Stanely ka Dabba – Heartwarming fare

Amole Gupte was credited as the creative director of ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and he was the original director as well when Aamir Khan took the mantle of directorship onto himself and directed the emotional tale. Amole Gupte was down but not out. He came back first as an actor in Kaminay and now directs this wonderful, hearwarming tale of young 9 year old Stanely in this film ‘Stanely ka Dabba’.

The film was made leisurely on Saturdays and vacations almost as a workshop so that the children acting do not miss their school and that is what this film is about. Not missing a school at any cost. To see every child in school is a goal this country tries to achieve through various methods but millions of children in urban and rural India are still deprived of basic school education. This is the underlying message of the film but the director does not even once mention it or try to push through the message through the film except a little slide in the end which informs us of the same. This is perhaps the most subtle way a message is passed across in any Indian movie.

Stanley ka dabba is about young orphan Stanely who is the darling amongst his 4th standard friends. He doesnt have anyone to give hima tiffin box to carry to school but he hides this fact to everyone and makes up stories about his family and parents. His freinds love him and share their tiffin with him however there is Prof. Babubhai Verma played effectively by the director himself. Verma is the only other guy who doesnt get a tiffin to school and he is perpetually hungry and at times bullies young kids to eat from their tiffin box. He dislikes Stanley and almost makes the young boy quit school and thats where he realizes what he has done and repents.

It is such a simple story that it is actually difficult to imagine how one can make a film out of it. But the director succeeds here in making you engrossed for little over 90 minutes or so. Stanley ka Dabba makes you smile, makes you remember your own school days and how sharing a ‘dabba’ formed some unbreakable friendship bonds that lasted lifetime. Stanley who keeps himself full by drinking lots of water is a smart young kid who does things unconventionally and is as charming as a kid can be. The movie follows perhaps the same path as Taare Zameen Par where the protagonist is disliked by all but later discovers himself. Here a serious issue of child labor is subtly introduced in the end where Taare Zameen par was more dramatic and emotional and made you shed your tears a bit more forcefully. The school scenes are also quite similar and how a good or bad teacher can influence young kids is shown by both the films. Amole Gupte perhaps tries to prove that he could still have helmed Tare Zameen Par equally well.

One of the most important character of the film is the ‘food’ in various tiffin boxes that is brought to school by various children. The food is not just that but represents the love of the mother whoc packs it every day for his young kid. The food certainly looks yummy and I felt hungry watching the film.

The film is not flawless either and drags at times in second half and there are quite a few loose ends as well with no satisfactory conclusion to the story. But it is a sincere effort on part of Amole Gupte and kudos to Fox-Star for backing such a film. Partho Gupte as Stanely is the star of the film and his simple mannerisms and natural acting and infectious smile wins your heart. He looks quite talented as well. His friends are also wonderful and Divya Dutta as loveable Rosy Miss, Divya Jagdale as strict Science teacher and Raj Zutshi as the new history teacher are equally apt for this smallish film. Background music and OST are decent. The photography is beautiful especially when you think direcot didnt use any extra light and used only natural lighting to make the film look more natural and real. Direction is superb however the script as mentioned before has some plot-holes and could have been tighter. The film could perhaps have been much better and executed in different way. It does not have the emotional appeal of Taare Zameen Par and it doesn’t have the marketing brains of Aamir Khan behind it but it has one important thing missing in today’s films and thats subtlety.

I would recommend this film to everyone with a kid inside him.

My Ratings: 7.5/10 –  Its a simple lovely film appealing to the kid within you. Watch it – Strictly For kids aged 8 to 80

Dhobi Ghat – Arty Ode to Mumbai, Disappointing !

You are warned that this film does not have an Interval. You are warned in the newspaper ad, then at the cinema, then by the ticket seller and then by the ushers and popcorn sellers. They want you to buy the cola and the chips before the movie.  The movie is 95 minutes long, you can survive without a break for that much period, cant you?

Dhobi Ghat is a docu-drama about Mumbai and 4 characters who try to fit into the rhythm of the city and failing to do so.  The city gives you hope and makes you make an attempt to achieve what you have set out for. But ultimately the city is a silent spectator to your life.  This was what was presented in the well made promos.

Kiran Rao’s debut film shot in a 16mm format ( thats why the big cinema screen doesnt fill up) and with handheld cameras shot in guerilla style as they say has 4 characters. Aamir Khan’s Arun who is a reclusive painter searching for a new house every 11 months and not finding anything that suits him. Prateik is the Dhobi Munna who also works as a rat-killer at night. Monica Dogra is Shau, USA based investment banker on a sabbatical to Mumbai to pursue her hobby of photography and understanding the city. The 4th character is Yasmin played by newcomer Kriti Malhotra who is the Muslim housewife who records her life in Mumbai which begins on a happy note and ends up with a shock. Each of these 4 characters interwine as Arun watches Yasmin’s recorded videos in his new apartment and Shai falls for the loner Arun and Munna Dhobi with film acting ambitions fall for the super rich Shai. There are issues of class divide tackled in a subtle way. Issues of love found in unusual place.

