Secret Superstar – A Review

Image result for secret superstarAdvait Chandan directs Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun & Aamir Khan in Secret Superstar. The movie tells the story of Insia Mallik the 15 year old girl from Baroda who aspires to be the best singer in the world.

 

Zaira Wasim plays Insia Mallik the eponymous Secret Superstar. Buoyed by her mother Najma, played by Meher Vij, Insia tries to escape an overbearing and violent tempered father through her music. Meher Vij is spectacular in the light hearted scenes with Insia, she is especially brilliant when playing the long suffering wife of Farook. Raj Arjun as Farook Mallik is one of the vilest characters I can recall and Arjun plays it to perfection. There is no redeeming factors to him and Raj Arjun brings to life the character of a wife-beating, chauvinistic, evil pig. Props to him for not holding back.

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Najma is the one who bought Insia the guitar when she was six, Najma clobbers together money to buy Insia the laptop and internet connection and the reason she gives Insia really warms the cockles of my cold dead heart. There are many wonderful moments which lift the movie above the emotionally manipulative one. Several of those are also courtesy Insia’s puppy love Chintan Patel played by Tirth Sharma. Insia becomes an overnight youtube sensation when she uploads her first video dressed in a burqa. Insia’s brother Guddu played by Kabir Sheikh also adds a much needed innocence to the proceeding.

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Aamir Khan plays Shakti Kumar a disgraced Bollywood music director who has been boycotted by all the established singers. Aamir pushes the ham envelope with such abandon that the comparisons to Andaz Apna Apna are for once justified. Mr Perfectionist who has such a huge influence into every aspect of the movie making however is also its downfall in the most unfortunate of ways. In an effort at justifying more screen time for someone of Khan’s repute he gives away the biggest aha moment when he interprets his sleazy song as a romantic one as it was intended to be for Insia and then when she sings it just as she was instructed he lights up. It’s a moment that could have been such a departure for the sleazebag Shakti Kumar but it is squandered away by either incompetent writing or poor direction in trying to massage a superstar ego. The tangent about how his life and that of Insia have parallels is left unexplained. The whole shindig about his wife’s lawyer helping Insia is also unresolved.

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Zaira Wasim who first burst onto screens with Khan’s Dangal is worthy of the praise she is garnering. She is a competent child actor. But there are range problems for me. There is almost a constant woe-is-me feel about her – there is no levity to her. There is a child-like wonder that is missing. Perhaps it is not her fault and it is the writing which stymies her into a one-dimensional character.

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For a movie so heavily musically influenced the songs themselves are wonderfully childish. Meri Ammi is how a child would describe his or her own mother and feels wonderfully warm and enveloping – that Meher Vij is so great helps validate the song as well. Mein Kaun Hun is appropriately operatic. The direction by first timer Chandan feels very organic. The stictching up of the pinafore to hike up the neckline is so modestly middleclass it is almost a blink and miss, the use of aamir’s son’s name as the airline, and Guddu’s re-construction of the QWERTY keyboard as ABCD one is one of the most nuanced moments of the movie for me

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The climax seems too obvious – the only thing missing was Shakti Kumar storming the stage ala Kanye West. There are many moments that feel like emotional manipulation and some dialogues feel too basic. The constant one character repeating what the other has said in the past also begins to grate and feel disingenuous. In spite of these short comings the movie is entertaining for most parts and Raj Arjun really livens it up for me. Not a bad 2.5 hours spent at the theatre.

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Shubh Mangal Saavadhan – A Review

Image result for shubh mangal saavdhan posterS. Prasanna directs Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. For a first time director R. S. Prasanna sure is ambitious to take on a subject like Erectile Dysfunction. Read on to find out if Prasanna manages to deliver a “hard” hitting and entertaining caper or turns in a “limp” biscuit of a movie.

 

Mudit played by Ayushmann Khurrana has been besotted by Sugandha played by Bhumi Pednekar. Unable to muster courage to ask her out he sends her an online marriage proposal. Sugandha who has been dreaming of the romanticised notion of a Bollywood love story reluctantly agrees to allow Mudit to court her. The first time they get frisky while Sugandha’s parents are out of town, Mudit ends up having performance anxiety and shares his “problem” with Sugandha and forever ruins biscuits for everyone everywhere.

