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.

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Dear Zindagi – A Review

Image result for Dear Zindagi posterGauri Shinde directs Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi, her sophomoric film after the incredible English Vinglish. In the days of big budget star vehicles aimed at the hundreds of crore at box office filmmakers like Gauri are a welcome relief when they make what are essentially indie movies with a heart.

 

We are introduced to Kaira, played by the ever charming Alia who is an up and coming cinematographer who is brought in to do patch work on an assignment because the main cinematographer has fallen ill. We see her impatience and almost combative nature when it comes to looking for a big break to shoot her own movie. To put her visual stamp on something of her own. There are hints of a budding romance in the awkward conversations she shares with Raghuvendra played by the handsome Kunal Kapoor. Alia breaks up with her current boyfriend Sid a restaurateur played by Angad Bedi after confessing to have slept with Raghuvendra. Through her maid we are led to believe that there is an ongoing parade of handsome men who go in and out of her life, spending a brief moment being tacked on a pin-board. The first quarter of the movie is spent setting up the millennial context of independent living and being free of conventional moral guilt. Kaira is surrounded by a pack of very interesting characters, there is Fatima the stylist, Jackie the rich bohemian kid, A troubled teen coming to grips with his sexuality and the token Fat nerdy friend. Yashaswini Dayama who plays Jackie is absolutely precious as the counterpoint to Kaira and Ira Dubey as Fatima is wonderful as well. Kaira is kicked out of her rented apartment because the society has decided not to rent flats to bachelors, another millennial struggle. Reluctantly she moves back to Goa to stay with her family and this is where things come to a boil. Rohit Saraf who plays Kiddo, Alia’s brother is hugely effective in a tiny role.

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Through curious coincidences she ends up listening in on Dr. Jehangir Khan talking about Mental Health. Being unable to sleep Kaira books an appointment with Dr. Khan. Dr Khan, aka Jug played by Shah Rukh Khan is surprisingly Vegan – devoid of all Ham and Cheese that is trademark SRK. In a very restrained and refined performance Jug unpicks the complicated cross-wires of Kaira’s life. This is where Gauri Shinde’s subtle direction really shines. For viewers who are familiar with western dramas it might come across as a bit clichéd but in the Indian context there is a sense of novelty. There is commitment phobia, familial conflicts, sibling jealousy, dreams of falling off buildings. Every single situation feels organic and not forced. There is no mocking, no sermonising, even the one situation where there is a gay character is handled surprisingly sensitively.

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To me English Vinglish was one of the best debut movies and even the best movie of 2012. There was absolutely nothing that I could find fault with. With Dear Zindagi there are a few things that left me wanting more. While the songs of English Vinglish were lyrically contextual they were still incredibly memorable and hummable, not so with Dear Zindagi. Only “Love you Zindagi” has any appeal. For a movie whose main character is supposed to be a talented cinematographer the cinematography in the first quarter of the movie is surprisingly subpar. But these two minor misgivings are quickly forgotten when Alia is onscreen. It is hard to believe that Alia is only 7 movies old. She is immensely watchable and extremely relatable. The range she has exhibited from Student of the Year to Udta Punjab is incredible. She has mastered the art of emotional outburst, first seen with that pivotal scene in Highway and now with this scene around the dinner guests.

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Hopefully thanks to Alia the taboo subject of mental illness will become more of an open discussion in India. Gauri Shinde’s nuanced direction and sensitive portrayal does more than just pay lip-service to the subject. With this movie Shah Rukh Khan understands that this is where his talents are more suited to. The definition of entertaining is different for different people. I found it massively entertaining seeing actors and the director at the top of their craft. Even if this is not entertaining in the conventional sense this is in my opinion an important movie, a movie that pushes forth an agenda rarely touched upon openly and does so in a way that is palatable and relatable and frankly beautiful to look at. This is the therapy we all need.  This the grown up letter to life that has evolved from the pages of a teeny angst-filled diary.

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Ae Dil Hai Mushkil – A Review

Image result for ae dil hai mushkilKaran Johar directs Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. The story of unrequited love is said to be almost autobiographical with Ranbir playing the dramatized version of Karan Johar.

 

Ranbir Kapoor plays Ayan Sanger – rich brat pursuing MBA in London while nursing a dream of being a singer. Ayan is also the narrator of the story and the entire movie is told in a flashback while Ayan is being interviewed following his success as a singer. When asked why his songs sound of unrequited love Ayan takes us back to where it all began.

