Fitoor – A Review

Abhishek Kapoor directs Katrina Kaif, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Tabu in Fitoor, a story adapted by Supratik Sen from Charles Dickens’ The Great Expectations. Kapoor last adapted the Chetan Bhagat’s three mistakes of my life into the brilliant Kai Po Che and given what he milked out of a less than stellar source material the expectations would have been sky high given Dickens’ rich and fertile literary ground that Kapoor had to play with. Does Kapoor and team meet the great expectations or do they drift aimlessly into the abyss like an untethered kite? Read on to find out more.

Kapoor and Sen have stayed quiet true to the original, Aditya Roy Kapoor is Noor or Dickens’ Pip, Katrina is Firdaus, Estella in the original and Tabu is Hazrat Begum the eccentric Mrs. Haversham . Besides these three there are a lot of other characters from Dickens’ Novel that find themselves adapted into the Indian context in Fitoor.

When we first meet Noor and Firdaus we see a beautiful and ethereal Firdaus and an awestruck and an inadequate feeling Noor. Begum Hazrat sees the first inkling of puppy love in Noor’s eyes and seems to encourage it by asking him to come to the Mansion more often but then following the violence in the valley which kills Noor’s sister the Begum sends Firdaus away to London to study leaving Noor longing for her. Years later Noor a budding artist is given a scholarship from a mysterious benefactor who he assumes is the Begum herself.  Moving to Delhi Noor meets Firdaus and confesses his love which she rejects as she is set to be engaged to Bilal. This is the biggest departure from The Great Expectations because where in the novel we clearly see that Estella is cold and unloving, Firdaus is seemingly struggling to decide between Noor and Bilal. This is also where the story wobbles because it becomes about this love story more than the over-arching theme of growth of Pip/Noor.

Aditya Roy Kapoor who caused me incessant grief as the drunken mess in Yeh Jawani hai Deewani surprises with a restrained performance. He has intensity in his quiet demeanor that is perfect for this performance. Katrina Kaif as Firdaus is beautiful but fails to bring a sense of haughtiness that is essential for the character of Estella. Without the cool aloofness the climactic realization of love does not carry the same weight that it would have. Tabu as Begum Hazrat is exceptional. There is a sense of discomfort that you feel when you see her approach young Noor, there is a tragic beauty in her when you see her lie on her chaise smoking a hukka. Her demeanor and actions at the beginning of the story make sense when you are given the back story to her failed attempt at love. Hers is the best written character amongst the main three. Her penchant for wearing ostentatious jewelry only makes sense when you find out her back story.

It is rare that one would complain that a Bollywood movie needs to be longer. But that is exactly what was needed; at least another 30 minutes and the second half could have carried more weight than just stumbling to a satisfactory conclusion. As in the novel the guilt of Mrs. Haversham at manipulating Pip and Estella, the connections between Pip’s benefactor, Estella’s biological parents and Mrs. Haversham’s Fiancé who jilted her and how all of this ties back to Pip and the eventual reconciliation between Pip and Estella would have made for a more compelling second half than Kapoor and Sen manage with Fitoor. But it is not to be and we must judge Fitoor for what it is and in that it is a solid attempt at adapting a one of the most influential literary works which Kapoor manages to with a justifiable degree of success. The cinematography is gorgeous and the production value of the highest kind when it comes to Noor’s works of art. Buoyed by strong performances from Aditya Roy Kapoor and Tabu it is a very competent film that leaves you wanting more. While it lacks the intensity of Haider a Shakespearean adaptation also set in Kashmir Fitoor is not lacking in allegories. Maybe I read too much into the movie but I could definitely see an Indo-Pak-Kashmir metaphor happening and it is commendable that Indian directors are aiming for a subtext no matter if the end result is sub-par at least they are trying.

 

Wazir – A Review

Bejoy Nambiar directs Farhan Akhtar, Amitabh Bachchan and Aditi Rao Haidari in chess inspired revenge thriller Wazir in a story written by Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

 

The story starts with an introduction into Farhan’s idyllic family life where he plays Daanish Ali a Delhi Cop, has a kathak dancer wife Ruhana played by the beautiful Aditi Rao Haidari and an adorable toothless daughter noorie. Disaster strikes when defying all logic he chases down a known terrorist with his daughter in the backseat as his wife is getting her ghunghroo repaired. And this is not the most absurd plot line in the movie.

