Monday, October 5, 2015

Talvar Movie Review : Oh, What A Film!

I wanted to take some time out after watching Meghna Gulzar and Vishal Bharadwaj's Talvar earlier today before I write about it, just to consolidate my thoughts. Now, we all are very well acquainted with the Aarushi Talwar double murder case of 2008 which is still ongoing. Her parents are still in jail and fighting for innocence largely due to a botched up crime scene and lack of factual evidence. If anyone has not heard about it, it is might as well suggested to take the subscription of latest newspaper daily with immediate effect, or alternately, just open your eyes and ears to the world. 

This case, for sure, is a surefire idea to make a film on. But it is also a very sensitive and astronomically difficult to not let your judgement affect your film to present a tainted picture of the whole. Moreover, one is susceptible to play to the gallery to evoke emotion out of its audience and run the cliches of corrupted judicial and investigative system or media. Albeit, it is very hard to tell a document of the case with a meek social commentary without letting it slip into a documentary format. Vishal Bharadwaj (writer) and Meghna Gulzar (director) manage to just do that, yet in an entertaining fictionalized fashion where facts and incidents are not thrown at your face. Their latest outing, Talvar, is a gem of a film that is resplendent of excellent artistry in all of its facets. 

Shruti Tandon, 14, is murdered under dubious circumstances one night in Noida without her parents, Ramesh (Neeraj Kabi) and Nutan (Konkona Sen Sharma) waking up to it in the next room. The first round of doubt goes towards their house servant, Khempal, who is nowhere to be found. Very soon, Khempal is found dead on the terrace and the parents become the prime suspects. The police frame the parents and before the Central Dept of Investigation steps in, all the crime scene evidences are either ignored or collected in a haphazard fashion. Over many years, the CDI does two contradicting reports on the whole investigation, the first one being led by Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) leading to no proper conclusion and an eventual chargesheet against the parents, even after CDI petitions to close the case. Many suspects are taken into custody and released eventually with the final ones being the parents who are still in prison. The reason I have laid out the plot of Talvar is because there is so much more fun in exploring it once you know the basics. The real story itself has many more befuddling layers which will leave you juxtaposed with wonderment as to what really happened that night and who is the real culprit?

Vishal Bharadwaj's screenplay explores the double murder case through the eyes of the investigative agency and its officers, along with the police. The first part is the investigation through police, the second through Ashwin and and his associates, the third through Mr Paul (Atul Kumar) who turns the first committee's report upside down and the last one in court, led by ACP Vedant (Sohum Shah). Just like the classic film, Rashomon, Talvar presents alternate versions of the case as narrated or imagined by various people involved with it trying to put a finger on the guilty but removing it just before touching it. In totality, Bharadwaj and Meghna do manage to be unbiased and still come up with a riveting thriller that haunts you long after it has ended. My small issues with the film include minimal exploration of the parents angle. I really wanted to see their life before and after Shruti and their want for justice, if there was one. I also wanted to see more about the motives behind the crimes in each version, apart from the slightly rushed up finale. But there is only so much you can do in a runtime of 132 odd minutes and the writer-director do give us a classic skillfully handled climax round table confrontation between the two teams of CDI. Not to mention, that while they go about their serious stuff, they dare not forget the quirks and induce quite a few chuckles amidst a housefull of audience. A hat tip to both of them for writing such a plot heavy film, so much so that there is little scope for character development or the pensive moments. 

The framework of Talvar would not have been complete without the excellent casting by Honey Trehan. Each and every lead and supporting actor is cast with a thought and chooses to shine in this very film. Whether it is Prakash Belwadi as Swamy, Ashwin's retiring boss, or Gajraj Rao as Inspector Dhaniram or Shishir Sharma as the new CDI chief, they all make a mark and how. Neeraj Kabi and Konkona display the pain of loss without any effort and one wants to see more of them. Sumit Gulati as Kanhaiya is pitch-perfect while Tabu makes an effective cameo as Ashwin's wife who still loves him but wants a divorce. A special mention for the stunning Sohum Shah who once again takes up a supporting role but makes it look convincing like it was his second nature. When his ACP Vedant switches sides, you totally buy him. Once again, the film does belong to Irrfan Khan as it is told from his perspective largely. And once again, Irrfan manages to bring out a different side of himself. For an investigative officer who plays a video game on his mobile phone while the deceased's parent cries his heart out to him, his struggle for the justice he believes in is nerve-chilling. He along with, Atul Kumar, together in the climax scene give you one of the best 5-7 minutes ever scene in Hindi cinema lately. 

Produced by Junglee Pictures, a TOI group company, and Vishal Bharadwaj Pictures, Talvar has all the backing it needs. Pankaj Kumar's camera sets in the urgency you crave for in an edge-of-the-seat whodunnit and is aided by Shajith Koyeri's menacing sound design. Sreekar Prasad's editing is top-notch packing in a lot of stuff in a meagre runtime. Vishal's music is suitable with no song barging into your senses and still providing you a reflection of the times. But it is the casting, writing and direction that make the film work big time, in that order, if we ignore the stellar performances. 

Surprisingly, Talvar has relatively fewer shows than it should I feel. Mostly, due to the other biggie Singh is Bling eating into all its screens and a Hollywood big film also coming the same weekend. Yet, I went for a 11:30AM show today and it was house full. The distributors, AA Films, should really consider increasing the number of shows, from Monday, if not from tomorrow itself. Talvar is one of the best films to come out of Bollywood in the recent times, and despite its minor flaws, it has all ingredients of being a classic. Surprisingly, another film, Rahasya, starring Kay Kay Menon came out earlier this year on the same double murder case but it almost went unnoticed. While Rahasya was a good attempt, I liked Talvar a lot more. Meghna Gulzar has come a long way from making those films she was. 

I see absolutely no reason why you should miss Talvar. It is content driven cinema at its best, and the round of claps once the film ends will realize the ticket price for you.

Rating - 4/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Calendar Girls Movie Review : Bhandarkarland Tropes

There is not a single platform, webpage or film critic which has not cantankerously panned Madhur Bhandarkar for regurgitating the same wine in new bottles through his recent string of films. So much so that there are memes out on the Internet which describe the set pattern of Madhur's plots. To top that, he has been ridiculed for using banal names for his films and everything in them, something which is too obvious to state. For example, a film on the life of an actress will be called Heroine or one on the corporate politics in big companies has to be called Corporate. For a man who gave us Aan, Chandni Bar, Page 3 and to some extent even Fashion, he has come a long spiraling way where he has convoluted himself in his own ring of mediocrity. His latest, Calendar Girls did bear the brunt of his flailing popularity when he went out to cast the film or find producers for it. But then as for most veterans, and taking the liberty of calling him one, it needs one film where you push yourself beyond your comfort zone to get your mojo back, aint it? 

