Rustom – A Review

Dharmesh Suresh Desai directs Akshay Kumar, Ileana D’Cruz and Esha Gupta in the court procedural, thriller drama Rustom. The story inspired by the infamous Nanavati case that saw the end of the jury system in India.

 

The story starts with Indian Naval Commander Rustom Pavri who returns home 2 weeks earlier than expected, only to find his wife not home and letters from her lover in their cupboard. The following day when she returns he leaves and confronts notorious playboy Vikram Makhija and kills him with 3 bullet wounds. Rustom surrenders to police and the story takes off. Pitting the two prominent communities of Bombay, the Sindhis and the Parsis against one another. A tabloid gets the scoop on the case and starts to influence the national opinion in favour of Rustom – the decorated officer and a soldier who did the right thing but the wrong way. We are reminded of this once again when a screeching housemaid of Rustom asks the judge what he would do if he found his wife was sleeping with the prosecuting lawyer. The movie set in the 50s seems to have been made with the same ethos, the court room drama is nothing more than a farce with the Judge played by Anang Desai – Babuji of the popular sitcom Khichdi, more in character as the kudkud kumar. Sachin Khedekar an accomplished Marathi actor playing the prosecuting lawyer Khangani is more slapstick than slick prosecutor. Pavan Malhotra who plays investigating officer Vincent Lobo has two very peculiar ticks, he taps his pens 3-4 times each time he wants to write and his ears fan out like Dumbo each time he expresses surprise.

Ileana D’cruz is beautiful but has very little to do in the movie other than shed massive tears from those beautiful doe-y eyes. She plays the simpering fragile wife with aplomb but her lack of conflict does question the basic premise of the movie. Arjan Bajwa playing Vikram Makhija is the bond-esque villain albeit in a 60s Prem Chopra avatar.  Esha Gupta was the clear standout for me. Not for her acting abilities – I seriously doubt she has any, but for her styling and make up. She brings the glamour to the 50s era Vamp that Nadira would be proud of. The final twist where a phone recording is introduced her perfectly detached reactions and eye rolls are the highlights of the file for me so silent-movie vamp like that I was enthralled. Akshay Kumar brings a stoic presence to the film that is perfectly attuned to his upright naval officer character. The only one who doesn’t go the slapstick way with the court proceedings, underplaying each line he is given and thus achieving the desired result.

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Why is it that every time a period movie is made in India they rely on oversaturated and unnatural colors of the sky. The green screen/CGI work to recreate the Bombay of a bygone era is partly successful and fails miserably in places. The music is a hindrance and gets in the way of storytelling with three songs that have no rhyme nor reason for their stake at the screen time. I can understand wanting songs to build a buzz pre-release but release them as music videos rather than forcing them into the narrative where they do not belong and you are left with an otherwise believable Akshay Kumar looking like the 90s fool that he was when he romanced the likes of Shilpa Shetty and Raveena Tandon.  The story is intriguing and the final twist, a work of fiction (as opposed to the inspiration from the Nanavati case) is interesting enough.

With uneven acting and cringe worthy courtroom scenes this is by no means a perfect movie. But with Akshay Kumar’s understated acting, an interesting story based on true events and overall production value where special care is given to recreating the era with Ileana’s Parsi embroidery sari and Esha Gupta’s gloriously vampy styling this movie entertains more than it irritates.

Mad Max : Fury Road – A Review

George miller directs Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road. Reinventing the series he first directed over 30 years ago with Mel Gibson as the titular Max Rokatansky, Miller turns up the adrenaline to maximum as Hardy and Theron battle for their lives and their belief in this post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Fury Road is less about Max and more about Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and her escape from the clutches of the evil Immortan Joe who lords over Citadel, a Cliffside community (for the lack of better words). Max who we are introduced to in the opening scene gives us the necessary backstory to those new to the series (like me) and you are led on a crazy chase across what appears to be a cross between the Saharan desert and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He is captured and brought to citadel where is used as a blood bank for the pale skinned war-boys, Immortan Joe’s army. Here we are introduced to Nicholas Hoult as Nux who is so wrapped up in the mythology as concocted by Immortan Joe that he believes that he is destined for paradise when he crosses the gates of Valhalla when he martyrs himself for Joe. Other notable mentions from the cast include Rosie Hutington Whiteley and Riley Keough whose introduction is quite memorable to say the least. I could elaborate on who they are and what part they play in the story but that would be giving away way too much. Suffice to say that they are the key to the whole story.

