Veere Di Wedding – A Review

Image result for veere di weddingShashanka Ghosh directs Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania in “not a chic-flick” Veere di Wedding. After the career ending critique from “The Aunty”, I was going in with abysmal expectation and maybe that or maybe the fact that I saw it with Kareena’s biggest fan in the world – I found the movie to be mildly entertaining and brimming with potential.

Kalindi played by Kareena is friends with Avni played by Sonam Kapoor, Sakshi played by Swara Bhaskar and Meera played by Shikha Talsania. Kalindi lives in Australia with her boyfriend Rishab played by Sumeet Vyaas who proposes to her and Kalindi accepts reluctantly. She returns to India and the 4 BFFs get together for their Veere’s wedding. Avni is a ball-busting family lawyer permanently harassed by her well-meaning mother played by the fantastic Neena Gupta to get married. Sakshi is a rich party girl who got married to a NRI in a rush and is now back to staying with her parents who do not really know what transpired for the marriage to break down. Meera married an American and lives in America raising her young child and probably the most “normal” of the bunch.  The four friends get back together and each of their respective storyline unravels.

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Kareena is for most parts hilarious as she goes about the Big Fat Indian (Delhi) wedding charade nervously scratching as she is made to dress up in ridiculous outfits and paraded in front of relatives who are of no consequence. Sonam Kapoor continues her trademark vapid and vacuous portrayal of any character she lays her hands on. Her dialogue delivery couldn’t be more stunted. Swara Bhaskar – as the aunty said – is playing a rich girl for the first time and it is a poor man’s idea of what a rich person does all day. Her dishevelled look with a cigarette permanently stuck in her mouth with sunglasses that serve no purpose as she peers from above is just an abhorrent performance. Nothing about her feels believable. Meera lives in America with her Caucasian husband John after having been disowned by her family for marrying “outside” the religion. She is the most believable and the most likeable. They try to give her a flaw too – excessive drinking but it feels half-baked and an after-thought. Shikha is the best thing about this movie and I cannot wait for her to headline a project all on her own where she is unencumbered by the lesser talented actresses. She has a Ugly Betty/ Jane the Virgin vibe about her that I cannot shake and I want the nouveau brave Bollywood to take a chance with her!

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The biggest problem is that director Shashanka Ghosh and writers Nidhi Mehra and Mehul Suri try to make this feature film in the vein of producer Ekta Kapoor’s multiple story arc TV-shows. There is simply too much going on and at 2 hours there is not nearly enough time to resolve even one story arc to successful completion. Take this for instance, Kalindi is reticent to get married because her parents used to fight a lot, her mother passed away and her father remarried to a socialite, she is estranged from her father, who is estranged from his gay-brother who is the only family Kalindi knows of. Then there is the whole insane plot about Kalindi’s Fiancé’s family being fraudsters. Sonam and Kareena went around town lamenting about how difficult it was to get a female-led film financed and it shows – there are awkward product placements after awkward product placements and they are not even trying to be subtle. Bikaji snacks get more screen-time than the amazing Neena Gupta and that is a crime against cinema. Also at the very end of the film some random local furniture company’s product placement literally made me lose it.

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With Sonam being the driving force behind this movie getting made it was always going to be fashion centric and for most parts the fashion is exceptional and forward looking except for that one ridiculous outfit that Kareena wears for her wedding. A 25-year old vintage Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla outfit deserved to be better treated than that.

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The dialogues are mostly fun but when they go for crass they really go for it and the payoff is limited. The songs are mostly forgettable except Tareefan which only really plays when the credits roll.

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Lastly I am reminded of the Instagram post that Neena Gupta shared on Instagram where she simply stated “I live in Mumbai and working am a good actor looking fr good parts to play” and I couldn’t be more thrilled to finally seeing her on the big stage. She is a treasure and I do hope she gets more roles and meatier characters to play because even in the limited screen time she is allotted here she really shines through.

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It might be the Kool-aid talking but I did not hate Veere di Wedding. There was incredible potential had the writers and director taken one of the girl’s tracks and resolved that story arc and made this into an anthology the result would have been a lot more successful.

