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.

TE3N – A Review

Ribhu Dasgupta directs Amitabh Bachchan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vidya Balan in the mystery thriller Te3n. With talent like this and the executive producer stewardship of Sujoy Ghosh who in my opinion directed Bollywood’s best thriller Kahaani, this had me excited.

 

The opening sequence had me sit up and take notice. What the hell was going on, Amitabh choking on a garbage bag, Siddiqui driving past and crashing – this was going to be dark and twisted and I was going to love it. Sadly things start to fizzle out after the initial sizzle with only an occasional sputter of genuine surprise.

The story follows Amitabh’s John who is pursuing the course of justice for his dead granddaughter who was kidnapped 8 years ago. He visits the police station every day to find out of there has been any progress made on the case. With no new leads Vidya Balan sends him away compassionately each day, urging him to find closure and spend time with his beautiful wife. Cue the wife – a nag of the first order. You can understand why John would want to seek solace in the police station each day. John also reaches out to Father Martin who used to be inspector Martin played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui. We don’t really get an insight into why he switches the uniform. Not unlike Irrfan Khan who is a fine actor who seems to be turning into  a victim of his own hype I am beginning to tire of Siddiqui’s overly self-assured acting. This performance is a phone-in and especially the second half when he and Vidya deliver dialogue like they are camera blocking and rehearsing scenes without any real conviction.

When it comes to mysteries and thrillers, coincidence is the crutch of the lazy and Dasgupta and screen writers Bijesh Jayrajan and Suresh Nair rely too much on coincidence. The first one when Amitabh finds a needle in a haystack shopping for fish and then when another character suddenly remembers a small but significant detail when Amitabh is fixing his scooter’s spark plug. The writing which seems to hold promise in the first half loses all steam in the second half where important plot details are discussed as afterthoughts. The total disregard to logic and law is baffling too. Amitabh breaks and enters many a houses to find answers and curiously enough after catching one of the “suspects” he takes him along for a tram ride through Kolkata and does the interrogation on it!

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Disappointments aside what lifts the movie above being abjectly terrible is the grand old man of Bollywood. Amitabh Bachchan defies the law of averages and keeps getting better with every progressing movie. You feel the burden the last 8 years have taken on him, his tired eyes, slightly confused expression, and the gape mouthed blank stare, he is brilliant. His vulnerability moves you, his resolve inspires you. Every time he is on the screen you forget the gaping plot holes and are focused on his craft. The second half suffers with a lesser screen time for Amitabh. The twist just before the interval and how the story manages to sort itself out towards a semi-logical conclusion is commendable but only because Amitabh keeps you interested.

 

The music by Clinton Cerejo and the vocals by Amitabh make it an enjoyable accompaniment to Tushar Kanti Ray’s camerawork who frames the crumbling Kolkata beautifully.

 

Adapted from Korean film Montages the choice of movie’s name is the least of its baffling choices. A half-hearted attempt at the second half and haphazard screenplay stop this one short of being a fantastic movie. Watch it for a mildly amusing story and for Amitabh and continue to marvel at how after 5 decades in the film industry he never ceases to amaze.

Gone Girl – A Review

David Fincher – the dark master of modern cinema directs Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, a story about a beautiful and talented wife who goes missing on the day of her fifth anniversary.  David Fincher has one of the most impressive filmography in Hollywood today and among those are stand outs like the Oscar darlings,  The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and also there are dark messed up masterpieces such as Zodiac and Se7en. File Gone Girl under the Dark messed up masterpieces because what Fincher has achieved in this film based on a screenplay written by the novelist Gillian Flynn, adapted from her own original novel is nothing short of mind-bending madness.

Gone Girl

The story kicks off with a forlorn looking Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne driving into a bar he co-owns with his sister to crib over the disintegration of his marriage when he gets a phone call from a neighbor about his cat straying outside the home. Nick drives back home to what appears to be a crime scene with his wife Amy Dunne played by the enchanting Rosamund Pike nowhere to be found.  What unfolds is a meticulous crime drama that very few are adept at dealing with as Fincher does. With the same restraint he showed with Zodiac, Fincher creates an atmosphere of eerie silence and awkward moments that has you drawn in from the minute Affleck picks up that cat and brings it home.  I wish I could discuss more of the plot of the movie but that would be a massive disservice to those who are yet to see the movie. Suffice to say you will not be prepared for this if you are only going in on Fincher’s credentials and just the trailers. Speaking of trailers, Fincher is not only the master of crafting a beautiful film he is also the master of suspense and the art of smoke and daggers. The trailers only serve to enhance the experience of the movie and the sense of unease that unfolds over the course of its entire length.

Rosamund Pike as the fragile and scared wife and more is brilliant and unnerving, Ben Affleck as the loving husband is just as convincing as he grinning awkwardly in front of his missing wife’s poster. I have always regarded Affleck as a better director than actor but with Gone Girl he proves he is one fine actor as well. Tyler Perry who claims never to have heard of David Fincher is also cast perfectly as Tanner Bolt – the patron saint of the wife killers. Carrie Coon as Affleck’s twin Margo and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s obsessive ex-boyfriend Dessie Collins are also brilliant in their roles. Special mention to Kim Dickens who as the southern Detective Rhonda Boney with sass provides the movie’s lighter moments.

