Happy New Year (2014)

Happy New Year

I’m a massive SRK fan, and I loved both Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om, but given Farah Khan’s last film, I was hopeful but not too excited by the prospect of Happy New Year. Even after watching the film in a packed cinema,  I still have a feeling of ambivalence since overall Happy New Year is a bit of a muddle. The film starts very slowly with painstaking introductions of the characters that are a mixture of brilliantly funny and just plain crass. Then there is the set up for the actual heist – again a mixture of ridiculously mind-numbing cliché and clever, snappy comedy, but at least finally the film seems to be going somewhere.  Finally there is the actual heist which is fine, and a feel-good ending, suitably horrendously overacted but very masala, and the best bit of all – the end credits. No, not because it’s the end of an overly long film, but because Farah includes everyone involved (as she always does) and it’s very well done. A mixture and certainly not all bad, but unlike Om Shanti Om, not a film I’m going to rush back to the cinema to watch again although I will definitely get the DVD.

Shah Rukh plays Charlie, son of Manohar Sharma (who else but Anupam Kher?) a disgraced safe maker and security expert. Charlie knows that Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff – thankfully fully dressed for the entire film) set his father up and was responsible for the diamond robbery that put his father into prison. It just so happens that Charan Grover will have crores worth of diamonds locked away in his safe in Dubai over Christmas, just when the World Dance Championships are being held in the same hotel. Obviously then, Charlie will just enter the dance competition and make off with the diamonds leaving Charan Grover and his son Vicky (Abhishek Bachchan)  to take the blame.

If it sounds completely illogical and nonsensical then that’s because it is, but although that’s not a problem for a Bollywood film, here the lack of logic is the whole point and it’s not as funny as it should have been. Farah Khan seems to want to be sure that everyone gets the joke too, because the details of the set up are repeated over and over again. Charlie gets together a team of misfits to help him steal the diamonds including his father’s right hand man Tammy (Boman Irani), explosives expert Jag (Sonu Sood), Grover’s son lookalike Nandu Bhide (Abhishek Bachchan again) and all round loser but expert hacker Rohan Singh (Vivaan Shah). Each has their own quirks and foibles, although my favourite is Tammy’s apparently bottomless bag which really does contain everything. On the other hand Nandu’s frequent projectile vomiting is fairly abhorrent while Jag’s loss of cool when his mother is insulted and Rohan’s general nerdy ineptness fall somewhere in the middle.

Needless to say, none of the five can dance which might have been thought to be a pre-requisite to enter a dance competition. Although they have plans to rig the results they still need to get through a judges round and in desperation they turn to a bar dancer Mohini (Deepika Padukone) for help.

Happy New Year

Strangely for a film about a dance competition the choreography is dull and uninspiring, particularly in Mohini’s introduction number in the bar. Deepika looks stunning, but the song doesn’t showcase her talent well at all, and Farah Khan seems as focused on objectifying the character of Mohini as she is with Shah Rukh Khan’s six pack. Which, by the way, does get plenty of objectification in the opening scenes. And a bit later. As does Sonu Sood’s admirable physique. So much so that unbelievable as it seems it was too much – enough Farah – enough!!

The songs by Vishal Shekhar are fine and reasonably catchy but not in the same league as Om Shanti Om. Best of the lot is Manwa Laage which has the best dancing from Deepika, good comedy and (almost) shirtless SRK – perfect!

I can understand why the costumes and choreography generally have to be so terrible and OTT for Charlie and Mohini’s group, after all this is a dance troupe that includes Boman Irani, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason why the other dance teams are almost as bad. Particularly once we reach the WDC and the dancers from various nations around the world have tacky costumes and lacklustre routines, making Team India look like a real contender. Think the standard of the dance competition in Disco Dancer but with headdresses and little kids added. There is a ridiculous side plot involving the Korean team but otherwise the film follows Farah’s theme of using older films as a template and adding in as many references to these as possible. Some work, but quite a few fall flat and the many references to previous SRK films are a good example of the later.

