Padman – A Review

Related imageBalki directs Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor in Padman, the story based on Padma Shri awardee Arunachalam Muruganantham, the innovator of low-cost sanitary pads.

 

Balki and Swanand Kirkire base the story on the short story written by Twinkle Khanna the wife of Akshay Kumar and also the producer of the movie. Akshay Kumar plays Lakshmikant Chauhan the eponymous Padman. Lakshmi is newly married and besotted with his wife Gayatri played by Radhika Apte. When she experiences her periods for the first time at her married home, he tries to talk her out of using a dirty rag and get her to use a store bought sanitary pad. She balks at price of it and tries to talk him out of it due to the high price. Lakshmi then embarks upon a quest to prototype his low-cost sanitary pad. The journey that Lakshmi undertakes all the way from being shamed out of his village to delivering a rousing “Linglish” speech at the united nation is fascinating.

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Akshay Kumar is fantastic as Lakshmi and brings a level of earnestness that lifts every scene he is in. The opening sequence song “Aaj se Teri” sets up Akshay’s character arc where he earnestly tries alleviate every single one of her problems, building a wooden seat for her to sit on his bicycle, a monkey toy onion chopper. He might be lacking in the formal education department but he makes up for that in his inquisitiveness. Radhika Apte plays Gayatri and she couldn’t be more of a contrast to Akshay Kumar. She is one note, whiny and overplays the ever silently suffering wife. For almost every scene she is in she is either crying her eyes out or passive aggressively berating Lakshmi for trying to help her. The whole “shame is worse than disease” cudgel she keeps beating over Lakshmi and the audience’s head gets really tiresome. Sonam Kapoor who makes an entry in the second half of the movie moves breezily from one scene to another. She is entirely believable as the college student who sees potential in Lakshmi’s reinvention of the Pad making machine and immensely likable – no small fete considering her previous work. Amitabh Bachchan who is a permanent fixture in every Balki movie chews up the scenery in the 2 minutes he is on screen. His screen presence is unparalleled and his baritone a calming balm on the frayed nerves after Apte’s annoying performance.

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The first half is hugely problematic with its pacing and overly regressive storyline. The whole premise of women using unhygienic rags is setup so tactlessly that it becomes impossible to feel anything for either the women who are suffering this plight or the one man who is trying his best to change the status quo. It is only when Lakshmi is left to his own devices that the movie really picks up steam in the second half. The writing is abysmal and the epiphanies that Lakshmi experiences when his boss at the garage spouts pearls of wisdoms is too on the nose. If not for Sonam Kapoor and Akshay Kumar the movie would have fallen in the same unfulfilled promise category as Balki’s previous Ki and Kaa. The music is catchy and does well to buttress the flailing script and the camera work is fantastic. Every scene is alive and vibrant. The locales of Madhya Pradesh lend a wonderful aesthetic backdrop to the rural setting lifting it out of poverty porn.

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A fascinating story, a decent second half and a strong acting turn from Akshay Kumar and Sonam makes this bearable outing. Balki ought to take directing lessons from his wife Gauri Shinde who knows how to let story translate on screen organically. Also I wish Balki took a page out of Oliver Stone’s book and got the real Padman deliver a final speech.

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Padmaavat – A Review

Image resultSanjay Leela Bhansali directs Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh & Shahid Kapoor in Padmaavat, the cinematic adaptation of the opera that Bhansali was invited to direct in 2008 which is based on a 1540 poem by poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. The epic poem tells the story of the beauty and valor of Princess Padmavati of the kingdom of Singhal who later becomes the queen of Mewar, the pride of Rajput king Raja Ratan Singh and the lust of Allaudin Khilji.

 

Deepika plays Rani Padmavati, Shahid plays Raja Ratan Singh and Ranveer plays Allaudin Khilji. The movie has courted enormous controversy and walking out of the theatre I couldn’t understand why. If anything this is a movie that ought to be cherished by the very people who are protesting in the streets. It glorifies the Rajputs of ancient India who never gave into the Mughals. Those who threatened bodily harm to Deepika for what they deemed mischaracterisation of the queen goddess owe her an unconditional apology. Her portrayal as the proud Rajput queen would make any Rajput walk two feet taller.

Ranveer Singh plays Allauddin Khilji in Padmavati.

Ranveer Singh brings a barbaric, manic and frenetic interpretation to Allaudin Khilji. There is an animalistic madness in his eyes and he tends to push it a little too far with that misplaced dance number but overall at no point do you sympathise with this lustful power crazed barbarian who thinks he owns the world. Ranveer is competent as ever and it is indeed hard to imagine any other actor being able to pull off a character so over the top.

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Shahid Kapoor is stoic and regal as the king of Mewar. Even when he is besotted with his beloved Padmavati he does not put on school boy airs. He carries himself with such grace and dignity and presents a polar opposite to Khilji. His words are measured and his intense gaze does most of the talking.

