Monday, April 18, 2016

Fan Movie Review : Only For Shah Rukh, The Actor

Shah Rukh Khan. The name itself spells a big film, if not a good film. Over the years, many have complained arduously about Khan's lack of efforts in picking scripts and films, and intermittently succumbing to rehashed concoctions or sub par servings, packaged, garnished and decorated well enough to be shoved down your throat via extensive marketing. Some of this marketing has made people averse to watching his films or similar star vehicles. while others continue to feed on them raking in the numbers. But things changed with Dilwale, in December 2015. When another biggie clashed with it, Dilwale suffered and the numbers tapered into an abyss faster than SRK would have imagined. In last many years, I have seen atleast three dozen posts which basically ask, Where is SRK, the actor? While he does have the right to choose the films he wants to do, it is quite clear that the audience sees more potential him than Dilwale. Fair enough. So there you go, Yash Raj Films' FAN is here and Shah Rukh gives you a performance to cherish for years. No kidding, the man is so bloody good in this that he not only wins your heart, but also tells reminds you that he has not sold his skills for scrap. I was always a fan of his personality off screen, but here, he has made a jabra fan out of me for his acting. Move aside detractors, you can call him ham king, or whatever, I refuse to pay any credit to your imbecile charade. So try and convince me against it. 

SRK's performance aside, Director Maneesh Sharma's Fan has a lot to offer and yet, it gets shortchanged by its share of flaws. Gaurav Chandna (SRK with baby fat and Bugs Bunny teeth) is an ardent fan of superstar Aryan Khanna (SRK again, modeled on his real life) so much so that he cannot imagine his life without him. His ultimate dream is to meet him, give him his mom's sweets, and a trophy which he won at mimicking Aryan at a local competition in Indra Vihar Delhi. Gaurav follows Aryan's footsteps, travels WT from Delhi to Mumbai, stays in Hotel Delite Room 205 and goes to Mannat, Bandstand to meet his favorite star. When he is unable to meet him, he finds a twisted way of making the star call him. Having crossed the line, Aryan pushes Gaurav to jail and tells him to stay away from him, denying him the five minutes Gaurav came all the way for. Gaurav turns to vengeance, follows Aryan around the world and uses his similarity of looks with Aryan to shame him time and again, at different venues. Harrowed by an ordinary fan, Aryan must confront him in his style as the star in him is too stubborn to apologize. 

Habib Faisal's screenplay ranges from great endearing moments of fandom to believable contrivances to a completely unreal last half hour of the film. Yes, as most other reviews are saying, the curse of the second half plagues Fan. But what they dont tell you is what went wrong. Fan sets up Gaurav's world stunningly, takes him to Bombay and everything upto his first meeting with Aryan rings true. The treatment is real. Post the intermission, Maneesh decides to flip the film and dish out a larger than life treatment. The screenplay is equally at fault for continuously using one conflict to fill the runtime in the second half. But the basic problem is the mismatch of treatment styles in narrative. Also, it might work better if you could imagine Aryan differently from SRK in reality, but the character is modeled so close to him, that it removes the opportunity to think of him to be anyone else. By the time the film reaches its climax, you find yourself cringing in your seat at the make believe. 

That apart, Faisal and Sharma do well to not portray Aryan as an invincible, incorrigible star. One might call it narcissistic but if SRK had to be really narcissistic, he would have never signed this film. His spin off, Aryan, is stubborn, conceited and refuses to accept any fault of his own. He dances at weddings despite insult, uses influence to get out of legal trouble and even picks up a gun. I do not believe that any other star of SRK's stature would be okay to play Aryan the way he is characterized. On the other hand, SRK's Gaurav is a totally fresh character and the one that stays with you long after the film has ended. There is also a moment where Aryan has to mimic Gaurav and he does it with a wonderful nuance. Its true that no other actor gets much scope of performance but Shriya Pilgaonkar does leave an impact as Gaurav's girlfriend. Sayani Gupta is okay while Waluscha DSouza as Aryan's wife does not get much scope. 

Produced by YRF, Fan has the big scale and budget any such movie should have. Andrea Gurrea's Background Score does get a bit much at times but the theme song works well. However, it is Vishal Shekhar's Jabra Fan Anthem, penned by Varun Grover, that has stolen the show and connected with the audience across. Sadly, it was only meant to be a promotional song. Manu Anand's Cinematography offers nothing new except in three smartly done chase sequences and one confrontation scene between Aryan and Gaurav, right before intermission. Namrata Rao's editing could have been a lot better, but Niharika Bhasin Khan's costume design is spot on. Greg Cannom has designed Gaurav's look and it does help in establishing his character well. However, the supervision of the makeup could have been better as one does feel that it is not uniform in many scenes. 

Overall, Fan is a very brave attempt from YRF and Maneesh Sharma but as a general audience, you are likely to not like the film due to its second half. What keeps you engaged is a bravura performance by SRK, one which you have been waiting for years. The film has taken a mixed start at the Box Office, collecting approx 20Cr in the domestic market on the first day. I do not expect the word of mouth to be uniformly good and the film lacks song and romance to make it appeal commercially. One can only hope that the loyal audience flocks the theaters to recover the humongous costs the studio has incurred on the film. If you go by me, I would watch it again just for that performance!

Rating - 3/5 

P.S. If you think this is a biased fan's review, please feel free to make peace by skipping a different, but not great, film!

