Saturday, September 15, 2018

Manmarziyaan - Movie Review

In the opening sequence, we see a whacky dude hopping over terraces in the narrow lanes of Amritsar. He is welcomed by a girl with a wild hug filled with passion. All the prying eyes and the girl’s sister be damned, these two passionate lovers care little about the world and do their ‘Man Marziyaan’! Director Anurag Kashyap and his writer Kanika Dhillon set the mood and theme of this messy, yet beautiful love triangle right here for their audience.

Sort of similar to the premise of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Manmarziyaan is a complicated love story of a bratty, live-wire, former hockey player, Rumi (Taapsee Pannu) who is madly in love with an eccentric, carefree, wannabe Yo-Yo Honey Singh, Vicky AKA DJ Sandz (Vicky Kaushal). Owing to family pressures, Rumi wants Vicky to marry her, but a non-committal and irresponsible Vicky isn’t too sure. This is where enters a subdued and sensible London-based banker, Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan). And then begins the chaotic journey of love and commitment, in the fast-paced times of Tinder and emotional discord. Kanika Dhillon, with her chaste Punjabi laden dialogues and crisp screenplay, creates a genuine canvas, where the characters seem real and draw your empathy and hatred, both in equal measure.

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Apart from the writing and dialogues, two of the major pillars of this movie are its beautiful cinematography by Sylvester Fonseca and the superb soundtrack by Amit Trivedi. The camera impeccably captures Amritsar, its narrow by-lanes and the characters navigating through it. It is such a welcome change to watch an Anurag Kashyap movie, without the usual gore and darkness. The music adds another dimension to the narrative and takes the story forward. All the songs have a distinct flavor and blend well with the narrative. Anurag Kashyap’s movies are always related with dark and rustic stories of the heartland. And his attempt to move from the gangster genre to romance seems to have worked! But, the movie is not without its negatives. The tempo and pace of the movie seem disjointed – the first half is wild and fast, while the second half is much somber and mellow – almost feeling like two different movies. Also, with 14 songs, the movie sometimes feels a bit stretched, though Kashyap has used less than a minute of some of the songs in the movie.

Manmarziyaan, apart from being strong in its technical aspects, also has terrific performances by its leads, especially Vicky Kaushal and Taapsee Pannu. The third wheel in the love story, Abhishek Bachchan, is the most likeable and endearing of all the three characters. His empathy towards his heart-broken wife and bonding with her over Patiala pegs, makes you instantly vibe with him. He is restrained, has no fake masculinity and uses his charming persona to make you overlook his inconsistent Punjabi accent. Also, we have seen Abhishek play such nuanced subtle characters well in the past as well, so this does not come as a surprise. The surprises here are Vicky Kaushal and Taapsee Pannu. From being a non-performer in her early days in regional movies like Mr. Perfect in Telugu, to delivering such a power-packed performance here, she has evolved and how! Playing the unapologetic, strong-willed Sikhni, she is wonderful. She beautifully conveys the confusion of a millennial torn between a non-committal lover and a pure-souled husband. You empathize with her and detest her in the same breath, but she leaves an impact. Leaving yet another impactful performance after Sanju is Vicky Kaushal. Is there anything this man cannot do? As the neon colored, wild and weird DJ Sandz, he gets the most scope in terms of displaying a variety of emotions and he delivers them with a bang! He is crazy, stupid, lovelorn and yet, emotionally pitiable. It’s only because of Vicky’s brilliant performance that the least likeable character of the three, becomes the most memorable one! The rest of the cast forming Rumi and Robbie’s family support the story well, sans the cliched melodrama.

In today’s times when the lines between love and lust are blurred, Manmarziyaan stays relevant to its theme. Love, in reality, is never simple. It is chaotic, confusing and complicated. Presenting such a complicated story is no easy job and so the inconsistencies can be overlooked. With Abhishek Bachchan 2.0, let us welcome Anurag Kashyap 2.0 as well!

My Rating – 3.5/5

Friday, September 14, 2018

U Turn - Movie Review

As I exited the underwhelming ‘Shailaja Reddy Alludu’, it occurred to me that like her husband, even Samantha Akkineni has stuck to mainstream entertainers (including this week’s release Seemaraja) and her filmography has very few exceptions. Director-writer Pawan Kumar’s bilingual thriller, U Turn is one such glorious exception. A remake of his own Kannada hit, U Turn is an edge-of-the-seat thriller, with measured pace and the right amounts of twists and turns, barring the slightly bumpy climax.

