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Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017 English)

In the realm of superhero films, Marvel Universe is clearly the current market leader with the Avengers series going strong. The DC Universe made a feeble attempt towards introducing Justice League in its 2016 film “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” where Wonder Woman was introduced. And for the first time in the character’s history spanning over seven decades, this is her first full length feature film.

The film opens with an armored truck from Wayne Enterprises delivering a suitcase at the Louvre Museum where Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) works as a curator. The suitcase contains a picture from the First World War which prompts Diana to reminisce the past. The story then cuts to Themyscira, an island full of Amazon warrior women tasked with protecting the world against the machinations of Ares, the god of war. It is revealed that the Amazons fought on the side of Zeus in his effort to quell Ares, after which the islanders were given a god-killer, which we are led to believe is a sword.

Diana grows up on the island as the lone child who was told that she was fashioned from the soil of Themyscira by her mother, Queen Hippolyta. Diana soon grows up into a formidable warrior. Her call to adventure comes in the form of Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who crash lands near the beach. The Amazons learn about WWI from Trevor and Diana is convinced that it is the handiwork of Ares. She leaves with Trevor in a quest where she believes that she can kill Ares and end the war.  

Filmed in Southern Italy, the island of Themyscira is beautiful and almost mythical in its representation. Also, the WWI backdrop in the preparation towards armistice is impressive. The war itself, however, missed the tension factor. Also, the film lacks wow-moments in action sequences which are far below the mark set by the recent Marvel films. Barring one almost predictable-twist in the plot, the story in rest of the movie was eminently guessable. The background score wasn’t impressive either.

Chris Pine and Gal Gadot display good on-screen chemistry. His attempts to get her to see his way of doing things to end the war and vice versa make an interesting watch. However, the film mostly belongs to Gadot, the former beauty queen and model from Isreal who looks and acts the part. Practically, Pine’s Steve Trevor is supporting character that along with his mates are able allies.  

When there are so many superheroes around, comparisons are inevitable; say between Wonder Woman and Captain America. Both of them carry shields, both their origin films in the last decade have something to do with the world war and both characters take a morally upright worldview. Oh well, and how can one forget the fact that both of them wear the typical white-red-blue gear.

Other superhero clichés are also evident. Like how the characters wear glasses and are suddenly unrecognizable. Superman dons glasses to become Clark Kent the journalist and in this film, Diana dons the glasses to be able to blend into the crowd while walking with Trevor in London. Alas, the real word doesn’t work on such simplistic terms! For most part of the film, she is seen in her usual gear.

There has been quite a buzz on social media about Wonder Woman in a feminist sense. Per se, films are not about gender debates but appreciating the character for she stands for. Wonder woman is strong, beautiful, intelligent, morally upright, loves peace and believes in love. One would be a fool not to admire someone with those qualities, no matter how supernatural they seem. Even the innocence that she portrays is not naïveté but pure innocence. Gal Gadot, with a serene smile, is a perfect fit.

Gal Gadot also embodies her character for one special reason. After the production had ended, director Patty Jenkins wanted a few action scenes to be re-shot. By then, the 32-year old actress was five months pregnant and had to cover up the baby bump with a bright green cloth which was later edited out. Since Gadot is reportedly on a three-picture deal, we can look forward more of her in the next film.

Verdict: Wonder Woman breaks from the traditionally dark themes associated with DC films and thus, has a fresh feel. The action scenes could have been far more exciting; lost potential, if I may say so. But Gal Gadot’s endearing portrayal of the warrior princess makes it worth your time and money.

Rating 6/10: The first ever feature film on Wonder Woman! 

Movie Review: Rustom (Hindi) 191

Sepia tone in the beginning – Check. Typical Villains and vamps – Check. Overdressed actors overacting – Check. Big cars, empty roads and horse races – Check. Incessant smoking as if it were a fashion statement – Check. Poor visual effects – Check. And that sounds exactly like a Bollywood film trying too hard to be a period film. And what about the script? Oh well, nobody seems to have given it a thought.

Based on the film's posters, if you thought that the movie was made by Neeraj Pandey (of Baby, Special 26, and A Wednesday fame), you have been fooled. IMDb merely lists his name as miscellaneous crew with the title 'presented by', not sure whatever that means! The film is instead directed by Dharmendra Suresh Desai who is two movies old and Rustom happens to be his first featuring a big star.

The story is apparently inspired by the real life 1959 court case of KM Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra which was the last case to be heard as a jury trial, after which, the government abolished the process. The film deals with the events leading up to the eventual acquittal by the jury. A simple reading of the Wikipedia page on the case tells you that the story had enough meat and didn't have to resort to extraneous stories.

Akshay Kumar plays the lead character, Commander Rustom Pavri who discovers that his wife Cynthia (Ileana D'Cruz) has been having an affair with Vikram Makhija (Arjan Bajwa, remember the 2008 film Fashion?). He obtains a pistol from the navy and uses it to kill Vikram point blank and then surrenders before the police. Pavan Malhotra plays Vincent Lobo, the cop who digs deep to unearth the multiple layers in the story.

The filmmakers chose to complicate the story by bringing in the angle of corruption with the antagonist being involved in it. It somehow rationalizes the protagonist's act. Also, the portrayal of Cynthia seems to have been done keeping in mind the views of the Indian audiences on extra marital affairs and have therefore shown her as a victim and Rustom as someone who had to kill Vikram to avenge the latter's wrongs to the nation.

Bollywood is far below the Hollywood benchmark when it comes to making serious defense based or courtroom dramas. Case in point was 'Shaurya' which was a poor remake of 'A few good men' which failed to impress despite casting some of the finest character actors. Rustom is also no exception as it fails to deliver on the promise.

Numerous clichés and caricatures spoil the seriousness of the film. The newspaper editor who runs articles in support of Rustom is almost shown as a buffoon. Esha Gupta plays Vikram's brother Preety Makhija in an utterly vamp-like manner, replete with smoking through long cigarette handles, elaborate makeup and garish lipstick. And then we have the classic Bollywood movie judge who goes on hammering 'Order, Order'.

Akshay Kumar's primary costume in the film is his pristine white Navy uniform.. It doesn't matter whether he is working aboard a ship, drinking at home, cooling his heels in police custody or his multiple appearances in court; it stays spotless. While appearing unreal, the only purpose is can possibly serve is to help woo women audiences!

With a 50 crore budget, it could have surely done better on visual effects. The orange sky behind the ship and the artificial fluttering flag in Akshay's entry scene look utterly unconvincing. Instead of wasting money on shooting a romantic song in a foreign locale, they could have at least made the Indian setting look more convincing.

Talking of music, it was mostly forgettable and the film would've done well without songs. The background score is loud in an attempt to build seriousness, but doesn’t impress. I would be surprised if someone came out of the movie hall humming any song!

Despite its flaws, Akshay Kumar is the sole savior of an otherwise disastrous film. He is convincing as he plays an upright defense officer. Among the others Pawan Malhotra does well as the cop. Ileana D'cruz and Arjan Bajwa are passable. Sachin Kehdekar the annoying lawyer. Manoj Bajypayee was an invisible narrator and rather unimportant.