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The chance meeting with Alizeh Khan played by Anushka Sharma, the blossoming friendship, the homage to many milestone movies of Bollywood including Ranbir’s tribute to his own father’s iconic Chandani. Delving any further into the story would be a disservice to the nuance that Johar has crafted into the complex relationship dynamics between Ayan and Alizeh. The first half starts off stutteringly where the intensity of Ranbir and the levity of Anushka seem to be a little bit like oil and water. Despite their best effort it isn’t easy to identify nor feel for the characters. Only once the unnecessary shenanigans of Ranbir’s girlfriend and Anushka’s fiancé are done with does the movie really pick up. The scene leading up to the intermission is gut-wrenching in its rawness. This is the Ranbir we know and love. He can play the heartbroken hero a hundred times over but he manages to imbue a sense of novelty, be it his driven Janardhan aka Jordan in Rockstar or the vagabond Bunny in Yeh Jawani hai Deewani, and be it him as the bottled up millennial Ved in Tamasha or coming of age Sid in Wake up Sid. You laugh with his antics and you feel the pain in the pit of your stomach as you see him repeatedly bang a flowerpot on his chest. It is a shame that an actor’s worth today is equated with the box office collection – ADHM may not do the hundreds of crores in business but make no mistake – Ranbir has no peers.

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Anushka Sharma is fantastic as Alizeh, a complex character who even in her hysterical scenes seems so genuine. Anushka does a lot of the heavy lifting as the central figure of the story. It would have been better had the writer and the director given a little more thought to her story graph. The back story is dispensed with rather quickly. The reconciliation and the breakup of her relationship with Fawad is done in such a haste that it leaves you a little bewildered.

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Thankfully no such complaints with the role crafted for Aishwarya Rai as poetess Saba Naqavi who nurses Ranbir’s broken heart with a tempestuous relationship. Saba has a purpose to the story; a perfect introduction, a fantastic middle and a visceral end. Much has been said about Aishwarya’s beauty and all of it is true but here she has taken her beauty to lethal levels. As the seductive and shayarana Saba she catches you mid-breath and makes you gasp. Even an actor of the calibre of Ranbir diminishes to the background when Aishwarya is on screen. Giving Aishwarya lines which Ranbir describes as “chalti firti Ghalib” is rife with potential for disaster as she often tends to overdo the breathy sensuality but her she is wonderfully restraint and lets those gorgeous blue green eyes do all the work.

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Alia Bhatt is Johar’s new lucky mascot and makes a blink and you’ll miss it appearance. Fawad Khan is pleasing to the eye but not much more. Lisa Haydon plays the bimbo to perfection and is genuinely funny. Shah Rukh Khan is a pale shadow of his former romantic self and is difficult to look at and even more difficult to listen to.

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The absolute stand out for me has been its music. The title track has all the seriousness that you would expect from a movie about such a combustive relationships. The breakup song and Cutiepie the hallmark Johar dance numbers that are immensely hummable. Bulleya has all the intensity of unrequited love. But the absolute tearjerker is Channa mereya – the lyrics, the expression the context are phenomenal. Anil Mehta’s camera work is gorgeous, but I am sure it must not have been difficult to shoot such a beautiful cast in such spectacular locations. I honestly wish a little more time was spent grounding Alizeh and Ayan’s characters with a little bit of their history and a gradual build up to their friendship. I could easily have done away with the bit with Lisa Haydon entirely regardless of how hilarious she actually was. The dialogues in comparison to the lyrics of the song seem very second rate and do nothing to amp up the emotions. The pre-climax Friends throwback “did she get off the plane” is sublime.

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I had a more complex plot going on in my head and in comparison the story is pretty straightforward and conventional. One-night stands and friends with benefits aren’t ground breaking territories anymore and Karan Johar really needs to continue to push the boundaries even more.

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Minor complaints aside this is a fantastic movie for so many reasons. Ranbir is transcendental. Anushka relatable and Aishwarya ethereal. Karan Johar surely knows how to tell a love story and I’d rather watch him direct aspirational escapist love story than the ones he ends up producing. Watch it for Ranbir. I’ll re-watch for Aishwarya!

Udta Punjab – A Review

Abhishek Chaubey directs Shahid Kapur, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Diljit Dosanjh in Udta Punjab a story set in Punjab and the crippling effects of drugs and the complicated narco-politics. Udta Punjab hogged the headlines for a better part of the two weeks leading up to its release with its run-ins with the chief of the Censor board in India.

