Sunday, October 26, 2014

Happy New Year Movie Review : Nonsense Done Right

Farah Khan's latest venture, Happy New Year, is out in theaters this weekend. And even if you are a plonked outcast lying in some run down part of any city in India, or a swanky tycoon flying around the world for business, you would have come across the obnoxiously omnipresent promotional wave of HNY. Much thanks to Farah's unapologetic muse and the producer of the film, Shah Rukh Khan, and his army of men who have made sure that HNY becomes a household name, even before its release. The first promo did not create the waves SRK or Farah may have expected it to and neither did the subsequent songs, clumsily painting a lopsided picture of HNY. However, this did not stop their team to serenade all our senses with overdoses of publicity for HNY, so much so that it cooked a pretty smashing buzz for the film, whether good or bad, right before its release. Post Tees Maar Khan, has Farah been able to resurrect herself?

Now before we step into a cantankerous analysis of the film, or of my review for taking a particular side, let me make my point of view clear at the onset. I have said this time and again, and I must say it again, every film must be judged on the basis of what it set out to do and if it achieved that. And not on the basis of what we wanted it to do. Farah Khan makes genre-specific films, binging on spoof, homage and self-referential humor, all done in a true blue mainstream fashion, doused with standard set pieces of action, romance and comedy from masala films. Our Indian audience itself is looking for escapist entertainment but are wary of patronization, or a misuse of the genre insulting their basic intelligence or simply being served puerility or rotten slapstick in the garb of a fresh film. There is a thin line in this genre space to make a nonsensical film and Farah knows it very well. Yes, Happy New Year is a large buffet of nonsense but it does not make a fool out of its audience. Infact, it chooses to laugh at itself, sometimes by caricatures, tributes to 70s films, tributes to SRK's own films, or just by using character quirks that have been planted with astute intentions. If you cannot adhere to this slightly warped line of thought, it will be very easy for you to hate Happy New Year from the first frame. And boy, this is one indulgent masala film where Farah expects its audience to be patient for full 3 hours. A bit overlong there, but more on that in a bit. 

If you can suspend your disbelief and ruminations for logic, Farah displays some precocious handling of the subject matter at hand using all her tools very smartly. Her biggest strength is the varied bunch of characters she has collected for HNY and the screenplay (Farah Khan, Althea Kaushal) uses them manipulatively, yet intelligently, to tell a long sentimental tale of revenge, theft, dance, love, companionship and virtue. A bit slow with character introductions, HNY picks up its guns right when the characters are supposed to participate in World Dance Championship, in order to access a vault to steal some diamonds which will complete their revenge. Ocean's Eleven meets Step Up meets Farah Khan? Yeah, pretty much, except that everything is taken very lightly here and everyone seems to be having a ton of fun. The good part is that this is not a star driven vehicle and there is ample spotlight on all actors, despite being a special place for SRK. Even when the narrative dips majorly in the second half, what sustains is the self-indulgent, irreverent insanity of Farah who goes about explaining her heist plan to you, wrapped around the world of dance. You are not supposed to take all this seriously like the characters are making it out to be. It is a world of convenience and mawkish instances that fill up the spandex and she gives you exactly what is expected. Yet, I would trim the film compulsively by 20-25 minutes as it gets a bit too drab at places. Unfortunately, what doesn't work for Farah is the forced patriotism through the championship and the hokey injections of misplaced emotions, both at regular intervals. Overall, it is the tone in which Farah handles HNY that makes it work for most parts. 

Produced by Red Chillies Entertainment, Happy New Year can boast of fleeting loveliness instead of any lasting greatness. Every frame is loud, garish and over the top and a ridiculous amount of money has been poured into it. Manush Nandan's Cinematography, Shashank Tere's Production Design and Farah's own vision mount the film on the sprawling canvas of gloss, glitter and glamour. Anand Subaya and Tushar Parekh's Editing could have saved the film from testing the patience of its audience but they chose not to do so. Music by Vishal Shekhar is not at its best, but does not hurt the film as Farah barely focuses on the intricacies of dance moves for the championship. The film runs on Mayur Puri's dialogue which calculatedly shifts the focus to emotions, quirk and spoofs. Happy New Year wears its cost and is a spiffy attempt in production values, with no compromises made. 

With the large scale of HNY, it also needed a sweeping ensemble cast. Deepika Padukone and Abhishek Bachchan steal the show here. Deepika is utterly gorgeous, perky and capable of taking over any star in a frame with her resplendent confidence. As Mohini, she shines once again and woos you like never before. Abhishek gets to do the tomfoolery he is best at, last seen in Bol Bachchan, and he keeps the slapstick in check. Boman Irani produces a fresh spin for the Parsi man and adds to the flair. Sonu Sood, as the short tempered Jag, joins Shah Rukh Khan in pumping the whole annual stock of steroids, followed by random disturbing closeups of their chiseled bodies, at the bat of an eyelid. While SRK himself does not have much to perform, he allows others to take charge whenever Farah allows him to. Vivaan Shah does not seem like a patch on his father but works well in the boy next door zone. Jackie Shroff, as the unreasonably motivated villain, does his best to play the evil one, with much gutso but very little power, or so it seems. Amongst the special appearances, one must mention the disconcerting sight of seeing Vishal Dadlani and Anurag Kashyap pull off an appalling gag as the competition judges. 

On the whole, Happy New Year is a prudish attempt in a specific mainstream genre space and does not try to furtively be an intellectual film. Instead, it leans back and laughs at itself which is what works for it. It is a remarkable assured departure from Tees Maar Khan for Farah, but lags behind her earlier films, Om Shanti Om and Main Hoon Naa, which I enjoyed much more. Despite its length, the film does not lose its narrative goals, even though however stupid they may be. And that is more than I expected out of it. The film is supposed to have taken a thundering start at the Box Office as the numbers pour in, and I figure the only thing that will hinder its run is the runtime, making the audience justifiably exasperated. Happy New Year promises and delivers a lot of fun if you are ready to enter the Farah Khan world. As a film by itself, it is far from perfect but the compelling cacophony could sometimes be the getaway we are looking for, instead of some bloated display of artistry. Its festive season and that is exactly the mood of this film, so go for it with your whole family!

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Daawat-E-Ishq Movie Review : Too Bland A Meal

Habib Faisal, the writer-director of Daawat-E-Ishq gave us the brilliant Band Baaja Baarat (2010), the phenomenal Do Dooni Chaar (2010) and the arguably interesting Ishaqzaade (2012). After watching his latest works, including Bewakoofiyaan, which came earlier this year and now Daawat-E-Ishq, one must wonder if he has completely lost track of good screenwriting or not. Both the films this year have been extremely sub-standard and put a serious question mark on him. From the first look itself, I did not expect much out of DEI, the songs did not work as YRF may have imagined them to and the film exuded a thanda vibe overall. Not much of that is changed even when you watch the film as it looks a hurried half cooked recipe of a delicious idea. Yes, Daawat-E-Ishq is a dud for most parts. This review may have spoilers and so that was the word of caution. Usually, I tend to avoid spoilers but some appalling fallacies cannot be brought to light without mentioning them. 

Gulrez, a Hyderabadi girl, and her father, played by Anupam Kher, work hard everyday to make ends meet for their little lower middle class family. Gulrez is well-educated, can speak in English, has a flair for good food and dreams big, but most of her dreams are quashed by the ravaging dowry system as her father tries to marry her off against the exorbitant demands of the groom's side. Frustrated, she hatches a plan to fish for a susceptible target, Tariq, and charge him and his family for extortion of dowry under the Indian Penal Code, eventually making a settlement from their end and annulling the marriage. Even when she pulls of the con job successfully, Tariq's love overpowers her. Clean cut, fresh and likable. Not many Indian films have been able to successfully integrate food into their narratives, and while Faisal predisposes himself to do so, his screenplay never exploits the faculties established through food. What remains is an air view of the world of food, set against two of the renowned cities for delicacies, Hyderabad and Lucknow. This superficiality transpires heavily to other themes of the film as well, and even though Faisal seems to be taking himself lightly, he is pretending to deal with a serious issues. Ultimately, it is the audience that feels shortchanged in the exercise. Most of the key plot points look contrived and unconvincing in DEI. Why does Gulrez go ahead with the plan even she knows she is falling for Tariq? How does the sudden heart change happen? How does Tariq forgive her so easily? These, and so many more key elements make DEI look like a very superficial film with no depth in its characters. Whats good is that Faisal has a nuanced understanding of these cities and roots the characters and their stories very efficiently in reality. The fine grains of simple people who make mistakes while doing wrong things are well captured and one does experience some ingenuine moments of Ishq, if not of Daawat. 

Produced by Yash Raj Films, Daawat-E-Ishq is mounted on a large scale with a larger than life feel. It still hurts to see that they have possibly shot the whole climax sequence of a train station at a fake recreated set of the same using green screen. I may be wrong here but the whole sequence made me cringe back in my set. If you are trying to capture food as it is eaten in those cities, you have to shoot at real locations. Sadly, the faking does not work well here. Himman Dhamija's cinematography is ordinary, while Meghna Sen's Editing is spot on with a runtime of just less than 2 hours. 

