The Underdogs

I rarely root for the underdogs. I mean when Kenya plays Australia and wins, its not the best men who won, its the lucky ones. Why would I root for luck, rather than ability?

But sometimes being an underdog has nothing to do with ability. You just weren’t given the same chances. Like in Lal Rang. It is about people in a mufassil town with no money, who are happy if they get to be lab technicians. But they want more. The central character whom the movie follows is no hero. There are no heroes in the film, really. But first, the theme. 
The rarest colour of comedy in Bollywood is Black. When you are laughing but whats happening is neither light, not happy. You still laugh because, well, because it is clever. Remember Jane Bhi Do Yaaron? Its a tragedy that you can’t stop laughing at.
Lal Rang has hardly any joy. It has a dark red theme, and it is about an issue. It is about the buying and selling of blood in Haryana about a decade ago. There was a huge scandal and many lives were destroyed because the “donors” sold too much of their blood, and their blood carried several problems way too often. Already sounds like a boring, preachy movie, doesn’t it?
It isn’t. It never preaches, it just shows what happens. and it helps that it has a great actor at its heart. Randeep Hooda is the kingpin of the operation that steals, buys and sells blood. He manages a network of thieves, professional donors, lab technicians, and doctors, but he does it with ease, with a laugh and a kind word, he says that even when he has to beat up people, he’s never angry, he does it with affection. Hooda is a powerhouse. His energy keeps the film afloat and makes it almost possible to forgive everyone for their crimes. 
Almost. Because you know that as you are following these guys, in the background are blood shortages, and a market full of desperate people being fleeced in their hour of need. There are no heroes in the film. 
But there are no monsters either. The guys are all too human, preoccupied with impressing girls, and fighting for their love. Ordinary people. This is the most human look at crime I can remember in recent times. It is brutal, gripping, dark, but funny at the same time. 
And it is going to get totally and utterly overlooked. “Major” critics like Masand have not even seen it fit to review the film. The excellent music is not playing anywhere. There is no talk of Randeep Hooda winning awards, even though he deserves them all for this film. This film, with a newish director, no item song, no brand name star, and a basis in reality is the ultimate underdog. Not because its not good, but because the system is stacked against it. The Janta is not pulled into cinema because of raw quality. Even Badlapur and NH 10 needed stars to succeed. 
So this is the underdog I want to support. Not trash like Fan, this is the kind of cinema we deserve, and we should fight for. Lets do that, lets just watch the film and fight for cinema’s underdogs. 

Deadpool: Dead Awesome 

  
 First thing first: Deadpool is awesome. It’s the most fun you’ll have in a movie theatre this year. Unless you use the dark theatre for things other than watching a movie. 
The second thing: just like the “joke” above, this is not for kids. This is a comic book movie unlike any other. 
Before Batman Begins, comic heroes were a joke. And a silly joke at that. They did their antics, and the villains did their thing, with no thought give to anything except special effects. There were cardboard characters, with no inner life, and no story arc beyond one film. Batman trilogy introduced a great new twist with dark, brooding films, and Marvel has been wavering between grit and joy ever since by focusing on its myriad heroes. X-men stood slightly apart, focusing on the political and social. Till now. Till Deadpool. 
Deadpool is the story of a broken man. It starts with an ex-marine who describes himself as a bad guy hunting worse guys. Then he meets the girl, falls in love, and is hit by cancer. He is willing to do anything, ANYTHING, to avoid separating, and undergoes horrible torture for the promise of superpower to cure the cancer. 
As he becomes a man who can heal itself almost instantaneously, he discovers the side effects of near immortality. He is hideous. Pretty hideous. Like a tumor with eyes and a mouth. He knows she loves him and his damaged soul, but isn’t sure she will love him with his damaged looks. The irony. 
Wait, this sounds like a really boring movie. Deadpool is anything but boring. 
  Modern Batman and Superman are quiet creatures. Men of few words and much action, always struggling with the morality of their actions. Deadpool isn’t that. He is a motormouth. He is always talking. Either to himself, to the villains, and all too often with the audience. He knows he’s in a movie. He breaks the fourth wall constantly, and with superb wit. And he is a man of action as well. Morals? Eh. He doesn’t lose roomy h sleep over them. If you’re in his way, you are going to get hurt. 
Wit, heart and gore. That’s the punchline this movie deserves. It is hilarious, poignant, violent, brutal, touching; sometimes all within moments. It never slows down, he never shuts up, and we never get bored. Not even during the credits. 
This will change superhero movies again. Watching Batman v/s Superman feels like work against this. Deadpool is gritty, rough, has well written characters, and is not boring. It is also very explicit. If you can’t stand a cartoon Deadpool touching a unicorn pretty inappropriately, don’t watch this movie. 
If you have to watch a movie this Valentine’s Day, watch Deadpool. You may have more fun watching the screen than…. well, you know, doing extracurricular work in the theatre. 

