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.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Review: GURGAON


It's Moody, Broody and Bloody.
And You Cannot Take Your Eyes Off The Screen.

3.5 stars

Mini Review:

How thin is the veneer of civilization? How easily can a debt snap family ties? How deeply can a man hate his sibling? How many daughters will be buried alive? How much money is enough? Gurgaon may be a suburb of the National Capital, but it has its own set of rules. And this film pushes us into a dark cruel world. When you emerge, shocked by the violence, you realise that you are equally primitive when you want to clap after the last gun is fired.

Main Review:  

Gurgaon stands for endless shining high rises, large fancy malls and flashy powerful SUVs roaring down unmarked, untarred roads. This suburb in the country’s capital was built by land sharks and bribes and shady deals with the government. But people would rather step into their fancy cars loaded with shopping bags than look at lawless frontier loaded with guns right across the street.

The director forces you to visit this underbelly of the suburb. There is no ‘La Vie En Rose’ here. There is blood and bribes and cruelty inside the fancy bungalows with tinted windows. Guns and patriarchy live here. And money that reeks of death.

Every visual in the film stays true to this promise. Take the flashback where Kehri Singh the farmer turns to violence in order to become Kehri Singh the builder. Beautiful innocent mustard fields become witness to fratricide. You watch in awe as his determination cannot be tripped by the cry of a baby. The film has been shot so beautifully that the tension which begins with daughter taking mirchi pakodas to her father as soon as she arrives from abroad stays until the moment where her mother is brooding over her death. The editing keeps you at the edge of the seat. And you realise that you too have taken sides with characters without being told who is right and who is wrong. The director’s invisible hand is guiding you to look at things you never thought you’d see on screen.

How much can one hate one’s better educated, smarter sibling who is clearly a favorite of the parents? If you said yes, then you will understand the simmering jealousy Nikki Singh (Akshay Oberoi) experiences when he sees how his drunk dad Kehri Singh (played brilliantly by Pankaj Tripathi) favors his sister Preet over him. Daddy-o crumples the plans of Nikki’s Powerhouse Gym leaflet and wipes his fingers and throws it on his dinner plate like a used tissue with complete disregard. Pankaj Tripathi say very little, and it is a pity that he’s shown rather drunk in most of the film, but his actions are nothing like a drunk person. His instincts are right. He brings in his estranged brother Hooda (Aamir Bashir in a surprise casting, well done!), who will come home to fix the crisis only on the behest of his wife (Shalini Vatsa). What crisis?

The vultures flying over dumped garbage may have an answer. Or men who will do anything for money. Or things that will go wrong.   

Some will say there’s too much of the Haryanvi dialect of Hindi being spoken in the film. There is that, but the raw language gnaws at you from the inside forcing you to look at the dark side of men. This film will not let you look away from the screen. You may not want to know people like those shown in the movie, but when you step out into the mall attached to the multiplex after the film, you might not want to go shopping. The film is that powerful.      

(This review appears on nowrunning dot com)

Review: WHEN HARRY MET SEJAL


Sejal Ko Jhelna Mushkil Hee Nahi, Namumkin Hai!
Harry Is Saved By His Midriff.

1 star

Mini Review:

Harinder Nehra aka Harry is a tour guide for Indians in Europe. One his rich tourists has lost an engagement ring and she wants to retrace her steps to find it. Her name is Sejal. The plot of the film is just like the ring: lost. And not even Shah Rukh Khan can save this pointless jaunt through Europe.

Main Review:

Not BUDAPEST again!

The makers of Rabta thought taking their film to Budapest would save their ridiculous plot about reincarnation. Imtiaz Ali thinks Budapest is going to save this ‘Desperate Gujju woman seeks lost ring by paying Tour Guide then falls in love with him’. Alas, his hopes are going to be dashed.

