Film History, Movies, Reviews, Tribute

Bloodstone: When Rajini went to Hollywood

It’s that time of the year again. Rajinikanth, or Thalaivar (The Leader) as his worshipers affectionately call him, has set screens ablaze all across the world with his latest tour de force, Enthiran/Robot. Facebook, twitter et al are bursting with reviews, anecdotes, videos, articles about the star. Slate, the world renowned online magazine devoted to the arts, posted an article on him, which introduces him thus:

Jackie Chan is the highest-paid actor in Asia…The second-highest-paid actor in Asia is a balding, middle-aged man with a paunch, hailing from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and sporting the kind of moustache that went out of style in 1986. This is Rajinikanth, and he is no mere actor—he is a force of nature. If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth.

That’s Rajini for you; you can love him, adore him, dismiss him or laugh at him, but you can NOT ignore him. He’s literally, and I mean literally, worshiped by those hailing from South India, particularly the state of Tamil Nadu – but his fan following is spread all across the world – from Japan and Korea to the US and UK.

And he enjoyed the same adulation and praise in the 80s, so much so that a certain Ashok Amritraj (brother of ace Tennis player Vijay Amritraj), decided to co-produce a Hollywood adventure spectacle a la Indiana Jones films or Romancing the Stone, set in India, starring Rajinikanth. Thus was born Bloodstone. It was written by B-Movie Mogul Nico Mastorakis, and directed by Dwight Little (known for films like Halloween 4, Rapid Fire, and Murder at 1600).

Bloodstone is Hollywood B-Movie in all its glory. It is about a mythical Indian stone – a ruby, looted by the British in colonial times, which is smuggled back to India by a cold blooded Dutch collector named Ludwig Van Hoeven, who’ll go to any extent to get his hands on it. An American tourist couple (played by Brett Stimley and Anna Nicholas), unwittingly become a party to the crime, and the wife is kidnapped by Van Hoeven. To the rescue comes Shyam Sabu, the most colorful and talented cabbie in the whole wide world, who can drive an Ambassador and a knife with equal panache – played by who else – Rajinikanth!

The film is a delightful action-adventure romp, the kind that you laugh off but enjoy all the same. Full of all the stereotypical imagery and iconography that India invokes in the western psyche – Maharajahs, Princesses, gold and riches, cursed diamonds, snakes, tigers and elephants, the most persistently annoying and irritating factor of the film is a buffoon named Inspector Ramesh. Lord Almighty knows (does he?) why the makers chose to let an American (Charlie Brill) essay the role – the fake accent and mannerisms get extremely tiresome for the poor viewer. But whatever misgivings you might have with such a film, is compensated many times over by Rajinikanth’s awesome presence. Even with the cute accent (“Money, money, money – that’s all people talk about – whatever happened to lau?“), he exudes the charm and charisma that he’s known for. Even the Rajini Antics like throwing the knife from one hand to the other back and forth, lighting the cigarette in style…they’re all there. He even throws in a dance move, even if for a split second…

There he goes..

Must-watch, all Rajini fans out there!

Film History, Movies, Reviews, Tribute

Tintin and the Golden Fleece/Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d’or

Tintin and the Golden Fleece/ Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d’or (1961) is one of the two live action films ever made on the eponymous adventurer, the other being Tintin and the Blue Oranges/ Tintin et les oranges bleues (1964). Steven Spielberg nursed dreams of making a live action version of his own for more than 25 years, until Peter Jackson (LOTR, King Kong) convinced him that a Weta-Digital-branded-motion-capture-animation is the way to go.

Thomson and Thompson

The film is an absolutely enjoyable action-adventure spectacle. Anyone who grew up in the 70s/80s, especially the Bengalis, will be reminded of all the children’s detective novels and comics that used to be an integral part of growing up those days, with regular doses of the Feludas (a Holmes-like super sleuth created by Satyajit Ray)  and the Tintins, and a little bit of Hardy Boys and Famous Five thrown in. Tintin and the Golden Fleece is very much a part of that space. And it hardly matters that the language here is French. Snowy is Milou, Thomson and Thompson are Dupont and Dupond, so on and so forth… but to Tintin aficionados, the characters are so recognizable, the changed names don’t take away from the experience (after all, Tintin IS a French/ Belgian character).

