Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: SHREELANCER


Like Looking Into A Mirror

3 wandering stars

Mini Review:

In the first five minutes if you don’t identify with Shree, then you have never freelanced, or know anyone who has, and then you have not lived. This movie was such a deja-vu, watching it was a personal experience! Clients who won’t pay, will pay in bits and pieces drive Shree to accept a wedding invite. The events that follow keep you involved with what happens to the lad. Shree may not look like Leo DiCaprio, but you like him and want him to win against this bad world.

Main Review:

‘I will have to go to the ATM, take some money now. Will pay later. ’
‘You forgot to put the phone number, client won’t pay, so we won’t pay you.’

If you have worked as a freelance person, then you would have heard these and many more excuses for not getting paid.

If you have ever worked, or attempted to work out of a coffee shop or shared work space, you would be grinning at Shree’s experience on the screen. People talking loudly, kids being allowed to run amok in the coffee shop, rude coffee shop attendants, and more. You’ve seen it all, and it is fun to watch it happen on screen to a chap who seems like such an everyman, you take an instant liking to him.

For someone like me, who has freelanced once upon a time, it was deja-vu. I nodded away in approval while watching Shree juggle calls from his father and clients and ad agency executives who won’t pay on time but want more work done…

Fed up of being treated as if working from a noisy coffee shop was some kind of freedom, Shree accepts a wedding invite to Punjab. His friend hands him over to his friends and goes off on a honeymoon. Shree is promised freelance work by the ‘friends’ and he goes to Manali!

Of course there’s alcohol and weed and he finds himself in the back of a truck further North.

His adventure makes you realise how quickly life can turn into an avalanche. But Shree in his funny pants (cheered silently by the audience) manages to survive. What I most loved was Shree’s ability to look at life through his camera lens and the fabulously written captions. That alone earns this film a standing ovation.

The film is raw, but the music makes up for any moments that make you think, let’s get a move on! The tying up of a strained relationship with his father is very nicely done. But the house looks too cramped to end up being what it becomes. Small niggly bits to a movie that put a smile on my face and kept it there.




P.S. Shree’s experience of waking up in a strange place reminded me of having tried home brewed alcohol in Uttarakhand once upon a time. We were robbed and woke up on a porch of some kind shepherd (covered with sheep blankets (ugh!). Cured me of alcohol for the longest time!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: BAREILLY KI BARFI


Ji Hero Heroine Ko Chhodo, Baki Sab Super Duper A-1!

2.5 stars

Mini review:

In a small town called Bareilly lives Bitti, a girl who can break dance, is outspoken and someone who smokes. Things which make her ineligible for marriage. After reading a novel written by a local lad, where she’s been described to a T, Bitti pursues the author with a view to marry him. The author’s friend is made to pretend to be the author. Comedy ensues when the friend seems to win the girl!

Main Review:

The director catches the small town flavour wonderfully by first casting Pankaj Tripathi as the father of the heroine and Seema Bhargava as the mother. Pankaj Tripathi’s presence in any film today is a guarantee of success. He just has to shake his head and he speaks volumes. Now Pankaj Tripathi is the owner of a Mithai (Indian sweets) shop, and his wife (Seema Bhargava whom we still fondly know as Badki from the first TV soap Hum Log) have a daughter Bitti (Kriti Sanon) who loves to break dance, smokes and is quick tongued. Three qualities which make her rather ineligible for marriage in a small town. Her parents love her but understand that she is not going to take a dumb question like ‘Are you a virgin?’ from a prospective groom.   

After shedding tears at the dwindling possibility of marriage, Bitti decides to run away from home. At the railway station, while waiting for the train she buys a book called Bareilly Ki Barfi written by a certain Pritam Vidrohi, and is shocked to find the author has described the heroine in the book as if he were describing her. Cancelling her plans to run away, she returns to seek out the man who did not judge her, but appreciates her wild ways, at least in the book.

Now the book has been written by Chirag Dubey (Ayushman Khurana in a yet another sad sack role) who works in his father’s printing press. The book is written for a girl who was married off to a rich lad. But Chirag realises he cannot use his own name as the author because everyone would know who the girl is. So he and his friend Munna (brilliant actor!) bully their stammering, shy friend Pritam Vidrohi into posing as a the author. Bitti seeks out Chirag to find out who the brilliant author of the book is. Chirag promptly falls in love with Bitti, but is unable to reveal the truth.

