Simran – A Review

Image result for simran posterHansal Mehta directs Kangana Ranaut in Simran, a story inspired by the real-life bombshell bandit Sandeep Kaur. While Sandeep was a well-educated and financially independent nurse, Praful Patel played by Kangana is a young divorcee working in a menial, dead end job trying to clobber together enough money to put in a deposit for a house of her own so that she can escape the daily barbs of her father.

 

If the story sounds sad and depressing, let me assure you it is anything but that. Kangana is a one woman tour de force. Right from the first time we are introduced to her, on her lunch break she deftly evades the overtures of her ex-boyfriend and present-boss, she lights up the screen with her self-assured yet unassuming presence. On a bachelorette trip to Las Vegas, Praful is introduced to the temptations of gambling and this is where things from good to scary really quickly. To right the wrong Praful goes down a dangerous path. Kangana Ranaut is fantastic in every single frame, you feel joy in her giddy goofy behaviour and she makes you feel her anguish when her father is lobbing insults at her and everything she has worked for seems to slip away from her grasps. But there is an inherent lightness to her being that no matter how dire the situation she breathes levity into it and you know that things will be ok. This is her best following the success of Queen where she turned the acting game on its head and claimed the mantle.

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The supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired. The goons Bugs and Mr. Hipster Beard are neither terrifying nor believable. The love interest played by Sohum Shah sucks the life out of the scene each time he is on. He is laden with the most absurd lines and insists on speaking in chaste hindi in spite of him being from Rajkot, Gujarat. His character is so poorly written that if you subtract him from the story it wouldn’t change one bit – and that is perhaps what the director should have done. Praful’s Father is very one dimensional. He is given fantastic dialogue, but with nothing to take the edge off of his shouting, and insults he is rendered unlikeable towards the end there is one scene where is fussing over Praful and making her eat in one moment and the next moment he is at her throat – this kind of balance would have really made the story stronger. The actress who play Praful’s mother is a small saving grace to the entire ensemble cast. As is Timothy Ryan Hickernell – the bartender in Las Vegas, who even in a tiny role leaves a lasting impression. Seeing how he has been picked to play the slain journalist Danielle Pearl in his forthcoming Omertta, Hansal Mehta seems to agree.

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The music by Sachin-Jigar is fantastic and stays with you long after. Pinjara and Single Rehne de are instantly hummable and Lagdi hai Thai is appropriately festive. the camera work by Anuj Dhawan is spectacular – especially in the Las Vegas scenes. To me this is a movie about nuances, the small dialect peculiarities, the very modest living of the Patel family, the realism of it all. The editing seems choppy in places, especially where you dont see Bugs hitting Praful but she seems to have fallen on the floor and is later shown with scrapped knees.  The revenge plot towards the end seems unnecessary and almost an after thought. However that is quickly corrected when Praful is eventually led away. The final scene where she comes up with another hare-brained idea of investing in stock and getting rich because “Sue” told her is a brilliant touch.

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Hansal Mehta’s direction and his innate Gujarati sensibilities come to the fore as he crafts and entirely believable narrative involving a Gujarati NRI family. Kangana’s diction is perfect and not a caricature as most portrayals of Gujaratis in Bollywood tend to be. The story by Apurva Asrani is a compelling one but his screenplay needs tightening up. Every scene with Sohum Shah was a disservice to the movie – fortunately there were only a few. The dialogues with the exception of the ones for Sohum Shah are mostly fantastic.  From the cheesy pickup to the tongue in cheek to veiled self-deprecating insults lobbed at herself when her parents are watching the story of the Lipstick Bandit unfold on television, Kangana delivers them with aplomb.

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In the end it is Kangana who carries the entire movie to a satisfying end. The way she immerses herself in this character and her sincerity make you overlook a weak screenplay and a supporting cast that leaves a lot to be desired. Ignore the noise around the controversy as she doesn’t need that to sell her movies – her name alone should now be sufficient enough.

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Watch this for an almost unbelievable but true story. Watch it for Kangana is in top form. Watch it because Kangana renders the Male lead role obsolete when she takes centre stage.

