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