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Rock On: Rock goes mainstream

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Granted this movie has been out for 4 weeks but I just had the opportunity of catching up with what all this hype was about. I went in expecting a “bored urban Indian youth rebel against society” kind of movie but was pleasantly surprised. **some spoilers**

Rock On: Don’t judge a movie by its poster
img: via Wikipedia

“Rock On” starts with a bang with a rock group “raising the roof” at a rock concert in downtown Mumbai. The band seems to be GNR inspired with mercurial lead man Aditya (Farhan Akhtar, yes that Farhan Akhtar) sporting an Axle Rose look, a lead guitarist Joe (Arjun Rampal) who also looks like Axle Rose, killer drummer K.D. (Purab Kohli) and Rob (Luke Kenny) on the keyboard. Abruptly, the story cuts to the individual lives of 4 men in their early to mid 30s. Aditya (Farhan Akhtar, yes that Farhan Akhtar) is a workaholic investment banker who’s marriage to Sakshi (Prachi Desai) is starting to unravel. Joe (Arjun Rampal) is an out of work musician who’s married to his college-days sweetheart and the two have a son. K.D. (Purab Kohli) works in his multi-millionaire father’s jewelry business. Rob (Luke Kenny) is an ad jingle writer.

The movie switches between the present and the past (in flashbacks), somewhat disconcerting at the beginning. As the story line starts to unwrap your learn that these 4 guys were part of a popular rock band named Magik about 10 years ago. The reason for the break-up of the band and the animosity between these former buddies becomes clearer as the movie progresses. Aditya’s wife Sakshi runs into K.D. while buying a birthday gift and that meeting kick starts a chain of events that ultimately forces the band members to confront their pasts and each other. Ultimately, the band members are forced with a choice, forgive each other and reunite for one last hurrah, or to proceed with their lives and leave their differences unresolved and their dreams unconquered.

One thing I noted was that the marketing and promos do little justice to this movie. You are lead to believe that the lead actors will sport their rock star looks throughout the movie and the movie is actually about a rock band from start to end. But far from it, this movie is about 4 regular guys who used to be a rock band. The movie has some Dil Chahta Hai elements to it, namely the male-bonding and, the deep rooted animosity between a couple of the guys. Think of Rock On as Dil Chahta Hai on heavy metal steroids. Ever wonder what happened to those crazy kids in your college that formed a rock band? Rock On is the story of a broken up 90s Indian rock band that played music reminiscent of the 80s hair metal bands. Rock On is about wanting to live your dream, think 8 Mile. Rock On is about about reigniting your passion for something you loved and believed in. Faced with the choice, can you in your 30s accomplish what you wanted to do in your 20s?

The music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy is truly a delight to your auditory senses tortured by an over-abundance of crappy techno-pop remixes and Himmesh Reshamiya. Old school lyricist Javed Akhtar, abandons his fancy Urdu-based lyrics for simple rock lyrics which blend in well with the catchy rock music and even the occasional metal ballad, all 100% desi ishtyle. There are no abrupt song-dance sequences in exotic far-off locales and no chalk-on-board lyrics like “Oh baby baby, you wanna make me dance”. Even the songs are placed well as part of the storyline and even with zero exposure to the music before the movie, you could be forgiven for getting some of these numbers stuck in your head. Also, don’t be surprised if you find rock bands doing the dandiya circuit this Navratri *** wink wink hint ***.

The cast consists of a bunch of relative unknowns with Arjun Rampal being the most recognizable Bollywood face. The surprise package is definitely Farhan Akhtar, yes that Farhan Akhtar. Besides doing a great job acting, he also sung most of the songs in the movie himself. As for Arjun Rampal, he looks uncomfortable as the brooding out of work guitarist stuck in a rut, but his character grows on you as the movie progresses and by the end you could find yourself rooting for him. Purab Kohli, lends comic relief but not in the Bollywood slapstick style that we’ve come to abhor. Kohli’s drunken karaoke rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” had the audience in splits. Luke Kenny, the band’s conscience, who we come to associate with rock music on Channel V, also holds his own as an aging ad jingles composer sans his trademark long locks.