An interning journalist with ToI, Rachana (Samantha Akkineni), sets out to cover a story on the recurring accidents at a flyover in RK Puram in Hyderabad. She soon gets entangled in a web of seemingly interconnected events, which link her to the mysterious death of a bunch of people unrelated to her. Taking the help of her office crush, Aditya (Rahul Ravindran) and the tough cop, Nayak (Aadhi Pinisetty), Rachana solves the mystery and it is this unfolding of events that create an intriguing and engaging narrative.

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Initially, I found it hard to fathom why would a rookie journalist bother about people taking a wrong U Turn on a nondescript flyover. But the racy, fast-paced narrative makes you overlook it and absorbs you into the mystery surrounding these deaths. The camera work by Niketh Bommireddy is top-notch, and he uses rain, lightning and odd-shots of his actors to create a dark and consuming image. The director, Pawan needs to be applauded for not making the visuals gloomy and low-spirited – a convenient way chosen by most of the directors, who make thrillers. There are no songs dampening the tempo of the film, and the eerie background score by Poorna Chandra Tejaswi perfectly accentuates the thrills.

Playing a righteous cop fighting against a cliched boss, Aadhi brings an honesty to his character and is effective in his part. He is smart and acts pre-emptively, trying to be a step ahead of the antagonist in the game. Rahul Ravindran is easy on the eyes and gets a relatively smaller part but delivers whatever is expected of him. Bhumika Chawla, in a cameo, gets steely gazes and a long face complimenting her character well. But, as evident from its trailers, the movie rests comfortably on the shoulders of its protagonist, Samantha. Her character is layered well – we are told she is an independent woman, shooing her pestering mom away, resisting a ‘USA sambandham’ and referred as ‘Mogarayudu’ at office. These details help us connect to this petite rookie, who seems rather composed and confident, even when stuck in a chaotic police case. She chews on the author-backed role given to her and delivers beautifully. Thankfully, she never shrieks or cries out loud – another unwritten norm in female-centric thrillers. It is a great attempt in her career and she deserves to be applauded.

While I loved most part of it, I felt the climax was a bit of let-down (No more details since I do not give spoilers). I was not completely convinced with the final twist (though I had guessed it correctly!). I am told the writers have slightly altered the climax, from its Kannada original, which I have not seen. Having said that, U Turn is a crisp, sharp and well-directed movie, that deserves to be watched.

Over the years, we have mostly seen women in Telugu movies headline roles in thrillers. From the days of Charmee and Bhumika in Mantra and Anasuya, to the recent Anushka starrer, Bhagamathie, women have mostly been chosen as the protagonists in either horror or thriller genres. With mainstream actresses like Samantha taking a risk with U Turn and the multi-lingual Queen remakes, I am sure the change is just around the corner.

My Rating – 3.5/5

Shailaja Reddy Alludu - Movie Review

If you are someone brought up in the 1990s like me, you would remember growing up on Telugu potboilers involving a haughty mother-in-law and a macho son-in-law. From Chiranjeevi’s Attaki Yamudu Ammayi ki Mogudu to Nagarjuna’s Gharana Bullodu or Allari Alludu, these movies were massy, no-brainers, yet, extremely entertaining and celebrated the stardom of its leads. Writer-director Maruthi uses this tried and tested template, only with a weak script and an underwhelming Naga Chaitanya!

‘Ego’ seems to be the catch-phrase of the writer here and characters in the movie utter this word every 20 seconds! Chaitanya (Naga Chaitanya) is the son of a renowned industrialist (Murali Sharma), who is as known for his business achievements as he is for his boundless arrogance and ‘ego’. Chaitanya falls for a snooty and arrogant, Anu (Anu Emmanuel), who has her own little ‘ego’ battles with her overbearing mother, Shailaja Reddy (Ramya Krishna). The mother and daughter do not talk to each other and seem to be competing in their levels of arrogance. Predictably, the movie revolves around Chaitanya trying to resolve these silly and juvenile ‘ego’ issues, to get married to the girl he loves. If you think I have overused the word ‘ego’ here, compared to its occurence in this movie, I have barely even used the word! The laziness in the writing can also be seen in the names given to the lead characters – directly using the names of the lead actors.