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Bhumi Pedneker who I have been mightily impressed in her previous two outings is surprisingly one note here. I blame it on the writing and direction more than her abilities. Because in the one scene where she tries to entice Mudit by reciting cheesy lines from a porno is testament to her talent. She is hilarious and vulnerable at the same time. Ayushmann who first burst onto the screen in Vicky Donor a movie based on similarly taboo subject (although diametrically opposite in terms of the subject itself) delivers a very confused performance. It isn’t clear if he is a shy romantic type or the Casanova who didn’t have this “problem” with his ex.

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The supporting cast is what really brings the whole enterprise to a crashing halt. Both fathers are contemptible, Sughanda’s uncle a leftover from the 80’s doordarshan era acting, the mothers simpering messes. Seema Pahwa still manages to shine despite the laborious proceedings. The friends of Mudit unwatchable in the extreme. The movie seems to want to be many things at the same time.

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One moment it is a budding romance movie, the next it is trying to take on a taboo subject, the very next it turns into a priyadarshan farce and the next it is a dysfunctional family dynamics dramedy The first half plods along with some carefully placed puns which elicit genuine laughs but the second half was just pure cringe fest. There seems to be no sense of continuity or any attempt at coherence. Take for instance the scene where Mudit – the groom ends up cooking the food for the wedding party, another scene is where Mudit’s father tells him if he pursues sughandha he cannot come back home or expect any money from him – Mudit all proud and indignant throws his wallet at his father and the final scene is of Mudit and Sugandha performing puja at his father’s house which they live in. the scene when Mudit and Sugandha are getting “busy” while the entire wedding contingent is waiting outside the bedroom and taking bets made me want to walk out of the theatre. The dialogues especially with a subject as sensitive as ED can quickly devolve into school yard heckling in the hands of incompetent writers and they range from juvenile to abhorrent.

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Also seriously lacking is the female perspective towards sexuality. Sugandha never once seems to take into consideration her “needs”. sobbing she declares “Sex hi sab kuch nahi hota hai na” in a crowded market of all places and Mudit sends her packing in an Autorickshaw. At under 2 hours this movie isnt long by any stretch of imagination so there was sufficient reel time available to flesh out Sugandha’s character to something a little more than just a doormat.

Unresolved direction and underwhelming performances cannot save the movie from the grave its story and screenplay writers have dug for it. Stay far away from this and rewatch Vicky Donor instead.

Bareily Ki Barfi – A Review

Image result for bareilly ki barfi posterAshwiny Iyer Tiwari directs Ayushmann Khurrana, Kriti Sanon and Rajkummar Rao in Bareily Ki Barfi. Set in the small town of Bareily in northern India this is the story of Bitti played by Kriti who isn’t like other domesticated Indian girls. As the narrator says “She’s her mother’s daughter and her father’s son”.

 

Seema Pahwa plays Bitti’s mother Shushila Mishra and is woe-begotten with worry about getting Bitti married. Pankaj Tripathi plays Narottam Mishra Bitti’s father who is torn between his desire to let his daughter live her life by her standards and the society’s expectations of what constitutes a good girl. If that sounds dreary and drab – don’t let that fool you – this movie is a hoot and a half! When Bitti tries to run away from home she picks up a novel about a free-spirited girl from Bareily and she is convinced this is her story. She wants to meet the writer. Enter Chirag Dubey played by Ayushmann Khurana who owns the printing press where the book was published. Bitti convinces Chirag to get her to meet with Pritam Vidrohi played by Rajkummar Rao who wrote the book, and thus hilarity ensues. This much is clear from the trailer – and saying anymore would be a great disservice to the movie.

