Meeting Mani Sir

 Meeting Mani Sir

Here, on  Rediff, is  an interview I did with Mani Ratnam.

His workplace, Madras Talkies, is quieter than a library governed by  the strictest librarian.  

The day I went to see him, I was ushered in to his office and found him  at his desk,  seated  behind his  MacBook, no music playing, no phones ringing, no chatter.   Everything around him was placid.  

When the interview was over, I asked to take a few photos.   No pressure there, eh?   “But there’s no light!” he said, as it was well past 4pm and the sun had started to fade.   “Perhaps outside on the terrace?” I suggested.   So, he obliged, slipping on his sandals under the desk before getting up and sliding back the glass door.

Photo shoot over, before I left,  I took out a copy of Nayagan that I had bought recently –  the Moser Baer edition, the only one I could find at Landmark – and asked if he would sign it.   He grimaced as he looked at the orange packaging, saying “Oh, look what they’ve done with the colors.”   But, ever graceful, he signed anyway.

Before the Rains – press conf.

A press conference and reception was held at the Indian Consulate in NYC tonight to celebrate Santosh Sivan’s film Before the Rains, which is playing at the Tribeca Film Festival, and will open in New York on May 9th.   You can see a trailer here.

  Before the Rains   press conf.

The film stars Linus Roche, Nandita Das and Rahul Bose.    All three were present tonight.

 Before the Rains   press conf.

 The movie is set in Sivan’s native Kerala, and takes place during the 1930s

 Before the Rains   press conf.

Nandita Das has two films at the Tribeca Film Festival this year;   the other is Ramchand Pakistani.


poster%20eshtyle%202 Tashan

Finally, a 2008 release that had some excitement, fun and good looks.  

Tashan opened today and the cinema where I saw it in New York was full.  

Though Saif and Kareena have been a couple now –  publicly at least – since last October, there is also a gossipy frisson  of “So, this is where  they spent so much time as a romantic pair, then fell in love, eh?” around this film.   Only the couple themselves  know when things really began between them (surely not as far back as Omkara?), but you can be sure that some people buying tickets have that curiosity to see them as an onscreen couple.

bebo%20saif%202 Tashan

And you can  see from the opening why  Saif (even with that awful Village People Biker Guy moustache that he sports here) and Kareena are each cool and hot in equal measures.

Saif Ali Khan is Jimmy Cliff, not the reggae star but a Bombay boy who works at a call centre, teaches English, and dates his cute female students.   “India was rocking and so was I” he declares to us.   Yes, Jimmy breaks the fourth wall quite often, with brief asides.   He also narrates the story via voiceover.   He wears mod clothes (including a flashy large red belt) and is effortlessly charming as he plays the typical guy who has commitment issues.

Jimmy is caught unaware by the striking Pooja – a very seedhi saadhi girl decked out in heavy silver ethnic jewelry, a long, high-waisted kurta, churidars and lots of kohl – when she is conveniently caught in an afternoon downpour right outside his classroom.   He follows his smaller brain (clearly the one calling the shots) and is totally ensnared by the raven-haired, light-eyed Bebo, who lures him back to the home of Bhaiyyaji (Anil Kapoor), a comical, vain and murderous don who wants to learn English.

anil%20grey%202 Tashan

With Jimmy firmly under her thumb, Pooja spins a woeful tale about a debt owed to Bhaiyyaji and soon they’re plotting to steal some of the don’s extortion money to use to pay him back.   From here on in, we have one twist after another, almost always set in motion by Bebo’s character, who morphs into a hot babe wearing the tiniest of Daisy Dukes and using her charms to get the men around her to obey.

akki%20bebo%20kite%202 Tashan

Along the way, Bhaiyyaji reaches out to fellow Kanpur native Bachchan Pande (Akshay Kumar) to help him recover his stolen money.   His entrance onscreen is hilarious; he’s acting in a Ram Lila and, aside from arriving late (on his motorbike, up the stairs of the temple, of course), he’s also having trouble with his part of the script.   “Who wrote these lines?” he thunders, and a terrified stagehand tremblingly utters “Tulsidas.”  