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The weakest link here is the director-writer Maruthi himself. His insipid writing is further let-down by his weak direction. Mass entertainers do not usually rely on strong character arcs and I am completely fine with it, if the movie is able to convince me. Almost all the performances are one-tone and lack any depth. Ramya Krishna plays a Sivagami set in modern times, instead of Mahishmati. She uses her daunting eyes, aristocratic gait and a female ‘Godfather’ stature, making her performance captivating, even though it seems repetitive. Anu Emmanuel can barely act, and in most of the parts has a straight face (pretending to be arrogant) and occasionally breaks into a Monalisa-isque smile. The chemistry between the leads is very dull and even sensuous sequences seem icy cold between them! Among the rest of the cast, Vennela Kishore and Prudhvi Raj provide quite a few laughs and if you savor toilet humor, you are in for some good time.

But the most disappointing performance was of Naga Chaitanya. A movie like this relies majorly on its male lead, his flamboyance and his mass-appeal. Chaitanya lacks all of these. At the beginning, he appears to lack conviction and acting through the movie half-heartedly, where he does not have the charm and stardom that his father has. A movie like this requires a certain aura around its gutsy male lead, which is best seen in the likes of Jr NTR and Allu Arjun. I wish he takes a cue from the Nextgen, like Vijay Devarakonda and Nani, who seem to be choosing content-driven movies, over formulaic ones. At a time when his contemporaries are experimenting with content, it is disheartening to see Chaitanya pick such movies, probably burdened by the pressure to take the great Akkineni legacy forward.

With half a dozen forgettable songs and plot-twists at the drop of a hat, Shailaja Reddy Alludu is a disappointment! Watching our one-man-army fight against ‘ego’ for two and a half hours is not a pleasant experience. At one point, even Chaitanya asks, ‘Asalu mee lanti Talli-Kuturlu Bhoo Prapancham lo untara?’. Trust me, the audiences were asking the same!

My Rating: 1.5/5

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Stree - Movie Review

In the early 2000s, during my growing up years in Hyderabad, I remember seeing buildings in the quaint lanes of the old city being scribed with the words, ‘Oh Stree, Repu Raa’ (Oh woman, Come tomorrow). Basing their plot on this hilariously ridiculous incident, Raj and DK, who gave us India’s first Zombie comedy – Go Goa Gone, create an ill-woven yet entertaining story.

The movie is set in Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh, where every year during the ‘Chaar Raato ki Puja’, a notorious ghost is rumored to pick up men, leaving only their clothes behind. To keep this ghost, Stree, at bay, the folks in this small town adorn the walls of their homes with the words ‘Oh Stree Kal Aana’ (Oh Woman, Come tomorrow). A young ‘ladies tailor’, Vikky (played by Rajkummar Rao) meets a mysterious girl (played by Shraddha Kapoor) at the village fair and develops a liking towards her. Her steely gazes and unreal demeanor are overshadowed by her sensuous ‘Vikky, please’, which make Vikky be unsuspecting of her. But, when his friends Bittu (played by Aparshakti Khurana) and Jana (played by Abhishek Banerjee) get into the mess created by Stree, the movie takes a comical turn with Vikky turning into their savior.

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Raj & DK bestowed upon their assistant, Amar Kaushik, to make a horror comedy and he does not disappoint. As a director, he uses all the main actors to the best of their potential. The haunting and eerie background score by Ketan Sodha, sometimes gets a bit much, but provides the required chills and thrills. Complementing the scary background music is the brilliant comic timing of the all the actors, especially Rajkummar Rao, Aparshakti Khurana and Pankaj Tripathi. As the protagonist’s best friends, Aparshakti Khurana and Abhishek Banerjee, are not reduced to mere sidekicks, but get enough room to display their histrionics and they deliver well. Pankaj Tripathi, with his straight face, has great comic timing and leaves you in splits. Shraddha Kapoor is decent but looks underwhelming in the presence of much better actors. And it is Rajkummar Rao who shoulders this film and does a great job at it! From the rustic accent, to quirky clothes to his on-point expressions – this man is a delight to watch! One of my favorite moments is his encounter with Stree, where he throws a volley of expressions at you, leaving you in splits! The climax is where their histrionics reach its crescendo and make you overlook the over-drawn sequence.

While the direction and the performances work well for the film, it is the story that lets you down a bit. Understandably, horror comedy is a genre which requires the right places to blend comedy into a dark eerie narrative. For the lack of better Hindi movie examples, I can probably compare two Telugu horror comedies - Anando Brahma and Rajugari Gadhi. While the former worked better for me for its clever and witty writing, the latter fell flat for its forceful blending of comedy into the narrative. I think this is where Raj & DK succeeded by blending comedy and horror seamlessly well. But, in the bargain, they leave a lot of loose ends in the sub-plots, which appear as glaring loopholes that cannot be easily ignored. They are indeed lucky that the acting chops and comic-timing of their actors does not let the audiences notice the loopholes much. And yes, all said and done, it is an enjoyable watch!

