Monday, December 2, 2013

Movie Review - Barefoot To Goa

Thanks to some of the work I get around doing, it spares a chance to see a lot of films that dont see the sight of a theatrical release so easily. Praveen Morchhale's Barefoot To Goa is one of those little gems that I was lucky to catch a couple of days ago. Written and shot almost like a docu-drama, this feature film tells a heartbreaking tale without dwelling much on the dark and dull side of it. this, pretty much, is the flavor of the season with the resounding success of films like The Lunchbox. And no wonder that Barefoot To Goa made it to the competition segment in the Mumbai Film Festival 2013, and rightly so.

Shot in pleasing high-definition, the film never tries to look lavish, fancy or go by the popular filmmaking plot points. Neither does Morchhale waste his runtime in shelling out details about how everything happens. Rather he is more interested in the journey of two kids who set out from Bombay to Goa to get back their ailing grandmother without the knowledge of their parents, visibly upset at their parents' lack of concern for her, and largely triggered by the younger (daughter) one who has a special place for her grandmother in her heart. The kids barely have an idea about how to read a dictionary but are goaded enough to make this journey on their own, literally without any plan. But they ride high on their instincts even when they dont know what's next in their journey. Some guts I would have never heard of, but then thats the job Morchhale's script does remarkably. The journey isnt planned but the solutions to their problems dont look contrived or stemming from lazy writing, infact they do end up looking realistic and incidental. An upsetting scene of losing a prized possession almost runs into another scene of kids splashing running water on each other. Morchhale never uses drama, the dialogues are almost minimal or curt, and yet BTG is fairly engaging.

Road movies have been made aplenty but putting two kids as the central characters in Barefoot To Goa has breathed in much fresh air into this script, as midst their vulnerability and adventure, a lot of underlying themes come to surface which dont need a microphone to be heard. The futile loneliness of the grandmother, the blind rigmarole of scattered urban families, the overlapped heart and mind of a kid, the simplicity and benevolence of rural citizens and above all the dying values of goodness - Barefoot To Goa briefly skims through most of these as it unfolds an interesting tale. Yet somewhere, it manages to underline the contrasting worlds of urban and rural India without deriding any of them, and somewhat mourns the dissolution of cluster families which has led to disparity and isolation. Having said that, I did feel that Morchhale could have made it crisper if it wasnt for so many themes and if there was some reasoning behind a few aspects of the story, such as the inappropriate behavior of the kids' mom.

I am not aware as to how much the budget of the film was but the production values did look more than appreciable. Ujjwal Chandra's Editing provides the film perfect pitch despite a lack of many dialogues and the open ended culmination is best suited. John Breakmad Kerketta's camerawork is stunning and offers some imposing visuals on the journey to Goa. Farrukh Jaffar as the estranged grandmother evokes all the sympathy out of you without overplaying the despicable. But the life of the film are the two kids, Saara Nahar (as Diya) and Prakhar (as Prakhar) who carry the film forward, sometimes with their naughtiness, sometimes with straight worried faces. It is their naivete that aids the film in its ingenuity. 

As a debut filmmaker, Morchhale has got the a striking nuanced balance of fun and purpose in his script and it would be interesting to see his future ventures. For those who could not see Barefoot To Goa at Mumbai Film Fest must try and catch it if they can. It may not be path-breaking but is definitely an innovative concept put to screen with a lot of heart. 

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ram Leela Movie Review : An honest film, with a remarkable lead pair

Sanjay Leela Bhansali movies are known for belonging to certain adjectives - big, beautiful, detailed and plagiarized. Yes, plagiarized,  at least for the last three ventures. The only difference is that this time he isnt playing games trying to hide his inspiration(s), instead he comes out way more comfortable and effective, having declared that Goliyon Ki Rasleela : RamLeela is an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet. And its adapted in an unknown Bhansali town in Gujarat. Bingo! A premise that is like flesh to Bhansali's skin. 

Now that everyone around me has already seen the movie, I am witnessing a spectrum of reactions around me. From some critics calling it SLB's best work to date, to some friends trying to forget it as a nightmare; from the twitter world raving all day about it to some other friends in complete awe of it. Its been a couple of months since I saw such diverse reactions to a movie. Eitherway, its always welcome. What do I think? Does it matter now that the film is doing well, mostly owing to the mixed word of mouth which always increases curiosity? I dont know, but I can assertively say that this is Bhansali's most honest film after Devdas. Personally, I do not believe SLB is capable of churning out fresh plot-driven films, apart from his incapability to let go of wide-angle shots. But if you give him a text, or a screenplay, he has the wizardry to make a beautiful film out of it. And it wont just be an imposing array of visuals, he will invest a lot in the mood and the moment, using his music, motifs and whatever else he can. The text may not be new but his handling of it will be. RamLeela is where SLB belongs, the grandeur, the plush, the drapes, the colors, the songs, the drama, the comedy, the action - a larger than life work of imagination, a musical, a masala film. 

And yet, it falters in the second half, which is slightly shorter than the first one, but that does not stop it from being a royal mess where it almost seems that Bhansali and writers Siddharth-Garima smoked up something and forgot anything what he had originally imagined his characters to be. Leaving that aside, there is a striking majority of the film which does not work on surprise or shock. Infact, it buttresses on a sparkling, comburent lead pair chemistry. People who hated the movie might think that I belong to some other world but dare I say, its been ages since I have seen such crackling chemistry between the leads of a romance. Maybe they are in love in real life, but then so were Saif and Kareena when did those duds with zero chemistry? Ranveer Singh and Deepika (aahh!) Padukone let go of all inhibition and bring a fresh intensity to everything - the banter, the flirting, the chasing, the loving, the tears, the aggression and the fights. And somewhere amidst their fun and frolic, SLB and his writers have indulged profusely in sexual references, puerile flirting and candid-looking moments to churn out an engaging narrative for most of the film. RamLeela does get a bit too long winding up at around 160 minutes with seemingly endless drama, barrage of songs and a confusing second half. 

RamLeela benefits heavily from a very efficient supporting cast. Supriya Pathak Kapur, as Leela's mom, is first-rate, menacing to say the least. A veteran actress living up well in a part tailored for her. Richa Chaddha continues to impress, even with a supporting role, she is superb. Sharad Kelkar and Barkha Bisht make an impact as well. However, it is Abhimanyu Singh and Gulshan Deviah who do not get much scope to perform and get stuck in partly caricature-ish roles. But it is Deepika and Ranveer who provide this canvas the colors it will boast of. Their energies and their synergies, work well to provide the masala. Ranveer, as the sassy Ram, is superb and Deepika, oh my, is she going to part-time acting school nowadays? 

Bhansali's music is unapologetically loud. Not only are the songs high on decibel and colors, but they retain their soul as well. How often do we see that? Lal Ishq, rendered by Arijit Singh, will stay in the playlists for some time. I do not believe that a cinematographer can do a bad job if he is working with SLB. Ravi Varman's camera puts together some of the best frames you will see on the screen, to the point where it almost seems surreal. Bhansali has also edited the film with Rajesh Pandey and done a bad job at it to be honest. But it is the Production (Wasiq Khan) and Costume Design (Maxima Basu, Anju Modi) that is spellbinding in RamLeela. A lot of work goes behind making everything look so big and beautiful, starting from Bhansali's detailed vision and the technical skills of his team to re-create it onto lavish sets and magnificent locations. 

Ram Leela is definitely not Bhansali's best work, but it is not an aimless Saawariya also. He is comfortable in making films that are low on content and high on his style and it is a film that should be seen in that perspective. One would concur that it is definitely more honest to make a Ram Leela than a Himmatwala/OUATIMD/Boss in the garb of a masala film. Plus this one has a lead pair chemistry that is worth the price of the ticket itself. Its a bit long, stretched out, old-school, but far from disappointing. Bhansali, in his home terrain, does strike a chord and splashes many colors in one go. Go for it!

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Zanjeer Movie Review : Shamefulness abounds!

Apoorva Lakhia's Zanjeer. This is one hell of an unintentionally hilarious film. Sample this.

1. Every time Ram Charan's take on the iconic character of Vijay Khanna goes out to beat some goons, they orchestrate a BG of 'Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram'. Satyagraha much?

2. Vijay gets nightmares of horsemen and people with 'scary looking' knives reminding him constantly of a dreaded incident earlier in his life. Some Bhaag Milkha Bhaag? Also, it turns out the 'dreaded incident' never involved any horsemen.