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Love Games Movie Review : Vikram Go Back!

Since a couple of years, I have continued the tradition of watching Vikram Bhatt films on the very first day itself. Believe it or not, Bhatt is on a serious stroll of outdoing himself with each successive film, not with excellence but with absolutely sub-par trashiness.  There is nothing more disheartening than seeing a decent filmmaker go to the dogs, but then once you realize that he wants to masquerade it a formula for commercial cinema, and repetitively and surreptitiously makes films in similar genres, you wait for the next piece of trash installment to come, just because it is going to be so much fun seeing new lows. Bhatt's filmography boasts of Shaapit, Haunted 3D, Dangerous Ishq, Raaz 3D, Creature 3D and Mr X in the past 5-6 years as a director. As a writer, he has written many more films which have been more or less despicable such as Hate Story, 1920 Evil Returns and Khamoshiyaan. And now he serves us Love Games. 

To be honest, he has never been a director to look out for with only Ghulam, Footpath and Raaz scraping through the heaps of garbage to be regarded as respectable films. But then how many years successively can you make abominably bad films, on fairly high budgets, sometimes with stars, and to top it all, most of the films have nothing new to offer in terms of plot or treatment. Almost all his films have been doused with sex, horror tied somewhere around a love story. Its no news that Vikram is heavily inspired by a bunch of films from around the world and repeatedly uses their influence in his own. But till when is he going to find sponsors to finance this barrage of brain-numbing bullshit? It should be a matter of national concern if it isnt already as the man writes some fantastic short stories on his Facebook page, and has a much larger fan following for them than for his films. So much so that, the so-called stars dont work with him anymore and along with a diminishing following of sleaze in films, Vikram must rely on a bunch of pathetic new actors to act in his films. But the films dont stop. 

Love Games is one leaf out of the same book. Based in Mumbai, the film tells the story of Ramona Raichand (Patralekkha), a sex addict, who gets involved with a depressed Sameer Saxena (Gaurav Arora). The duo play love games to seduce corresponding partners in other couples. Whoever manages to bed the husband or the wife first, wins the game and has to complete a stupid condition set forth by Ramona. Things turn ugly when Sameer falls in love with Alisha (Tara Alisha Berry), and decides to stop playing the game. Alisha is wife to a temperamental and abusive husband, Gaurav (Hiten Tejwani). Ramona gets obsessive of Sameer and is ready to tear apart his relationship with Alisha to get him back. The problem with Love Games is that not a single ounce of the film rings true. Vikram Bhatt is infamous for shooting in abroad locations and passing them off as India. In Love Games, he shows us Mumbai and Goa but none of it is actually the two places. He has probably shot the film elsewhere and matched it with some shots back here. A lot of filmmakers cheat locations, but with Vikram's handling, you can easily make out the truth. The art of concealing is clearly not his forte. The same goes for every single emotion or plot twist. Everything is fake and superficial, if not annoying. Even when the story allows for a few moments that could be deftly handled to lift the film, Vikram royally shits upon it to serve the dish cold and bland, suitably aided by his terrible background score. Love Games has plot twists which can be seen from half hour away and even the sex looks dull and forced, instead of sensuous.

Manoj Soni's cinematography is atypical of most Vishesh Films with barely anything new to offer. Sangeet and Siddharth Haldipur try to stir up the OST with some fresh approaches but the placidity of the proceedings make you hate the music as well. Patralekkha must be awarded for the single most irritating performance of a lifetime and the only question one asks after the film is, is she really Rajkummar Rao's girlfriend? As a sex maniac, her shrill voice and horrific body language hurts your eyes. Tara Alisha Berry has a wooden face but is passable for most times. Hiten Tejwani is a bunch of crap. Amidst a sea of strikingly bad performances, one does not mind the newcomes Gaurav Arora. He may have a face that makes him look like poor man's Karan Singh Grover (not like that's a compliment), but Gaurav atleast has basic skills of dialogue delivery. 

Love Games is a bad film. But it speaks of a bigger issue about of bad films getting approved by big studios (T-Series, Vishesh Films) and finding a release. Vikram Bhatt takes an interesting topic of sex addiction but only goes skin deep, carefully and shamefully avoiding any point where there was scope to better it. I cannot say anymore. Just dont watch it, and dont watch any of his films till he continues with this little trip. I dont deny that sex sells, and one can make an erotic thriller, but then dont serve cold food when you promised a sizzler.

Rating - 0.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Rocky Handsome Movie Review : Superman? Batman? Naw, John Abraham!

Maybe it's just me, but then there is something really charming about a man in black suit going around assassinating people like its a part of his daily routine. When Director Lee Jeung-beom made The Man From Nowhere (2010), little did he know that the film would be ripe for an Indian remake. Thankfully, Director Nishikant Kamat and Ritesh Shah (Screenplay/Dialogue) dont mess too much with the original material and serve it right back to us in India as Rocky Handsome. What works for them is John Abraham fits right in as the lead and also produces an otherwise not so masala film as the trailers would have shown. And ahoy, Rocky Handsome turns out quite a good watch on a weekend where you have a largely disappointing magnum opus right next to it. 