Bachchan may not know his lines, but he considers himself a very religious and pro-Hindustan guy.   On the road, he prays at a little temple in his room, and he berates Jimmy for listening to rock music, changing the radio station to old filmi music, saying “You’re in India, listen to Indian music.”

akki%20gun%20on%20saif%202 Tashan

After leaving Bombay, the actors caper all over Ladakh and Rajasthan, as well skirting around Kerala and Haridwar.   Kareena, now in full bombshell mode, performs the item number of the film – Chhaliya - in a green bikini and other size 0 wisps of clothing, singing, rather disingenuously, “don’t look at me like that, boy.”  

bebo%20item%202 Tashan

There’s one bit of comic relief when the Jimmy-Pooja-Bachchan trio are trying to get out of Ladakh without being spotted by the police and take over an American film crew who are there to shoot “Happy Widows.”   The trio don cheap blonde wigs and join the firangi film crew to perform Dil Dance Maare.   See if Poo 2 doesn’t remind you of anyone, perhaps a certain infamous heiress?  

3%20blondes%202 Tashan  

And yes, as usual, the poor gringos are a bit slow on the uptake, the bumbling boobs in a phoren land, not even realizing that the Bachchan they’ve encountered is not that Bachchan.   Oh well, at least they were better dressed than in most other films.

The music is ok, but I was most disappointed by the Sukhwinder song Dil Haare song.   Visually, Kareena looks lovely, even when her beau is surrounded by a bevy of seaweed-wearing girls,

mermaid%20girls%202 Tashan  

or when she’s coaxed into a rather questionable choice of footwear,

red%20shoes%202 Tashan  

but the song itself is just very meh.   Some of the other songs are more memorable, but there’s nothing so, so, so thrilling that you won’t be able to get it out of your head.   (Update:   I take that back, I was listening to Challiya and Dil Dance Maare this morning on the train, and I kept repeating them.   Now they’ve really grown on me.)

This being a YashRaj film, the visuals are, overall, terrific.   Costumes, even with quirky twists like Bebo’s wayward braces and diva sunglasses, and Akki’s ever-present cotton head/neck gear, make everyone look good in their roles, especially the over-the-top Bhaiyyaji.   Hats off to Aki Narula.  

anil%20tiger%20vest%202 Tashan

Ladakh and Rajasthan look postcard-perfect.   And the action scenes are, if not always actually suspenseful, at least they will keep you wondering what the next step is.   BUT, two problems:   first, in the big encounter with the cops, Akshay gets a prolonged action sequence, and the latter part was well choreographed, but the way they led him from where he was, to where the guns were, with a lot of leaping and jumping, just seemed too implausible for words (and yes, I know, we are talking about a big Bollywood release here  and all that implies).  

akki%20yellow%202 Tashan

And here’s where I found the biggest disappointment of the movie – the (sadly) inevitable Big Shootout that Goes On Way Too Long at the end.   Why, why, WHY did we have to have it?   Here I’d been happily carried along on this spring Friday evening by a fast-paced movie by a first-time director (Vijay Krishna Acharya wrote Dhoom and Dhoom 2) who’d done some interesting, different things, and then he fell back on the same old chestnut that everyone else does.   A funny thing happened too.   When the scene ended, most of the audience stood up and started to leave, only to realize that there was one more brief scene to go.

Before I close, allow me to return to my old bugbear: the subtitles.   Meu Deus!   How hard can it be to get them right in a nation of so many English-speakers, and in a film coming from the great Yash Raj studios?  

First, we get the bleeding obvious unnecessarily spelled out onscreen:

- “aaagh (shouting with pain)”
- “Bachchannnnnnnn“

Then there’s the curious translations.   Majnu becomes Romeo.   Bhaiyyaji says he wants “every dime back.”   Really?   Paise would have been too odd for the firangis to figure out?   A threat is changed from “”¦or I’ll be playing cricket with you“ to “…or I’ll be playing cricket with your balls.”   Why?   Do the Angrez reading the subtitles need the extra testicular oomph?

