Tag Archives: Ram Gopal Varma

Movie Review: Company (2002)

company3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon

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.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: The Attacks of 26/11 (2013)

TheAttacksof_26111.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

A case can be made that it’s too soon to make a feature film about the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 26, 2008. The problem with The Attacks of 26/11 isn’t one of timing, but of tone. Director Ram Gopal Varma’s thriller-meets-dramatic-reenactment is exploitative and lacks a compelling narrative.

Obviously, the circumstances of the brazen nighttime attack on landmarks throughout Mumbai are compelling in themselves, but we already know the details from news reports. Ten terrorists from Pakistan came ashore in Mumbai and proceeded to detonate explosives and shoot people at sites around the city, including the train station, a popular cafe, and a luxury hotel. Over a hundred people were killed and hundreds more injured. The only terrorist to survive was himself executed on November 21, 2012.

The first half of The Attacks of 26/11 focuses on the early hours of the days-long massacre. Terrorists are shown navigating the city to their target locations before murdering civilians en masse. Deaths are shown in gory, revolting detail. A girl with a bullet wound to the arm waits for rescue in the train station. A hotel manager’s brain explodes out the side of his head when shot.

As if the gory scenes weren’t off-putting enough, Varma employs typical thriller and horror techniques to add dramatic tension. Violins trill as a receptionist creeps toward a crying infant in a hotel lobby. The visuals shift into slow motion as the receptionist is shot repeatedly in the chest. Offscreen, a gun fires and the baby stops crying.

In a horror movie, it’s fun when the violins trill as the co-ed cautiously walks to the door we know she shouldn’t open. Here, the effect is sickening because the deaths of real people are being treated for cheap thrills. These are people who died just five years ago, not in some war that took place long before the advent of social media and cable news.

The attacks shouldn’t be off-limits for filmmakers, but any film made about them needs to inform, enlighten, or otherwise add to the conversation about them. Varma had the opportunity to do so, had he properly utilized Nana Patekar’s character, the Joint Police Commissioner. This film should’ve been told from his perspective with him as the main character, providing the audience with a guide through such emotionally overwhelming material.

More often than not, Varma shows the Commissioner (his character only has a title, not a name) sitting before a government panel telling them what happened rather than showing the events from his perspective as they happened. When the character participates actively, he does so in redundant flashbacks. For example, the Commissioner tells the panel that he was in the shower when he got the first call from the police control room. Then the camera shows him in the shower, and his wife tells him that the control room just called.

This redundancy and the formality of the government panel setting keep the audience at arm’s length. The panel would’ve been fine as a framing device, but not as the source of the running narrative. Patekar’s best scenes are those when he’s active, fielding calls in the control room or interrogating the only terrorist captured alive, Kasab (Sanjeev Jaiswal).

We see some of the Commissioner’s panic as he tries to orchestrate a response to the attacks, but we are spared the emotional torment he surely experienced afterward. The Commissioner tells the panel that some of the police officers who died were his friends. Since a note at the beginning of the movie explains that some details were altered for the sake of the narrative, why not include a scene in which the Commissioner wishes his friends good luck on what would be their final mission?

Had the audience been encouraged to make a personal connection with the characters, The Attacks of 26/11 could have been emotionally effective beyond the natural human empathy one feels for the victims. Varma’s focus on the spectacle makes the film feel tawdry.

Links

Opening March 1: I, Me Aur Main and The Attacks of 26/11

Two more new Hindi movies are set to open in the Chicago area on March 1, 2013. The romantic drama I, Me Aur Main stars John Abraham as a pampered man-child opposite Chitrangada Singh and Prachi Desai.

I, Me Aur Main opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 46 min.

Director Ram Gopal Varma’s thriller The Attacks of 26/11 also opens in area theaters on Friday. Given the relative freshness of the wounds inflicted by the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, I’m curious to see if RGV will rein in some of his more eccentric directorial quirks and tell a more somber, straightforward story.

The Attacks of 26/11 opens on Friday at all of the above theaters and has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 59 min.

Kai Po Che! posted strong first-weekend U.S. earnings of $522,765, meriting a second week in all of the above theaters plus the AMC River East 21 in Chicago. The disappointing gangster drama Zila Ghaziabad, predictably, does not get a second week.

On Friday, Special 26 begins its fourth week at the South Barrington 30, while ABCD departs local theaters with total U.S. earnings of $218,257.

Other Indian movies showing at the Golf Glen 5 on Friday include Kammath & Kammath (Malayalam) and Mr. Pellikoduku (Telugu).

Movie Review: Department (2012)

1 Star (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Department is a comedy, right? It must be, because it made me laugh out loud.