Unfortunately, Calendar Girls is not that film. 

Madhur's Calendar Girls is a slightly appealing concoction of all his earlier films, where he goes back to many similar plot points and tested tropes to pull the same chords in his audience which had given him much success. He tells the story of 5 girls, from varied backgrounds from across the nation, who are selected to be the poster girls for, hold your breath, 'The Calendar 2014.' Post the release of the calendar, the girls must chart their own paths into the glamour industry which is a deep dark black hole, in Madhur's interpretation, and it is your choices that make or break you in this world, as he voices this soapy moralistic lesson to us via one of the characters who did make the right choices. Not just that, a cricket league is called 'Cricket League,' all fashion designers are still gay, all fashion photographers are still over-enthusiastic, all news reporters still wear specs and are nice people, all politicians still call for escorts, and every other cliche you can think of. The icing of the cake is Madhur himself appearing in a cameo to massage his ego where one of the girls who is an aspiring actress keeps raving about him and his films. BUT this is not the bad part of the film. Infact, I liked Calendar Girls for its story and screenplay to be honest. It is much better than what Madhur has served us since Fashion and at a runtime of 131 minutes, I like how the cliches play out in an organic fashion without being overdone at any instant. 

Infact, Calendar Girls is undone by bad acting and dialogues. None of the girls fail to make a mark save for Satarupa Pyne and Kyra Dutt to an extent and the supporting cast right from Suhel Seth to Suchitra Pillai is unapologeticaly hammy. Rohit Roy should be given an award for being the singlemost worst supporting actor of all time after this film. Abhiruchi Chand and Anil Pandey, the writers of the films must bear the brunt of this criticism for one of the worst dialogues in recent times. Most of the times you feel like cringing in your seat due to absolutely unnecessary information provided to you via their moronic dialogues. Bhandarkar does salvage some of it by staging scenes with an experienced hand but then his actors are naive while facing the camera and it shows and how. All in all, Calendar Girls has a  bad first half, resurrects itself in the second half and just manages to not irk you off completely by the time it ends.

Produced on a modest budget by ManglMurti Films, Bhandarkar Entertainment and Raksha Entertainment, Calendar Girls has quite the look of a big film but while they put the best sets or go to the most exotic locales to shoot the songs, the OST itself is plain despicable. Music by Meet Bros Anjjaan and Amaal Malik is uninspired as is the cinematography by Harri Vendaantam. Editing by Devendra Murdeshwar is good and crisp. 

On the whole, Bhandarkar took a while to make this film as he had to really struggle to cast it and sell it for a release. But if you go by me, he needs to be thrown out of the water for much longer for his next film if one wants the best out of him. It is not that he does not have it in him, the small sparks are visible in his work, but they are minimal and diminishing as of now. Only when he goes through and even tougher time making his next film, is when he will step out of his ego and and do something different. Till then, the Bhandarkar template films are very easy to review for anyone. You just have to change the names of the characters and the review remains the same, unfortunately. As for Calendar Girls, it may recover its cost but wont see any big success for him or the girls in my opinion. Watch it if you have missed the banality of Madhur Bhandarkar films. You might look for the exit door a couple of times but it wont be horrific like his last couple outings.

Rating - 2/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Path Of Zarathustra Movie Review : Well-intentioned, but not well made

Oorvazi Irani's The Path Of Zarathustra gets a release this Friday, thanks to the undying efforts of the team and great support by PVR Director's Rare to back another indie film. The film focuses on the dwindling state of the Parsi community in India, definitely a rare issue touched and raised by its makers. Produced by SBI Impresario, a company owned by Oorvazi's father, the film has minimal budgets and thus, no real buzz in the market out there. Yet, it has managed to secure 6 odd screens in Mumbai and a couple in other important cities. The Path Of Zarathustra is a well-intentioned film no doubt, focusing on a community that the Industry has only used for caricatures, but despite being sensitive to our times, it ends up being a little misfired in its own right. 

The films centers around Oorvazi (played by Irani herself), a young woman born in the faith of Zoroastrianism, who sets out on a journey from a remote village post her grandfather's (Tom Alter) death. Her grandfather hands over a book to her, the contents of which are unknown, but once read by the right person, they are supposed to reveal the truth behind the preachings of the prophet and their creator Ahura Mazda. As she goes along, she falls in love with Perseus (Rushad Rana) who is also her half-brother and gets visions of people who were executed in the past due to their radical thoughts about the faith and religion. The film takes a philosophical route to expose the historical growth of the religion and places Oorvazi at its centerpiece to create exposition. Irani uses a largely mundane voice over ridden approach to explain a lot of things to the uninitiated but it is her direction that falls a bit short in creating the right amount of drama to hook you on, coupled with her below par performance. Recently, a film like Ship Of Theseus had similar undertones when it questioned the philosophy of religion and life, but contrary to SOT, The Path Of Zarathustra struggles to hold your interest.

However, there are some things to rave about here as well. The film has its heart at the right place and dives into the issue straight up, doling out enough details for anyone to catch on. It also explains the reasons behind the diminishing of the community and offers possible solutions for the same. Towards the end, the film's climax does talk effectively of a school of thought that most other religions propagate and is the right way for any race. The film has been splendidly shot by Subhadeep Dey, capturing the best of frames at the best of locations. The film's music by Vasuda Sharma is a let down while Farrukh Dhondy's Screenplay could have done with dialogues which ring more true with real people. One must applaud the brilliant production design of the film and despite minimal resources, Irani and her crew have mounted the film pretty well. 

On the whole, The Path Of Zarathustra is a little film, albeit highly topical and relevant. The film has a limited release and one can hope that the word goes out and people come out to fill those screens. The film itself is not the best it could have been but then, how often do we get a film that talks about a community that is majorly ignored? With a runtime of about 79 minutes, it wont hurt you to catch it sometime this weekend.

Rating - 2.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Welcome Back Movie Review : Trying Too Hard To Be Like Its Prequel

In 2007, Anees Bazmee was at the top of his game when he delivered Welcome along with Akshay Kumar. Today, Bazmee is struggling to make his own comeback with Welcome Back and he does not have Kumar. However, he has managed to retain the majority of his motley crew and added a couple of stalwarts to the wolfgang as well. But he is straddled with John Abraham and Shruti Haasan playing the lead pair as opposed to a highly successful Kumar and Katrina Kaif pairing in 2007. Nevertheless, Welcome Back is mounted on an enormous scale with money spent profusely on every thing possible. Yet, there was much thanda buzz around it leading upto its release. So, has Bazmee manage to score an ace to bring his market back up in B Town? Recently, Anil Kapoor said in an interview that it is important for this film to work so that Base Industries (Firoz Nadiadwallah's Company) stays in business.

