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

Geetha Govindam - Movie Review

Firstly, let’s welcome Vijay Devarakonda to mainstream Telugu Cinema! After playing the lead in two offbeat movies which became massive hits, he finally moves into the quintessential Telugu hero zone. Well, he almost does. Directed by Parasuram, ‘Geetha Govindam’ has all the major elements of a Telugu masala potboiler – stunning leads, lip-syncing songs, a slight dose of family drama, unrequited twists and an unnecessary female-bashing song! But, Parasuram, who has also written the dialogues and screenplay, alternates between an offbeat rom-com and a masala potboiler, making it an irregular movie to watch.

Vijay Govind (played by Vijay Devarakonda) is a young college professor, who believes in old-school romance and love stories. Even though he has his students swooning over him, he idolizes Kamal Hassan-Sukanya’s equation from Bharateeyudu (quite an odd couple for inspiration) and daydreams of stealing similar small pleasures of life – cuddling after a shower or while sharing a cup of coffee. The girl of his dreams takes the form of Geetha (played by Rashmika Mandanna), whose brother is set to marry Govind’s sister. To make this review spoiler-free, let’s just say that Geetha’s equation with Govind starts on a bad note, but while preparing for the wedding, it begins to change (predictably). If you look at my summary of the plot, Geetha Govindam, gives the vibes of a breezy, feel-good entertainer. I wish it was just that, without being burdened by the demands of commercial cinema. The movie would have worked better had it been treated the way Tharun Bhaskar handled 2016’s sleeper hit, Pelli Choopulu – which worked without having any needless subplots or pointless twists. Even the screenplay is problematic in the first 20 minutes, when there seems to be an issue in the continuity. Having said that, Parasuram deserves credit for the witty dialogues, especially for Vijay Devarakonda and Rahul Ramakrishna.

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But, it is Vijay Devarakonda, who makes this movie a delight to watch. In comparison to his previous cult, Arjun Reddy, Govind is a complete non-hero. He is awkward with female attention, listens to Chaganti’s pravachanam to help him find an ‘ideal wife’ and has no false pretense! Vijay Devarakonda channels his raw energy to play a submissive and naïve, Govind, who is a victim always caught on the wrong foot by Geetha. He has immense screen presence and does not seem to miss a note anywhere. His dialogues and demeanor are so contrasting to Arjun Reddy, that he appears like an adorable misnomer. (He plays a Kakinada boy with a Telangana accent though) Rashmika Mandanna manages to be effective and strong even in the presence of a spectacular Vijay Devarakonda. As the perennially suspecting and angry Geetha, she gets some of the best moments in the movie. The ones where she catches Govind in uncomfortable situations, followed by confrontations are hilarious! Another happy change was to see her gushing and crushing over Vijay – a rarity in Telugu cinema. (Thankfully, this was not shown negatively like in RX100) And yes, both the leads are extremely pleasant on the eyes! The supporting cast comprising of Subbaraju, Nagababu, Rahul Ramakrishna and Annapoorna Amma play their parts well. Vennela Kishore, whose entry was welcomed with a huge applause in the theatre, gets a small role but he manages to evoke quite a few laughs.

It would be a sin not to praise the melodious music by Gopi Sundar, especially, my current favorite – Inkem Inkem Inkem Kavale, in the mellifluous voice of Sid Sriram. Even the background score complements the narrative well. I wish the narrative had continued to remain easy-breezy in the second half as well, instead of going the routine Telugu film route. But, nonetheless, the leads do make up for it.

My Rating – 3/5

Monday, August 6, 2018

Karwaan - Movie Review

Usually in movies, death and mourning are often shown to be over-dramatic and awfully painful. It was, therefore, extremely intriguing to see how writer, Bejoy Nambiar and debutante director, Akarsh Khurana bring an element of fun and comedy to something as remorseful as death. Karwaan, starring Irrfan Khan, Dulquer Salmaan and Mithila Palkar, is a coming-of-age movie with the backdrop of a road trip across some of the most beautiful locales of South India.

Avinash Rajpurohit (played by Dulquer Salmaan) is a frustrated IT employee working in Bangalore, who abandons his passion for photography on his father’s insistence. His father, with whom he has an unemotional relationship, passes away in an accident on a pilgrimage and his body is sent to his son. A mix-up by the cargo company leads to the exchange of Avinash’s father’s body with that of a woman from Cochin. He takes the help of his friend-cum-garage owner, Shaukat (played by Irrfan Khan), to take a road-trip via Ooty to pick up the deceased woman’s grand-daughter, Tanya (played by Mithila Palkar) and reach Cochin to take the mortal remains of his father home. The journey en route is filled with some comical and some not so comical moments and sub-plots which make Avinash question his choices in life and rediscover himself.