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Deepika Padukone is fantastic and back to top form. After a brief Hollywood stint the queen is back to rule Bollywood. To be laden with such opulent costumes and jewellery that probably weighs more than her she still manages to shine through from under all that Bhansali extravagance. The doe-eyed beauty transforms into goddess-incarnate filled with raging pride when she delivers the final sermon. Her walk to the jauhar pyre will give everyone the chills.

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The story while loosely based on an epic poem does not shy away from topics that most other directors would either have swept under the rug or made a caricature out of. Take for instance Khilji’s penchant for effeminate boy-slaves. Jim Sarbh plays Mallik Kafur who seems infatuated by Khilji. Aditi Rao Haidari plays Khilji’s cousin who he marries and mistreats. Anupriya Goenka who plays Nagmati, Ratan Singh’s first wife leaves a lot to be desired. A strong seasoned actress would have elevated the one scene where she is supposed to be have shined.

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Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a visual maestro – every frame of his is visual poetry. Every detail is meticulously crafted. The oil-lamp lit vistas of the Ghoomar song are jaw-dropping. Small nuances like the small pool right outside the private chambers, the carvings of hands outside the temple – these are details that anyone who has visited Rajasthan can attest to as being authentic.  However the controversy surrounding the movie which began from the very first shoot must have weighed heavily on the director’s mind. The screenplay seems flabby at the start. The pacing is off. The scenes between Khilji and Ratan Singh too long and too repetitive. He manages to rouse the passions towards the second half and pulls it all together visually and narratively towards the end. The sea of red saree clad women making the final walk through the different niches of the temple is unrivalled for it absolute beauty.

Image result for padmavatiThis might not be Bhansali’s best story telling but visually it is peerless. Shahid and Ranveer turn in fantastic performances but it is Deepika Padukone whose fire burns the brightest. The beauty, grace, dignity and pride with which she portrays the famed Queen Padmavati is one for the annals of cinematic history.

Tiger Zinda Hai – A Review

Image result for tiger zinda haiAli Abbas Zafar directs Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif in the action thriller Tiger Zinda Hai, a sequel to the 2012’s Ek Tha Tiger. Salman Khan plays the eponymous R.A.W. agent Avinash Singh Rathore AKA Tiger and Katrina plays the ISI agent Zoya. Ek Tha Tiger in many ways the beginning of the renaissance of Salman Khan.

 

The story begins with a solid intro into what will end up being the central plot of a daring rescue mission. Syria and Iraq are being taken over by ISC a caliphate organisation modelled after ISIL. The leader Abu Usman played by a sinister Sajjad Delafrooz is hurt and is taken to a hospital and the 25 Indian and 15 Pakistani nurses are taken hostages and the hospital turned into a virtual fortress and an ISC stronghold. The Indian embassy, foreign ministry and the intelligence machinery set into motion a plan to rescue the nurses – there is only one man for such a mission. Cue Tiger, to much whistling and hollering, Salman Khan makes his entrance and fairly quickly goes about pulling together a seemingly implausible mission with a sniper, a bomb expert and a senior citizen tech wiz.

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The action sequences are adrenaline pumping and shot spectacularly. The introduction to Tiger as he fights off a pack of wolves is one of the best we’ve seen. Katrina is also not found lacking in the action department – the supermarket scene and the one in the city council merit admiration. The second half is one long action sequence of very little consequence with a fair bit of jingoism thrown into the mix to keep the audience hooked and hooting. The supporting cast is weak and an afterthought. This is a Salman Khan vehicle and each scene pays off in truckloads. The scene where he keeps “Highly Toxic Chemical Gas” at bay by simply covering his nose and mouth with his tshirt has the audience in raptures also serving quite well to allow salman to go bare chested – an act that he has perfected into art by now. Chuck Norris and Stalone’s Rambo got nothing on Tiger!

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The plot which opens solidly becomes muddled with the introduction of Baghdadi- the ISC’s number 2 and the duplicitous American angle. Delafrooz manages to wrangle it back somewhat but by the time Tiger is shooting his machine gun the audience barely cares. This is what we came for and we get it in spades. Juvenile dialogues and a hammy Paresh Rawal dampen the pace a little but the action sequence and the set design/location scouting for the destroyed cities of Iraq and Syria are top notch and make the tension in the atmosphere palpable. The background score is effective for most parts but maudlin for the more forced-patriotic moments.

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Seeing a Salman Khan movie in a theatre in Mumbai is truly an experience in itself. The crowd goes wild every time the director choses to frame the very impressive 50 year old in an action sequence that would put many youngsters to shame. Katrina barely gets a reaction and she is gorgeous in every single frame with that half open pout.

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A solid opening sequence and a series of break neck action sequences and a total commitment from Salman make Tiger Zinda Hai worth a watch. Grab your popcorn and get to the nearest screen you can find with the most raucous crowd and go bhai-crazy.

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.

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.

A still from Bareilly Ki Barfi

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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