Desi Kattey is a giant bore!

Desi KatteyA game of connect-the-dots on a blank sheet is how I can best sum up Anand Kumar’s giant bore named Desi Kattey. Every thing happens so randomly in this story of two childhood friends who grow up to become ace marksmen in the world of crime.

If one (Jay Bhanushali) wants to make amends and use his skill to represent India in shooting sports, the other (Akhil Kapur) wishes to gain power by pulling the trigger for unlawful purposes.

A subject involving men who enjoy firing bullets with a background score provided by Amar ‘BAM BOOM BADANG’ Mohile is what aural nightmares are made of.  And that’s pretty much what I endured while sitting through this racket of a film that doesn’t make even infinitesimal sense.

What’s particularly daft about Desi Kattey –an insipid mishmash of just about every script engaging two friends going separate ways meets underdog sports hero — is how forced the events look.

It’s like the whole filming happened even as the writers cooked something up along the way. One minute, the boys bump off a dangerous hoodlum’s (Ashutosh Rana) man, the next they claim to be his biggest fans with cuttings of his heroics plastered all over the wall. What heroics? What news? And, pray, what’s an ex-armyman (Sunil Shetty) doing near a shady warehouse inspecting an on-going exchange of fire between two gangs in the middle of nowhere anyway?

I’ll tell you what this modern-day Thakur Baldev Singh is up to.  He’s looking for extraordinary shooters to win gold for India because he couldn’t owing to some “conspiracy” Desi Kattey is too lazy to inform us about.

A remarkably composed Shetty goes about training his protégé with a straight face even when mouthing lines like, “Do dhadkanon ke beech mein jo time gap hai that’s your target.” No wonder Bhanushali touches his feet in the end to pay his respects.

Bhanushali’s greatest appeal is his pretty face and that’s concealed behind loads of facial hair that’s more suitable for a cast member of the Planet of the Apes. Squinting both eyes with all his might is the maximum intensity he can conjure up. It looks marginally less annoying when compared to Akhil Kapur’s constantly bobbing head. Know what’s worse than an inexpressive actor? An inexpressive actor in slow motion.

Desi KatteyHaving said that neither is a patch on the inimitable Sasha Agha. Grunt, grin, grunt, grin, grunt, grin, that’s what she does. Rather, that’s all she does.

In Desi Kattey’s laughable scheme of progression, if one guy falls in love after seeing a girl splashing water on her face, the other is smitten merely at the sight of his romantic interest, a Kanpur-based gangster wins the election from Delhi and sets his henchmen to kill some arbitrary set of people in Mumbai for what exactly we’ll never know and a school’s annual day function has a livelier crowd than Anand Kumar’s idea of an audience for international sporting event.

I could rant endlessly but suddenly; I remember what one character said during the movie, “Dimaag pe zor mat lagao.” That’s the least I can do given the zor and shor my eardrums suffered today.

Stars: 1

This review was first published on rediff.com. 

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Revisiting Bimal Roy’s satirical gem, Parakh

A still from ParakhIn a year of opulent dramas like Mughal-E-Azam, Jis Desh Main Ganga Behti Hai, Kohinoor, Barsaat Ki Raat and Chaudhvin Ka Chand, master filmmaker Bimal Roy reiterates the power of simplicity with his 1960 offering Parakh.

Seldom mentioned in the same breath as his more eulogised works like Do Bigha Zamin, Devdas, Bandini, Sujata or Madhumati, Parakh’s satirical commentary is surprisingly relevant even after half a century since its release.

After collaborating with Roy on the acclaimed Do Bigha Zamin, legendary music composer and writer Salil Chowdhury designs a parable set in a small village, which explores the degree of greed a human being can possess as well as the farcical repercussions that follow when unreasonable opportunism takes over.

Devoid of saleable stars or commercial trappings, Parakh’s multifaceted premise flourishes favourably under Roy’s sharp-witted filmmaking that’s discerning enough to balance his ridicule for the fraudulent with his appreciation for the incorruptible. A major contributing factor (along with its able ensemble cast) in why it scores both on consequence and charm.

It all starts when the postmaster (Nazir Hussain) of an uneventful village called Radheypur receives a letter from a wealthy philanthropist by the name of Sir J C Roy entrusting him the responsibility of handing over the princely sum of Rs 5 Lakhs to the most honest resident of his village meant for its development.