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The movie, with its crisp run-time of two-hours, has a wafer-thin premise showcased over a road trip. Though the movie has some crackling and warm moments, these are far and apart. Movies like these work mostly on the emotions that the characters create and it requires layering them with subtle features which connect with the viewers. Small details such as adding local Bangalore/Cochin flavor or giving a glimpse into the character’s psyche through dialogues, help the viewers stay invested with the narrative. Directors like Zoya Akhtar and Ayan Mukerjee specialize in this and this is where writer Bejoy Nambiar and dialogue writer Hussain Dalal, had the potential to create a better narrative but fall slightly short of it. While death and mourning have been handled maturely, without the quintessential Bollywood sobbing routine, there are some inconsistencies in between which seem difficult to digest. One such inconsistency is at a wedding in Kerala, where Tanya and Avinash end up drinking – forgetting about the decaying body they are travelling with! Giving credit where it is due, the writer and director beautifully reveal the issues that these three – a discontent average office-goer, a millennial tomboy and an eccentric middle-aged man face.

Irrfan Khan channels the same vibes of unconventionality that he had in Qarib Qarib Single. He is hilarious and unabashed, and delivers some of the most comical dialogues with a straight face. His simple yet effective performance makes you wish for his speedy recovery and be back to entertaining us again! ‘Debutante’ Dulquer Salmaan, get the best written character among the three, since we get to see a lot of layers being undone, which explain his firm and serious façade. Dulquer, with his wide range of work, is an established actor and he does not disappoint in his hindi debut either. Mithila Palkar is a livewire and probably the most complex character to understand – quite like every other millennial today! One of the best moments in the film comes towards the end, when the three of them sit on a bridge across a canal and discuss about their ‘father problems’. The second half, especially around the climax, is heart-warming. Cinematically, the entire sequence of Avinash reading his father’s letter has been beautifully shot, with a father and child in the backdrop symbolizing his relationship with his dad. When the letter ends, the camera pans to Dulquer’s face with a tree and its branches clouding over his head – signifying the liberation of his emotions. The camerawork by Avinash Arun deserves a mention here.

Despite a shaky first-half, Karwaan has its moments and makes for a good one-time watch. The performances, Irrfan Khan’s comic timing and the beautiful meandering roads certainly make for a breezy watch.

My Rating – 2.5/5

Friday, August 3, 2018

Mulk - Movie Review

In the opening sequence of this week’s release, Mulk, a regular Muslim household in Varanasi is shown to be celebrating its patriarch, Murad Ali Mohammad’s (played by Rishi Kapoor) birthday. We see their ‘Shudh Shakahari’ neighbor, Chaubeyji, secretly relishing the kebabs, while his staunch vegetarian wife does not even touch the food in a Muslim household. She tells another lady, ‘Naach gaane tak toh theek hai, par innke yaha khana nahi kha sakte’. This sequence shows what exactly director Anubhav Sinha has in store for his audience and he uses his strong leads, Rishi Kapoor and Taapsee Pannu, to throw some light on the co-existing communal harmony and discord in our country.

Murad Ali Mohammad is a retired lawyer, who lives with his wife and brother’s family in Varanasi. Their peaceful lives are shattered when Murad’s younger brother, Bilal Mohammad (played by Manoj Pahwa), is taken into custody, owing to his deceased son, Shahid Mohammad’s (played by Prateik Babbar) involvement in a terror attack. Murad’s elder daughter-in-law, Aarti (played by Taapse Pannu), steps in as their lawyer to fight for the family and to prove that one traitor in the family, does not render them equally guilty. Anubhav Sinha, through his gritty and border-line melodramatic script, takes us through the excruciating humiliation and accusations of treason that a family goes through, when their son fails them and their country. The movie also throws a light on how politics and religion are intertwined in our country, where media and internet are used as a medium to only spread false propaganda. Whether the family succeeds in getting the charges cleared or not can be easily predicted, but the narrative does so by not favoring or criticizing any one community.

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Like another gritty courtroom drama, Pink, Mulk works majorly for its dialogues. And just like Pink, I felt the courtroom arguments in Mulk were not convincing enough, but were more emotional and as I mentioned earlier – borderline melodramatic. Also, there are a lot of evidences and arguments against the family, but the movie seems to give its defense lawyer, Aarti, all the right moves which seem unconvincing to a certain extent. But, these inconsistencies can be overlooked owing to the message that this movie aims to spread. In today’s communally delicate times when a person’s patriotism is questioned based on his religion, Mulk hits the right notes. The movie does not take sides, but succeeds in conveying how impressionable young minds are polluted by the political and religious discourse in our country. One of the best dialogues in the movie is – ‘Terrorism is a criminal act, not a communal act’.

In terms of the craft and technicalities, Rishi Kapoor and Taapsee Pannu have strong characters and both play their parts seemingly well. Nina Gupta, Manoj Pahwa and Prateik Babbar provide ample support. They show the helplessness of an embarrassed outcast family and the courage of a righteous family fighting for their lost reputation.  The camerawork by Ewan Mulligan is quite natural and real. Anubhav Sinha has not had a decently reputable movie before and Mulk seems like his best work till date. A special mention of the dialogue writer (I could not find the name of the dialogue writer), for those thought-provoking dialogues.  