Captain Haddock in action

It’s a regular Tintin adventure in  celluloid. Period. Conscious effort seems to have been made to ensure that the characters, the settings, the milieu, the plot, everything looks straight out of a Tintin comic. In that sense, I’m not sure how it’ll appeal to those not exposed to that world. Georges Wilson as Captain Haddock does a hell of a job – especially the scenes where he goes absolutely nuts with his name-calling and all that (again, those who’ve followed the series know what I am talking about). Jean-Pierre Talbot makes a great Tintin (albeit a bit too cold and unfunny for the character maybe); this film along with its sequel, are his only claims to fame as an actor. Ironically, he remains the only actor who’s ever depicted the character on screen, in its live-action-flesh-and-blood avatar. Ditto for the Director Jean-Jacques Vierne, who’s probably only directed three other features in his lifetime (surprising, considering he assisted the illustrious Jules Dassin, on the even more illustrious Rififi).

The plot is simple. One of Captain Haddock’s old pirate friends leaves him a rusted old ship before dying. To honor his wish, Captain flies to Istanbul, Tintin and Snowy in tow. The vessel, apparently of very little value, is sought for an astronomical sum by a shady businessman. Why? That, friends, is the mystery of “The Golden Fleece”, which is what the ship is called.

And for the Billions of Billious Blue Blistering Barnacles!

Film History, Movies, Reviews

Harishchandrachi Factory: The Lost Art of Simplicity

Harishchandrachi Factory is strongly reminiscent of Malgudi Days and other DD serials, Hrishikesh Mukherjee & Basu Chatterjee oeuvre of films, snugging into the quilt with Grandma telling a story… In short, the Good Old Days. Days when films were not merely about form or technique, but about the simple pleasures in life – about a fast-disappearing tribe called the middle class. When intelligence and simplicity were not mutually exclusive, in the realm of films. Today, cinema consists of either way-too-complex-see-how-intelligent-I-am films or way-too-idiotic-audience-is-stupid kinda trash! Along comes a film like Harishchandrachi Factory and you start believing  all is not lost – beside the banal and the super intelligent, the simpler, fun way of story-telling still exists.

Dadasaheb Phalke

Harishchandrachi… is the fable of how Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, better known as Dadasaheb Phalke, almost literally, gave birth to Indian Cinema with its first ever film Raja Harishchandra (might add here, two other contenders for the first film maker in India are Dadasaheb Torne and Hiralal Sen, although the first filmed plays being staged and the other was a shorts and ad film maker). It’s the story of his obsession with the medium, his struggles to prove that it can be done in India and that he wasn’t crazy (literally), the sacrifices he and his family made to realize the dream, casting of the film and how it was finally shot. With such a seemingly sombre and high brow plot line, one would expect a somewhat serious biopic of sorts. What debut ante Director Paresh Mokashi does is turn this very notion on its head by making a very light hearted, simplistic movie, filled with various hilarious and touching incidents. This film lives in its moments.

For example, when Phalke runs outs of funds to make his film, he ends up selling his cupboard and other pieces of furniture – with the money, he buys some books on film making. When he returns home, his house is crowded with neighbours, all tearfully consoling his wife. He feels something is amiss, walks up to his wife and asks what is wrong, only to realize they had been consoling her on the loss of the cupboard! Precious… Or when the son goes looking for his father in the dead of the night, or the story of the casting – one by one, all such pearls sewn by Mokashi into this priceless necklace of a film. One may say that the complexity of such a momentous occasion in history has been rather too “simplified”, but hey, who’s complaining?

As with most Marathi productions, this one too is full of stellar performances. Nandu Madhav (last seen by Hindi film audiences in Jis Desh Me Ganga Rehta Hai) as Phalke proves himself to be an actor of immense caliber. Vibhawari Deshpande as Saraswati Phalke and the child actors support him suitably.


Film History, Movies, Reviews

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes: Getting Wilder

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes(1970) is one of Billy Wilder‘s least known works. It is one of the ‘revealed’ Holmes stories, and is not part of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes canon. The film takes a satirical look at the Holmes-Watson equation, and, as the name suggests, touches upon the private life of the genius sleuth – who was decidedly misogynist. But the name is also misleading in one respect – it does not mention even once, the reason of Holmes’ contempt of women – that femme fatale named Irene Adler.