Director Ram Gopal Varma’s latest political thriller focuses on a special branch of the police force designed to stop organized crime. The special department is cleverly named: “Department.” Whenever a character in the movie says the word “department,” it’s accompanied by a musical fanfare. It’s a lot like when someone said the “magic word” on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and all of the characters had to start screaming.

The Department is headed by Mahadev (Sanjay Dutt) and rising star Shiv (Rana Daggubati). Both prefer to shoot first and ask questions later, even if it means firing at a bad guy while standing in the middle of a group of children playing catch.

The main objective of the Department is ostensibly to stop a turf war between rival gangsters Gauri and Sawatya (Vijay Raaz). When gangster-turned-politician Sarjay (Amitabh Bachchan) gets involved, alliances become less clear and the Department falls apart.

Since the plot is just a disorganized excuse for innumerable bloody shootouts and embarrassing slow-mo chase scenes — look at Shiv leap over that small bag of rice! — I’ll ignore it for now. Department‘s biggest problems are visual.

Varma is clearly in love with camera technique. If there is a table with a glass top in his vicinity, you can be sure that he will position a camera under it to shoot a scene.

Department was shot using a number of cameras small enough to be mounted to almost any object, which Varma hoped would create “a completely new viewer experience.” It’s a technique Sam Raimi used back in the Evil Dead movies in the 1980s, to better effect. In order to get a first-person shot of the actors in Department, cameras are mounted on everything from a newspaper to a coffee cup. Ever wonder what driving a car is like from the perspective of the steering wheel? Watch Department and wonder no more.

Rapid cuts and awkward closeups make the action hard to follow, while some editorial choices are downright mystifying. Take, for example, the following sequence of shots.

  1. A man stands on the beach drinking from a coconut.
  2. Closeup on another man’s dreadlocks.
  3. Upside-down closeup on a messenger bag. The camera rights itself as a hand draws a gun from the bag and fires a shot at the man drinking from the coconut.

Why did the camera need to be upside down?! And why do we need a closeup of the dreadlocks? (It must be a theme, because there a number of strange closeups of body parts, including at least a dozen shots of dirty feet and toenails.)

About two hours into the screening that I attended, the picture flipped upside down. Only when the audio started running backwards — complete with upside down, backwards subtitles at the top of the screen — did I realize that this was a projection problem and not just another strange directorial choice.

Getting back to the plot, it contains a number of attempts at sexiness that nauseate rather than titillate. First, the item song “Dan Dan Cheeni” features an unintentionally hilarious performance by Nathalia Kaur, who gyrates as seductively as someone having a seizure.

Then there are Sawatya’s amorous underlings, DK (Abhimanyu Singh) and Nasir (Madhu Shalini), who exist entirely to try to heat things up on screen. They fail miserably. While soaking in a bathtub, Nasir strokes DK’s thick mat of wet chest hair with her un-pedicured feet as he blows cigarette smoke into her mouth. Gross!

If you’re in the mood for a laugh — punctuated by occasional dry heaves –see Department. It’s ridiculous.

Links

Opening May 18: Department

New in Chicago area theaters the weekend beginning May 18, 2012, is the Hindi film Department. The political thriller from director Ram Gopal Varma stars Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt.

Department opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. It has a runtime 2 hrs. 21 min. Read my review of Department here.

The South Barrington 30 is carrying over Vicky Donor for a fifth week, while the Golf Glen 5 gives Dangerous Ishhq a second week. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel opens in India this weekend while also expanding into more U.S. theaters.

Other movies playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Chhota Bheem, Gabbar Singh (Telugu), Kalakalappu @ Masala Cafe (Tamil), and Love, Lies and Seeta (English).

Opening October 22: Jhootha Hi Sahi, Rakht Charitra and Hisss

This weekend presents a feast for Bollywood fans, with three new movies opening in the Chicago area. The movie getting the widest release is the romantic comedy Jhootha Hi Sahi, which stars John Abraham as a man who talks a woman out of committing suicide after she mistakenly dials his phone number.

Jhootha Hi Sahi opens on Friday, October 22, 2010 at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 35 min.

Both of this weekend’s other new Hindi releases are scheduled to open in the Chicago area only at the Golf Glen 5. First is part one of director Ram Gopal Varma’s two-part biography of the life of Paritala Ravindra: Rakht Charitra. The Golf Glen 5 will carry both the Hindi and Telugu versions of Rakht Charitra.

I’m surprised and disappointed that this weekend’s other new Hindi film, Hisss, wasn’t released in any local theaters besides the Golf Glen 5. The horror movie — which stars Mallika Sherawat as a nagi, a fantastical human-snake deity — is written and directed by David Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer Lynch, who directed the oddly compelling Boxing Helena in 1993.

