In the first 20 minutes of Raasta, a mix-bag entertainer – though not in the way one imagines – we see a young (*ahem*) lad trying to find his way in the world. Sameer, who we see in every frame but never truly get to know, is overqualified. He’s been looking for a job since graduation but, alas, parchis and sifarishs beat him to the punch. People look at him, and then look the other way (in the scenes they do so by design, but the audience know better). But Sameer dreams like an adolescent, of becoming a film star and getting hitched to the right girl – Maya (Saima Azhar), who runs an NGO for poor, needy women.
Sameer has two buddies (actors Saleem Mairaj and Irfan Motiwala, mostly never in the same frame together); like most characters in the film, we never get to know much about them. He has a strict, uncorrupt, police officer brother (Aijaz Aslam), a compassionate sister-in-law (Sana) and a niece, who appears in two or three scenes.
Sameer’s life is uncomplicated, lacklustre and close to oblivious and inconsequential from what we see. He hangs out with his buddies, dances right into a film set with no visible cameras, and switches into an overzealous street-punk for no apparent reason. If he is the epitome of a lovable rascal, I don’t know what went wrong in this last generation of youngsters.
I suppose, Shah Rukh Khan is to blame for the youth and Lodhi. The raunchy, bad-mannered, cutesy persona may, at times, work for Shah Rukh Khan (it was originally an update from Dilip Kumar’s), it fails miserably in his aspirants. They turn into cocky over-actors, who smirk and tremble, sometimes in the same frame.
Lodhi, as if to one-up his apparent idol, decides to be different – and stops acting altogether. The result: whenever he cries, shuddering and repeating dialogues, the audience snicker and hoot. For a cinema with 20% occupancy on its first Saturday, this is bad news.
In one scene, Sameer – voicing Lodhi’s personal demons – admits that the only way he would be in a movie was when he made one for himself. It was merely an eventuality, I guess.
As the screen and lyric writer, producer and director, Lodhi has a clear idea of how he is making this film – and its inherent pitfalls. It may not be a grand hero’s journey one expects from a film, but in a sense it was exactly the dread one was anticipating. Raasta is, however, not as bad a film as Sultanat, or Dance Kahani. It makes you laugh, even when you don’t want to.
Editorially, the film is cut-and-pasted like a novice. In one instance for example: Sameer rides on top of a bus with Mazar-e-Quaid in the background, which in subsequent cuts, continuously shifts distance. Cinematographically, Raasta doesn’t fare any better. Night scenes are under-lit and graded with harsh greenish-hues. However, the film’s focus-puller (the man responsible for keeping actors in focus) deserves a hefty bonus. He keeps the film’s lead in sharp sight.
With the assistance of such a talented technician, like a bona fide and insecure A-list star, Lodhi lodges himself in almost every available frame. It is his chance in the spotlight and he milks it dry. It is near-about a perfect example of one’s narcissism.
For instance: the screenplay, as if not to overshadow Lodhi, throws characterisation out of the window. Everyone, with exception to Mairaj, Motiwala and the child actor, knew what they were doing – not that the others had much to do. At times when scenes go long, Lodhi dub’s over the dialogue with his narration. The film’s villains (Naveed Raza and Shamoon Abbasi, the latter one of the few good actors in the film, after Sana and Aijaz Aslam), threaten and kill every now and then; their motives linger around as aimlessly as the film’s plot, and their only usefulness is when they face off against Lodhi.
After the intermission, his first love, Maya, disappears from the plot completely, and he smoothly transitions to another girl (Abeer Rizvi).
In one scene, his new girl gives him a golden, career-making advice: to become a rickshaw driver. And lo and behold, he does that. Brilliant. •
It may not be a grand hero’s journey one expects from a film, but in a sense it was exactly the dread one was anticipating. Raasta is, however, not as bad a film as Sultanat, or Dance Kahani. It makes you laugh, even when you don’t want to
First impressions tell you a lot, apparently, however, in the case of Ghost in the Shell (GITS), the problem came even before the production started: when the rights were obtained by DreamWorks for a live-action remake of a classic animated film.
GITS is a benchmark; it’s not a high one to achieve, but it is a tricky, complicated one. The story, based on the works of Masamune Shirow with the anime – i.e. Japanese animation – version directed by Mamoru Oshii, is set in the future; one that is overcrowded by people and expense in relatable technology. Everyone is augmented by enhanced cybernetics that include pinholes in the back of one’s head for instant internet connectivity. Cybercrimes are, of course, prominent as is ghost hacking – that is, if one is connected to the internet by brain, they are liable to be hacked.
Which brings us to the larger scope of GITS (and the explanation of its title – shell is the body, ghost is the soul): can you hack someone’s soul? And if you are a synthetic – like a program, cyborg, or an android (the latter means advanced robot, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator) – do you have a soul in the first place?
Shirow’s manga (Japanese comic) and Oshii’s film took those questions head-on, and blended the concept with striking visual imagery and deeply reflective aesthetic, technical film-making calls.
Then we have the live-action film, directed by Rupert Sanders – an ad film-maker who directed Snow White and the Huntsman. Do I need to say more? Well, yes. GITS has seven screenwriters, a Hollywood-ized plot that rips-off the anime’s prominent scenes, and a weak justification to cast Scarlett Johansson – a Caucasian – in the role of an Asian.
Johansson is ‘The Major’ – originally MotokoK usanagi, now Mira Killian (that, by itself, is a spoiler), who is a one-of-a-kind experiment that fuses a human brain into a cyborg’s body (her inventor is played by Juliette Binoche). Mira’s body is the property of a corporate robotics giant firm and works for Section 9. The unit is a specialised task-force that is run by an international cast Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han.
In the anime and the manga, there is an insightful conversation about who owns her soul – or what would happen to it after her body is rendered obsolete for the police force. The film eschews that angle, and pretty much any depth, and replaces them with fantastic visual effects and weakly defined villainy. •
Ghost in the Shell has seven screenwriters, a Hollywood-ized plot that rips-off the anime’s prominent scenes, and a weak justification to cast Scarlett Johansson – a Caucasian – in the role of an Asian