Ae Dil Hai Mushkil – A Review

Image result for ae dil hai mushkilKaran Johar directs Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. The story of unrequited love is said to be almost autobiographical with Ranbir playing the dramatized version of Karan Johar.

 

Ranbir Kapoor plays Ayan Sanger – rich brat pursuing MBA in London while nursing a dream of being a singer. Ayan is also the narrator of the story and the entire movie is told in a flashback while Ayan is being interviewed following his success as a singer. When asked why his songs sound of unrequited love Ayan takes us back to where it all began.

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The chance meeting with Alizeh Khan played by Anushka Sharma, the blossoming friendship, the homage to many milestone movies of Bollywood including Ranbir’s tribute to his own father’s iconic Chandani. Delving any further into the story would be a disservice to the nuance that Johar has crafted into the complex relationship dynamics between Ayan and Alizeh. The first half starts off stutteringly where the intensity of Ranbir and the levity of Anushka seem to be a little bit like oil and water. Despite their best effort it isn’t easy to identify nor feel for the characters. Only once the unnecessary shenanigans of Ranbir’s girlfriend and Anushka’s fiancé are done with does the movie really pick up. The scene leading up to the intermission is gut-wrenching in its rawness. This is the Ranbir we know and love. He can play the heartbroken hero a hundred times over but he manages to imbue a sense of novelty, be it his driven Janardhan aka Jordan in Rockstar or the vagabond Bunny in Yeh Jawani hai Deewani, and be it him as the bottled up millennial Ved in Tamasha or coming of age Sid in Wake up Sid. You laugh with his antics and you feel the pain in the pit of your stomach as you see him repeatedly bang a flowerpot on his chest. It is a shame that an actor’s worth today is equated with the box office collection – ADHM may not do the hundreds of crores in business but make no mistake – Ranbir has no peers.

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Anushka Sharma is fantastic as Alizeh, a complex character who even in her hysterical scenes seems so genuine. Anushka does a lot of the heavy lifting as the central figure of the story. It would have been better had the writer and the director given a little more thought to her story graph. The back story is dispensed with rather quickly. The reconciliation and the breakup of her relationship with Fawad is done in such a haste that it leaves you a little bewildered.

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Thankfully no such complaints with the role crafted for Aishwarya Rai as poetess Saba Naqavi who nurses Ranbir’s broken heart with a tempestuous relationship. Saba has a purpose to the story; a perfect introduction, a fantastic middle and a visceral end. Much has been said about Aishwarya’s beauty and all of it is true but here she has taken her beauty to lethal levels. As the seductive and shayarana Saba she catches you mid-breath and makes you gasp. Even an actor of the calibre of Ranbir diminishes to the background when Aishwarya is on screen. Giving Aishwarya lines which Ranbir describes as “chalti firti Ghalib” is rife with potential for disaster as she often tends to overdo the breathy sensuality but her she is wonderfully restraint and lets those gorgeous blue green eyes do all the work.

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Alia Bhatt is Johar’s new lucky mascot and makes a blink and you’ll miss it appearance. Fawad Khan is pleasing to the eye but not much more. Lisa Haydon plays the bimbo to perfection and is genuinely funny. Shah Rukh Khan is a pale shadow of his former romantic self and is difficult to look at and even more difficult to listen to.

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The absolute stand out for me has been its music. The title track has all the seriousness that you would expect from a movie about such a combustive relationships. The breakup song and Cutiepie the hallmark Johar dance numbers that are immensely hummable. Bulleya has all the intensity of unrequited love. But the absolute tearjerker is Channa mereya – the lyrics, the expression the context are phenomenal. Anil Mehta’s camera work is gorgeous, but I am sure it must not have been difficult to shoot such a beautiful cast in such spectacular locations. I honestly wish a little more time was spent grounding Alizeh and Ayan’s characters with a little bit of their history and a gradual build up to their friendship. I could easily have done away with the bit with Lisa Haydon entirely regardless of how hilarious she actually was. The dialogues in comparison to the lyrics of the song seem very second rate and do nothing to amp up the emotions. The pre-climax Friends throwback “did she get off the plane” is sublime.

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I had a more complex plot going on in my head and in comparison the story is pretty straightforward and conventional. One-night stands and friends with benefits aren’t ground breaking territories anymore and Karan Johar really needs to continue to push the boundaries even more.

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Minor complaints aside this is a fantastic movie for so many reasons. Ranbir is transcendental. Anushka relatable and Aishwarya ethereal. Karan Johar surely knows how to tell a love story and I’d rather watch him direct aspirational escapist love story than the ones he ends up producing. Watch it for Ranbir. I’ll re-watch for Aishwarya!

