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“Kaun Kitne Paani Mein”… A whimsical fable with a lot to like

Spoilers ahead… Had things gone according to plan, the film about water scarcity would have come from Shekhar Kapur, and it would have featured Hrithik Roshan. The director wrote on his blog, “And years ago, as I sat down to write Paani, I had one image in mind to play the male lead. Hrithik Roshan.” But the project dragged on, and Roshan was replaced by … Continue reading “Kaun Kitne Paani Mein”… A whimsical fable with a lot to like

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“Phantom”… A revenge fantasy with good thrills, bad acting

Spoilers ahead… If there were awards for Most Schizophrenic Director, Kabir Khan would be winning them all. After extending an olive branch to Pakistan in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, he dons war paint and drops an A-bomb in Phantom, which begins with news footage and photographs from the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. The film goes on to name Lashkar-e-Taiba, and has characters based on David Coleman Headley … Continue reading “Phantom”… A revenge fantasy with good thrills, bad acting

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The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is utterly delightful. Note that word – not thrilling, not pulse-quickening. These are words we use with today’s thrillers. This plays like something Cary Grant would have starred in. With Audrey Hepburn. Yes, I’m thinking Charade. Also How To Steal A Million. The rhythms are those of the 60s. Other words that come to mind – jaunty, classy, sophisticated, charming, lightweight, breezy. … Continue reading The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

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About and around pop culture

When it comes to writing about cinema, the bad films are as important as the good ones. “What makes you go watch this film despite knowing full well that it is nothing but trash?” Some version of this question crops up every time a critic reviews a “bad” movie. As subjective as the qualifier is, there are two kinds of “bad” movie. The first is … Continue reading About and around pop culture

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“Thani Oruvan”… A pretty smart, pulpy thriller

Spoilers ahead… When we first meet Mithran (Jayam Ravi), he’s just the best cop ever. He knows exactly where to be, what to do, whom to shadow – it’s like he can do no wrong. And then he meets his match in Siddharth Abhimanyu (Aravind Swamy, underplaying nicely). Siddharth gets a terrific introduction. I’m not talking about one of those scenes where the villain’s face … Continue reading “Thani Oruvan”… A pretty smart, pulpy thriller

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“All Is Well”… Uh, not really!

Spoilers ahead… All Is Well loses very little time telling us that the title is a lie. The film opens with a performance by a singer named Inder Bhalla (Abhishek Bachchan). The actor is stiff – he looks like a Citibank employee in the middle of a PowerPoint presentation. It’s hard to see who’s buying this music. Throughout the film, you get the feeling Bachchan … Continue reading “All Is Well”… Uh, not really!

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The one-for-all channel

Doordarshan Chennai turned 40 recently, which is as good an excuse as any to talk about what Doordarshan meant and what it means today. This Independence Day, I was thinking about Doordarshan. In the late 1970s and early 80s – that’s when many of us got a television set, something that resembled a crate with closing doors; some of these doors even had a locking … Continue reading The one-for-all channel

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“Manjhi: The Mountain Man”… A molehill of a movie

Spoilers ahead… In 1960, a Dalit from a village in Bihar sold his last goat and, with the money, purchased a hammer and a chisel. He then headed to the nearby mountain and began chipping away at it. He kept at it for twenty-two years and ended up clearing a path through it, and now, the people from his village could walk through (instead of … Continue reading “Manjhi: The Mountain Man”… A molehill of a movie

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“Veerapandiya Kattabomman”… Much more than just that one scene

Spoilers ahead… It’s the film that fuelled a thousand acting dreams. For generations, Veerapandiya Kattabomman isn’t the story of a brave king brought down by the British. It’s essentially a single scene – the scene in which Kattabomman (Sivaji Ganesan, who’s beyond magnificent) gives Lord Jackson the chaste-Tamil equivalent of a giant, upraised middle finger. On the big screen, the speech is more resonant than … Continue reading “Veerapandiya Kattabomman”… Much more than just that one scene

