Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom - Guilty Pleasure?

There was a time, not very long back, when screen lovers in mainstream Hindi films would suddenly find themselves in Switzerland singing their mandatory love ballad amid verdant valleys and Alpine surroundings. As time progressed, and Switzerland became oh-so-familiar, the locations became more global – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, et al. What did not change was the fact that our protagonists, though quintessential desis, would fantasize about singing and dancing in distant foreign locales. A dream, after all, reflects one’s aspiration, not reality. You dream of something that is…well, distant.

Now, have you ever thought about where NRIs would dream of singing their love duet? Well, India of course. They would dream of traveling on Indian Railways, meeting at the Old Delhi Railway station, navigating their way through the busy by lanes of Chandni Chowk on cycle rickshaws, wandering up and down the steps of an exotic step-well somewhere in Rajasthan, and of course serenading at the Taj. In other words – all that India stands for in the eyes of a foreigner: exotica. The lovebirds in Shaad Ali's Jhoom Barabar Jhoom do precisely that. Doesn't matter if one of them is not really an Indian, and perhaps Lahore would be a better choice for her as a 'dream destination'.

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom has many such moments, which fall well within the conventions of Hindi films, but have a delightfully 'different' treatment. First and foremost – the melodrama is completely gotten rid of, save for some brief moments towards the climax. Secondly, the film has virtually no plot, which is very true of most mainstream Hindi films. But unlike other films, Shaad Ali seems to know this very well and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom doesn't pretend to be anything else. This plotless, have-fun-while-it-lasts flick actually elevates thematic vacuousness to the level of a virtue. It is the non-existent storyline and an absence of 'dramatic conflict' that makes Jhoom Barabar Jhoom such fun to watch. What a sharp contrast from Ta Ra Rum Pum , the last film from the same production house that tried so hard to be 'meaningful' but ended up getting nowhere.

The entire first half of the film is about two strangers meeting at London's Waterloo railway station and narrating the stories of their respective love lives to kill time. The stories they narrate are bizarre and outrageous, but presented in a delightfully different manner. OK, not so different but not commonplace either. The narration of these stories has the same chutzpah and tongue-in-cheek quality that Sai Paranjpe presented so hilariously in Chashme Baddoor . Remember the scenes in Chashme Baddoor where Ravi Baswani and Rakesh Bedi try to cover up their failure in wooing Deepti Naval and take inspiration from the Hindi films they have seen to spin interesting yarns about their escapades?

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom pays homage to a number of Hindi films (many of them classics). So when the lovers are at the Taj, Jo Waada Kiya from Taj Mahal plays in the background. A prostitute names Laila gets her introduction with the Laila song from Qurbani. Ye Dosti accentuates the scene where Abhishek and Boobby are riding on a scooter with a sidecar, just like the way their fathers did in Sholay. A bit corny, yes. But what the heck, it’s meant to be fun.

The reason I liked Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was that it never takes itself too seriously. The humour, though corny at times, comes across quite effortlessly. Just try to think about the lines you might have used to inject humour in your regular conversations with friends. At that moment they would have seemed very funny, but take them to a different setting and they would appear completely inane. That’s a quality the team of Jhoom Barabar Jhoom - the writers, director, actors- manages to infuse in the film quite successfully. My true LOL moment in the film was when Piyush Mishra is quite annoyed having to wait for his kababs to be served and shouts "…kya bakra kaatne gaya hai?" and the shop owner shouts at his cook using the exact same words. I realize that this doesn't sound funny when I write it down, but in the film this scene had me in splits.

