Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rocket not quite a cracker

Had gone to see "Rocket Singh" some time back. Despite the relatively low-key promotions, had some solid expectations from this movie since it was directed by Shimit Amin of "Chak de India" fame. I already knew that this was not going to be some typical Bollywood (chiffon sarees, running around trees, loud histrionics) type of movie. In fact it was one of those slice of ife types that have increasingly found afvour with the multiplex audience.

"Rocket Singh" is the story of Harpreet Singh Bedi (Ranbir), who has just completed his graduation and dreams of being in the field of 'S-A-L-E-S'. His very practical realisation of his shortcomings, both academic and financial, make him view Sales as the apt profession for him. Here, he reckons, he can get big by relying only on his "akal". To this end, he joins a computer sales firm (AYS) as an intern and begins to slowly assimilate the tricks of the trade. Tragedy strikes when he complains about bribery in the system and finds his new career summarily at an end. He is just allowed to serve his notice period before being kicked out. During this time, he faces the wrath and ridcule of his colleagues, their jibes often taking the form of paper rockets that are flown at him.

While he attempts to come to terms with the rude blow that his honesty has rewarded him with, he finds that assembling computers and selling them is something that he can do without the help of his company. So he begins parallel business by recruiting dissatisfied employees of AYS and launches 'Rocket Sales Corporation' by making them not employees but "partners". His aim is to ostensibly gain happy customers by charging them a bare minimum margin and providing irrestible service guarantees. He thus uses the resources of his employers to further his own profits. He does have pangs of guilt but these he resolves by deciding to eventually pay back AYS for the resources he has used.

And here lies my basic problem with the movie. Clearly, the audience is supposed to sympathise with the hero. Feel sorry for his banishment from Sales heaven, rejoice in his new found success and turn a blind eye to the fact that he is not honest enough to use illegal means for his venture. It seemed confused to me. When Harpreet does his business almost exploiting the company he works for and making a sizeable dent in their bottomline, is it okay? Because his employer Puri (played with much drama by Manish Chaudhury) is such an archetypal 'bad guy'? Do the ends justify the means? I would have been happier had he actually set up his business and succeeded without resorting to underhanded methods, no matter how good his intentions.

The climax is of course when they are caught out and lose the Rcoket Sales to AYS in an out of court settlement. However at the end, we are made to understand it is the people who run the business that matter which is why Puri has a change of heart and returns Rocket Sales to Harpreet, being unable to live up to the high standards he has set. This is a false, filmy note in an otherwise reality based movie. Showing Harpreet building another successful business with his sales skills after the disbandment would have been better than getting his business back on a silver platter to him and with an insufferable lecture from Puri.

The most commendable part of the movie was the talent of its character actors. Gauhar Khan as Koena the tough talking, trashily dressed recptionist with a heart of gold was a revelation. Naveen Kaushik as Nitin Rathore, Harpreet's manager does a good job too but seems too 'inspired' by Raghu of MTV Roadies fame. D Santosh as Reddy clicks with audience and is entertaining as the porn loving IT guy. Manish Chaudhury I thought was someone who needed more restraint. Ranbir's love interest is Shazahn Padamsee, who sadly lacks screen presence and is reduced to just a PYT.
Ranbir is very good as Harpreet - he delivers just as he is expected to and more. Watch out for the scene where he s being insulted bu Puri and fighting to keep his temper in check. The smouldering expression in his eyes does all the talking. He is also one of the few star actors who doen't let his presence dominate the story. The story takes its own course with Ranbir most believable as the earnest, simpleton Sardar.

The music of the movie is mainly restricted to background scores and whetever there is of it is effective.

Overall however, "Rocket Singh" left me with a mild dissatifaction - a feeling of how much better it could have been. The movie feels like a bit of an anti-climax and as such would rate it only a 6/10. Watchable but not exceptional.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Truly an "Ajab" kahani!

I was raring to break my box-office dry spell and had really hoped that 'Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani" would do the trick. So I went for the evening show of the flick today.

Well, I soon realised that the movie is a slightly updated but much less funny version of Andaz Apna Apna. Not exactly in terms of storyline but in terms of style. There is much slapstick humour, comic book sequences and colourful settings.