Mulk, will make you uncomfortable at times and uneasy with the injustice, especially in the first half. The second half is where it gets slightly problematic with the unconvincing courtroom arguments. None the less, it has a very pertinent message with no over-the-top preaching. The judge, played by Kumud Sharma, says in his closing statement -  Agar koi samaaj mein acche aur boore ka bhedhaav karein, toh ghar pe calendar mein dekh lena election ke liye kitne din bache hai’ – perfectly summing up the fool our country is made, in the guise of ‘Dharm’ and ‘Desh-Bhakti’. In spite of its problems, Mulk definitely deserves a watch!

My Rating 3.5/5

P.S: It is so good to see Sunidhi Chauhan singing songs for many movies lately. This movie also has a number by her!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

RX 100 - Movie Review

Over the last couple of years, Telugu cinema has seen some great works by debutantes like Pellichoopulu and Arjun Reddy. Just like everyone else, I hoped that this would pave way for more such interesting work in the Telugu Film Industry. But, debutante director Ajay Bhupati’s action love story, RX 100, starring newcomers Karthikeya and Payal Rajput is a big, appalling let down!

Shiva (played by Karthikeya) is a small-town orphan, living with and working for a local leader, Daddy (played by Ramki). Ramki has political allegiances with Vishwanatham (played by Rao Ramesh), whom he helps win the Zilla Parishad elections. Shiva, who runs a cinema theatre in this small sleepy town near Rajahmundry, falls for the snobbish and arrogant, Indu (played by Payal Rajput), Vishwanatham’s Bangalore-bred daughter. Predictably, the lovebirds are separated, where the girl is married off to an NRI in USA, turning her lovelorn hero into an aggressive rowdy. Whether they reunite or not, forms the rest of the movie. The movie which released last week has been garnering praise for its supposed ‘surprising twist’ in the second half, which gets a mention on its Wiki page as well. I wonder how can the viewers be so dumb and not see this coming – it was so evident and obvious!

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Leaving aside the predictability, a movie needs to develop its characters and layer its sequences accordingly, to create an engaging narrative. Sadly, the movie fails here on all accounts. All the characters are one-tone, barely giving a glimpse of their equations with each other or the reason behind the enmity between the warring factions. The performances are so flat and weak, that they barely evoke any emotion in the audience. Most of the cast seems to know of only one emotion – aggression, which reflects in almost any scene that you pick. Tickets for this movie should have come with a user manual on decoding the bland expressions on most of the actors faces. Even the love-making scenes meant to be sensuous are complete damp squib. The comic scenes are not funny at all, but, the dialogue writer leaves the audiences unintentionally in splits, owing to some of the most clichéd lines written in recent times. With a song popping up every 10 minutes in the first half and an excessive dose of background score, the movie further tests your patience!

Director-writer, Ajay Bhupati, tries to be a mix of Sriram Raghavan of Badlapur and Sandeep Vanga of Arjun Reddy, failing miserably to be either! A director is responsible to get the best out of his actors and tighten the script, but he seems as less involved in the making of this film as I was while watching it! At 2 hours and 30 minutes, the movie is ridiculously long, and by the time it reaches its crescendo, the viewers have already given up. Speaking of the performances, Karthikeya, playing the lead, clearly tries to revisit Vijay Devarakonda’s aggressive Arjun Reddy, but struggles to show any other emotion or even look half as convincing. Payal Rajput is given the quintessential props of an independent women in Indian cinema– she is a snooty, motor-mouth, cigarette smoking woman, who is open about her sexual needs. Giving credit where it’s due, for the first time, a movie talks about women being as capable of objectifying and lusting for men, as men are for women! Among the other actors, not a single supporting cast displays even an ounce of honesty in their characters. A talented actor like Rao Ramesh is the only one who is worth watching, to a certain extent. A special mention of the brilliant camera work (I was not able to find the cinematographer’s details online), for using some of the most slick and innovative shots. One such unusual shot was in the beginning of the movie, where a character is shown running, with his arms brushing against the frame of the camera to show his movement.

I cannot remember when was the last time I had to endure such a long and emotionless tirade. I always jot down my thoughts on my phone during a movie, for writing my reviews. Some movies are so engrossing that I get time to make notes only in the interval, while most others give me a breathing moment in between. In this case, my phone was out throughout the movie, giving me enough time to write a novel to critique it! Watch it if you must!

My Rating: 1/5

Friday, July 20, 2018

Dhadak - Movie Review

A disclaimer before I begin – I have not watched the Marathi hit, Sairat, of which Dhadak is an official remake. I have not even seen its rushes or the extremely popular song, ‘Zingaat’. So, this is an opinion solely based on director Shashank Khaitan’s ‘Dhadak’, with no parallels being drawn to ‘Sairat’.