Rocky Handsome tells the story of a man (John Abraham), called colloquially as Handsome, who lives a reclusive life in Goa after the demise of his beloved wife. His depression eats him up day in and out and his only friends are his neighbours, Anna (Nathalia Kaur) and her eight year old daughter Naomi (Diya Chalwad). When Naomi and Anna get abducted, Handsome cannot help but go out to get them as he cannot remove Naomi's face from his memory. During his search, he gets entangled in the web of Goa's drug, organ theft and human trafficking mafia as all three of them seem to be having common roots with the abduction. As he goes about setting the record straight, he crosses path with Goa's local police and ANC, led by Sharad Kelkar, which ultimately reveals his long drawn past of being Rocky, the assassin. With a pretty simple plot as its foundation, Rocky Handsome is still a multi-threaded film which intertwines a lot of antagonists and their motives in a simple kidnap and escape story. And somewhere along the line, all the threads of the story do not get their equal share of development. Thankfully, Kamat does not try to tone down the thematic darkness of the original much and it only elevates Rocky Handsome from being a no-brainer. However, this one is definitely much less brutal than The Man From Nowhere to better suit the tastes of Indian audiences. 

Produced by John Abraham Entertainment and Azure Entertainment, Rocky Handsome is mounted on a respectable scale. Renowned cinematographer Shanker Raman lends an experienced hand to the camera and manages to capture some of the best moments in highly fresh yet intuitive ways, making Rocky Handsome look bloody good without any flying vehicles or men. Aarif Shaikh's Editing could have made the film a tad more edgy. Music by Inder and Sunny Bawra is okay but almost unrequired at most places. Sanjay Mourya and Allwyn Rego's sound design is super. However, a film like Rocky Handsome relies heavily on its action and stunts. Using simple hand-combat skills, and slasher objects over guns, director Kamat gives us a juicy bunch of action sequences which give you the exact thrill you are looking for when you walk into the theaters. To top it all, John looks kickass doing all that. The snappiness of the action could get to you after a while and it is one of the key elements enhancing an already stylish film.

Now we all know that John Abraham cannot act. It has been 15 years since he debuted and he still cannot. Nope. So what do you do? You put him in a film where he has less than 2 pages of dialogue, has to cry once, feel angry once, and pretty much maintain a wall's expression all through the rest of the film. There, you have your Rocky Handsome. To make him look better, you cast an absolutely despicable actress (Shruti Haasan) next to him. All set, done. And then you cast yourself as the main villain. Yes, Nishikant Kamat plays Kevin Ferreira, one of the main villains in the film. Sharad Kelkar is good as the selfish cop, while Nathalia Kaur must only dance. The little girl Diya holds her ground well in scenes where she has long dialogues as well. 

I watched Rocky Handsome in a multiplex which functions almost like a single screen, mainly due to its audience. For the first time in my life for a John Abraham film, I reached the theater and found that the show was houseful. I had to wait for the next show. When I took my seat and the film started, the whole theater erupted into cheers and applauds. Truly, I never expected John to have such a fan following. Or maybe it is the action/romance shown in the promos which made all of them make a visit to the theaters expecting a hardcore masala film, which is abominably low on story and logic. As the plot got more twisted and intricate, I saw a majority of the audience losing any idea of what was going on. They seem to have no clue about drugs, organ theft or even human trafficking and how it made sense to the story. They seem to be only there to see John beat up a dozen goons and would erupt intermittently every time he did so. In the end, one fine gentleman made the remark - 'Woh choti bachchi ka story daal ke thoda dheela kar diya picture na?'

I gave up right then. Our Indian audiences cannot take it if anyone messes with their masala. Yet, Rocky Handsome balances it quite well walking a tight rope. And its runtime of 125 minutes, there is never a dull moment. The film has its share of flaws and it does take things a little too conveniently at time, but then its worth a trip to the movies. Go watch!

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Teraa Surroor Movie Review : Giving Meaning to Meaningful Cinema

Himesh Bhai is back! And so am I, with my review of his latest offering, Teraa Surroor. Yes, the Suroors dont end, they keep coming back to please your senses, if I may say so. Just when you think you would be done with them, there is one more Surroor waiting for you. No, I understand that keeping films with similar names to famous songs, does impart it quite a bit of recognition in fleeting memory of the audiences. But my question is, how many times can you do that? What is a good number of times for Surroors to stop? Because the problem remains the same. HR Musik may have Himesh's soothing music and T-Series' unlimited cash flow for the sake of good old times shown to them by the former, but how many movies does it take for one to understand the complete scarcity of any acting charisma in one's own self? Jacky Bhagnani seems to be on a break after 6, but Himesh Bhai is going strong at 8 with another release lined up this year. Much to everyone's surprise, most of those on the list have been able to recover or make money. So why not Teraa Surroor?

Director Shawn Arranha had been credited with a couple of despicable films in the past apart from a bunch of assisting work. However, Himesh Bhai blessed him by giving him the reigns of Teraa Surroor. But this did not pay him well because Arranha has made a royal mess. The camera angles are dizzy, the slow motion is used almost more than the runtime of the film, and the action sequences look like they missed a lot of shots so made them up by random jumps at the edit table. The story revolves around Raghu (Himesh Bhai), a 'gangster', who is in love with Tara (Farah Karimaee), who is a model? Tara and Raghu break up, she travels to Ireland and gets involved in a drug scandal and is jailed. Raghu travels to Ireland to realize she was misled by an unknown person named Anirudh Brahmin. Firstly, Tara was dumb enough to make friends with Anirudh over Facebook and then travel alone to Ireland upon his request, carefully carrying a package provided by Anirudh's obviously fake grandmother from India. Now, Raghu must take the help of lawyer Elle Jordan (Monica Dogra), Indian Ambassador Rajeev Kaul (Shekhar Kapur) and a jail inmate who has broken through 14 prisons, Robin Dharmaraj Santino (Naseeruddin Shah) to free Tara but the roots of this mystery lie deep within Raghu's past. No kidding, but the twists are so intricate that the poor villain has to deliver a monologue to explain them all in the climax. That apart, no matter what your name is or from where you belong, everyone speaks Hindi, including Elle Jordan and Robin Santino. 

