October – A Review

Related imageShoojit Sircar directs Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu in October. Juhi Chaturvedi, who wrote Sircar’s Vicky Donor, pens the story, screenplay and the dialogues. Vicky Donor broke new ground tackling a taboo subject but I think October might be the writer-director duo’s most ambitious project yet.

October is the story of Dan played by Varun Dhawan and his group of friends who work as the staff in a swanky hotel in Delhi as part of their hotel management course. Dan isn’t the brightest bulb in the bunch, his juniors overtake him and his nonchalant behaviour has him being relegated to the menial tasks of cleaning and laundry.  Among the juniors, who have overtaken Dan, is newcomer Banita Sandhu who plays Shiuli. A tragic accident and a casual question just prior to the accident leaves Dan wondering why Shiuli was asking about him. Dan abandons every aspect of his personal life and devotes every free minute to Shiuli who is rendered incapable of responding.

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Devolving any more of the story would not do the story any great harm but if the trailer is the only thing you are going by, like I did, the slow reveal will have a more lasting effect. Sircar and Chaturvedi have crafted the movie in an almost Indie-film vein, not something you see prominent commercial directors and actors be a part of in Bollywood. This could have just as easily been a Sundance film festival darling.

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While the bravery of Sircar-Chaturvedi is second to none, Varun Dhawan continues to defy expectations and pulls further away from the pack of young actors. Dhawan, who first burst onto screen in Karan Johar’s frothy yet delightful high-school drama Student of the Year, has gone on to deliver incredibly nuanced performance in Badlapur and cemented his commercial appeal in Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya, Badrinath ki Dulhaniya and Judwaa2. In my book Dhawan hasn’t put a foot down wrong. Every time he is on screen, he lights its up with his honesty and unintentional humour. Here, too, you believe him every time he chimes in when not required and urges Shiuli’s mother to give her time to recover. You feel his pain when he finds out that before the accident Shiuli had asked about him. He is extremely easy to watch on screen and every emotion he embodies effortlessly.  Dhawan achieves something improbable in that he is at once part of the scenery and yet he stands out even without trying. His scenes with the hospital guard, the nurse and the scenes with his friends are all absolutely incredible. This does not feel like a star vehicle but like a debut of a staggeringly gifted actor.  He may have flexed his six-packs in almost every other movie but here he really gets to flex his acting muscle and when he does it it’s a thing of beauty.

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Avik Mukhopadhyay uses his lenses to capture every scene in the most unobtrusive of ways. There is a melancholy to the way he frames each scene yet there is a beauty to it as well. His close-ups of Shiuli are splendid.  The editing by Chandrashekhar Prajapati is exquisite, the pace never once slackens nor does any moment feel rushed. The fantastic script and the very competent direction would have been rendered unintelligible in the hands of a lesser editor.

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The slow burn narrative, the focus on the human interactions and the humanity of its subjects rather than the story itself, the no-rush story telling are all brilliantly tender and organic. The reason why I said that this movie feels their most ambitious is because it feels free of any commercial compulsions. Every film with a reasonably well known actor/director is only measured by one parameter these days – how quickly does it reach the 100-cr mark? This film is the furthest thing from it, but because of it, this might be the most poignant and original film of the year and dare I say almost 4 months into the year perhaps one of the best of the year.

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Call Me By Your Name – A Review

Related imageLuca Guadagnino directs Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in a James Ivory screenplay based off André Aciman’s novel Call me by your name.

Set in the 1980 in northern Italy it is the story of American Oliver who comes to stay with Professor Pearlman and his Family. How he meets and creates a lasting impression on professor’s young son Elio. One half of the famed Merchant-Ivory duo, James Ivory adapts Andre Achiman’s novel into a narrative that seems to span a lifetime in the searing Tuscan heat but also is encapsulated in a fleeting moment, that ephemeral summer romance. Guadagnino translates this script so beautifully that all you want to do is move to this nondescript Italian village and sip apricot juices for breakfast and go for a swim in the afternoons.