3. Priyanka Chopra's Mala is a police witness in a murder who is given a lot of money to go out and shop when her life is in danger. Also, when does get out of the house, she suddenly discovers an accent, considering she is coming from USA. Not only that, Vijay, who told her to shop, apparently freaks out at her roaming around free.

4. NRI girls from America come to India to dance on cheap innuendo laden songs at their friends weddings in India.

5. Being a rightful citizen, if you see an illegal activity, you start capturing it on your phone camera, albeit that risks your life tremendously. 

6. When a police officer is suspended from his duties due to an inquiry, the decision is proclaimed to everyone in front of the media clicking pictures.

7. A 'highly threatening' oil mafia, Prakash Raj's Teja, has barely any control over his tongue or his business, calmly residing in his mansion and shouting empty threats. 

8. Seemingly, as a journalist, it is wise to tell your sworn enemy the exact cover story you are doing on him exposing his fast and giving him the opportunity to kill you.

9. A kid cannot recognize his dead father even after seeing his morgue as the corniest dialogues are delivered to convince a witness to overstay in the country, almost to the point where her dad forgets worrying about her.

10. The crackdown of the oil mafia is like a child's play where in there is no real explanation of how it works or how it is busted. Apparently, beating up a couple of the villain's associates and walking with them into the office of the Police commissioner is enough. 

...and I can go on and on.

What is wrong with this world? 

This slushy hogwash of a film has not one inspired moment in its runtime of 140 minutes or so. A guilt ridden drama, the film fails to escalate any issue it boasts of. The core conflict is lost in the screenplay with much convenience and brought back at one's own ease whenever needed, giving way to shamefully placed 'romantic' or 'comic' tracks. Characters such as Sher Khan (Sanjay Dutt) experience the same incoherence. An acerbic imitation, Zanjeer is unadulterated horse manure for most parts which pokes fun of itself by showing iconic scenes from the original also. To top it all, Lakhia and his writer Suresh Nair, load the film with crassest of craptastic ugly lines such as "Mona Darling, apna moonh sirf ek cheez ke liye kholna please”, or Woh mera dost hai. Aur waise bhi Hindustan mein sher aur dost, dono ki kami hai”, or " How about a happy ending? Kyuki iske baad main sirf tumhari ending ki guarantee le sakta hoon, happy hone ki nahi". People break into a song for no real reason and illegal car dealers turn good without much explanation, after a comedic action sequence. Lakhia's Zanjeer is genuinely deprived of anything to feel good about. What a shameful imitation of the original!

It appalls me to discover that this horrendous felony is committed by Prakash Mehra's own sons who have produced the new film, along with Flying Turtle Films and Rampage Motion Pictures. Technically, Zanjeer reeks of waxy sensibilities that have become a rarity in modern Indian cinema. Cacophonic background scores, unnecessarily zooming cameras, sleazy songs and what not. Welcome back to the ugly 80s, under the pretext of entertaining 70s. Thwarting and crippling the film further are its actors. Ram Charan's Vijay lacks the balls of Bachchan and Chopra's cutesy gibberish can only engage you so much. Dutt's Sher Khan is trite beaten to dislike by the jarring re-doing of a legendary song sequence towards the second half. Prakash Raj is ruining his own talent reserves in such puerile roles and he does not leave a mark on Ajit's Teja. Mahie Gill, the immensely gorgeous and talented actress, must have been paid tons to sign on the dotted line for an inconsequentially played down Mona Darling, who is slyly brought down to a clumsy mistress. And Atul Kulkarni, it is really okay to not do a movie than to do one like this.

Apoorva Lakhia was never a great director and with Zanjeer, he sinks to deep abhorrence. There is nothing memorable about his venture and this placid film will leave you benumbed. If the masses go for this one too, it will be a shame on our industry!

Rating - 1/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Shuddh Desi Romance Movie Review : Step aside morality, come in reality

Jaideep Sahni. What a guy!

Believe it or not, there is no other writer in the industry who is more surgically detailed and so stunningly engaging than Sahni. He is an institution in himself and it would be a treat for anyone to read his scripts, given a chance. Artistry and technique make up compelling cinema, but nothing can replace a sprawling assiduously written screenplay which inevitably, and jaw-droppingly, lays out every little-est thing you are supposed to shoot as a director. Long immersing conversations, disturbingly real grasp on the pulse of his characters originating from real life and a delightful take on a concept via his observations - Jaideep Sahni proves it once again that he may take his time, but his fictive escapades dont reek of blubbery froth or campy shlock. 

Screw you everyone who did not watch Rocket Singh : Salesman Of The Year or Khosla Ka Ghosla, delectably penned by Sahni's genius.

SDR was equipped to haul the audience into its odd space from the first promo itself making all of us rife with anticipation. The songs worked big time and the promotional campaign was fresher than the smell of first rains. The cast was unanimously intoning a win in their kitty. But being a virgin territory for Sahni, SDR raised some doubts in one's head. Dispelling the doubts, he fillips the correct note with this one which is almost an anti-thesis of most products from Yash Raj Films. Too much bravado!

Now, Maneesh Sharma. The man who gave us Band Baaja Baraat. How could he go wrong? But then he did with Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl, a film trying too hard to cash in on the impish success of the former. With Shuddh Desi Romance, he makes a surreal comeback into his native space, ably riding on Sahni's back. It is not a glitch free film, let me affirm that at the onset, but more on that later. But is a ballsy take on the fakeness that has seeped into the institution of marriage and established cultural morality in Indian society. It is a shocker for the typical movie going audience of India who hold their derived morals close to their heart, but it is smartly handled under the garb of a black comedy by Sharma. I am not campaigning for SDR under the pretext that it overthrows the established systems of marriage and love, but because it scores in many parts. When was the last time you saw a montage consisting of non-humans enacting out the lyrics of a song? The title sequence has monkeys and pigeons doing what the lyrics are talking. So much for setting up the milieu. When was the last time you were not taken around a city without the camera acting like the eyes of a tourist guide? The city of Jaipur is a part of the script so much that you dont feel that the characters belonged elsewhere. Moreover, Sharma drains SDR of every drop of melodrama, in the most susceptible plot points as well. No sad songs, no remorse, no guilt for non-committal people or indecisive characters. Some sequences are repeated with stunning nuance highlighting the dynamics of the situations with so much ease. Lastly, when was the last time you saw a dialogue heavy film that kept it constantly engaging? Yes, we have all of this here.

As astute as it may have wanted to be, Shuddh Desi Romance does run out of steam in the last 30-40 minutes when there seems to be a dearth of fresh ideas in the plot. The lines are still terrific, but there is not much meat to accompany them. Love is confusing and demanding, but it may get a bit too much in a film as the characters take too long to drive home the point that some of us out there may just not be made for marriages. Randomness may add to the real nature of the proceedings but it does rob the film of a masterstroke impact in the final act. Yet, there is much to like here. No societal drama, no inhibitions, no cliches and no campy notions.

Yash Raj Films is largely responsible for breeding the idea of love as it exists in millions of Indians around the world. Yet, SDR is a welcome departure from their own school and they have been much sport about it. Some brilliant editing by Namrata Rao does not let the film slip even when the story skids. Notoriously fresh score by Sachin Jigar adds immense flavor to the film without the songs being a hindrance ever with Gulabi being the pick of the lot. Abid T.P. and Rashmi Sethi (Production Design and Art Direction). The water cooler, the chai, the gulab jamun. Sigh! Varsha Shilpa's Costume Design is pitch perfect with all those shirts which only people from Rajasthan would wear. But the real finesse was achieved by Sahni who is responsible for all the writing bits, including the lyrics.

And now Shanoo Sharma's (Casting Director) pack of actors. Sushant Singh Rajput plays Raghu, an indecisive lover who compulsively falls in love faster than the blink of an eye. Rajput, riding high on this year's earlier release Kai Po Che, only grows as an actor. He obliterates the bar of the guy next door and is seamlessly adorable. Vaani Kapoor proves yet again that YRF scouts some great talent from the thousands of actors out there. What a find! As Tara, she lends the right candor and vulnerability to the character, apart from being the more reasonable part of the trio. But it is the indefatigable and frivolous Gayatri of Parineeti Chopra that is the soul of the film. Much alinged with her shtick in previous films, Chopra still manages to inject innovation and deliver some striking work, possibly her best yet. Rishi Kapoor is on a roll coming out with a movie every other month, all with such diverse characters. As Goel Saab, he is funny as hell and provides the contrasting philosophy in the film. 

