Monday, January 19, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

It is indeed funny how Hollywood cinema seems to have taken a fascination for all things Indian over the last 5-6 years or so. Using Indian songs as playback scores for various big budget Hollywood disaster movies etc, over-hyped Broadway Shows such as Bombay Dreams (hope that the Broadway version of LOTR will not be as amateurish) that dare to claim partial ownership for ARR's soaring global popularity today, Bollywood actors (other than Om Puri, I mean) being cast in decent roles in Hollywood movies, studios setting up big time to produce Indian films ...- the Indian cinema industry has never had it better. Indian cinema is hot in the global market right now - and SDM makes its entry just the right time.

Many have attacked SDM for taking potshots at the underbelly of India - riots, poverty, beggars etc. Although there is a ring of truth to these accusations, there is no denying the fact that the unique plot, screenplay and above all the director Danny Boyle's vision makes SDM a very refreshing movie experience (perhaps not all that it is being made out to be right now, but a very fine movie neverthless). Also, in defense of SDM, showcasing India's poverty and hardship of life is not at all the intent here, unlike other movies like Salaam Bombay, Fire etc (although I did find Salaam Bombay just brilliant); SDM is basically an 'underdog-truimphing' movie. I guess the plot device is pretty much familiar to everybody by now, but for the uninitiated - SDM narrates the tale of Jamal who is in the 'hot seat' of KBC having answered all but the final question, much to the increasing chagrin of egoistic and insecure anchor Prem Kumar.

There are quite a few scenes in the movie that stood out for me- a young Jamal wading out through a pool of shit to get an autograph of Bachchan, the idol of Lord Rama amongst the riots, Jamal reeling off tales made on the spur of the moment with just enough real historical figures thrown in to wide-eyed gullible foreigners, the hilarious reference to the practice of chappal stealing prevalent across every single religious / tourist institution in India, Jamal's euphoria on rescuing Latika turning into hot white anger and then despair as his brother then takes claim over her, a couple of repartees Jamal throws at the hapless constable (Sourabh Shukla), the bathroom scene with Prem Kumar - I could keep going on, which pretty much indicates how I felt about the movie, I guess!

SDM owes a lot to casting director Loveleen Tandan, who gets the best actors for the parts - especially the child actors who are just brilliant. Dev Patel is extremely good as Jamal - he looks the right age, and has the right disarming underdog quality that makes one root for him. Anil Kapoor could have been better, I thought. Irffan Khan is pitch perfect (when is he not?). The standout performers for me, though, were young Azhar and Ayush who played the young Salim and Javed respectively - their innocent faces and reactions pretty much made the movie for me. As for ARR, honestly he has done much more impressive work in India - neither his b/g score nor the songs can hold a candle to the kind of work he has already done in Dil Se, Rang De Basanti, Lagaan, Iruvar, Minsara Kanavu etc - just goes on to show that some things take longer to change after all, I guess :).

Verdict: Extremely good, a must-watch.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Paradesi (Foreigner) - Review

It is after a long time that one sees Mohanlal really sink his teeth into a role worthy of his talent. Although 'Paradesi' ends up being a tad disappointing, the performances alone make this movie a worthy watch.

As the title indicates not-so subtly, the tale is about Indian Muslim expatriates who live a life of misery and fear ever since the partition. Instead, the director opts to iterate through a string of characters, tracing their lamentable history through the weary eyes of Moosa (Mohanlal). Despite being treated to a virtual acting exhibition by a list of Malayalam actors, being subjected to different variations of the same story again and again does take its toll on the viewer.
A little bit of subtlety would have gone a long way in raising this film to another level altogether, I couldn't help but think.

In what ought to have been a landmark role, Mohanlal is curiously apathetic as the young Moosa - lackluster would be the one would be tempted to use if it were not for the marvelous turn Mohanlal turns in as the aged, harried Moosa. In both body language and voice modulation, Mohanlal is the aged Moosa personified - the one drawback is the apparent inability to imbibe the Malabar slang. Paternally affectionate with the young journalist, pensive as he discusses legal matters with the policemen and lawyers, despairing as he is banished yet again, cringing and pathetic as he attempts to hide from the policemen - there is apparently no emotion that Mohanlal cannot conjure up for Moosa. It is a pity that Mohanlal the actor is constantly drowned in tripe like Madambi and Hello.

Shweta Menon is truly a surprise as Moosa's wife, Aamina. It is a shocker of a performance - made all the more effective more by sheer shock value than actual histronics, one suspects. But nay; the very thought is cruel and unfair to an extremely competent Shweta.

There are quite a few effective cameos in the movie - Jagathy, Sidhique, Padmapriya, T.G.Ravi, Cochin Haneefa etc. Jagathy yet again reveals what an outstanding talent he really is - after the likes of Mazha and Nottam in recent times, he chews up the scenery as the mentally unhinged Abdul Rehman. It is a pity that this fine actor is more often than not relegated to asinine comic roles. The Lakshmy Gopalaswamy story was not effective though, and the stark depiction of police brutality was completely uncalled for. The akwardness between Moosa and Khafija was a deft touch - all the more so since it left unexplained.

It is directorially that the film falters. All the stories / characters are but clones of one another, and one could see the end coming a thousand miles away (though Mohanlal reserves his best for the final few scenes). A dash of subtlety and some firm editing might have done wonders to make a good film better.

Verdict: Laudable effort, but could have been so much better.