Welcome Back, is more like a spinoff of its prequel using similar tropes and plot points, minimally turned on their heads to provide the pretense of freshness. The film starts with the don duo, Uday (Nana Patekar) and Majnu (Anil Kapoor) having bettered themselves for a life in Dubai. They find another lost sister, Ranjana (Shruti Haasan) who they have to get married. Ranjana likes Ajju Bhai (John Abraham) who happens to be Dr Ghunghroo's (Paresh Rawal) illegitimate son. There is also Chandni (debutante Ankita Srivastava) who has wooed the dons once again, albeit she along with her mom (Dimple Kapadia) forms a team of con artists who are out to dupe them. To complete the wolfpack, there is Wanted Bhai (Naseeruddin Shah) and his drug-addict son Honey (Shiney Ahuja, making his comeback). While in Welcome, Uday and Majnu clearly had the upper hand over a meek Akshay Kumar, Ajju is a beast of his own kind and an infamous street gangster from Bombay. One of the reasons why Welcome Back does not ring true as much as Welcome did. If Ajju is a recognized criminal with many cases against him, and is clearly stronger than the dons, why does he need to play games with them to win Ranjana? A lot of the contrivances in Welcome Back look like they have been made to happen to regurgitate the success of the first part. That apart, a barrage of insipid songs haunt your senses as they play out, remarkably a romantic number between the lead pair. Infact, their chemistry is so half-baked that you would lose interest in them right away. Unlike Welcome, there are no clear motives of characters and they are used by the screenplay (Bazmee, Rajeev Kaul, Rajan Aggarwal, Praful Parekh) to satisfy the unreal plot. 

However, Welcome Back is not all bad. There are numerous lough out loud moments, specially abled by the chemistry provided by Patekar and Kapoor, propelled by Raaj Shaandilya's dialogue. Many a times I found myself guffawing at the punches, and very few times at the gags, specially the long gag at a graveyard in second half falls flat. Welcome Back gets boring at times, and is very entertaining at other times, but never does it get unbearable. The production values of Welcome Back are huge but still some frames suffer from bad CGI work. Kabir Lal's cinematography is very touristy and grand, but also very tacky at times. The action by Abbas Ali Moghul is well suited for Abraham. Music of the film, despite done by a variety of artists, lags much behind its first part. 

Credited first in the opening sequence, Anil Kapoor is the star of the show, closely followed by Nana Patekar, who together are responsible for providing the most laughs. Kapoor looks delectable and walks through Majnu Bhai with a panache. On the other hand, Nana plays Uday subtly but manages to make a significant impact. John is a weak link in most scenes and except for beauty shots, he looks plain dumb. Taking the cake of bad performances is Shruti Haasan who ludicrously runs through all her lines. Paresh Rawal is his usual awesome self and manages to crack you up many a times. Dimple Kapadia and Shiney Ahuja seem wasted in inconsequential roles. Debutante Ankita Srivastava may look gorgeous but has a long way to go to hone for acting skills. Veteran Naseeruddin Shah looks completely out of place as the master don and his jokes are mostly mundane. Every one else in the supporting cast is ordinary. 

On the whole, Welcome Back is passable for a one time watch, and considering its first part was no classic, this one seems sinking further into the sea. However, it is Uday and Majnu's histrionics that provide a lifeboat to dock the film at the shore. The film has taken an average opening at the Box Office and I am not sure if any word of mouth will help it. Considering the copious amounts of money splurged on action sequences and the climax, I hope that they break even. If you are an ardent fan of Uday-Majnu angle from the first part, do give this one a try, else there is nothing much to rave about.

Rating - 2/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hamari Adhuri Kahaani Movie Review : A Good Director Cannot Save A Bad Script

In 1982, Mahesh Bhatt made Arth, with Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Since then, he has made it again and again atleast a 100 times. If not that, he has taken elements from Arth and twisted them around, rebottled them with new flavor, and made a film again. Arth was an absolute classic. Most of its derivatives are not. But Bhatt will never get out of it seems. And he must plunge us as well as he drowns. Directed by Mohit Suri, Hamari Adhuri Kahaani is concocted with a stellar cast, but it is supposed to be the love story of Mahesh Bhatt's parents. In reality, it is another take on Arth. Albeit drenched in ham-fisted dialogue by Shagufta Rafique. 

Produced by Fox Star Studios and Vishesh Films, Hamari Adhuri Kahaani had the country chanting its numbers with scant efforts, much thanks to Mohit Suri and Mukesh Bhatt's ear for some great music. The film looked good in the promos and right up Mohit's alley. And indeed it is. Except the fatal flaw. Screenplay of HAK is merely a device to encapsulate the few line plot of the film, whereas as a practice, it should be the other way round. Hence, HAK suffers from largely implausible sequences which dont ring true with even an unassuming audience. The problem here is that the film is set in Mumbai, Dubai and Kolkata which are all metro cities, but the characters, specially Vasudha (Vidya Balan) do not behave like they live here. It would be more acceptable in a small town setting. To paralyze the shlock of screenplay further, Rafique's dialogues reach their new cathartic low this time. I have often complained that Rafique is possibly the weakest link of Bhatt camp, and she continues to get worse with her dialogues. Sample this, Aarav Ruparel (Emraan Hashmi), an extremely rich hotelier, takes Vasudha to meet his mother. The mother looks at Vidya and asks, "Yeh banjaran kaun hai?"  and then gives a supremely convoluted speech about Hindu mythology - "tum toh janam se Sita ho, ab kya Sati banna hai, toh phir Radha kab banogi?" And after this astounding speech, Vasudha falls for Aarav. Woah! Who on earth talks like that? Melodrama has its perks and audience both, and I am not against melodrama. Even Suri himself has handled melodrama with much better hand in his previous films. But here we miss him as a director, while he casually steps the pedal of melodrama from the first scene.

Yet, I could not get myself to hate Hamari Adhuri Kahaani, critically due to earnest performances and a slightly uplifted last 30 minutes. Emraan Hashmi may have his 7th dud in a row with HAK but he still does well here. It is hard to not look ludicrous mouthing those lines written for him but he handles them with an astute demeanor. Vidya Balan forms the crux of the film but sadly, she does not get much scope apart from shedding a stream of tears or having shed them or about to shed them. Rajkumar Rao looks a slight misfit in this film, but there are very few actors who could have pulled such a tricky multi-faceted character. And yes, his Hari is possibly the only well etched character of HAK's script. Suhasini Mulay is unintentionally funny while Amala Akkineni is okay. There is also Prabal Panjabi as Aarav's best friend and manager who hits the right notes to give a couple of giggles in an otherwise morose film. Suri handles the pre climax as well as the climax deftly and helps the film get a final breather. Also, his use of Music will remain one of the best. Though the whole album is not as great as an Ek Villain or Aashiqui 2, Jeet Ganguly, Mithoon and the newbie Ami Mishra have combined their efforts to give atleast 2-3 very likable songs. Vishnu Rao's cinematography does not add much to Suri's staging of scenes while Deven Murdeshwar's Editing is passable.

