Rangoon – A Review

Image result for rangoon movieVishal Bhardwaj directs Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan in Second World War based Rangoon. Bhardwaj and Kap00r teaming is always exciting and Bhardwaj extracted perhaps Saif Ali Khan’s best performance in Shakespeare’s Othello adaptation, Omkara. But it is Kangana Ranaut who is the one woman tour de force who carries the movie on her lissom shoulders.

 

Kangana plays a Bombay based action heroine Miss Julia, the star of Rusi Billimoria’s production house. Saif Ali Khan plays the Howard Hughes inspired Rusi Billimoria. Similar to the starlets of the west who perform for the soldiers fighting at the front, Miss Julia is whisked off to the Rangoon border to boost the morale of the soldiers at the request of the hindi-shayari spewing Major General Harding. Sergeant Nawab Mallik is entrusted with Miss Julia’s safety on the journey to Rangoon. Shahid Kapur plays the sergeant who in the stunning opening sequence was captured by the Japanese forces and held as a POW.

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What follows from there on is a weak story line which is compensated to a fair extent by Kangana’s brilliant acting, fantastic camera work and surreal virgin landscapes. There are parts where the CGI work shows, but in the rest of the scenes it is seamless. The songs are hummable and the performances on the songs elevate it several notches. In particular Bloody Hell, Tippa and Mere Piya Gaye England are fantastically crafted. Overall the production value and the attention to detail is commendable.

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Kangana is fantastic! She mixes a femme fatale like beauty with a vulnerability that demonstrates the full range of her repertoire. It is her innocent child like demeanour that makes her dancing in front of the Japanese soldiers for dear life believable and endearing. Every frame she is in, she fills it up with light and life. Her interaction with the japanese soldier they are holding as captive is one of the absolute highlights of the movie, remniscent of her interaction with Taka in Queen. Shahid Kapur is restrained and able in the supporting role to Kangana. Saif Ali Khan’s performance grows on you as you realise the kind of control he wields on Kangana and how subtly he plays it. Richard McCabe who plays Major General Harding hams it up to the nines and begins to grate on you after a while.

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While Vishal Bhardwaj does a fine job of recreating a bygone era and extracting the best from his actors, eventually it is the script that lags and slows up proceedings. The editing does the movie no favours either and as the end result the movie suffers. The INA sub-plot and the eventual climax seem more like an afterthought than the driving force.

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Go for the visuals and for Kangana’s mesmerizing turn as Miss Julia. When the history of Bollywood is written, Kangana will be touted in the same vein as Madhuri Dixits and Madhubalas, not only gorgeous but immensely talented and capable of carrying an entire movie on their own.  Mildly entertaining overall this one is a must watch only for Kangana and the beautiful landscapes.

 

Udta Punjab – A Review

Abhishek Chaubey directs Shahid Kapur, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Diljit Dosanjh in Udta Punjab a story set in Punjab and the crippling effects of drugs and the complicated narco-politics. Udta Punjab hogged the headlines for a better part of the two weeks leading up to its release with its run-ins with the chief of the Censor board in India.

Udta Punjab is a story of two halves, the privileged – a Rockstar and a doctor and the under privileged a migrant labourer and cop trying to find his conscience. A half that is putting up a valiant fight in the war on drugs and the other that is responsible for perpetuating the drug menace.

Shahid Kapur plays Tommy a Rockstar whose songs promote drug abuse and the only way he can seem to perform is by getting high. Daljit plays Sartaj a Cop who turns a blind eye to the drug trafficking and accepting bribes. Kareena plays doctor Preet who runs a rehab project and treats patients of overdose. Preet is also a campaigner for the war on drugs. Alia plays an unnamed Bihari migrant worker who falls victim to drug addiction when she is kidnapped and kept locked up as a sex slave. She fights the addiction and tries to find ways to escape her predicament.

Udta Punjab is a story of halves, in that the first half tries to establish the backstory for each of its four protagonists and the second halve sees their story to its conclusion. The second half is gritty and grim with a couple of elements of slapstick which bring a welcome relief to the tragic drama unfolding. The first half suffers in comparison with the over the top antics of Tommy which add nothing to the movie. Also because the epiphany that he feels in the second half cannot somehow be reconciled with how his character has grown. The first half grates and the second half has pacing issues. Also Kareena is less Doctor and more investigative journalist. It honestly would have worked better had she played a journalist who is the sister of a doctor who runs the rehab clinic – the story would have seemed more plausible.

