Shaandaar – A Review

Vikas Bahl directs Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt in the Big Fat Indian Destination wedding capers Shaandaar. This is Vikas Bahl, the director of Queen, My top pick for 2014 over Boyhood, Gone Girl and Nightcrawler. Shahid Kapoor who last lived up to his true potential as the Shakespearean hero Hamlet in Haider and Alia Bhatt silenced critics in the surprise hit Highway. Take these 3 and put them in an Indian wedding scenario and there are bound to be fireworks! Right? WRONG!

The curse of Karan Johar strikes again! What we end up is an ill-conceived, badly written, under directed and choppily edited mess that you shouldn’t even poke with a 100 ft. pole. Stay as far away from this as you possibly can.

You have Sushma Seth the matriarch of the family who are quietly going bankrupt who tries to strike a business deal with the Fundwani’s by marrying off their plump daughter Isha to the 8 and ½ pack wielding himbo Robin. There is this plot of the Kamlaji and his daughter in law Geetu who try to keep feeding Isha calorie heavy food to keep making her fat, they promise to gift the groom gold equalling the weight of Isha and then they complain and make snide remarks at her ballooning weight. It makes no sense at all. And for Sanah Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur’s daughter both in the movie and in real life to make a debut in such an uncharitable way is just unacceptable. She is charming and funny and has the marks of being a decent actor (much like mom Supriya Pathak) but she is subjected to such horrible body shaming and name calling that it is unforgivable. More so because there is no redemption for her and no I cannot count the climax as redemption because by then you don’t care about the movie or its characters.

There is an absurd amount of animation in this movie, a frog called Ashok, thought clouds that are full Technicolor dream sequences, Pankaj Kapur’s dreams which he hands to his insomniac daughter Alia which is something straight out of harry potter with a 2-d animation on a piece of paper. There is a set of twins more horrifying than twins from the Kubrick classic The Shinning. Nothing in movie makes any sense whatsoever.

Indian weddings are ripe for storytelling. You can tell it from the point of view of the Barjatias where it is a never ending sequence of rituals and celebrations and it has its own ironic charm where everything is blinged out and amped up and basically sequins on steroids or it goes the deeply dysfunctional Monsoon wedding way where the family dynamics come to the fore. Heck even in Queen the opening sequence was that of a bride being left hanging by her groom right after the mehandi. Anyone who mocks Indian weddings is an incompetent fool who doesn’t know how to tell a compelling story.  But Shaandaar seems the least interested in anything that resembles coherence. Nothing in the movie makes sense and it is a shame because Shahid and Alia are beautiful to look at and come packed with charm and wit and they try helplessly to make a go of things but it is impossible when there is no story to be told.

Shaandaar is also massively let down by Amit Trivedi and his music. there is no memorable song and it seems like there was no effort made. the Hungama Hogaya from Queen which was such an iconic remix, Trivedi tries again here by trying to remixx old songs but the effect is pointless. The cinematography is actually quite lush and beautiful especially the shots of the dawn breaking over the british moors but it is just massively let down by nothing to tie the visuals together. The animation andCGI work which is quite good seems to do nothing to further the story and is sticks out like another tacked on unnecessary piece much like the animated dog and parrot from Mein Prem ki Diwani hun. in reality it almost seems like they looked at Mein Prem ki Diwani hun ( an abomination of a movie) and decided we are going to take all the same elements and show them how to make a good movie . they even had Pankaj Kapur in the mix. but unfortunately for them the results are just as atrocious.

Karan Johar needs to understand that as a producer he cannot be allowed to stamp his brand of glam onto the storytellers like Kashyap (Bombay velvet) and Bahl (Shaandaar). Throw your money at them and let them tell the story they want to tell. No one can do NRI-centric escapist fantasies like he can and if he has an itching to direct then stop being lazy and direct a freaking movie and don’t try to steamroll otherwise decent storytellers. This is an absolute and utter waste of time.

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Jazbaa – A Review

Sanjay Gupta directs Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Irrfan Khan and Shabana Azmi in Jazbaa. Jazbaa in Urdu is supposed to mean Passion or rage and that is what Aishwarya feels as her only daughter is kidnapped and as ransom she is asked to defend a rapist and murderer. This being Ms Rai’s come back vehicle the expectations were sky high but a ham-fisted approach at direction is what lets this movie down.

Sanjay Gupta continues his blatant plagiarism with Jazbaa being “inspired” by Seven days a Korean film. Gupta dresses up every possible light source in an unnatural Green and Yellow hue to imbue mood but he goes overboard it just becomes laughable. The story isn’t uninteresting in the right hands it could have been a half-decent revenge/thriller flick but with Gupta manning the reins the multiple plot points seem to appear at minor distractions and do not lead to any conclusion. Take for instance the fact that Irrfan who plays Yohan the most decorated Mumbai cop fighting corruption charges is allowed to roam free even in the court of law while he is evading arrest, then suddenly towards the end he ends up running a dhaaba. Niyaz’s wife who shows up to testify has a side plot of an insurance windfall which is raised as an important point but then left unanswered and unexplored.