Shuddh Desi Romance is a motif-laden dark and funny take on our society. A good comeback by Maneesh Sharma, it also establishes Sahni as undisputed king of penning a film via dialogue. It may suffer from a few hiccups in its second half but does not get derivative even then, and to top it all, it is thoroughly hilarious. What else do you want to escape, all ye massy audience? A lot of people are getting annoyed with the lack of decision of its characters, from what I hear, and they are attributing it to the lack of a 'story'. So much hypocrisy there when we are like that in our real lives. But no, we love to see a Satyagraha that preaches us all about the development of our country but never implements it. On the contrary, here is a little film questioning your morality itself and has a lot of fun while doing it. Give it a try, this is the new cinema we should want to see and promote as it perfects itself. An extra half star for the super dialogues here!

Rating - 3.5/5

Originally published at MadAboutMoviez here

Monday, August 26, 2013

Madras Cafe is not a film to be missed, for anything, by anyone

In the last scene of Madras Cafe, this week's anticipated release, the lead character of the film recites a famous Rabindranath Tagore couplet that talks about a free nation. Save for this dramatic outburst, Shoojit Sircar's fictionalized dramatization on the backdrop of real-life events in Madras Cafe, sticks to its guns and does not play to the gallery. With abundant political and social pressure condescending the controversial topics in India, Madras Cafe walks the thin line well enough, occasionally avoiding taking real names but largely showing gutsy monster balls to unravel a dark chapter in India's history. Narratively viscous and skillfully told by Sircar, this one is a must watch for one and all, irrespective of your apprehensions and some shortcomings of the film itself.

Essentially, Madras Cafe is a two part film played out exactly like that. The first half focuses on the disturbed geopolitical situations of Sri Lanka in the mid 1980s and the Indian government's failed attempts at peace keeping in the region. Crisp and relentless, MC throws us into a world of inquisition as it reveals the motives of each character amidst a troubled Jaffna, Sri Lanka, where the LTF (modeled on LTTE) led by Bhaskaran (alias for Prabhakaran) is battling it out against the Sinhalese government. Indian government decides to intervene amidst the mess via IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) to conduct provincial elections on the island. On failure, they construct a covert operation via R&AW and send Vikram Singh (John Abraham) to Jaffna. After various failed attempts at lynching Bhaskaran through his friends and foes, they withdraw the forces, only leaving the LTF more powerful and dangerously revengeful. Here begins the conspiracy of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination by the LTF which is the core meat of the film and an eventuality around which the first half is built. Sircar lends a masterstroke docu-drama feel to the film.building upto the assassination step by step. Screenplay by Subhendhu Bhattacharya, Somnath Dey, Juhi Chaturvedi and Sircar himself adopts an approach wherein they believe more in showing all the cards than keeping them a suspense, but investing immensely in the detail of the execution of those known outcomes, following the lines of films like Zero Dark Thirty. Clinically avoiding any melodrama, the screenplay does not trivialize the motives of its characters and yet does not let the film get biased, preachy or sympathetically manipulative. 

Engaging for almost all of its runtime, Madras Cafe is a well-written and directed product. However, and sadly enough, it is not free of faults. Chandrashekhar Prajapati's editing is unfortunately uneven which does not pace the film out evenly. Some of the important plot points are whisked away in a short few mins while some others are re-iterated more than once, almost gearing towards redundancy. While the tone and mood of the film religiously stems away from the campy nature of Bollywood thrillers/espionage dramas, the hotch-potch pacing robs it of the striking impact of the final product. The next woe of this well-intentioned film is the large dosages of hammy acting, but more on that later. There is also an extrapolated explanation of the external funding of terrorist activities by global economic agents which looks oversimplified. Madras Cafe is a hard film to both write and shoot, with so much going on in it, and these afflictions do not really strip the film off its stunning effort at all. 

Continuing the support to well-scripted films, John Abraham comes on board as the producer of Madras Cafe and provides it the significant backing it needed. Viacom 18 Motion Pictures and Rising Sun Films join hands to not let this one fall short of a single penny. Kamaljeet Negi's cinematography is painstakingly real and effortlessly magnificent, a striking improvement from many previous attempts in this genre by others. Music by Shantanu Moitra has been used merely for promotional purposes and another pat on the back for Sircar and Abraham for not allowing a single song to hinder the narrative. The action and production design add to the gravel of the story without succumbing to even one gimmicky stunt or a leaking color. 

John Abraham. So much respect for everything he is standing for via his production house. Bravo! We all know the guy cant act, well, atleast he cant deliver what a film of this nature would demand. But oh boy, he sweats every little pore of his brawn and muscle to do the best he can and believe me, he is far, very far from being bad. Relatively comfortable with the physicality of an undercover agent, Abraham displays wide range of anguish, pain, struggle and fight but shamefully hams while delivering most dialogues. Nargis Fakhri is well cast in a small role where she has to only speak in English and that she can very well. Rashi Khanna does not get much scope in this film but definitely has a flair for the screen. Siddhartha Basu, as the director of R&AW, should now be cast at Prithvi for their upcoming production. The guy is ludicrously theatrical. Piyush Pandey, as Cabinet secretary, and Ajay Rathnam (Bhaskaran) follow suit with Basu. Thanks to a Prakash Belawadi, essaying the role of Bala, the regional head of R&AW, that one of the important supporting characters is not offered to mediocrity. 

On the whole, Madras Cafe is a very important film of our times. It marries fact and fiction well enough for you to pay for the ticket, let alone the seamless juxtaposition of an espionage story with a documentary-ish enactment of an assassination. The film has been sending the right signals from its first trailer release itself, despite carrying a lead cast which did not show much promise. But I would fathom that having to pick between a slightly inefficient cast and not making the film entirely, Sircar made the wise decision. The film has picked up business on Saturday and I hope the word of mouth gets it all the numbers it deserves. Nevertheless, it should not prune the spirit of Abraham and Sircar or any other filmmaker to make a daring film without the fear of comeuppance. Go out to a theater and support this one with all your heart!

Rating - 3.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Once Upon A Time In Mumbai Dobaraa is more like Akshay Kumar dobaara

In Once Upon Ay Time In Mumbai Dobaraa, Emraan Hashmi grows into an Akshay Kumar. Yes. The brutish incoherence of the idea to make a sequel to the 2010's punch-packed film, starring Ajay Devgn (as Haji Mastan) and Emraan Hashmi (as Dawood Ibrahim), giving yet another largely fictionalized account of the gangster's life was enough to put you off, if not the waxy boring promos of the film. Next, you fallibly miscast Imran Khan in the role of an upcoming gangster, which they say is based on Abu Salem's life? Really? Looking justifiably exasperated at being out of place, he looks like the millionaire who was forced to be a slumdog. OUATIMD did look like to be a monumental disappointment, to further milk the goodwill and success created by the earlier Devgn starrer. Credited with films like Taxi No 9211, OUATIM and The Dirty Picture, director Milan Luthria has been fairly prudish in creating some good work. In this half-assed attempt, he does misfire, albeit not as despicably as I expected him to. Yes, OUATIMD is NOT a terrible film, but then its a letdown to its predecessor. 

Dawood, named Shohaib in the film, has grown into lewd, flamboyant ruler of Bombay after the fall of Sultan (screen name for Haji Mastan's character). He combs his hair back, smokes like a chimney, wears his glasses all day and night and spurts corny one-liners faster than your pulse rate. Deliciously evil. Yet, when he sits down to pen his thoughts to his lady love, it is hard for him to come up with the right words. The wisecrack suddenly seems to evaporate, sadly. Such chasms in logic seem to be the core problem of this film, for example, why does the main reason of Shohaib coming to Bombay sidelined with the love story? Screenwriter Rajat Aroraa, who did a decent job with the prequel, seems to falter more than once here. In a runtime of 160 minutes, writing seems to be chronically stupid, the milieu of the era is absent and the mood of a gangster film is dumped. It is all too perfunctory when they use gangster rivalry and police action subplots as appalling conveniences. All this is voraciously compensated by a love triangle strained off the gangster grit, shining through an assured lead performance and a galore of thunderous dialogues. Out of the million one-liners thrown at you, I could take back only one that worked - Ladkiyaan jab roti hai toh bahut saare reasons hote hai, lekin jab ek ladka rota hai toh wajah sirf ladki hoti hai.

