Simran – A Review

Image result for simran posterHansal Mehta directs Kangana Ranaut in Simran, a story inspired by the real-life bombshell bandit Sandeep Kaur. While Sandeep was a well-educated and financially independent nurse, Praful Patel played by Kangana is a young divorcee working in a menial, dead end job trying to clobber together enough money to put in a deposit for a house of her own so that she can escape the daily barbs of her father.

 

If the story sounds sad and depressing, let me assure you it is anything but that. Kangana is a one woman tour de force. Right from the first time we are introduced to her, on her lunch break she deftly evades the overtures of her ex-boyfriend and present-boss, she lights up the screen with her self-assured yet unassuming presence. On a bachelorette trip to Las Vegas, Praful is introduced to the temptations of gambling and this is where things from good to scary really quickly. To right the wrong Praful goes down a dangerous path. Kangana Ranaut is fantastic in every single frame, you feel joy in her giddy goofy behaviour and she makes you feel her anguish when her father is lobbing insults at her and everything she has worked for seems to slip away from her grasps. But there is an inherent lightness to her being that no matter how dire the situation she breathes levity into it and you know that things will be ok. This is her best following the success of Queen where she turned the acting game on its head and claimed the mantle.

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The supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired. The goons Bugs and Mr. Hipster Beard are neither terrifying nor believable. The love interest played by Sohum Shah sucks the life out of the scene each time he is on. He is laden with the most absurd lines and insists on speaking in chaste hindi in spite of him being from Rajkot, Gujarat. His character is so poorly written that if you subtract him from the story it wouldn’t change one bit – and that is perhaps what the director should have done. Praful’s Father is very one dimensional. He is given fantastic dialogue, but with nothing to take the edge off of his shouting, and insults he is rendered unlikeable towards the end there is one scene where is fussing over Praful and making her eat in one moment and the next moment he is at her throat – this kind of balance would have really made the story stronger. The actress who play Praful’s mother is a small saving grace to the entire ensemble cast. As is Timothy Ryan Hickernell – the bartender in Las Vegas, who even in a tiny role leaves a lasting impression. Seeing how he has been picked to play the slain journalist Danielle Pearl in his forthcoming Omertta, Hansal Mehta seems to agree.

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The music by Sachin-Jigar is fantastic and stays with you long after. Pinjara and Single Rehne de are instantly hummable and Lagdi hai Thai is appropriately festive. the camera work by Anuj Dhawan is spectacular – especially in the Las Vegas scenes. To me this is a movie about nuances, the small dialect peculiarities, the very modest living of the Patel family, the realism of it all. The editing seems choppy in places, especially where you dont see Bugs hitting Praful but she seems to have fallen on the floor and is later shown with scrapped knees.  The revenge plot towards the end seems unnecessary and almost an after thought. However that is quickly corrected when Praful is eventually led away. The final scene where she comes up with another hare-brained idea of investing in stock and getting rich because “Sue” told her is a brilliant touch.

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Hansal Mehta’s direction and his innate Gujarati sensibilities come to the fore as he crafts and entirely believable narrative involving a Gujarati NRI family. Kangana’s diction is perfect and not a caricature as most portrayals of Gujaratis in Bollywood tend to be. The story by Apurva Asrani is a compelling one but his screenplay needs tightening up. Every scene with Sohum Shah was a disservice to the movie – fortunately there were only a few. The dialogues with the exception of the ones for Sohum Shah are mostly fantastic.  From the cheesy pickup to the tongue in cheek to veiled self-deprecating insults lobbed at herself when her parents are watching the story of the Lipstick Bandit unfold on television, Kangana delivers them with aplomb.

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In the end it is Kangana who carries the entire movie to a satisfying end. The way she immerses herself in this character and her sincerity make you overlook a weak screenplay and a supporting cast that leaves a lot to be desired. Ignore the noise around the controversy as she doesn’t need that to sell her movies – her name alone should now be sufficient enough.

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Watch this for an almost unbelievable but true story. Watch it for Kangana is in top form. Watch it because Kangana renders the Male lead role obsolete when she takes centre stage.

