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.

Simran – A Review

Image result for simran posterHansal Mehta directs Kangana Ranaut in Simran, a story inspired by the real-life bombshell bandit Sandeep Kaur. While Sandeep was a well-educated and financially independent nurse, Praful Patel played by Kangana is a young divorcee working in a menial, dead end job trying to clobber together enough money to put in a deposit for a house of her own so that she can escape the daily barbs of her father.

 

If the story sounds sad and depressing, let me assure you it is anything but that. Kangana is a one woman tour de force. Right from the first time we are introduced to her, on her lunch break she deftly evades the overtures of her ex-boyfriend and present-boss, she lights up the screen with her self-assured yet unassuming presence. On a bachelorette trip to Las Vegas, Praful is introduced to the temptations of gambling and this is where things from good to scary really quickly. To right the wrong Praful goes down a dangerous path. Kangana Ranaut is fantastic in every single frame, you feel joy in her giddy goofy behaviour and she makes you feel her anguish when her father is lobbing insults at her and everything she has worked for seems to slip away from her grasps. But there is an inherent lightness to her being that no matter how dire the situation she breathes levity into it and you know that things will be ok. This is her best following the success of Queen where she turned the acting game on its head and claimed the mantle.

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The supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired. The goons Bugs and Mr. Hipster Beard are neither terrifying nor believable. The love interest played by Sohum Shah sucks the life out of the scene each time he is on. He is laden with the most absurd lines and insists on speaking in chaste hindi in spite of him being from Rajkot, Gujarat. His character is so poorly written that if you subtract him from the story it wouldn’t change one bit – and that is perhaps what the director should have done. Praful’s Father is very one dimensional. He is given fantastic dialogue, but with nothing to take the edge off of his shouting, and insults he is rendered unlikeable towards the end there is one scene where is fussing over Praful and making her eat in one moment and the next moment he is at her throat – this kind of balance would have really made the story stronger. The actress who play Praful’s mother is a small saving grace to the entire ensemble cast. As is Timothy Ryan Hickernell – the bartender in Las Vegas, who even in a tiny role leaves a lasting impression. Seeing how he has been picked to play the slain journalist Danielle Pearl in his forthcoming Omertta, Hansal Mehta seems to agree.

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The music by Sachin-Jigar is fantastic and stays with you long after. Pinjara and Single Rehne de are instantly hummable and Lagdi hai Thai is appropriately festive. the camera work by Anuj Dhawan is spectacular – especially in the Las Vegas scenes. To me this is a movie about nuances, the small dialect peculiarities, the very modest living of the Patel family, the realism of it all. The editing seems choppy in places, especially where you dont see Bugs hitting Praful but she seems to have fallen on the floor and is later shown with scrapped knees.  The revenge plot towards the end seems unnecessary and almost an after thought. However that is quickly corrected when Praful is eventually led away. The final scene where she comes up with another hare-brained idea of investing in stock and getting rich because “Sue” told her is a brilliant touch.

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Hansal Mehta’s direction and his innate Gujarati sensibilities come to the fore as he crafts and entirely believable narrative involving a Gujarati NRI family. Kangana’s diction is perfect and not a caricature as most portrayals of Gujaratis in Bollywood tend to be. The story by Apurva Asrani is a compelling one but his screenplay needs tightening up. Every scene with Sohum Shah was a disservice to the movie – fortunately there were only a few. The dialogues with the exception of the ones for Sohum Shah are mostly fantastic.  From the cheesy pickup to the tongue in cheek to veiled self-deprecating insults lobbed at herself when her parents are watching the story of the Lipstick Bandit unfold on television, Kangana delivers them with aplomb.

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In the end it is Kangana who carries the entire movie to a satisfying end. The way she immerses herself in this character and her sincerity make you overlook a weak screenplay and a supporting cast that leaves a lot to be desired. Ignore the noise around the controversy as she doesn’t need that to sell her movies – her name alone should now be sufficient enough.

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Watch this for an almost unbelievable but true story. Watch it for Kangana is in top form. Watch it because Kangana renders the Male lead role obsolete when she takes centre stage.

Rustom – A Review

Dharmesh Suresh Desai directs Akshay Kumar, Ileana D’Cruz and Esha Gupta in the court procedural, thriller drama Rustom. The story inspired by the infamous Nanavati case that saw the end of the jury system in India.

 

The story starts with Indian Naval Commander Rustom Pavri who returns home 2 weeks earlier than expected, only to find his wife not home and letters from her lover in their cupboard. The following day when she returns he leaves and confronts notorious playboy Vikram Makhija and kills him with 3 bullet wounds. Rustom surrenders to police and the story takes off. Pitting the two prominent communities of Bombay, the Sindhis and the Parsis against one another. A tabloid gets the scoop on the case and starts to influence the national opinion in favour of Rustom – the decorated officer and a soldier who did the right thing but the wrong way. We are reminded of this once again when a screeching housemaid of Rustom asks the judge what he would do if he found his wife was sleeping with the prosecuting lawyer. The movie set in the 50s seems to have been made with the same ethos, the court room drama is nothing more than a farce with the Judge played by Anang Desai – Babuji of the popular sitcom Khichdi, more in character as the kudkud kumar. Sachin Khedekar an accomplished Marathi actor playing the prosecuting lawyer Khangani is more slapstick than slick prosecutor. Pavan Malhotra who plays investigating officer Vincent Lobo has two very peculiar ticks, he taps his pens 3-4 times each time he wants to write and his ears fan out like Dumbo each time he expresses surprise.