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Armie Hammer plays Oliver and Timothée Chalamet plays Elio. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the professor and Amira Casar the fabulous Annella. The story starts with Oliver arriving in Italy to stay with Elio and his family in their Tuscan villa. Elio gives up his room and immediately is resentful of this American who invades his life. How they go from Elio mocking Oliver’s “Later..” to taking a trip with him to Bergamo before Oliver returns home is where the magic unfolds. Hammer is fantastic in Oliver and this might be the first time that he has truly delivered on the potential he has always seemed to possess. The way he chides and teases Elio is indescribably intimate. Stuhlbarg delivers one of the most poignant father-son moments of perhaps all time. It is a crying shame that he has been denied a nomination in the supporting actor category.

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But in Timothée Chalamet a star is born, the range he depicts far outshines his peers this year. As 17 year old Elio he lives out every teenage emotion there is and lays bare his heart for the audience in the final few minutes. You watch enthralled every time he is on screen, the infamous Peach scene is not what you must remember this movie for but it is what immediately follows. When he sobs “I’m Sick” you feel his pain, his shame, his desperation. If Chalamet doesn’t win the best actor Oscar this year then the ceremony is not merit based but an exercise in either honouring a swan song (Daniel Day-Lewis) or an attempt at righting past wrongs (Gary Oldman).

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Music by Sufjan Stevens is exceptional, in particular the Traitor piece, the use of Piano music to elevate the emotional dynamics of the film is phenomenal. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom captures the beauty of northern Italy beautifully. Every scene feels crisp and perfectly drenched in the Tuscan sunshine. Together with Guadagnino, Mukdeeprom manages to create the never-ending heat of summer feel palpable. Guadagnino imbues the scenes with such nuances that you are in the scenes yourself. Every character serves a purpose. Mafalda, Mounir (played by Andre Aciman himself), Marzia, they all exist fully and completely within the film’s grammar. This is exceptional filmmaking.

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Watch it because frankly it is perhaps one of the best coming of age movies I’ve ever seen. I saw this and Ladybird on the same day and I have to say that this is a far superior film. Timothée Chalamet is Phenomenal and I’d put my money on him piping both Daniel Day-Lewis and Gary Oldman to the podium – he is that good here.

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Padman – A Review

Related imageBalki directs Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor in Padman, the story based on Padma Shri awardee Arunachalam Muruganantham, the innovator of low-cost sanitary pads.

 

Balki and Swanand Kirkire base the story on the short story written by Twinkle Khanna the wife of Akshay Kumar and also the producer of the movie. Akshay Kumar plays Lakshmikant Chauhan the eponymous Padman. Lakshmi is newly married and besotted with his wife Gayatri played by Radhika Apte. When she experiences her periods for the first time at her married home, he tries to talk her out of using a dirty rag and get her to use a store bought sanitary pad. She balks at price of it and tries to talk him out of it due to the high price. Lakshmi then embarks upon a quest to prototype his low-cost sanitary pad. The journey that Lakshmi undertakes all the way from being shamed out of his village to delivering a rousing “Linglish” speech at the united nation is fascinating.

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Akshay Kumar is fantastic as Lakshmi and brings a level of earnestness that lifts every scene he is in. The opening sequence song “Aaj se Teri” sets up Akshay’s character arc where he earnestly tries alleviate every single one of her problems, building a wooden seat for her to sit on his bicycle, a monkey toy onion chopper. He might be lacking in the formal education department but he makes up for that in his inquisitiveness. Radhika Apte plays Gayatri and she couldn’t be more of a contrast to Akshay Kumar. She is one note, whiny and overplays the ever silently suffering wife. For almost every scene she is in she is either crying her eyes out or passive aggressively berating Lakshmi for trying to help her. The whole “shame is worse than disease” cudgel she keeps beating over Lakshmi and the audience’s head gets really tiresome. Sonam Kapoor who makes an entry in the second half of the movie moves breezily from one scene to another. She is entirely believable as the college student who sees potential in Lakshmi’s reinvention of the Pad making machine and immensely likable – no small fete considering her previous work. Amitabh Bachchan who is a permanent fixture in every Balki movie chews up the scenery in the 2 minutes he is on screen. His screen presence is unparalleled and his baritone a calming balm on the frayed nerves after Apte’s annoying performance.

