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My Name Is Khan

Lead Actors: Shah Rukh KhanKajol
Genre: Drama

Launched amidst fanfare and controversies alike, My Name is Khan or MNIK made enough news to grab eyeballs right in the first week creating some sort of viewership record (at least in North America). For the common Bollywood buff, the low-key shoot, low publicity did generate a certain amount of pre-release curiosity, but the bigger reasons must be Shah Rukh-Kajol pairing almost after a decade and Shah Rukh’s portrayal of an mildly-autistic person, suffering from Asperger’s syndrome.

The film comes from the KJo stable, so should have good amount of melodrama - Myth, busted. MNIK provides a great platform for Shah Rukh and Kajol’s reel romance to come of age. Their recent movies in the last 2 years or more haven’t portrayed any candy-floss romance, or pre-wedding blues leading to their unification. The story of the movie touches upon the family as a whole, and how a man and woman co-exist in a marriage, a person’s beliefs and their determination to keep their partner happy. A mildly-autistic Rizvan Khan grows up in India in a lower-middle-class Muslim household with a widowed mother and a younger brother, Zakir. Sibling Zakir constantly feels overshadowed by love of the mother for her elder, autistic child, and later leaves to US for a better life. Rizvan, who’s inherently smart is home-schooled by a local Parsi gentleman. While he learns science and arts from his teacher, mother gives gyaan on ethics and moral science.

With mother passing away, Rizvan who’s socially inept needs to be taken care of, and leaves to the San Francisco to live with his brother. Zakir is now a dealer of beauty products and asks Rizvan to help out by being a salesman. Zakir is already married to a Muslim woman, Rizvan, although new to the city, readily takes up the job and meets Mandira, who’s a stylist at a beauty parlor. They become friends, learn about each other more and eventually fall in love. Mandira is a divorcee and has a son from the previous wedding. Rizvan always walks on the line drawn by his mother, has little regard for social boundaries; proposes to marry Mandira. Although Zakir is not happy about the Hindu-Muslim betrothal, Rizvan moves in with Mandira and her son and they form very healthy relationships. All this, pre-9/11. In this meantime Mandira’s son Sameer is killed in a racial attack at school. Mandira accuses marriage with Rizvan being the reason for this consequence. Rizvan, who does not understand racism, fails at pacifying Mandira who in a fit of rage asks him to go prove to everyone, including the President of US that he’s innocent although a Muslim. Given his strong determination, Rizvan pursues this journey while Mandira tries to track the killers.

Being a big star outside of the movie world too, the image of confident individual is a great impression on the common folk. For a change, in MNIK, you’re not experiencing SRK’s star power; he has played a character with inabilities and phobias. His acting experience of 2 decades, being the midst of socially-powerful personalities in real life, and his inclination towards being a people-person shows very clearly through the character of Rizvan Khan. Rizvan has 5 main traits: (1) phobia of anything loud – noises, colours, fights, nagging, crowds (2) intelligence/ common sense + confidence(3) sense of humour (4) being 'human', love for peace (5) strong ethics (6) a secular yet devout Muslim.

SRK has displayed the above traits with great hand-eye motions and physical gestures. He had earlier stated in press that an actor’s checklist should comprise walking the walk of the character before anything else. SRK has nailed it with Rizvan’s body language and gait. Sometimes comical, the character reminds some of us of Mr. Bean. Rizvan has some speech issues, uses double-words yet speaks clearly with good deal of knowledge and vocabulary. SRK’s ‘trademark’ has been emotional scenes with some amount of weeping, but Rizvan is a diametrically opposite character who emotes his sadness through words since crying is his one of his disabilities. Rizvan is a stone when he loses people dear to him, but again it’s his inability. The movie has bits of tongue-in-cheek adult humour which is tastefully done. Rizvan moves confidently well with people he likes and in these scenes it’s as if SRK is being himself. Lastly, an attribute of SRK is to be the man in love. It shows, it grows. Rizvan does not have an ego, loves Mandira and just wants to see her happy. All through the movie, he sticks to his values and wants to prove that being human is the most important thing in life.

