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.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri – A Review

Image result for 3 billboards outside ebbing missouriMartin McDonagh directs Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. The story of one woman who takes it upon herself to take on the local authorities who failed to apprehend the criminal behind the gruesome rape and murder of her daughter.

 

Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes – a small town Missouri divorced mother of two who lost her daughter a year ago and the perpetrators are still at large. She blames the police chief, William Willoughby played by the inimitable Woody Harrelson, of dereliction of his duty. Other characters in the saga are, the head of the town advertising agency Red Welby played by Caleb Landry Jones and utterly incompetent inspector Dixon played by Sam Rockwell.

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Martin McDonagh has been a director whose work I have been keen to see but never managed to get around to. In Bruges garnered him critical acclaim and seven psychopaths seemed to divide the critics but the praise for Three Billboards has been deservedly unanimous. The original story by McDonagh is a shoo-in for a nomination this year. Every character is perfectly fleshed out and someone you can get personally invested in – there are no villains and no real heroes. Each one of them is flawed and shows a level of raw vulnerability that tugs at your heart.

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The three standouts for me are McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell. Frances McDormand seems to thrive in these stories set in Rural America. She won her Oscar in Fargo and seems poised to repeat the feat with Three Billboards. Her Midlred Hayes is a tough as nails woman who takes on the entire police department by putting up three billboards to remind them of the still unsolved crime which took her daughter. There is also a vulnerability to her when she talks to a deer, breaks down in a flood of tears as she witnesses a fire. There is also a tenderness to her when she consoles chief Willoughby as he coughs up blood. Woody Harrelson is Mr. Dependable he is the police chief who seems to be running the department with a very laid back attitude. He lets slide a number of infractions on the part of Officer Dixon and but you also see a more genial more thoughtful side to him in the letters he leaves behind for both Mildred and Dixon. Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon is stupidity personified. He is egged on by his mother and every single choice he makes is the wrong one. However towards the end he is able to redeem himself in a manner that is most unexpected.

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The lush cinematography of Ben Davis adds another layer of unexpected beauty to the story. The editing by John Gregory is so precise that not once does the pace slacken or feel flabby at any point.

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A simple story masterfully told through characters that are brilliantly written and even more brilliantly enacted. Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri is fantastic and unmissable.

Tiger Zinda Hai – A Review

Image result for tiger zinda haiAli Abbas Zafar directs Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif in the action thriller Tiger Zinda Hai, a sequel to the 2012’s Ek Tha Tiger. Salman Khan plays the eponymous R.A.W. agent Avinash Singh Rathore AKA Tiger and Katrina plays the ISI agent Zoya. Ek Tha Tiger in many ways the beginning of the renaissance of Salman Khan.

 

The story begins with a solid intro into what will end up being the central plot of a daring rescue mission. Syria and Iraq are being taken over by ISC a caliphate organisation modelled after ISIL. The leader Abu Usman played by a sinister Sajjad Delafrooz is hurt and is taken to a hospital and the 25 Indian and 15 Pakistani nurses are taken hostages and the hospital turned into a virtual fortress and an ISC stronghold. The Indian embassy, foreign ministry and the intelligence machinery set into motion a plan to rescue the nurses – there is only one man for such a mission. Cue Tiger, to much whistling and hollering, Salman Khan makes his entrance and fairly quickly goes about pulling together a seemingly implausible mission with a sniper, a bomb expert and a senior citizen tech wiz.

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The action sequences are adrenaline pumping and shot spectacularly. The introduction to Tiger as he fights off a pack of wolves is one of the best we’ve seen. Katrina is also not found lacking in the action department – the supermarket scene and the one in the city council merit admiration. The second half is one long action sequence of very little consequence with a fair bit of jingoism thrown into the mix to keep the audience hooked and hooting. The supporting cast is weak and an afterthought. This is a Salman Khan vehicle and each scene pays off in truckloads. The scene where he keeps “Highly Toxic Chemical Gas” at bay by simply covering his nose and mouth with his tshirt has the audience in raptures also serving quite well to allow salman to go bare chested – an act that he has perfected into art by now. Chuck Norris and Stalone’s Rambo got nothing on Tiger!

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The plot which opens solidly becomes muddled with the introduction of Baghdadi- the ISC’s number 2 and the duplicitous American angle. Delafrooz manages to wrangle it back somewhat but by the time Tiger is shooting his machine gun the audience barely cares. This is what we came for and we get it in spades. Juvenile dialogues and a hammy Paresh Rawal dampen the pace a little but the action sequence and the set design/location scouting for the destroyed cities of Iraq and Syria are top notch and make the tension in the atmosphere palpable. The background score is effective for most parts but maudlin for the more forced-patriotic moments.

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Seeing a Salman Khan movie in a theatre in Mumbai is truly an experience in itself. The crowd goes wild every time the director choses to frame the very impressive 50 year old in an action sequence that would put many youngsters to shame. Katrina barely gets a reaction and she is gorgeous in every single frame with that half open pout.

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A solid opening sequence and a series of break neck action sequences and a total commitment from Salman make Tiger Zinda Hai worth a watch. Grab your popcorn and get to the nearest screen you can find with the most raucous crowd and go bhai-crazy.

Wonder – A Review

Wonder Movie PosterStephen Chbosky directs Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay and Izabela Vidovic in Chbosky’s second adaptation of a NewYork Times best seller in Wonder. Previously Chbosky directed his own novel “Perks of being a wallflower”.  Wonder is a novel by R.J Palacio.