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The first half is hugely problematic with its pacing and overly regressive storyline. The whole premise of women using unhygienic rags is setup so tactlessly that it becomes impossible to feel anything for either the women who are suffering this plight or the one man who is trying his best to change the status quo. It is only when Lakshmi is left to his own devices that the movie really picks up steam in the second half. The writing is abysmal and the epiphanies that Lakshmi experiences when his boss at the garage spouts pearls of wisdoms is too on the nose. If not for Sonam Kapoor and Akshay Kumar the movie would have fallen in the same unfulfilled promise category as Balki’s previous Ki and Kaa. The music is catchy and does well to buttress the flailing script and the camera work is fantastic. Every scene is alive and vibrant. The locales of Madhya Pradesh lend a wonderful aesthetic backdrop to the rural setting lifting it out of poverty porn.

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A fascinating story, a decent second half and a strong acting turn from Akshay Kumar and Sonam makes this bearable outing. Balki ought to take directing lessons from his wife Gauri Shinde who knows how to let story translate on screen organically. Also I wish Balki took a page out of Oliver Stone’s book and got the real Padman deliver a final speech.

Shubh Mangal Saavadhan – A Review

Image result for shubh mangal saavdhan posterS. Prasanna directs Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. For a first time director R. S. Prasanna sure is ambitious to take on a subject like Erectile Dysfunction. Read on to find out if Prasanna manages to deliver a “hard” hitting and entertaining caper or turns in a “limp” biscuit of a movie.

 

Mudit played by Ayushmann Khurrana has been besotted by Sugandha played by Bhumi Pednekar. Unable to muster courage to ask her out he sends her an online marriage proposal. Sugandha who has been dreaming of the romanticised notion of a Bollywood love story reluctantly agrees to allow Mudit to court her. The first time they get frisky while Sugandha’s parents are out of town, Mudit ends up having performance anxiety and shares his “problem” with Sugandha and forever ruins biscuits for everyone everywhere.

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Bhumi Pedneker who I have been mightily impressed in her previous two outings is surprisingly one note here. I blame it on the writing and direction more than her abilities. Because in the one scene where she tries to entice Mudit by reciting cheesy lines from a porno is testament to her talent. She is hilarious and vulnerable at the same time. Ayushmann who first burst onto the screen in Vicky Donor a movie based on similarly taboo subject (although diametrically opposite in terms of the subject itself) delivers a very confused performance. It isn’t clear if he is a shy romantic type or the Casanova who didn’t have this “problem” with his ex.

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The supporting cast is what really brings the whole enterprise to a crashing halt. Both fathers are contemptible, Sughanda’s uncle a leftover from the 80’s doordarshan era acting, the mothers simpering messes. Seema Pahwa still manages to shine despite the laborious proceedings. The friends of Mudit unwatchable in the extreme. The movie seems to want to be many things at the same time.

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One moment it is a budding romance movie, the next it is trying to take on a taboo subject, the very next it turns into a priyadarshan farce and the next it is a dysfunctional family dynamics dramedy The first half plods along with some carefully placed puns which elicit genuine laughs but the second half was just pure cringe fest. There seems to be no sense of continuity or any attempt at coherence. Take for instance the scene where Mudit – the groom ends up cooking the food for the wedding party, another scene is where Mudit’s father tells him if he pursues sughandha he cannot come back home or expect any money from him – Mudit all proud and indignant throws his wallet at his father and the final scene is of Mudit and Sugandha performing puja at his father’s house which they live in. the scene when Mudit and Sugandha are getting “busy” while the entire wedding contingent is waiting outside the bedroom and taking bets made me want to walk out of the theatre. The dialogues especially with a subject as sensitive as ED can quickly devolve into school yard heckling in the hands of incompetent writers and they range from juvenile to abhorrent.

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Also seriously lacking is the female perspective towards sexuality. Sugandha never once seems to take into consideration her “needs”. sobbing she declares “Sex hi sab kuch nahi hota hai na” in a crowded market of all places and Mudit sends her packing in an Autorickshaw. At under 2 hours this movie isnt long by any stretch of imagination so there was sufficient reel time available to flesh out Sugandha’s character to something a little more than just a doormat.