On the other hand, SRK, Sonu Sood and co. all do a good job with their respective characters and actually manage to make some sense out of the ridiculous dialogue. I love Sonu Sood here is he was funny without being too obvious, while Boman Irani does seem to force the humour a little too much. Vivaan Shah is a little overwhelmed by everyone else but seems fine in a small role, while Jackie Shroff actually adds some class to the proceedings – really! Abhishek Bachchan is good in a comedy role while Deepika absolutely shines and is one of the two lynchpins holding it all together. The other of course is SRK and without him Happy New Year really wouldn’t have had the same impact. Shah Rukh can stand there in the middle of a mud wrestling competition and have buckets of water thrown at him and still look cool. When he switches to over-emotional drama in scenes about his father he can make you believe in his thirst for revenge and when he dances on stage his enthusiasm is captivating. The romance between SRK and Deepika is less convincing but then the real love story is between SRK and his audience so the lack of chemistry doesn’t seem to matter.

Happy New Year is a mixture of almost equal parts good and bad. Cutting some of the repetitive scenes discussing the heist and shortening the introductions would certainly have helped, but Farah Khan needs to concentrate more on story development and less on comedy for the sake of comedy, more on structure and less on self-indulgent repackaging of classic Bollywood as crass farce. The problem is partly that when Farah Khan is good, she is very, very good, but when she’s bad she is repetitive and stereotypical in the worst possible way. Happy New Year combines the two and while overall it is entertaining, it should have been so much better. But if what you want is a mindless, colourful and extravagant 3 hours of entertainment, then it fits the bill perfectly.

Kochadaiiyaan

Kochadaiiyaan Taking Superstar Rajni and turning him into an animated action hero is certainly novel and Soundarya deserves praise for breaching the boundaries of Tamil cinema and attempting something as different as motion capture animation. With Deepika Padukone as the heroine and experienced actors such as Jackie Shroff and Nasser in supporting roles, the potential is certainly there for something amazing but despite all the innovation and obvious hard work, Kochadaiiyaan doesn’t quite deliver.  K.S. Ravikumar’s story isn’t the problem. It’s a swashbuckling period adventure with enough substance to fill a couple of hours comfortably with a few credible twists in the tale.  The dialogue also seems fine, even when subtitled, and the characters are reasonably convincing within the storyline.  It’s more basic than that – the real issue here is that animation is just not as good as the real thing. Kochadaiiyaan The film tells the story of Rana (Rajinikanth), who left the kingdom of Kottaipatinam as a child and ended up as the army commander of rival nation Kalingpuri.  A flashback in the second half explains Rana’s background as the son of legendary warrior Kochadaiiyaan (also Rajinikanth) who was himself betrayed by the King of Kottaipatinam.  In between there are battles, betrayals, social justice as Rana frees slaves, and of course some romance with Princess Vadhana (Deepika Padukone).  Rana is a rather more subdued character for Rajnikanth, despite his heroic looks and charismatic style with Princess Vadhana and the swash and buckling only really starts to take off when Kochadaiiyaan appears in the second half.  Maybe it’s a case of getting more used to the style, but the film is livelier after the interval, and Kochadaiiyaan appears more splendidly heroic than his son. Kochadaiiyaan I have to admit I’m not a fan of this ‘almost life-like’ animation.  I found Polar Express creepy and much prefer my motion capture as a dash of CGI in films such as Lord Of The Rings and Transformers, or as complete fantasy like Shrek and Despicable Me.  While motion capture gives characters a relatively life-like appearance, it’s not real enough to be able to convey emotion convincingly and the lack of facial expression is disturbing, as nothing looks quite ‘right’.  It’s hard to generate any empathy with the characters despite the attempts at laughter and tears, especially when some of the smiles look more like grimaces.  It also doesn’t help that the animation here is variable, with some characters, such as the young Rana and his brother Sena appearing almost unfinished with strangely elongated limbs and disjointed necks, while the horses and elephants appear very clunky when in motion. Kochadaiiyaan Another casualty of the animation process is the dancing, which ends up appearing jerky and awkward much of the time.   It also looks a little odd to have large numbers of dancers completely in sync in the background – rather than looking impressive it just looks strange and almost sinister.   However, on the plus side, the costumes by Neeta Lulla are stunning with amazing attention to detail, which likely would not have been possible in real life.  That also applies to most of the action scenes which just wouldn’t have been possible with real actors and animals.  Peter Hein is credited as the action co-ordinator but his talent with co-ordinating fight scenes doesn’t translate well to animation.  The  scenery is generally spectacular though with  plenty of grand palaces and surreal gardens, although there are a few times when the background just looks  rather bland and unfinished.  I hadn’t heard the film soundtrack before watching the film, but the music by A.R.Rahman, is  one of the highlights and suits the rather grandiose and somewhat sweeping scale of the story.

