Monday, November 26, 2012

Life of Pi - Review

I found it to be a visual spectacle worth seeing. Ang Lee has used the 3D medium fantastically and created a treat for our eyes.
Do not see it in 2D - 3D is the only way to go.

The story is interesting as well. I had not read the book beforehand, so had gone in with a clean slate.

The story is told in flashback mode by the senior Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan). When he was young, Pi is introduced to multiple religions, and his experiences help him later in his life. This does not go too well with his "rational" father, but he does not get in his son's way and keeps on teaching him useful things anyway.

The main story happens on sea. When going with his family to Canada on a freighter, the ship hits a freak storm and starts to sink. Pi manages to clamber aboard a lifeboat, with a tiger (called "Richard Parker") who also survives.
Pi's epic 227 day struggle for survival in the ocean, with just a tiger  for company changes him drastically. What he experiences takes him closer to God, and the whole philosophy of the "nature" of God.

The new actor, Suraj Sharma, has done a very good job. His interaction with the (CGI) tiger, are the "meat" of the film. Some are funny, some are intense. The tiger has been captured extremely well and makes you feel that he is almost human - lovable at times, and frighteningly predatory at others.

There is a heavy dose of spirituality, esp. in the beginning and end of the film. Some may like it, some might not.

We are told another story about the same sea saga later. Nobody is sure whether the 1st one is correct, or the 2nd one, a mixture of both, or none of them happened. But the beauty is that it doesn't matter.

The main reason for recommending this film is Ang Lee's direction and fantastic use of 3D. The colors in India and the ocean are shown vividly. There is an extremely effective representation of the storm  - water is tricky to get right in 3D, but Ang Lee has mastered it here. The tiger is shot very well - a combination of (supposedly) 4 Royal Bengal tigers and CGI effects. The luminescent shots of the waters at night, and the whale arising majestically out of the water. All will stay in your mind long after the movie ends.

See it just for Ang Lee's craft. If the story gets to you, it is a bonus.

Rating: 4.5/5

Monday, September 10, 2012

Movie Review – Raaz 3 (Hindi)

A movie that is a worthy successor to “Haunted”! The category is not pure horror, but “entertainment” horror.  If you are looking for classical horror movies, don’t see this one. But if you like the “other type of classic” movies – ones that you can look back on and say “I survived this one”, then this is for you.

Story Summary:
Not much. A fading movie star Shanaya Shekhar (Bipasha Basu) wants to ruin a rising one - Sanjana Krishna (Esha Gupta) to become number 1 again. When “normal” means fail, she resorts to taking the help of black magic. A film director Aditya Arora (Emran Hashmi) who is in love with Shanaya and owes her his career becomes an unwilling accomplice in making the black magic work on Sanjana. In the process, he (naturally) falls in love with Sanjana and tries to help her.

Vikram Bhatt throws the kitchen sink at the audience in trying to scare them. Unfortunately, the sink has rotted and rusted and the only danger that it can pose is a case of tetanus. The film’s attempts at ghoulishness remind you of Ramsay brothers. Blood running out of taps, grotesque creepy characters making “Grudge” like noises, a slimy creature moving around, you name it and the film has it. Vikram even throws in Ganapati Bappa as a last resort (in the hope that maybe He will be able to salvage the story).

The central theme of the movie is that an evil spirit – Tara Dutt (Manish Choudhary) gives Shanaya some magic water that will help possess Sanjana’s spirit. The water has to be given to her by someone she trusts. Since the corner stone of the movie is so corny, you know what to expect.

In keeping with the Bhatt tradition, Vikram has thrown in a lot of erotic scenes. However, they are pretty badly written and directed and so fail to make much of an impact. The music of the film is surprisingly below par for a Bhatt film.

The dialogues of this film definitely deserve an award. Samples:
·         Science jism ko janta hai, aatma ko nahi” (reminding the audience that Bips starred in Jism)

·         Yeh meri jagah hai, Bhagwan ki nahi” (reminds you of your boss)

·         Ek raaz tumhare andar bhi hai...ek raaz mere andar bhi hai jo tumhe kahin ka nahi chodega” (I know what you ate last night)

·         “Jo khak se aya hai vo khak me mil jata hai” (reminds you of what the film will become)

And the award goes to:
v  If you love me, you can be stupid for me” (intended for the audience?)

What works for the film is the slickness in direction and the performances.
Vikram Bhatt has a good command over the medium and his direction is slick. The 3-D effects deserve a special mention for being quite good.

Esha gives a decent performance (when she is not shrieking). For a newcomer, she has managed to hold her own quite well.

Manish Choudhary gives a good try at being an evil spirit. He is handicapped by the screen play. When you have to make growling noises while alternating between a maggot infested look and a flour-dosed one, it kind of handicaps you. But he tries manfully and does succeed to a large extent.

Emran gives a good performance as usual (when he is not in the mandatory erotic scenes). His acting has grown better by leaps and bounds. He portrays Aditya as a very human character who becomes an unwilling accomplice and then tries to back out after he realizes what it actually is doing to Sanjana.

Bipasha is also good in this movie. She also struggles with having to spout corny dialogues and the forced evil laughter. But otherwise she conveys the intensity of the character and the emotions that drive her pretty well. She is one of the highlights of the film.

In short, see this for entertainment. If you are looking for a classic ghoulish movie, this is not it :-).