Farhan amped up on sleeping pills goes on a rampage and kills the said terrorist while the Police are running a parallel operation trying to nab the terrorist alive to get information on the politician-terrorist nexus. Spiralling out of control Farhan tries to kill himself at his daughter’s grave and is stopped from doing that by Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh Bachchan teaches Farhan Chess and helps him get his life on track and enlists him in his fight to nail the perpetrators behind his daughter’s death.

There is John Abraham playing a Kashmir Cop and Neil Nitin Mukesh playing the eponymous Wazir and while these actors are not exactly brimming with talent, their limited talents are also wasted with a half-baked  plot lines.For what is a short movie it feels overlong and poorly paced. The editing or the lack thereof is really what sinks the ship. For what could have been an intelligent thriller is rendered boring and insipid with its watered down plot and dumbed down narrative. The problem with Bollywood is that it has never owned a Wren and Martin or never attended figures of speech class. While going for Metaphors it ends up doing Simile. While trying to make the narrative complex and interesting using Chess moves as metaphors for calculated moves Daanish must make to help nail the culprits Amitabh ends up speaking out loud everything just in case Farhan doesn’t get it. And the final climax which you can see coming from a mile away is made even more obvious when a Child is asked to lay out the plot in sobbing bursts of storytelling while Farhan holds a gun over the head of a fearsome terrorist. Coincidence is a mark of lazy storytelling and it is on glorious display here.

wazir3dec20

While watching a director’s round table with a popular film critic one director made a very important point of how the Indian movies are made with the interval in mind and how that breaks the flow of the story – while that director was speaking of it in defence of intervals and how it helps with long stories here it couldn’t be more unnecessary. For a movie with a total running length of 80 minutes the interval is entirely unnecessary and it manages to deflate whatever little energy the movie manages to build leading up to the said interval. And the other Achilles heel of Bollywood? Pointless songs! The whole movie can be broken down into 2 parts – the one part where nothing really happens in normal speed and with no background score and the other where nothing happens in slow motion with one monotonous song playing in the background regardless of the situation at hand. I almost gasped when at the end they had a song sung by Amitabh playing as the credits rolled and not the overused “Tu Mere Pass”

What could have been slick almost psychological thriller is watered down and made so bland I can’t believe how excited I was when the trailer first released months ago. Amitabh is good as is Farhan but the story is overly simplistic and the non-existent editing and over direction is what kills this story. Want a well written, competently directed and marvellously edited thriller? You’d be better served by rewatching Kahani instead and not waste your time with this tepid mess.

Bajirao Mastani – A Review

Sanjay Leela Bhansali directs Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra in his long gestating magnum opus Bajirao Mastani based on the fabled romance of Bajirao Peshwa the great Maratha warrior and Mastani Bai the warrior princess of Bundelkhand. SLB is a master of star crossed lovers and breath-taking visuals that are second to none. It is no secret that SLB has likened Bajirao as a seminal tribute to the greatest Indian movie Mughl-e-Azam, a comparison that few would dare to want to draw to their own movies lest it fall short of the ShahJehan and Anarkali romance that shook the foundations of the Mughal dynasty.

 

Bajirao Mastani is stunning exercise in visual mastery that one has come to expect from SLB. While earlier Bhansali has relied primarily on enormous sets with ostentatious production values here he goes more for the panoramic shots of the horizon upon which many a battles erupt and end rather violently but the faint pinkish hue of the sky somehow applies a calming touch to the bloodshed. There is a shot where Bajirao mounts an attack on the Mughal king attacking Bundelkhand which has featured prominently in the trailers as well that shot is worthy of a LOTR comparison in terms of the fight choreography and the scene composition. There are many a visual cues that evoke a 300 or LOTR like vibe but not because they are replicated like in those Hollywood movies but more so because of the cleanness and the competence of the craft involved.

But war is not what Bhansali specialises in – Romance is where the auteur’s signature touch comes through. The main characters are introduced in such a casual fashion that it is clear that in Bhansali’s universe the story comes first and its stars later.