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Shubh Mangal Saavadhan – A Review

Image result for shubh mangal saavdhan posterS. Prasanna directs Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. For a first time director R. S. Prasanna sure is ambitious to take on a subject like Erectile Dysfunction. Read on to find out if Prasanna manages to deliver a “hard” hitting and entertaining caper or turns in a “limp” biscuit of a movie.

 

Mudit played by Ayushmann Khurrana has been besotted by Sugandha played by Bhumi Pednekar. Unable to muster courage to ask her out he sends her an online marriage proposal. Sugandha who has been dreaming of the romanticised notion of a Bollywood love story reluctantly agrees to allow Mudit to court her. The first time they get frisky while Sugandha’s parents are out of town, Mudit ends up having performance anxiety and shares his “problem” with Sugandha and forever ruins biscuits for everyone everywhere.

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Bhumi Pedneker who I have been mightily impressed in her previous two outings is surprisingly one note here. I blame it on the writing and direction more than her abilities. Because in the one scene where she tries to entice Mudit by reciting cheesy lines from a porno is testament to her talent. She is hilarious and vulnerable at the same time. Ayushmann who first burst onto the screen in Vicky Donor a movie based on similarly taboo subject (although diametrically opposite in terms of the subject itself) delivers a very confused performance. It isn’t clear if he is a shy romantic type or the Casanova who didn’t have this “problem” with his ex.

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The supporting cast is what really brings the whole enterprise to a crashing halt. Both fathers are contemptible, Sughanda’s uncle a leftover from the 80’s doordarshan era acting, the mothers simpering messes. Seema Pahwa still manages to shine despite the laborious proceedings. The friends of Mudit unwatchable in the extreme. The movie seems to want to be many things at the same time.

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One moment it is a budding romance movie, the next it is trying to take on a taboo subject, the very next it turns into a priyadarshan farce and the next it is a dysfunctional family dynamics dramedy The first half plods along with some carefully placed puns which elicit genuine laughs but the second half was just pure cringe fest. There seems to be no sense of continuity or any attempt at coherence. Take for instance the scene where Mudit – the groom ends up cooking the food for the wedding party, another scene is where Mudit’s father tells him if he pursues sughandha he cannot come back home or expect any money from him – Mudit all proud and indignant throws his wallet at his father and the final scene is of Mudit and Sugandha performing puja at his father’s house which they live in. the scene when Mudit and Sugandha are getting “busy” while the entire wedding contingent is waiting outside the bedroom and taking bets made me want to walk out of the theatre. The dialogues especially with a subject as sensitive as ED can quickly devolve into school yard heckling in the hands of incompetent writers and they range from juvenile to abhorrent.

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Also seriously lacking is the female perspective towards sexuality. Sugandha never once seems to take into consideration her “needs”. sobbing she declares “Sex hi sab kuch nahi hota hai na” in a crowded market of all places and Mudit sends her packing in an Autorickshaw. At under 2 hours this movie isnt long by any stretch of imagination so there was sufficient reel time available to flesh out Sugandha’s character to something a little more than just a doormat.

Unresolved direction and underwhelming performances cannot save the movie from the grave its story and screenplay writers have dug for it. Stay far away from this and rewatch Vicky Donor instead.

Bareily Ki Barfi – A Review

Image result for bareilly ki barfi posterAshwiny Iyer Tiwari directs Ayushmann Khurrana, Kriti Sanon and Rajkummar Rao in Bareily Ki Barfi. Set in the small town of Bareily in northern India this is the story of Bitti played by Kriti who isn’t like other domesticated Indian girls. As the narrator says “She’s her mother’s daughter and her father’s son”.

 

Seema Pahwa plays Bitti’s mother Shushila Mishra and is woe-begotten with worry about getting Bitti married. Pankaj Tripathi plays Narottam Mishra Bitti’s father who is torn between his desire to let his daughter live her life by her standards and the society’s expectations of what constitutes a good girl. If that sounds dreary and drab – don’t let that fool you – this movie is a hoot and a half! When Bitti tries to run away from home she picks up a novel about a free-spirited girl from Bareily and she is convinced this is her story. She wants to meet the writer. Enter Chirag Dubey played by Ayushmann Khurana who owns the printing press where the book was published. Bitti convinces Chirag to get her to meet with Pritam Vidrohi played by Rajkummar Rao who wrote the book, and thus hilarity ensues. This much is clear from the trailer – and saying anymore would be a great disservice to the movie.