Sanjay Gupta also favours style over substance to an absurd effect. Yohan runs around being a top Mumbai cop wearing leather jackets. I am from Mumbai and trust me – NO ONE wears leather jackets EVER unless you want to feel like you are permanently in a sauna. The scene where Irrfan breaks Aishwarya’s car’s glass made everyone in the theatre laugh out loud as it made no sense. Also Niyaz’s strangely affected accent and propensity to speak in English more than Hinglish seemed to belie his character traits. Shabana Azmi who finds Aishwarya’s to have broken and entered into her dead daughter’s house and going through her laptop reacts in the most bizarre of the ways by not reacting at all! Almost all of Shabana’s time on screen is spent in a Xanax induced stupor and she lacks any “Jazbaa” at all. Also the over the top melodramatic dialogues that Irrfan spews forth seem unwarranted and almost dated.

Acting-wise Aishwarya veers between hysterical at the loss of her daughter and tough as nails defence lawyer. She isn’t entirely without merit but for a comeback a lot more was expected and she fails to deliver. Irrfan is quickly being stereotyped into these roles and for someone of his clout (Hollywood and all) and talent the waste is criminal. Shabana Azmi usually a firebrand is too mellowed down here and lack any real fire in her performance. I mean she was Santokben Jadeja for crying out loud.

A little more focus from Sanjay Gupta and this movie could have been as good as Zinda was even though it was also an entirely unoriginal remake of OldBoy. Also Sanjay Gupta wants us to believe that this is a movie that addresses the violence against women by spewing stats at us during the credits which seem like a last minute thought to placate the number of women who will be offended by the way the said rape is recreated thrice and the creature responsible for it seems to suffer no regrets or remorse and the total and complete lack of shock/disgust that one would expect Aishwarya’s character to exhibit.

I will hold out one final hope for Aishwarya to reunite with Sanjay Leela Bhansali and that will be a comeback that she deserves.

The Martian – A Review

Ridley Scott direct Matt Damon and an impressive ensemble of supporting cast of Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wigg, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Mackenzie Davis, Sebastian Stan in The Martian.

Based on the book by Andy Weir, screen writer Drew Goddard manages to keep the humor and sarcasm from the book and translates that to screen without making it sound cheesy or making light of the actual science involved. From story and screenplay point of view The Martian strikes a perfect balance of keeping the science real and still ensuring that casual moviegoers are not overwhelmed and ultimately disinterested. Comparisons calling this Apollo 13 meets Castaway aren’t far off the mark.

The story sees Mark Watney and his band of Astronauts exploring the inhospitable martian terrain when a storm looms ahead and the team is forced to return to the safety of the MAV and leave as the strength of storm was underestimated. Watney gets stranded and is assumed dead as the crew unwillingly decide to leave him behind and return to Hermes to embark on the journey back home. Turns out Watney isn’t dead but is left to his own devices as he tries to survive on the planet where nothing survives. Watney tries his hand at farming, foraging for the pathfinder and setting up a communication link back to earth using primitive techniques. Damon is perfectly cast as Watney as his dry humor and wry smile carry the entire movie on his shoulders. I could go on discussing the several hilarious scenarios he is faced with but it is best experienced first-hand on the big screen.

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The support cast is jam packed with talented names but there are so many that they are almost callously handled. Jeff Daniels as the director of NASA phones it in, there is no undercurrent of passion that we saw him demonstrate in The Newsroom. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor also seems badly written, Sean Bean as the guy who heads the mission to mars is also underwritten and his talents of dying in every movie he stars in are also criminally wasted. Donald Glover is stereotypical Nasa nerd. Benedict Wong and Kristen Wigg do a fine enough job but could have done so much more in trying to infuse more humor than they do. The only one from the support cast who left a lasting impression was Mackenzie Davis who is the first one to report that Mark Watney might actually still be alive on Mars. Jessica Chastain as the 80s disco music obsessed but cool and detached commander is also perfectly cast.

Supporting cast weakness aside, where The Martian triumphs is in its casting of Damon and his portrayal of the eternally optimistic Mark Watney who promises to “science the shit out of this” as he does everything possible to survive – I wish there was Eye of the Tiger playing in one of the scenes it would have been perfect but Hot Stuff and Fonz from Happy Days more than makes up for it. Technically the movie isn’t anything ground breaking in terms of the space-y visuals but it is adequate and does the job.

The movie shines for its light hearted and tongue in cheek look at the sci-fi which more often than not takes on a far too serious a tone and nothing against it but this one works just as well. And Matt Damon is brilliant. He reminds me of Soderberg’s underrated The Informant and that is a very very good thing. And the 80s music is a guilty pleasure so give me more disco any day of the week and I will be a happy bunny!