The premise of an unapologetic anti-hero is drilled in well through the first half with some light moments via the simultaneous love stories. The second half dives directly into the conflict of the love story, and some clever moments resurrect the film, mildly. Luthria does well enough to deliver the old-school virility and dialoguebaazi at the order of high decibel background score, without succumbing to popular gangster movie claptraps such as barraging item numbers or the reckless drama inherent to love triangles. Infact, he underplays his hero as an ardent lover instead of a rebel. The problem here is that considering the genre of the film you cannot take it as a brainless entertainer where love problems takes over mafia issues. But if you do manage to do that, OUATIMD does work intermittently, coming together as a choppy attempt, never really getting dull or boring. Going the full hog with the villainy and injecting some logic in the love story instead of over-dosing on couplet-ey dialogues could have lifted the film way above mediocrity. 

Produced by Balaji Films, OUATIMD rides on some soulful songs churned out by Pritam. My personal favorite will have to be Yeh Tune Kya Kiya. Akiv Ali is reprehensible for some lazy editing that does give it a generous runtime. Ace cinematographer Ayananka Bose does a hatchet job save for the ending scene where his camera zooms out to show a ship off the coast of Mumbai and you see a silhouette of the city as the camera pans above it. I find it hard to rave about the action design despite the genre of the film, as there isnt enough of it or anything that is not campy about it. Dialogues by Rajat Aroraa, which became a rage in the 2010 movie, take a crotchety turn wherein the metaphors and sayings dont necessarily have to mean anything, for example, Doodh mein nimbu jisne daala, paneer uski ho jaata hai.

Call me a sell-out but I have never had so much fun watching Akshay Kumar on screen in a long time. Reveling in the wily etch of Shohaib, oblivious of the clunky plot of his film, Kumar gasconades fear and power effortlessly, oozing out enough swag to make you root for him. Shaken and stirred by love, he also brings out a repulsive restrained romantic in Shohaib at the blink of an eye. After Special 26 earlier this year, this is another smashing performance that is restoring any liking for him. Sonakshi Sinha does not match her Lootera act, earlier last month, but gets a large screentime to showcase a variety of emotions in which she espouses Jasmine well, frustratingly nubile and incorrigibly dumb. Imran Khan, oh boy! What is he doing here? You can see him stiffen up every time he has to mouth those one-liners and you can also see him shining in all those romantic moments. Pitobash does not get much scope as Imran's sidekick, and I fail to understand why is Abhimanyu Singh picking up all these inconsequential roles in films. Mahesh Manjrekar has done this character of the gangster who loses and dies probably a dozen times over but it is baffling to see Vidya Malwade cast as his girlfriend. Chetan Hansraj is still as ludicrous as he has ever been. Sonali Bendre Behl is also in the film for a short cameo, and I still think she is the prettiest 90s actress. 

Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara lacks narrative coherence, and struggles to stay true to its genre. Yet, it is due to Akshay Kumar's lead performance that the film does manage to hold well. At the Box Office, it has taken a good start but with last week's Chennai Express racing away, it will have to depend on good fan-following and word of mouth to build those numbers it is expected to. This would be Milan Luthria's weakest film, but it is definitely not as distraught as it looks. However, I would wish that the industry can put an end to films based on Dawood Ibrahim or the Mumbai Mafia. There has been a film made on every chapter of S. Hussain Zaidi's novel, Dongri to Dubai, and Ekta Kapoor has produced all of them, literally! Watch it for an Akshay Kumar we seem to had lost!

Rating - 2.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Movie Review : Chennai Express shines, dips and escapes!

So has the Chennai Express bashing started yet? It is amusingly chortleworthy the extents to which people have been hating on Shah Rukh Khan, Rohit Shetty or many others for that matter, on every single instance that such a 'mass-entertainer' releases. Sigh, give those verbal scythes a rest, give those textual garrotes a breathe. None of them are criminals, even if they make bad movies. So stash those tools away!

Now coming to this year's Eid release. The first trailer of Chennai Express proclaimed loud and out that this festive season, we were invited to have fun 'Rohit Shetty Style' at the movies. After having seen so many Shetty films ring Box Office numbers, despite being heavily panned by every critic, were we really expecting him to turn over to an Anand Gandhi overnight? The trailer was specter enough for daggers to pulled out and wait for this weekend for some good old pummeling. It has been a while since Himmatwala came out, hasnt it? But then Shetty has been perennially gormless towards his critics, stiffening his position in the industry and honing his shtick film after film. The latter, which is more of an atrocious sham for the 'real' cine-astes. They defy logic, they shun innovation but then what if it is still honest to what it promised? Transporting you to a world of good old clean masala, with action, romance and comedy.

Rohit Shetty's Chennai Express does exactly that for its first half. He sticks to what he knows best and this film is just a diatribe of his earlier products, despite showing some growth in him as a filmmaker. You are whisked away to an over-the-top world of Rahul (SRK) who effortlessly spoofs himself through the movie at the bat of an eyelid. As frustrating as it may get for the haters, he rollickingly overrides all apprehensions about his choice of doing a comedy film with a surprisingly fresh take on this character and his overtures decree a spring of fresh laughter as the contrived situations roll in one after the other. The story belongs to the 90s but Shetty, SRK and Deepika (Meena) give them a fresh spin with a sound first half full of gags, action and some romance. 

The problem arises when the film enters its second half. Shetty's shortcomings as a director of romance, which were gullibly visible in his earlier works like Singham and Bol Bachchan, expose themselves once again. As the couple keep avoiding trouble by running away, we witness a string of misplaced songs that strip the film off its lighter tone. The love story could be cutsey but the manipulative emotional wrangling all the way through the climax is injected in an injudicious attempt to package a lot in one film. Cartoonish yet spiffy, the sparse comic bits in the second half are the only shiny bits of an hum-drum second half. Credited for its writing, K Subash, Sajid-Farhad and Yunus Sajawal are never terrible overall despite a paperthin account of facts or logic. In the end, this is a genre which dictates entertainment via some amount of silliness and there is no one better than Shetty to do it. Personally, I find it hard to complain if the entertainment provided was not completely lame or outright slapstick, save for one track involving Deepika suffering from a night disease. And then there is a running track where the leads sing songs to each other to communicate. Contrived, lame but still funny somehow.

Mounted on monstrous budgets by UTV Motion Pictures and Red Chillies Entertainment, Chennai Express carries the lollypop visual style of all Shetty Films. Largely appalling is the slushy hogwash work that has been done on the VFX shots making them look super tacky. Music by Vishal-Shekhar comprises mostly of guilty pleasure tracks, beset by a bad placing in the screenplay. Tera Rasta Chodoon Na and Titli will stay longer with us due to the soothing vocals and Amitabh Bhattacharya's non-sellout lyrics. Cinematography by Dudley and Editing by Steven Bernard could have been several notches above what it is. Dialogues do reek of shlock and corny crap at few instances. Jarringly unusual was the underwhelming design of stunts and action by Rohit Shetty himself.

They say he should stop playing Rahul or Raj. But then his last three movies were Ra.One, Don 2 and Jab Tak Hai Jaan. He was none of these in any of these. But then liking him would be profane in any case, so lets just hate. Yes, Chennai Express is about Rahul and Raj, the characters SRK has made and lived. In a stupid way, he spoofs them and relives them through another spin here, almost perfunctory. But then this Rahul does not only play his raffish charm, he wears a humor bone that is spirited but not hammy, cartoonish but not caricaturish, and believe me, its a delight. Deepika Padukone will be nimbly subject to much scrutiny on her accent, but the spunk is visible and some efforts, until she is asked to shed tears. Sathyaraj, as Meena's father, and Nikiteen Dheer, as Tangabali, are no real great cast for this one. Yet, it is the persuasive zeal and continuous shenanigans of the leads that ride the film home without letting the chasms appear.

