movie review: new york

Director: Kabir Khan
Main Cast: John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Katrina Kaif
Supporting Cast: Irrfan Khan
Music: Pritam
RATING: 3.5/5
MUSIC: 3/5

REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

I had been looking for to this movie for almost a year, since I saw the trailer for it in December 2008. Apparently several post-production factors, including distribution problems due to the multiplex-producer standoff, as well as the IPL, caused this release to be delayed to June 2009. The theme of the movie was somewhat different from conventional Bollywood in that it didn’t center itself on a love triangle, although it certainly had the opportunity to do so. Let me look at in a little more detail.

Plot

This movie takes place completely in New York, USA, in the days/months/years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Sameer (John Abraham), Maya (Katrina Kaif) and Omar (Neil Nitin Mukesh) are three students of Indian origin studying at New York State University. Sam and Maya have both been born and brought up in the US whereas Omar is an international student from Delhi. The three form a close friendship that is eventually destroyed by love, wherein Sam and Maya like each other whilst Omar, who had feelings for Maya, is left languishing. He moves away from New York and starts working, evidently owning a taxi.

All this is revealed as “flashbacks” since the actual action of the movie happens much later in the future, where Omar is arrested for a potential terrorist attack after AK-47’s and several explosives were found in the boot of a cab owned by him. The FBI detain him and an aamchi desi agent, Roshan (Irrfan Khan), is put in charge of his case. It becomes evident that the FBI has actually framed Omar so that they could use his past friendship with Sam to get some answers, since Sam is a suspected member of a terrorist outfit.

Omar is then placed back in the life of Sam, who has now married Maya and has gone on to inexplicably produce a very gora baby with her, by the name of Danyal (pronounced “Daniel” throughout the movie). Maybe he was adopted or something, but he supposedly has Sam’s eyes, according to Omar. The two former friends unquestioningly accept Omar back into their fold and let him live with them, while Roshan uses Omar to glean information and try to get a confession out of Sam. Omar tests Sam by continually expressing his hatred for the American authorities and how he would do something if he had the chance… but Sam isn’t seem to be interested.

I won’t reveal much more of the plot since I believe that you should go watch this movie if you get the chance. The themes covered are pretty important and although the event is well in the past, it is still worth looking at some of the issues covered. Unfortunately, I can’t really reveal more without revealing the main plot of the story, so you will have to do with this abstractness, for now.

Acting

I wasn’t expecting much in the form of good acting in a movie starring Katrina Kaif and Neil Nitin Mukesh, who possess a total of 3-4 expressions between them. However, Mukesh finally delivered a pretty decent performance after Johnny Gadaar, in my opinion. His role was a difficult one as he had to play an amateur-spy-as-well-as-former-friend-trying-to-get-information-about-something-he-didn’t-believe-in and he did a believable job. Kaif didn’t match his standards, although to be honest she didn’t have much of a role to play, apart from the beginning. Her acting was about average, in that it wasn’t horrendous enough to detract from the actual movie, but it wasn’t so good as to lavish praises on her.

John Abraham, though, delivered a fine performance. He played the role of a good-natured, competitive Indian American really well, especially in the first half, but the real quality of his performance came in the second half. Watch the movie and you’ll know what I mean.

Irrfan Khan was excellent, as usual, and is one of the gems in Bollywood at the moment. His versatality as an actor is unquestionable and he’s been able to shine in roles as variable as in this movie where he is an FBI agent, to Billu where he is a poor hairdresser, to Dil Kabbadi where he is a middle-aged man going through a mid-life crisis.

General Negatives

The theme of Islam in the movie was not presented very well. For example, for the entire first half, the fact that Omar and Samir are Muslim was not mentioned even once, whereas in the second half it evidently became a huge deal. I think if the movie had stuck to the Indian/South Asian-ness of the people involved it would have left a better aftertaste. As it happens, they didn’t, and there were some dialogues towards the end of the movie about “freedom of Muslims” in the U.S. that didn’t seem like a particularly fair conclusion to me.

One more issue I had with this movie is that it may re-ignite bad memories. The 9/11 tragedy has been mostly done and dusted with, and bringing it up again and highlighting the role the American government played in the aftermath may not invoke the best emotions. However, the script was approved by the U.S. government, evidently, as a requirement for shooting on locations such as Guantanamo Bay.

Other than that, I think this movie was pretty solid and the only real downfalls came from the choppiness of the script.

General Positives

The music (or lack thereof) in the movie was refreshing. There were a couple of opportunities where the producers could easily have inserted a sleazy, club-based dance song, but refrained to do so since it would add nothing to the story. The songs generally fit in with the song and even though listening to the soundtrack I don’t remember which song was presented when, all the songs remind me of the emotions of the characters in the movie.