And no matter how many time lapse shots of the 'foreign location' are there, the audience wants content. I am personally horrified that these stupid films have ruled out Budapest as a tourist destination for us Indians! The locals probably think Indians are illegal immigrants (thanks to all the stupid scenes with Chandan Roy Sanyal and his stupid gang which are obviously shot here and not Portugal), or we're the types to start yelling early in the morning because we're missing tractor sounds and Punjab! Also we sing and dance and local people join in.

Our Trash In Europe

Yah! Like we Indians need to see a cute map telling us how two stupid Indians are off to search for a diamond ring. It's a miracle they did not show a picture of ring to everyone they met (like we do when kids are kidnapped, or when they're describing in pidgin English ' You saw this? You saw this?'). Not even Shah Rukh Khan can save this Euro (mein) trash. Anushka Sharma is cast as someone who is going to bride yet again (Remember Phillauri? She was ghost on tree who married some Manglik lad!). At least she had fun, floating about and was surrounded by stardust.

Aaj Phir Desperation Ki Tamanna Hai!

She has lost her engagement ring and is ready to pay Harry the Guide to help her retrace her steps. He goes with her reluctantly, but seriously, she could have done this on her own. She's a capable lawyer and all for family business.

Seriously though, this film should annoy Gujarati folk who are business savvy people. They could have recreated the diamond ring with much better diamonds and for much less than let the daughter go traipsing around Europe in search of a ring. They could even age the ring appropriately.

Remember how Rosie escaped from her horrible marriage and made a break for it with Raju Guide? Here she's not even living it up before she settles down with boring old Rupen. She's just... Well... You don't care!

'High Hopes!' she says to Harry who says she should not be wandering everywhere with him, but it is she who comes across as desperate. Following him into a night club, asking him if she were sexy... Unless she was thirteen and hormonal there is absolutely no excuse for her behaviour. Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met was so refreshing! She said, 'Main apni favorite hoon' and, 'Ab toh mera haath chhod do, itni bhi sundar nahi hoon main' and it suited her. Both Anushka and Shah Rukh needed a grown up script. Not this silly teenagerish, 'Why are you sister-zoning me?'

‘Sit Ne!’ Nahi, You Want To Say, 'BHAAAGO!'

Anushka Sharma speaks in this ghastly Gujarati accent which stereotypes her so much it grates on your nerves. You expect her to channelise her inner Daksha Virani (Ketaki Dave in Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi) and say, ‘Aa ra ra ra!’ every time she opens her mouth. It is supremely unattractive when they have to pretend to be ‘girlfriend-boyfriend’. Who are they kidding? If Sejal is just desperate to get laid before she starts a boring life with her boring Rupen, we would understand. But it is the pretense to innocence that is puke-worthy. No matter how much Shah Rukh says, ‘I’m a dirty old man!’, he doesn’t look it. He looks like he is made for romancing women, not use them and throw them.

So what’s there to like in this asinine film? Shah Rukh is still droolworthy. And he can still make you sigh. But then the bigger sighs are of despair. After the brilliant Raees, this looks like a pathetic excuse to holiday in Europe and ‘Chalo, let’s make some movie while we’re there!’

The last song and dance in Punjab ke khet sounded and looked fun, but by then we were hoping they stop making movies about people meeting. It's not Meet Cute any more. It is Meet Raddad Che!


P.S. A gentler version of this review appears on nowrunning dot com

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: INDU SARKAR


An Emergency Of Exhausting Proportions

1.5 stars

Mini Review:

Set during the emergency, a dark period in recent Indian politics, this is the story of an orphan who has a speech impediment. She discovers her voice when she gets married to a low ranking government officer who suddenly rises in power because his boss is a politician in cahoots with the ruling party. She joins the ragtag band of rebels, and fights the good fight. The film wanders directionless, starting out as a propaganda film showing the Congress as evil, then not knowing where to take the rebellion. Pointless exercise.

Main Review:

The film created a lot of controversy when it was submitted for certification. With a name like Indu Sarkar, a play on the name of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her government or ‘Sarkar’, you’d expect a sharp political comment on the evil that was the ‘emergency’. There were hundreds of stories about the loss of freedom of the press, forced sterilizations in the name of population control and so much more because the Prime Minister’s younger son had assumed power (without being elected) and was rampaging through our democracy.