 

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Raazi – A Review

Image result for raazi posterMeghna Gulzar directs Alia Bhatt in Raazi. Based on a book “Calling Sehemat” by Harinder Sikka the screenplay written by Meghna Gulzar and Bhavani Iyer tells the story of a 20-something Kashmiri girl who is inducted into the covert Indian spy network that was responsible for the defeat of Pakistan in the war of 1971 at the hands of the Indian armed forces.

Alia Bhatt plays Sehemat Khan – the daughter of Hidayat Khan played by Rajit Kapoor. Hidayat is friends with the Pakistan Army Brigadier Syed. Dying of cancer, Hidayat asks his friend to get his youngest son married to his only daughter. Vicky Kaushal plays Iqbal Syed, Sehemat’s betrothed. Sehemat gets married and is embedded in potentially one of the most influential households in the Pakistani army. Once there she starts passing on crucial pieces of information through many secretive channels back to Indian Intelligence Agency, and eventually saving the Indian armed forces from a deadly blow and consequentially causing Pakistan’s defeat in the 1971 war.

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Alia Bhatt plays Sehemat with a quiet confidence, she is not a natural spy and she doesn’t play pretend either. What she is though is a brilliant student with and eidetic memory. She learns quickly and masters the spy-craft. Once beyond enemy lines, there is a palpable sense of danger lurking every moment she goes trying to gather intelligence to pass back to India. You see her afraid and remorseful. You see her be resourceful and determined as well. And through it all you see her fall in love with her husband. Vicky Kaushal plays Iqbal with absolute honesty. He never overplays his hand in any scene. There is a surprising restraint to his performance which makes the budding romance seem even more real and even tenderer. It is therefore just as shocking when the climax comes around. The supporting cast is absolutely solid. Rajit Kapoor who plays Hidayat Sehemat’s father, Shishir Sharma who plays Brigadier Syed, Amruta Khanvilkar who plays Munira Syed, Aman Vashisht who plays Nikhil Bakshi and Jaideep Ahlawat who plays Khalid Mir are all exceptional. Soni Razdan, Alia’s real life mother plays her reel life mother Teji!

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The story is based off of Harinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehemat, a based on true events tale that Sikka came across while embedded as a journalist during the Kargil war of 1999. The story of Sehemat as recounted by Sikka is fascinating. But what makes this translation on screen such a riveting watch is Meghna Gulzar’s Screenplay and Direction. I first fell in love with Gulzar’s craft with her debut movie Filhaal. A path breaking movie for its time in Bollywood. Gulzar then disappeared until she resurfaced with Talwar a couple of years ago and with Raazi she has established herself as someone to watch out for. Her detailed and believable translation from Sikka’s book to Alia’s portrayal on screen is absolutely thrilling. The spy-thriller genre is almost unheard of in Bollywood and Gulzar faithfully recreates the period and gets the grammar of the movie right. Despite a slightly shaky start once Gulzar reigns in the narrative she doesn’t let it and the audience’s attention slip even for a moment.

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The camera work isn’t the best – it comes in too close in most scenes and you lose the atmosphere a little because of it. Cinematographer Jay I Patel however shines in the more panoramic shots. The production and set design are fantastic and the selection of vintage cars a wonderful touch.  The music is classic Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, non-intrusive yet very effective. And Dilbaro is a brilliant song.

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A triumph in every aspect this is a movie for the ages. Alia continues to astound with the choices she makes in the roles she picks and depicts a maturity that belies her fresh looks. I cannot wait for Meghna to continue to defy expectations and chose varied subject matter and make movies that entertain and educate its audience in equal measure.

October – A Review

Related imageShoojit Sircar directs Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu in October. Juhi Chaturvedi, who wrote Sircar’s Vicky Donor, pens the story, screenplay and the dialogues. Vicky Donor broke new ground tackling a taboo subject but I think October might be the writer-director duo’s most ambitious project yet.