Kajol as Mandira is very refreshing. Her character is secondary to SRK’s given the storyline and purpose of the characters. Mandira is a single mother who’s seen quite a bit quite early in life. Along comes Rizvan who sweeps her off her feet with his simplicity, perspective about life, selflessness and a way with people. Mandira is a compassionate person who’s happy about most things in life. She’s is very happy after forming a family with Rizvan and son, Sameer. It’s known Kajol can do comedy and drama with equal élan. Her excitement for life, her interest in a beauty-salon career and a need for love, her sociable nature are all very visible. Kajol’s chemistry with SRK is worth noticing and is as magical as their DDLJ days. Scenes after Sameer passing away required Mandira to be a melancholic self, who is lost in negative thoughts and just wants to hold a grudge against Islam. Kajol’s scenes before Sameer’s death are probably more memorable than the others, probably because her smile and happy expressions make a bigger impression on the viewer.

The other characters are Zakir (Jimmy Shergill), Haseena(Sonya Jehan) and Sameer (Yuvaan Makaar). Jimmy has held his own in scenes with SRK too, but seems like a forgettable character, same is the case with Haseena who has interesting screen presence in the introductory scenes but fades out quickly. Sameer is present here and there with limited dialogues to mouth, but his screen presence has been adequately used to move the story along. Parveen Dabas, Arif Zakaria, Zarina Wahab have smaller roles but scenes with them are significant milestones in the story’s lifecycle. Especially commendable are the American actors Katie Keane (Rizvan’s neighbor Susan) and Jennifer Echol (Mama Jenny) who share great camaraderie with Indian actors.

Karan Johar or KJo has officially stepped out of his comfort zone with MNIK. This movie is not candy-floss, and at the least does not have an agenda for the actor and actress to ‘become one’ at the end. MNIK has a bigger message to deliver and it’s about crossing boundaries and religions to be more human. The story and screenplay are by Shibani Bathija. The movie begins with development of Rizvan’s character from his childhood and some of recent past with Mandira before landing onto the present. Rizvan is an intelligent person who can earn money repairing things and is confident of fending for himself. Rizvan believes in the importance of praying, and the gesture of being of help to others in need, and that’s how he earns admirers. KJo has done his research, used the right types of props and sets for the movie and has sketched a phoren land without the audience having to question the authenticity of events or life in US. In terms of screenplay, there may be a few superfluous scenes here and there – may be the birthday scene, praying scenes, knowledge-discussions between Rizvan and Mandira and few others which necessarily don’t add momentum to the story. But scenes where Rizvan’s praying or religious chanting is viewed suspiciously by frightened locals are well-portrayed. So are the scenes where Rizvan is detained for checking by Homeland Security or at the prison. Rizvan and Mandira don’t break into a song every 30mins (at all) and the movie has a realistic feel with songs in the background helping to propel the story. The story somewhat feels like a Forrest Gump, but at least our man has a specific mission!

Characters like the press folks, Dr. Rahman, etc highlight the storyline very well. Scenes where Rizvan helps hurricane-hit Wilhemina, GA are not so great, but the message is clear. Better editing probably was needed to illustrate how Mandira believed Sameer’s death was due to a racial attack, just because the investigation officer called it so based on type of wounds (?!!). Also unjustified is the sequence where Rizvan is being released from prison and Mandira shows up (after deciding 'hate' is not good), but leaves without meeting him or asking him to stop the meet-the-president journey. Dialogues by Shibani and Niranjan Iyengar are very today and have some US slang. Rizvan is all words, and the dialogues (with fillers/double-words especially) have accentuated SRK’s appeal. Some quips from Rizvan, some sarcasm from Mandira but overall good dose of emotions without too much melodrama.

Ravi K Chandran is a seasoned Cinamatographer who has vast experience in filming successful mainstream Bollywood movies. Key to good screenplay is an intelligent visual and Ravi knows it far too well. Rizvan’s body movements were very important to be captured to show his mood and the long-range/short-range shots are appropriately timed. Capturing the hurricane scene, the beautiful home communities of California, the streets, the people, the landscapes, the highways, the President’s public meets, all accentuate life in US and help the viewer not to forget that this is happening in the US. Couple of areas of improvement could have been Sameer’s death scene (hit by a ball?!) and the Hurricane scene. The story only required the viewer to have focus on actors’ expressions and dialogues but Ravi C has gone beyond his scope of responsibilities. Excellent work with capturing faces and expressions overall.

