Haider – A Review

 Vishal Bharadwaj directs Shahid Kapoor and Tabu in Haider an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This is Bharadwaj’s third attempt at adapting the noted English playwright’s material after Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello). Bharadwaj has a knack for contemporizing Victorian stories in the Indian context and doing so very effectively. With Maqbool he set the story in the Mumbai underworld and with Omkara he exploited the criminal-political nexus of the heartland by setting the story in Uttar Pradesh. With Haider he takes the troubled prince’s story and sets it in the strife ridden state of Kashmir and the words that begin Hamlet “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark” couldn’t ring truer.

Kay Kay Menon plays Khurrum (Claudius) who marries Ghazala (Gertrude) played by Tabu after the “disappearance” of Haider’s (Hamlet) Father Dr. Hilal (king Hamlet). Shraddha Kapoor plays Arshee (Ophelia and also Horatio as Hamlet’s friend). Irrfan Khan plays Roohdar (the ghost of Hamlet’s father) delivering a message from his father about the deceit of Khurrum.

The story mostly plays around the themes of Hamlet and tries to be as faithful an adaption as possible under the constraints of the geo-political hotpot of Kashmir. Any movie based on Kashmir is sure to be divisive as you cannot take a neutral stance over the militant insurgency and the mistrust the people of Kashmir feel towards the militarization of what is essentially heaven on earth. Bharadwaj tries to tackle the AFSPA issue and that is where the movie stumbles. Bharadwaj tries to rely on AFSPA as a plot device allowing Khurrum to get his brother captured by the military and eventually killed. By trying to rely too much on AFSPA and to almost demonizing it is where the movie’s narrative pace fails. It becomes cumbersome and does not yield the results Bharadwaj might have wanted it to, however kudos to him and script writer Bashrat Peer for trying.

Shraddha Kapoor is a revelation as Arshee and playing Kashmiri comes naturally to her. Kay Kay Menon who has phenomenal talents to play the bad guy fails to excite me with this outing. He plays Khurrum with a degree of menace that is so on the nose that it becomes parody of the Claudius as intended by Shakespeare. The prayer scene where he is supposed to appear contrite ends up being even more contrived. Irrfan Khan is slowly become more unbearable with every outing and seems to have lost the earthiness that made him great in Paan Singh Tomar. There is nothing worse than an actor who thinks he knows he is better than everyone else and that is the vibe I am getting from Khan ever since his Hollywood foray. His Roohdar is unconvincing and for reasons best known to Bharadwaj or the editing team the whole plot with militancy is rendered under developed. Tabu does what she does best. She lights up the screen every time she is on it. Her physical presence is so commanding on screen that everything else shrinks in comparison. Her earnest Ghazala is another addition to an already overly impressive resume. She crafts her character so beautifully that every time she calls out to Haider as “Jana” it makes you think of your own mother (albeit less deceitful). Everything except Shahid Kapoor shrinks in Tabu’s presence. Shahid Kapoor delivers what is arguably the best performance of his career. This is the Shahid that we all know and love and was lost somewhere in the 100 cr race. The first time I ever took notice of Shahid was also in a Bharadwaj caper – Kaminey (also the first ever review I wrote so the partnership is special for a personal reason). His Haider is restrained and insane at the same time. The vulnerability and intensity in his eyes as he searches for his father and then avows to avenge his death is electric.  My favorite Shahid moment is during the song Jhelum when he exchanges photos with a woman looking for her missing son, it gave me chills and made me tear up for him.

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Bharadwaj, as legend has it learnt to be a music composer during college days to woo Rekha Bharadwaj. Here he provides the background score for Haider and it couldn’t have been done any better. His reliance on single instruments, be it the cello, the violin or even the stray strings of Sitar to underscore the uneasy silence that enfolds the valley is fantastic. There are places where the music rises with the rise in tension but then at the climax the strings fade from the concerto and the emotions alone drive home the point and this is the restraint that only a very self-assured story teller is capable of. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is beautiful as it captures the beauty of the Kashmir valley in all its snowy glory. The only misstep is the inclusion of unnecessary songs; the only songs that deserve any place in the screenplay are the Jhelum re Jhelum and the acapella song by Shraddha Kapoor as she mourns the loss of her father. The song with Haider and Arshee frolicking in the snow and the gravedigger’s song are jarringly out of place and seem to be paying mere lip service to Hamlet. The song bismil bulbul is the strongest argument in favor of giving a personal flavor to an adaptation, the famous play in a play from hamlet is adapted to a dance performance commemorating the marriage of Ghazala and Khurrum and is written, sung and shot so beautifully that it defies comparisons.

