Friday, May 28, 2010

My Name Is Khan and I'm Full of BS

By Anant Mathur (May 28, 2010)

I finally had the unfortunate opportunity of watching My Name is Khan (MNIK) on DVD. I’ve always believed that a Rajesh Khanna film called “Red Rose” is the worst Hindi film ever made, that is, until I saw My Name Is Khan – the honor now belongs to MNIK. I can’t believe the critics gave this sorry piece of celluloid a 4.5 or 5 star reviews. The film is not even worthy of receiving negative stars, that’s how dreadful it is. If Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and MNIK are the kind of films we can expect from Karan Johar, he should stop making films. If you haven’t seen MNIK, I suggest you stop reading here. If you have seen the film, please continue.


******SPOILER ALERT******

When will Bollywood get over its 9/11 hangover? What makes Bollywood filmmakers think they know what happened during 9/11 in North America? Apparently, as My Name Is Khan reveals, they know absolutely nothing!

The greatest problem with “My Name Is Khan” is the time line and I don't understand why no one has picked up on it. We’re shown that Rizwan Khan meets Mandira Rathod pre 9/11 in San Francisco of all places. She has a kid (Sameer Rathod a.k.a. Sam) who’s about 13 years old. Rizwan and Mandira get married and shortly after witness planes crashing into the two towers as its shown live on TV. The 9/11 disaster occured in 2001, yet the time line keeps jumping between 2001 and 2007-2008 periods; this is the biggest flaw of this film.

In June 2008, Rizwan Khan says it’s been 179 days since Sam’s death which means Sam died in 2007. Apparently, Sam is still 13 years old in 2007 - six years after Rizwan met the 13 year old - unless he has taken some potion for eternal youth, he should be 19. Sam is killed on November 27, 2007 because children in school are picking on him for being Muslim (even though he’s a Hindu). Mandira tells Rizwan if she didn't marry him Sam would be alive. She suggests Rizwan ask the president why this happened and maybe he can stop all this Muslim hate. So step-father Rizwan Khan’s journey to meet the president begins.

What boggles the mind is if 9/11 happened in 2001 why in the world is Rizwan Khan going to see the president in 2007. It’s not very believable that in a place like California, thousands of miles from New York (where 9/11 actually occurred) children would beat up a kid for being Muslim and riots would occur 6 years after the fact. There’s no reason for the time shifts between 2001 and 2007-2008, the film would have worked if Karan Johar stayed in 2001. The only explanation I can think of for the time shift is the Hurricane sequence when we find Rizwan in Wilhemina, Georgia (a city that doesn’t exist in reality). The Wilhemina, Georgia sequences have nothing to do with the story of the film and only add unwanted time to an already long film. In fact, Georgia is not known for hurricanes and there were no hurricanes in the state in 2007 or 2008, so even those details are wrong! Had Karan Johar done an ounce of research he’d have known that.

It’s sad to see that Karan Johar has no idea what really happened during and post 9/11 in North America or any clue about the George W. Bush presidency or any knowledge of where hurricanes occur and yet he’s made a film about all this.

When Rizwan is having an attack, upon seeing yellow (he has a fear for the color) and stops in the middle of the street with a cable car approaching, the people get out of the cable car and are abusive towards him. In India this is very likely but, this would never happen in North America, here people are informed about such things, especially in a big city like Frisco, people would actually try to help him.

In another scene in 2007, we’re shown people rioting and beating up Muslims or threatening them. Sorry Karan Johar, North America is not like India where anyone can start race riots and get away with it, law and order is still paramount here. And those riots never really happened in Frisco so why make them up?

Not once in the film is Rizwan treated badly for being a Muslim. Mama Jenny whose son is killed in Afghanistan, by Muslims, loves him. Even people at immigration cleared him without any problems when he arrives at the airport. The only time he gets arrested is when he starts shouting “My Name is Khan and I’m not a terrorist” at a ralley. That’s just another factor showing how lame this film is. The scenes with the reporters look like they’re forcefully added to the film.