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“Brothers”… A melodrama that fails to make us feel

Spoilers ahead… The Macbeth quote, a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, could have been coined for Karan Malhotra’s cinema. As with his earlier Agneepath, his new film Brothers is immaculately mounted – some of the frames could be hung in the living room of the Dil Dhadakne Do family. But there’s a big hollow at the centre. We don’t feel that the things … Continue reading “Brothers”… A melodrama that fails to make us feel

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“Vaalu”… A not-bad star-dispensing machine

Spoilers ahead… It’s pure formula. The primary ingredient is the hero (Simbu) who’s a “Plus-Two fail.” An aside may be necessary at this point: How strange that on the one hand we celebrate a Sundar Pichai while on the other our heroes positively revel in their lack of education. The hero’s name is Sharp, and he doesn’t speak very good English (he’s challenged by the … Continue reading “Vaalu”… A not-bad star-dispensing machine

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Common men, uncommon stories

On the eve of the release of ‘Manjhi – The Mountain Man’, Baradwaj Rangan traces the journey of our biopics, which are no longer just about larger-than-life achievers. It all began in 1959, when a landless Bihari from the Musahar community, a scheduled caste that traditionally made a living as rat catchers, decided to make a road through the Gahlaur Ghati hills, to ease passage … Continue reading Common men, uncommon stories

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On Cruise control

Celebrating the “Mission: Impossible” films. And their star. Sometime last week, Shah Rukh Khan managed to combine, in a single tweet, escapist cinema, Victorian literature and what sounded like the motto of your local gym: “Ethan Hunt & James Bond in one film….that’s my Final Fantasy…then as Thomas Hardy wrote…. ‘I can pass away and die’ Ecstasy in Steroids.” At least with respect to Bond … Continue reading On Cruise control

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“Vasuvum Saravananum Onna Padichavanga”… Where are the laughs?

Spoilers ahead… Let me begin by mimicking a Santhanam routine. I’ll say, “Let’s grab a drink,” and you’ll say, “Well, hurry, don’t crawl like a crab,” and then I’ll say, “Maybe we’ll have rum,” and you’ll say, “Don’t speak like your mum,” and I’ll say, “Oh look, my shirt is without a button,” and you’ll say, “Stuff your ears with cotton,” and I’ll say, “This … Continue reading “Vasuvum Saravananum Onna Padichavanga”… Where are the laughs?

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The work-life seesaw

I encountered this Alain de Botton quote in an article recently and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it: Work-life balance is impossible because everything worth fighting for unbalances your life. It’s so true. If you’re fighting for something at work (more visibility, a bigger pay cheque), then you’re going to have to do things that reduce the quality time you spend at home. … Continue reading The work-life seesaw

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“Bangistan”… A religious satire that’s… God-awful!

Spoilers ahead… If the Harold and Kumar team decided to remake Padosi, V Shantaram’s 1941 plea for religious tolerance, you might have something like Bangistan – it’s a give-peace-a-chance stoner comedy with an explosive climax right out of the older movie. Here too, a Hindu and a Muslim, so far on opposing sides, realise the error of their ways and end up hand in hand. … Continue reading “Bangistan”… A religious satire that’s… God-awful!

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A daylong duet

Thoughts on a beautiful (and near-wordless) Bengali movie that won a couple of National Awards this year (Best First Film, Best Audiography). In the last week, approximately 1200 people have lost their jobs in West Bengal. In a state of fear, panic and rage, people are taking to the streets to rally and protest. The Chief Minister has formed a committee to investigate the unprecedented … Continue reading A daylong duet

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“Chandi Veeran”… A disappointingly generic drama

Spoilers ahead… As Chandi Veeran opens, enraged men brandishing weapons descend on a village and all hell breaks loose. A bomb explodes under a woman and her young daughter – they fly into the air and land charred, dead. A few feet away, a man lies splayed on the ground, his face bisected by a sickle. And young Paari (who grows up to be Atharvaa) … Continue reading “Chandi Veeran”… A disappointingly generic drama

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