M.S. Dhoni – an untold Story : A Review

Image result for ms dhoni the untold story posterNeeraj Pandey directs Sushant Singh Rajput and Anupam Kher in M.S.Dhoni the biopic on India’s most successful cricket captain. A man of few words, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has lived an incredible life, it is the classic underdog story where the underdog is an outright over achiever only limited by his circumstances.

 

Neeraj Pandey directed one of the finest movies to have come out in the last decade A Wednesday. Ever since he has been one of the most anticipated film makers, Special 26 while adored by many was a disappointment for me as were his other collaborations as a producer. I was left shocked when the credits rolled that this was directed by Neeraj Pandey. Where A Wednesday was a fast scoring high adrenaline T-20 match between India and Pakistan this was a laborious 5 day test match on a flat pitch.

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The story starts with Dhoni’s childhood a football goalkeeper Dhoni reluctantly agrees to keep wickets for the school team. There is a charming moment when a precocious Dhoni responds to his teacher stating very firmly that his reluctance to play cricket has nothing to do with the fear of the hard ball. There seem to be hints of his reluctance towards the game and his father’s job as the pump operator for the local cricket ground, but it is left unexplored. It moves to a teenaged Dhoni played by a poorly CGI-ed Sushant Singh Rajput made to look unnaturally young. Through the many ups and downs we journey with Dhoni to when he is selected to play for the east zone team but cannot make it for the flight on time and misses out on his big break. The movie seems keener on ticking off the milestone moments on Dhoni’s journey to the India team than focusing on a coherent story. And when it comes to milestones it misses out on the defining ones like when he is selected to lead the T-20 team, when he takes on the ODI captainship, his vice-captainship before that.

 

Sushant Singh Rajput does a fine job portraying the very essence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Mahi to his millions of adoring fans. Mahi is a man of few words and his actions speak for him, Rajput does that job brilliantly, underplaying the character with subtle nods to Mahi’s mannerisms. Disha Patni as Dhoni’s doomed lover Priyanka is spectacular in a brief time she spends on screen. I just wish the director hadn’t over done the whole “we have enough time right?” bit. Once was enough to allude to the upcoming tragic end. The introduction to Kiara Advani as Sakshi is about as cute as it gets. Anupam Kher transforms before our eyes without the need for CGI. The actor who plays Mahi’s mother and Rajesh Sharma who plays Dhoni’s coach Deval Sahay deserve special mention for the realism they brought to the roles they played.

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For a story as spectacular as Dhoni’s journey, this biopic seems like a disservice. Abysmal camera work where you get dizzy every time the camera zooms in or pans out too quickly. I also seriously question the editorial choices that were made. One look at the imdb page and you see names like Ram Charan and Fawad Khan being credited for playing Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli respectively and they are nowhere to be seen in the movie at the same time an insane amount of time is spent in tenis tournaments, the Railways cricket audition and tennis ball tournament. Also as a director Neeraj Pandey missed a massive opportunity to use real footage of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, rather than try and digitally try and fit Sushant Singh Rajput into those frames. Look at Narcos, or biopics like Frost Vs Nixon and you can see the gravitas the actual footages lend to the overall story.

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The final scene however does bring back happy memories! That six to clinch the 2011 world cup the eruption of the wankhede stadium that was echoed across India by its billion strong cricket lovers and the architect of it all – Mahendra Singh Dhoni. I just wish the film was half as unconventional as its subject matter then maybe it could have done justice to this fantastic character of game who changed the face of the gentleman’s game.

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Neerja – A Review

Ram Madhvani directs Sonam Kapoor in Neerja, a story based on the life of PanAm airlines air hostess Neerja Bhanot who risked her own life to save those of her passengers on the Hijacked flight 73 in 1986. As much as Sonam Kapoor would like to think of herself as a massively bankable star she deludes herself that all her blockbusters have been in spite of her and not because of. To have her headline such an important story seemed too risky an endeavour.

 

We are introduced to Rajesh Khanna loving Neerja as she walks into a boring old building society party with kids and middle aged adults and immediately infuses life into the party. This, her mother played by Shabana Azmi, tells us is quintessentially Neerja; the life of the party; her parents’ pride and joy and loved by kids and adults alike. This version of Sonam is believable and likeable unlike previous roles she has essayed. The family cocoon that is created around Neerja is also very believable, the worrying mother, the playfully quarrelling sibling and an adoring father who still regrets having pushed her into an arranged marriage that ended up being abusive. Once on the flight her effervescent personality seems just as genuine, as she looks after unaccompanied minors and puts them at ease. The ill-fated PanAm flight 73 from Mumbai to Frankfurt makes a scheduled stop at Karachi and is hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, Neerja relays the message that the flight has been hijacked while still on the tarmac to the pilots who following protocol evacuate the cockpit leaving the terrorists grounded. What follows is how Neerja tries to do everything in her power to comfort her passengers in a terrifying situation and how she loses her life while trying to protect them.