Verdict: Rustom had the potential of being a gritty courtroom drama, public sympathy and relationships gone awry. Instead, we get a sympathetic portrayal of an honest officer amidst a corrupt defense deal and a whole lot of inane caricatures. At best, it can pass boredom on a Sunday afternoon whenever it is aired on television.

Rating 5/10: Underwhelming. Waste of Potential. 

Pachcha Bottesi (Baahubali) – Lyrics Translation/ Meaning

The romantic track from the film “Baahubali – The Beginning”. Singers Karthik and Damini croon to Ananta Sriram’s Lyrics, set to the music by MM Keeravani. Hope this translation helps you enjoy the song better.

Pachcha bottesina, pillagaada neeto; pachchi praayaalane panchukontaanu ra
(Oh Lad, who’s tattooed me; I shall share my newfound youth with you)
Janta kattesina tuntaroda neeto; konte tantaalane techchukonta dora
(The naughty boy who’s paired us up; I gladly invite your playful banter, my lord)

1. Veyyi janmaala aaraatamai; vechi unnaane nee mundara
(With an eagerness for a thousand lives; I stand before you)
Cheyyi nee chetilo cheraga; rekka vippinde naa tondara
(When my hand met yours; my desire has opened its wings)

Pachcha bottesina, pillagaada neeto; pachchi praayaalane panchukontaanu ra
(Oh Lad, who’s tattooed me; I shall share my newfound youth with you)

2. Maayaga nee soyagaalaalu vesi; nannilaa laagindi nuvve hala
(With your charms, you’ve fished me; you’ve pulled me towards you, girl)
Kaburulato kaalaanni karinginche vratamela; hattukupo nanu oopiri aage laa
(Why waste time talking, hug me so tight that my breathing stops)
Baahubandhaala pottilla lo; vicchukunnaave o mallikaa
(In this embrance; you’ve now blossomed, oh jasmine flower)
Kode kougilla pottilla lo; puri vippindi naa korikaa
(In this youthful embrace, my desires have now opened up)

Pachcha bottesina, pillagaada neeto; pachchi praayaalane panchukontaanu ra
(Oh Lad, who’s tattooed me; I shall share my newfound youth with you)

3. Kaana lo nuvvu-nenu oka menu kaaga; konalo prati komma murisenu gaa
(In the jungle, as you and I become one-body, every branch in the valley is blushing)
Marukshaname edurainaa, maranamu kooda paravashame;
(Even if death comes in the next moment, even that would be a pleasure)
Saantamu ne ni sonthamu ayyaakaa
(As I have now fully become yours)
Chemma cheereeti chekkilla lo; chindulesindi sirivennela
(Moonlight dances on your moist cheeks)
Prema ooreeti nee kalla lo; reyi karigindi teli manchu laa
(In your eyes that ooze out love, night has melted like snow)

Pachcha bottesina, pillagaada neeto; pachchi praayaalane panchukontaanu ra
(Oh Lad, who’s tattooed me; I shall share my newfound youth with you)
Janta kattesina tuntaroda neeto; konte tantaalane techchukonta dora

(The naughty boy who’s paired us up; I gladly invite your playful banter, my lord)

Movie Review: Baahubali: The Beginning (Hindi)

For a long time, I don't remember struggling for tickets. Multiplexes and apps had just made things too easy. But then, India's most expensive film to date, Baahubali seems to have changed the whole demand game. Instead of media hype that is typical of Bollywood, it was actually word of mouth publicity that got many people to watch the film. Consequently, movie screens were almost full and finding tickets was tough.

The story of Baahubali has everything that a political tale from the era of kings would have. There are cousins battling for the throne, played by Prabhas, as the protagonist with superhuman strength playing Baahubali and Sivudu and Rana Daggubati as the formidable antagonist, Bhallaladeva. Tamannaah (forget the ever changing spelling) Bhatia plays a masked tribal warrior girl Avanthika and Sivudu's love interest.

Talk about wars and kingdoms, comparisons with '300', 'Game of Thrones' or 'Troy' and their likes are natural. In reality, filmmakers have very little latitude in the variety of stories that can be portrayed and it is also possible that some copied/ inspired scenes may emerge, for all we know! Still, one mustn't forget that SS Rajamouli's Baahubali is a story on political dynamics that are not unusual in Indian history and epics.

The lead cast is supported by strong performances from Ramya Krishna, playing the matriarch Sivagami and Satyaraj as the brave, but morally obligated Kattappa and Nasser as Bhallaladeva's father Bijjaladeva. Minor roles include that of Anushka Shetty as Devasena and Sudeep as Aslam Khan, who may have bigger roles in the sequel.

Bang for the buck comes from visual effects that are comparable to any big budget flick involving VFX. The scenes involving the gigantic waterfall and bull fight are on par with the global best such as Avatar or Jurassic World. Having said that, a couple of scenes, like the avalanche and some shots of capital city could have been improved.

Complementing the stupendous visuals was the flawless sound mixing. The dialog, sound effects and the background score blend seamlessly. MM Kreem's ominous 'maahishmati saamrajyam' provides a perfect backdrop to the serious scenes. The songs were decent, however none of them can be categorized as hummable.

Editing was perfect in the second half, while the first half was quite shaky. The movie could've taken more time to establish the characters but instead, some of scenes look rushed up. Frankly, a few minutes of extra runtime wouldn't have mattered if the transitions between some scenes were smoother. 

With massive sets, everything in Baahubali is on a grand scale. The Kingdom's capital was luxuriously large and the waterfall was unimaginably gigantic. The war scenes were realistic and captivating. Maybe, it would've looked tad more realistic if the capital's sets looked a bit weathered. The costumes were well done though.

The weakest area in the film, that I could fathom was the make-up. Our filmmakers are simply unable to get past the obsession of painting faces. Time they understand that in ultra high definition of digital cinema, the make-up overdose look uglier than blemishes on the faces, that are natural and acceptable these days. This is one lesson that they need to learn from 'Game of Thrones' that got the make-up spot on. .

The dubbing in Hindi was well done. Nevertheless, it would have been better if distributors had more shows of the original Telugu version with English subtitles running in Mumbai's multiplexes. It would've helped retain the original flavor of the film. Let's hope the distributors release the sequel on more screens!

Rupees 250 crore for two films may sound like a big budget. But, in dollar terms a 40 million budget not actually big on a global scale. Yet, the movie has achieved so much. it is therefore testimony to the fact that India has tons of talent and if budget isn’t a constraint, in the right hands, unbounded creativity can be unleashed in India.

A brilliant movie like Baahubali coming from the South that is jeered for dark-skinned and fat stars is actually a slap in the face for Bollywood that is churning out trash as hits (at least for the likes of avuncular and narcissistic Shahrukh's Ra.One/ Jab Tak Hai Jaan or pseudo-intellectual Aamir's Dhoom 3 or a Salman who hasn’t learnt one bit of acting in decades or Rohit Shetty blowing cars or Farah Khan's outrageous plotlines).

