Satyagraha – A Review

Prakash Jha directs Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgan and Kareena Kapoor in the socio-political drama Satyagraha in an attempt to recreate the period of turmoil and pseudo revolution the country went through with the Anna Hazare movement for Jan Lokpal bill.

Considering the state of politics in the country Jha couldn’t have chosen a more apt topic for storytelling and the cast that is so on-the- nose with the figures that featured in the actual movement. Amitabh Bachchan is Anna Hazare, Ajay Devgan is Arvind Kejriwal, Kareena Kapoor is Sazia Ilmi, the police officer is presumably Kiran Bedi and the lawyer is Prashant Bhushan.

The story starts of jerkily with a grumpy old map Dwarka Anand played by Amitabh berates Manav played by Devgan for his capitalist ideology and blames him and other of his ilk for the rampant corruption that is crippling the society. While not untrue the preachy monologue feels overbearing and when you are playing to crowd of 500 who have paid an exorbitant amount of money to go see the movie it is self-defeating when you go on a diatribe about consumerism and capitalism.

The story has good intentions but it does not fill out the plot between the bullet points which form the skeleton of the story and the dialogues are so stilted and clichéd that it is hard to sit through. The first half of the movie had me throwing up my hands in exasperation so many times that it is a surprise I was able to sit for the second half at all.  The second half gets better with the actors being given a much tighter script and a more thought out screenplay.  But the reliance of the story on the actual Anna movement is so obvious that any deviation from the original sticks out like a sore thumb. The point where Arjun Rampal picks up arms makes absolutely no sense whatsoever as does the Janta Rocks song.

Amongst actors Arjun Rampal is not terrible and that is about as high a praise as he is ever going to get from me. Amrita Rao is pretty and does the simpering widow role justice but she seriously needs to work on her voice modulation because he voice grates on your nerves after a while. Manoj Bajpai is the biggest disappointment as he brings nothing new or novel to his corrupt politician role as this is the same role which he has played in almost all of Jha’s movies off late. Ajay Devgan is alright but nothing to write home about gone is the latent intensity of Gangajal. Kareena Surprises as she is at the same time very beautiful to look at and does hold her own between Devgan and Bachchan. And what can be said about Amitabh Bachchan that has not already been said – he is a genius when it comes to acting, he looks fantastic for his age here and he carries the entire weight of the movie on his very able shoulders and that baritone of his. This is one of the best Amitabh Bachchan performances of late and I wish there exists a film maker who can write a story without the need for a massive ensemble and just give me 2 hours of Amitabh Bachchan acting out a brilliantly written role. All I can say is Give it up for Bachchan and give up everything else!

My biggest problem is with the choices Jha makes, for a film maker of his reputation it is unforgivable the amateurish way the movie is made, some of the scenes feel more like story blocking scenes where in the actors are reading the scenes and not necessarily acting them out, the reliance on clichés and word for word reference to the Jan Lokpal movement.  While trying to keep it as close to the real movement Jha comes off as lazy and relying on evoking the memories by using the same phrases (the law is made by elected officials not by people on the street, dictatorial attitude and many more). The use of rock band and rock music to make it more youth-centric seems misplaced. One thing to Jha’s credit is the way he shows how the social media can be manipulated and what an important role it plays in keeping such a revolution alive.

Of the songs , “Raske Bhare Tore Naina” fails to evoke the “Mora Piya” from Rajneeti, Janta Rocks and Hum Bole The are just plain bad. Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram is actually quite well written by Prasoon Joshi.

I really wouldn’t recommend this movie outside of the brilliant turn by Amitabh and perhaps if you want to relive the Jan Lokpal movement. In terms of original content Jha fails miserably. Good intentions do not necessarily a good movie make.

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Madras Cafe – A Review

Shoojit Sircar directs John Abraham in Madras Café based on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination story. Sircar coming off the tremendously successful Vicky Donor has huge expectations to live up to and doing a volte face by going international espionage and political drama way after the relatively light hearted Vicky Donor has set himself a herculean task to deliver.

The story tracks the 2 and a half year leading up to the assassination of India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Sri Lankan Civil war which acts as the catalyst for the assassination.   The movie opens with an almost unrecognizable John Abraham (took me until he first spoke to realize who it was) walking up to a priest to confess the burdens of the life he has left behind.  What starts of as a powerful opening sequence with John Abraham living through the nightmares of the PTSD he suffers after the brutality he witnessed in Sri Lanka is left half-baked with his confession to the priest who is terribly mis-cast, here someone like Darshan Jariwala would have been wonderful and not felt as out of place as the priest does.