The best thing about Daawat-E-Ishq is Aditya Roy Kapoor. Walking into the film, that is the last thing I would have imagined to say in my review. Despite a world of girls swooning over him, I have never liked Kapoor's acting chops. In DEI, he decides to change my view by a striking improvement in his performance. For the lead actor to appear on screen 40 minutes into the runtime, he captures your attention with his earnest act right away. Parineeti Chopra, sadly enough, brings nothing new to the plate from what she has already done many times before. Anupam Kher suffers from a badly written role. Karan Wahi is charming. 

On the whole, Daawat-E-Ishq is a dull fare with the exciting moments being far and few. It all looks too easy as Faisal takes liberties, and it gets confusing if you think of what motivated the characters to do what they do. Wikipedia says the film has been made on a budget of Rs 40Cr. If that be true, it would be hard for YRF to recover that kind of money just from the Box Office, even when its taken a decent start. Unfortunately, the whole film feels very bland and a misfire in the right direction. Faisal badly needs to get his act together and come back with some aces. Parineeti definitely needs to stop getting typecast, she does not owe her life to YRF to sign on films blindly. Aditya can only go up from here and he must make sure he does. And as for you all, you can skip this one!

Rating - 1.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Khoobsurat Movie Review : A Sweet Surprise

Every time you develop a pre-conceived notion, some higher power quietly smirks to mock you. Many a times it has been proclaimed loud and clear, do not judge a book by its cover, and yet the human nature is such that we do inevitably conjure up a feeling by just looking at things and not experiencing them. Now that the life gyaan is over, I must admit that despite many years of writing film reviews, I can't help forming an opinion of the film before even seeing it, like most of us. However, I try my best to not force the opinion on anyone before I get to see the film, neither do I fish around for the buzz or response to the film before buying the ticket. On first chance, I walk up to the window and purchase the ticket, ready to see my predilection turn true or false. The beauty lies in being surprised with a crash of your earlier notion. Khoobsurat is one such film. 

When the trailer of Disney's Khoobsurat came out, I strongly felt that it reeked of a disaster recipe. Sonam Kapoor pulling off another Aisha, at the expense of her in house company, Anil Kapoor Films. It looked bland and campy. What I did not check for before is that the film has some decent names behind it - Shashanka Ghosh (director), Juhi Chaturvedi (Dialogues) and Sneha Khanwalkar (Music). While Ghosh made Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part 2 (2003) and Quick Gun Murugan (2009), Juhi is the one responsible for giving us Vicky Donor (2012) and if you dont know about Sneha, then you should not be reading this review. Incidentally, it is them, along with screenwriter Indira Bisht that make this Disney princess spinoff of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee classic constantly watchable and a pure delight for most parts. The music had started catching on to the ears early but I was finding it hard to get rid of my view of the film, well, until I saw it and was pleasantly stunned. The film is far from perfect and the story loses all its steam in the second half, with the writers and director trying to repeat everything they have already done. But it is the breeziness that sails it through. Time and again, I have maintained that there is a method to do formula well. Khoobsurat almost hits the right notes of that method. Crackling (yet not so fresh) scene design, great visuals (the warmth), super dialogue (even by caricature-ish characters) and some good performances can take a film long way. Bisht and Ghosh spur up a world of royals, the Rathores, and plant a bubbly misfit, Mili, amongst them. A surefire idea takes a spin and cruises along with some brains being put into the proceedings. Despite its complete banal predictability, Mili's journey is constantly cheerful and inducing pleasantries across the screen. Somewhere along the way, you tend to ignore that Ghosh uses the most traditional tropes to woo you and you start enjoying the process. Khoobsurat is infectious from the first frame and you know a lot of this film is going to get it right, and you start chuckling at each tantrum of Mili against a stuff royal family. The constant sexual tension between the lead pair is well explored, and the resolution is handled without unnecessary emotional baggage. Not bad, eh?

Produced by Disney UTV and Anil Kapoor Films, Khoobsurat is doused with efficient production values. Shruti Gupte's Production Design, the Costume Design and Tushar Kanti Ray's Cinematography work hand in hand to create a very easy-on-the-eyes film. Sneha Khanwalkar's music and Simaab Sen's Background Score garnish the film with much of the required ambience. Engine Ki Seeti, Abhi Toh Party Shuru and Naina are all good enough songs. Bakul Matiyani's Editing could have done with a further 10 minute chop and some smoother cuts. However, it is Juhi's dialogues that considerably increase the likability of the film even as very familiar characters mouth them. Overall, it is money well spent. From the writer's point of view, there is not much that could have been done with the story but Bisht still chooses smart scenes to tell it. 

The film unfolds like a fairy tale and Sonam Kapoor fits right in. Putting a gamut of despicable performances behind her, Sonam brings the right props to the sets of Khoobsurat. Mili, a character fleshed right out of her comfort zone, allows her to play the goofy, incorrigible and lovable all in right amounts without ever looking annoying. Fawad Khan (Prince Vikram), for those who do not know, did exceptionally well in the Pakistani film Khuda Kay Liye. In Khoobsurat, he looks dapper, acts like anything but a newcomer, and leaves us with a ray of hope that he will be offered much better roles as well. Kirron Kher adds to the ensemble by another version of the Punjabi mom and does well again. Ratna Pathak Shah steps into the shoes of her mother, Dina Pathak who played the same part in Mukherjee's original and delivers a solid punch. Aamir Raza Hussain, as Vikram's father, is a nice find. Cyrus Sahukar still makes a mark in a couple of scenes. Most of the supporting cast is strikingly good which does not leave a sore patch on the film. 

On the whole, Khoobsurat is a sweet surprise at the Box Office this weekend. A few days ago, a bunch of my friends were really excited to watch it this weekend and I found myself almost dismissing them. But I seem to get it now. The producers have positioned the film remarkably as the unavoidable chick flick which you must go for and it works. The collections for this weekend have not been that great but I hope they pick up. It is a harmless film that promises you a perfectly enjoyable time for a runtime of 130 minutes. Glitches and lack of freshness may trouble you but the sugar with a twist treatment will get to you eventually. Go for it?

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Katiyabaaz Movie Review : Fact and Fiction, Deliciously Mixed

Katiyabaaz, a 84-minute documentary fiction film, released in theaters this past Friday, thanks to Phantom Films which backed it religiously. While I have been itching to watch it all weekend, people around me were not even aware that such a film came out. And we claim to be cinephiles. A 'katiya' is a cut or a hook manually made on electricity transmission wires to steal electricity from the running lines and a 'katiyabaaz' is the artist who executes this for his customers. The film is set in my hometown, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh and it would be a shame if I did not get around writing about the film. 

Loha Singh, a spindly, short-heighted man, is the superstar of the interiors of Kanpur, as he goes around setting up 'Katiyas' for everyone on demand. On the other end of the spectrum is Ritu Maheshwari, the first female chief of Kanpur Electricity Supply Company in 2011, who is determined to clean up the streets of electricity theft and non-payment. We also have the obligatory interference from a corrupt politician, Irfan Solanki. Director duo, Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa, keep the proceedings very real and avoid falling prey to much fiction. However, a couple of scenes do look staged but they dont hurt the heart behind the film. Katiyabaaz draws a delicious picture of Kanpur and its tryst with the issue of power crisis, where cuts could last up to 15-16 due to load shedding, in peak usage times like summers. 

While Maheshwari tries to correct an abysmally messed up system, Loha Singh goes about unabashedly stealing electricity, riding high on his popularity in the area. Now, documentaries do need a lot of research before shooting, but what works for Katiyabaaz is that both Kakkar and Mustafa are not only able to document the truth, but also a distinctive flavor of the city, along with the multiple layers to its socio-political scenario. I have been born and brought up in Kanpur for 18 years of my life, and I was pleasantly stunned to discover the city through the eyes of someone else. Not even for a moment do they try to paint a slumdog picture of the city, instead they focus on the apathy caused by power crisis and how it is annihilating the industrial progress of one of India's biggest cities. Politics is as bad as it gets across our whole country and what happens in Katiyabaaz is just a microcosm reflecting a national picture. Loha and Maheshwari never meet, but their opinions of each other speak volumes and still the directors manage to evoke empathy for both. For a city with a burgeoning population of about 3 million, there seems to be no solution to this crisis in the near future. Kakkar and Mustafa choose to leave us with a few brilliantly poised reality check moments - Maheshwari talking to the makers before she leaves the city, Solanki winning the elections and Loha Singh getting drunk at a local bar as he fights for his self-respect. Disturbing, but constantly engaging and laced with laughter, that is Katiyabaaz for you.

