Thursday 9 December 2010

Book Review : The Slayer of Kamsa, Ashok Banker

After the Ramayana Series, Ashok Banker has turned his attention to the tale of Krishna and the first book in what is to be the Krishna Coriolis series is The Slayer of Kamsa. I had recently finished the seventh book in the Ramayana Series, The Vengeance of Ravana and did not think it measured up to the first six. The writing is as fluent as ever but that particular book was conceptually difficult to grasp and hence a difficult read. Having had the same problem with the Gods of War, I was a little apprehensive about this book too. There was too much stuff about vortals, parallel worlds and a grand design in these books that I found a little difficult to relate to, especially considering the linear, simple (in the best possible way, of course) narrative of the earlier Ramayana books.

Thankfully, my fears were unjustified. In the Slayer of Kamsa, Ashok lays the foundation for the entry of Krishna and provides a good start to the proposed series. The book tells the tale of Prince Kamsa and King Vasudeva until the birth of Krishna. The book dwells on the events that lead to the point where Kamsa is driven to try and prevent the birth of his nemesis and the meat of it has to do with the conflict between good and evil as represented by Vasudeva and Kamsa.

A good book but I do not rate it as highly as the Ramayana series in terms of sheer readability. Having said that, it still got over far too quickly for my liking and here I sit, waiting for the next installment or Sons of Sita, whichever is first.

Endnote : I had to look up Coriolis and here is what it means for the uninitiated (taken from Wiki).

In physics, the Coriolis effect is an apparent deflection of moving objects when they are viewed from a rotating reference frame. In a reference frame with clockwise rotation, the deflection is to the left of the motion of the object; in one with anti-clockwise rotation, the deflection is to the right.


Heavy stuff, this; and an apt word when applied to the concept of Dharma.


Sunday 7 November 2010

Book Review : To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

I was waiting for a flight at the Bangalore Airport and was browsing the bookstore when I came upon the 50th Anniversary edition of Harper Lee's classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. I didn't know much about the book except that it was considered an American classic and that a movie was made starring Gregory Peck. I picked it up on impulse, and am I glad I did!

This book won the Pulitzer and the reason is on every page. A story set in the American south and told through the eyes of a little girl, the book deals with very adult topics such as racism, tolerance and the concept of justice in a fashion that drives every point home without making it heavy reading. The narrative unfolds from the viewpoint of Scout, a little girl, and her older brother Jem who come to understand issues related to race when their father defends a black person charged with rape. Their entire view of the episode consists of multiple vignettes that they leads them incrementally to an overall understanding of the situation and the behaviour of the towns folk in terms of attitudes and prejudices, with their upright father providing the moral lightning rod, as it were.

I have never been much of a reader of what would be called "classic" or "award winning" literature but after this and my earlier experience with A House for Mr. Biswas I will be broadening my horizons a bit, that's for sure.

I checked out the Time Top 100 novels  and the only ones I'v read so far are the following.

A House for Mr. Biswas, V S Naipaul
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C S Lewis
Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

A long way to go, then. The only consolation is, I've seen a lot of movies based on the top 100!

Sunday 24 October 2010

Movie Review : Endhiran

So, I finally got to see Endhiran. In a half empty Bangalore multiplex on a Sunday morning, I realised that the Rajni magic is fading. When we look back at Rajni's career, there will be two phases - the growth to a pinnacle at Padayappa and the indifference and decline after.

Wait a minute, you say. What about the hits after - Chandramukhi, Sivaji even though they were balanced by Baba and Kuselan? All I say is two words - marketing hype. Sure the numbers are mind boggling, but then, the revenue streams are much more diverse and international now. Playing up the numbers is part of the machine. Rajni is too big now to fail. There is too much riding on him - and not just from a commercial perspective. He is our last Superstar, with a capital S. Can we let go? With him will end an era in Indian filmdom; one that has almost no real parallel in any other part of the world - a true star system, independent of the spin doctors.

Anyway, coming back to the much talked about Endhiran. Let me keep it simple - indifferent music, indifferent special effects (except for about fifteen minutes at the end, and most of it you've seen in the trailer) and most importantly, nothing Rajni about it, to coin a phrase. Since more people know the plot of Endhiran in India than can sing the national anthem correctly, let me not even talk about that. This should have been a Kamalahaasan movie. It would have done his ego good to duplicate himself about a hundred times, bereft of prosthetics and a need to act different parts.

