Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Bhaagamathie - Movie Review

Horror and thrillers, without the sleaze like Bollywood, have always been audience’s favorite down south. Much like her previous big-ticket fantasy-thriller, Arundhati, ‘Bhaagamathie’ is Anushka Shetty’s return to the genre after a dismal, Nagavalli.

The movie is set with the backdrop of politics and corruption, with the story being weaved around a righteous IAS officer, Chanchala (played by Anushka Shetty), who is picked up to be used as a pawn in a political battle between the Chief Minister and his highly-ambitious-people’s-man, (played by Jayaram). Chanchala has a dark past of her own and is currently in Police remand. For certain reasons, she is picked up for a covert interrogation by CBI and is taken to a nondescript, old palace – Bhaagamathie Kota, rumored to be haunted by the erstwhile queen of the land, Rani Bhaagamathie.

As expected, the ghosts of the palace come to haunt its new occupants and there are quite a few scary and frightful sequences here. The first half is a bit plain and focuses on developing the characters and the plot of the film. The second half begins with giving the viewers some spine-chilling moments, but ends with a rather odd and far-fetched climax.

This being a typical, masala, Telugu horror flick, I did not expect to use my brain my much, and that is how I was least disappointed. Such movies are required to be enjoyed for the thrill it provides and one should not really look for the logic. But I was a bit disappointed with the climax and the unfathomable urge of our filmmakers to show the lead star positively, come what may! While we recently saw a mainstream star, Ranveer Singh, play a demon every movie-goer loved to hate, wish our Telugu folks also not shy away from portraying the leads with grey or negative shades.

Climax aside, Bhaagamathie has notable performance from Anushka Shetty. She has always been a favorite with directors making female-centric movies and she does not disappoint here. Also, it seems like playing strong and powerful characters is her USP now – from Arundhati to Bahubali, she has proved this time and again. Among the supporting cast Dhanraj and company provide a few laughs. Murali Sharma as ACP and Asha Sarath as the CBI officer lend ample support. The male lead, Shakti (played by Unnimukundan) gets an extended cameo, where he does not have much scope.

It makes for a decent one time watch, but do remember not to delve too much into logic and reasoning.

My rating: 3/5

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Masterclass on Simple Film-making: Newton

I know I am a little late to the party, but I happened to catch up on this much-acclaimed Rajkumar Rao starrer, Newton, today. Directed by Amit V Masurkar, Newton throws light on the daunting task of carrying out election duties in the problematic Naxal belt of our country.

A couple of days back, Merly Streep in an interview said that the most important quality that a good film-maker should possess is his vision to connect all the links and make the story-telling more nuanced and cohesive. While she said these for Steven Spielberg, I was constantly reminded of this statement and the need for a good scriptwriter to link all the loose ends and a good director to be able to rightly execute it.

While the plot feels way too simple - a principled officer has been posted to a Naxal prone village to preside at the Lok Sabha Elections voting. How he fights to get things done his way, with honesty and might. It may appear to be a rather simple concept, (just like another Rajkumar Rao starrer , Trapped) but has such well-written and intertwined plots, that it can definitely serve as a masterclass for any connoisseur of good cinema. I am listing a few of them that I thought were well thought and well connected:
  1. Newton's attitude of calling a spade, a spade: In the beginning itself, Newton ask the Election Inspector (Sanjay Mishra) a really obvious question, for which he is ridiculed. This forms the base for his attitude to not bow down to authority or seniors or his parents, and question everything that does not make sense to him.
  2. Newton's physical fitness: A regular plain joe, working in a 'sarkari-daftar' can seldom be assumed to be fit enough to sprint like a horse. The writers show a glimpse of his morning routine of jogging, to substantiate his fitness in the climax of the movie
  3. Newton's staunch adherence to his principles: Multiple instances - his unwillingness to agree to his parent's wish of getting married to the last scene, where he asks Malko (played by the lovely Anjali Patil) to wait for 5-minutes as it still was not his lunch time. It is clearly established that no matter how big or small the issue is, he sticks to his principles, come what may!
  4. Grim-reality, shown subtly: While the cops pressurize the tribal folks to come and vote, it also shows the grim reality the poor and ill-informed tribal folks face even today. On one hand they are forced to provide free local liquor to the cops, they also see the arrival of the cops as an opportunity to make money by selling chicken!
  5. Stanford-prison experiment, shown beautifully: Do people in authority misconstrue it for a free reign of power? This is shown through subtle nudges and powerful yet, understated dialogues by the villagers and Malko. One such beautiful moment is when Malko conveys to Newton to use his sixth sense - a gem of a moment where so much is conveyed with so little!
  6. Mean cops are not necessarily Mean: While the entire movie builds Asst Commandant Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi in a show-stealing role) as the mean cop, who has given up all hopes, there are scenes towards the end which make you melt your stance towards him. Their inadequate armory and under-payed salaries force them to become the way they are. 
  7. Subtle show of discrimination: The movie never openly mentions that Malko belongs to a backward caste, but beautifully portrays the bitter reality of discrimination and suspicion that they face. Malko puts it beautifully as she says - 'Aap jo ek din mein badalna chaah rahe hai, yehi dekhte hue hum badhe hue hai...'
  8. To each, his own: Honestly, I have not seen or spoken to anyone who belongs to a land marred by Naxal turmoil, but the movie hints at their helplessness in escaping both the cops and the naxals, in a nuanced way. And this is never directly conveyed, but put across through expressions and body language of the village folks. 
I am sure there might have been more such under-stated or finely nuanced sequences, which do not directly convey the message, but make one ponder about it to get the real meaning. It's so good to see a filmmaker use this style of story-telling to address the elephant in the room.