While the India portion are bearable, the moment the proceedings shift to Ireland, cinematographer Maneesh Bhatt literally throws his camera at anything or anyone. Despite a filmography of over 8 films, his outdoor shots are horrible. There are atleast a thousand drone shots in the most unrequired places, chase sequences look like they have been shot on a phone camera and the action, oh well, lets not even go there. A lot of this has to do with the direction. For reasons best known to him, Himesh Bhai has loaded the film with an overtly loud Background Music which are basically differently pitched and arranged loops of the Aap Ka Surroor song chorus. 

But not all is bad about Teraa Surroor. Himesh Bhai manages to maintain the same expression and mannequin-like stiff body throughout the film. There are a bunch of stalwarts in the film who have no idea what they are doing here, like Naseeruddin Shah, Shernaz Patel, Kabir Bedi and Shekhar Kapur. Well, all is well as long as their cheques were fat enough. If you can ignore the irritating spelling of her name, Farah Karimaee is still a pretty plastic face, like a poor man's Katrina Kaif. Oh wait, that was Jacqueline Fernandez. The film deserves a special mention for casting of extras in Ireland. All of them look like they were promised some good beer and nothing else. 

On the whole, one does feel a little sad when huge sums of money are wasted on shoddily made films. At its heart, Teraa Surroor may not have a terrible concept or script, but the execution, right from the scratch is heralded by skill-less people right from the first to the last. Including Himesh Bhai, who by the way gives great music for the film and launches a new singer, Darshan Raval, previously quite a hit on social media and Bombay circles. With a runtime of just 105 minutes, Teraa Surroor is excruciatingly long and I would choose listening to Rahul Gandhi over it. However, while many films dont reach a crore on the first day, this one touched around 3Cr on Friday. That must tell you all about Himesh Bhai's fans. If you have seen The Xpose, this will be a welcome surprise!

Rating - 1/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Monday, October 5, 2015

Talvar Movie Review : Oh, What A Film!

I wanted to take some time out after watching Meghna Gulzar and Vishal Bharadwaj's Talvar earlier today before I write about it, just to consolidate my thoughts. Now, we all are very well acquainted with the Aarushi Talwar double murder case of 2008 which is still ongoing. Her parents are still in jail and fighting for innocence largely due to a botched up crime scene and lack of factual evidence. If anyone has not heard about it, it is might as well suggested to take the subscription of latest newspaper daily with immediate effect, or alternately, just open your eyes and ears to the world. 

This case, for sure, is a surefire idea to make a film on. But it is also a very sensitive and astronomically difficult to not let your judgement affect your film to present a tainted picture of the whole. Moreover, one is susceptible to play to the gallery to evoke emotion out of its audience and run the cliches of corrupted judicial and investigative system or media. Albeit, it is very hard to tell a document of the case with a meek social commentary without letting it slip into a documentary format. Vishal Bharadwaj (writer) and Meghna Gulzar (director) manage to just do that, yet in an entertaining fictionalized fashion where facts and incidents are not thrown at your face. Their latest outing, Talvar, is a gem of a film that is resplendent of excellent artistry in all of its facets. 

Shruti Tandon, 14, is murdered under dubious circumstances one night in Noida without her parents, Ramesh (Neeraj Kabi) and Nutan (Konkona Sen Sharma) waking up to it in the next room. The first round of doubt goes towards their house servant, Khempal, who is nowhere to be found. Very soon, Khempal is found dead on the terrace and the parents become the prime suspects. The police frame the parents and before the Central Dept of Investigation steps in, all the crime scene evidences are either ignored or collected in a haphazard fashion. Over many years, the CDI does two contradicting reports on the whole investigation, the first one being led by Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) leading to no proper conclusion and an eventual chargesheet against the parents, even after CDI petitions to close the case. Many suspects are taken into custody and released eventually with the final ones being the parents who are still in prison. The reason I have laid out the plot of Talvar is because there is so much more fun in exploring it once you know the basics. The real story itself has many more befuddling layers which will leave you juxtaposed with wonderment as to what really happened that night and who is the real culprit?

Vishal Bharadwaj's screenplay explores the double murder case through the eyes of the investigative agency and its officers, along with the police. The first part is the investigation through police, the second through Ashwin and and his associates, the third through Mr Paul (Atul Kumar) who turns the first committee's report upside down and the last one in court, led by ACP Vedant (Sohum Shah). Just like the classic film, Rashomon, Talvar presents alternate versions of the case as narrated or imagined by various people involved with it trying to put a finger on the guilty but removing it just before touching it. In totality, Bharadwaj and Meghna do manage to be unbiased and still come up with a riveting thriller that haunts you long after it has ended. My small issues with the film include minimal exploration of the parents angle. I really wanted to see their life before and after Shruti and their want for justice, if there was one. I also wanted to see more about the motives behind the crimes in each version, apart from the slightly rushed up finale. But there is only so much you can do in a runtime of 132 odd minutes and the writer-director do give us a classic skillfully handled climax round table confrontation between the two teams of CDI. Not to mention, that while they go about their serious stuff, they dare not forget the quirks and induce quite a few chuckles amidst a housefull of audience. A hat tip to both of them for writing such a plot heavy film, so much so that there is little scope for character development or the pensive moments. 