As for the leading ladies, Prachi Desai, Shahana Goswami and Koel Purie are hardly household names when it comes to Bollywood movies, but they give tight-knit performances relevant to the story line and play significant parts, especially Desai. Shahana Goswami plays a wife who gives up her ambition of being a designer to run her husband’s family business of selling fish in order to support her washed-out rock musician husband. These women are so real-life you feel yourself feeling their frustrations and ambitions and present a welcome change from the voluptuous Daisy Dukes-clad brigade of mainstream Bollywood.

Would I recommend Rock On to our readers? Absolutely. At 2 hours 40 minutes, the movie is perhaps a tad long but makes up for it with its well treated storyline sans the typical Bollywood melodrama. The plot line is taut without too many loose ends, for example, even something as minor as Aditya’s love interest before Sakshi gets some closure somewhere down the line. Without revealing the end of the movie, I’ll just say it’s bitter sweet.

As for the lingering question in your mind, will a person in their late 20, 30s or even 40s or upwards like this movie which is based on a rock band? Let me just put it this way, I had the same question going into the movie. Not only did I love this movie, but so did my mother. It’s a different movie and it’s for people of all ages. Go watch it in a theater and as the closing credits say “Don’t download the music, buy the CD”.

“A Custom Lungi” – a literary review

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Over the years, we’ve watched with great interest the evolution, or rather the lack of it, of desi literature based in the U.S. The following is based on some common trends/threads in desi lit novels – bright covers with saris and bindis and the choice of “serious” South Asian specific topics like dowry, arranged marriages, bride burning – that we’ve noticed. This post should be viewed as nothing more than a gentle attempt at sarcasm from some jaded readers.

An excerpt from the new desi lit novel “A Custom Lungi” by Blogger Santosh.

“Smells like vendakkai curry”, thought Apu to himself as he walked in at 8pm after a long day’s work in front of the computer. Apu’s love for vendakkais, okras as Americans know it, was legendary. Samir, his Project Manager, had been lately been considerate enough to let him off by 7pm and had also raised his salary to nearly half of what his American colleagues made.
“She’s getting really good at this cooking business”, he reflected, as he changed into his trademark lungi and banian. She had been sick lately, throwing up in the mornings. “Must be that outside food we had 3 weeks back”, he said reasoning to himself and then let his thoughts wander to Sharon.
His phone rang snapping him out of his reverie. It was his lawyer. “What now?”, thought Apu. His lawsuit against corporate giants No-gain, who falsely proclaimed themselves as the ultimate solution to premature balding, had not been going well lately.

A Custom LungiReview
“Blogger turned novelist Santosh has captured the spirit of an immigrant Indian man like no one else. The sweeping saga of a hirsute, slightly overweight, promiscuous, Indian man in an arranged marriage and his struggles with premature balding and against corporate America – “A Custom Lungi” is a cry for help from the South Asian male.”
Desi Tribune

“A snapshot of life in America through the eyes of a Hindi, and vice versa. From H1B exploitation to racial stereotyping to arranged marriages to dowry to extramarital affairs to the plight of a girl child, “A Custom Lungi” provides an in-depth and controversial look at the South Asian community”
South Asian Herald

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Why so serious: The Dark Knight delves into politics?

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Hollywood directors have long been (in)famous for inserting their political leanings into their works of art, some not so subtle, think Oliver Stone, and some far more subtle. Christopher Nolan, falls in the latter, by design or otherwise, with the movie that is poised to be the greatest revenue grosser of all time.

*** Minor spoilers ***

Why so serious?Andrew Klavan in the Wall Street Journal review of the movie draws parallels between the Dark Knight and, of all people, George W. Bush. [WSJ]

While I don’t agree with the justification for suspending civil rights in any situation and brown nosing of the Bush administration that Klavan indulges in – the obvious argument being that Klavan is using a movie to justify real life – it is hard to argue with Klavan’s premise that Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” had the same intent, i.e. per Klavan, Nolan’s Joker represents the mastermind terrorist and the Batman, George W. Bush.

It’s hard to miss once you latch on to the dialog. Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), Bruce Wayne’s butler and adviser, on the Joker:

“some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Any guesses who else this line could apply to?

The Joker holds much relevance in today’s politically charged atmosphere for he represents not only a comic book character but also THE terrorist mastermind. For starters, to say the Joker is mentally unstable would be stating the obvious. A micro-planner to the core, he blows up buildings to create mayhem. He brainwashes a hurt and vulnerable idealist and “turns him to the dark side”. He kidnaps people and kills them with the impunity of a hyperactive child gleefully ripping a doll’s head and then popping it back in. He has the smarts and cunning to unite the mob and turns them into his puppets – he is a criminal, yet superior to them. All said and done, the Joker has the entire city of Gotham trembling to the sound of his name.

