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!

Image result for taxiwala

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 naïve ‘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.

Image result for amar akbar anthony

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.

Image result for Nathicharami movie poster

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)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Hello Guru Prema Kosame - Movie Review

One of Tollywood’s favorite genres in the last two decades has been breezy romances with a common template, which has a chocolate boy falling for a modestly dressed college girl, surrounded by other characters who add the drama and create the plot. Director Trinadha Rao’s ‘Hello Guru Premakosame’ is yet another movie on the same lines, with barely anything new, yet, managing to keep the audiences entertained.

Image result for hello guru prema kosame wiki

At the outset, it is projected as a regular love story and the makers keep the treatment authentic. Sanju (played by Ram Pothineni) is an engineer who moves to Hyderabad for work. He is put up at her mother’s childhood friend (played by Prakash Raj), a wise and helpful man. Expectedly, Sanju falls for his daughter, Anupama (played by Anupama Parmeshwaran), after having a fling with a colleague, Tripti (played by Pranitha Subhash). The movie takes a predictable turn from here and the monotony is broken occasionally by the witty one-liners and the amazing equation between Ram and Prakash Raj. Also, I do not understand why do Telugu writers fancy the clichéd structure of dialogues, involving a mere play of words? Just like the over-bearing dialogues of Arvinda Sameta, the writers here throw dialogues like, “Oka ammayyi no chepte edichevadini lover antaru. Ala edichevaditoh mandu taagi vadine friend antaru”. Though they were not overbearing, it is time we switch to real and conversant language, laced with humor.

Prakash Raj plays a charming and endearing father to Anupama and a confidante to Sanju. He gets to display his comic timing and his scenes with Ram, acting as his ‘friend’, are a delight to watch. The makers included a song, ‘Oi Friendu’, to cash-in on their camaraderie. Anupama Parameshwaran, playing his daughter, keeps a weirdly stoic demeanor and gives dreamy glances in most of her scenes, apart from looking extremely pretty. I wish her character was written better because her conflicts and change of heart do not come out well. Playing her other half in their love story, Ram gets the centerstage and carries the movie on his shoulders. He is charming, looks great and has a suave attitude. His comedy in the first half, especially the ones referring to engineering colleges and software programming, is top-notch and remains in the same form throughout. Despite his love story with Anupama not coming out convincingly, one does not complain much since his antics keep you entertained. The romantic track with Tollywood’s favorite second fiddle, Pranitha Subhash, should have had a better closure. It seemed insensitive and abrupt, something that contradicts the character of Sanju. The rest of the supporting actors were good in their parts, mostly adding to the comic relief.

Looking for great film-making craft and a tightly woven story in a mainstream romantic comedy would not be wise. But thankfully, Hello Guru Prema Kosame, remains majorly real and entertaining. The wafer-thin plot, usual love story and the predictive narrative are balanced by endearing performances, especially by Ram and Prakash Raj. Watch it for fun, without expecting much!

My Rating – 2.5/5

Friday, October 19, 2018

Namaste England - Movie Review

Director Vipul Shah’s second offering in the ‘Namaste’ franchise, ‘Namaste England’, is a baffling example of reputed names coming together to create an extremely insipid and nauseating fare. Writer Ritesh Shah, who has written movies like Pink, Chef and Raid, has co-written this incoherent and disjoined story of Punjab flying to London. Casting director Honey Trehan, whose previous work boasts of casting strong ensembles in movies like Kaminey, Fukrey and Talvar, casts the most disinterested bunch of actors who make Arjun Kapoor’s performance seem Oscar worthy! Even director Vipul Shah’s passable filmography highlights his not so great skills, but some of his previous movies were bearable thanks to its leading cast. Sadly, even they let him down here.

An ambitious Punjabi girl, Jasmeet (played by Parineeti Chopra), aspires to be a jewelry designer but is oppressed by her patriarchal family. She uses her bunch of friends and boyfriend, Param (played by Arjun Kapoor), to get out of her house and work. Upon finding of their daughter’s deceit, they decide to get her married to Param. Due to the ridiculous turn of events, she convinces Param to relocate to London (though she could have relocated to Delhi, Chennai or Timbuktu and it would have made no difference). Now, do not even try looking for logic here because there isn’t any. So, due to yet another ridiculous subplot, Param cannot get a visa and hence, a desperate Jasmeet leaves him and flies to London. Just when you think good riddance, the makers remind you that you are just halfway through this excruciating emotionless saga.

