Saturday, December 8, 2018

Kedarnath - Movie Review


This week’s release, Kedarnath, brings an interesting collaboration between two contrasting film personalities – director Abhishek Kapoor and writer Kanika Dhillon. I say contrasting because if you have followed Kanika Dhillon’s work, she gives a distinct voice to the female protagonist and requires abled filmmakers to bring that out beautifully. Abhishek Kapoor, though extremely ambitious in his scale and execution, slightly falters in building his characters emotionally. And both these traits are visible in Sara Ali Khan and Sushant Singh Rajput starrer, Kedarnath. Unfortunately, it is not a great blend.

The story was predictable from the trailer itself – an inter-faith love story set against the backdrop of the devastating Uttarakhand floods of 2013. Mandakini ‘Mukku’ (Sara Ali Khan) is a feisty, confident and a frank girl, born to a Pandit’s family in Kedarnath. Belonging to a well-to-do family that runs lodges in Kedarnath, she is an outlier. She cusses, picks up petty fights, has a sharp tongue that does not even spare her opportunistic father and openly woos the guy she likes. As one would expect, she falls for a Muslim Pitthoo (the ones who carry pilgrims on their back), Mansoor Khan (Sushant Singh Rajput). The love blooms in the backdrop of a picturesque Kedarnath, till the deluge hits them and wipes the city off.

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As I mentioned, the story has a distinctive Kanika Dhillon stamp. Her stories always revolve around the female protagonists and includes a third wheel. Third wheels like Simran (Sonal Chauhan) in Size Zero, Vicky (Vikky Kaushal) in Manmarziyaan have had strong roles in her stories. Interestingly, while we do have a romantic antagonist in Kedarnath, I felt Brinda (Pooja Gor), who plays Mukku’s elder sister was the third wheel in this case. The writer deserves another brownie point for creating a sub-track on the friction between the two sisters, which adds to the main love story. Also, like Sweety (Anushka Shetty) in Size Zero and Rumi (Taapsee Pannu) in Manmarziyaan, Mukku is a girl who lives on her own terms. It was refreshing to see a female lead eyeing the male protagonist and wooing him. It could have looked awkward, given the rural setting, but the dialogues (also by Kanika Dhillon) give us some endearing moments. The progression of their love story, while taking Pitthoo rides from Kedarnath to Rambada have been developed well. Making her debut, after repeated delays, Sara Ali Khan appears confident and makes a promising start. Dressed in best of the clothes, which seem out of place given where the movie is set, Sara looks comfortable in the character and delivers a variety of emotions, though she needs to work on her romantic lines. It is a well written role for an actor to make her debut with.

Complementing her well, Sushant Singh Rajput, delivers a strong performance. His shy demeanor and hushed smiles in reply to a flirting Mukku, are a delight to watch. There are a few sequences where the religion of Mansoor and their communal difference are touched upon, but these never come out convincingly. Director Abhishek Kapoor’s 2013-hit, Kai Po Che, set against a communally fragile Gujarat riots had a better weaving of the story of three friends in a communally disturbed environment. Here, it seems rather forced because during the development of the love track between Mukku and Mansoor, their different faiths never really comes out. Again, this is the fallacy of Abhishek Kapoor, where he assumes the audiences are emotionally connected and hence keeps certain things unsaid. And this is how the movie starts to crumble in the second half, where suddenly a love story is meddled with religion at first and then an overdrawn sequence of the Kedarnath floods. The tonality of the movie changed completely in the last 10 minutes, when it seemed more like a documentary on Kedarnath floods and not a love story that it began as. Not to mention, the graphics and VFX used for creating the flood scenes looked very mediocre. Giving credit where it is due, the music by Amit Trivedi and Cinematography by Tushar Ray are beautiful and bring Kedarnath alive. I almost packed by bags to visit this picturesque place!

Kedarnath had way too much cramped in a run time of 2 hours– a beautiful love story, inter-religion troubles, the rampant urbanization and the devastating deluge! If not for the strong performances by the leads, despite the deluge in the end, the movie may leave you high and dry.

My Rating – 3/5 (0.5 just for Sara and Sushant)

Saturday, December 1, 2018

2.0 - Movie Review


Sci-Fi is a much-loved genre, though seldom experimented by Indian filmmakers. Director Shankar, with a penchant for making technologically advanced movies, takes his ode to the Robotic world in 2010 blockbuster, Enthiran, to the next level. This is not Sci-Fi. This is Tech-Fantasy. 2.0, starring Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar and Amy Jackson, is a visual extravagance with a larger-than-life canvas and spellbinding VFX. It also gives us a strong rival for Krish, the only other desi superhero, in the form of Chitti 2.0. But, can the VFX and the heavy-lifting action sequences alone lift the movie? I certainly do not think so!

