Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kaatru Velliyidai Movie Review

Kaatru Velliyidai
Vidit Bhargava
Kaatru Velliyidai by Mani Ratnam marks 25 years of his collaboration with A.R. Rahman (my favourite music composer, and also the reason why I end up watching random Tamil movies even though I have no knowledge of the Tamil language at all), and in many ways it is also a near perfect expression of what Mani Ratnam and his fairly consistent team offer best: great music, stunning visuals, innovative angles, interesting metaphors and a fresh perspective. However, movies aren't just about stunning visuals and great music, and Kaatru Velliyidai is far from Mani Ratnam's best.

Set in the 1990s' Kashmir, Kaatru Velliyidai is more of a character sketch of on an INA pilot (played by Karthi) and a young doctor (played by Aditi Rao Hydari). There's depth to the two characters and there's a decent story that's told here. But where Kaatru Velliyidai really excels is the visuals. From the Himalayan expanse that makes up for the landscape of more than half of the movie, to the some really well directed scenes which are beautifully captured. If the story is just a tad bit slow, it's complemented by visuals that brighten your day. Ravi Varman's visuals accompanied by Mani Ratnam's direction manage to capture the beauty of the Kashmir Valley.

The setting is well laid out, the Honda Kinetic, the Willies Jeep, the Delhi house with a central courtyard (which I'm sure is the same house that Mani Ratnam used for the residence of Preeti Zinta's character in Dil Se), the VHS tapes and the CRT TVs all subtly remind you that it's the 90s that the movie is set in. It's always great to see attention to detail in a mainstream movie. It also helps a lot that some of the best work of the director came in that very era.

Kaatru Velliyidai also benefits from stellar performances by Aditi Rao Hydari and Karthi. Aditi Rao Hydari is effortless in her role. Karthi even though a little loud at times, shows prowess in the later parts of the movie where he's playing a more subdued role. The support cast for most of the part doesn't really shine though. They are all good performances but there's little that stands out. However, that only works in Kaatru Velliyidai's favor, as the focus is kept on the two lead actors.

There's a lot of implicitness in the screenplay. Which is pretty interesting. The first time Leela (Aditi Rao Hydari's character) mentions about her brother, it's only a passing reference made to VC's (Karthi) senior. It's not until a good 15 minutes later that it was her brother she's talking about. The reasons for why the characters behave in the way they do, all lie in the implicit hints dropped around. At one point, the movie shows a glimpse of VC's family, which when you think of it also gives you an insight as to why VC's character is so flawed and reckless. However, this implicit nature also makes the movie look incomplete. There's so much to be filled in the gaps, that it's a little discerning and frankly not the ideal experience.

The entire implicitness of the screenplay and the fact that the story gets a little stretched and even a little outlandish towards the end makes you wonder if this is an incomplete movie. There must be more of it, surely the director's leaving a lot for the audience to interpret. While the last hour is not disastrous, it's nothing special either. The screenplay leaves a lot to be desired.

A.R. Rahman's music is top notch. The combination of Vairamuthu, Rahman and Mani Ratnam produces some really meaningful and melodious tracks. Amongst the songs, Nalai Allai, Saratu Vandiyile and Azhagiye are my favourite. Tango Kelaayo is innovative, Hariharan dubbing both the male and female voice. But in general, I've been listening to the entire soundtrack for the last 4-5 months and it feels like another winner from the trio.

Ultimately Kaatru Velliyidai is a visual treat with an interesting story, bogged down by an ordinary screenplay. Great music, visuals and acting lead it quite far, but not far enough. I'd only recommend it for the visuals And music. If you are looking for a good story and screenplay to go along with it, this is not the Mani Ratnam movie you're looking for.

Rating : ***

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Movie Recommendation: Raees

Vidit Bhargava
A typical Hindi Crime thriller (or in the broad sense this is what a rags-to-riches story would generally look like) follows this screenplay:

An outsider rises up the crime ranks by becoming an apprentice to the existing biggies, rises to new heights overshadowing his own mentors, but ultimately peaks, and then follows your great Greek tragedy.

There have been quiet a few of these in the past, & for me Sathya was one such movie that stands out (probably because it breaks the template a little and tells the story of the 'master' rising to his peak with the help of his apprentice) In the recent times, Vasan Bala experimented with this format when he wrote Bombay Velvet, and the movie was slightly underwhelming, primarily because it had one too many distractions that it couldn't narrate a coherent story At the end of the day.