Katiyabaaz received the National Film Award for Best Investigative Film in 2013. Not just that, it has won many accolades around the world at Berlin, Tribeca Film Festivals. Before Phantom got on board, it was Globalistan Films and ITVS that backed the project. Fahad Mustafa, Amith Surendran and Maria Trieb's camerawork is non-intrusive and non-touristy which works very well with the feel of the film. Maria has also edited the film along with Namrata Rao. Indian Ocean's Rahul Ram and Amit Kilam have scored a couple of songs which are more flavorful than the whole album of many other films. The makers have used the title song, 'Kanpoora' effectively all through the film.

Both Loha Singh and Ritu Maheshwari come out very easy in front of the camera and say out things naturally which works excellently for a film of this nature. It is hard to categorize them as performances but their constant banter make the film far more engaging than just a documented array of facts. On the whole, Katiyabaaz is an intellgently made film, that brings to fore a raging problem in India's second line cities and one must watch it just for that!

Rating - 3.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Singham Returns Movie Review : Once A Cheer, Twice Too Much

Who am I to write about a film that just had the biggest opening day Box Office collections of the year yesterday? 

Rohit Shetty's Singham Returns is the latest offering from the franchise, and it is completely different from Suriya's Singam 2, which came out last year. Yes, Ajay Devgn is back with arguably the most deliciously macho character of his career. I had thoroughly enjoyed Singham (2011), the confrontational dialoguebaazi, the loud action and the performances. Somewhere in my reserves, I expected Singham Returns to give a similar or a better high. But this one just seems a mere high of decibels with not much to root for. Alas, while I was cursing myself for missing an early morning show, and then cursing the theaters for being housefull later in the day, waiting patiently for the next show, Singham Returns had only so much to offer. Though the audience around me was on their feet, applauding and cheering, at the end of the film. I will try and explain later why. 

In my opinion, there is a basic formula to do a formula film and Rohit Shetty should know about it, considering he has doled out fairly enjoyable fares in the past. You need not have a groundbreaking story, but your screenplay and direction can treat in a fresh innovative way which makes it a fun watch. Singham Returns was already encumbered with the lack of a fresh central character, being a sequel, but the very meat of the character itself was potent enough to extract juice from him in interesting situations. Singham Returns picks up the story of BajiRao Singham, who is now the DCP of Mumbai, as he is thrown in to battle a pretentious Baba (Amole Gupte) and his conniving partner politician (Zakir Hussain), post the death of an honest head constable from Singham's team, who is being framed by the villains to hide their felons of money laundering and murder. Good enough meat to kickstart a story but the tropes used by Shetty are very similar to the first film. The action set pieces occur at similar intervals and points, the mechanisms used by the goons to scare the good people are the same, the confrontations between Singham and Baba are staged similarly, and what not. Once again, the writers fail to blend in the love track of Singham with the central plot. There is too much laziness in Yunus Sajawal's screenplay which cannot be made up by Farhad- Sajid's dialogues. The story itself loses sight of itself in the event of eradicating corruption. In Singham, Baji Rao was a village boy whose life was invaded by a political goon from outside and he fought for his village, but when he failed, he seeked the support of his force to help him overcome the opposing forces. Singham Returns almost legalizes public action imminently, casually justifying taking the law in your hands multiple times. Yes, not the right kind of message for an audience as mentally nubile as in India. The last and the most common problem of most films in this genre is female regression. Save for the last scene when female cops come out to fight, almost all through the film, Shetty shows every single female either doing nothing or just household chores. Also, in one scene, the writers-makers unified voice clearly speaks up as they classify females who drink and smoke as 'bad character'. That.

However, Singham is a steafast character who stands against corruption, almost like a superhero. And as mentioned earlier, the premise of the character itself packs a valid punch as you love to see him beat everyone to pulp or mouth palpable one liners as he hooks his sunglasses to his belt. To enunciate the same, Shetty notches up the action in this one. They are not merely cartoonish, but come with a textured grit. Loads of guns are fired, loads of cars blow up, loads of lathis are used, and still he manages to put in pure fist fights. The dialogues are still clap-worthy as Singham answers quotations from Bhagwad Gita with ones from the Indian Penal Code. Dudley's cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous as they take a gazillion copter and crane aerial shots of almost everything. The canvas is huge and so are the budgets lent by Reliance Entertainment, in collaboration with Ajay Devgn Films and Rohit Shetty Productions. Steven Bernard's editing is not at its best, as the film looks a tad bit long at 141 minutes or so. Music in this one sees a significant turn in genre as Ankit Tiwari, Jeet Ganguli and Yo Yo Honey Singh are roped in to score. While the first two do add some of their flavor to the film, Yo Yo composes one of the worst songs of his oeuvre as the title track. Background Score of Singham Returns is one long ganapati visarjan. Lastly, a very special mention for the casting director of Singham Returns who must be duly rewarded for putting together one of the worst ensembles of extras and supporting characters. Completely camera-unfriendly actors show up for a minute or two and take a dump on the screen all through the film. 

Singham Returns belongs to Ajay Devgn and the man lives up to the conjecture of the complete man. Never a shred of doubt in his eye, Devgn walks with candor, talks with valor and feels with half a tear. He is pitch perfect, as he holds the film cohesively which would have otherwise fallen apart. We may always complain that Indian Film Industry is star-driven, but then when you see a film like this, and you see a full house cheering on Devgn, one does wonder if he has a mystic power. Kareena Kapoor, in a bid to revive her flailing career, has unfortunately wasted herself here. There is absolutely no scope that she gets in this film. Amole Gupte's hammy parlance is likable at times but never enough to hate him religiously. Zakir Hussain is getting typecast in similar roles. Anupam Kher and Mahesh Manjrekar have taken themselves too seriously. Dayanand Shetty (Daya) is top-notch as he breaks down a door in the climax. 

On the whole, Singham Returns is power-packed, grittier and louder but not necessarily better or satisfying. It leaves a lot to desire for me, and I would rate it Shetty's second weakest film after Golmaal 2. The well-meaning plot ultimately turns into a risky advice. However, no one gives a flying fish to what I just said as the film has raked in almost INR 30Cr on day 1, as we speak. As I mentioned earlier, a standing ovation was given to the film when I watched it. I think we, as a nation, are okay as long as our onscreen heroes seem to solve a problem because we cannot in our real lives, whatever it takes to do so, even breaking the law. We stand up and applaud when someone breaks the law because we do it ourselves. We are also okay with mediocrity as long as there is a vicarious masochistic pleasure of beating the evil. Good family outing yeah? Now go watch Singham Returns because me telling you not to wont stop you anyway!

Rating - 2/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Monday, August 11, 2014

Entertainment Movie Review : How To Kill The Slapstick Genre With Laziness

Silly. Brainless. Low-brow. Whatever you may call these variety, films like Akshay Kumar's Entertainment are churned out every few weeks incessantly and the trend has been vehemently propagated by stalwarts of this cinema, such as Sajid Khan (a pioneer), Rohit Shetty (occasionally), David Dhawan (now that he has lost his charm in his second innings), Inder Kumar (with some sexual undertones) and a few others. Sajid - Farhad, the director duo of Entertainment, may well be added to the list as they have been writing the films for many of the above directors for years. 

In Entertainment, Akhil Lokhande (Akshay Kumar) competes with a golden retriever, ironically named Entertainment, to inherit Rs 3000Cr property of his deceased father who left his mother long back. There is no legitimate way to take this plot seriously, and neither do the director duo want you to. Fair enough. But then as an audience, you wish to be surprised by smart writing and ingenuous gags that reinvest your faith in slapstick or physical humor. I believe it is possible to not think logic and just have a good time, provided the film does provide so. With respect to this one, it already had a much foul air surrounding its promos and trailers as they unraveled themselves over the past few weeks. Save for one song which is on everyone's mouth. Add to that, the film is crunched between two films which inherently have the maximum buzz this season, Kick and Singham Returns. Oh boy, Entertainment better had been immensely enjoyable to make a mark. But alas, it is not. 

First and foremost, the good parts of Entertainment. The humor used by writer-director duo is not puerile, cheap or sleazy. However, it is still appallingly silly. They come up with a couple of inspired characters, specially in Akhil's friend Jugnu (Krushna Abhishek) and his father's manager Habib-Ullah (Johnny Lever). While Jugnu is a Bollywood fanatic, who uses actors' and films' names in all his lines, Habib is constantly perturbed by others using different variations of his name for him. The film begins with a relatively funny gag where you are shown the various jobs Akhil does for money but the lunatic joy of the subsequent gags keeps reducing. Entertainment never made me laugh out loud, a chuckle here and there was the the most common outcome as it stumbled from one sequence to the other, without much adherence to the plot. A sequence in which Akhil scares his two villainous cousins with a ghost story is enjoyable. 