Unresolved direction and underwhelming performances cannot save the movie from the grave its story and screenplay writers have dug for it. Stay far away from this and rewatch Vicky Donor instead.

Bareily Ki Barfi – A Review

Image result for bareilly ki barfi posterAshwiny Iyer Tiwari directs Ayushmann Khurrana, Kriti Sanon and Rajkummar Rao in Bareily Ki Barfi. Set in the small town of Bareily in northern India this is the story of Bitti played by Kriti who isn’t like other domesticated Indian girls. As the narrator says “She’s her mother’s daughter and her father’s son”.

 

Seema Pahwa plays Bitti’s mother Shushila Mishra and is woe-begotten with worry about getting Bitti married. Pankaj Tripathi plays Narottam Mishra Bitti’s father who is torn between his desire to let his daughter live her life by her standards and the society’s expectations of what constitutes a good girl. If that sounds dreary and drab – don’t let that fool you – this movie is a hoot and a half! When Bitti tries to run away from home she picks up a novel about a free-spirited girl from Bareily and she is convinced this is her story. She wants to meet the writer. Enter Chirag Dubey played by Ayushmann Khurana who owns the printing press where the book was published. Bitti convinces Chirag to get her to meet with Pritam Vidrohi played by Rajkummar Rao who wrote the book, and thus hilarity ensues. This much is clear from the trailer – and saying anymore would be a great disservice to the movie.

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Written by the writing team behind Dangal, Nitish Tiwari and Shreyas Jain this movie exceeds the 1500-crore earner by a clear mile when it comes to pure writing. Given the realtively smaller stars the movie is un-encumbered with trying to satiate star-egos and as a result the audience is the real winner. I honestly cannot remember the last time I heard the audience guffaw so loudly and at times that warranted laughter. Of the actors Kriti Sanon is a revelation – I have not seen any of her previous work and really wasn’t too keen on her either – but I am a convert now. Ayushmann is solid as ever. But the real hero of the film is Rajkummar Rao – his transitions between the two Pritam Vidrohis is so seamless it’s a real treat to watch. The supporting cast is brilliant as well. Seema Pahwa, Pankaj Tripathi, Swati Semwal as Bitti’s friend Rama and Rohit Chaudhary as Chirag’s Man-Friday Munna are all brilliantly nuanced in the small but crucial roles.

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The music doesn’t let you down, Sweety tera drama and Twist Kamariya will have you tapping your feet to its beat and Nazm Nazm will stay with you long after the screen credits as well. The screenplay is precise and very cleverly written, the editing very sharp and together they don’t let the pace slacken even slightly.

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Very cleverly written, ably acted and genuinely funny this one has definitely repeat watchability in the vein of Band Baaja Baraat. There really is absolutely nothing I can fault this movie for. Go watch it for Kriti who is not only easy on the eyes but has acting chops to back as well. Watch it for Ayushmann who really should be doing more movies than he is already. But more than anything else watch it for Rajkummar Rao – this guy is a national treasure!

 

Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya – A Review

Image result for badrinath ki dulhaniya posterShashank Khaitan teams up with Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt in Badrinath ki Dulhaniya, the follow up to Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya. After successfully parodying and at the same time paying homage to DDLJ, Khaitan Dhawan and Bhatt take on the runaway bride trope.

 

Tackling the social evils of dowry, gender discrimination and overbearing patriarchy the movie never once feels heavy or preachy. The movie hits every right note from the word go. We are introduced to Varun Dhawan as Badrinath Bansal, the second son of Ambarnath Bansal. Badri works as the loan collector for his money lender father. He runs into Vaidehi, played by Alia Bhatt at a wedding where he has gone to collect the money from one of his father’s debtors. What ensues is Badri’s earnest attempt at wooing Vaidehi who playfully and then forcefully rebuffs his advances.

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Alia Bhatt is fantastic and lights up the screen every time she is on the screen. She exhibits the full range of emotion from the playful and taunting to vulnerable and emotional, from the stubborn to acquiescent. With every movie she grows more assured and keeps surprising with the effortlessness with which she essays each role. To me the reign of Deepika Padukone is over and it is now the era of Alia and long may she reign!

