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.

Image result for secret superstar farrokh

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.

Related image

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.

Image result for secret superstar farrokh

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.

Image result for secret superstar main kaun hoon

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

Image result for secret superstar climax

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.

Advertisements

PK – A Review (contains spoilers)

Rajkumar Hirani directs Aamir Khan and Anushka Sharma in P.K. a curious tale of an alien who lands on earth from a planet far far away to do research on the human inhabitants just as we endeavor to send missions to mars and take on interstellar travels to figure out who if anyone is out there. P.K. does not have such high sci-fi ambitions. In true Rajkumar Hirani fashion all that this movie aspires to do is to shine a mirror on the woes that have befallen the Indian society like the questionable ethics of the medical education and practice in Munnabhai MBBS and the land mafia in Lage Raho Munnabhai. With P.K. Hirani mounts an assault on the god men of India.  Not entirely original but wholly enjoyable.

The story focuses on Aamir Khan and his encounter with a TV journalist Jaggu played by Anushka Sharma. Tired of doing absurd stories on suicidal dogs Jaggu is intrigued by Aamir who is distributing pamphlets on the Delhi metro.  Trusting her journalistic instincts she chases the story to understand who this strange man is and what his motivations are.  While in a jail cell PK narrates his story to Jaggu who takes him to be mentally unstable, until he proves himself by reading her thoughts. Jaggu believes PK when he says that something of great importance is with a famous god-man Tapasviji, played by Saurabh Shukla in a surprisingly restrained role for what is essentially a caricature on the infamous Nirmal baba. This same Tapasviji was the reason for the rift between Jaggu and her father and also the reason for the attack on her news channel’s head when he questioned his tactics. She and her boss (played by Boman Irani) use PK as bait to goad Tapasviji to try and expose him.

Aamir Khan the self-proclaimed perfectionist of Bollywood created quite a stir with his naked appearance on the posters of the movie with his modesty barely protected by an ancient looking transistor radio. Thankfully that there isn’t much reliance on shock value in the movie outside of the opening sequence which is shot with a sense of humor not usually associated with Bollywood movies. It is almost a Kyle XY moment and done tastefully.  I’ve long suspected Aamir’s acting to be the emperor’s new clothes and here too he does nothing special. He isn’t as particularly bad as he was with Dhoom 3 with his pained expressions but his protruding eyes and a permanently arched eyebrow here beg explanation. His strange Bhojpuri accent and an even stranger sartorial sense are justified while he narrates his story to Jaggu but nothing is said about his eyes and they are a distraction. Anushka Sharma carries forward her brash news anchor shtick from Jab Tak hai Jaan but is less annoying given that Aamir does most of the heavy lifting here.  This movie relies far less on its lead actors and their individual talents and is carried above mediocrity by its witty writing and an easily identifiable screenplay by Hirani and Ajitab Joshi.

For a movie that is trying to tackle such a huge problem as organized religion it relies too heavily on gaffes and clichés. While in Delhi looking for the lost belongings Aamir seems to take on a pilgrimage to every corner of India over the course of one song and it makes no sense.  The frequent cuts to songs also are a little disingenuous and break the flow of the story. The supporting cast is poorly chosen and underwritten with the exception of Sanjay Dutt who in a brief appearance as Bhairon Singh is brilliant. The movie walks a fine line on the safe side of becoming too preachy when espousing the same popular arguments of “why waste milk on stone idols when hundreds are hungry” and “if god has a master plan then why buy a book of mantras for Rs.10 to have a male child instead of a female child” and adds a new Malala-inspired “Itna chota nahin ho sakta hamara khuda, ki use hamare school jaane pe aitraaz ho”. My biggest gripe with the movie was the heavy reliance on the voice-over, it is lazy, uninspiring and worse of all patronizing by assuming your audience needs directions to follow the story. Where it succeeds unanimously is the juxtaposing of rituals of the Hindu, Christian and Muslim religion both in terms of the prayer offering and the choice of colors the women wear to indicate their marital status.