The above para tries to describe the characters and the movie, however I am unable to go beyond that as the movie tried to do all that mentioned above and didnt do it well enough. The movie is a confused look of a confused director in a confusing city. Every known cliche of Mumbai is used to show the city’s character.  From Gatway of India to marine drive and bylanes of slums and Mumbai lifeline its railway and drug dealing, prostitution, streetside food, dhobi ghat to rat-killers and narrow lanes of Mohhamadali road to menace of underworld. Every known theme about the city is explored.  But it is just that. It is an arty ode to the city and nothing more. The movie is as confused and slow and boring and at times even 95 minutes looks long. At one moment I missed that Interval !

Many of the times the editor has forgotten to edit and the movie does nothing for minutes togather. The background score by Spanish Gustavo Santanolia doesnt provide much help either and sounds almost the same note throughout the movie. The theme sounds promising but surprisingly not much used in the movie. Camera work is real nice and captures Mumbai beautifully and in a different way at times from regular movies about the city.

However overall this is a ‘pseudo’ version of an art film. Just by taking away entertainment from a film you do not make an art film ! Art films also do have important stories and anecdotes and its moments but here there are hardly memorable moments and a complete lack of story and structure. The four characters all begin on a happy note and by the end it is revealed that all the 4 characters are not happy but have to compromise. Mumbai as the fifth character is a mute spectator to all this.  This huge ‘metaphoric’ stuff is difficult to grasp and understand for most of us ‘ignorant’ viewers. Audience was left speechless at the end of the movie , not by its brilliance but because nobody had anything to say about the movie. It was almost like watching a Films Division documentary on the city with no real meaning in the movie. If this is World Cinema then I am happy with my regular Bollywood masala entertainment !!

Aamir Khan is confused and his character is shallow plus the English he speaks sounds fake. Prateik is okay, I mean most reviews compare him with his mother Smita Patil but I think at this stage of career he is more like his father Raj Babbar then mother. Although he is indeed a charmer but thats it. Monica Dogra, the singer turned actress actually fits to the tee in her NRI banker character. Her accent is just like NRI Parsi would have and she is impressive. Kriti Malhotra tries her best but her character is not at all defined.

Overall its an experiment by Kiran Rao, well supported by husband Aamir Khan thanks to which the movie is seeing light of the day and getting a proper release.  More of a showreel of what all Kiran can do. I have seen world cinema, I have seen arty films and they all have good stories to tell, but here all the director has managed is to put in some fake anecdotes without any emotional coneect with its audience.

My Ratings – 5/10 Dhobi Ghat is disappointing, watch it if you want to see a well made ode to the Mumbai city and yes dont forget the popcorns, remember no intervals !

Bollywood – What next in 2011?

The year 2010 is gone, well almost. The films have come and films have gone , some have succeeded and many have flopped. The latest release ‘Tees Maar Khan’ did get a big opening weekend but then audiences saw through it and the movie failed from the 4th day and it would barely manage to cover its huge investments of 65 Crores knocking the poor distributors and  taking with it the reputations of its director Farah Khan and actors Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif. Many of the small films released this year have done lot better than many big budget disasters.

2011 has quite a few big films releasing in first few weeks itself mainly to avoid the World Cup Cricket to be held from February 2011. First of its release would be Rajkumar Gupta directed thriller ‘No One Killed Jessica’ based on the infamous Jessica Lall murder case starring Rani Mukherji as the firebrand journalist following the case and subtle Vidya Balan as Jessica’s sister. The film does have quite different music loved by many and the promos of the films are quite a Hit with people. The  film does have lot of potential and is eagerly awaited.

Next up is the mad-cap Deol trio comedy ‘Yamla Pagla Deewana‘ starring the 3 Deols. The film’s promos are loved by all and the film promises to be a laugh riot. The music is quite popular and the dialogue promos make the film an exciting prospect. This film releases on 14th Janury.

21st January sees perhaps the biggest film if this half of the year, although not a conventional movie but a movie starring Aamir Khan is always a big proposition. ‘Dhobi Ghat‘ directed by Kiran Rao starring Aamir and Prateik Babbar promises to be a great film and based on early reviews from Toronto Film Festival where this film was shown, this one could perhaps be the best film to come out in a while.

‘Dil toh Baccha hai Jee’ starring Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi and Omi Vaidya is another comedy releasing this month in the last week. Directed by Madhur Bhandarkar this film does look different from regular slapstick comedies we have been watching.