Dhadak, introducing Janhvi Kapoor and Ishaan Khatter, is a poignant love story of two young college going protagonists, Madhukar (played by Ishaan Khatter) and Parthavi (played by Janhvi Kapoor). Parthavi is the only daughter of a powerful feudal lord and politician, Ratan Singh (played by Ashutosh Rana) and takes pride in flaunting her clout. Madhukar, on the contrary, is a simpleton and son of a small-time restaurant owner in Udaipur. This sweet teenage romance is soon disturbed by the upheaval caused by Ratan Singh, owing to the class difference between his princess daughter and the pauper she falls in love with. The lovestruck couple run far away from this mess and the rest of the movie tracks their shaky journey ahead.

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True to Karan Johar’s Dharma style, Dhadak is shot on a grand and beautiful canvas. With the backdrop of a picturesque Udaipur, the camerawork by Vishnu Rao romances the beautiful faces of its leads. Director Shashank Khaitan, who has also written this adaptation, leaves his trademark stamp in the form of a pretty heroin, a rich-poor divide and – an unevenly paced narrative. This is the biggest problem with the movie – that it does not let its viewers get emotionally invested in it. The first half is used to develop the love story and feels rather long, especially since one can predict what is about to come. Post interval, the movie picks up pace, albeit a wobbly one. The plot is set against the backdrop of differences based on caste, social standing and politics. But these are not layered well to create a seamless flow. Especially towards the end, the director hurriedly moves towards the climax, without letting the viewer understand the gravity of the situation. Nonetheless, the movie has its elements – the banter between the lead couple and the antics by Madhukar’s friends. Ankit Bisht and Shridhar Watsar, who play Madhukar’s friends evoke quite a few laughs and act more than mere sidekicks. Ashutosh Rana as Parthavi’s arrogant and haughty father, Ratan Singh, gets an ill-conceived role, but is good in whatever little he gets.

But, the surprise package here are the leads, Ishaan and Janhvi. While Ishaan had already garnered praise for his first movie, ‘Beyond The Clouds’, it is Janhvi, who makes a strong and confident debut. She not only looks extremely beautiful, accentuated by Manish Malhotra’s creations, but emotes rather well for a new-comer. She looks a bit underprepared in the initial Udaipur sequences, but delivers a good performance once she gets comfortable. Ishaan fits the role perfectly, as a young first year undergrad student, and displays the nervousness and vulnerabilities of a regular 20-year old. Their equation looks endearing and their trajectory from uncomfortable teens to a married couple is captured beautifully. Both the leads are also gifted with extremely emotive eyes and show good command over their craft, much better than the histrionics shown by their respective half-brothers in their debuts (Arjun Kapoor and Shahid Kapur in Ishaqzaade and Ishq Vishk, respectively).

A word of caution, the movie uses a language heavily influenced by Marwari, so non-native Hindi speakers may find some dialogues hard to understand. Also, it is an adaptation of a much successful and gritty, Sairat. But, every director and writer brings in his own sensibilities and treatment to the narrative. So, watch it with an open mind, without comparing it with the original, because it is a good one-time watch!

My Rating – 3/5 (0.5 just for its lovely leads)

P.S – Interestingly, Janhvi’s half-brother Arjun had made his debut in a similar Romeo-Juliet kind of love story, Ishaqzaade. But he was lucky to have got Habib Faisal calling the shots with no colossal comparison to another film, and this is where Janhvi is unlucky.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Sanju - Movie Review

While I was watching this movie, a fleeting thought that occurred to me was that biopics are very difficult to make. A person carries multiple facets throughout his life and condensing it to a duration of 3 hours is no easy feat. Hence, it is the writer’s prerogative to show whichever facet he wishes to delve into. Sometimes, the writer’s perspective connects with the audience and the other times, it just appears not completely honest. Director Rajkumar Hirani’s much awaited ‘Sanju’, falls slightly in the latter category.   

Written by the director himself along with his co-writer from his previous blockbusters, Abhijat Joshi, Sanju is a retelling of the tumultuous times in the life of ‘Bad Boy’, Sanjay Dutt. With a spectacular Ranbir Kapoor in the lead, Sanju has an equally strong supporting cast, headlined by Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal, Sonam Kapoor, Manisha Koirala, Dia Mirza and Anushka Sharma. The movie is the journey of Sanjay Dutt, focusing majorly on his tryst with alcohol, drugs and his infamous brush with the law in the 1993 Mumbai blasts. This is where I found the writing to be uneven and not completely honest. The focus seemed to be primarily on Sanjay Dutt’s legal troubles and at one point, it seemed like the movie was made to cleanse his image. Probably, the other facets of his life were not included as they involved prominent people – his publicly famous affairs with his leading ladies, his two wives before Manyata, his estranged daughter and his equation with the other actors in the industry. So, the writers chose a script that tries not to offend anyone.