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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.

2014 A year in review

Aren’t you bored of the multitude of all the insipid “It’s been a great year thanks for being a part of it” video montages on Facebook already? Was 2014 really that great a year? Is it really worth looking back with nostalgia? For me, personally, it was a defining year – from getting married to moving to a different country but movie-wise it was one of the most lackluster years in history of the blog lifein70mm). When a Christopher Nolan movie doesn’t automatically make its way to the top of my year end list, then it is telling of what sort of a year it has been! But looking back does have its benefits – it can surprise even the most jaded of individuals of that glimmer of happiness that released early on in the year and still sits in a special place in your heart glowing with tiny but incessant warmth. Thanks for staying with lifein70mm and thanks for letting me know that you like my reviews more than some of the most celebrated critics who write for the leading newspapers. It makes me want to see more, and write more and that is all I can ask of you!

Top 10(ish) of 2014 (in alphabetical order)

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Boyhood: Richard Linklater defies the boundaries of imagination. Just think about the commitment it would be required to shoot each year over 12 years to document the life of a boy and to tell the simplest of stories of growing up, the dysfunctional American family, and the bonds that tie us together. A movie so unique, that it can only be classified as the space that exists between a coming-of-age tale and a documentary. I have loved Linklater Before series and it is two of my favorite writing, I was really looking forward to reviewing Boyhood and even after watching it twice I am unable to pen down my thoughts on it. To say I loved it would be a gross understatement.

Finding Vivian Maier: I love documentaries and the ones that are done well are most often better than fictional stories because you don’t need to imagine that it can happen but marvel that these things did indeed happen. A writer stumbles upon a cache of old photographs from a lot that he bought on a whim at an auction, the photographs are of such high quality and tell such a vivid story of the life in the 60s that the writer is pulled into the intrigue of the artist who took these photographs and he documents his search in this documentary. One of the most beautiful and poignant documentaries I have ever seen and images that will stay with you a lot longer than the duration of the film. Vivian Maier’s rise to posthumous fame is incredible. She even gets a mention in the opening credit of this year’s best comedy on television Selfie alongside Freda Kahlo and her self-portrait.

Gone Girl: Nobody does dirty sick and twisted quite like David Fincher. To take what was essentially airport fiction and to turn it into a catharsis of a marriage is laudable feat. This movie features the best use of voiceover I have ever had the pleasure of watching and when done in the breathy voice of the enchanting Rosamund Pike it takes creepy to a whole new level. An enormously enjoyable and infinitely rewatchable movie with one of the best soundtrack this year.

Haider: Vishal Bharadwaj, Shahid Kapur and Shakespeare’s Hamlet are a potent combination. Setting the movie in Kashmir should have been a staggering achievement in storytelling, but by wavering on taking a stand, Bharadwaj ends up with a technically beautiful and intensely acted movie which stumbles a little with its plot. This could have easily ended up as a disappointment for me had it not been for Shahid Kapur and Tabu. I accord this movie half a spot on the top 10 to be shared with a movie down the list.

Kick: I know there will be many of you who will be shaking your head in dismay at the inclusion of this movie in this list. But this was the only 100 Cr movies this year that had any modicum of entertainment value. It takes the histrionics of Salman to make nonsensical an art form. With the gorgeous Jacqueline Fernandez by his side the king khan takes us on an adrenaline rush that was unmatched this year.

Mardaani : I dislike Rani Mukherjee with a passion that is only matched by my dislike of Aamir Khan but in Pradeep Sirkar’s able hands Rani turns in what is one of the best performances of her life. A skillfully crafter thriller with a very unusual and non-stereotypical antagonist, a movie with a message which it delivers masterfully without hammering it on your head; this was the perfect example of a movie which India needs. If ever there was a need for sequels then this is a movie that richly deserves it.

