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.