Chennai Express is a film that is relentlessly trying to provide an elopement adventure, often wavering, slowing down but never completely derailing. I liked Shetty's Golmaal, but not G2, G3 or ATB. Then I enjoyed Singham and didnt mind Bol Bachchan. But then CE is where I feel he has grown astute enough to not need cheap takes on films, spoofs on disability or sexual orientation, or any other puerile/slapstick humor to be weave some genuine laughable situations. A raging first half, a choppy second half and some packaged contrivations sold as entertainment, Chennai Express does provide most things a regular moviegoer is looking for.With the mercurial hype surrounding its release, a Box Office storm could be expected. Its far from perfect cinema, but it is that guilty pleasure you would not mind having. The final payoff is good family time and smiling faces, atleast that was the case with my theater. An extra half star for Shetty growing up enough to not use CE to jest at South Indians or anyone else and for SRK reviving his comic touch!

Rating - 3/5

Originally published at MadAboutMoviez here

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag - Another Story

So my review of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag showed up last week here and recently, one of my friends from my alma mater, The Ohio State University, also saw the film and wrote to me expressing his thoughts in detail about the film which I am posting here. Before you delve in, there is one thing you need to know or be reminded of. In the film, they mention Jesse Owens, a famous athlete, in the Australia sequence. Over to my friend!

Not too far in the distant past was a great athlete, Jesse Owens, who was invited by Hitler during Berlin Olympics. Possibly, he might be watching the recent release Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and saying, next time I want to be born an Indian. Five days after the release of the movie and it being a run-away success (no kidding), BMB is still raking in the applause and the stars. If I had diamonds, I would make it rain as well! The question is, does BMB do justice to the protagonists story? It has its share of action, drama and a tonne of emotions. The music isn’t exactly a trance track that the auntyji’s are used to listening on the treadmill run at a local gym but definitely desi-fied version of Eye of the Tiger, in the form of ‘Ab tu Bhaag Milkha’. Without twiddling around, let me jump to the key features of the movie

The story is just great and the actors chosen to play every single role make a perfect fit like a bespoke suit. It portrays the rise of the legend Milkha Singh from the ‘nehars’ of Kot Addu through the painful partition years and finally as a rising athelete who goes on to become an indian legend. The script isn’t exactly a straight path, more of a flashback-ke-andar flashback-zoom out-flashback approach! It is shot at some very eye pleasing locales of various ‘pinds’ in Punjab, majestic mountains of Ladakh region and arguably eye pleasing bluewaters passed off as Australia. The camera work is fantastic especially the part where the camera follows the sprinting Milkha.

The main lead- Farhan does a miraculous job of becoming the protagonist Milkha Singh, both in body and spirit. Rarely do actors work so hard to get into the skin of the character as much as we have seen Farhan undergo during his well documented transformation. Hats off to his hard work and training. Yes the women folks can surely ogle at his 6-8 packs, more than just once, during the 2.5hr movie! My only take is that his voice could have been trained better. Some parts of his dialogue delivery remind me of his uttering the dialogues from ZNMD. The dude runs like a star athlete. His best scene is when Milkha returns to his village and breaks down seeing his old house. Farhan has just raised the bar of his best performance to date.

Seated comfortably in a foreign theatre, one does surely miss out on the usual chattar-pattar, cell-phone jabbering, pop-corn munching annoyance which is accepted back in motherland. During the shots of  partition years and refugee camps, I heard mellow sobs coming from few seats away. They were coming from a well dressed suited-booted uncleji, who most likely was reliving the trauma that young Milkha went through during the partition. It was a very touching moment to silently witness the impact of cinema. Perhaps the NRI uncleji can only elaborate on the state of his mind. The partition scene with Young Milkha (Japtej Singh from Mohali) and Divya Dutta are sure to make your eyes moist. The scenes between the brother and the sister exude the word 'emotion'.

Milkha's army days are very well shot, and a large part of the credit goes to the brilliance of actor Pawan Malhotra, cast as Mikha Singh’s coach. One of the promos of the movie show Farhan being slapped by Malhotra and saying “ India da coat kamana padta hain, mehnat karni padti hain”. Some brilliant acting by Malhotra in here. There were scenes and characters who could have been gotten away with, but I guess you need time to absorb the entire impact of whats going on. The detailing especially Air India’s onboard conversation between Milkha and the national coach Ranvir Singh, made it look like surreal 1950’s. The sloppy part comes in the guise of flashbacks. Enough ink has been spoilt on the 300/Jaane tu ya Jaane na (Ranjor-ke-rathor) flashback similarities. Honestly, the flashbacks could have been easier on the palate of the audience if it was one long continuous scene. I believe the editor chose to don the directors hat and got away with what looks like a bad spaghetti, and to his surprise, the director just uttered “darling, kya spaghetti hain!” The director, the actors, the cinematographer, the musicians everyone were superb in their efforts. I would either blame the writer or the editor with the marvelous wonder of turning a fantabulous story into a baigan da bharta. Not to compare but there are better flashback examples and their placements in Bollywood movies lately. Mehra’s previous offering RDB was much better off when it came to flashbacks. Mehra does an overall a fantastic job of re-creating the bygone era.

What you do take away in an awe-inspiring story of a humble boy, who never thought he could become a legend one day? Kids will talk about it, the old timers will reminisce the days of the All India Radio coverage of Milkha Singh and the young would simply continue to be zombified with the cult of T-20. The biggest takeaway from the movie was that it takes a lot to earn the respect while playing for a country, something which is being taken for granted these days. Thankfully the movie doesn’t make a mockery out of the coaches or managers, I am saying this at a time when cricket as a game has lost its charm, but the sheen seems to cover the muck underneath – tainted ‘national level’ players and club managers who have possibly never held a bat in their hands. Milkha Singh’s record will be broken and he would be happy to see an Indian kid do it. He would be happy to say ‘Ab tu bhaag Milkha’!

For lovers of history, Franklin D Roosevelt publicly never acknowledged the way Jesse Owens ought to be felicitated for bringing medals to USA. Thankfully we were able to do something magical with Milkha Singh when we had a chance. Go watch the movie to believe in the story of a living legend – Milkha Singh and find out what I mean.

The author has ‘vested’ interests in writing this review and shares his alma mater with Jesse Owens.

Christopher Columbus

Jesse Owens, incidentally, was also a graduate of my university and we have the honor of having met him personally, once. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

D-Day is a compelling film, poignantly crafted and marvelously acted

D-Day, directed by Nikhil Advani, started making all the right noises earlier this week when previews started for the cast and crew's friends, family and media. I went into the theater with really high expectations conjured by the name tags attached to the film, mainly, Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan. 

Cut To

A wedding song performance is brilliantly intercut with a woman fighting with her supposed husband intercut with an agent trying to take down a dreaded gangster who is entering the same building intercut with the gangster entering the same building with his entourage.

A father leaves his beloved son to school and his expressions, as his son walks away, are captured through a rear view mirror. Or the father sheathing his tears as he bids his son adieu at the airport.

A gripping replay of a merciless murder over a song sequence that talks about a personal loss

A man embracing death with the voiced imagery of his wife accepting his marriage proposal

and many many more such instances.

Advani's D-Day is a tremendous display of taut storytelling appropriated efficiently by craft and detailing. A compelling action drama profuse with emotional wrangling, Advani often twiddles with his script, showing much skill with his metier, to deliver a sound film, if not a flawless one. Like a raging river in flood, he attempts a genre unlike any of his previous ventures (Kal Ho Naa Ho, Saalam-E-Ishq, Chandni Chowk To China, Patiala House) and seems completely at home here. As I am back home, the images of from that one song, Alvida, still haunt me and I can only smile when I think of the burgeoning growth of Indian cinema. We have come so far and this, is a rollickinginly awesome time. 

D-Day boasts of a gestating fresh premise when India's secret agency, R&AW, daringly decides to take down the most wanted terrorist, Dawood Ibrahim (whose name is not mentioned even once in the film), by sending four special agents on a mission to Pakistan to bring him back alive, inspired by America's huntdown of Osama. Without much ado, the plot dives into the operation and the build up to it, brillliantly juxtaposing each of the agent's backstories and weaving them seamlessly as it chugs along. The operation fails and the agents are left on their own to save their lives or their loved ones or complete the mission. Credited for its story and screenplay, Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair and Advani himself, shoehorn a lot of meat in the 140-150 minute runtime, and stir up a spotless first half. The second half sets up the specter with much aplomb. But somewhere towards the end, they frustratingly lose sight of reason to replace it only with shock value. Tying all the loose ends, D-Day does not get scrappy but one could complain about a minuscule smut of a twist thrown in the climax just for the heck of it. Yet, D-Day works well as a blistering assured film with much to talk about and most significantly, to exhibit the exact way to make a nationalistic movie. 