But Madhur Bhandarkar chooses to tell the story of the emergency through a random orphan with a stammer who gets married to a random government officer who rises to power because he is connected to a crony.

Indu’s speech problem is magical. It keeps disappearing and appearing whenever the director remembers. The narrative has nothing to do with her impediment, and only serves to irritate the audience and make a simple scene drag on. Why she happens to be in the center of a poor neighborhood being destroyed illegally by the police no one knows. Kirti Kulhari as Indu tries really hard to maintain the stammer but fails. How a mousy orphan turns into a rebel is not ever explained. The films does not have a single memorable dialog that shows us how she found her wings. She suddenly volunteers to go in the middle of a political gathering and throw pamphlets. There is a person who prints the pamphlets but we don’t know if they reach the common man and prove to be effective.

Neil Nitin Mukesh plays the role of Sanjay Gandhi, the brash young son of the Prime Minister who is enforcing sterilizations and razing of tenements, but we are never told why population control had become so important at that time. Neil’s Sanjay Gandhi is more of the caricature of the man who suddenly rose to power. For someone who was famed for driving fast cars all over the capital, this Sanjay Gandhi is shown tamely getting into waiting cars, and even listening to Qawali.

The Intelligence Bureau monitoring rebels, the police atrocities on citizens is done so badly, you wonder if the director is a newbie. It is very obvious that the research was superfluous and the the film was made in order to earn brownie points with the current government. Just creating a documentary of the evil that was emergency would have been a thousand times more powerful than this disappointing drama.


(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)

Review: MUBARAKAN


Super Duper Anil Kapoor!

3 stars

Mini Review:

Twin brothers, their uncles and aunt in a comedic, romantic almost disaster film makes you laugh at situations going wrong and mix-ups. The film is so loud, you need ear muffs. But quite funny because there is a natural chemistry between the actors Anil Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah and Pavan Malhotra. The heroines serve to add lots of color and mix ups. It’s Punjabis running amok in India and London. Fun watch.

Main Review:

Twin brothers Karan and Charan orphaned as kids grow up with their uncle and aunt. One in Punjab (Ludhiana? Amritsar? It is never clear!), and the other in London. The unmarried Uncle Kartar Singh is played by Anil Kapoor in his high energy, infectious way. The twins are now of marriageable age, and the Sandhus offer their daughter Binkle to Karan (Arjun Kapoor as the London lad who has been brought up by his aunt played by Ratna Pathak Shah). Karan is in India, chasing after a girl called Sweetie (Ileana D’Cruz). Kartar Singh suggests Charan (also Arjun Kapoor) who has grown up with his uncle (Pavan Malhotra) go meet the girl Binkle in London instead. After all, they are twins…

Charan arrives in London as substitute foe Karan and tells Kartar he cannot really marry Binkle because he’s in love with Nafisa. But when he sees Binkle (Athiya Shetty) he promptly falls in love with her. But Kartar Singh has already planted seeds of doubt about Charan’s ‘Udta Punjab’ drug habit.

Confused yet? The mix-ups and confusion are plenty, and the fun that ensues because Anil Kapoor’s ideas of rescuing his two nephews from marriages being arranged end up making the situation worse and worse. It doesn’t stop being funny though.

The great Indian family values, the tradition of engagements and weddings are played to the gilt. Which means you will wince more than a couple of times at the sheer volume of background music and yelling of the dialog. But the director uses everyday things - like Pavan Malhotra gargling loudly in disapproval in a scene - rather well.

It annoys me to see that the director has not given up on his penchant for showing ‘white’ people as domestic help in Indian households, and making white actors speak Punjabi for cheap laughs.

Anil Kapoor is simply fabulous, and you cannot miss the mad, high energy performance of the man. Watch!


