Tag Archives: Manisha Koirala

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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Retro Review: Dil Se (1998)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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Over the years, several people have recommended Dil Se to me. Based on the DVD cover, I expected a good but fairly typical romantic drama. Boy, was I wrong. Dil Se takes the genre in unexpected directions, enhancing a well-told story with surreal dance numbers.

The couple on the DVD cover meet on a train platform on a cold night during a downpour. Amar (Shahrukh Khan) assumes that a figure huddled under a blanket is a man and asks him for a match to light his cigarette. A gust of wind blows the blanket away to reveal a lovely woman named Meghna (Manisha Koirala).

Amar flirts clumsily with the taciturn beauty, until she finally asks him to buy her a hot cup of tea. While he’s helping the sleepy tea vendor prepare the chai, a train pulls into the station. Amar arrives on the platform, cups of tea in hand, to see Meghna seated on the train with some rough-looking guys. She gives him one last look as the train pulls away.

They meet again a short time later in Northeast India, where Amar is covering the fiftieth anniversary of Indian independence from Britain, for the national radio station. What should be a happy time is marred by ongoing clashes between the army and groups of separatists. Amar interviews the revolutionaries to better understand their goals.

When, in the course of his work, Amar comes across Meghna, she pretends not to recognize him at first, which only intensifies his pursuit. Amar’s pursuit is aggressive, almost as though he feels entitled to her. Still, she doesn’t reject him as forcefully as she has grounds to. She eventually tells him that she’s married. Amar’s attempt to apologize results in him being beaten up and left in a ditch by the men who were on the train with Meghna the first night they met.

Amar is understandably confused, as is the audience. Who is this girl? Is she interested in Amar, or not? Is she telling the truth? It’s no wonder why he finds her so alluring, despite the danger to his personal safety.

There’s an aura of danger surrounding Amar as he files his reports. He’s in essentially foreign territory; he doesn’t speak the language or understand the people. His bravado masks the fact that he’s out of his element, whether talking with terrorists or walking through the desert after his bus breaks down. The only thing he understands is how he feels for Meghna.

Enhancing that feeling of disorientation are the movie’s musical numbers, arguably the best part of the movie. It’s easy to incorporate a song-and-dance number by having the characters join in a parade that just happens to be passing by. It takes guts to make the romantic leads run from soldiers as the city explodes around them during a love song.

The numbers are symbolic rather than literal. This is the ideal way to include musical performances in a movie, as it provides a visual representation of a character’s mindset. It elevates the performances beyond mere devices for selling soundtrack CDs, especially since A. R. Rahman’s amazing songwriting sells itself.

I’m not qualified to say if the choreography in Dil Se is the best ever, but I’m confident that it is some of the most challenging and well-executed. Choreographer Farah Khan demands that actors throw themselves into her dances whole-heartedly. There is no way to half-ass her moves.

The most impressive dance number in the movie, “Chaiyya Chaiyya,” takes place on top of a moving train, traveling through tunnels and over bridges. It’s nearly seven minutes long. The dance is so technically stunning and the setting so precarious, thinking about the practicalities of its filming temporarily brought me out of the movie. Still, it’s so cool that it’s impossible not to enjoy it.

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