Movie reviews

Dil Kabaddi
CAST:
Irrfan, Soha Ali Khan, Rahul Bose, Konkona Sen Sharma, Rahul Khanna, Payal Rohatgi, Saba Azad; DIRECTOR: Anil Senior
Spanking. Whips. Masks. The only thing missing is handcuffs. Or maybe they got shoved under the jumble of sheets on the bed, during the strenuous activity thereon?
Dil Kabaddi tells you Everything You Wanted To Know About An Urban Marriage But Were Too Petrified To Ask: four years down the line, boredom sets in (whatever happened to the seven year itch?), and there are enough men (and women) out there who are itching to romp, regardless of marital vows. Fidelity, what's that?
Meet Samit (Irrfan) and Mita (Soha), who turn the constant sniping into separation. Their best friends Rishi (Rahul Bose) and Simi (Konkona) are at a similar pass, but they don't know it. Yet. Mita's too intellectual, declares Samit, and clutches the willing bosom of yoga instructor Kaya (Payal). Rishi, who teaches nubile young ladies the art of writing, starts coming on to a kohl-eyed, sexy student (Saba). Your script is sooo wonderful, he says. Really sir, she smiles, all lush invitation
Everyone is too something: Samit is too bored, Mita is too fond of art movies, Rishi is too pliant, and Simi is too passive-aggressive. Even the bit players are excessive: Kaya is too into soups and salads, and screaming, and Veer (Rahul Khanna) is too much of a wuss to do anything. In the beginning, it's all quite amusing: we know people like this, and yeah, marriages can turn into dull swamps where the only excitement seems to come from the outside, and the only people who can spark it are sensualists in touch with their hot bods. The main leads look as if they could be couples in real life, and some of the lines are very, very funny.
Where it scores is in the way Dil Kabaddi talks, unself-consciously and very naturally, of sex, and size, and inflatable dolls, and long-lashed whips ("Yeh Bandra se liya ya Bangkok se?"), and other objects of that nature. But having pushed Bollywood's carnal boundaries, the film seems to lose its way, and doesn't quite know how to wrap. So Samit wants to come back to Mita, so what? So Simi is agonising, yet again, about Veer. Wow, really. By the end, when the bedsprings have stopped creaking, and the pairs have shuffled into new positions, you're quite happy to let the quartet be. Or should that be a sextet?
High point of the film: the first-rate Irrfan being made to wear, by his vegetarian paramour, a thong.

MAHARATHI
CAST:
Paresh Rawal, Naseerudin Shah, Om Puri, Boman Irani, Neha Dhupia, Tara Sharma
DIRECTOR: Shivam Nair
Based on Paresh Rawal's play of the same name, Maharathi presents a howdunnit: there's a body in the deep freeze, and we all know the manner in which it ended up there, but the cops don't.
Alcoholic film producer (Naseer) puts a gun to his head, much to the consternation of his gold-digger of a wife (Neha). Driver-cum-general dogsbody (Paresh) is present when the bullet finds a head, and the plush Persian carpet turns into a pool of blood. The body is stashed in an old-fashioned large deep freeze, with the intention of claiming crores from a couple of sources — a will, or a huge insurance policy, depending on whether it is deemed a suicide or a murder.
Nair's second directorial venture, after his romantic Ahista Ahista, is a completely different film, reminding you of the classic closed-door murder mysteries of yore: the bungalow Naseer lives in is marked by expensive decay, the wife is appropriately attired in very few clothes, and Paresh appears to be alternately grasping and caring.
It's a wonderful cast, and they all do their job well, but what's missing from Maharathi is that crucial sense of danger. The film unspools minus ominous overtones: crimes of passion need edge, and Maharathi doesn't have any.

OH, MY GOD
CAST:
Vinay Pathak, Divya Dutta, Saurabh Shukla, Harsh Chhaya, Gaurav Gera
DIRECTOR: Saurabh Srivastava
WHAT if, one fine day, God comes to earth, and tries fulfilling your deepest desire? Oh, My God borrows its central idea from Bruce Almighty by putting Saurabh Shukla in a very Morgan Freeman-like white suit and white shoes, but the 'bhagwaan' in Oh My God is an eater: he devours pizza slices, burgers and wafers by the minute.
That's one of the funnier parts of this film, which mines its familiar territory for small laughs. Vinay Pathak plays an office-goer whose prime wish is to become a millionaire, by pushing a money-spinning scheme on unwilling individuals. Loving wife Divya Dutta is all for him, even when he fumbles, and stumbles, at every step.
Oh, My God is a nice, quirky tale, but it's come too soon after Dasvidaniya, which had almost this same bunch of actors: Vinay Pathak should be careful of being confined to the ordinary-guy-next-door roles, because it can get too much of a muchness, even for a performer of his calibre. How about playing a deranged killer next?