Raees is the latest entrant. A story, coincidentally set in the same age that these type of movies started coming around. Inspired by the life of “Abdul Latif”, Raees is a crime thriller directed by Rahul Dholakia.

What works for Raees is the fact that it's constantly engaging. Well shot Action sequences ensure the much needed adrenaline rush for the movie. The good part is that the action sequences aren't sprayed around, Dholakia uses them at the right time for a good impact. Seldom did I feel that a sequence wasn't needed at the point in the movie.

But more than the action sequences, it's the acting that really makes the day. Shah Rukh Khan is phenomenal in his potrayal of Raees, carefully treading the line between Angry, kind and shrewd. It's a pleasure to see him think on his feet; in one scene he's offered tea at a police station and he casually remarks about its miserly small quantity, the very remark goes on to plant the seed for a new idea. In another sequence, he gets his escape idea while absent-mindedly tossing a matchbox, this is something that could easily feel cliche with a different actor, but Shah Rukh Khan handles it surprisingly well. Zeeshan Ayub as the loyal friend is dependably great, and Nawazuddin Siddique shines in his role of the righteous cop. I wish Nawazuddin had better dialogues written for him though, it's a shame to see his character feel so off-colour in comparison to his anti-establishment counterpart. (Should have taken a cue from Adil Hussain's character in Lootera perhaps)

There's something to be said about Rahul Dholakia's prowess in establishing the period setting . The subtle references to the period that movie is present in, the small but visible changes that make Shah Rukh Khan look young in the start of the movie, and considerably older by the end of it; all speak of an attention to detail that shows the care with which this movie was made. You can track the timeline of the story by the small details like the visual style of Raees' spectacles, they are accurate in identifying the different styles each decade had; right back to the 70s when a much younger Raees' gets a much more utilitarian looking spectacle. But sunglasses aren't the only thing indicating the period of the setting here, it's even in the dialogue, paraphernalia, and the cultural references too. If you were to divide a movie's story in three parts, Idea, setting and Screenplay, Dholakia absolutely nails the setting part.

RaeesSpectacles

As for the screenplay, Raees sets up a great first half with engaging sequences leading upto an interesting story helped by some great acting. It sets the stage for its self to rise above its template storyline and really make for a meaningful watch in the final act. But then Raees fails. It gets too preachy when handling the riots' sub-plot, the screenplay is distracted by way too many things leading up to the climax, a political alliance, a romantic sub-plot, riots, did we really need them in this movie? Perhaps not. Even the quick-wittedness of Raees' character feels repitative and less appealing after awhile. It's these problems that entangle Raees, which ends up just being a +1 to the long list of Bollywood crime thrillers, ultimately offering very little that's new to the table.

For a movie that could have gone down as a classic crime thriller, its a bit underwhelming that Raees ends up being just an entertaining action movie. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Raees. Something that I can't say for a lot of great movies I saw last year. There's this trend building up with Hindi movies that unless a movie doesn't offer this life changing, completely un-heard of idea or a social message relevant to the media rants around it, it's worthless. I'd like to differ from this view. I think an ideal movie is one that keeps you entertained for its entire duration and offer a well written story that interests the viewer. Great ideas are a sign of a great story, not necessarily the only sign you should be looking for in a movie. So, is Raees is the ideal movie? Far from it. But is it a good, entertaining watch? Yes.

Rating: *** (I really enjoyed watching it)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Don't Peep in the Kitchen just Yet

Sometime back, while I was designing the Watch app for LookUp, my brother (and the Co-Creator of LookUp) arrived at my desk, looked at me designing the interface and exclaimed, “This Looks Terrible! I hope we aren't shipping that!”, my response to him was simple, “Don't Look into the kitchen while the food is being prepared”, I meant to tell him that while I was in the process of designing an interface, there'd undoubtedly be things that I'd change, improvise on or remove before I finish making it, and in general it's not a good idea to critique the design during the process.

Sometimes I feel the same is true with Apple bloggers and rumor websites. Sometimes, they peep into the kitchen too early, set their expectations too high, and when the final product is ultimately different, or all together scrapped, there's an altogether different slew of rumour on rumour reports.

By now you've probably guessed what the post is about: Rumors on the Apple Car. Sometime in 2015, rumor began that Apple was planning to make a car. They'd insist that the car would be ready by 2018 and have self driving capabilities and would be an electric car. Months passed, Now the ambitions were reportedly toned down, and the first version was to just be an electric car And self driving would come later. A few months later, reports started pouring in that Apple had scrapped the idea all together, and was focusing on the software instead. Confusion ensued, is Apple making a car or not? Is even Apple clear about what they want to do with their car project? (Given a new reports suggesting that they working with law makers to work on self driving tech) Apple's Famed Car project was now termed the failed car project.