This movie is intensely insane – in a good way. For instance when Immortan Joe commandeers his army to go on a chase after Furiosa they do so armed with a marching band of sort! But since this is mad max this is no ordinary marching band – there are 4 tribal drummers and a masked hanging flame-throwing guitarist. The effect is simultaneously ridiculous and awesome. Most apocalyptic movies tend to drain the color out of the scenery to imply the inhospitable conditions but Miller and DoP John Seale turn each frame of the vast wasteland into a work of art. The high contrast high octane morning chase sequences are a burnished orange and the night sequences an eerie blue. The shots of Theron and Hardy in close up reveal not only the hardship that life in this hellish-earth entails but also reflects the inner light that burns bright in these two brave souls. Several wide-panning shots had me gasp involuntarily marveling at their stark beauty. Every frame is memorable and the visuals are second to none.

The production design and the design of the vehicles is a work of mad genius. The makeup and costume is one of the most impactful, especially the work that must have gone into making Hugh Keays-Byrne into Immortan Joe, the few times his visage is visible straight on it has such an impact that the feeling is a mix of awe and disgust. The practical effects that went into all the action sequences are mind blowing and can walk circles around any of the CGI Bayhem or any from the avenger’s multiverse.

While this is an out and out adrenaline fest this movie has an underlying structural narrative which takes on themes varying from cult-worship to feminism. This is a movie that gave me a buzz that I can last recall having felt in the opening sequences of TDKR and Gravity but both those buzzes faded out after the opening sequences were over, here the opening sequence as crazy as it is , is tame as compared to what comes later on. This may not be the movie for everyone but anyone willing to watch or unsure whether to see it or not make sure you rush to the biggest screen there is to soak in the madness. Consider me a convert! I cannot wait for what Max encounters next.

Hawaa Hawaai – A Review

Amole Gupte directs his son Partho and Saqib Saleem in Hawaa Hawaai. Taking on the themes of rural poverty, child labor and the growing socio-economic divide in the country the movie is ambitious to say the least. But it is this ambition which is the undoing of what could potentially have been a wonderful movie.

Gupte makes many a directorial choices which had me cringing at the cheesiness or laughing out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of certain situations. After a visually stunning opening sequence underscored by a “roshesh-like” song  we are jarringly moved from the idyllic rural surroundings to the claustrophobic environs of the dharavi slums. This move is perhaps one of the very few good decisions Gupte makes where he does not rely on a paint-by-numbers narrative and leaves the symbolisms to be deciphered by the audience.

Once in Mumbai it all goes belly up. Arjun Harishchandra Waghmare played ably by Gupte’s son Partho is working as a waiter cum cleaner at a tea vendor’s stall. After a grueling first day when he asks permission to leave, the vendor asks him to wait around because the business is about to pick up. In comes Lucky Bhargav skating coach extraordinaire played by the Over the Top Saqib Saleem. Partho is immediately mesmerized by a pair of inline skates. The desire to own and ride a pair of skates is immediate and not entirely believable – had they showed a few days pass by with Arjun seeing the kids perform all sorts of stunts it would have made more sense – but sadly Gupte or his editors decided that was way too much time to spend on developing the central theme of the movie.

Arjun and his gang of friends (again no time spent in establishing how they came to know each other and how they formed such a bond) use their considerable talents to come up with a pair of skates to realize Arjun’s dreams. What follows is a series of incoherent rants between Lucky and his great American Keeda brother about how passion means more than earning a decent livelihood (sermons delivered from the balcony of a sea-facing apartment).  Also there is this off-tangent plot about a drunken rich kid running over lucky while he tried to protect his skating students and how he lets the kid go because his sister is earnest upon her return from outside the country and most importantly HOT. From here on it follows a fairly predictable plot of championing the underdog. All the choices Gupte makes story-wise do not feel original with a hint of Iqbal (a brilliant movie) or bhaag milkha bhaag (a forgettable affair)

In all this disappointment there are two stand outs for me – Neha Joshi who plays Arjun’s mother is brilliant and feels very real with her demeanor and carefully understated portrayal and Anuj Sachdeva who while minimal in his presence on screen makes an impact without needing to shout from the rooftops.

The film tries to force moral issues down your throat with a sequence that juxtaposes shots of kids rummaging through garbage to kids taking rickshaws to school, kids selling gajaras at signals to kids performing science experiments in school. It tries to highlight the plight of the farmers but seems dishonest in doing so. I had huge hopes in terms of the sensitivity and maturity in portrayal of children’s issues from the man behind Taare Zameen Par but here nothing seems to be further away.