The framework of Talvar would not have been complete without the excellent casting by Honey Trehan. Each and every lead and supporting actor is cast with a thought and chooses to shine in this very film. Whether it is Prakash Belwadi as Swamy, Ashwin's retiring boss, or Gajraj Rao as Inspector Dhaniram or Shishir Sharma as the new CDI chief, they all make a mark and how. Neeraj Kabi and Konkona display the pain of loss without any effort and one wants to see more of them. Sumit Gulati as Kanhaiya is pitch-perfect while Tabu makes an effective cameo as Ashwin's wife who still loves him but wants a divorce. A special mention for the stunning Sohum Shah who once again takes up a supporting role but makes it look convincing like it was his second nature. When his ACP Vedant switches sides, you totally buy him. Once again, the film does belong to Irrfan Khan as it is told from his perspective largely. And once again, Irrfan manages to bring out a different side of himself. For an investigative officer who plays a video game on his mobile phone while the deceased's parent cries his heart out to him, his struggle for the justice he believes in is nerve-chilling. He along with, Atul Kumar, together in the climax scene give you one of the best 5-7 minutes ever scene in Hindi cinema lately. 

Produced by Junglee Pictures, a TOI group company, and Vishal Bharadwaj Pictures, Talvar has all the backing it needs. Pankaj Kumar's camera sets in the urgency you crave for in an edge-of-the-seat whodunnit and is aided by Shajith Koyeri's menacing sound design. Sreekar Prasad's editing is top-notch packing in a lot of stuff in a meagre runtime. Vishal's music is suitable with no song barging into your senses and still providing you a reflection of the times. But it is the casting, writing and direction that make the film work big time, in that order, if we ignore the stellar performances. 

Surprisingly, Talvar has relatively fewer shows than it should I feel. Mostly, due to the other biggie Singh is Bling eating into all its screens and a Hollywood big film also coming the same weekend. Yet, I went for a 11:30AM show today and it was house full. The distributors, AA Films, should really consider increasing the number of shows, from Monday, if not from tomorrow itself. Talvar is one of the best films to come out of Bollywood in the recent times, and despite its minor flaws, it has all ingredients of being a classic. Surprisingly, another film, Rahasya, starring Kay Kay Menon came out earlier this year on the same double murder case but it almost went unnoticed. While Rahasya was a good attempt, I liked Talvar a lot more. Meghna Gulzar has come a long way from making those films she was. 

I see absolutely no reason why you should miss Talvar. It is content driven cinema at its best, and the round of claps once the film ends will realize the ticket price for you.

Rating - 4/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Calendar Girls Movie Review : Bhandarkarland Tropes

There is not a single platform, webpage or film critic which has not cantankerously panned Madhur Bhandarkar for regurgitating the same wine in new bottles through his recent string of films. So much so that there are memes out on the Internet which describe the set pattern of Madhur's plots. To top that, he has been ridiculed for using banal names for his films and everything in them, something which is too obvious to state. For example, a film on the life of an actress will be called Heroine or one on the corporate politics in big companies has to be called Corporate. For a man who gave us Aan, Chandni Bar, Page 3 and to some extent even Fashion, he has come a long spiraling way where he has convoluted himself in his own ring of mediocrity. His latest, Calendar Girls did bear the brunt of his flailing popularity when he went out to cast the film or find producers for it. But then as for most veterans, and taking the liberty of calling him one, it needs one film where you push yourself beyond your comfort zone to get your mojo back, aint it? 

Unfortunately, Calendar Girls is not that film. 

Madhur's Calendar Girls is a slightly appealing concoction of all his earlier films, where he goes back to many similar plot points and tested tropes to pull the same chords in his audience which had given him much success. He tells the story of 5 girls, from varied backgrounds from across the nation, who are selected to be the poster girls for, hold your breath, 'The Calendar 2014.' Post the release of the calendar, the girls must chart their own paths into the glamour industry which is a deep dark black hole, in Madhur's interpretation, and it is your choices that make or break you in this world, as he voices this soapy moralistic lesson to us via one of the characters who did make the right choices. Not just that, a cricket league is called 'Cricket League,' all fashion designers are still gay, all fashion photographers are still over-enthusiastic, all news reporters still wear specs and are nice people, all politicians still call for escorts, and every other cliche you can think of. The icing of the cake is Madhur himself appearing in a cameo to massage his ego where one of the girls who is an aspiring actress keeps raving about him and his films. BUT this is not the bad part of the film. Infact, I liked Calendar Girls for its story and screenplay to be honest. It is much better than what Madhur has served us since Fashion and at a runtime of 131 minutes, I like how the cliches play out in an organic fashion without being overdone at any instant. 