October is the story of Dan played by Varun Dhawan and his group of friends who work as the staff in a swanky hotel in Delhi as part of their hotel management course. Dan isn’t the brightest bulb in the bunch, his juniors overtake him and his nonchalant behaviour has him being relegated to the menial tasks of cleaning and laundry.  Among the juniors, who have overtaken Dan, is newcomer Banita Sandhu who plays Shiuli. A tragic accident and a casual question just prior to the accident leaves Dan wondering why Shiuli was asking about him. Dan abandons every aspect of his personal life and devotes every free minute to Shiuli who is rendered incapable of responding.

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Devolving any more of the story would not do the story any great harm but if the trailer is the only thing you are going by, like I did, the slow reveal will have a more lasting effect. Sircar and Chaturvedi have crafted the movie in an almost Indie-film vein, not something you see prominent commercial directors and actors be a part of in Bollywood. This could have just as easily been a Sundance film festival darling.

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While the bravery of Sircar-Chaturvedi is second to none, Varun Dhawan continues to defy expectations and pulls further away from the pack of young actors. Dhawan, who first burst onto screen in Karan Johar’s frothy yet delightful high-school drama Student of the Year, has gone on to deliver incredibly nuanced performance in Badlapur and cemented his commercial appeal in Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya, Badrinath ki Dulhaniya and Judwaa2. In my book Dhawan hasn’t put a foot down wrong. Every time he is on screen, he lights its up with his honesty and unintentional humour. Here, too, you believe him every time he chimes in when not required and urges Shiuli’s mother to give her time to recover. You feel his pain when he finds out that before the accident Shiuli had asked about him. He is extremely easy to watch on screen and every emotion he embodies effortlessly.  Dhawan achieves something improbable in that he is at once part of the scenery and yet he stands out even without trying. His scenes with the hospital guard, the nurse and the scenes with his friends are all absolutely incredible. This does not feel like a star vehicle but like a debut of a staggeringly gifted actor.  He may have flexed his six-packs in almost every other movie but here he really gets to flex his acting muscle and when he does it it’s a thing of beauty.

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Avik Mukhopadhyay uses his lenses to capture every scene in the most unobtrusive of ways. There is a melancholy to the way he frames each scene yet there is a beauty to it as well. His close-ups of Shiuli are splendid.  The editing by Chandrashekhar Prajapati is exquisite, the pace never once slackens nor does any moment feel rushed. The fantastic script and the very competent direction would have been rendered unintelligible in the hands of a lesser editor.

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The slow burn narrative, the focus on the human interactions and the humanity of its subjects rather than the story itself, the no-rush story telling are all brilliantly tender and organic. The reason why I said that this movie feels their most ambitious is because it feels free of any commercial compulsions. Every film with a reasonably well known actor/director is only measured by one parameter these days – how quickly does it reach the 100-cr mark? This film is the furthest thing from it, but because of it, this might be the most poignant and original film of the year and dare I say almost 4 months into the year perhaps one of the best of the year.

Oscars 2018 – My Predictions

2018Oscars and Hollywood seems to be playing the rule of diminishing returns each year with more sequels and super hero movies than those pushing the cinematic landscape further. Plus the problem of representation politics seems to compound the list of nominees even further with each passing year. It is no wonder that unlike previous years I do not have very strong feelings about most of the categories. With the exception of Dunkirk, 3 Billboards and Call me by your name there really isn’t a single movie or individual contribution in the entire list that has me willing to pick a fight with anyone who disagrees with my picks.  However traditions must be kept alive in the hope that maybe next year’s crop of nominees will be better.

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Dunkirk seems to be polarizing people like I couldn’t believe it. I still remember sitting in BFI Imax where the theatre manager came out before the movie and told us that Christopher Nolan had personally adjusted every adjustable control so that the sounds & visuals were how the movie was meant to be seen. I remember a current run through my spine before and after the movie. It is almost unimaginably innovative in how it tells the story of a war, there are no individual characters, there is no glory there is just the oppressing claustrophobia of war. For once a war movie does not glamorize the war. There is tragedy everywhere and in an immersive IMAX experience it puts you on the battlefield.

