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!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Rajma Chawal - Movie Review

Delhi, like much of India, has a dichotomous existence. The glass facades and grandeur of New Delhi contrast the congested and modest by-lanes of Purani Dilli. Director Leena Yadav’s Netflix Original, ‘Rajma Chawal’ uses this distinction between Old and New Delhi to set its characters but misses the mark in execution. It is a recipe that had the potential to be the audience’s comfort food but ends up leaving them with a grumbling stomach.

A New Delhi bred musician, Kabir (played by Anirudh Tanwar), along with his father (played by Rishi Kapoor) moves into their old ancestral home in Chandni Chowk. Due to the untimely death of his mother and a remorse-filled gap between the two, Kabir is shown not to be on very good terms with his father. Despite being surrounded by a dozen odd over-friendly relatives and neighbors, Kabir feels disconnected to Chandni Chowk. The son feels his father insulted his mother’s melodious singing by falling asleep when she sang, while the father explains that the music had a calming and relaxing effect on him. The father gorges on the famous parathas of Purani Dilli and Nukkad ki chai, while the son can’t seem to stand these. Father relishes Rajma-Chawal with his hands, while his son asks for a spoon with almost a feeling of contempt. The differences are starkly evident between the two. In a bid to connect with his son, a technologically challenged man joins Facebook and begins chatting with him under a fake alias. Amid grappling with his mother’s death and struggling with his music, he meets Tara (played by Amyra Dastur), a gold-digger and a hairstylist with a funky hairstyle. As one can predict, she acts as the catalyst that brings together the estranged father-son.

The plot sounds interesting and has some good moments as well, which are few and far apart. The biggest problem in the movie is its unconvincing writing by Vivek Anchalia and Leena Yadav. The plot twists seem to happen rather unnaturally – a band is formed over night after a chance meeting of Kabir with random strangers. Though there are subtle hints of various subplots such as Tara’s past and Kabir’s mother’s death, but the pieces do not fall into place seamlessly. It begins to look like a forcefully made jigsaw puzzle, with subplots being the pieces that are forcefully joined to solve the puzzle. Even the actors do not seem completely convinced of the story, which is evident in their superficial acting, only on the surface of it. Rishi Kapoor plays his part decently well, but his character remains on the surface without much explanation. Debutante Anirudh Tanwar is decent, though his range of emotions seem limited. He appears to be a pro at displaying anger but fumbles at emoting other emotions. Amyra Dastur adds some spunk and is easy on the eyes but gets a caricature to play. She plays a stereotypical loud-mouthed girl with weird tattoos and an odd hairstyle, just to prove a point that she has suffered in life and has now become an independent woman. Among the other cast, Aparshakti Khurana and Sheeba Chaddha are good in their small parts and add to the comic relief.

What could have easily been a feel-good movie, is unnecessarily marred by a lot of plot twists in the second half. The first half, even with contrived twists, is enjoyable. It is in the second half, when the movie loses its charm and begins to become monotonous and repetitive. Also, a movie where the lead is a musician deserves much better music. Composer Hitesh Sonik uses similar tunes with different lyrics by Irshad Kamil, with none of the tracks being memorable. Even his wife Sunidhi Chauhan has sung a passable number.

While I watched the movie at Mumbai Film Festival in a theatre, it will have a worldwide release on Netflix. Going by the content, this movie makes for a decent watch on Netflix, if there are no other better options. So, catch it if you have nothing better to watch.

My Rating – 2/5

Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota - Movie Review

As kids, all of us have always been fascinated by superheroes in video games and cartoons. From Popeye to Super Mario, these fun characters stayed with us much before Marvel and DC came into our lives. These characters seem to have caught the fancy of writer-director Vasan Bala, who has created a quirky, fun comedy, ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’, basing the premise on childhood superheroes, a rare disease and karate!

Dark humor seems to be finally making its way into India, with Andhadhun last month and this whacky tale now. In what is being called as India’s take on Deadpool, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is a smaller version of a boy stuck with his childhood fantasy of being a vigilante against chain snatchers. Usually, dark comedies work majorly for their quotient of oddity, spunky dialogues and great characters weaved seamlessly into a tight script. Vasan Bala has got all the three perfectly on point, barring a slight drop in the tempo of the screenwriting in the second half. There is a boy (played by Abhimanyu Dassani) with a rare congenital insensitivity to pain, who quite literally, cannot feel any pain! He is the mard jisse dard nahi hota. Then, there his childhood friend and partner-in-crime (played by Radhika Madan), who leads a dual life of Lara Croft outside her home and a submissive girl caged under patriarchy. We also have an endearing yet weird grandfather (Ajoba played by Mahesh Majrekar), who instead of protecting his grandson from harm, teaches him the meaning of ‘pain’, leading to this chaos! Then we have a limping Karate Man (played by Gulshan Devaiah) that the leads look up to, for he can fight 100 men, but crumbles against his bullying and jealous twin-brother. It is these characters and their intertwined lives, that keep you invested, even when the movie slightly falters.

The montage scenes in the beginning are fun – you see a panicking father, an over-enthusiastic grandfather and a naughty child with an odd disorder. It’s endearing to see them teach him what pain means – he learns to say ‘Ouch’ when he is hurt! The boy is raised away from bullies, prying eyes and home-schooled, which leads him to be stuck with the ‘Karate Man’ movie he repeatedly watches on a Video Cassette all through his growing up years. The scenes where a worried Ajoba tries to talk to him about his growth into a man, and he conveniently dodges it, getting back to his fascination with martial arts. But the witty lines and off-beat characters seem lost in the second half, before the climax and that is the problem with the movie. Nonetheless, it picks up steam in the final moments and ends on a high.

Before I talk of the performances, a mention of the praise-worthy cinematography by Jay Patel for creating beautiful frames, slow-motion shots and montages in the first half. The hues of yellows and greys adds to the darkness of this dark comedy genre. Mahesh Majrekar as Ajoba has the wittiest lines and such a warm screen presence, despite not being the central character. Debutante Abhimanyu Dassani is good, though his childlike character has only a limited range of emotions which he displays, and it would be interesting to see how he follows it up in his next movies. Radhika Madan, thankfully makes a transition from the irrational television shows, and delivers a strong performance after a memorable debut in Patakha. It was fun to watch a female lead kick some asses and break those bones! But it is Gulshan Devaiah, who gets the most captivating and entertaining roles as the twin Shetty brothers. From the S P Balasubramnium style parody song to the mention of Matunga Tamilians and references to Rajini vs Kamal – these characters are colorful and Gulshan Devaiah delivers perfectly in both these contrasting roles.

It may not be as twisted and edge-of-the-seat as Andhadhun but is definitely a fun watch. I was lucky enough to catch it before its theatrical release at the Mumbai Film Festival. But make sure you catch it as soon as it is out in the theatres.

My Rating – 3.5/5 (0.5 here is for the sheer wackiness and oddity)