Verdict: Sure as hell, Baahubali is no perfect film. But, for what it's worth, watch Baahubali on the big screen and thus discourage piracy This is the least bit that a movie fan must do to encourage the good guys among Indian filmmakers to take bigger risks in the right path and tell us bigger and grander indigenous stories.

Rating 9/10: Deserves applause for taking Indian cinema to the next level

Movie Review: Interstellar (English)

Alert: The review may contain Spoilers mentioned to illustrate some key plot elements!

Whenever he makes a film, Christopher Nolan is either playing around with time or delving into drama. His best experiment with time was the non-linear narrative of ‘Memento’ and his best written characters were in ‘The Dark Knight’. But who could have imagined that a director of his caliber would make a disappointing pseudo-intellectual film ‘Inception’. While I expected Nolan to improve things in his ninth feature film, ‘Interstellar’ comes across as a let-down of sorts, despite interesting science.

‘Interstellar’ has all the ingredients of a typical space sci-fi film: spacecraft, wormholes, stasis, strange planets, time travel, a black hole, robots running on artificial intelligence, father-daughter drama, etc., all set in the background of a slowly dying Earth. All of these concepts aren’t new to Hollywood. Just that the big budget allowed for the visual spectacle. Nonetheless, it is marred by choppy narrative, clichéd dialog and poorly developed characters that we hardly care about.

Set in an unspecified future, Earth’s capacity to sustain life is diminishing; crops are dying and there’s dust everywhere. Agriculture is the top priority, everything else taking a backseat. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is one such farmer, although formerly a NASA test pilot. A widowed Cooper lives with his father in law and children Tom and Murph. An inquisitive young Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is obsessed with the idea of a ghost in her bedroom and is always trying to decode signs.

As it turns out, the signs are coordinates to a hidden space station of NASA, headed by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), in search of life sustaining planets so as to evacuate Earth. Predictably, our hero, Cooper is the only man who can pilot the mission to outer space, beyond our galaxy accessed through a wormhole. Now, I’m sure you are wondering how a trespasser at a hidden space station is suddenly asked to commandeer a spaceflight without any serious briefing or training!

Joining Cooper on the mission are Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and two other scientists who are written into the script as expendables. Their spacecraft Endurance has is tasked with finding three of the ten manned probes that went through the portal earlier and have reported seemingly positive findings. Again, don’t ask why they needed manned missions when they had advanced AI robots like TARS and CASE? That brings us to the existential question: why a manned follow-up mission, huh?

The overarching premise that has motivated future NASA mission is that there are benevolent ‘beings’ that have opened up the wormhole and left clues through gravity-based anomalies. The aging professor has been working on a mathematical model to evacuate Earth but has failed at it as he needs data from a gravitational singularity, where space and time can be bent. Failing his Plan-A, to evacuate, there is a Plan-B to populate extraterrestrial planets with genetic samples of the human race.

Unbeknownst to the fatality of Plan-A, the crew continues to explore planets, one of which has time distorted to such an extent that an hour on the planet is equal to seven years on earth. The plant fails to make the cut as it has gigantic waves in shallow waters. The second planet is full of ice (filmed in Iceland) and has ice-clouds and a nut job of a frozen explorer (Matt Damon) who tries to kill Cooper so that he can execute plan B at the third planet, Miller. Damon brings in needless drama.

As with every movie that involves a vehicle, terrestrial or extraterrestrial, fuel shortage and damage to the craft and the need for Singularity data are key plot elements towards the climax. Apropos, they need to slingshot past the black hole to the third planet which Amelia bets on, as her loved one went there during the original Lazarus project. Oh My God, a movie is so incomplete without a love angle! Glad they didn’t bring in the hackneyed plot of a romance between Cooper and Ameila.

And then comes the climax where the hero Cooper dives into the event horizon of the beautifully depicted supermassive black hole and reaches singularity. But what is this singularity? Just like the limbo being linked to Cobb’s dreams in ‘Inception’, the singularity in ‘Interstellar’ is actually a four dimensional tesseract presenting a single location to Cooper at various points in time occurring as different dimensions. And the location? You guessed it: Murph’s bedroom. Strange Coincidence!

So, who’s the ghost in Murph’s life? Cooper! And who’s described as ‘beings’ by NASA and Amelia? Cooper again! He is the one who opened up the wormhole near Saturn that took him through the same spot half a century later. Doesn’t this create an inconsistent causal loop? Remember the ‘Grandfather Paradox’ or the narrative of a chicken going back in time and laying an egg that it is born out of? But then, an average moviegoer doesn’t care as long as there are spectacular sights and happy endings!

‘Interstellar’ comes across as lengthy and tiresome. The narrative is patchy and there are excessive intercuts during crucial scenes, especially so in the climax. Spoiling the cinematic experience further is the jarring and ominously heavy background score by Hans Zimmer that muffle out dialogs. Acting department is just passable. McConaughey is hardly a fit. Jessica Chastain as the grown up Murph is decent as the scientist and Michel Caine seems to be having his fourth outing with the director.

Nolan’s fiction works for audiences who believe they enjoy intelligent films, but actually watch them without thought or logic. Damn, that sure sounds contradictory, but truth is stranger than fiction. Nolan’s ‘Inception’ was full of plot holes, irrespective of whether they were deliberately inserted or inept storytelling. No matter the narrative chosen, the logical thread always reaches a dead end. I haven’t come across anyone who understood that film fully, despite claiming that they loved it.

About the science in ‘Interstellar’, the moviemakers have opted for the safest bet. Bring a scientist on board, in this case, Kip Thore, as a consultant and executive producer. This would’ve surely had an impact on the depiction of a spinning black hole and other stuff like the four-dimensional tesseract within the event horizon, boxy but versatile AI robots, etc. Nonetheless, I’m still amazed at how an astronaut can dive into a black hole and come out totally unhurt. Does this look believable?

If anything, Christopher Nolan must be admired for dreaming big. But, given the potential that this movie had, it has been totally wasted; a great concept turned into an average movie that sells only the basis of special effects bankrolled by a big budget. Die hard Nolan fans would rave over this one. But, seriously discerning movie connoisseurs won’t appreciate the poor storytelling.

Rating 5/10: Scores on effects, fails on narrative! 

Movie Review: Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, popularly known as DDLJ has been one of the biggest cult hits of Bollywood and an epic love story. What had made that famous Yash Raj movie tick was that it had the youthful element of adventurous love despite the fact that the girl is about to be married to a boy of her father’s choice. And then, the lover boy goes all out to win over her parents and gets the girl.

Karan Johar has attempted to re-create the same magic by making a largely DDLJ inspired film Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania. It has oodles of romance, comedy and a bit of beating and getting beaten up plus a couple of likeable songs. But, will this film make it as big as DDLJ? I don’t think so. Partly due to short shelf life of films and partly due to generation change from the days of Bollywood style true love!

The film opens with an introduction to its lead characters. Rakesh ‘Humpty’ Sharma (Varun Dhawan) is a happy go lucky young man brought up by his equally chilled out father (Kenny Desai) who runs a bookstore in Delhi. Kavya Pratap Singh (Alia Bhatt) is girl from Ambala engaged to an NRI chosen by her authoritarian dad (Ashutosh Rana). Patriarch Singh detests love marriage after the failure of his first daughter’s choice and wants the whole affair to go on in the way that he deems fit.  