Kochadaiiyaan

I would have preferred Kochadaiiyaan if the CGI had been limited to the background, enhancing the fight  scenes and sprucing up the scenery, while the actors played their roles instead of  using motion capture animations.  Although the downside would be that quite a number of the scenes would have to be less extravagant, it could have made for a more engaging film. However, setting aside the animation issues  I still did mostly enjoy the film, mainly due to the tale of Kochadaiiyaan and the music. The end of the film leaves a sequel likely and I hope that does happen, although the animation  issues do need to be addressed in any follow-up film.  Kochadaiiyaan is probably best watched by Rajinikanth fans but if you can cope with the animation it may be worth a watch, even if only to see the first complete motion capture Indian animation film.

Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela

ram-leela-poster

Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela* is mostly what I expected from Sanjay Leela Bhansali. It’s visually lush, with opulent sets, stunning landscapes, gorgeous costumes and lovely people to wear them. The movie opens with a looong stream of credits for Bhansali (producer, writer, director, editor, music director) including acknowledgement that Ram-Leela is inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Knowing the story and probable ending in advance raises the question – will the journey be worth it? Well, yes. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself entertained and interested most of the time.

Ram gives Ranveer Singh the opportunity to play both the prancing peacock and the traumatised young man who has been immersed in violence all his life. He makes a Rajnikanth-esque entrance, and springs straight into Tattad Tattad.

The choreography is disappointing – a friend calls it the Dandruff Song because of all the hairography. But based on audience reaction, they got the amount of shirtless shimmying about right. And his chest-oiler must have been working overtime, yet they were not named in the end credits which seems a sad oversight. Ram is obsessed with sex, with enjoying his life (especially sex) and has a cunning plan to take revenge on the enemy Sanedas (by having sex with their womenfolk). He admits that his thinking apparatus may be located in his pants. But Ram is also the one voice asking whether his side, the Rajadaris, should try to stop the cycle of killing. He is a mercurial creature, a natural leader but one with an unpopular message. I really liked Ranveer’s energy, his slightly self-mocking delivery of the deliberately cheesy lines, and his passionate sincerity when he confronted Leela.

Ram Leela Deepika

Deepika Padukone looks stunning and she has also crafted a good performance. This story is very familiar and requires logic suspension which means that the chemistry has to glide over any plotholes. I’ve often felt she struggled to show warmth with some co-stars, not so here. Sparks fly from Leela’s first sight of Ram in a rain of colours at Holi to the verbal sparring as they trade rhyming couplets. Leela is as interested in pursuing this relationship as he is, and she is not afraid to initiate intimacy or sort him out when he misbehaves. She also seems a bit smarter than Ram, and more cognisant of long term consequences. Deepika is convincing throughout, whether playing the giddy Leela falling in lust, dancing her heart out, or as the saddened serious young woman confined by the past.

The minor roles are interesting, especially the key female characters. Supriya Pathak is impressive as Baa, Leela’s mother and the leader of the Sanedas. Ultimately she is the one who will have to decide for the future, and she is a powerful, brooding presence. Richa Chadda plays another of her smart women in a regressive male dominated world (think Fukrey, Gangs of Wasseypur) and she is excellent as Leela’s sister-in-law Raseela. Barkha Bisht plays Ram’s sister-in-law Kesar, and she is equally good. The sisters-in-law give voice to the emotions of both sides. Both are widowed in the same stupid macho incident, and both women remain integral to the story long after their husbands are gone. Sharad Kelkar and Gulshan Devaiah round out the more significant male support roles. I was delighted to see Raza Murad as the Sarpanch even though his role was largely to provide ‘As you know Bob …” exposition. Abhimanyu Singh’s career mystifies me. He’s a terrible actor. He even overacts when he is supposed to be dead! And seeing Priyanka Chopra’s lacklustre item number made me grateful Deepika got the lead.