The actors all put in strong performances ranking them in ascending order of merit we start with Kareena who puts in a restrained performance that is a rarity from her. Diljit shuffles between a bumbling do-gooder cop and a hot headed corrupt cop but with the amount of time he gets on screen he is immensely watchable and a welcome authentic regional casting choice as a Punjabi cop. Shahid Kapur is fantastic the opening Chitta ve number is reminiscent of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey’s Dhan Te Nan vibe. He gives himself completely to the role and the only reason why he is the top performer in this movie is because his character is not fully developed. They try to make him into a good guy towards the end and the transition is sudden, abrupt and a bit disingenuous. The best of the lot is Alia Bhatt. She as the unnamed Bihari migrant farm worker who ends up suffering the most is the only character that you are invested in from the beginning. Her vulnerability and inner resolve make you root for her from the very get go. Alia has mastered emotional outburst – she showed glimpses of brilliance in Highway but here she goes ballistic when she recounts her tale and the misery she has gone through in the second half. When Shahid suggest suicide to end this misery, she throws a shoe at him for putting such thoughts in her head. You know her strength. You know she won’t give up. Alia is a beautiful privileged star child who was launched into Bollywood with a dream launch but the path she has carved out for herself with the acting choices is worthy of appreciation. She is the stand out star of this movie despite a role that isn’t that big.

The music isn’t that great. The story telling is chaotic. The dialogues are either too run of the mill or make no sense. Especially the Jameen Banjar Aulad Kanjar makes no sense because Punjab’s land is one of the most fertile and its sons form a majority of the forces protecting our borders. Abhishek Chaubey’s direction isn’t distinctive enough but Rajeev Ravi’s work behind the camera is stunning.

The controversy that preceded the movie and the PR by its makers would lead one to believe that this was a movie that would make ground shattering statement that would hold up a mirror to the society. This movie does that in parts but it essentially bungles up a fantastic opportunity. It is neither Requiem for a Dream which shows the devastating effects of drugs nor is it Sicario which focuses on the war on drugs. But thanks to Alia Bhatt’s riveting performance this rises above the mundane.

Shaandaar – A Review

Vikas Bahl directs Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt in the Big Fat Indian Destination wedding capers Shaandaar. This is Vikas Bahl, the director of Queen, My top pick for 2014 over Boyhood, Gone Girl and Nightcrawler. Shahid Kapoor who last lived up to his true potential as the Shakespearean hero Hamlet in Haider and Alia Bhatt silenced critics in the surprise hit Highway. Take these 3 and put them in an Indian wedding scenario and there are bound to be fireworks! Right? WRONG!

The curse of Karan Johar strikes again! What we end up is an ill-conceived, badly written, under directed and choppily edited mess that you shouldn’t even poke with a 100 ft. pole. Stay as far away from this as you possibly can.

You have Sushma Seth the matriarch of the family who are quietly going bankrupt who tries to strike a business deal with the Fundwani’s by marrying off their plump daughter Isha to the 8 and ½ pack wielding himbo Robin. There is this plot of the Kamlaji and his daughter in law Geetu who try to keep feeding Isha calorie heavy food to keep making her fat, they promise to gift the groom gold equalling the weight of Isha and then they complain and make snide remarks at her ballooning weight. It makes no sense at all. And for Sanah Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur’s daughter both in the movie and in real life to make a debut in such an uncharitable way is just unacceptable. She is charming and funny and has the marks of being a decent actor (much like mom Supriya Pathak) but she is subjected to such horrible body shaming and name calling that it is unforgivable. More so because there is no redemption for her and no I cannot count the climax as redemption because by then you don’t care about the movie or its characters.

There is an absurd amount of animation in this movie, a frog called Ashok, thought clouds that are full Technicolor dream sequences, Pankaj Kapur’s dreams which he hands to his insomniac daughter Alia which is something straight out of harry potter with a 2-d animation on a piece of paper. There is a set of twins more horrifying than twins from the Kubrick classic The Shinning. Nothing in movie makes any sense whatsoever.

Indian weddings are ripe for storytelling. You can tell it from the point of view of the Barjatias where it is a never ending sequence of rituals and celebrations and it has its own ironic charm where everything is blinged out and amped up and basically sequins on steroids or it goes the deeply dysfunctional Monsoon wedding way where the family dynamics come to the fore. Heck even in Queen the opening sequence was that of a bride being left hanging by her groom right after the mehandi. Anyone who mocks Indian weddings is an incompetent fool who doesn’t know how to tell a compelling story.  But Shaandaar seems the least interested in anything that resembles coherence. Nothing in the movie makes sense and it is a shame because Shahid and Alia are beautiful to look at and come packed with charm and wit and they try helplessly to make a go of things but it is impossible when there is no story to be told.