Khoob Ladi – A review of Mardaani

Mardaani-7Rani must have been so upset when Kangana Ranaut first did Queen and then Revolver Rani. Not just because these were female oriented films without male stars and they brought fame and fortune to Kangana. I can imagine her saying “I am the Rani, see? Please pick films that have jewellery based titles, Kangana. I am Rani. Do you see that now?” And while we wait for Kangana to announce her next, Rani has already made a subtle move. You can’t think of Mardani without “Jhansi wali Rani”. As I entered the theatre, I was praying this not to be an “Aiyyaa” level disaster.

Because it’s important that this film be good. Not just because we need more sensible cinema, not just because I want heroines to succeed at their own terms, but because this mardaani01-jun24is a film about a deadly serious topic. Human trafficking is a huge worldwide problem, and we have really positioned ourselves at the centre of it. To our utter shame, our young girls (and rarely boys too) are easy targets, especially when there is no one fighting for them. This is the film to put the voiceless on centre stage and make us feel for them. And it does that. The plight of the poor girls is palpable. You feel for them as they are herded like cattle, humiliated, and dehumanised. You feel the dreams slip away, replaced by a nightmare they didn’t deserve. I felt anger rising at the whole apparatus that makes it happen, and then at the whole society that allows it to go on; including myself.

So we need an avenger; a hero that makes it alright for at least some of them. Someone with a stake in the game. Enter Shivani Shivaji Roy. She is a cop that uses her head. She follows leads, does surveillance and talks rationally. Sorry no Singham style public drama here. When the villain tries to get to her by using goons to publicly humiliate her family, she neither starts fighting them nor lecturing them. She tries to comfort her family. Strange no?

Tahir-Raj-BhasinAnd the villain. The guy running a prostitution racket is not a seedy gangster. He is a suave, English speaking professional. And he is menacing without being loud. Or probably because he is not loud. Tahir Raj Bhasin is a find, and I think we will see more of him in coming years.

And Rani is great, of course. From Dharmendra onwards our action heroes have performed one simple trick to show anger: loud voice. The harder they shout the more dangerous they think they look. Here is an action hero showing them how it’s done. She is most dangerous when speaking softly. When she delivers her ultimatum to the villain, it is believable. Even though she doesn’t even know which city he lives in at the point.

Pradeep Sarkar has been brave enough to make a taut thriller with a heart. It treats the young victims with respect. The camera never violates their dignity even when it is showing the violation. The writing is great and the dialogue brings characters to life rather than trying to show its own cleverness.

This is not a perfect film, nor an edge of the seat thriller with car chases and helicopters. This is an intelligent journey through an unspoken tragedy. Take a bow Rani, this is what second innings are made of. And well fought, lady. Khoob ladi ye Mumbai wali Rani. There’s no need to call yourself Mardani though. Manly is not good enough. This was a good womanly fight.

Guardians of the Galaxy

When you name your film Guardians Of The Galaxy, the bar is set really high. I mean guarding a simple planet can be tough enough. Galaxies are notoriously difficult to guard. Well, it’s Marvel, makers if such heroes as Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor… But wait, all of these together could only save New York. And Iron Man almost died! And the city was more or less destroyed anyways. These guardians better be super awesome. Let’s meet them.