For Rajni, it's a movie that is not about him. This is a director's movie and the show overwhelms the star. Me, I pay to see Rajni - the mannerisms, the dialogue, the emotion (please note that this movie is one where Rajni has no mother or family, which means no good son, brother thread to keep the hankies wet), the self deprecating humour and in-references (Endhiran has a bit of that). All I get here is a pastiche of I Robot, The Terminator, a Janet Jackson video, the Mask and Transformers. Rajni is incidental to the whole thing and for me, that's a no-no.

To be fair, the movie has a certain amount of philosophical sophistication in the script - debates on the nature of the creator-created relationship, Asimov's laws of robotics, the fusion of man and machine (Robo Sapiens!) and the nature of love. 

In the end, this is a movie about a robot Rajni on hormonal overdrive taking on the world to mate with a robotic-looking Aiswarya Rai. Given her acting range, that's only expected.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Kid Stuff : The Town of Zombies

Another story written by my son when he was eight.

Contents

1. The Summer Vacation Starts
2. The Journey Begins
3. The Planets Align
4. The Town is Found Deserted
5. The Curse is Broken 
  
Other titles in this series

Harry and the Magic Axe
The Worm who Ate the Earth

___________________________________________________________

Chapter 1: The Summer Vacation Starts

 Sam had just begun his summer vacation. He was very happy because he was going to his grandfather’s hometown. It was called Sparksville. He was picked up by his grandfather. His mother and father came too. But they stayed back at grandfather’s house while Sam and grandpa set off for Sparksville.

Chapter 2: The Journey Begins
  
Sam just finished packing his things and then his grandfather arrived. He said bye as they dropped his parents in his father’s house. They sang songs and played lots of fun games. Then after a three hour journey they reached.
  
Chapter 3: The Planets Align

When they reached the town was crowded with people they stayed at Sam’s grandfather’s house. Then they went to the arcade, theatre and then to buy some food and they saw that the town was deserted. The people had all gone home and it was only 7:00pm. Then the planets aligned. The alignment was there for a week and Sam was staying there for a week.

Chapter 4: The Town is Found Deserted
  
The town was found deserted and they got worried. They headed back to the house, ate a meal and played a game of noughts and crosses. When they went to bed, Sam went to get a glass of water. Then when they were asleep they heard strange noises and looked out the window. They went outside and saw the zombies rise from their graves in the cemetery.  They were chased by the zombies to the town’s clock tower.
  
Chapter 5: The Curse is Broken
  
When they reached the top of the clock tower Sam found a talisman with the planets aligned and zombies rising at night. They wondered what it was for and they looked down at the zombies. They were waiting for them to come down. Then Sam found out what it was for. It was the source of the zombies awakening. Sam threw the talisman hard on the ground and the curse was broken forever and the zombies returned to there resting places in the cemetery. After a week, when they were picked up, Sam told his parents about the whole adventure. 

Sunday 19 September 2010

Kid Stuff : The Worm Who Ate the Earth

This is a story written by my son when he was eight years old.

The Worm Who Ate the Earth

Contents

1. The Laboratory makes a Mutating Formula
2. The Formula is Dumped
3. The Worm is Mutated
4. The Earth Meets its Doom
5. The Earth is Swallowed

Other titles in this series

Harry and the Magic Axe
The Town of Zombies

Chapter 1: The Laboratory makes a Mutating Formula

Once upon a time in the USA (United States of America), in New York City, there was a group of scientists who were always busy. They were working day and night for 7 consecutive days on a top secret project. At last after the 7th day the project was finished. The project was a mutating formula.

Chapter 2: The Formula is Dumped

After the formula was finished the scientists tried it on a plant but it never worked. Soon afterwards they had dug a hole in a field and they dumped the formula into the hole thinking it was useless and they had worked hard for 7 consecutive days for nothing. But they didn’t know it only worked on creatures that moved.

Chapter 3: The Worm is Mutated

After the formula was dumped in a hole it was eaten by a worm thinking it was food. Then after 12 hours the worm started to grow bigger and longer as it had eaten the formula of mutation. Soon afterwards it was so big that it was able to crush a farm.

Chapter 4: The Earth Meets its Doom 

After some time it grew, grew and grew until it was so big the government of USA decided to kill it. But as they went close to it, it hit them with its big tail and ate up the army, jeeps, tanks and all. The president was so annoyed he said he would kill it himself. But as he went close to it, it ate his rocket launcher, but luckily the president escaped with his life.