Billy Wilder

In his almost 50 year long career, Billy Wilder had made acclaimed Film Noirs (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard), Rom Coms (The Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot), War films (Five Graves to Cairo, Stalag 17), Satire (The Apartment, One, Two, Three), even a Courtroom Drama (Witness for The Prosecution). A prolific and extremely versatile film maker, Wilder is perhaps best known for his Noirs and Romantic Comedies (talk about versatility!) Even in such a diverse career, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes somehow stands out – not that it’s one of his masterpieces – far from it. As a matter of fact, as Wikipedia mentions, it was originally intended to be a roadshow attraction, with limited release in bigger cities. Why it stands out is that the film takes a well established myth, breaks it down to the basics, laughs at it, yet somehow retains the aura and dignity of the original work.

The film opens with the shot of a box in a bank vault with John H. Watson, M.D. engraved on it. It is intended to be opened only half-a-century after Watson’s death. They supposedly contain stories which he, ‘for reasons of discretion’, has withhold from the public. With that, Watson’s voice-over takes us to the beginning of one such ‘untold’ adventure. The very first conversation of the duo is one of the high points of the film, where Holmes accuses Watson of fabricating and romanticizing his exploits, and exaggerated his skills and abilities. After a hilarious encounter at a Russian Ballet, where the Ballerina propositions Holmes and he refuses suggesting (get this) that he and Watson are romantically involved (!), we meet a mysterious woman who’s suffering from amnesia, and is looking for her missing husband. Thus begins another Sherlock Holmes adventure, only this time gift-wrapped by Wilder, with his customary wit and dry humour thrown in.Mycroft makes an appearance too. Lestrade is sorely missed though.

Highly recommended.

Film History, Movies, Reviews

Khatta Meetha

No, this isn’t the Akshay Kumar starrer Priyadarshan behemoth. This is the Basu Chatterjee directed true-to-its-name sweet and sour 1978 cult classic.

Supposedly inspired from the Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball starrer Yours, Mine and Ours (1968), Khatta Meetha is the story of Homi Mistry and his four sons ,and Nargis Sethna and her three children. Both Homi and Nargis are alone, in the twilight of their lives, but still burdened by their growing, irresponsible children, who know no better than to completely depend on their respective parent, thereby making their lives miserable. At the insistence of a common friend, the two of them decide to remarry. Each other. And that’s when the fun begins.

Khatta Meetha belongs to a series of ‘feel good’ films on the now-almost-extinct Indian middle class, their hopes and aspirations, by the two stalwarts – Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee. It also represented a rare attempt of depicting the Parsee community, in the league of films like Percy (1989), Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai (1980), Pestonjee (1988), and the more recent Being Cyrus (2005) and Little Zizou (2008).

Ashok Kumar, that institution of Hindi Cinema, sparkles in his extremely restrained but equally powerful performance as Homi Mistry. A high point of his role in the film is the face off with his son’s Father-in-law (Pradeep Kumar, who else) towards the end. His real life daughter, Preeti Ganguly gave the performance of a life time as Freni, Nargis’ neurotic daughter, who has serious relationship issues. Theater veteran Pearl Padamsee debuts as Nargis with this film.

Another strength of the film is its music. It’s so amazing that the music director (Rajesh Roshan) here is the same guy who did stuff like Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai (2000) and Koyla (1997). Here’s a gem from the film:

Movies, Reviews

Inception: Anatomy of a Dream

Christopher Nolan’s newest offering, Inception has been able to supersede the benchmark set by his earlier The Dark Knight, and then some more. More than any other film of his, Inception is a successor to Memento, Insomnia and The Prestige. Exploring the dark recesses of the mind has always been an obsession for Nolan. In his very first film (Following), we met a thief named Cobb whose purported objective of stealing was to make his victims realize the value of their possessions. He was hiding a few dark secrets. Twelve years and five films later, we come across another Cobb in Nolan’s work – a thief again – only this one steals dreams! This Cobb too, has some secrets of his own. He is hired by a Japanese tycoon, Saito, for infiltrating his enemy’s dreams, and plant a thought – the process referred to here as “inception”. Thus begins one of the most fascinating journeys into the human psyche ever filmed, since Alex Proyas’ Dark City. It’s a shrinks’ fantasy: dreams with elaborate architecture (strong references to Dark City and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), mazes, projections, and most interesting of all, several layers – each with its unique set of architecture and look and feel.

Through much of his work, Christopher Nolan has always challenged the viewer – open endings, ambiguous character motivations, and that ubiquitous tool in all his films (barring Insomnia and Dark Knight) of non-linear chronology – all have this annoying impact of confounding and perplexing the viewer, and thereby the film lingers…Inception succeeds in this immensely – like the protagonist, it effortlessly traverses between dreams, reality, and the gray area in-between; I think it’s in that category of films where with every repeat viewing, a new interpretation emerges. One thing’s for sure….you can’t go home with ALL the answers!