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Written by the writing team behind Dangal, Nitish Tiwari and Shreyas Jain this movie exceeds the 1500-crore earner by a clear mile when it comes to pure writing. Given the realtively smaller stars the movie is un-encumbered with trying to satiate star-egos and as a result the audience is the real winner. I honestly cannot remember the last time I heard the audience guffaw so loudly and at times that warranted laughter. Of the actors Kriti Sanon is a revelation – I have not seen any of her previous work and really wasn’t too keen on her either – but I am a convert now. Ayushmann is solid as ever. But the real hero of the film is Rajkummar Rao – his transitions between the two Pritam Vidrohis is so seamless it’s a real treat to watch. The supporting cast is brilliant as well. Seema Pahwa, Pankaj Tripathi, Swati Semwal as Bitti’s friend Rama and Rohit Chaudhary as Chirag’s Man-Friday Munna are all brilliantly nuanced in the small but crucial roles.

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The music doesn’t let you down, Sweety tera drama and Twist Kamariya will have you tapping your feet to its beat and Nazm Nazm will stay with you long after the screen credits as well. The screenplay is precise and very cleverly written, the editing very sharp and together they don’t let the pace slacken even slightly.

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Very cleverly written, ably acted and genuinely funny this one has definitely repeat watchability in the vein of Band Baaja Baraat. There really is absolutely nothing I can fault this movie for. Go watch it for Kriti who is not only easy on the eyes but has acting chops to back as well. Watch it for Ayushmann who really should be doing more movies than he is already. But more than anything else watch it for Rajkummar Rao – this guy is a national treasure!

 

Toilet- Ek Prem Katha : A Review

Image result for toilet ek prem kathaShree Narayan Singh directs Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar in Toilet – Ek Prem Katha. Akshay Kumar has hit something of a purple patch when it comes to the scripts he is picking and his performances in them. The critics are loving him as are the masses. I have had my challenges with the execution of some his more acclaimed work. I found Airlift too hackneyed and Rustom didn’t deliver on its potential. Will Toilet –Ek Prem Katha with its off-beat plot be the one that finally makes me sit up and notice?

 

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Keshav played by Akshay Kumar is the son of a Brahmin played by Sudhir Pandey a veteran of the television world. Keshav is plagued by astrological irregularities which stop his father from getting him married off. Due to his being Manglik – he is wed off to a buffalo – a rather hilarious take on the surprisingly common ritual of Kumbh Vivah which is usually performed with a tree. Keshav falls in love with Jaya played by Bhumi Pednekar, the firebrand from the adjacent village and together they concoct a fake thumb to overcome Keshav’s second astrological issue. Hilarity ensues when the day after the wedding Jaya is invited by the women of the village at the crack of dawn to their Lota party – the practice of going into the fields to tend to nature’s call. The educated and “liberal” Jaya is shocked at the idea and refuses to “go”.  Keshav tries everything he can to make his new bride happy but his Father is deeply opposed to the notion of defecating in the same place where they worship. Jaya goes back to her parent’s place and Keshav sets about the task of winning his wife’s heart and getting her back.