The story, whatever little there is of it, deals with the escapades of do-gooder Prem (Ranbir), President of the Happy Club, in an unnamed idyllic hill station. While Prem rapidly falls in love with and proceeds to woo pretty-as-a-picture, Jenny (Katrina), she is in love with Rahul (Upen Patel looking completely repulsive). Even when faced with this heartbreak, Prem agrees to help Jenny marry Rahul. Needless to add, by the end of all the craziness that occurs, Jenny realises that it is Prem who is her true love.

My misgivings about the movie began almost as soon as it started since there was some weak and totally unfunny slapstick happening. Later as one adjusted to the weird world of Prem, there were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Prem's desperate attempts to impress Jenny, the reliable comic timing of his parents (Darshan Jariwala & Smita Jayakar) and the fast paced action helped. But the second half brought the tenuous humour setup crashing down. Unnecessarily encumbered with some sentimental scenes alternately with slapstick ones, it soon got to a point where one was almost waiting for the movie to reach its predictable conclusion.

APKGK used a lot of Andaz Apna Apna's comic devices like the father-son squabbling, the hopelessly inefficient suited goons and the 'we all fall down' kind of humour. It also has a hotchpotch of scenes which leave you reminiscent about other movies - some of which were possibly intentional. You have Ranbir in a towel - an image strongly linked to "Saawariyaa", the Sufi singers of "Jodha Akbar" appear in a song in this one too, both the lead actors suffer from a stammer when they get emotional a la "Kaminey", Prem dissuades Rahul from marrying Jenny much like SRK had in "Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa"...

In other words, there's very little that you've not seen before in this movie except maybe the jodi of Ranbir and Katrina. While the two have good onscreen chemistry, Ranbir clearly steals the show with his earnest performance. He is fast approaching the stage where he will have enough screen presence to match the big stars. He has pretty good comic timing as well and his sheer goofiness adds more value than the situations or dialogues. He is the only good reason to watch this movie methinks.

In the movie, Prem, on spotting Jenny talks about her "silky-silky hair and her milky-milky skin...just like vanilla ice cream." And just like vanilla ice-cream Katrina is plain throughout - no added flavours, no zing, nothing except that thrill one gets on seeing a walking-talking Barbie doll. Truth be told, she has suggested in other movies that she might have unexplored depths in histrionic ability and this movie was probably too mindless for her to try anything.

Though the songs appeared to jump up at odd times, the soundtrack of this movie is decent. The one I liked best was 'Tera Hone laga hoon' by Atif. 'Main tera dhadkan' and 'Prem ki naiyya' were also catchy.

Overall, the movie did draw out some genuine laughs but these were too erratic and sometimes too forced, to make a successful rom-com.

Would give this one a 5/10.

Final words of advice: Watch it for Ranbir. He's the real paisa-vasool. :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Barren Box-office

There has been such a dearth of good Hindi movies to watch in theatres for the past few weeks. After 'Wake up Sid', not one movie has managed to evoke a modicum of interest in me.

First there were those three duds - 'Blue', 'All the Best' and 'Main aur Mrs. Khanna'.
'Blue' sounded promising till I heard Chiggy Wiggy - a contender for the Stupidest Song Ever. Then I saw a haggard and bloated Sanjay Dutt in the promos trying to look like a cool surfer dude next to fit-as-a-fiddle Lara. Have you seen the poster where the guys are in wet suits and trying to throw some serious attitude? It was hilarious to see Sanju Baba with his back to the camera, glancing over his shoulder, since he couldn't afford to show his bulging belly in the wetsuit (thank heavens!) Akshay was the only thing close to cool and even he has been high on hype and dismal on delivery, so I didn't take any chances. I did hear though that the movie made huge gains on Day One itself thanks to a great opening. That's how most of the big budget movies recover costs these days methinks. Also, as a friend put it, "movie tickets - Rs. 400, popcorn and Coke - Rs. 300, Lara in a bikini - priceless!"

'All the Best' was a comedy so I had some hope. But it takes some serious 'willing suspension of disbelief' to watch Mr. Intense, Ajay Devgn and Mr. Clueless, Fardeen Khan deliver the goods. I gave this one a miss too though I did hear some reports that it was passable. That's the thing with comedy - someone or the other is sure to find it funny.