A lot of humor in Entertainment is weaved from inside Bollywood jokes or from hammy staged sequences of over-acting in an effort to make dialoguebaazi ironically funny, which fails miserably ofcourse. Instead, it makes the film limp into loudness. Comic writing has a rule of three, where in you cannot run the same joke more than three times. The first two should be a buildup and the third one the finale punch. Sajid-Farhad seem to have taken it too seriously as they implement this age old technique to every joke in the film. The question gag of Akhil is repeated multiple times, each time employing the rule of threes. Most of the writing comes of as regurgitated and lazy as the writers are employing situations, techniques and plot points which they have used in many previous films. They make sure to suck the freshness out of the proceedings which renders the slapstick like a slap on your face. If not for that, Entertainment must win the award for the tackiest VFX in Hindi Films, after Jaani Dushman. The graphics are so bad that I bled tears of blood in a long sequence which occurs right before the interval. To add to the garish nature of things is Manoj Soni's despicable cinematography. Soni, along with the director-duo has lit up each frame in the worst possible way. Add to that a horrible Production Design. There are scenes where you can see from a window that the outside is a fake set, or that a couple of trees in the foreground are waving due to air but the ones at the back are not as they used a green screen, or that a vehicle isnt moving at all when they intend to make it look like it is. Wow, such terrible levels of production values in a film which has backing from Tips Films (Taurani brothers) and Pen India (Jayantilal Gada). Music by Sachin-Jigar is a definitive saving grace as it doles out hummable party numbers. Johnny Johnny is definitely the pick of the lot. Steven Bernard's editing is okay. 

Junior, the canine who plays Entertainment, is credited ahead of Akshay Kumar in the film, but it is Kumar who sabotages every scene of the film, so much so that Tamannah is used for basic doll purposes only. Junior, well-trained and gorgeous, does well as much as the directors ask him to. But his counterpart, Akshay Kumar, struggles to make us laugh. He looks disturbingly old, and trying too hard to rise above the script eventually resulting in falling flat on his face. Tamannah is poor man's Sonakshi Sinha, and the character is right up her alley, the uni-dimensional regressive role for a female just to add to the glamour quotient. Krushna Abhishek is obnoxious, just like in Bol Bachchan, but manages to pull a few laughs. Mithun Chakraborty agrees to play one of the worst characters ever written, that of a dad who will marry his daughter only for money. Prakash Raj and Sonu Sood, the conniving half-uncles, are pretty caricaturish and dont get anything fresh to do. However, it is the veteran Johnny Lever who makes a mark with his comic timing after a long while. Good to see him in form. 

On the whole, Entertainment is an ironical film as it does not provide much of what its title promises. I could not find a singular aspect to rave about in the film, unfortunately. The question still remains, why is Akshay Kumar doing this to himself, again and again? The film had an average start at the Box Office and it should recover its money but then is that really the point? It may be clean humor but it is definitely nothing fresh or even a wee bit inspired. Entertainment leaves you placid as you sink into your seats in the theater and you wonder if Sajid Farhad should have saved their best of writing for their directorial debut. Watch Entertainment to support lazy writing in cinema!

Rating - 1/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kick Movie Review : Definitely Not A Kick In Your Guts

I took a day extra after watching Salman Khan's Kick to consolidate my thoughts about the film before I put them down here for you. As a movie analyst, it is imperative that I do not let any predilection cloud my objective point of view about the film, nor should I project my immediate reaction of it without giving it a second thought. Having said that, we can all revel in the fact that 'Bhai' is back this Eid. Yes, and his latest offering is directed by his long time producer Sajid Nadiadwala who makes the jump with this film. Post the debacle of Jai Ho earlier this year, Salman went all out selling Kick to the world, shrugging complacency out of himself. Rightly so. He must not throwaway the super stardom he has worked so hard for, only due to one film. Mounted on an ominously large scale, Bhai fans (read Bhai-tards) looked forward to it with bated breath. 

So lets break the ice. Kick is not the dumb summer hokum many connoisseurs of cinema wanted it to be. It is not frustratingly simplistic regurgitated stuff, which most Salman movies have been serving for past few years. Infact, as agonizing as it may sound to cine-astes, it is his best in years, despite being a hatchet job a standalone film. That being said, it is tremendously entertaining and I had a blast watching it. 

Kick is two different stores told by two different people, about the same person - Devil and Devi Lal Singh (Salman). Shaina (an unrealistically pretty Jacqueline Fernandez) lives in Delhi where she meets Devi, who is a reckless alcoholic, adventure lover and lives to get a 'kick' out of life. They fall in love until Devi's instability causes them to break apart. Shaina moves to Poland where she meets Himanshu (Randeep Hooda), a supercop, whose glory has been whisked away by Devil, a thief who stole millions from the rich and was never caught. Now Himanshu is in Poland following Devil who is out to rob a politician, Shiv Gajra (an outstanding Nawaazuddin Siddiqui). A cat and mouse chase follows as we are supposed to get our kick in the finale. 

As much as you may be grimacing, this is the most semblance of a plot that has been found in a Salman film in forever. Kick is a mainstream masala entertainer and it would be grossly incorrect to look for sprawling details in the screenplay, even when it is credited to as many as five writers - Vakkantham Vamsi (Story), Keith Gomes, Sajid Nadiadwala, Chetan Bhagat (Screenplay) and Rajat Arora (Screenplay and Dialogues). Before we get into what works for Kick, lets talk a little about what doesnt, apart from the logic bit because I did not go out looking for that. Kick starts with Shaina telling her story with Devi and takes an excruciating hour to come to the point where it introduces Devil via Himanshu. The two stories are completely separate but they dont seamlessly join together, plagued by much soapy windbaggery in Devi's story of transformation into a samaritan. Despite Sajid's ruse to keep it under the wraps till the climax, it comes out contrived and underwhelming. Kick suffers from an uneven pacing and a lot of it must be blamed upon Rameshwar S. Bhagat's Editing. A non-anecdotal telling of the story would have saved some grace. A brilliant psychotic villain is largely under used as he shows up only in the second half. 

Now the good and fun bits. Yes, there are a lot of them. The Cinematography (Ayananka Bose, Alexander Witt) is transcendentally gorgeous, with each frame deliciously carved out of an art book. Whether it is Poland or Delhi, most frames are remarkable and warm. Rajnish Hedao's Production Design also deserves a hat tip for the same. Action choreography of Kick is superb, and despite being over the top, it does not look asinine like in Dhoom 3. I wont call it totally slick, but it is definitely the next level in Salman films. The screenplay does throw up some very interesting sequences which Sajid handles very well. Years of experience and filmy punditry allows him to give a striking hand to Kick, one which an amateur would lack. The first sequence where Devi is partying with his father (Mithun), the role reversal scene at Shaina's house with her dad,  the chase sequence with Devil escaping in front of a train, the sequence in which Shiv Gajra bubble wraps and murders a doctor or the grandstanding finale in the Shiv's hideout - Sajid and his team bring a handful of freshness to Kick with some ingenuine moments. Salman films bring in the blithe without fail, but they also needed some improvements which Kick dishes out. Music by Himesh Reshammiya, Meet Bros Anjjan and Yo Yo Honey Singh is already a rage with Yaar Na Miley being my personal favorite. On the whole, I enjoyed Kick immensely and this has not happened post Dabangg for me. 

Kick belongs to Salman Khan but the it is a rare outing where everyone else gets footage too. Salman, sunken eyed yet perennially confident, has a ton of fun donning the cape and mask, as much as he does wooing his girl and doing things for a kick. He still terribly sucks at crying on screen and filmmakers must avoid making him do so. But the goofy charm, and the fancy improvisations will win the heart of his fans once again as Salman comfortably steps into a character-plot which is a summary of his own life in a way. Jacqueline Fernandez courts the audience with her looks and gyrates like no other in Jumme Ki Raat. That apart, she has not much chops to show. Randeep Hooda heaps on a meaty role and does reasonably well. However, the man of the moment is Nawaazuddin Siddiqui. Man, I just wish they wrote more for him. In the 4-5 sequences decreed for him by Sajid, Nawaaz is spellbinding to say the least. He is a book on acting just in one minute of screen time. I must bow down, once again. Mithun Chakraborty is allright while Archana Puran Singh is obnoxious. Saurabh Shukla does well. 

On the whole, Kick puts a break to steadying quality decline in Salman films, though I am not sure if that will go down well his ardent fans, who only expect him to dole out slushy hogwash. I had a great experience watching Kick at a single screen theater where a sea of his fans formed an irrestible vortex outside as if the film would start without them. At a critical juncture in the film, a gentleman behind my seat complained about characters talking in English in the film and that they did not pay for this. Watch out Salman, you may piss the lowest strata of your audience with a slightly better film. Irrespective of its logic chasms and lurid pacing, Kick is the most enjoyable film of the season and it deserves to be watched. Yes, I am putting it out there. Go watch!

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hate Story 2 Movie Review : Inconsistent, but better than you expect it to be

I did not like Vikram Bhatt's Hate Story, which came a couple of years ago, largely because the film looked like a massive exercise in selling shock and sleaze, making the revenge saga go tediously trashy and unbelievable. Vishal Pandya's Hate Story 2 is only a sequel by virtue of its brand name, but tells a new story all together with a new cast. But the covert revelation is that this one is not half as bad. Yes, contrary to the popular belief, Hate Story 2 is not easily hated, despite being an old concoction served in a new glass. 