Produced by DAR Motion Pictures and Emmay Entertainment, D-Day is mounted on a large scale which can boast of one of the best Editing hands in a long time, fleetingly perfected by Aarif Sheikh. Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is a peachy effort with some of the best lyrics by Niranjan Ayengar. Tushar Kanti Ray's cinematography is well honed to the mood and tone of the film. Tom Struthers' action set pieces are not snazzy and work stunningly well. But the piece of cake is taken by casting director, Mukesh Chhabra who puts together a pantheon of actors that play their parts to the T, magnetized by their captain, Advani, who uses all the technical talent he has at his disposal to a applause-worthy ability. 

Despite Irrfan being India's best actor in ages, D-Day belongs to the long pauses and quiet looks of Arjun Rampal. Nihilistic of any of his critics, Rampal's Rudra, the suspended army officer turned R&AW agent, is a portrayal he will be remembered long for. The restrain, the anger and the droning charm he brings out to Rudra is incredible. Irrfan, effectively leading the film, is always a delight to watch, and his Wali Khan, a man with many weaknesses, is done with surgical precision. Shri Swara, playing Wali's wife Nafisa, is Chabbra's latest find. A rare attraction is what she brings to the table and is really the surprise package of the film. Akash Dahiya and Huma Qureshi do not get the same scope as the previous two but they add to the ensemble with nifty performances. Rishi Kapoor is indulgently having the time of his lives effervescently redefining the negative leads in many films. His portrayal of the unnamed terrorist is menacing largely, yet he brings a humane side to the character and there is barely anyone who could have done it better. Chandan Roy Sanyal, as the eccentric nephew of the don, is first-rate, once again. Veteran actor Nasser redeems himself from his forgetful villainous act in Rowdy Rathore as the R&AW chief, Ashwini Rao, and lends a matured effort to a primal character. Shruti Hassan looks bespoke for a vulnerable Suraiya, and pulls off a commendable act. K K Raina hams up his act for most parts but it fits in with the character.

Irrespective of your first opinion of the film from its trailers and the starcast, D-Day is a significant work of fiction that will erode your inner self with a scythe and whisk you away to a high of nationalism with a thrum. Despite its minor shortcomings in the second half, Advani has kept this difficult film in ample grasp and deserves many accolades for it. It has taken a slow start at the Box Office but I expect the word of mouth to help the film. Undoubtedly, the action and gore will turn off a major section of the audience, but then, you would rather see a well-made film than another campy hokum. For me personally, I am a sucker for thrillers, and this is possibly the best mainstream film I have seen this year. DO NOT miss this one!

Rating - 4/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is a well-made biopic, albeit a manipulative one

Milkha Singh, India's most famous track and field athlete, ran for Rome Olympics in 1960 and missed winning a medal. Despite many attempts before and after that year, Indian athletes have never come closer to an Olympic medal in running, notwithstanding the various successes in other sports. To cover an eventful life of Milkha Singh and to inject inspire a young nation to pay attention to this sport, pretty much the surefire idea running in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's head to make this film. Milkha Singh himself resonated this notion in an interview when the film was announced. Constantly magnetized by themes of nationalism, Mehra has proved his mettle with the flawless Rang De Basanti and the well-intentioned Delhi 6. Not nearly running half as fast as its central character, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is an enduring viscous tale of a sportsman that clocks in at 3 hours 10 minutes. But is it worth all the patience?

Having read and heard many harsh views and juvenile bashing of the film, I am happy to tie in a thread of hope by saying that BMB is actually a competently made film, albeit not flawless. I watched the film twice this weekend, and there must be something about it that lured me back to the theaters, or maybe I am just cine-dumb. Oh well, I am plain befuddled by the disconcerting realization that a lot of cinephiles have renounced the film due to the hangovers of their own expectations on what they would have wanted the film to be. Sigh! Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is made like a biopic, in its true sense, with anecdotal accounts of bullet points from Milkha's life, and we have to suspend our disbelief in the fictionalizing of some accounts, considering Milkha Singh himself supported the script. In this dramatic re-enactment of his life, screenwriters Prasoon Joshi and Mehra could not have really helped it if Milkha's life actually played out like a cliched emotional trope and the situations are fairly ill-used in Bollywood. What could have been helped is heaping on an effort to become a compulsive tear jerker and the loud theatrical tone of the narrative. But I guess thats the reason it is working with the mainstream audience. 

Keeping in mind just the objective of the film, that is, to capture the first 20 something years of the life of an acclaimed athlete, the film serves its purpose to concoct a heart-wrenching tale. Despite the lack of an Olympic medal, Milkha Singh is hailed because of the circumstances under which he won 77 out of the 80 races he ran, as well as the lack of infrastructure and resources in independent post-colonial India, in which he grew up. There are constant leitmotif-laden references viaa repetitive metaphor to Milkha's past, beginning from the first scene itself where he loses at the Rome Olympics. This scene plays out Milkha running to save his life from a horseman carrying a sword, which triggers everytime he is told to 'bhaag' from a horrifying situation. Mehra reveals more of this dreaded flashback incident, bit by bit, jutting in and out of flashback, as the story reaches its conclusion to discover the troubled memories of Pakistan in Milkha's head. The film is pivoted around this memory, and maybe a little more focus on the shame that ensued after Olympics loss as well as his fight to resurrection would have helped the purpose better and lent a way better insight into Milkha's psyche towards the end. A simple reconciliation with the horrors of the past and soapy breakdown doesnt reason as well and the resurrection looks sudden and the inspiration behind the persona a tad bit underwhelming. 

The flashback sequences, and the flashbacks within flashbacks, are juxtaposed efficiently, taking simple cues from the present ongoings and organically cutting into Milkha's life many years ago, Mehra himself taking a leaf out of his earlier venture, Rang De Basanti. However, Mehra falters in rendering an old-fashioned treatment to the film, the loud dramatic escalations, the beaten-to-death background cues and the constant emotional tugging. What he does succeed in creating the buildup of Milkha's resilience - the kid running on hot sand when his friends advise him not to, the brilliantly shot race before intermission in which the camera only focuses on his injured feet and there is no score, or the sprawling training sequences in Ladakh. Taking his time to setup the story, Mehra does overstay his welcome by a few extra minutes I believe but it does not get jarring due to its highly charged after-effect, one that will definitely bring a wave to pursue athletic excellence to your head. 

Binod Pradhan uses the now much famous techniques of sepia soaked flashback screens and murky nightmare and killing scenes in his cinematography. Produced by Viacom 18 Motion Pictures and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra Pictures, BMB wears its cost in its high production values,but the editing by P.S. Bharathi could have been crisper. National Award winning costume designer Dolly Ahluwali does very well to make Farhan look like Milkha Singh. But it is the Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy that scores an ace amongst all technical departments. Loaded with buckets of fervor and dosages of amphetamine to stir you up. All songs come out well and seamlessly woven into the narrative, save for one romantic number with Sonam Kapoor in the second half. 

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is a film that belongs to Farhan Akhtar, more than even Rakeysh Mehra. Despite being a full-time director himself, Akhtar immerses himself in Milkha's character and obliterates the bar by wide margins to deliver a rare performance that will stay in your head for long. Apart from working assiduously on his chiseled physique, he displays the wide paradigm of Milkha's emotions with a fresh grasp. Take a bow, Farhan! Matching up to him neck to neck is the veteran Pavan Malhotra, who speaks Punjabi like a charming spitfire. Effective and admirable, Malhotra is the standout act of the film. Prakash Raj does well in a small role as a cantankerous army officer, while Art Malik is impressive as Milkha's dad. Divya Dutta, a highly underrated actress, plays Milkha's sister, and despite being waxy and soapy, will most positively tear you up. Sonam Kapoor lands an extended cameo in BMB and does well to not ruin it. Rebecca Breeds is largely pretty in another cameo, while Meesha Shafi does not get much scope. Dalip Tahil does the worst impression of Nehru while Yograj Singh is melodramatic, much like the predominant tone of the film.