Image result for namaste england

Their lack of conviction or common sense is evidently visible in almost every sequence. Param and Jasmeet exchange besotted looks from Dussera to Diwali to Holi, but Param says, ’Punjab mein pyaar toh doosro ki shaadiyo mein hi hota hai’. So, out of the blue, there is a wedding. How? Don’t ask! A rich, elite, supposed seductress meets a ‘Gabru Punjabi Munda’ and decides the next minute to marry him. How? Don’t ask! A guy sharing a dingy shanty in London and shown to be living in the bathroom there, steps out in perfectly gelled hair and tuxedos, sweeping rich girls off their feet. How? Don’t even ask!! The makers seem to have answered all these with just one phrase – Who cares?! Vipul Shah repeats the same tropes from Namaste London – a smart girl, a lovelorn naïve guy, a patriotic monologue in London and a sad song by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan! But, his poor directorial skills in Namaste London were overshadowed by good performances by the ensemble, especially Katrina Kaif. It remains Katrina Kaif’s only memorable performance as an actor and reprising the same Jasmeet, Parineeti Chopra makes this a poor caricature. While Katrina’s Jasmeet was flawed and shrewd, she still evoked some empathy and connect. Parineeti makes a shoddy caricature of Jasmeet, with a below average performance and awful dialogue delivery in emotional scenes. It is probably her worst performance till date.

Arjun Kapoor does not have a great filmography to boast of, and he adds yet another poorly acted role to the list. Akshay Kumar had a naughty and lustful swag to his character in Namaste London. Here, Arjun repeatedly says ‘Tumhe dekhke mere dil mein aisi aisi feelings aa rahi hai ki kuch ho jaega’ and you still find it hard to believe. The love story between the leads is so poorly developed in the first 10 minutes of the movie, that the audiences do not connect with them at all. There is no sympathy evoked for his difficult journey to London, travelling through half the world. As I mentioned earlier, the rest of the cast is a bunch of novices who have no weight in their characters nor have any acting chops. Aditya Seal and Dijana Dejanovic as the lead’s partners in London look good but get poorly written characters with no scope to perform. As if the main plot was not tiring enough, there are useless subplots talking about illegal immigrants, dark side of patriarchy and over-the-top nationalism – none of them required in the central story line!

A movie that lacks a tight script, good dialogues, abled craft of filmmaking and captivating performances deserves not to be rated at all. At a time when small budget movies are pushing the boundaries with innovative content, this is a major let down. With nothing really working in the movie, except may be the clothes that the leads wear, I do not think it deserves anything on a scale of 1 to 5.

My Rating – 0/5

Badhaai Ho - Movie Review

You know you are in for a good ride when a movie opens in a middle-class household, with a bickering mother-in-law and subtle humor over daily household chores. In ‘Badhai Ho’, debutante director Amit Ravindernath Sharma and his writers Shantanu Srivastava, Akshat Ghildial and Jyoti Kapoor create a funny and believable canvas filled with real characters that are stuck in a supposedly embarrassing, yet hilarious situation – when the middle-aged couple of the family get pregnant!

A young boy from a middle-class family, Nakul Kaushik (played by Ayushmann Khurrana), has a perfect life. A doting family, an understanding girlfriend and a high-flying career. His life seemingly crumbles down when he discovers his middle-aged parents (played by Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta) are expecting a child, 25 years after he was born! What ensues is hilarious ride of children feeling contempt for their parents and the society adding insult to injury. Adding to their woes is the matriarch of the family, Dadi (played by Surekha Sikri), whose taunts leave you in splits. His colleague and girlfriend, Renee (played by Sanya Malhotra) bears the brunt of this commotion and so does her elite IAS mother (played by Sheeba Chaddha).

Image result for badhaai ho

Firstly, full points to the art director and costume designers for authentically setting up a typical middle-class household, replete with women of the neighborhood bonding over Tambola after a Satsang, crockery neatly stacked in a glass cupboard and the drawing room doubling up as the room for the granny in the house. The makers do not take time in setting up the theme and quickly get to the point, which reflects in the crisp runtime of the movie as well. Director Amit Sharma beautifully exploits his cinematographer, Sanu Varghese, to create frames that come alive on screen. The congested and tiny house becomes the vibrant epicenter of this hysterical entertainer, only because of the brilliant shots. These frames are further lifted by the witty writing by Akshat Ghildial, where humour is mostly understated. Some of the best examples of the brilliant writing are the hilarious scenes where an awkward Gajraj Rao breaks the news at home and the one where Dadi, played stupendously by Surekha Sikri, rebukes her daughter and elder daughter-in-law at a wedding. Also, it was good to see an organic progression of the story, sans major melodrama. The taboo surrounding an elderly couple conceiving a child, despite having a son of marriageable age, is normalized delicately without being over the top.

