Saturday, April 21, 2012

Vicky Donor is a laugh riot, yet has its soul in place

Vicky Donor is a small little film that not many people have really heard about. When I first saw the trailer of this one, I was doused in immense expectations. I tried to spread more awareness about the movie on social media by posting about and was indelibly looking forward to it. To my disdain, the theatre was less than half full today when I was watching it. Yes, the same that was brimful with so called lovers of good cinema who came prancing to the movies when Housefull 2 released, a couple of weeks ago. Alas, the fate of the actual good cinema took another beating today. But its not the end of hope, lets see if Vicky Donor catches on the word of mouth and more people pour in to catch this little film. But is it really worth all the hoopla that I am creating here?

Vicky Donor deals with sperm donation, a rampant taboo in India, and the makers have been forthright in putting the issue out there with all the posters carrying the tagline "I am a sperm donor". The first look convivially generated a buzz with its witty lines, interesting plot and a convincing lead in Ayushmann Khurrana who could easily pass of as an alpha male in this context. Shoojit Sircar, the director, made Yahaan before this, a lesser known movie that was indeed incredibly good and possibly marked Jimmy Shergill's career best performance. With Vicky Donor, he completely changes gears to handle another sensitive issue. But Sircar has reinvented himself now. He handles Vicky Donor with a rare sense of humor that runs perennially through its veins, yet it does not let the issue become a matter of jest. In the past, Dostana picked up the issue of homosexuality. Despite the movie being outrageously hilarious, the treatment did not help the sensitivity of the issue and made it more of a drab than a solution. The cantakerous critics brought the house down claiming it didnt do anything to improve the perception of homosexuality in India. The basic nuance in Vicky Donor is that it is brave enough to change the perceptions of sperm donation in India while retaining its persistent breezy comic flavor, almost in all frames.

Shoojit Sircar sets out with an interesting plot to set up the concept of an alpha male going into a pest of a doctor dragging him into it and then how it can change his own life and love life. He handles issues and taboo topics with a light nerve and keeps you giggling or laughing out loud all through the journey. Interestingly, he cooks up a premise of a love story, a societal disconnect and a clash of Bengali and Punjabi cultures and molds it with the inherent crux seamlessly. Pure masterstroke! Even the emotional moments are endearing but they never turn sappy. A special mention for some brilliantly handled sequences such as the marriage sequence, which is undoubtedly the best, the whole part involving the doctor convincing Ayushmann to donate, the sequence between Ayushmann and Yami when they confess their love, Yami's breakout sequence, the drinking sequence between Vickys grandmom and mom and the finale - all display a deft hand behind them. Like a lot of movies these days, this one breezes past you with convincing performances and virtuous direction. The imagery of Delhi as the backdrop is always alluring, if done right. Juhi Chaturvedis screenplay is taut and keeps you hooked for almost the whole run time of 122 minutes that smartly weaves conversations and mannerisms and cliches with a flourishing ease. The best part is that Vicky Donor doesnt mooch off anything thats been done before even in its sub-plots. It scratches the hinterland of India but never lets the scratch appear. 

Vicky Donor is produced by John Abraham's company as its first outing along with a couple of others. The producers definitely lent it the right packaging, if not the most suitable marketing. I just feel it should have been pushed a little more so that the audience would be willing to watch it. The music by Ketan Sodha and Tanuj Tiku is pleasantly fresh and collaborates well with the narrative. If you have heard the album, you will go in loving Pani Da Rang but come out remembering Rum and Whisky, specially because of its execution in the inimitable marriage sequence. The cinematography by Kamaljeet Negi is good though the editing by Shekhar Prajapati could have done better and reduced 10 minutes in the film to enhance the overall impact. Overall, a relatively new crew has decreed an oven-fresh flavor to the whole fare, that is in turn seeded in the charming.