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3 Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a triumph of screenplay and a tour de force of acting in France McDormand. It is such audacious storytelling that it will have you question every character. There are no heroes or villains, there are just real people who make real mistakes to deal with real problems. Frances McDormand is simply Phenomenal.

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Call Me By Your Name is in a way the perfect Oscar movie, based on a novel, adapted by James Ivory and an unusual and unresolved love story at the center of it. But where it rises above the Oscar bait category is that this movie has a heart and that too in spades! Timothée Chalamet better beat Daniel Day-Lewis and Gary Oldman for the best actor prize. He is incredible and to anyone who thinks he is only 24 and his time will come I will beat you to a pulp. He shows more range in the final credit scenes than Day-Lewis did in the entirety of the weird Phantom Thread. Gary Oldman has been fantastic in everything up until Darkest Hour. This might truly be his worst turn ever.

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And finally The Shape of Water – it deserves to win absolutely nothing – every category it is nominated for has a stronger contender. In isolation too the movie is just not very good. It is poorly written, sluggishly paced, the acting is very average and the story is just bizarre. If I had any power it would be nominated for the razzies and not the Oscars. And I really do not need Guillermo Del Toro’s hype to be validated. Everything he has done has been sub-par. But this is America we are talking about where mediocrity is rewarded so I’ll be hate posting every time The Shape of Water wins anything.

Supporting Actor:

Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

 Makeup and Hair:

“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick

Costume Design:

“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges

Best Documentary Feature:

“Icarus,” Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan

Sound Editing:

“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King

Sound Mixing:

“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo

Production Design:

“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)

Supporting Actress:

Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”

Animated Short:

“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant

Animated Feature:

“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson

Visual Effects:

“Blade Runner 2049,” John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer

Film Editing:

“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith

Documentary Short:

“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon

Live Action Short:

“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk

Adapted Screenplay:

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory

Original Screenplay:

“Get Out,” Jordan Peele

Cinematography:

“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins

Original Score:

“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer

Original Song:

“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Director:

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet “Call me by your name”

Lead Actress:

Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best Picture:

“Dunkirk”

 

 

 

Call Me By Your Name – A Review

Related imageLuca Guadagnino directs Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in a James Ivory screenplay based off André Aciman’s novel Call me by your name.

Set in the 1980 in northern Italy it is the story of American Oliver who comes to stay with Professor Pearlman and his Family. How he meets and creates a lasting impression on professor’s young son Elio. One half of the famed Merchant-Ivory duo, James Ivory adapts Andre Achiman’s novel into a narrative that seems to span a lifetime in the searing Tuscan heat but also is encapsulated in a fleeting moment, that ephemeral summer romance. Guadagnino translates this script so beautifully that all you want to do is move to this nondescript Italian village and sip apricot juices for breakfast and go for a swim in the afternoons.

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Armie Hammer plays Oliver and Timothée Chalamet plays Elio. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the professor and Amira Casar the fabulous Annella. The story starts with Oliver arriving in Italy to stay with Elio and his family in their Tuscan villa. Elio gives up his room and immediately is resentful of this American who invades his life. How they go from Elio mocking Oliver’s “Later..” to taking a trip with him to Bergamo before Oliver returns home is where the magic unfolds. Hammer is fantastic in Oliver and this might be the first time that he has truly delivered on the potential he has always seemed to possess. The way he chides and teases Elio is indescribably intimate. Stuhlbarg delivers one of the most poignant father-son moments of perhaps all time. It is a crying shame that he has been denied a nomination in the supporting actor category.

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But in Timothée Chalamet a star is born, the range he depicts far outshines his peers this year. As 17 year old Elio he lives out every teenage emotion there is and lays bare his heart for the audience in the final few minutes. You watch enthralled every time he is on screen, the infamous Peach scene is not what you must remember this movie for but it is what immediately follows. When he sobs “I’m Sick” you feel his pain, his shame, his desperation. If Chalamet doesn’t win the best actor Oscar this year then the ceremony is not merit based but an exercise in either honouring a swan song (Daniel Day-Lewis) or an attempt at righting past wrongs (Gary Oldman).

