Apr 182016
 

images

I can’t remember if I saw, the original Jungle Book on television, or in the cinema hall. But, i remember watching it the first time, with complete delight. I loved the characters – Bagheera, the panther who is Mowgli‘s guardian angel in the jungle, Baloo – the sloth bear who had nary a care in the world; the vultures like the Beatles, and of course, the George Sanders voiced Sher Khan – who was as menacing as a Disney film would let him be. Since the first viewing, i have seen the film many, many times – along with the other Disney favorite, Dumbo – and cried buckets of tears each single time, when Mowgli approaches the prone form of Baloo.

The 2016 adaptation of Jungle Book is not a fun and frolic run through the jungles, like the earlier avtaar. It is a film for a grittier, more violent world – where nothing is what it seems.

The story remains the same. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) , human cub, brought up by a pack of wolves, has to be returned to the ‘man village’ before Sher Khan (the man-eating tiger)  kills him. Bagheera volunteers to do the needful.  Along, the way there are many adventures and old favorites return in a new avtaar.

Scarlet Johansen as the python Kaa is quite fantastic

Christopher Walken plays King Louie, with the kind of manic psychoticness that only he can bring to a role. The sheer insanity of the character reminded me of Marlon Brando’s outing in Apocalypse Now‘my ears have ears’ he tells a stunned Mowgli, as he asks the man cub to share the secret o the red flower (fire) with the monkeys.

But, as with the original film – it is Bagheera (ably voiced by Ben Kingsley), Baloo (Bill Murray, thankfully toned down) as the stern dad and mad uncle figures, who provide the contrasts in ‘good’, the boy’s role models. Hopefully Mowgli will grow up with Bagheera’s moral compass and Baloo’s sense of fun.  The interplay between them, is a flavour carried forward from the older film (and the book)

Sher Khan (Idris Elba, as the menacing predator/stalker), is chillingly focused. His pathological hatred towards humans in general, and Mowgli in particular, have driven him over the edge. It is from this precipice of insanity that you see the character unraveling. In his mind, he is fighting the righteous war. Killing humans before humans kill him (and all of them). And, his rage at being thwarted is chillingly brutal.

Neel Sethi as Mowlgi is entirely believable. There were parts you think – God how did his parents allow him to run around with wild animals, till the rational part of the brain tell you – CGI. Given that a child of his age was in a green screen environment, his performance is quite superlative.

The real star of the show is the breath taking CGI. The jungle looks real. The water buffaloes, the hedgehogs, the python skin, the python, look real. The tiger is all together real. The bit where Kaa is trying to hypnotise Mowgli, and you have a shot from Mowgli’s eye level, the python in full glory – you find yourself retreating into your seat.

As entertaining as it was, it was also educational. I got more on understanding wildlife from this film, than through a series of animal world features.  You appreciate how strong a tiger’s legs are, in the sequence where you see Sher Khan’s legs in fully muscular, sinewy glory,  you understand, how they can kill.   the minute observation about animal movements, have been well researched and recreated by the CGI team. This is possibly as close to a real world experience of a jungle and animal life that most kids are going to get (most adults too).

It is not just that, it is also the simple appreciation of the natural habitat and weather patterns.
There is a scene, almost at the beginning, where they show the impact of lack of rain, on the forest. The simulated ‘time lapse’  CGI in describing this is awe inspiring. I think that any school going child, watching that scene, would have learnt more from the 1 minute or so sequence, on drought and it’s impact on forests, than the way it is taught in schools today. The sequence where the monsoons begin, in full glory, and it’s impact on the forest – it is seeing it in a 30 second scene, that makes the power of nature seem all the more real.  The sequence of the water buffaloes stampeding through the countryside, in their quest for water, while Mowgli makes his escape from Sher khan (possibly the best sequence in the film). It would be so cool to teach kids about migratory patterns of animals looking for water,  through a sequence like this. I seriously think it is a must watch for children, it works on multiple levels.

Is it violent? About, As violent as a discovery channel film on how tigers hunt for prey.

