Veere Di Wedding – A Review

Image result for veere di weddingShashanka Ghosh directs Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania in “not a chic-flick” Veere di Wedding. After the career ending critique from “The Aunty”, I was going in with abysmal expectation and maybe that or maybe the fact that I saw it with Kareena’s biggest fan in the world – I found the movie to be mildly entertaining and brimming with potential.

Kalindi played by Kareena is friends with Avni played by Sonam Kapoor, Sakshi played by Swara Bhaskar and Meera played by Shikha Talsania. Kalindi lives in Australia with her boyfriend Rishab played by Sumeet Vyaas who proposes to her and Kalindi accepts reluctantly. She returns to India and the 4 BFFs get together for their Veere’s wedding. Avni is a ball-busting family lawyer permanently harassed by her well-meaning mother played by the fantastic Neena Gupta to get married. Sakshi is a rich party girl who got married to a NRI in a rush and is now back to staying with her parents who do not really know what transpired for the marriage to break down. Meera married an American and lives in America raising her young child and probably the most “normal” of the bunch.  The four friends get back together and each of their respective storyline unravels.

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Kareena is for most parts hilarious as she goes about the Big Fat Indian (Delhi) wedding charade nervously scratching as she is made to dress up in ridiculous outfits and paraded in front of relatives who are of no consequence. Sonam Kapoor continues her trademark vapid and vacuous portrayal of any character she lays her hands on. Her dialogue delivery couldn’t be more stunted. Swara Bhaskar – as the aunty said – is playing a rich girl for the first time and it is a poor man’s idea of what a rich person does all day. Her dishevelled look with a cigarette permanently stuck in her mouth with sunglasses that serve no purpose as she peers from above is just an abhorrent performance. Nothing about her feels believable. Meera lives in America with her Caucasian husband John after having been disowned by her family for marrying “outside” the religion. She is the most believable and the most likeable. They try to give her a flaw too – excessive drinking but it feels half-baked and an after-thought. Shikha is the best thing about this movie and I cannot wait for her to headline a project all on her own where she is unencumbered by the lesser talented actresses. She has a Ugly Betty/ Jane the Virgin vibe about her that I cannot shake and I want the nouveau brave Bollywood to take a chance with her!

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The biggest problem is that director Shashanka Ghosh and writers Nidhi Mehra and Mehul Suri try to make this feature film in the vein of producer Ekta Kapoor’s multiple story arc TV-shows. There is simply too much going on and at 2 hours there is not nearly enough time to resolve even one story arc to successful completion. Take this for instance, Kalindi is reticent to get married because her parents used to fight a lot, her mother passed away and her father remarried to a socialite, she is estranged from her father, who is estranged from his gay-brother who is the only family Kalindi knows of. Then there is the whole insane plot about Kalindi’s Fiancé’s family being fraudsters. Sonam and Kareena went around town lamenting about how difficult it was to get a female-led film financed and it shows – there are awkward product placements after awkward product placements and they are not even trying to be subtle. Bikaji snacks get more screen-time than the amazing Neena Gupta and that is a crime against cinema. Also at the very end of the film some random local furniture company’s product placement literally made me lose it.

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With Sonam being the driving force behind this movie getting made it was always going to be fashion centric and for most parts the fashion is exceptional and forward looking except for that one ridiculous outfit that Kareena wears for her wedding. A 25-year old vintage Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla outfit deserved to be better treated than that.

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The dialogues are mostly fun but when they go for crass they really go for it and the payoff is limited. The songs are mostly forgettable except Tareefan which only really plays when the credits roll.

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Lastly I am reminded of the Instagram post that Neena Gupta shared on Instagram where she simply stated “I live in Mumbai and working am a good actor looking fr good parts to play” and I couldn’t be more thrilled to finally seeing her on the big stage. She is a treasure and I do hope she gets more roles and meatier characters to play because even in the limited screen time she is allotted here she really shines through.

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It might be the Kool-aid talking but I did not hate Veere di Wedding. There was incredible potential had the writers and director taken one of the girl’s tracks and resolved that story arc and made this into an anthology the result would have been a lot more successful.

 

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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.

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!

Neerja – A Review

Ram Madhvani directs Sonam Kapoor in Neerja, a story based on the life of PanAm airlines air hostess Neerja Bhanot who risked her own life to save those of her passengers on the Hijacked flight 73 in 1986. As much as Sonam Kapoor would like to think of herself as a massively bankable star she deludes herself that all her blockbusters have been in spite of her and not because of. To have her headline such an important story seemed too risky an endeavour.