Infact, Calendar Girls is undone by bad acting and dialogues. None of the girls fail to make a mark save for Satarupa Pyne and Kyra Dutt to an extent and the supporting cast right from Suhel Seth to Suchitra Pillai is unapologeticaly hammy. Rohit Roy should be given an award for being the singlemost worst supporting actor of all time after this film. Abhiruchi Chand and Anil Pandey, the writers of the films must bear the brunt of this criticism for one of the worst dialogues in recent times. Most of the times you feel like cringing in your seat due to absolutely unnecessary information provided to you via their moronic dialogues. Bhandarkar does salvage some of it by staging scenes with an experienced hand but then his actors are naive while facing the camera and it shows and how. All in all, Calendar Girls has a  bad first half, resurrects itself in the second half and just manages to not irk you off completely by the time it ends.

Produced on a modest budget by ManglMurti Films, Bhandarkar Entertainment and Raksha Entertainment, Calendar Girls has quite the look of a big film but while they put the best sets or go to the most exotic locales to shoot the songs, the OST itself is plain despicable. Music by Meet Bros Anjjaan and Amaal Malik is uninspired as is the cinematography by Harri Vendaantam. Editing by Devendra Murdeshwar is good and crisp. 

On the whole, Bhandarkar took a while to make this film as he had to really struggle to cast it and sell it for a release. But if you go by me, he needs to be thrown out of the water for much longer for his next film if one wants the best out of him. It is not that he does not have it in him, the small sparks are visible in his work, but they are minimal and diminishing as of now. Only when he goes through and even tougher time making his next film, is when he will step out of his ego and and do something different. Till then, the Bhandarkar template films are very easy to review for anyone. You just have to change the names of the characters and the review remains the same, unfortunately. As for Calendar Girls, it may recover its cost but wont see any big success for him or the girls in my opinion. Watch it if you have missed the banality of Madhur Bhandarkar films. You might look for the exit door a couple of times but it wont be horrific like his last couple outings.

Rating - 2/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Path Of Zarathustra Movie Review : Well-intentioned, but not well made

Oorvazi Irani's The Path Of Zarathustra gets a release this Friday, thanks to the undying efforts of the team and great support by PVR Director's Rare to back another indie film. The film focuses on the dwindling state of the Parsi community in India, definitely a rare issue touched and raised by its makers. Produced by SBI Impresario, a company owned by Oorvazi's father, the film has minimal budgets and thus, no real buzz in the market out there. Yet, it has managed to secure 6 odd screens in Mumbai and a couple in other important cities. The Path Of Zarathustra is a well-intentioned film no doubt, focusing on a community that the Industry has only used for caricatures, but despite being sensitive to our times, it ends up being a little misfired in its own right. 

The films centers around Oorvazi (played by Irani herself), a young woman born in the faith of Zoroastrianism, who sets out on a journey from a remote village post her grandfather's (Tom Alter) death. Her grandfather hands over a book to her, the contents of which are unknown, but once read by the right person, they are supposed to reveal the truth behind the preachings of the prophet and their creator Ahura Mazda. As she goes along, she falls in love with Perseus (Rushad Rana) who is also her half-brother and gets visions of people who were executed in the past due to their radical thoughts about the faith and religion. The film takes a philosophical route to expose the historical growth of the religion and places Oorvazi at its centerpiece to create exposition. Irani uses a largely mundane voice over ridden approach to explain a lot of things to the uninitiated but it is her direction that falls a bit short in creating the right amount of drama to hook you on, coupled with her below par performance. Recently, a film like Ship Of Theseus had similar undertones when it questioned the philosophy of religion and life, but contrary to SOT, The Path Of Zarathustra struggles to hold your interest.

However, there are some things to rave about here as well. The film has its heart at the right place and dives into the issue straight up, doling out enough details for anyone to catch on. It also explains the reasons behind the diminishing of the community and offers possible solutions for the same. Towards the end, the film's climax does talk effectively of a school of thought that most other religions propagate and is the right way for any race. The film has been splendidly shot by Subhadeep Dey, capturing the best of frames at the best of locations. The film's music by Vasuda Sharma is a let down while Farrukh Dhondy's Screenplay could have done with dialogues which ring more true with real people. One must applaud the brilliant production design of the film and despite minimal resources, Irani and her crew have mounted the film pretty well. 

On the whole, The Path Of Zarathustra is a little film, albeit highly topical and relevant. The film has a limited release and one can hope that the word goes out and people come out to fill those screens. The film itself is not the best it could have been but then, how often do we get a film that talks about a community that is majorly ignored? With a runtime of about 79 minutes, it wont hurt you to catch it sometime this weekend.

Rating - 2.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Welcome Back Movie Review : Trying Too Hard To Be Like Its Prequel

In 2007, Anees Bazmee was at the top of his game when he delivered Welcome along with Akshay Kumar. Today, Bazmee is struggling to make his own comeback with Welcome Back and he does not have Kumar. However, he has managed to retain the majority of his motley crew and added a couple of stalwarts to the wolfgang as well. But he is straddled with John Abraham and Shruti Haasan playing the lead pair as opposed to a highly successful Kumar and Katrina Kaif pairing in 2007. Nevertheless, Welcome Back is mounted on an enormous scale with money spent profusely on every thing possible. Yet, there was much thanda buzz around it leading upto its release. So, has Bazmee manage to score an ace to bring his market back up in B Town? Recently, Anil Kapoor said in an interview that it is important for this film to work so that Base Industries (Firoz Nadiadwallah's Company) stays in business.

