Thursday, February 25, 2010

Viewed: ROCKET SINGH: Salesman of the Year

Well intentioned but not well delivered is the fate of Rocket Singh. It shows an earnest man trying to do things honestly and it does provide some good moments, is also touching at times, however the momentum fails to build to deliver a good story.

The first act has Harpreet, an honest bloke getting a job into the messy world of sales.

The second act has him running into problems that are alien to him - a world of lies and deceit. His honesty gets him into trouble with his bosses since he almost loses a big customer of his company as he refuses to bribe. Demoted and made fun of, he starts another company working within his, gets collaborators and partners, but eventually this activity is caught by his antagonist.

The third act has the antagonist coming back to him, acknowledging that he lost and Harpreet won and gives back his company that he had taken from his ex-employee.

The start is kind of too cliched - graduating and discussing about what to do. Typically, it would be done much before but then...showing such a naivety has been in vogue for decades. Nevertheless with his friends circle set-up, his family shown (his grandpa, a nice and upright bloke who doesn't understand 'professionalism') it does move him into a corporate world of sales but...the depiction gets too cute. However this is still not so much of an issue but emphasizing the conflict. Yes, you know he is entered an alien world, yes he shall default and when he's shown as happy and satisfied it's taking too much time to get the action moving.

The so-called rising complications doesn't happen effectively - there are conflicts that arise and Harpreet finds his way never builds the tension. A flaw could be not bringing-in opposition more forcefully, not building antagonist effectively.

Yes, the protagonist has an objective but what's the opposition? Fear of being caught. And it's plugged-in quite softly. Since the intention is to keep him as good-natured and have him enabling goodness in everyone, it can get tricky if conflicts are not built cohesively.

The ending is again - good-natured - evil guy becoming a nice bloke - all too quickly and when you are bordering on building caricatures the effect does not flow well.

The key aspect in this case is character depiction and with Harpreet being quite on a passive side, the momentum doesn't build up too soon. Plus every one else on the outer-circle (like folks in the office and clients) are too uni-dimensional.

The story hinges on the other inner characters - folks who become his partners and critically on the antagonist.'s an opportunity lost since they are propped-up only to come-in and go-out as per convenience.

The big problem is dialog takes over action too much; it would have been perhaps good to hang around more with some characters. Eventually there tend to be too many characters floating around him.

Harpreet is supposed to a quiet types but a resilient dude, but that does not mean he can't be active. He owns most of the frames and rightfully so, but...when things resolve too quickly it doesn't work great, he is never pushed too much into a corner despite us being told that they could lose jobs; one doesn't sense that tension, as such the characters come out as not so energetic. Though...being with him and his team one does relate to the sense of camaraderie.

Well...I find them too much and when action per se is less it harms the flick. Also...with cuteness as a goal, it tends to fall flat.

Theme / Story
This is an interesting one - the intentions are good. is it being manifested? By a good guy sticking to his guns and an antagonist who makes fun of him and who later changes his tracks eventually respecting the protagonist.

However it doesn't feel so much. There are messages and dialogs talking about the issues. Not much, but when the story doesn't have a tension, when you don't end up relating too much to the character, you miss hitting the mark. The film tries to talk about a good amount of relevant stuff but isn't so effective to show.

What's the story about? It's about a man who manages to work in an honest way in a corrupted world. So...what's the value that comes into play, caused by what? That the guy learns to work with the world, find honest blokes and work with them. Caused by...the harshness of the world.

Is there an arc for Harpreet? It's like - yes and no. Showing a do-goody-good bloke who ends up making other folks aware typically doesn't arc much; it's the others who do. However the fundamentals stressed through antagonist change doesn't work. Why? Well..since he has not been fleshed out greatly and the change in character is kind of contrived.

So...the good bit - it's somewhat of an earnest flick. By staying with one character all the way through as his conditions change isn't too bad a ride.'s not so effective.

Rating **1/2
[Max Rating ****]

[Viewed at Chembur, Suhas's, in Feb, 2010 thanks to Guru's DVD]


Tarantino is a master of thriller and suspense, which is interlaced with humor. In Inglourious Basterds he competently delivers once again a story that entertains you and gives your money worth.

The typical Tarantino devices are all there - long dialogues (though this one has not too-long ones), long scenes that grow with suspense not knowing where it could turn, his typical atypical music, captivating characters...

This is a story of a group of American Army Men who go to Nazi-occupied France to do to Nazi what they do to Jews - kill and maim with all mean vengeance. have the leader, a hard-core, smart-dude, focused-to-kill, forthright guy (Brad Pitt) and his men, some of whom have reputation among Nazi for their cruel ways of killing.

