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.

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Bombay Velvet – A Review

Anurag Kashyap directs Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar in Bombay Velvet, a film noir entailing the nascent days of creation of India’s financial capital. A much anticipated movie given the talent attached and the likes of Thelma Schoonmaker ( Scorsese’s preferred editor) Bombay Velvet has a lot of hype thanks to Kashyap and Johar’s media savvy and a lot hope to revive the floundering career of Ranbir Kapoor, Bollywood’s best actor who has sort of fallen off the wagon.

Anushka Sharma plays Rosie Noronah a goa-born jazz singer who comes to Mumbai hoping to make a name for herself as a singer. Ranbir Kapoor plays Johnny Balraj a small-time crook who dreams of dying as a big-shot and moon-lights as a street fighter to sort out his anger issues. Karan Johar plays Kaizad Khambatta a mobster who wants a piece of the pie in the transformation of the 7 islands to the metropolitan city that Bombay would come to be. With these ambitions driving the lead characters this ought to have been a stylized and cathartic look at the DNA that embodies Mumbai even today. But poor character development and appallingly bad screenplay, movie ends up being more style than substance.

Kashyap seems to have been too busy in the lush production designs aimed at recreating the 60s period look than any attempt at compelling story telling. And even the period recreation seems to rely a little too heavily on the Hollywood version of the 20s and 30s prohibition era inspired movies that romanticised gangsters than a realistic representation of Bombay of the 60s. The movie is supposedly inspired by real-life events fictionalised for dramatic flair. Even the closing credits tell us of Rosie’s fate post the events of the movie and it seems to me that Kashyap, Vasan Bala and Gyan Prakash Thyani relied too heavily on the fading memory of a septuagenarian to ever be in any position to tell a coherent story. Story arcs take off and veer into nothingness. Take for instance Jimmy Mistry the editor of Glitz Newspaper a left-leaning mouthpiece aimed at exposing the corrupt nexus at the base of the Bombay redevelopment plan. He is a major player in the first half of the movie and in the second half – Nothing! Even the actions of its lead pair seem to be hare-brained, they are in love one moment, scheming the next and back in love immediately afterwards. Also Karan Johar who plays a supposedly closeted mobster spouts “tumne usme aisa kya dekha jo mujme nahi hai” out of nowhere and it all just starts feeling like an elaborate joke. The acting is atrocious and the dialogue delivery flat. Ranbir who usually is able to make every character relatable seems to be phoning it in with his crook with a heart of gold act. His character is poorly written and he does nothing spectacular to salvage it. Anushka Sharma continues her transformation into a human babushka doll resembling more and more like Kim Kardashian in appearance and talent. Karan Johar who make his acting debut (DDLJ notwithstanding) and it might join the list of shortest acting career ever. He might be a good director-producer but an actor he is certainly not.

Besides the main lead the supporting cast is poorly cast. For a role as significant as Jimmy Mistry’s the casting of Manish Chaudhary is baffling as he brings nothing to the character. Kay Kay Menon is wasted as detective/inspector. Mastermind’s Siddhartha Basu as Bombay Mayor Romil Mehta is the stereotypical corrupt politician and he does nothing to elevate his performance. Vivaan Shah as the chauffer Tony is just a pitiful waste of space that honestly serves no purpose. The only character who seems to have anything invested in this movie is Satyadeep Mishra who plays Johnny’s sidekick Chiman. He has a sense of gravitas and plays the devil’s advocate to Ranbir’s Johnny.

Amit Trivedi’s music outside of the movie induces nostalgia to the days of Geeta Bali and other such elusive chanteuses. But the background score often overwhelms the scenery and becomes an overbearing distraction. Niharika Khan’s costume work on Anushka’s stage outfits is staggering and it creates for some stunning shots. But at the same time the costume work overall is pretty inconsistent. Take for instance the police, the commissioner is in khaki, Kay Kay Menon in short sleeve shirts and a hat and sub-inspector in all whites. It is nuances like these that are missing which takes the audience out of the equation and you end up not caring about the going-ons on the screen. 