Ileana D’cruz is beautiful but has very little to do in the movie other than shed massive tears from those beautiful doe-y eyes. She plays the simpering fragile wife with aplomb but her lack of conflict does question the basic premise of the movie. Arjan Bajwa playing Vikram Makhija is the bond-esque villain albeit in a 60s Prem Chopra avatar.  Esha Gupta was the clear standout for me. Not for her acting abilities – I seriously doubt she has any, but for her styling and make up. She brings the glamour to the 50s era Vamp that Nadira would be proud of. The final twist where a phone recording is introduced her perfectly detached reactions and eye rolls are the highlights of the file for me so silent-movie vamp like that I was enthralled. Akshay Kumar brings a stoic presence to the film that is perfectly attuned to his upright naval officer character. The only one who doesn’t go the slapstick way with the court proceedings, underplaying each line he is given and thus achieving the desired result.

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Why is it that every time a period movie is made in India they rely on oversaturated and unnatural colors of the sky. The green screen/CGI work to recreate the Bombay of a bygone era is partly successful and fails miserably in places. The music is a hindrance and gets in the way of storytelling with three songs that have no rhyme nor reason for their stake at the screen time. I can understand wanting songs to build a buzz pre-release but release them as music videos rather than forcing them into the narrative where they do not belong and you are left with an otherwise believable Akshay Kumar looking like the 90s fool that he was when he romanced the likes of Shilpa Shetty and Raveena Tandon.  The story is intriguing and the final twist, a work of fiction (as opposed to the inspiration from the Nanavati case) is interesting enough.

With uneven acting and cringe worthy courtroom scenes this is by no means a perfect movie. But with Akshay Kumar’s understated acting, an interesting story based on true events and overall production value where special care is given to recreating the era with Ileana’s Parsi embroidery sari and Esha Gupta’s gloriously vampy styling this movie entertains more than it irritates.

The Fighter

Who said you need multi-million dollar set pieces and groundbreaking photo realistic CGI to make a good action movie. Hollywood has been accused of becoming too dumb and relying on CGI and 3d instead of good acting/directing/scripting to deliver a killer punch. Not so with David O Russell’s “The Fighter”. The Fighter is the story of “Irish Mickey Ward” and his unusual path to world heavyweight championship. The fighter is also the story of Alice Ward, Mickey’s mother and her brood. But more than anything else the fighter is the story of Dicky Eklund, Mickey’s half brother and trainer.

We are introduced to Dicky as a HBO crew follows him around shooting a movie which he believes is biographical of his glory days where he defeated Sugar ray. Dicky is a local legend and generally loved by all but you soon see through his delusions and see a crack addict who’s various infractions are overlooked by his equally delusional mother Alice. Dicky and Alice are Mickey’s trainer and manager respectively and keep getting him into fights he shouldn’t be in and Mickey ends up badly shaken up after one such fight with a 20 pound heavier opponent. Mickey starts seeing Charlene and you see cracks finally appear as Mickey picks the promoter Lanano and agrees to cut Dicky out of his boxing life so that he can focus. Mickey O’ Keefe (playing himself – a Lowell Massachusetts police sergeant) trains Mickey as Dicky is in the prison. While in prison the movie airs and Dicky finally sees himself as the world sees him now – a fallen star and a crack addict. When Mickey visits Dicky in prison Dicky gives him tips for his next match. In the match when his strategy starts to fail Mickey uses what dicky taught him and lands the KO that takes him to the world championship title match.

For the championship match as Dicky brings everyone together and takes Mickey tohis victory all you can do is cringe with each punch that lands on Mickey’s face and cheer with every punch that he lands on his opponent.

This is an ensemble movie – a movie where Russell gathered some of the best acting talents available in Hollywood. You have Amy Adams who plays Charlene –Mickey’s girlfriend who has grown from strength to strength with her supporting roles in Doubt and a leading turn in Julie and Julia. Melissa Leo who was nominated for her lead turn in The Frozen River plays Alice Eklund the mother who turns every possible situation into the Dicky Show. Mark Wahlberg plays Mickey Ward and turns in yet another impressive performance which is hard to believe considering his white-boy-who-raps-and-poses-in-tighty-whiteys beginnings. But the movie clearly belongs to Christian Bale who as Dick Eklund is beyond brilliant. He is one of the finest actors working in Hollywood today. He is a deceptive chameleon who beefs up to play batman and looses over 30 pounds to play the crack addict dick Eklund. When you are watching him you do not see the actor you see the character he is bringing to life.

See this movie because it is simple compelling and at times gut wrenching, see it for it is one of finest ensemble movie this year.See it because if looking at an emaciated Christian bale is hard, imagine how hard it must’ve been for him to get into that role.

This is a reproduction of an article published on my facebook page