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So the first guy is Peter Quill, a planet hopping outlaw from Earth. He is also called Starlord. By no one. Literally no one except he himself uses the name Starlord. It’s like you trying to get a cool nickname for yourself. He accidentally teams up with a bunch even weirder and less accomplished. A female assassin on the run from the people who created her, a tough guy looking for revenge against people much more powerful than himself, and a raccoon genetically modified so he acts like a human being. That’s right, a raccoon. Basically a large rat. Oh and there’s a tree called Groot who walks and talks. Well, i say talk, but actually he can speak only three words. “I am Groot”

THESE guys will save the Galaxy? Yes they will. And then you add some super strong objects, super evil villains and some pretty heroic heroism. These guys will not only defeat the villains they will win your hearts too.

So here is what it is about. This is a story of a bunch of misfit-criminal-outlaws operating at the fringes of the “civilised” world. It is a world of gangsters and grubby bars and seedy 10500254_10152582475228116_6287548585530956908_ndiners, but there are caught by the squeaky clean people of a planet under threat. They need to escape, and figure out how best to use a strange object in their possession that everyone seems to want. They have to keep it away from people who’d use it to destroy the whole galaxy, or enslave it.

This is a film of the spirit of adventure, and about the world of adventure seekers. Its stimulating, interesting, invigorating and enticing. It makes you want to inhabit that world, grubby and chaotic as it is. And it features a retro soundtrack that has brought songs from 70’s and 80’s to the top of charts in 2014

If you have watched Kkrish and thought out kids deserve better entertainment, if you watched Kick and thought this is so lazily written, if you watched Dhoom and thought you needed characters you really care about: watch this. Take your kids and enjoy a fun ride. This is not super simple; it is heavy on dialogues, has a lot of characters and a lot of new names. But you know what, we learned the names of Chacha Chawdhary’s family, Hum Paanch family and even the vast and ever changing families of Tulsi etc. We can do this. And we will have fun doing this.

I don’t know whether it’s still running in your city, but if it is, go see it. By the time I saw it only the Hindi version remained, but that was fantastic too.

So step aside, super heroes. We have silly heroes, and they are pretty damned good. They might even actually guard the galaxy for us.

Film making as Villainy

When I was returning from the film Kishor Kumar was on the radio singing “yeh kya hua, kyun hua” and as so often happens, he captured my mood perfectly. What just happened?

Ek-VillainThis is a confusing story where a girl hires a professional killer to get an old man out of a mental hospital where no one is keeping him locked up. Where that girl is dying of an unknown illness, but when the “hero” hits a doctor he tells him a way to cure her. Where a loving father convinces his dying daughter to go for a proven killer. Where a wife is atrocious to her husband, and is the worst person possible, until she learns that he is a serial killer. Then she starts publicly proclaiming her love.
A “smiley” is an object used in text to convey an emotion that words can’t. In cinema, it is an open admission that the actors and director can’t really figure out how to show emotion. Drawing smileys is a decent tool once, but it’s repetition makes it useless and annoying. Speaking of annoying: the heroine. Shradha Kapoor believes in teeth. The more she shows, the happier she is. And fast talking equals a chirpy personality.  A dying person spreading happiness- what a new idea sirjee!
Anyways, it’s a love story of “unlikely lovers” and “doomed love” and all that. No problems. I can deal with that. But then there is the other serial killer. Ek-Villain-New-trailer-640x360A guy who loves his wife and she takes advantage of his love and treats him badly, because that’s what women do when pampered. There is another guy who ill treats his wife and talks of going to dance bars and beating her while she sobs. Guess who is happier?Of course the second one. Women are meant to be used, and to be put in their place when they assert themselves. When the first guy starts killing them, he finds happiness. Even at home. Because he brings home the jewelry he steals from the women he kills, and jewelry is all a woman really wants.
 This is a film in which a boy has his father killed by a gangster and his mother by that gangster’s gang. But it’s okay because the child then gets to be adopted by that gangster! Yay happy ending.
This is a pseudo-emotional, pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-philosophical piece of manipulative cinema with deep misogyny. It is massively anti woman, and anti-logic. A woman falls from a window and is instantly dead. Two guys fall out of the same window, and both stand up, dust themselves and walk away. Not carried to a hospital, they both WALK.
And this is a hit, apparently. So we are back to Kishore Kumar: ye kya hua, kyun hua……

