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In the past few days I’ve become a pariah in my social circle. The reason? I hated Love Aaj Kal. Yeesh, it’s like being in the USA at the time of Schindler’s List!

You’re just saying that to be contrary, they say. Not strictly true. I’m a writer myself and would never, repeat, never trash someone else’s creative venture just for the heck of it.

My reason for not liking the film is simple. I’m spoilt. Woody Allen spoilt me for movies on relationships set in urban milieu. My argument is further validated when you look at all the reviews going around. No matter what their grading for the film – good, bad, ugly – they are unanimous in giving a thumbs up to the Veer Singh-Harleen track.  

I dunno about you guys, but a loquacious, oh-look-at-me-I’m-such-a-cool-dude Saif ain’t quite the neurotic Woody Allen. Love Aaj Kal doesn’t quite have that Annie Hall edge. And Annie Hall was made in 1977!

The only thing I liked in the film is the music. Dooriyan and Chor Bazari are very melodious. As for Aaj Din Chadheya, damn the song is hummable (skip the YouTube video). I can’t quite get it out of my head. I don’t know how he does it, stealing from here and there and all, but he delivers. Every time.

I was eagerly awaiting Kameenay, but now I’m apprehensive.

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The other day I caught Mission Impossible III on the telly. I was surprised since I didn’t know it had even released! And I’m usually very clued in about such things. I mentally kicked myself because when I thought about it, I did remember seeing a picture of Tom Cruise at an MI:III promotional event (I think).

Anyway, I had nothing better to do and MI:III is always compelling watch considering it was the most expensive flick by, and resulted in huge losses for Paramount. This eventually led to the severance of ties between the studio and Tom Cruise. Plus, as a film aficionado you can’t not watch MI:III.

MI:III was mired in controversy from the very beginning. First there were scripting issues. Tom Cruise wasn’t entirely happy with any of first two drafts. Then he settled on JJ Abrams, the celebrated director of the series Lost, as the script doctor. So the final draft was a mish mash of inputs from three writers.

Then there were asinine acts by Tom Cruise – the unwanted parental advice to Brooke Shields and the entire couch-jumping thing on Oprah.

And after being in the news for all the wrong reasons, come release, and the film came and went without a ripple. At least I don’t remember any hype around the release (I welcome any feedback to the contrary). Contrast that with the latest Bond Flick which was perhaps the most popular Bond flick ever.

Anyway, I sat through MI:III and my reaction was indifference. It wasn’t spectacularly good, nor was it abysmally bad. It was so-so. The plot is ho-hum, the script is adequate. The action is consistently of a high quality but then that’s par for course these days. Plus, in the end you don’t even get to know what the fuss was all about.

In MI:III, like in its latest Bond counterpart, Tom cruise deliberately chose to adopt a higher emotional quotient (the lack of which in earlier drafts led to Tom Cruise’s satisfaction) so you get an added romance track. Sadly that track too falls flat. While there was great chemistry between Daniel Craig and Eva Green, there’s no chemistry between Tom Cruise and the female lead.

So what ails the MI franchise? They have the same superhero-ish protagonist, they wow us with the same hi-tech gadgetry, they dazzle us with the same spectacular action.

In my opinion, it is the suspension of disbelief. The answer lies in the vein in which the two franchises are created. Bond films are essentially a little out there. Bond films are full of attitude, the hero so unashamedly an MCP, repartee-ing his way through saving the world (even in the latest, grittier Bond flick the producers have that intact), the villains so caricature-ish that, right from the beginning you suspend your belief willingly. Anything that comes after that; a villain who breeds giant squids or whose eye bleeds, or a gun that fires from the muzzle or a car with an invisibility shield; is swallowed. No questions asked.

On the other hand the MI films take themselves so seriously, Ethan Hunt is so earnestly righteous about saving the world, that subsequent plot twists and counter twists involving face and voice masks seem farcical. Plus Tom Cruise is always so Tom Cruisy. No matter what role he is playing you cannot forget that he’s Tom Cruise. My opinion is if you’re doing stuff that is technologically futuristic, and expect people to buy it, keep the tone light. Otherwise it won’t work, unless of course it’s sci-fi.