The Joker has but one target, the Batman. In some perverse way, he owes his existence to the Batman. The Batman is the cause the Joker lives to fight against, his only purpose in life is to antagonize the Dark Knight and make him look foolish and incompetent in the eyes of the world. Batman is the system (except he isn’t) and the Joker is THE terrorist mastermind using the system as the means of justification for his very existence.

As for the Caped Crusader, besides the fact that Bruce Wayne desires someone else’s girl friend throughout the movie, the Batman also shows enough character flaws and lapses in judgment, which is exactly what makes him human and sets him apart from other comic superheroes. The Batman himself doesn’t fare much better in the “morality” department. The movie title “The Dark Knight” was not picked at random.
Says Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart in the performance of his career) to Bruce Wayne (Christian “Bail” Bale):

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

As the movie progresses, unable to cope with the Joker, the Batman finds himself increasingly indulging in extra judicial activity. The Batman kidnaps and airlifts a foreign national because, well, the Batman is above the law. He drops a mobster from a balcony in his own unique torture technique in a bid to force him to divulge the whereabouts of the Joker. Starting to sound familiar? Wait. There’s more. With the Joker in captivity, the Batman physically roughs him up in the presence of the hapless cops, to get valuable information from him. As icing on the cake, the Batman wiretaps the phone lines of every single Gotham citizen, something Morgan Freeman’s character of Lucius Fox objects to on grounds of civil rights. I’ve heard various arguments on who the Batman really represents – Dirty Harry or Dirty G.W. Bush. Long before he was famous, Christopher Nolan made “The Memento”. Nolan is notorious for tightly woven scripts and storylines and it’s almost impossible to imagine so many political references “creeping” into any one of Nolan’s movies, even unintentionally. With the dialogs and the subtle political bravado, Nolan’s Batman does represent George W. Bush or some variation of his administration thereof.

With the recent series of bomb blasts in India, this makes Batman’s character as someone dealing with the terrorist, even more relevant to us. With literally every nation in the world, facing some form of terrorist threat, perhaps Nolan meant to signify that when dealing with this 21st century abomination, it is the ends that justify the means. But enough already with the political mumbo-jumbo and back to the masala aspect.

As for the Dark Knight, it is in my opinion, perhaps the best action movie of all time. By the time the movie ends, Bale as the Caped Crusader has made us forget (hopefully forever) the former (atrocious) incarnations of Batman played by Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney. I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times over – Heath Ledger’s Joker character alone is worth the price of admission.

I’ve never liked clowns, no fear factor here, just plain dislike. Raj Kapoor destroyed the cutesy persona of a clown for me with his grating portrayal of a tragic clown in “Mera Naam Joker” and Stephen King ripped the remainder of the clown’s lighter side to shreds with “It”. The late Heath Ledger as Batman’s arch nemesis, The Joker, takes the comical version of Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the clown, and turns it into something dark, maniacal and just plain evil, a human personification of “It”. Thankfully, The Dark Knight is not a children’s movie for it most certainly would’ve knocked the profession of birthday party clowns into oblivion, so scary has Ledger made the clown.

Posthumous Oscar, perhaps?

Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of Harvey Dent, with a twist in the latter half of the movie? Par excellence. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Maggie Gyllenhaal, all great actors in their own right, complete the stellar cast of the movie.

Dialogs are seldom wasted. Almost every line carries some significance in the context of the movie. Again you’ve probably been bombarded with reviews that praise the screenplay, fight sequences, chases and graphics, and those reviews do speak the truth. At 2 hours 30 minutes, the movie is a tad longer than expected but who’s complaining.

In the rare case you still haven’t, may I suggest a night at the movies with “The Dark Knight” on the itinerary. The IMax version definitely beats the regular screen. This movie has a darker side to it, so exercise caution with children. And, however caught up you are in the non-stop action sequences, don’t miss the great dialogs and political undercurrents therein.