Speaking of its stars there are clear stand outs. Ranveer is fantastic once again as Bajirao Peshwa – the sword of the Maratha Empire that at once threatened to overthrow both the British and the Mughal invaders from India. Ranveer manages to strike a respectable restraint when portraying the poignant Maratha warrior and does not render him as a caricature but rather as someone worthy of the awe that surrounds him. Deepika as Mastani continues her winning streak with her ability to get to the essence of each of her characters and to pull each one off with an exquisite elegance. Madhubala she is not but the grace and poise with which she carries herself in royal courts is brilliantly juxtaposed by the fierce warrior that she is on the field. Deepika either has some magical powers or all the cinematographers she works with love her and are able to light her in ways that not even the most famed beauties have ever been shot as. There is a luminosity to her which seems to emanate from within her rather than from the outside. Priyanka Chopra as Kashibai, Bajirao’s first wife is also wonderfully restrained. She carries her proud self while still letting slip her vulnerability in moments when she confronts Bajirao after he marries Mastani. While Deepika’s gestures are more languid and lyrical befitting a Muslim princess, those of Priyanka are more energetic and exaggerated as one would expect the women of Maharashtra to embody. Their dance off in Pinga is SLB’s directional nuances at his best. Priyanka wears a silk blouse while Deepika wears a velvet one, Deepika holds her head high while Priyanka bobs hers enthusiastically, Deepika arches her back yet manages to look long and lean while Priyanka goes in for the more energetic hip action. Both similar yet strikingly different. This is why when people complain that Bhansali goes for mostly ostentatious sets they seem to miss the minute details that he puts in to etching out his characters. Milind Soman as Pant Pradhan to Peshwa and Tanvi Azmi as Peshwa’s mother are important characters in the story and the choice of the actors couldn’t be any better. Milind Soman is rather unrecognizable yet entirely impressive.

No Bhansali movie is complete without a smashing sound track with memorable songs and tunes that linger on in your head long after you have left the theatre. And Bajirao Mastani is no different. Deewani Mastani is without a doubt the most visually stunning song, Pinga evokes a Dola Re déjà vu and has a catchy hook. Albela Sajan seems to be a straight lift from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam but with the reworked music works well. The only sore spot is the Malhari song, that song has no place in the final cut of the movie it should have been left on the chopping floors.

Camera work by cinematographer Sudeep Chaterjee is beautiful. The scenes with Priyanka coming forth with the Aarti to welcome Bajirao, the slicing of the peacock feather and the dagger thrown at Chimmaji Appa are particularly captivating but it is the entire sequence in the Aaina mahal during Deewani Mastani and the triple jump and slash scene in the battle field are so good that they will become the hallmarks against which future cinematic references will be made.

The story and particularly the climax evokes strong Devdas vibes, The nods to Mughl-e-Azam are more than a few the Holi Song is Mohe Panghat pe, The jailing of Mastani is Utho hamara salam le lo. But despite these minor flaws this is a stunning piece of cinema and without a doubt the best I have seen this year coming out of Bollywood.

Watch this for Bhansali who for me is the best director working in Bollywood today who delivers with a consistency, a visionary who makes going to cinema worth it. Watch it for Ranveer who continues to defy expectations and delivers a performance that is equal parts abandon and equal parts restraint. Watch it for Priyanka who shines like a finely cut diamond in the hands of the master craftsman. And watch it for Deepika Padukone who continues to defy the law of averages and keeps getting better with each movie and is at present peer-less in Bollywood and the queen continues to reign supreme as the warrior princess.

50 Shades of Grey – A Review

Sam Taylor Johnson directs Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in the on screen adaptation of E.L.James’ BDSM fantasy novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Dornan plays Christian Grey a 27 year old Billionaire and Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia Steele a fresh college graduate and a hardware store employee.

 

E.L.James wrote this novel as a Fan Fiction inspired by Twilight and the story suffers the same banality that was the cornerstone of Stephenie Meyer’s work. The entire proceeding seems derivative and uninspired and reads more like a smattering of different stories one would have heard over the years and they are pieced together with no objective other than to titillate a few desperate housewives. There is no sense of romance, no sense of danger or even intrigue as the characters are written as flatly as possible. There are hints of dark humour as Anastasia “negotiates” the contract with Christian – the premise as absurd as it is would have been made immensely bearable and almost believable had Ana continued to mock and make fun of the specifics of the contract but instead the flickering flame of hope is soon doused by a multitude of lip-biting and toe-curling reactions from Ana.