On the whole, Hamari Adhuri Kahaani is definitely Mohit Suri's weakest film in last many years and neither does he or nor does his cast deserves such a sham. I expected a lot and I am highly underwhelmed. Save for a few bright spots, the film collapses largely due to its contrived writing. All I wanted from this film was to give Hashmi a success but I guess it wont happen. Suri himself will bounce back with his upcoming slate. The film has taken an average start at the Box Office and I am not sure if it will recover its costs this time around. Bhatt camp may have to burn their fingers, I am afraid. And that should be signal enough for Mahesh Bhatt to relook at what he is doing. Go watch Hamari Adhuri Kahaani if you have high tolerance for bad dialogue, and you might come back liking some bits of the film as well!

Rating - 2.5/5


Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

DIl Dhadakne Do Movie Review : All Is Well That Ends Well

I have decided to do short reviews of films whenever I am low on time. Yes. That works better for everyone reading it as well. So yay!

Okay, so first things first. It is not easy to make family films, and I am not talking about the ones we necessarily feel we can watch with our families, but the ones which have the story of a family at its centerpiece. Most of the times, you have the risk of falling into the cliched tropes of daily soaps or indulging in drama sagas like early 2000s. But Zoya Akhtar's Dil Dhadakne Do manages to steer clear of all such banalities. Its a fresh satirical take on a dysfunctional Mehra family based out of Delhi who plan a lavish cruise to attract business investors and resurrect the falling image of their company. Their bigger problems lie within them as Kamal Mehra (Anil Kapoor) is a patriarch who doesnt mind having affairs with younger women but wont give his own daughter a rightful position; Kabir Mehra (Ranveer Singh) has always grown under the shadow of his father but never learnt to stand up for his dreams; Neelam Mehra (Shefali Shah) who put up with all the upper class hoopla and her husband just because she had no option but to reinforce Kamal's patriarchy; and finally Ayesha Mehra (Priyanka Chopra) who landed herself in a hurried marriage but is seemingly the most sane member of the family. There is also Pluto Mehra, their dog, voiced by Aamir Khan who preaches just like Aamir in Satyamev Jayate and though the dog calls himself the sanest member of the family, he is plain simple boring, trying to spoon feed the audience.

DDD is not a masterpiece, but it manages to do a lot of things right. One scene in the hospital room after Kamal gets a stroke is one of the best written scenes in recent history. There are many more such lime fresh genuine which strikingly expose the hypocrisy of the rich and the behaved class of our society. Zoya handles them with ease, and the actors rise and shine upto every opportunity. Literally, every choice of casting is spot on. But in the end, it is Ranveer's restraint and Anil's intensity that form the rim of this rainbow. Even with a runtime of 170 minutes, DDD is extremely engaging due to its dry humor soaked screenplay.

The problem with DDD lies in its plot. The problems of each character are too small for the time it takes for them to come around them. It takes a lot of time to setup and set voyage, unlike the cruise they are on. But then, Zoya and Reema Kagti's screenplay is more about those small moments. Some subplots involving smaller characters are not well exploited so much so that, you feel that even Farah (Anushka Sharma) and Kabir's love story does not get its full due. Sunny (Farhan Akhtar) is Ayesha's ex-boyfriend who is brought in just to expose her failed marriage with Manav (Rahul Bose) and it sort of kills the film's idea of feminism. Again, the undercurrent of forced career choices does not get its resolution as Kabir must not worry about work, he can just manage by saving his love life. But then in a weird cynical and yet realistic way, dysfunctional families dont really solve their problems. Here, they confront them, reconcile and move on. Most technical aspects of the film are stunning except for the OST which is just meh. 

On the whole, Dil Dhadakne Do is definitely Zoya's weakest film, but not a weak film overall. It is largely entertaining, and save for Aamir's 'stare-into-your-soul' voiceover, is a very well made film as well. I dont think I need to say it as most of us are already running to the theaters to watch it. One small thing Zoya, give us another Luck By Chance. 

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tanu Weds Manu Returns Movie Review : Twice The Fun

Tanu Weds Manu became an instant winner with everyone when it came out in 2011, largely due to its renewed take on marriages and the female lead, played meticulously by Kangana Ranaut. Director Aanand L Rai and his writer, Himanshu Sharma, went on to make Raanjhanaa in 2013 and then came back for the TWM sequel. The first trailer shined amongst a lot of expectations, and the songs cracked the audience likability code right away. But that may not be enough for a great film, and more importantly, to snap out of the curse of the sequel.

Two Things.

One. Kangana Ranaut is India's current best actress. It is not about the wide buffet of roles she can yahoo about, but my remark is derived from the sheer ability to undo the star power, and dive deep into the character's skin. Kangana may be the only actress who has no qualms about looking ugly, unlikable or uncouth. Or to maniacally gearshift into an unknown territory without her PR making big news about it. In Tanu Weds Manu Returns, she is phenomenal, both as Tanu and as Kusum, the new look alike.

Two. TWMR may arguably have the best first scene Indian cinemas has seen in ages. Staged simplistically as a verbal standoff between Tanu and Manu (R Madhavan), 4 years after their marriage in 2011, the scene leapfrogs you into the story right away. The snappy lines between the couple cut each other up like swordsmen on steroids and you are left in smithereens due to uncontrollable laughter. 

So much so that, by the time you reach the mid point of the film, you are likely to have recognizable pain in the guts. People were standing up and clapping in the theater I watched the film, and most other times, I found myself missing the next punch trying to recover from the previous one. Its been a while a film has induced so much guffaw with this tenacity. The humor does dip in the second half as some unfortunate snags show up, but more on that later. 

Tanu and Manu have been married for 4 years now and their marriage is not working. Manu creates a scene at a rehabilitation center and he is taken into custody. Tanu leaves him and comes back to India, and starts hanging out with all her ex-boyfriends, including Raja Awasthi (Jimmy Shergill). When Manu comes out, he rushes back to India as well, where he meets Kusum, who looks exactly like Tanu but hails from a Haryanvi family, is a state level athelete cum student at Delhi University. Manu receives a divorce notice from Tanu, initiated by a conniving tenant at Tanu's house, Chintu (a brilliant Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) and decides to remarry to Kusum. Thats quite a lot of meat in there, except when you enter the second half, you feel that the writer is looking for contrived excuses to buy out time for the climax. Kusum, Manu and Pappi (a delectable Deepak Dobriyal) unnecessarily goto Chandigarh to get Pappi married and then Kusum brings them back to her village. All this looks like a stretched out scheme to delay Manu's marriage to Kusum. Even the final act seems a bit scrappy but the film does not slither due to its able performances and constant plugs of humor. 

