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.

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.

Rustom – A Review

Dharmesh Suresh Desai directs Akshay Kumar, Ileana D’Cruz and Esha Gupta in the court procedural, thriller drama Rustom. The story inspired by the infamous Nanavati case that saw the end of the jury system in India.

 

The story starts with Indian Naval Commander Rustom Pavri who returns home 2 weeks earlier than expected, only to find his wife not home and letters from her lover in their cupboard. The following day when she returns he leaves and confronts notorious playboy Vikram Makhija and kills him with 3 bullet wounds. Rustom surrenders to police and the story takes off. Pitting the two prominent communities of Bombay, the Sindhis and the Parsis against one another. A tabloid gets the scoop on the case and starts to influence the national opinion in favour of Rustom – the decorated officer and a soldier who did the right thing but the wrong way. We are reminded of this once again when a screeching housemaid of Rustom asks the judge what he would do if he found his wife was sleeping with the prosecuting lawyer. The movie set in the 50s seems to have been made with the same ethos, the court room drama is nothing more than a farce with the Judge played by Anang Desai – Babuji of the popular sitcom Khichdi, more in character as the kudkud kumar. Sachin Khedekar an accomplished Marathi actor playing the prosecuting lawyer Khangani is more slapstick than slick prosecutor. Pavan Malhotra who plays investigating officer Vincent Lobo has two very peculiar ticks, he taps his pens 3-4 times each time he wants to write and his ears fan out like Dumbo each time he expresses surprise.

Ileana D’cruz is beautiful but has very little to do in the movie other than shed massive tears from those beautiful doe-y eyes. She plays the simpering fragile wife with aplomb but her lack of conflict does question the basic premise of the movie. Arjan Bajwa playing Vikram Makhija is the bond-esque villain albeit in a 60s Prem Chopra avatar.  Esha Gupta was the clear standout for me. Not for her acting abilities – I seriously doubt she has any, but for her styling and make up. She brings the glamour to the 50s era Vamp that Nadira would be proud of. The final twist where a phone recording is introduced her perfectly detached reactions and eye rolls are the highlights of the file for me so silent-movie vamp like that I was enthralled. Akshay Kumar brings a stoic presence to the film that is perfectly attuned to his upright naval officer character. The only one who doesn’t go the slapstick way with the court proceedings, underplaying each line he is given and thus achieving the desired result.

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Why is it that every time a period movie is made in India they rely on oversaturated and unnatural colors of the sky. The green screen/CGI work to recreate the Bombay of a bygone era is partly successful and fails miserably in places. The music is a hindrance and gets in the way of storytelling with three songs that have no rhyme nor reason for their stake at the screen time. I can understand wanting songs to build a buzz pre-release but release them as music videos rather than forcing them into the narrative where they do not belong and you are left with an otherwise believable Akshay Kumar looking like the 90s fool that he was when he romanced the likes of Shilpa Shetty and Raveena Tandon.  The story is intriguing and the final twist, a work of fiction (as opposed to the inspiration from the Nanavati case) is interesting enough.

With uneven acting and cringe worthy courtroom scenes this is by no means a perfect movie. But with Akshay Kumar’s understated acting, an interesting story based on true events and overall production value where special care is given to recreating the era with Ileana’s Parsi embroidery sari and Esha Gupta’s gloriously vampy styling this movie entertains more than it irritates.

Airlift – A Review

Raja Menon Directs Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur in the Airlift – the story of the largest ever human evacuation which took place in 1990 when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces attacked and occupied Kuwait. There has been a lot of excitement in the Bollywood circles about this Saving Private Ryan times 111000 type action adventure movie based on real events and the trailer was slickly cut and promised to be a real chest thumping patriotic pride moment just before the republic day. Alas it is everything but that.

 

Meet Ranjit Katiyal a cut-throat business man played by Akshay Kumar who seems to be schooled in Joey Tribiani school of Smell-The-Fart-Acting.  He is a hotshot Kuwaiti businessman who does not identify as Indian anymore, smoozes with the Emirati of Kuwait undercutting his own partner for business contracts and belly dancing at parties. He is married to Nimrat Kaur who was given a one line directive – Be a Bitch no rhyme or reason just be a rich bitch you are not sure till about half way into the movie whether there is any love amongst the two and if not what is the cause of their apparent distance. At one point Akshay Kumar says “it is not us who are wrong but the circumstances” and you are treated to a sombre background score telling you that you need to feel the love.

One moment Ranjit is belly dancing the night away and the next moment he is woken up at 3 am by someone called Anand who I assume says something on the phone because Akshay Kumar holds the phone for a fair few moments. Then Ranjit is frenetically trying to call all his contacts and no one seems to be answering and bitchy wife is worried as to what possessed his husband at this ungodly hour and Akshay Kumar acts a scene straight out from ACP Pradyumann’s hand book “Why did Anand call me at 3 am” why indeed?

It so happens that Iraqi forces have attacked Kuwait and the complex geo-political Pandora’s box that is the middle east is boiled down to “Iraq is claiming Kuwait is not forgiving Iraqi Debt and it is stealing oil”.

Raja Menon makes a mockery of the story which had so much potential, instead he turns it into this heroic tale of one man’s crusade to save 170000 Indians. Even in doing that the Hero’s transformation is sudden and makes it seem implausible to say the least. Akshay Kumar turns in a wooden and incongruous performance. The liberties that Menon and his writing team take with the stories are too generous and make the Indian government and bureaucracy look inept and insensitive. Sure there may have been lapses but the evacuation mission was already underway using the military planes from Amman to India before the Indian embassy in Kuwait coordinated the evacuation of thousands of Indians in Kuwait as well. But it is not even the fictionalisation of the story which is such a big problem but the careless execution of the said fictional story which is unforgivable. Popcorn Patriotism is the easiest emotion there is to evoke when it comes to Bollywood cinema but Airlift fails even at that. The scene where the Indian Flag goes up at Amman airport also fails to evoke any sense of patriotism I had to try very hard to stifle a snigger at how corny the execution was.

The movie cannot seem to make its mind up about what tone it wants to maintain. For a story as serious as this it seems to rely too much on cheap laughs which are majorly delivered by Inaamulah Haq who plays Iraqi general Major Khalaf Bin Zayd who two years ago was on personal security detail to Ranjit when he visited Baghdad – he loves conversing in Hindi and seems to be channelling Asrani’s Angrezo ke Zamaane ke Jailor. Prakash Belawadi who plays George Kutty who seemingly typifies the annoying Indian uncle who loves to do nothing but play an armchair critic gets an unnecessarily long screen time. Every time he is on the screen you know something obnoxious is going to come out of his mouth, while others in the theatre seemed to find something funny I couldn’t wait for him to actually be blown up by the Iraqi army. Unfortunately he survives and gets to redeem himself by manner of a side hug when boarding the flight to India.

A poorly written script, a terrible screenplay and inept direction are the reasons what brings this movie down. The actors do nothing special to lift the movie to something that could be deemed acceptable. For all the potential that this movie held Airlift unfortunately suffers from mid-air turbulence, crashes and burns.