Saturday, March 12, 2011

Black Swan

Is it possible to find a movie beautiful and yet not be sure whether you like it?

Black Swan is as awful as it is awesome. As captivating as it is disturbing.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, a ballerina whose life is completely consumed by her dance. She lives with her bordering-on-psychotic mother who encourages her ballet aspirations on the one hand and grudges her success on the other, and maniacally controls her adult daughter's life.

The New York based ballet company that Nina works for plans to re-produce the classic 'Black Swan' ballet, a story of the virtuous White Swan and her evil twin the Black Swan. The director wants a ballerina that can play both the swans with equal elan. Nina wants to be chosen for the role and manages to bag it, even though the director feels that she can portray the innocent White Swan splendidly, but lacks the sensuality to play the Black Swan that represents lust and jealousy, possibly due to her own sexual repression and underdevelopment.

Her obsession with perfection and paranoia about losing the part to free-spirited rival Lily (Mila Kunis), who is the personification of the Black Swan, makes her delusional. As she gets drawn into the ballet and works harder to get the Black Swan right, she loses her ability to distinguish reality from illusion and becomes progressively like the Black Swan, frequently engaging in self-mutilation that culminates in the chilling climax.

Natalie Portman plays Nina with such passion & intensity that she sucks you right into her mental hell. And if she's done all the dancing in the movie herself, hats off to her. Mila Kunis is awesome too and I wish there was more of her in the movie. I barely recognized Winona Ryder, who has a cameo of a ballerina at the sunset of her career. And how pretty is Natalia Portman?!!

As I mentioned earlier, 'Black Swan' is beautiful - it's more art than cinema, poetry in motion. It shows you how scary losing one's mind can be, and how fragile sanity really is. Yet I can't say I liked the movie - I certainly wouldn't want to watch it again. It's passionate but very intense and disturbing. It's gory, it will make you cringe. It's good cinema but something you will want to watch to get entertained. It's not a feel-good movie like 'The King's Speech' and is completely stripped of humor. Having said that, I would definitely recommend watching it for Natalie Portman and the direction.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Well, I could write about many things of significance - the Aruna Shanbaug case, legalization of passive euthanasia in India, my annual anti-women's day post, the pathetic state of the Indian media that goes into a tizzy the minute some B-grade wannabe starlet like Kashmera Shah goes naked. But, after a day of non-stop working, handling people's emotions at work, and my own PMS, I want to write about completely insignificant and irrelevant things.

I do want to write about Kashmera Shah. That woman is so desperate for attention, money, publicity, whatever that she's shot naked for a calender while claiming that it's the real her you get to see in the pictures, with not an touch of Photoshop. So this morning a local newspaper posted a picture of her as she is, taken a couple of days ago. And she has fat spilling from all sides! Hmmm...I wonder how she's going to get away with explaining that.

As I type this, promos for the new season of Desperate Housewives is on air. To be honest, I stopped following the show after a couple of seasons. Maybe because it was aired at prime time on a weekend night when I'd invariably be out having a life. This season looks interesting - there's a new housewife on Mysteria Lane, so we can expect sassiness, catiness and a whole load of bitchiness.

I look for something interesting to watch from 9-10pm on weekdays. That usually is my TV watching hour. For the longest time there was Masterchef Australia that I absolutely looooooooved. Then they started showing the retarded 'Bachelor' series, went back to MC US for a very short while, and now they're showing some random series called 'Las Vegas' that's not even vaguely interesting. Inspite of Josh Duhammel. I'm waiting for it to get over and for them to air another Masterchef series...MC UK, maybe? Please please please!

In case you haven't noticed, I only watch Star World.

Right now the smell of mouth-watering tandoori chicken is wafting from my kitchen. No, you haven't asked but we're going carb free for dinner.

What randomness have you been upto?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

'The King's Speech' & CBTL

My weekend's gone by in a jiffy. I was running errands most of the time...buying groceries, paying bills, dropping/picking up stuff from the dry cleaner, parlour (yes that's an errand too), cooking etc. I hardly got time to chill and suddenly it's Sunday evening :(

There were a couple of highlights though - a glorious Saturday afternoon nap that had more to do with the searing heat outside than anything else, managed to watch 'The King's Speech', and discovered the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in town that totally made my day!