Hamlet and other work of art are always open to interpretations and I believe that Bharadwaj has also tried to add a layer a subtext to his adaptation that leaves the audience to interpret the story based on their own prejudices. How I see it is as an allegory to the contentious Kashmir issue. If one were to supplant Hilal (Haider’s father) as King Hari Singh Bahadur and Ghazala as Kashmir itself then based on your point of view you could argue for either Haider as India or Pakistan and khurrum as the other . I know I could be way off but to me it is essentially why this movie is more than just a mere adaptation and the reason why Vishal Bharadwaj is regarded as one of India’s best and most original directors.

Haider in many ways seems incomplete or entirely too slow and meandering and by the end it seems to have gone nowhere, but that is the nature of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which unfolds as a tragedy with many time lapses and moments of insanity and introspection. Haider is a beautiful made film which unfortunately isn’t without a few flaws, but these flaws are easily overlooked when Tabu and Shahid Kapoor set the screen on fire with their brilliant acting.

Gone Girl – A Review

David Fincher – the dark master of modern cinema directs Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, a story about a beautiful and talented wife who goes missing on the day of her fifth anniversary.  David Fincher has one of the most impressive filmography in Hollywood today and among those are stand outs like the Oscar darlings,  The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and also there are dark messed up masterpieces such as Zodiac and Se7en. File Gone Girl under the Dark messed up masterpieces because what Fincher has achieved in this film based on a screenplay written by the novelist Gillian Flynn, adapted from her own original novel is nothing short of mind-bending madness.

Gone Girl

The story kicks off with a forlorn looking Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne driving into a bar he co-owns with his sister to crib over the disintegration of his marriage when he gets a phone call from a neighbor about his cat straying outside the home. Nick drives back home to what appears to be a crime scene with his wife Amy Dunne played by the enchanting Rosamund Pike nowhere to be found.  What unfolds is a meticulous crime drama that very few are adept at dealing with as Fincher does. With the same restraint he showed with Zodiac, Fincher creates an atmosphere of eerie silence and awkward moments that has you drawn in from the minute Affleck picks up that cat and brings it home.  I wish I could discuss more of the plot of the movie but that would be a massive disservice to those who are yet to see the movie. Suffice to say you will not be prepared for this if you are only going in on Fincher’s credentials and just the trailers. Speaking of trailers, Fincher is not only the master of crafting a beautiful film he is also the master of suspense and the art of smoke and daggers. The trailers only serve to enhance the experience of the movie and the sense of unease that unfolds over the course of its entire length.

Rosamund Pike as the fragile and scared wife and more is brilliant and unnerving, Ben Affleck as the loving husband is just as convincing as he grinning awkwardly in front of his missing wife’s poster. I have always regarded Affleck as a better director than actor but with Gone Girl he proves he is one fine actor as well. Tyler Perry who claims never to have heard of David Fincher is also cast perfectly as Tanner Bolt – the patron saint of the wife killers. Carrie Coon as Affleck’s twin Margo and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s obsessive ex-boyfriend Dessie Collins are also brilliant in their roles. Special mention to Kim Dickens who as the southern Detective Rhonda Boney with sass provides the movie’s lighter moments.

Trent Raznor and Atticus Rose once again score Fincher’s Gone Girl after their successful collaboration on the social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There is something special about this partnership as Raznor and Rose are somehow able to create an atmospheric sound track that perfectly complements Fincher’s quiet and meticulous story telling.  There are no booming sounds or soaring sonatas but just the subtlest of undertones of sound to draw you in even more as Fincher’s characters slowly mumble their way through the story. The experience is all encompassing.