The film opens with a great feel - a quietly paced scene that sets your pulse racing courtesy the stakes at play. sets up one of the most charismatic antagonist played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz. The typical Tarantino chapters come into play throughout the film and the events are very entertaining especially as the characters and their relationships are truly captivating.

Tarantino is a master of scene-construction; he sets up the conflict almost playfully but with the stakes being always of life and death he brings in characters that come alive in such scenarios and makes the viewing engrossing.

Where the flick kind of flounders is the flip-flop of the Waltz character, which is not easy to believe considering what an indelible devious character he makes, who naively is willing to do a deal with Americans. That is difficult to accept and yet...the film does flow and there is satisfaction in the resolution.

Rating ***1/2

[Max Rating ****]

{Viewed in Feb, 2010 at Chembur. Also saw it on YashJi's 'Bafta' dvd!}

Viewed: 3 IDIOTS

Hirani has proved it before and he does it again - take a socially relevant topic and present it to make it effective as mass entertainment. In the process, give his message and comment on the society.

His standard ingredients - lot of humor, avoid violence, a good deal of melodrama, have characters that depict various segments of society important one - know how to play with conflict to tell a story well.

As it happens there are moments that seem contrived, there are scenes that are stretched but eventually he manages to provide pretty solid entertainment.

He also uses certain characters, chiefly the antagonist, in a caricature - bring in humor, however give him enough strength in the plot to create obstacles for the protagonist and  on the way deliver what he wants to convey.

3 Idiots is another one in the league, a solid concept rendered in Hirani's design. This time banking on Aamir's acting and creating a cast that is always rooting for the hero who is the underdog, who shall eventually upstage the David.

The film starts on a humorous note, about Farhan meeting their ex-college mate so they can find their long-lost roomie. The beginning establishes what language we are dealing with and it gets into flashback to show what transpired till now.

As it builds enough 'image' about the protagonist, Rancho, they introduce him and just like the Munnabhai series, they showcase the basic plot of the film - Rancho has to deal with Principal whose principles are diametrically opposite to Rancho's.

The whole of the 2nd Act is about Ranchos antics within the college, which focuses on him converting his fellow room-mates and taking on the Principal. This is a challenging landscape but Hirani and Abhijat Joshi, co-writer do a pretty effective job in setting-up events that flow seamlessly and take on the story forward.

As you proceed, the story becomes the journey of 3 Idiots especially as it delves into the hassles his two friends, Farhan and Raju have to deal with - their families and the Princi, who is hell-bent on breaking them away from Rancho.

Eventually they pass-out from college with their new-beings. Rancho vanishes. And so when after 5 yrs they get to know his whereabouts they go to find him along with the girl he loved in college.

Though I don't recall Munnabhai too well, I found this one done better, in terms of not trying to preach. Letting the action speak; keeping the dialogues to minimal. Creating a cool protagonist, propping him up with a good circle of characters, who asks brief questions & goes on with his life backing his friends.

What worked for me was the seamless flow of story...and most critically - building a solid antagonist. That Chatur dude is terrific, others are solid but for my money the best actor was Irani, whose character is set-up and arced wonderfully.

The silliest scene for me was the one-scene change of Parikshit Sahni. Deja vu, Munnabhai - one long spiel from Munna on radio and folks change.

The writers do a great job in building Rancho's character. He is not a preacher. He has his own fundas and...he questions. But kind of innocently, and I think this is where they make him extremely love-able.

He is a guiding angel, who can never harm any one. And therein they created a god-like icon, who will help anyone. To enable people to see/hear the message, show a guy who is fearless, who means no harm, who has his secrets, who believes in humanity and who shall help any one. He is the one who every one aspires to be.

Seems Hirani doesn't believe in villains; all antagonist have a change of heart in the end. Everyone is nice and good and the world is wonderful. Well...that's what makes helluva money at box office if you can tell a fluid story. Though, Gajini and Gadar did alright too!

Rating ***
[Max Rating ****]

[Viewed thanks to Bunty on 11th Jan at home, Delhi]

Viewed: AVATAR

Cameron comes back with 3-D and creates another world and tells a simple story in an extremely captivating way.

It definitely helps when you watch new faces in a new world, never seen before. The experience is absolutely fresh and being strong in his story-telling skills, he doesn't miss out much.

It's a story of a restless soul with a good heart finding love in a new world of Pandora, where he is supposed to convince the species to vacate the land so man can plunder the treasure of an element. As he finds love he realizes the folly of man and takes on his own men in order for Pandora people to live in their world.

So you have an evil antaognist - an army guy who shall go to any length to kill. You have an angel (Sigourny Weaver) to help the protagonist gain wisdom to face the enemy. have the journey of a 'hero'...who takes the call to adventure and as he takes on the battle he enters a new world.