'The King's Speech' is a must-watch movie. Just over two hours, it's slow in parts but there's never a boring moment. And what a phenomenal effort by Colin Firth. He so deserves that Oscar.

You know, every time I see such a soul-stirring performance by a Hollywood actor I really wonder whether any of our (Bollywood) actors will be able to pull off such a performance. And the answer, almost always, is a disappointing and resounding 'no'. You watch this movie and name one Indian actor who could've done as good a job of playing a person who suddenly finds himself annointed King of England at a time when he must lead his country to war and is expected to dole out inspiring speaches but who suffers from a debilitating stammer, as Colin Firth does. The director very cleverly shows a close up of his face every time he's trying to deliver a speech, and the contortions of his face to get those damn words out make your heart go out to him. You can feel his pain and anguish at not being able to get words out of his mouth. The humour is good too, if you appreciate British humour that is. Awesome movie, watch it.

And if you happen to stop by the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, do try their Philadelphia Baked Cheesecake and Brownie Cheesecake. They're orgasmic. And that, I think, is a great way to end this post. Hope you had a good weekend.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Masterchef USA

So did you watch Masterchef US Season 1?

After endless episodes of 'The Bachelor/Bachelorette' (ugh!), better sence prevailed over Star World and they decided to go back to the Masterchef series.

Now, MC America was completely different from MC Australia. It was hosted by chefs and restaurant owners Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliott and Joe Bastianich (a tough tough cookie to impress). These people know food but they're Gary or George (of MC Australia)!

Gary & George were adorable! They were so friendly, always encouraging the contestants, giving constructive feedback...

The thing about Gordon Ramsay is that he's so jumpy and hyperactive that just watching him on TV can send your blood pressure soaring. And he can get really nasty if he wants to. But I find him hot in a strange, convoluted way. He took his shirt off in one of the episodes to switch into a chef's jacket, and that man has rock solid abs even at 43!!! I also found him to be the most compassionate of all judges - he was really patient and considerate towards Sheetal, a contestant of Indian origin who had grown up in a vegetarian home and used to find it tough to kill animals such as crabs (that she had to cook with) on the show!

Unfortunately, MC America was not a patch on MC Australia. First of all, it ended too soon (two & a half weeks I think). It got over before you could even get into the flow of it. There were no Masterclasses or celebrity chef cook-offs for immunity.

Secondly, the format was such that it didn't give you time or reason to root for a contestant. In MC Australia, everyone I know who watched the series had a favorite whether it was Marion or Adam or Jason. You felt like you knew a little bit of them, you would want them to win the challenges, and you wanted to see their dreams come true. No such feelings for contestants in MC US. No one I know had a favorite.

Third, the quality of contestants too was no patch on the Australian contestants. Those guys (Australians) were way more capable than the MC America contestants. They could whip up cuisines of any country - Mexican, Indian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, French...they knew it all! They could tell one Indian spice from another. The MC US contestants on the other hand could make only American dishes. They could not even make Chinese! There were no spectacular dishes, nothing you would remember at the end of an episode.

Then there was the incessant crying (Tracey who cooked only out of her mom's recipe book and would cry everytime her dish got panned by the judges), Farooq (who would continuously make a victim of himself), and cocky, arrogant Jake and Sharone who thought they were better than everyone else.

The other thing I didn't appreciate was the constant bitching and trying to put others down, among the contestants. This was just not there in MC Australia! The contestants were so friendly towards each other, respected each other, and never bitched about or spoke disparagingly about a fellow contestant even when they were speaking just to the camera.

The only nice thing about MC America was Gordon Ramsay and the fact that it put an end to the horrible 'Bachelor/Bachelorette' series!!

What did you think of MC America?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

7 Khoon Maaf

Vishal Bharadwaj's '7 Khoon Maaf' is an adaptation of 'Susanna's Seven Husbands', a short story by Ruskin Bond. Priyanka Chopra plays Susanna Anna Marie, a woman who is repeatedly let down by the men she marries. But instead of leaving them, she decides to kill them. And that is the problem with the movie. But more on that later. Let's go through the husbands first...

First up is Major Edwin Rodrigues played by Neil Nitin Mukesh. Susanna is barely out of her teens, is a free-spirited woman while he is insanely jealous and possessive. So he's fed to a panther on a night of hunting.

Rocker Jimmy Stetson (John Abraham) is addicted to cocaine. Susanna tries to rid him of his addiction through re-hab, but he continues to smuggle in the drug behind her back. He's given an overdose.