The musical score/background by Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy is slowly catching up. The songs are not picturized per se; they just begin playing with story moving ahead. Songs of MNIK are either romantic or highlight the determination of an individual who wants to prove that being a Khan is not an offence. The background score when Rizvan is happy, or when Rizvan is thinking, or struggling are well-crafted and makes the viewer empathize with the plight of conditions.

The journey of a mildly-autistic individual to meet the President only to say that he’s not a terrorist can sound silly. But given the nature of Rizvan’s character, his hope in positivity and a secular belief puts him on the brink of many life-changing events and the President himself takes notice! Overall, MNIK leaves us with a message that it’s important to love our people, and treat everyone with respect. We all deserve a good life and only WE can make it happen.

Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year

Lead Actors: Ranbir KapoorManish Chaudhary
Genre: Drama, Comedy

A very fresh story for a Bollywood movie, and good performances. The plot of the movie is based in Mumbai, the working class is trying to succeed in life (and make better money) amidst competition, rules and constraints. The plot may seem to be focussed around one person (Ranbir Kapoor as Harpreet Singh Bedi), but to carefully analyze, the weight is on the plot itself. Harpreet is a recent BCom graduate who commends himself as a being a good salesman, and his confidence does land him a job at a computer assembling and delivery company (say, A). A wrong step in accordance with his morals costs him his impression with the big dogs at A and he gets an ultimatum to quit the job after the probation.

On finding out cost specifics from the grey market, Harpreet decides to venture and start the same business, but due to lack of logistics, ends up using A’s facilities and keeps track of every penny-worth used. Harpreet uses help of his colleagues at A – a technician, a peon, a receptionist, a sales lead. He christens this fictitious corporation as ‘Rocket Sales’, makes these helpers ‘partners’ at Rocket Sales, and continues to offer business to clients - most of them A’s. Their limited number of employees form an efficient organization, meet regularly outside of office hours and make timely deliveries. A starts losing business eventually to Rocket Sales, and the MD of A, Puri (played by Manish Chodhary) figures out this ‘golmaal’ eventually and puts an end to this corporation by making Harpreet signing legal paperwork to merge (give away) the brand of Rocket Sales to A, and himself stay out of this business for at least 3 years. Rocket’s clients who are now A’s are continuously unhappy and Puri figures it’s the good customer service which A cannot provide and throws the legal paperwork away to bring Rocket Sales back into the game.  

PERFORMANCES: Ranbir Kapoor as a Sardar is very convincing. The role requires the character to be confident, bold, straightforward, pushy and not bog down under pressure – a salesman, and Ranbir does an excellent job at displaying all these characteristics. Although he is not a seasoned actor, the maturity in his acting gives a great projection of his abilities and his versatility. His sales pitch would sometimes remind you of sales people you may have encountered in real life, for their ability to stay in your mindframe. His chemistry with the Shazahn Padamsee (as Sherena) is alright, but is nothing worth mentioning. But there are quite a few scenes where Harpreet does not react, or keeps numb – the visuals fall flat here and better treatment of the scene could have been possible - may be by making Harpreet’s enthusiasm more visible and consistent throughout.

Manish Chodhary as Puri is an excellent addition to the cast. Shimit has tapped his potential very well. Puri is an aggressive CEO (of A) and wants results, cares little about relationships but measures everything in terms of profits. His actions, body language, costumes, dialogue delivery very clearly depict that he’s the boss at A. Nitin (Naveen Kaushik) plays a sales lead who’s commanding, but not very respected. Harpreet looks upto him, trusts him but Naveen is a smart person who knows how to deal with people. He is a good sales person, but lacks boldness which Harpreet teaches him by having him join Rocket Sales. His character is that of being a mentor to Harpreet in initial stages, which he does well by adding some humour - regular and sarcastic. Koena (Gauhar Khan) becomes another ‘partner’ of Rocket Sales who adds more than glamour to the team. Scenes where she sympathizes with Harpreet when he gets shunted by Puri are good. Girish (Santosh)’s performances in the past have been well-appreciated. He is best suited for comedy and begins the journey in the movie as a guy watching porn at work, a technician who knows the ins and the outs and willing to help a fellow colleague being run down by peers and bosses. His dialogues are in Hyderabadi and he does the accent well, although not perfectly.   