However, the story seems too simplistic and characters one-dimensional. One would have hoped to see more on the storytelling level, especially when it's such an original piece in terms of filmmaking. We live in a more complex world; there is a lot of 'gray' within the band of black and white. If only it was paid more respect this film would have been quite complete.

This is an action-packed film, taking you into a totally new kind of movie making experience. It's not the normal 3-D when things come to you at times, but...where you are part of the world and go along with the hero on his journey.

Rating ***1/2
[Max Rating ****]

[Viewed at Fun with Guru, Moorthy, Natasha, Kranti and their friends on 22nd Dec, 09]

Viewed: PAA

There is a good-will running in the country courtesy the film's subject dealing with a unique illness, where a child ages extremely fast. He is into old age by the time he is 10.

Amitabh Bachchan stars as the kid and his dad is played by his real son. Directed by Balki who helmed Cheeni Kum, this is a film that is set to be 'touching'. With its brush of cuteness, which was the hallmark of Cheeni Kum too, the film doesn't deliver as it should have.

The story is simple - a young woman impregnated by her boyfriend who is not keen to marry her courtesy his political ambitions gives birth to a kid who has Progenia. She rears the son on her own along with her mother. Fate brings the boy to meet his father and when they discover the truth, the boy plays cupid.

It's difficult to pin-point what's the film is about though of course it has many a takes - pre-marital sex; political aspirations of an honest man; the unique disease; single-mom parenting,'s difficult to find the focus.

There are cute depictions of every thing including the kid (Auro's) life in a school. Almost every thing is extra-polished just so the characters shine and appear goody-good, be it Auro, his dad, mom, granny and his friends.

As was the case in his previous film, Balki makes kids at times sound too mature and enjoys references that are supposed to elicit smiles, like the granny being referred to as 'Bum', since she has a big one. Boy...

The film opens quick and at least moves with good momentum but into the 2nd Act it fails to build tension. You know the kid and the dad will have to meet up and there would be a confrontation, but it drags.

The first 'big' event is the mid-point, where Auro is told that his MP friend is his dad. This is a critical moment but it does not work strongly since Auro's character has not been set-up - there has never been any curiosity and only after he discovers he gets interested. This may not be a bad plot but then it should have come sooner.

And when the paa discovers Auro's mom, you of course know how it will all end. Again not bad per se even if you know that Auro will die and folks will get together - they are all nice people with hardly any flaws!

Whose story is it? It's every one's. Another tricky road to walk with multiple protagonists and with multiple point-of-views, it's difficult to connect especially when there isn't much to arc.

One is banking on the goodness of everyone and the cuteness of Auro to work, which it has for masses. Reason it's been a success at the box office.

The good thing by default thing in the film is playing with few characters. Even if there are many in the film, when you are with three and do an okay job telling a tale, it works okay. Not great. Not good. Okay.

Every one has been raving about the performances but they are just okay. Abhishek is okay playing a straight-up dude. Vidya Balan is fine. As for AB, hidden by the make-up there isn't actually much scope except for voice and using the body, and he does alright.

Rating **
[Max Rating ****]

[Viewed thanks to Bunty on 11th Jan at home, Delhi]



As expected this falls under the 'weird' category, a seemingly 'random' film by David Fincher. But it holds you, makes you ask questions. A film that needs to be watched again. And...again.

Rating ***1/2
[Max Rating ****]

{Watched the film at Langford Town, Bangalore in early Dec, 2009}



Stories of a family with focus on each member over the years. It does an interesting thing - showcases around three decades of the life of a family but through different protagonists within the same family.

The narrative is not the usual but that does not make it great it's the depiction of the stories of each of the family member, which has great emotional resonance.

It has one of the most stunning post-death scenes - accepting the grief of a loved one who has departed. The father of the family fills up a pillow by blowing air through his mouth, and I think it's the mother, his wife, who later deflates and feels the air, his air.

Rating ****
[Max Rating ****]


Kirstin Scott Thomas works magic again in a film that focuses on nature thereby showcasing sexual scenes in a very stark manner. Thomas plays wife of a wealthy man who leaves her husband to run away with a plumber.

It's a pretty interesting flick considering the reasons for her falling for the other man are shown to be too subtle; it's like even she doesn't know what she finds in this man, but...her animal attraction leads to her opening-up, which in a way fulfills herself more.

Rating ***
[Max Rating ****]


A great comic-thriller. Shot so much outdoors, in the night; it's about a man conniving with his boss's wife to kill him, so they can live happily ever after. He does 'eliminate' the boss but gets stuck in the office elevator for throughout the night. The cops question him later but...for another murder, which he is not responsible for; his car is stolen for the night by a couple and they end up killing someone else.