The Love Guru Central: The movie review

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In our continuing coverage of the movie “Love Guru”, we have some posts left including the review of the movie itself, our opinions on whether the movie was really as offensive as self proclaimed leader of the Hindus, Rajan Zed, proclaimed it to be and, perhaps, another surprise post ***hint***. All these post will feature under the section titled “The Love Guru Central:” for obvious reasons. Presenting the first post in out “Love Guru Central”, a broad review of the movie.

The Love Guru has Austin Powers Mike Myers exchanging his retro 60s suit in favor of saffron robes and a beard. The movie is full of juvenile jokes including a liberal dosage of references to the male anatomy. So if that kind of stuff offends you, I suggest you give this review (and the movie) a miss.

Pitka and Rajneesh
img: via Winnipeg Sun

I watched “Love Guru” Friday night with my wife. In the movie, Myers plays Pitka, a Deepak Chopra wannabe, whose life revolves around wanting to be on Oprah so he can be the next Chopra. Yes, there are a couple Oprah-Chopra jokes thrown in for good measure. Pitka preaches with power point presentations, has a penchant for trademarking his own teachings and writing self-help books for every life situation with Sooraj Barjatya and Karan Johar ish nomenclature, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Think Again” and “I Know You Are, but What Am I?” for instance.

Pitka lives in a massive Beverly Hills ashram, surrounded by desi women assistants dressed like the apsaras of yore, glides across the room in a motorized carpet and greets his followers with a “Mariska Hargitay”, Pitka’s version of “namaste”. His followers include Hollywood stars like Jessica Simpson, Val Kilmer and the real Mariska Hargitay. Pitka with his multi-colored robes, beard and jewelery himself looks like a bastardized version of Osho crossed with Govinda and Sean Puffy Combs.

Growing up, Pitka and Deepak Chopra were fellow students in Tugginmypudha ashram under the cross-eyed tutelage of Guru Tugginmypudha, who went cross-eyed from … well …. tugginhispudha. Guru Tugginmypudha played favorites with Chopra and made Pitka fight with brooms soaked in urine, drink tea snorted out his nostril and wear a chastity belt. Ben Kingsley as Guru Tugginmypudha, is only mildly amusing, perhaps an attempt to break free off the other Indian role that made him famous. Other points to note, Deepak Chopra as a young adult is played by his son, Gotham Chopra.

Alba can Bollywood dance, but can she act?
img: via Filmiholic

Jessica Alba is Jane Bullard, reluctant owner of the ice hockey team Toronto Maple Leafs. Alba features in yet another flat performance to go with “Good Luck Chuck” and all the lackluster roles she’s done of late. However of desi interest is the couple of love duets between Jane and Pitka. There is a “Nadiya Kinare” (which I should know but am unable to pinpoint) song 60s Bollywood-ishtyle scratchy recording and all. I remember watching his sequence and thinking to myself, perhaps this movie would’ve had a little more pizzazz had they gone all out on the classic 60s Bollywood-ishtyle.

Jane recruits Pitka to motivate her star player, who lost his mojo after his wife left him for the goalie of the Los Angeles Kings, Jacques Grande, whose claim to fame is a grande phallus. Justin Timberlake is fairly amusing in this role as the big phallused Celine Dion loving afro and mustache wearing French-Canadian.

Manu Narayan of Bombay Dreams fame, plays Pitka’s sidekick and conscience, Rajneesh, which oh-so-conveniently is the namesake of another erstwhile Indian sex guru (in case you missed the connection). Some of their scenes are hilarious particularly the sitar versions of “More than words” by Extreme (one of my favorite numbers of all time) left the audience rolling in the aisles. One small grouse about Manu Narayan, he needs to work on his “Indian accent” in these kind of roles. Narayan’s role unfortunately does not leave much room for histrionics, save a little bit of face time.

Bollywood style song and dance routines
img: via yahoo!

At this point you start to realize that with this supporting cast the movie is looking flat. Enter the true supporting stars of the movie – Verne Troyer a.k.a Mini Me and Stephen Colbert. Verne Troyer plays Punch Cherkov, the foul mouthed coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and in the scenes between him and Pitka you start to see the carry-over of the chemistry of the Austin Powers-Dr. Evil-Mine Me combo. Colbert plays a recovering drug addict ice hockey sportcaster playing color commentator to his fellow Mr. Obvious commentator.