P.S: I know Rajkumar Rao has garnered a lot of praise for this one and was really good, but for me, Pankaj Tripathi takes the cake!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Padmaavat - Movie Review

Way back in 2008, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB), made a French Opera 'Padmavati' on the same theme as this much-debated film, which had received a standing ovation from the audience. With a change in the name and a magnificently large canvas, 'Padmaavat' comes out as the most opulent film SLB has ever made. Sadly, grandeur does not make up for the bumpy-ride.

Based on a Sufi poets fictional poem, Padmavat, the movie traces the story of Rani Padmavati of Chittor (whether part of history or a folklore is something that remains debatable). In summary, it is the story which we have read in our school books as well - Mighty Khilji ruler, Allauddin Khilji, hears of the beauty of Rani Padmavati of Chittor, and wages a war against her husband, Maharawal Ratan Singh to claim victory over her and Chittor. But as the norm in the day was, the Rajputi women self-immolate themselves instead of falling into the hands of the enemies, once their men lose the battle.

The movie, in signature SLB style, is extremely beautiful in every frame. And like a quintessential Bhansali film, it suffers from its directors love for romancing with the celluloid. The first half is especially slow and lengthy, with too many subplots increasing the run time. In the hindsight, I reckon all these sub-plots were necessary to build the three main characters - Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) and Allauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh), but it is important for a director to adopt alternative style of narration, to cut down on the run time. For instance, the story of the three brothers in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows', is depicted using a 2-minute narration using cartoons. In Hindi cinema, I can think of another period drama - Jodhaa Akbar, which had used a map to show the changing rule over Indian sub-continent, with the baritone of Amitabh Bachchan to go with it. The point is, there are a lot of other ways which a director can use to make the narrative shorter, crisper and keep the audiences engaged. SLB gets overboard while romancing the larger-than-live canvas, that the first half leaves the viewer exhausted.

Image result for padmaavat poster

Thankfully, the second half picks-up much better! Here, the characters invest their emotions into the story and that makes for an interesting watch. While the end with Jauhar was expected, your heart goes out to the women and their fight for their honor. Coming to the performances, Ranveer Singh as Allauddin Khilji delivers one of his best performances - he is shrewd, has menacing eyes and maneuvers well in the climax from an arrogant Sultan to a helpless man. Shahid Kapoor is good as the subdued Rajput Rana and rarely does his performance come out as fake or contrived. As Rani Padmavati, Deepika Padukone was expected to carry the film on her shoulders, and she succeeds to a great extent. While I liked her performances, I wish she showed more shades to her character than those stoic stares and moist eyes. One such scene where she slightly shows other emotions is in the second half upon her return. I will still be biased and give her the points for this one :P

Special mention to SLB again, this time for the beautiful background score. The haunting music in the climax remains with you even after the movie ends (its still playing in my head as I write this!). Among the other performances, only Jim Sarbh gives a notable performance as Sultan Khilji's close confidante, Mallik, helping SLB throw a heterosexual angle to Khilji's personality.

While I am happy the movie could finally see the light of the day, I would have been happier if the movie was crisper and a little faster in the first half. At 2 hours 43 minutes, it feels much longer than it actually is. But yes, it is still definitely worth a watch.

My Rating - 3/5

Cons: A super lengthy first half
Pros: A fast-paced second half