Jul 18, 2012

Guwahati: The Inconvenient Truth

It's shocking how all of us (myself included) missed it completely. Yes, the first response after seeing that molestation video from Assam had to be that of outrage and anger. But even after settling down post that initial response, nobody managed to notice the most obvious signs of the entire filming being fishy. It took me a bit of enlightening on part of Barkha Dutt to finally notice the strange 'friendly' relationship that the camera had with the mob.

When journalists or cameramen go to cover a frenzied mob, they fear for their safety. Simply because of the reason that the mob, in that state of madness, could target them, their camera or their heads. Because howsoever crazy and ill-reasoned the mob may be, it does understand that a journalist and his camera are the last things to be befriended. This assumption is more and more applicable in cases where the mob is indulged in some horrific law-breaking exercise, such as lynching and molesting. So, a mob beating up a thief may not mind the camera over its head, but a mob molesting a girl, in 99 out of 100 cases, would not hesitate in assaulting the journalist, for it knows that the camera can spoil their fun.

But nothing of this sort was visible in the Guwahati molestation video. Forget about being camera conscious, the molesters passed familiar and friendly smiles towards the camera, inviting it to come closer for a 'better' view. There was not even a pinch of hesitation or reluctance amongst the molesters about letting the cameraman shoot the condemnable incident. Now, either the molesters were so daring that they did not give a damn about the camera's presence or they had a tacit understanding with the man shooting the entire event. The chances of former are very rare. Because, fear is an emotion that has a place in even in a law-breaker's heart.

So, it brings us to that age old debate over the role of media in situations like these. First, if the molestation was orchestrated and instigated by that cameraman/ journalist, it makes him a worse offender than the molesters themselves. But let's not jump onto this conclusion so early and wait for probe to conclude. But even if the incident was not choreographed, should the journalist have tried to stop it or should he have continued to shoot?

I belong to the school of thought that says a journalist must go ahead with the 'job' at had first. Because, the truth is that the 'truth' would have never come out and caused this national hysteria if there was no video footage. Every individual in the society has a definite role to play and I believe a journalist's role is to 'inform' the people. He is a messenger, much on the lines of a doctor being the saviour and the police being the protector. But again, in situations like these, an individual needs to move out of his traditional role and assume a greater collective responsibility towards the society. After all 30-minutes footage or the a 5-minute short clip, the 'message' would have been lucid enough in any case. Informing the police as soon as the possible, and intervening to stop the mob to the best of his abilities, are part of that collective social responsibility.

There are far too many horrendous blunders that have been committed in the Guwahati molestation case. From showing the face of the victim by the media to revealing her identity by the NCW (how ironic!?) and the Chief Minister's office, the trail of indifference is horrifying. Amidst all the hue and cry and the supposed aftermath of 'justice', the girl in question is turning out to be the greatest sufferer. Because, the channels and the reporters will move on, the government and the administration will cope up with the jolt too, but the victim's lost dignity is hard to be restored.

And I fear the worse. The Guwahati case will soon be forgotten.

Jul 13, 2012

'Cocktail' Belongs to Deepika Padukone!

Cocktail arrives with a huge baggage of expectations. The promos and music of the film gave us the belief that it perhaps has all the ingredients of an 'urban epic' on contemporary friendship and romance. So, does the trio of Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone and Imtiaz Ali (Co-writer) succeed in scaling new heights of romance post their highly successful outing in 'Love Aaj Kal'. The answer is- yes, but only partially. While the first half of the film is full of some beautiful light moments, the second half is stretched and aimless at several places. In between all of this, there are some quirky dialogues, memorable sequences and an incredibly brilliant musical score.