Udta Punjab is a story of two halves, the privileged – a Rockstar and a doctor and the under privileged a migrant labourer and cop trying to find his conscience. A half that is putting up a valiant fight in the war on drugs and the other that is responsible for perpetuating the drug menace.

Shahid Kapur plays Tommy a Rockstar whose songs promote drug abuse and the only way he can seem to perform is by getting high. Daljit plays Sartaj a Cop who turns a blind eye to the drug trafficking and accepting bribes. Kareena plays doctor Preet who runs a rehab project and treats patients of overdose. Preet is also a campaigner for the war on drugs. Alia plays an unnamed Bihari migrant worker who falls victim to drug addiction when she is kidnapped and kept locked up as a sex slave. She fights the addiction and tries to find ways to escape her predicament.

Udta Punjab is a story of halves, in that the first half tries to establish the backstory for each of its four protagonists and the second halve sees their story to its conclusion. The second half is gritty and grim with a couple of elements of slapstick which bring a welcome relief to the tragic drama unfolding. The first half suffers in comparison with the over the top antics of Tommy which add nothing to the movie. Also because the epiphany that he feels in the second half cannot somehow be reconciled with how his character has grown. The first half grates and the second half has pacing issues. Also Kareena is less Doctor and more investigative journalist. It honestly would have worked better had she played a journalist who is the sister of a doctor who runs the rehab clinic – the story would have seemed more plausible.

The actors all put in strong performances ranking them in ascending order of merit we start with Kareena who puts in a restrained performance that is a rarity from her. Diljit shuffles between a bumbling do-gooder cop and a hot headed corrupt cop but with the amount of time he gets on screen he is immensely watchable and a welcome authentic regional casting choice as a Punjabi cop. Shahid Kapur is fantastic the opening Chitta ve number is reminiscent of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey’s Dhan Te Nan vibe. He gives himself completely to the role and the only reason why he is the top performer in this movie is because his character is not fully developed. They try to make him into a good guy towards the end and the transition is sudden, abrupt and a bit disingenuous. The best of the lot is Alia Bhatt. She as the unnamed Bihari migrant farm worker who ends up suffering the most is the only character that you are invested in from the beginning. Her vulnerability and inner resolve make you root for her from the very get go. Alia has mastered emotional outburst – she showed glimpses of brilliance in Highway but here she goes ballistic when she recounts her tale and the misery she has gone through in the second half. When Shahid suggest suicide to end this misery, she throws a shoe at him for putting such thoughts in her head. You know her strength. You know she won’t give up. Alia is a beautiful privileged star child who was launched into Bollywood with a dream launch but the path she has carved out for herself with the acting choices is worthy of appreciation. She is the stand out star of this movie despite a role that isn’t that big.

The music isn’t that great. The story telling is chaotic. The dialogues are either too run of the mill or make no sense. Especially the Jameen Banjar Aulad Kanjar makes no sense because Punjab’s land is one of the most fertile and its sons form a majority of the forces protecting our borders. Abhishek Chaubey’s direction isn’t distinctive enough but Rajeev Ravi’s work behind the camera is stunning.

The controversy that preceded the movie and the PR by its makers would lead one to believe that this was a movie that would make ground shattering statement that would hold up a mirror to the society. This movie does that in parts but it essentially bungles up a fantastic opportunity. It is neither Requiem for a Dream which shows the devastating effects of drugs nor is it Sicario which focuses on the war on drugs. But thanks to Alia Bhatt’s riveting performance this rises above the mundane.

Kapoor and Sons – A Review

Shakun Batra directs Siddharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt, Ratna Pathak Shah, Rajat Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor in the dysfunctional family drama Kapoor and Sons. Bollywood mainstream movies have mostly steered clear of the uglier side of the familial dynamics and immortalized the gigantic joint families with coordinated dance moves and weddings grander than Laxmi Mittal’s daughter’s, but with the first scene itself Kapoor and Sons sets itself apart. This is more August Osage County than a Barjatiya caper.