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Music by Sufjan Stevens is exceptional, in particular the Traitor piece, the use of Piano music to elevate the emotional dynamics of the film is phenomenal. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom captures the beauty of northern Italy beautifully. Every scene feels crisp and perfectly drenched in the Tuscan sunshine. Together with Guadagnino, Mukdeeprom manages to create the never-ending heat of summer feel palpable. Guadagnino imbues the scenes with such nuances that you are in the scenes yourself. Every character serves a purpose. Mafalda, Mounir (played by Andre Aciman himself), Marzia, they all exist fully and completely within the film’s grammar. This is exceptional filmmaking.

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Watch it because frankly it is perhaps one of the best coming of age movies I’ve ever seen. I saw this and Ladybird on the same day and I have to say that this is a far superior film. Timothée Chalamet is Phenomenal and I’d put my money on him piping both Daniel Day-Lewis and Gary Oldman to the podium – he is that good here.

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Black Panther – A Review

Image result for black pantherRyan Coogler directs Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Michael B Jordan in Black Panther. Black Panther first made appearance in Marvel Cineverse with the Civil Wars and sees him return to the mythical African country of Wakanda to take to the throne after the death of its king T’Chaka.

 

Ryan Coogler has made quite an impact with his first two movies, Fruitvale Station and Creed, both movies pushing the boundaries with furthering the African-American representation in mainstream movies. Here again he teams up with his favoured actor Michael B Jordan. In Jordan, Coogler fleshes out Erik Killmonger in such a way that despite his villainous turn, the audience ends up being invested in him. Teaming with Black actors Coogler pulls off quite a stunning feat. The movie is lush and textured, it proudly embraces the African roots of T’Challa. The myths and motifs of African culture are in every scene. The battle scenes are choreographed to the tune of war drums, the subjects of Wakanda wear the most colourful garb and tribal jewellery. All actors wear their hair natural. The importance of this cannot be overstated. What Wonder Women did to represent the women as super hero, Black Panther does that for people of colour. There are only two white actors, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman and for once they are relegated to unimportant roles.

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Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa is regal, lithe and ferocious all qualities befitting the Black Panther. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, the daughter of the tribe leader and T’Challa’s love interest is determined, industrious and benevolent all qualities that make a perfect queen of Wakanda. Danai Gurira as Okoye the general of the Milaje – the all women royal guard, is the stand out star of the movie for me. She is fierce in every possible way. She is a fierce warrior and she is Sasha Fierce, she flits like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Her spear handling is just as deadly as her deadpan humour. If only we can get a spin-off series for Okoye all will be well with this world. Angela Bassett as Queen mother is phenomenal and Letitia Wright as the whiz-kid princess Shuri, T’Challa’s sister is to Black Panther what Q is to James Bond and then some. Michael B Jordan is the perfect Erik Killmonger. He has a heart-breaking back story and he manages to balance that with sheer evil. The scenes between him and Boseman evoke the sense of Lion King-esque déjà vu

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I went in hoping to be blown away by the music, the trailer promised that it would have a very urban contemporary, rap, hip-hop feel to it but the overall soundtrack pales in comparison to that used for the trailer. In parts the story loses steam, especially when setting up the origin story and there are elements that feel a bit repetitive, the multiple visits to ancestral land, the ritual combat sequences, the final combat between T’Challa and Killmonger. Also Forrest Whitaker is as over the top as you would expect him to be. But it is easily overcome with the battle over ground with Rhinos involved and Okoye kicking serious ass! The CGI, especially around the Black Panther suit is phenomenal.

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While not quite on the same story telling scale as Nolan’s Batman Trilogy Black Panther does manage to lend a sense of mythical epic in the marvel universe. The humour which is the hallmark of Marvel takes a back seat to a story with a heart, a heart that throbs to the drumbeats and tribal calls of Africa. A new king has indeed risen and his name is Ryan Coogler! Wakanda Forever!

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Padman – A Review

Related imageBalki directs Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor in Padman, the story based on Padma Shri awardee Arunachalam Muruganantham, the innovator of low-cost sanitary pads.