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The makers also issue a disclaimer that the movie is based on ‘true events’, but they have taken certain ‘cinematic liberties’. So, the writers can be given the benefit of doubt about their narrative, where the lines between facts and fiction seem to have been blurred. For example, one of the prominent characters is Sanjay Dutt’s best friend, Kamlesh Kanhaiyalal Kapasi (played by Vicky Kaushal) – a friend nobody heard about before today. But, the bumpy writing is camouflaged by brilliant performances by the well-cast ensemble! Ranbir Kapoor as Sanjay Dutt is phenomenal! He acts with so much conviction that you see Sanjay Dutt on the screen, and not Ranbir Kapoor. He puts his well-honed acting skills to good use, and transforms brilliantly from a 21-year-old drug addict to a middle-aged man fighting to get his name cleared. It is undoubtedly his best performance till date!

Among the supporting characters, it was Vicky Kaushal as Sanjay Dutt’s Gujarati bestfriend, Kamli, who has outdone himself. He is witty, has the perfect Gujju-slang and delivers a powerful performance, maintaining his ground without being the main lead. After a very long time, we see Paresh Rawal in an extremely important and lengthy role as Sanjay Dutt’s father, Sunil Dutt, playing the guide and teacher that Sanju needed. His scenes with Ranbir Kapoor are pure gold, especially the one where they both sing at the harbor. Also, I liked his life lessons and linking them to Bollywood songs. Manisha Koirala has a small role, but is effective and should work more often! Sonam Kapoor, after being the weakest actor in ‘Veere Di Wedding’, delivers a much better performance, as Sanjay Dutt’s Parsi girlfriend who leaves him to marry a doctor in USA (Parsi and Married to a doctor in the US- Subtle reference to two of Sanjay Dutt’s most famous affairs!). Dia Mirza is just about okay, but my major issue was with the caricature played by Anushka Sharma. As Sanjay Dutt’s biographer, she is placed under a quirky façade, with atrocious hair and sky-blue eyes, making her look less of a human!

The movie has a typical Rajkumar Hirani stamp all over it – it is comical, it has subtle romance, there is rebellion and bouts of emotional scenes too. But, the emotional connect somehow gets lost due to the various inconsequential subplots and some Bollywood masala elements. Rajkumar Hirani is one of those rare directors, whose repertoire is a testimony of successfully blending elements of mass appeal with a strong message. Like ‘3 idiots’ talked about the flaws in our education system and ‘PK’ questioned superstition, Sanju tries to fight sensational journalism and trial by media. Rajkumar Hirani, who also edited the movie, keeps it crisp by reducing the length of the songs. But still, the movie is generously long at 2 hours 45 minutes.  

Despite the irregular writing and its length, Sanju works for its brilliant performances and Rajkumar Hirani’s craft. But yes, it deserved a better script.

My Rating – 3/5

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Lust Stories - Movie Review

In 2013, prominent directors from Bollywood -  who cater to different genres and audiences - came together to make an anthology, ‘Bombay Talkies’, which beautifully showcased the stark contrast in each of their story lines and the reflection of each of the director’s sensibilities.

In 2018, ‘Lust Stories’ is an anthology directed by the same set of directors - Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar - focusing on the common theme of lust and how it is more complicated than love. Released only on Netflix, this movie boasts of an ensemble cast comprising of Radhika Apte, Neil Bhoopala, Bhumi Pednekar, Manisha Koirala, Jaideep Ahlawat, Sanjay Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Neha Dhupia and Vikky Kaushal.

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The movie opens with the part directed by Anurag Kashyap, which was co-written for the screen by its leading lady, Radhika Apte. Kalindi (played by Radhika Apte) is a married, young professor, who has a one-night-stand with one of her students, Tejas (played by Akash Thosar). Kalindi is fierce, bold, but also extremely insecure. In beautifully shot monologues with Kalindi, one is made to understand that she seeks validation through this fling. She hopes this lust does not affect her, but it does - she becomes erratic, envious and in a scary, yet comical turn of events, displays how possessive she is about Tejas. Among all the 4 stories, I was extremely intrigued by this one – solely because it warranted a greater deal of explanation and squeezing it into a slot of 30 minutes was a daunting task. The director succeeds in doing so to a certain extent, but, I wished for more. Nonetheless, Radhika Apte brilliantly makes up for it, as the vulnerable, jealous and restless middle-aged woman, who seems to justify her antics through condescending thoughts.