Few damp patches aside, TWMR is a delightful riot. There is just so much to like here that nitpicking would be an arduous task. Himanshu Sharma and Aanand L Rai turn the topic of a simple marriage around its head, shatter your classical notions and yet not make the end product unctuous or righteous. Yes, despite the audience friendly ending, but it does make sense if you reflect upon it. And they do all this with truckloads of fun. And if anyone is to be thanked apart from the, it is the actors. A lot of Rai's favorites come back together to hone and shine this gem. If anyone's vim can match neck to neck Kangana's, it is Deepak Dobriyal. He takes Pappi to a striking new level, where he adds flavor to each scene, either by word or action. Rajesh Sharma as Kusum's brother is first rate and Jimmy Shergill is well restrained and effective. Swara Bhaskar does not get much scope and Eijaz Khan is alright. Amidst all the noise, however, it is R Madhavan whose contribution usually gets sidelined. Madhavan is a veteran now, and he does not care about the limelight. But he is as much the pillar of TWMR as Kangana. With his quiet demeanor, he is resplendent, if not stunning. 

Eros International and Color Yellow Productions have mounted TWMR on a reasonable scale with no real compromises. Chirantan Das's cinematography is easy on the eyes, while Hemal Kothari's Editing is top notch. The music of the film is a big hit and is produced by an ensemble, including Anmol Malik, Krsna and RDB. Banno, their flagship song, is already leading the charts. To be fairly honest, TWMR is a film where the job was more than half done at the script and casting stage. The technical departments add little to the film.

On the whole, Tanu Weds Manu Returns fades away the prequel with much glory. The first day collections are above the mark, and the word of mouth will nimbly make it a runaway hit, I suspect. And rightly so, as for most parts, it is like an overflowing torrent of hilarity, sheathing away a lot of relationship intricacies which unravel in a not so cliched way. All said and done, Aanand L Rai has an ace of spade in his hand and it would be foolish to miss this raging entertainer at the theaters.

Rating - 3.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here


Monday, May 18, 2015

Bombay Velvet Movie Review : Underwhelming, But Not Terrible

Anurag Kashyap's Bombay Velvet is his big, brassy and boombox-ed entry into the big budget films league. It is also his dream venture, and is meant to save the day for Ranbir Kapoor, whose goodwill continues to recede after Besharam and Roy. Buttloads of money has been poured in this film by Phantom as well as Fox Star Studios, and believe you me, it shows, as grandeur oozes out of each frame. But alas, Bombay Velvet is an aggrandized product, one which has little depth to suck you in beyond its visceral thrills and some good performances. The suspected word is out, and its going to be a nightmare night for the phalanx that came together for this difficult film. Difficult to shoot and produce, not difficult to make a mess of, ofcourse. 

Bombay Velvet unspools a retro era, soaked in nostalgia and homage, where a small time crook, Johnny Balraj (Kapoor) watches James Cagney's The Roaring Twenties ironically inflicting the same fate upon himself. He loves Rosie Noronha (Anushka Sharma) who ran away from Portugese occupied Goa and now sings in bars in Bombay. Kaizad Khambatta (Karan Johar) is not only a media baron, but someone who secretly is significant in controlling the underworld business dealings as Bombay city takes its shape post independence amidst a host of putrid bureaucrats, politicians and builders. Some fact, much fiction and a lot of cinematic liberty comes to the rescue of writers Vasan Bala, Thani, Gyan Prakash and Kashyap. Not to mention that the story is based on Prakash's book, Mumbai Fables. 

Bombay Velvet is a misfire. The guttural world of the film is mooched from Scarface to Once Upon A Time.. films to Bollywood retro masala to Kashyap's standard revenge story. But its not all bad or terrible, as there is much to like as well. Lets go a little in detail.

The Nay's

1. In Kashyap's 1960 Bombay, every single person smokes and every frame looks as if they burnt agarbatti right before the shot. Not just that, he takes the liberty to re-imagine Bombay as he pleases which anoints a fantastical feel to BV, much unlike what one would have wanted. 

2. The plot is heavily crammed with unnecessary turns and twists, most of which do not even surprise you, but instead they never let you soak in anything from the character's minds. 

3. The crucial elements to the story itself dont feel so crucial to you as Kashyap breezes over macabre details with a whiff, leaving you feeling unquenched or the scene being half-baked. It feels as if the screenplay was written like an action sequence plot. 

4. The film astoundingly has the worst climactic scene ever where Khambatta is having dinner and Johnny comes to kill him. What should be an adrenalin admininstering high point, is an over simplified laughter inducing culmination. 

5. Bombay Velvet badly straddles the line between a retro masala mainstream and a parallel noir film and ultimately causes its own falling as you dont connect to any of its characters. Nope, none. 

The Yay's

1. Kashyap has a brilliant eye for visual styling and along with cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, he bathes BV with a stunning visual palette. The way he stages some of his scenes, or the way he uses Background Score for decisive scenes is largely discerning, like always. Ravi's camerawork is probably one of the best in ages. 

2. Amit Trivedi's soundtrack is top-notch and though the songs did not click with the audience, they have the potential to become cult classics. The operatic value of Dhadaam Dhadaam is phenomenal and the song transcends the film itself. Again, the OST is not meant for mainstream audience. 

3. In the best scene of the film, Johnny asks Khambatta for his share of the business and Khambatta, being the upclass uptight man he is, excuses himself to take a secret laugh. Pure genius. As is the scene after Rosie breaks her leg and Johnny talks to her on the road in a car. 

4. Leading the pack of performances are Karan Johar and Satyadeep Mishra, as Johnny's right hand man and friend, Chiman. With unswerving mettle, both these men deliver knockouts. Watch Johar in the scene where he is with Johnny in the verandah of his house, talking about his own past. 

5. Production Design (Sonal Sawant, Sameer Sawant, Errol Kelly) is a trump card. BV looks so lovingly detailed and so strikingly beautiful that it is hard to dislike it completely. Knowing that they built the whole set in Sri Lanka, its a commendable feat in itself to make it look this authentic. This department largely benefits from Niharika Khan's gorgeous costume design as well. 

Even with a quaintly familiar plotline and the deficit of mystery, Bombay Velvet is fairly engaging as I never got bored. Underwhelmed, yes I was. As with Ranbir's performance. I am almost tempted to say he was miscast for this role. Anushka carries a sullen expression all through, even when she is not running a guilt. Sadly, we dont even feel much when they fall in and out of love. Siddhartha Basu and Manish Chaudhari are good, but Kay Kay Menon and Vivaan Shah are completely wasted in thin roles.  