'Main aur Mrs. Khanna' looked like one more of those Salman-Sohail lets-keep-it-in-the-family type of wannabe movies. Kareena was there too with her 'I'm so perfect' expression, so I skipped this one too. Just as well because the movie didn't last a week at the theatres. I believe Salman actually had just a cameo in the movie though it was a being promoted as a two hero film. In one interview, Salman said he realised they had goofed up when his nephews walked out in the middle of the movie saying it was too boring. And this they unleash upon the unsuspecting audience!

Last week's releases have also received poor word of mouth but that's no surprise. 'Aladin' had little to tickle one's interest what with Riteish Deshmukh essaying the title role. During the pre-launch publicity drive, the director blatantly touted it as an Amitabh Bachchan movie. Arrey dada, why didn't you name it 'Genius' then (that's what Amitabh is called in the movie)? Poor guy probably realised he'd made a hash of it and was falling back on the tried and tested Mr. B.

My interest in 'London Dreams' faded when I found out that Ajay Devgn and Salman Khan were playing rock stars in it. I mean, puhleeze, gimme a break! Agreed Sallu Mian belongs to the rock star personality type but surely its 15 years too late for him to be doing this kind of a role. And Ajay Devgn? I just feel sorry for the guy. Also, for a movie about music, there was precious little of the good stuff in this soundtrack.

What I'm looking forward to now is 'Ajab Prem ki Gajab Kahani'. Why? Well firstly, its a comedy and I liked Raj Kumar Santoshi's last attempt at the genre (Andaz Apna Apna), second, Ranbir and Katrina together are a refreshing watch and third, the promos look good.
So its wait-to-watch time now folks!

A lot does happen over Coffee

Met up with friends at Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) yesterday. Going to a coffee shop at least once a week is almost a ritual these days.

I often wonder where people used to hang out before coffee shops became big in my city. Were there enough places outside of homes or proper restaurants to just sit and while away the time? Where did the college students go in between classes? Where did one drink a quick cuppa while waiting for a friend? Which place did the young office-goers visit to rant away the week's stresses (yes, that's what I was doing)?

As far as I can recall, Barista started the coffee shop trend in Kolkata. Though it seemed pricey back then (esp. since one was a student), the novelty of the concept was attractive. The ambiance, the wood finishing at the outlets, the games like Pictionary, the guitar in the corner - all encouraged one to take it easy, let one's hair down, put one's feet up, watch the world go by (you get the drift)...all the while sipping on a cappuccino (not just a "coffee" you see). The price justified the means one might say.

When CCD came along the idea of a coffee shop was already established and flourishing, at least for me. CCD offered 'old coffee in a new cup' so to speak, by charging lesser and catering more directly to a younger crowd. The decor is brighter and the music is louder.
I am no coffee connoisseur and most times am happy with the variety of cold coffees on offer. Yesterday I had the Cafe Frappe with a dollop of ice-cream. It was refreshing after a tiresome Saturday. My friends and I also tried the New Zingy Pizza sandwich. It was, as the name suggests, a sandwich made using grilled pizza base. It tasted pretty good and our only complaint was that it was smaller in reality than it had looked in the picture in the menu. But that could just be our hunger talking. :)
We also had their Garlic Chicken Sandwiches and rounded off the repast with a Chocolate Doughnut which was completely delightful - being not just warm and chocolatey but also much larger than a standard doughnut.

We had captured one of the low divans and were ensconced on it for quite some time, indulging in all the random tales that apparently give us inordinate pleasure - our never ending workload, diets and gymming, gifts and weddings, the latest fashions victims, London Dreams vs. Ajab Prem, Bigg Boss and Amitabh Bachchan...

These particular friends will be moving to another city shortly and the evening spent at the coffee shop I will add to my list of happy memories.

Monday, October 26, 2009

In the lap of the Himalayas

I had gone on vacation recently. The idea was to get as far away from the madding crowd (read: office) as possible.

Every place I considered (South India, Goa, Maharashtra) was literally washed out by sudden floods, accompanying landslides etc. I was beginning to think if God was trying to tell me something here ("No vacations for you my girl") and so I headed for the Himalayas. In other words, Gangtok. Of course, as soon as I had decided, there were heavy rains and landslides there as well, but I gritted my teeth and prayed hard to the Sun God.