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom relies a lot on Shankar Ehsaan Loy's high-octane music and brilliant choreography by Vaibhavi Merchant to get its unique fun feel . The conceptualization of the Kiss of Love song is imaginative and very Broadway-ish. Gulzar's rustic lyrics add to the charm of the song and dance routines, though at time you wonder if the characters in the film would have in their vocabulary the words he gives them to mouth. But a die-hard Gulzar fan like me would not complain, because his distinctive touch stays intact in his songs, not to mention his fascination for the moon and the new imagery he associates with the moon and moonlight. A few examples:

  • आजा चाँदनी कूटेँगे आसमान को लूटेँगे, चल धुआँ उड़ा के झूम
  • यहीं कहीं शब काटेंगे, चिलम चटाई बाँटेंगे, चल धुआँ उड़ा के झूम
  • मक्की की रोटी गुड़ रख के, मिसरी से मीठे लब चख के, तन्दूर जला के झूम
  • खीसे खुलने लगे हैं, हीरे तुलने लगे हैं…
  • चाँद की उतार ली हैं दोनों बालियाँ…
  • ये चाँद का चिकना साबुन कुछ देर में घुल जायेगा…
  • धागे तोड़ लाओ चाँदनी से नूर के…

I know that I belong to the rare breed of people who actually enjoyed Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. It's been panned universally by critics and I'm yet to hear a positive comment from anyone who has seen the film. I don't understand why, but there have been many times when my views have not matched with others. For one, I saw many good points even in the now forgotten Umrao Jaan when others found none. At first I used to be very defensive about my views, but not anymore. Jhoom Barabar Jhoom is my guilty pleasure. Actually not - I don't feel embarrassed to admit that I loved it. If other's didn't, it's not my problem!

P.S: I have finally found one review that gives a thumbs up to JBJ, and the best part is that it is by my favorite reviewer Baradwaj Rangan.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End

If you haven't watched the first two installments of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and you decide to watch this one (if not for anything else, just to find out what the fuss is all about), it is very likely that you will not follow what's going on. You might even start cursing yourself for not taking a quick refresher course of the first two films before venturing for the third. But don't worry. Even Pirates veterans – a category I would like to put me in - find themselves in exactly the same situation. Whether you're experienced or a first-timer, your thoughts will exactly be the same – what the hell's going on?

A coherent plot is not a virtue even the hugely entertaining first film – The Curse of the Black Pearl - can boast of. What worked there was Johnny Depp's outstanding portrayal of the quirky Captain Jack Sparrow. Through an Academy Award nominated performance, he created an iconic character that was instantly loved by one and all.

The second film – Dead Man's Chest – went a step ahead. It included a lot more convoluted plot elements that were difficult to follow. Again, Captain Jack Sparrow's persona rescued the film from mediocrity. Not to mention the plot device that added a delicious pun in the film's title – a live, beating heart kept in a 'dead man's chest'….. body part, chest, box – get it?

Now comes At World's End – a perfect exemplification of the law of diminishing returns. Emboldened by the enormous box-office success of the second film, the filmmakers try to make this one bigger – in terms of scale, plot, characters, SFX, what have you. But it doesn't come even close to the funny brilliance of the first, or even the second. By virtue of an over-crowded plot, what you finally get is an incoherent, convoluted, over-plotted mishmash. You might start with the good intentions of wanting to follow the plot, but it's just too much to warrant any comprehension. I, for one, gave up after the very disappointing first 30 minutes. It just wasn't worth it.

After a while, what was happening on the screen didn't really matter. I just longed for Jack Sparrow to make an appearance and redeem the show. The wait was quite agonizing because it seemed that Jack - at the behest of the screenwriters, of course - was in no mood to grace us with his appearance just yet. And when he did, we saw not one, not two, but tens of Jack Sparrow on screen. Fantastic, I thought. It's party time now!

Not really. My excitement was terribly short-lived. Despite the fact that the film is agonizingly long, the screen time given to Jack Sparrow is unpardonably short. Let me put it another way, the length is agonizing because Jack Sparrow is criminally neglected. What were the filmmakers thinking? It's outright blasphemy! I mean, how could they even think of sidelining a character who is the only reason for the franchise to have worked thus far?

On the whole, At World's End is boring! I think someone should make a version where everything else but Jack Sparrow is edited out of the film. It might be a disjointed and plot-less 'short film', but infinitely more watchable and engrossing than this over-plotted exercise in tedium.