Sunday, July 24, 2011

Movie weekends: A hilarious caper and an angst-ridden road trip

Delhi Belly was the movie last weekend - Abhinay Deo’s directorial debut. It’s a fun, racy, cheeky script, with a very young urban India today feel. Tashi, Arup and Nitin (Imran Khan, Vir Das and Kunaal Roy Kapur) are roomies (and what a room.. messy and unclean in the way only bachelor rooms can be) leading single lives in the big city. Tashi is a reporter, soon to be married to Sonia (Shenaz Treasurywala); Arup is a cartoonist in an ad agency (presume he is an art director with ambitions of becoming a cartoonist, since there are no cartoonists in ad agencies and everyone in an ad agency really wants to be doing something else) who hates his boss and whose girlfriend dumps him; Nitin is Tashi’s journalist photographer who takes on photography assignments on the side, to make a little extra money, and who while eating roadside food, triggers a severe case of delhi belly and thus the title of the film.

The plot is a caper that Sonia unwittingly sparks off by agreeing to carry a packet from a relative stranger on one of her flights (she is an airhostess). What follows is a hilarious roundabout with the 3 roomies being chased across the city by deadly gangsters and the boyfriend of Menaka, Tashi’s journalist colleague. It is a screwball comedy with Guy Richie-type elements that in turn are hilarious and suspenseful.

The language is mostly English, the way we speak it, with a lot of Hindi words and slang – and thus not endearing itself to a lot of the moral brigade. There is toilet humour as well, but in the context of the genre, it does not grate.

The actors are first rate. Menaka (Poorna Jagannathan) is fresh and sexy but unusual in the Hindi film variety, and it is difficult to see her going beyond anything niche. Imran has long been a personal favourite and he does not disappoint. Vir Das and Kunaal Roy Kapur are perfect in their roles. The music too has a novelty value that is refreshing. All in all, Delhi Belly is the most exciting Hindi film I have seen in a long while.

I cannot say quite the same about Zindagi Mile Na Dobaara, the one I saw next. The premise is interesting and puts it in the generation-defining mould of Dil Chaahta Hai and Rock On. But the movie does not really live up to the premise. It’s the actors. They cannot hold a candle to the easy camaraderie we saw in Amir, Saif and Akhsay. And of course, the sponsorship of Spain tourism means we see a lot more of Spain than the characters themselves.

Here again, it’s 3 boys, men actually, in this case – Kabir, Imran and Arjun (Abhay Deol, Farhan Akhtar and Hrithik Roshan). Kabir is to be married to Natasha (Kalki) and before he does, the three friends take off on a road trip in Spain. It’s Hangover-like, with a lot more philosophical questions and a whole load of upper middle-class angst thrown in, and of course, is not half as much fun.

Each has their own demons to fight and conquer – Kabir and his decision to marry a girl he is not completely sure of, Arjun and his obsessiveness about making money and Imran and his discovery of his natural father. It is a trip that gives them the opportunity to do this and while it all looks good on paper, there is a falseness to the whole journey that ensures the film does not touch you the way a DCH did. Or even actually a Rock On.

It is of course beautifully shot. Hrithik is hot in the way only he and his bare chested body can be. Katrina is pretty and does the bindaas babe routine decently well. And Farhan has his moments. But it’s a hollow shell of a movie and leaves one wishing for a better, less stilted script. And better music (not a patch on DCH or Rock On).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Tiger’s Wife

Tea Obreht

Tea Obreht is the Orange Prize winner this year and is 26 years old. What can you say to such precociousness?

Yugoslavia and the Non-Aligned Movement; Tito and Nehru; these were so much a part of my growing up years. And then of course, the break up happened and we watched it with the growing realization that we were probably wrong all along. That ethnic identity that comes along with myriad languages and religions will always triumph over a manufactured secular one. It made us look inward at our own manufactured one and wonder and question.

And then twenty years after that civil war comes a book that uses as its setting, this strangely familiar Balkan land. It’s a tale, or rather, many tales, that can come only from old cultures with a rich storytelling history. It can seem exotic and elaborate and fantastic to many (as many reviews testify). But for someone who comes from the land of O.V.Vijayan’s Khazak, they sound eerily familiar.

Nathalie is a doctor of indeterminate nationality in the Balkans and her tale is of her grandfather’s – another doctor who grows up in the Yugoslavia of Tito and war-ridden Europe. So here are Nathalie and her grandfather, people of science, negotiating wartime conflicts with family and cultures brimming with myths that science has no answers for. There is the deathless man who Nathalie’s grandfather encounters over and over again, never-changing, never-dying, ready to lead the real dying to the next world. The grandfather refuses to believe him and his stories but even his rational scientific mind can't help but believe.

The tiger’s wife is a deaf-mute Muslim girl who befriends a wandering tiger, let out of a zoo by wartime bombing. And in the process, she incurs the wrath of a superstitious, scared village and a butcher of a husband. Nathalie’s grandfather is a little boy who is fascinated by the tiger and the girl’s friendship with him. And it leaves a lifetime impression and fascination with the animal, long after the girl is dead and the tiger moves away.

There are interesting side stories. That of Luka the butcher, a butcher by profession and a butcher to his young deaf-mute wife. There is Darisa the bear, a hunter with a passion for taxidermy, finally encountering a hunt he cannot win.

And there is Nathalie herself, who while dispensing rational medicine to villages in need, buys into the myths of the villagers without necessarily being consumed by them.

The narrative moves back and forth across time and characters and can prove disorienting at times. But it’s a classic storyteller’s tale and Tea Obreht proves a worthy Sheherzade.

And in the process of the telling these fables, we catch glimpses into the monstrosity of war and conflict that tear neighbours apart. “..the pieces that made up our country no longer carried the same characteristics that had formerly represented their respective parts of the whole. Previously shared things – landmarks, writers, scientists, histories – had to be doled out according to their new owners. That Nobel Prize winner was no longer ours, but theirs; we named our airport after our crazy inventor, who was no longer a communal figure….All his life, he had been part of the whole – not just part of it, but made up of it. He had not been born here, educated there. His name spoke of one place, his accent of another.” – The tragedy that is Yugoslavia is brought intensely alive without making too big a deal of it.

It’s a lovely little book, made all the more poignant with the nostalgia that comes with it. Tea Obreht is the latest in a long line of fabulists that start from the Mahabharat, runs through O.V.Vijayan, Marquez, Rushdie and Mitchell. A find.