Nightcrawler: The Renaissance of Jake Gyllenhaal continues unabated. After last year’s top-10 lister Prisoners Gyllenhaal returns in this dark comedy about a man with a drive to succeed and an absolute lack of moral inhibitions. Taking the world of 24-hr breaking news cycle and making a social commentary on what drives the people who blur the lines of journalistic ethics to feed the public greed for sensationalized news or perhaps even the paparazzi fueled celeb-obsessed culture of ours.

Pride: A quiet and unassuming British movie about the coming together of two opposing factions of the society to achieve a common goal. With the playbill stacked with the who’s who of the British cinema this is a complete treat to watch. Sensitively handling the subject of labor strike and the rise of the gay rights movement and the eventual pride parade, this movie has many high points and many standout stars. This reminded me of the underappreciated The Boat that Rocked/Pirate Radio or maybe that was just because Bill Nighy was in both and I love Bill Nighy!

Queen: I know at the outset I said the list was in alphabetical order just so that I don’t have to rank all the movies. But if I were to rank them I am more than certain that Queen would be my 2014 topper. I have not seen a more honest attempt at story telling than this story of a simple girl from Rajauri who gets dumped just before her wedding day and decides to go on her honeymoon by herself, on a  journey of discovery and revelations which up to this point were the tightly held domain of male dominated road-trip movies. Kangana Ranaut is spectacular as Rani – the eponymous Queen and with Amit Trivedi’s brilliant music this movie is an instant classic. I cannot wait for what Vikas Bahl has to offer next and I hope he continue to be this honest about his story telling, because the results are fantastic.

The Imitation Game: as mentioned earlier it was hard to choose between Haider and this one as both movies had their merits (stand out performances by the leads) and its pitfalls. But when a story this important is being told, it almost doesn’t matter if there are a few minor glitches. Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing is incredible and does well to show the vulnerable side of his (and Turing’s) genius. In that final scene towards the end after undergoing chemical castration, Cumberbatch’s performance breaks my heart and you feel for Turing who suffered such indignation at the hands of the society he gave so much to.

X-Men : Days of Future Past:  Of all the multi-super hero universes out there ( the avengers, the justice league and the X-men) the X-men feel the most organic, they don’t feel like a money grab where you throw a wide variety of superheroes together in an all-you-can-eat style buffet. With the foundation that was laid with a very strong X-men First Class the return of Bryan Singer at the helm righted the wrong of X-men: The Last Stand by essentially rewriting the timeline and setting it up for future adventures. Having perhaps the best assemblage of young Hollywood talent in form of McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Hoult I have tremendous faith that the Superhero franchise is far from dead. Bring on the apocalypse I cannot wait!

The Bottom 3 (In alphabetical order)

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Bang Bang: to take two of the most beautiful human beings ever created and to turn them into absolutely unwatchable crap is the claim to fame for Bang Bang. An official adaptation of Knight and Day, this vapid movie should have never been made. Its stupidity was a new low for Bollywood.

Singham Returns: I stayed away from Singham despite people claiming how it was a good-masala-movie with very good acting. But being married to a Kareena-aficionado has its pitfalls. After a surprisingly good Kick my faith in the ability of 100cr movie to be bearable was renewed. But it was dealt a deathly blow with this loud brash and crass attempt at storytelling.  Rohit Shetty is the Michael Bay of Bollywood and I am staying as far away from his exploding cars as possible.

The Amazing Spider-man 2: I loved Marc Webb’s directorial debut 500 days of summer and I loved the Andrew Garfield as the amazing Spiderman. If you bring these two together and throw in Emma Stone I am bound to be excited. But alas that excitement was misplaced and I no longer look forward to any more spidey adventures.

The biggest Disappointment of 2014 was hands down Interstellar. It is not that Interstellar was a particularly bad movie; it’s just that I have come to expect a certain level of intelligence from Nolan and the choice of Matthew McConaughey thoroughly baffled me. While the science in the movie was fascinating and accessible at the same time, the stoner drawl of McConaughey and Hans Zimmer’s obnoxious soundtrack were entirely off-putting.  Hopefully, this is only law of averages and Nolan can get back to doing what he does best this will just be something he will look back and laugh while scratching his head thinking what the hell was I smoking when I offered this role to McCoughMyName.