It is an incredible story told in the most respectful of ways. There are no histrionics or hyperbolic heroism just small acts of courage which ultimately were responsible for the 359 lives that were eventually saved. This is almost unlike a Bollywood movie and in a stark contrast to Airlift. There were so many moments when in the hands of a lesser director Sonam Kapoor could have had an outburst at the terrorist or said something sassy just because that is what Bollywood creative license allows, but you see the terror in her eyes and she cries like any person thrust in such a situation would and she tries to refer to the terrorists as Sir and appeal to their kindness to allow her to serve her passengers food and water. By juxtaposing flashbacks to her abusive life with the scenes of absolute terror Ram Madhvani has achieved success twofold. Firstly he gives us context to what prompted Neerja to act with the bravado that she did and also by showing us that an abusive relationship is no less than terrorism. One thing that clearly stuck out to me was the first time that Sonam is attacked by the terrorists the nozzle of the gun bangs against her teeth and upper lip and there is an audible sound. Towards the end of the movie you can see on her upper lip a bruised patch – it is small details like this which shows the audience how committed the cast and crew were to try and honestly retell an incredible story.

Sonam Kapoor is a revelation as Neerja Bhanot. She is beautiful no doubt but she is able to carry a sense of frivolity and joyfulness with an absolute ease. While at the same time when faced with a harrowing situation she is suitably terrified yet she manages to find an inner strength to ensure her passengers’ safety. Shabana Azmi is the emotional core of the movie. Azmi is tasked with the most emotionally potent scenes in the movie and yet she delivers them with such finesse that even while her audience is sobbing she manages to smile through tear filled eyes. All credit to dialogue writer Sanyukta Shaikh Chawla that never once does any character deliver a cringe worthy line, even when replaying dialogues from the Rajesh Khanna classic Anand the dialogues land the emotional sucker punch they are intended to. This two women tour de force is ably supported by Yogendra Tikku who plays Neerja’s father, music director Shekhar Ravijani who plays Neerja’s boyfriend Jaideep and the good cop-bad cop terrorists who I unfortunately can’t find names for to give them the credit due.

This almost flawless movie is nearly ruined by the schizophrenic camera work at the beginning of the movie, long before the hijack even happens. It makes no sense and it is headache inducing but few minutes into the movie it seems cinematographer Mitesh Mulchandani finally masters the art of a steady shot and it is smooth sailing from there on. Story writer Saiwyn Qadras and Editor Monisha Baldawa deserve special mention for a perfectly paced script that does not miss a beat throughout and a near perfect cut which has no flab or fluff. There is no jingoism in the name of patriotism, there are no larger than life heroes, just a girl who was doing her job and she did it brilliantly.

I remember the IC814 hijack but only had  anecdotal knowledge of Neerja Bhanot’s story when it was mentioned on news during the Kandahar hijacking but thanks to Ram Madhvani, Sonam Kapoor and Shabana Azmi this is a story I am unlikely to ever forget. What a beautiful and brave soul Neerja was and this story does her memory justice almost 30 years later. The girl who won the highest Indian Galantary award Ashok Chakra, the Tamgha-e-Insaniyat award for incredible human kindness by Pakistan, the flight safety foundation’s Heroism, Special Courage award by DoJ, USA. The Girl who didn’t live Long but Lived it Big. Salute.

 

Steve Jobs – A Review

 Danny Boyle directs Michael Fassbender in and as Steve Jobs.  Supported by an ensemble cast of Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen and Michael Stuhlberg in a script by Aaron Sorkin this is the definitive Steve Jobs movie that we have been waiting for. By no means is this a flattering biopic at one of the 21st century’s most fascinating figures from the world of Technology. Equal parts genius and tyrant Jobs was an enigmatic figure who many credit to having revolutionalised the personal computing world.

Michael Fassbender is fast becoming the modern day Daniel Day Lewis with his chameleon like ability to transform into any character he is given.  The physical resemblance to Steve Jobs towards the later part of his life is uncanny.  Besides the physical similarities his mannerisms lend an uneasy energy to the scene, you are permanently waiting for him to lash out at something or someone. Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ work wife does an amazing job playing the emotional anchor of the movie. She plays the understanding yet exasperated partner to Jobs.  Winslet is assured a nomination as supporting actor and at this stage I am willing to bet that she takes home the gold. She is that good.   Jeff Daniels as John Scully the Pepsi Co CEO who joins Apple and is eventually responsible for the firing of Steve Jobs is understatedly brilliant. Seth Rogen as the lovable Steve Wozniak puts in a power packed performance as well.

