Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Ek Tha Tiger 2012

Note: I don't review many Hindi films, but this one seemed special. I watched and reviewed it on opening day - now 2 weeks later, it's broken all but one Bollywood box-office record, which it's very likely to break soon. 29/08/12

Salman Khan is sitting atop a hat-trick of record-breaking successes (Dabangg 2010, Ready 2011, Bodyguard 2011), and with his latest release - timed perfectly for India's Independence Day celebrations and in anticipation of Eid - he is expected to deliver another shattering success, which he just might.

Ek Tha Tiger is the story of a dedicated RAW agent, Tiger (Salman Khan), who has been on field missions continually for 12 years and has hardly had time for a personal life. His boss (Girish Karnad) sends him to Dublin to observe and report on a retired Indian scientist (Roshan Seth), who is suspected of leaking information to international intelligence agencies. Tiger tries to infiltrate the scientist/professor's home and life, by enlisting help from his housekeeper, Zoya (Katrina Kaif). Despite warnings from his trusted friend and colleague (Ranvir Shorey), Tiger ends up falling for Zoya, in his attempts to make her fall for his charms. All should've gone well, except that Tiger's secret identity isn't the only secret in this story - and as other hidden tales are revealed, our protagonist has to choose between love and his duty to his country. Thus begins a wild chase spanning continents and beautiful locales (we jump from Ireland to India to Turkey to Cuba) - finally proving, once again, that love shall conquer all.

The problem with this film is that despite a hint of an actual story (unlike some of Salman Khan's recent ventures), the twists and turns can be spotted a mile away. Some of the dialogue is trite and most of the conflict, completely banal. A 65-year-old animosity is simplified to the extent that it looks like a silly rivalry between RAW and ISI.

Yet, there is something quite compelling about this film.

From the opening sequence itself, where we see a silhouette of Salman Khan appear against a beautiful Middle Eastern backdrop, the film sets up enough moments for the audiences at home to whistle and clap in the Khan-mania that usually turns even his most ridiculous films into runaway successes. The cinematography is out of this world, aided heavily by formerly unexplored locations (instead of the usual London, we have Dublin; instead of Dubai and New York, we have Istanbul and Havana). The music and song picturisations are also worth mentioning as they never really break the flow of the story and provide just the right amount of Bollywood-style entertainment. Save a couple of typical toilet jokes that have become synonymous with Salman Khan's films, the humour is generally quite subtle (too subtle, at times), which is almost refreshing. And though no one can ever accuse Salman Khan or Katrina Kaif of actually acting well, they are not half bad in this film - and for the first time ever, they appear to have some onscreen chemistry.

Above all, it is the action that's the life of this party. Even though you can clearly identify Salman's stunt double whenever he appears (thank you for that, cameraman), the action is smart, quick and mostly believable (let's not dwell on the tram madness or the helicopter sequence, shall we?). There are no scenes where 10 men circle the 'hero' and go flying in the air with his one kick. True, it's not Jason Bourne action (even The Bourne Legacy 2012 couldn't recapture that level of coolness), but it's definitely quite awesome. The kicks and punches look and sound real, the crazy jumps are almost possible - and for the first time (ever?), the woman gets to kick ass as much as the man in a Bollywood film. Yes, Katrina Kaif isn't a damsel in distress; in fact, she's possibly the most 'equal' female character I have seen in a film named after the male protagonist!

The biggest issue with Ek Tha Tiger is the usual problem with all of Kabir Khan's films: they're always gorgeous and they make sense, but they lack a connection with the audience. There's something clinical about them that keeps the viewers at a distance. So, despite the stunning visuals and a half-decent plot, the very slow-edited, pointlessly lengthy shots, where we wait for a character to react to the information just received, put the viewers off quite a bit. If only he'd spent more time tightening the edits, the final product would have been far superior.

Having said that, this film has all the makings of a blockbuster. There's action, romance, songs, comedy and a couple of very attractive actors. What more could one possibly want from a Salman Khan film, which could just as easily be a hit because he is in it?

Ultimately, if you like 'masala films' and enjoy basic Bollywood, do not miss this one. It will not disappoint!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Bourne Legacy 2012

I am a little confused as to why most reviewers are finding it necessary to explain that this film stars Jeremy Renner and not Matt Damon. Surely, anyone who hasn't seen the earlier films doesn't care, as the posters and trailers only show Renner; and anyone who has seen the 'Bourne Trilogy' has heard from at least one of the many reports, that have announced for months, that this is not a Matt Damon film.

Anyhow, my quibbles with reviewers aside, The Bourne Legacy is the fourth instalment, and also a reboot, within the Bourne franchise. The story revolves around Aaron Cross (Renner), who is a member of Operation Outcome, a black ops programme that, amongst other things, is running genetic experiments to enhance human capabilities, both physical and mental. We meet Cross on an Alaskan training exercise and learn about his skills and his dependencies. Parallel to this narrative, Jason Bourne is busy exposing Treadstone and Operation Blackbriar (as per the plot of The Bourne Ultimatum 2007), which leads to panic within the darker, more secret wings of the CIA, and consequently Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who oversees such projects, orders the 'shutdown' of Operation Outcome. Along with his Outcome doctor, Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who herself is being hunted, Cross ingeniously escapes his fate and begins the international chase that is synonymous with Bourne films. 

Unfortunate for any spy thriller made post-2002, when The Bourne Identity was released, comparisons with the Jason Bourne films are inevitable. This one is of course just a little more unfortunate as it is not only a spy thriller, but also bears the name of the trilogy that effectively altered the canvas of this genre. There are some obvious similarities in the way this film has been shot, in the way the music accompanies the narrative, in the way the 'evil' characters are written and portrayed. Where it differs massively is the characterisation of its main protagonist. 

Jason Bourne was so clear about self-preservation that he was almost cold and mechanical. We knew that underneath his robotic front was a lost soldier, but he could operate without stopping to feel anything for a long time. Aaron Cross appears to be the kind of person who would stop to smell the flowers. He smiles, jokes and asks 'too many questions'. He is also a lot more open about himself, his dependencies and his shortcomings. He is aware of who he is and there is a lot less angst in him. It is his characterisation that provides the freshest and most interesting hook in this film, because otherwise, the film would just appear to be a cheap imitation of an excellent trilogy.

Jeremy Renner has very quietly climbed the rungs of recognition and success over the past decade or more. I remember him from an episode called 'Somnambulist' in the TV series Angel (2000), where he was a more than impressive adversary. Then nothing. I did not recognise him in a few outings I did see him in, till his daredevil turn in the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (2008) and later The Town (2010). Of course, since then he has become a lot more recognisable due to roles in major productions like Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) and Avengers Assemble (2012). In all his performances, regardless of the standard of the production, he has always been excellent. And once again, in this film, Renner is excellent. Whether it is a success or not, and whether they make a sequel or not, he will be praised for a brilliantly natural portrayal of Aaron Cross.

The rest of the cast is adequate - as is the film. If we can get past the comparisons with a much more superior story, tighter scripts and more believable chase scenes in the previous trilogy, The Bourne Legacy is an exciting thriller. It has some plot holes and some slightly unbelievable moments, but generally it's a decent ride. Worth a watch.