Meghna Gulzar directs Alia Bhatt in Raazi. Based on a book “Calling Sehemat” by Harinder Sikka the screenplay written by Meghna Gulzar and Bhavani Iyer tells the story of a 20-something Kashmiri girl who is inducted into the covert Indian spy network that was responsible for the defeat of Pakistan in the war of 1971 at the hands of the Indian armed forces.
Alia Bhatt plays Sehemat Khan – the daughter of Hidayat Khan played by Rajit Kapoor. Hidayat is friends with the Pakistan Army Brigadier Syed. Dying of cancer, Hidayat asks his friend to get his youngest son married to his only daughter. Vicky Kaushal plays Iqbal Syed, Sehemat’s betrothed. Sehemat gets married and is embedded in potentially one of the most influential households in the Pakistani army. Once there she starts passing on crucial pieces of information through many secretive channels back to Indian Intelligence Agency, and eventually saving the Indian armed forces from a deadly blow and consequentially causing Pakistan’s defeat in the 1971 war.
Alia Bhatt plays Sehemat with a quiet confidence, she is not a natural spy and she doesn’t play pretend either. What she is though is a brilliant student with and eidetic memory. She learns quickly and masters the spy-craft. Once beyond enemy lines, there is a palpable sense of danger lurking every moment she goes trying to gather intelligence to pass back to India. You see her afraid and remorseful. You see her be resourceful and determined as well. And through it all you see her fall in love with her husband. Vicky Kaushal plays Iqbal with absolute honesty. He never overplays his hand in any scene. There is a surprising restraint to his performance which makes the budding romance seem even more real and even tenderer. It is therefore just as shocking when the climax comes around. The supporting cast is absolutely solid. Rajit Kapoor who plays Hidayat Sehemat’s father, Shishir Sharma who plays Brigadier Syed, Amruta Khanvilkar who plays Munira Syed, Aman Vashisht who plays Nikhil Bakshi and Jaideep Ahlawat who plays Khalid Mir are all exceptional. Soni Razdan, Alia’s real life mother plays her reel life mother Teji!
The story is based off of Harinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehemat, a based on true events tale that Sikka came across while embedded as a journalist during the Kargil war of 1999. The story of Sehemat as recounted by Sikka is fascinating. But what makes this translation on screen such a riveting watch is Meghna Gulzar’s Screenplay and Direction. I first fell in love with Gulzar’s craft with her debut movie Filhaal. A path breaking movie for its time in Bollywood. Gulzar then disappeared until she resurfaced with Talwar a couple of years ago and with Raazi she has established herself as someone to watch out for. Her detailed and believable translation from Sikka’s book to Alia’s portrayal on screen is absolutely thrilling. The spy-thriller genre is almost unheard of in Bollywood and Gulzar faithfully recreates the period and gets the grammar of the movie right. Despite a slightly shaky start once Gulzar reigns in the narrative she doesn’t let it and the audience’s attention slip even for a moment.
The camera work isn’t the best – it comes in too close in most scenes and you lose the atmosphere a little because of it. Cinematographer Jay I Patel however shines in the more panoramic shots. The production and set design are fantastic and the selection of vintage cars a wonderful touch. The music is classic Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, non-intrusive yet very effective. And Dilbaro is a brilliant song.
A triumph in every aspect this is a movie for the ages. Alia continues to astound with the choices she makes in the roles she picks and depicts a maturity that belies her fresh looks. I cannot wait for Meghna to continue to defy expectations and chose varied subject matter and make movies that entertain and educate its audience in equal measure.
Vishal Bhardwaj directs Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan in Second World War based Rangoon. Bhardwaj and Kap00r teaming is always exciting and Bhardwaj extracted perhaps Saif Ali Khan’s best performance in Shakespeare’s Othello adaptation, Omkara. But it is Kangana Ranaut who is the one woman tour de force who carries the movie on her lissom shoulders.