ExKrrisshiating Pain

Bollywood is masala. Just a superhero won’t do, we need more. For Krrish, Rakesh Roshan’s something more is the 80’s:  family drama, romance, a love triangle. And a lousy storyline with over the top dialogues. Laughable villain, with silent bodybuilder goons and  femme fatale, who falls for the hero…..

To say that the film is stupid is stating the expected. To say that it’s more stupid than I expected: that’s saying a lot. I was okay with Koi Mil Gaya. Via all the copying of E.T. it gained a story. Krrish had the charm of a guy discovering his powers. Both of these were not great films, but they tried being charming. After Krrish 1 comes Krrish 3, and we abandon all hope of anything making sense any more. We all know that the movie is a hit, but that just shows the dearth of options for our kids. It’s a horrible film for a kid. It’s violent, shows a lot of blood and suffering, and sends a very weird message of how DNA works.

For adults, it’s just too silly & absurd. But there are perks too. It has so many “inspirations” from Hollywood that you can play the game of “where is this scene/character lifted from?” If you don’t watch much Hollywood you can entertain yourself with spotting the brands advertised in the film. From Bournvita to Nokia, Tata motors, Nike, Flair Pens, even Del Monte and Tez…. I lost count of all the paid placements.
The paid placements were so clumsily placed, so blatant and shameless, they showed exactly what’s wrong with the film: it’s a tasteless money grab. The director thinks you are too stupid to notice everything that’s wrong. This is the guy who made Koyla after all. His idea of masala differs from mine. This one is a curry gone wrong.

The Fountainhead Of Creation

I’m currently reading “Steve Jobs” by Walter Issacson and have been wondering what Jobs’ as a creator/creative director reminds me of.

The Jobs depicted here is a Hippy in his personal life and certainly in his drug use, but a maniac in getting things done his way, the way his way is the only “right” way to do things. He is obsessive about design, but not just to beautify. The processor, memory etc of a device is not what dictates the design, these are the things that you decide as part of the design. And he doesn’t believe in customer survey/ asking the customer about possible features. At all.

What does this remind me of? Howard Roark of course. The architect hero of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead who refused to work as a decorator of buildings and instead wanted to design buildings for the purpose they were built for. And this is where a paradox emerges. Apple and Jobs fans tend to be the leftist, Liberal, free spirited types who probably are miles away from Rand’s “Extremist Capitalism” philosophy. Yet the design of their favorite gadgets and toys was made possible by a ruthless drive by Jobs towards creating devices just the way he liked, in service of a company with legendary profit margins, and legendary incomes. Arguably Jobs never wanted much wealth for himself and lived a very simple life relative to his wealth, but so do all of Ayn Rand’s heroes. Wealth, to them, is never an end in itself, but a reflection of the worth they have created, and a due their customers owe them.

Roark, Reardon, Galt and Dagny would also have approved of the ferocity with which Apple defends its intellectual property. Apple is currently suing several Android makers for what it thinks is copy of Apple’s ideas, and in past had sued several makers, big and small for copying its Mac related designs and patents.

So here we are with Steve Jobs, a hippy by nature, who dropped out of college, was an avid drug user, embraced Buddhism, and traveled to India looking for spiritual enlightenment. The Steve jobs who has been a magnet for left leaning people of the world for several decades and who projected himself and his company as the leader of counter-culture. He is one of the best examples of a life led by the principles Ayn Rand’s ideas of what an ideal businessman/creator needs to be.

Isn’t irony delicious?

Disclaimer: I personally think her philosophy (Objectivism) is a combination of some of the best ideas in the world with some of the deepest ignorance of how humans work

More important disclaimer: What Jobs does wrong is about 80% of the book so far, and most of that is profoundly unheroic, like taking credit for ideas not your own.