. They could have made Aish dumb (no, as in literally not speak) in Dhoom-2...would have helped considerably, you know!
Fanaa, despite a dream-cast, managed to actually bore you. This one was for imbeciles.

Comeback of 2006:
A certain Mr. Ganguly. He's made his way back into the Test team (and will into the ODI team too, if Sehwag's recent form is any indication) in style, and forced Mr. Chappell to eat humble pie. Let's see if he performs consistently now, though !!

Has been a long list, signing off for now. Wish all of you a happy & prosperous 2007.