Sunday, September 30, 2018

Pataakha - Movie Review

Watching Vishal Bhardwaj’s Patakha reminded me of Shyam Benegal’s last two rural comedies, Welcome to Sajjanpur (2008) and Well Done, Abba! (2010). They are all great examples of real country folks forming endearing characters, weaved into a novel plot by their brilliant craftsmen, Benegal and Bhardwaj, and performed by a bunch of gifted actors. The similarities do not end here. These are movies which may not appeal to everybody’s pallet, seem a bit overstretched and yet, let you come out of the theatre with a smile.

As it was evident from the trailer of the movie, Patakha is the story of two warring sisters, Champa (played by Radhika Madan) and Genda (played by Sanya Malhotra). Set in a quaint village in Rajasthan, these are two brash, wild and wicked sisters who run for each other’s throats at the drop of the hat! While they steal each other’s possessions, one also covers the other with a blanket on a cold night. Their belligerence always adds to their father’s (played by Vijay Raaz) woes. Adding fuel to the fire or sometimes even creating the fire, is their friend, neighbor and a vagabond, Dipper (played by Sunil Grover), who plays a referee and an instigative Naarad Muni between the two. Eventually, the girls elope with their respective lovers, Jagan (played by Namit Das) and Vishnu (played by Abhishek Duhan), only to realize that their fates are still intertwined – their spouses are brothers! The rest of the story, as the narrator puts it, is about adjusting with your relatives because ‘hum rishte chun sakte hai, rishtedaar nahi’.

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It is not easy to make a film on such a wafer-thin plot, which was summed up in the 2-minute long trailer of the movie. Kudos to Vishal Bhardwaj for writing the screen adaptation of writer Charan Singh Pathik’s short story, ‘Do Behnein’. He cleverly uses references to India, Pakistan and America as countries warring and clamoring for peace – a reference to the girls and other characters. Since his repertoire mostly includes screen adaptations of acclaimed books and stories, even here he creates a fun-filled world, but, it does not completely work. The second half seems dragged, also because you can predict the end that is coming. The narrative sees a few unnecessary subplots, created to lead to the climax, but could have been done away with or shortened. Also, the language is heavily influenced by Marwari/Rajasthani dialect and may be difficult for a large portion of the audience to comprehend. I had to keenly watch to understand the comical usage of English words such as ‘Samraat phun’ for smartphone and ‘lub ju’ for love you.

One of Vishal Bhardwaj’s greatest prowess is his ability to get the best out of his actors. Every single performance in the movie is pitch-perfect. Vijay Raaz perfectly plays a positive character after a long time and draws your sympathy as the helpless father. Namit Das and Abhishek Duhan support their spouses well and perform well in their capacity. Sunil Grover, as Dipper whom you will love to hate, is a fantastic character who could have well become a caricature. He uses his comic timing to his advantage and creates quite a few laughs. But, it is the leads, Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra, who outshine everyone else. With author-backed roles and a gifted craftsman, Vishal Bhardwaj, they get to showcase their talent immensely. Radhika Madan makes her big screen debut and plays the part with honesty. Sanya Malhotra, after Dangal, delivers a lovely performance, as the quarrelsome younger sister. They both age from teenagers to middle-aged women and look, behave and perform their parts with complete conviction.

Unfortunately, only good performances, punctuated by good music, does not make it an interesting watch. I wish the length and the language were a little easier on the audiences. Also, you have already been cautioned - it may not appeal to all kinds of audiences. Watch it only if it does!

My Rating – 2.5/5

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sui Dhaga - Movie Review

In the beginning of director Sharat Kataria’s Sui Dhaga, a small-towner Mauji (played by Varun Dhawan) is shown being subservient to the whims and fancies of his boss, who runs a store that sells sewing machines. He entertains them by mimicking animals and obeys his masters like a ‘doggy’. Though ashamed, nobody in his family feels it is below their dignity, except Mauji’s docile wife, Mamta (played by Anushka Sharma). She does not ask him to quit but makes him realize the importance of dignity and self-esteem. She does not advise him, rather acts as a trigger throughout the movie that helps pave Mauji his entrepreneurial path. Truly, behind every successful man, there is a woman!

Sharat Kataria, as the writer, creates a beautiful world of the small-towners who dream big. Set against the backdrop of the failing indigenous textile industry with the rapidly increasing ‘readymade’ clothes, Sharat Kataria creates an empowering story, that falters in the middle, but thankfully manages to stand on its feet towards the end. Much like his previous National Award winning, Dum Laga ke Haisha, the story here is set in a small town, the characters are real, and the emotions are subtle. An animated, aggressive, yet naïve Mauji quits his mundane job and sets out to make a living out of his family profession – Tailoring. Supported by a submissive yet doting wife, Mamta, he sets out on a journey against all odds to make it big. This is where the film becomes a little repetitive. The hardships are real but seem a bit overdrawn. In Dum Laga Ke Haisha when the narrative seems to get stagnant, Sharat kataria cleverly used humor and his vibrant characters to reduce the monotony. This is where Sui Dhaga weakens. The story and the dialogues are not stitched to perfection and it is reflected in the pace as well. But, thankfully, these aberrations are overcome soon enough by a good rise in the tempo towards the second half.