The second short film is shot by Zoya Akhtar, starring Neil Bhoopalam and Bhumi Pednekar. Ajit (played by Neil Bhoopalam) is a typical white-collared single man, living alone in a tiny 1-BHK in the Maximum city. He is in a physical relationship with his maid, Sudha (played by Bhumi Pednekar). While it is evident that he only lusts her, Sudha secretly harbors feelings for him, which come down crashing when Ajit’s wedding is fixed. Zoya Akhtar specializes in using subtle nuances to highlight deep relationships and using a simple clutter-free story, she delivers here as well. In this short, Bhumi Pednekar barely gets 2-3 dialogues but uses her expressions and body language to drive a point, which is praiseworthy. I particularly liked her encounter with a fellow maid (played by Rasika Duggal), which acts as her moment of realization that being a domestic help, all she can expect is lust and not genuine love. I would also laud the cinematography on this one, for excellently using the dark, congested Mumbai flat to add to the tension of the narrative.

The next short in the series was directed by Dibakar Banerjee. Among all 4 of them, this one was the most unsettling story, that tries to break the mould that we usually see Indian women in. Reena (played by Manisha Koirala) is in a love-less marriage to Salman (played by Sanjay Kapoor), and seeks solace in the arms of her husband’s best friend, Sudhir (played by Jaideep Ahlawat). This story moves mostly in the form of conversations between a woman who seeks to free herself from the shackles of an unhappy marriage, her paramour who lusts for her but is unsure of taking the relationship ahead and a husband who treats his wife as a mere possession. What is unsettling is the sheer fact that Reena plays a bold, carefree and spirited woman, who puts her life before her teenage daughters – a reason her husband and her lover give her to reconcile with the man she does not love. Her relationship with Salman is beautifully explained – she does not love him. That does not imply she hates him, either. It was lovely to watch Manisha Koirala after a long hiatus, in a role which breaks the stereotype about women and their needs and sensuality. Jaideep Ahlawat is finally getting his due and he is impressive, just as Sanjay Kapoor.

The last one in the anthology is a light-hearted take on sexual satiation by Karan Johar. Megha (played by Kiara Advani) is a school teacher whose wedding is arranged by her parents to a boy-school bred novice, Paras (played by Vikky Kaushal). But, her marital life is marred by the incompatible sexual urges of the couple. In a comical sequence, Megha is compared to a cat who has ‘9 janam! Apne pati se 2 zyada’, while Paras calls himself a devil in slumber – an alligator. Clearly, the comparisons being used as a euphemism for their sexual prowess. Drawing inspiration from her colleague, Rekha (played by Neha Dhupia), a sultry librarian, Megha decides to take things in her own hands to reach where her husband was not able to (Yes! Pun intended!). Coming from Karan Johar’s stable, it has elements of comic relief and never becomes overtly uncomfortable for its sexual innuendos, though while trying to fit it into 30 minutes, the director seems to rush towards the end. Kiara Advani was a surprise and delivers quite an impressive performance. Vikky Kaushal has an endearing aloofness around his character, which makes him a treat to watch. Full points to Karan Johar for ruining his trademark background score from K3G for a scene in this movie!

Lust stories is a mixed bag – some simple stories told well and some complex stories tried to be told well. While all of them have done a worthy job, if I must rank the directors based on their work in this movie, it would be Zoya Akhtar > Dibakar Banerjee > Karan Johar > Anurag Kashyap. In terms of the performances from each of the shorts, it would be Radhika Apte > Bhumi Pednekar > Manisha Koirala > Kiara Advani. (Girl Power!!)

Best part is that it is free (if you have a Netflix account, that is), making it a definite watch.
My Rating – 3.5/5

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Kaala - Movie Review

Ever since Rajinikanth reached the heights of superstardom, his movies have always been extravagant, larger than life and a display of his charismatic style. But, no matter how well his last few movies fared at the box-office, I was largely disappointed by almost all his movies since the 2010 release, Robot/Enthiran. But, he seems to have redeemed himself to a certain extent with his latest outing, Kaala. With an ensemble cast comprising of Nana Patekar, Easwari Rao and Huma Qureshi, director Pa Ranjith’s ‘Kaala’ is a decent attempt at glorifying the phenomenon called Rajinikanth, without portraying him to be invincible.

Karikaalan AKA Kaala (Rajinikanth) is a people’s messiah and the uncrowned king of Dharavi, the largest slum-dwelling in Mumbai. Kaala is a migrant from Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu and fights for the land and rights of his fellow migrants, when an extremely powerful politician, Hari dada (played by Nana Patekar), tries to grab these 100s of acres of prime land in the heart of the Maximum city. But his ambition is no cake walk as long as Kaala stands guard to Dharavi, along with his loud wife, Selvi (played by Easwari Rao) and his three children – each seem to represent a section of the society – one is an activist, one is a working-class commoner and the third one is a violent extremist. Supporting his fight against the mighty and powerful, is a renowned social activist and Kaala’s former fiancé, Zareena (played by Huma Quereshi). Predictably, he mobilizes a people’s movement against the wrongful redevelopment of slums in Dharavi.