 

Balki and Swanand Kirkire base the story on the short story written by Twinkle Khanna the wife of Akshay Kumar and also the producer of the movie. Akshay Kumar plays Lakshmikant Chauhan the eponymous Padman. Lakshmi is newly married and besotted with his wife Gayatri played by Radhika Apte. When she experiences her periods for the first time at her married home, he tries to talk her out of using a dirty rag and get her to use a store bought sanitary pad. She balks at price of it and tries to talk him out of it due to the high price. Lakshmi then embarks upon a quest to prototype his low-cost sanitary pad. The journey that Lakshmi undertakes all the way from being shamed out of his village to delivering a rousing “Linglish” speech at the united nation is fascinating.

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Akshay Kumar is fantastic as Lakshmi and brings a level of earnestness that lifts every scene he is in. The opening sequence song “Aaj se Teri” sets up Akshay’s character arc where he earnestly tries alleviate every single one of her problems, building a wooden seat for her to sit on his bicycle, a monkey toy onion chopper. He might be lacking in the formal education department but he makes up for that in his inquisitiveness. Radhika Apte plays Gayatri and she couldn’t be more of a contrast to Akshay Kumar. She is one note, whiny and overplays the ever silently suffering wife. For almost every scene she is in she is either crying her eyes out or passive aggressively berating Lakshmi for trying to help her. The whole “shame is worse than disease” cudgel she keeps beating over Lakshmi and the audience’s head gets really tiresome. Sonam Kapoor who makes an entry in the second half of the movie moves breezily from one scene to another. She is entirely believable as the college student who sees potential in Lakshmi’s reinvention of the Pad making machine and immensely likable – no small fete considering her previous work. Amitabh Bachchan who is a permanent fixture in every Balki movie chews up the scenery in the 2 minutes he is on screen. His screen presence is unparalleled and his baritone a calming balm on the frayed nerves after Apte’s annoying performance.

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The first half is hugely problematic with its pacing and overly regressive storyline. The whole premise of women using unhygienic rags is setup so tactlessly that it becomes impossible to feel anything for either the women who are suffering this plight or the one man who is trying his best to change the status quo. It is only when Lakshmi is left to his own devices that the movie really picks up steam in the second half. The writing is abysmal and the epiphanies that Lakshmi experiences when his boss at the garage spouts pearls of wisdoms is too on the nose. If not for Sonam Kapoor and Akshay Kumar the movie would have fallen in the same unfulfilled promise category as Balki’s previous Ki and Kaa. The music is catchy and does well to buttress the flailing script and the camera work is fantastic. Every scene is alive and vibrant. The locales of Madhya Pradesh lend a wonderful aesthetic backdrop to the rural setting lifting it out of poverty porn.

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A fascinating story, a decent second half and a strong acting turn from Akshay Kumar and Sonam makes this bearable outing. Balki ought to take directing lessons from his wife Gauri Shinde who knows how to let story translate on screen organically. Also I wish Balki took a page out of Oliver Stone’s book and got the real Padman deliver a final speech.

Padmaavat – A Review

Image resultSanjay Leela Bhansali directs Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh & Shahid Kapoor in Padmaavat, the cinematic adaptation of the opera that Bhansali was invited to direct in 2008 which is based on a 1540 poem by poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. The epic poem tells the story of the beauty and valor of Princess Padmavati of the kingdom of Singhal who later becomes the queen of Mewar, the pride of Rajput king Raja Ratan Singh and the lust of Allaudin Khilji.

 

Deepika plays Rani Padmavati, Shahid plays Raja Ratan Singh and Ranveer plays Allaudin Khilji. The movie has courted enormous controversy and walking out of the theatre I couldn’t understand why. If anything this is a movie that ought to be cherished by the very people who are protesting in the streets. It glorifies the Rajputs of ancient India who never gave into the Mughals. Those who threatened bodily harm to Deepika for what they deemed mischaracterisation of the queen goddess owe her an unconditional apology. Her portrayal as the proud Rajput queen would make any Rajput walk two feet taller.