A film like Vicky Donor vests a lot of its success in its performances, and rightly so, because each and every character makes his presence count and successively increments the value of the film. Ayushmann Khurrana is first-rate in a character tailor made for him. Typical Delhi guy, typical mannerisms and dialect, virile looks and unabashedly honest acting - he gets it all right. It works for him that its his debut movie and he does not come with any baggage for people to brood too much over him. Yami Gautam displays a searing intensity and voracious maturity that makes her totally lovable. Both the leads deliver a succinctly suited performance that lifts the movie way above mediocrity. They are aptly helped by the sleight of all the supporting actors. From the obnoxiously garish Dolly Ahluwalia as Vickys mom, to the classy funny Jayanta Das as Yami's dad, to the grandmom to the neighbour, all of them make this journey tremendously amusing. But the star of the show is the lesser publicized man, Annu Kapoor, as the doctor. We have all known the guy to have a great set of performances in his oeuvre but in Vicky Donor, he is the star of the show. You crack up every single time this scamp of a character comes on screen, specially every time he does his hand gesture of signifying a sperm. He sinks his teeth into the shamelessly Punjabi doctor running an infertility clinic with an astounding ease and never leaves a single scene in stasis. Kudos to possibly the best performance of his lifetime.

John Abraham picked Vicky Donor as the script to start his production company with, and believe me, he has never made a better choice of script in all his acting career. If only he had this sense before. Vicky Donor is a small film with a huge heart that elbows out any rehash stuff being produced lately. The film is low on publicity but high on content. However, the first day collections look decent and one can only hope that everyone who watches it, gushes about it to more people to make sure it gets what it deserves. Please dont wait for the DVD, support good cinema from today if you havent already. Go to a theatre right now and watch it, you will love it, I promise!

Rating - 4/5

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Take Pride

The problem with cinema is its relative nature, what may be predominantly good for someone, maybe outrageously bad for others. Either way, do we take enough pride in Indian cinema, or is it a mere subject of jest or time-pass for us?

Sudhish Kamath, in his review of a recent release, Agent Vinod here, brings out an intriguing point about Indian movies that is anything but asinine, as touted by some. Lets go back. Indian cinema found its footing in the 1930s when Hollywood was already flourishing. Over the years, our cinema has teetered through its way to finally arrive at where it is now. Almost every other day, we are shamelessly pitted against our counterparts abroad and sneered upon for being incompetent in any parameter of comparison. Why cant we humbly accept that our cine-trajectory is strikingly distinctive from the West? India, as a country, was never independent before 1947 and never free after 1947. The socio-political-economic scenarios always jolted the growth of cinema as an industry. If that is not enough, we never had an efficiently working system in this industry, notwithstanding a callous lack of enough literature and opportunities for everyone. Films were made by a handful of people without much organization and were watched by most others like a broadcast from the outer world. We resided in our smugness to produce what we were producing, till we found our own niche. The niche, which I believe we do have today, but we still need to hone it and capitalize on it. I feel we may have gone wrong in an anachronistic rational judgement of our cinema when we start looking down upon it.

A small budget movie Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi came out this past weekend in August. A night before its release, I witnessed a bunch of duds already criticizing it on social platform without even seeing it. The same bunch of people were raving about another film, again without even seeing it. When did criticism become cynicism and not a feedback for improvement? Why do we have a set of people swanning over every mainstream release?

My aunt, Mrs Mahana really liked this year’s release Kahaani, but only when she was intrigued enough to get it on DVD (read pirated DVD). She would not pay for a ticket when it had released. Why do we complain about the quality of films if we are only interested in entering the theatre to feed the star system with a popular movie?

A friend of mine has seen Rowdy Rathore, Cocktail and Gangs of Wasseypur in the past two months, but has the audacity to complain that Indian cinema is predominantly crappy enough, since he also saw The Dark Knight Rises. He clearly didn’t see the better half of the Indian crop or the worse half of the Western. Why do we watch indian movies to assert how bad they are or what has been taken from where?

One of of my overseas friends' favorite movie is Vivah, because its prophetically cute. Another one's favorite is Thank You. There are many who still rave about DDLJ, DTPH, Mohabbatein etc. But they dont appreciate a comedy like Phas Gaya Re Obama because they are expecting it to be a Hera Pheri. Why do we still expect Indian movies to further the brand of that escapist cinema, where everything is allright, where you can laugh at how incompetent they are, where you have every ingredient that the cinema in our growing up years promised us? Why should we leave the intelligent and cool stuff for Hollywood to do it?

At the crux of this mental impedance lies a truth that is elusive to a lot of people. All film industries make good films and bad films, equally as much. Its your own fault if you have only seen the bad stuff or not seen the good stuff enough. You are allowed to an opinion based upon your perception but you are not allowed to call your opinion a fact. 