This is a movie that will stay with you for long after you have left the cinema hall, it will still play on your mind even after you feel you have unburdened it by dropping several hundred F-bombs while marveling at what a twisted genius Fincher really is. There will be awkward laughs that will escape you but at the same time it will make you question yourself. This is a movie that will not let you be comfortable – neither while you are watching it nor after the end credits roll. From the opening scene to the scene that closes the movie with the same dialogue the journey that you will be on will be one that you are unlikely to experience again this year or for several years to come. Fincher has the unique ability to mess with his audiences’ minds and get under their skin, he draws you in and toys with your emotions and as if some cliché of a Stockholm syndrome you do not want him to stop doing it to you. This is a master class in how to do a thriller right.

Bang Bang – A Review

Siddharth Anand directs Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif in Bang Bang the official remake of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz starrer Knight and Day. Bang Bang also serves as a reminder that two phenomenally beautiful people in stunning locations do not an interesting movie make.

Siddharth Anand director of such cinematic gems as Ta Ra Rum Pum and Salam Namaste proves yet again that he is the master of the art of insipidity. The movie jerk starts with a scene straight out of Karma where Dr Michael Dang is captured and put in a jail cell and a righteous police inspector comes in and lands a tight one on the left cheek. I almost expected Danny Denzogpa to mouth “is thappad ki goonj ki goonj…”

Katrina (who must really have killed off her stylist’s cat for her to hate her so much) plays Harleen Sahani a Bank receptionist who has the ability to take and transfer calls on a retro phone, who sits and types while staring at a screensaver of Santorini and who either talks to herself or to a grandmother who has no sense of personal space. She gets swept away by international criminal Rajveer played by the brand ambassador for Mustard Oil Hrithik Roshan.

Harleen and Rajveer are under attack from goons of Danny and Javed Jaffery and the agents of ISS officers Pawan Malhotra and Vikram Gokhale. Where do I even begin with ISS – they are supposed to be India’s CIA/MI6 and they can’t even issue legitimate looking badges. And Sujoy Ghosh, who scripted Kahaani – in my opinion India’s best thriller, makes the most obvious of blunders. The whole plot and premise of the extradition treaty is willy nilly forgotten and everyone just goes about shooting everyone while Katrina sleeps.

Of the actors there is really no saving grace for any of them. Katrina who usually carries off the ditzy blonde roles off with élan is unbearable and thanks to her stylist is almost unbearable to look at as well except in a few shots in meherbaan. Hrithik with his charm offensive criminal with a heart of gold isn’t half bad but is saddled with a script that has him playing more kanaiya than krrish. Pawan Malhotra tries to pull a Nawazuddin Siddiqui and end s up looking more like ACP pradyuman.  Deepti Naval proves that the bills won’t pay themselves and that even legends like her have to play the grieving mother. Danny Denzogpa and Javed Jaffery play the bad guys from what appears to be a bad parody of every bad guy ever depicted in Bollywood.

Plotholes aside it would have at least been bearable if there was enough adrenaline pumping action to keep one entertained. There is so much talking going on and most of it courtesy Katrina Kaif and her confusion at being caught up in all this mess that I did pray that Hrithik has more of those tranquilizer shots to sedate her. And whatever little action there is is ruined by the overpowering music which can only be described as the illegitimate child of Hans Zimmer’s score for the dark knight and Martin Garrix electronic dance music. Vishal and Shekhar who are able to turn in at least one memorable track per outing seem to struggle massively with an entirely forgettable soundtrack.  The camera work is also shoddy with the action sequences being shot in a way that you don’t see any real action being captured and some of the tracking shots actually lacking in focus which results in hazy pan shots. The big reveal? its actually quite obvious 20 minutes into the movie and you need to be as dimwitted as Harleen to have to sit through the entire movie to be amazed by it. It is trademark Sujoy Ghosh if you know what I mean.