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As much as I love Alia in everything she does this movie belongs to Varun Dhawan. It’s his energy which lifts this from being a run of the mill romance. His Badri is a perfect buffoon but with a heart of gold. Torn between an unrequited romance and an overbearing father Varun excels in every scene he is in. It is his innate sense of childlike innocence that makes the funny scenes funnier and the emotional ones more heart-breaking. Varun is ably supported by Sahil Vaid as Somdev his best friend. TV actor Shweta Prasad is superbly cast as Urmila Bansal the wife of Badri’s elder brother Alok Bansal also wonderfully played by Yash Sinha. Swandan Kirkire the lyricist plays Vaidehi’s hapless father and Rituraj Singh plays Badri’s father with suitable rage.

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The traditional Bollywood tropes which were mostly cheesily executed when Karan Johar was directing are now masterfully deployed with him in the producer capacity and Shashank Khaitan as the director. And surprisingly they even make a remixed Tamma Tamma work without losing the 90’s charm and updating it with the mannequin challenge for the millennials. The only trick they missed was having Madhuri Dixit make a cameo in the song itself. That would have made this old Madhuri fan jump up with joy.

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This is a fun movie that is immensely entertaining to watch. It has a serious message at its heart but it never once gets sermonise-y, it does not take itself seriously and yet manages to make the point it never set out to make. Fast paced, beautifully shot and exquisitely acted this one is not to be missed. Cannot wait for the next outing of Varun and his Dulhaniya in a new avatar.

Kaabil – A Review

Image result for kaabilSanjay Gupta directs Hrithik Roshan and Yami Gautam in the thriller Kaabil. Sanjay Gupta is enjoying a sort of second coming with big name projects like Jazbaa and Kaabil to his credit recently. While Jazbaa suffered because it was more style over substance, how does this revenge thriller fare. Does Hrithik bounce back from the last collaborative disaster with daddy dearest – Kites?

 

Hrithik plays dubbing artist Rohan Bhatnagar and Yami Gautam plays NGO worker and part time piano player Supriya Sawant. They are both visually impaired and are set up on a “blind” date by a common well-wisher. The meet-cute is probably the weakest moment of the film as it is difficult to really take the instant connection as realistic, for a movie that is this taut in its running time I for one wouldn’t mind if the director had spent a few extra minutes setting up the two lovebirds. After a rushed romance and a quickie wedding the newlyweds slip into domestic bliss. Terror strikes when local goon who has his eye on Supriya. Amit played by Rohit Roy along with his friend Wasim break into Rohan and Supriya’s house when Surpiya is alone and home and rape her. What follows from there is a harrowing tale of powerful politicians, corrupt cops and two helpless individuals caught in a nightmare not of their making.  While it is entirely plausible to see them going through the aftermath, director Sanjay Gupta and editor Akiv Ali seem to be chop-happy and cut scenes too much and you are left as mere bystanders and without an emphatic connection with the leads.

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The second half is an all-out action fest with Hrithik exacting revenge on the perpetrators of this horror. The slick way in which the narrative and the revenge scenes are setup is brilliant. Taking inspiration from Broken, a 2014 Korean revenge flick (some of Gupta’s best work is adapted from Korean films) and Netflix’s Daredevil we see Hrithik in superhero mode. But where Gupta succeeds is by not laying out each of the details of how everything that Hrithik does that would aid him in getting even with his able-eyed opponent. Gupta assumes the audience is intelligent enough to understand why the wafers are strewn on the floor. He has seamlessly weaved in Easter eggs in the first half of the movie that work themselves into the revenge action in the second half.

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Of the supporting cast Suresh Menon phones in a performance, Girish Kulkarni as the corrupt cop Nalawade is ham personified. Narendra Jha as the morally ambiguous cop Chaube is where I am let down the most. Jha’s character could have been reflective of the audience, voyeuristic at first, helpless later and eventually an enabler or at least a cheerleader by the climax. The Roy brothers Rohit and Ronit are template Bollywood baddies and really bring nothing new nor menacing to the table. Yami Gautam is beautiful and believable but pales in comparison to the tour de force that is Hrithik Roshan. This restrained performance of his is more in the vein of Jodha Akhbar and Fiza than the over the top Krrish franchise. He truly shines, both as the lovable and uxorious husband and then later as the cold and calculating vigilante. He’s played a disabled character previously in Guzarissh but while it was frankly terrible then – here he is entirely convincing.