But the real star of the movie is Script writer Aaron Sorkin. For anyone familiar with Sorkin’s work this movie is jam packed with Sorkinisms. To the uninitiated Sorkinisms is when a bunch of characters talk over one another in seemingly unrelated subjects yet everything seems to sound so profound. Yes many have disliked this very aspect of Sorkin’s writing but I couldn’t care less about them. I love it. It makes for an edge of seat drama where you hang on to every word being said lest you miss some pearls of wisdom. Sorkin has written this movie in 3 acts. The first one at the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 where we see Jobs ranting about how he was left off the cover of times magazine and how he fights the paternity law suit and how he does not want to acknowledge Apple 2 a machine he deems unworthy of his time and something that was a thing of the past. His relationship with Scully though has shades of a father-son dynamic where Jobs looks up to Scully.  Act 2 is after jobs has been fired from apple after the spectacular failure of the Macintosh and has set up his own company and is launching the aesthetically pleasing Cube. We see him closer to his daughter but his relationship with his wife is still strained. He still patronizes Woz while still there is that sense of friendship that goes back many years. The relationship with Scully though has changed and we see both their points of views about what happened when Scully pushed out Jobs from apple.  This is 1988.  Cut to the final act where Steve Jobs is launching the iMac. The same set of people around him, Joanna still trying to reign in Jobs, the reporter from GQ still wandering about t. Finally we see the tensions between Jobs and Woz come to a boil over Apple 2 again and this time Woz has the last word it is a scene that one would have never expected Rogen of Superbad to ever be able to deliver with a straight face. That scene is electric.Sorkin and Boyle infuse a lot of subtlety into the story telling that is usually missing from a biopic.  Trying to capture the eccentricities of Steve Jobs they masterfully weave the fact that he was vegan into the narrative when Jobs and Scully are meeting for the first time when Jobs wants Scully to come on board as CEO. The story behind the apple logo and how it may have been inspired Alan Turing is dealt with in such a matter of fact manner. And the final scene where Jobs is trying to connect with his daughter and promises her how he will put a thousand songs in her pocket someday so that she doesn’t have to carry around a brick shaped cassette player aka the genesis of the IPod. I am certain that this is a movie that will only get better with repeat viewing.

Daniel Pemberton’s understated soundtrack infuses each of the scenes with an electric energy. He deals mostly in silence and single strings but it has a profound effect on the overall viewing. There are no jarring orchestra pieces but subtle and complementary tones that never once seem to overpower the scenery. Alwin H Kuchler as the DOP brings the same sense of energy that he did to Hanna. It feels hurried and frenetic at the same time as it a chilling sense of calm. The opening shot is reminiscent of the Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Birdman where the camera follows jobs through the various corridors and rooms as Jobs meets with and talks to the different characters.I have read a few reviews where people are complaining how this movie does not live up to the image of Steve Jobs the Tech Messiah but rather paints a picture of a brilliant yet arrogant and a mostly flawed individual. I think that is the best way to portray a man who was exactly that. Unless of course it was Steve Jobs who was making a movie about himself then he would present that in a slick packaging with millions would be foaming at the mouth to get a piece of. This is exceptional film making and a story telling that is second to none.

Sorkin Fassbender take a bow, you have delivered one of the best biopics of all time. I cannot wait to go back and watch this again.

The Theory of Everything – A Review

James Marsh directs Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. The movie is an adaptation of the book by Hawking’s first wife Jane Hawking and looks at the remarkable life of the noted theoretical physicist, his staggering achievements in the face of a debilitating disease. But make no mistake this isn’t a movie about science and the black holes and gravitational singularities but it is a love story, an intimate look at the nearly 30 years of Stephen and Jane Hawking’s marriage and the ups and downs that they go through.