This is a perfectly enjoyable movie with inoffensive acting by its lead pair. An entirely satisfying climax which I saw coming from the time Anushka was waiting in the marriage registrar’s office – but it has the potential to surprise people nevertheless. This movie does not take a real stand against the god-men and their ilk like OMG did but it gets the message across. However what I fear is that it might get lost in the humor that this movie wishes to peddle at a higher premium. Stay away from hyperboles this is neither Hirani’s or Aamir’s best work till date nor is it the best movie of 2014 – take it for what it is and enjoy the movie.

2013 – A Review

Pop that bubbly and kiss 2013 good bye and bring out those notepads to make the resolutions for 2014! I am not the sorts to make resolution and even unlikely to keep one all through the year. But 2013 must be an exception to that rule and what I am hoping is a turning point for me. Back in jan 2013 I made a resolution to write about every movie I saw and as a result I started my blog. Since its inception the blog has generated 4600+ hits and given me many a joy as a result.

There were many highlights like when Ashok Banker posted my review of his 8-part Ramayana series on his facebook page! That was the push I needed to convince myself that I was onto something good. But even before that the blog’s very first post was a fresh and refreshing movie which has continued to be the benchmark against which all other movies I saw this year were compared to – Kai Po Che.

In a year of 100 crore plus blockbusters which required as many aspirins to overcome the headaches they caused there were little indie gems ( can’t believe I am using the word Indie in the indian cinematic context!) which made the year a lot more bearable.

Summarized below are my top 10 picks , my bottom 5 and the 3 biggest disappointments. This is not the whole catalogue of movies released in 2013 – just the ones I made an effort to go watch, there are still Oscar heavy hitters like 12 years a slave, August Osage County , The Wolf of Wall Street  which I am yet to watch and review.

Top 10 : (in alphabetical order) top 10

Bombay Talkies : a first of sorts where 4 mainstream big-name directors came together to present 4 short stories which celebrated the 100 years of Indian Cinema. Each story holding its own and neither director trying to one-up the other  but rather trying to tell an earnest story. Incidentally this is also one my most shared reviews and some people commented that they didn’t immediately see the connect I made between the four stories but did definitely agree afterwards.

Fukrey : A serious rib-tickler thanks to the antics of Choocha and Bholi Punjaban. And featuring the song of the year “Ambarsariya” this one was the most surprising as we went in expecting very little and came out clutching our sides which hurt from laughing out loud. A comedy that did not depend on physical gags and potty humor – my pick for the best comedy of the year!

Gravity : the opening 12-minute sequence is an experience that cannot be compared to any that we have had in theaters ever. A trip to space that we had only imagined so far but was brought life in glorious IMAX by the visionary Alonso Cuarón. Sandra Bullock should trade in her Oscar for best actress for blind side and ask for a new one for this one.  The magic of cinema as it was meant to be.

Go Goa Gone : A zombie movie made in india? You have got to be kidding me! And no Ramsay-fication of the same? Get out of here! This was a close second to the comedy of the year pick. Again went in with very little expectation came out with goosebumps from the gross zombies and a hurting jaw from all the laughing.

Kai Po Che :  I hate Chetan Bhagat and his brand of Indian-English Lit. but to take his story “3 mistakes of my life” and to make it into a sensitive, humorous and realistic tale of friendship, politics and redemption is not mean task.  This introduced us to 3 promising actors and redeemed a director after his overrated RockOn debut.  My personal favorite of the year, and a movie that will only get better with time.

Madras Café : this almost made it to the most disappointing because of the over simplification and the lack of cloak and daggers that I wanted from a smartly crafted and a beautifully shot political thriller. But I cannot take away from the fact that sujoy ghosh made a smart movie with believable performances from 2 of the worst actors.

Prisoners  : comparisons to Zodiac and Se7en are always going to bode well for any movie in my book and this dark and violent thriller about a man on rampage after his little girl goes missing is something that still gives me the chills when I recall the look of abject hatred on Hugh Jackman’s beautiful face. My pick for the best ensemble acting of the year, Jackman, Melissa leo, Paulo dano, viola davis, maria bello all bloody brilliant and I don’t hate Jake Gyllenhall anymore!