On the whole, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is not a Chak De India, largely because Mehra did not handle it like a Shimit Amin would. Yet, it has all the ingredients of an inspiring biopic with this year's strongest central performance till date. A lot of masala and a lot of drama will make BMB work well with the audiences despite its overlong runtime. It is a human saga from adversity to success and the varied experiences of an athlete and should be viewed in that anecdotal perspective. It may not be a bad idea to be manipulated by this one, as it worked in both the viewings for me. Give it a shot, you may be inspired to do something bigger in this trade-off. Here is an extra half-star for the phenomenal lead effort!

Rating - 3.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fukrey is largely a funny film

Fukrey, produced by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani under Excel Entertainment, is a small little film that came out this weekend. The first trailer did invite me to watch the film, specially with the compelling Delhi (read Daehli) flavor that it reeked of. But then it looked like another coming of age story of 4 young guys who are out to have some fun. The music album struck a chord with one delectable song by a brilliant singer. And then it chose to clash with the magnam-opus, Man of Steel. Sometimes I wonder aloud the reasoning behind the decision, irrespective of how average Man of Steel was. Fukrey works for most parts, and provides you enough moments of bursting laughter as well.

Directed and co-written by first timer Mrighdeep Singh Lamba, Fukrey is positively not the run of the mill coming of age story. In fact, it is sort of like a heist film built around a leap of faith. Screenwriters Vipul Vig and Lamba draw you into the world of four nobodies in Delhi, two of which are friends (Hunny and Choocha) from before but the pack comes together for one common reason, to make some quick cash. A wily female don, funnily named Bholi Punjaban, comes on board, to invest in their idea, and when the plan foils, to lynch their guts. A simple plot, profuse of fresh ideas and premises, Fukrey benefits from genuinely hilarious set pieces and one marvelously sketched character, but the suffers from a lack of coherence in its plot where not all pieces fall together in communion. The writers invest their heart and soul into building up four interesting characters who arent necessarily friends from before and the efforts do pay off well. Rooted well in the nuances of a Delhi-ite, our leads are thoroughly enjoyable with all their shameless notoriety, frequent swanning and continuous fallibility. Choocha, played by Varun Sharma, stands out and how. A delicious character churned out of a sidekick role length evokes generous laughs every time he talks. Bholi Punjaban is a fresh take on the characters of female dons, aided more by acting than writing. But Fukrey never leaves you in stasis. Continual banter between Hunny and Choocha, or the track involving the third guy, Lali, in a repetitive alterations of a situation where in he loses some part of his motorcycle are intoning of a much better writer in Lamba. How one wishes an equal focus was given to cover some loose ends of the plot and this one would be a winner! 

Fukrey has been mounted tremendously well by Excel Entertainment with Farhan and Ritesh themselves showing up for most promotions. Ram Sampath's musical capture of the Delhi milieu is pretty accurate, with Ambarsariya being the covert gem in Sona Mohapatra's voice. Mohanan's cinematography is easy on the eyes, while Anand Subaya has used his editing knife well. The spot-on casting by Honey Trehan must be credited heavily to make this film work and lend a certain melange to every dialogue. The acerbically sweet dialogues only accentuate the setup and you will find yourselves laughing for many minutes on atleast four instances.

Pulkit Samrat (Hunny), Varun Sharma (Choocha), Manjot Singh (Lali) and Ali Fazal (Zafar) - the four leads are a riot together, with Sharma easily taking the cake followed by Manjot and Samrat. Running with roughly the same role sizes, the boys are a raging river in flood delivering spirited performances that palpably match the tone of the film. The surly words flow in with the mayhem of immatures and what you witness is some real new talent out there, save for Manjot Singh who has already proved himself many a times. Richa Chadda's Bholi Punjaban oscillates between superb and choppy for me, where in the character loses its own skin due to inept writing. Pankaj Tripathi's vast reserves of acting are under-utilized as the college gatekeeper who has a jugaad for anything. 

On the whole, Fukrey is a slice of life film with a fresh premise and characters which doesnt quite hit the spot due to incoherence. It is still a reason enough to watch for Lamba's next venture. It has opened low on the Box Office but I am hoping that some word of mouth will help this little film against a strictly okay Hollywood biggie. Watch it for the earnest efforts and some genuine hilarity!

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 struggles to be funny

Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 came out in the theaters this weekend, like we really needed it to. The inexorable desire of the Deols to poke more fun of themselves, stemming from the partial success of the first part. While its predecessor was a prudish attempt at a hair-brained laughathon, this one is reduced to an exercise in pointlessness. Once in a while, I am okay with some shlocky silliness as long as it is able to evoke cheap laughs, at least. But alas, in their maniacal attempt to repeat the formula, the Deols serve us a bovine affair.

Produced by Dharmendra himself under Sunny Sounds Pvt Ltd and YPD Films Ltd UK, the film barely has any laudable technical finesse to boast of. Music by Sharib-Toshi is uninspired save for the title track, while Editing, Cinematography and all other departments slither into shame. Still looking smashing at 70 something, veteran actor Dharmendra is meekly the best part of the film. Heralded otherwise by the jittery hands of director Sangeeth Sivan, YPD2 suffers from unoriginal writing. You will wait through the painfully long runtime of over 150 minutes to laugh out loud, but this rollicking glob of below average cinema will rob you of your hope royally. The single standout sequence of laughter is Dharmendra bonding with a monkey. Sigh, so much for a sequel! 

To be fair to YPD2, the humor being squirted on your face isn't particularly puerile or innuendo-laden, but it is agonizingly lame and phenomenally flat. The plot follows father-son, Dharam (Dharmendra) and Gajodhar (Bobby Deol) as they set out to con a UK-based Indian businessman Khanna (Annu Kapoor) by marrying his daughter (Neha Sharma) while being unaware that he is under debt and the bank has sent their own kin, Paramveer (Sunny Deol) to recover this money. Amidst these familiar trajectory lie some marvelously misplaced parallel tracks of an orangutan, called Einstein, living in their house, a distraught attempt at Salman Khan fandom and a mindless scientist, named Dudeji (Anupam Kher) trying to 'invent' new wonders of the world with this pack of fools. Out of the above, Kher's track is appallingly bad. Even if you leave your brains at home, the dumb proceedings will marauder the empty spaces that used to be occupied by your brains earlier. Largely spending its time trying to be funny, YPD2 is insipid and low on entertainment. 

What the film does well is to retain the characters developed from the first part and elaborate them to align with the popular antics each of the Deols is known for. Dharmendra gloriously walks through delivering the cheekiest lines, while Sunny's Param is derived from his action image once again. Bobby Deol serves as the jester, often aided by obtrusively garish attire. Neha Sharma and Kristina Akheeva, the actresses, have as much idea about the film as its director or its writers (Lynda Deol, Shubhangi Rathod and Jaswinder Bath). Annu Kapoor must be hanging his head in shame for signing on for this after his stint in Vicky Donor last year. What convinced veterans such as Anupam Kher and Johnny Lever to join the party will be a mystery to be explored in YPD3, maybe.

In all honesty, I had higher hopes from the trailer of this film since its prequel worked as a guilt pleasure. But this derailed attempt chides at my childishness. The film has opened very well on Friday but I do not expect it to sustain, considering the best lines are already delivered in the trailer. Like Param's character in the movie gets signals from God in his daily life in the form of a temple bell, I hope the bell rings hard on the ears of the Deols and we dont see a third one. 

Alas, there is only star in the film, Dharmendra!

Rating - 1/5

Originally published at MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is a good one time watch

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, a film that everyone I know is voraciously waiting to see, first day first show in theater. No second thoughts there. Such is the marketing prowess of Dharma Productions and Karan Johar. The message is out there and precisely succinct. Come have fun and celebrate life! Indian audience savors any such proposition to drain out any stress or wear from a week full of work or otherwise not-so-happy moments. From the first trailer to all the song promos to its release, while the message was clear, everything about the movie seemed formulaic and run of the mill, save for being glossed up. Ayan Mukerji, who gave us Wake Up Sid in 2010, seemed somehow to be succumbing to popular idiosyncrasies and campy treatments. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani plays out like another effervescent coming of the age story, and the fun never stops, but its hard to be completely generous to it, despite the camera focusing on Deepika's eyes every now and then.