 

The story of Wonder focuses on August “Auggie” Pullman, a 10-year old who’s been home-schooled by his mother Isabel played by Julia Roberts. Auggie is not like other 10-year olds he has facial deformities which cause people to stare at him and make cruel jokes. The story focuses on the first year at middle school where Auggie, where he crushes the science tests and makes new friends. Julia Roberts is wonderfully restrained as Isabel and Owen Wilson as Auggie’s father Nate is perfectly complementary as he brings a lightness to the proceedings. Izabela Vidovic as Auggie’s sister is also brilliant in her supporting role. Jacob Tremblay who blew the audiences away in 2016’s Room is beyond brilliant in this movie. You feel every emotion Auggie feels. You feel your eyes well up when the other kids are mean to Auggie and he retreats to his room and puts on his Astronaut helmet and you feel a catch in your throat when Auggie makes friends and experiences things that any normal 10-year old should. The other stand out for me is Noah Jupe who plays Jack Wills Auggie’s best friend – this kid is destined for stardom there is a natural ease about him and he lights up every scene he is in.

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The thing that stood out for me with Chbosky’s Perks was the sensitivity with which he treated all his characters. Given that he was adapting his own novel you’d expect him to do a fantastic job. But it is testament to Chbosky’s commitment to telling organic authentic stories that he incorporates the small details that make the movie stand out. The moment Jack Will’s mom tells Jack about why it is important for him to take Auggie on the tour of the school is why R.J.Palacio wrote the novel in the first place. The story telling from the different points of views, the focus on kids more than the A-list adults and the natural ease with which the kids seem to come alive on screen is a rare gift. Most talented directs have a maxim – never work with kids and dogs. Chbosky is the exception he seems to extract the best out of the kids and also Daisy the dog. Every single scene delivers an emotional punch without being manipulative.

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In an almost faultless movie the Miranda story seems a bit of a throw-away. It is a wonderful story arc no doubt – but what might have been greatly fleshed out in the novel itself seems a bit contrived and rushed on screen. But even this minor misstep is overcome by the conversation Miranda has with Auggie.

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Do not miss this for anything in the world! In a world full of bad news this is 113 minutes of pure unadulterated joy and innocence. We all deserve a good cry once in a while, especially when they are tears of happiness.

Secret Superstar – A Review

Image result for secret superstarAdvait Chandan directs Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun & Aamir Khan in Secret Superstar. The movie tells the story of Insia Mallik the 15 year old girl from Baroda who aspires to be the best singer in the world.

 

Zaira Wasim plays Insia Mallik the eponymous Secret Superstar. Buoyed by her mother Najma, played by Meher Vij, Insia tries to escape an overbearing and violent tempered father through her music. Meher Vij is spectacular in the light hearted scenes with Insia, she is especially brilliant when playing the long suffering wife of Farook. Raj Arjun as Farook Mallik is one of the vilest characters I can recall and Arjun plays it to perfection. There is no redeeming factors to him and Raj Arjun brings to life the character of a wife-beating, chauvinistic, evil pig. Props to him for not holding back.

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Najma is the one who bought Insia the guitar when she was six, Najma clobbers together money to buy Insia the laptop and internet connection and the reason she gives Insia really warms the cockles of my cold dead heart. There are many wonderful moments which lift the movie above the emotionally manipulative one. Several of those are also courtesy Insia’s puppy love Chintan Patel played by Tirth Sharma. Insia becomes an overnight youtube sensation when she uploads her first video dressed in a burqa. Insia’s brother Guddu played by Kabir Sheikh also adds a much needed innocence to the proceeding.

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Aamir Khan plays Shakti Kumar a disgraced Bollywood music director who has been boycotted by all the established singers. Aamir pushes the ham envelope with such abandon that the comparisons to Andaz Apna Apna are for once justified. Mr Perfectionist who has such a huge influence into every aspect of the movie making however is also its downfall in the most unfortunate of ways. In an effort at justifying more screen time for someone of Khan’s repute he gives away the biggest aha moment when he interprets his sleazy song as a romantic one as it was intended to be for Insia and then when she sings it just as she was instructed he lights up. It’s a moment that could have been such a departure for the sleazebag Shakti Kumar but it is squandered away by either incompetent writing or poor direction in trying to massage a superstar ego. The tangent about how his life and that of Insia have parallels is left unexplained. The whole shindig about his wife’s lawyer helping Insia is also unresolved.

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Zaira Wasim who first burst onto screens with Khan’s Dangal is worthy of the praise she is garnering. She is a competent child actor. But there are range problems for me. There is almost a constant woe-is-me feel about her – there is no levity to her. There is a child-like wonder that is missing. Perhaps it is not her fault and it is the writing which stymies her into a one-dimensional character.

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For a movie so heavily musically influenced the songs themselves are wonderfully childish. Meri Ammi is how a child would describe his or her own mother and feels wonderfully warm and enveloping – that Meher Vij is so great helps validate the song as well. Mein Kaun Hun is appropriately operatic. The direction by first timer Chandan feels very organic. The stictching up of the pinafore to hike up the neckline is so modestly middleclass it is almost a blink and miss, the use of aamir’s son’s name as the airline, and Guddu’s re-construction of the QWERTY keyboard as ABCD one is one of the most nuanced moments of the movie for me

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The climax seems too obvious – the only thing missing was Shakti Kumar storming the stage ala Kanye West. There are many moments that feel like emotional manipulation and some dialogues feel too basic. The constant one character repeating what the other has said in the past also begins to grate and feel disingenuous. In spite of these short comings the movie is entertaining for most parts and Raj Arjun really livens it up for me. Not a bad 2.5 hours spent at the theatre.

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.