Kavya wants her wedding to be a grand affair. After noticing that her friend in Delhi, Gurpreet has bought herself a designer lehenga, she demands her family buy one for her too. When denied, Kavya quarrels with her family and goes to Delhi to make enough money to shop a designer. It was here that she meets Humpty and she arranges a deal to get him through a pass mark in his bachelor’s degree.

For Humpty, he has fallen for the pretty, feisty and smart girl and chases her despite knowing that she is about to get married in a month and a half. But as is the case in all romance flicks, Kavya falls for Humpty after he helps Gurpreet with a problem and then delivers upon his promise to buy her a lehenga (although the latter seemed extremely contrived). Although Kavya heads back to Ambala to go on with the wedding plans, Humpty chases her and vows to win her father’s heart.

The story takes a serious turn as Kavya’s father and brother turn belligerent towards him. Upon Kavya’s insistence, father Singh gives Humpty a chance by putting him on the task of finding at least one fault in the NRI boy Angad (Siddharth Shukla) that he has chosen for his daughter. The rest of the story is filled with humor as Humpty and his two friends go all out; plus the essential ingredient, emotional scenes.

While the plot is decent, the ending of Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania has far less impact than the epic scene of DDLJ where Shah Rukh Khan is on the train awaiting Amrish Puri to release his grip on Kajol and the latter running in all her bridal finery to board the train. Who can ever forget that scene!

This is just her third movie and Alia hasn’t put a foot wrong, either in her choice of movies or performance. She has played a college kid, a soul searching sojourner and now a feisty bride with aplomb. Notwithstanding the dumb Alia jokes on the internet, the numero uno slot in Bollywood is just a matter of time for the actress who can carry off innocence and attitude perfectly well.

Varun Dhawan’s character is not that of a typical macho hero, but a regular guy who wears his heart on his sleeve who falls in love with the girl. Siddharth Shukla, a popular face on TV makes his film debut. However, his role hardly has much scope. One of the most noteworthy performances is that of the acclaimed actor Ashutosh Rana as the stern father. He fits well into the Bollywood baddies hall of fame.

Verdict: When compared, there is no chance that debutante director Shashank Khaitan can manage what a debutante Aditya Chopra did 19 years ago. On a stand-alone basis, Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania is an enjoyable film and it’s a choice you won’t regret. The song ‘Samjhawaan’ is very likeable too. You can watch it with your family, laugh at the jokes and yes, believe in the power of love!

Rating 6/10: Worthwhile for its youthful romance and humor

Book Review: The Accidental Prime Minister

For someone who usually reviews movies, a book review seems odd. But then, if the topic happens to be Indian Politics, can anyone deny that its plot could be any less dramatic or action packed than a typical Bollywood masala flick? So,  here’s my take on the book that has been gathered much attention as it was launched just days before the Indian General Election of 2014, “The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh” written by his former Media Advisor Sanjaya Baru.

First things first, the theme of book is definitely not about PM-bashing. In fact, the sense one gets is as if his former spin-doctor Baru is still doing the job that he was originally hired for as he credits Singh with things that are mostly (wrongly) attributed to the Gandhi Family. Baru’s book is an insider’s perspective of the functioning of India’s highest office amidst political compulsions that had to work through a maze of saboteurs within the party, coalition partners and the reality of an alternate power centre.

Baru’s book gives a sneak peek into the personality of Prime Minister Singh, letting us know more than what is evident about him as being silent. The author seems to possibly attribute his shyness to a difficult childhood which may have led to his introverted nature. The author also describes a factor that could have played on Singh’s mind when it came to his reluctance in projecting himselfbecause he thought that was the undoing of P.V. Narasimha Rao’ (who) ‘came to be viewed with hostility by the Gandhi family… and has been relegated to an insignificant place in the party’s official memory’.

The book has immense praise for Prime Minister Singh chiefly for his greatest achievement, the civilian nuclear deal which ended India’s apartheid which was eagerly supported by the American President George W. Bush (a global leader that I have great regard for, partly also because he was committed to better Indo-US relations than any of his predecessors or his successor). The book also praises Singh’s efforts to achieve a solution to Indo-Pak issues through trade, but didn’t achieve desired results.

Baru discusses these two topics on foreign policy in great detail, an area which he says was something that the Prime Minister jealously guarded. However, while reading about the challenges faced during the nuclear deal, the political machinations of certain powers that be, it becomes evident that, at times, personal/ political/ partisan ambitions have too much say on the destiny of a nation. It is sad to see the influence of leftist ideologies of certain parties and some worrying about losing a vote bank.

Another interesting point I noted while reading is on the manner in which senior bureaucratic appointments are made. From the description, it seemed as if it were mostly down to familiarity, loyalties, who knew whose ancestors and obviously, political inclinations. Also, it seems as if the best way for someone to become powerful is to become an economist, a journalist or a civil servant or a combination of these. That’s some indirect inference from a book like this.

The most damning thing that the book does is that it puts in black & white of what was an informally known perception in public minds about the party chief being the actual power centre and not the premier. Understandably, it attracted denials from the concerned party and the Government.

Towards the end of the book, the Epilogue has the most empathetic portrayal of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his downfall in the public eye, his unwillingness to assert himself, shying away from taking credit for the electoral victory of 2009, a feat only achieved by Nehru in the past.

On the multiple corruption scandals that dogged UPA-II, the brilliant lines say ‘When the horse you are riding becomes a tiger, it is difficult to dismount’. He also attributes another possible reason about Rahul Gandhi not being up to the job yet, which meant that Singh could therefore not be retired.

Sanjaya Baru’s views about Manmohan Singh are most evident in a couple of paragraphs towards the end of the book, where he admired the man who ‘showed the country that an ordinary, honest Indian could become prime minister through sheer hard work and professional commitment’. Then he goes on to say that he felt ‘tragically cheated that he has allowed himself to become an object of such ridicule in his second term in office, in the process of devaluing the office of the prime minister’.

Putting aside the critics perceptions about Singh being compared with the blind king Dhritarashtra from Mahabharata (interestingly, Sanjaya was the ‘eyes and ears’ of the king in the Krukshetra war, much like what the author was expected to be), Baru likens him to Bheeshma, the patriarch beset with compulsions, ‘condemned to an unsure mandate, an uncomfortable existence and inelegant exit’.

Since the book reports happenings that are off-limits to public, we would never know whether the incidents described in the book actually happened. Although it makes strong statements about a leader nearing the end of his tenure, the book doesn’t come across as a damning critique of the man. If anything, a reader would only have greater respect for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the brilliant technocrat and a good man, who got into this post by chance and surely didn’t deserve the ignominy

Mahabharat Animation (Hindi) 187

India's 'Most expensive' animated movie, really? Why are the filmmakers Pen making fools out of the public? Is India's technical prowess down to this? Not at all. The animated 2013 Mahabharat by Amaan Khan is a downer by epic proportions.

