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.

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Bajrangi Bhaijaan – A Review

Kabir Khan directs Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan in this year’s Eid release Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Critics often scoff at a Salman movie claiming their own irrelevance at a “bhai” movie due to his huge fan-following who will make a beeline for the cinema frothing at the mouth regardless of the absurdity of the plot and Salman’s Bhagwaan Dada inspired Dance moves.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan is the story of Hum Saath Saath Hai’s strait-laced Prem meets Maine Pyaar Kiya’s hard-working-to-impress-the-girl’s-father Prem going on a Gaddar-like mission to reunite a mute 6-year old Pakistani girl with her parents. India Pakistan stories with a Kashmir angle are more often than not laced with political commentary that tends to end up being preachy and sermonizing about the need for peace and how we are the same people made to take opposing stances due to vested political interest. While it tends to tug at the heartstrings a little bit with some of the familiar tropes, Bajrangi Bhaijaan mostly steers clear of the Aman-ki-aasha stereotypes.

Salman khan is having a sort of renaissance where he acknowledges that he isn’t the most talented actor but still manages to infuse a sense of earnestness to his performance. He was phenomenally entertaining in Kick and here too he commits fully to his hunuman-bhakt, stoutly Hindu good for nothing but still a heart of gold do-gooder. Salman is good at being Salman and he makes no effort to put on a Haryanvi accent and I am thankful for that. He keeps the face-pulling to a minimum and his entry with the selfie song is whistle-worthy. Kareena Kapoor Khan is blissfully underused. And in the time she spends on screen she is not unbearable. Nawazuddin Siddiqui stars in a small but crucial role in the second half as Chand Nawab a small time freelancing reporter who is chasing a breaking story which will earn him some credibility with the news channels. But the real hero of the movie is Harshaali Malhotra the young girl who plays Shaahida/Munni. There is no doubt she is one of the cutest kids to ever grace the Bollywood stage, but she manages to lighten the mood and make Salman’s quirks seem charming instead of childish. The little girl has a screen presence that dwarfs even that of Bhai’s and that is no mean feat.

The cinematography by Aseem Mishra is spectacular. He manages to capture the beauty of Kashmir for what it is always thought to have been. This is not the harsh landscape of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider but reminiscent of RK’s Heena. In fact the open scene of Shaahida playing on the slopes of her village reminded me of Zeba Bakhtiyar’s introduction to the tunes of “Mein hoon khushrang heena…” Julius Packiam’s background score especially during the chase sequences is worthy of the Hollywood scores, but it does tend to overpower in certain scenes and a slight restraint would have worked wonders. Of the songs Selfie Le le is a guilty pleasure and a worth entry song to The Bhai of Bollywood but the one song that stayed with me is the Adnan Sami Qawwalli, Bhar do Jholi meri. Story writer Vijayendra Prasad is having quite a purple patch with both Baahubali and Bajrangi Bhaijaan having a successfully run at the box office. The story works well mostly with no gaping plot holes. A tighter edit in the second half would have made the movie land more of a punch. It does seem to drag on for a bit with the scenes with Om Puri and entirely unnecessary flab that could have and should have been cut.

Put your prejudice aside and go enjoy a well-crafted, and decently acted movie that manages to entertain like only Salman Khan knows how to. Here’s looking forward to next Eid for Sultan!

Kick – A Review

 Sajid Nadiadwala the producer with the Midas touch dons the director’s hat for the very first time and directs Salman Khan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Randeep Hooda and Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Kick.

A Salman Khan movie defies explanation here is a fully grown man nearing 50s and he still acts like a precocious child and still runs circles around the young bloods of Bollywood when it comes to action sequences.  He has insane (not in a good way) dance moves and facial expressions which are more ham than a quarter pound hamburger. But still Salman is arguably the most loved of the three khans in Bollywood today. And with kick he firmly establishes his creds as the king khan of Bollywood.

Salman Khan Movie Kick Review and Release date

Nadiadwala, Rajat Arora and Keith Gomes adapt a 2009 Telugu hit of the same name and kick the adrenaline levels up a few notches.  Salman plays Devi Lal Singh a genius of extraordinary proportions who cannot keep a job because he needs a constant ‘kick’ to justify his existence. He finds this in helping friends to elope with their girlfriends, by being the Good Samaritan and protecting the women folk from the evil eyes of pumped up goons. He meets and falls in love with Shaina played by the surprisingly beautiful Jacqueline Fernandez.  Through curious circumstances Shaina meets Ace Cop Himanshu played by Randeep Hooda who is on the trail of a masked vigilante. What follows is a game of cat and mouse with enough wisecracks and witty one-liners to fill an entire season of Comedy nights with Kapil.

The action is fast paced and the exhilarating. The chase through the narrow lanes of Delhi and the stark streets of Warsaw is gripping to say the least. There are many visual influences from Hollywood action capers and blockbusters which are very apparent to the trained eye – like the underground police headquarters is curiously similar to the one in skyfall after the MI6 is blown up, the scene with the slo-mo pigeons is textbook john wu, Nawazuddin’s Shiv Gajra is clearly heath ledger’s joker inspired. But the inspirations here do not distract and are rather used masterfully to augment the adrenaline factor. Ayananaka Bose’s work behind the camera is exceptional it is soft and romantic in the Hangover song and it is gripping and thrilling in the action sequences, the tracking shots, the slo-mo action shots are all done exceptionally well. Himesh Reshamiya’s music also plays a good supporting role to the entire movie and the songs don’t seem to appear without a rhyme or a reason. The only real sore spot in the entire movie is Nargis Fakhri’s item number – the girl as pretty as she is cannot dance.  But I am happy to overlook that because what we get in that less than a minute of Jacqueline’s Latin routine in the Jumme ki Raat had me picking my jaw up from the floor.

Like I said in the beginning – A Salman Khan movie defies explanation any reason and cannot be critiqued but all said and done the acting is good, the action is great and Jacqueline is a revelation. Dhoom 3 be damned – this has to be the highest grossing Indian movie of all time – because Kick is infinitely better than the Amir Khan caper.

Watch it for a full “Paisa Vasool” entertainment that does not really need you to keep your brain at home – it does not insult your senses (except for a London bus in warsaw) and still manages to be funny, sexy, slick and thrilling at the same time.

 

The Lunchbox – A Review

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.