SCREENPLAY & DIRECTION: Given a central idea and wide plot of developing an ambitious idea in silhoutte without getting caught, the screenplay of the movie had some flexibility, but Director Shimit Amin has used the screen time and space very economically. A few scenes could be called superfluous – based various characters are developed, or eg. the bribing scene, the office party, etc. These scenes and a few more have particularly not added value to the script. Shimit has experience directing movies in diverse genre like thriller and sports-motivation. A few characters in the film could have been done away with, or probably built better – like Harpreet’s grandfather (played by Prem Chopra), or Sherena or Harpreet’s friends. Their screen-time leaves the viewer asking for the director to get the story back to Rocket Sales. The dialogues for each character are well-written. Most of the language is Mumbai Hindi slang, with hand gestures too. The sarcasm is alright, which more or less all characters exude and scenes are placed in a logical sequence. What’s confusing with the plot though, is how in the end Puri of A is not able to meet the service requirements as demanded by the clients of Rocket Sales who finally convert to A. How difficult can it be to mobilize 24x7 technicians for your clients, when a team of 5 was already doing it? Although, what’s convincingly portrayed is a company which is as big as 25-30 people can easily lose information and resources to situations and opportunities outside. Overall, the screenplay and direction could use some improvement. 

CINEMATOGRAPHY: The main job of Vikash Nowlakha Anshum was to place more emphasis on events than people. The sets are those of an office majorly, sometimes streets and sometimes an apartment being used an office. All this said, Vikash has used short-range shots, and has been able to capture body language and expressions perfectly. The office sets (that of a small-size company) have been well absorbed. The lighting could have been better in some scenes where the look and feel is dull, may be the angles used could have been better. But the movie wasn’t designed to be a visual treat, so Vikash has been able to project ‘reality’ without distorting the visuals so much. The props in the scenes are adequately caught on screen and so are the locations.

 There are no songs in the movie (but are in the album), and it’s a good decision. The background score is a take off on songs from the album. Both by the artiste duo Salim-Sulaiman. The music is very urban and suits the look and feel of the movie, without any unwanted dramatization. There are some pauses here and there, which movies in this new millennium are witnessing compared to ones from the 90s where background scores in parallel to dialogues were the norm. The pauses are adequate. There probably isn’t much variety, but the score has definitely accentuated comical scenes.

Rocket Singh has a plot that could have definitely been exploited better, but the performances are worth noticing. The viewer may not lose their concentration, although, there was more flexibility with story development (fast vs slow, may be more ‘masala’). Shimit and team have stuck to the central plot which is a good thing. Overall, the movie is a good watch, which should receive critical acclaim if not commercial success.

3 Idiots

Lead Actors: Aamir Khan, Sharman Joshi, R Madhavan, Boman Irani, Kareena Kapoor
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Inspirational

As someone who read the book 3 years ago and with bad memory issues, I can safely saythis book is a decent take off on 5 Point Someone. For folks who suffer from ADHD and cannot read this write-up, this movie rightly fits (and very well) into the V V Chopra – Hirani genre of film making, worth your greens. 8/10. For folks rearing to go more, here’s why:

V V Chopra and Raju Hirani have chosen a plot which attracts a lot of young audience, and the maturity in the story entices the older generations too. Who does not love college-based stories! The story easily jogs the viewer’s memory and may make them relate to their own college days, or make a tween/teen look forward to college because it paints a nice picture about “college”. The protagonists, Rancho (Aamir), Farhan (Madhavan) and Sharman (Raju) are students of a premier Engineering college in India. The story is a tad bit of present and majorly a flashback in order of their 4 years in college, how they forge their friendships, their frustrations, fun and their interests.