The movie begins with a mysterious phenomenon where cellphones disappear into thin air. Whether it is an extra-terrestrial interference, a miracle, some sort of witchcraft or plain robbery – nobody seems to have a clue. Enter Dr. Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth), with his bot-assistant Nila (Amy Jackson), who use holographic maps, high-end gadgets and gizmos to track the supernatural force, created by a bird-lover Ornithologist (go google what it means), Pakshi Rajan (Akshay Kumar).The rest of the movie, as evident from its trailer, is about Vaseegaran using his brainchild, Chitti 2.0 to fight the evil forces to save the mankind!

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While the motive behind the antagonist in this case is not evil – he tries to save birds from the harmful cellular radiations. But, it does not come out as convincing as it should have. It is a fact that such big-budget magnum opuses do not warrant a review, since they are solely meant for entertainment and not to look for logics. But, in Enthiran, the logic is weaved in such a way that the audience connects with it – it is a first attempt at making a Robot, which goes rogue. This is where 2.0 feels disconnected. The story takes quite a while to reach the explanation, but by then, the audience is no longer invested in the story. Also, at the basic level, this is a typical supernatural movie story. Replace ghost with a technology-driven ‘Aura’ (as they like to call it) and replace witchcraft with ‘Photon Synthesizer Neutralizer’. I am not tech savvy, but I must admit some of the gadgets looked like cheap toys and reminded me of the primitive ‘Time-Machine’ from Singeetam Srinivas’s 1993 superhit, Aditya 369. Not to mention the climax can remind one of Transformers and Antman.

Giving credit where it is due, the makers leave no stone unturned in making this a visual treat. The opulence aside, the brilliant cinematography by Nirav Shah perfectly adds to the grandeur. The wide-angle shots, the action scenes in the climax and even an unimportant scene of the approaching ‘Mobile-menace’ shown in a dog’s eyes – the camerawork is brilliant! While the effects looked sloppy in the trailer, the VFX was top-notch in the movie and was on par with some of the biggest Hollywood superhero films. I also enjoyed Rajini as Chitti 2.0 and Kutti, during the climax. He was fun and added quirk to the fight sequences. Akshay Kumar as Pakshi Rajan is decent and looks menacing as the ‘Mobile Man’ villain. Amy Jackson, with the perfect excuse of being a Robot, manages to sail through the movie with a single expression. Honestly, she did have a rather meaty role, making me wonder wasn’t she highlighted during the promotions or on the posters.

Touted to be the most expensive film ever made in India, the efforts given to the technical details in 2.0 are clearly visible. While it truly is a film to be proud of, for its technical brilliance, I wish it had some substance as well. Because no matter how good it was visually, I left the theatre not completely satiated. Dot.

My Rating – 2.5/5

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Taxiwala - Movie Review


Horror comedies seem to be the flavor of the season. After the recent stupendous success of ‘Stree’ in Hindi, director Rahul Sankrityan brings us a Telugu comedy thriller, Taxiwala, starring Vijay Devarakonda in the lead. Just to jog your minds a bit, this genre has largely been successful in the Telugu Film Industry, though the movies have been rather sporadic. Most recently, notable movies in this genre were the Rajugari Gadhi series and Anando Brahma. Taxiwala, with a supernatural plot, falls in the same category, yet, is different in some ways.

Shiva (played by Vijay Devarakonda) moves to his uncle’s (played by Madhunandan) garage in Hyderabad, to earn a living. After dabbling at odd jobs, he buys an old Contessa car to turn into an Ola driver. Dressed in leather jackets and ganjees that flaunt his toned body, Shiva starts earning while also making a pretty doctor, Anu (played by Priyanka Jawalkar) fall for him. His life with his uncle and his English movie fanatic help, Hollywood (played by Vishnu) is turned upside down, when he experiences paranormal occurrences in his car. This leads to series of thrills, chills and a whole lot of laughter!

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While I began discussing Taxiwala in the same light as Anando Brahma and Rajugari Gadhi, it is similar in genre yet different in treatment. The movie has a very real, plain and quirky treatment of camera (by Sujith Sarang) and sound – reminiscent of one of the first Telugu movies in this genre, the 2005 sleeper-hit, Anukokunda Oka Roju. Like Anukokunda Oka Roju, there are no cheap thrills or jarring background scores. Most of the thrills and laughs are induced organically, using the camera angles, lights and the performances. The movie is filled with little moments of laughter – band-aids on all their fingers for a hilariously stupid occult experiment, Shiva’s na├»ve ‘thanks’ to the ‘ghost’ in his car for steering it while he fell asleep or Hollywood (the boy who works for them) fidgeting with a bottle in the middle of a serious scene in the Hospital. It is such moments that bring this movie alive.  