Although burdened by financial troubles, a nagging loan, a bed-ridden wife, a school-going son, a daughter he wishes to marry off to a suitor of her choice, the postmaster instead calls on the central figures of Radheypur – the landlord (Jayant), the contractor (Asit Sen), the village priest (Kanhaiyalal), the doctor (Rashid Khan) and a young schoolteacher (Vasant Chowdhury) to decide who’s the most genuine of them all.

Save for the schoolteacher, sharing the postmaster’s dignified disposition while also harbouring a romantic corner for his lovely daughter Seema (Sadhana), rest of the party gets into a hilariously competitive spirit to prove themselves worthy of the money.

A still from ParakhSensing a democratic approach serves their cause, the foursome on the schoolteacher’s suggestion agree on an election, wherein the village votes in the favour of the most deserving candidate out of the aforementioned five nominees.  The circus that ensues is woefully true yet unquestionably funny.

Greed leads to charity in the paradoxical turn of events and changes Radheypur’s fortunes overnight. While the schoolteacher, anyway committed to the welfare of his village, isn’t lured by temptation, his fellow contenders engage in mad struggle to outdo one another.

The conceited landlord does away with collecting taxes from the poor peasants.  The crooked contractor sets about urgently building tube wells and roads. The self-seeking doctor and his cheerful compounder (a very young and sober Keshto Mukherjee) now offer free treatment to previously neglected patients. The troublemaking priest plays on the gullible folk’s blind faith and it works too lest the displeased goddess curse them to damnation.

In one droll scene, he conceals a deity’s figure above a bulk of drained chickpeas under the soil and when the mass of legumes swell up, the figurine obviously rises leading trusting devotees to believe it’s a divine set-up. Even if it’s tad caricaturish, Kanhaiyalal’s exuberant pujari is the most amusing of the four.  Another moment of comical irony is when he incites his followers to drink the dirty lake water citing its holy properties. Cut to the doctor who mocks the same but does not realise his wife is one of the blind supporters and has poured a glassful down his throat.

Roy diverges from their story to accommodate a demure romance between Bengali film actor Vasant Chowdhury and Sadhana.

A still from ParakhTheir affection for each other is tested when they become subject of gossip in the neighbourhood, which is triggered after our hero refuses to give in the landlord’s cunning offer or his city-bred sister-in-law’s (Nishi in wannabe Madhubala mode) flirtatious overtures. Sadly, Parakh too endorses the haughty modern girl changing into a sari-clad avatar of virtue stereotype that continues to thrive as recently as Deepika Padukone in Cocktail.

What’s reassuring though is how the postmaster, unlike his pragmatic wife, refuses to compromise on his daughter’s happiness till the end and even says a line that’s rather progressive for that time and milieu when the priest suggests her marriage to the aged albeit wealthy contractor, “Mere beti sayani ho chuki hai. Main uske maamle mein dakhal nahi dena chahta.

What lends Parakh an air  of enchantment is Motilal’s Fairy Godmotherish presence in the story. As the postmaster’s limping subordinate Haradhan, he’s the carrier of this commotion-inducing letter. The actor won a Best Supporting Actor Filmfare trophy for his role and plays his part with waggish fervour and sarcastic quips  – Sab cheezein hazam nahi hoti. Khas kar ke hamdardi. Agar iski kahin zyadti ho jaati hai toh khatti khatti dakaarein aane lagti hain — while wryly pointing out the hypocritical class discrimination and disturbing instances of untouchability.

Quite early do we realise he is not what he seems. The film is too hasty in revealing his identity but Roy, I suspect, is not too concerned by the suspense or the big reveal as he is in exposing the two-facedness of a social system, the sham campaigns and the rampant apathy. Here’s what Moni Chatterjee’s character has to say on the significance of voting, “Aankh kar lo bandh aur parchi chhod do. Chulhe mein jaaye ya bhaad mein baat ek hi hai.

A still from ParakhLike I mentioned earlier in my article, this Bimal Roy gem is all about balance. All its thought-provoking components find a lively anchor in the romantic fraction of Parakh’s story, which is boosted by Sadhana’s luminous and, of course, fringe-less appearance.

The minimalist director wasn’t too happy about her Audrey Hepburn do that added to her star-making turn in Love in Simla. So she pinned them behind and transformed into a picture of desi grace.

I once read an old interview of the actress where she mentioned how Roy complimented her by saying she reminded him of his favourite Nutan during the O sajna barkha bahar song.

Speaking of the evergreen song, which also ranks among Lata Mangeshkar’s top favourites, what can one say about her ethereal rendition and its magnificent pictursation in Kamal Bose’s soulful camerawork that fills the frames with the glorious scent of petrichor? The winning combination of Salilda’s dulcet soundtrack and Shailendra’s lilting poetry imbues every single composition a personality that blends in the narrative yet holds its own.