Most of the promos of Hate Story 2 looked like a melange of snarky and waxy filmmaking, sold insistently for a cash grab. However, it was the surefire music score which had caved out a space in most hearts early on. The makers of Hate Story 2 invested more in the publicity and marketing of the film than they actually spent making it. There was no TV channel, no advertisement hoarding, no branding space or plug and no stone that was left unturned. Sex and music always sells. Bhatt camp has been doing it for years. Many a films employ this frumpy tactics to ensure good collections on the first weekend. Films like Ragini MMS 2 have reprehensibly affected a typhoon of mental impedance serving unremitting idiocy, whilst they brazenly used sex and music for promotions. Agreed, Hate Story 2 goes about the same way with those sleazy music videos for romantic songs being aired everywhere. But people will not walk out hating the film this time. 

Director Vishal Pandya, a long time assistant to Vikram Bhatt, picks up the script by Madhuri Banerjee and Girish Dhamija for Hate Story 2. The film plunges us into the world of Sonika (Surveen Chawla) who suffers via an abusive relationship with Mandar (Sushant Singh). She meets Akshay (Jay Bhanushali) who runs away with her, only to be lynched by Mandar. Sonika must take revenge from Mandar for Akshay's death, but has to face a mild epilepsy and a bunch of other problems before she can get to her man and his phalanx. Simple and straightforward, the writers make no bones about the lack of freshness in the plot. But they make sure to espouse the ordinary plot and stay true to it. They prudishly serve it with strong moments, not looking to meander or experiment much. The first 20 minutes of the film are adrenaline administering, including one sequence where Mandar murders a man infront of Sonika, intercut with him screwing her in the bed. The grain of Mandar's character originating via fundamentalist and patriarchal beliefs is well explored and imperative. 

One can only wish that all was as astute as it looked for Hate Story 2. Once the film slips into the revenge mode, gaping loopholes rise to surface and the revenge looks half baked and too easy, as Sonika just picks up the gun and starts firing accurate shots. Despite a strong sequence at a farmhouse in the second half, Hate Story 2 starts lumbering, reaching its inevitable end. Some nuances like Sonika's illness are not used well by the script to make the proceedings heady. Vishal has a decent hand at direction this time around, but most of it is squandered by insipid performances by almost everyone in the supporting cast. In the end, Hate Story 2 is rendered largely inconsistent, yet watchable. Produced by T-Series and Vikram Bhatt, the film has spiffy music score by Mithun Sharma Arko and Meet Bros Anjaan, except the songs become a few too many, specially the one with Sunny Leone. Jayant Deshmukh's Production Design is ordinary, and so is Kedar Gaikwad's cinematography. A special note for the film's shoddy Editing (Kuldeep Mehan) which delivers many un-required jarring transitions. 

Hate Story 2 rests on the shoulders of Surveen Chawla and Sushant Singh. Neither of them end up with an enduring performance but are not sham-worthy either. Surveen plays Sonika, who spends most of the film either being scared or giving one angry expression. Despite her pleasant looks, she only brings so much to the plate. However, she is remarkably better than a ludicrous Jay Bhanushali, who must return back to television with immediate effect. Sushant, undoubtedly, is handed over the meatiest role, and he brings a lot of smash into Mandar. Unapologetically evil, he slimily lights up many moments of the film. Another special mention for Siddharth Kher as the police inspector who single-handedly beats Jay Bhanushali in ham-fisted terrible acting. Every single other supporting actor is outright despicable and comes in to voraciously take a dump on the film. I wonder why filmmakers cannot invest in good supporting cast. 

On the whole, Hate Story 2 uneasily straddles the line of a revenge saga with a splash of surrealism. Its not constantly believable, but it is constantly engaging for sure. And the most important of them all, it is very mass-friendly. Thankfully, it also concludes it for us that Vikram Bhatt is undoubtedly one of the lousiest directors we have, but not all his assistants may be that bad. As predicted earlier due to the stifling marketing of the film, it has taken a good start at the Box Office and I feel that the audience will not go back completely disappointed with the end product. However, if you are coming in for sleaze, then its better to just watch the YouTube promos of the film. Watch Hate Story 2 if you have seen the first one and wish to erase its memories!

Rating - 2.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Amit Sahni Ki List Movie Review : A refreshing rom-com that could have been great

Sometimes, big surprises come in small packages. But no, Amit Sahni Ki List in not one of those. It is a small surprise in a small package, while it could have been this year's go-to romantic comedy. What saves it from this honor is a lack of courage in its makers to go the full hog. Yet, this little film is constantly endearing and wisecrack, which makes it thoroughly watchable and enjoyable. To add to that, its the phenomenally talented Vir Das doing a leading role for the first time. Once I had seen the film, I texted another friend that I just got done with it and she replied back saying what film is that. Yes, that is the kind of word which is out in the market for this film, sadly. 

Written by Shiv Singh and Rohit Banawlikar, Amit Sahni Ki List is a guy-flick (like chick-flicks), directed by first timer Ajay Bhuyan and produced by Pyxis Pictures, a company ironically formed by three female producers. Amit Sahni is a successful investment banker who has everything in his life while he is in his late 20s, except for true love. After failing a couple of times earlier in his life, Amit makes a checklist that will help him find the perfect girl for himself. Instead, he expectedly falls in love with a girl, Mala (Vega Tamotia), who is the exact anti-thesis of his list. Later, when he discovers Devika (Anindita Nayar) who is inimitably the girl from his list, he must choose the right partner for himself.

ASKL is undoubtedly a simplistic love triangle, grated with a warped but interesting twist. The list and its implications, considering that Devika obsesses more about her list than even Amit does. Add to this a typical quick-witted guy friend, and unusually funny parents. ASKLS boasts of a lot of above average writing and direction which keeps the fun quotient high, never losing sight of the breezy film that they set out to make, which must not succumb to melodramatic emotional wrangling. Director Bhuyan ensures that the emotional bits are underplayed, and yet have a strong connect. He uses a lot of audience interaction, freeze frames, thought bubbles and other devices to add significant freshness to the proceedings on screen. But eventually the slim plot casts its shadow on the film, making for a struggling second half and an audience friendly end. At the end of it all, ASKL does not shortchange its audience as it remains quirky all through, but fails to escape the beaten path in its story, largely due to no show of audacity from its makers. 

Produced under a fairly new banner of Pyxis Pictures, Amit Sahni Ki List has one of the best Production Design you will see in recent films. Saini S. Johray does some sprawling wonders as she fills up each frame with a box of simple yet pretty stuff. To complement her work, Maneesh Chandra Bhatt's cinematography lights up those frames with much ingenuity. I instantly fell in love with the look of the film, and its characters, and at no instant do they end up looking garish. Kudos to a brilliant Costume Design as well. Music of ASKL is a sore patch with no really memorable number, despite stalwarts like Raghu Dixit, Palash Muchhal and others working on it. Editing by Shakti Hasija is crisp and nifty at 110 minutes. 

ASKL belongs entirely to Vir Das, who does a leading role for the first time in his life. Relentlessly, he does bring a lot of himself to Amit, but also renders it with a genteel touch, never losing sight of the quirk. He gets fair opportunities to exhibit his dramatic and romantic abilities and does fairly well. Natasha Rastogi, as Amit's mom, steals the show, as she amusingly plays a modern mother, who gossips on her swing and mouths 'lingo'. Anindita Nayar is smoking hot, but will be a long time before she can act. Vega Tamotia is instantly likable and makes it very easy to be besotted by Mala. Kavi Shastri, as Amit's friend, does not get much scope to actually provide the guffaws in the film. 

On the whole, Amit Sahni Ki List is a film with a huge heart and yet another manifestation of the abstraction of love. It may not be daring, it may have issues with its waferthin plot, but it does not serve a dull moment. However, it will be hard for it to pick up at the Box Office during the week, in light of the scant weekend collections and minimal word of mouth. Watch it for an affable lead performance and some innovative direction bits!

Rating - 2.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya Movie Review : Hats off, DDLJ!

In 1995, Aditya Chopra directed his debut film, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge under his father's banner, Yash Raj Films. The film changed the game of Indian cinema in more ways than one and is considered the most landmark film of its generation. So much so that it ran for 18 years at a single screen in Mumbai and people still went for it. In all the years following its release, many films have aped it or parts of it in various ways at various times. Fair enough. Karan Johar started his career by assisting Aditya in DDLJ and today he has produced Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya with Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt, helmed by a new director, Shashank Khaitan. In its true sense, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya is the closest tribute/rip-off/parody of DDLJ and it amicably accepts it, referencing the original at every step, to the extent that in a poignant moment of the film, the heroine's dad says, "Jaa, Jee Le Apni Zindagi."