The movie also reminded me of the 2004 Hindi-disaster, Tarzan: the wonder car, where a car turns rogue with Ajay Devgan’s spirit trapped in it and seeks revenge. While the premise and the treatment are interesting, it is the execution where the movie slightly falters. The writing by Rahul Sankrityan takes time to set the base and the ride is pretty much fun after that. Well, almost. Until, there is a slight slump in the narrative in the second half, where the explanation of the paranormal activity takes centerstage. Even though it has a crisp run-time of a little over two hours, the second half seems a bit of drag, especially towards the climax, sprinkled generously with trademark Telugu masala.

Having said that, the movie is still an enjoyable ride thanks to the witty dialogues and superb performances. Vijay Devarakonda has already proven his mettle and he does not disappoint here either. While his swag, rugged look and clothes off a runway model seem a bit contrived for a cabbie, he uses his charm and wit to make the viewers overlook it. Another contrived sub-plot happens to be his love story with a doctor, which also seems highly unlikely in real life. Since this love plot is cleverly shown very little, it does not take away from the main premise. Vijay’s comic timing and acting chops are further elevated by his Babai, played by Madhunandan and Hollywood, played by Vishnu. These are not mere sidekicks, but very well woven into the plot. The camaraderie between the three is fun to watch. One of the funniest moments is the sequence where the three stealthily break into someone’s home. Like Laya in Amar Akbar Anthony, another actress makes a comeback this week – Kalyani. Along with another yesteryear actress, Yamuna, Kalyani gets an extended cameo and delivers whatever is expected of her. Malavika Nair is decent in her small part in the second half, when the supernatural part is explained.

While there are a few irregularities and hiccups in the second half, the movie manages to keep you entertained with its thrills and humor. If nothing else, Vijay Devarakonda’s rugged charm is enough to stay invested till the end.

My Rating – 3/5

Amar Akbar Anthony - Movie Review


Director Srinu Vaitla’s latest release, Amar Akbar Anthony, is an opportunity completely wasted. He uses his tried and tested template – a hero running the show, surrounded by a bunch of comedians and fighting against a gang of shrewd villains. Despite using all his formulaic tropes, the film is an incohesive drag, that tries every trick in the trade, yet, falls short of hitting the mark.

Amar Akbar Anthony (played by Ravi Teja), much like their Hindi namesakes, are three characters from three major religions. Amar, a Hindu, is the son of a pharmaceutical baron, who is destined to marry the daughter of his father’s business partner, Aishwarya (played by Ileana). The love birds are separated in their childhood by the four suave looking antagonists, who take over his father’s business. Akbar, a Muslim, speaks Urdu-laden Telugu, and is a Robinhood in New York – cheating the cheaters. Anthony, a Christian and thankfully the last one of these wretched characters, is a congenial and smiling psychiatrist. Just like any other Srinu Vaitla movie, the protagonists go against the treacherous antagonists, while being surrounded by a bunch of comedians, headlined by Sunil and Vennela Kishore.

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The problem begins in the first 20 minutes itself, when the narrative feels like two different movies. The comedy track at ‘Whole Andhra and Telangana Association (WATA)’ seems completely unrelated to the parallel track involving the conniving villains, all of who look way better than Ravi Teja in their salt-and-pepper looks. Ignoring the logics (or the lack of it), Srinu Vaitla’s movies have always been madcap comedies, which keep the audiences entertained throughout. This is where Amar Akbar Anthony fails miserably. While the comedy does evoke a few laughs, it remains underwhelming in comparison to his previous works in Ready, Dookudu, Dhee or King (actually, any movie before Aagadu)! Also, the insipid dialogues feel nauseating. Sample this – one of the antagonists says, “Not to expect badness from bad people is madness”, which is quickly translated into Telugu by his partner in crime, “Chaddavadi degara chaddatanam expect cheyakapovadam pichhitanam’! It’s almost 2019 and its high time we are spared of such nonsensical dialogues.

One of my major contentions was Ravi Teja’s mysterious demeanor and performance. For the longest time in the beginning, he makes you wonder if he is playing a blind character again, after Raja- The Great. He stares into oblivion, keeps a straight face for most part of his performance and surprisingly, barely does he emote! (If this frozen face and staring gaze is due to a medical condition in his real life, my apologies!) Even his impeccable comic timing, which is usually on point, is faltering in this movie. He comes across as an uncomfortable hero amid a chaotic narrative. Ileana, making her comeback to Telugu movies, looks healthier than before and has dubbed for herself for the first time. This is all one can say about her, because that is all that she brings to the table. I wish we saw the sparks that were there between the two in Kick, but even that ends in a disappointment here.