As is the case with any such content-driven movies, it is the actors who bring these character to life! Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta are perfectly cast as the embarrassed couple, never letting their characters slip into farcical shame. Ayushmann Khurrana, who has become a flagbearer of sorts for this kind of cinema, is in top form and uses his charm and comic timing in equal measures. Supporting him well in a relatively smaller part is Sanya Malhotra and her mother, Sheeba Chaddha, who provide ample support to the narrative. Surekha Sikri as Dadi, is hilarious and one of the most endearing characters for a granny written in Hindi cinema in recent times. Also, it was fun to watch all the characters speak in chaste western UP dialect, adding another dimension to their characters.

Over the last few years, content-driven stories from the small towns or inspired by the middle-class folks have fancied filmmakers in Bollywood. Badhaai Ho takes a similar route as ‘Shubh Mangal Saavdhan’ and picks a taboo topic.  With a similar plot as Steve Martin’s 1995 comedy, ‘Father of the Bride 2’, Badhaai Ho uses a topic perceived as embarrassing and injects comedy in right measures, to create a delectable fare.

My Rating – 3.5/5

Friday, October 12, 2018

Tumbbad - Movie Review

Horror seems to be Bollywood’s new vanilla, which is being blended seamlessly with different genres of cinema acting as other flavors. Recently, horror was blended with comedy in Rajkummar Rao’s, Stree and this week, Sohum Shah Starrer, Tumbad, does this with fantasy. Helmed by three directors - Rahi Anil Barve, Anand Gandhi and Adesh Prasad, Tumbad is an off-beat blend of mythology, with a gory and dark narrative.

The three-part narrative opens with a mythological premise of a Goddess, who created Earth and held her evil child, Hastar, in her womb to save the world from his malevolence. In pre-Independence India, in a quaint Tumbbad, a lady with two sons, nurtures an ailing old lady by the day and serves as the mistress to a feudal lord, Sarkar by the night. A folklore says Sarkar’s home has a hidden treasure, which remains unraveled with the sudden demise of Sarkar. Years later, the lady’s elder son, now a young man, Vinayak Rao (played by Sohum Shah), returns to Tumbbad to look for the hidden treasure. His insatiable greed makes him frequently return to Tumbbad, for the prized gold coins hidden in the wada. His greed sees no end and he ends up pulling his teenage son, Raja (Actor’s Name) into this dark, gory and sinful mess.

Image result for tumbbad

The cinematography by Pankaj Kumar is painstakingly beautifully and sets the gruesome tone of the movie. The tones are all greys and blacks, interrupted only by the glows of the fire. From crooked trees to the close-up shots of ghastly, decaying bodies, the camerawork is brilliantly used to create a disturbing, yet, consuming narrative. The make-up and prosthetics artists also deserve an applause, for creating the cadaverous characters, like Hastar, who are not inserted in the movie for cheap-thrills, but are regular characters forming the cast. Complementing the dark frames is the gritty background score by Ajay-Atul and Jesper Kyd, that is subtle and never overshadowing the narrative. The movie, though crisp, seems to lose some steam during the second part, but quickly picks up pace in the final part, reaching an intriguing climax. Also, I must admit, it is a rare kind of fantasy thriller seldom seen in Indian cinema.

While the credit for crafting this movie majorly goes to the technicians and its directors, they are blessed with equally good actors. Sohum Shah, as Vinayak, brings in a variety of emotions effortlessly. His love-making scene with his mistress, shows him change rapidly from a lustful man to a man angry at his friend’s betrayal. He is supported amply by Deepak Damle, who plays his teenage son and displays the same greed and lust that his father has, albeit knowing when to control it. The rest of the cast support the narrative well and the lack of any unnecessary subplot is a major plus point.

Tumbbad may not appeal the faint-hearted. But it is a fantasy horror that certainly deserves a chance, for making huge strides in the right direction as far as Indian cinema is concerned.

My Rating – 3.5/5

Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava - Movie Review

While writing this review of director Trvikram Srinivas’s latest outing ‘Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava’ (ASVR), I chanced upon his Wikipedia page. The introduction says, “Regarded as the "wizard of words" Trivikram's craft is known for its high dose of comedy, fast-paced repartee, farcical situations, escapist themes, and comedy thriller plot lines involving action, emotion, courtship, family and marriage.” Except for the farcical situations, he lets down his audiences on every other aspect.