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Book Review: Dongri To Dubai – Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia

Book Review: Dongri To Dubai – Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia  by S. Hussain Zaidi

This is a niche book. It is only for those interested in the underworld, and the stories that lie within their murky world.
The book is like an encyclopedia of crime in Mumbai, right from India’s independence to the current times.  

As expected, Dawood Ibrahim is the “star” and gets maximum coverage. But there are a lot of other criminals that are listed here. Some of the characters are well known - Haji Mastan, Varadarajan Mudaliar, Chhota Rajan, Arun Gawali, Chhota Shakeel, Abu Salem, etc. have been mentioned in various media at one point of time or the other.
But some were totally unknown to me before I read this book.  Sometimes the book resembles the Mahabharata in the sheer number of people mentioned. This can get quite boggling. But once you get past that you start appreciating the research that forms the backbone of the book.

There are many facts that are already known to the reader – through papers, and especially films. But Zaidi reveals some unknown ones that shed an interesting light on some of the subjects.  E.g. that the mastermind behind the killing of Dawood’s brother Sabir was apparently an avid James Hadley Chase reader and that the actual murder plan was inspired by Chase’s novels.

The book is fast paced, and does not slow down even a little bit. Nor does it feel boring anywhere.

Bollywood has had an unending romance with the underworld and has tended mostly to glorify its inhabitants. This book does no such thing. Pretty much everything is written in a matter-of-fact manner, without any embellishments. Zaidi does not believe in extra adjectives J.

Many of the incidents have been depicted in Hindi films or are well known. Haji Mastan’s dalliance with Bollywood, Varadarajan Mudaliar’s rise from a menial laborer, the attack on Chhota Rajan in Bangkok by Chhota Shakeel’s men. Gulshan Kumar’s murder on Abu Salem’s orders.  Mandakini’s association with Dawood, and Monica Bedi’s with Abu Salem.  The shootout at Lokhandwala (which is described very drily in the book unlike the film). Chhota Rajan’s parting ways with Dawood.

There are a few gruesome descriptions of murders that took place. But these constitute a fraction of the book, and overall does not make the book unpalatable.

The chapters on Haji Mastan and Varadarajan Mudaliar end abruptly. Also there is no mention of Chhota Rajan after the Bangkok attempt on his life. The book’s focus is clearly on one person.

Back to Dawood. The central character of this tome’s “rise” makes for fascinating reading. How the son of an upright police constable (whose name was highly respected not just in the police force but in society as well) landed up where he did is quite remarkable.  

The Mumbai police decided to cut the reigning Pathan gang by propping him up.
This was done (apparently) in filmi style. Senior police inspector Ranbeer Likha is shown complaining about all the problems caused by the Pathan mafia to the journalist Iqbal Natiq.
Natiq replies, ‘Sahab, Sholay.
Sholay?! Have you lost your mind Iqbal?’ Likha asks.
You use iron to combat iron,’ Iqbal Natiq tells Likha.

In the bargain, they created a monster that continues to haunt this country even today.

The lack of coordination between government agencies has proven costly in India many times. Apparently the IB (Intelligence Bureau) decided to send 2 of Chhota Rajan’s sharpshooters to Dubai to eliminate Dawood on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding. But they failed to inform the Mumbai Crime Branch. An enthusiastic police officer arrested the sharpshooters on their way from India!

Dawood’s main strengths are shown to be his planning and adaptability. Even when he is forced to shift base (from Mumbai to Dubai and then to Pakistan) he manages to flourish in the new environment and rule over it.

Occasionally Zaidi does deviate from pure facts and strays into conjecture/hearsay. E.g. the assumption that Dawood did not know about the full extent of what was planned for  the 1993 Mumbai blasts. Zaidi’s analysis is that fundamentalism is not an inherent part of Dawood’s character, and that Dawood merely went with the flow for his own survival.

Overall, this book is an excellent compilation. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of Mumbai’s underworld in general and Dawood Ibrahim in particular.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Movie review - "404"

This movie called "404" slipped by unnoticed in 2011. A friend recommended it to me, and so I bought the VCD recently. It turned out to be money well spent.

The movie has nothing to do with cyber space at all.
It is set in a premier medical institution. Students strive to get admitted in here.
The only dark spot is the despicable practice of ragging, that has become a "tradition" over time.

In the new batch that joins, pretty much everyone is afraid of the seniors. Except for 1 student - Abhimanyu - who stands up to them at each turn.
There is a locked room (number 404) in the hostel of the college that everyone is afraid of. It is the room where a previous student, Gaurav, had committed suicide. Due to rumors of his ghost being present, nobody wants to stay in it.

Abhimanyu takes up the challenge posted by the seniors and occupies the room. The seniors take advantage of this and rag him psychologically, always chanting that "Gaurav is still alive and that this is his room, so get out". There is a professor called Aniruddh who backs Abhimanyu. The professor believes only in rationality, and denies that anything paranomal can exist. He supports Abhimanyu in his struggle.

However, slowly things start taking a toll on Abhimanyu. He starts seeing Gaurav everywhere, and Gaurav even talks to him. His mental state becomes precarious, and the professor starts getting worried for him.

What is really happening? Is the psychological toll of ragging making Abhimanyu see the dead student? Or do ghosts really exist?

The director is new (Prawaal Raman), so some finesse is lacking. Also this is a low budget film. It shows everywhere in the making (a medical college does not have so few students :-)).

Also the film seems to be stuffed with newcomers for the same reason. Other than Satish Kaushik and Tisca Chopra, all the actors were unknown to me.

Other than these flaws, however, the film is totally watchable.

Rating: 3 or 3.5 / 5.