What!? Failed Car Project!? Were they even making a car in the first place? This to me appears to be a Peeping to early in the kitchen problem. Apple was probably working on a car, like they work on almost everything And the rumor went out rather earlier than it should have, and the result? Everyone assumed Apple would be ready with a car. They didn't even think of the possibility that they wouldn't eventually go ahead with it, or possibly shelf it. It's as if you were told of a touch screen Mac back in 2003, subsequently being told that Apple had “toned down” the ambitions and were focusing on building a touch screen phone instead.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Book Recommendation : Snow Crash

Vidit Bhargava
For some years now, a popular question in Technology quizzes has been about the inspiration behind Google Earth being a piece of software called “Earth” from Neil Stephenson's Sci-Fi novel Snow Crash. Turns out, describing a software like Google Earth isn't Snow Crash's biggest futuristic prediction. Stephenson's book is more deeply researched than that.

Back in the 1980s Neil Stephenson wanted to create Snow Crash as a computer generated graphic novel and got deeply involved in scientific research going on at the time in the field of computers and religious symbolism. In a conversation with a Jaime Taffe, Stephenson first came across the idea of a “Virtual Reality System”. Because Stephenson was spending so much time in Mac software development, he decided to design his fictional VR System called “Metaverse” using Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, following the design philosophies mentioned to lay the foundation for the most important part of Snow Crash. The Metaverse Virtual Reality System. Metaverse is what inspired the creators of Oculus Rift to make their VR Headset.

Given Snow Crash's rich technological heritage, I decided to read this book, sometime back. Like one would aspect, Snow Crash is set in a time where the next big thing after the internet is a VR System called “Metaverse”, a digital universe where users can log onto to interact with people and share information and knowledge. Metaverse has the stream of advantages that any digital universe would have. Following the plot of a certain “Hiro Protagonist”, Snow Crash explores the themes of the Mafia, religious symbolism, Sumerian Mythology and a modern day info-calypse. It's a gripping story, one that draws you into the novel from the beginning.

Snow Crash works because it's always got some or the other surprise up it's sleeve. Moreover its fascinating to see the futuristic gadgetry from the late 1980s that eventually turned into products in early 2000s. The central characters are quick-witted and every character is highly competent in what they do, resulting in scenarios where some or the other is always thinking two steps ahead of their opponent, making for a highly engaging read. Stephenson even manages to slip in humorous moments, which is good, as this book is always at a risk of being too heavy with all the different genre it's trying to merge, the humor helps maintain a lighter environment.

But where Snow Crash falters is the parts in which Hiro goes on an exploration trip about Sumerian Mythology! It's boring and takes up a good chunk of the book. I wish there was a little more focus on Uncle Enzo's Mafia or Juanita's character, both of them, while important, seem to be ignored for a large part of the book.

Snow Crash is worth a read because of the interesting futuristic tale that it has in store for us. I also found the concepts of “Namshab” and other elements from the Sumerian Mythology to be interesting, and it gets me wondering if anyone's trying to figure that out too (just like people dwelled on Virtual Reality for years)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dear Zindagi Movie Review

Vidit Bhargava

still From Movie

Movie: Dear Zindagi
Director and Writer: Gauri Shinde
Actors: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Rohit Saraf, Kunal Kapoor
Running Time: 2hours 30 minutes

Somewhere towards the end of the Movie, Shah Rukh Khan's character says “Genius is to know when to stop.” it's ironical that this movie doesn't know just that!

Starring Alia Bhatt in a lead role, Dear Zindagi follows the story of an ambitious director of photography who eventually ends up seeking therapy from a queer psychologist (Shah Rukh Khan) who treats people with his unconventional means.

This is director Gauri Shinde's second movie, her first movie English Vinglish was an extremely delightful movie watching experience and remains one of my all time favorite movies. So it was only natural that I'd go to Dear Zindagi with equally high expectations. Just like English Vinglish, Shinde is able to narrate a powerful story with a good female character at its center. At an interview sometime last year, Shimit Amin had mentioned about the dearth of female directors actually leading to a dearth of stories which focused on them. The situation still persists, and at the moment someone like Gauri Shinde is just one of the few directors who are keen on presenting such stories. Which is a good thing because there's a new perspective to see whenever you goto watch a Gauri Shinde movie.