Set against the backdrop of two warring villages in Rayalaseema, ASVR is the story of Veera Raghava Reddy (played by Junior NTR) spearheading his clans fight against Basi Reddy (played by Jagapathi Babu). They call this ‘Aidu rupayala godava’ (5 rupees fight) and hand it over to their progeny, who find it easier to stick swords into each other than solve this dispute for once. But Veera Raghava Reddy, moved by his grandmother’s (played by Supriya Pathak) rants, decides to take on his opponents with non-violence. Now, this is a novel idea, where unlike the usual mass entertainers, the male protagonist is not shown as the macho and masculine savior. A comical version of this theme was seen in S.S Rajamouli’s Marayada Ramanna, where the protagonist does not fight against a bunch of goons.  Trivikram uses his trademark dialogues with rhyme and rhythm, to act as a weapon that Veera Raghava uses to win over his opponents, apart from the generous use of daggers and swords. To trigger his change and affect his conscience, a haughty, arrogant and bubbly Aravinda (played by Pooja Hegde) enters the scene. She casually drops her pearls of wisdom, which Veera Raghava picks up to pave his plan of action ahead. Again, instead of just being the arm-candy or add glamor, this role had a great potential. More recently, Anushka Sharma played a similar support and trigger to the male lead, as Mamta in ‘Sui Dhaaga’. But, again, the writing lets down the character of Aravinda. Despite being the titular role, Aravinda is reduced to just being a caricature, with no weight.

Image result for aravinda sametha

It would be a sin to look for logic in a mass entertainer and we Telugu audiences love them for the lack of it. But, Matala Mantrikudu Trivikram overburdens his audiences with heavy dialogues, filled with puns, alliteration and rhyme. There is a scene where the lead characters converse at a café and I cannot imagine any normal couple conversing in the language that they use. Like in his previous dud, Agnyathavasi, Trivikram overdoes the same trademark dialogues to the extent that it becomes a painful bore! The mood of the movie is set in a very gritty and serious space like Trivikram’s blockbuster ‘Athadu’ or the more recent action drama ‘Rangasthalam’. But, ASVR is not engaging or gripping like either of them. The lack of depth in the characters, along with the over-bearing dialogues, clubbed with a run time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, seem like an extremely tiresome experience.

The only saving grace here are the performances. Almost every actor cast in the main and supporting roles, gets the Rayalaseema accent on point. While most of the supporting actors are decent in their roles, a praise-worthy performance comes from Jagapathi Babu, as the main antagonist. Playing a rugged and rustic version of his character from Rangasthalam, Jagapathi Babu uses his menacing eyes and evil face to create a gruesome villain and delivers well. Pooja Hegde, apart from looking pretty and complimenting Junior NTR well, gets some cute moments amid choppy dialogue delivery. Sunil, making a comeback as the sidekick, is utterly wasted, as he neither gets to do comedy nor drama. But, it is Junior NTR, who plays Veera Raghava with such conviction, that you try to remain invested in this otherwise insipid tale. Being able to pull off a mass character with élan is no mean feat, and he is charismatic at that. Using a calm and restrained demeanor, reminiscent of Mahesh Babu from Athadu, his hard-work and efforts are clearly visible in his performance. Unfortunately, he is let down by poor writing, screenplay and dialogues.

From ‘Nuvve Kavali’ to as recently as ‘A Aa’, Trivikram has always been known for his brilliant dialogues, with some of the finest gems in movies like ‘Nuvvu Naaku Nachavu’, ‘Manmadhudu’ and ‘Jalsa’. Watching ASVR reminded me of Srinu Vaitla’s ‘Aagadu’ – another director known for his witty one-liners, who bored his audiences to death with an overdose of bland dialogues. Not sure if it is Trivikram’s complacency or lack of vision, but ASVR looked like a tale from a tired and disinterested story-teller. Trust me, I seem as disinterested in writing this review as he seemed to be while making this movie.

My Rating – 2/5

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Andhadhun - Movie Review

One of the least touched genres in Indian cinema has been dark comedy. With the evolving tastes of the audience, over the last few years there have been some experiments in this genre, starting with Delhi Belly in 2011. Seven years later, there seems to be a worthy successor in Sriram Raghavan’s dark comedy, Andhadhun.