Leonardo DiCaprio’s been proving time and again that he has come a long long way since his Titanic days (a film he’s still identified with, at least in India) – and in Inception, he shows us why the likes of Martin Scorsese have passed the baton of Robert Deniro to him. The rest of the cast do a great job as well – special mention can be made of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard.

Mr. Nolan, take a bow.

Movies, Reviews, Uncategorized

Top 5 ‘Lost’ Films not available on DVD II

3. Holi (1984)

Another early gem from Aamir’s repertoire, Holi was directed by Ketan Mehta, and was full of young guns who’d go on to make a name for themselves. The film was so star-studded, one wonders what it’s doing in this list! Sample the cast: Aamir Khan (debut, credited as Aamir Hussein), Paresh Rawal (debut), Ashutosh Gowariker (debut), Amole Gupte (debut, the guy who was behind Taare Zameen Par, and whose second outing as an actor was as Bhope Bhau in Kaminey), Neeraj Vora (debut), Kitu Gidwani (debut), Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Deepti Naval, Mohan Gokhale, Sreeram Lagoo. Need I say more?

[P.S.: Did you note that most people on the list have collaborated with Aamir in future, one way or the other? For example,

Ketan Mehta – Mangal Pandey: The Rising

Amole Gupte – Taare Zameen Par

Ashutosh Gowariker – Baazi, Lagaan]

4. Neecha Nagar (1946)

The first Indian film to attain international acclaim was not Pather Panchali. And it was not Mother India. No, n0t even Do Beegha Zameen! It was a film called Neecha Nagar, directed by the prolific Chetan Anand, big bro to Vijay and Dev Anand. The surprises don’t end here. The film was based on a Hindi reworking of Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths. “What’s so surprising in that” You ask?Before this, Lower Depths was adapted by giants of world cinema like Jean Renoir in French (Les bas-fonds – 1936), and Akira Kurosawa in Japanese (Donzoko – 1957) [for those who’re interested, both movies are available through Criterion Collection here] but… here it comes… the only adaptation to get a Palm d’Or (Golden Palm) at Cannes was this Hindi film by an Indian director, that too, one full year before we could call ourselves an independent nation! Predictably, you can’t get this glorious piece of film history anywhere in India, apart from a deplorable quality VCD available online.


Movies, Reviews

Top 5 ‘Lost’ Films that are not available on DVD

First things first: I am going to include only Indian films on the list – no Hollywood, no World Cinema. In India, there are scores of films that are not to be found anywhere now. It takes a Martin Scorsese to restore a gem of an Indian lost film : Kalpana (his Film Foundation is doing an excellent job of restoring World Cinema – do visit them here); we were never much into restoration or archiving anyways. However, I’ve picked some gems that are almost forgotten, very seldom talked about, apart from a few mentions on Blogosphere, here and there. Let’s begin:

1. Raakh (1989)

Aamir Khan’s debut as a lead actor (though it released later than Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, it was shot much earlier), the film  represented  many firsts – Aamir’s first actioner, Santosh Sivan’s debut as a cinematographer, Aditya Bhattacharya’s (son of yesteryear director Basu Bhattacharya. He’d dabbled with acting six years  prior, in Shyam Benegal’s Mandi, playing Smita Patil’s rebellious young lover) maiden directorial venture. Aamir showed clear signs of what was to resurface 12 years later, but the one who took the cake was Pankaj Kapur. In a National Award (Best Supporting Actor) winning performance as the neurotic cynical cop who set out on a self-destructive path, the immensely talented actor went on a rampage (literally) before the camera. Incidentally, the film won Aamir his first National Award too. Raakh is not available anywhere on DVD or otherwise, except a VHS transfer downloadable on Torrent sites. In early 2009, there was a lot of media hullabaloo over Aamir releasing the film on DVD along with a theatrical release, in collaboration with Palador. The project hasn’t been heard of ever since. The good news is, Aditya Bhattacharya is working on a 20th Anniversary DVD release – he’s already unveiled a Redux version (remember Apocalypse Now Redux?)