It has's a thriller and...there is a good amount of humor in this black-&-white film.

Rating ***1/2
[Max Rating ****]

Two Other Flicks (Both Black-&-White)

On Gambling

What a comic-drama, what a super performance by the actress. An upright guy is tempted to gamble and ends up doing very well as he plays cautiously but smartly. His life changes as he ends up meeting a compulsive gambler lady who has a taste for alcohol and is losing money! Together they gamble, spend time together & fall in love.

Rating ***1/2

Eric Rohmer's Short (23 min)

This is a about a young man who falls for a bakery girl despite him having a girlfriend. From what I recall she doesn't fall for him and later when she is (perhaps?) contemplating going out with the man, he goes back happily to his girlfriend.

A voice-over narration makes it very exciting. Especially with great pieces of dialogues.

Rating ***

{Watched the films at the French Film Festival, Fun Cinemas, Andheri in Dec, 2009]

Article: Good Luck, Paramount!

Good Luck, Paramount!

by Mark Stolaroff

Mark Stolaroff is an independent producer based in Los Angeles and the founder of No Budget Film School and Film Club.

My email box was ablaze this past Friday with news that Paramount was forming their own micro-budget film division.  The goal is to make twenty $100k no-budget features a year.  After their success with "Paranormal Activity," (a film they DID NOT PRODUCE, by the way), this sounds like a case of 'give the guy a rope and now he thinks he's a cowboy.'  All I can say is, "good luck!"

As someone who has devoted most of the last 15 years to no-budget filmmaking and spent the last six years specifically working on this kind of a multi-film model, not to mention the last five years teaching no-budget filmmaking and making my own no-budget features, I have this cautionary note for Paramount:  it's harder than it looks.

The Set of Transformers

The set of a typical Paramount film

I'm used to not getting paid for my work. And I don't mind doing most of the work myself. I often break laws and take undo risks when I produce. And I'm not afraid to reinvent the way to make a movie for each new project.  This doesn't sound like a studio's modus operandi to me. I could think of any number of elements that alone would cost a studio more than the $100k:

- Acting talent fees (or did they not know that their own system has required movies to be made with stars these days)

- All other ATL talent fees (the directors and producers on my movies NEVER make an upfront fee—that's one important, basic way you keep the budget down)

- Rewriting those scripts (they mention obtaining scripts and then re-writing them. Last time I checked, optioning scripts and hiring writers, especially for a studio, costs money. Or are they just going to hire unknown writers and give them a shot. The film festival world is filled with those results already).

- A union crew (this is a studio after all—how are they getting around unions??)

- A good editor (this is the camel that often breaks a no-budget film's back.  Most successful no-budget films were edited by the writer/director or had some team member who was absolutely dedicated to the project who edited it. Once you go outside of that and hire a real editor, who is talented, you're going to have to pay them for their three or more months of work. Even if you can get their agent down to say, $2k or $1k per week, you're talking about 10% to 20% of your budget right there).

- Insurance (studios, with something to lose, like insurance, which is expensive)

- Lawyer fees (studios REALLY like lawyers. If I had to pay a lawyer to help me make my movies, all the money would go to them, most likely. I suppose they could charge their in-house legal fees to other divisions?)

- Permitting locations and paying to rent them (if you've taken my class or read any of my production entries on my site, you know I'm not a fan of either paying to rent locations or permitting them. Locations in LA are expensive and permitting is too.)

- And so many other things…

The Set of Pig

The set of my last film

This smells to me of people who have no idea of what they're doing.  Who have never studied a $100k budget.  Who have never asked people to work for free.  Who have never begged, borrowed, or stolen.  Who really don't know how hard it is, how nearly impossible it is, to make a good movie on no money. 

As someone who has worked with some of the most talented people in the business at doing this, (Chris Nolan on his $12k feature "Following," for instance) and seen literally 1,000s of attempts that didn't work out, I can tell them that a studio is probably the least-equipped place I can think of to make this work.  Even InDigEnt, which was formed by talented filmmakers, an independently minded film company, and one of the smartest people in the independent film world, ultimately couldn't make this model work, certainly not for $100k and over the long haul.  They had many wonderful successes, but 20! Per year!!

I make these films out of necessity. I pay very little a month for my rent-controlled apartment and I still struggle to make ends meet, just to have the opportunity to make films the way I want to make them—with creative control and no studio interference. People with mortgages and kids and nice things that they enjoy can not make movies this way. And Paramount doesn't have the legal stomach to pull off the things that we do every day as independent filmmakers.

So to you, Paramount, I'll say it again, "Good Luck!" (and if you're hiring for this, I'm easy to reach!)

Good Luck, Paramount!