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With Rajinikanth making a foray into politics, Kaala seems to have been made with an ulterior motive of appeasing the crowds. There are plenty of mass-appealing and whistle-worthy monologues by Rajini about the atrocities being committed on the poor. At certain places, it starts looking like a launch pad for his political career and party. There are some sequences where the movie feels unconvincing, such as a plot involving police conniving with the baddies, to arrest and later plot to kill Kaala. But, there are some places where Kaala is not shown as a demigod – he is vulnerable and not exactly a one-man-army, something we are not used to seeing often. I also particularly liked the parallels drawn between the narrative and Ramayana, with Kaala being equated to an intelligent, ten-headed, Ravana. Also, Kaala warns Hari dada to be wary of the rainbow-like colorful people of Dharavi, which the director metaphorically refers to the various colors in a Holi-like sequence, making it an aesthetically well shot climax.

Among the actors, Easwari Rao is impressive as Kaala’s devoted, loud-mouthed wife, Selvi. She has a tangy slang, mixed with subtle humor and an extremely expressive face. She also shares a warm chemistry with Kaala, played by Rajinikanth. Nana Patekar exudes the vibes of Amitabh Bachchan from Sarkar Raj, and his character seems to be influenced by the same late Maharashtrian stalwart. Among the other cast, Manikandan as Lenin, Anjali Patil as Puyal (lovely to see her after being wonderful in Newton), Huma Qureshi as Zareena and Samuthikaran as Vaaliyappan leave an impact with their supporting roles. But, in the end, it is an out-and-out Rajinikanth movie. And he is in great form with his salt-and-pepper look, playing his age and radiating the trademark Rajini style. The cult of Rajinikanth is on full display in a sequence on Marine Lines flyover, shot extremely well in the shades of black (#Kaala). He is also witty and authoritative, in the face-off with Hari dada at a Police Station.  It was refreshing to see the director not getting seduced by the urge to exalt Rajini alone, but create a strong supporting cast around him.

A special mention to the camera-work by Murali G, who uses sweeping shots, close ups of feet of the villains, shaky wide angles and the beautifully gloomy shades of black and grey. After a lackluster Kabali, Pa Ranjith delivers a long, slightly unmoving, but a rather decently made ‘Kaala’.

Despite its flaws, length and a predictable story-line, Kaala is a good one-time watch, especially after a series of rather insipid movies from Rajini in the last few years.

My Rating -2.5/5

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Veere Di Wedding - Movie Review

This week’s big release is the much-awaited ‘Not a Chick Flick’, Veere Di Wedding (VDW), starring Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam K Ahuja, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania. Directed by Shashanka Ghosh, who earlier helmed Khoobsurat for producer Rhea Kapoor, returns with a promising concept that tries to explore female friendships, which was largely left unexplored in Bollywood. What could have easily been the female Pyaar Ka Punchnama, thankfully, does not end up being a show of misandry.

As it is evident from the trailer, the movie is the story of four childhood girl-friends, whose friendship is thicker than their bonds with their families. Kalindi Puri (played by Kareena Kapoor) is a commitment phobic girl, who finally agrees to get married to her long-time boyfriend, Rishabh Malhotra (played by Sumeet Vyas). Owing to her disturbed childhood, Kalindi AKA Kalu finds families and relatives to be claustrophobic and develops a cold-feet after meeting her fiance’s loud and large family. Her best friends or veeres as they call themselves, arrive to support Kalu. The first Veera, Avni Sharma (played by Sonam Kapoor) is a ‘Divorce Lawyer’, whose mother is relentlessly pursuing her to get married. Then comes Meera Sood (played by Shikha Talsania), mother to a two-year-old kid from an American husband. And the last one, Sakshi Soni (played by Swara Bhaskar), a motor-mouth firebrand on the verge of a divorce. The movie is essentially about how the Veeres help each other face their demons, generously showered with profanities from Delhi.

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Director Shashanka Ghosh, much like his previous film Khoobsurat, makes the movie over-the-top at certain places. The entire childhood sequence seems contrived and so do the flags outside Meera’s house in USA. And like Khoobsurat, VDW suffers from half-baked characters and the lack of a depth or emotional connect with the audience. If you compare this with other major movies about friendship, like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara or Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, it is noticeable that the director in such cases gives some time for characters to develop an emotional connect on screen, which is missing in the case of VDW. With a crisp run time of about two hours, the makers could have elaborated on the backgrounds of each of these characters, helping us build a connection. Just like Khoobsurat, VDW also has a variety of vibrant characters – loud and funny Punjabi families, the typical ‘Mohalle ki Aunties’ and an openly gay couple - but some of them only end up as caricatures, for the lack of depth. There are quite a few jokes on the nouveau riche from West Delhi, with their eccentricities that are laugh worthy. But the movie seems conveniently contrived towards the climax.