If you need to catch up on some older releases, Aakrosh gets a second week at the South Barrington 30. Anjaana Anjaani — which has earned $827,303 in the U.S. so far — carries over at the South Barrington 30, Cantera 30 and AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago. And Enthiran carries on in its various forms at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, Cantera 30 and Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend include the Telugu movies Brindaavanam and Khaleja at the Golf Glen 5 and Sathyam Cinemas.

Movie Review: Rann (2010)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

It’s both sad and comforting to know that, on the other side of the world, people are as distrustful of the mainstream media as they are in America.

Rann (“Battle”) explores news organizations’ struggle for ratings supremacy and their ability to steer public opinion based on their coverage of news stories.

Amitabh Bachchan stars as Vijay Hashvardan Malik, a TV news pioneer who prides himself on truthfulness. As Vijay’s network loses advertisers to rivals that engage in tabloid journalism, his son, Jay (Sudeep), struggles to convince him to add more sensationalism to the network’s broadcasts.

With the network’s financial trouble widely known, Jay’s brother-in-law, Naveen (Rajat Kapoor), proposes to Jay a plan to save the network: favorable coverage of a shady politician named Mohan Pandey (Paresh Rawal) in exchange for advertising dollars from Naveen’s company.

Jay conveniently comes into possession of a video that tarnishes the reputation of Pandey’s main political rival. Jay convinces his father to broadcast the video in the name of truthfulness, and suddenly the network’s financial problems disappear.

A new reporter at the network, Purab (Ritesh Deshmukh), grows suspicious and investigates the politician’s story. What he discovers shakes his faith in the industry and in Vijay, the man who inspired him to become a journalist.

The collusion between the industrialists, politicians and networks is eerie and believable.  Bachchan and Deshmukh are quietly effective as a pair of idealists who come to realize that they’re playing a rigged game. Rawal is especially creepy as Pandey, who laughs off the bloodshed he inflicts as though it were a natural part of politics.

[I have a question for any Indian readers: Pandey is flanked by bodyguards who openly carry machine guns. I’ve seen this in other Hindi movies as well. Do politicians in India really travel with such visibly heavily armed guards? Just curious.]

Despite the universal appeal of the story, American audiences may struggle with poorly translated English subtitles. The subtitles also occasionally get lost against background shots of news programs with moving crawls at the bottom of the screen.

I’ve only seen two of Ram Gopal Varma’s films, but it’s clear that he’s an auteur with a distinct style and a love of filmmaking technique. In fact, I’d say he suffers from an over-reliance on camera technique. His cameras constantly swoop for dramatic effect and zoom in for close-ups of the actors’ faces. On those rare occasions when the camera is static, it’s positioned underneath a glass coffee table, or the shot is framed by an actor’s foot resting on said coffee table. Varma also inserts hilariously over-the-top musical cues to alert the audience whenever anything of import happens.

I found these directorial tics distracting in Varma’s Sarkar Raj, and they bugged me in Rann, as well. Rann‘s plot is riveting and so well acted that I wanted to focus on the story, not on the cinematography. With a story this good, we in the audience know how we’re supposed to feel without the aid of directorial gimmicks.

Rann‘s runtime is 2 hrs. 25 min.

Opening January 29: Rann and Ishqiya

Two new Hindi movies open in the Chicago area on Friday, January 29, 2010. Rann (“Battle”) is director Ram Gopal Varma’s fictional exposé of corporate media corruption, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ritesh Deshmukh.

Rann opens this Friday at Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 25 min.

This weekend’s other new movie is Ishqiya, starring Vidya Balan as an alluring widow and Arshad Warsi and Naseeruddin Shah as the two thieves who fall in love with her.

Ishqiya opens on Friday at the Golf Glen 5.

Salman Khan’s Veer enters its second week in area theaters after earning $334,562 in the U.S. in its opening weekend. The movie carries over at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and AMC Cantera 30 in Warrenville.

The super hit 3 Idiots sticks around for an amazing sixth week, having already earned $6,294,393 in U.S. theaters. It continues to run at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30, Cantera 30 and AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago.

Chance Pe Dance leaves theaters after two weeks, having earned a disappointing $164,188 total in the U.S.

Other Indian films in Chicago area theaters this weekend include the Telugu movies Adurs and Namo Venkatesha at the Golf Glen 5, and Goa (Tamil) and Palery Manickyam (Malayalam) at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove.

Movie Review: Sarkar Raj (2008)

Zero Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

The considerable acting talents of Bollywood’s royal family, the Bachchans (Abhishek, wife Aishwarya Rai, and father Amitabh), are wasted in Sarkar Raj, a sequel to the 2005 gangster flick Sarkar. Absent a compelling script, director Ram Gopal Varma has to alert the audience when anything of even minor significance happens, using absurdly dramatic music and close-up shots of the actors’ most mundane reactions. Varma’s homage to The Godfather is as subtle as a horse head in your bed.

This review originally appeared in The Naperville Sun on June 12, 2008