The film begins by claiming that it has been designed to acquaint the younger generation about the stories from the great Indian epic Mahabharata and about the values contained therein. It begins with two little boys, brothers, fighting over a coin. Then, a messenger bird appears and narrates the tale of what a quarrel between brothers over greed, ego and power struggle could lead to.

Since the massive story of a hundred thousand stanzas needs to be consolidated into two hours of film, the script only touches upon the important highlights. The birth of Karna and the other Pandavas and that of the Kauravas is told as a passing reference. And there is no reference to Bhishma or Pandu & Dhritarashtra lineages.

The main story begins at the point where Pandavas and Kauravas showcase their skills at an arena in the capital Hastinapur. Patriarch Bhishma (Amitabh Bachchan) oversees the duels: Bheem (Sunny Deol) vs Duryodhan (Jackie Shroff) and Arjuna (Ajay Devgan) vs Karna (Anil Kapoor). In the end, Yudhishtir (Manoj Bajpayee) is anointed as the crown prince, thus angering Duryodhan and Shakuni Mama (Anupam Kher).

The tale then continues to portray the Pandavas' wedding with Draupadi (Vidya Balan) and explains the logic behind five husbands and then introduces the character of Lord Krishna (Shatrughan Sinha). Following Draupadi's insult of Duryodhan and the counter-insult after the game of dice, the Pandavas go to the jungles. On their return, evil Duryodhan doesn't return their kingdom and war between cousins is imminent.

'Mahabharat' 3D or 2D depending on the format that watches it in, focuses on the events of the famed battle, the message of Krishna to Arjuna and the aftermath of the war. While the animation is extremely loathsome, one can't help but appreciate the attempt to capture the essence of the values contained in the epic in about 2 hours.

The acting talent is only reflected through the voices of its actors. While Big B's baritone voice is the most resoundingly awesome one, the faces of the characters bear mild resemblance to the actors, leave aside the muscular bodies. In a way, it was fun to see big names lend their voices to evergreen characters in the Indian psyche. If only the visual feel lived up to the mark of the actors voices! If at all!

Nonetheless, since it is an animation film, much of its merits would be analyzed against what is seen on screen. While they have attempted the use of rich colors, the use of movements and shadows is too tacky. If you remember playing decade old versions of action games like Counterstrike, you would know what I'm talking about. The visuals have an overall substandard feel and seems like a cheap TV show.

With animation, comparisons are inevitable too. While it would be unfair to compare it with Hollywood, does it stand up to homegrown cartoons? It doesn't. In fact, they could have done better by sticking to simpler styles, much like the old-world comics and give life to a simplistic style of animation. They couldn't have emulated the 2011 Tintin film, but could've at least emulated Chota Bheem.

Background score and songs are not only bad; but they are also poorly timed. It is understandable that the screenwriters have used songs to convey the passage of time based events; however, this was not effective. The editing too is so hopelessly lost that one background tune suddenly cuts into another.

Verdict: Earlier this month, a news report said that the film has been insured for INR 50 crore. Going by the lack of interest by audiences and empty movie halls, surely, the insurance companies have something to worry about. Doesn't that say enough already? If you are still keen on it, save your money, wait till it comes on TV.

Rating 4/10: Crappy animation ruins the potential

Anniversary Special: The Matrix & Maya

Today, my movie-blog completes a decade in cyberspace with independent reviews of Bollywood and Hollywood movies that I loved or hated. Back then, in the winter of 2003, blogging began when the popular Matrix Trilogy came to an end and I penned my thoughts about 'Matrix Revolutions'. On the occasion of my blog's 10th Anniversary, what best to do than pay tribute to a cult cyberpunk movie, the 1999 film 'The Matrix'.

For the uninitiated, 'The Matrix' is a story of a software programmer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) who moonlights as a hacker by the alias 'Neo'. He is sought out by a mysterious rebel Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) who reveals to him that the world around is nothing more than a computer generated dream world and makes him realize the truth so that enslaved humanity can be saved. And our hero, along with his love interest, Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss) must accomplish his quest by dodging and at times fighting the deadly 'Agents'.

The Human vs. Machine angle has been played out in many earlier films; chiefly so in James Cameron's Terminator series where, in a futuristic setting where machines seek to destroy mankind as a way to supposedly bring peace. In the Matrix universe, the setting is the post-apocalyptic future where machines have found a use for humans as an energy source, batteries to keep their systems going after humans had torched the skies and killed machines' access to solar energy. The Matrix is a mere simulated reality to keep the brains in the bodies alive.

The story's periodization is also of significance. Although the ruined world is set in the 22nd century, Morpheus refers to the simulated reality of the system being modeled on 1999 which is referred to as the peak of our civilization. This, in a way, the slice of time reflected the global obsession of the millennial bug at end of the 20th Century and the fears that the world may shut down due to Y2K. Fourteen years hence, we can scoff at the hysteria.

Back then, as teenagers, most of us enjoyed the sci-fi and cool action stunts. It was a transition point from the staple action films which blew up things to very slick stunts combining martial arts and state of the art photography. Does anyone remember the epoch making 'bullet-time' sequence created for this film? Well, the term has now been copyrighted by Warner Bros!  Subsequently, a lot of films have displayed reverence for these stunts by copying them. As the Winner of all the four technical Academy Awards for that year, the film was a visual treat.

Those with a keen eye would have noticed the use of a prominent tint to scenes in The Matrix Trilogy. Scenes in the alternate reality of the Matrix had a greenish tint like the yesteryear computer screens or like the display of the matrix code that rolls down as the ubiquitous 'digital rain'; the green therefore serving a metaphor for the computer generated dream-world that 'The Matrix' was. The core of human civilization at underground Zion in 'Reloaded' or 'Revolutions' had touch of warm hues, obviously giving it the most 'human' feel.

Character names have roots in Mythology and philosophy. Protagonist 'Neo' is an anagram of The 'One' that he plays. His mentor 'Morpheus' is named after the Greek God of dreams. 'Trinity' is probably related to the Holy Trinity, used with varying meanings depending on religion. 'Cypher', who betrays Neo is much like the Biblical character of Judas. And, as the name goes, the 'Oracle' is obviously a reference to the mythological wise one who sees it all.

The antagonist, Agent Smith, starts off as a mechanism of control, a sentient program of The Matrix; gatekeepers who prevent the unplugged ones from running amok and destroying the system. As the trilogy progresses, Smith's program gets entangled with that of Neo and becomes more 'aware' of his supposed role in the system. While Neo who has transcended the bondage of matrix but fights for a balance with the system, Smith takes a diametrically opposite, nihilistic approach against the system and seeks annihilation.

Neo's quest to uncover the truth behind the Matrix begins with a point-of-no-return choice offered by Morpheus: "You take the 'Blue Pill' - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the 'Red Pill' - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes". Obviously, he pops the Red Pill.

The writer-directors Andy & Larry (now Lana) Wachowsky have captured the nature of the matrix in one of Smith's dialogs where he says "... the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster..." The view, which is later acknowledged by the Architect in 'Reloaded', refers to a human need to understand the world around us through misery, something that the human mind actively seeks so as to keep itself busy and preserve a semblance of worldly meaning.