A major part of the movie's more-or-less successful execution can be attributed to Alia Bhatt. This is easily one of her best performances, (ranking right up against her performance in Udta Punjab and Highway). She's effortless in her role and even when the character's story goes into an hyperbole post intermission, it's her acting that keeps the movie from completely falling apart. She's also aided by an equally flawless, Shah Rukh Khan (whom you could fit in any role and get the same level of awesome acting from him), Shah Rukh Khan's role of a doctor / mentor while reminiscent of his character in Chak De India, is still fresh and somewhat comical. Most of the laughs (there are a plenty) are provided from him. This is also the second time in the year when Shah Rukh Khan has shown some seriously good acting prowess or got a character to play, coming after 3 years of presenting us with Mind-less crap in the name of 'entertaining' movies.

But Dear Zindagi is far from a perfect movie. The writers are so occupied with the idea of showing an independent woman's plight that they end up dividing their focus on a lot of issues. There's a consistent lack of focus here. A sub-plot too many about the lead characters woes. There's a constant ring about being judged for work over anything else, a sub-plot about having to leave an apartment at the landlord's whim, and a subplot about the career choices and settling into a “job”. To top that, there's also a back story, just meant to justify our lead character's exceptionally mercurial behavior. Had they instead, focussed on one of the many problems, we'd have a better story perhaps. At this point it's just a little better than a documentary on the many woes of women.

To top that, the editing isn't great either, the movie is filled with long conversations between Bhatt and Khan's characters. The conversations while noteworthy and important to the story, eventually get too long and boring. At a point, you're no longer even listening to the characters, you end up just staring at their faces, looking for a clue as to where is this going. Long Conversations also have the habit of feeling cliche, it's not surprising that Dear Zindagi suffers from that too. Snappier Editing or perhaps a greater focus on the lead character's profession would have made it a much better movie.

But even with it's many script problems, Dear Zindagi is one of the better films of 2016. It's a good, positive movie which brings a new perspective and a new story to the table. It's also nice to see some comedy coming back to movies, it's after a long time that I found some genuine humor in a hindi movie. I'd recommend watching Dear Zindagi. It's seldom that you see such fine actors working together.

Rating : *** (Worth a watch, despite some problems)

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P.S. It is worth mentioning that Dharma Productions itself has a great graphics and cinematography crew. Their knowledge of colours, font matching and their attention to detail even in the end credits is worthy of an award.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Mirzya Movie Review

Vidit Bhargava

In the last few years, while there's been an outburst of innovative and somewhat dystopian stories. There's been surprisingly little innovation that's gone into the design of a movie's narrative. Not a lot of directors have dabbled into the non-linear narratives. Mirzya aims to provide some innovations in the storytelling space.

The movie's actually built over three parallel settings; All showing the same story. The first one is the traditional Mirza Sahiban tale, the second, a contemporary take on the same story, set in modern day Rajasthan And then there's this third tale, which moves in and out of the story, and which is more abstract than the first two. It's the story of how Gypsies narrate the Mirzya Sahiban tale (which I believe is the origin of the propagation of this legend) through song and dance. It is the most interestingly shot of the lot too, the gypsie setting blends in so smoothly for most of the part that you hardly notice that there's a story in there too and yet, it strikes you as the stories conclude, that there must be a conclusion to that tale as well (There isn't. The gypsies just keep narrating the story.)

There's another unique part to Mirzya. It has very little dialogue in it. So, basically what you are seeing is a movie adhering, not to a dialogue based script, but a visual representation of poetry. Dialogues are confined to the tale involving contemporary characters. The songs serve as the connection to the tale of gypsies and the contemporary characters And Gulzariyan connect the traditional tale to the characters. Together Gulzar and Rakesh Omprakash Mehra try to create a truly unique movie watching experience. As a literary work, Mirzya is as unique as it gets. Relying so heavily on the music, Mirzya also benefits from the fact that this is possibly one of the best works of Shankar Ehsaan Loy. So, the songs are usually a pleasant distraction from the narrative.

On paper Mirzya should really be the path-breaking, genre defining movie that it aims to be. But it isn't even close. The execution isn't great. The result is just a string of events. Moving from point A to B, and since this is a story that's been told so often, it's also predictable. It's hard to enjoy a movie that is both predictable and one whose characters fail to make any connect with the viewer.