He promises to introduce Pritam to Bitti. Munna and Pritam bully Pritam again. But this time, the bullying backfires. Bitti seems to be falling in love with Pritam Vidrohi! Kriti Sanon is good, but she looks too urban to fit into a role of a small town firecracker.

That Rajkummar Rao is talented, you have seen. But here, he is amazing as Pritam Vidrohi who turns into a macho monster from the dithering shy lad the Chirag and Munna have grown up with. Every time he appears in the frame, he will make you wonder what he’s going to do next. Is he going to whimper and be shy, or is he going to be the tough guy with attitude?

The problem with this film, is that the hero fails to endear us to him. We have no logical reason to want to root for him. And that makes the second half feel longer than it is. In fact, Chirag is so nasty, you wish Pritam Vidrohi would get the girl instead. But it’s a Hindi film after all, and the hero must ride away into the sunset with the girl…




(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)    

Review: VICEROY’S HOUSE


Love In The Time Of Partition

4 stars

Mini Review:

Director Gurinder Chaddha shares her story of the partition setting it in the heart of politics: inside the house of the last Viceroy of India. It is a touching tale of one of the greatest human tragedies, a shameful part of our history, told in a very personal way. The film is beautifully shot, well acted and brilliantly directed. A must watch.

Main Review:

In dividing a country before leaving, what motive did the British have? We’ve studied history and there have been many, many melodramas and jingoistic films made on the subject of the Partition. Critics in the West have complained about how skewed the vision of the director is when it comes to history. But as a storyteller Gurinder Chaddha excels. Her story is personal, and when the end credits roll, and you see how personal, your jaws fall to the floor.

Viceroy’s House is grand, so grand that the outgoing lady of the house does not know how many people serve, ‘Over five hundred?’ she muses. War-rationing has made meat a rare treat and when Edwina and Pamela Mountbatten discover a cloche that has the most delectable chicken prepared specially for the family dog, Gurinder Chaddha offers you one of the most amazing scenes that is at once humorous and at once poignant.

Yes, there’s a love story of a young lad Jeet Kumar (played beautifully by Manish Dayal) and Aalia (the luminescent Huma Qureshi). We know this gentle romance seems to be doomed because of the history unfolding around them, the scene where their fingers touch, is perhaps the finest romantic moments one has seen on the screen. Nothing loud about it. Just romance that takes your breath away.

There are many such moments where you feel the director’s deft touch. The quiet friendship between Duleep Singh and Jeet Kumar, when Guptaji passes his handkerchief to the aide-de-camp after he has been spat upon, every time Jeet Kumar wants to speak of his love for Aalia to the brilliant Om Puri who plays her blind father, how Edwina (the marvelous Gillian Anderson, so uncannily real you are taken aback) looks at Nehru when he’s putting his best argument forward at the party…

You are meant to be horrified at the viciousness that bubbles up to the surface at the slightest of provocation. You understand why some people would dream the dream that Jinnah (played with conviction by Denzil Smith) promised them. You will be angry with Mohsin who cannot give up his religious identity. Your heart will break at the division of books from the library and cutlery from the Viceroy’s kitchen after the announcement of partition. Your heart will break when you realise that the head chef chooses to be in India and the sous chef chooses Pakistan. Your heart will rise up to your throat when you see Om Puri finally realising that Jeet Kumar really loves his daughter…

Yes, the end is a tad melodramatic, what with the microphone and all, but despite everything, when the black and white photographs accompany the end credits, you will realise how this film is a personal account of that time, and not a record of history. You come away with a sense of belonging. And also a question: If another Partition were to divide the nation today, would the separation be civil or just as bloody and horrendous?



(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)


VIP 2: LALKAAR



Dhanush Charms, Kajol Doesn't.