I am going to end this one, with an absolutely fabulous rendition of “Wanna be just like you”, by a rasping Christopher Walken

Mar 272016
 

batmanvsuperman

 

All in all, it wasn’t quite as bad as the critics made it out to be. Definitely worth a watch on the big screen.

The film is set some 20 years after Batman first picks up his cape and cowl. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is a darker Batman than the one’s we have seen before. He brands criminals with the bat symbol (that leads to their death in prison); he is coping with the death of a Robin (killed by Joker); and he drinks more than he should. Also, he is sure Superman (Henry Cavil) is upto no good, and has God like plans to dominate the world.

Superman is conflicted – why he is conflicted is never explained in this film (i guess one has to brush up on Man of Steel to figure it out). Maybe he is getting over the killing of Zod or maybe he is figuring his relationship with Lois Lane; but, there is certainly a tortured hero air about him. And, both he and his alter ego Clark Kent have begun taking interest in the work of Batman .

Lex Luthor is the most irritating Bat Villain I have seen in eons. He makes Danny De Vito’s Penguin (who i loathed) seem tolerable. Jesse Eisenberg plays Luthor as a cross between Mark Zukenberg and the Joker. And everytime he was on screen, i had this terrible urge to slap him.  Oh, and Lex Luthor unleashes Doomsday – and all those of you who are comic book fans know what happens next. 

Wonderwoman though she is never introduced as that (rather as Diana Prince, her alter ego) has stunning screen presence. Gal Gadot wears that ridiculous costume with such nonchalance, that you barely notice that she is wearing a single piece swimsuit with lots of metal sticking out.

The film has more dream sequences than a Hindi movie – and most of it is about people getting killed.

My problem with the film, is that you needed to know comic book continuity to get a lot of the stuff going on. Be it the death of Robin (the costume in the bat cave with Joker’s epitaph); or Diana Prince ; or even Lex Luthor’s relationship with Superman (or indeed with Bruce Wayne). Also the allusions to the comic book universe are there – there is a stunning dream sequence, where a rebel Batman is fighting a Superman who has taken over the world (Red Sun), or the interruption of Flash warning Batman (one of the  crisis books, i forget which one). There are heavy costume influences from the Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller)

Ben Affleck makes for a good older Batman. I can see Christian Bale’s Batman growing up to be this. Henry Cavil is better in this than in his first outing as Superman. Jeremy Irons makes for a rather scruffy Alfred. Amy Adams as Lois Lane – is a plot device, when ever the plot gets stuck, she is rescued by Superman. Holly Hunter is wasted. Jesse Eisenberg was dreadful (and i am being kind).

My other problem with the film is that it takes itself too seriously. Once you set up a hero to be a God or as near a God as possible, it possibly strips the fun part of being human from it. It will help if comic books feel like comic books, and not like a Shakespearean Tragedy. i kept wanting to shout at the screen “lighten up, it is a comic book, superhero team up”. Seriously, directors of Batman movies should take inspiration from Grant Morrison’s style, not Frank Miller. So much angst gets overwhelming.

But, was it a bad film – not by any stretch of imagination. It held together well.  It was enjoyable, and I am looking forward to the Justice League and all the other films that will follow.

Looks like it is Darkseid up next or Brainiac – Lex Luthor’s final promise. And the Justice League. Should be interesting.

Mar 102016
 

My brother got me to watch this lovely 5 minute clip, on his mobile. A talking head. No flashy camera movements. No overwhelming music. Nothing. Just incredible story telling. I watched on, because i wanted to know what happened next. What is it about?

‘HUMAN’ is made of aerial images and interviews. Close up shots captured people around the world who tell their life stories looking directly into our eyes, without any outside element disturbing their word. There only is us and them, words that touch us, move us, make us think. The picture tells us nothing about their lives. Shot against a black background, they all appear on an equal footing. Whether we talk about war or about the meaning of their existence, only their words, their tone of voice, the musicality of their language and their faces speak for them. This is the strength of ‘HUMAN’.