As if it weren’t enough that we are stuck with uninspired writing, directing and acting that we are given the wonderful gift of blatant product placement. I counted 10 – Johnson Tiles, Hokey Pokey, Samsung, Philips, Pizza Hut, Ray Ban, The Q Shop, Volvo, Mountain Dew & Macroman.

The intensity of Bang Bang’s stupidity is only matched by the vigorousness of its insipidity. Stay as far away from this movie as possible and watch any old Tom Cruise movie instead if action is what you crave and don’t mind a bit of plot thrown in for good measure.

Pride – A Review

Matthew Warchus directs Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott, Dominic Cooper amongst others in Pride. With a playbill that is packed to the rafters with character actors from various british TV shows the fact that this movie was going to be brilliantly acted was a given. But in this based on real events story about the coming together of the Gay Rights movement and the Union strike,  Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford have created a beautifully crafted drama with a healthy dose of humor.

The story starts with the charismatic Mark played by Ben Schnetzer drumming up support amongst his gay friends to start collecting funds for the striking miners. While arguments can be made in favor or against the legitimacy of the strike the movie chooses to present the issues from the point of view of the miners alone. After collecting the money and trying to get any mining union to accept their support the LGBT group happens to reach out to a welsh mining community who through misunderstanding over the phone agree to send a representative to meet with the LGSM ( Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) in London.  And what follows hence is a heart-warming tale of two victimized fractions of the society coming together and learning to accept one another albeit grudgingly.

For 2/4th of the movie the screenplay is tight and the story progresses along briskly with the entire ensemble chipping in with memorable performances. The Acapella singing of the song in the union hall in Dulais, Wales is particularly stirring. Of the acting chops Andrew Scott impressed me the most. After his chilling turn as Moriarty on TV’s Sherlock here he plays out his role as Gethin with such vulnerability that it is fascinating to bear witness to his range as an actor. Imelda Staunton is also brilliant but then that statement is redundant as she almost always is. Jessica Gunning as Sian James plays the firebrand to perfection as she goes from being the shy volunteer to essentially the firepower behind the coalition of the Miners and the LGSM groups.  Another standout is Paddy Considine as the Mining union’s spokesperson Dai. From the first speech he delivers at the Gay club where he is just barely getting to grips with public speaking to the final speech he delivers at the Pits and Perverts concert at the electric ballroom in Camden shows the journey his character has gone through.

It is in the 3/4th of the movie where it loses steam and the pace begins to drag as the director chooses to bring various other stories to fruition, that of a closet gay being outed by his sister, Gethin being attacked. What rankles the most is the change in attitude of Mark and it throws the audience off for a loop. It takes considerable effort but the director manages to provide for a satisfactory climax. I also am disappointed in the director’s handling of the AIDS crisis and how insensitively it is used to further a plot point.

What is most amazing is the journey of discovery that the characters go on as the two groups cross path. The village granny is all inquisitive about the lesbian-lifestyle with their vegetarian/vegan diets, the hot headed miner is the first one to soften up to the LGSM and wants to take dance lessons so that he is better able to woo the barmaid, the pub-crawl through the London gay scene is also delightful as Imelda Staunton ends up giggling like a naughty school girl when she comes upon “treasures” in the LGSM’s accommodations. Also acting as a counterpoint is the hesitation that the two groups feel while supporting the other’s struggle. While Dai is welcomed when he makes the first speech Mark is faced by hostile silence at the union hall. The dissenters in both the groups throw a wrench in the machinery due to their on ill-conceived prejudices.

Milk this isn’t but it is a fantastic telling of the struggle for equality both of the miners and that of the LGBT community and the eventual coming together in show of solidarity despite the odds being stacked against them.  Do not miss Pride for it manages to strike that fine balance of humor and the humanity of the drama that unfolds.

Finding Fanny – A Review

Homi Adajania directs Deepika Padukone, Arjun Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapur in the the dark comedy Finding Fanny. In a clear departure from his last outing as director where Homi directed Deepika in cocktail, he goes back to territory he first explored with his directorial debut Being Cyrus.

