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.

 

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.

7 khoon maaf

7 khoof maaf – vishal bharadwaj’s latest is a movie based on the novel Susana’s seven husbands a novel by Ruskin bond. The movie sees Bharadwaj reteaming with his Kaminey Lead actress Priyanka who plays the titular role of Susana.

Bharadwaj’s previous work includes Makadi a critically acclaimed children’s movie a genre almost unknown in india, Maqbool a reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Omkara a Othello reinterpretation and the hugely successful Kaminey. So understandably the expectations from 7 Khoon Maaf were extremely high, Sitting in a half empty theatre on a Saturday night of the first week of the movie’s release is not necessarily a good sign in these dire economic times. But regardless of the box office outcome of the movie the director deserves kudos for introducing cinema noir .

The husbands played by neil nitin mukesh, an axle-rose inspired John Abraham , A S&M obsessed Irrfan khan, a hindi-speaking-bollywood-crazy Russian spy, a lecherous annu kapoor and the magic mushroom brewing naseerudding shah all pitch in super cameo appearances. Special mention to John Abraham for his almost Christian bale’s machinist inspired emaciated look as a recovering drug addict.

Susana is not alone in her killing spree she is ably assisted by an almost unrecognizable Usha Utthap as Maggie aunty, the butler khan saab and the jockey goonga. New comer Vivaan shah who plays Arun Kumar who adopted by Susana as child harbors a crush on her for all his life and return to do her one last favour is a revelation.

But the movie belongs to Priyanka Chopra who proves her mettle as an actress with this movie. She transitions from a grieving daughter to a battered woman with such ease that it is unnerving . Her scenes with Naseeruddin shah and one with the Russian are simply acting gold. The madness the malice the mirth that drips from her eyes as she circles her prey like the black mamba is unnerving and a little scary as well as a little saddening to see.

Bharadwaj does a brilliant job of keeping the pacing sharp and tight considering you have 6 weddings to go through and albeit 6 murders! I will still maintain that bharadwaj is way too smart for the Indian audiences and he sometimes has to spell out his next(or last ) move so that people would follow – case in point the little blue pill in annu kapoor’s hands does need spelling out but he had to.. and the side effects of taking the little blue pill are also spelled out lest the plot stalls. This I say because the director leaves an unspoken analogy which I am sure a lot of people will miss… so… the scene where Arun returns from St Petersburg he sees a spider on the desk – a Black Mamba spider – a deadly species in which he female spider kills the male spider after mating… this black mamba is crushed by arun using a book he bought as a gift. See really clever right?

This is not a movie that you “go and watch after a week of hectic work to sit back and relax without applying your mind” (not my choice of words). This is a movie that challenges your intelligence and rewards you if you apply yourself. Plus the ending leaves you wondering what exactly happened.

Go see this movie because this may very well be a benchmark for what female performance in Indian movies should be compared against. The physical transformations that Priyanka goes through over the years is sheer commitment to the art. Bravo Priyanka Bravo!

This article is a reproduction from my facebook account.

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