I looked up the clip, and it is part of a series of 200 unique stories that look at what make us human. I look forward to chunk on the remaining 199 (in small doses). I am also going to look up the work of the director of this film, Yann Arthus-Bertrandhis journey seems fascinating. Watch this clip. it is less than 5 minutes, and it will make you feel good about being a human being… This is the promo

The full film is here

a

Oct 112015
 

There are men. and men. and men. I can go as far as to say, that each man is a unique specimen, replete with his own set of idiosyncrasies (as is each woman).

However, as far as popular fiction is concerned there are two types of men – the nice men who are your best friends, who are there no matter what; and there are the bad boys – who you, unfortunately, fall for – and that is a long road of tears and battles. And, generally the kind of men we remember in books and screen are the latter. If i asked you to name 5 nice men in fiction – you possibly will be stuck after the first. Who is the guy Scarlett O’ Hara falls for, but never marries – would be your response. And, then there would be a blank. Because, after all, nice guys finish last (atleast in the fictional romantic stakes). In real life, i would guess that nice guys score much higher than the messed up heroes from films, simply because a film gets over in 3 hours, and jhelofying a romantic hero will take the rest of your life.

I am not quite sure when the narrative of a brooding, dark, sullen male became either the gold standard or the mould in which all other romantic heroes were written. Look at Mills and Boons. an entire business built on an obnoxious specimen, who hooks a post teenager (almost young enough to be his daughter). And then reforms because of her love ie., becomes less obnoxious.

Today on Amitabh Bachchan’s birthday, i couldn’t but help look at him as the romantic hero, especially in those films that he was also the angry young man. Do you really want such a man in your life, is the question ? Do women really believe they can transform such men ? Do such men really exist?

I wrote about his best romantic roles in films – the angry young lover

abhimaan_1334411759

Oct 242013
 

The Last of the Great Playback singers of Indian Cinema has passed on today, marking the end of a glorious era of Film Music. Manna De is no more. His music however, lives on.  Compared to Mohd. Rafi or Kishore Kumar – he didn’t sing as much for Hindi films, but the songs that he sang left a mark.

It’s been a long time since i put together a compilation of songs, for quite sometime my music consumption has been predominantly Hindustani Classical Music.But, Manna De along with Mohd. Rafi gave me my first ever taste of the classical, something that has been with me for life.

Manna De, more than any other Hindi singer – was completely at ease with classical music. A voice like honey, he was comfortable with all sorts of songs – the philosophical (Tu Pyaar ka Saagar Hai) l, the romantic (Yeh raat bhigi bhigi) , the teasing (dil ki umange hai Jawan) , the classical (Ketaki Gulab Juhi), the tragic (sur Na saje)  .

Here in no order of preference, are some of my favourite songs sung by Manna De. if you have your favourites, please post them.

Yeh Raat Bhigi Bhigi – Mukesh is said to be the voice of Raj Kapoor, but i personally preferred the duets that Manna De sang for him with Lata. Be it this, or Pyaar huva or Aaja Sanam …. Shankar Jaikishen composed the music, and the film is Chori Chori . The guitar as the prelude is possibly one of the most distinctive pieces of Hindi film music. i need to hear two chords to identify the song. Enjoy Raj Kapoor & Nargis in this brilliant composition.

Na to Karvan Ki Talaash Hai – My favourte Qawalli from Hindi Films. Manna Dey, Asha Bhonsle, Mohd. Rafi and others. The song runs for almost 10 minutes. Manna De opens the classic piece and Rafi ends it… both are at their best in this song. Roshan Sahab (the father of Rakesh & grand father of Hrithik) composes a masterpiece, lyrics are by Shailendra –

Tu Pyaar ka Saagar Hai – I used to have this huge crush on Balraj Sahani when i was a kid. in those glorious days of watching Chitrahaar and Hindi films on Doordarshan. I could never understand his films in those days – but i simply thought he looked yummmm 🙂 i still do. and of all his songs, this one was played the most frequently. Soul stirring stuff. Balraj Sahani & Nutan in the film Seema. Music by Shankar Jaikishen.