 

We are introduced to Rajesh Khanna loving Neerja as she walks into a boring old building society party with kids and middle aged adults and immediately infuses life into the party. This, her mother played by Shabana Azmi, tells us is quintessentially Neerja; the life of the party; her parents’ pride and joy and loved by kids and adults alike. This version of Sonam is believable and likeable unlike previous roles she has essayed. The family cocoon that is created around Neerja is also very believable, the worrying mother, the playfully quarrelling sibling and an adoring father who still regrets having pushed her into an arranged marriage that ended up being abusive. Once on the flight her effervescent personality seems just as genuine, as she looks after unaccompanied minors and puts them at ease. The ill-fated PanAm flight 73 from Mumbai to Frankfurt makes a scheduled stop at Karachi and is hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, Neerja relays the message that the flight has been hijacked while still on the tarmac to the pilots who following protocol evacuate the cockpit leaving the terrorists grounded. What follows is how Neerja tries to do everything in her power to comfort her passengers in a terrifying situation and how she loses her life while trying to protect them.

It is an incredible story told in the most respectful of ways. There are no histrionics or hyperbolic heroism just small acts of courage which ultimately were responsible for the 359 lives that were eventually saved. This is almost unlike a Bollywood movie and in a stark contrast to Airlift. There were so many moments when in the hands of a lesser director Sonam Kapoor could have had an outburst at the terrorist or said something sassy just because that is what Bollywood creative license allows, but you see the terror in her eyes and she cries like any person thrust in such a situation would and she tries to refer to the terrorists as Sir and appeal to their kindness to allow her to serve her passengers food and water. By juxtaposing flashbacks to her abusive life with the scenes of absolute terror Ram Madhvani has achieved success twofold. Firstly he gives us context to what prompted Neerja to act with the bravado that she did and also by showing us that an abusive relationship is no less than terrorism. One thing that clearly stuck out to me was the first time that Sonam is attacked by the terrorists the nozzle of the gun bangs against her teeth and upper lip and there is an audible sound. Towards the end of the movie you can see on her upper lip a bruised patch – it is small details like this which shows the audience how committed the cast and crew were to try and honestly retell an incredible story.

Sonam Kapoor is a revelation as Neerja Bhanot. She is beautiful no doubt but she is able to carry a sense of frivolity and joyfulness with an absolute ease. While at the same time when faced with a harrowing situation she is suitably terrified yet she manages to find an inner strength to ensure her passengers’ safety. Shabana Azmi is the emotional core of the movie. Azmi is tasked with the most emotionally potent scenes in the movie and yet she delivers them with such finesse that even while her audience is sobbing she manages to smile through tear filled eyes. All credit to dialogue writer Sanyukta Shaikh Chawla that never once does any character deliver a cringe worthy line, even when replaying dialogues from the Rajesh Khanna classic Anand the dialogues land the emotional sucker punch they are intended to. This two women tour de force is ably supported by Yogendra Tikku who plays Neerja’s father, music director Shekhar Ravijani who plays Neerja’s boyfriend Jaideep and the good cop-bad cop terrorists who I unfortunately can’t find names for to give them the credit due.

This almost flawless movie is nearly ruined by the schizophrenic camera work at the beginning of the movie, long before the hijack even happens. It makes no sense and it is headache inducing but few minutes into the movie it seems cinematographer Mitesh Mulchandani finally masters the art of a steady shot and it is smooth sailing from there on. Story writer Saiwyn Qadras and Editor Monisha Baldawa deserve special mention for a perfectly paced script that does not miss a beat throughout and a near perfect cut which has no flab or fluff. There is no jingoism in the name of patriotism, there are no larger than life heroes, just a girl who was doing her job and she did it brilliantly.

I remember the IC814 hijack but only had  anecdotal knowledge of Neerja Bhanot’s story when it was mentioned on news during the Kandahar hijacking but thanks to Ram Madhvani, Sonam Kapoor and Shabana Azmi this is a story I am unlikely to ever forget. What a beautiful and brave soul Neerja was and this story does her memory justice almost 30 years later. The girl who won the highest Indian Galantary award Ashok Chakra, the Tamgha-e-Insaniyat award for incredible human kindness by Pakistan, the flight safety foundation’s Heroism, Special Courage award by DoJ, USA. The Girl who didn’t live Long but Lived it Big. Salute.

 

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo – A Review

Sooraj Barjatiya reunites with Salman Khan in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo this time wooing Sonam Kapoor. Barjatiya and Salman have had a very successful run at the box office with movies that were milestones in Bollywood with Maine Pyaar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hai Kaun and Hum Saath Saath Hai. Barjatiya movies aren’t known for their path breaking storytelling or film making – he is known for his wholesome family friendly albeit slightly cheesy song and dance filled capers.  But then again Barjatiya also made the dastardly Mein Prem Ki Deewani Hoon.

With PRDP we are introduced to the Ram Leela actor Prem Dilwale who is the epitome of the typically Sanskaari Prem that we have come to expect from the Barjatiya camp. He is besotted by Princess Maithili who he saw once when she came in a helicopter to a flood relief camp nearly blowing off all the tents that were created on the banks of a river. Yep logic is nowhere to be found in this movie but bear with – maybe the earnestness that seems to have suddenly possessed Salman may help us tide over this minor mis-giving.  Enter Princess Maithili aka Sonam Kapoor.