To sum it up without any spoilers, Andhadhun captures the intertwined lives of a struggling blind pianist, Akash (played by Ayushmann khurrana) and the wife of an aging superstar, Simi Sinha (played by Tabu). A series of unforeseen events unfold, comprising of a couple of murders, deceit and hilarious double-crossing of each other! The narrative is further enhanced by the vibrant supporting cast -  highlighted by a super-cop, Inspector Mahendra (played by Manav Vij), investigating the murders with his own ulterior motives. A bright and young restauranteur, Sofie (played by Radhika Apte), who not only hosts Akash’s gigs at her restaurant but also develops a liking for him. Then there are other quirky members of the cast who stand out in their small roles – a self-obsessed aging superstar, Pramod Sinha (played by Anil Dhawan), the super-cop’s wife who takes pride in her husband eating ’16 ande’, an over-smart kid who keeps a suspicious eye on Akash, a lottery-ticket seller Maushi and her auto-rickshaw driver brother, Murali. Giving away any other link would mean – SPOILERS!

Image result for andhadhun

Director Sriram Raghavan, along with his bunch of writers, creates a music filled narrative, that is not dark and gloomy – a trope used frequently in stereotypical dark comedies. I was reminded of last month’s Tamil comic thriller, Kolamavu Kokila (KoKo), which had a similar layering of comedy with the right amounts of thrills. Much like Koko, Andhadhun works for its brilliant dialogues by Sriram Raghavan, Arijit Biswas, Pooja Ladha Surti and Yogesh Chanderkar. The characters get real lines, filled with wry and subtle humor. Unquestionably, Tabu gets some of the best dialogues and scenes, as the multi-layered star-wife Simi, who is trying to find her own way to stardom. In a recent interview, Tabu spoke about her 10 best-performances till date and this one is easily the eleventh one on the list. She gets to display a variety of emotions from a manipulative wife to a heart-broken victim of her circumstances. The writers do not let her layers come off easily, making her the fire-cracking mystery throughout the movie. Every time you think you have figured her out, she does something whacky in the next scene. Oh boy, only an actor of Tabu’s caliber can pull this role off. She is brilliant!

Matching her strong performance is Ayushmann Khurrana, as a blind pianist present at the wrong place at the wrong time. He keeps his ‘blind-act’ understated and displays the vulnerabilities of a visually challenged man with aplomb. His scenes with Simi are pure fun, especially the one where Simi visits him at his home. Also, whether he is blind or not (which is evidently questioned in the trailer as well), is a device the writers cleverly use multiple times to take the story forward and add humor to it. Manav Vij as Inspector Mahendra is funny as the super cop scared of his overbearing wife, played by Ashwini Kalshekar in a small, yet hilarious role. Radhika Apte gets a less meaty role, but thankfully gets rid of her meme-worthy worried and forlorn look. She is chirpy and adds to the chaos. The casting director deserves due credits for picking up the rest of the actors who fit the bill perfectly in their respective characters. Also, Amit Trivedi’s music is praiseworthy for adding to the drama and thrills. He extensively uses chords and piano, sometimes become a bit too long, but delivers musical pieces according to the mood of the scene. After Manmarziyaan, another well composed soundtrack by him.

The movie is not completely without flaws. While it keeps you invested, the pace could have been a bit faster. The choice of using long shots and a few long-drawn sequences could have resulted in the movie seem a little taxing, especially in the first half. Thankfully, the second half sees a much faster and twists-filled narrative, that pulls you back into the game.

Like most movies of its genre, Andhadhun may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But the dry humor, engaging screenplay, superlative performances and a delightful Tabu deserve your two hours this weekend!

My Rating – 3.5/5

Friday, October 5, 2018

96 - Movie Review

A young class X girl, Janaki AKA Jaanu (played by Gouri Kishan) brings chocolates on her birthday and offers it to her crush, Ramachandran AKA Ram (played by Aadithya Baaskar) who needs to be forcefully held in place by three fellow classmates, because he tends to shy away and faint on seeing Jaanu! It is moments like these - sweet, simple and yet, so poignant - that make writer-director, C Prem Kumar’s debut release, 96, a simmering tale of everlasting love.

Twenty years later, we see a middle-aged renowned travel photographer, Ramachandran (played by Vijay Sethupathi), travelling all alone across the length and the breadth of the country. His nomadic life comes to an end, when he chances upon visiting his hometown, Thanjavur. The nostalgia on visiting his old school makes him reach out to his fellow classmates and meet them at a reunion. While he behaves like a grown-up man, his demeanor changes instantly when he sees his childhood sweetheart, Jaanu (played by Trisha Krishnan). The rest of the story is how these awkward exes meet and the conversations that they take forward, while switching the narrative between the present and their past.