 Kaun Aaya mere Dil ke Dwaare – I cannot remember watching this film, though i must i have. i devoured everything on Doordarshan whether it was Krishi Darshan or Santakukdi or Kilbil … Anoop Kumar (Kishore Kumar’s brother) and Anita Guha in Dekh Kabira Roya. Music by Madan Mohan

Dil Ki Girah Khol Do – the film “Raat aur Din”. The subject multiple personality disorder. The year 1967. And a commercial success. Nargis in her last leading role. Fabulous film. Fabulous music. Watch it also for a very young Feroze Khan. Music Shankar Jaikishen

Ja Tose Nahin Bolu Kanhaya – Raga Hamsadhwani. Lata Mangeshkar & Manna De. The movie is Parivaar and the music director is Salil Choudhary .

Hoke Majboor Mujhe – The film Haqeeqat. Possibly the finest war film ever made in India. From the point of view of the men who serve. Directed by Chetan Anand it starred Balraj Sahni (him again), Dharmendra and a host of others it is set around the 1962 war – which no one talks about. The song ‘kar chale ham fida jaan aur tan saathiyo’ by Rafi is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes. But, this song, more philosophical is equally good. Check out Manna De in this

Mausam Beeta Jaye – The film “Do Bhiga Zamin”, the director Bimal Roy. Music Salil Choudhary. Actor Balraj Sahni and the voice Manna De. I cry everytime is see this film – nothing has changed for the farmer. When we decided to make our film “Jhing Chik Jhing” i went and rewatched this film — the famers’ lot is the same. there is a line in Jhing Chik Jhing where Bharat Jadhav says ‘we are farmers, we grow food but our children go hungry; we grow cotton and our kids wear torn clothes’. This is not the post to call for agricultral reform or greater support to farmers, but consider it said :(.

By the way, despite the subject this was not an art film. it was a commercially viable film .

Ketaki Gulab Juhi – a duet with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. The song is a competition between the two singers, and in typical Hindi Film ishtyle … Pandit Bhimsen Joshi loses. If your mind can overcome this fact… listen to the song…

Zindagi kaisi yeh Paheli – Manna De sings for Rajesh Khanna – a man with a medical death sentance. the music by Salil Da. The film Anand. Lyrics by Yogesh.

Laga Chunri Mein Daag – Music by Roshan (grandfather to Hrithik ). The film is Dil Hi to Hai starring Raj Kapoor and Nutan

O Meri Zohra Zabeen – the Film is Waqt – the first of the last and found sagas …. The song is picturised on Balraj Sahni (be still my fluttering heart),the music is by Ravi and lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi.

Mud Mud ke Na Dekh Mud Mud Ke – Asha and Manna De in this fabulous number from Shree 420. Picturised on Nadira & Raj Kapoor. The music is by Shankar Jaikishen and lyrics by Shailendra. The film is about a young idealist Raj Kapoor, who is seduced by wealth, fame and fortune – represented by Maya (nadira) … and brought back to the straight and narrow (not to mention poverty) by Vidya. The song marks the turning point in the film when Raj Kapoor goes over to the evil side….

Pucho na Kaise Man – The film was hackneyed but the music was great. Staring Ashok Kumar in a triple role , the film is Meri Surat Teri Aankhen. Music by S.D.Burman

Sur Na Saje Kya Gaaon Mein – the film Basant Bahar. music by Shankar Jaikishen – who hitherto had been considered to be ‘pop’ music composers without a handle on classical – and how they proved the world wrong. Starring Bharat Bhushan who possibly had some of the best classical songs featured on him. The other great song in this film is Ketki Gulab Juhi sung by Manna De and Bhimsen Joshi !

Phir Kahi Koi Phul Khila – the film is Anubhav – a complicated tangle of marital relationships. It has a wonderful sound track. Other classics in this film include the brilliant number by Geeta Dutt – Mujhe jaan na Kahon, meri Jaan. The film stars Sanjeev Kumar and Tanuja as the newly married couple with more than than their share of problems.

And, today when it seems that the heavens are spring cleaning (atleast in Mumbai) one of the most famous duets sung by Manna De and Lata Mangeshkar … his ease with both high and low notes, and the sheer beauty of his voice.