Friday, August 31, 2007

Chak De India

Shimit Amin's film has to be one of the best sports films to come of India, though really, that's not saying much as sports films are generally neglected in this part of the world. However, I was keen to see how this product from the US returned director of 'Ab Tak Chappan' would turn out, and I must say I was quite satisfied. Set in the backrooms of the Indian Women's Hockey world, the film is a cliched story about a disgraced India ex-captain, who returns from exile to lead a ragtag, fractional team of no-hopers to the title of the World Championships. Its the treatment, however that should come in for high praise. Fast paced sports action, dollops of emotional drama and a fresh bunch of actors/hockey players make this film enjoyable. The move to enlist the services of hockey players rather than actors (barring a few exceptions), seems to have been an inspired one as it makes the story entirely believable. Most of the stereotypes are revisited - inter state rivalry, the team bullies, girls being stereotyped according to their origins (a scene where a girl from Andhra Pradesh is termed a 'Madrasi') - however, the treatment saves them from getting boring and repetitive.

Special mention should be made of Shahrukh Khan. The star delivers one of his finest performances in recent times. He holds the film together and his quiet confidence pervades the entire film. We hope we see more of this side of him in subsequent outings as well... but with Om Shanti Om in the works, it looks like we might have to wait a while.

A word of praise for the film's music. It remains in the background and doesn't jar the proceedings. The songs are some of Salim-Suleiman's best, all aptly placed throughout the film. I only wish the title track was sung by Daler Mehendi instead! Direction is good as well and Amin shows he's capable of handling completely diverse genres with ample ease. Jaideep Sahani's screenplay is also one of the stars of the film. Tight, smooth and flows like a charm. A high energy outing, worth a watch.



Friday, August 24, 2007

India's lost generation

In Harsha Bhogle's recent article in the Indian Express, he mentioned a group of cricketers he claimed to be India's lost generation. These were players who flattered to deceive, who showed an initial spark but failed to live up to their potential, victims of their own prodigious talent. He mentioned Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh. To me they are not so much lost generation players, as they are temporary benchers. These players have proven themselves at the highest level and have now fallen off the radar due to inconsistent performances... I highlight a few current Indian players who have always failed to reach their full potential.

1. Ajit Agarkar - It doesn't get more frustrating than this guy. Oodles of talent, yet an enigma. Century at Lords, yet nicknamed the Bombay Duck. Quickest to reach 50 ODI wickets, yet now only a stock bowler. One never knows which Agarkar will show up at the game. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes wayward and most times plain average. Blessed with immense talent with both bat and bat, this lad has failed to realise his true potential with either. Three performances will stand out for me. His match-winning 4-for in Sharjah against NZ, his 6-for in the Adelaide test win and a 142 kmph beauty he hurled at Mark Waugh in Mumbai, in his second ODI, cutting the stylist completely in half, making him look..erm..clumsy, human. He should have been a certainty in both tests and ODIs, but now plays only in the shorter version of the game.

2. Ambati Rayudu - Hailed as the next big batting hope, this youngster has all but fizzled out. A heavy scorer in domestic cricket early on, his form completely deserted him and a couple of ordinary seasons did him no favours. A couple of Challenger Trophies went a begging and his batting form dipped completely. His domestic average of 39.92 does him no justice. This man is immensely talented. His double hundred and hundred in the same match against Andhra Pradesh in his first Ranji season is testimony to that. He was expected to take over the mantle of genius from Sachin Tendulkar, but still languishes in the mire of domestic cricket.

3. Ashish Nehra - Where is Ashish Nehra? His 6-23 against England will always be etched in popular memory. Yet the man behind a few moments of brilliance has completely disappeared off the scene. Dogged with injury and inconsistent form, this is one player who was to be part of India's new found pace bowling plans. Along with Balaji, they are now part of the what could have been plans.

4. VRV Singh - India's fastest bowler he was touted. Given India's current success with the test team in the fast bowling department, his entry into the bowling lineup looks inevitably delayed. He struggles to stay fit, and is inconsistent at most times. Hope we hear more of him in the future.