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Akshay Kumar is spectacular as Keshav. He is the perfect mix of village bumpkin and yet evolved in many ways. His charming ways of trying to win over Jaya when he first sets his eyes on her and the not-so-quiet determination of winning her back after she leaves him to return to her parent’s is fantastic. Even tasked with maudlin dialogues like “ye mamla Sauch(Toilet) ka nahi Soch( Thought) ka hai” and “ jab biwi chahiye pass to ghar me ho Sandaas” he delivers them with such earnestness that you are not left cringing. Bhumi Pednekar who first burst onto the screens as the overweight newlywed in Dum Lagakar Haisha (a Fantastic film if you haven’t seen it already) is solid here. Her struggles at loving and wanting to be with Keshav but standing up for her dignity are highly nuanced. One moment she is directing her fury at the women who say nothing about the lack of basic hygiene and the next she is weeping in the middle of the night applying detol after she beat Keshav with a Laathi at the Lath-Maar Holi. Sushil Pandey as Bauji, Anupam Kher as Jaya’s uncle and the actors who play Jaya’s parents and veteran actor Shubha Khote are fantastic in the small but significant roles they play in the story. Divyendu Sharma who plays Keshav’s brother is good in parts but then like in Pyaar Ka Punchnama becomes overbearing and hogs the screen which really does not belong to him.

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There are some serious missteps in the second half. When Keshav goes to Block Samiti to get approval for a common toilet for the village they try to wedge in the 3000 Cr. Sanitation scam into the narrative and it feels very ham fisted. The different government departments, and the whole narrative arc just feel very unresolved. But where the movie triumphs in is in making the unpalatable, palatable, making a very important issue – entertaining to watch and still managing to get the message through without necessarily being preachy about it. Also a big highlight for me is the song and the picturization of the song “Gori tu lath maar”. Set against the backdrop of the Lathmar Holi of Mathura where women beat men with a Lathi.

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Despite the unresolved second half this is a well-made, excellently acted film. If this film is able to make even the slightest bit of difference in the furthering the cause of Swacch Bharat it should make everyone associated with the movie very proud. This is not a propaganda film, nor is it preachy – it is a socially aware and yet immensely entertaining movie.

Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya – A Review

Image result for badrinath ki dulhaniya posterShashank Khaitan teams up with Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt in Badrinath ki Dulhaniya, the follow up to Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya. After successfully parodying and at the same time paying homage to DDLJ, Khaitan Dhawan and Bhatt take on the runaway bride trope.

 

Tackling the social evils of dowry, gender discrimination and overbearing patriarchy the movie never once feels heavy or preachy. The movie hits every right note from the word go. We are introduced to Varun Dhawan as Badrinath Bansal, the second son of Ambarnath Bansal. Badri works as the loan collector for his money lender father. He runs into Vaidehi, played by Alia Bhatt at a wedding where he has gone to collect the money from one of his father’s debtors. What ensues is Badri’s earnest attempt at wooing Vaidehi who playfully and then forcefully rebuffs his advances.

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Alia Bhatt is fantastic and lights up the screen every time she is on the screen. She exhibits the full range of emotion from the playful and taunting to vulnerable and emotional, from the stubborn to acquiescent. With every movie she grows more assured and keeps surprising with the effortlessness with which she essays each role. To me the reign of Deepika Padukone is over and it is now the era of Alia and long may she reign!

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As much as I love Alia in everything she does this movie belongs to Varun Dhawan. It’s his energy which lifts this from being a run of the mill romance. His Badri is a perfect buffoon but with a heart of gold. Torn between an unrequited romance and an overbearing father Varun excels in every scene he is in. It is his innate sense of childlike innocence that makes the funny scenes funnier and the emotional ones more heart-breaking. Varun is ably supported by Sahil Vaid as Somdev his best friend. TV actor Shweta Prasad is superbly cast as Urmila Bansal the wife of Badri’s elder brother Alok Bansal also wonderfully played by Yash Sinha. Swandan Kirkire the lyricist plays Vaidehi’s hapless father and Rituraj Singh plays Badri’s father with suitable rage.

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The traditional Bollywood tropes which were mostly cheesily executed when Karan Johar was directing are now masterfully deployed with him in the producer capacity and Shashank Khaitan as the director. And surprisingly they even make a remixed Tamma Tamma work without losing the 90’s charm and updating it with the mannequin challenge for the millennials. The only trick they missed was having Madhuri Dixit make a cameo in the song itself. That would have made this old Madhuri fan jump up with joy.