Chapter 5: The Earth is Swallowed

Soon the Earth was like a tiny ball to the worm and then he swallowed it and the army equipment he ate became balls and had formed the sun and the other planets and we’ll never know if we are really inside the stomach of a worm or not.

THE END

Movie Review : Dabangg

Once upon a time in a town called Bollywood, commercial films used to be fashioned around the ability of an individual to get butts into seats, a semblance of a plot and a heavy dose of emotion and dialogue-baazi. Over many years this town was taken over by urban educated, westernised people who brought in things like detailed scripts, realistic dialogue, special effects, elaborate sets, costume design and the like. The end result of this was a bunch of films that seemed to cater to either Indians living abroad or in cities. Even the names of movies started to change - Jab We Met, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai and so on. However, did the heartbeat of the old Bollywood die? No it continued to beat, albeit weakly with a few films a year.

Well, it beats weakly no longer. This year, Salman Khan has applied the defibrillator twice and we hear the beat loud and strong. First with Wanted and more effectively with the now released Dabangg. True Bollywood is back!

Dabangg is a UP western, complete with Spanish Guitar riffs and a suitably stark backdrop. This is a no-frills action movie with a family-centric heart, the way Bollywood used to do it. It succeeds due to direction of Abhinav Kashyap and more so due to the deadpan, take-no-prisoners approach Salman Khan brings to his role. He is the movie, pure and simple - whether taking on five baddies with a fire hose, delivering dialogues that get the seetees or paying homage to Dharmendra when dancing, the man is in his element, and the audience is with him all the way.

The movie has already grossed over fourty crores in the weekend of its release and is well on to blockbuster status. Salman Khan is now officially a real superstar. Not one like SRK who needs a tailor-made script and an NRI-Indian urban fan base, but a true one that can pull in the crowd anywhere in India, not just the multiplexes. Please move over a bit, Rajni and Mithunda..........

Over the weekend, there was a brawl in a Bangalore multiplex during the screening of the movie; of all places. Do you need a better recommendation?

Sunday 12 September 2010

Book Review : Under the Dome

The little town of Chester's Mill, Maine is sealed off suddenly from the rest of the world by the inexplicable appearance of a dome. The dome is nearly impermeable and indestructible.

Thus starts Stephen King's latest. Cut-off from the rest of America, the town deals with the resultant power struggles, paranoia and environmental effects. The town Selectman Big Jim Rennie, the overly religious, dishonest politician tries take over the reins of the town by converting the local police force to his own version of the Brown Shirts. Pitted against him is Col. Dale Barbara, the reluctant government designated point man within the dome. These two men become the rallying points for evil and good respectively, within a town that is for all practical purposes a separate world with it's own weather, law and value system.

As usual, King paints a broad canvas and there are a lot of sub-plots and characters the converge on a surprising climax, a dues ex machina if you will. King being King does not disappoint his core readership, which includes yours truly. There are supernatural elements, necrophilia, deranged murderers and violence by the tonne; all done with the good taste which only a true fan can fully appreciate.

Underlying all this is an exploration of human nature and a comment on political spin-mongering in the pursuit of power. King tips his hat to "The Lord of the Flies" quite early on in the book, and it's apt. The townspeople become lab rats in an environment where their normal frames of reference and assumptions are no longer valid and things start to change. There are enough references for someone looking at recent events in America to conjecture that King seeks to comment on the political and moral outlook in America over the last half decade or so. One could even look at this book as providing a perspective on the concept of God. I just think it's one damn good yarn, whatever else said.

King is without doubt one of the best writers of our generation. He is one of the few writers that make reading effortless and where characters and situations are etched fine enough to jump off the page. Given his choice of genre, it is unlikely that he will ever be given one of the stuffy awards that are handed out as recognition of such talent. I guess he will have to contend with the millions he makes from sales instead. Some people have it tough.

Over a period, King's individual works seem to increasingly reference or evoke each other. This was the most explicit in the Dark Tower series; actually it took this concept to a whole new level in the "The Song of Susanna." Under the Dome reminded me of the "The Tommyknockers" and for some reason I cannot put my finger on, "The Stand."

Pick this one up. It's big, fun and worth the time.

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Rajnikant - Endhiran

So the Boss is back with Endiran, soon to be released.

A film about Rajni creating a robot Rajni to deal with the bad guys. My question is, why in god's name would he want to do that?