Bombay Velvet promises a lot but delivers only little, and that itself is very superficial. It is lot of information and very little heart and I could see the audience exasperated by the end of it, specially with the despicable final reels. The film has taken a poor start and its bad omen for the large sums resting on its shoulders. The weak buzz upto its release has cast its shadow now. I am no one to say this but maybe Kashyap is better off doing his niche cinema. With the same inherent style, same Trivedi music and similar actors, with much less cinematic pizzazz and noise. As for this one, one can file it in the section of failed experiments. Even if you do choose to watch it, you wont be devastated, just upset. And that is okay I feel. Bombay Velvet is incoherent, yet not an almighty mess. 

Rating - 2.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ek Paheli Leela Movie Review : Sunny Side Up

How would you feel if you go out to a restaurant where a speciality dish is presented to you in the most eye-pleasing fashion, except that the item tastes bad? Debutant Director Bobby Khan's Ek Paheli Leela, a Sunny Leone vehicle, is unfortunately like that dish. Ace choreographer Ahmed Khan has given us cow dung like Lakeer (2004), Fool N Final (2007) and Paathshaala (2010). In 2015, he comes back to us with his brother, Bobby, who is possibly another leaf out of the same book. So just like that dish in the restaurant, Ek Paheli Leela begins with a stinky taste, bores you by the time you are half done, and while the second half tries to redeem itself as you get used to the dish, it would be too late to not judge the restaurant's service by then. 

The trailer of Ek Paheli Leela doled out a bunch of unintentional laughs, as we saw a flimsy barrage of bad acting and the movie does not disappoint us either in that respect. However, the songs became a quick success, and then there was Sunny Leone. Producers T-Series and Ahmed Khan campaigned hard with Leone as their centerpiece. Fair enough. No doubt the film looked gorgeous and money seemed to be oozing out of each frame, but then how much good can you do with a film which has a bunch of actors who never made it on their own. In Ek Paheli Leela, Mohit Ahlawat, Jas Arora, Rahul Dev, Rajneesh Duggal and T-Series new candy boy, Jay Bhanushali come together to ride the 'Sunny' boat to revive their careers or make new ones. Quick trivia, how many of the above actors can you place in your head without googling them? Believe you me, Jay is great for small screen but he just looks out of place on the big one. As for the others, there must be a reason why they failed miserably when they were launched, right? Truly, Leone is the biggest star here and she does look the part too. With limited acting chops and unlimited skin, she is in complete control of the film. She looks stunningly beautiful in each scene, and you can almost forget that she also has to say her lines after that. Howmuchsoever the industry and audience may diss her for her past, she has the charisma to hold a film together, if not the talent. 

To cut some slack to Ek Paheli Leela, the film does have a good twist in the end and it would have worked better if Jojo Khan's screenplay had used that from the build up. In its present form, it looks forced and contrived for shock value. Someone like a Farah Khan could have made this film so much better but Bobby Khan's amateur hands leave it cringe worthy. Seriously, Farah's Om Shanti Om would have been a greater film with the plot of Leela. Karan (Bhanushali), a musician, has disturbing dreams of a past life after he has moved in to a new house. He consults a baba instead of a doctor who refers him to another guruji  who knows an ancient art which can tell him about his past life. Meera (Leone) is a supermodel from Milan who cannot travel in airplanes due to claustrophobia, but has somehow managed to show up in London, amongst a bunch of over familiar people, for a dance performance? Next, she is inebriated and taken to India for a shoot where she falls for Prince Ranveer (Ahlawat) of Rajasthan and marries him, almost forgetting that she was a model before? Now apparently, Meera is the reincarnation of Leela from 300 years ago, who has an unrequited love story with Shravan (Duggal). Karan does not know the end of the story as he sees the death of Shravan and sets out to re-unite with Meera or Leela. Befuddled much? Wait, till you see Jas Arora play Ranveer's brother Vikram, in the film and you will wonder why you bought that ticket. 

If I have to sum up, it was not the screenplay that bored me but the despicable acting by one and all. I was almost ready to give up any hope for logic or semblance of sense when I walked in so when random babas used stupid tricks to go back 300 years or when Karan is able to remind Meera of her previous life just by singing a song, I was not even appalled. The frames looked good, but Bashalal Syed's cinematography does not capture the beauty well at all. Music by Meet Bros Anjaan, Amaal Malik, Dr Zeus and Tony Kakkar does not hold up to the expectations as they have to use rehashed versions of yesteryear's classics to attract your earbuds. Nitin FCP's Editing leaves a lot to desire as it comes across as very hurried. Bunty Rathore's dialogues cannot do much when spoken by terrible actors.

On the whole, Ek Paheli Leela is a bad film, yet not a terrible one. With better actors and experienced director, this one could have been a likable masala fare, but what remains is an excruciating journey till you reach the exit door. The first day collections are not as high as the producers might have fathomed, and the Box Office ahead will rest on Sunny Leone's shoulders, or wherever it works for her. But no offence to her, she atleast gives her best to the film, even if cheapsters like Ahmed and Bobby Khan make her go intimate with almost all male actors in the film. Go for Ek Paheli Leela if you are bored of everything else in your life.

Rating - 1.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy Movie Review : Delivered Fresh, Strong And Intelligent

Dibakar Banerjee is arguably my most favorite current Indian filmmaker. With a sleight of 4 feature films, Dibakar has trumped many of his peers with unswerving consistency. Its hard for me to recall an average film by him, let alone a bad film. And let me say at the very onset that yet again, Banerjee does not disappoint with Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, starring a magnetic Sushant Singh Rajput in the titular role. 

Byomkesh Bakshi is fictional Bengali detective character, created by Sharadindu Bandhopadhyay in 1940s. This is the 10th film to be made on the character, and there are 2 more of them coming out this very year. Save for this one, all other films are in Bengali, including a couple directed by the great Satyajit Ray. Moreover, Byomkesh has been a favorite character for television as well. Rightfully so, Dibakar took it upon himself to introduce him to Hindi cinema, and largely to an audience which is appallingly unaware of our own literature. It is also Dibakar's return to his own roots, albeit in his very own charismatic style. 

Now that the facts are set aside, let us talk about DBB, the film. In 1943 Calcutta, Byomkesh, on his first case, is asked to discover the secret behind the disappearance of Bhuvan Banerjee, by his son Ajit (a sublime Anand Tiwari). Bakshy meets Dr Guha (a brilliantly cast Manoj Kabi, Ship Of Theseus fame), and gets involved in a web of lies, deciet, politics, and most importantly drug mafia. To the viewer's surprise, Bakshy solves the case within the first 45 minutes of the film only to discover that he has solved it wrong and instead became a small tool of a grander plan, effectively serving the purpose of his antagonist. Chines forces ruled Calcutta's drug cartel, Britishers were trying to break through to them, World War II goes on around the world, and forces of other countries beckon at the doorstep of Calcutta to overtake it; there is just too much happening in Dibakar's screenplay as Byomkesh must save the day, and his city as well from the impending doom. Sounds good enough? Well, this is not even half of the meat as Dibakar laces it with multiple tracks and a suspense which unfolds in dozens of layers, each with a little gulp in your throat. All this not just to shock or amaze you, but carefully tint your experience with detailing of art and craft. 