2 stars


Mini Review:


Dhanush takes the success of his Tamil hit ‘VIP’ and sets the sequel in Bombay. He is Raghuvaran, the engineer who has saved the SRA project and has loyal engineer fans, working honestly at Anitha Constructions. Kajol makes a comeback to cinema as Vasundhara, a builder/architect tycoon who hates Raghuvaran’s guts for refusing a job with her. She makes sure his company loses all contracts. But Raghuvaran is VIP! He will not back down. He makes her see the wrongs she is about to do, and wins her over!


Main Review:


The movie has been shot in Tamil and dubbed in Hindi, and even though that makes the film a tad stilted, you will still come away charmed by Dhanush. He can spout one liners as well as the Super Star Rajini (he’s getting there, he’s getting there!) and is good at comedy too. The comedy that involves drunk Dhanush, angry wife is meant for mass appeal. And the dances on the street (which is a must in any South movie) show that the audience is meant to dance in the aisles. But does the film succeed in telling a story, and well?


Dhanush as Raghuvaran is a charmer. He makes you smile when he’s pretending to be drunk, and makes you want to hug him when he talks to his mother (Saranya Ponvannan)  in times of trouble. You groan at the characterization of his angry wife (Amala Paul) and she doesn’t come across as an educated person, let alone a dentist.


What was alarming to watch is Kajol. As a rude, rich head of an architectural firm, Kajol plays Vasundhara who begins to hate Raghuvaran who refuses a job with her saying, ‘Sher ki dum banne se achha hai main billi ka sar ban ke rahoon’ (‘I’d rather be the head of a cat than the tail of a tiger’). Why is her character so rude? There is no explanation. And Kajol looks terrible as she walks almost always in slow motion, and the meanness of her character makes her look rather ghastly. She looks more plastic than human. Nothing, nothing explains why she wears the clothes she wears, and the rather alarming high heels (which architect in their right mind will ever wear such high heels at a construction site?) or why she does not move a single facial muscle while speaking. It makes for an alarming sight.


Thankfully Dhanush makes up for this ghastly vision by the decency of his character. It is endearing to see how he loves his moped and cares for the army of engineers he works with. He is such a good guy, you understand why his boss Balaji (Balaji Mohan) brings his life savings to help him start a company called VIP Constructions. Even if you have not seen the original film, the sequel stands on its own. The street dance items are fun watch but the translation of dialog: like when the policemen say, ‘These are engineers, how can we evict them?’, you wonder what do the policemen mean?

The last twenty minutes where Dhanush manages to persuade Kajol that the Amusement Park project will be dangerous and the rains, lights going off, both drinking wine, Dhanush’s wife making dosa for Kajol, all seem to be too over the top (even as a South film). You know that only a montage will push the film towards its rightful end.


(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)


Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: TOILET EK PREM KATHA


Akshay Ke Liye Prem.
Lekin Government Propaganda Katha Stinks

2 stars


Mini Review:


Jaya and Keshav fall in love. And when the bride comes home she discovers that she has to go with the ‘lota paltan’ to crap in the farms before the sun rises. There is no toilet in the house, because tradition dictates you defecate out in the open. Bride rebels, leaves home. The groom is humiliated, but understands and moves mountains of paperwork and government red tape to get public toilets installed in the village.


Main Review:

Based On A True Story. But Why Bollywood?

An out and out propaganda film, this Bollywood offering attempts to tackle a serious issue of hygiene and open defecation by taking a real life story and dramatising it. A bride actually left her marital home because she discovered they did not have toilets.


One hour into the movie, you begin to wonder how much more romance you are going to see between Keshav (played by a very earnest Akshay Kumar) and Jaya (Bhoomi Pednekar, very empathetic and beautiful). Akshay Kumar manages to earn an 'awwww!' from the audience because his Keshav is just such a nice guy. His moustache droops when he's sad, and supports his grin when he's happy. That's an achievement. His romance with the liquid eyed Bhoomi Pednekar is sweet.

And we would not mind the happy couple if it weren't for the ever present third wheel: Keshav’s younger brother played by Divyendu Sharma, who is so over the top villager, so grating on the senses (not only because he’s shown to be watching ‘Balam Pichkari’ on the phone all the time) that villagers should cover him up with a blanket and throw him in the middle of a herd of stampeding cows for saying ‘Mallika Bhabhi’ to the cow and ‘milk’ in the same sentence again and again.