Disillusioned with life, Susanna moves to Kashmir where she falls in love with a dreamy poet Wasiullah Khan (Irrfan Khan) who charms her with his poetry but turns out to be a sadomasochist He's buried alive.

Nicolai Vronski is a Russian spy who courts Susanna with his scholastic Hindi and Bollywood dialogues. She agrees to marry him but soon discovers that he already has a wife in Russia. He is very cleverly sent down a dry well where Susanna rears poisonous snakes. He never makes it out of there. To stifle a police investigation that's bound to happen in the wake of a diplomat's death, Susanna is forced to marry the sex-starved Inspector Keemat Lal (Annu Kapoor) who is soon packed off via an overdose of the "magical blue pill".

Next in line is Dr. Madhusudan Tarafdar (Naseeruddin Shah), a weirdass doctor who treats all illnesses - including a failed attempt at suicide - by mushrooms! He makes the grievous mistake of trying to kill Susanna for her money and is disposed off through a game of Russian Roulette.

Frustrated with life, Susanna sets her house on fire only to get cold feet when the fire reaches her door. She manages to escape but a body is found in the house and is believed to be that of Susanna's. The police want her dead for obvious reasons, and the forensic investigation is carried out by Arun (Vivaan Shah), an orphan who Susanna had adopted and who has an Oedipus Complex vis-a-vis her (and who Susanna too tried to seduce at one point). Complicated, innit?

Anyhow, in an attempt to repay Susanna for her generosity earlier in his life, Arun confirms that the person whose remains have been found in the burnt down house is indeed Susanna. He then goes to Pondicherry looking for her and finds her about to become a bride for the 7th time!!!

Who's the 7th husband...who was killed in place of Susanna...which was the 7th murder? You go find out!

Honestly, I was quite disappointed with the movie. It's still head & shoulder above most of the crap that Bollywood churns out in the name of cinema, but after 'Maqbool' and 'Omkara' one expects a hell of a lot from Vishal Bharadwaj. He has the talent, and until sometime ago he also had the balls to let his talent shine without pandering to the demands of the box office. Based on his last two movies ('Kaminey' & '7 Khoon Maaf') however, one wonders whether he too is giving in to the pressures of commercial cinema.

My main problem with the movie is to do with Priyanka Chopra's character, and given that the movie revolves around her, any problem with her character lets the movie down by default.

For instance, there is no explanation as to why she's drawn to psychotic men in the first place? Take the case of Wasiullah Khan (the poet) - did she not know of his sadomasochism before she married him? And if she did, why did she marry him? Such flaws in characterization make one feel no sympathy for Susanna, and that is the biggest undoing of the movie b/c you're supposed to fsympathize with her.

There's also no explanation for why she must kill her husband when she can leave them. She's no psychopath, not a man hater either. In fact, I'd have loved to see Priyanka Chopra play the role of a psychopath - someone who derives pleasure out of killing people. Or someone who marries men of a certain disposition (jealous, possessive, exploitative, sadist etc.) with the intention of killing them b/c she was terribly wronged by one such man. Or a Mata Hari like character who sleeps with powerful men with an ulterior motive and then kills them. I would have loved to see PC sink her teeth into an out-and-out negative character, 'coz she's got the goods, you know. The movie was screaming out with possibilities, too bad VB decided to take a moralistic path by trying to justify the actions of his protagonist.

I also had a problem with PC's make up. She's supposed to be this gorgeous, sexy woman that men can't stay away from, but she looks hideous in the movie! She is actually made to look worse than she already is. Incredible. And honestly, I don't see the National Award coming PC's way as was hyped. She hardly had much acting to do, thanks to the limitations of her character and the script. She is very mediocre in the movie.

Among the men, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Irrfan Khan & Naseerudin Shah stand out (though I hated Irrfan Khan's look in the movie). Usha Uthup is wasted in the role of Maggi, Susanna's loyal maid who cleans up after Susanna.

And the climax...oh my God, the climax! It's tacky!! You'll know what I mean when you watch the movie.

One of the things that I did like about '7 Khoon Maaf' was the use of historical events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, Babri Masjid Demolition, Kandahar hijacking, 26/11 attacks etc. to denote the period the movie is set in. Hopefully Vishal Bharadwaj will pay more attention to the script the next time he decides to make a movie.