Another positive is the picturization of the movie, which is based entirely in the United States. There are several shots, especially those involving the SWAT or FBI forces, that could easily have been in an English action film. The depiction of American college life is somewhat exaggerated but still believable, at least for the Indian palate.

Music

The music for this movie is unobtrusive and not overly exciting, but still pretty decent. Hai Junoon and Mere Sang are the songs to listen to, from this movie, as their tunes are quite pleasant. The music from this movie is somewhat mellow, bordering on happy, but not energetic. It is probably something that would be nice to listen to in the rain, which is what the weather is like, right now.

However, this music is the silver-lining that surrounds the cloud of plagiarism. I wasn’t aware of Pritam’s notoriety in the music industry of plagiarizing but after doing a bit of research online, it appears that he has lifted riffs straight from (mostly) Asian songs throughout his career. In this movie, parts of the tune for Hai Junoon were copied from Naluri Lelaki by a band called “Samsons”. Here’s some video evidence:

Conclusion

The movie overall was definitely watchable and I would recommend anyone to check it out. The themes highlighted are somewhat political but definitely important to think about. It could have been better, but the fact that the director didn’t fall into many popular Bollywood traps convinced me to bump this up from just a 3 to a 3.5 out of 5.

movie review: kambakkht ishq

Director: Sabbir Khan
Main Cast: Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor
Supporting Cast: Aftab Shivdasani, Amrita Arora
Music: Anu Malik
RATING: 2.5/5
MUSIC: 2/5

REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

The spelling of the title of this movie was definitely not the only problem I had with it. I’ve been misspelling the title all over the place but from the trailers, music and the like, it looked like this would be a pretty decent flick to catch as the monsoon season has finally come around. Sadly, I was wrong.

This movie had many bright spots, but they were overshadowed by periods of dullness or repitivity. Let me break it down into a few categorie:

Plot

The plot appeared to be somewhat different at first, but it soon boiled down to the standard two eventual lovers pretend like they hate each other, then each realize their folly separately and reconcile in the end. There was of course some drama surrounding it as well as a few laughs, but the story was essentially the same.

Viraj (Akshay Kumar) and Lucky (Aftab Shivdasani) are brothers in the same profession–body doubles for stunts, or “super stuntmen” as the posters around Mumbai scream. Simrita (Kareena Kapoor) and Kamini (Amrita Arora) are best friends and the havoc begins when Kamini decides to marry Lucky since she, gasp, loves him. Viraj objects to this marriage on principal, since he believes marriage is unmasculine, while Simrita has some unquantified hate for men, specifically stuntment, who she believes have no IQ. Of course, Kamini and Lucky don’t pay heed to their warnings and do the right thing, but all this achieves is the production of a ticking timebomb between Sim and Viraj.

Simrita is supposedly a super model who is a surgeon at the same time which seems entirely unfeasible but can be ignored for the sake of creativity. Her first solo surgery happens to be on Viraj, who she steadily despises over the course of the movie, and she ends up dropping a musical watch into his belly. This leads up to the best part of the movie, as Viraj ends up listening to this musical watch, which chants marriage mantras, on the hour every hour without understanding where it is coming from.

Sim, on the other hand, figures out from the x-rays that she has made a huge mistake and tries to coax Viraj into coming back for a “check-up” post-surgery. Viraj, of course, at this point hates Sim as she has ultimately convinced Kamini to divorce his brother. Instead of telling the truth at the expense of bruising her ego, Sim throws her medical morale out the window and tries to drug Viraj at several opportunities while spinning the classic Bollywood “pretending-to-love-you” story which our hapless lover happily falls for. Eventually succeeding right after Viraj proposes to her, Sim then reveals her motives to a heartbroken Viraj who then decides to marry Denise Richards, who apparently wants to have “golden babies” with him, in a knee-jerk reaction.

Lucky then succeeds in ‘opening the eyes’ of the stubborn Sim in one smooth scene where he reveals that Viraj had the chance to take advantage of her but didn’t. Apparently this is a most emotional moment for Sim, who then realizes she’s fallen in love with a total sleaze-bag who will probably dump her in a couple of years. Instead of paying heed to her brain, she runs after him and obviously everything ends happily after.

Acting

The acting could have been better. Amrita Arora does a good job acting as a dumb lingerie model. Aftab probably does the best of all the actors, while Akshay seems to be using this movie to show everyone that he does all his own stunts. Kareena’s acting is pretty good as she succeeds in convincing the audience that she’s a snob, although the script fails in bringing the best out of her. Sabbir Khan also uses a plethora of “guest actors” ranging from Javed Jaffery who plays a desi immigrant intent on suing everyone, to Boman Irani who features in one scene whose only purpose is to introduce the Om Mangalam song, to Sylvester Stallone who has been cast only so that he can stick his head into Bollywood and tell everyone how happy he is to be part of it.