The Government's Problem Is Very Real

It’s a reality that village women are not safe any more. They get attacked by wild animals and are bitten by snakes and scorpions when they defecate in the open. Women and young girls have been raped and then hung to die when they have stepped out into the woods to relieve themselves by men. Young men take pictures with their phones of women defecating, their heads covered, but arses visible to everyone. But is this film an answer?

The government both at the center and at the state level is trying and failing because, the film says, 'woh logon ki soch nahi badal sake'. The hero tries everything for his new bride. He even takes her on the motorbike to the train, which stops for seven minutes and she can finish her business. But it doesn’t answer the question: what do you do when you have to go during the day?

Crammed Second Half

It is in the second half of the film where the story actually takes off. Jaya forces his hand. She knows, this ‘jugaad’ of going to the train every day will not work. She leaves him. The filmmakers then speed up the film because they have to make the story work. The hero needs to believe that hygiene and safety are important and have a change of heart, then the father of the hero (played without a fault by Sudhir Pandey) needs to change, the villagers need to understand. The hero goes to the municipal authorities who need to change their attitude about providing toilets to the villages. The hero’s father needs to see why they need a toilet installed at home, the old granny needs to see the same, the family of the heroine need to show support to her cause, her mother needs to change her mindset…

So many things are crammed into the second half of the film you just watch it. Untouched. You realise that you have watched all this without even cringing at papa's pee on beta's cheek. You have no empathy when the village women come marching into courts demanding ‘saamohik divorce’ (mass divorce) from their husbands if they don’t get toilets installed. It's just not believable.


The need of the hour is providing public toilets and teaching the masses to use these toilets instead of defecating and polluting rivers and ponds. But is this film any more than the filmmakers genuflecting to the government? Paying deep obeisance to the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India campaign)? That sort of stinks, methinks.


  

Review: ATOMIC BLONDE


The Blonde Is A Bombshell. The Story Is A Dud.


2 stars


Mini Review:


There are spy movies and then there are pretend spy movies. This movie belongs to the second type. It’s all style and no substance. A battered and bruised Charlize Theron kicks butt, kills every bad guy, and the audience immersed in the action and the music realises - only when end credits roll - that story was a dud.


Main Review:


The soundtrack of this film can easily rival that of Baby Driver, but that’s not why we want to see a spy vs spy movie.


The action of the film is just superb. You’ve seen Charlize display awesome driving skills in Mad Max Fury Road. Now you see her kick butt in super high stilettos. The action scenes are simply stunning. So good, you forget that her ‘package’ was shot at from the first floor level and when she fights with the baddies - and what a fight it is -  she seems to be coming down endless stairs.


My jaw has stopped falling on the floor with single long shots during action after Birdman. But a fight she fights inside the apartment (in that confined space) made me feel just as vicious as she felt, and made me feel her pain every time she crashes into something. You begin to wish one of them gives up. You want her to bash the bad guy’s head into pulp. Now that is one good fight.


But when you see Machiavelli propped up especially for everyone to notice and quote is such a pathetic thing you groan. To have James McAvoy behave badly for everyone to see is such a terrible show of hands. The bosses already told her the chief has gone rogue. Then it’s proven. Where’s the mystery in that? And when everything in the plot seems dumb, they show two women kissing. Oh, come on! Do you have nothing else to give to your audience but a little titillation and dumb dialog like, ‘When you speak the truth, your eyes change color’... Such a waste. All these things look interesting in a graphic novel, but in a film? Lame.
That Charize Theron is gorgeous is of no doubt. That she can hold the attention of testosterone filled audience is also debate free. She also demonstrates the ability of walking in super high stilettos on cobbled streets without stumbling. She kicks butt, kills every bad guy in the movie, shows off her battered and bruised body, smokes like it’s back in style, and makes you wish you looked this good with half a bruise on you.

That apart, the film gives you nothing. The plot is wafer thin and you can see the end coming from a mile away. The Berlin wall crumbling is just there by the way, to add to style. Means nothing. If you want a spy story set in Berlin, stay at home and watch Bridge of Spies. If you like style, then watch this film.