Now the initial promos of HSKD were not doused with freshness or alacrity that made me expect a lot out of it. Even the song promos were of refurbished famous numbers of the past. Yet, I wanted to see the lead pair in action, mostly because I have developed a fair liking for Alia as an actor. Wait, I might have to take that back as she did not have to do much in either 2 States or HSKD. But more on that later. Humpty and Kavya are star crossed lovers who are also DDLJ obsessives. They meet, they fall in love, she is getting married, dad is positively against them, he goes to her house, wins the girl. DDLJ much? Well yeah, but then Shashank Khaitan's writing modernizes the classic and strains out the manipulative emotional wrangling bits. He even makes the girl's dad share a smoke with the hero and the actual discovery of Humpty's intentions comes much earlier than DDLJ. Varun Dhawan is no Shahrukh Khan and it is Khaitan who makes sure that he does not have to be either. Humpty and Kavya have an irritable spunk when they meet where they are constantly trying to show each other down, while solemnly falling in love. The smart one-liners disappear right when they are separated from each other and this brings a rare depth to their love, making it believable. Khaitan's writing is extremely entertaining, high on the goof and quirk. 

Now the flipside of HSKD. Delhi is used as a canvas again to build a world around the characters but nothing here seems inspired or fresh. Its just new jokes of the same kind. Same supportive friends, same helpful sister, same friend in problem, same boring fiancee, and what not. I totally believe you can make an extremely fun mainstream film, even if its like a tribute to DDLJ, but you can bring in your own freshness to the story. This is what Khaitan's writing lacks completely. Not once does he try to do something differently which leaves HSKD shackled in extreme mediocrity. Dharma's earlier production, Hasee Toh Phasee, had the most ordinary story ever. Yet, the nuanced writing brought in a masterstroke with Parineeti's character and HTP rests itself on a much higher level than HSKD can ever get. All in all, you will have a bitter sweet feeling at the end of the film of having seen too much of this kind. Are we seriously so short of fresh writing? Is formula unchangeable and absolutely no compromise can be made?

Produced by AA Films and Dharma Productions, HSKD is a rich film where everyone looks good, has elaborate weddings and parties at best places with prettiest people. Even when they dont have money to buy a lehenga for a wedding or a buy a car. Music by Sachin-Jigar and Sharib-Toshi buttresses in remaking the already successful numbers like Main Tenu Samjhawan and Saturday Saturday as all the new songs are extremely average. Neha Matiyani's cinematography is standard Dharma palette while Manan Sagar's Editing is crisp, keeping the film constantly likable. Production Design by Parichit Paralkar reeks of campy filmmaking but is easy on the eyes. Another special mention for Shashank Khaitan's quick-witted dialogue which is the backbone of the film.

HSKD belongs to Varun Dhawan and he plays out his shtick well, from being more comfortable as the scamp to being a corny lover boy. He is earnest, but struggles in extremely emotional scenes, which is why Khaitan smartly avoids any of those. He rides the film home with his frivolous and notorious Humpty. Kavya is a character which could have been essayed by any other actress as well and Alia is unable to bring anything distinctive to the plate here. However, it is their bubbling chemistry that is an inimitable spark lighting up HSKD all through the run time of 134 minutes. It is Ashutosh Rana as Kavya's dad and Sahil Vaid as Humpty's friend Poplu who leave a seeded impact in character roles. Siddharth Shukla is impressive as Angad, the fiance, but lags behind due to a uni-dimensional character. Most of the supporting cast is likable in the zone of the film. 

Overall, HSKD is the perfect weekend family entertainer, something which Dharma has promised to deliver since its birth. But then even for a regular audience, it is too ordinary and too done to death. More so with the old songs. Yet, people will go in herds for this one, I am sure. After all, we are the superficial Indian audience who would do anything to see two good looking people having fun on screen. For me, I feel shortchanged. For a production house which gave one film in two years, only because it marked that grand an event, Dharma has come a long way to producing 5-6 films a year. But then in the barrage of archetypal factory churned products, are we not losing the exclusivity of content? I am genuinely worried about this trend. We cannot watch the same story again and again and this must stop. The audience does not seem to care much, though. So till then, enjoy your weekend escapist stuff!

Rating - 2.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Friday, July 11, 2014

Humshakals Movie Review : The joke's on you, Sajid!

All through the weekend, I have read atleast 4-5 reviews of Sajid Khan's latest big budget summer film, Humshakals. Even the most sellout critics, or rather trade analysts, have ruthlessly panned it, painting it as a blustery, agonizingly mawkish film. Some may think that why do these people bother to go and watch his films when they are already expecting a steady quality decline. One answer to that is that reviewing Humshakals is like reviewing any other weekend release, a job for most critics. The other answer is that we voraciously look forward to Sajid's film to pull out our knives and go scything at him, producing a hilarious piece for people to read and share on social networks. I have only one question to everyone - What did you go in expecting in a Sajid Khan film? You already knew Humshakals will serve the most puerile form of physical comedy, most of which may also not be as funny. Then why the mercurial tempers at having received exactly that. Here is where I tend to think that critics look forward to such opportunities, which is a little uncalled for. 

Now, Sajid Khan is no less reprehensible for this scrappy mess. Humshakals starts with a 'Directors Note' which reads - "A wise man once told me.....err...err....I forgot what he told me." Really? Recently, I saw an episode of a popular TV show where the whole team of the film had come to promote it. Even the host of the show, known for cracking some of the wittiest unscripted jokes, was appalled at seeing Sajid laughing the most at the least funny moments, more often than not. I strongly felt that Sajid's standards of laughter are so low himself that he symptomatically reproduces the same in his films. I have also followed the making blogs of the film, and it is alarmingly evident that Sajid himself is laughing the loudest after each shot on set. I fail to understand how any of these signs could be misread by a producer who is shelling out cash for a disaster recipe. I walked into Humshakals expecting very very less and received no major jarring setback post that. We must understand that whether we want to believe it or not, a large section of our movie going audience is extremely pea-brained and easily amused by the crassest and lamest of comedies on screen. Remember that TV show I was talking about earlier? Yes. 

Having said that, Humshakals runs on a brand of physical comedy that can be summed up in many insulting adjectives. But the same brand of comedy is used around the world to devise similar films that are grossly insensitive, uniformly low-IQ and largely scurrilous. Some of them run well there, mostly because they are true to their seeds. However, Sajid Khan's films get into slushy puddles because their plot and jokes both misfire. Same is the problem with Humshakals which takes an interesting hyperbolic concept but stretches it so much with unfunny jokes that you feel like you have been locked up in a remote cottage and Sajid is plucking your nails from their roots, one at a time. With Humshakals, he serves us festering curd in the garb of a film, and this painful exercise lasts for 159 minutes. The funny moments, if any, get majorly diluted by a haphazard yet stick thin plotline. While the whole film runs on two look alikes of each male lead, Sajid dooms it with a third look alike of each in the final 20 minutes. While the comedy may be low-IQ, fresh writing can bring in a string of inspired moments that dont have to go by logic or brains.Yet again, the people I went with did not mind the movie as they had already heard very bad reviews. In my personal opinion, a much shorter runtime and a much less focus on dialogue twisted bad jokes would have made Humshakals a much better physical comedy. Writers Sajid Khan, Robin Bhatt and Akarsh Khurana could have avoided such a louche job, but do they realize this?

Produced by Vashu Bhagnani, Humshakals is made on a preposterous budget reserving their faith in some astronomical returns. The film's music by Himesh Reshammiya is no hit, but the songs do have an uncanny tendency of sticking to the inside of your head, the way you dont want it to. Ravi Yadav's cinematography is actually a shoddy effort with some really bad framing of simple shots. Editor Bunty Nagi's work is inconspicuous in the final product. Most of the other technical departments regurgitate effects from previous Sajid films and are extremely average. It is appalling to see this kind of money being poured into making this film which is coming after a Himmatwala from the same director. 

I am not sure if I am capable enough to adjudge the performances by each actor in the film. The girls, Bipasha Basu, Esha Gupta and Tamannah Bhatia have barely anything to do except to show some skin and a line here and there. It is a pity that dwarves, mannequins and animals get more to do in Sajid's films than lead actresses. One must wonder what goes on in Sajid's first script narration meeting with these girls. Out of the boys, it is only Riteish Deshmukh who shows a minor flair for comic timing in this sprawling dud. Saif Ali Khan is so out of his comfort zone and struggles to match upto the extreme physical comedy required out of him. For most of the film, he looks like an uncle who walked in to a cacophonic teen party next door to his house. Ram Kapoor gets a meaty role this time and does okay for most parts, except when he is trapped by Sajid to romance his own female version.

On the whole for me, Humshakals is a gormless dosage of the asinine, done in the most distasteful manner, served with ample lameness. It is a bad film of its kind, this kind of film itself is not bad. And how I wish more of us understood that. For a non-critical audience, Humshakals is not garbage if they go in with minimal expectations. A few laughs and chuckles here and there may come in for them amidst the grotesqueness. It has taken a slow start at the Box Office and I am not expecting it to do better with a tremendously well-marketed film coming next week. It may be time for Sajid Khan to sit back and reinvent the physical comedy genre, if he is serious about pioneering it for the rest of his career. Instead of trying too hard to piss off the dismissive critics, he must deliver something genuinely funny since it has been a long time. This is for him. As for the audience, watch Humshakals only if you have to!