There you have it! 2014 all wrapped up with a bow on top. Here’s to 2015 and a wonderful year at the movies. Do write to me and let me know what you think of my assessment of the year 2014 at the movies, if you agree or disagree or have a suggestion for me to watch. I will be back very early on in 2015 with a review of a much-anticipated Birdman and many more exciting movies to come. Happy New Year!

Bang Bang – A Review

Siddharth Anand directs Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif in Bang Bang the official remake of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz starrer Knight and Day. Bang Bang also serves as a reminder that two phenomenally beautiful people in stunning locations do not an interesting movie make.

Siddharth Anand director of such cinematic gems as Ta Ra Rum Pum and Salam Namaste proves yet again that he is the master of the art of insipidity. The movie jerk starts with a scene straight out of Karma where Dr Michael Dang is captured and put in a jail cell and a righteous police inspector comes in and lands a tight one on the left cheek. I almost expected Danny Denzogpa to mouth “is thappad ki goonj ki goonj…”

Katrina (who must really have killed off her stylist’s cat for her to hate her so much) plays Harleen Sahani a Bank receptionist who has the ability to take and transfer calls on a retro phone, who sits and types while staring at a screensaver of Santorini and who either talks to herself or to a grandmother who has no sense of personal space. She gets swept away by international criminal Rajveer played by the brand ambassador for Mustard Oil Hrithik Roshan.

Harleen and Rajveer are under attack from goons of Danny and Javed Jaffery and the agents of ISS officers Pawan Malhotra and Vikram Gokhale. Where do I even begin with ISS – they are supposed to be India’s CIA/MI6 and they can’t even issue legitimate looking badges. And Sujoy Ghosh, who scripted Kahaani – in my opinion India’s best thriller, makes the most obvious of blunders. The whole plot and premise of the extradition treaty is willy nilly forgotten and everyone just goes about shooting everyone while Katrina sleeps.

Of the actors there is really no saving grace for any of them. Katrina who usually carries off the ditzy blonde roles off with élan is unbearable and thanks to her stylist is almost unbearable to look at as well except in a few shots in meherbaan. Hrithik with his charm offensive criminal with a heart of gold isn’t half bad but is saddled with a script that has him playing more kanaiya than krrish. Pawan Malhotra tries to pull a Nawazuddin Siddiqui and end s up looking more like ACP pradyuman.  Deepti Naval proves that the bills won’t pay themselves and that even legends like her have to play the grieving mother. Danny Denzogpa and Javed Jaffery play the bad guys from what appears to be a bad parody of every bad guy ever depicted in Bollywood.

Plotholes aside it would have at least been bearable if there was enough adrenaline pumping action to keep one entertained. There is so much talking going on and most of it courtesy Katrina Kaif and her confusion at being caught up in all this mess that I did pray that Hrithik has more of those tranquilizer shots to sedate her. And whatever little action there is is ruined by the overpowering music which can only be described as the illegitimate child of Hans Zimmer’s score for the dark knight and Martin Garrix electronic dance music. Vishal and Shekhar who are able to turn in at least one memorable track per outing seem to struggle massively with an entirely forgettable soundtrack.  The camera work is also shoddy with the action sequences being shot in a way that you don’t see any real action being captured and some of the tracking shots actually lacking in focus which results in hazy pan shots. The big reveal? its actually quite obvious 20 minutes into the movie and you need to be as dimwitted as Harleen to have to sit through the entire movie to be amazed by it. It is trademark Sujoy Ghosh if you know what I mean.

As if it weren’t enough that we are stuck with uninspired writing, directing and acting that we are given the wonderful gift of blatant product placement. I counted 10 – Johnson Tiles, Hokey Pokey, Samsung, Philips, Pizza Hut, Ray Ban, The Q Shop, Volvo, Mountain Dew & Macroman.

The intensity of Bang Bang’s stupidity is only matched by the vigorousness of its insipidity. Stay as far away from this movie as possible and watch any old Tom Cruise movie instead if action is what you crave and don’t mind a bit of plot thrown in for good measure.