I fail to understand what is the point of this – not just the movie but also the book. The Christian grey as presented here has no redeeming quality other than that he is rich and moderately good looking, in fiction land they are dim a dozen and better written. Also women – who comprise the large portion of James’ fandom- how can they associate with Anastasia Steele – I mean I am all for toe-curling action between the sheets but wouldn’t they find it objectionable to be portrayed as Steele is portrayed here? I can understand men wanting women to be as naïve and easy but I would find that women would find that demeaning and insulting.

I was told that the screenwriting is an improvement on the actual novel and that the many references to “her inner goddess doing the tango” which are missing from the screenplay are a welcome change I cannot even begin to imagine what the source would have been. Jamie Dornan who hit the headlines with his Calvin Klein Advert during the super bowl is honestly less impressive here as the hunky Christian Grey than his 30 sec Superbowl advert. His dialogue delivery is dry and he fails to infuse any element of mystery. Dakota Johnson as Anastasia shows promise but squanders it all with her lip-biting and heavy breathing and writhing. What Marcia Gay Harden is doing in this stinking pile of dung is beyond my understanding – an actress of her standing should have stayed as far away from this as possible. The insufferable Rita Ora makes her blink-and-miss debut as Grey’s France-returned sister who is about as believable as Ora’s current self-proclaimed diva status.

The one thing I was looking forward to was the music and Beyoncé’s vocals do make the visual imagery slightly more bearable. Outside of that there is really nothing to be gained from this cinematic outing. There is no thrill, no excitement, no romance and no intrigue. It is one mechanical over-simulated sex-scene after the other where Dornan is completely out of it and Johnson too into it. The chemistry is entirely lacking and there is no character development and the story goes nowhere. Even with the pile of garbage that was James’ original novel there was scope that this movie would be a parody of itself and by virtue of that be at least half-interesting, but that is not the case. And to the scores of women who packed the theatres over the valentine day weekend – please wake up – you deserve better – I am not even insinuating a Jane Austen type feminist caper but at least something that doesn’t insult your intelligence.

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.

 

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya – A Review

Shashank Khaitan directs Student of the year alums Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt in
Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya which fashions itself as a tribute to the much-loved Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge but at times comes off looking like a spoof of the said inspiration.

Produced by Karan Johar this has all the trappings of a Dharma Production quick-gratification entertainment blockbuster, strapping lads and lissome ladies, slick cinematography and sexy costumes and a frothy and entirely superficial yet immensely enjoyable story.  The first half of the movie whilst disjointed is immensely funny as Humpty aka Varun meets Ambala hailing Kavya Pratap Singh aka Alia Bhatt who agrees to be wed to an NRI dude on the one condition that her wedding lehenga be a designer outfit similar to her screen idol Kareena Kapoor.

Humpty aided by able sidekicks Shonty and Poplu try every trick in the Bollywood romcom 101 book to woo and win the affections of Kavya and are successful eventually but how they get there with the blackmailing the blackmailer boyfriend of the best friend and other such interesting side stories is where the movie could have risen above the regular KJo McMovie.

The second half of the movie in all honesty is quite a drag and the only real reason for it to even exist in the form that it does is to showcase KJo’s latest wet dream – Siddharth Shukla. This Siddharth fares much worse than the one he launched in Student of the year. Where the charisma came naturally to Malhotra everything Shukla does makes me cringe. It is Poplu who saves the day with his witty one-liners and questionable orientation.

Of the actors Varun proves yet again that the comedy gene runs strong in the Dhawan family with an amazing knack for comic timing. Alia is reigning princess of Bollywood she oozes charm and charisma and carries the haughty pretty girl attitude with aplomb.  There are many comparisons to Kareena Kapoor and I think they do her a disservice Kareena only once displayed that natural magnetism and it was in Jab We Met and outside of that she has left me cold. This is the third Alia movie I am seeing and she just seems to go from strength to strength – sure her repertoire might be limited but even within those limitations she has managed to somehow blow me away with her honesty and earnest portrayal of a spoilt bratty pretty girl. Siddharth Shukla makes an entirely forgettable debut and a wholly unnecessary one as well I would much prefer Malhotra thank-you-very-much.  Ashutosh Rana as the grumpy father of the bride turns in an impressive performance.  Gaurav Pandey as Shonty and Sahil Vaid as Poplu are the friends you’d want by your side when trying to woo a girl ala SRK.  I wish the story had ended differently.