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Playing a short-tempered, with innocence of every small towner, Varun Dhawan shines as Mauji. After October, this is another character with no pretense or larger-than-life image. From his banter with his father, played superbly by Raghubir Yadav, to his awkward equation with his wife Mamta, he plays the part with conviction. After playing firebrand and tomboys in all her movies, Anushka Sharma is great as the quiet and obedient Mamta, being the strong support and sensible thinker in their partnership. Through their journey of starting a label of their own, Mamta and Mauji discover each other as well, as they were married to the household before, and not to each other. But this is not a love story, it is a story of how a couple shows their love by being each other’s support. They are supported by a good cast, but none of them except Raghubir Yadav and Yamini Das as Mauji’s parents, stand out.

Through a world of deceit and exploiting the simpletons of our heartland, the narrative weaves an empowering and inspiring tale in the end. It is heart-warming to see a couple from the hinterland make their dreams come true, despite a few contrived subplots. We also get to see the talent that exists in our country and the makers seem to inspire many such Maujis and Mamtas to pave their path. Also, I felt the designs that Mauji and Mamta make in the movie seem straight out of a designer’s boutique in Juhu and not something an Indian artisan would make. But, since we are already connected to the duo and their dreams, it is easy to completely overlook it and feel happy for them. Despite the manufactured and forced problems in the middle, I came out of the theatre with a smile on my face and a great aftertaste!

With a run time of a little over two hours, Sui Dhaga is a breezy, comfortable watch. The endearing story with a warm and slow pace, along with the charming leads make you root for them.

My Rating – 3/5

Friday, September 28, 2018

DevaDas - Movie Review

Telugu films starring major stars always capitalize on their stardom, often making their characters in the movies larger than life. Nagarjuna himself has been a part of mainstream hits such as Sreenu Vaitla’s ‘King’, which was a fun, no-brainer mad capper and breezy romcoms like Vijay Bhaskar’s ‘Manmadhudu’. Nagarjuna – Nani’s latest outing, ‘DevaDas’ treads a path in between the two – tries to be a simple movie, unfortunately, with unrealistic subplots and glaring loopholes!

A flamboyant don, Deva (played by Nagarjuna), meets an upright, simpleton ‘MBBS, MS, Gold Medalist’ Dr. Das (played by Nani). This doctor-patient relationship grows from an overbearing goon arm-twisting a young and naïve doctor, to a strong friendship between a doctor and his lone friend, a robinhood-like don. The rest, as I said, is a botchy, loophole-filled narrative, which neither keeps you stay invested, nor adds any value to any of its characters. Director Sriram Aditya, who has also written this movie, uses his actors as mere stereotypes, by making all his characters one dimensional with no layer giving them a flat character arc. Agreed that we as Telugu audiences love and adore our larger-than-life ‘heroes’ in the movies, but, if a character is not given enough weight, it falls flat. Barring Dr. Das (to a certain extent), none of the other characters evoke any emotion or connect with the audiences. His screenplay in the first half is uneven especially in the first 30 minutes, when the narrative cuts across the lives of Deva and Das without a smooth transition. At 2-hours-and-44-minutes, it is way too long, and the makers seem to waste a lot of time in setting up the theme and over indulge in the second half trying to glorify both the male leads.

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A mention of the catchy music by Mani Sharma, as a couple of songs are quite hummable. Though some songs like the over-indulgent ‘Lakumikara’, mixing holi with dahi-handi and Ganesh Chaturthi, was a drag and seem to be in the movie just to let Nagarjuna flaunt his perfectly shaped abs! Among the characters, the one that has some layers is Dr. Das and Nani plays it with complete conviction. Even though his scenes as a medical practitioner seem contrived, his honesty and endearing nature makes the viewers overlook these flaws. He, along with Vennela Kishore, deserve to be praised for their impeccable comic timing, and sharing better chemistry than Nani shares with Rashmika Mandanna. Speaking of the girls, both Rashmika Mandanna and Akanksha Singh get a raw deal, where both their characters have good potential but are relegated to the background. Nagarjuna uses his charm and wit to his advantage and plays a one-tone larger-than-life don, but it is such a poorly written character, with no justification whatsoever for his Robinhood-like compassion or an explanation for Das and Jahnavi’s (played by Akanksha Singh) empathy towards a criminal. Honestly, I waited till the end for Deva’s story to be revealed to explain the gaps that were left in the narrative all along, but they remained as glaring loopholes. Even a charming Kunal Kapoor makes a majorly disappointing Telugu debut as the villain and practically gets nothing to do.

Two of the most adored romantic heroes unite for the first time but are let down by a weak script and poorly-etched characters. Imagine how insipid Devdas will be, without his Paro or Chandramukhi. Nagarjuna-Nani starrer DevaDas is equally bland without his Paro (script) and Chandramukhi (characters).

My Rating: 2/5 (0.5 only for Nani and because it is not unbearable)

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