(the review appears on nowrunning dot com)

Review: RAAG DESH


A Wonderful Lesson In Indian History

3 stars

Mini Review:

Taken from the annals of the Indian history, this film shows us a facet of the freedom struggle not well known. It talks about the INA (Indian National Army) led by Subhash Chandra Bose, and its three captured officers who are tried in Delhi and accused of being traitors. The case is fought by a famous lawyer Bhulabhai Desai and the film is about this case. Sponsored by the upper house of the Parliament, this film is great attempt at bringing history alive.

Main Review:

Not too many people know the story of the soldiers who fought alongside Subhash Chandra Bose who we know as Netaji, and have seen pictures of in our History textbooks. So this historical film works in bringing back something vague you have learnt in the textbooks and gives it form.

Indian schoolkids have marched to the song, ‘Kadam kadam badhaye ja’ but we know nothing more. It was the anthem of the Indian National Army or the Azaad Hind Fauj created by Netaji. They fought against the British, with heavy losses in the Eastern part of India. Three officers: Colonel Prem Sehgal, Colonel Gurbax Singh Dhillon, and Major Shahnawaz Khan were tried in a military court and accused of betraying the King (they were after all Indian officers of the British army) and aiding and abetting the murder of Indian soldiers.

The story is set during the second World War where the British army sent its Indian soldiers to defend its eastern borders from an ever encroaching Japan. The British lost to Japan and surrendered the Indian soldiers to the Japanese. The clever Japanese accepted the surrender and then asked the Indian soldiers to go back and free India from the clutches of the British. The soldiers know that fighting the British would mean fighting their own… But the dream of free India pushes them on.

The actors, Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh and Mohit Marwah as the three officers on trial do a great job, and Mrudula Murali as Captain Laxmi of the INA has a small role but deserves a film of her own.  

The war scenes are very poorly shot, especially with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk still playing in the theatres, but they serve to show in what difficult situations the INA fought. It is the trial that is close to brilliant, because the casting of the lawyer is. Actor Kenny Desai makes for an uncanny Bhulabhai Desai who fought the case as a defence counsel. The writing is brilliant and even though the scenes between families and the three officers is too much like a TV soap, one supposes that these are stories that need to be told. It is a no frills courtroom drama that keeps your attention. If only Indian films could do away with patriotic songs…



(The review appears on nowrunning dot com)

Review: BARAAT COMPANY


Not Good Company At All

1 star

Mini Review:

Planned Indian weddings involve giving the contract out for everything from catering to decoration to the wedding band. But with young people falling in love, parents give a contract out to secure the bride and get rid of any existing boyfriends. Business is good until the ‘contractor’ falls in love… This movie could have been darkly comedic. Alas, it drowns in its supposed ‘sense of humor’.

Main Review:

So in old town Lucknow, there is an old man who extols the virtues of a planned Indian wedding to a camera crew. He says business has been slow or he would supplies everything for a wedding, from food for 4000 guests to decoration and even the horse the groom rides. He also reviles the concept of ‘love marriage’ where, he says, ‘Kharcha sirf mala khareedne ka hota hai’ (expenses are only on flower garlands the newlyweds exchange).

He sits at home now drinking whiskey and counting the money his grandson Imaan Singh aka Immu makes. But his grandson now has extended the business by taking money for protecting the wedding. He kidnaps lovers and ensures bride gets married to selected groom…

His ragtag team consists of a chap called Jackson who sings in the wedding band, a chap who owns a hair salon (where the kidnapped boys are kept), and a crossdressing lad who intimidates. Immu is the muscle as well as the brains of this protecting racket.

There are a couple of episodes where Immu’s group separates lovers who are planning to run away from the railway station, and one where the groom is so reluctant to marry a girl who supposedly has a boyfriend (he says he’s checked on her Facebook page) that he smokes himself silly on wedding night and bawls like a baby through the ceremonies after he is caught.

The first couple planning an escape have the funniest dialog in the film. The girl shows a couple of packets of an anti-roach chalk called Laxman Rekha (you are supposed to draw a line around the drain, the pesticide in the chalk does not allow the roaches to ‘cross the line’) and says, ‘If you don’t come to the station in the morning, I swear I will cross the Laxman Rekha’. This is an elaborate pun on Laxman Rekha drawn for Sita in the mythological story of Ramayana. It’s funny but not too many people get the reference.