Agreed, there are tons of independent films that still dont see the light of a theatrical release though they deserve to do so, but when did change start happening overnight? As Suparn Verma points out here, the film industry survives on these mainstream releases to make money to support other lesser known films, and this is not a happenstance. I would rather call it a case of synchronicity. Suparn argues that "It is commercial cinema which creates enough profit for a theater/multiplex/distributor/exhibitor and finally the producer to survive." Most cynics dont dare to step out of their own cliches and continue to run down things expectantly, coming from their pre-conceived notions about actors, directors and films. There is a strong influx of trends that adhere to fatuous trolling of something that you collectively dont like due to a thing in your head. Social media has aided thousands of people in this process to voice their thoughts, its not necessary that all of them make sense. As a simple example, our Twitter community never sang crooning praises for Vicky Donor like they did for a Paan Singh Tomar. Its not elitism, it shows up as an alternative version of campism that these flag bearers themselves chide at. More often than not, most cynics are not judging the movie on how well its made but on whether it follows their expectations derived from a previous ideology.

Whats worse than cynicism is ignorance, an ailment that engulfs majority of film buffs. Watching five Hollywood blockbusters and a mixed bag of Indian films in a year gives a housefull of people the audacity to pass the verdict that we have a long way to go. Dear sir, may we remind you we never declared ourselves to be in this race. Its only ignorance that leads to such prejudices. Ask them if they have paid for a ticket to go watch any indie flick that managed to find a few shows at their nearby multiplex? Sudhish Kamath points out in another very relevant article 
here, there is a major growing disconnect between the critics review and the audience and critics. Amongst the masses, most of the people watch the better movies on a DVD just because they don’t wanna pay for a ticket unless there is some must-watch element or their favorite star in it. If you didn’t market it well enough, its not gonna be sold. Less than 20% people read or watch movie reviews and even a smaller fraction actually find them credible. If they hear too many good things about the movie, they wait for the DVD most of the times. In such decreasingly intellectual times, the thresholds of entertainment have hit an all time low dispensing with a basic sense of belonging and respect for whats ours

On the other hand, these mainstream releases with big stars are the real flag bearers of our industry abroad. People know our industry abroad because of Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan and their likes. The revenues have increased manifold for all films even in the overseas markets which allows for many other films to find a release there. Undoubtedly, some of these big films were also great films that have been emblazoned as cult classics on the face of Indian cinema but the problem there is much deeper. Most good films fall prey to obscurity in overseas markets, sometimes due to lack of proper awareness, sometimes due to the sheer preferences of the people there, engulfed in the hegemony of their ideas of what they expect in an Indian movie.

There are problems pulling Indian Cinema backwards everywhere, but the world cannot change with an epiphany. If you only enter a theatre for Akshay Kumar or Salman Khan, you cannot be sloaganeering a shortfall in Indian cinema. But one significant step in the right direction could be taking more pride in the films produced on this side of the world, supporting them for all the stupendous effort put into them, watching them religiously as an innocent experience and then deciding the reasons for liking them or hating them. There are a few people all around the world who follow this to the T, but we need to push those numbers. We are making a lot of good films here, some of which definitely need a broader perspective to watch. But we are also making a lot of bad films, which you can definitely troll. Just be fair and take pride!

Originally published at the online journal Long Live Cinema here

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Housefull 2 is a sporadically funny no-brainer

I was in a tizzy before going to watch Housefull 2. After watching Housefull, the prequel to this one,  my best friend claimed to have really enjoyed it, owing it to the laughs and gags in it. Although, he later ate his own words and refuted ever saying anything like that. Guilty pleasure, I guess. I can burn myself to shame but I did enjoy some sequences too, but the overall impact was of hair-brained humor. Housefull 2 is the only movie that has been so religiously pummeled right from the release of its first look, the trailer, the promos all the way up to its release by the people who dont watch movies just for entertainment amongst all others. On the other hand, the movie received aggrandizing promotions from its makers and a wide release. Coming from such a dubious backdrop, I could not have been particularly gushed about this one. Surprisingly, I did not find tickets for an afternoon show at the first two theaters I went to. WHAT? So many people did flock to watch Housefull 2? Compulsively, although unwillingly, I found a bad seat in the third multiplex I went to. 12 actors and Sajid Khan leading them on the director's seat, the whole idea looked grossly wrong. Then why would so many people be willing to watch it? 