One must give it to Dibakar and his co-writer Urmi Javekar for not having a single low moment in a runtime of 150 minutes. Sometimes, he lets you guess the twist, other times he stuns you and most times, he puts the truth out there and obfuscates you with the multi-fold follow up. The big reveal comes right before the intermission, and the second half is all about discovering the bigger villain and the tenacious nature of the screenplay is exposed right then. Underlit frames by Nikos Andritsakis and menacing Sound Design by Allwyn Rego and Sanjay Maurya only add to the murkiness of the proceedings. While the cinematography is much in the Shanghai zone, the sound design has been a significant feature in all Dibakar's films. Sneha Khanwalkar's music is kickass and and an audacious soundtrack for a period film while Editing (Namrata Rao, Manas Mittal) is taut. 

However, DBB comes with a strong caution towards Byomkesh purists. DBB is a contemporary re-imagination of the character and the treatment of the film may not ring true with a lot of people who have grown up with Byomkesh literature on screen and television. And this where other arrows in Dibakar's quiver play a part. Vandana Kataria's Production Design is embellished with authentic mastery. To recreate both the interiors and exteriors of 1943 Calcutta, while shooting in present day Calcutta as well as on sets, is a feat in itself. Dibakar and Urmi have kept the language and dialogue true to today's times as well, even though the characters poignantly look real. However, it is Honey Trehan's casting that scores the ace in technical departments. Sushant Singh Rajput is a brave choice to play a legendary character and he is bloody spellbinding. He imbibes everything Byomkesh was about in himself, and instead of getting into the shoes completely, brings some of himself to Byomkesh too. He is convincingly smart and daring, fleetingly nervous and endearingly vulnerable as well. One must admit that all his hard work has paid off as he re-enacts Byomkesh in his own style and tells us why he is meant for big things. Neeraj Kabi gets a buffet of great scenes and is truly striking in each one of them, as is Anand Tiwari. Bengali starlet Swastika Mukherjee fails to make an impact as Angoori Devi while Divya Menon as Satyawati is a good discovery. Supporting cast such as Meiyang Chang (Byomkesh's aide Kanai Dao), Mark Bennington (British Commissioner Wilkie), Tirtha Mallick (Atanu Sen), Shivam (Sukumar) and Kaushik Ghosh (politician Gajanan Sikdar) do add to the ensemble as well. 

I must assert DBB is not a regular masala fare that people are going to theaters expecting it to be. It is not a Guy Ritchie or Sherlock Holmes film. It is fairly dark, with a lot of subplots and links to history imparting a rare sublime burgeoning tension upon you. And this itself might make it work less with the masses. But then, weren't we the ones who wanted the change in Indian cinema? Here, we have it. Now we must embrace it with open arms. And its bloody well executed in that zone. If I have to nitpick, Dibakar did not really need an explanatory and expository climax but then that would leave more than half the audience befuddled without it. I could also complain about certain character motives but then how often do we see such intelligent films in Indian cinema. 

On the whole, it remains to be determined if Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is the most faithful adaptation of the literary works but Dibakar Banerjee has definitely given us something to root for. As a friend says, it may not be his best film, but is definitely is his best directed film. And that itself must compel you to buy a ticket this weekend. Think no more, just go!

Rating - 4/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dum Laga Ke Haisha Movie Review : Lasting Loveliness And More

What can one expect from a script that has come out of NFDC's Film Bazaar? Well, for the uninitiated, National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) runs an annual Film Bazaar for films that have been developed in labs to reach out to potential studios and independent producers. Well, YRF and first time producer, Maneesh Sharma, deserve a hat tip just for picking up a script from the Film Bazaar. Director Sharat Katariya's debut venture, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, is that genteel deft 'small-town' film that Yash Raj had been aiming for in many of their last ventures, and failing miserably due to none of them ringing true. The first trailer spoke of much hope, post a disastrous 2014 for the studio. The songs worked unanimously, with the veteran Anu Malik being brought back on board. Yet, there was not enough buzz for the film, quite preternaturally. And even YRF was not sure if they should plunge in the market with large number of screens. But ahoy, DLKH is probably the best film to come out of YRF in years, and I mean years. No kidding, this one's a stunner and there should be no skepticism in whether to watch it or to widen its release. 

DLKH is the story of Prem Prakash Tiwari (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Sandhya Varma (Bhumi Pednekar) who have been forced into an arranged marriage by their selfish families. While Sandhya likes Prem, he cannot see her eye to eye. Why? Because she is fat, not very appealing to look at and not what he wanted. Prem's wife is not his only problem. He is a loser who has never been able to grow outside the shadow of his father, or make a mark of his own in any way throughout his life. Despite Sandhya's best attempts, Prem remains distant and largely imbecilic, and thus, Sandhya must leave him until he recognizes her love. Well, that sounds agonizingly dull. But then Katariya's screenplay is a nuanced masterpiece, dissolved in the grain of Haridwar 1995, honed with saucy dialogue and lyrics, fleshed with astute innovative situations and most importantly, seamlessly and stunningly true to its heart. Not just that, his direction graduates the film to a remarkable standpoint. Nothing here is woefully out of place or surreal. Beguiling the undercurrents of joint family issues, women power in small town arranged marriages, the necessity of sexual love in a marriage, and a few others, he heaps on impish situations which will make you chuckle, laugh out loud, cheer, as well as tear up. All this, he carefully laces with a sheer love for 90s Hindi film music, Kumar Sanu and an era of taped music cassettes. Soaked deep in nostalgia, Sharat ensures that DLKH is insulated from plastic. While he gives meat to all the characters, the way he has characterized Sandhya is spellbinding. He makes her stand up for her own, as well as persevere for her love simultaneously, instead of becoming a bot of women power who goes all Kill Bill on her man. Kudos!

DLKH benefits highly from a cadre of supremely skilled technical team. Buttressing on Yash Raj Films, Maneesh Sharma has backed the project with much fervor. Elbowing out the clutter, it is Anu Malik's alluring OST that rules the roost. Many years later, Malik churns out convivial and very likable numbers. While Moh Moh Ke Dhaage is my pick of the lot, there is no song which you would not listen more than once to. DLKH as a film owes a lot to Varun Grover, the lyricist, whose infallible words are unrelentingly peachy. The cinematography is fresh and striking, while the Production Design is crucially detailed and effective. Namrata Rao's Editing is just the icing on the cake. If one has to really nitpick, Katariya's script does rely on caricatured characters to give them a fresh spin. DLKH dips for a bit in parts, but the overall loveliness dukes out any small shortcomings. 