Nothing else is funny. The lead actor needs to attend drama school or at least move facial muscles to speak and emote. The heroine Sandeepa Dhar, her friend Anurita Jha and others try hard, but the story has derailed from a dark comedy to just another love story. Even the added Qawali seems forced and added because they could. The Hindu-Muslim tension seems so fake where people with guns gets pushed back by people with sticks…   

The young director has made two very interesting films before this. Youngistan was a rather radical idea, where a young lad becomes the Prime Minister and fights to change the system. The other film Laal Rang was a brilliant take on blood smuggling that is supposed to be rampant in the hinterlands. So this attempt at a dark comedy is a big disappointment.



(the review appears on nowrunning dot com)

Review: Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets


In Space No One Can See You Puke

1.5 stars

Mini Review:

The aliens are awesome. The gadgets could be awesome. The story is valid. But the 'marry me' refrain from a hero to the heroine is so badly done, it overshadows everything. It takes a small character called 'Bubble' played by Rihanna to save the film. A disappointing offering from the great Luc Besson.


Main Review:

AWESOME ALIENS

Love the idea that aliens who could be intimidating in appearance - like the radioactive Marmakas, or the Taglians - are brilliant psychologists and theologists respectively. There are shapeshifter too, and I will elaborate on them in a separate para. Love the introduction to the aliens in the film: the human handshake to aliens who stare at the offered hand then adapt quickly. It's meant to make you smile, but the graphic novels tell more than the film does. The humans are presiding over the council this time around, and the humans want to slap their own ideas of duty and order and chaos... 

The aliens on planet Mül are beautiful, empathic, and live on the beach, giving back to nature what she gives to people with the help of a magical creature called 'Converter'.

One day on their planet, the peace is disturbed by two alien forces who are battling in Mül airspace and their planet is destroyed because one of the aliens uses a weapon that not only destroys the other aliens, but also the planet over which the battle is taking place. Of course the aliens who bomb the planet are humans, who know the planet is inhabited, and still... Of course a bunch of aliens escape and land up on this floating city.  

THE GADGETS ARE AWESOME, THE HERO IS AN ASSHOLE

You will love the goop aliens shoot at humans to immobilise them. You wonder about the pearl that is pure energy. 

You become a tourist of an invisible city, visible only under the special VR headsets. And you can buy real things! Who wouldn't love this technology! Of course the Jabba the Hutt type alien is selling contraband which the hero Valerian needs to confiscate for the government. The guns are attached to the arm (they look like you put your arm into a trap and couldn't get it out. so unwieldy!) and work on genetic footprint. There is paint like substance that makes you invisible when brushed on. You wish the director had brushed the invisibility paint on the hero all through the film. 

Valerian is a cocky young man with a 'playlist' of girlfriends. He is now flirting with his partner (on a mission in a space-ship) who is way better at work than he is. This is officer Lauraline played by Cara Delevigne's eyebrows (could not get over her hairy caterpillar dark eyebrows under a blonde head). Why should she even like a bumbling hero who does not follow a single instruction, endangering his mission? Why should girls be shown that they must fall in love with someone who has no sense, no? Every time Valerian opens his mouth he sounds like a petulant ten year old who wants a toy and is denied it.

Is this really Luc Besson who gave us The Fifth Element? Thankfully there is a freakishly amazing shape shifter called Bubble. The character is played beautifully by Rihanna (and her endless costume changes), who does a marvelous cabaret number. 

PLEASE HOLLYWOOD, NO MORE 'POWER OF LOVE'

Harry Potter dropped the mic on the 'love can save Harry from evil like Voldemort'. And when you see 'love can heal planets' and 'love can make interplanetary peace possible' and 'dying for love' in this movie just feels smarmy and as sticky as alien goo...  

Valerian comic books may be very popular with the kids. But the movie...