THE ATTACKS

OF 26/11

Defending his decision of visiting Mumbai’s iconic Taj Hotel soon after the terror attacks of 26{+t}{+h}November, 2008, film-maker Ram Gopal Varma often says what was there that I could see and the TV channels had not shown. He is right; he has not been able to give us anything more than we didn’t see or imagine about the dastardly attacks. Yes, we do get tidbits like a dog was also shot down at CST and that a constable slipped on human blood but overall it starts as a dry procedural and becomes cruelly dramatic with every passing minute.

Eventually Varma reduces the complex web of events that shook the security apparatus of the country into a simplistic duel between two people: Rakesh Maria (Nana Patekar), the then Joint Commissioner of Mumbai Police, and Ajmal Kasab (Sanjiv Jaiswal).

The film starts with Maria deposing before an inquiry commission. At one point he says it was the first time he and his force saw a crime getting bigger in front of their eyes and they were simply not prepared for it. Nobody asks him to compare it with the Mumbai blasts of 1993, which were equally audacious. In fact nobody asks him anything. Strange.

Soon it begins to unfold like the dramatised presentation of crime on TV channels. Of course with better production values and with visuals that are typically RGV. As Ajmal Kasab and company try to take control of the Maximum City, people keep falling at the corners of the frame with blood-splattered faces almost jutting into the camera. We have seen this style in Varma’s gangster movies and there is as much certainty about it as with crow’s colour. People are treated as body bags with no insight into the lives of those who withstood the unprecedented challenge. The photographer who captured the moments or the announcer who stood his ground to divert trains coming in are missing from the plot. Varma is more interested in where to put the camera so he can capture guns blazing from the point of view of a Hindu idol or capture the fountain of blood oozing out of a person’s neck. Hollywood refrained from showing the blood that spilt in the 9/11 attack but here it not only stains the screen but Varma inadvertently also attempts to turn us into a voyeur.

A lot of running time is consumed by the attacks leaving very little to capture the response. The sacrifice of brave policemen Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte has been quickly done with. The fact that Kamte fired at Kasab and injured his hand is ignored. We know it is his point of view, but Varma leaves out a couple of crucial cogs. He doesn’t tell us what happened inside the Taj and completely ignores Nariman House and, more importantly, how the NSG won the Taj back. Capturing Kasab was not the end of the story. Perhaps the information was too classified to reveal or imagine, perhaps he didn’t have the budget to mount the detailed action sequences.

So in the second half he resorts to the good old formula of films on terror where first the antagonist blurts out his point of view and then the protagonist gives a tutorial on the true meaning of Jihad. The saving grace is Patekar is uncharacteristically restrained and Varma doesn’t allow the dialogue to go bombastic, but by now one had forgotten that Varma is talking about real people or events.

Since Sarkar, Amar Mohile is selling the same background sound to Varma and the director is unabashedly repeating it. Here Mohile has taken pains to add some strains of Maula Maula to Govinda Govinda .

Patekar is arguably the best police officer we have in films and here again as the cop in plain clothes who loves his cup of tea – he can’t refuse it even in a morgue – he is immensely believable. So is Jaiswal, but Varma has made him speak a little too much and it doesn’t go with the image we have of the young terrorist Kasab.

If his move to visit the Taj was an insensitive one, the film that Varma has culled out from the files is almost equally anaesthetised.

I, ME AUR MAIN

It is a film about the commitment-phobic man but it turns out more than the protagonist it is the director who lacks commitment about the point he is trying to make. It is a kind of film where if you understand the title, you understand the film. It is a kind of film that claims to be new age but where the boy gets all the chances in the world and the girls keep playing second fiddle till the climax. It is a film where John Abraham finally gets to play his image. As Ishaan every time he finds himself at crossroads he looks into the mirror and says, I’m the best. I mean who does it and who gets away with it. The tight slap comes too late in the day and even after that the so-called independent girls in the film keep pursuing as if he is the last man standing. Nobody tells him Go man, get some life. The conflicts to show the child-man mirror are contrived as Raima Sen’s character has been inserted without much thought about its growth.

The good thing is debutant director Kapil Sharma has a knack to keep things light. The dialogues are suitably frothy for a romantic comedy and he makes an attempt to clarify that the boy became selfish because of the upbringing he got from a doting mother (Zarina Wahab in good form). But then if you keep rubbing the same point it becomes a pain.

Talking of pain over the years pregnancy has been able to bring the philandering man back and here again it does the trick. So what’s new? Nothing really, apart from packaging. If you are setting up your house you can take home a few ideas on décor. John excels in a role tailor-made for him. Prachi overdoes the girl-next-door part. Watching her you feeling like pausing the film and shout: got the point! As Gauri she is supposed to do Ishan’s mother’s job but the script lets her down. Chitrangada Singh is not bad but her mysterious element is waning fast.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER

Based on the English folk tale Jack the Giant Killer Bryan Singer’s fantasy tale has got it all to keep the fan boys happy and 3D industry kicking. Enough of rings, this time there’s a crown to rule the baddies, the towering giants which inhabit a land between earth and heaven. When the little Jack is told the story of the king who controlled the giants, he expresses apprehension about their return but we knew it even before the usher handed us the 3D glasses that Hollywood is busy recycling the fables these days. A few weeks back it was Hansel & Gretel and now it is the turn of Jack (Nicholas Hoult) to rise up the beanstalk and bring the adventurous princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), back from the land of giants. In the process he exposes the intentions of a sly advisor Roderick (Stanley Tucci) and takes on the two-headed monster General Fallon (a well disguised Bill Nighy and John Kassir).

Singer doesn’t try to find some post modernist angle in Fee Fo Fum. It unravels like an old fashioned fable without getting schmaltzy or murky. The lines are oozing with silly wit and the sub plots don’t overdraw from any particular emotion as director Bryan Singer seems to understand there is not much beneath the surface. There is a cinematic world between the class of The Usual Suspects and the style of X Men and Singer explores it without getting indulgent.

Engaging kid stuff that parents won’t mind chaperoning!

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