While I love the breezy beat of Mila hai kisika jhumka, I am in complete awe of Lata’s delicate delivery of the poignantly penned Mere mann ke diye yunhi ghut ghut ke jal tu mere laadle with its haunting, marvellous choral arrangement. Manna Dey playfully mocks in his volley of ‘Dakuon ne jog liya, chor bhaje Ram Ram’ for the baul melody, Kya hawa chali baba, closer to the theme of Parakh.

A still from ParakhEverything that happens in the film on a small scale happens in the world on a wider one. The canvas of avarice may be bigger but the means and mentality to acquire it is just the same – bribe, corruption, deceit, scandal and violence. Parakh recognises it, even rebukes it but in a light-hearted vein.

Reform might be distant but reward is certain, at least for one spotless resident of Radheypur.

This column was first published on rediff.com

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The Annie & Anya Foodie Trail: Mexican: Homemade nachos and salsa bar

Can food be fun? Mexican cuisine certainly is.

I’ve tried my fair share at it —burrito, quesedilla, fajita, hot chocolate (the Mexican way), fried rice and mmmmmm mmmmmm is all I really need to say.

This week’s theme is Mexican cuisine so I thought I’ll set up a mini nachos bar. Basically, Homemade tortilla corn chips (corn dough is super tricky to work with, by the way) with different kinds of salsa and thingums to dunk the nachos in.

And so there is roasted zucchini salsa, pico de gallo, grilled corn salsa, refried beans and cheese sauce.

What I discovered: zucchini can sure kick avocado’s ass and how. (Having said that, I love you, guacamole.)

Okay, so I clearly got a little ambitious here and it was pretty exhausting especially the never-ending chop, chop, chop. My enthusiasm may lead you to believe I am dynamism personified. You could not be more wrong. ;)

But here’s why I’d like to think it was worth it.

Homemade nachos and salsa bar Homemade nachos and salsa bar Homemade nachos and salsa bar Homemade nachos and salsa bar

And now go drool over what Anupma Bakshi, hard to believe it’s first ever go at Mexican, has got to offer:  Mexican Chorizo Hash Skillet with Jalapeño Salsa.

The Annie & Anya Foodie TrailRelated links:
Week 1: Pasta: Four Cheese Ravioli

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Daawat-E-Ishq’s best ingredient is charm!

Daawat E IshqDaawat-E-Ishq is like an exuberant menu of a newly opened restaurant eager to please with its spread of scrumptious offerings that balances crowd-favourites with substance.

While the sides are undercooked, the entree leaves an enjoyable aftertaste that owes much credit to its spunky actors and rest to Habib Faisal’s crisp script and direction.

Even though its not the foodie feast (not for a ‘bloody vegetarian’ anyway) the title suggests, Daawat-E-Ishq is a breezy exercise aiming to bring forth the evils of dowry –responsible for the despair of countless women in the country even after being declared as a criminal offence since 1961 — without going the serious or soppy route (Yeh Aag Kab Bujhegi, Jawani Zindabad, Mehendi). Instead Faisal and co-writer Jyoti Kapoor parodies the whole business of marriage with deadpan humour.

Both the parties involved, boy and girl’s, are matter-of-fact about the heinous practice wherein the boy’s family list their demands or in case of a more diplomatic approach sugar-coat this requirement as ‘help’ to provide for the boy while the girl’s side tries to bargain over the same.

There’s a funny scene where the potential bride and groom’s family are haggling over the dowry sum in an open food court, the groom ‘magnanimously’ proposes a reduction in the amount. Just then a banner announcing 70% discount strategically rolls out against the mall building in the backdrop.

Anupam Kher plays a feeble father hailing from Hyderabad who wishes to ‘thikane lagana’ his smart, educated, independent daughter, Gulrez aka Gullu (Parineeti Chopra) to a suitable boy before he retires from his modest clerical post. The irony is he works at the High Court and is fully conscious of the terrible repercussions of the aforementioned engagement. But a creature of conditioning he’s too gutless to protest.

Now this ‘thikana lagana’ mind-set that many Indian parents, even well meaning ones, harbour for their daughters is the root of most problems. It fuels greed in one and breeds inferiority complex in another. Though Daawat-E-Ishq doesn’t quite get into that space, I am glad Gullu’s dad brings it up, gladder with Gullu’s response.