Saif Ali Khan plays Gautam, a 'flirt' who can not control his urge to go behind beautiful women. More often than not he succeeds in charming women of all hues and nationalities, Veronica (Deepika Padukone) being the latest of them all. Veronica, herself, is a free-spirited 'rich bitch' who in a sense is the female version of Gautam. But all her flings aside, she is a girl with golden heart who helps out Meera (Diana Penty), a simpleton who has just arrived in London from India, and has to deal with the shock of a fraud marriage. Veronica and Meera live together and soon Gautam moves in on the virtue of being former's 'boyfriend'. They are visited at their apartment by Gautam's loud Punjabi mother (Dimple Kapadia) who is bride searching for her son. What follows next is a cocktail of triangular romance between Gautam, Veronica and Meera.

Cocktail boast of some endearing moments in the first half. The unique bond shared by the three leads brings smiles on your faces, and some of us can even relate with the principle characters and the kind of fun-filled situations they land in. Proceedings breeze past in front of you as long as Veronica and Gautam are into their non-committal relationship, and share a very warm camaraderie with Meera. Problem surfaces as soon as cupid strikes the trio in Cape Town, and the awesome threesome undergo emotional distress. There are some sluggish talk heavy scenes in the second half that induce yawning. Also, the predictable path of the storyline post intermission leaves a lot to be desired. But, despite all these flaws Cocktail manages to sail through mainly because of its very entertaining first half, cleverly juxtaposed musical score and brilliant performance from the self-proclaimed rich bitch Veronica, that is Deepika Padukone.

In fact, Deepika comes across as the cornerstone of Cocktail. She looks absolutely stunning and sufficiently wild as Veronica, expressing and holding back emotions with aplomb. You are not just mesmerized by her sumptuous looks, impeccable wardrobe and scintillating grooves, but also by the way she handles difficult emotional scenes post interval. Cocktail is surely one of Deepika's finest performances till date, at par with Love Aaj Kal, and should bring in a flurry of award nominations for her.

With films like Salaam Namaste, Hum Tum and Love Aaj Kal to his credit, Saif Ali Khan by now is an expert at playing the quintessential urban dude. But in Cocktail, Saif looks cocky at places. There are a few scenes where the actor displays his perfect comic timing, but in a lot of scenes he looks jaded and out of touch. Also, he looks 'aged' at many places and some of his supposed one-liners fall flat. The debutante, Diana Penty, comes across as a pretty lass and gives an average performance. She has the habit of being monotonous with her body language and facial expressions despite the sombre nature of the character she plays. Dimple Kapadia as Saif's mother is very effective while Boman Irani does not get his share of brilliance despite of having ample screen time. Randeep Hooda in a cameo is a total waste.

Director Homi Adajania easily comes out of the dark mould of his debut film 'Being Cyrus'. He shows good craft in creating some identifiable characters but struggles in execution of emotional scenes. Interestingly, Homi seems to be in command till the story (Imtiaz Ali, Shaad Ali) proceeds in its merry path, but falters as soon as writing goes slightly weak. Anil Mehta's cinematography captures London and Cape Town beautifully. Special mention should be made for remarkable camera work inside the night clubs that plays a crucial role, along with the music, in pushing the audiences in party mode.

Pritam's music is uplifting, perhaps his most accomplished work since Love Aaj Kal. 'Daaru Desi' and 'Tumhi Ho Bandhu' are peppy while two tracks (Angrezi Beat and Main Sharabi) borrowed from Honey Singh's album 'International Villager' are like icing on the cake.

On the whole, 'Cocktail' is a heady blend of some fun-filled and  few ordinary moments. Despite its 10-odd minutes of surplus length and untidy second half, the film rides high on Deepika Padukone's spirited performance and Pritam's foot-tapping music. This one is to be watched with your dosts and yaars, followed by some Desi Daru (afterwards)! A cool summer gift from Bollywood.