General Negatives

There are many problems with this movie. The plot is very trippy and jumpy and the cast hasn’t been used properly. The advertising for this movie made a huge deal out of the Sylvester Stallone involvement whereas his involvement seems extremely forced. The plot doesn’t flow and it looks like the director has just taken a lot of pieces, such as big names, great shot locations and a decent background score, and mixed them together to produce something that is less than the sum of its parts. There was only about 15-20 minutes in this movie that I was actually entertained and for the rest of the time I was just waiting for it to move on. There are also glaring flaws in logic, such as why you would use a stunt double that looks nothing like the actual actor.

General Positives

A couple of the songs are catchy, the stunts are pretty good and there are some decent laughs provided by Javed Jaffery and Akshay Kumar in a couple of scenes. Amrita and Kareena look mostly gorgeous and ‘Bebo’s’ liplocks with Akshay are bound to cause some controversies in our tabloids. However, it again looks like the director just cues in “Kareena-in-bikini” without any consideration of where it fits into the plot. Not that I’m complaining…

Music

There is only really one good song in the soundtrack, Om Mangalam, which made a strong claim to be the title track but was beaten to the punch by a track titled Kambakkht Ishq. Otherwise, the music is stuff that only sounds good in movie but doesn’t have much scope outside it. The requisite remixes that feature in every Bollywood movie soundtrack release are also present on the CD for the clubs to play. As expected, the picturization of the songs has mostly completely interrupted the flow of the plot. Oh well…

Conclusion

All in all, this is a timepass movie that I wouldn’t pay a weekend price of Rs. 275 per ticket to watch. As it happened, I didn’t pay a dime and neither did my parents, because we got free tickets from HSBC courtesy of my dad’s premier card (along with free popcorn and a Coke, too). Wait for this one to come on television–there’s no point in getting the DVD and the star value means it should be coming to Indian television soon. 2.5 out of 5 for me.

movie review: aa dekhen zara

Man. I didn’t ever think a movie could get worse with every passing minute for the duration of the movie, but this movie managed to achieve that fine distinction. From beginning to end, the movie was extremely choppy and didn’t make a lot of sense. It started out with Neil Mukesh (Raj) running around in the jungle chasing after someone with a large camera. Once he ran the person into a dead-end, a bunch of blokes with guns emerged and said that you aren’t allowed to take photos in the jungle.

I have no idea what the meaning of this whole sequence was, and it was never answered in the rest of the movie. Apparently the director just needed a way to get rid of Raj’s old camera and thought that a random jungle scene with no meaning or relevance whatsoever would be better than something more straightforward, like forgetting it on a bus somewhere. Perhaps there was a reference or an allusion to something that made more sense, but if there was it went way over my head.

Anyhow, so Raj loses his camera which is pretty devastating considering the camera was about 90% of his net worth (the other 10% going into his delightfully furnished apartment… I guess the interior decorator was an old girlfriend or something). He goes to the small environmental journal that he works to try and get a loan and finds out that his grandfather has died, and has left him behind some sort of boat in his old house. In the boat he finds a key and photograph, the latter being of the location where the key can be used. How Raj has such a photographic memory of Bombay, I don’t know, but he should look into getting work with the Google Maps team. Upon opening the locker that is paired with the key, he finds a backpack with a weird compass-like thing and a camera (oh, what coincidence!). Apparently his grandad was a scientist working on some pretty nifty stuff.

It turns out this camera is super-nifty. It only takes photos of the future. You set the date to the day you want to see and then you snap a photo. And when you go ahead and develop the photo, you will see a photo of the person you snapped on the date you had set, rather than the day you took the photo. Dig? So it’s a camera that travels in time and snaps a photo. Man, that grandfather must have been a pretty smart guy. And pretty imaginative. And also addicted to drugs. Oh well… it’s supposed to be “sci-fi” so we’ll let this major suspension of logic proceed. Being that he is almost in poverty and he has the hots for Bipasha Basu (Simi) who is a DJ and lives in the building across from him and apparently likes eating expensive sandwiches at overpriced coffee shops, Raj decides to use this new possession to make some cash.

So he takes photos of the lottery, of cricket matches, of horse races, etc. Basically anything that he can gamble with. And then he starts rolling in the moolah. Apparently he took an interest to photography at a pretty early stage in life because he develops photos manually in like 10 minutes, something I know cannot be done empirically. Also, he must not have had time for school because anyone with half a brain would have realized that if you’re buying a lottery ticket from the same shop everyday and guessing the combination right and winning everyday, that there are going to be some red flags going up. But no, he does that. He also begins a streak of making money at the horse races. And of course, he never wins. And of course people notice.

