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