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This is a fun movie that is immensely entertaining to watch. It has a serious message at its heart but it never once gets sermonise-y, it does not take itself seriously and yet manages to make the point it never set out to make. Fast paced, beautifully shot and exquisitely acted this one is not to be missed. Cannot wait for the next outing of Varun and his Dulhaniya in a new avatar.

Logan – A Review

Image result for loganJames Mangold reteams with Hugh Jackman for the Wolverine swansong Logan. Loosely based on the Old Man Wolverine comics this marks the end of one of the most iconic superhero portrayals ever. Patrick Stewart returns for the final time as Charles Xavier. Mangold previously directed Jackman in The Wolverine, the Japan based chronicle of the slicey superhero.

The story is set in 2029, it sees Logan driving a Limo, ferrying people between the southern border between USA and Mexico. Logan is saving up to buy a boat, the Sun-Seeker to escape with Charles who is old and suffering from some non-descript degenerative disease. An Albino mutant by the name of Kalibaan is their only other companion in a desolate, abandoned factory compound they call home. There are hints at some sort of mutant apocalyptic event which wiped out all mutants a few years ago and now no new mutants are being born. This is about as dark and gritty as any superhero movie has ever been. Things are really set in motion when Gabriella played by Elizabeth Rodriguez (Diaz from OITNB) contacts Logan asking for help to get to a place called Eden, North Dakota. Enter nefarious cyborg Pierce played by the towering Boyd Holbrook. Holbrook has a menacing presence, but is almost bond-esque in terms of villains. Suave, witty and sarcastic yet pure evil.

Related imageDafne Keen plays Laura, a mutant with powers similar to Logan’s. What follows is escape from Mexico to Los Angeles and onwards to North Dakota. As with every X-men movie the plot landscape is richly layered and varied. There is an evil doctor involved, there is a huge plot of genetically modified food which has made it impossible for any mutants to be born which kind of gets a little bit lost in all the action. In many ways this movie comes full circle, we see a kindly couple who take care of Logan on their farm in the first wolverine movie, here too there is a wonderful couple who take in Logan, Charles and Laura for the night. Logan was born in Alberta Canada and here too the young mutants are trying to escape to Canada.

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The fight sequences are fantastic and a good marriage of the dusty westerns and the mad max fury road grandness. The camera work by John Mathieson is some of the best work seen in a superhero movie outside of Nolan-verse. There are parts where it would have served the movie’s pace better had some scenes been shorter, especially the casino seizure event and the farm scene.

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Stephen Merchant as Kalibaan is very effective, he bring a sense of comic relief when he nags Wolverine like he is his wife. Dafnee Keen as Laura spends most of the movie mute but is exceptionally terrifying with her action scenes. Boyd Holbrook is amazing as Pierce and I am hoping the climax doesn’t mark the end for his character as he would an amazing addition to the X-men universe. Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier is as effective as ever. His old man rantings are as heart-breaking as they are effective. Not only is this Logan’s swansong, it is also Charles’ and what a wonderful professor X he has been. Hugh Jackman was, is and will always be Wolverine. His physicality, his personality and everything he brought to the Adamantium infused superhero is in my opinion one of the most complete characterisation ever. This role offers Jackman a lot more in terms of sinking his teeth into the character than mere growling and ripping bad guys apart. You see him broken, tired and ready to give up.

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Superhero movies are not meant to evoke strong emotions, but that final scene as Laura lays a cross on its side to represent the X nearly made me well up. Watch this movie because it might simply be the best marvel superhero movie ever made. Watch it as a thank you to Hugh Jackman who has been most faithful to Logan and it would be impossible to imagine anyone else ever being able to fill his shoes. I saw this on a wednesday night to a full house with an actual applause at the end.

Rangoon – A Review

Image result for rangoon movieVishal Bhardwaj directs Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan in Second World War based Rangoon. Bhardwaj and Kap00r teaming is always exciting and Bhardwaj extracted perhaps Saif Ali Khan’s best performance in Shakespeare’s Othello adaptation, Omkara. But it is Kangana Ranaut who is the one woman tour de force who carries the movie on her lissom shoulders.