Rizwan suffers from Asperger's Syndrome (AS), but nothing is said about what this disease really is or how it affects different people, what causes it or what can be done to help people who have this - we're only given a generic description. When you have a platform such as Karan Johar did, it’s very sad that he doesn’t use it to inform and educate people; this was also the case with R. Balki’s “Paa”.

If Indian filmmakers can’t talk about or explain a disease they shouldn’t make a story around it, it’s very insulting to people who suffer from these diseases. They’re not creating any awareness. After people watched My Name is Khan no one cared about what AS is. Karan Johar should watch films like Philadelphia (1993) to learn how to construct a touching story. Philadelphia made people aware and changed the perspective of many people. I highly doubt My Name is Khan will do any such thing. 

There isn't even a mention of how many people suffer from AS for goodness sake. It took me 2 minutes to find out that an estimated 60 million people suffer from Autism around the world and AS affects 20 million people worldwide. Boys are three to four times more likely than girls to have AS. If Karan Johar can waste 2 minutes on showing the names of sponsors and friends, the least he can do is devote 10 seconds to an insert with statistics about AS.

There are lots of reasons Rizwan could have suffered from the disease, we’re told that he has the disease in childhood, before his father died, so it can’t be because of his father’s death. Nothing else happens in his life, that we’re told about to cause it. What’s the reason? Was he born with it? Did he develop it later? Can he be cured? No explanation is given. We’re also told that Rizwan is afraid of the color yellow but again the
why, how, where and when are missing.

Another thing I didn’t understand is why Rizwan is travelling the country running after President George W. Bush; why not stay in Washington. You'll never guess where he meets the president at the end... Washington - SURPRISE! And when he does meet the president it’s not even the one he was chasing all those months, elections have happened and it’s the president elect that he meets (some black dude who doesn’t look anything like Mr. Obama).

I have said this many times: Indian filmmakers need to start doing research, it’s sad that in the world of today with Wikipedia and thousand of other ways to do research online, Indian filmmakers still come up with such bullshit and buy the reviews to con people into watching their films.

Unless they’re making these films for uneducated fools who have never seen a single film in their lives, this bullshit needs to end. The audience is used to well researched Hollywood films in North America, if Bollywood can't do the same they should stop releasing their films in North America, the audience here won’t buy your crap. Kajol is wasted in this film and Shahrukh hams yet again, trying to imitate Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man and Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump doesn’t make you a great actor Mr. Khan. Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman are remembered for their portrayals of Forrest Gump and Rain Man, but such will not be the case with this forgettable Shahrukh Khan performance. SRK showed much promise when he first arrived in Bollywood – Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra have ruined his talent.

Hard to fathom why Fox Searchlights released MNIK? It’s depressing to see India is so backwards in terms of story telling, at least get the bloody time line right!! Throughout the film Rizwan keeps saying “I can repair anything” and even has a sign in the later reels, how one wishes he could repair the screenplay of this film.

I don’t want this post to get too long, but I would like point out that I haven’t even touched on half of the other problems with this film like how did all those people (friends and family of Rizwan) get to Wilhemina – a town of just over 200 people – in the middle of a hurricane? I’m sure there’s no airport in Wilhemina and Georgia is on the opposite side of the United States, over 2000 miles away, from Frisco and Rizwan's friends and family.

All the money spent on making and promotion of My Name Is Khan could’ve been better spent making 10 sensible films like “A Wednesday”.

I would like to end by saying My Name Is Khan is VERY DISAPPOINTING!!!!

P.S.: I came across this comic about MNIK and I think it’s 1000 times better than the actual movie. I hope you will enjoy it and get the bad taste of MNIK out of your system. Please click on this link for the comic:

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Price of Success!

By Anant Mathur (May 23, 2010)

For a long long time I have been saying that critics are paid for writing reviews in Bollywood. This became even more evident after the Producer’s Strike in 2009. Ever since the strike, critics have been giving 3 to 4 stars (out of 5) to every big film that’s released. After seeing these films I find that most of them don’t even deserve 1 star.   