Another key to understanding the nature of Matrix is contained in a reference to Jean Baudrillard's 'Simulacra and Simulation' which discusses the use of copies to represent reality and Simulacra referring to copies that depict things which had no real basis to begin with. And  since the Matrix constitutes as a reality to those that haven't realized it's truth, that it is a whole system designed to act like a veil is much akin to 'Maya' in Advaitic philosophy.

According usually accepted beliefs, the absolute Truth, also called 'Brahman' refers to the all pervading universal consciousness with the rest of the universe constituting Maya. But then, the latter is both real and unreal. As Sankaracharya points it out in Vivekachudamani, 'seeing the reflection of the sun mirrored in a water jar, a fool thinks that it is the sun itself'. Apropos, while the image of the sun may be a false, a simulation, but the sun itself is real.

In his lectures on Jnana Yoga, Swami Vivekananda has said "Maya of the Vedanta, in its last developed form, is neither Idealism nor Realism, nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts - what we are and what we see around us" and is precisely so in the case of 'The Matrix'. Also, the Swami goes on to say "it (Maya) exists only in relation to my mind, to your mind and to the mind of everyone else", much like Morpheus describing Neo's self-image in the Matrix as a 'Mental projection of the digital self' and describes real as "If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain".

Some fictional but logical additions to the Matrix cyberspace are its rules such as that of gravity which can be beaten by those who have gone beyond its existential plane. Take the scene where Neo asks for guns and rows of them simply appear and you could load combat training programs and technical skills at the click of a button. But, when Neo realizes his 'One-ness', he just does stuff by merely contemplating it and using bare-hands instead of weapons.

The very concept of some people being 'liberated' and the rest still being 'plugged' to the system is also profound. Morpheus warns Neo that the very fact that the people you see around you in the Matrix are potentially enemies although it is the latter's intention to save them. The following lines describe the feeling "you have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it". Doesn't this sound familiar with the world we live in?

Big questions on ideas of 'Fate' are also discussed. While Morpheus believes in Oracles and prophecies, Neo doesn't even believe in fate. But, as it turns out, the Oracle predicts a lot of things including Trinity's love for the One, Tank stopping Cypher from Killing Neo or the whole Merovingian and key-maker sequence. In the end, it is revealed that all of this was nothing more than a feed-back loop of the Matrix. Even about choice, the Merovingian describes it as an 'illusion between those with power and those without'. Ultimately though, Neo somehow brings a form of peace which wasn't thought of by either humans or machines earlier.

But why the middle-path? Why not bring down the Matrix? This is like asking the oft repeated philosophical question: why can't we destroy Maya? The simplest way of explaining it is by the analogy of life and death. The very fact that life exists means that it is going to die someday as no matter is immortal. While Neo perceives a solution through balance, Smith sees an answer in annihilation. Therefore, where there is good, there is evil and prosperity exists only in juxtaposition with poverty. Even the universe is rests on the premise of destruction in the process of creating or sustaining something else. Ah our life is such a contradiction!

Therefore, the film or the Matrix Trilogy doesn't actually suggest overthrowing the machine regime and creating a new world order. While the first film ends with the note of Neo turning into a superhero, he actually represents the idea of a liberated one.  This idea of personal liberation is not unlike the idea of 'Moksha' where one is 'free' of the bondage of the Matrix depicted by 'Maya'. And the trilogy ends on the note of finding balance between things where the simulated reality persists but those that want to opt out will get to be free.

The spiritual underpinnings are obvious at the beginning of Neo's quest when they visit the Oracle as Morpheus tells him “I can only show you the door; you have to walk through it”, he is the quintessential Guru to Neo. And in the Oracle's home are the profound words 'Temet Nosce' meaning 'Know Thyself' in Latin, probably hinting at the heart of Advaitic beliefs about the self being nothing but Brahman, as the vedas proclaim "aham brahmāsmi". And the realized ones do their level best to alleviate suffering around them without destroying the system.

To sum up, the profound revelation of the falsehood of Maya is most clearly portrayed when one of the children being cared for by the Oracle bends a spoon at will and Neo fails at it. With all serenity, the boy says "Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only try to realize the truth.. there is no spoon.. it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself".

So, where do we go from here? 'Red Pill' or the 'Blue Pill'?

References: (1) The Matrix Trilogy Films, (2) Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 2 & (3) Wikipedia entry on Advaita Vedanta

Declaration: The analytical content in this article is the author's original contribution. Names and Characters from the film are the property of the filmmakers. The views on philosophy and interpretations of quotes from spiritual texts linked to the films are purely personal.

Movie Review: Dhoom 3 (Hindi) 186

'Dhoom 3' should ideally be named 'Doom' as it is much unlike its predecessors. While the first 'Dhoom', 2004 set the standard as a film with bike stunts, the second film took the plot international in 2006 and reached new heights with Hrithik's villainous role and super-svelte Aishwarya Rai. The third edition takes the franchise downhill into the depths of boredom and seems like modeling portfolio of Aamir Khan.

For a wafer-thin plot that it has, here's the summary: Angered at the suicide by a circus owner (Jackie Shroff), his son Sahir (Aamir Khan) seeks revenge against the bank that mercilessly closed the circus. Since the thief scribbles 'tere aisi ki taisi' in Hindi after robbing banks, Chicago cops seek the help of Mumbai police to solve the crime.

And then enter ACP Jai Dixit (Abhishek Bachchan) and his funny side-kick Ali (Uday Chopra). It is worthwhile to note that the son of the angry-young-man still hasn't got a promotion in nine years since the first Dhoom film. The story then has a suspense (not revealed in the review) which isn't actually interesting and loads of action.

Aamir Khan's perfection lies exposed as nothing more than a publicity stunt and a sham. Throughout the film, he wears one of these two expressions: One, "I'm soooo serious", Two, "I'm soooo smart" with that trademark smug smile of his. If you only see the actor and not the character he plays, I'd surely brand that as bad acting. And if you gave the star a benefit of doubt, one can say, he was miscast for the role.

Bachchan Junior and Uday Chopra are nothing more than mere props in the film  As the popular internet humor goes, they're there, thanks to 'Yash Raj Rozgar Yojana'. Not only the boys, the leading lady Katrina Kaif hardly has any role, barring a gratuitous strip-tease in 'Kamli' to please Aamir so that he casts her in his 'Great Indian Circus'.

The only man who has any role in the film is Aamir Khan who is present in almost every frame of the film. In a way, it reminded me of some Kamal Haasan's films where the self-obsessed star who is not much unlike Aamir has to be present in every scene. There is a sheer overdose of Aamir Khan, bordering on narcissism.

Another major irritant in the film is the oft repeated lines, sometimes with a tune, 'Bande hai hum.. ' that is supposed to bring out some sentimental connection with the antagonist's past. The only effect that is has on the audience is that of annoyance. The songs are extremely disappointing and the film suddenly breaks into a song when it is not needed at all. And yes, Aamir's tap dance is outright stupid.

Okay! the circus was supposedly closed down by the bank and auctioned. But how is it that it is still there so that our star can visit the place and relive the pains of his childhood? And how does he take revenge? By stealing the bank? C'mon, just before the sub-prime crisis, he could have just made them lend some ninja loans and invest in toxic assets and they would have gone down the drain anyway. Touché!

