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Cinema Scope

Allen minus the madness

9th Sep 2012

To Rome With Love

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Roberto Benigni, Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg and others

A bevy of stars playing small roles, check. Woody Allen playing a neurotic character, check. Happy couples thwarted by temptation, check. Unhappy man whose passions are stirred, check. Man with a bizarre case of conditional talent, check. Yes, it's one of those fun movies Woody Allen makes between his truly great movies.

Now, Woody Allen is either the awesome guy who regularly messes with our heads, or the weird guy who married his almost-stepdaughter. But, whatever he is, his one-liners make us laugh. (Try, "I was never a Communist. I could never share a bathroom.") And his films make us think, even when they probably don't intend to.

Arguably the most famous New Yorker in Hollywood, Allen has set a lot of his recent output in Europe. Here, he never lets us forget that this is Italy. It appears everyone in Rome constantly plays, sings, or thinks Volare. But there's a certain magic to Allen's direction that makes us feel we could be in all these places, walking with all these people.

To Rome with Love has a surreal feel to it. It may be the quirky characters, and their strange persuasions. Or the fact that the crazy things they do seem only natural. Or maybe it's the way Alec Baldwin seems to materialise out of thin air to give advice to a man torn between his girlfriend and his lust. Whether he's the sententious voice of society, or personification of avuncular concern, is left to us to contemplate, if we're in the mood to.

We trace four stories, which share a tenuous link, occurring in the same city – Rome – and dealing with aspects of the same ideal – love. My favourite is the one involving Allen himself, as a retired opera director who chances upon a great find in the bathroom, when all he wants to do is meet his future son-in-law and leave.

The whims of the paparazzi, and what they can drive one to do, have been the premise of several films, including Matteo Garrone's Reality. Here, Roberto Benigni plays Leopoldo, an ordinary man who catches just a glimpse of life under the flashbulbs. Would you trade your privacy for fame? And when you've been famous, can you ever be comfortable with anonymity?

The two other stories dwell on appearance and fortune. What happens when a simple country girl meets an actor she has fantasised about? Can a colourless woman morph into a seductress? The perfect casting and the Woody Allen template channel our concurrence towards the characters' decisions.

The Verdict: Breezy and offbeat, the film is likeable even when it brazenly demands our indulgence.

Return of the Ramsay Era

Raaz 3

Director: Vikram Bhatt

Starring: Bipasha Basu, Emraan Hashmi, Esha Gupta

Remember the wash basins from which creepy-crawlies would emerge? The showers that spewed blood on a heroine, bewilderingly bathing in her swimsuit? The monsters with molten wax-like faces who would have their way with a screaming virgin? The tantric chants? The cracked, burnt hands that would wind their way around sundry necks? The fiery hero who would take on the dark forces, usually to his own or his lover's detriment? Well, throw in Daddy issues and freaky clowns, and you've got Raaz 3.

Apparently, the film is titled 'The Third Dimension'. And apparently, the movie starred Esha Gupta and not Sunny Leone. I just can't tell the difference between those two, though I've seen them in various Bhatt productions. I think it has to do with the fact that they both constantly pant, irrespective of what's happening on screen.

The story? Well, Shanaya Shekhar (Bipasha Basu) is a megalomaniac has-been actress who switches allegiance from the Gayatri Mantra to Kabristani tantra faster than you can say, "And the award goes to..." Emraan Hashmi reprises his perennial role as movie-director-turned-serial-kisser. His name here, if you must know, is Aditya Arora. Sanjana Krishna (Esha Gupta) is a newcomer whose inability to act is less stupefying than her ability to win awards. Whaddya know, they're linked by a sad back story. As if this weren't a good enough recipe for a mess, there's a shrink who looks like a bouncer, a langda godman-of-sorts, and an aatma who has worms pouring out of crevices they burrow into.

Let's move on now to how stupid each of these characters is. Shanaya believes the best way to kill an actress' career is to make her dance nanga on a table at a party. Sanjana believes love will lead her out of a nightmarish existence where people hang themselves and get beheaded in her presence. Aditya believes he can get laid in secret, when the women he's laying are famous actresses.

The story is facilitated by a woman who takes pictures of her daughter cowering, as a clown who appears to be a sexual predator corners the girl. Its twists are facilitated by a woman whose math is so poor she assumes Room 3 will adjoin Room 7. Dude, don't you know paint has a way of dripping down sinisterly to turn '8's into '3's in horror movies?! And you call yourself an actress?!

The Verdict: The most logical scene in this film has Emraan Hashmi's character reading Open magazine while waiting for a ghost.

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