Tag Archives: Jaideep Sahni

Movie Review: Company (2002)

company3 Stars (out of 4)

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Thanks to Just Me Mike for lending me his DVD copy of Company! Check out Mike’s film and TV reviews here.

Having seen four of his Hindi films dating back to 2008’s Sarkar Raj, it’s fair to say that I am not a fan of director Ram Gopal Varma. Still, wanting to know how he earned his acclaim, I watched one of his earlier movies. 2002’s Company is easily the best Varma film that I’ve seen, yet it also confirms my aversion to many of his directorial quirks.

Company‘s plot is based on the lives of notable Mumbai dons, and the story certainly feels authentic. A high-ranking gangster named Malik (Ajay Devgn) recruits a goon named Chandu (Vivek Oberoi) to act as his lieutenant, and together they wrest control of Mumbai’s most powerful gang from its aging patriarch. They expand the gang’s influence into movies, real estate, and politics, only for egos to get in the way and ruin the fun.

Criminal enterprises of this sort — where legal and illegal activities are intertwined across borders — are complex, thus the burden falls on filmmakers to explain them in the simplest way possible. Writer Jaideep Sahni’s story gets better as the film goes along, but only after a confusing setup that should have been condensed.

Malik’s emotional detachment enables him to kill without batting an eye, but it makes him a hard character to love. Instead, the audience is supposed to empathize with Chandu. We watch him transform from street thug to attaché, dealing with the internal conflict the change awakens. We also get see his romance with Kannu (Antara Mali) blossom, whereas Malik’s relationship with Saroja (Manisha Koirala) preexisted.

The women’s role in the narrative can’t be minimized. They follow their other halves to Hong Kong, where the gang sets up a base after police pressure in Mumbai becomes too strong. The friendship between Kannu and Saroja makes Hong Kong feel like home away from home, but it also causes a catastrophic misunderstanding.

Back in Mumbai, chief of police Srinivasan (Mohanlal) waits patiently for the gang to implode. Mohanlal’s performance is as laid back as that of Devgn, but it makes sense in the context of his character. Srinivasan chips away at the enterprise, knowing that one day, cracks will form that he can exploit.

The sprawling landscape of characters — played by some of Bollywood’s best supporting actors — leads to surprising twists as the story moves along. Patience is rewarded in Sahni’s story. He deserves additional kudos for making the women in the plot integral to the story, rather than just window dressing.

Yet time after time, I find my attention being drawn away from the story to Varma’s distracting camera techniques. Whether it’s crazy angles, garish filters, or blocked lines of sight, the techniques seem to exist only for their own sake, not to serve the narrative.

Lighting is a persistent problem in Company. The camera alternates between closeups of two characters having a conversation in a sunny room, with one character’s face brightly lit while the other is grainy with shadows. When Malik delivers one important line, you can’t even see his facial features, he’s so covered in shadows.

Probably the worst example is a reaction shot of Chandu late in the movie. As he mutely reacts to bad news, a spotlight illuminates only his mouth and nostrils. How is one supposed to judge Oberoi’s performance in this scene? By the quality of his nostril-flaring?

I may never be a Ram Gopal Varma fan, but I appreciate Company for its riveting exploration of gang politics. It’s a more enjoyable way to encounter his quirks than many of his more recent films.

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Movie Review: Shuddh Desi Romance (2013)

ShuddhDesiRomance3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Whether we want to admit it or not, romantic relationships are both public and private. Society demands to know how its members fit together. Shuddh Desi Romance (released internationally as “Random Desi Romance“) explores how the social nature of romantic partnerships is changing in India, as arranged marriages fall out of fashion.

This exploration takes place via a love triangle involving Raghu (Sushant Singh Rajput), Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra), and Tara (Vaani Kapoor). The story begins on the way to Raghu’s arranged marriage to Tara, an arrangement he agrees to because he figures he’ll never meet anyone else as pretty. On the overnight bus ride to the wedding, Raghu does meet another pretty woman: Gayatri, who, like Raghu, makes a living as a paid guest hired to fill out anemic wedding parties.

On the bus, Raghu realizes that he’s made a mistake in agreeing to marry the first pretty woman he meets. Failing to learn his lesson, he immediately falls in love with Gayatri. Raghu flees in the middle of the wedding ceremony under the pretext of going to the bathroom (setting up a running gag throughout the rest of the film).

Poor Raghu is semi-permanently flummoxed. He follows his heart blindly, only to emerge from his romantic haze to find that something has gone wrong, and he has no idea why. During his more lucid moments, Raghu is earnest and charming, which is the only reason self-assured women like Gayatri and Tara have anything to do with him.

What Gayatri and Tara understand is that one’s actions in romance have both private and public meaning. The consequences of running out on your own wedding are obvious to everyone, but even sharing dinner in a restaurant is a public display of togetherness, even if only for the duration of the meal. Nosy parents, friends, neighbors, and relatives all over the world ask the same questions of every young couple: “Is this relationship serious? When are you getting married? When are you having kids?”

Writer Jaideep Sahni uses a clever trick to allow his young adult characters to explore the meaning of love for themselves: he writes their parents out of the narrative. The only interfering elders are Tara’s overprotective uncle (played by Rajesh Sharma) and the caterer who employs Gayatri and Raghu as wedding extras (played by Rishi Kapoor in a very funny supporting role).

The lead actors are outstanding, particularly Rajput, who anchors the story. He manages to make Raghu confused, but not a total dimwit. He’s just way out of his depth with the two women in his life.

Parineeti Chopra is something special. Like her character in Ishaqzaade, she again plays an independent woman who falls for a man against her better judgement. As cautious as Gayatri is, she’s just as susceptible to getting lost in the moment as Raghu.

Vaani Kapoor is terrific in her film debut. Her finest moment is during her jilting at the altar. When it becomes apparent that Raghu has fled, Tara — clad in her wedding finery — calmly sits in the chair and asks someone to bring her a Coke. It’s such a boss move.

In trying to depict a realistic modern romance, director Maneesh Sharma eschews the use of a lot of background music, favoring street noise instead. He also allows conversations and scenes to play out at a slow pace. At times, it feels the audience is given too much time to think about what’s happening, an irony given Raghu’s penchant for acting without thinking. Fortunately, a moderately short runtime keeps the film from feeling too bogged down in exposition.

Shuddh Desi Romance is smart, funny, and full of great performances. It’s worth seeing ASAP.

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