Shaandaar is also massively let down by Amit Trivedi and his music. there is no memorable song and it seems like there was no effort made. the Hungama Hogaya from Queen which was such an iconic remix, Trivedi tries again here by trying to remixx old songs but the effect is pointless. The cinematography is actually quite lush and beautiful especially the shots of the dawn breaking over the british moors but it is just massively let down by nothing to tie the visuals together. The animation andCGI work which is quite good seems to do nothing to further the story and is sticks out like another tacked on unnecessary piece much like the animated dog and parrot from Mein Prem ki Diwani hun. in reality it almost seems like they looked at Mein Prem ki Diwani hun ( an abomination of a movie) and decided we are going to take all the same elements and show them how to make a good movie . they even had Pankaj Kapur in the mix. but unfortunately for them the results are just as atrocious.

Karan Johar needs to understand that as a producer he cannot be allowed to stamp his brand of glam onto the storytellers like Kashyap (Bombay velvet) and Bahl (Shaandaar). Throw your money at them and let them tell the story they want to tell. No one can do NRI-centric escapist fantasies like he can and if he has an itching to direct then stop being lazy and direct a freaking movie and don’t try to steamroll otherwise decent storytellers. This is an absolute and utter waste of time.

Haider – A Review

 Vishal Bharadwaj directs Shahid Kapoor and Tabu in Haider an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This is Bharadwaj’s third attempt at adapting the noted English playwright’s material after Maqbool (Macbeth) and Omkara (Othello). Bharadwaj has a knack for contemporizing Victorian stories in the Indian context and doing so very effectively. With Maqbool he set the story in the Mumbai underworld and with Omkara he exploited the criminal-political nexus of the heartland by setting the story in Uttar Pradesh. With Haider he takes the troubled prince’s story and sets it in the strife ridden state of Kashmir and the words that begin Hamlet “there is something rotten in the state of Denmark” couldn’t ring truer.

Kay Kay Menon plays Khurrum (Claudius) who marries Ghazala (Gertrude) played by Tabu after the “disappearance” of Haider’s (Hamlet) Father Dr. Hilal (king Hamlet). Shraddha Kapoor plays Arshee (Ophelia and also Horatio as Hamlet’s friend). Irrfan Khan plays Roohdar (the ghost of Hamlet’s father) delivering a message from his father about the deceit of Khurrum.

The story mostly plays around the themes of Hamlet and tries to be as faithful an adaption as possible under the constraints of the geo-political hotpot of Kashmir. Any movie based on Kashmir is sure to be divisive as you cannot take a neutral stance over the militant insurgency and the mistrust the people of Kashmir feel towards the militarization of what is essentially heaven on earth. Bharadwaj tries to tackle the AFSPA issue and that is where the movie stumbles. Bharadwaj tries to rely on AFSPA as a plot device allowing Khurrum to get his brother captured by the military and eventually killed. By trying to rely too much on AFSPA and to almost demonizing it is where the movie’s narrative pace fails. It becomes cumbersome and does not yield the results Bharadwaj might have wanted it to, however kudos to him and script writer Bashrat Peer for trying.

Shraddha Kapoor is a revelation as Arshee and playing Kashmiri comes naturally to her. Kay Kay Menon who has phenomenal talents to play the bad guy fails to excite me with this outing. He plays Khurrum with a degree of menace that is so on the nose that it becomes parody of the Claudius as intended by Shakespeare. The prayer scene where he is supposed to appear contrite ends up being even more contrived. Irrfan Khan is slowly become more unbearable with every outing and seems to have lost the earthiness that made him great in Paan Singh Tomar. There is nothing worse than an actor who thinks he knows he is better than everyone else and that is the vibe I am getting from Khan ever since his Hollywood foray. His Roohdar is unconvincing and for reasons best known to Bharadwaj or the editing team the whole plot with militancy is rendered under developed. Tabu does what she does best. She lights up the screen every time she is on it. Her physical presence is so commanding on screen that everything else shrinks in comparison. Her earnest Ghazala is another addition to an already overly impressive resume. She crafts her character so beautifully that every time she calls out to Haider as “Jana” it makes you think of your own mother (albeit less deceitful). Everything except Shahid Kapoor shrinks in Tabu’s presence. Shahid Kapoor delivers what is arguably the best performance of his career. This is the Shahid that we all know and love and was lost somewhere in the 100 cr race. The first time I ever took notice of Shahid was also in a Bharadwaj caper – Kaminey (also the first ever review I wrote so the partnership is special for a personal reason). His Haider is restrained and insane at the same time. The vulnerability and intensity in his eyes as he searches for his father and then avows to avenge his death is electric.  My favorite Shahid moment is during the song Jhelum when he exchanges photos with a woman looking for her missing son, it gave me chills and made me tear up for him.