Kangana plays a Bombay based action heroine Miss Julia, the star of Rusi Billimoria’s production house. Saif Ali Khan plays the Howard Hughes inspired Rusi Billimoria. Similar to the starlets of the west who perform for the soldiers fighting at the front, Miss Julia is whisked off to the Rangoon border to boost the morale of the soldiers at the request of the hindi-shayari spewing Major General Harding. Sergeant Nawab Mallik is entrusted with Miss Julia’s safety on the journey to Rangoon. Shahid Kapur plays the sergeant who in the stunning opening sequence was captured by the Japanese forces and held as a POW.
What follows from there on is a weak story line which is compensated to a fair extent by Kangana’s brilliant acting, fantastic camera work and surreal virgin landscapes. There are parts where the CGI work shows, but in the rest of the scenes it is seamless. The songs are hummable and the performances on the songs elevate it several notches. In particular Bloody Hell, Tippa and Mere Piya Gaye England are fantastically crafted. Overall the production value and the attention to detail is commendable.
Kangana is fantastic! She mixes a femme fatale like beauty with a vulnerability that demonstrates the full range of her repertoire. It is her innocent child like demeanour that makes her dancing in front of the Japanese soldiers for dear life believable and endearing. Every frame she is in, she fills it up with light and life. Her interaction with the japanese soldier they are holding as captive is one of the absolute highlights of the movie, remniscent of her interaction with Taka in Queen. Shahid Kapur is restrained and able in the supporting role to Kangana. Saif Ali Khan’s performance grows on you as you realise the kind of control he wields on Kangana and how subtly he plays it. Richard McCabe who plays Major General Harding hams it up to the nines and begins to grate on you after a while.
While Vishal Bhardwaj does a fine job of recreating a bygone era and extracting the best from his actors, eventually it is the script that lags and slows up proceedings. The editing does the movie no favours either and as the end result the movie suffers. The INA sub-plot and the eventual climax seem more like an afterthought than the driving force.
Go for the visuals and for Kangana’s mesmerizing turn as Miss Julia. When the history of Bollywood is written, Kangana will be touted in the same vein as Madhuri Dixits and Madhubalas, not only gorgeous but immensely talented and capable of carrying an entire movie on their own. Mildly entertaining overall this one is a must watch only for Kangana and the beautiful landscapes.
Abhishek Kapoor directs Katrina Kaif, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Tabu in Fitoor, a story adapted by Supratik Sen from Charles Dickens’ The Great Expectations. Kapoor last adapted the Chetan Bhagat’s three mistakes of my life into the brilliant Kai Po Che and given what he milked out of a less than stellar source material the expectations would have been sky high given Dickens’ rich and fertile literary ground that Kapoor had to play with. Does Kapoor and team meet the great expectations or do they drift aimlessly into the abyss like an untethered kite? Read on to find out more.
Kapoor and Sen have stayed quiet true to the original, Aditya Roy Kapoor is Noor or Dickens’ Pip, Katrina is Firdaus, Estella in the original and Tabu is Hazrat Begum the eccentric Mrs. Haversham . Besides these three there are a lot of other characters from Dickens’ Novel that find themselves adapted into the Indian context in Fitoor.
When we first meet Noor and Firdaus we see a beautiful and ethereal Firdaus and an awestruck and an inadequate feeling Noor. Begum Hazrat sees the first inkling of puppy love in Noor’s eyes and seems to encourage it by asking him to come to the Mansion more often but then following the violence in the valley which kills Noor’s sister the Begum sends Firdaus away to London to study leaving Noor longing for her. Years later Noor a budding artist is given a scholarship from a mysterious benefactor who he assumes is the Begum herself. Moving to Delhi Noor meets Firdaus and confesses his love which she rejects as she is set to be engaged to Bilal. This is the biggest departure from The Great Expectations because where in the novel we clearly see that Estella is cold and unloving, Firdaus is seemingly struggling to decide between Noor and Bilal. This is also where the story wobbles because it becomes about this love story more than the over-arching theme of growth of Pip/Noor.