2.  English, August (1995)

Dev Benegal (Road, Movie) broke into the film making scene with his adaptation of the eponymous novel by Upamanyu Chatterjee (brilliant author; one of the most well known and talented Indian writers who wrote in English, in an age devoid of Chetan Bhagats). The film marked the debut of another extremely gifted artist: Rahul Bose. It spoke of an Indian Administrative Service official and his years in an extremely hot and humid fictional village called Madna. English, August is not available on DVD or otherwise; Benegal mentions in his blog that the negatives have been damaged because of poor storage at Prasad Labs at Chennai.

To be continued…

Movies, Reviews

Redeem Yourself

In recent times, few films have left such an indelible imprint on my psyche as “Shawshank Redemption”(1994). Adapted from the novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King, the film is miles away from what the author is known for. It was the Directorial debut of Frank Darabont, also known for “The Green Mile” (1999). King is known to have granted the rights to Darabont after the latter impressed him with a short film adaptation of another of King’s stories, “The Woman in The Room” (1983).

“Shawshank” begins with Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a Bank Exec accused with murder of his wife and her lover.  Inspite of his pleas, the Jury is convinced of his hand in the crime and sentences him with Life Imprisonment.

Andy is sent to Shawshank State Penitentiary. Here we meet some of the most adorable crooks ever in the history of Hollywood; we see Red (Morgan Freeman) – narrator and backbone of the film,  Heywood (William Sadler),  and Brooks (James Whitmore). Initially, Andy mostly keeps to himself,  preferring his solitude to the company of fellow inmates. As time passes though , he gradually befriends Red and the others. Red, though visibly older than Andy, can’t help feel admiration and awe for him. What follows is an extraordinary journey spanning 19 years of Andy’s life at Shawshank – a journey that talks about hope, sticking to one’s guns, and (literally) light at the end of the tunnel.

Freeman shines and dazzles as he guides you through the maze. Tim Robbins gives a career defining performance as Andy. Not to mention, a host of supporting characters make you watch and revisit the film again and again…truly inspiring!

Absolutely recommended for an uplifting experience when life is not exactly roses and strawberries.

Movies, Reviews

Kalyug: Mahabharat Reloaded


Reason I start my blog with Kalyug: because it’s the last film I’ve seen, and this blog’s supposed to be about films, and it’s one of the best I’ve seen! For me, till now, it had been one of those ‘art’ films that aired on good old Doordarshan (ah! those were the days…) from time to time on Sunday evenings and Friday late night telecasts which I detested nearly as much as my father relished them. But inevitably some kind of nostalgia has been attached to the images, the stylizations, the performers; the kind of longingness you have for the smell of old childhood cardigans or the tunes your  mom used to hum while thumping you to sleep….scenes from these old flicks usually make me sit up and watch, and more often than not, I’ve been rewarded. For me, Kalyug achieved that and more.

With Kalyug (1981), Shyam Benegal, ever ready with his deft palette, applies bold strokes on a phenomenon which is even more disturbing today than it was back then: corporate politics (Remember Madhur Bhandarkar – Corporate ?). As a motif, he fell back on the Indian Iliad, the Mahabharat. And Justice was served – the Benegal way. The plot is in no way less gripping, intriguing or revealing than the Epic itself – keeps you, as they say, ‘glued to the screen’ till the very climax.

Most of the principal characters and themes of  Mahabharat are re-evaluated in the modern context. Identifiable yet larger than life. Perhaps the one character looming large over all else is that of Karan Singh (Shashi Kapoor), clearly based on Karna in Mahabharat. The corporate deliberations and strategies, first to win contracts, and later on, even to kill the rivals, are uncannily similar to the Kurukshetra war. Having said that, none can take away from Kalyug the fact that it’s a wonderful film in itself. Forget the thematic similarities with the Epic; it’s still great cinema.

Performance wise, as is common with Benegal’s cinema, the film is as rich as it gets. With Kalyug,  Shyam Benegal proves that he’s equally at ease with frontline stars as he is with the hardboiled ‘arty’ actors. Anant Nag is as raw as ever: the rage and scepticism in his role as Bharat Raj comes across excellently well. Shashi Kapoor as Karan Singh, again, is splendid, but he never really comes out of Shashi-Kapoor-the-Matinee-Idol mode, which in a way, works wonders for the film. About Rekha, she’s as magnetic and enigmatic and elusive-yet-familiar as ever. Supriya Pathak shows how to stand on the fringes of the frame and yet not be ‘sidelined’. Victor Bannerjee is a revelation as the crooked monster with a dark, scheming persona.

All in all, Kalyug is cinema at its bestest!