Spoiler alert: (highlight below to read the content)

I wish after the date night scene Varun had the conversation with Ashutosh Rana and left for the station and then the whole DDLJ “Ja Jee Le Apni Zindagi” bit had happened.  It would have just felt a little less tired than it ended up feeling in the movie.

Spoiler Over:

The movie manages to infuse humor in the tired old formulaic love story and makes it entertaining. Samjhawan and Saturday are the only two songs which work and are memorable and the rest are just plain jarring with no real reason to exist and aren’t even that good.  Varun and Alia carry the movie on their shoulders with their youthful energy. Watch this for these two wonderful actors and to relive and DDLJ nostalgia that you might have.

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.

2013 – A Review

Pop that bubbly and kiss 2013 good bye and bring out those notepads to make the resolutions for 2014! I am not the sorts to make resolution and even unlikely to keep one all through the year. But 2013 must be an exception to that rule and what I am hoping is a turning point for me. Back in jan 2013 I made a resolution to write about every movie I saw and as a result I started my blog. Since its inception the blog has generated 4600+ hits and given me many a joy as a result.

There were many highlights like when Ashok Banker posted my review of his 8-part Ramayana series on his facebook page! That was the push I needed to convince myself that I was onto something good. But even before that the blog’s very first post was a fresh and refreshing movie which has continued to be the benchmark against which all other movies I saw this year were compared to – Kai Po Che.

In a year of 100 crore plus blockbusters which required as many aspirins to overcome the headaches they caused there were little indie gems ( can’t believe I am using the word Indie in the indian cinematic context!) which made the year a lot more bearable.

Summarized below are my top 10 picks , my bottom 5 and the 3 biggest disappointments. This is not the whole catalogue of movies released in 2013 – just the ones I made an effort to go watch, there are still Oscar heavy hitters like 12 years a slave, August Osage County , The Wolf of Wall Street  which I am yet to watch and review.

Top 10 : (in alphabetical order) top 10

Bombay Talkies : a first of sorts where 4 mainstream big-name directors came together to present 4 short stories which celebrated the 100 years of Indian Cinema. Each story holding its own and neither director trying to one-up the other  but rather trying to tell an earnest story. Incidentally this is also one my most shared reviews and some people commented that they didn’t immediately see the connect I made between the four stories but did definitely agree afterwards.

Fukrey : A serious rib-tickler thanks to the antics of Choocha and Bholi Punjaban. And featuring the song of the year “Ambarsariya” this one was the most surprising as we went in expecting very little and came out clutching our sides which hurt from laughing out loud. A comedy that did not depend on physical gags and potty humor – my pick for the best comedy of the year!

Gravity : the opening 12-minute sequence is an experience that cannot be compared to any that we have had in theaters ever. A trip to space that we had only imagined so far but was brought life in glorious IMAX by the visionary Alonso Cuarón. Sandra Bullock should trade in her Oscar for best actress for blind side and ask for a new one for this one.  The magic of cinema as it was meant to be.

Go Goa Gone : A zombie movie made in india? You have got to be kidding me! And no Ramsay-fication of the same? Get out of here! This was a close second to the comedy of the year pick. Again went in with very little expectation came out with goosebumps from the gross zombies and a hurting jaw from all the laughing.

Kai Po Che :  I hate Chetan Bhagat and his brand of Indian-English Lit. but to take his story “3 mistakes of my life” and to make it into a sensitive, humorous and realistic tale of friendship, politics and redemption is not mean task.  This introduced us to 3 promising actors and redeemed a director after his overrated RockOn debut.  My personal favorite of the year, and a movie that will only get better with time.

Madras Café : this almost made it to the most disappointing because of the over simplification and the lack of cloak and daggers that I wanted from a smartly crafted and a beautifully shot political thriller. But I cannot take away from the fact that sujoy ghosh made a smart movie with believable performances from 2 of the worst actors.

Prisoners  : comparisons to Zodiac and Se7en are always going to bode well for any movie in my book and this dark and violent thriller about a man on rampage after his little girl goes missing is something that still gives me the chills when I recall the look of abject hatred on Hugh Jackman’s beautiful face. My pick for the best ensemble acting of the year, Jackman, Melissa leo, Paulo dano, viola davis, maria bello all bloody brilliant and I don’t hate Jake Gyllenhall anymore!