The movie can be summed up as one part great and one part missed opportunity. The problems are not so much with the lead acting pair of John Abraham and Nargis Fakhri who turn in credible performances but with the script that is for the most part confused as to what story thread it wants to focus on.  Story lines are pursued just to be left open ended.  Characters are asked to vocalize every inner working of their mind lest the audience “doesn’t get it”; the relentless voiceovers make for a tiresome and lazy story telling. And one key ingredient of an espionage thriller has got to be the feint – leading the audience to believe that one character is the bad guy while the end result is something completely different or at least letting the audience in on the secret but letting the characters in the story struggle with the double cross till the final reveal. Madras Café fails to achieve what Kahaani managed so effortlessly. The double agent is given up with no effort made at creating a cover for him.

Scripting issues aside the movie is shot beautifully with many wonderful shots. The brutality of war has never been captured more effectively than in this movie the shots which were clearly referential from the National Geographic library ( it got a credits mention as well) are fantastic and they serve as a better context setting for the civilian struggle in Sri Lanka than the entire first half put together. A Voice over with those images would have served the movie better with the rest of the focus set on the assassination. The shots of the sunrises and sunsets with helicopter silhouette are reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket; the shots of the soldiers walking in a single file again silhouetted against the sky are reminders of Saving Private Ryan. While referential these are still beautiful on their own merit. The luscious shots of the emerald isle, the shots of the colonial Cochin and the claustrophobic Madras are beautifully framed by the cinematographer Kamaljeet Negi. The music by Shantanu Moitra is also a perfect accompaniment to some of the most poignant scenes of the movie.

The third act is where the movie picks up steam and I wish the director had put in a little more effort in developing the first two thirds of the movie and the end result would have been one of the best retelling of an important chapter in India’s political story.  Still Sircar delivers a decent thriller with some really goose-bump inducing moments and telling an important story that not many might not know.

Don’t watch it if you are expecting a JFK type tout thriller , watch it for what is undoubtedly one of the best looking movie with decent acting and a very important story that is an important chapter in Indian Political annals.

B.A. Pass – A review

First time director Ajay Bahl direct Shadab Kamal and Shilpa Shukla in the B.A.Pass. with the trailers that promised a bold look at coming of age drama and an erotic psychological noir film . What we end up getting is a half-baked, over stylized and a narratively incomplete attempt that leaves a lot to be desired off.

After losing his parents to an accident Mukesh (Kamal) moves in with his aunt and uncle who constantly remind him of what a burden he is on their meager income. Mukesh goes about enduring daily barbs and doing household chores for his aunt when he happens to meet Sarika (Shukla). Sarika lures Kamal in and the movie takes off from there.  The first encounter between Mukesh and Sarika is a little abrupt to say the least. There is no foreplay, no seduction which would make us squirm as we are seeing a supposedly innocent boy being lured into a trap. But that minor misstep aside the pillow talk between Shukla and Kamal is fun and cheeky and gave me hopes that this could deliver on the potential.

In the acting department Shukla has been garnering rave reviews for her portrayal of the strong character that is not afraid to use her sexuality as a weapon. This is the first film I have seen her in after the very impressive Chak De India. Here too there is nothing particularly bad about what she does except that in some of the more intimate scenes she hams it up a little too much for it to appear believable.  As for Kamal he does a better job of being more believable in those intimate scenes. There is intensity to him even in quite scenes and he is someone who clearly has a lot of potential handling complex roles.

Where I found the movie lacking was in the single dimensional treatment of the subject. There are scenes which went on for way too long with no impact on the viewers. The stories of the sisters were mostly forgotten. There are movies that can do with having their running time cut short, in my opinion this movie was missing an entire act where the consequences of the characters action needed to be fleshed out a little more. Based on a short story “The Railway Aunty” the story needed more character development rather than relying on random sex-scenes and chess moves to get the story moving along. Also my perennial gripe with the Indian filmmakers not knowing how to film an intimate scene still continues. We might have written the book on carnal pleasures but when it comes to depicting it on screen we suck real bad (pun may have been intended). This movie was not an entire story in itself it felt more episodic and incomplete. Also the stereotype portrayal of the women Kamal ends up being with is another thing that irked me more than it would to most people because I’ve seen it done better in countless other movies and TV shows, take Hung for that matter. And to underutilize Deepti Naval is a criminal offense.  Also for a movie whose title claims B.A.Pass the character is referred to as 12th pass and he still seems to be going to college, and if the relationship was supposed to grow over the ensuing years of his “education” it was forgotten or left on the editing floors.