Ranveer Singh plays Allauddin Khilji in Padmavati.

Ranveer Singh brings a barbaric, manic and frenetic interpretation to Allaudin Khilji. There is an animalistic madness in his eyes and he tends to push it a little too far with that misplaced dance number but overall at no point do you sympathise with this lustful power crazed barbarian who thinks he owns the world. Ranveer is competent as ever and it is indeed hard to imagine any other actor being able to pull off a character so over the top.

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Shahid Kapoor is stoic and regal as the king of Mewar. Even when he is besotted with his beloved Padmavati he does not put on school boy airs. He carries himself with such grace and dignity and presents a polar opposite to Khilji. His words are measured and his intense gaze does most of the talking.

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Deepika Padukone is fantastic and back to top form. After a brief Hollywood stint the queen is back to rule Bollywood. To be laden with such opulent costumes and jewellery that probably weighs more than her she still manages to shine through from under all that Bhansali extravagance. The doe-eyed beauty transforms into goddess-incarnate filled with raging pride when she delivers the final sermon. Her walk to the jauhar pyre will give everyone the chills.

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The story while loosely based on an epic poem does not shy away from topics that most other directors would either have swept under the rug or made a caricature out of. Take for instance Khilji’s penchant for effeminate boy-slaves. Jim Sarbh plays Mallik Kafur who seems infatuated by Khilji. Aditi Rao Haidari plays Khilji’s cousin who he marries and mistreats. Anupriya Goenka who plays Nagmati, Ratan Singh’s first wife leaves a lot to be desired. A strong seasoned actress would have elevated the one scene where she is supposed to be have shined.

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Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a visual maestro – every frame of his is visual poetry. Every detail is meticulously crafted. The oil-lamp lit vistas of the Ghoomar song are jaw-dropping. Small nuances like the small pool right outside the private chambers, the carvings of hands outside the temple – these are details that anyone who has visited Rajasthan can attest to as being authentic.  However the controversy surrounding the movie which began from the very first shoot must have weighed heavily on the director’s mind. The screenplay seems flabby at the start. The pacing is off. The scenes between Khilji and Ratan Singh too long and too repetitive. He manages to rouse the passions towards the second half and pulls it all together visually and narratively towards the end. The sea of red saree clad women making the final walk through the different niches of the temple is unrivalled for it absolute beauty.

Image result for padmavatiThis might not be Bhansali’s best story telling but visually it is peerless. Shahid and Ranveer turn in fantastic performances but it is Deepika Padukone whose fire burns the brightest. The beauty, grace, dignity and pride with which she portrays the famed Queen Padmavati is one for the annals of cinematic history.

The Post – A Review

Image result for post movie posterStephen Spielberg directs Meryl Streep & Tom Hanks in The Post, a story based on true events surrounding The Washington Post’s publishing of the Pentagon Papers in the midst of the Vietnam war. Meryl Streep plays Katherine Graham the owner of the newspaper and Tom Hanks plays Ben Bradlee the editor of the paper.

 

The story chronicles the rise of The Washington Post from a local newspaper to one of such prominence that it eventually led to the impeachment of a President of The United States. Katherine comes to running the paper when her husband commits suicide. She is a reluctant leader, thrust into a position she never thought likely and constantly defers to the other men on the board. Ben Bradlee is the editor who doesn’t seem to want to rock the boat and just coast along doing fluff reporting trying to curry favour with the Nixon Administration by not getting adversarial. When the confidential report commissioned by Bob McNamara, Lyndon Johnson’s secretary of defence is leaked and The New York Times published the piece and is faced with an injunction by the Nixon Administration, The Post takes it upon itself to print the pentagon papers as well.

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Meryl Streep is good as Katherine Graham, but this isn’t one that even an ardent fan like myself is going to want to come back to. She is given very little to do and in that she does just enough. Tom Hanks has the meatier of the two roles and does rather well in the scenes he is in. Bradley Whitford as board member Arthur Parsons, Tracey Letts as Kay Graham’s confidant Fritz Beebe & Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian who ferrets out the source and gets the papers to The Post are brilliant in the supporting roles.