Will this robot be able to do the following?

- Exercise control over inanimate objects - sunglasses, spears, guns, bullets, cars?
- Dodge bullets?
- Control animals with a mere glance?
- Beat up scores of people unarmed?
- Make women go crazy for him without trying?
- Go from pauper to prince in the space of a few frames?

Doesn't seem worth the effort when Rajni the man can do it all anyway. I guess there was money to burn and Shankar stepped up to the plate.

The master stroke seems to be the casting of Aishwarya Rai. We'll get two robots for the price of one.


Here's one of the posters. Looks like something for a WWII flower child protest.

See for yourself.

Monday 30 August 2010

Whither Kader Khan?

Where in the world is Kader Khan?

Granted that he's pushing seventy five but has he retired? Amitabh is pushing seventy and very much out there and in your face.

I think that Bollywood needs to find an equivalent immediately. Who will play any kind of supporting role whether it has villainy, buffoonery, pathos or whatever? Who will write dialogues that swing between cult and buffoonery with equal ease?

"Govardhan seth, samunder mein tairne wale kuon aur talabon mein dubki nahin lagaya karte hain" from Muqaddar Ka Sikander or the role defining "Pura naam Vijay Deenanath Chauhan, baap ka naam Deenanath Chauhan, maa ka naam, Suhasini Chauhan, gaon Mandwa, umar chattis saal...." from Agneepath.

You can pick any number of dialogues from the 80s Jeetendra-Padmalaya movies for buffoonery, starting with Shakti Kapoor's "Aooooo, Lalita.........."


OK, so not everybody enjoys it but for people hooked into the Bollywood of the 80s and 90s, Kader Khan is irreplaceable - as a dialogue writer and actor. You'd be surprised how many of us are out there.

Here he is at his bombastic best in MKS advising a young AB or this random one :-).


Thursday 26 August 2010

Money Matters : Financial Decisions

In an interesting survey by Northwestern Mutual in the US, multiple generations were polled on their propensity to provide Financial advice to others and the variations of such advice across generations. The most interesting part of the results is the section on what was the best financial decisions the respondents ever made. These are the top six and as relevant to us as anything you've heard or read on Financial Planning.

1. Started saving early.

How many of us actually do this? I meet a lot of people in the early stages of their careers and this is advice that I always try to pass along. No doubt as Indians, we definitely will go down this route as compared to Americans; but with changing lifestyles and demographics, it is almost a given that savings level will tend to drop and even more so at early stages of careers. If you look at the propensity to spend among young people in Bangalore as an example, especially those in the first two to three years of their career, you cannot but notice that.

Build a nest egg and start with your first paycheck.

2. Bought real estate at a good price.

Tough one, this. Owning what is a primary residence needs to be a priority and the earlier the better. Given the amount of leverage this will entail for most people and the fact that careers often mean transfers across India, this tends to be the biggest financial decision that most middle class people end up taking. Given the regulatory framework and the way builders operate, it is also the riskiest. However, it is one that needs to be planned for as a priority.

Here's an alternate take on home ownership in the aftermath of the crisis.

3. Made sure that my family is protected.

What does this mean? In financial terms, the following at the bare minimum.
- Are your primary breadwinners adequately covered in terms of life insurance?
- Are your assets - residence, vehicles, property - insured?
- Do you have adequate Medical Insurance for your family?
- Do you have sufficient liquidity (cash or near cash assets) to tide over exigencies; loss of job, unplanned  
   expenditure, etc.?
- Are all your family assets covered for succession; do wills exist?

4. Bought products with guarantees (insurance/annuities).

This is actually linked to point 3. It entails investing in products that will provide a deterministic cash flow to your family in case the primary source of income is lost (death, loss of job, etc.) or post retirement. Examples of such investments in the Indian context are Insurance Policies (cash back), Pension products, Government Debt Products, PPF, etc.

5. Relied heavily on my 401K.

The 401K is a retirement scheme in the US. The equivalents in India are one's investments in the Provident Fund, PPF and Pension Schemes. Put aside a bit every month and forget about it and you will find that the sum is quite substantial when you need it.

6. Rebalanced my portfolio consistently.

I am not sure about this. Most people do not have the expertise, time or even the inclination to re-jig their portfolio periodically. You could use a Financial Planner's services or a Wealth Management Service to help you do this but I have not seen any empirical evidence to show that people using such a service are better off in the long run. From what I've seen, it works well enough if you do sufficient research to moderate your risk, be consistent in your investment strategy and not trade potential long term benefit for short term gain.