Dhoom 3 also happens to be very lengthy and tiresome. In fact, everything in the film after the interval is a waste. To some of my friends who said they got up and left mid-way, they surely didn't miss much. There's hardly anything enjoyable in the dialogs either, and it just some pathetic piece of writing in a predominantly action film.

What salvages Dhoom 2 are some well done stunts, although each stunt is needlessly slowed down. Cars blowing up in chase sequences are a staple and there's the usual Hollywood style helicopter chase. The transformation of the bike into a boat is cool, although somewhat inspired. Stylish stunts and the special effects are the only saving grace and the only thing worth something in 'Doom', err 'Dhoom 3'.

Verdict: The movie's plot involves stealing. Yes, they steal your money with expensive tickets. I can only sympathize with those who may have paid 900 bucks per ticket at IMAX. What a rip off, seriously! If you still want to watch it, catch a morning show and cut your losses. You may just enjoy your popcorn more than the film.

Rating 4/10: Slick stunts but a boring overdose of Aamir Khan

Movie Review: Besharam (Hindi) 185

Ranbir Kapoor seems to have comfortably established himself as the next biggest superstar after the sun sets down on the Khans who are nearing their fifties. A natural actor that he is, most of his movies have been well received; even in those that didn’t make money, his acting was appreciated.

Well, here is his new offering ‘Besharam’ that has a lot of masala: there’s comedy, romance and action and directed by Abhinav Kashyap of ‘Dabangg’ fame. Predictably, some references and parodies from his earlier film are seen here; the lead character being someone who does wrong stuff but has a heart of gold or naming one of the key supporting characters as ‘Chulbul’ after Salman’s old character.

‘Besharam’ begins with an introduction to Bheem Singh Chandel (Javed Jaffrey) a hawala kingpin in Chandigarh who needs stolen luxury cars for his business. His need gets him introduced to Babli (Ranbir Kapoor), a mechanic who is also a car thief. And since the hero ought to be a good guy, he is seen donating all his earnings to an orphanage he grew up in.

Wait: Babli is referred to as a smooth criminal and the first car theft that we see of his involves a massive chase drama with cops! And that’s supposed to be super smooth, huh! Nonetheless, the chase sequence is used to introduce us to the cop-couple, who are also Ranbir Kapoor’s real life parents, Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor, who are childless and eventually think of adopting someone.

One day, Babli’s eyes fall on Tara Sharma (Pallavi Sharda) who is a middle-class girl with big dreams of living a big life and marrying into money. On one occasion she also insults Babli who has been trying to woo her. But it so happens that the Merc she bought to show off to her friends gets stolen by Babli, who doesn’t know it’s hers and delivers it to Chandel. But then, there’s a twist in the tale.

As such, the story has nothing new. Some of its situations are so flawed and are a throwback to the 80’s. Silly chase sequences, preposterous plot situations that are simplistic extensions of some weirdly idealistic scenario. And then there’s the forced love angle between a lead pair that has no chemistry whatsoever. Of course, there’s toilet humor too. Still, some of its better jokes are quite funny.

The film’s weakest link is its lead actress. Pallavi Sharda, an Indian-Australian and trained dancer does not have the looks or acting skills or even screen presence to play a lead role. Also, despite the high heels she is seen wearing, she is way too short to be paired with Kapoor. The only plausible reason being casting an unknown girl would’ve been to keep the focus solely on their superstar!

But despite the weak plot and songs lacking punch, the only saving grace for the film is its lead actor Ranbir Kapoor and his ability to carry off any film; although that didn’t apply to his debut film. His antics convince you to believe in his character and feel for him and also laugh at his lines which he delivers with an accent that only makes him seem more authentic.

Nonetheless, no heroic charm can save ‘Besharam’ unless it makes its money using the hype that surrounded its release and the news that it is being released on 3600 of screens, tad more than ‘Chennai Express’. But if audience reactions to simplistic comedies are the way to go by, there is no reason to believe why ‘Besharam’ won’t do well. After all, it has a big star and it’s a comedy!

Verdict: Well, there’s nothing much to expect as a story and some of its funny scenes are actually similar to old movies. If you are in a mood for masala entertainment and random humor, ‘Besharam’ would suit your funny taste buds. If you are slightly more discerning, you won’t be too enthused. But, if you are a huge Ranbir Kapoor fan, none of these reasons apply anyways.

Rating 4/10: Average fare saved totally by Ranbir Kapoor

Movie Review: Prague (Hindi) 184

Writing a review about 'Prague' will be quite a task. The key factor being that the movie takes a while to sink in. It has all the elements that make it fit the bill of a film that would be well received at film festivals. It's a psychological thriller shot at an interesting location and some brilliant acting by relatively unknown faces.

Chandan (Chandan Roy Sanyal) is an architect who bags a project at Prague and he is to be accompanied by Gulshan (Mayank Kumar), his carefree buddy. Chandan's constant companion happens to be a mysterious Arfi (Arfi Lamba). But, what lies beneath is Chandan's battle with schizophrenia and his struggle with relationships.

Early on, during the openings credits, the movie sets the tone on what to expect in the Czech capital. Prague is shown to be a place with architectural wonders. And this turns out to be so for Chandan who is working on finding an idea for his project.

One evening, he chances by Elena (Elena Kazan), a danseuse and very soon, the two develop a bond. By the way, it's so convenient that she had spent some time in India, that too in Chandan's hometown of Kolkata and knows a bit of Bengali.

The rest of the story which includes a series of flashbacks, is better not discussed, for it could reveal the suspense. Nonetheless, despite it seeming like a 'thriller', it was possible to predict what the twists could be. Although, there are this cannot take anything away from the fact that it is a well-written film and the dialog has clever lines.

Most of the writing effort seems to have gone into development of its characters. Noteworthy among them is the role of Gulshan who is seen 'living his life to the fullest', a spirit that Chandan admires, but fails to emulate to due to other issues that hold him back. Elena on the other hand is beautiful and caring, but has a strong desire to give meaning to her gypsy roots, a reference to the Roma tribes of the region.

The scenes on the screen are shaded by dark undertones, the heady mixture of cigarette smoke, drugs, alcohol and women. Those that involve Prague's architecture are shown well. One scene that is exceptional is Chandan clicking pictures of his muse in a gypsy avatar where Kazan looks stunning.

Prague does have a few flaws. Despite it meaning to be a suspense, the plot can be worked out. It also has moments where it gets too involved into its characters that it is distracting at times. There are some repetitive moments which can be defended as having dramatic value. In all fairness, its genre is challenging in itself.  

Made on a small budget and actors with no name-recall, the film is a bold experiment. Director Ashish R Shukla, who is also credited with the story, needs to be applauded for the effort. The newer breed of directors pushing creative limits is a positive trend that must be encouraged. It's a pleasant break from Bollywood's blockbuster culture.