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Written by the writing team behind Dangal, Nitish Tiwari and Shreyas Jain this movie exceeds the 1500-crore earner by a clear mile when it comes to pure writing. Given the realtively smaller stars the movie is un-encumbered with trying to satiate star-egos and as a result the audience is the real winner. I honestly cannot remember the last time I heard the audience guffaw so loudly and at times that warranted laughter. Of the actors Kriti Sanon is a revelation – I have not seen any of her previous work and really wasn’t too keen on her either – but I am a convert now. Ayushmann is solid as ever. But the real hero of the film is Rajkummar Rao – his transitions between the two Pritam Vidrohis is so seamless it’s a real treat to watch. The supporting cast is brilliant as well. Seema Pahwa, Pankaj Tripathi, Swati Semwal as Bitti’s friend Rama and Rohit Chaudhary as Chirag’s Man-Friday Munna are all brilliantly nuanced in the small but crucial roles.

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The music doesn’t let you down, Sweety tera drama and Twist Kamariya will have you tapping your feet to its beat and Nazm Nazm will stay with you long after the screen credits as well. The screenplay is precise and very cleverly written, the editing very sharp and together they don’t let the pace slacken even slightly.

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Very cleverly written, ably acted and genuinely funny this one has definitely repeat watchability in the vein of Band Baaja Baraat. There really is absolutely nothing I can fault this movie for. Go watch it for Kriti who is not only easy on the eyes but has acting chops to back as well. Watch it for Ayushmann who really should be doing more movies than he is already. But more than anything else watch it for Rajkummar Rao – this guy is a national treasure!

 

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.

Kaabil – A Review

Image result for kaabilSanjay Gupta directs Hrithik Roshan and Yami Gautam in the thriller Kaabil. Sanjay Gupta is enjoying a sort of second coming with big name projects like Jazbaa and Kaabil to his credit recently. While Jazbaa suffered because it was more style over substance, how does this revenge thriller fare. Does Hrithik bounce back from the last collaborative disaster with daddy dearest – Kites?

 

Hrithik plays dubbing artist Rohan Bhatnagar and Yami Gautam plays NGO worker and part time piano player Supriya Sawant. They are both visually impaired and are set up on a “blind” date by a common well-wisher. The meet-cute is probably the weakest moment of the film as it is difficult to really take the instant connection as realistic, for a movie that is this taut in its running time I for one wouldn’t mind if the director had spent a few extra minutes setting up the two lovebirds. After a rushed romance and a quickie wedding the newlyweds slip into domestic bliss. Terror strikes when local goon who has his eye on Supriya. Amit played by Rohit Roy along with his friend Wasim break into Rohan and Supriya’s house when Surpiya is alone and home and rape her. What follows from there is a harrowing tale of powerful politicians, corrupt cops and two helpless individuals caught in a nightmare not of their making.  While it is entirely plausible to see them going through the aftermath, director Sanjay Gupta and editor Akiv Ali seem to be chop-happy and cut scenes too much and you are left as mere bystanders and without an emphatic connection with the leads.

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The second half is an all-out action fest with Hrithik exacting revenge on the perpetrators of this horror. The slick way in which the narrative and the revenge scenes are setup is brilliant. Taking inspiration from Broken, a 2014 Korean revenge flick (some of Gupta’s best work is adapted from Korean films) and Netflix’s Daredevil we see Hrithik in superhero mode. But where Gupta succeeds is by not laying out each of the details of how everything that Hrithik does that would aid him in getting even with his able-eyed opponent. Gupta assumes the audience is intelligent enough to understand why the wafers are strewn on the floor. He has seamlessly weaved in Easter eggs in the first half of the movie that work themselves into the revenge action in the second half.

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Of the supporting cast Suresh Menon phones in a performance, Girish Kulkarni as the corrupt cop Nalawade is ham personified. Narendra Jha as the morally ambiguous cop Chaube is where I am let down the most. Jha’s character could have been reflective of the audience, voyeuristic at first, helpless later and eventually an enabler or at least a cheerleader by the climax. The Roy brothers Rohit and Ronit are template Bollywood baddies and really bring nothing new nor menacing to the table. Yami Gautam is beautiful and believable but pales in comparison to the tour de force that is Hrithik Roshan. This restrained performance of his is more in the vein of Jodha Akhbar and Fiza than the over the top Krrish franchise. He truly shines, both as the lovable and uxorious husband and then later as the cold and calculating vigilante. He’s played a disabled character previously in Guzarissh but while it was frankly terrible then – here he is entirely convincing.