While I’m at it, let me put a plea out here to filmmakers when they’re sending people forth to do their upcoming release’s website:   if you’re going to have a button on the site called “Press Kit”, please make it something that actually contains additional information about the film crew and the making of the movie, and not just a glossy fanzine.

See it or skip it?

See it.   It’s a fun road trip with an attractive trio, there are multiple filmi references, and some very pretty song picturizations.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Harold%20and%20Kumar%202 Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay  

For anyone who missed the first movie, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay quickly sketches out the differences between the two friends in the opening scene, while setting up the movie’s raison d’etre.

It’s a few hours since the end of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.   The boys have had their burgers and Harold shared a special moment in the elevator with his sapno ki rani, Maria, as she’s on her way to Amsterdam.  

Impulsively the pair decide to follow her, and their flight is leaving soon.

Shots cut back and forth as they pack.   Harold (John Cho) plucks items out of a walk-in closet so perfectly appointed it would make Nate Berkus plotz with joy. Meanwhile Kumar (Kal Penn) sniff-tests the garments in his closet, discovers foul matter in shoes and beer cans, and tucks a copy of, er, let’s call it, Vajayjay magazine into his backpack.   As the scene progresses, Roldy irons a few items of clothing while Kumar ducks beneath the covers for some quick pre-flight onanism, the results of which are splayed all to see.

Are you saying “Ewwww” yet?

But this is from the duo Hurwitz and Schlossberg – Randolph, New Jersey’s favorite sons now serving as directors as well as writers – and we would expect nothing less, would we?

At the airport Kumar gets pulled aside by a TSA agent, but manages to talk his way through the situation, with some techniques that would only work in a spoof like this and which the average desi dude might think twice about essaying himself.   Next, the duo run into Kumar’s old girlfriend, Vanessa, and her wealthy, too pretty fiancé as they head for Texas to get married.   (The fiance’s father was a classmate of Dubya’s.)  

tsa Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

But that’s not the only bad news Kumar will have today.   A misunderstanding onboard the flight – a smokeless bong mistaken for a bomb – lands the Hoboken roommates in a cell on Guantanamo Bay.

orange Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Cue Rob Corddry as the overzealous and underinformed Homeland Security agent Ron Fox.   Interestingly, this is the first overt mention of September 11 by name that I remember in a comedy film so far.   Six and a half years after the day, I guess we can handle it now.

corddry Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Despite what you might assume from the title, Gitmo is but a stopover on the H&K itinerary.   They quickly make their way back to the US, determined to get to Texas where Vanessa’s father-in-law-to-be can clear their names.   Starting out, como tantos cubanos, in Miami, the pair then head west.

Many favorites from the first Harold and Kumar are here again: the intense Christopher Meloni (Oz anyone?), whose physical beauty is once again obscured by make-up and costume, and whose role is briefer than before, Neil Patrick Harris in the role of Neil Patrick Harris, and the female giant bag of pot.  

This time around, we get some back story on what the guys were like as undergrads.   Just wait “˜til you see them.

The incessant reveling in, then blowing apart of, racial and gender stereotypes that made for such great fun in 2004 is all there again, and no one is safe: blacks, Jews, gay men, gun-toting residents of the deep South, and on and on.   Matthew Perry doesn’t fare too well either.

I will confess that by the last third of the film I felt like the foot was off the pedal and we were just coasting toward the end, but the many small details, like Kumar’s t-shirts, one of the extras shouting the Apu-referential “Thank you come again” as he passes Jersey’s most illustrious desi actor in a scene, and that amazing poem that not only refers to Route 3 but also incorporates the word “integer”, sweeten the journey along the way.

And the real message of the film is that you don’t have to love your government because you love your country.

See it or skip it?

If references to drugs, poop, pubic hair, fellatio, to say nothing of male frontal nudity will not offend you, then by all means see it.

