Saturday, 25 August 2007

Review of Heyy Babyy

The premise of three men and a baby will be familiar to anyone who has seen a movie called, um, Three Men And A Baby (or its French original). To throw Akshay Kumar into such a story is an inspired piece of casting. He has a screen history of playing lecherous but adorable romeos, playboys who deep down still have ‘values’ that save the day.

You would assume that after casting him, everything else would take care of itself. With a fairly strong story at its base, the screenplay should flow naturally and result in a sweet little film. Sajid Khan in his feature film debut (he previously directed a segment in Darna Zaroori Hai) has the unfortunate tendency to overegg the pudding.

Set in Sydney, Aroosh (Akshay Kumar), Tanmay (Ritesh Deshmukh) and Ali (Fardeen Khan) are three crazy brainless bachelors who try to bed every beautiful girl they meet. This fast lifestyle is rudely interrupted by an abandoned baby girl left at their doorstep. Whilst between them they try to figure out who the father is, they bond with the tiny girl and soon learn all the responsibilities of parenthood. In comes Esha (Vidya Balan) who demands to have her daughter back.

A more natural acting effort from Akshay would have made for a more engaging film. His facial gestures and gurning is something that I couldn’t stomach after a while. There is something about his performances in Jaaneman and Namaste London that fit the bill. His sincere charisma adds an exciting watchable element to these films. You can’t imagine these films without him. And then there are Bhagam Bhag and Phir Hera Pheri where the poor actor is made to just pull faces. You can guess which category Heyy Babyy belongs to.

The bachelors appear as caveman-like morons with complete disregard for anyone’s feelings. The story itself is manipulative enough already but it seems that Sajid Khan wasn’t satisfied with the manipulation quota. It is understandable for someone to get tired of a crying baby but the three men’s reaction strikes me as callous and rather vicious. Fardeen Khan is made to mouth lines like “Is saali ko phenkh dete hai” and then it is followed by a rather unnecessary sequence of a baby almost drowning in a rainstorm.

I would say that this is the problem that I had with the film. I am fine with emotions and sentimentality but you get the sense that Sajid Khan is clutching at straws to make it deeper than what it actually is. The baby survives but with the added miracle of religious intervention. Ali takes to reading namaz to pray for her life in the midst of the Christmas season. It is an interesting throwback to Manmohan Desai’s films where such a prayer (by a Hindu, Christian or Muslim) would end in someone’s life being miraculously saved. Yet, here, it doesn’t feel right. You can hardly believe that someone stupid enough to abandon a baby in rather dangerous circumstances would suddenly find the spiritual depth to move the cosmos into performing a miracle.

Crying and laughing reaction shots of the baby’s face in the middle of every dramatic scene do further to create the feeling of being manipulated as a viewer. She has a sweet little face and she is bound to make your heart melt. And boy, does the director know it! I didn’t quite catch the little actress’s name but she makes a lovely debut.

Despite my reservations, Heyy Babyy does have its moments. There is a lovely tribute to the old classic Chupke Chupke. Fardeen’s reincarnation of a character from the film is hilarious. There is also a nod to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge but not a very friendly one (apparently Raj and Simran never did end up together!). A truly funny scene is the sight of Ritesh as Eddy the Teddy being beaten by plucky little kids. It is always a pleasure to see Ritesh be slapped by anyone.

As a director and writer, Sajid Khan has the wherewithal to create these bright spots out of, what is at best, another functional comedy. So, the film is not entirely a complete loss. Still, there are more minuses than pluses. I do hope to god there won’t be a sequel.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

For Your Consideration (Guest, 2006)

Sometimes, it’s good to have a few laughs. And these ‘laughs’ are the most satisfying when they turn out to be unexpected. Not the kind of ticklebelly you get when you watch The Simpsons Movie (because there you are expecting it) but the kind of ticklebelly you get when you watch For Your Consideration.

Sure, it’s written and directed by the team of Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy (Spinal Tap, Best In Show) but since satire is such a hit and miss genre, you can never be sure whether they’ll hit the target or not.

The film goes for the obvious figures of fun in the world of acting and show-business (two elements that equal Hollywood). These are vain has-beens, over-eager method actors, anal film critics, shallow producers and cruel celebrity reporters. And in a way the predictability does stop For Your Consideration from reaching that level of brilliance that you would normally expect from Guest and Levy.

But the redeeming factors far outweigh the slightly stale target of satire. There are some wonderfully po-faced one-liners especially from Jennifer Coolidge as the eccentric producer. She has a natural comic talent that ought to be put to use more often. Considering the kind of deadpan humour, it is not a surprise to see Ricky Gervais make an appearance.

There have been complaints that this movie effort lacks the realism of previous mockumentaries such as Spinal Tap. Aside from the fact that For Your Consideration is not a mockumentary, the lack of realism in this comedy is precisely the element that ends up creating much of the humour. There is a queer delight in seeing an overblown kitsch melodrama be publicised as a potential Oscar winner. And this melodrama is none other than “Home For Purim”, which seems to be an underwhelming tribute to the homoerotic subtext of Douglas Sirk films. There is a perverse delight in seeing average TV movie actors get above their station. And there is also a twisted delight in seeing Hollywood actors talk about the Internet as if it’s some recently invented foreign planet.

It is Catherine O’Hara who lends the story a warm human touch. Even as she deforms into an unrecognisably botoxed media star, she reminds us how misplaced optimism can turn into pathetic despair. Yet, she still manages to be funny. Figure that.