The plot touches upon pertinent issues in the Indian education system which sometimes forces rote-learning, peer-competition, strict nature of professors (Eg. Boman Irani nicknamed ‘Virus’), etc which are prevalent in engineering colleges of today in India. The plot is light hearted, in that the viewer will experience emotions even through comic scenes and dramatic gestures like a strict professor finally breaking down, or after tribulations, folks meet with success – two of basic human feelings, which on a practical level, most of us empathize or rejoice with respectively. The movie can flatly be placed in the comic genre, and ‘gyaan’ is also presented in comical means – with a fellow student (challenged with Hindi communication) who mugs up a speech in Hindi, which Rancho and Farhan modify to teach Raju what consequences rote-learning has. Although the view may forget the lesson soon enough, the scene is very well delivered and leaves a lasting impression (especially with the choice of words). The movie plot also discusses parents’ genuine aspirations for their children, and how while growing up, we feel torn apart between parents’ wants and our own. But the story also carefully depicts how they only seek our happiness and are willing to sacrifice theirs, as always. The movie does not have a snazzy appeal, in that, the students are shown to be from modest backgrounds and are looking to have a good time in limited means. In short, the story is not designed to give a specific message, but shows student life at a Desi Engineering college and what their interests are.

. Aamir takes it all away. Rancho’s characterization is very strong. There are no shortcomings built into Rancho’s character, and this character displays a range of emotions and attributes from happiness, sadness, curiosity, love, intelligence, ‘cool’, confidence, boldness. Have we all not seen this guy in college? That’s Rancho. He’s friends with Farhan and Raju who try hard to make marks in their exams, chasing 91% and 95%, and end up in the bottom 2 slots. Rancho is not shown putting in effort (by comparative means), but manages be at top always and ends up as the Student of the Year at graduation. He tries to convince his friends and others that the order of precedence is to love what you are doing, which will help you excel in it, and success follows automatically. It’s a convincing motto in purview of the script, as Rancho displays a heart-felt interest in engineering, and with his projects – helping fly a peer’s mini-helicopter, opening up things that can be dismantled, the VIRUS inverter, and building ‘birthing technology’, are all visibly functional and he takes upon each of them one after the other, circumstantially or with intrinsic interest.

Farhan does not want to be an engineer, but a nature photographer instead. Familial pressure of settling down with a safe job lands him in this prestigious college, but he won’t go beyond being second from bottom of the ranklist. With constant nagging and ‘gyaan’ from Rancho, Farhan in his final semester skips his campus interviews to go face his parents with an offer to go do nature photography in Brazil, after graduation. Farhan’s character is mild, yet sensible and fun-loving. He looks upto Rancho and helps out his two friends when needed. Raju comes from a middle-class family where 10s of Rs. make a difference. The pressure to do well bogs him down always, and Sharman has displayed the emotions of ‘being torn apart’ beautifully. Sharman is an actor who can perform comedy as well as drama with great élan. Raju Hirani has been able to tap his potential very well. The story has not been overstretched to deliver a masala movie, possibly why there are no love elements for Farhan and Raju. The best part about the 3 characters is playing a much younger person in the movie. Specially Aamir, who is a 40 year old actor playing late teens or early 20s. It is learnt Aamir had to shed 7 to 8 kgs to look like a student. The mannerisms, looks, lingo, the walk, tone of the voice, energy are all very impressive. Madhavan and Sharman too seemed to have put in lot of effort but their timid characters of Farhan and Raju possibly let them be.

The Boman Irani - Hirani camp membership  
Raison d'être is underscored with this movie. A professor who is strict, and expects performance and percentages from students gets challenged by Rancho on multiple accounts. On the verge of rusticating Raju and Rancho for stealing the question paper, Rancho saves the day by becoming mid-wife to deliver Virus’s (Boman’s) grand-son on a rainy power-out night, after quickly building tools. Virus is a ruthless professor whose pressure on a student leads him to commit suicide. Boman performs the role very well, and provides humour by sarcastic means. The facial expressions, low-tone, his anger, the 7.5 minute break scene, etc are especially laudable. Another noticeable character in the movie is Rancho’s love interest, Pia (Kareena) who is VIRUS’s daughter and is a medico. The movie is not so much about romance, so Pia’s character is passive. She adds decent amount of glamour to the script. Her expressions and dialogue delivery is familiar and light-weight enough to provide ‘cuteness’ to the romantic scenes between herself and Rancho. The chemistry between Kareena and Aamir is nothing like a first-time pair, possibly because of being established actors themselves. Another character in the movie that deserves a mention is Chatur/Silencer (Omi). Observe how different the older and younger Chatur look from each other, his make-up in both cases is absolutely make-believe. Chatur’s character is that of a competitive student who wants to be a top student by pushing others down. His tiffs with the trio are very comical, and Chatur adds humor with the help of his broken Hindi. His innate nature of being competitive and poking fun at underdogs continues till the fag end, and the trio makes fun of him start through end. Omi is easily the top contender for comic relief in this movie.