Rating- ***3/4 (Good)

Jul 6, 2012

Bol Bachchan is Consistently Watchable

Ok, I have this feeling that Bol Bachchan was conceptualized and made for Abhishek Bachchan. You may argue that there is nothing strange in a film being made with a certain actor in mind. But, here the concerned actor happens to be Abhishek Bachchan, whose career has nosedived in the last few years. He hardly has had any credible film under his belt off late, and he is struggling badly when it comes to box office numbers with even newcomers like Imran Khan and Ranbir Kapoor putting up much better performances, both critically and commercially. And also, Bol Bachchan is not a film that will enhance Junior AB's credentials as an actor, that dream project kind of thing that every hero/heroine dreams about. So, what do I mean when I say Bol Bachchan was made for Abhishek Bachchan? Ok, to put it in straight words, Bol Bachchan was filmed to gift a 'hit' to Abhishek Bachchan! And guess what, after watching the film you realize that Abhishek, finally, will actually have a hit to his credit. Thanks to Rohit Shetty and his brand of Cinema!

Bol Bachchan revolves around a predictable 'comedy of errors' plot. This formula of mistaken identity in Bollywood is as old as AK Hangal. And our very own Mr. Shetty has milked this formula like no one else, minting in hundreds of crores of rupees through Golmaals and All the Best (My favorite Rohit Shetty Film). What is different with Bol Bachchan then? Here, Rohit Shetty pays a tribute to the original Golmaal, the cult classic from Hrishida, in his own signature style but does not attempt to become over smart. He keeps it simple, interpreting the original in today's times, without tampering with the 'soul' of Golmaal.

The story, as you may already know and guess, is quite predictable. Abhishek Bachchan plays Amol Palekar's part while Ajay Devgn (why this missing 'a' in Devgn?) reprises Deven Varma's role. Both of them are sufficiently funny, specially Ajay who delivers some horrendously humorous 'English' one-liners like 'Hard work is the keyhole to saxophone' and 'Boy in armpit, hyper-noise pollution in city'. He is Rohit Shetty's go-to man and he does not disappoint one bit. And yes, there is ample dose of car flying sequences and Ajay beating the hell out of goons, while the camera wanders across his muscular body. 

Abhishek Bachchan, for whom this film was made, is brilliant at places and ordinary sometimes. He revisits his Dostana days through the character of Abbas Ali and comes out with flying colors. He looks sincere throughout film and seems keen on making the most of this wonderful 'hit' formula in hand. However, it is Krushna, the marvelous stand-up comedian of 'Comedy Circus' fame, who disappoints out of the entire principle cast. He looks uneasy in front of the camera and your wait for a moment of comic brilliance from his side never ends. Archana Puran Singh, Krushna's judge at Comedy Circus, plays her 'double role' with required humor and perfection. And the two leading ladies, Asin and Prachi Desai, are perfect eye candies, roaming around the picturesque Rajasthan village in their beautiful traditional Indian dresses. 

As for the director Rohit Shetty, kudos to him for creating a niche brand for himself in this industry. We need him in the fray, as much as an Anurag Kashyap or Imtiaz Ali. I think he knows his target audience as well as any other filmmaker, and is proud of his own limitations and strengths. 

All in all, Bol Bachchan is certainly not an ideal comic flick. But it is very much tolerable and in fact quite humorous at places. Film's more than 2 and half hours of length is a problem, so is Himesh Reshammiya's uninspiring music and Asin-Ajay's half-baked love track. But the major objectives of this film, like all of Rohit Shetty's films, such as madness and buffoonery  are duly achieved.

Your chest will certainly not become a blouse after watching Bol Bachchan, but you will get your intermittent dose of laughter and fun. This one is a typical popcorn and Pepsi stuff from Rohit Shetty factory!

Rating- *** (Good) 


Jul 4, 2012

Ability to Laugh at Itself Makes America Great

236. No, this not Sachin Tendulkar's or Kumar Sangakara's latest Test double hundred. A country has completed these many years of its existence. And let me remind you that today is 4th of July. Yes, the United States of America, that ruthless superpower that we so love to hate and pounce on every opportunity to write its future off, is celebrating its more than two-century old existence today.