RamLeela :  This one is a controversial pick I know. Many people have written off Sanjay Leela Bhansali as a director more consumed with erecting humungous set pieces and working in monochromatic mode than concentrating on the story and character development. I disagree, and strongly at that. RamLeela , a Shakespearean adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in rural Gujarat between warring clans of Rajadi and Saneda and a opulent multi-hued visual spectacle is the best Bhansali has done in years. This is devdas and HDDCS good. Most definitely the best soundtrack of the year with every single song a win in my book. Give it a watch without preconceived notions against Bhansali and you will be happier for it.

Rush :  Nothing – the answer to the question what can Ron Howard not do? To a person who detests Formula one this was definitely one of the best sporting movies ever made. The rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt captured beautifully without playing the sympathy card for either of the protagonists. Daneil Bruhl turning in one of the best supporting acting all year. Beautifully shot, exquisitely scored – this was a highlight of the year without a doubt.

Ship Of Theseus :  The redemption of Bollywood in its 100 years of existence which has been marred by either blatantly plagiarized Hollywood fluff or story-less superstar billed histrionic orgy. Ship of theseus took a Grecian paradox ( had people googling what the hell a paradox is ) and turned it into poignant moving cinema which proved to the masses that you don’t need a small country’s GDP-equivalent budget or big-name stars to make a beautiful and technically adept movie. You need a brilliant director, a strong script and absolute dedication to your craft. Karan Johar rightly said – this movie makes every other filmmaker feel inferior. This should have been India’s entry to the Oscars’ foreign language category.

 

Bottom 5 ( In alphabetical order)

bottom 5

B.A. Pass : what promised to be a sensual Noir film ended up being a one-note repetitive mess which went no were and failed because the director was more consumed by trying to make a stylized movie which tried to touch upon every cliché possible rather than to make a simple story told in layers.

Bhag Milkha Bhag : the trailer set the pulse racing with a buffed up Farhan Akhtar running with a tyre tied to his waist against the stark ladhak landscapes. What was promised as a sporting bio-pic ended up being a boring meaningless mess. I had  such high hopes and I was left clutching at straws trying to find any redeeming factors about this movie.

 Chashme Baddoor : how can you take a Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval classic and butcher it so that it bears no resemblance to the original movie from which it was adapted from.  Chashme Baddoor is how.  

Dhoom : 3 : I knew this was going to be bad – but so bad that I had to take notes for my review! Every single thing about this movie was an absolute stinking turd. The only saving grace? The world now is in on the secret I knew for years! Aamir Khan is a conman who in guise of perfectionism is a hack who has only gotten lucky with a few good films and is essentially a worthless actor.

Satyagraha : Amitabh is good the rest is bad and Prakash Jha is  quickly become a tiresome director to sit through and when the new channels rehash the same political conundrum the nation is going through better than a national award winning director there is something definitely wrong with the movie.

Biggest Disappointments:

disappointment

 Lunchbox :  the end product failed to live up to all the hype surrounding the release of the movie and the hue and cry that followed afterwards when this movie was not selected as India’s official entry to the oscars. sure it is a cute little story but it did not live up to the potential that it held and ultimately the biggest disappointment for me for the year.

Man Of Steel : Snyder sullied the name of Nolan by making this mess of a movie. The perfect choice for superman Henry Cavill was not given enough to do in the movie which was more Snyder & Goyer  and less Nolan (chris and jonathan both) . a BIG disappointment all around.

 Nautanki Saala! :  the rising star of the last year Aayushman Khurana fails to entertain and the movie overall is just a giant mess. Less than catchy tunes and a story that had the potential but fails to deliver is the reason why this movie makes it to my list of big disappointments.