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I have one complaint with this movie – too many songs! Kaabil is a good song as is the Mon Amour. That is where it should have been left at. There are 2 more songs which are entirely unnecessary and the travesty that is the “Saara Zamaana Haseeno ka Dewaana” is plainly unforgivable. Urvashi Rautella – “the item girl” who dances to this seems like she is in a hurry to finish her workout. She looks like a combination of all the item girls of the past – from Shefali Jariwaala to Koena Mitra and Sunny Leonne. This item girl trend has got to stop – if nothing else at least stop butchering iconic songs which should be sacrosanct. I mean come on – we’ve gone from Amitabh in his LED suit to this.

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The light and camerawork make up for that minor misstep though. The camera work in the Madh warehouse takes you into the thick of the action. The light and shadow play in the final “kill-scene” is brilliant. One flash of lightning and you see Hrithik and the next he is gone. Gupta lays off the saturated hues and the result is a fantastically slick flick.

 

Watch it for Hrithik because he is well and truly back.  I went in expecting to be disappointed and I was plesantly surprised. There really isnt anything besides that stupid song to complain about and on the contrary a lot of positives.

Dear Zindagi – A Review

Image result for Dear Zindagi posterGauri Shinde directs Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi, her sophomoric film after the incredible English Vinglish. In the days of big budget star vehicles aimed at the hundreds of crore at box office filmmakers like Gauri are a welcome relief when they make what are essentially indie movies with a heart.

 

We are introduced to Kaira, played by the ever charming Alia who is an up and coming cinematographer who is brought in to do patch work on an assignment because the main cinematographer has fallen ill. We see her impatience and almost combative nature when it comes to looking for a big break to shoot her own movie. To put her visual stamp on something of her own. There are hints of a budding romance in the awkward conversations she shares with Raghuvendra played by the handsome Kunal Kapoor. Alia breaks up with her current boyfriend Sid a restaurateur played by Angad Bedi after confessing to have slept with Raghuvendra. Through her maid we are led to believe that there is an ongoing parade of handsome men who go in and out of her life, spending a brief moment being tacked on a pin-board. The first quarter of the movie is spent setting up the millennial context of independent living and being free of conventional moral guilt. Kaira is surrounded by a pack of very interesting characters, there is Fatima the stylist, Jackie the rich bohemian kid, A troubled teen coming to grips with his sexuality and the token Fat nerdy friend. Yashaswini Dayama who plays Jackie is absolutely precious as the counterpoint to Kaira and Ira Dubey as Fatima is wonderful as well. Kaira is kicked out of her rented apartment because the society has decided not to rent flats to bachelors, another millennial struggle. Reluctantly she moves back to Goa to stay with her family and this is where things come to a boil. Rohit Saraf who plays Kiddo, Alia’s brother is hugely effective in a tiny role.

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Through curious coincidences she ends up listening in on Dr. Jehangir Khan talking about Mental Health. Being unable to sleep Kaira books an appointment with Dr. Khan. Dr Khan, aka Jug played by Shah Rukh Khan is surprisingly Vegan – devoid of all Ham and Cheese that is trademark SRK. In a very restrained and refined performance Jug unpicks the complicated cross-wires of Kaira’s life. This is where Gauri Shinde’s subtle direction really shines. For viewers who are familiar with western dramas it might come across as a bit clichéd but in the Indian context there is a sense of novelty. There is commitment phobia, familial conflicts, sibling jealousy, dreams of falling off buildings. Every single situation feels organic and not forced. There is no mocking, no sermonising, even the one situation where there is a gay character is handled surprisingly sensitively.

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To me English Vinglish was one of the best debut movies and even the best movie of 2012. There was absolutely nothing that I could find fault with. With Dear Zindagi there are a few things that left me wanting more. While the songs of English Vinglish were lyrically contextual they were still incredibly memorable and hummable, not so with Dear Zindagi. Only “Love you Zindagi” has any appeal. For a movie whose main character is supposed to be a talented cinematographer the cinematography in the first quarter of the movie is surprisingly subpar. But these two minor misgivings are quickly forgotten when Alia is onscreen. It is hard to believe that Alia is only 7 movies old. She is immensely watchable and extremely relatable. The range she has exhibited from Student of the Year to Udta Punjab is incredible. She has mastered the art of emotional outburst, first seen with that pivotal scene in Highway and now with this scene around the dinner guests.

