It has been a largely tepid year so far in Bollywood, with nothing that was really worth standing up and applauding for- with maybe, the rare exception of a brave Black Friday or Parzania. No, not even the over-hyped Guru, which- Abhishek Bachchan's admirable performance notwithstanding- remains just a good film, not something to treasure, and surely not among Mani Ratnam's better works. Then there were other titans like Salaam-e-Ishq and Eklavya- not really bad films, actually- but which inexplicably fell worse than Humpty Dumpy at the Box- Office. Money wise, other than Guru, Reema Kagti's wacky ensemble debut Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. and Vipul Shah's typically massy 'n' messy, crowd-pleasing Namaste London have been fairly successful.
So, while it hasn't really been a satisfying journey so far- there lots more to watch out for! Here's a sneak peek at what's promising, exciting and worth looking forward to at the filmy marquee for the rest of the year:
Anurag Basu, director of mostly crass films like Murder and Tumsa Nahin Dekha surprised us with a unexpectedly classy effort in last year's Gangster, which also showcased a superb Shiney Ahuja (for the first time as a 'commercial' film lead) and a sensational debut performance by Kangana Ranaut. Both the actors feature in the powerhouse ensemble cast of Basu's new directorial venture produced by UTV, which also includes Shilpa Shetty, Kay Kay Menon, Sharman Joshi, Konkona Sen Sharma and Irrfan Khan. The music by Pritam (who has formed a band called 'Band Metro' especially for the film) with its soft-rock feel, is refreshingly different and has caught on. With an interesting theme of metropolitan lifestyles and urban relationships, Metro- set for a May 11th release- definitely merits a place on this list.
Amitabh Bachchan once jocularly remarked that he only gets to play father to leading actresses these days, and wished he could romance the pretty young ladies on screen. This year, his wish seems to be coming remarkably true- after falling head over heels for Jiah Khan in Ram Gopal Varma's Nishabd, he will be seen as a passionate chef wooing a feisty Tabu. The promos of this 'sugar free romance', also starring Paresh Rawal as Tabu's father with a dry sense of humor and grand old lady Zohra Sehgal as Big B's impish mother - that are beginning to come on air are great and look mint-fresh. With the deadly combination of two unbelievably phenomenal actors in the lead, this bittersweet romance directed by ad-filmmaker R Balki, and featuring music by the exceptional (but barely-heard-in-Bollywood) composer Ilaiyaraaja promises to be one grand treat when it arrives on the 25th of May.
The Blue Umbrella
The Blue Umbrella
Master craftsman Vishal Bhardwaj's fourth film based on Ruskin Bond's novel of the same name still awaits release, after months of being completed. The film, produced by Bhardwaj and UTV, has been screened at film festivals and will probably be released sometime later this year under the banner UTV Classics. After his Shakespearean forays into the dark side of human nature in Maqbool and Omkara, the director returns to merrier territory this time with The Blue Umbrella. The scenic film, shot beautifully in the hilly locales of Himachal Pradesh features a child protagonist, played by debutant Shreya, along with Bhardwaj favorite Pankaj Kapoor, a hugely ignored but brilliant actor. Bhardwaj has an amazing knack for extracting excellent work from child actors (remember Shweta Pandit in the delightful Makdee?) and making films about children with universal appeal. And the reviews that are already out say that he has produced another sparkling gem of a film.
The BO failure of the magnificent Swades has not deterred the spirit of the dynamic Ashutosh Gowariker, who returns this year with what is most probably the biggest and most awaited release of the year- the untold epic love story of Emperor Akbar and the Rajput Princess Jodhabai. The huge venture which of course, has the post Dhoom-2 hit pair of Hrithik Roshan (who will sport a moustache for the first time on screen) and Aishwarya Rai (now officially Aishwarya Bachchan) in the title roles and music by AR Rahman has been co-produced by UTV, who plan to unveil the film at Cannes this year. The film has kept under close wraps by the director, who is so fiercely protective of his film that even cell phones weren't allowed on the massive sets created painstakingly by veteran art director Nitin Desai. This makes the wait before the tentative October 12th release date even more excruciating - and exciting.