Ram-Leela Holi

The costumes are not just gorgeous, they reveal something about the characters. Leela wears a modern lehenga but the underskirt is a traditional patterned fabric. Kesar’s dark shawl signifies her position, but it’s lined with a light patterned fabric. Baa wears masses of ostentatiously heavy jewellery, showing her wealth and the strength to hold on to it.

ram leela guns everyhwere

Ram wears floral shirts edged with multi-coloured mini pom-poms and his holster is brightly embroidered. And there are guns EVERYWHERE. Like Leela, he carries his heritage with him. Many of the dances are garba style (showing off the excellent costumes) and most centre around religious celebrations (more colourful folkloric costumes). Everyone lives in old style houses but all the ladies whip out phones to film Ram strutting his stuff.  There is a sense of the ‘modern’ world invading this village where families have feuded for 500 years.

Ram Leela set design

Despite being less hidebound in their views, it doesn’t take much to make Ram and Leela each accuse each other of being a typical Rajadari or Saneda, just like ‘them’ as things turn sour. You don’t have to scratch the surface too hard to reach the inculcated mistrust and stereotypes. But after a cracking start, Bhansali loses control in the second half where the repetition of crisis and non-resolution becomes a little tedious.

I can’t help comparing this to Sunil Dutt’s stunning Reshma aur Shera and Baz Luhrmann’s excellent Romeo + Juliet, and while I like Ram Leela it comes up well short of both. Dutt expressed the tragedy and beauty of a doomed love in Rajasthan with fewer filmi tricks and greater emotional impact and maturity. Luhrmann stuck closely to Shakespeare and was still playful and original. Bhansali gestures towards Romeo and Juliet, mostly in the balcony scene which he recreated quite closely down to the dialogue. But he refers to iconic scenes in his own films as much as he does Shakespeare. He needs to curb the self-indulgence, and to edit with more eye to the story.

I’d definitely recommend seeing this in a cinema for the beauty and visual impact. The songs alone are worth a look and I had fun guessing which choreographer did which. I expected this to look great, and often that is all I get from Bhansali films as I just don’t connect with them. I didn’t expect Ram-Leela to be quite so entertaining and engaging.

*None of the marketing material or cinema listings here in Australia seem to have been changed so the film is still listed as Ram Leela. 

What? You want to see the colourful embroidery and outfits in detail? Here you go. Because I care.

Ram Leela everyone needs a smartphone

Heather says: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. Sure, I knew it would be beautiful and I’ve been enjoying the soundtrack, but the performances from all the actors put this a notch above the usual SLB film.  Deepika in particular was a revelation and she seems to have been steadily improving with each film.  I used to find her wooden and somewhat tedious, but she really sparkles here in a role that gives her scope to show a number of different emotions as well as the smoking hot chemistry with Ranveer that Temple has mentioned. Phew!  I’ve only seen Ranveer once before and from his initial appearance in  Tattad Tattad I was expecting him to be woeful, but such is not the case.  He rises to the occasion (cough, cough) and is so much better than the 70’s porn star outfits suggest.  His swagger and bravado are just part of his persona and his Ram is full of passion and joy. Best of all though are the support female characters played by Supriya Pathak, Barkha Bisht and Richa Chadda.  As Temple has described, all had meaty roles that allowed them to be real people with varying emotions and motivations which gave more layers to the film.

However, as with every SLB film I’ve seen, Ram Leela could have done with a heavier hand with editing and the last hour had moments where it really did start to drag.  Still – the costumes are sumptuous, the scenery is beautiful and the performances were of a high enough standard that I completely agree with Temple that this is one to see on the big screen.  Ram Leela was much more entertaining than I expected and I thoroughly recommend it as one of the better Hindi films I’ve seen this year.