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The Danish Girl – A Review

Tom Hooper directs Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, a story based on the pioneering life of Danish artist Einar Wegner who undergoes the first documented gender reassignment surgery to be transformed as Lili Elbe.

 

Hooper is known for his sensitive direction of unusual subject matter and for extracting awards-worthy performances from his leads. With King’s Speech he got Colin Firth the lead actor gold as the stammering stuttering King George VI as he tries to overcome his childhood disabilities and lead Britain to war against Nazi Germany. With Les Miserables he directed Anne Hathaway to a supporting actor nod as she cried singed her way to Fantine’s epic I dreamed a dream. And here he directs last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne as he grapples with what it is to be a transgendered person in the 1920s and 1930s. But the real star is Alicia Vikander who as Einar’s wife and fellow artist Gerda Wegner brings to life the Lili that Einar has since childhood tried to keep under wraps.

The first half of the movie where Einar and Gerda’s relationship is explored as husband and wife and his penchant for cross dressing and effeminate behaviour is slowly becoming more and more prominent seems a bit forced. Eddie Redmayne’s transformation from Einar to Lili seems conflict free and almost too sudden. But there is a beautiful moment when while spending time with Ben Wishaw’s Henrik Lili realises that Henrik is a homosexual who thinks he is spending time with Einar in a get up Lili leaves and a distinction is made between what it is to be a homosexual and what it is like to be a transgendered.

It is the second half where the things get a little more fluid and things seem to flow with a natural ease. Through Lili Gerda loses her husband but finds the fame she has been chasing as an artist. Her portraits of Lili sell and she wins new commissions and is the toast of Paris art-scene. There is a beautiful struggle as she tries to hold on to Einar while it is Lili that is more and more on display. As Einar tries doctors after doctors who all treat him for various mental disorders you see the struggle is real for a transgender person in the 1930s. Finally through their friend Ulla played by a ravishing Amber Heard they come across a German doctor Warnekros who performs the pioneering operation. This is where Eddie Redmayne transforms and delivers stunning performance as Lili works at a shop and tries to learn the mannerisms that make up a flirtatious girl.

The music by Alexandre Desplat is subtle as ever and underscores the silent struggles that both Einar/Lili and Gerda go through while Danny Cohen does spectacular work behind the camera to capture the stunning landscapes that Einar is known for painting and also the more personal portrait shots that are Gerda’s speciality. The scenes of the Fjords, the symmetrical shots of the Danish buildings the scenes at the wharf are all beautifully framed. The final scene of the scarf flying off at the cliff is made even more poignant because of the beautiful shot.

While not perfect in execution, primarily due to a choppy first half the lead pair turn in stunning performances and the delicate and sensitive handling of the transgender story is what lifts this from being a pure Oscar bait to being a believable and emphatic story. Do not miss The Danish Girl.

The Hundred Foot journey – A Review

Lasse Hallstrom directs Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal in The hundred foot journey based on a story adapted by Steven Knight from Richard C. Morais’ book by the same name. Many have described this as slumdog millionaire meets Ratatouille as some sort of a championing of the movie. While I agree with the slumdog bit I do completely disagree with the Ratatouille which was in my opinion a more earnest and honest movie and perhaps the best Pixar have ever managed.

The story starts with Hassan at the immigration counter answering the questions asked by the officer that also works as a backdrop of quickly rushing through the backstory to how Hassan came to be in “Europe” after having already landed in the United Kingdom after having sought asylum following the Hindu Muslim riots in Mumbai where he lost his mentor – his mom. 

Back story done with we proceed to how they end up in the rustic French village with an abandoned villa/restaurant up for sale. This is the part where the movie is at its best as Om Puri the patriarch of the Kadam family digs his heels in to battle Madam Mallory played by the indomitable Helen Mirren the owner of the Michelin starred French restaurant.

There is a budding romance between Hassan and sous chef Marguerite which remains entirely unexplored. The culinary clash of the classical French and the boisterous Indian cuisines also is almost entirely forgotten except as an insult that Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam hurl at one another.  The editing and the screenplay leave a lot to be desired. Basing my judgment on a book review of Morais’ original material there seems to be a lot more meat in the book than what is presented on the screen. The episodes in Hassan’s rise to the top of the Parisian culinary world seem to be rather abrupt at best and callous at worst.  Take for instance the turn of events after Hassan earns the second Michelin star at Mallory’s restaurant he simply takes off for Paris because Marguerite says that he will be approached with offers. The despair Hassan feels while plating up pretentious food while in Paris seems unfounded and sudden and the decision to move back just as irrational. The frustration with the movie is because all the ingredients are present to plate up delectable dish that is as pleasing to the palate as it is appealing to the eyes but instead of gently whisking the yolks of the story on a bain-marie to form the perfect sabayon the director, the editor and the writers vigorously whisk it in the direct heat which ends up in a curdled mess. Another concern I have is with the research that has gone into this – Hassan and his family are presented as Muslims and yet the movie commits blasphemy by cooking the lamb in wine without any hesitation. I do not know if this is the lack of research on the part of the original book or another one of the blunders in the screenplay and direction.