Finding Fanny is the story of Ferdie played immaculately by Naseeruddin who is the oldest choir boy and post-master of a small goan village. Ferdie discovers a letter he wrote to the love of his life Stephanie, the eponymous Fanny, was never delivered to her.   Lamenting a unrequited love Ferdie confides in his best friend Angie played by the lissome Deepika Padukone. Together with her larger than life mother-in-law Rosie played by the ever-enchanting Dimple Kapadia, childhood friend Savio played by the brooding Arjun Kapoor and the lecherous Don Pedro an artist of international acclaim played to perfection by Pankaj Kapur, Angie and Ferdie set out to find Fanny.

This road trip takes us along the beautiful and scenic vistas of Goa reminding us once again that Goa is not only about beaches and booze. Other than Ferdie who is searching for the love of his life, every character is on a personal quest of sorts and they each manage to find it in a strange sort of way.

Don Pedro and his Ruben-esque love for the voluptuous Rosie is definitely the most guffaw inducing with his hammed-up, lecherous antics. There were two scenes which had me baffled and wondering if the director needed more time to resolve the outbursts. The first one involved Pedro finally finishing his portrait of Madame Rosaline and thus dubbing her vapid and empty – I think it should have been more about her insecurities and the lies she had bundled up to maintain appearances. The second was Rosie berating Savio about how he should have died instead of her own son Gabo, it seemed to be too abrupt with no real preamble or conclusion.

Deepika Padukone seems to be going from strength to strength with each movie and for her own good I hope she manages to strike a balance between box office blockbusters like Chennai Express and pseudo-indie movie like Finding Fanny because they help her grow as an actress. Here she lights up every scene she is in just by the slightest of knowing smiles as she adoringly indulges the lovable Fredie. There is an inner strength and conviction in her own craft that is clearly visible in her poise and composure throughout the movie. For me Deepika Padukone has well and truly arrived as the Queen Bee of Bollywood. Arjun Kapoor is surprisingly good as the brooding and pouty Savio and gets the job done. With Deepika around, Kapoor ends up being a supporting actor than a lead.  The trifecta of veterans Shah, Kapadia and Kapur are what lifts the movie from being a comedy of errors to a dark and brilliant comedy. Their craft is so nuanced that it leaves me baffled that they are not doing more movies.

Anil Mehta’s work behind the camera is brilliant as he takes on a journey through the leafy bylanes of rural goa and frames the perfect sunsets beautifully. The production on the movie is also top notch with kitschy and retro props that help transport the audience to rustic goa where the time literally stands still as no one is in a rush to do anything, Susegad as they say.

Finding Fanny feels more like a taut short story than an elaborate movie but is thoroughly entertaining. Deepika Padukone is reason enough to shell out your hard earned cash to catch this on the big screen. Dimple Kapadia, Pankaj Kapur and Naseerudding Shah are added bonus. Watch this movie because brave movies like these need the audience love and support to encourage directors like Homi Adajania to keep on this path and not steer off-course to cocktail land.

Chef – A Review

Jon Favreau directs himself in a script written by him in and as Chef. That might sound off-putting but please let that not be the reason why you do refrain from checking out this little gem of a movie that is one of the best and most innocuous feel-good movie I have come across in a long time.

With a playbill that is stacked with the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Robert downey Jr., John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johanson (no pun intended!) the movie is the story of a once-celebrated chef Carl Casper whose food inspired people one among who is a would be food critic Ramsey Michel. After 10 years in the industry Carl and Ramsey cross paths again and the result is far from palatable. What ensues is the main plot of the movie and it would be stupid of me to lay it out here in the review.

Jon F, John L and Amjay Anthony who plays Carl’s son Percy go on a road trip of sorts which acts as a journey of discovery of sorts. Carl finds his mojo back cooking the food he loves and finds in Martin a trusted sidekick and a friend for life. But more importantly, during the course of this journey he finds a way to connect to his kid, a way to pass on his passion for food onto the little apprentice who ends up being the main hero of the story as it were.