An unpleasant episode with a guy (a bland Karan Wahi) she intends to marry leaves her with a bitter taste. She resolves to use the same institution that humiliates her as a tool namely 498a to achieve her ultimate dream – the numero uno destination for majority of desis — Amreeka.

Daawat E IshqTo realise this, Gullu and her dad change their identities to Sana and Shahryar Habibullah and arrive in a fancy hotel of Lucknow to search for the ideal scapegoat. This unsuspecting target turns out to be Tariq Haidar (Aditya Roy Kapoor), a fabulous cook running a hugely popular eatery thronged by celebrities and foreigners for its succulent kebabs and flavourful phirni.

This is where Daawat-E-Ishq leaves the realm of mocked reality and slips into caper mode. But then given the indignation she’s had to suffer, her cunning (and a tad too comfortably crafted) scheme may seem audacious but not entirely misplaced.

From Nizams to Nawabs, the lovely landmarks of Hyderabad –Charminar, Hussain Sagar and Nehru Zoological Park make way for Lucknow’s grand Bara Imambara, Rumi Darwaza and bustling Aminabad, showcased in a surprisingly lacklustre manner in Himman Dhamija’s cinematography against Sajid-Wajid’s occasionally dragging soundtrack.

Daawat-E-Ishq makes up for many such cinematic imperfections and half-baked explorations with infectious charm, platefuls of it.

The father-daughter relationship is a warm one where she doesn’t hold her father’s meekness against him. On the contrary, Gullu coaxes (okay bullies) him to play along in a situation that’s easily the greatest adventure of his timid existence.

Kher gives his character, especially the one of Shahryar Habibullah, a comical nervousness that’s goofy yet endearing. His snappy row with Aditya Roy Kapoor is marked by some witty ones from Faisal, like the one where the latter brags, “Poora Lucknow meri Impala pe marta hai,” Kher retorts, “Poora Lucknow tumhari Impala se marta hai.”

And Kapoor, I am impressed. No longer self-conscious, tepid or droopy, the man shines as the robust Tariq. On the surface, everything about his look screams garish flamboyance that’s aimed to put off but the rom-com relies on him to articulate a sincerity that will blur the kitsch and render him likeable, even attractive.

dei1Save for the slight Hyderabadi parlance in her speech, the dynamics of Parineeti’s role aren’t all that new. She’s defied before, she’s schemed before and she’s given into wild impulses before.

But whether she’s inquiring about turning black money into white or asserting a woman’s right to retain her surname after marriage, its her pluck and effervescence that gives Daawat-E-Ishq the courage to push the plot in a tricky direction in its third act, see where it goes and yet pull off a win-win conclusion.

Implausible but take it with a pinch of salt.

Stars: 3

This review was first published on rediff.com 

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The Annie & Anya Foodie Trail: Pasta: Four Cheese Ravioli in Butter Sage Sauce

Earlier this year, Anupma Bakshi had an idea of us doing a photo project together. Then I thought we could have a foodie theme since both of us love to nom.

We decided to roll with The Annie & Anya’s Foodie Trail in September.

The idea here is to explore and challenge ourselves by setting up weekly themes, which gives us the chance to flex our creativity and conquer our apprehensions of tricky recipes. Nah, it’s not all that serious, no point to prove, no agenda to serve. We are simply hoping to have lots of fun taking this trip to the kitchen and back, sort of like a playground for grownups. :P

And it all begins with pasta about which legendary Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini once said: Life is a combination of magic and pasta. Quite a bit of it is true but I discovered it only a little more than a decade ago. I didn’t grow up on mac and cheese, a staple of most kids these days.

My editor, a true culinary enthusiast, took colleagues and me to Juhu’s Little Italy in 1999 and that’s when I had my first taste of Penne Arrabiataa. I didn’t take to it instantly but, over the years, I have developed a keen palate for Italian delicacies.

When I traveled to Italy, I gorged on the most magnificent Manicotti and sublime Cacio E Pepe known to mankind.

Bottomline: I love pasta. I eat it almost every single week. One of my favorites is farfalle in roasted red bell pepper sauce.  For the project though, I’ve prepared four-cheese (ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and edam) ravioli (pasta sheets from scratch) in butter sage sauce.

Here goes:

Four cheese ravioli in butter sage sauce. Four cheese ravioli in butter sage sauce. Four cheese ravioli in butter sage sauce.

And here’s a look at Anupma aka Annie’s gorgeous creation — a warm summer pasta salad.

The Annie & Anya Foodie Trail

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