MEERABAI NOT OUT
CAST:
Mandira Bedi, Eijaz Khan, Anupam Kher, Mahesh Manjrekar, Anil Kumble
DIRECTOR: Chandrakant Kulkarni
MEERA Achrekar, bespectacled Maths teacher, loves cricket. And Anil Kumble. More than numbers. More than even her boyfriend, who is resigned to be on the sidelines all his life.
Meerabai Not Out was meant to release last year, during the World Cup, but was held back because of the Indian team's lousy performance. Things have changed drastically in between— India is on top, but Mandira Bedi, who plays Meera Achrekar, is no longer the only noodle strap in business.
As cricket-crazy Meera, Mandira's not half bad: her "chashme wali seedhi saadhi" girl is believable. So is TV actor Eijaz, making his film debut, as the second fiddle who knows he will always be trumped by a famous cricketing star. But there's not enough drama in the telling. Anil Kumble makes nano-second appearances. And the only time you see Mandira in her trademark noodle straps is in the item song right towards the end, when the credits are rolling. If you stay that long.

—SHUBHRA GUPTA
shubhra.gupta@gmail.com

BURN AFTER READING
CAST:
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich;
DIRECTOR: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
THE Coen Brothers wrote the screenplay of Burn After Reading while working on the screenplay of their award-winning No Country For Old Men. That they could alternate between the two, vastly different films is a testament to what the brothers are capable of, and they almost pull it off here again. Burn After Reading is a comedy that makes fun of almost everything, reminding you that almost none of it is laughing matter.
Consider the cast:
* A CIA expert on the Balkans, Osborne Cox (Malkovich), shunted out of the Agency as "he has a drinking problem". He immediately decides to write a tell-all memoir, which lies thrown about the house, and then can't rouse himself beyond the first few lines.
* His obviously successful and no-nonsense paediatrician wife, Katie (Swinton). She is used to getting her own way, whether it is with unsuspecting children or suspicious adults.
* Her lover Harry (Clooney), a federal marshal who carries a gun that he has never fired, which helps him a long way with the ladies. He is not bright enough to let discretion come in the way of his dalliances, but dollops of charm ensure that others overlook it and he never sees it.
* Harry's writer wife Sandy, charming but not as gullible as we presume.
* One of Harry's conquests, Linda (McDormand), who works at a gym and who has decided she won't stop at anything — including walking into the Russian Embassy— for four cosmetic surgeries that will give her a new body and a new life.
* Linda's good friend Chad (Pitt), he with the blond hair, flat abs and happy composition that comes with not exercising your mind too much.
Into this mix is thrown in a CD from Cox purportedly containing some top-secret stuff, or at least Chad and Linda surmise so given the list of "signals, names, numbers, figures". The CD was left on the gym floor where Linda and Chad work, and they decide to exchange the information for money.
However, Cox, who considers himself a man of principles, over and above the post-Cold War generation, won't be blackmailed by "this entire league of morons". The consequences are grave for everyone, with the last person standing the unlikeliest of the lot. As the mess piles up, CIA— which is predictably watching everything — ignores the bodies and resolves "not to repeat what happened here, if we figure out what happened here".
Burn After Reading — the title taking off from one of the most basic instructions for a spy — is scary in what it implies for both intelligence and Intelligence. And what results it can have, starting with the most basic of relationships. The most well-informed people in the film are actually divorce lawyers, who have efficient spies trailing cheating partners.
However, for all that, Burn After Reading is strangely cold and distant, never going the whole hog on what it's saying. When a film is trying to get you that involved and thinking, it should perhaps be itself thinking a wee bit less and doing a lot more.
The wonderful cast compensates though. While Clooney and McDormand are Coen regulars, it is Pitt who is surprisingly good as the brainless, cheerful physical instructor. And then there are Malkovich and Swinton. Burn after reading? As a disgruntled ex-CIA and his angry wife, they scorch their way through.

SANXIA HAOREN (STILL LIFE)
CAST:
Han Sanming, Zhao Tao, Chen Kai
DIRECTOR: Jia Zhange Ke
IT TAKES something to tell the story of a dam that has displaced, by certain estimates, 1.3 million people, through stories of just two of them.
But Sanxia Haoren or Still Life is more than about China's Three Gorges Dam, or industrialisation, or modernisation, or its implications for individuals, or its consequences on society. Yes, these are all parts of Still Life, but like life, the film (in Mandarin) is more than this.
In the way its characters move and its camera spans, over scenes where dampness hangs over everything, there is a general resignation. This is a generation whose life is being swept aside by forces beyond its control and it has chosen to step aside, gently. Here are people for whom this is the only way of life, the only truth, over and beyond a marriage or family.
They are not sad, they are just not happy. Few wear clothes, others don similar Mao jackets. They have the same cigarette brands, drink the same wine, have the same food and enjoy the same toffee. They go where work takes them, live in ramshackle houses or on boats when these are put up for demolition. In a stunning piece of irony, though, each carries a cell phone. In a time and space where few things, least their address, are fixed, this is their only hold on permanence.
However, over and above, the human spirit triumphs. The little they have is shared, be it cigarettes, a meal or the odd toffee. And in one last scene, it rises above all aroud it — the clouds, the mountains, the crumbling and half-demolished structures and above all, the water, the ever-present water.
For the first time in the film, Sanming (who came looking for a town, home and love, which have all been swept away by the dam) turns back and smiles.

—SHALINI LANGER
shalini.langer@expressindia.com

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