The movie does justice to the food it sets out to serve by highlighting the local specialties like the Miami’s little Havana’s Cuban Sandwiches, New Orleans’ Beignet and Austin Texas’ barbequed  Brisket. But the movie does not limit itself to the food, the self-discovery and the coming closer of a father and son, it goes on to make a point about social media. The new beast that can make instant celebrities out of regular food-eaters, movie-goers, compulsive-shoppers by allowing them their “blogging” space but also make instant fools out of people who in a moment of madness lose control and their actions are forever on the internet to taunt them and to trivialize any other achievement they may have had outside of that moment. But through Percy we see the power of social media which also allows the same fallen hero to rise up again.

Ultimately this is a movie that is not burdened by the compulsions of giving the myriad of stars their space on the reel; it is not burdened by clichés of which there are aplenty. It is a movie about a father and son taking a road trip eating their way through America and filling our hearts with a warm and gooey feeling that is not dissimilar to eating a chocolate lava cake.  This is an unmissable movie especially if you have a food dream like I do.  Take a bow Jon Favreau or a Michelin star if you must!

 

The Hundred Foot journey – A Review

Lasse Hallstrom directs Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal in The hundred foot journey based on a story adapted by Steven Knight from Richard C. Morais’ book by the same name. Many have described this as slumdog millionaire meets Ratatouille as some sort of a championing of the movie. While I agree with the slumdog bit I do completely disagree with the Ratatouille which was in my opinion a more earnest and honest movie and perhaps the best Pixar have ever managed.

The story starts with Hassan at the immigration counter answering the questions asked by the officer that also works as a backdrop of quickly rushing through the backstory to how Hassan came to be in “Europe” after having already landed in the United Kingdom after having sought asylum following the Hindu Muslim riots in Mumbai where he lost his mentor – his mom. 

Back story done with we proceed to how they end up in the rustic French village with an abandoned villa/restaurant up for sale. This is the part where the movie is at its best as Om Puri the patriarch of the Kadam family digs his heels in to battle Madam Mallory played by the indomitable Helen Mirren the owner of the Michelin starred French restaurant.

There is a budding romance between Hassan and sous chef Marguerite which remains entirely unexplored. The culinary clash of the classical French and the boisterous Indian cuisines also is almost entirely forgotten except as an insult that Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam hurl at one another.  The editing and the screenplay leave a lot to be desired. Basing my judgment on a book review of Morais’ original material there seems to be a lot more meat in the book than what is presented on the screen. The episodes in Hassan’s rise to the top of the Parisian culinary world seem to be rather abrupt at best and callous at worst.  Take for instance the turn of events after Hassan earns the second Michelin star at Mallory’s restaurant he simply takes off for Paris because Marguerite says that he will be approached with offers. The despair Hassan feels while plating up pretentious food while in Paris seems unfounded and sudden and the decision to move back just as irrational. The frustration with the movie is because all the ingredients are present to plate up delectable dish that is as pleasing to the palate as it is appealing to the eyes but instead of gently whisking the yolks of the story on a bain-marie to form the perfect sabayon the director, the editor and the writers vigorously whisk it in the direct heat which ends up in a curdled mess. Another concern I have is with the research that has gone into this – Hassan and his family are presented as Muslims and yet the movie commits blasphemy by cooking the lamb in wine without any hesitation. I do not know if this is the lack of research on the part of the original book or another one of the blunders in the screenplay and direction.

There are some genuinely funny moments and some moments that hold promises but eventually what gets plated up is visually enticing but lacking the punch of garam masala and the restraint of the hollandaise. Watch it for a fine turn by Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal and for A.R. Rehman’s enticing background music.Also theres Juhi Chawla as lovely as ever playing Hassan’s mother – why isn’t she in more films is baffling to me. 

Joan Rivers : A Piece of Work

Joan Rivers a name that would mean different things to different people.It could mean a legendary comedic icon who paved the way for female comedians, it could mean a nasty acid tongued mean spirited person who takes a jabs at others while she is dealing with her own insecurities, it could also be the poster-child of the plastic surgery industry. What Joan Rivers – a piece of work does is it throws open all the above mentioned pre-conceptions/misconceptions that people have about Joan and throws in a few more for good measure.