 

Kangana plays a Bombay based action heroine Miss Julia, the star of Rusi Billimoria’s production house. Saif Ali Khan plays the Howard Hughes inspired Rusi Billimoria. Similar to the starlets of the west who perform for the soldiers fighting at the front, Miss Julia is whisked off to the Rangoon border to boost the morale of the soldiers at the request of the hindi-shayari spewing Major General Harding. Sergeant Nawab Mallik is entrusted with Miss Julia’s safety on the journey to Rangoon. Shahid Kapur plays the sergeant who in the stunning opening sequence was captured by the Japanese forces and held as a POW.

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What follows from there on is a weak story line which is compensated to a fair extent by Kangana’s brilliant acting, fantastic camera work and surreal virgin landscapes. There are parts where the CGI work shows, but in the rest of the scenes it is seamless. The songs are hummable and the performances on the songs elevate it several notches. In particular Bloody Hell, Tippa and Mere Piya Gaye England are fantastically crafted. Overall the production value and the attention to detail is commendable.

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Kangana is fantastic! She mixes a femme fatale like beauty with a vulnerability that demonstrates the full range of her repertoire. It is her innocent child like demeanour that makes her dancing in front of the Japanese soldiers for dear life believable and endearing. Every frame she is in, she fills it up with light and life. Her interaction with the japanese soldier they are holding as captive is one of the absolute highlights of the movie, remniscent of her interaction with Taka in Queen. Shahid Kapur is restrained and able in the supporting role to Kangana. Saif Ali Khan’s performance grows on you as you realise the kind of control he wields on Kangana and how subtly he plays it. Richard McCabe who plays Major General Harding hams it up to the nines and begins to grate on you after a while.

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While Vishal Bhardwaj does a fine job of recreating a bygone era and extracting the best from his actors, eventually it is the script that lags and slows up proceedings. The editing does the movie no favours either and as the end result the movie suffers. The INA sub-plot and the eventual climax seem more like an afterthought than the driving force.

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Go for the visuals and for Kangana’s mesmerizing turn as Miss Julia. When the history of Bollywood is written, Kangana will be touted in the same vein as Madhuri Dixits and Madhubalas, not only gorgeous but immensely talented and capable of carrying an entire movie on their own.  Mildly entertaining overall this one is a must watch only for Kangana and the beautiful landscapes.

 

Moonlight – A Review

Image result for moonlightBarry Jenkins directs Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, and Naomi Harris in Moonlight, an autobiographical story based on a short play by Tarell Alvin McCarney. Moonlight has been garnering impressive Oscar buzz with a golden globes win already for Mahershala Ali as best supporting actor.

 

The story is told in three parts, based on the different stages in the life of Chiron, a young black boy growing up in the crime ridden neighbourhood of Miami. The juxtaposing of the hyper-masculine black subculture with that of a fatherless young boy coming to grips with his own sexuality offers a fertile ground for compelling story telling. This coming of age story certainly has a lot going for it, an absentee father, a drug-addict mother, a kind drug dealer, a physically weak youngster, school bullies. But the same tropes that would have made for an engaging narrative are used in the most clichéd of ways rendering the end result absolutely boring.

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The first chapter titled Little focuses on the little boy Chiron as he escapes his tormentors into an abandoned house and locks himself him, only to then be discovered by Juan played by Mahershala Ali. Ali is a phenomenal actor capable of conveying a lot without too many lines as evidenced in House of Cards. Here too he certainly has a presence but the child actor playing ‘Little’ Chiron is so awkward an underprepared that it becomes nearly impossible to take this movie seriously. There is one scene of particular note when Little asks Juan and Teresa played by the lovely Janelle Monáe “what does a F**got mean” the response by Juan and the tenderness with which the entire scene is crafted is perhaps the films finest moment. We are also introduced to Little’s best friend Kevin who is kind and caring with him.

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Chapter 2 is titled Chiron as the little boy becomes a teenager and begins being sexually awakened. Whether it is in class where he is unable to focus or it is in his sleep. We also see his relationship with his mother deteriorate as she falls deeper and deeper into her addiction. Juan is gone and Chiron only has Teresa to rush to when things get a little too desperate at home. We see Chiron and Kevin’s relationship evolve, this aspect is deftly handled without overt assertions but then again the scenes cut quickly and too abruptly for them to make any lasting impact.