A prime example is the recent release Housefull. Many critics gave it 4 stars or more and praised it madly, but there were a select few who reviewed it honestly and gave it what it deserved (1 star). Now, I'm all for every film having it's target audience and maybe some viewers not liking a film as much as the others. But critics take an academic approach to films and try to come to understand why a film works, how it works, what it means, and what effects it has on people - without being biased. Thus, I find it hard to digest that the difference would be so drastic that some critics give the film 4 stars while others are giving the same film 1 star. 

Below are links for Housefull reviews by two of the country’s top critics. One is witty, honest and hilarious. The other is just hilarious and obviously paid for by the producer or distributor. I leave it to you to decide which one you believe, but after seeing the film I could only believe the one which gave it 1 star.

Khalid Mohamed's Review of Housefull
Taran Adarsh's Review of Housefull

The latest bollywood release "KITES" is getting mixed reviews. I haven’t seen the film, but after seeing the trailer, I have no interest in seeing it on the big screen. The film seems to be very high on gloss and low on story, then again, most love stories are. It's becoming increasingly obvious that the positive Kites reviews are the ones that may have been paid for. Below are some links for reviews of Kites, you decide:
The way success is measured in bollywood is all wrong. If a film costs 2 crores to produce, collects 3 crores and is taken down after the second week, it’s considered a hit - only because it made more money than its cost. Whereas, if a film costs 50 crores and collects 45 crores, it’s considered a flop even though it was in release for more than 5 weeks and drew 15 times more business than the small budget film. Amazing!

In order to tell if a film is truly successful we must look at how it performs in the weeks following its initial release and not its budget. For example if a film makes 20 crores in the first week of release but falls 80 percent in the second week (earning 4 crores) and another 90 percent in the third week (earning 40 Lakhs for a total of 24.4 crores), it should be considered a terrible film no matter what the budget is. The reason being, in the first week the film made an exuberant amount of money because of strong promotions, star power, etc. But once the audience realized it was no good, the collections dropped dramatically and it was off the screens in 3 weeks. It doesn’t matter if the paid critics gave it 4 stars, the target audience has spoken. If the film is any good it would’ve lasted for more than 3 weeks.

Let’s take another example, 3 Idiots collected 54 crores in it’s first week, 50 crores in the second week (a drop of only 8% in collections). This suggests that the film is pretty decent and audiences have liked it and seen it on more than one occasion. In the third week the collections were steady at 28 crores (a drop of 44%). Fourth weeks collections were 14 crores (a drop of another 50%). In the fifth week the film was still going strong (collecting 9 crores – a drop of 36% from the previous week). This example shows the progression of a hit film over the course of the first five weeks in release. As you can see the collections never fell below 50% from week to week and even in week five, 3 idiots made more money than most movies do in their first week. Unlike flop films which are considered hits because of their first week’s collections, a true hit has considerably smaller drops in collection from week to week and stay on the big screen for more than 5 weeks. 3 Idiot was the highest grossing film for 4 straight weeks and stayed in the top 5 (in collections) for 12 weeks.

Kites will likely be declared a hit after the first week of release. On average Hindi films have a 500 screen release. Kites is being released on 2,500 screens worldwide, more than twice that of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (1200 screens). It is commonly believed that distributors of KANK knew the film would flop and thus designed a wide release that would ensure the film makes its money back in the first week. Like KANK, distributors of Kites expect to make their money back in the first week as well and probably will. But I think it’s the weeks following the initial release that will tell the real tale of whether the film is loved by audiences or not.

With 10 thousand shows daily, a hyped up film like Kites is bound to make its money back in the first week, just the names associated with the film will pull in audiences in week one. The producers and distributors of Kites along with the media may declare it a hit after the first week, but whether the audience truly loves it won’t be known till at least 3 weeks after its release when the numbers can really be compared.