 

So there you have it – I wish I had seen more movies this year than I did and that is a resolution I am certain to make for 2014 and as a result more reviews to write and read. I will try to add more variety than just movie reviews and there is an exciting prospect under development which when accomplished I will be very very very happy to share with all!  Here is wishing all you readers of my blog a very happy new year and good luck with those resolutions! Make a resolution because it feels great at the end of the year when you sit down to look at what you have accomplished!

 

 

Dhoom : 3 – A Review

Vijay Krishna Acharya directs Aamir Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Uday Chopra and Katrina Kaif in the threequel to the Dhoom franchise innovatively titled Dhoom: 3. He does not so much as direct them as he shows them snippets of various Hollywood movies and musicals and asks them to imitate those.

Yashraj productions hasn’t been known to turn in quality cinema in many a decades now – but it still manages to make mildly entertaining fare which the Indian audiences and the Indian diaspora abroad lap up with enthusiasm . But with Dhoom 3 there seems to have been no effort made to make even a half intelligent somewhat original entertainment caper.

The story starts off with a Illusionist like setup in a dim theatre aptly titled “The Great Indian Circus” with an aging Jackie Shroff putting up a show for the evil bank guys in shiny suits. Mr. Anderson (our knowledge of western surnames is limited to Mr. Anderson) isn’t impressed and orders for the theatre to be shut down so that he can auction it. Jackie Shroff does what every responsible father does – kills himself in front of his son Sahir, who we are introduced to as the Oliver Twist kid who dresses like Hugo in 1990s Chicago.

Cut out of dream sequence and Aamir wakes up in a loft overlooking the John Hancockbuilding and looking mighty short in front of the imposing Chicago skyline (in my opinion the best in the world). Cut to The Dark Knight-esque bank robbery (of the same post office building) with a very serious looking Aamir walking down the building with the harness that is there one moment and missing the other. The chase goes from The Dark Knight with the underground chase to Aamir being cornered in the parking lot and coming out ala The Dark Knight Rises (the introduction of “The Bat”) and the dumbfounded cops of Chicago mouthing the same lines as those from Gotham’s finest “you are not going to believe this”.

We can’t sustain this Hollywood inspired nonsense for too long we need to go Rohit Shetty on the audiences so cut to Amma Nagar where Uday Chopra is being held captive by a gunda in a shiny suit (see a trend?). Abhishek Bachchan enters riding a Rickshaw through a wall and drives it all over the roofs of the slum just like Bond does through Turkey in Skyfall.  And the chase through the narrow lanes of the slums is also very Mombasa inspired from Inception.

What happens then in Chicago where Jai is called in as the most famous Indian cop to solve the second robbery of the Western Chicago bank and the only clue being a “Joker Calling Card” and a scribbling in Hindi.  What follows is a series of unimportant moments with the introduction of Katrina Kaif who serves no purpose in the entirety of the movie. And I am person with a very pro-Katrina bias and all through the movie she was nothing but awkward. The dance steps she was given were more suited to a person of a shorter frame and she was made to stand awkwardly to compensate for the height difference between her and Aamir. Entirely forgettable is what she was.  The much touted 5-cr song Malang is nothing but a mish-mash of different Cirque Du Soleil routines from their various shows.

how very RENT like!

The big reveal is again Nolan inspired and is almost predictable if you have been following the various Nolan references that are so on the nose that you almost see a Prestige coming.  There is a war-of-the-khan as it was that rages on between two rabid fan-bases the Aamir fan boys and the SRK fan boys. Those in the Aamir camp would be happy to note that this khan does a more convincing job of playing an Autistic/Asperger symptom showing prodigal genius than SRK.

Aamir shuttles between looking constipated when the director’s orders must’ve been to look serious and mean and between a cheerful childlike persona which he does capture very well.  Another positive is the child artist who plays Aamir as the young Sahir – now there is one child artist who does not make me cringe and that is saying quite a lot! I hope the young start gets more roles as he is really good.

