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.

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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.

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.