The background score by Aloknanda Dasgupta is brilliant and very effective especially when it is nothing more than a loud booming cello bass. I would have walked out had the music not been as great as it was and it did manage to elevate the movie above a  below-average wannabe noir.  The cinematography by Ajay Bahl lends a very Nicholas Winding Refn-ish feel with the Neon lights and the indirect lighting. The visual quality of the film is deserving of a much better narrative then the script by Ritesh Shah.

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When I got up for the national anthem I was surprised to see nearly 70% of the theatre was filled – this on a Tuesday night 11pm show. I thought to myself considering the buzz around the movie the Indian audience is showing up in numbers to encourage such indie movies and that it is a good sign. It only took the first show of skin for the illiterate herd to raise its ugly hyena like cackle.  Seriously we must be amongst the most prude and immature audiences ever. But to those who will contend that I did not like the movie because of the audience let me state that it was offset by the plushest recliners and the most comfortable viewing experience. So I didn’t like the movie because it was just not a good movie.

The only reason I’d recommend anyone to see this movie would be because of the cello bass background score and the Neon-lit cinematography.

The Wolverine – A Review

James Mangold directs Hugh Jackman in his 6th outing as the Adamantium –clawed superhero in The Wolverine. This movie explores Logan’s time spent in the Second World War serving the American troops and being held captive in Japan during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the happenings of the X-men Last stand Logan is distraught at the loss of Jean Gray and living in a jungle with grizzly bears. There is a red-haired Yukio played by Rila Fukushima who seems to be tracking Logan at the behest of Yashida, the soldier who Logan saved when the Americans dropped the atom bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yashida is dying and has requested that Logan return to bid farewell to the man whose life he once helped save. Logan is quickly pulled into the world of the Japanese mob the Yakuza and The black clan Ninjas.

The pacing of the first half of the movie is slow moody and melancholic with just one massive action sequence and it works to a great degree more than most super hero movies that try to meander into the origins/backstory territory. The stark cold landscapes of rural USA and the old world/ modern clash of present day japan are framed beautifully. The action sequence on the train is relentless and could have done with some editing. Hugh Jackman has said that this was the Wolverine movie he had always wanted, and with the first half of the story I would agree with him.  the second half with multiple unresolved storylines and the constant crossing and double crossing gets tiresome after a while.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is the best he has been as the titular character, a better suited person cannot be imagined to play the wolverine both physically and also physiologically. Jackman went from looking old and haggard in Les Mis last year to looking buff and all veiny in The wolverine and he looks as good as ever. Rila Fukushima as Yukio is also very very good with her mix of bad assery and a tongue in cheek humor. Tao Okamoto as Mariko the heir apparent to Yashida industries leaves a lot to be desired, she does vulnerable well but in other scenes she is too one dimensional to have any real impact or connection . Svetlana Khodchenkova as the Viper is either woefully underutilized or almost entirely unnecessary, when she plays the viper she has this femme fatale vibe that verges on comical but when she plays the doctor she carries a hint of danger that could have had more of an impact if she didn’t do the whole skin shedding act towards the final minutes.

The cinematography by Ross Emery is very good and it captures the contrasts of Japan perfectly.  The music by Marco Beltrami is pretty solid too mixing the drums and strings to evoke a very typically oriental experience while still managing to deliver a blockbuster worthy score which accompanies the adrenaline fueled action sequences.

The movie has been garnering mixed responses with most people complaining about not enough action in the movie and a lot of the samurai/Ronin references, my problem with the movie is a little different the samurai bits are the best in my opinion, had they taken the viper out and just had Khodchenkova play a evil doctor with no mutation it would have been more effective.  The Adamantium Silver Samurai towards the end seems like an afterthought whereas it is actually central to the theme of the movie, the action sequences are too long and the Yakuza angle seems to be a wasted opportunity.  Where the movie succeeds is in the contemplative nature of wolverine as he struggles to go back to being a soldier that he once was. The flashbacks of Famke Jansen as Jean Gray also work but they are maybe a little overused.

Overall I enjoyed this Wolverine movie a lot more than 2009 origins story, this is Jackman at his best playing the clawed mutant superhero.  I’ve always enjoyed the Marvels X-men universe more than the marvel’s Avengers universe and I seem to in the minority atleast when it comes to the movies. And once the credits roll please stay put and wait for 2 minute long teaser for X-men days of future past.  Trust me you will be surprised.