The music is forgettable, the sets are recycled, the camera work while slick serves is quite indistinguishable. Aamir’s Tap dancing is so shoddy it shouldn’t be allowed to be screened to public. At one point I felt like patting Aamir’s head as one would to a precocious child ( because hitting a child is not allowed) when he goes “ look I can act serious and stuff” , “look I can tap dance”, “look at my big muscles” alright child go away enough is enough is enough.

I went in expecting to hate the movie and on that front it didn’t disappoint. It is a generic recycled unintelligent mess with more plot holes than I cared to count.  Katrina is wasted and not even given enough screen time to sit and look pretty. Uday Chopra is Uday Chopra, and Abhishek Bachchan is one note. Aamir is part impressive (a very small part where he plays the autistic persona) and part annoying and grating where he plays Sahir. Watch at your own peril!

Ship Of Theseus – A Review

Anand Gandhi directs “Ship Of Theseus” based on a story he wrote which is based on a Grecian Paradox which was first explored by Plutarch as “whether a ship which was restored by replacing all and every of its wooden parts, remained the same ship.” This has been further explored by many other philosophers most notably by Thomas Hobbs as “what would happen if the original planks were gathered up after they were replaced, and used to build a second ship. Which ship, if either, is the original Ship of Theseus?”

To take such a high concept philosophical paradox and to translate that into a story about identity, belief and Organ Donation and while doing so still managing to get a rousing applause from the audience at 1 am in the night on a Wednesday is a thing that is unheard of in the world of Indian film making. But that is exactly what Anand Gandhi has achieved. Perfection.

The story follows three individuals, an Egyptian photographer who relies on the sounds to take photographs because of her vision impairment, a Jain monk who opposes clinical testing on animals and refuses medicine produced by the companies violating the animal cruelty act and a money minded share broker who is content in life with making money and being compassionate to only those nearest to him.

In each of the stories the protagonist is in need of an organ. The photographer is in need of eyes, the Monk is in need of a liver due to an ailment and the share broker is in need of a kidney. To reduce the movie to being that about organ donation would be an over simplification of the central message of the movie, it is not the organs that are the planks of the ship that is the human body but rather the ideology, the thought, the belief which form the planks of the ship that is the human soul, the consciousness, the overall being of an individual. How Gandhi draws parallels to the planks being replaced is done in the most unassuming of ways and it takes time to wholly soak it in.

While the story is brilliant it would be rendered artsy and moody in the hands of an incompetent cinematographer. Pankaj Kumar frames each shot like it is a work of art, there were audible gasps during the wide panoramic shots in the story of the Monk. Kumar transitions beautifully from close ups to wide open spaces with mountains and snow and rivers to the chaotic city life to tranquil country sides with lush greenery to narrow and claustrophobic slums to that brilliant tracking shot of the streets of Stockholm. I despise hand held camera because it is very off putting but here for the very first time the hand held camera work in certain scenes actually adds to the tension and texture of the moment in storytelling.

The background score by Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor is the perfect accompaniment to the overall mood of the story it never overpowers the narrative and allows the visual artistry to achieve its crescendo by enhancing the sensory experience.

Of the actors the Photographer played by Aida El-Kashef and the Monk played by Neeraj Kabi are brilliant with Kabi undergoing a drastic physical transformation. The rest of the cast is also brilliant with a special mention to Vinay Shukla who plays the young lawyer intern and Sohum Shah who plays the final protagonist

I had read about Ship of Theseus and how the other film makers who saw the movie felt incompetent by the mastery of the Gandhi’s craft and I thought that is a little dramatic but after seeing the movie I can only say that every single one of those hyperbolic reactions to this is justified. I personally have not seen a more accomplished piece of film making.

See it because even with the movies that I loved the most I was rarely speechless but with this I was rendered utterly speechless and in awe of what Anand Gandhi had created. Watch it for the compelling story the stunning visuals and the pinnacle of film making in Indian Cinema.  Anand Gandhi Take a Bow Sir!

This HAS got to be India’s selection to the Oscars for the foreign language film.  It is a film that is universal in its message and a film that every Indian should be proud of and support. Please go watch this in a theatre near you and support people like Anand Gandhi to get a wider distribution