Collections of KANK fell more than 65 percent in the second week and the trend continued for the next three week. The first week’s collections of KANK were just about 15 crores. For weeks four and five collectively it was a less than 1 crore. Week five’s collections were a dismal 23 lakhs after which the film was yanked (total collections: 24 crores). My Name is Khan had the same fate; it too had a wide release of over 1500 screens, did bumper business in the first week
(due to the names attached) then dropped tremendously in the following weeks. Now compare this to a film that’s loved by the audiences like 3 idiots and you’ll understand what I mean.

"A Wednesday" lasted for more than 7 weeks and even though it didn't make as much money as Kites will probably make in the first day, it's a good film because the audience went to see it week after week. It wasn't released on 2,500 screens and didn't have the promotional budget or star power of Kites but it lasted longer than most "wide release" films do.

Another advantage Kites has is its distributor Reliance owns 525 screens worldwide and close to 200 screens in the United States. So, even if Kites is taken off other screens after the first week, reliance can keep it going on their screens for weeks, the audience will wonder why it's still running and may go to see it for curiosity's sake. 

I would like to end this post with the same issue that started it, the reviews of critics. In my opinion, buying reviews is the wrong way of promoting any film. Not only are producers cheating the audience, but they fail to realize the audience will smarten up and stop coming to see their movies; YashRaj Film has been experiencing the audience’s wrath for several years now.

I believe that over the last few years critical reviews have hurt the success of films. If the critics didn’t review films on the day they were released they would have a better chance of success than they currently do. Instead of getting into bed with the critics, Producers should be able to get a court order preventing critics from reviewing films until after the first week of release. This way the audience can decide if the film is good without the critics influencing their judgment. And films will likely not be taken off screens after 2 days or in some cases 2 shows.

The audience should be the final authority in the success or failure of a film, but when their judgment is manipulated by a critic’s review, it’s unfair to the success of the film. In the end, critics usually send the wrong message and it’s the film that pays the price.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tip # 23: The End

By Anant Mathur (May 21, 2010)

The last thing an audience sees in the movie theater are the words “THE END” or something to that effect. It symbolizes the completion of your entertainment, whether you are satisfied or not is up to you to decide. It is the responsibility of every filmmaker to leave the audience with a memorable ending. A reason for them say: “Wow, what an incredible film”.

Usually films have a reasonable story until they get to the end, by the time we arrives at the conclusion it almost seems as if the writer was too tired to come up with a suitable end. The film you have given 2-3 hrs of your life to ends up as a big fat pile of garbage.

Filmmakers need to realize that it doesn’t matter how good the first 2-3 hrs of the film are, what the audience remembers most, by the time “THE END” pops up on screen, is the last 10-15 minutes. And if that doesn’t provide an appropriate finish, it leaves a bad taste in their mouth.

Most filmmakers don’t even know when to end their story, they drag it out and a five minute ending becomes 30-40 minutes of torture.

Although there are many other vital elements to creating an entertaining story, I strongly believe that with a great ending, half the work is done.

The ending of a film needs to be gripping, spellbinding and should keep you on the edge of your seat. It should be something worth talking to your friends, family or co-workers about. The best response an audience can give a films is a round of applause before leaving the theater. Now that’s a film worth seeing!

The audience should respond positively to a film they’ve just given 2-3 hrs of their life. When I view films today, I end up saying “I want the last 2-3hrs of my life back”. Films are supposed to entertain us not stir up feelings which make us wish we didn’t see the darn thing.

Special Effects, Big Stars, Big Budgets aside, the primary purpose of a film is to leave you entertained. It doesn’t matter how much money was spent to make the film, if it’s not entertaining, it will leave the audience unsatisfied.

There are a lot of factors involved in telling a successful, crowd-pleasing tale, but it’s the ending which you remember when you’re exiting the theater. A brilliant ending can't save a horrible story but if a movie is going to be bad at least you get some gratification for sitting through it.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tip # 9: Casting

By Anant Mathur (May 16, 2010)

One of the things that baffle my mind is why Indian screenwriters construct stories with actors in mind. What end up happening is that the character takes on the personality of the actor rather than being an original entity! This is why it seems that Shahrukh Khan has been playing the same character, in every film, for the last 15 years or so.