RamLeela :  This one is a controversial pick I know. Many people have written off Sanjay Leela Bhansali as a director more consumed with erecting humungous set pieces and working in monochromatic mode than concentrating on the story and character development. I disagree, and strongly at that. RamLeela , a Shakespearean adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in rural Gujarat between warring clans of Rajadi and Saneda and a opulent multi-hued visual spectacle is the best Bhansali has done in years. This is devdas and HDDCS good. Most definitely the best soundtrack of the year with every single song a win in my book. Give it a watch without preconceived notions against Bhansali and you will be happier for it.

Rush :  Nothing – the answer to the question what can Ron Howard not do? To a person who detests Formula one this was definitely one of the best sporting movies ever made. The rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt captured beautifully without playing the sympathy card for either of the protagonists. Daneil Bruhl turning in one of the best supporting acting all year. Beautifully shot, exquisitely scored – this was a highlight of the year without a doubt.

Ship Of Theseus :  The redemption of Bollywood in its 100 years of existence which has been marred by either blatantly plagiarized Hollywood fluff or story-less superstar billed histrionic orgy. Ship of theseus took a Grecian paradox ( had people googling what the hell a paradox is ) and turned it into poignant moving cinema which proved to the masses that you don’t need a small country’s GDP-equivalent budget or big-name stars to make a beautiful and technically adept movie. You need a brilliant director, a strong script and absolute dedication to your craft. Karan Johar rightly said – this movie makes every other filmmaker feel inferior. This should have been India’s entry to the Oscars’ foreign language category.

 

Bottom 5 ( In alphabetical order)

bottom 5

B.A. Pass : what promised to be a sensual Noir film ended up being a one-note repetitive mess which went no were and failed because the director was more consumed by trying to make a stylized movie which tried to touch upon every cliché possible rather than to make a simple story told in layers.

Bhag Milkha Bhag : the trailer set the pulse racing with a buffed up Farhan Akhtar running with a tyre tied to his waist against the stark ladhak landscapes. What was promised as a sporting bio-pic ended up being a boring meaningless mess. I had  such high hopes and I was left clutching at straws trying to find any redeeming factors about this movie.

 Chashme Baddoor : how can you take a Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval classic and butcher it so that it bears no resemblance to the original movie from which it was adapted from.  Chashme Baddoor is how.  

Dhoom : 3 : I knew this was going to be bad – but so bad that I had to take notes for my review! Every single thing about this movie was an absolute stinking turd. The only saving grace? The world now is in on the secret I knew for years! Aamir Khan is a conman who in guise of perfectionism is a hack who has only gotten lucky with a few good films and is essentially a worthless actor.

Satyagraha : Amitabh is good the rest is bad and Prakash Jha is  quickly become a tiresome director to sit through and when the new channels rehash the same political conundrum the nation is going through better than a national award winning director there is something definitely wrong with the movie.

Biggest Disappointments:

disappointment

 Lunchbox :  the end product failed to live up to all the hype surrounding the release of the movie and the hue and cry that followed afterwards when this movie was not selected as India’s official entry to the oscars. sure it is a cute little story but it did not live up to the potential that it held and ultimately the biggest disappointment for me for the year.

Man Of Steel : Snyder sullied the name of Nolan by making this mess of a movie. The perfect choice for superman Henry Cavill was not given enough to do in the movie which was more Snyder & Goyer  and less Nolan (chris and jonathan both) . a BIG disappointment all around.

 Nautanki Saala! :  the rising star of the last year Aayushman Khurana fails to entertain and the movie overall is just a giant mess. Less than catchy tunes and a story that had the potential but fails to deliver is the reason why this movie makes it to my list of big disappointments.

 

So there you have it – I wish I had seen more movies this year than I did and that is a resolution I am certain to make for 2014 and as a result more reviews to write and read. I will try to add more variety than just movie reviews and there is an exciting prospect under development which when accomplished I will be very very very happy to share with all!  Here is wishing all you readers of my blog a very happy new year and good luck with those resolutions! Make a resolution because it feels great at the end of the year when you sit down to look at what you have accomplished!

 

 

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.

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.