Aditya Roy Kapoor who caused me incessant grief as the drunken mess in Yeh Jawani hai Deewani surprises with a restrained performance. He has intensity in his quiet demeanor that is perfect for this performance. Katrina Kaif as Firdaus is beautiful but fails to bring a sense of haughtiness that is essential for the character of Estella. Without the cool aloofness the climactic realization of love does not carry the same weight that it would have. Tabu as Begum Hazrat is exceptional. There is a sense of discomfort that you feel when you see her approach young Noor, there is a tragic beauty in her when you see her lie on her chaise smoking a hukka. Her demeanor and actions at the beginning of the story make sense when you are given the back story to her failed attempt at love. Hers is the best written character amongst the main three. Her penchant for wearing ostentatious jewelry only makes sense when you find out her back story.
It is rare that one would complain that a Bollywood movie needs to be longer. But that is exactly what was needed; at least another 30 minutes and the second half could have carried more weight than just stumbling to a satisfactory conclusion. As in the novel the guilt of Mrs. Haversham at manipulating Pip and Estella, the connections between Pip’s benefactor, Estella’s biological parents and Mrs. Haversham’s Fiancé who jilted her and how all of this ties back to Pip and the eventual reconciliation between Pip and Estella would have made for a more compelling second half than Kapoor and Sen manage with Fitoor. But it is not to be and we must judge Fitoor for what it is and in that it is a solid attempt at adapting a one of the most influential literary works which Kapoor manages to with a justifiable degree of success. The cinematography is gorgeous and the production value of the highest kind when it comes to Noor’s works of art. Buoyed by strong performances from Aditya Roy Kapoor and Tabu it is a very competent film that leaves you wanting more. While it lacks the intensity of Haider a Shakespearean adaptation also set in Kashmir Fitoor is not lacking in allegories. Maybe I read too much into the movie but I could definitely see an Indo-Pak-Kashmir metaphor happening and it is commendable that Indian directors are aiming for a subtext no matter if the end result is sub-par at least they are trying.
Rohit Shetty directs Ajay Devgn and Kareena Kapoor Khan in Singham Returns would be an overstatement as he doesn’t do much directing but instead decides which corny dialogue to be delivered in the worst possible way by which of his comically stereotyped characters along with which of India’s social woes as the background.
Not having seen the 2011 blockbuster Singham, but having heard rave reviews about the same and also having been recently enjoyed the guilt trip that was Kick I decided to give this one a try. Very few movies have the ability to make me feel physically sick and Singham Returns manages to do just that. The only actor not hamming it is Anupam Kher who decides very early on that this is too messy even for him to be a part of and decides to off himself.
Amol Gupte who is quickly losing all credibility as an actor (and a director) plays a nirmal-baba like character who needs a few laxatives thrown in with his mugs of beer because he seems severely constipated while trying to deliver lines that give Anu Malik’s shayaris a run for its money in terms of how badly constructed they are. Zakir Hussain as Prakash Rao is ridiculously caricatured politician who verbalizes every thought that crosses the peas in his head that he calls brain. Ashwini Kalsekar as the Barkha Dutt wannabe journo with a penchant for being as loud and intolerable as Arnab Goswami has more of a role to play in the movie than Kareena Kapoor Khan but is in equal parts annoying. Speaking of Kareena Kapoor Khan the superstar who can only be afforded by masala blockbusters; she has played the same annoying character in numerous other outings and the results are entirely banal. KKK (if your brain grey matter is the racial minority then Kareena Kapoor Khan is the violent assault on it) has lost the size zero look, the pout and all semblance of being a perfect bimbo which is what got her so far – she literally has nothing going for her here – might as well retire to the Pataudi Palace.
Ajay Devgn shows signs of being a tolerable actor when he looks all grim and speaks minimally but then loses all his marbles the minute he has to do his signature “aata maazi satakli” and other moves. He is ridiculous. Mahesh Manjarekar does the impossible – in this ham-fest he rises above and refuses to ham and comes off looking as the better actor amongst all. The only redemption to be found is towards the end where Dayanand Shetty AKA Daya-the-darwaza-todoing-expert is asked to break the doors down – I’ll admit I clapped.
Rohit Shetty tries to make a bullet point presentation of all of India’s woes and all of the current affairs news blimps :
Corruption in the political system
Introduction of fresh blood in politics inspired by a saintly figure hell-bent on fixing points 1 & 3
The one news item he misses out on is that of sexual assault – but he achieves that by assaulting the audiences’ intelligence in the most horrific of ways.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that there is absolutely no reason why you should want to go watch this movie. There is nothing to be gained by subjecting yourselves to such an unevolved attempt at movie making. If you need alternative ways to kill time consider these : watch kick instead, watch CID on TV Daya breaks more doors there, Knit – winter’s coming or at least it feels so here.