The movie begins in the present, goes to a flashback and comes back to the present. The sequence of events of 4 years of engineering and beyond is logical. The scenes are not so much about classrooms, as so much it is about like activities outside of the classroom - families, dorm fun like ragging, exam preparations, and life outside the college. Clichés like canteens, friend groups, gang wars, college-romance for Farhan, Raju or others, etc have been taken out of context for overall good. The story without these elements seems more pragmatic and hence helps firmly bind the umbilical cord of the viewer with the movie. The turn of events is one leading to the other, without any viewers-don’t-digest moments. With the story coming back to the present from the flashback, there are not gotcha moments either. Everything the story presents is plausible but provides some pleasant surprises in comical means, at the end. The story in present-II is more exciting with a definitive goal for the story, which is to find Rancho, who’s missing. This may be called a fallacy in the story – which is how engineering students of today (or from 90s) can just be torn apart from the group. If not for the entire group, how was it so easy for Farhan and Raju to let go and not try hard enough to track Rancho, who they loved so much and gave him the honour of ‘Jahanpanah, tussi great ho’! This is a gray question, so may not have definitive answer.

 by C.K. Muraleedharan is extremely refreshing, especially with scenes in the college campus, and ones in Simla. The plot has few characters, who individually have distinctive and subtly comic attributes (Eg. VIRUS). Muralee has a done a great job in using the right angles (Eg. 7.5 minute break scene) or making our trio look young, which is a credit to the make-up artistes too. The B/W film portions show the plight of affairs at Raju’s home in a rather comical way (and the viewer does not lose his smile, yet is digesting a socially pertinent issue being presented). The movie did not use any elaborate sets, except in 1 song, which is truly Bollywood. The song ‘Zoobi Zoobi’ has been captured in its true Bollywood sense, and the scenes with heavy emotion like the birthing scene, and VIRUS giving away his favorite pen to Rancho have adequate focus on the characters’ faces to display the characters’ feelings and expressions. Specifically, no scene in the movie appeared crowded with faces, and included the right colours to enhance the viewing experience.

MUSICAL SCORE has a 60s feel sometimes. Shantanu Moitra slowly seems to be a permanent fixture in the VVC camp now. Although the film’s music hasn’t been much of a talk, the picturization of the songs is definitely refreshing. Except a couple of songs, they mean fun and it’s visible. Although, two songs seem to be catching on quick – Aal iz well and Zoobi Zoobi. The background score is sometimes amplified as compared to other scenes, to provide the dramatic effect which Hirani’s movies seem to comprise (Eg. Munnabhai series), and may remind us of scenes from those flicks. The music does although enhance the appeal and especially in comic scenes, where the score combined with B/W film highlight the satire about living in a lower middle-class family, and so does the Opera music during VIRUS’s 7.5 minutes breaks. These are just two examples though.

Who shoud watch:
 No age bar. It’s a clean movie, with some good advice if you can heed. If you are a very practical person, it’s still fun. The jokes are overall not vulgar, but a small percentage of them may be walking a thin line with the visuals. It’s a movie which does not require you to concentrate, but it does not do much to challenge your sense of logic either. The reason its 8/10 and not 10/10 is because some of the scenes are cliché or not well developed– as trivial yet impressionable how Chatur uses his phone, or the birthing scene, or Pia’s wedding scene in the end, etc. We would have expected more details but the story did well continue without, too. Overall, the movie is a pretty good watch and leaves pleasant memories in your mind from your own college days!

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