James Marsh is known more for his exhilarating documentary Man on Wire and the equally fascinating documentary on a chimpanzee that was snatched from his mother and raised in a human society. But his control on the subject matter at hand here is adept and he infuses warmth and genuine human emotions in the relationship dynamics between the lead pair. From the very first frame to the very last this is a celebratory picture of the love that undoubtedly saved Stephen Hawking from would the doctors in 1963 predicted to be a heavily crushing defeat in the face of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The lead pair turns in phenomenal performances which carry the entire film. Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking is full of wit, charm and charisma first as the lanky geeky Cambridge PHD student and then as the wheelchair bound yet iconic theoretical physicist. It is almost impossible to separate the Redmayne Hawking from the public persona of Hawking himself. He comes off as someone who is not bound by the limitations of his disease and someone who is a source of inspiration for millions around the world as a person who overcame an impossible hurdle and contributed so greatly to the world of science. Even behind the prosthetics and the Equalizer program to relay his voice via a computerized program Redmayne never ceases to amaze. He is as fiercely independent and alive from the inside that one would expect a man like Stephen Hawking to be. Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking couldn’t be any more perfect. She is the sweet and loving as the Cambridge student who catches the fancy of Hawking and strong willed and formidable as the partner who refuses to walk away when Stephen breaks the news to her of his illness. She underplays the dotting wife who is herself struggling to keep pushing through the difficulties in such a believable manner that you do feel for her even when you know it is Stephen who is going through much worse. Her vulnerability around Jonathan played by Charlie Cox and the restraint with which she manages to push back the feelings she has for Jonathan are beautifully portrayed. The dynamics between Stephen, Jane and Jonathan are very telling in two scenes in particular the first one where they meet for the first time at dinner and the second when Stephen goes to Jonathan to ask him to continue helping Jane. It is a sensitive subject matter dealt with dignity and gravitas.

Visually the movie is plush in sepia tones and it lends itself beautifully to the love story being told. The music by Johann Johannsson is a beautiful companion to the story. The screenplay by Anthony McCarten who adapted Jane Hawking’s book “Travelling to Infinity : My Life with Stephen Hawking” is rich with humorous undertones and the final scene where we see a flashback of the events of Stephen’s life in reverse order coming to an end at the first instance he laid eyes on Jane is a stroke of genius as it ties in with the theories of Hawking and how he believes that there should be one elegant equation which can tell us of the moment of the beginning of universe or the beginning of time itself.

To me this is beautiful movie which tells the story of a very real struggle and the thumping triumph that the love between two individuals enables them to overcome insurmountable odds. It features two of best performances of the year. Felicity jones is a revelation and Redmayne is an absolute joy to watch as Stephen Hawking. This is a small movie by a relatively small player in the politics of awards but if there is any justice it should be Redmayne who should walk away with the best actor award this year and not Cumberbatch or Keaton. Do not miss this movie.

The Wolf of Wall Street – A Review

Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall street a story about the penny stock broker from New York who was dubbed the moniker that lends itself to the title of the file by the Forbes magazine after he got rich quick and was a subject of the FBI investigation.
The movie while winning rave reviews for Di Caprio’s brave performance of Jordan Belfort it is also generating a lot of discussion about and dividing the critics on either side of the debate whether Scorsese glorifies the debauchery and the excess and the life that Belfort led. While the argument does merit a discussion but anyone who looks at Di Caprio’s depiction of Belfort and thinks to himself I want a life like that is wrong in the head from the get go.


The story kicks off with a midget-throwing competition in the offices of Jordan Belfort and it cuts back to his origins where we are introduced to Hannah played by McConaughey who takes Jordan under his wings and shares the secrets of how to make money on the Wall Street and introduces the then greenhorn Belfort to the world of cocaine and circle jerks.
What follows from there on is the rags to riches story that seems pretty incredible and therein lies the attraction to the aspirational attributes of Belfort’s life. A penthouse suite at the trump towers, a huge yacht with its own helicopter, a white Ferrari like that from Miami Vice and the other pleasures that riches bring. Belfort is not shy to flaunt his excesses either and that is where it crosses the line over to the morally corrupt, vapid, believing his own bullshit territory.

Belfort delivers many a motivational speeches to his army of stock brokers and you see the madness to make more money than he can spend in his eyes and DiCaprio is brilliant when delivering those speeches, making you really question his sanity but while still admiring his ability to inspire those around him.


DiCaprio is assisted by Jonah Hill who plays Donnie Azoff a guy who walks up to Belfort in a diner and says show me your paycheck and I will quit my job and come work for you. It goes from there to drug addled insanity after insanity which gets Belfort tied up on an airplane to rendering him nearly dead after he over doses and wrecks his car while driving back home. His blonde trophy wife is played by Margot Robbie who is just as vapid if not more but still manages to evoke some sympathies because Belfort manages to be a bigger Ass. Kyle Chandler plays the FBI agent out to get Belfort and I wish he had been given more material to sink his teeth into.