5. Akash Chopra - A steady opening bat who was the perfect foil for the exuberant Sehwag. Their opening stands in the tour of Australia were crucial in drawing the series. it was one of the most determined opening stands in the history of modern Indian cricket. Chopra's stonewalling allowed the the batting galacticos to come in play fluently. His contribution as a close in catcher should also not be forgotten. However, the establishment at the BCCI seems to have forgotten him. Dropped by Ganguly to accommodate Yuvraj Singh, a bad move, no doubt, he never could fight his way back into the test team. He and S. Ramesh remain India's best opening hopes who fizzled out after a spark.

Players from the past - There have been a few immensely talented players in the past as well who didn't go on to fulfill their potential - Sadanand Vishwanath, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, Utpal Chatterjee, Rajender Goel, Padmakar Shivalkar, Raman Lamba and many more.



Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Bong Connection

Anjan Dutta's 'crossover' effort is not entirely crossover, neither does it offer anything entirely new to the viewer. Yes, a decently packaged product, but that's about it. It will please the Bengalis a bit, but might leave most others a bit bemused about what all the fuss was about.

The story moves on two parallel tracks. Andy, an NRI musician, returns to Kolkata in search of some musical inspiration, a muse of sorts. Apu, a software engineer on the other hand is waiting for the first opportunity to leave Kolkata, a city he thinks has permanently stagnated. He leaves for the US and is quite oblivious of some of the resistance from his girlfriend and his family. He harbours NRI dreams of big money, fancy cars and the high life. For me the Andy track is the more interesting one...Kolkata befuddles the young man... its laid back attitude, the work culture, and this richness of its culture. He sees the youth blindly following western trends, without once turning to the rich and vast cultural heritage of Bengal. He visits a pub, the hallowed Someplace Else, and on hearing the band perform Dylan, he comments, 'How come they're all singing English songs, this is Bengal isn't it, why don't they sing a few Bengali ones as well?' He gets increasingly frustrated with it all. To add to that, all is not well with his own family in Kolkata, his cousin beats up his wife, while the elders chose to completely ignore this almost daily ritual. His retired uncle wishes to sell the family house for a lot of money and settle down to a hum drum life, surviving off the interest. The buyer would probably turn it into a hotel...Andy asks, 'Why can't you run a hotel? You abuse the Marwari for ruining the Bengali and then sell him your house to just to take the easy way out?' The facade of the Bengali Bhadrolok is shattered. The end sees Andy succeed in his musical endeavors and move back to the US, with an offer to score the music of Mira Nair's 'Namsake'no less!

Apu,on the other hand has a more difficult time of it. When he has spare time from bouts of vomiting (as a result of an old Bengali affliction of not being able to hold much liquor) and nodding his head, he works, befriends a Bengali-American girl and an illegal homesick Bangladeshi taxi driver. He has his fun times, falling in love with the Bengali American and drinking (and vomiting again) with his taxi driver friend. However, he is unable to completely come to terms with the life in the land where his dreams are supposed to come true. He is shocked at discovering that his flatmate and coworker is gay. But then stands up for him when he is fired by their homophobic boss. His own frustrations, coupled with his deep rooted Indian grounding, sees him head home to Kolkata, not defeated, but disillusioned. This track is entirely unremarkable, the only highlight being a Bengali party he attends, where every Bengali stereotype is poked fun at. Is Netaji still alive or is he dead? Does Jyoti Babu still drink Blue label? Rabindrasangeet or Nazrulgeeti? How were the pujas this year? This year the hilsa harvest hasn't been good! Its all good fun.

In essence, similar to most 'crossover' NRI-returning-to- India', ABCD-type movies. A light, mildly refreshing little film, with good music (Neel Dutt), average to bad dialogues (more suited for reading) and decent direction. However, the film belongs to the husband-wife duo of Shayan Munshi and Peeya RaiChoudhury. Shayan as Andy is believable and is surely Munshi's best performance to date. Peeya is great as well, both of them having visibly worked really hard on their American accents. Parambrata Chatterjee as Apu is adequate. The supporting cohort of Mamata Shankar, Victor Bannerjee and June Maliya are good. Raima Sen is sincere as usual and turns in a decent number as Apu's girlfriend and Andy's love interest. GOd only knows why Soumitra Chatterjee decided to partak in this venture Andy's paralysed grandfather. All he does in the few minutes he gets is blink twice. The actor playing the Bangladeshi taxi driver is spontaneous and one hopes to see more of him.

So there...for those of you curious enough, or game for a quiet chuckle on a lazy Sunday afternoon, a sample of this may not be too bad. It will obviously help if you're a 'Bong'.