Verdict: Don't shy away from 'Prague' because it isn't a star-studded big budget flick or that it lacks item numbers, if you are keen about those, then stay away. 'Prague' is a serious film and a bold attempt by a debutant director. Despite some of its shortcomings, a film connoisseur will be happy he watched this film.

Rating 6/10: A cerebral tale in an interesting backdrop 

Movie Review: Elysium (English) 183

Going by the standard Neill Blomkamp set in the Academy Award nominated ‘District 9’, his new offering Elysium’ is a massive let down. While the earlier film had the powerful undercurrent of racism in South Africa, Elysium’s attempt to take on the rich-poor divide comes across as flawed and executed without much thought.

Since, I really don’t predict many people watching this after reading this, I thought of using some liberty to include spoilers in the review. Here it goes:

In the year 2154 (incidentally the same year that ‘Avatar’ is set in), Earth has become overpopulated, polluted and disease ridden. The elite have since escaped to a space-station style colony leaving the poor in a state of appalling healthcare and sanitation standards while they dream of illegal immigration to 'Elysium'.

The protagonist of the story is Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), ex-convict on parole works for a company that makes robots and dreams of saving up to buy a ticket to Elysium. Things get rough after he is exposed to radiation while at work and has only five days to live. He then urges Spider, someone who arranges illegal ships to get him there, in exchange of one last con job, that turns out to be the keys to the kingdom.

Meanwhile on Elysium, Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) rules with an iron hand, much to the disapproval of the rest of the administration. That includes using illegal agents to shoot down spacecraft intruding into Elysium air-space. She then urges a corporate honcho Carlyle to build an illegal program that will install her as President. It is this very program that Max unwittingly ends up stealing from Carlyle.

The film tells us very little about the people in Elysium except that they are on a perpetual holiday. The film makes it appear as if anyone having access to the main program running the system, runs the Elysium and concordantly, all human population. Preposterous! And does it take only a computer program to bring down an administration? So, you see, the audience wouldn't care a damn about Elysium folks.

What about earthlings then? That too, hardly evokes sympathy! In Max's neighborhood, he seems to be the only who cares about working in a proper job. So, what were the others doing? Busy enhancing the population? The view from space shows that the land surface of the planet had lost its greenery. So, how were the people still alive? Didn’t the climate change affect the weather or crops?

Sometimes, the portrayal of earth, with the burgeoning population and issues like crumbling healthcare & sanitation shown in the film, in some way would remind you of how India could look like within a few years if the population kept growing at the current rate and with the rich-poor divide continuing to widen. Shocking nonetheless!

The film is so poorly written that one hardly feels for any of its characters or care about what they seek to represent. Our hero's only motivation to reach Elysium is to fulfill his dream and the urgency comes because he is about to die. And what was Alice Braga's silly role in it? One can remember her equally pointless role in the futuristic 'Repo Men'. And Max's conversation with Braga's kid seems forced.

There are numerous other inconsistencies, like how Max recovers from his injuries, and then the exoskeleton being bolted to his body using big screws and then being stabbed by a knife during fights. He seemed more like Terminator rather than a real human. And he carries the program in chip attached to his head. Duh!

Joining Foster & Damon in the wasted actors list is Sharlto Copley who played the lead actor in ‘District 9’. He plays the mercenary, Kruger. His character seems to have a sudden transition from an illegal, later disavowed mercenary to a President hopeful. What a sudden transition! Surely, this bit could have done with some improvement.

The only thing a movie like this can brag about is special effects and some cool gadgets. The car-like space shuttles are so quick, compact and convenient, powerful weapons that are exceedingly compact. But this is hardly adequate to save the film.

And lastly, let's talk about the ending: The reprogrammed code now considers all Earthlings as citizens and the system dispatches them medical facilities so that they too can live forever, and that too disease free! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the film ends! Seriously, that’s their hare-brained plot. What a waste of time and money!!

Verdict: Elysium may have bagged good ratings; but, please don’t get carried away by it. Even if you are in the mood to leave your brain back home in the refrigerator, this film can still irritate you and make you feel like walking out in between. Avoidable!

Rating 3/10: Stupid film with one-dimensional characters

Movie Review: Rush (English) 182

Making films about real life characters always presents a challenge; more so if one of them doesn't live to see the day his tale is made into a film. Coming from director Ron Howard, known for films like 'Apollo 13', 'A Beautiful Mind', 'Da Vinci Code', 'Rush' is about two great personalities in the high adrenalin Formula 1 racing.

The story begins on the start line where Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) narrates the story of how James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) influenced his life and the days of Formula 1 in the 1970's where it was not uncommon for drivers to die in accidents.

James Hunt, who in real life was known as a playboy is appropriately portrayed on screen. There's a scene from his early days where he walks into at a hospital to get his injuries treated and lo behold, he seduces the nurse in James Bond style! Then, we are introduced to his career in Formula 3 where he drives for Lord Hesketh's team.

Although the film marks the meeting of Lauda and Hunt in the F3 race on a sour note, it is believed that the duo were actually friends and shared an apartment during their early days. Was this an error? Or was it deliberately avoided to bring about dramatic tension between its lead stars right from the start? We wouldn't know.

The character of Niki Lauda starkly contrasts with Hunt as he is cool, calculating, worknig with the team on developing the car and isn't bothered about partying or popularity. In real life too, it is believed that Lauda never let the achievements get into his head and he gave away his trophies to a local garage in exchange for car wash.

Discussing the story itself isn't necessary for the review as most of the critical elements of the plot are based on actual, well known events. Its most poignant moment is how Lauda returns to track merely six weeks after a near-fatal crash with bandages on his wounds and leads the championship till he pulls out of the season's last race at Fuji when the treacherous weather conditions made the race too dangerous.

'Rush' does a wonderful job in recreating the F1 races, the imagery of powerful engines, tires ready to zoom as pedal hits metal, and the infamous Nürburgring crash of 1976. In fact, Niki Lauda in his interviews has praised the filmmakers for portraying the crash and his treatments in a realistic manner and that the scenes 'shocked' him.

Reportedly, the actors weren't allowed to drive real Formula 1 cars. So, the film makers are said to have used F3 cars with the bodywork of F1 cars of that era to make them look like the real deal. Still, they drove some mean machines. Wow!

The actors have done a good job and look like their real life counterparts. Chris Hemsworth still seems like Thor with the long hair, but less bulky. Daniel Brühl, an acclaimed German actor embodies the role of Lauda, Olivia Wilde as Suzy Miller, Alexandra Maria Lara as Marlene Knaus and Pierfrancesco Favino as Clay Regazzoni have done a neat job and there's not a moment where it feels inauthentic.

What works for the movie, other than the stunningly recreated visuals is the emphasis on its characters. At its soul is the portrayal of how Hunt and Lauda influenced each other's lives and careers. Although the two champions were very different by their outwardly lives, they shared a common passion for racing and winning and looking at each other to seek the much needed challenge and why you need enemies!

Verdict: if you are one of those who like Bollywood family dramas branded as racing films, like Ta Ra Rum Pum, let me assure you that 'Rush' isn't for you. But, if you are a Formula 1 fan, don't even think twice; just go for it.

Rating 7/10: Dramatic tension and Authenticity of F1 in the 70's

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