You get to watch two smart, funny, good-looking guys make like a tween opening his first condom, taking one racist assumption after another and twisting it inside out.

Finally, Jab We Met

Jab%20We%20Met%20poster%202 Finally, Jab We Met

Just missed the release of the DVD in India by a few days, and then once back here just couldn’t get around to it until now, but it was well worth the wait.

Part road movie, all romance, Imtiaz Ali’s  Jab We Met seemed doomed when it released last October.   At the very same instant in the 24/7 news cycle, it emerged that the Chhota Nawab had usurped Shahid Kapoor as the object of Bebo’s affections.  

Who would go see the movie now that the couple were kaput?   My already tepid interest waned at that point.   (Never wild about her, though like photos of airplane accidents, I can’t look away.   And Shahid, well, up until now, he always looked so young on film that I felt as though some police crime unit would burst through the door and arrest me for ogling underage boys.)

But the film surprised a lot of us,  found its audience, and a lasting, growing one at that.

We have Aditya, who’s inherited his late father’s business and seems to be faring poorly in the boardroom, only to also see his girlfriend go off and get engaged to someone else.   Shellshocked, he blindly makes his way to the train station and boards the first train he finds.

As it chugs away from the platform – cue the banjo music – (yes, really, banjo music) – along comes the fresh-faced Geet, running to catch up as porters toss her luggage onboard.   The motormouth Sikhni finds mute-by-comparison Aditya seated in her row, so she proceeds to talk at him until he slips off at some back-of-beyond town to be by himself.   Thinking he’s going to miss the departing train, Geet hops off too, to warn him, and the trains goes without either of them.

And they’re off on their adventure.   She insists that he accompanies  her  to her family’s home in Batinda, and he agrees.   The reticent Aditya slowly opens up, charmed by Geet’s optimism and warmth, and later by her large, boisterous family.   Along the way, they pass through Manali, and Geet reveals a plan to elope with someone other than the munda her family has lined up for her.

And it goes on from there, with some very lovely scenery along the way.   On the road to the abode of Manu, we’re treated to Yeh Ishq Hai, which would be sweet, were it not for the mincing, faux-Chini, dance steps that Kareena repeats throughout the picturization.    (Look here and  see what I mean around 1:01.)   Nagada is set on the grounds of the Dhillon family manse in Batinda, and wow, you gotta give Shahid credit for being fleet of foot and energetic.   This is my favorite song of the film.  

Mauja hi mauja is great too, except we have to wait til the very end to see it, and then, the sudden, startling appearance of a bunch of firangi girls, some dressed in stripperish renditions of coolie uniforms, is all very bizarre and out of step with the rest of the movie.

In a stranger-than-fiction moment, as the two talk about a woman who’s walked out on her man so she can be with someone else, Kareena tells Shahid “When somebody’s in love, there’s no right or wrong.”   Ouch!   What’s Hindi for “˜foreshadowing’?

I’ve commented in the past on the occasional gaffes you see with subtitles, and there was funny little bit of that in Jab We Met: during one song, the voice sings “sa-re-ga-ma etc etc” but onscreen we read the English equivalent “do – ti -la – so – fa – fa etc etc” and it’s completely at odds with what we’re hearing, which are not even words.

See it or skip it?

Aww, see it!   It’s a lighthearted, sweet movie, perfect for a Sunday, when you don’t want to watch anything too heavy before the work week begins again.   Kareena is likeable  as the bubbly, confident Punjabi kudi, and Shahid, rapidly  gaining onscreen presence, was well able to hold his own and not be drowned out by his ex-.  

Harold and Kumar 2 – Press Day

Some images from this weekend’s press day for Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.   (Stay tuned for a review shortly.)   The movie opens April 25.

Kal Penn:

 Harold and Kumar 2   Press Day

Neil Patrick Harris:

 Harold and Kumar 2   Press Day

Swag from the bag of promotional materials:

 Harold and Kumar 2   Press Day

 Harold and Kumar 2   Press Day