Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A Review of Sorts

The year in review: 2011

After the significant gains of 2010 (Udaan, Karthik Calling Karthik, Peepli Live), Hindi cinema in 2011 was a bit of a letdown. Vishal Bharadwaj finally delivered a clunker, 7 Khoon Maaf. The story - about a woman who keeps killing her abusive husbands - needed something like the Wilder touch. Bharadwaj instead ended up directing like the David Fincher of Se7en and Fight Club: the film was cynical, oppressive and unremittingly dark. It did, however, have “Darling”, which would have been the song of the year if it’d been original (it was an acknowledged cover of the Russian song "Kalinka").

Aamir Khan continued his golden run as producer. Kiran Rao's Dhobi Ghat was a muted tribute to Mumbai, and far too gentle to remember for long. Yet, there was a lot that was just right about it: the performances by Prateik and Kriti Malhotra (who has the most relatable voice), the score by Gustavo Santaollala and a unwillingness to concede to popular appeal (down to Aamir Khan’s irritating mind games about how this wasn’t a movie for the masses). Delhi Belly was its polar opposite: loud, trash-talking, fast-paced. It had whipcrack editing, the funniest script in recent memory, three leads who cussed like they didn’t care, and crazy, cross-eyed Poorna Jaganathan stealing scenes from everyone's noses. Also, I hate you like I love you love you love you…

Shor in the City may not have been as slick as 99, but it did manage to take the manic comedy of that 2009 film and turn it into something darker and more substantial. Directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D also got Tusshar Kapoor to act, an aberration that was quickly forgotten after his turn in The Dirty Picture (which, despite a joyously smutty performance by Vidya Balan, was very average).

The close but no cigar film of the year: Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster, which had an impressive Randeep Hooda, a surprisingly effective Jimmy Shergill and an awful Mahie Gill.

Ra.One might just be the worst film ever made in this country's history. If you’ve already seen it, I don’t need to tell you why. If you haven’t, read this Vigil Idiot strip.

Level any charge you’d like against The Tree of Life, but I could not get those images, or the haunting “Les barricades misteriuses”, out of my head for a long time. The most ambitious and flawed film of the year.

Drive unfolded like a cool dream interrupted by hideous violence. Gosling was a real human being, and a real hero (how old-fashioned). Carrey Mulligan will have to stop with that sad smile, or every film she does is going to end up this way.

Yet to see Shame, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Artist, War Horse, any of which might be the year's best.

Finally, some miscellaneous categories with no significance whatsoever:

Best concert I attended this year: Vieux Farka Toure Toumani Diabate and the Manganiyar troupe at Siri Fort

The concert I attended that I wouldn’t trade for the best concert I attended this year: Bob Dylan, live in Singapore

Best concert I didn’t attend this year: Metallica, Gurgaon

Best concert I’ll never attend: R.E.M, who broke up this year

Album of the year: The Beach Boys’ Smile, pieced together and released after four decades in the vault

Oh, and I bought my first original Criterions this year: Robert Altman’s Short Cuts and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter. And we won the World Cup.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

But only worth living/ Manhattan

Why is life worth living? It's a very good question. Um... Well, There are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. uh... Like what... okay... um... For me, uh... ooh... I would say... what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing... uh... um... and Wilie Mays... and um... the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony... and um... Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues... um... Swedish movies, naturally... Sentimental Education by Flaubert... uh... Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra... um... those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne... uh... the crabs at Sam Wo's... uh... Tracy's face...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dinner and a movie

A piece I did for Time Out about PVR's Director's Cut

“Nowadays, people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing,” says Paul Kemp in The Rum Diary, quoting Oscar Wilde. The line wafts over to me as I lie back in my recliner, sip an ice tea and idly wonder whether I should tear my eyes from the screen long enough to glance through the iPad menu by the armrest. This is Director’s Cut, the new ultra-luxurious offering from PVR. It opened last month in Vasant Kunj’s Ambience Mall, and houses four movie theatres – the largest of which has a capacity of 108 – a multi-cuisine restaurant, a cafĂ© and a bookstore.

Director’s Cut appears targeted at people who believe that things of value should come at a price. But just how valuable is this experience? The recliners are admittedly comfortable. It’s great to have a decent (if not very adventurous) in-theatre menu – though be warned, a pizza here can set you back Rs.500. The main benefit, though, is being able to watch a movie in a hall and in peace, in the company of other “connoisseurs” (as the press release would have it). Who could put a price on that? PVR can; tickets are Rs 750 on weekdays, Rs 850 on weekends. My bill, lunch included, came to Rs 1,778, a decidedly expensive outing for anyone who doesn’t shop regularly at Emporio Mall.

PVR entered the luxury movie-viewing market a couple of years ago with their “Gold Class” halls in the NCR and Bangalore. The plush surroundings in these theatres are roughly the same as what Director’s Cut is now offering. PVR’s Joint Managing Director Sanjeev Bijli acknowledged that Director’s Cut was an extension of the Gold Class concept, albeit with more food and beverage options. “It’s very annoying sometimes to be thrown into the exit corridors after the movie finishes,” he said over the phone. “A lot of people want to sit back, have a glass of wine and discuss the film. That’s why we decided on a restaurant.”

PVR also has plans to reel in the discerning (as opposed to simply wealthy) viewer with screenings of “vintage and classic cinema” in one of the four halls, under the Director’s Rare label. Try medium rare. This week, they screened the Javier Bardem-starrer Buitiful, which released in regular PVR theatres earlier this year (as did Drive, shown the week before). They also screened The Shawshank Redemption, a film whose rarity is compromised by the fact that it’s on TV every other fortnight. Cinephiles are more likely to find something of value in the bookstore, which has an impressive collection of literature on cinema, reasonably priced movie posters and Bollywood-inspired memorabilia.

Director’s Cut wants to be seen as the place for sophisticated cinema lovers. “The interiors…are soaked in classic and contem­porary film-based art, so as to underline the classic quality of the experience,” rhapsodises the press release. This “art”, mainly signed photographs of directors like Jean-Luc Godard and Akira Kurosawa on the walls, is a smokescreen, an illusion to make the patrons of Director’s Cut feel like they’re discerning viewers. The truth is that Director’s Cut is a luxurious viewing experience, not necessarily a quality cinematic one. What would make this offering more interesting is if PVR could start screening genuinely rare movies, something that cultural centres here do for free. That would certainly add some value to the price.