Welcome Back, is more like a spinoff of its prequel using similar tropes and plot points, minimally turned on their heads to provide the pretense of freshness. The film starts with the don duo, Uday (Nana Patekar) and Majnu (Anil Kapoor) having bettered themselves for a life in Dubai. They find another lost sister, Ranjana (Shruti Haasan) who they have to get married. Ranjana likes Ajju Bhai (John Abraham) who happens to be Dr Ghunghroo's (Paresh Rawal) illegitimate son. There is also Chandni (debutante Ankita Srivastava) who has wooed the dons once again, albeit she along with her mom (Dimple Kapadia) forms a team of con artists who are out to dupe them. To complete the wolfpack, there is Wanted Bhai (Naseeruddin Shah) and his drug-addict son Honey (Shiney Ahuja, making his comeback). While in Welcome, Uday and Majnu clearly had the upper hand over a meek Akshay Kumar, Ajju is a beast of his own kind and an infamous street gangster from Bombay. One of the reasons why Welcome Back does not ring true as much as Welcome did. If Ajju is a recognized criminal with many cases against him, and is clearly stronger than the dons, why does he need to play games with them to win Ranjana? A lot of the contrivances in Welcome Back look like they have been made to happen to regurgitate the success of the first part. That apart, a barrage of insipid songs haunt your senses as they play out, remarkably a romantic number between the lead pair. Infact, their chemistry is so half-baked that you would lose interest in them right away. Unlike Welcome, there are no clear motives of characters and they are used by the screenplay (Bazmee, Rajeev Kaul, Rajan Aggarwal, Praful Parekh) to satisfy the unreal plot. 

However, Welcome Back is not all bad. There are numerous lough out loud moments, specially abled by the chemistry provided by Patekar and Kapoor, propelled by Raaj Shaandilya's dialogue. Many a times I found myself guffawing at the punches, and very few times at the gags, specially the long gag at a graveyard in second half falls flat. Welcome Back gets boring at times, and is very entertaining at other times, but never does it get unbearable. The production values of Welcome Back are huge but still some frames suffer from bad CGI work. Kabir Lal's cinematography is very touristy and grand, but also very tacky at times. The action by Abbas Ali Moghul is well suited for Abraham. Music of the film, despite done by a variety of artists, lags much behind its first part. 

Credited first in the opening sequence, Anil Kapoor is the star of the show, closely followed by Nana Patekar, who together are responsible for providing the most laughs. Kapoor looks delectable and walks through Majnu Bhai with a panache. On the other hand, Nana plays Uday subtly but manages to make a significant impact. John is a weak link in most scenes and except for beauty shots, he looks plain dumb. Taking the cake of bad performances is Shruti Haasan who ludicrously runs through all her lines. Paresh Rawal is his usual awesome self and manages to crack you up many a times. Dimple Kapadia and Shiney Ahuja seem wasted in inconsequential roles. Debutante Ankita Srivastava may look gorgeous but has a long way to go to hone for acting skills. Veteran Naseeruddin Shah looks completely out of place as the master don and his jokes are mostly mundane. Every one else in the supporting cast is ordinary. 

On the whole, Welcome Back is passable for a one time watch, and considering its first part was no classic, this one seems sinking further into the sea. However, it is Uday and Majnu's histrionics that provide a lifeboat to dock the film at the shore. The film has taken an average opening at the Box Office and I am not sure if any word of mouth will help it. Considering the copious amounts of money splurged on action sequences and the climax, I hope that they break even. If you are an ardent fan of Uday-Majnu angle from the first part, do give this one a try, else there is nothing much to rave about.

Rating - 2/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hamari Adhuri Kahaani Movie Review : A Good Director Cannot Save A Bad Script

In 1982, Mahesh Bhatt made Arth, with Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Since then, he has made it again and again atleast a 100 times. If not that, he has taken elements from Arth and twisted them around, rebottled them with new flavor, and made a film again. Arth was an absolute classic. Most of its derivatives are not. But Bhatt will never get out of it seems. And he must plunge us as well as he drowns. Directed by Mohit Suri, Hamari Adhuri Kahaani is concocted with a stellar cast, but it is supposed to be the love story of Mahesh Bhatt's parents. In reality, it is another take on Arth. Albeit drenched in ham-fisted dialogue by Shagufta Rafique. 

Produced by Fox Star Studios and Vishesh Films, Hamari Adhuri Kahaani had the country chanting its numbers with scant efforts, much thanks to Mohit Suri and Mukesh Bhatt's ear for some great music. The film looked good in the promos and right up Mohit's alley. And indeed it is. Except the fatal flaw. Screenplay of HAK is merely a device to encapsulate the few line plot of the film, whereas as a practice, it should be the other way round. Hence, HAK suffers from largely implausible sequences which dont ring true with even an unassuming audience. The problem here is that the film is set in Mumbai, Dubai and Kolkata which are all metro cities, but the characters, specially Vasudha (Vidya Balan) do not behave like they live here. It would be more acceptable in a small town setting. To paralyze the shlock of screenplay further, Rafique's dialogues reach their new cathartic low this time. I have often complained that Rafique is possibly the weakest link of Bhatt camp, and she continues to get worse with her dialogues. Sample this, Aarav Ruparel (Emraan Hashmi), an extremely rich hotelier, takes Vasudha to meet his mother. The mother looks at Vidya and asks, "Yeh banjaran kaun hai?"  and then gives a supremely convoluted speech about Hindu mythology - "tum toh janam se Sita ho, ab kya Sati banna hai, toh phir Radha kab banogi?" And after this astounding speech, Vasudha falls for Aarav. Woah! Who on earth talks like that? Melodrama has its perks and audience both, and I am not against melodrama. Even Suri himself has handled melodrama with much better hand in his previous films. But here we miss him as a director, while he casually steps the pedal of melodrama from the first scene.