The Kapoors consist of Daddy Kapoor played by Rajat Kapoor who once a bank officer is now a failed business owner quickly running through his savings and investing in a mysterious Anu aunty. Mummy Kapoor is Ratna Pathak Shah who made a meal out of playing the high society matriarch Maya Sarabhai, here she plays a character that is a polar opposite as then long-suffering wife who is trapped in a loveless marriage which is taking its toll on her ambition. Granddad Kapoor is Rishi Kapoor who is the glue that holds the entire enterprise together. All seeing and all understanding he doesn’t meddle but passes his time being crude yet lovable. It is his heart attack that brings back the two sons Kapoor’s back home to Coonoor, Rahul the London based successful author and all around perfect child played by Fawad and part-time bartender and aspiring author Arjun from New Jersey. The brothers don’t see eye to eye and are merely cordial out of obligation. There are subtle hints dropped along the way that there is something more sinister than mere sibling rivalry that is the reason for the tension amongst the brothers. Alia Bhatt plays Tia Mallik in a role that most other leading ladies would shy away from because it is not meaty enough and is merely a supporting role but not Alia who continues her march towards greatness as being entirely believable and extremely relatable.

The first half of the movie didn’t blow me away, not because the story or the direction was lacking, both are fantastic there is enough subtlety to keep me interested but it is the screenplay and dialogue that doesn’t seem to coalesce as seamlessly as it does in the second half. The build-up just before interval where Mumma Kapoor confronts Papa Kapoor over his philandering at the 90th birthday celebration for Gramps is something you never ever see in Bollywood. The second half unravels fast and furious and it hits you from out of left field that you are left teetering at the intensity of one tragedy after the other that befalls the Kapoor clan and you are left bleary eyed like Rishi Kapoor who silently watches his “happy family picture” disintegrate before he can take the picture he so badly wanted to take and emblazon it with “Kapoor and Sons since 1921”.

The second half is chockfull of memorable scenes. One where Ratna Pathak Shah tries on Rajat Kapoor’s chappals and breaks down, another where she confronts his perfect child Rahul over his life of lies, another where Rahul confesses his truth to his brother Arjun who an aspiring author himself is left speechless and simply says he needs time process this. There is an endearing scene between Arjun and Tia when he drops her off after having spent a day at a graveyard where she can’t find the right words to describe how she feels and simply says “it just fits” when she is with him, and another where she opens up about her final conversation with her parents. This is a movie that will benefit from rewatch and you will be delighted at the masterfully layered storytelling, not something you usually associate with a Karan Johar production. Every dialogue has a subtext, a sub plot that will stay with you long after the end credits, for instance the one where an exasperated Rajat Kapoor complains to his son about how his mother is being unreasonable by comparing him to her brother in law who used to hit her sister and how Kapoor isn’t that bad, this is how most normal people reason their character flaws and it is a subtlety that makes this movie that much more special for me.

Of the actors Rajat Kapoor, Alia and Siddharth are competent; Rishi Kapoor is a Gem and truly shines despite all that impressive prosthetics and make-up. Fawad Khan is the real revelation here with his measured and sensitive portrayal where he has enough humor and cheek to balance the seriousness that comes with being the older child who is perceived to be perfect.He desperately tries to keep his family together despite everyone’s best effort to make it implode. Ratna Pathak Shah is a national treasure and she must be cherished. I hope she takes on more such roles and stakes her claim on the matriarchal estate in Bollywood.

Kapoor and Sons is masterfully directed, with a strong uncompromising script and a stellar ensemble cast that puts in a brilliant performance individually and as a group. This nuanced look at the grey areas of the domestic drama is a must watch.

Shaandaar – A Review

Vikas Bahl directs Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt in the Big Fat Indian Destination wedding capers Shaandaar. This is Vikas Bahl, the director of Queen, My top pick for 2014 over Boyhood, Gone Girl and Nightcrawler. Shahid Kapoor who last lived up to his true potential as the Shakespearean hero Hamlet in Haider and Alia Bhatt silenced critics in the surprise hit Highway. Take these 3 and put them in an Indian wedding scenario and there are bound to be fireworks! Right? WRONG!

The curse of Karan Johar strikes again! What we end up is an ill-conceived, badly written, under directed and choppily edited mess that you shouldn’t even poke with a 100 ft. pole. Stay as far away from this as you possibly can.