Prerna Saigal a first time film editor who collaborated with Thelma Schoonmaker seems to have failed in her duty as an editor as the film’s two and half hour runtime seems far too bloated for its own good. Perhaps it was the poor story and screenplay which did her in but even as an editor there was room to salvage this from becoming an unbearable monstrosity it ended up as. I very nearly walked out at interval because the first half was so life-draining. The first few scenes of the second half gave me hope but then nothing. Characters of no significance were introduced in important scenes and then disposed of just as unintelligently. Also clearly sensing the stagnancy and impotence of the story telling the director introduces a stand-up comic who cracks unfunny chewed up jokes in order to further the story telling in a last ditch effort. alas that effort also falls flat.

Overall Bombay velvet seems life a self-indulgent exercise in film making that fails on every account. Inconsistent writing, uninspired direction and insipid acting leave a lot to be desired. It has been a very long time that I was this bored in cinema. Venture at your own peril.

P.S.: Last year I saw a preview of  Tom Hardy’s Legend that comes out later this year – the version we saw was unfinished with effects yet to be finalised and editing. that was based on a realy life story of the twin gangsters who rules the London of the 60s and that unfinished movie was way more fun than the bore-fest that was Bombay velvet.

Queen – A Review

Vikas Bahl directs Kangana Ranaut in Queen a flipped on its head Euro-trip movie which puts the female lead in all the same positions that were exclusively male bastions. Happy women’s day indeed.

Queen starts off with an upbeat “London Thumakda” by Amit Trivedi shot to show a Delhi household in the middle of wedding preparations. Right from the get go you know that this is going to be a fun ride. Everything feels real, organic almost in the same way as band baaja barat did, but more so. This is not a YRF-Johar wedding household this is very Delhi and very real and very relatable.  What follows is the main premise of the movie and it would be a crime to leak it because it ends up being a very fun turn of events – well not so much for Rani.  Well that is until she decides to go on her honeymoon by herself to fulfill her lifelong dream of seeing Paris.

Kangana plays Rani the eponymous Queen who goes from being a naïve home-science girl from Rajauli, Delhi to being the globetrotting backpacking Chick in the due course of the movie. Kangana lives and breathes Rani so much so that it is impossible to imagine this role to be played by anyone else. She is restrained while still being uninhibited and in that one scene where she gets drunk and goes off on a rant – in my books it ranks right up there with Mr. Bachchan’ drunken rant about liver problems. Yep she is THAT good. Not for once you would believe her to be putting on an act – Bahl and Kangana have both put in a lot of thought in terms of the smallest idiosyncrasies that define the quintessential first time “abroad” travelling naïve Indian girl. Take the insistence on hanging onto her purse for dear life whether it is while getting mugged or while doing a faux-strip tease where she stuffs her sweater in the purse. This is Kangana at her absolute best and honestly I would argue that it ranks right up there with one of the best female performances of the year when the year concludes.

Kangana is supported by an assortment of characters who she crosses paths with on her Euro trip – there is Lisa Haydon who plays Vijaya Lakshmi the Indian-French-Spanish hybrid who eases Rani into the Parisian way of life. Then there are the Troika of hostel mates Oleksander – the Russian artist, Taka the Japanese tourist and Tim the French Musician who help Rani forge the unlikeliest of Bromance while in Amsterdam. Rajkumar Rao plays Vijay – Kangana’s fiancé and is quite effective yet again. He is an actor who has a knack of picking superb roles without giving a second thought to the length of the role and always comes off as earnest.

Bahl packs a solid punch in the first half where the laughs come easy and you fall in love with Rani. The second half is where a little more thought would have made this movie perfect. The sub-plot with Rukhsar the red-light district exotic dancer was almost entirely unnecessary. Also in final adventure that Bahl puts Rani on I feel he tries to be too ambitious and it chips away a little bit the honesty with which he has built the whole thing up. But it is a minor complaint when compared to the enormously entertaining and entirely believable journey that Bahl takes Rani on. Also I would like to believe the “Alice in Wonderland” Sweatshirt that Bahl put Rani in wasnt a mere co-incidence and that is the level of detail that makes this a movie worth revisiting so that you can pour over the details and soak in its richness.

Watch this movie for the fantastic Kangana Ranaut. Watch this as it takes Euro Road Trip, Drunken street antics, and platonic bromance from the tightly held grasps of the male leads of Bollywood and puts in the closely guarded purse of Rani from Rajauli Delhi!