Having said that, VDW is not completely unwatchable. There are some genuinely funny and real moments too – like a nervous bride gulping vodka shots on the stage and asking the photographer to edit that out or the hilarious, quintessential and loud Punjabi guy from Delhi, who is after Avni. Given the producer, Rhea Kapoor’s love for making movies about India’s elite, she chooses the problems of urban rich women to make a movie. Their problems range from avoiding an extravagant wedding to a Bentley-driving woman abusing her blackmailing husband. Some of these moments are filled with laughter, while others just seem forced.

Kareena Kapoor Khan, has the better role among the other half-baked characters. As Kalindi, she delivers a decent performance, especially with her entertaining ‘dream sequences’. She is supported well by two good actors, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania, who seem more real and have good comic timing as well. Swara, as the cuss-word lover Sakshi, is good, but towards the second half, her half-baked character starts to feel like an exaggeration. The last ill-formed character is that of Sonam K Ahuja – in the form of a perfectly styled fashionista, claiming to play a lawyer. Like in Aisha, where Sonam was in the company of two better actors, Amrita Puri and Ira Dubey, being surrounded by three better actors in VDW make her look like a weakling, in terms of her acting chops. As I mentioned earlier, the supporting cast, especially Kalindi’s fiancé, RIshabh played by Summet Vyas, appear vibrant. But, not using them to their full potential makes them appear shallow. There are movies in the comedy genre like Golmaal, where the depth of the character becomes secondary as you look only for laughs. Then there are movies like Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani or Dil Chahta Hai or the guys gang flick, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara – all the movies which treated their characters well, to build a bond with the audience. VDW sways between a Rohit Shetty madcap and a Zoya Akhtar/Ayan Mukerji emotional comedy, resulting in a slightly disappointing fare.

VDW had a great potential to be a heart-warming tale of friendship between girls, had the treatment been right. Probably, I expected a Zoya Akhtar or an Ayan Mukerji kind of craft, which left me disappointed. But, going by the hooting and cheering in the packed theater, with women filling more than two-thirds of it, Veere Di Wedding seems to have struck a chord with some viewers. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

My Rating – 2.5/5

PS: This movie can become a B-School case study for the dozen-odd product placements done in the movie. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Parmanu - Movie Review

Bollywood has always made sure that patriotism is aptly shown as jingoism. Alia Bhatt’s thriller last month, Raazi, was one odd case of nationalism served right. Director Abhishek Sharma’s John Abraham starrer, Parmanu, is a movie on the famed nuclear tests in Pokhran in 1998, showered with all the quintessential cliches of Bollywood.

Ashwat Raina (played by John Abraham), is a righteous IAS officer with the Research and Strategy Department of GoI, dismissed after the failure of the Pokhran Nuclear Tests in 1995, that put India on the backfoot in the global arena. A dejected Ashwat is brought back from his self-imposed exile by the newly formed Atal Bihari Vajpayee government – a secret mission spearheaded by Principal Secretary to the PM, Himanshu Shukla (played by Boman Irani). Ashwat uses his indigenous ways of forming a highly efficient team of scientist and army personnel - by reading the interviews and magazine articles of these folks! The covert operation needs to be executed in record time, with minimal resources and while warding off the American spy satellites. The same is executed with generous dosage of melodrama, extremely contrived sub-plots and a poor display of acting skills.

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I understand cinematic liberty is taken open-handedly in Bollywood, and most patriotic movies end up being jingoistic, but my problem with Parmanu is the blurring of lines between fiction and facts. It is a well-known fact that Pokhran – II was a mission headed by former President A P J Abdul Kalam. There is no reference of him in the movie, instead, it tries to glorify Ashwat, a character it conveniently says, ‘will go down in the history unknown’. Keeping aside the distortion of facts, the movie also has some blaring mistakes in creating a world of the 90s – a volvo bus, chrono watch and practically entire wardrobe of Diana Penty – all way ahead of their time. I cannot help but compare with Raazi, where even though you know the outcome in the end, you are constantly on the edge of your seat. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Parmanu.

John Abraham, also the producer of the movie, in an interview to Rajeev Masand admitted that he did not want this movie to become falsely patriotic or jingoistic. It was not overtly patriotic like Border or Airlift, but had doses of monologues delivered by Ashwat about how the success of this mission will catapult the country into an elite league. And, he remains monotonous, like he has been in all his movies in the last 15 years. Boman Irani gets a decent role as the powerful bureaucrat, but has it is not meaty enough. Diana Penty has nothing much to do, except for uttering clichéd Bollywood dialogues as ‘passcodes’. The rest of the team is just about okay, with no performance in particular to rave about. Also, a special mention of Anuja Sathe, as Ashwat’s wife Sushma, who is a complete non-performer.

I think as an audience, I have been spoilt by a better portrayal of nationalism in Raazi. Had Parmanu release a couple of weeks ahead of Raazi, maybe it would have worked for me. But then, the creative liberties are too much to be overlooked. Watch it on TV, if you must!

My Rating: 2/5