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!