Giving credit where its due, the cinematography and the casting of actors for comic relief were pretty good. Venkat C Dileep captures New York in all its glory and makes the frames comes alive. The supporting cast, especially Vennela Kishore as the comedian and Abhimanyu Singh as the conniving cop, are quite good. There are moments of hilarity, especially the sequences involving a religious leader, Junior Paul. Sunil, who appears pretty late in the movie, misses his charm but manages to be decent. It was surprising to see Laya in a movie after a long time, and equally shocking to see her get a completely inconsequential and small part. Again, another opportunity wasted.  

We have seen psychological angles being used in movies like Aparichitudu and Chandramukhi, but it feels like a quick fix in this movie, without adding much to the plot or the narrative. Srinu Vaitla seems to be stuck in the early 2000s, and he needs to evolve with the changing audiences. If he doesn’t, he is not going to find many takers again.

My Rating – 1.5/5

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Thoughts on 'Nathicharami'

Topics such as women embracing their sensuality and talking about their physical needs are considered too bold for mainstream cinema in India. Largely, such issues are not touched often or made with the central theme in a movie because a lot of questions arise. Is a woman who is aware of her sensual needs immoral? Is it only the vamps in the movies that are lecherous and lusty? Does the society draft a moral code of conduct for women and their physical needs? As a character says in the movie, can women from ‘good families’ not satiate their desires without being judged? National Award Winner S Manjunath AKA Mansore’s latest Kannada drama, Nathicharami, propels its audiences to question the moral compass that the society has set for its women. (Spoilers ahead)

A young widow, Gowri Mahesh (played by Sruthi Hariharan), seeks psychiatric help to deal with her lonely life, three years after her beloved husband’s death in an accident. Her life coach/psychiatrist (played by Balaji Manohar), modelled around Shah Rukh Khan’s character from ‘Dear Zindagi’, casually asks her about her sex life after her husband’s demise. She answers that she is loyal to her husband and will remain so. As the camera pans to a dog, a symbol of loyalty, her psychiatrist tells her that carnal desires are as normal as hunger. It is just a bodily need. But in a society, such as ours, can it be called just a need? The audiences are as conflicted as the brilliant Sruthi Hariharan is on-screen. As she puts it in her own words, her heart still belongs to her late husband for whom she brings in flowers every day, while her body desires love. In the times of Tinder and speed-dating, she tries to have a no-strings attached relationship, but, fails. For a woman who cannot stand a temporary fix to a leaking tap, a temporary satiation of her desires will not work either. This brings her back to her conflict – is she being immoral by thinking of becoming emotionally infidel to her husband? Through the stunning shots that linger on her without any dialogues, Sruthi conveys her angst, confusion and pain superbly.

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While there are no dearth of predators and people showing unsolicited interest, she stays away from all of them. One of the best scenes in the movie is when she calls out a colleague for behaving inappropriately at workplace. She sets the tone straight – she may be longing for a companion, but, she is not looking for a quick fix. Among all the prying eyes, she finds a friend in a civil engineer she bumps into during her morning walks, Suresh (played by Sanchari Vijay). Suresh, stuck in an unhappy marriage, dislikes his wife since she is from a small town. Suresh acts as a reflection of the society, that detests a woman voicing her urges, but the rules do not apply to the men who seek to douse the same urges from their wives. As a society, we have been conditioned to see women in a certain way, that Suresh’s judgement of Gowri’s morality seems legitimate. One also tends to question her motive behind being involved with a married man, by keeping his wife in the dark. Does this make her evil and a home-wrecker? The name of the movie seems to answer this - Dharmecha Arthecha Kamecha Naathicharami. It is a Hindu wedding vow where the couple promise to stand by their partner in Dharma, Artha and Kama. She keeps her vow to her late husband by staying emotionally loyal to him. Suresh keeps his vows by sobbing in his wife’s arms, conveying his acceptance of his mistakes.

It is a slow, simmering and unsettling movie, because of its uncomfortable topic. It is very difficult to channel agony with ecstasy and Sruthi Hariharan delivers this in a spectacular performance. Her remorseful eyes and pale face convey her anguish louder than the happiness her vibrant clothes show. She succeeds in drawing the audiences towards her emotional turmoil, despite being a character that is very difficult to like, based on our morals and conditioning. Supporting her as a man cheating on his wife, albeit guilt-laden, Sanchari Vijay is effective being the man who has less control on his libido but sets boundaries for women. It is a poignant and painful movie, with a lot of things left unsaid yet beautifully conveyed.

The captivating final shots of Gowri getting rid of her husband’s ash trays and cushions make us wonder if she has decided to move on? Only to be proven wrong, when in the next scene, she walks into her balcony, settles in a chair and lovingly moving her hand over the empty chair next to her. She has kept her promise – Nathicharami!