Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bang Bang! review

Bang Bang!
Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif, Danny Denzongpa 
Dir: Siddharth Anand

Bang Bang!, the official Indian remake of Tom Cruise action-comedy Knight and Day, opens with nauseatingly patriotic soldier Viren (Jimmy Shergill) showing up at a holding cell in London to basically goad a notorious criminal with news that he'll soon be extradited to India and that the jails shan't be as nice there. The scene includes the revelation that Shergill pronounces the name "Omar" like "Lamarr". Shortly thereafter he suffers a painful death - not specifically for this reason - though I feel being North Indian and not being able to wrestle your way around the name Omar is in fact reason enough.

Omar Zafar (Danny Denzongpa) is Interpol's most wanted criminal whom Britain's most secure space can't hold. He wants the Koh-i-Noor diamond stolen, from what I understood, to annoy the Indian people - though you'd think the United Kingdom telling them to sod off and get in line with the people wanting the Rosetta Stone back would be annoying enough. He puts the word out that he's looking for a thief - a real master craftsman - for the job. Surely no one has the audacity to steal something from the Tower of London itself! Enter Rajeev Nanda (Hrithik Roshan) - possibly international thief, possibly Indian agent, who steals it but makes a terrible nuisance of himself by refusing to hand it over.   

I'm not even a fan (it's the muscles, call me superficial, I just can't bear the muscles) but that man has undeniable presence and charm. Whether it's comic timing, romance, or action sequences that are called for - Roshan delivers in spades (I won't even get into his freakishly good dance skills). This is just as well as he not only has his own performance to worry about but is also lugging about the deadweight that is Katrina Kaif playing reclusive and none-too-bright receptionist Harleen accidentally caught up in the action. 
It's not just that the very beautiful Katrina Kaif can't act and can't speak Hindi - and she can't - it's that she can't so much as say the words "wrong number" without sounding like she has some sort of terrible speech impediment. At one point she explains to Roshan's character that she used to be quite suspicious of him "but now I chust you". I'm quite certain she needs an interpreter to order meals at restaurants. It's a dreadful shame because she has a good role, and dialogue that might actually have been funny from someone who doesn't sound like they're speaking through a misaligned jaw.

Together they are pursued across exotic locations by Zafar's henchmen (including his right-hand man, the underutilised Javed Jaffrey) whom Roshan dispatches of with much panache. All in all, Bang Bang! makes for a rather entertaining caper, which came as an enormous suprise as Knight and Day was utterly painful. With half an hour shorn off it - in particular the useless bubblegum pop songs, the scene that was shamefully in there just for product placement, and the scenes in which Katrina Kaif was required to do anything but look pretty, it would have been entirely satisfying.  

Friday, October 3, 2014

Haider and the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism

This is not about Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj's new Kashmir-based adaptation of Hamlet, so everyone may lower their hackles, thank you very much. This is about some Indian film critics and the disturbing trends one finds in their work.

I keep coming across reviews of Haider that employ the phrase "mainstream conventions" intended as some sort of slur - as in "Haider has succumbed to/not managed to escape some mainstream cinematic conventions." Few things in the world inspire me to enough of a frenzy of loathing to make me dash off a few lines about them. It so happens that the ill-informed arrogance that it takes to dismiss "mainstream conventions" is near the top of this list.

Those of us who actually like Indian cinema and have watched films made in decades gone by -- long before India's urban middle classes decided cinema belonged to them and them alone -- will be able to tell you that mainstream conventions have never got in the way of telling a good story. Conventions in and of themselves are the act of storytelling, if you want to crib, please have the sense to crib about the execution.

Other nonsensical criticism I've run into states that Haider has SONGS <gasp!!!> and DANCES <double gasp!!!> even COMEDY <NO WAY!!!> because apparently Indian cinema featuring song and dance is somehow absurd (while no one using a loo in all 24 hours of the series 24 is, you know, artistic license). The idea is that doing this to Shakespeare somehow desecrates His work. Let us just put aside for the moment the fact that Indian film music has been one of Prometheus's greatest gifts to mankind and try this instead - you know whose work featured songs, innuendo-laden jokes and a merry jig or two? I'll give you a few clues - playwright, lived in Stratford-upon-Avon, first name William...yes, that's bloody right!!

And in case you were under the impression that Shakespeare's plays were written for the audience that goes to watch them now at the Globe in Southwark at forty quid a head for a bad seat at a matinee, could we just flash back to Elizabethan England here for a slight reality check? Indian cinema at its very best does what Shakespeare did at his very best - entertainment for all first and foremost - because there's really no point writing a fine play if you can't keep bums on seats - with its genius permeating at every turn the story/dialogue/song for those who care to see it - satisfaction all round. Whether you like or dislike Haider is entirely your call - but if you're looking down at what you perceive as "mainstream convention", you've missed the point by a mile and a half. So really, could the Shakespeare scholars here expressing their shock at light moments in what was promised to be a Shakespearean tragedy please take their bare bodkins to their jugulars and spare the rest of us?