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Chiron is all grown up and comfortable with his sexuality in the third chapter Black. He is physically imposing – no longer the lanky teenager, he has left his poverty ridden days behind. He gets a call out of nowhere from his childhood friend Kevin and it stirs uncomfortable memories of his childhood in him. This perhaps is the most annoying part of the movie for me. It seems to be trying too hard to establish a sexual tension between Kevin and Black where honestly none exists.

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Contrived neon-lit scenes, the overdone operatic music and a complete lack of empathy-inducing screenplay makes this almost unwatchable for me. Of the actors, Janelle Monáe is effective in the little time she spends on screen. Naomi Harris is a revelation as the drug addled mother. Mahershala Ali in my opinion does not deserve the supporting acting nomination not only because of the length of time he spends on screen but also because how ineffective that time spent is. Alex Hibbert as Little is under-prepared and unimpressive.

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I really wanted to be blown away by Moonlight, especially after reading the effusive reviews almost everywhere – but sadly I was bored stiff. Moonlight falls in the category of overrated Oscar baits for me.

Kaabil – A Review

Image result for kaabilSanjay Gupta directs Hrithik Roshan and Yami Gautam in the thriller Kaabil. Sanjay Gupta is enjoying a sort of second coming with big name projects like Jazbaa and Kaabil to his credit recently. While Jazbaa suffered because it was more style over substance, how does this revenge thriller fare. Does Hrithik bounce back from the last collaborative disaster with daddy dearest – Kites?

 

Hrithik plays dubbing artist Rohan Bhatnagar and Yami Gautam plays NGO worker and part time piano player Supriya Sawant. They are both visually impaired and are set up on a “blind” date by a common well-wisher. The meet-cute is probably the weakest moment of the film as it is difficult to really take the instant connection as realistic, for a movie that is this taut in its running time I for one wouldn’t mind if the director had spent a few extra minutes setting up the two lovebirds. After a rushed romance and a quickie wedding the newlyweds slip into domestic bliss. Terror strikes when local goon who has his eye on Supriya. Amit played by Rohit Roy along with his friend Wasim break into Rohan and Supriya’s house when Surpiya is alone and home and rape her. What follows from there is a harrowing tale of powerful politicians, corrupt cops and two helpless individuals caught in a nightmare not of their making.  While it is entirely plausible to see them going through the aftermath, director Sanjay Gupta and editor Akiv Ali seem to be chop-happy and cut scenes too much and you are left as mere bystanders and without an emphatic connection with the leads.

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The second half is an all-out action fest with Hrithik exacting revenge on the perpetrators of this horror. The slick way in which the narrative and the revenge scenes are setup is brilliant. Taking inspiration from Broken, a 2014 Korean revenge flick (some of Gupta’s best work is adapted from Korean films) and Netflix’s Daredevil we see Hrithik in superhero mode. But where Gupta succeeds is by not laying out each of the details of how everything that Hrithik does that would aid him in getting even with his able-eyed opponent. Gupta assumes the audience is intelligent enough to understand why the wafers are strewn on the floor. He has seamlessly weaved in Easter eggs in the first half of the movie that work themselves into the revenge action in the second half.

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Of the supporting cast Suresh Menon phones in a performance, Girish Kulkarni as the corrupt cop Nalawade is ham personified. Narendra Jha as the morally ambiguous cop Chaube is where I am let down the most. Jha’s character could have been reflective of the audience, voyeuristic at first, helpless later and eventually an enabler or at least a cheerleader by the climax. The Roy brothers Rohit and Ronit are template Bollywood baddies and really bring nothing new nor menacing to the table. Yami Gautam is beautiful and believable but pales in comparison to the tour de force that is Hrithik Roshan. This restrained performance of his is more in the vein of Jodha Akhbar and Fiza than the over the top Krrish franchise. He truly shines, both as the lovable and uxorious husband and then later as the cold and calculating vigilante. He’s played a disabled character previously in Guzarissh but while it was frankly terrible then – here he is entirely convincing.

