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.

Spotlight – A Review

Todd McCarthy directs Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci in Spotlight a story based on true events that led to the 2002 Boston Globe expose on systematic child abuse in church that caused a global uproar and eventually a decade later got Pope Francis to publicly apologize on behalf of the catholic church.

Spotlight is the special team of investigative journalists who work in isolation from the rest of the paper following up and priming a story before it is ready for an editorial publication. Here the team consists of Ruffalo’s Mike, McAdams’ Sasha and D’Arcy’s Matt who all report to Keaton’s Robbie. While working on a story on PD numbers they are asked by Live Schreiber’s Marty Baron the new editor of Boston Globe to follow up on a story that another reporter from Boston Globe wrote a small column on about a Boston priest who molested boys across 6 parishes over 20 years and a lawyer Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci claims he can prove that the Cardinal of the Boston Archdiocese knew about it and turned a blind eye.

From here on it opens a veritable Pandora’s Box as more victims and more abusive clergy come to the notice of the spotlight team. Through one of the victims they are put in contact with a former priest who used to work at a treatment facility where these abusive priests were sent when they were accused of such wrong doings. By his estimate he thinks that as many as 8% of all priests exhibit such abusive behavior and when cross referencing records of priests sent on sick leave of other similar euphemistic terms they uncover 87 priests who may have abused children while the Cardinal looked the other way.

For a story so important they couldn’t have chosen better actors. Ruffalo, D’Arcy and Keaton are great. Rachel McAdams makes a brilliant comeback and shows what she is capable of. Liev Schreiber underplays the editor role with a nuanced performance, there are no histrionics or loud outburst but a methodical dedication to the job at hand. The only complaint I have is with Ruffalo – while in most part earnest and believable the thing he does with his mouth when he talks in a manner that is supposed to seem like a Bostonian accent is weird. He sounds like that annoying person at the table who always speaks with his mouth full.

The editing and pacing of the movie is where this goes a bit haywire. There are no crescendos, no high points in the movie – it mostly maintains the same pace throughout and feels overlong. The story keeps shifting focus from the spotlight team writing the story, Tucci fighting the case, other auxiliary characters who appear to be shady but aren’t really bad eventually and this whole plot about Keaton pondering over why the Boston globe didn’t cover the news 20 years ago seems to allude to some complicity on the part of John Slattery which doesn’t go anywhere. There are many amazing support characters like Phil Saviano the leader of the victims organization, Patrick the junkie father of one who is garabedian’s client who agrees to be interviewed by Ruffalo, Billy Cudrup as the sleazy lawyer with a conscience Eric Macleish but they unfortunately are not the focus of the story and the procedural investigation is what takes up more of the story’s time and it is eventually what hurts the narrative.

Spotlight is a very important story that needed to be told. The acting is not bad and neither is the direction but there is something missing that makes me question whether this is really the best film of the year. Certainly one of the most important stories of our time and within a confused narrative and directionless acting there are little gems of insight like when the former priest who studied this phenomenon in abusive priests says that the vow of celibacy is one of the primary reasons for this behavior. Or when Matt played by D’Arcy goes and drops a stack of newspapers when the story breaks on the front porch of another abusive priest who lives in his neighborhood. Or how McAdam’s devout catholic grandmother asks for water half way into reading the story. Or when on the sunday when the story breaks and Robbie and Mike come to the newspaper office and there are no picketer or how the usual newspaper phone lines are not ringing but the Spotlight lines for the victims is ringing off-the-hook. It is moments like these that lift the story and make it worthwhile.

Highway – A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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