Well, my prayers were answered and I enjoyed beautiful weather while I was there. In fact the weather took me by surprise since I was prepared to get "chilled" out. It was comfortable in the daytime and cool in the evenings.

I had a great time switching off from the worries of daily life as I gazed at the blue mountains, listened to the chants of the Buddhist monks and watched people milling about aimlessly on MG Road (yes, there's one there as well).

Here are some photographs from my trip. In case, you don't realise, let me warn you beforehand, I am an aspiring professional photographer as well.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Zinger, this one's for you!

I think I may be addicted to KFC.

I'm serious. I just love the place. Their Zinger Burger is right up there on my list of soul food. I have been told that I get this freaky, blissed out look on my face as I munch my way through a Zinger.

I don't know what they put into their fried chicken but the Colonel had it right. To think that a piece of fried chicken with a dab of mayo and a piece of lettuce trapped between the bread could be this delicious! The chicken doesn't even have enough masalas or gravy that justify 'taste' for us Indians. Add a slice of cheese and my day is made.

I had a Supercharged Zinger burger when I had gone to Cape Town (told you I'm addicted to it). It's a much spicier version of our humble Zinger. The fries that I got there were also awesome - soft, not looking as though the life had been deepfried out of them and dusted with chilli-salt which was provided in a separate packet. I don't know why our local KFC doesn't introduce these. Sure to be a hit with a populace that has grown up with spicy food.

I have had other items from KFC as well but really nothing compares to what I feel for the Zinger. By the way, I don't understand people who order one of those rice meals. I mean, can we go without rice for one meal at least?! And if you want to have rice, then why come to a chicken and burger joint?

KFC has launched a new set of drinks recently. I had the Sparkling crusher and the Strawberry one and both were very good. The Sparkling one was like a non-alcoholic Mojito while the Strawberry one was like a smoothie and had chunks of strawberry. In terms of burgers however, I think they could introduce a few more items - the options seem a bit limited to me.

All said and done, KFC truly IS 'finger-lickin good'! :)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

And Sid woke up...

As the coming-of-age story it is supposed to be, "Wake up Sid" (WUS) works.
The story, like so much of real life, is not particularly original but is still refreshing in its individual approach. Spoilt rich kid, Siddharth Mehra (Ranbir) is living the good life with his dad's credit card. There is really very little of the 'hero' about Sid in the first half - he is rude & thoughtless with his mother, happy to spend his father's money, a sore loser and ingrate of the highest order. he flunks out of college and gets thrown out of home without a penny. What follows is Sid's slow awakening to a realisation of what he wants out of life. His journey to the surface is tempered and helped along by Aisha Banerjee (Konkona), the 'New girl in the city'.

For Ranbir the role of Sid fits like a glove - he is very believable as the thoughtless, impulsive, dreamy youngster. I did however feel that there were moments when his expressions were unfathomable. Whether he is still inexperienced to be able to convey the right emotion accurately or whether it was just a shortcoming of the screenplay was hard to say. There were instances when I thought the dialogues and expression on Ranbir's face were a prelude to something..but that next course never quite got served. All said and done, he is still one of the better performers among the new crop of actors and can only get better with time.
Konkona plays her part with consummate ease. Her character is a mish-mash of roles she has essayed in earlier movies. Her Aisha is soothing with calm self-possession and confidence that holds a clear attraction for Sid.
I was really amazed to read somewhere that Ayan Mukherji the director of WUS is only 24! Consider this and the movie seems even more credible. The very real "young" feel of this movie, one feels, is no doubt because the director himself is so young. The son who is churlish with his mother, the relationship where age is not a barrier, the alternative career choice - these are all relatively fresh themes to be tackled barring a few movies like "Dil Chahta Hai".

The movie is overall well put-together. One area where it could have really scored more would be the dialogues. While definitely not run-of-the-mill Bollywood, they lack the bite that helped films like "Dil Chahta Hai".
The music of the movie is catchy enough, esp. the title track and "Iktara" also strikes the right chord. One does feel however that the tracks are somewhat forgettable.

Overall a good watch that leaves you with a smile on your face. I would give it a 7.5/10