Yet, I could not get myself to hate Hamari Adhuri Kahaani, critically due to earnest performances and a slightly uplifted last 30 minutes. Emraan Hashmi may have his 7th dud in a row with HAK but he still does well here. It is hard to not look ludicrous mouthing those lines written for him but he handles them with an astute demeanor. Vidya Balan forms the crux of the film but sadly, she does not get much scope apart from shedding a stream of tears or having shed them or about to shed them. Rajkumar Rao looks a slight misfit in this film, but there are very few actors who could have pulled such a tricky multi-faceted character. And yes, his Hari is possibly the only well etched character of HAK's script. Suhasini Mulay is unintentionally funny while Amala Akkineni is okay. There is also Prabal Panjabi as Aarav's best friend and manager who hits the right notes to give a couple of giggles in an otherwise morose film. Suri handles the pre climax as well as the climax deftly and helps the film get a final breather. Also, his use of Music will remain one of the best. Though the whole album is not as great as an Ek Villain or Aashiqui 2, Jeet Ganguly, Mithoon and the newbie Ami Mishra have combined their efforts to give atleast 2-3 very likable songs. Vishnu Rao's cinematography does not add much to Suri's staging of scenes while Deven Murdeshwar's Editing is passable.

On the whole, Hamari Adhuri Kahaani is definitely Mohit Suri's weakest film in last many years and neither does he or nor does his cast deserves such a sham. I expected a lot and I am highly underwhelmed. Save for a few bright spots, the film collapses largely due to its contrived writing. All I wanted from this film was to give Hashmi a success but I guess it wont happen. Suri himself will bounce back with his upcoming slate. The film has taken an average start at the Box Office and I am not sure if it will recover its costs this time around. Bhatt camp may have to burn their fingers, I am afraid. And that should be signal enough for Mahesh Bhatt to relook at what he is doing. Go watch Hamari Adhuri Kahaani if you have high tolerance for bad dialogue, and you might come back liking some bits of the film as well!

Rating - 2.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

DIl Dhadakne Do Movie Review : All Is Well That Ends Well

I have decided to do short reviews of films whenever I am low on time. Yes. That works better for everyone reading it as well. So yay!

Okay, so first things first. It is not easy to make family films, and I am not talking about the ones we necessarily feel we can watch with our families, but the ones which have the story of a family at its centerpiece. Most of the times, you have the risk of falling into the cliched tropes of daily soaps or indulging in drama sagas like early 2000s. But Zoya Akhtar's Dil Dhadakne Do manages to steer clear of all such banalities. Its a fresh satirical take on a dysfunctional Mehra family based out of Delhi who plan a lavish cruise to attract business investors and resurrect the falling image of their company. Their bigger problems lie within them as Kamal Mehra (Anil Kapoor) is a patriarch who doesnt mind having affairs with younger women but wont give his own daughter a rightful position; Kabir Mehra (Ranveer Singh) has always grown under the shadow of his father but never learnt to stand up for his dreams; Neelam Mehra (Shefali Shah) who put up with all the upper class hoopla and her husband just because she had no option but to reinforce Kamal's patriarchy; and finally Ayesha Mehra (Priyanka Chopra) who landed herself in a hurried marriage but is seemingly the most sane member of the family. There is also Pluto Mehra, their dog, voiced by Aamir Khan who preaches just like Aamir in Satyamev Jayate and though the dog calls himself the sanest member of the family, he is plain simple boring, trying to spoon feed the audience.

DDD is not a masterpiece, but it manages to do a lot of things right. One scene in the hospital room after Kamal gets a stroke is one of the best written scenes in recent history. There are many more such lime fresh genuine which strikingly expose the hypocrisy of the rich and the behaved class of our society. Zoya handles them with ease, and the actors rise and shine upto every opportunity. Literally, every choice of casting is spot on. But in the end, it is Ranveer's restraint and Anil's intensity that form the rim of this rainbow. Even with a runtime of 170 minutes, DDD is extremely engaging due to its dry humor soaked screenplay.

The problem with DDD lies in its plot. The problems of each character are too small for the time it takes for them to come around them. It takes a lot of time to setup and set voyage, unlike the cruise they are on. But then, Zoya and Reema Kagti's screenplay is more about those small moments. Some subplots involving smaller characters are not well exploited so much so that, you feel that even Farah (Anushka Sharma) and Kabir's love story does not get its full due. Sunny (Farhan Akhtar) is Ayesha's ex-boyfriend who is brought in just to expose her failed marriage with Manav (Rahul Bose) and it sort of kills the film's idea of feminism. Again, the undercurrent of forced career choices does not get its resolution as Kabir must not worry about work, he can just manage by saving his love life. But then in a weird cynical and yet realistic way, dysfunctional families dont really solve their problems. Here, they confront them, reconcile and move on. Most technical aspects of the film are stunning except for the OST which is just meh. 

On the whole, Dil Dhadakne Do is definitely Zoya's weakest film, but not a weak film overall. It is largely entertaining, and save for Aamir's 'stare-into-your-soul' voiceover, is a very well made film as well. I dont think I need to say it as most of us are already running to the theaters to watch it. One small thing Zoya, give us another Luck By Chance. 

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here