There are some genuinely funny moments and some moments that hold promises but eventually what gets plated up is visually enticing but lacking the punch of garam masala and the restraint of the hollandaise. Watch it for a fine turn by Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal and for A.R. Rehman’s enticing background music.Also theres Juhi Chawla as lovely as ever playing Hassan’s mother – why isn’t she in more films is baffling to me. 

Queen – A Review

Vikas Bahl directs Kangana Ranaut in Queen a flipped on its head Euro-trip movie which puts the female lead in all the same positions that were exclusively male bastions. Happy women’s day indeed.

Queen starts off with an upbeat “London Thumakda” by Amit Trivedi shot to show a Delhi household in the middle of wedding preparations. Right from the get go you know that this is going to be a fun ride. Everything feels real, organic almost in the same way as band baaja barat did, but more so. This is not a YRF-Johar wedding household this is very Delhi and very real and very relatable.  What follows is the main premise of the movie and it would be a crime to leak it because it ends up being a very fun turn of events – well not so much for Rani.  Well that is until she decides to go on her honeymoon by herself to fulfill her lifelong dream of seeing Paris.

Kangana plays Rani the eponymous Queen who goes from being a naïve home-science girl from Rajauli, Delhi to being the globetrotting backpacking Chick in the due course of the movie. Kangana lives and breathes Rani so much so that it is impossible to imagine this role to be played by anyone else. She is restrained while still being uninhibited and in that one scene where she gets drunk and goes off on a rant – in my books it ranks right up there with Mr. Bachchan’ drunken rant about liver problems. Yep she is THAT good. Not for once you would believe her to be putting on an act – Bahl and Kangana have both put in a lot of thought in terms of the smallest idiosyncrasies that define the quintessential first time “abroad” travelling naïve Indian girl. Take the insistence on hanging onto her purse for dear life whether it is while getting mugged or while doing a faux-strip tease where she stuffs her sweater in the purse. This is Kangana at her absolute best and honestly I would argue that it ranks right up there with one of the best female performances of the year when the year concludes.

Kangana is supported by an assortment of characters who she crosses paths with on her Euro trip – there is Lisa Haydon who plays Vijaya Lakshmi the Indian-French-Spanish hybrid who eases Rani into the Parisian way of life. Then there are the Troika of hostel mates Oleksander – the Russian artist, Taka the Japanese tourist and Tim the French Musician who help Rani forge the unlikeliest of Bromance while in Amsterdam. Rajkumar Rao plays Vijay – Kangana’s fiancé and is quite effective yet again. He is an actor who has a knack of picking superb roles without giving a second thought to the length of the role and always comes off as earnest.

Bahl packs a solid punch in the first half where the laughs come easy and you fall in love with Rani. The second half is where a little more thought would have made this movie perfect. The sub-plot with Rukhsar the red-light district exotic dancer was almost entirely unnecessary. Also in final adventure that Bahl puts Rani on I feel he tries to be too ambitious and it chips away a little bit the honesty with which he has built the whole thing up. But it is a minor complaint when compared to the enormously entertaining and entirely believable journey that Bahl takes Rani on. Also I would like to believe the “Alice in Wonderland” Sweatshirt that Bahl put Rani in wasnt a mere co-incidence and that is the level of detail that makes this a movie worth revisiting so that you can pour over the details and soak in its richness.

Watch this movie for the fantastic Kangana Ranaut. Watch this as it takes Euro Road Trip, Drunken street antics, and platonic bromance from the tightly held grasps of the male leads of Bollywood and puts in the closely guarded purse of Rani from Rajauli Delhi!

 

Before Sunset – A Review

 Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunite in Paris in Before Sunset (2004) after going their separate ways in 1994 in Vienna. Jesse is a published Author, Celine is an environmental activist and they haven’t seen each other for 9 years after that one night in Vienna.

The movie opens with Jesse sitting in the famed Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris for a book signing and interview with Parisian reporters about his book which is based on the one night he spent with Celine walking the streets of Vienna and talking about everything under the sun.  Celine walks in and they are back where they left off.

Wandering the streets of Paris, catching up on the time that has passed, 9 years is a lot to catch up on.  But before they do that they have to get the question of if either of them made it to Vienna as they had promised 6 months after they last saw each other 9 years ago or not. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie but that is one of the most tender moments in the movie that is devoid of any hijinks or drama and just another conversation that needs to be had.