Image result for 96 movie

The plot is not something we have not seen or heard. From ‘When Harry met Sally’ to ‘Hum Tum’, we have had movies where two former lovers meet years later. But, the treatment here is extremely poignant and poetic. Director Prem Kumar uses long sequences without dialogues and perfectly uses his actors, their expressions and couples it with the brilliant camerawork by Shanmuga Sundaram. Add the melancholically beautiful background score by Govind Menon (from Thaikkudam bridge) and you have a canvas filled with love and prose! The narrative uses all the right elements that take you back in time – funny conversations that long-lost school friends have on Whatsapp, striking of letters in ‘Flames’ as schoolkids and classroom romances over exchange of notebooks. It is such endearing moments, which are in abundance, that make this movie a heartwarming tale to watch.

The movie leans heavily on its leads – Ramachandran and Janaki, played superbly by Vijay Sethupathi/Aadithya Baaskar and Trisha Krishnan/Gouri Kishan. While the supporting cast comprising of Devadarshini, Janagaraj among others are used in perfectly minimal amounts, it is the leads that keep you captivated even if only the two of them are on the screen for a long time. Playing the younger Ram and Jaanu, Aadithya Baaskar and Gouri Kishan display a strong command on their craft and portray school romances where only a glimpse of your beloved was enough. Aadithya, as an extremely awkward and shy boy, shows his commitment through his love filled eyes. Gouri, apart from looking beautiful, channels the right amounts of childlike innocence and a lady-like charm in her performance. Their scenes together, even without dialogues in some cases, show their palpable love for each other.

It is the grown-up leads, Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha Krishnan, who further enhance these characters. Vijay Sethupathi, as Ram, gets a nuanced character which could have gone wrong, if not dealt with restraint. His changeover from a bulky and strict photography teacher to a giant schoolkid is endearing and speaks of his histrionics. He displays staunch and unwavering love for a girl for 20 years without even meeting, and never lets his character become an obsessive stalker, like Dhanush’s Kundan in Anand Rai’s Raanjhana. He is madly in love, but respects the distance that has come in between the two. Complementing his heartbreaking performance is Trisha, in a stunningly understated performance. Without any traces of melodrama, she maintains the charm and wit that a 16-year old Jaanu had. Her melodious singing adds another dimension to the character. Her scenes with Vijay Sethupathi are adorable and equally melancholic. From teasing him over his good-boy image, to talking about virginity, they exude an old-world charm and the chemistry comes out beautifully. Two scenes stayed with me in particular – the one where Jaanu narrates an old tale to a bunch of Ram’s students and the one where she sings a song at Ram’s home. Vijay Sathupathi is the scene stealer in both of these, but they kindle a spark of warmth in the viewers hearts as well.

But, audiences beware – this is a hardcore love story, with glacial pace at certain places which sets the mood right. So, if pure romance simmered over slow pace and forlorn music is your cup of tea, then this is a must watch. Avoid it if it isn’t! Thankfully, I fall in the former category.

My Rating – 4/5

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Pataakha - Movie Review

Watching Vishal Bhardwaj’s Patakha reminded me of Shyam Benegal’s last two rural comedies, Welcome to Sajjanpur (2008) and Well Done, Abba! (2010). They are all great examples of real country folks forming endearing characters, weaved into a novel plot by their brilliant craftsmen, Benegal and Bhardwaj, and performed by a bunch of gifted actors. The similarities do not end here. These are movies which may not appeal to everybody’s pallet, seem a bit overstretched and yet, let you come out of the theatre with a smile.

As it was evident from the trailer of the movie, Patakha is the story of two warring sisters, Champa (played by Radhika Madan) and Genda (played by Sanya Malhotra). Set in a quaint village in Rajasthan, these are two brash, wild and wicked sisters who run for each other’s throats at the drop of the hat! While they steal each other’s possessions, one also covers the other with a blanket on a cold night. Their belligerence always adds to their father’s (played by Vijay Raaz) woes. Adding fuel to the fire or sometimes even creating the fire, is their friend, neighbor and a vagabond, Dipper (played by Sunil Grover), who plays a referee and an instigative Naarad Muni between the two. Eventually, the girls elope with their respective lovers, Jagan (played by Namit Das) and Vishnu (played by Abhishek Duhan), only to realize that their fates are still intertwined – their spouses are brothers! The rest of the story, as the narrator puts it, is about adjusting with your relatives because ‘hum rishte chun sakte hai, rishtedaar nahi’.