Credited with the story and screenplay of the film, Ayan Mukerji follows a similar trajectory of his hero coming into his own over the course of the movie aka chasing his dreams versus chasing the people with whom you can live the dreams. Despite an unoriginal arc to the whole film, the film benefits a lot from postcard packaging and striking performances. To put it simply, Ayan Mukerji pulls off an Imtiaz Ali, almost, but he lacks the editing Ali has in his movies. YJHD works  despite its overtly long runtime of more than 150 minutes and multiple unnecessary songs and dances, mostly because of a subtle realistic feel to it. The characters travel far and wide to fall in love, shed their hangups and inhibitions to live an adventurous life, go through concocted family issues and magnanimous indian weddings, ultimately to drive home the point that one should live in the present and that there is a time for everything. Also, nurturing relationships is always more important than chasing dreams. The predictability is hackneyed and infectious, but convincing nonetheless. 

Despite immaculately inhabiting the premise of a million love stories, YJHD possesses the wisecrack to make this mushy formula run well. The equation between the three friends, Ranbir, Kalki and Aditya, as it matures through its inherent ups and downs over the course of 8 years is endearing and fresh and credits to Mukerji who gives ample scope to each of their individual relationships as well. Friendship isnt forever if you dont invest in it, and every love story does not meet its happy end. Relationships dynamics change with different people having different priorities, and Mukerji smartly portrays this with much panache. The fluff and fur laces every frame with millions of endearing and misty-eyed moments but the proceedings never make you cringe as practicality is not thrown out of the window. The ending scene where all of the leads are at different places and yet together over the phone on New Year's Eve says a bunch about the ideology Mukerji set out with. Yet, YJHD lacks the immense maturity that Wake Up Sid came with and remains another formula done well. 

Produced by Dharma Productions, YJHD could not have asked for a more deft production with every screen beautifully lit up and captured by V. Manikandan and every song a chartbuster by Pritam. While my pick of the lot are Kabira and Balam Pichkari, there is definitely not a single song in the album that will not induce repeat hearings, phenomenally helped by Amitabh Bhattacharya's quirky palpable lyrics. Not only the music, Pritam does a glorious job with the film's background score which stands out unlike many other times. Editing by Akiv Ali is a bit tardy. Nandini Shrikent's casting is spot on and is probably the film's biggest asset. Production Design by Rajnish Hedao and Amrita Mahal reeks of abundant cash flow to trigger the right impact of grandeur. Apart from Mukerji's screenplay, the film comes alive truly by Hussain Dalal's dialogues which barely miss a note in making you smile from ear to ear. The songs are choreographed credulously down to every beat and its a treat to see the glossy revelry on screen. 

Ranbir Kapoor is an actor-star, actor first. He is at a stage in his career where he can make minimal wrong choices to continue his soaring flight towards awesomeness. With YJHD, he seemed to have made that dreaded wrong choice before its release. But once you watch the movie, you cant be cantankerous towards him even if you wish to because he just goes that extra mile for an slippery script too. Pouring his sweat out into every single dance move to being the carefree traveller cum flirt to being the lost soul towards the second half, his screen presence is cartoonishly charming and stunningly overruling. Deepika Padukone continues to grow as an actress and as a monument of sheer adulation for her beauty, well, I did have to say that, didnt I?. As Naina, she brings the right transition in the character over the movie and matches well up with Ranbir. Yet, she needs to break out from love stories and foray into another dimension, almost intentionally now. Kalki Koechlin and Aditya Roy Kapoor are brilliantly cast for their parts as they lift the film from its mediocre script. Kalki does well to be funky as well as mature, and Aditya strikes the right note as the friend who somewhere lost track. Dolly Ahluwalia, Kunal Roy Kapoor and Tanvi Azmi make assured cameos but it is legendary actor Farooque Sheikh who robs the limelight in just two scenes. 

On the whole, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is a cheerful affair that will bring a lot of happiness to you this weekend. The film has opened big and with the astounding buzz enveloping it, it is bound to rake in numbers. It is not clunky or unrealistic, yet it is nothing out of the box and takes you back well in time to Karan Johar style romance. Mukerji proves that he can handle the ordinary with a nuance too. And Ranbir proves that though this may not take him to the next level, it doesnt hurt his career graph. But I would have expected a lot more from this filmmaker. Watch it for the sizzling performances and some more life gyaan, all told with much fun !

Rating - 2.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Go Goa Gone is the most daring film in a couple of years

Go Goa Gone is a phenomenon I have been waiting to witness for over 2 months now, yes, ever since that credulously well cut first trailer set it up for awesomeness. You might wonder that I did go in to like the movie, so I cant really hate it. But then, I can offer you a smirk for that ridiculous thought. 

Go Goa Gone is a ginormously special film for a million reasons. Indian cinema completed 100 years recently, and this, effectively, is our first film on a theme that has been gangraped many a times by Hollywood - Zombies. Except that Go Goa Gone takes a leaf out of the West's obsession, turns it around its head to evolve into a zombie comedy, almost reveling like a spoof that belies that obsession. Go Goa Gone is no malarkey to designed to rip you off but it delivers the thrills it promises and respect to Saif Ali Khan for backing it. Following Delhi Belly in 2011, Go Goa Gone makes no bones about its prophetically adult content, going the full hog with its uncensored ruthless sex humor or a stark use of drugs by its characters. It permeates badassery without a wink of thought and recklessly veers itself to a landmark point in Indian cinema, just for finding a release. 

Nosediving into Go Goa Gone, one does nimbly realize that this is not a film made for everyone. The action-gore baggage of the genre, the morally distorted lingo (in terms of wide social acceptance), or just the uncomfortable propaganda of drug abuse may be a put off for many. But alas, Go Goa Gone is too audacious to care about not having a pan-India audience. Derivatively enough, GGG follows three stone-headed friends as they make a trip to Goa where one of them has a work assignment and the other two are just distraught with life. Post a rave party, they find themselves amidst a bunch of cartoonishly fearsome zombies and have to scram for life, pretty much for the rest of the film's runtime. Saif Ali Khan plays a pseudo-Russian ex-mafia who seems to be omniscient about zombies and is out to eradicate them. 

But Go Goa Gone works for many other reasons. The unabashed repartee of snappy lines, amongst the three leads, cutting each other is the most compelling form of humor that has hit the screens lately. The continuous political incorrectness, the heaps of gristly wisecrack and the rousing stretch of ridiculous situations never let the humor dip throughout the movie. Unfortunately, it is this idea of zom-com that kinda became a quagmire for writer directors Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru in the second half. A zomcom, to think of it, in the pre GGG era maybe a year back in Indian cinema, is an idea crackling enough to make it work anyhow, but then, but then they could not get out of in the second half as they had to keep the 'com' in it. Hence, the extended climax is just a chase fight sequence between zombies and humans with many hilarious moments which leaves GGG jarringly underwhelming in the last hour due to lack of meat in the narrative. 

I may have been mildly disappointed but the film carries a whole bunch to root for, honestly. It is told like whirlwind adventure and you never disengage from the proceedings. Raj and DK seamlessly weave in the surly with the impish and comic with the murky. The three leads barely miss a beat of timing ever to aid their directors. Screenplay and dialogues by Raj, DK, Sita Menon, Kunal Khemu and Raja Sen are monumentally brilliant and the lifeline of the film. Arindam Ghatak's Editing and Dan Macarthur's cinematography is on point. But it is the Music by Sachin-Jigar that scores an ace amongst all the technical departments. A truly delectable album with gems produced to appeal to the non-massy audience, this one will stick around for a while. 

Kunal Khemu, Vir Das and Anand Tiwari complement each other like real soulmates saucily adding much value to Go Goa Gone. Khemu does outshine his peers in this one, but Das and Tiwari are only inching behind by no real distance. Acerbic, awesome and assured, the leads deliver a standout performance here. It is their camaraderie that provides the necessary cover-up for a slim second half. A scene where they take on 3 zombie females together or the sequence when Tiwari and Saif are questioning Khemu or many other nuances stand out remarkably. Saif Ali Khan, albeit cast a tad bit incongruously, surprises us with a dedicated performance as Boris, carrying a large share of the clap-worthy lines. Puja Gupta has little to do but does not look out of place with the boys. 

Go Goa Gone is pivoted around the world of drugs, essentially, and makes no qualms about portraying two of its leads as users. It is also a learning journey derived from a common corporate phrase used by Steve Jobs famously. But above all, it is more candor than you have seen in a film in ages. Irrespective of your apprehensions, I would irk you to go for this movie, but dont forget your appetite for some gore, some silly and some crass. I assure you, you will laugh your ass out. Here is an extra half star for just having the balls, Saif, Raj and DK!

Rating - 3.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here