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Stephen Spielberg makes the most obvious of directing choices, every scene is paint by numbers. The screenplay and editing just compound the problems with Spielberg’s simplistic direction. For instance the scene where Graham gives her go ahead for the print run and Bradlee calls the printers to relay the go ahead would have been so much more effecting had they simply cut from Meryl sitting down on the chair and Hanks walking to the phone and Odenkirk sitting at his desk in the newsroom typing away when his desk begins to vibrate indicating that the go ahead was given. Instead Streep says yes, Hanks phones in his go ahead and then the printshop worker is shown hitting the print button before cutting to Odenkirk. There are many such moments which are squandered away. The reason for why Graham goes from being a reluctant leader to one with great conviction is also allowed to fall flat. Even the final scene where Graham is walking away with Bradlee and they joke on how they cannot bear to go through something like this again, and laughing at the fact that since it is Nixon it is more likely that something like will happen, implying the subsequent Watergate expose which The Post ran, Spielberg follows that up with a throwaway clip of a police inspector reporting a break-in at the Watergate building. Such childish direction is not what Streep & Hanks deserve, the story commands nor one expects from Spielberg.

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The scene where May Greenfield reads out the Supreme Court ruling “In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfil its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous re porting, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the founders hoped and trusted they would do.” Is the reason why this movie is so important I just wish it was better made.

Molly’s Game – A Review

Image result for molly's gameAaron Sorkin directs Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly’s Game. For his first directorial venture, Sorkin choses the explosive story of ex-Olympic class skier Molly Bloom and her high stakes poker game which brought everyone from Hollywood’s who’s to the billionaire wall street players around the table..

 

Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom and the story follows her near fatal fall while skiing to when she moves to Los Angeles to take an off year before law-school. Alternating between waitressing and temping at a real-estate developer in LA Molly is invited to play hostess at an exclusive poker game. This whets her appetite for the life of high stakes poker. What follows is the meteoric rise and the subsequent dramatic fall of the “Poker Princess”. Jessica Chastain is fantastic as Molly. She seems to be the embodiment of all of Sorkin women. She is equal parts emotionally fragile and stoic, at once resentful of all the people around her and at the same time acting as a sympathetic pit-boss when her players lose big or profess love to her. There are moments when you see glimpses of Maya from Zero Dark Thirty and that is a good thing. This movie is essentially a one woman show and Jessica Chastain carries the entire movie on her lithe shoulders.

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Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, Molly’s lawyer. Elba is a hot-shot newyork lawyer and a former prosecutor who reluctantly agrees to take Molly’s case. Elba while possessing a great screen presence seems to struggle while enunciating his dialogues. Elba’s delivery is not best suited for the rat-a-tat-tat dialogues of a Sorkin screenplay also known as Sorkin-isms. Unfortunately Elba makes a real mess of his screen time and is nearly unbearable.

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Sorkin is a phenomenal writer and has turned in some of my favourite screenplays both on television and cinema. The West Wing, The Newsroom, The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs. But none of these were directed by Sorkin, and that is where I think Sorkin needs to up his game. The script and screenplay seem to become overbearing with Chastain’s Molly essentially doing a voice-over for almost the entirety of the movie. While Chastain is a phenomenal actress, her voice over skills make the proceedings feel like a real drag. With a Sorkin script the build-up is lengthy and very wordy but the pay-offs are huge and eternally satisfying, here there is so much build up about the high stakes poker and the players involved but the payoff feels like a  let-down

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The big ticket item is the who’s who of Hollywood who came to play at bloom’s games and here it is an afterthought. The juiciest bits are left off the screen and the burden of carrying the story forward falls on Chastain entirely.

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Mildly entertaining due to the fantastic Jessica Chastain but almost excruciating due to Idris Elba and his inability to speak clearly Molly’s Game is a Bad Beat- a subjective term for a hand in which a player with what appear to be strong cards nevertheless loses. I expected more from Sorkin’s directorial debut.