The following section of this post also reflects some of the trivia that my wife was able to translate for me from her American POV. The movie has a lot of inside jokes that people may start to latch on to as the DVD comes out and you start watching it again and again. The hero shows a propensity to randomly burst out singing and dancing, Bollywood-ishtyle. But of course, you would have to have watched Bollywood movies to latch on to that fact. Pitka is a walking talking spoof of Deepak Chopra himself, including the accent and the slow deliberate way Chopra talks. Then again, you would have to have watched a video clip of Deepak Chopra to know that. Again you would have to be familiar with Hindi and Punjabi slang to know what Tugginmypudha means. Similarly you would have to be well versed in American pop-culture nut to understand the references to Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: SVU and Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5″ in particular.

I’m sure there are a few more jokes in there I did not catch. As for the movie itself, it’s funny in parts and mercifully short (less than an hour and a half by my estimates). The movie is full of stupid jokes and juvenile toilet humor but even my wife who is not a big fan of the Austin power’s movie, found it cute. If you like Mike Myers and his Austin Powers movie, this one is definitely worth a dekko.

Coming soon:
My take on whether the movie is really offensive to Hindus and another surprise post.

Sarkar Raj – A short review

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“Sarkar Raj”, the much awaited (not really, but it sounds poetic) sequel to “Sarkar”, which was inspired by Coppola’s “The Godfather”, is a dark brooding crime drama/political thriller. For those who haven’t seen the original “Sarkar”, it features the father-son duo of Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan in a political crime drama that has the lead character as a cross between “The Godfather” and the real life politician, Bal Thackeray. The sequel is much the same, but also stars AishwaryaShekRaiBachchan to complete the unholy Bachchan family trio.

The story revolves around a power plant project in Maharashtra, ***cough***Enron***cough***. AishwaryaShekRaiBachchan is the daughter of a rich NRI industrialist who is heading the project. The older Bachchan initially opposed to the project, changes his mind when the younger Bachchan, faced with an option between sleeping on the couch or in the arms of TMBWITW, convinces the older Bachchan otherwise. Throughout the movie, there are references to some phantom project plans and the project itself benefiting the state of Maharashtra. The movie itself seems to be a tribute to the Thackeray dynasty, which is weird considering the recent tiff between the Thackerays and the older Bachchan. Maybe that was a publicity stunt for this movie?

The ambiance of the movie in general, is dark both in the characters and lighting, save a few sweeping shots of the rural Maharashtra countryside. Characters routinely ham (See #6 and v.intr). There is widespread usage of the jerky handycam technique, ala “Ocean’s Twelve/Thirteen/Ninenty Nine/whathaveyou” but thankfully is used less and less as the movie progresses. There is plenty of double crossing with characters, including some important ones, getting whacked routinely, a trademark of the director, RGV. There are longish dialogs with close-ups are thrown in liberally until you begin seeing the sweat and nose hairs. To top the ultra-close close ups, the dialog writing is weak.

One thing is to be said for the movie, actually two things: no naach-gaana and no tale of two halves. The movie is shorter in duration than most Bollywood movies making you wonder about the need for an interval. Are we really that weak bladdered of a race? Even after the interval there is no marked departure from the basic theme of the movie. As for the acting, after a circumspect first half (and a hangover from Bhootnath), I was left wondering if Amitabh was just a shell of his former self. But he picks his performance up a notch in the second half, which also has you realize his character in the first half was intended to be that way. Abhishek holds his own but him, and the movie in general, could’ve done with better dialog writing. Whereas Abhishek played the role of Michael Corleone to Amitabh’s Vito in “Sarkar”, in the sequel he plays more of a Sonny Corleone, sans the womanizing **hint hint**. I’m unable to decide if I liked AishwaryaShekRaiBachchan’s performance because of the abundant usage of glycerine in the second half.

The verdict: Typical RGV movie. It is a political crime drama that is dark(+), brooding(-), violent(+), very little time or scope for romance in the plot(+), no naach-gaana(+), some good and lots of over acting(-), low brow humor in parts(-), predictably unpredictable(+) and an overdose of Bachchans(-). Even though “Sarkar Raj” has been widely panned, I’ve seldom agreed with popular movie critics. I’m going against the grain and grading it “watchable”.

p.s Follow the DP link above to the unintentionally hilarious post by RGV panning his critics. All I can say is “Don’t take load, man”.

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