 

The documentary begins with Joan and her assistant Jocelyn sitting together to go over her schedule and you can see how upset she is with her almost blindingly blank bookings diary. She even makes a joke about needing sunglasses to look at the diary because the blank white dates are blinding to her. She also refers to her older diaries which during the peak of her career were chock-a-block full with appearances and shows. You see how she is willing to debase herself by doing things anyone with any self respect would turn down but she can’t afford to.

 

The documentary lets you in on her personal life, the over the top Marie Antoinette style mansion, the people she surrounds herself with her staff her manager Bill who is her only link to her glory days but also you feel the tension and the growing resentment as Joan repeatedly refers that Bill is never there when she’s in trouble but then again maybe he is the only friend she has left. You see her relationship with her daughter, at times over bearing and over protective and at times caring and understanding.

 

By means of old footage you are introduced to how Joan came to be The Joan Rivers. How she was got her break on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show and how with her increasing popularity and her wild ways she became a regular guest on the tonight show – a feat almost unimaginable for a female comedian.  After that seminal moment which could very well have propelled her to unimaginable heights of stardom the circumstances transpired and she never seemed to have quite made it.  The downward spiral hit rock bottom when her husband Edgar committed suicide and which drove Joan and Melissa apart. The scene where she talks about the movie she did with Melissa confronting the subject of her husband’s suicide and how it worked for her as a catharsis and brought the mother and daughter closer is particularly refreshing.

 

But this is not a out and out depressing or a self-pity documentary. That is just not how Joan does it. She takes the punches better than she lands them. The way she goes about carrying on because that is the only way she knows how to survive and her constant struggle to get back to the top of the game is inspiring to say the least. A Scene where she is doing her standup comedy and makes a pass about deaf children and someone in the audience gets agitated because he has a deaf child is particularly telling. She didn’t mean to cause any personal assault but if you attack her she will come back at you with everything she has got and boy she’s got a lot!

A career that has spanned more than four decades and is now dwindling, where she has become nothing more than a walking joke, leads her to the comedy central roast. She is disgusted by the idea that there will be comedians who will be making scathing remarks about her age and her numerous plastic surgeries but the fact that she has to do it for the money is what stood out for me. This scene and another in a car in London where her play hasn’t been that well received shows you that even the most acid tongued comedian has her weaknesses, her own insecurities and her own demons to battle.

 

As a documentary this could be one of the finest I have seen, there is no bias or pity to portray Joan as the martyr or the victim. There is no glorifying the past and lamenting the state of things as they are today but rather the struggle of a 75 year old woman who just wants to keep doing what makes her happy. At the end when you see she has fired her friend Bill and you see her break down you can see all the masks coming off – this is just an old woman who is alone and is very afraid of having lost her only link to her glory days or do you see talented and a hugely underappreciated actress ?

 

See this documentary for it is a piece of work, see it for its comedic moments see it for its unapologetic look at a star who is driven by vanity and the constant need to be in the limelight but more than anything else see it for a pioneer who broke through barriers and made a name for herself despite the circumstances and is still going strong to prolong her legacy. See it for Joan River who is not just a piece of work but a piece of art.

Mardaani – A Review

Pradeep Sarkar directs Rani Mukherjee in Mardaani where she plays a crime branch inspector shivani shivaji roy for whom the issue of human trafficking becomes personal when a girl from a shelter who she treats as her own daughter gets kidnapped and gets sold into sex trade.

I am pleasantly surprised to say that on a day when I saw two movies about femme fatales Rani Mukherjee tops Scarlet Johansson.

Sarkar known more for his period romance Parineeta than action capers also pleasantly surprises in this edge of seat cat and mouse chase which feels fresh and devoid of clichés. Sarkar chooses his antagonist perfectly as a smooth talking, Breaking Bad loving , tech savvy, fresh faced yet ruthless “Under-19 team ka 12th player” aka Kid ( as helpfully supplied by the subtitles) played marvelously by Tahir Raj Bhasin.