Mirzya is one of the rare movies which I feel are too short. It tries to be too snappy, too quick paced, in a story which needed subtlety and time to seep in. But the filmmakers are interested in anything but building up the chief characters or giving them the depth, which was needed to drive the second hour of the movie. They are more interested in the grandeur of the legend and its timelessness. With no depth, it's just hard to care for the characters. The result is a visually stunning but ultimately hollow movie. Had the movie been a little longer, perhaps giving more screen time to the leading characters, we'd probably something better. What good is a tragedy where you can't root for its characters (This is a recurring theme in almost all the recent Hindi tragedies (Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani, Ranjhanaa, to name a few) I've seen in recent times. baring Ranjhanaa, by the end of every other movie, one couldn't careless if the leading characters lived or died in the climax.)

Mirzya also bets big on new comers and it pays of to an extent, Harshwardhan Kapoor, Anuj Choudhary and Seiyami Kher are impressive but don't get much to do with their depthless characters.

Pawel Dyllus' Cinematography is top notch. It provides the movie with a stunning landscape. The colours are vibrant, some of the shots could just be used for wallpapers. It'd be a shame to not watch Mirzya in a theatre Or on a wide color gamut display. There are so many subtle colour variations which I fear would get lost on a computer display that doesn't support P3. In terms of technical expertise, 2016 is really the year for Colour Correctness. Right from Kapoor and Sons, to last month's Baar Baar Dekho and now Mirzya, these movies are really picking up the right colours to produce a visually delightful experience.

In an interview sometime back, Rakesh Omprakash Mehra talked about the inspiration behind the movie. He mentioned how he was intrigued by the question of why Sahiban breaks Mirzya's Arrows And that he wanted to seek an answer to that And ultimately decided on making something that'd be open to the viewer's interpretation. Mehra largely succeeds in doing that. Towards the end of the movie, you do get a sense of why she broke the arrows. It's one of the few things that the screenplay successfully executed.

Mirzya is like the v1.0 of a concept. It's an ambitious project. One that aims at providing a new form of poetic storytelling and a unique non-linear narrative But it's also one that's too much in awe of the concept. So much so that it misses on many of the other important aspects. It's a miss fire but one that'll ultimately benefit the musicals to come. At least someone tried to tinker with Storytelling and Narration, when all that we are getting these days is either commercial crap or hyper-realistic, ugly and dystopian message movies. It's also a watcheable movie. If nothing else works, you still get to see some great cinematography and experience awesome music.

Rating: ** 1/2

__ Gulzariyan is a phrase that was used to credit the short poetic verses in the soundtrack which appear to be fragments of a song but are actually part of the narration.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cafe Turtle

Vidit Bhargava
Hidden above a bookshop, Cafe Turtle is a tiny cafe with a seating capacity of not more than 25 people. The cafe, it would appear, is always bursting at its seems. It helps that their food is just too good to be missed if you are looking for vegetarian options in Khan Market.

The cafe, it seems has a single agenda. To provide as many lacto-vegetarian options as possible. They aren't particularly tied to one cuisine, you'll find a greak salad sandwich and an Aloo Samosa in the same menu. One would think, this type of variation would generally end in being just a mish-mash of Indianised versions of the purported options. However, that doesn't seem to be the case with Cafe Turtle, as they try to be just as close to the original food item as they can get.

In this visit, I had a greek salad sandwich, some bruschetta and an Iced Mochaccino at the cafe. The food is good. While the olives dominate the taste slightly, the overall preparation is very carefully done. The Greek Salad Sandwich never seemed to be oozing out of it's shell (something that could have made it incredibly messy), and the bruschetta had a a good balance of garlic and tomato flavour.

Personally, I'd recommend the Greek Salad Sandwich more than anything else. It's filling and it comes in a nice, soft bread which is something new I got to try. In terms of the taste, there's nothing at particular that grabs your attention, it's a very balanced sandwich with none of the sticking out. However, if you are not a fan of hummus you might want to look at other options too.

As much as I liked Cafe Turtle's food, I felt that the Cafe could have been bigger and quieter. A lot of cafe's in order to give themselves a cozy European feel to them, go for high-ceiling and smaller room. As a result, the place feels more chattery than it is. The moment I walked into the cafe, the place felt full of people, even though only a few tables were occupied, the voices felt very loud and hardly something you'd enjoy, if you just wanted to have your meal in peace. But that's just me, a lot of people prefer the noise (or are the noise makers themselves).

While the noise and some of the architectural choices reminded me of Soda Bottleopenerwala, the Vegetarian Only options and a balanced authentic taste give Cafe Turtle a unique identity of it's own. This one's only recommended if you are going with a small group.