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I have one complaint with this movie – too many songs! Kaabil is a good song as is the Mon Amour. That is where it should have been left at. There are 2 more songs which are entirely unnecessary and the travesty that is the “Saara Zamaana Haseeno ka Dewaana” is plainly unforgivable. Urvashi Rautella – “the item girl” who dances to this seems like she is in a hurry to finish her workout. She looks like a combination of all the item girls of the past – from Shefali Jariwaala to Koena Mitra and Sunny Leonne. This item girl trend has got to stop – if nothing else at least stop butchering iconic songs which should be sacrosanct. I mean come on – we’ve gone from Amitabh in his LED suit to this.

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The light and camerawork make up for that minor misstep though. The camera work in the Madh warehouse takes you into the thick of the action. The light and shadow play in the final “kill-scene” is brilliant. One flash of lightning and you see Hrithik and the next he is gone. Gupta lays off the saturated hues and the result is a fantastically slick flick.

 

Watch it for Hrithik because he is well and truly back.  I went in expecting to be disappointed and I was plesantly surprised. There really isnt anything besides that stupid song to complain about and on the contrary a lot of positives.

La La Land – A Review

Image result for la la land posterDamian Chazelle directs Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land. The musical about Hollywood and all the dreamers and believers that inhabit this world. With the talent like Chazelle who took Hollywood by storm on the drummer biopic Whiplash in 2014 and America’s sweetheart Emma Stone and Canadian good guy Ryan Gosling this is deservedly one of the most hotly anticipated movies and darling of the awards circuit.

 

The story starts with a song and a dance as any musical worth its salt should but its not wham in your face but a very subdued number the loudness is only in the colourful outfits the various performers wear. It turns the most dreaded of gridlocks on the LA freeway into a thing of beauty and joy. We are introduced to our leads Mia played by Stone and Sebastian played by gosling as two characters stuck in the same jam where Mia is practicing for an upcoming audition while stuck in traffic when Seb honks at her rudely for not moving and they carry on with their individual story tracks. The way Chazelle masterfully overlays the two tracks which seemingly parallel still cross each other’s paths.

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Emma Stone really brings it as a struggling actress/barista and you can her craft in the various auditions she goes for, only to be met by disinterested casting directors who keep shoving rejections in her face. Ryan Gosling brings the slow burn with his passionate jazz musician act who has savings swindled by a conman who promises to help him buy the iconic Van Beek café. There is an almost Woody Allen like banter that goes for a good part of the character’s meeting and falling in love with one another but unlike Allen’s movies this isn’t self-indulgent or self-aware this is more in the moment with two people brimming with passion finding someone who understands them. This is where the movie really shines.

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Mia encourages Seb to focus on his passion and helps him conceptualise what his Jazz club would look like and the menu it would serve. Seb on the other hand encourages Mia to write and direct a one woman play which he is sure will be brilliant and will give Mia the break she is looking for. How things pan out from there is best viewed on screen than written down. We see dreams being crushed, passions forgotten in the light of fame and money and the dreamers drift apart. The final sequence where they replay the entire movie in the idealistic scenario is sublime. It is the perfect bitter-sweet end to the entire proceeding

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The camera work by Linus Sandgreen manages to capture the leads and the city of Los Angeles in the best possible light. While atmospheric and close up for most part the camerawork never once gets claustrophobic. The music by Justin Hurwitz and the original songs are all fantastic. The costume design by Mary Zophres with the retro realistic trappings of the cutest dresses and the perfect skinny tie elevate this from being an ordinary musical. The choreography reminds of the era of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It’s just all around happiness and the canary yellow dress seems to be the perfect embodiment of the same.

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As a musical this may not be for everyone and the ending might seem a bit too sweet but I couldn’t fault it even if I tried. I found absolutely everything about this to be perfection. The actors themselves are perfectly cast in their individual roles. And as Mia says in the movie People love what other people are passionate about. And with Damien Chazelle’s passion for telling simple stories through an emphasis on music, what’s not to love! Do not miss it