Gandhi, My Father
Gandhi, My Father
Those who have seen the rushes just can't stop raving about the film. Anil Kapoor's home production, directed by well known theatre person Feroze Khan (not to be confused with 'Cowboy Khan', for God's sake) is based on a man who shares a troubled relationship with his father. The father; by the way- happens to be Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The film, which has hardly been publicized yet, has reportedly been made both in Hindi and English and stars Akshaye Khanna (a talented actor seen in some awful films lately- anyone remember Aap Ki Khatir?) as Gandhi's son and Darshan Zariwala as Bapu himself. Watch out for the film- currently slated for an August release- which showcases a whole new and never-seen-before facet of the Mahatma and what is rumored to be a stunning performance by Akshaye Khanna. This could be riveting.
Writer-director Anurag Kashyap's second release after the much delayed and much acclaimed Black Friday is something never seen or attempted before in Indian cinema. Though the exact storyline is unclear at the moment, it is said to be a bizarre, surreal ride; a black comedy with shades of noir. John Abraham plays an egoistic, conceited businessman who is a chain smoker in this neo-stylized film, opposite bubbly Ayesha Takia who has an intriguing double role in the film- playing both John's secretary and girlfriend.It would be interesting to see how critics and audiences respond to the totally whacko and off the wall No Smoking, which is produced by Vishal Bhardwaj and Kumar Mangat- the makers of Omkara. Bhardwaj tells me it's a sort-of 'comic thriller', while Kashyap curiously describes it as 'Kafka meets Kaufman meets Fincher meets David Dhawan.'
Short Takes- Other interesting films
Short Takes- Other interesting films:
(Although I absolutely loathe their penchant for glorifying what is generally well-marketed mediocrity, I can't help but acknowledge Yash Raj's notable line-up of movies this year- barring the just-released Tara Rum Pum!)
Jhoom Barabar Jhoom
Those hoping for an first-ever Abhishek-Preity onscreen couple will be disappointed- Abhishek Bachchan stars with Lara Dutta while Bobby Deol is paired with the effervescent Zinta in this Yash Raj production directed by Shaad Ali Sehgal. The movie, which has London and soccer as a backdrop, has music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and an unusual guest appearance by the Big B.
Chak De India
Shimit Amin, ex- RGV protege and director of the terrific Ab Tak Chhapan moves on to the Chopras with none less than Shah Rukh Khan playing the lead in his second film about the coach of the Indian women's hockey team. Opposite him is Vidya Malvade, seen in a Santro commercial with SRK as a Sikh girl in the team despite parental disapproval. If Amin can do an encore and restrain Shah Rukh like Nana Patekar in Ab Tak 36, this could pack in quite a punch indeed.
Om Shanti Om
Farah Khan's second film belongs to the same larger than life genre of her earlier Main Hoon Naa. The film produced by buddy Shah Rukh Khan, of course- also stars him in a comic role with Deepika Padukone, making her debut in Bollywood. Expect numerous guest appearances, stylized retro touches, songs and dances and crackerjack entertainment in this 70's style spoofy reincarnation saga.
Call his films poetic or appallingly over-the-top, this is a man impossible to ignore. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's typically big-budget picture marks Sony's first foray into film production in India. The movie, said to be based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's short story White Nights, heralds the arrival of much-talked-of newcomers Ranbir and Sonam Kapoor, (both of whom hail from famous film families and have assisted the director previously) and marks gifted composer Monty's first full fledged soundtrack after his background scores in Black and Devdas.
Laaga Chunari Mein Daag
Director Pradeep Sarkar's second offering after Parineeta, which is set in Varanasi is produced by Yash Raj Films. The women-centric movie boasts of a heavy duty (and all-Bengali) female star-cast- Jaya Bachchan, Rani Mukherji and Konkona Sen Sharma along with Abhishek Bachchan in a short role. About a year back, there were whispers of Sarkar doing an adaptation of Jane Austen's Little Women- is this it? We sure are watching out.