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I have one complaint with this movie – too many songs! Kaabil is a good song as is the Mon Amour. That is where it should have been left at. There are 2 more songs which are entirely unnecessary and the travesty that is the “Saara Zamaana Haseeno ka Dewaana” is plainly unforgivable. Urvashi Rautella – “the item girl” who dances to this seems like she is in a hurry to finish her workout. She looks like a combination of all the item girls of the past – from Shefali Jariwaala to Koena Mitra and Sunny Leonne. This item girl trend has got to stop – if nothing else at least stop butchering iconic songs which should be sacrosanct. I mean come on – we’ve gone from Amitabh in his LED suit to this.

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The light and camerawork make up for that minor misstep though. The camera work in the Madh warehouse takes you into the thick of the action. The light and shadow play in the final “kill-scene” is brilliant. One flash of lightning and you see Hrithik and the next he is gone. Gupta lays off the saturated hues and the result is a fantastically slick flick.

 

Watch it for Hrithik because he is well and truly back.  I went in expecting to be disappointed and I was plesantly surprised. There really isnt anything besides that stupid song to complain about and on the contrary a lot of positives.

Kahaani 2- A Review

Image result for kahaani 2 posterSujoy Ghosh and Vidya Balan team up for a follow up to 2012’s thriller Kahaani in Kahaani 2. Kahaani to me is a landmark movie and possibly the best thriller to come out of Bollywood in since forever. With the trailer whetting the appetite I was suitably excited despite the lackluster title name. Does the Balan Ghosh combo work again or will the curse of Arjun Rampal strike again?

The story starts sinisterly enough, we see a desperate Vidya Sinha looking for her paraplegic, wheelchair bound daughter who has gone missing. While running to find her daughter Vidya is hit by an oncoming car and slips into coma. Inspector Inderjeet played by Arjun Rampal with his wooden acting intact shares a secret he cannot let slip but which somehow plays his driving force through the entirety of the film. Vidya Balan plays Vidya Sinha, a single mother raising a paraplegic daughter but just like Kahaani here too there might be a case of mistaken identity or perhaps something more sinister going on. A majority of the story unfolds as Inderjeet reads through Vidya’s diary which he finds taped to the back of a drawer in her house. There are so many things wrong with how each puzzle piece connects that it is unbelievable that the same team was responsible for the watertight Kahaani. Everything just seems to be taking its inspiration from Rampal’s acting “Meh! Let’s just go with this”.

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My biggest problem is with how when Inderjeet reads the diary there is a voice over in Vidya’s voice and then we are taken into another storyline and even in that storyline everything that Vidya Balan is thinking is voiced out loud. It’s annoying and insulting at the same time when you expect so little from your audience. There are intriguing plot points which could have made for an explosive narrative but are dealt with in such a shambolic way that it all seems to be coming off at the seams. The second half of the film seems to drag on forever and the element of surprise is massively lacking. At this point it is essentially paint by numbers and the acting also fails to lift it beyond the mundane. I remember re-watching Kahaani a little while ago and noticing only for the first time when Vidya Balan is pushed in front of the train she reaches out for something in her hair and having seen the climax once before it all ties in so well. Here there is no such nuance. The central plot surrounding child abuse also seems to half baked, there is so much more that could be done with it and how it becomes the driving force for Vidya Balan. And while from Kahaani the character of Bob Biswas was endearing and terrorizing in equal measure here the main assassin is essentially someone doing a bad parody of a north-easterner with a weird affectation to their speech. Oh and a special mention to the actress who plays Arjun Rampal’s wife – what the actual f*#k! Why so much nagging and that voice! Uggh I would rather listen to nails on a chalkboard.

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Stay at home and rewatch Kahaani instead and don’t waste your time and energy on this underdeveloped, poorly acted and a story that lacks any thrill or common sense. It is a complete contrast to what made Kahaani so special. Vidya Balan’s acting is sub-par, the supporting characters are used as mere props, the cinematography which gloriously captured the crumbling Kolkotta is underwhelming here.

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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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.

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.

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.