Trent Raznor and Atticus Rose once again score Fincher’s Gone Girl after their successful collaboration on the social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There is something special about this partnership as Raznor and Rose are somehow able to create an atmospheric sound track that perfectly complements Fincher’s quiet and meticulous story telling.  There are no booming sounds or soaring sonatas but just the subtlest of undertones of sound to draw you in even more as Fincher’s characters slowly mumble their way through the story. The experience is all encompassing.

This is a movie that will stay with you for long after you have left the cinema hall, it will still play on your mind even after you feel you have unburdened it by dropping several hundred F-bombs while marveling at what a twisted genius Fincher really is. There will be awkward laughs that will escape you but at the same time it will make you question yourself. This is a movie that will not let you be comfortable – neither while you are watching it nor after the end credits roll. From the opening scene to the scene that closes the movie with the same dialogue the journey that you will be on will be one that you are unlikely to experience again this year or for several years to come. Fincher has the unique ability to mess with his audiences’ minds and get under their skin, he draws you in and toys with your emotions and as if some cliché of a Stockholm syndrome you do not want him to stop doing it to you. This is a master class in how to do a thriller right.

Hasee Toh Phasee – A review

First timer ad-film maker Vinil Matthew directs the yashraj-blue eyed girl Parineeti Chopra and the Dharma Production’s blue eyed boy wonder Siddharth Malhotra in the quirky RomCom Hasee Toh Phasee.

The film is a story based on Meeta and Nikhil who find it difficult to fit in to their respective families and happen to cross paths when Meeta is running away from her sister’s wedding which Nikhil is attending. This chance encounter is the conventional meet-cute that any decent romantic comedy is incomplete without.  Nikhil happens to fall in love at the same wedding with Meeta’s other sister Karishma who he courts for another 7 years through EMI-like monthly breakups yet he stays faithful to the whims and fancies of the wannabe TV star. Meeta reappears as the wedding preparations of Karishma and Nikhil are kicking off and she kicks off a storm in her wake as she mysteriously converses in Chinese with someone on the phone and over video chat, curiously and thankfully the subtitles are left out during the Chinese conversations which add to the mystery that surrounds Meeta. Also a masterful touch is the undiagnosed condition which Meeta obviously suffers from or the fact that she could easily be termed a highly functional autistic person or someone with Asperger’s syndrome but it is left for the audience to diagnose looking at her quirks. What unfolds is a pretty harmless and mostly hilarious fare with a well etched supporting cast with a former policeman father, a grandmother with a twin, an Indian Idol-aspiring cousin from Kanpur, a boastful Guajarati uncle and a Gujarati uncle who has nothing to talk about but wants to make small talk.

The Karan Johar touches are evident with the shot of the empty trains, a foot-over bridge and the early dawn shot overlooking the city below – these are the same visuals that made Johar’s segment on Bombay talkies so memorable. Also the Punjabi wedding song is reminiscent of the Radha song from Student of the Year. The fact is that Johar specializes in making harmless, glitzy, feel-good movies that are a welcome inclusion to the Indian movie scene. Vinil Matthew’s distinctive style may take a while to develop but he does well to remind the audience of the Johar trademarks.

Parineeti is wonderful in this role which could easily have become a slapstick and an over the top portrayal of a mental illness. She treads a fine balance and manages to generate the most guffaws from the audience. She reminds me of the plump Punjabi Dimpy Chaddha that I fell in love with from Ladies Vs Ricky Behl from the minute she said LOL. Siddharth Malhotra looks smashing in every frame and it is no wonder why girls everywhere are going crazy over him – he is like the perfect mix of the shahid Kapoor chocolate boy looks with the physique of a Hrithik Roshan and the boy can act decently as well.  He isn’t given too much of a challenge with the script here but he does well to come off as earnest and honest. Adah Sharma as Karishma the sister Malhotra is going to get married to did not impress me too much. She was mostly there for the glam quotient with her 2 sizes too small saree blouses and the Post-makeover Jassi (Mona Singh) look.

The music by Vishal and Shekhar isn’t as good as Johar’s last and Malhotra’s first- Student of the year with only two songs with any recall-value “Drama Queen” and “Punjabi Wedding Song”. The cinematography by Sanu John Varughese is fresh and in keeping with the Johar Memo of keeping the lighting soft and the colors pastel-ly.

The side plot involving the mysterious reason why Meeta ran off and why she came back and who she is conversing with in Chinese is also fairly intelligent and not a complete throw away.

Watch this movie because Parineeti and Malhotra share a fantastic chemistry and the humor is effortless for most part. Watch it because it is inoffensive light hearted entertainment that is mostly missing from all the slapstick comedies out there. Watch it for Chopra and Malhotra chemistry.