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"Once Upon a Time in Mexico"



"Knock Knock, I'm Looking To Marry" ... projecting lukewarm individuals

IN ITS brooding, romanticised character of El Mariachi, a guitar playing rebel, lies the appeal of this Columbia Pictures venture — which is not to say that all may like it. You could even get a bit bored with the sensuous, almost lazy display of violence and a story that exists more to show the choreography of dazzling visuals, high powered stunts and action involving blithe, trigger happy men.

Yet the director wants to portray the romance of a situation in a country like Mexico — in all its magnificent, earthy beauty, abounding in music and folklore, political turbulence and assassinations, murky FBI mix ups and what have you. When the lone guitar strums itself out, several men are shot down ruthlessly. Music and violence seem to go hand in hand. Yet there is not much passion in all that. Those who die are merely irritants in the path of the avenger, the drug lords and political essayers.

From the point of view of filmmaking, this is one of the few films to be shot on high definition, 24 p digital video cameras used in "Star Wars-Episode 2". And the director Robert Rodriguez first made "Spy Kids" on this format, but in this he seems to have pushed the limits of the new cameras by experimenting with the lens, filters and frames. It also has none of the hi-tech special effects one sees in Star Wars. That too on a relatively smaller budget. And the film looks good. The colours, for instance. The browns, yellows and the reds have a dreamy quality that adds to the `once upon a time' kind of a feel. It must be said here that Rodriguez has handled the camera, written the story, designed the production, edited and composed the music. In fact, the credits read — `shot, chopped, scored, written and directed by Robert Rodriguez'.

El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) is the gun toting, guitar-playing figure in Mexico assuming a mythical quality — and many don't even know if the character exists or not. But he does. He's just gone into retirement, after his wife and little daughter were brutally murdered by a Mexican General. A corrupt CIA agent wants him back in action, Sands (Johnny Depp) who needs him to kill the man who would assassinate the President of the county. All is not fair in this because Sands has his own axe to grind. In the midst of all this is the sub plot of a Drug Cartel involving the leader (William Dafoe) and his henchman (Mickey Rourke) always holding a Chihuahua. But Mariachi is not going to play the game Sands desires. All Mariachi wants to do is to take his ultimate revenge and free his beloved country from tyranny. The plot is murky and at times slow — so much so you can't figure out what really is the point.

Antonio as the silent brooding character of Mariachi never really lives up to the fire and brimstone kind of a man he is supposed to be. He looks terrific though, with his streaming long hair and black outfits. Johnny Depp as the hysterical, yet smooth talking ruthless CIA agent, gets more screen time and makes a deep impression. While one wishes there was more of Salma Hayek than is actually shown, she only serves as a flashback. Literally. Eva Mendes as the partner in crime looks fetching. Enrique Iglesias makes his debut as an actor here as one of the sidekicks to Mariachi. Even though he may never make a great actor, he is likeable.

There are many scenes that warrant mention — the one where there is a fierce shoot out in a church and the one where Salma and Antonio, manacled together, swing from building to building till they land on a bus, which soon bursts into flames, and they escape by just a minute. The dialogue does have a touch of humour amidst all the violence — but only if you choose to see it that way!

"Knock Knock, I'm Looking To Marry"

IT'S VERY encouraging to see new talent — especially if the people involved are youngsters. And it's also interesting to see how they deal with issues pertaining to them. In this instance it is all about marriage — arranged or should it be for love? Does belonging to different castes make love any less intense? When does parental approval go beyond a point of tolerance? Are parents understanding when it comes to the marriage of their offspring? "Knock Knock, I'm Looking To Marry" is supposed to be a `refreshing view' of the dilemmas and predicaments faced by the `now' generation. But it would seem that they actually come across as lukewarm individuals who don't quite know what they really want. The routine girl-falls-in-love with-boy, is what the movie ultimately ends up showing — that too in the most stilted, unconvincing way. Even if one wants to be very enthusiastic about such small budget, experimental kind of films this one really makes it difficult to do that. Which is actually very surprising considering the wealth of talent that comprises the team — Preetha who has worked as an assistant to P. C. Sreeram, Anita Udeep, writer, producer director, who has quite a formidable quantum of work behind her. And then there is Mahesh Shanker, music director, Sundeep Menon, editor and Rajeevan Nambiar with 13 years of experience in art direction.

"Knock Knock ... " is about Nithya, a Tamil girl working in Bangalore, who is perpetually pressured by her parents to follow up on proposals that keep cropping up. Nothing unusual about that. What is, is that each one that is presented to her turns out to be a moron. Well that is the idea. But that comes across poorly, especially with the `extremely' Southie guy with a silly accent. And then there is Sundeep, a Punjabi guy with a good job, almost desperate to get married. So much so he is trying out various options on Shaadi.com. And he comes across some more unrealistically portrayed characters making him even more frustrated with his life. Then Sundeep and Nithya meet. At a bhavam-acting workshop, which looks more like a school workshop.

Sundeep discovers that he has finally met the woman he wants to marry while Nithya not wanting to displease her parents agrees to meet the `last nice boy'.

He turns out to be `real' nice. And she likes him and hey presto the wedding is fixed. Sundeep is appalled. But what can he do? Of course Nithya is thick enough not to realise that Sundeep is in love with her. Or if she does (especially when her friends egg her on to marry him) she chooses to ignore it.

By now patience is wearing thin for everybody. The film has to be wrapped up, so a small complication is thrown in to make Nithya understand her true love. How she convinces her parents and follows her heart is what the rest of the film is about.

Taking newcomers has advantages and disadvantages — if they are good then the film gets a freshness known faces cannot give. If they are average then it pulls everything down even more. In this they grope about trying to be natural, but looking most uncomfortable. Expressions range from the utter bland to the overly casual and agonised. Characters flit in and out without making much of an impact and one feels rather pained to think this is how we sound when we talk in English. Stilted and contrived. Making a film in English is not the issue. The point is the degree of realism such ventures are able to convey. Gaps between conversations are too obvious and scenes jump from one to another without much effort at seamless integration. Performance wise, Suhaas has a good chance of making a success in this field. He tries to be natural in many parts, but it seems like quite an effort. Rathi is extremely pretty. Her performance belies her experience with six films already done. Background music by Mahesh Shankar has potential. Give him a powerful film and he may emerge a winner. Just as Preetha would. . Her camera work is extremely promising.

CHITRA MAHESH

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