Have we ever made a madcap entertainer that has not been termed asinine by the pundits of content-based cinema? Is the meaning of content only limited to serious films? Do people only want to be shocked/vowed/emotionallytugged? Does madcap not involve any thought to produce? The answer is NO. In general, the Indian audience craves to have a nice time at the movies, irrespective of what you serve. They expect a Housefull 2 to provide that and thats why they came in numbers today. The same reason they went for Dabangg, Singham and their likes. What do the scowling pundits feel then? Betrayed? The bottomline is that content should never take a backseat in cinema, and there is no excuse or exception to that law. Films like Hera Pheri, Delhi Belly and some others did not renege the plot despite being madcap entertainers. Guilty pleasure is not bad, but it should not be misattributed to puerility. 

Housefull 2 is not a shameful film, but its only sporadically funny and surreptitiously crotchety. The problem with this one is that the plot is too contrived and everything appears to be arranged right at the moment to fall in the larger scheme of buffoonery. The jokes and gags in Housefull 2 may be tasteless to some because they go the tried and tested route of evoking jest out of gays, midgets, physically challenged, dark skinned people etc. but it packs a bunch of sequences where I did laugh out loud. These shiny spots dont stick out but act merely as a throwaway in an otherwise scrawny pedestrian-humor plot that is laid out. Yet, its not terrible as I expected it to be and anyday better than a Tees Maar Khan, directed by Sajid's sister Farah Khan. Sajid contrives a confusion amongst 12 characters that is very low brained and tries hard to squeeze in unnecessary action sequences, familiar jokes and drags it for a staggering 2 hours 40 minutes which leaves the comedy half baked and banal. The few genuinely comical sequences dont haul your senses for the entire run. Another problem is that Khan makes his actors deliver some sneeringly lame lines, grotesquely believing that its funny. Stupidity is inherent with madcap entertainers and the actors need not be laconic but Sajid does not know where to stop. One wishes for more comical sequences rather than a frumpy line deliberately pushed into the screenplay. All the tribute to a million things, the mish-mash of the proceedings and the convenient plot makes Housefull 2 underwhelming, if not predictably unbearable. 

Housefull 2 is backed by Sajid Nadiadwala's production house Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment, which has all the money to make big films and they do spend profusely on this one. The Production Design is slick at times and gaudy at others. Most of the technical departments are strictly okay like Sound Design, Background score and Dialogues. Music is passable and thankfully there are only 4 songs. Papa Toh Band Bajaye and Anarkali Disco Chali have become the pick of the lot. I tell you, Malaika Arora Khan shimmying on a number is still better than all of them out there. Editing could have been way better to make the final product less pneumatic and amateurish. 

When it comes to madcap entertainers made by Sajid Khan, acting starts meaning contorting faces, laughing unnecessarily and hamming generously. Sad to say, most of the actors fail at that too. Rishi and Randhir are saddled with the worst of lines which is a shame for seasoned actors. Randhir breaks into seriously unfunny dialogues in some scenes that is profane. John Abraham cannot act even in comedies, the animals used in the film act more than him. His craggy looks dont suit the character. Shreyas is allright but does not get much scope. Mithun does well to play his part well. Boman Irani is the funniest of the fathers, as expected. Chunky Pandey is irritating and comical at the same time. The girls are immersively nubile but should feature in anything but comedy. None of them stand out even once. The few sparks of comedy belong to Akshay, Riteish and veteran actor Ranjeet who features in just one sequence. Riteish is alluringly affable and Akshay does well to make you laugh, more often than not. His characteristic gesture used all through the film works big time. There also exists an appalling discrimination in the screen space given to the dirty dozen. Clearly, Akshay, Ritesh, Jacqueline and Mithun were favored, being the director's favorites. 

Housefull 2 is not the credulous madcap you are looking for, but makes you laugh in parts and keeps you entertained. The audience in my theater did not seem to complain even with its long duration and laugh at most of the gags. The hype was low, but the promotions were strong. The first day collections are projected to be huge, specially in the overseas markets. It wont fall flat like the recent Akshay Kumar movies because people seem to be liking it more. The idea of wholesome entertainment is not mastered in this piece, but the audience is still interested in checking it out, despite the critics running it down. The critic in me would rate it half a star lower but the audience in me evens it out to the final rating. Its not a fallacy but not a farce either. 

Rating - 2/5