First time director Ritesh Batra directs Irrfan Khan and new comer Nimrat Kaur in The Lunchbox. Lunchbox has been garnering rave reviews all around the festival circuits and flooring the critics across the board. It also created quite a furor when Lunchbox which was considered a frontrunner in the race to be India’s official entry to the Oscar was denied the chance and it was handed over to a little known Gujarati movie. Having seen the trailer and how impressed I was with the trailer I was about ready to join the voices of righteous indignation even before the movie began expecting to see a gem.
The Lunchbox is the story of Saajan Fernandez (such an interesting name which is not explored in the movie) played by the multi-faceted Irrfan Khan who is nearing the end of his 35-year long service at a government office. It is the story of the ever suffering Ila played by new comer Nimrat Kaur who shuttles between getting her daughter ready to getting the dabba ready for the courier to pick it up to be delivered to her husband. The story is about how these two ordinary individuals through curious circumstances come to establish a relationship established over hand written notes exchanged via the titular Lunchbox.
The story is also that of Shaikh played by the irrepressible Nawazuddin Siddiqui brought in to replace the retiring Fernandez and that of Mrs. Deshpande as voiced by the immediately recognizable Bharati Achrekar (Mrs. Radhika Wagle) the friendly neighborhood aunty who is always at hand to provide advice or a bottle of masala to spice up Ila’s marriage.
There are a lot of good intentions and a well-meaning story and a lot of subtle nuances that Batra tries to infuse in this slow moving romance story but they were lost on me and my viewing company because of the insistence on staying away from the clichés that they ended up being indie-movie clichés of the worst sorts. Take for instance the communication between Ila and Mrs. Deshpande which happens without the audience even once seeing Mrs. Deshpande. It is in improbable that with the husband in the living room Ila would shout on top of her voice to communicate to MRs Deshpande who lives on a floor above hers and trying to muffle the sound by a running tap so that the husband doesn’t over hear the conversation. A more realistic and naturalistic portrayal would’ve been to have Mrs. Deshpande’s kitchen window be a few feet away from that of Ila’s so that the ladies could gossip and still be able to pass the jars of Masala across – a reality in the claustrophobic metropolis that is the financial capital of the country.
The actors are all very competent and no one gives any single reason to complain about. The intensity is in Irrfan’s eyes and so is the vulnerability. Nimrat Kaur puts in a believable performance with understated presence that never once seems out of place in any scenario. Nawazuddin is a man with the midas touch – every role that he takes on has his distinguishable stamp, even here as the earnest Shaikh he does a wonderful job of being equal parts endearing and equal part annoying. I wish he was given a meatier role to flesh out his interactions with Irrfan.
Problems I had with the movie have to do with the camera work and how the finished product appears. The trailer had a very clean fresh and crisp vibe, the visuals had a young energy to it even though they were filmed in government offices with cabinets burdened under thousands of files and tracking shots of the dabbawalas through Mumbai locals. The scenes in the movie look tired and washed out as if they are lacking in energy of any type. The colors of the city are washed out to be a monochromatic beige palette. The pacing of the movie is far too slow to allow for the audience to feel a sense of urgency of the relationship based on notes exchanged via a incorrectly addressed tiffin. And when the climax comes about it is so anti-climactic with the will they won’t they end that I wish I was watching Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Mili where the fate of Jaya Bachchan is left to the audience to decide.
Having seen this movie I don’t think I can justifiably be indignant or angry about it not being sent in as India’s official selection to the Oscars for foreign Language feature film category. I am angrier that this movie is getting so much more mileage than Ship of Theseus which was a far better movie than this one and the one movie which I’d be proud to have represent India at the Academy Awards.
If you want to watch what the hype is about, go give this movie a watch – there is nothing particularly bad about this movie and it could even be mildly entertaining if you are luckier than I was when it came to a juvenile audience.