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I know it’s rather late in the day to be commenting on Taare Zameen Par, but as they say, better late than never. I also know it’s not fashionable to unfavorably critique TZP, nevertheless I’m going to do so. At the outset, let it be understood that it is a good film, an extremely effective film. My criticism is based on other factors.

I guess by now everyone has seen the film so I needn’t go into the story. So, I’ll just begin with what’s good and what’s not.The script: The script suffers from three major flaws. One, it is simplistic portrayal with no layering. All characters are caricatures. The good are very good and the bad are very bad. Two, Nikumbh’s character does not have any conflict (external or internal) in the second half. Apart from a token resistance from the school principal, there is no obstacle in his path. Three, it lacks a certain punch in the gut in the end. Ishan’s improvement is miraculous (except for him misspelling enough and struggling with the digit 8, there was no evidence of him being dyslexic), he wins the painting competition, all’s well with the family and so on. For films like TZP to be effective, we need a tragic or semi tragic ending. Just change the ending to Ishan wins the painting competition but is still forced to normal school, doomed to a fate of special schools forever and just see the reaction. I guarantee there won’t be a single dry eye. And it is believable. If we can show limited understanding of dyslexia in India, it is quite believable that Ishan could be expelled.

The script is contrived in several places to up the emotional quotient and the effort shows. For instance, in the scene between Nimkubh and Ishan’s parents where Nimkubh informs them that their son might be dyslexic, the father raves and rants about how such a person will survive in the outside world while Nimkubh listens in hapless silence with his teeth gnashing to convey his frustration. Yet, in the very next scene, he tells the boys in the school that famous personalities from Einstein to Edison to Agatha Christie were dyslexic and that dyslexia is not an inhibiting problem. A case of selective memory recall, Mr. Khan?Then, what was that with the inane confrontation between Mr. Khan and Ishan’s dad when the dad comes to school prove a point and score one over Nimkumbh. I thought that surfing the internet for information at least shows an effort to understand. Agreed, that it is more important to show support in other ways; a hug here, a pat there, but Mr. Khan almost makes it sound like a crime that the mother is surfing the Internet for information on dyslexia!

For a teacher of special children and a former dyslexic himself, Nimkumbh is easily overcome. Whenever he is sees children who are challenged in some way, he is always lachrymose. How about a little stoicism and good cheer, Mr. Khan?On the other aspects of the film, the dialogue is heavy and stilted. The lyrics are strictly average. Mr. Joshi, like Gulzarsaab in recent times, tries too hard. Yet, apart from the Maa and the title track which still pass muster, his lyrics are neither poetic not evocative. Contrary to popular opinion, I found Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s music good. Cinematography is competent. The script doesn’t require it and the cinematographer doesn’t try to unnecessarily wow us with snazzy angles.  On the positive side, Darsheel is endearing and a natural in front of the camera. He does justice to a demanding role. I hear he’s made dyslexia fashionable. He may do the same for big, buck teeth. Dakota Fanning, watch out, here comes Darsheel. Kudos to Mr. Khan for extracting a superlative performance from him.

As usual, Mr. Khan is excellent in an (again, as usual) understated kind of way. In many scenes, it is only after watching his reaction to a situation does that lump in your throat emerge. Having seen him act over the years, and now direct, I am convinced that he is the best film talent we’ve got. If only he’d let himself go. While TZP is an excellent film, a refreshing film, the likes of which we’ve seen emerge from Bollywood after a long time. But it still lacks that flash of brilliance which could have made it sublime. It’s not that Mr. Khan doesn’t try. His crime is he tries too hard. To play safe. He realizes that he’s dealing primarily with Indian audiences and accordingly ups the melodrama quotient to the overall detriment of the film. But maybe that’s just my perception. I am a firm believer of the minimalist school.TZP is a sincere effort and deserves at least a 4 on 5. But because it is Mr. Khan at the helm, I will give it a 3.  

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