Therein lies the problem with the movie – the pacing is a bit off – there are scenes that don’t feel honest –like the conversation Jordan has with his father after a blow out over the expenses. It feels forced and just something that the script writer Terrence Winter put in because it was there in the book written by Jordan Belfort. Some scenes feel over long and not entirely necessary – like the board meeting that Jordan is having with his friends over the choice of midgets – it goes on and on and on and serves no real purpose – we have by then already established they are all horrible human beings. There are also scenes that you wish had more time given to them like the one where Denim the FBI agent played by Chandler goes to meet Jordan on his boat.

Also another problem with the script is the lack of any explanation of what exactly was Jordan Belfort accused of. Peddling penny stock is hardly a crime, insider trading is a crime and the shenanigans that Belfort pulls on the Steve Madden deal are worthy of a SEC investigation but where he gets all the cash from is not clear. There is no explanation provided for the cash that Belfort has lying around and that he wishes to put away in the Swiss bank.

When Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio collaborate it is cinematic gold – The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island. The Wolf of Wall Street is not in the same league though. While Scorsese tries to stay as close to the story as possible the fact that Belfort is such a despicable human being who rapes and slaps his own wife is not a character you can connect with on any real level. Despite this the movie is immensely entertaining. The one reason why a lot of people are so divided over the movie could be because Belfort does not get justifiably punished for all his crimes and ends up with a resort like jail sentence and a post-jail career in motivational speaking.

This is not a perfect movie in any regards technically or story telling wise but it is finds its wings when Leonardo DiCaprio is in his element, that one scene where he is caught in a dilemma about whether or not to accept the FBI deal is a brilliant piece of acting . Watch it for Martin Scorsese tries something different yet again and does not seem to be bound any particular genre. Watch it because Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the – if not THE best actors working today.

Bhag Milkha Bhag – A Review

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra directs a chiseled Farhan Akhtar in Bhag Milkha Bhag a biopic on one of India’s very few renowned athlete “The Flying Sikh” Milkha Singh. Based on a script and screenplay written by the ad-man turned writer Prasoon Joshi, Mehra tries to cover absolutely every aspect of Milkha Singh’s life ranging from his motivation to joining the armed forces to the reason why he joins the athletics to his childhood traumas.

Farhan Akhtar a normally fit actor has undergone an epic transformation in terms of embodying the physicality of a premiere athlete. Outside of the physical transformation there isn’t much to applaud Akhtar for as he is saddled with a directionless script and a sagging storyline that aimlessly wanders between flashbacks. Akhtar manages to turn on the charm in the few moments he is allowed by the scripts where he is allowed room to breathe. Sonam Kapoor who plays Akhtar’s love interest is competent in the minuscule role that barely has 3 spoken lines. Prakash Raj plays the Army captain in-charge of the unit where Milkha Singh joins and in continues the tradition of Bollywood movie using Raj for comedic purpose only. The two supporting cast members who shine are Pawan Malhotra who plays Singh’s coach and Divya Dutta who plays Singh’s sister. These two carry the heart of the movie on their shoulder and are responsible for some of the tenderest moments of the movie.

The biggest problem for me is the story, as a biopic in its earnestness it tries to cover all aspects of Milkha Singh’s life and seems like a series of made-for-tv episodes. It never pulled me in and made me concerned about the fate of Milkha Singh and that for a biopic is detrimental. The direction relies all too heavily on traditional story tropes of the underdog story and the predictability of it after a while begins to take its toll on you.

Mehra entrusts Binod Pradhan with cinematography and it is a success from a purely visual standpoint. The scenes of Milkha Singh training in Leh while of no significance to the story are shot beautifully framing the stark landscape in all its natural glory.

Music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy fails to deliver a single memorable track while still manages to be a successful background score especially with the folksy songs voiced by Daler Mehandi .

The lack of any editing and a directionless story telling cripples what could have been a fantastic portrait of a deserving national hero to one that is riddled with clichéd plot points.

Another gripe I have is with the Indian audiences, we are so easily swayed by the India-Pakistan rivalry that no matter what form of sports it be the moment India bests Pakistan all the sins are forgiven and the same is true here. In what is the seminal moment in Milkha Singh’s life is reduced to whistles and hoots as he crosses the finishing line. Or perhaps the problem lies with me and I don’t know how to enjoy a movie.

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Watch this movie if you want to spend 3 hours counting every pulsating muscle and bulging vein in Farhan Akhtar’s body , but if you want to enjoy a well-made cleverly written biopic about an Indian athlete watch Paan Singh Tomar instead.

Clearly the movie is a critics darling at this point with most giving it a 5 star rating. I would love to hear your thoughts on the movie and what you liked about the movie!