What makes me write about America? I am all of 23-years old, do I have the right to scrutinize and debate over a nation that is now 236 years old? Also, I am not an American (you know that) and have only little knowledge about the world outside India. And I did not say that I know India inside out either. But there is something fascinating about America, something magnetic that draws almost every human being towards that country. Even those who are repulsed by American hegemony can not help but think about America all day all night long. They vent their anger against US through Twitter and Facebook, forgetting that these platforms too have deep American roots. From the automobile to the Television to google to your toilet seat, the American connection is hard to be ignored.

Yes, America is a shameless resource hunter, a country that has exploited the earth's endowments relentlessly over the last century. In the process, it has fought and incited wars in almost all corners of the world. From Iraq to Afghanistan, US' quest for superiority and its championing the cause of democracy and counter-terrorism have been nothing but veiled attempts to establish control over critical non-renewable resources. But today, I am less concerned about the policies of the successive American governments. What intrigues and interests me is the remarkable success of the American society to stand as a cohesive unit over the centuries, and spread its influence over the entire globe.

So, what makes America 'Great'? For me, the greatest American asset is its ability to laugh at itself. Yes, freedom of expression in American society is almost unprecedented, the people there enjoy the kind of liberty that hardly any other country in the world offers. Right from a literature genius like Mark Twain to the current crop of comedians and satirists, America has a long list of its own national icons who ridicule and laugh at their country's misdemeanors. In the early and mid-20th century, the legendary notion of the 'Great American Dream' was trashed by scholars and general public alike. The American society has always been divided on the racial and ethnic lines, but these lines have often been blurred by Americans themselves. So, an emotional nation voted a Black into Presidentship, and few years prior to that, did not hesitate in branding its own President as a 'human rights violator' or even a 'terrorist' in extreme cases, based on his misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You can not imagine such liberty in the rising superpower like China. The voices of Chinese people is often thwarted and human rights is a taboo term in that part of the world. If US has a belligerent army that threatens security of the nations across the world, it also has watchdogs like Amnesty who cry hoarse at the slightest hint of injustice. It is this wonderful dichotomy that makes America a fascinating success story. Despite contending with a huge influx of immigrants of various races and ethnicity, the American society has managed to keep its various strings attached, at least much better than the Britons.

American government may always look for its own interests, but its the free-thinking mindset of the people of the United States that makes their country great. You hardly witness an outcry in countries like Pakistan or even the Gulf Nations over Jihadist terror attacks across the world, but the Americans did not hesitate to criticize Bush after the Gulf War or his so-called War on Terror. You may call CNN biased, but it enjoys great autonomy, something that you can not associate with a Xinhua. From Hollywood to MTV to that common middle class American, every one is proud of the achievements of the USA as a nation, but is never shy of pulling the carpet from the under the feet if a need arises.

While our Desi 'experts' sweat profusely when asked whether the Great Indian Story has gone bust, the Americans have been at the forefront when it comes to predicting doomsday for themselves. Noted comedians and social critics have predicted that US will no longer be the numero uno of the world and that its decline is inevitable. It is this ability of the American society to introspect and self-examine which has made it last so long, that too very strongly. Don't forget, US was like Britain's abandoned child in its initial days, the White settlers were indulged in fierce wars with native Indians, and there was a third dimension of African slaves as well. But over the years, the Americans have evolved remarkably by their methods of self-correction and improvement. 

For me, the American Dream is not over. It will not be over till the Americans continue to laugh at themselves. Because governments may think in terms of military expenditure or GDP figures, but the an average American still thinks about how to change the world in a positive manner. An American continues to be fiercely free and reasonably sensible.

It is perhaps the reason why Shah Rukh Khan has to go to America again and again despite being frisked at the Airports. The work culture and social credentials of this country is impeccable. Why just Shah Rukh Khan, don't be surprised if you find a Communist or a Jihadist standing in a queue outside the US consulate. There is something magnetic about America, I told you.