Rating - 1.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Monday, June 9, 2014

Filmistaan Movie Review : Entertainment packaged, smartly

Nitin Kakkar's Filmistaan won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi in 2012. That is an incredibly tall order for a film which finally finds a theatrical release, almost 2 years later. Riding on no significant star value, Filmistaan is one of the rare films which are a testament of heresy to the pervasive opinion about non-mainstream films. Yes, this is a 'supposedly offbeat/arthouse' film which is a comedy and a good one at that. That apart, it is also fresher than a million other trashy mainstream comedies we get to see. Yet, that it is not a flawless film and what joy would it have been if it was! 

Filmistaan is the story of Sunny Arora (Sharib Hashmi) who is a struggling/aspiring actor in the Hindi films. He mimics famous stars with much prudence but cannot land a significant role in any film. He chooses to become an assistant and goes with a foreign crew to shoot in the interiors of Rajasthan. A set of extremists mistakenly kidnap him instead of the Americans and take him to Pakistan, where he is held hostage for a few days. What unfolds after that it is an endearing tale of the futility of national divide and an unadulterated love for the art and craft behind making films, all of it done with a generous dose of smart humor, much of which pays homage to Bollywood. Kakkar deserves a hat tip for picking an innovative subject and doing much justice to it, save for the fact that he fails to engage your interest in the second half of the film. Once it has been established that the film is more than just being about Sunny's escape from Pakistan, it hurts its own intentions that the film does not capitalize on the available options, such as Sunny's deepening relationship with Aftab (Inaamulhaq, a phenomenal performance there). Kakkar fails to exploit the action premise to its full capacity but does a great job in paying an ode to our films. Notice the scene where the terrorist threatens to throw Sunny's film camera or where 'Maine Pyaar Kiya' plays for the first time in the village and Sunny is restless inside the lockup. Any true film lover, and specially aspiring filmmakers like me, could feel the jitters running down the spine as the sheer love for this world is on display without a cheated sentiment. Personally, few moments in the film got me crazily emotional about the work I am doing and despite its inconsistencies, Filmistaan worked very well for me. 

Finally backed by UTV Motion Pictures for a release, Filmistaan was originally produced by Shyam Shroff, Shaila Tanna and others. Made on a decent budget, Filmistaan relies more on its content which is ardently honed by Nitin Kakkar's screenplay and Sharib Hashmi himself with dialogues. The zany mimicry bits and the quirky comments are sure to bring the house down and entertain the audience. Cinematography by Subhransu and Editing by Sachindra Vats fits the billas well. Arijit Datta's music is easy on the ears. Urvi Ashar and Shipra Rawal have done some brilliant Production Design work to provide Filmistaan with the milieu it needs. 

While Filmistaan is a film that is owned by Sharib Hashmi, a natural performer, it is Inaamulhaq who stole the show for me as Aftab. He brings a naive innocence to the role of a video pirate, and you empathize with him just because he loves the movies as much as you do. Sharib himself is stunning as well, with excellent mimicry skills wrapped around his natural flairs. Both of them together encapsulate your attention span well enough and keep delivering solid punches all through. The remaining cast does well too to add up to the wholesome picture. Kudos to Kakkar and the production team for getting together such a talented set of cast and crew, considering the resources they must have had going into this film.

On the whole, Filmistaan is a wisecrack of a film, despite being an offbeat one. Its a special treat for every lover of cinema, more so Indian cinema, as it packs the world of films in a portmanteau and delivers it to you. Despite its flaws, its a spiffy attempt that needs to be appreciated and supported by everyone in the audience. The start at the Box Office has not been encouraging and I urge all of you to go out, watch this one and also spread the word!

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Friday, May 30, 2014

CityLights Movie Review : A dark tale of the grim reality that must not be missed

Hansal Mehta's CityLights is one film I have been gushed about ever since I heard about it. After watching his earlier venture, Shahid, 2 years ago, I was convinced that Mehta has found his sleight in telling tales of the teething realities of our times. Gripped by the first trailer itself, I went in to watch the film first day first show, this morning. It is not a happenstance that he has cast the phenomenal Rajkumar Rao in this one, post their association in Shahid. The duo also won National Awards individually for the earlier film and Rao is undoubtedly India's current best actor. Contrary to the struggles faced by Shahid to find a theatrical release, the Bhatts (Vishesh Films) took up CityLights early on and have watermarked it with their traditional music style without robbing it off its essence. Yet, CityLights is far less greater than Shahid which goes on to say that it is hard to create magic on screen everytime you decide to make a film.

CityLights is a documented adaptation of the British-Filipino crime drama, Metro Manila, and takes utmost care to credit the original Sean Ellis film multiple times in its credit roll. Something that must be unusual for the Bhatt camp. Mooched into an Indian setting, Metro Manila becomes a film about a family which is forced to migrate to Bombay from a small village in Rajasthan after tragedy strikes the breadwinner, Deepak (Rajkumar Rao). A slapdash decision to land in Bombay throws Deepak, his wife Rakhi (Patralekhaa) and kid Mahi, in the middle of a sea of problems which they would have never imagined, neither were street smart enough to deal with. Lack of money is an ineffable disease in a big city, the one which sticks to your skin and leads you to worse deeds. Writer Ritesh Shah and director Hansal Mehta have crammed CityLights with smashing characters and disturbingly realistic portrayal of the grim realities of small people in big cities. Adversities come in galore in the life of Deepak and his family but all of it looks fairly organic, christened with striking performances from the whole cast. Mehta does not give in to cheap and manipulative sentimentality, infact checks it within the domains of reality. Watch the scene where Deepak finds out about the job of his wife or the scene where he comes home drunk for the first time, all of them profound moments weaved together searingly hit your guts. The problem with CityLights is its pacing. Once the character of Manav Kaul is introduced as Deepak's supervisor at the private security services, you start suspecting a budding tension as he smilingly talks about his despicable life. But the story takes too long to come around the major reveal of his intertwined plans, mostly running on the fuel of Deepak's existing money problems. Post the middle slump, the film picks up in the final 30 minutes and delivers a solid punch. On the whole, the original material of CityLights is not exceptionally engaging but Mehta adds a visceral touch to it rendering it much better. 

Produced by Fox Star Studios and Vishesh Films, CityLights is like most other Bhatt camp films - made on a stringent budget with good music to enable fast cash recovery at the Box Office. I met Hansal Mehta recently and he had said that he completed CityLights in less than the budget provided to him for shooting. However, it is hard to say he compromised on any production values. Dev Agarwal's cinematography is unrelenting and affects a deep sense of pain as Deepak goes through his journey while Apurva Asrani has done a splendid job at editing. Jeet Ganguly's music espouses the gravity of the film with much panache and works once again. Arijit Singh's Muskuraane and Sone Do are the pick of the lot.

CityLights is a completely honest attempt by Mehta to infallibly capture reality at its darkest hour. Such a film would not work under the hegemony of a popular star who cannot submit himself to the film. As for Rajkumar Rao, he grinds Deepak's character into a powder, mixes it with water and drinks it. The tizzy restrain, the callow naivety, and the rooted commitment he brings to this part is exceptional. Patralekhaa complements Rao perfectly, cautiously slipping into the shoes of Rakhi, underplaying her part, until she prances and pounces on her failing husband who comes home drunk, but still hugs him and sleeps next to him after. Yet it is Manav Kaul who steals the show here. Dressed in blue khakis as Deepak's supervisor, Kaul brings a fresh spin to the character and voraciously captures your attention even in a supporting part. His performance is pure brilliance. Most other characters have relatively much lesser significance but are indeed well cast for their roles making a shining ensemble. 

It is hard to imagine CityLights being made as sensitively by most popular filmmakers and this is where Hansal scores a punch, displaying the bitterly sobering realities with a subtle ease. It is also hard to imagine anyone else doing such justice to the vision apart from Rajkumar Rao and Patralekhaa. CityLights is a very hard hitting film made with a lot of sweat and effort, yet it falls somewhere in the middle due to its lack of meat. I am sure it will take a slow start at the Box Office but I urge you to go out and watch this one in theaters. It has an enduring aftertaste of honesty which we rarely find in our cinema of today. If not for that, the performances will surely bowl you over!

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

The Xpose Movie Review : An epoch busting mystery of the black hole

The legend Himesh Reshammiya is back. He has lost a lot of weight, dresses up in long overcoats and black sunglasses, combs his hair back, sports an inconsistent moustache and woefully mouths corny one-liners which do induce a chuckle. Yet, what can you do about a wooden face? More on that later. The first trailer of his latest venture, The Xpose, was blustery and garish, with some raspy editing. It was highly prophetic of the film we were to see in the the theaters. I was bloody pumped for this one, though. Sometimes you expect and want the film to be so bad that you have a blast poking fun at it in the theaters. Vicarious pleasures of film analysts, believe me. All the days leading upto its release I took it upon myself to herald a promotional campaign for it amongst all my peers, near and dear ones. After all, it is Himesh bhai who is coming back with his magnum opus, produced by AA Films and HR Musik, his own production house. The promos unfolded with ridiculous songs like 'Ice Cream Khaungi' to bearable imitations like 'Dard-E-Dilo'. All in all, The Xpose had caught the attention either for good or bad reasons.