You have Sushma Seth the matriarch of the family who are quietly going bankrupt who tries to strike a business deal with the Fundwani’s by marrying off their plump daughter Isha to the 8 and ½ pack wielding himbo Robin. There is this plot of the Kamlaji and his daughter in law Geetu who try to keep feeding Isha calorie heavy food to keep making her fat, they promise to gift the groom gold equalling the weight of Isha and then they complain and make snide remarks at her ballooning weight. It makes no sense at all. And for Sanah Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur’s daughter both in the movie and in real life to make a debut in such an uncharitable way is just unacceptable. She is charming and funny and has the marks of being a decent actor (much like mom Supriya Pathak) but she is subjected to such horrible body shaming and name calling that it is unforgivable. More so because there is no redemption for her and no I cannot count the climax as redemption because by then you don’t care about the movie or its characters.

There is an absurd amount of animation in this movie, a frog called Ashok, thought clouds that are full Technicolor dream sequences, Pankaj Kapur’s dreams which he hands to his insomniac daughter Alia which is something straight out of harry potter with a 2-d animation on a piece of paper. There is a set of twins more horrifying than twins from the Kubrick classic The Shinning. Nothing in movie makes any sense whatsoever.

Indian weddings are ripe for storytelling. You can tell it from the point of view of the Barjatias where it is a never ending sequence of rituals and celebrations and it has its own ironic charm where everything is blinged out and amped up and basically sequins on steroids or it goes the deeply dysfunctional Monsoon wedding way where the family dynamics come to the fore. Heck even in Queen the opening sequence was that of a bride being left hanging by her groom right after the mehandi. Anyone who mocks Indian weddings is an incompetent fool who doesn’t know how to tell a compelling story.  But Shaandaar seems the least interested in anything that resembles coherence. Nothing in the movie makes sense and it is a shame because Shahid and Alia are beautiful to look at and come packed with charm and wit and they try helplessly to make a go of things but it is impossible when there is no story to be told.

Shaandaar is also massively let down by Amit Trivedi and his music. there is no memorable song and it seems like there was no effort made. the Hungama Hogaya from Queen which was such an iconic remix, Trivedi tries again here by trying to remixx old songs but the effect is pointless. The cinematography is actually quite lush and beautiful especially the shots of the dawn breaking over the british moors but it is just massively let down by nothing to tie the visuals together. The animation andCGI work which is quite good seems to do nothing to further the story and is sticks out like another tacked on unnecessary piece much like the animated dog and parrot from Mein Prem ki Diwani hun. in reality it almost seems like they looked at Mein Prem ki Diwani hun ( an abomination of a movie) and decided we are going to take all the same elements and show them how to make a good movie . they even had Pankaj Kapur in the mix. but unfortunately for them the results are just as atrocious.

Karan Johar needs to understand that as a producer he cannot be allowed to stamp his brand of glam onto the storytellers like Kashyap (Bombay velvet) and Bahl (Shaandaar). Throw your money at them and let them tell the story they want to tell. No one can do NRI-centric escapist fantasies like he can and if he has an itching to direct then stop being lazy and direct a freaking movie and don’t try to steamroll otherwise decent storytellers. This is an absolute and utter waste of time.

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya – A Review

Shashank Khaitan directs Student of the year alums Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt in
Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya which fashions itself as a tribute to the much-loved Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge but at times comes off looking like a spoof of the said inspiration.

Produced by Karan Johar this has all the trappings of a Dharma Production quick-gratification entertainment blockbuster, strapping lads and lissome ladies, slick cinematography and sexy costumes and a frothy and entirely superficial yet immensely enjoyable story.  The first half of the movie whilst disjointed is immensely funny as Humpty aka Varun meets Ambala hailing Kavya Pratap Singh aka Alia Bhatt who agrees to be wed to an NRI dude on the one condition that her wedding lehenga be a designer outfit similar to her screen idol Kareena Kapoor.

Humpty aided by able sidekicks Shonty and Poplu try every trick in the Bollywood romcom 101 book to woo and win the affections of Kavya and are successful eventually but how they get there with the blackmailing the blackmailer boyfriend of the best friend and other such interesting side stories is where the movie could have risen above the regular KJo McMovie.

The second half of the movie in all honesty is quite a drag and the only real reason for it to even exist in the form that it does is to showcase KJo’s latest wet dream – Siddharth Shukla. This Siddharth fares much worse than the one he launched in Student of the year. Where the charisma came naturally to Malhotra everything Shukla does makes me cringe. It is Poplu who saves the day with his witty one-liners and questionable orientation.