Each of them has lived a life in the past 9 years that has changed who they were 9 years ago. But once again when they meet there is no grudges or regrets or resentment, it’s like it is 6 months after Vienna. But then slowly as the movie progresses you can see the regrets start showing, regrets about how different the life would’ve been had they met again in Vienna as promised and fallen in love and lived a life together the past 9 years. Resentment about the fact that one of them idealized the night to the point of perfection that nothing since then has been able to live up to that moment.

Hawke and Delpy collaborated with Linklater on the screenplay and the effect is evident , the conversations do not feel forced, it feels organic and also a little voyeuristic , like you are snooping in on a couple having a private conversation, a conversation that is not meant to be overheard.

The heady romanticism of youth in the early 20s is replaced with the longing for a different life of the 30s; the conversations are darker, yet honest. The dreams that they had in their 20s seem a little silly now while still a lot better than the mere existential lives of today.  I cannot go into more details without revealing the plot a little bit but suffice to say that there is also a sense of things coming unraveled in the personal lives of these two people who we fell in love with in Vienna and cannot bare to see them unhappy. But while they may be unhappy they do it with a shrug of the shoulders and a sad smile that seems to say “Well that’s life! What can you do?”

Like Sunrise, Sunset also ends on ambiguity, each having confessed to the lack of romance in their personal lives end up at Celine’s apartment where she plays him a song she wrote about him. Then they relive the record store moment from Vienna by putting in a CD of the same artist they were listening to in that listening booth. Celine then does an impression of Nina Simone at concert and you laugh, you laugh like Jesse does, you feel like Jesse does, you want them to be together, they are meant to be. But then Celine admonishes that Jesse will miss his flight and then credits roll. Leaving you another 9 years’ worth of second guessing, did he miss his flight? Did he get on the flight never to return again?

What Linklater has achieved is phenomenal, I couldn’t believe he could top Before Sunrise but here is does. The relationship between Jesse and Celine has grown and matured as have the characters. Yet they still possess that magic of conversation which can tide over 9 years of not having seen each other.

Like I mentioned in the comments on the Before Sunrise review, I finally got around to watching these movies because I want to watch Before Midnight comes out this year, after a gap of 9 year and you want to see where the journey has led them. 

 

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani – A Review

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani(YJHD) is Ayan Mukherjee’s sophomore attempt at telling a new millennia coming of age story with Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Aditya Roy Kapur and Kalki Koechlin. Ayan Mukherjee grabbed all the right headlines with his rooted in reality Wake Up Sid(WuS) which also acted as the first real Ranbir Kapoor launchpad.

Unlike WuS, YJHD suffers from what I’d assume is the Johar effect of fake accents, loud Manish Malhotra couture and outlandish wedding celebrations. I want to get the bad parts out of the way first so that I can then talk of the movie’s redeeming factor. Considering that UTV is the production house under whose banner this movie is distributed the roy-kapur nepotism threatens to derail the story with a drunk Aditya Roy-Kapur ( once again) and a bumbling buffoon Kunal Roy-Kapur ( once again). The introduction of the Evelyn Sharma to the movie serves no purpose and is about as subtle as nails on a chalkboard.

 With that out of the way I want to dedicate the rest of the review to the biggest revelation of the movie – Deepika Padukone’s Naina who goes from geek to chic with such casual ease and confident demeanor that it is a breath of fresh air. Not once did I find anything to fault her for. She essentially carries the entire movie on her shoulders and once again it goes to show that no matter how much Ayan Mukherjee says he wrote the movie with Ranbir in mind it is quite clear that Ayan Mukherjee writes her leading ladies as strong level headed rooted in reality. She is essentially the heart of the movie and she melts yours with her dimpled reluctant smiles. Even in her limited role Kalki Koechlin is effective and again proves why she leaves a lasting impression in the itsy bitsy roles.

Ranbir who is charisma personified struggles with Kabir and is not as natural with the role as he was with Sid. In order to portray the carefree, adrenaline-chasing thrill-seeking travel enthusiast he often comes off as rather cocky and at times insensitive. He does manage to reel in the cocky arrogance and exudes that legendary Kapoor charm and manages to salvage the movie in the second half.

The other saving grace of the movie is the combination of what is arguably the best music album of year courtesy Pritam and some of the most breathtaking visuals captured through the lenses of Manikandan, the sweeping panoramas of Himalayas, the dazzling lights of Paris and the scenic sunsets of Udaipur has not been better served on the Indian screens.

Watch this movie because despite its pitfalls this is a beautifully told story of friendship, love, powered by one hell of a soundtrack Watch it because even if Ranbir is slightly off his game he is still better than all his peers and seniors by a clear mile. Watch it for an acting turn by Deepika that is an even bigger delight than the return to the big screen of the dancing diva Madhuri Dixit