Early February also looks busy with Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ staring Priyanka Chopra and ‘Patiala House’ starring Akshay Kumar and Anushka Sharma releases. There are many other smaller budget and medium budget films releasing as well.

Let us see if any of the above big budget films succeed in first couple of months of the year 2011 or the trend of small films doing better continues in 2010.

My Bet for the first 2 months – Dhobi Ghat would be the best of the lot,  Yamla Pagla Deewana to collect good box office money and No One Killed Jessica to be the ‘dark horse’.

Dhobi Ghat – Theatrical Trailer – BEST Promo in a long time !

Here it is. The Theatrical Trailer of one of the most awaited film of 2011, Dhobi Ghat. The film directed by Kiran Rao stars Prateik Babbar in a central role ably supported by the box office magician Aamir Khan. Its a love quadrangle you have never seen before. The film has been appreicated already in various International Film festivals including Toronto International Film Festival in early September 2010.

The promo is one of the best one has seen in recent times an the background music is haunting enough to make you watch it again. The Intoduction of 4 lead characters of the movie is brilliantly done. Cannot wait for this movie. The movie releases on January 21, 2010.

Peepli [Live] keeps Alive the Flame of Good Cinema

Peepli [Live], an Aamir Khan production movie, is one of best satires that Indian cinema has seen in some time.  Directed by first timer Anusha Rizvi and starring virtually unknown faces, it shows the plight of helpless farmer family who are made pawns in the game played by various Television channels, political parties, bureaucrats and local henchmen.

The plot of the film is about Natha and Budhia as two poor farmers, residents of the Peepli. The two brothers face losing their farm lands over an unpaid government loan. They seek help from a local politician, who advises them to commit suicide to benefit from another government program that helps families of poor farmers who have committed suicide from debt. They think long about it and cunning elder brother convinces Natha to commit suicide so that he would get Rs. 1,00,000 from government. A local journalist overhears Budhia to urge Natha to commit suicide. In his zeal to make news out of nothing he prints that and all hell breaks loose.

Mainstream media, in an effort to garner more TRPs start covering the news and  giving it a political twist by blaming the agriculture minister and then the chief minister of the state. The rival channels follow them to the village. The politicians get to hear about it and they join in the circus along with the bureaucrats. Everybody invades Peepli, interviewing Natha, his family, his freinds and whomsoever they can find. They camp outside his house and make the entire thing a big farce. No one really bothers about Natha and the reason for which he wants to commit suicide.

The movie ends in a mad chase for Natha and oneupmanship by various media houses and political parties and local leaders with no one really caring about poor family. The end is of course tragic with Natha assumed dead in an accident with the family not getting any money as it wasn’t a suicide.

The movie is a big big satire on Indian system overall, Indian politicians and especially mad rush by television channels to gather TRPs and nothing else. It has shown the true colors of India, which exists today beyond the few big cities. It is certainly an eye-opener.

The film doesn’t star any big stars but mostly theater actors with Raghuvir Yadav as Budhia as perhaps the only known face. Omkar Manikpuri as Natha suits the role however I found him more comic looking than tragic and doesnt have to many expressions of even dialogues. Rest of the caste is unnown but well caste, especially Malaika Shenoy as a ‘Barkha Dutt Clone’ representing English media and Vishal Sharma as Deepak representing Hindi news channels are absolutely perfect and their acts liven up the film. Various other actors have smallish roles with Naseeruddin Shah in yet another cameo as agriculture minister. Naseer nowadays does more cameo roles than anything substantial.

The movie, to be honest is decent and very well made with amazing detailing, which is a rarity in Bollywood cinema. Rural India is shown perfectly as it is and the rural-urban divide is startling in the opening scene and then at the end. The satire works and even if you laugh, with a lump in the heart , at the film you know you are laughing not at the plight of Natha but the general conditions of rural India of today. The movie reminded me of the best satire ever made in a Hindi film history – ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron’ especially with the end. The pace of the movie is bit slow especially in the first half and the language at times crude, however it does sound genuine. Although I do not like when audiences laugh and clap by just hearing crude Hindi words. The movie is good, although not a great movie.

The critics have liked it,  common people have admired it and the movie is doing quite well at the box office as well, inspiite of no stars and rural theme thus proving that good content always works. Certainly such kind of films should be made and marketed and released in mainstream. Lastly, a word about the producer Aamir Khan. If it were not for Aamir Khan the producer backing the film, marketing the film, publicizing it at every avenue, I doubt if any of us would have even bothered to see the film. Perhaps the film wouldn’t have got a mainstream release as well. At the most it would have got some awards in some obscure film festivals of the world and perhaps a standing ovation from some weird juries, but it certainly wouldn’t have got the kind of audience it has got now. All credit to the ‘golden’ man Aamir Khan.

My Ratings: 8/10 –  Do watch it to know the true India.