In one of the recent interviews, I heard Himesh saying that he did not succeed as an actor in his earlier stunt because he was not committed enough. Portly much. But then The Xpose, directed by Ananth Narayan Mahadevan, is an incendiary visit to the theaters as well. Incidentally, Himesh is credited for the Story and Screenplay of the film as well, along with Jainesh Ejardar and Bunty Rathore (dialogues). Rathore, singularly, must be lauded for the most ludicrous writing in a while, the one which makes you pull wool over your eyes. The Xpose is mounted on a fairly large scale, with a lot of style, but most of its style is reprehensibly misplaced. The film begins with a murder and introduces all the prime suspects, aka the recurring characters of the film as they attend the funeral of the deceased. Short scenes from their past are juxtaposed to give a peep into their characters, with Irrfan Khan's mundane voiceover. Thereafter, the film moves a year back when Ravi Kumar (Himesh), a famous South superstar, moved to the Bombay Film Industry. It follows Kumar's journey as he wallows his way through Hindi films, while occasionally falling in love with a starlet, Chandni (Zoya Afroz). The incidents lead upto the murder of a rival actress, Zara (Sonali Raut). Despite some hacky direction, cringeworthy lines and indelible acting, the first half does set up a mild intrigue of a decent watch. 

Post interval, The Xpose falls on its face as it plays out the details of the murder night in macabre detail, only to spur up one unintentionally hilarious moment after the other that become increasingly shocking to assimilate for normal human brains. The cat fight scene between two actresses at an awards party while the media clicked pictures had me stand up and clap at its chronic stupidity. The finale of the film belongs to some other world of filmmaking. As we are set up for a crackling trial of a high profile murder, Himesh bhai walks in in all black attire and solves the mystery over the wink of a eye. Why? Because he was an ex-cop. Facepalm activated. This courtroom trial scene has to go down in history as the most decrepit one ever. It is plain hilarious. Most of the build up in The Xpose is unreasonable as the story does not follow any structure, and the hollow desire to shock the audience actually leaves them flummoxed, shortchanged and angry. A special mention for the ending where two actors confess love to each other in front of the media. Why? Because Ravi Kumar was a man of principles and law, but he gives them all up for love. WTF! Oh and there is also a moment where a dude is holding a boom mike for a lipsync dance sequence, and that too on top of the camera. So much to treasure in this warped tale of brainlessness. 

I had mentioned about The Xpose's misplaced style earlier. The makers must understand that merely creating retro tunes and calling your film a period film does not make it one. The Xpose is set in 1960s but none of the frames look like any of the decades gone by. At best, it is a misinterpreted modern Production Design, passed off as 60s. The fancy is not the real fancy here, it is actually a muddle on screen, doubled by a million continuity errors in same scenes. Maneesh Chandra Bhatt's cinematography is jarringly uneven, fluctuating between the sullen Paris and abroad locations to a eye-hurting pulpy Bollywood. Ashish Gaikar's editing is a savior as the film ends in 113 minutes. The costume designers of this film need a crash course in styling. The clothes are definitely not retro and poor Himesh looks like a starved baby. While we are at Himesh, his music does produce some catchy tunes and you will not mind any of the songs in the film. Dard-e-Dilo and Catch Me are the best ones. 

Himesh Reshammiya has the acting range of a waxwork, and this is no breaking news. He does try his best to get into the shoes of Ravi Kumar, but the character itself is etched inconsistently, who does not stick by what he says or knows what he wants. Eitherway, Reshammiya looks placid while delivering the one-liners. Zoya Afroz is nothing like a great discovery, with unusually broad shoulders. Sonali Raut is not a patch on Zeenat Aman as she does her take on the famous wet saree scene of Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Her exposure of assets may be aplenty, but her exposure to acting is minimal. Yo Yo Honey Singh is also acting in this film. One more to the party of the unintentionally funny. Director Anant Mahadevan casts himself in one of the lead roles and looks ditsy. Rajesh Sharma and Adil Hussain have vast reserves of talent which has barely been touched upon here. Irrfan Khan looks woefully out of place even in a special appearance. Nakul Vaid is allright.

On the whole, The Xpose may be a fanciful affair for the Reshammiyas but is barely palpable for the audience. Even if you would be able to sit put for the first half, the second half relinquishes to the God of Morons immediately. Once again, the climax trial sequence is highly capable of jeopardizing your intellect with urgent effect. The film has taken an average start at the Box Office and I do not expect a huge turn of events in Himesh bhai's luck with this one. The film may have an interesting premise but they have actually made something else than what they set out to and Mahadevan must quickly add this to the list of duds he has made all his life. If you are okay with a film trying too hard to be cool, do not miss this one!

Rating - 1.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Manjunath Movie Review : Well-intentioned, but faulty

Manjunath, a biopic written and directed by Sandeep Verma, is a film that has the least limelight amongst the slew of releases this past weekend. When I had seen the trailer of the film long back, I had immediately been intrigued by it as I had only heard scant bits of the original death case of Shanmughan Manjunath. The film looked like a good compensation for my callow overlook as I was growing up. I decided to watch it first thing amongst the multiple releases and was a little underwhelmed. With literally no buzz around it, a film can still do decently well at the Box Office if its made stunningly. While Manjunath is an honest biopic, it leaves a lot to desire. 

Shanmugam Manjunath (1978–2005) is a marketing manager for Bharat Oil (originallly The Indian Oil Corporation (IOC)) who was murdered for sealing a corrupt petrol station in Lakhimpur Kheri, UP. This incident inspired several students at IIM, IIT and other institutes culminating with the IIM students setting up the "The Manjunath Shanmugam Trust" which ultimately fought for him during the trial for his death case and saw that justice was delivered to him. The film follows a docu-drama kind of approach as it unfolds incidents leading upto Manjunath's death. Director Sandeep Verma picks up his story from where the corruption around him had started attacking Manjunath's nerves like a typhoon, ultimately leading to him being considered mad, his recovery, his fight against mixing of kerosene in diesel, his execution and thereafter the national outrage. The film's premise makes for a fervor filled journey and it works because the story is rooted in one village and one situation, but a situation which has impacts around the country. The film stays true to Manjunath's original life, as documented in media and otherwise, without giving in much to fiction. It raises some very important questions to the educated lot of this country, who have come to terms with the 'chalta hai' attitude. The scene in the market where Manju argues with his best friend Gautam will stay with you for long. It mocks the very fake idealism of people with a lot of sincerity. 

The problem here is that Verma's hand as a director comes out amateurish, as he is unable to flesh out bespoke striking sequences/moments that will make such a film hard-hitting. The initial reasons for his madness appear half-baked, and so do the story after his death when the journey to redemption looks rushed while the parents' arc looks haphazard. Some creative choices made by Verma clumsily bog down the film which could have been very engaging otherwise. Verma uses original songs by the indie-rock band Parikrama, all through the film which only upset the tone and the mood of this village setting. The biggest facepalm moment arrives when right after Manjunath is shot, his spirit breaks into a stage performance. Again, this usage of the spirit to tell the story and then have moralistic arguments with his murderer in the jail is awry. Another problem with the film is the usage of a weird mix of English and Hindi dialogues, leaving a million inconsistencies in the origins of character. Frankly, most of the dialogue of the film is mundanely corny and it becomes worse in English. Cinematography also reeks of an amateur hand as even I could see the camera going out of focus in many scenes. Editor Sandeep Francis plays around in the first 30 minutes of the film when he shuttles back and forth in time, but settles on a easier route for the remaining. 

Manjunath is a complex character and debutante Sasho Satish Sarathy tries to give his best to the role. He brings in the required naivete and honesty, but also comes with a certain playfulness and instability of the man. But he does fall short in front of his opponent, Golu Goyal, played by a seasoned Yashpal Sharma. Sharma gets focus occasionally but shines like no other. Seema Biswas is effective as Manju's mother, while Kishore Kadam is miscast as his father. So is Rajesh Khattar as Manju's boss as he struggles to play a guy from UP. Divya Dutta, as Anjali (the one who started the trust), suffers from an underwritten role. Anjori Alagh (Manju's friend) does not get much scope while Faisal Rashid (Gautam, Manju's best friend) hams it up well.

On the whole, Manjunath is a very important film that brings us back to the scores of atrocities committed against men and women who stand up agaisnt corruption or other social evils. It is a well-intentioned attempt, apart from being a very sincere one. The film is falling despicably at the Box Office due to our ignorant film audience. I met someone connected to the film industry itself today who had no idea about such a film releasing. Irrespective of the technical shortcomings of the film, this is the dire state of most significant films which need all your attention. I am going with a slightly bumped up rating for this venture, only for its honesty. 

Rating - 2.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here