Surprisingly there is not much mention of equity as an investment class in this list. In fact, 1% of the respondents indicate that not investing in stocks is the among the best investment decisions they ever took! Given that this survey is conducted during the downturn and the blood letting and volatility that we've witnessed on Wall Street over the last year, this may not be surprising. However, the simple fact is that as an average investor, you will not generate adequate returns over the long run without equity in your portfolio.

The key to understanding any advice about Financial Planning is that the theory is built on mathematical / statistical techniques. This means that what applies to the population as a whole does not necessarily materialise for individual investors. That is where luck kicks in. One can at best plan logically and leave the rest to fate. As Indians, that is a concept that we should be able to grasp especially easily!

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Book Review : At Home

Who is Bill Bryson - travel writer, historian, linguist, science writer? If you look at the range of his published work, you will find that he straddles quite a few genres and successfully at that.

At Home is his latest. A historical look at the people of Europe and America with a British residence as the anchor point. Have you ever wondered why there are four tines to a fork, why toilets are as they are? Well, this book has the answer.

Bill takes the simple premise that a home is ultimately where history comes to reside and traces the origins of objects and concepts that are associated with individual rooms - the kitchen, the cellar, the attic and so on. He therefore writes a history of the world without leaving home. The world in this case of course is largely Europe and America with linkages to China, India, etc. traced where they are relevant.

For example, a journey starting from the kitchen covers the gastronomic history of England, the role and life of servants, the evolution of cutlery and dining etiquette amongst other things. Similar excursions are triggered by the bedroom (including an exposition on Victorian sexual mores), bathrooms (Victorian privy habits) and various other rooms.

An entertaining and informative read in the author's characteristic wry, detail oriented style. Unlike his earlier travel books which I tended to devour as close to one sitting as possible, this is a book that can be spaced out and read a chapter at a time. In fact, given the amount of history in it, it can get a bit heavy at times.

This is a so-so read - interesting, pedantic and boring in parts. Now how can we get Bill into a plane and fly him off to a strange country for his next book?

Saturday 14 August 2010

Nut Allergies

Time Magazine on Americans and Nut Allergies

Do you know any Indians (in India) personally that have nut allergies? I don't. You hear and read a lot about it being a big thing in the US but hardly anything in India.

Genetic condition or what?

Book Review : The Devil's Picnic

A tour of everything the governments of the world don't want you to try.

My wife picked this one up on a whim at a reduction sale in Wales. I had never heard of Canadian author Taras Grescoe and neither had she. I guess what triggered the decision was the sub-title. Who can resist something that provides even a hint of reading about government conspiracies?

A difficult book to classify - travelogue, food writing, philosophy, ethics review? Taras Grescoe sets off on a journey to literally taste the forbidden fruit (hence the title). He starts off in Norway on a quest for hjemmebrent, local moonshine, and discovers a whole world of Norwegian alcoholism and drug abuse. In the rest of the book he covers the issue of chewing gum in Singapore with an analysis of the totalitarian regime there; goes on a gastronomic trip to Spain to try, among other things, bull's testicles (unfortunately out of season and he has to do with that of a pig); Europe chasing the origins of absinthe (remember Johnny Depp in From Hell?)chocolate and cheese; Bolivia hunting for the coca leaf and the effect of the US War on Drugs; New York, to assess the effect of the smoking ban; Switzerland, to research assisted suicides and the euthanasia debate.

It's whirlwind journey marked by erudite prose; incident level description interspersed with critical analysis of the ethical dilemmas that prohibition provokes. Smart, funny and thought provoking - this is an excellent read.

As an aside, did you know that in the Geneva treaty covering the transportation of narcotic substances, there is a specific loophole designed to allow Coca Cola to import coca leafs into the United States to make Coke?

Pick this one up. Definitely worth your time.

Friday 13 August 2010

For all fellow Mallus out there - enjoy

Movie Review : Khatta Meetha

You have to admire Priyadarshan. He has identified a niche in Bollywood, build the support structure to enable exploitation of that niche and made a success of it. Remaking successful Malayalam movies.



Hulchul - Godfather
Gardish - Kireedam
Hera Pheri - Ramji Rao Speaking
Bhul Bhulaiya - Manichitrathazhu
Billu - Kadha Parayumbol

et al.