Without delving too deeply into the story of one-upmanship that ensues between Shivani and the Kid it is suffice to say that not for a minute will you be bored in this brilliantly crafted gem.

Sarkar tackles the demon of Children being abducted and sold into Sex-trade and tackles it with such deft and finesse that he achieves the impossible – getting the message across without grossing out the audience or holding up cue cards to navigate them to the moral dilemma or the much-favored hammering the point home so hard that by the end the audience doesn’t give a damn. I was physically shaken and left trembling by the final minutes as the climax unravels and to me that is a clear sign of the movie being impactful.

Rani Mukherjee delivers what I believe is her careers best performance. She is subtle and sharp witted at the same time. Her performance is nuanced to the point where she doesn’t need to mouth a single word or need to bawl to express her anguish, a single tear as she comes face to face with her brother/husband ( I am confused as to who he was supposed to be) who is made a pawn in this game against a criminal mastermind.

The ability to infuse the sense of urgency and the clear and present danger in the first few minutes as bodies begin dropping without the slightest of bangs is near perfection. Sarkar manages to create an atmosphere of intrigue with ease. Also the first phone conversation Shivani has with the Kid as she is unpacking dinner is sheer delight as Rani unperturbed continues as if catching up with an old mate rather the man responsible for having kidnapped her daughter.

I could continue heaping platitudes on the virtues of this movie and it wouldn’t do justice to just how wonderfully surprised I was to come across this days after being subjected to the torture that was Singham Returns. It is movies like these that keep the hope alive that Bollywood still can produce meaningful cinema. If ever there was a need for a sequel this is the franchise. What Sarkar and Rani have created will continue to bear fruits for year to come as long as Sarkar continues to treat each of the forthcoming (hopefully) outings with the same intelligence and freshness as this one.

Do yourself and India as a whole a favor and go watch this movie not only because it is brilliantly directed, acted and crafted, but also because this is a subject matter that has been debated to death but cinema one of the most impactful mediums was doing nothing to spread the awareness and it has finally picked up the gauntlet and with such panache.  

Lucy – A Review

Lucy Movie PosterLuc Besson directs Scarlet Johansson in and as Lucy – ironically named after the first woman ever ( a fact shared in the film of which there are many). Lucy is the first human to ever access more than 10% of their brain power. Morgan Freeman joins along for the ride as the a professor who specializes in similar subject matter.

Besson dreams up themes which have been part of many a spirited debate in the theoretical sciences which argue that human’s aren’t done evolving yet and that once we are able to unlock the additional capacity that our brain possesses, we shall be able to accomplish hitherto unimaginable feats. But the choices Besson makes turn this sci-fi high concept into nothing more than a high adrenaline slick action caper.

Scarlet Johansson who accomplished so much more in last year much loved sci-fi romcom Her with just her voice, channels her inner Keanu Reeves with the mandatory wooden expression. I am yet unable to understand why do sci-fi creators always feature protagonist with no ability to express emotions? If we are going to be more evolved in the future wouldn’t we be more expressive? More emotive? More human? But she packs a serious punch as she whoops ass wushi ( that’s samurai in chinese) style.

Morgan Freeman can recite the phone book at it would sound exciting as hell. Here he reprises his role as the voice over for IMAX documentaries and acts as a narrator so that the audiences can garner some semblance of what the hell is going on. Is Freeman really the go to guy for any science related stuff in Hollywood? Or perhaps he is chosen for his abilities to make the most inane of mumbo-jumbo sound legit.

Besson makes a lot of poor choices which even under the guise of sci-fi creative license are inexcusable. Like the first time lucy walks into the hospital she just suddenly develops the ability to read Mandarin?  Couldn’t Besson just provide Lucy with some light reading on the taxi ride to the hospital so that it seems like she learnt Chinese? I mean even Small Wonder had more sense than Besson shows here.  The action is fine and fun and at 88 minutes the movie never ones drags but at times feels like logic was sacrificed at the floors of the editing room.

Despite the minor flaws the movie is entirely entertaining and Scarlet Johansson is on the screen slowly walking up and down corridors for a good part of the 88 minute run. And just for that go see Lucy.