Today, Ninety percent of Bollywood films have actors portraying characters they never should be playing. That’s one of the key reasons why so many films are bombing these days. You shouldn’t hire friends or popular actors unless they can do justice to a role. After the story, the actors are probably the next worst thing to cut corners with. There is no excuse for not using proper actors in your project. Actors are supposed to breathe life into your characters and miscasting your film can irreparably hinder its success.

When a director first gets a script, he reads it through several times to get a feel for what the story is about and who the characters are. As he reads the script, he gets an impression of the characters. He then has a meeting with the Producer(s) and the Casting Director to share his ideas of the characters.

After the meeting, the Casting Director’s job is to sift through scores of potential actors for every part and audition them, only bringing the strongest candidates to the producer and director’s attention. The producer and director choose from the candidates that have been pre-selected by the casting director.

Two things the director and producer look for when reviewing candidates are:

         1. DO THEY HAVE RANGE?
         The general idea here is, “Can they act?” and you need to find this out quickly. 
         Can an actor give you both ends of the spectrum? Are they believable when 
         they are in a tense, dramatic scene? Are they believable in a comedy? Another 
         way to approach it is to see how different the actor and character are? Never 
         hire an actor who is similar in personality to the character, he won’t have the 
         range to push the character to a new level.

         Any good actor will make a choice when they enter the casting room. They will 
         decide who this character is and give you their interpretation. So, what the  
         director needs to do is give them some “direction” – ask them to read the part 
         again but do something totally opposite from what they just did. This gives the 
         director an idea if they have range, and if they can take direction.

Improperly casting a film can be a disaster for your movie and cause some embarrassment. Do not proceed with a film under any circumstances unless you’re thrilled with your cast, you’ll only wish you had when you see it in the editing room.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tip # 14: Brainstorming Session

By Anant Mathur (May 04, 2010)

Often times a screenwriter is stuck trying to find an idea for a story. One way I find helps a great deal in such situation is to brainstorm. By brainstorming I don’t mean to think of the plot or characters or dialogues, but instead let it all go. Just start writing the first thing that comes into your head, don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or if it makes any sense. Write without any comma, periods, question marks or exclamation points. Let it be a large single paragraph of what comes into your head.

Consider the following example, I am trying to think of a story and I have come up with this so far [A divorced mother with a young daughter, is just leaving the home of her husband to start afresh] but now I’m stuck…

So what do I do now?
Well, I brainstorm, here’s how…

the ex-mrs. yadav is leaving the house she has called her home for the last 10 years she has sole custody of her daughter pia and left her drunk wife-beating husband with the bottle to do what it wants to him as she exits the gate of the house it begins to rain heavily a security officer calls a taxi for mrs. yadav and her daughter they swiftly jump into the car and instruct the driver to head to the airport but just as the driver pulls onto the highway they get stuck in a massive traffic jam up-ahead is a large-scale accident involving some 25 vehicles one of those in the accident is mr. rajesh singhania a local business man on his way to collect goods for his business he’ll never make it now the manufacturer closes in 10 minutes he picks up his cell and calls his secretary miss juneja and asks her to call the manufacturer and inform them of the mishap sweating profusely he hears back from miss juneja who informs him that the manufacturer will be at the warehouse for another hour and if he can make it in that time he can have the good today desperate mr. singhania looks for a way to get out of the traffic jam and reach his goods he comes across a taxi and throws the driver out taking over himself he backs the car out through traffic and gets to some local roads where traffic is moving well finally gazing into the rear view mirror singhania  notices the yadavs in the back he jams the breaks and the car comes to an abrupt stop pia not wearing a seatbelt flies out of the windshield and lands on the road a few feet ahead.

Well that’s it, this may not be the best paragraph or story ever written, but it does have some potential, I have created a few situations which I may be able to use, the characters are solid and action is fast moving. Plus it may motivate me to come up with a story around the whole idea. That’s pretty much all it takes to get out of a jam when you’re unable to write. This way of brainstorming has helped me on many occasions and I hope it will do the same for you.

© Anant Mathur. All Rights Reserved.