Related image

It is not easy to make a film on such a wafer-thin plot, which was summed up in the 2-minute long trailer of the movie. Kudos to Vishal Bhardwaj for writing the screen adaptation of writer Charan Singh Pathik’s short story, ‘Do Behnein’. He cleverly uses references to India, Pakistan and America as countries warring and clamoring for peace – a reference to the girls and other characters. Since his repertoire mostly includes screen adaptations of acclaimed books and stories, even here he creates a fun-filled world, but, it does not completely work. The second half seems dragged, also because you can predict the end that is coming. The narrative sees a few unnecessary subplots, created to lead to the climax, but could have been done away with or shortened. Also, the language is heavily influenced by Marwari/Rajasthani dialect and may be difficult for a large portion of the audience to comprehend. I had to keenly watch to understand the comical usage of English words such as ‘Samraat phun’ for smartphone and ‘lub ju’ for love you.

One of Vishal Bhardwaj’s greatest prowess is his ability to get the best out of his actors. Every single performance in the movie is pitch-perfect. Vijay Raaz perfectly plays a positive character after a long time and draws your sympathy as the helpless father. Namit Das and Abhishek Duhan support their spouses well and perform well in their capacity. Sunil Grover, as Dipper whom you will love to hate, is a fantastic character who could have well become a caricature. He uses his comic timing to his advantage and creates quite a few laughs. But, it is the leads, Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra, who outshine everyone else. With author-backed roles and a gifted craftsman, Vishal Bhardwaj, they get to showcase their talent immensely. Radhika Madan makes her big screen debut and plays the part with honesty. Sanya Malhotra, after Dangal, delivers a lovely performance, as the quarrelsome younger sister. They both age from teenagers to middle-aged women and look, behave and perform their parts with complete conviction.

Unfortunately, only good performances, punctuated by good music, does not make it an interesting watch. I wish the length and the language were a little easier on the audiences. Also, you have already been cautioned - it may not appeal to all kinds of audiences. Watch it only if it does!

My Rating – 2.5/5

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sui Dhaga - Movie Review

In the beginning of director Sharat Kataria’s Sui Dhaga, a small-towner Mauji (played by Varun Dhawan) is shown being subservient to the whims and fancies of his boss, who runs a store that sells sewing machines. He entertains them by mimicking animals and obeys his masters like a ‘doggy’. Though ashamed, nobody in his family feels it is below their dignity, except Mauji’s docile wife, Mamta (played by Anushka Sharma). She does not ask him to quit but makes him realize the importance of dignity and self-esteem. She does not advise him, rather acts as a trigger throughout the movie that helps pave Mauji his entrepreneurial path. Truly, behind every successful man, there is a woman!

Sharat Kataria, as the writer, creates a beautiful world of the small-towners who dream big. Set against the backdrop of the failing indigenous textile industry with the rapidly increasing ‘readymade’ clothes, Sharat Kataria creates an empowering story, that falters in the middle, but thankfully manages to stand on its feet towards the end. Much like his previous National Award winning, Dum Laga ke Haisha, the story here is set in a small town, the characters are real, and the emotions are subtle. An animated, aggressive, yet naïve Mauji quits his mundane job and sets out to make a living out of his family profession – Tailoring. Supported by a submissive yet doting wife, Mamta, he sets out on a journey against all odds to make it big. This is where the film becomes a little repetitive. The hardships are real but seem a bit overdrawn. In Dum Laga Ke Haisha when the narrative seems to get stagnant, Sharat kataria cleverly used humor and his vibrant characters to reduce the monotony. This is where Sui Dhaga weakens. The story and the dialogues are not stitched to perfection and it is reflected in the pace as well. But, thankfully, these aberrations are overcome soon enough by a good rise in the tempo towards the second half.

Image result for sui dhaga

Playing a short-tempered, with innocence of every small towner, Varun Dhawan shines as Mauji. After October, this is another character with no pretense or larger-than-life image. From his banter with his father, played superbly by Raghubir Yadav, to his awkward equation with his wife Mamta, he plays the part with conviction. After playing firebrand and tomboys in all her movies, Anushka Sharma is great as the quiet and obedient Mamta, being the strong support and sensible thinker in their partnership. Through their journey of starting a label of their own, Mamta and Mauji discover each other as well, as they were married to the household before, and not to each other. But this is not a love story, it is a story of how a couple shows their love by being each other’s support. They are supported by a good cast, but none of them except Raghubir Yadav and Yamini Das as Mauji’s parents, stand out.

