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 clich├ęd 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

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Mahanati - Movie Review

When we talk of some of the greatest names in the film fraternity, there are a lot of examples of them being victims of alcohol abuse and depression. From Silk Smitha to Guru Dutt, there have been many illustrious names which have suffered the side-effects of glitz and glamour. Savitri, known as Mahanati and Nadigaiyar Thilagam, was one such ill-fated actress who scaled the heights of super stardom, but her crumbling married life led her into a life of financial problems and alcoholism. Mahanati, directed by Nag Ashwin, starring Keerthy Suresh, Dulquer Salmaan and Samantha Akkineni, is an ode to actress Savitri and gives us an insight into her life.

The movie opens in the 1970s, when actress Savitri slipped into Coma, as a result of her alcohol addiction. A rookie newspaper reporter, Madhuravani (played by Samantha Akkineni) and a photographer, Vijay Anthony (played by Vijay Devarakonda) begin their probe into the life of Savitri to uncover the skeletons in her closet. Now in the abys of her personal and professional career, Savitri in a vegetative state hardly has any visitors. Through the people who knew her over the years, based on radio recordings and news archives, Madhuravani narrates the story of her life – a bubbly girl from Vijaywada, being introduced to the world of movies by her uncle (played by Rajendra Prasad) at the tender age of 14. She befriends a fellow male actor, Gemini Ganesan (played by Dulquer Salmaan) and soon falls in love with him. An already married Ganesan convinces Savitri of the sincerity in his love and marries her. Much against the wishes of her family and well-wishers, Savitri moves in with Ganesan and continues with her golden run at the box-office. She is the undisputed queen of the Telugu and Tamil film industries, starring opposite all the major film stars. Savitri’s super stardom coupled with the failure of his own movies hurt Ganesan’s ego and he dips himself into alcohol. A distraught Savitri tries her best to massage the fragile ego of her husband, even offering to quit acting all together. But the inevitable was waiting to happen – her personal life begins to fall and her addiction to alcohol make her vulnerable to being cheated, leading to her downfall.

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The movie works majorly because the actors and the technicians deliver an impact on the audience. It is a daunting task to encapsulate an entire lifetime of a person in a three-hour run time. The screenplay by Siddhaarth Sivasamy deserves to be applauded. The movie goes back and forth in time, and showcases all the major milestones in Savitri’s life. Her character is molded well right from her childhood till her death. Also, a special mention to the Director of Photography, Dani Sanchez-Lopez, for alternating between sepia, vintage and current scheme of colors. And finally, the music by Mickey J Meyer, is beautiful and punctuates the story well.  

As for the performances, the movie boasts of a rich gamut of stars– some in a pivotal role while others in a cameo. Samantha Akkineni as the narrator has a relatively small, yet meaty role. She acts extremely well within the scope of her character. Vijay Devarakonda, as the photographer with his heart set on Madhuravani, has a small part as the unintentionally funny colleague of hers. Dulquer Salmaan uses his raw attractiveness to his advantage. His graph as an actor goes from being a chivalrous man to a jealous husband, and he plays it with equal aplomb. The rest of the cast also delivers an honest performance, especially Rajendra Prasad. But it is the captain of the ship, Nag Ashwin and his leading lady, Keerthy Suresh, who deserve all the applause and accolades. The director’s brilliance is at display in his way of story-telling and the ease with which he takes us back in time. Keerthy Suresh in the titular role is fantastic as Mahanati Savitri. Blessed with an equally expressive face as Savitri, Keerthy gets the most well-written character in the movie and digs her teeth deep into it. From a mischievous 14-year old who idolizes ANR, to a young girl madly in love with a much-married man, to a delusional superstar at the brink of her crumbling life – she is brilliant!! Her acting prowess clubbed with her beauty make her a treat to watch. In certain scenes, especially the one after her weight gain, she is a spitting image of Savitri herself!

While the movie leaves you with a heavy heart and lump in the throat, it is a movie that is deserved to be watched. If nothing else, watch it for the fine performances and a great cinematic experience.

My Rating – 4/5

P.S: On the flipside - The length and the off-track subplot between Madhuravani and Vijay Anthony seemed not to be helping much with the main track.

Raazi - Movie Review

In the recent past, Bollywood has seen quite a few movies based on supposed real-life incidents of patriotism, such as Rustom, Airlift or Ghazi Attack. But Meghna Gulzar showcases a realistic story of nationalism, without demonizing the adversary – something we rarely see in the pseudo-patriotic movies of today. Based on a book, ‘Calling Sehmat’ by Harinder Sikka, Raazi starring Alia Bhatt is a riveting tale of an Indian spy married into a Pakistani family, to provide intelligence during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

Sehmat Khan (played by Alia Bhatt) is a young Kashmiri girl, who is trained and sent to Pakistan, in the guise of a bride of a Pakistani Army Officer, Major Iqbal Syed (played by Vikky Kaushal). Iqbal’s father is a high ranking officer in the Pakistani Army and so is his brother. In the words of Sehmat’s trainer, Indian Intelligence Officer, Khalid Mir (played by Jaideep Ahlawat), Sehmat is ‘Hindustan ki Aankhein aur Kaan’ in Pakistan. Underneath the doting wife and a dutiful daughter-in-law, Sehmat is a trained spy who passes crucial information to her handlers in India, that led to India’s win in the 1971 war. Though she is equipped with all the skills required as a spy, her innate quality of vulnerability makes her extremely real. Her transition is beautifully showcased by Meghna Gulzar and her co-screenwriter, Bhavani Iyer. From being a girl who flinches at a small cut in her feet, to strengthening her skills at fights and self-defense. From being an innocent girl who would not let even a squirrel die under a car, to becoming a soldier in the line of duty.

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One of the best things about Raazi is that it is never pretentious nor does it ever display over-enthusiastic nationalism – there are no chest-thumping sequences, no over-the-top patriotic dialogues and not a single contrived scene, like the ‘Saare Jahan Se Achha’ scene in Ghazi Attack. Also, Pakistan is not demonized, they are shown as sensible people fighting in their interest. While Meghna Gulzar has already proven her mettle with a brilliantly crafted ‘Talvar’, she repeats similar work that is nearly perfect. The movie is crisp and interesting, despite a slow and gritty pace. I call it near perfect because I found the final 20 minutes towards the climax slightly wavering. Special mention of the Cinematography by Jay Patel and the Art direction for creating the atmosphere in the 1970s.

The movie also boasts of a perfectly cast ensemble. All the actors fit their characters very well and deliver an authentic performance. Vikky Kaushal, as Sehmat’s husband delivers a subdued performance with never being over-dramatic. While the rest of the cast is also top-notch, special mention to Jaideep Ahlawat as Khalid Mir, Sehmat’s trainer, who shows a stern, yet a caring side. As I mentioned in my opening notes, Raazi is an Alia Bhatt show all the way. She is brilliant as the petite, vulnerable and guilt-ridden Sehmat, who puts the interest of her nation before hers. Though she is a trained spy, she is not a cold-blooded soldier – she has her vulnerabilities that make her extremely real. One of the best scenes is the one where she drives a Jonga – she is burdened with guilt and pain, but puts her duty over it. It is praiseworthy how a 25-year old plays such a complex character and never goes off-key even in a single scene. With every movie of hers, she seems to be outdoing herself.

Alia Bhatt and Meghna Gulzar have revalidated their talent and craft with Raazi. I hope it paves the way for more such realistic movies on India, sans the fake nationalism.

My rating: 4/5 (1 of this is exclusively for Alia)