Sonam Kapoor is pretty as a picture all through the movie – the self-proclaimed fashion icon dons many a beautiful looks. But Sonam Kapoor’s acting skills are non-existent.  Her eyebrows seem to have a life of their own and seem to doing all the acting for her. Sonam’s face seems to be permanently stuck in a worrisome look. Her lackluster dialogue delivery compounds the problem.  Speaking of pretty faces there is the actor with three names and zero talent – Neil Nitin Mukesh. His role in the entire enterprise isn’t exactly clear. Then there is the evil scheming Armaan Kohli who plays the estate’s CEO which is as absurd as it sounds.  Anupam Kher plays the trust worthy diwan of the royal family and carries the entire burden of the old and wise that was usually shared by Him, Alok Nath and Reema Lagoo.

Sooraj Barjatiya was all about a huge ensemble cast with simple stories which would be told with a firmly grounded moral compass which often veered very close to male chauvinism but still managed to pull it off. He was never the big set pieces and opulence guy and his attempt at the same this time around seems halfhearted with no real thought being put in to the outfits for most of the male cast. It seems like Ajay Arvindbhai Khatri regurgitated all over the cast with clothes that are on the clearance rack.  What Barjatiya manages well is the music – the songs are all memorable and hummable. But their dance sequences leave a lot to be desired. While Jalte Diye is a beautiful song the song sequence which tries to marry the Mughal-e-Azam scene with the feather with the color scheme of Chand Chupa Badal mein falls flat and it doesn’t help that Sonam lacks the sensuality of either Madhubala or Aishwarya.

Salman Khan tries his hardest to infuse some fun with his role of a simple village bumpkin pretending to be a prince trying to woo a princess while working to uncover the sinister plot that put him in this predicament in the first place.  The whole climax at the sheesh mahal seems pointless and completely out of place in a Barjatiya movie. The second half of movie seems to be entirely unnecessary just as the football match before the intermission.

Memorable songs, an earnest Salman make this a slightly enjoyable time spent at the cinema but it by no means is a movie I have any inclination to revisit this movie unlike other Barjatiya capers.

Bhag Milkha Bhag – A Review

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra directs a chiseled Farhan Akhtar in Bhag Milkha Bhag a biopic on one of India’s very few renowned athlete “The Flying Sikh” Milkha Singh. Based on a script and screenplay written by the ad-man turned writer Prasoon Joshi, Mehra tries to cover absolutely every aspect of Milkha Singh’s life ranging from his motivation to joining the armed forces to the reason why he joins the athletics to his childhood traumas.

Farhan Akhtar a normally fit actor has undergone an epic transformation in terms of embodying the physicality of a premiere athlete. Outside of the physical transformation there isn’t much to applaud Akhtar for as he is saddled with a directionless script and a sagging storyline that aimlessly wanders between flashbacks. Akhtar manages to turn on the charm in the few moments he is allowed by the scripts where he is allowed room to breathe. Sonam Kapoor who plays Akhtar’s love interest is competent in the minuscule role that barely has 3 spoken lines. Prakash Raj plays the Army captain in-charge of the unit where Milkha Singh joins and in continues the tradition of Bollywood movie using Raj for comedic purpose only. The two supporting cast members who shine are Pawan Malhotra who plays Singh’s coach and Divya Dutta who plays Singh’s sister. These two carry the heart of the movie on their shoulder and are responsible for some of the tenderest moments of the movie.

The biggest problem for me is the story, as a biopic in its earnestness it tries to cover all aspects of Milkha Singh’s life and seems like a series of made-for-tv episodes. It never pulled me in and made me concerned about the fate of Milkha Singh and that for a biopic is detrimental. The direction relies all too heavily on traditional story tropes of the underdog story and the predictability of it after a while begins to take its toll on you.

Mehra entrusts Binod Pradhan with cinematography and it is a success from a purely visual standpoint. The scenes of Milkha Singh training in Leh while of no significance to the story are shot beautifully framing the stark landscape in all its natural glory.

Music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy fails to deliver a single memorable track while still manages to be a successful background score especially with the folksy songs voiced by Daler Mehandi .

The lack of any editing and a directionless story telling cripples what could have been a fantastic portrait of a deserving national hero to one that is riddled with clichéd plot points.

Another gripe I have is with the Indian audiences, we are so easily swayed by the India-Pakistan rivalry that no matter what form of sports it be the moment India bests Pakistan all the sins are forgiven and the same is true here. In what is the seminal moment in Milkha Singh’s life is reduced to whistles and hoots as he crosses the finishing line. Or perhaps the problem lies with me and I don’t know how to enjoy a movie.

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Watch this movie if you want to spend 3 hours counting every pulsating muscle and bulging vein in Farhan Akhtar’s body , but if you want to enjoy a well-made cleverly written biopic about an Indian athlete watch Paan Singh Tomar instead.

Clearly the movie is a critics darling at this point with most giving it a 5 star rating. I would love to hear your thoughts on the movie and what you liked about the movie!