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Hopefully thanks to Alia the taboo subject of mental illness will become more of an open discussion in India. Gauri Shinde’s nuanced direction and sensitive portrayal does more than just pay lip-service to the subject. With this movie Shah Rukh Khan understands that this is where his talents are more suited to. The definition of entertaining is different for different people. I found it massively entertaining seeing actors and the director at the top of their craft. Even if this is not entertaining in the conventional sense this is in my opinion an important movie, a movie that pushes forth an agenda rarely touched upon openly and does so in a way that is palatable and relatable and frankly beautiful to look at. This is the therapy we all need.  This the grown up letter to life that has evolved from the pages of a teeny angst-filled diary.

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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!

Mirzya – A Review

Image result for mirzya posterRakeysh Omprakash Mehra directs debutantes Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher in Mirzya. Mirzya is the story of the famed folk tale of Mirza Sahiba the star crossed lovers who meet a tragic end.

 

Monish and Suchitra are childhood friends who go to school together. When Suchitra covers for Monish when he hasn’t done his homework she is punished. Monish enraged by such cruel treatment of her beloved takes drastic action and is sent to the correction home for young criminals. Suchitra moves away distraught. Years later Suchitra is engaged to the prince of Jaisalmer Rajasthan and Monish having escaped the remand home and changed his name works as the horse groomer for the prince fully aware of Suchitra. What follows from here on is the tale on the lines of the Mirza-Sahiba.

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Rakeysh Mehra used the dual timeline to tell the story in the landmark Rang De Basanti tries it once again with Mirzya. There is Mirzya the warrior who bids for the princess’s hand and then elopes with her on her wedding night only to be pursued by the princess’ clan and her fiancé and there is Monish and Suchitra the modern day Mirzya and Sahiba. Where Mehra succeeded in Rang De Basanti was the relentless pacing of the movie that kept the audience engrossed and the two timelines never repeated what was happening by merely changing the props. With Mirzya the story is literally scene for scene retelling of the same snippets of the stories in the two timelines. It isn’t entirely unpleasant simply because of the jaw dropping scenery involved. The ancient tale is set on the virgin landscapes of Leh and Ladakh and the contemporary is set amidst the golden sands of Rajasthan, arguably two of the most beautiful places not only in India but the world over.

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Polish cinematographer Pawel Dyllus frames each scene as if a couplet of poetry. Every tragic scene is captured so beautifully that all you can do is sigh contentedly. The music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy coupled with the Gulzar’s heartrending  lyrics is the absolute stand out of the movie, a little restraint perhaps would have proved to be more effective the “nadiyaa” song seems a throw away but the Hichchaki and the title track are goose-bump inducing. The frenzied dancing of the blacksmith is the meeting of the two flowers of yesteryear and I for once commend the director for making that visual choice instead of the writhing bodies of the hero and heroine. The imagery on the walls of the village is also a nice touch.

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Harshvardhan Kapoor seems to have inherited his father’s ruffian charm. As a debutante he is composed and charming and entirely believable as the Rajasthani horse groomer. I cannot wait to see what he does next. Saiyami Kher is a stunning beauty with flyaway curls a plenty and bambi like eyes that hold your attention. She however lacks the gravitas to pull off the role of the tragic heroine Sahiba and her performance seems a little superfluous. In the final scenes though she does full justice to Sabyasachi wedding lehenga running across the unending dessert as if from the pages of some editorial. A few diction lessons and practising a resting face will do her good in the long run. Anjali Patil as Zeenat in a minuscule role leaves a lasting impression and Anuj Pandey as Prince Karan is mostly believable.

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Go for the visuals, stay for the soulful lyrics and leave with the spine tingling music still buzzing in your head. Every frame is a moving painting, every word a story of heartbreak in itself and every note a life affirming experience. Go watch Mirzya!