Of the actors Varun proves yet again that the comedy gene runs strong in the Dhawan family with an amazing knack for comic timing. Alia is reigning princess of Bollywood she oozes charm and charisma and carries the haughty pretty girl attitude with aplomb.  There are many comparisons to Kareena Kapoor and I think they do her a disservice Kareena only once displayed that natural magnetism and it was in Jab We Met and outside of that she has left me cold. This is the third Alia movie I am seeing and she just seems to go from strength to strength – sure her repertoire might be limited but even within those limitations she has managed to somehow blow me away with her honesty and earnest portrayal of a spoilt bratty pretty girl. Siddharth Shukla makes an entirely forgettable debut and a wholly unnecessary one as well I would much prefer Malhotra thank-you-very-much.  Ashutosh Rana as the grumpy father of the bride turns in an impressive performance.  Gaurav Pandey as Shonty and Sahil Vaid as Poplu are the friends you’d want by your side when trying to woo a girl ala SRK.  I wish the story had ended differently.

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I wish after the date night scene Varun had the conversation with Ashutosh Rana and left for the station and then the whole DDLJ “Ja Jee Le Apni Zindagi” bit had happened.  It would have just felt a little less tired than it ended up feeling in the movie.

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The movie manages to infuse humor in the tired old formulaic love story and makes it entertaining. Samjhawan and Saturday are the only two songs which work and are memorable and the rest are just plain jarring with no real reason to exist and aren’t even that good.  Varun and Alia carry the movie on their shoulders with their youthful energy. Watch this for these two wonderful actors and to relive and DDLJ nostalgia that you might have.

Highway – A Review

Imtiaz Ali directs Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda in Highway.  The movie is about a rich privileged daughter of an industrialist Veera played by Alia who gets caught up in a petrol pump robbery and becomes and a hostage as the escaping goons kidnap her and flee as her hapless fiancé looks on and does the “told-you-so” dance!

Having loved Imtiaz’s Jab We Met, missed Love AajKal and having been extremely disappointed by the highly anticipated Rockstar my apprehensions were pretty high with this Stockholm syndrome movie with the relatively unproven Alia Bhatt. All the trademark Imtiaz hallmarks are there – the !ncredible India advert-worthy scenery, A R Rehman music, a perky pretty female lead with a propensity to continually communicate in monologues. While Imtiaz missed the mark with Rockstar, with Highway he delivers what is in my books as close to the bar he set with Jab We Met. Highway has heart and it wears it on its sleeve.

Alia Bhatt who debuted with Student of the year last year was easily stereotyped as the porcelain princess with the entitled star-kid tag. With Highway she smashes that stereotype and comes into her own with a performance that will be making the serious filmmakers of Bollywood sit up and take notice. In scenes that would come off as tacky and highjinks she infuses genuine charm and warmth, her crazy monologues with her going back and forth questioning her sanity come off as endearing and delightful. Even in the high drama scenes she does not miss a beat and with the directing choices that Imtiaz makes with the absence of a background score and focusing solely on Bhatt she delivers what could possibly be the career defining role of her life. Watch out Parineeti there is a new star on the rise here. Randeep Hooda is almost lost in the rugged scenery as he allows for Veera’s insanity to continue unabashed and just is content with looking grim with the demons of his hard life constantly at battles with the genuinely nice-guy-at-heart sentiments.

A R Rehman’s music is unobtrusive and almost unnecessary as for almost the entirety of the movie silence and the howling winds of the Himalayas provide the only symphony required. Anil Mehta experiments a little bit with hand-held camera and the results are not flattering and then he goes back to what he does best – capturing the beautiful vistas of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. Make no mistake this is another love-letter to the beauty of India written by the hands of Imtiaz Ali. Ali also tackles two very sensitive subjects which are intrinsic to what drives the central characters and what demons lurk in the dark recesses of their psyche – kudos to him for executing these with the sensitivity that these subjects deserve.

With a simple story told beautifully this is a must-watch movie. Alia Bhatt blossoms into a full-fledged actress with her full spectrum of emotions on display. Watch it for the climax where in the last 10-15 minutes Alia Bhatt delivers what is possibly one of the best pieces of dramatic acting I have seen from an actress this green. It is spine tingling, the prospect of the potential this lissome lass has and will deliver in her future endeavors. Watch this movie because Imtiaz is forgiven of the sins he committed with Rockstar and I can finally anticipate what comes out of his stables next.

Just a side note – with Rockstar I remember walking into a theatre full to the brim on a Friday morning, but with highway the enthusiasm is clearly lacking with more than half the theatre remaining empty – I wish people would give this little gem of a movie a chance and encourage film makers to take the road less travelled .