Through a world of deceit and exploiting the simpletons of our heartland, the narrative weaves an empowering and inspiring tale in the end. It is heart-warming to see a couple from the hinterland make their dreams come true, despite a few contrived subplots. We also get to see the talent that exists in our country and the makers seem to inspire many such Maujis and Mamtas to pave their path. Also, I felt the designs that Mauji and Mamta make in the movie seem straight out of a designer’s boutique in Juhu and not something an Indian artisan would make. But, since we are already connected to the duo and their dreams, it is easy to completely overlook it and feel happy for them. Despite the manufactured and forced problems in the middle, I came out of the theatre with a smile on my face and a great aftertaste!

With a run time of a little over two hours, Sui Dhaga is a breezy, comfortable watch. The endearing story with a warm and slow pace, along with the charming leads make you root for them.

My Rating – 3/5

Friday, September 28, 2018

DevaDas - Movie Review

Telugu films starring major stars always capitalize on their stardom, often making their characters in the movies larger than life. Nagarjuna himself has been a part of mainstream hits such as Sreenu Vaitla’s ‘King’, which was a fun, no-brainer mad capper and breezy romcoms like Vijay Bhaskar’s ‘Manmadhudu’. Nagarjuna – Nani’s latest outing, ‘DevaDas’ treads a path in between the two – tries to be a simple movie, unfortunately, with unrealistic subplots and glaring loopholes!

A flamboyant don, Deva (played by Nagarjuna), meets an upright, simpleton ‘MBBS, MS, Gold Medalist’ Dr. Das (played by Nani). This doctor-patient relationship grows from an overbearing goon arm-twisting a young and naïve doctor, to a strong friendship between a doctor and his lone friend, a robinhood-like don. The rest, as I said, is a botchy, loophole-filled narrative, which neither keeps you stay invested, nor adds any value to any of its characters. Director Sriram Aditya, who has also written this movie, uses his actors as mere stereotypes, by making all his characters one dimensional with no layer giving them a flat character arc. Agreed that we as Telugu audiences love and adore our larger-than-life ‘heroes’ in the movies, but, if a character is not given enough weight, it falls flat. Barring Dr. Das (to a certain extent), none of the other characters evoke any emotion or connect with the audiences. His screenplay in the first half is uneven especially in the first 30 minutes, when the narrative cuts across the lives of Deva and Das without a smooth transition. At 2-hours-and-44-minutes, it is way too long, and the makers seem to waste a lot of time in setting up the theme and over indulge in the second half trying to glorify both the male leads.

Image result for deva dasu 2018

A mention of the catchy music by Mani Sharma, as a couple of songs are quite hummable. Though some songs like the over-indulgent ‘Lakumikara’, mixing holi with dahi-handi and Ganesh Chaturthi, was a drag and seem to be in the movie just to let Nagarjuna flaunt his perfectly shaped abs! Among the characters, the one that has some layers is Dr. Das and Nani plays it with complete conviction. Even though his scenes as a medical practitioner seem contrived, his honesty and endearing nature makes the viewers overlook these flaws. He, along with Vennela Kishore, deserve to be praised for their impeccable comic timing, and sharing better chemistry than Nani shares with Rashmika Mandanna. Speaking of the girls, both Rashmika Mandanna and Akanksha Singh get a raw deal, where both their characters have good potential but are relegated to the background. Nagarjuna uses his charm and wit to his advantage and plays a one-tone larger-than-life don, but it is such a poorly written character, with no justification whatsoever for his Robinhood-like compassion or an explanation for Das and Jahnavi’s (played by Akanksha Singh) empathy towards a criminal. Honestly, I waited till the end for Deva’s story to be revealed to explain the gaps that were left in the narrative all along, but they remained as glaring loopholes. Even a charming Kunal Kapoor makes a majorly disappointing Telugu debut as the villain and practically gets nothing to do.

Two of the most adored romantic heroes unite for the first time but are let down by a weak script and poorly-etched characters. Imagine how insipid Devdas will be, without his Paro or Chandramukhi. Nagarjuna-Nani starrer DevaDas is equally bland without his Paro (script) and Chandramukhi (characters).

My Rating: 2/5 (0.5 only for Nani and because it is not unbearable)

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.

Image result for manmarziyan poster

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.

Image result for u turn movie

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.

Image result for shailaja reddy alludu

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.

Image result for stree

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