To cut to the chase, he then runs away from the police and a random thug, Rahul Dev (Captain), who has been following him to Bangkok. Oh, apparently the cops in Bangkok are even more corrupt than our Indian dudes, although our Indian guy took the cake when he shot all his agents in Thailand so that he could escape with the camera. They run through Bangkok a lot and there’s a lot of gun-shooting and eventually Raj gets shot by Captain and falls into a well. He was apparently supposed to die that day because someone took a photo of him that came out developed as black, which means the person in the photo is going to die (obviously!).

But then, Raj emerges from the well and claims that since the well was so dark, the photo appeared to be black and that it was not actually black. So obviously he survives. And I think the camera took the impact of the bullet so it is destroyed (shame, it could have been used for the benefit of India, according to the movie). So Raj and Simi return to India to roll around in all the cash Raj has won through his “gambling”. And that’s the movie. And if I have decent control of my sarcasm, you would have noticed that I was not extremely impressed. I’ll rate it 1/5 because despite having a piss-poor storyline, the director still had the courage to spend his time and money to make the movie. Bad decision.

Music

The one saving grace of this movie was its music. The title track is a pretty thumping number and a remix of the old Aa Dekhen Zara song. Other honorable mentions are Gazab and Rock the Party. The music is pretty electronic which is probably why I like it. The remix of the title track is all over the radio and MTV and is probably my favourite track on the soundtrack. One funny thing is the picturization of the Gazab song. It took place when Raj and Simi were running away from Captain and the cops and happened into a bar that celebrates cop killers. Instead of continuing running, they decided to stick around and dance with the Thai owners and patrons. Oh well… logic wasn’t a strong point of the movie, was it. Music rating: 3.5/5.

movie review: billu barber

Billu Barber (since retitled to Billu because the hairdressers association of India apparently took offense, according to Wikipedia) was the first movie I saw back home in India, as long as you don’t count Dostana, which I finally watched on the plane ride back. When I had originally heard about this movie, I was quite interested in watching it. Subsequent reviews were not very positive but I figured the movie was still worth a watch when I read (incorrectly) somewhere that Shah Rukh Khan’s role was minimal. Although he played a major part in the movie, he wasn’t around enough to completely spoil it.

The plot for the movie was somewhat different but somewhat Bollywood cliche (forgive the missing accent) anyway. Basically, Shah Rukh Khan (Sahir Khan) and Irrfan Khan (Billu) were childhood friends and supposedly the latter helped the former out a lot during that time. Sahir Khan eventually left the village to go become a big star, and obviously he succeeded since most villagers are Bollywood material, didn’t you know? He then supposedly got caught up in the industry and when he finally had time to return to his village, Billu had run away with his lover to another village and gotten married.

Cut to an unspecified amount of time in the future, and Sahir Khan decides to hold a shoot in the village that Billu is living in. I’m not entirely sure if this was planned or a coincidence on King Khan’s part. Anyways, what proceeds is the entertaining part of the movie: somehow it is let slip that Billu knows Sahir Khan and hence everyone and their goat treats him well for the duration of the shoot, expecting a favour involving Sahir Khan in return. You know, the implicit “I-scratch-your-back-and-you-give-me-a-full-body-massage” deal. Billu’s modesty prevents him from rekindling his old friendship, and his fear that his old friend has forgotten him is also playing at the back of his mind. Eventually the villagers decide that Billu is only conning them and they arrange for his arrest. His closest friend bails him out eventually.

Finally, Sahir Khan speaks at the village’s school’s annual function and describes his childhood with Billu. The whole village then feels bad for doubting him and of course Sahir Khan somehow manages to locate Billu’s shack (despite not being able to do it for the rest of the shoot–I guess he’s busy and all) and comes in and rudely asks for some food. And then the story ends happily ever after.

So it’s a pretty straightforward story and once again, Irrfan Khan must be commended for his performance. I mean SRK was just acting as himself (minus the tear-jerking village story which I don’t think is fact). The movie was good in parts, comic in many parts and not overtly emotional. The storyline didn’t require any suspension of logic and in that regard it was pretty solid. I’ll give the movie a 3.5/5.

Music

The music for this movie varied from great to just boring. Marjaani is my favourite song from the movie and the CD provides several remixes for that song, too. My favourite one is the Kilogram’s Balkan Mix version of the song. Apparently everyone in Bombay agrees with me because the only version of the song I’ve heard played in shops, on the radio, on TV and blasting from Big Bazaar is that. Oh well, not complaining. Other honorable mentions are Love Mera Hit Hit and Khudaya Khair. But they’re not all that good. I’ll rate the music 2/5.