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Bharadwaj, as legend has it learnt to be a music composer during college days to woo Rekha Bharadwaj. Here he provides the background score for Haider and it couldn’t have been done any better. His reliance on single instruments, be it the cello, the violin or even the stray strings of Sitar to underscore the uneasy silence that enfolds the valley is fantastic. There are places where the music rises with the rise in tension but then at the climax the strings fade from the concerto and the emotions alone drive home the point and this is the restraint that only a very self-assured story teller is capable of. Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography is beautiful as it captures the beauty of the Kashmir valley in all its snowy glory. The only misstep is the inclusion of unnecessary songs; the only songs that deserve any place in the screenplay are the Jhelum re Jhelum and the acapella song by Shraddha Kapoor as she mourns the loss of her father. The song with Haider and Arshee frolicking in the snow and the gravedigger’s song are jarringly out of place and seem to be paying mere lip service to Hamlet. The song bismil bulbul is the strongest argument in favor of giving a personal flavor to an adaptation, the famous play in a play from hamlet is adapted to a dance performance commemorating the marriage of Ghazala and Khurrum and is written, sung and shot so beautifully that it defies comparisons.

Hamlet and other work of art are always open to interpretations and I believe that Bharadwaj has also tried to add a layer a subtext to his adaptation that leaves the audience to interpret the story based on their own prejudices. How I see it is as an allegory to the contentious Kashmir issue. If one were to supplant Hilal (Haider’s father) as King Hari Singh Bahadur and Ghazala as Kashmir itself then based on your point of view you could argue for either Haider as India or Pakistan and khurrum as the other . I know I could be way off but to me it is essentially why this movie is more than just a mere adaptation and the reason why Vishal Bharadwaj is regarded as one of India’s best and most original directors.

Haider in many ways seems incomplete or entirely too slow and meandering and by the end it seems to have gone nowhere, but that is the nature of Shakespeare’s Hamlet which unfolds as a tragedy with many time lapses and moments of insanity and introspection. Haider is a beautiful made film which unfortunately isn’t without a few flaws, but these flaws are easily overlooked when Tabu and Shahid Kapoor set the screen on fire with their brilliant acting.

Kaminey

It was a toss up between Inglorious Basterds or Kaminey… Kaminey won simply because of the proximity of the theatre screening it . So would my choice of the Indian Tarantino pay off? or as with most of the bollywood movie would i be left bored and out of the theatre half way through?

Kaminey is a story of two identical twins who have had a falling out in their childhood . one (guddu) takes the good route and remains poor and the other (charlie) takes the wrong one and ends up being the proverbial mumbai gangster… so far nothing novel or new about this story. this has been done to death in bollywood. But what is different is Vishal bharadwaj… he takes the often hacked story and treats it with such style that there is really no parallel in all the past bollywood movies to compare this with. its gritty and grimy and dangerous and sexy as one would expect the story of a gangster to be.

The background score has been used like never before. which is not surprising because the director had his calling as a music director before he made such memorable movies as makadi ( a personal favourite) maqbool and omkara ( need to see them pronto). the songs are not thrown in to fill the time or to make an additional buck with the music sales but they melt into the story perfectly. Gulzaar has outdone himself with the lyrics for the song bhavra aaya… that should be the official song of the government’s fight against AIDS campaign .

I had the absolute misfortune of sitting through the cannes jury prize winner Babel a couple years ago and the scene in the disco was the worst 5 minutes of celluloid i have ever been exposed to. Dhan tan nan is how any psychedelic trance/rave scene should be shot.

Priyanka as the feisty marathi mulgi puts in a brilliant performance and so does amol gupte who in my mind still remains the maker and creator of Taare Zameen Par ( take that aamir khan – you can keep talent down)

but the hero of the movie in its true sense of the word is Shahid kapoor . He channels the two characters with such charisma and bravado that you cannot but love him even when is the cocaine dealing gun totting small time gangster who dreams of having his own booking office at the race course!

The climatic gun battle which ensues is shot brilliantly the music reaches a cresendo and the lays a fitting end to a brilliant brilliant piece of new age bollywood.

so to choose vishal bharadwaj over tarantino paid off. the best bollywood movie in a very very long time. for once I plead – this is a movie for the big screen a 700 mb rip will not do it the justice it deserves. i spent 800 INR and i dont regret it for a bit.

This was the first review I ever wrote ! this was first published in 2010 on my facebook page