The Malayalam original was an enjoyable commentary on low level corruption in the Public Works Department with an entirely appropriate feisty performance by Mohanlal and a restrained one by Shobana. What you have in Hindi is a shouting match between Akshay Kumar and the rest of the cast.

The story revolves around the trials and tribulations of Sachin Tichkule, a civil works contractor, trying to make a go of it by navigating the corrupt system. What could effectively have been a commentary on the common man and the state of the system translates into a shout fest with Sachin letting off steam against the rest of the world (read cast) at a decibel level that makes your head ache.

The well meaning Sachin and his struggles are juxtaposed against the power brokers and high level corruption represented by the contractors in his own family (Milind Gunaji, Manoj Joshi) and their political connections. The tension and sarcasm that was underplayed in the original as representative of the closed gravy train system and those struggling to become a part of it is very much out in the open in the Hindi remake.

The vignettes that are representative of Sachin's struggles are set against a broader backdrop of high level corruption, rape, murder and tragedy. In the end, it is up to Sachin to stand up for his moral roots when pushed to the wall by the murder of his sister and bring the system down.

The common thread to most of the original films remade by Priyadarshan were strong narratives, appropriately subtle acting and good music. What is not clear is the need to amplify everything when translating the film into Hindi; dialogues, acting and set design. Is there an assumption that a pan-India audience cannot appreciate subtlety? Empirically this is not true, especially for comedies. You only need to look at the success of Angoor, Golmaal and many others to understand that people have a sense of humour and you don't necessarily need to beat them on the head with a joke for them to get it. As the greats have shown time and time again - Charlie Chaplin, Peter Sellers, our very own Mohanlal and Sanjeev Kumar - brevity and subtlety are the heart of wit, to paraphrase Shakespeare. Even in mainstream Hindi cinema, some of the funniest sequences ever such as Amitabh's wry wit in Sholay have been much viewed and loved by a large audience.

Unfortunately, comedy in Hindi films has come to be defined by the likes of Sajid Khan (have you sat through Housefull?) and possibly this is Priyadarshan's attempt to conform. I mean, come on, the man has directed multiple films in Malayalam that are not over the top, but very effective, during the earlier part of his career.

Having seen and loved the original malayalam, Vellanakulde Nadu, I went in to Khatta Meetha with low expectations and to put is simply, they were met. This is a hash of a much loved original.

Here's the road roller scene in the original Malayalam. Worth a see even if you can't understand the language.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-smi32g2bIs&NR=1

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Movie Review : Once Upon a Time in Mumbai

What's with the English title? In any case, it was Bombay back then.

Intriguingly, the movie starts with a white ambassador being fished out of the sea. An underworld murder attempt? No, it's just angst ridden DCP whatshisname (a nicely brooding Randeep Hooda) attempting to kill himself. Apparently, he couldn't get his service revolver to fire.

The DCP feels responsible for the Mumbai blasts, having allowed the alleged perpetrator to grow into a don during his ACP days. He is referring to Shoaib Khan (hint, hint), who sowed the seeds of a spectacular career in crime during the time of none other than Sultan Mirza (hint, hint), the don of Mumbai. The Machiavellian ACP thought he would play one against the other but never realised that he was creating a Frankenstein's monster. Shoaib is played by the trying-to-brood-but- never-quite-making-it-even-with-the-Easy-Rider moustache Emraan Hashmi and Sultan is played by the intense-expression-in-all-my-roles Ajay Devgun.



We go through the standard rise, conflict, political shenanigans, protege taking down the mentor routine dutifully done with excellent technical quality. We also go through it with absolutely no feeling for any of the major players. This is a bland, emotionless film with none of the characters actually building any empathy with the viewer. Take, for instance, a comparable gangster movie like Vaastav. The movie hooks you because you feel for Sanjay.

This is why Ajay Devgun is unable to move into greatness. That undefinable quality that allows the audience to root for you. Very few have this. Take Sanjay Dutt - an uneven actor, two left feet, no real talent for dialogue delivery; but you come out of his successful movies feeling for him and quite enjoying the ride - Munnabhai, Vaastav, Mission Kashmir. In the new Lamha; technical finesse and contemporary relevance aside, Sunju baba carries the movie on the strength of his style - I wouldn't use the word performance.

Sorry to digress, this was supposed to be about Once Upon a Time. 

Wait a minute, in a way, that says it all about the movie.