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