In the midst of scaring and making the audiences laugh, the movie also sends out a subtle message against misogyny without being the central theme. Despite its flaws and stretched second-half, it does makes for an entertaining watch!

My Rating – 3/5

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Gold - Movie Review

In the beginning of director Reema Kagti’s sports biopic, Gold, a young assistant manager of the national Hockey team of British India (in 1936), Tapan Das (played by Akshay Kumar), meekly interrupts the team’s discussion about their strategy in the Olympics final. During the game against the mighty Germans, in the midst of a serious discussion about the game and the technique, Tapan stands on a chair in the dressing room, takes out a flag of the Indian Freedom movement and gives the winning advice, ’British nahi, Ab apna khel khelein?’. No technique or a game plan. Just some big, lofty and borderline jingoistic words. This pretty much explains the direction this Akshay Kumar starrer is about to take in the next 150 minutes.

Tapan Das, after helping the National team win Gold at the 1936 Olympics, aims to make newly independent India proud by grooming its young talent to win the 1948 Olympics. A majority of the large team of actors forming the ensemble play Hockey players of the newly formed Indian and Pakistani teams. Predictably, Tapan plays the force that single-handedly fights against all odd. He faces all sorts of challenges (not sure whether these were fiction or facts) – a bickering wife who wants him to work, politics within the Hockey federation, archaic bureaucratic laws and his own chronic drinking problems. When things outside seem to fall into place, infighting begins within the team and again, not the coach or the captain, but the manager becomes the savior.

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I was constantly reminded of another movie made about hockey, Chak De! India! While both the movies in a nutshell have a similar template – region-based divide in the team, an arrogant player, a star player and a coach/manager trying his best to bring home some laurels. In addition to these, Gold has a self-indulgent and overbearing manager at the center of the game – Tapan Das, played by Akshay Kumar. The movie revolves around Akshay’s character, thereby reducing the depth and intensity of the other characters. Be it Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De or Aamir Khan in Dangal, in spite of being the central character, they never let the sportspersons in their respective movies be overshadowed. There is a nuanced restrain that both their characters show, to prevent becoming over-prominent. This is where Akshay Kumar, with his inconsistent Bengali accent, grabs more limelight than his character should have. The character, undeniably, is well intended. But making him the lone man fighting every crisis – from logistics to game strategy – puts him on a pedestal, reducing the importance of others. In Chak De, Shah Rukh Khan shines in his speeches like ‘Sattar minute…’, while here we have Akshay Kumar getting drunk and dancing mindlessly in not one, but three songs! Well, commercial reasons I suppose!

To only be critical of the movie is unfair, since the movie also has certain aspects going well for it. Reema Kagti, who has in the past worked with big stars (Aamir in Talaash) and big ensembles (Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd), uses her skills of projecting every character beautifully within the character’s space. She is supported by the cinematography by Álvaro Gutiérrez, who gives some well shot and breath-taking scenes during the matches. It is interesting to note that the final match in the movie has been altered, to add more twists and melodrama. While the actual match in 1948 was won by India quite easily, the movie choses to make it a dramatic turn of event. But I am not complaining, the adrenalin rush in the climax was fun! The music and background score by Sachin-Jigar help maintain the momentum of a sports movie, especially during the nail-biting matches in the climax. I must admit, some of the songs, even though catchy, were completely unnecessary.

Amit Sadh, as the arrogant hockey player from a royal family, gets the best written role among the supporting cast, since the rest are pretty one dimensional. Sunny Kaushal as Punjabi player Himmat Singh gets lesser screen space but has a captivating presence and much like his elder brother, delivers a powerful performance. Kunal Kapoor as former captain Samrat and Vineet Kumar Singh as Imtiaz Shah are just about decent. TV actresses Nikita Dutta and Mouni Roy make their big screen debut but get only small parts to play. Mouni Roy, gets over-the-top in emotional or melodramatic scenes. I had to cover my ears, unable to bear her annoying screeching during emotional scenes.

But, the movie rests on the mighty shoulders of Akshay Kumar, the star. The star versus the actor debate has been raging for years now, where the stars (the likes of Khans and Kumars) claim that the audiences cannot accept them in roles which are not larger than life. I beg to differ. Audiences can accept a movie, If it requires the actor to take precedence over the star. Aamir Khan in Dangal and Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De! India are fine examples of a star losing his vanity and self-indulgence, to give the movie prominence over himself. Wish Akshay Kumar had done the same.

My Rating – 2.5/5