Ayushmann Khurrana is not a one film wonder, finally. Or your regular Delhi kid only. As Prem, he remains quiet for a large part of the film but his wistfulness reaches you at periodic intervals, all due to his earnest performance. An unlikely hero, Prem is the regular guy most of us dont want to remain like, and neither does he. However, it is the newcomer Bhumi Pednekar who outshines him. As Sandhya, she is the woman who has made her own life, and yet looks out for her love. Bhumi is vulnerable, cheeky, strong and effervescent, all as and when required to be, and in right amounts. Pretty eclectic, if not just lovable. The ensemble of the supporting cast is a savory bunch. The brilliant Sanjay Mishra, Seema Pahwa, Sheeba Chaddha, Alka Amin get the tone just right. Watch them orchestrate naturally in the court scene where a divorce petition is filed for the leading couple and its pure magic. Even smaller parts like Prem's friend Nirmal or his mentor Shakha Babu are given to delectable actors. 

On the whole, Dum Laga Ke Haisha is the first wholesome great film of this year, where there is very little to complain about. Now it is our responsibility to give it the due it deserves so that YRF does not serve us festering curd such as Bewakoofiyaan, Daawat-E-Ishq or Kill Dil again this year. The word in the market is blustery positive and the film has all the tropes to win your heart, if not provide you unadulterated entertainment for 111 minutes. Dont think twice, please go watch!

Rating - 3.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Monday, February 16, 2015

Roy Movie Review : Ambitious, Faulty and Not For Everyone

A lot is being said and written about this weekend's big release, Roy. If only it did not feature the leader of Bollywood's 'actor who can act' brigade, Ranbir Kapoor, we could have easily written it off as another tank by Arjun Rampal or Jacqueline Fernandez. But then to inject star value into it, T-Series decided to cast Kapoor, and that too in 'a dynamic role' meekly imitating the 'modest' credit given to him as the film begins. The trailer looked a sure misfire, but the songs worked wonders, much like any other T-Series film. But is that enough? Well, as we see around now, almost every one out there is appealing to debutante writer-director Vikramjit Singh to stand with a boombox and apologize. Sigh, so much thwart for a mere film. Not so advisable to proclaim but in all honesty, I must admit that I fairly liked Roy. Not because it is brilliant or great, only because it is ambitious, and even when it fails, it doesnt make an almighty mess. 

At the very onset, allow me to decree upon you all a biased standpoint here. Roy is a meta film. What that means is that the film is about films, filmmakers and the process of filmmaking. So it abounds in insider references and individual connects based upon your own experiences as a part of the industry. The film does get a bit harder for people who are not connected to this industry to feel intimately about, whether you are a critic or just an audience member. Believe you me, you have to be involved in the process of filmmaking to pay some heed to what Vikramjit Singh tried to do. Having said that, it must be re-asserted that he did not do it too well either. Yet, India has not seen an attempt in this direction and I would give a hat tip just for that. For all you naysayers, YES Roy is pretentious, dull at times, lacks the depth it is aiming at, weaves a world of filmmakers which rings more fake than true, soaked in average performances, and what not, but hey, it does not bathe the audience in a stinky mud of cliches. And in a weird way, all the superficiality did work for me since we are talking about films, essentially a world of make believe. 

Director Vikramjit Singh had a much novel aim in his head as he went into Roy. His masterstroke moment arrives right in the ending reels where the two lead heros of the film talk on a staircase how the conversation ends. Another gem of a moment comes with a gem of an advice for any filmmaker/writer, right after the intermission. A writer is the best person to know his character and the course of the story is known to no other than its creator, and if he is stuck, he must explore himself from within to find the way forward. Kabir Grewal (Arjun Rampal) is a successful writer/filmmaker who behaves more like a star, uses a vintage typewriter, but does not have a script ready going into a shooting schedule. Much like how Bollywood functions, but largely more callous than what we would have wanted to see. In Malaysia, he meets Ayesha Aamir (Jacqueline Fernandez), a London based independent filmmaker who doesnt really look like she is doing anything close to filmmaking ever in the film. Save for Rampal's mooning performance, Grewal atleast doesn't merely talk about films. Roy (Ranbir Kapoor, who looks quite bored here) is a thief, who steals exquisite artefacts and paintings for a living and Grewal is out to make a film on him. However, we never see him performing his avowedly unthinkable heists. That is so because the writer-director's focus is on something else. Amidst the customary world of director's aide Meera (Shernaz Patel, a straight out of the book portrayal), banally cliched dad (Anupam Kher, who has the trademark for playing this character by now) and everything else films, Singh looks determined to keep his focus on the blurring line between the real and reel in Grewal's head, more so as he falls for Ayesha. And so does Roy, with Tia (a barbie-dolled version of Jacqueline Fernandez), if I may say so without giving out any spoilers. Oh and there is also a despicable Wadia (Rajith Kapur, completely out of place) who is trying to track down Roy since years. 

In it's initial reels, I heard the audience in my theatre reeling under confusion when scenes between the heroes and both Jacquelines are placed next to each other. At some point, the film does clear up the lumbering doubt but only to dole out a few more. But I did not feel any of those. I think it is because somewhere I had overheard a rumor about the big reveal of the film, and Roy did not appear a malarkey because of that. Vikram attempts to recreate a highly meta-philosophical world of inside and outside of a filmmaker and doesn't quite come out with flying colors but I cant get myself to be surly at him at all. It is ambitious, and may I call it brave as well. But unfortunately, it is also patchy. I can't get myself to spoil it for you but Roy works best if you know the suspense. 

The story and direction aside, Roy boasts of sweeping visuals across the globe, Mumbai, Malaysia, London. Himman Dhamija's camerawork can boast of a touristy but exhilarating feel to it. Likable, much, specially the Malaysia bits. Editing by Dipika Kalra leaves a lot to desire as the film did test the patience of general audience. And so do the cringe worthy dialogues by Hussain Dalal. Seriously, if one could rewrite the dialogue draft of the script, it would feel so much better on screen. However, for whatever it lacks, Roy makes up in its soundtrack. A stupendous ensemble of Ankit Tiwari, Amaal Malik and Meet Bros Anjaan spur up very hummable numbers. Overall, Roy has production value which could be unfathomable for T-Series if it wasn't riding on Ranbir Kapoor. 

I liked Roy for a variety of reasons, some of which I have tried to explain above. Whenever I didn't like it, I didnt hate it as much as everyone else seems to have. And I am not overrating it. I am calling it out on its long list of brazen fallacies, but then Vikramjit Singh is a man with some promise. Roy attempts a rare story, told with much more gutso than it pays off in the end. And next time around, it could have gotten it right. Right before the intermission, Grewal is sitting upset in his hotel as he feels like tearing the world apart. Right then, Roy fires gunshots in the air on a boat amidst a sea. That for me, defined the signature moment of the film. It could have been better and more consistent, but I am not ashamed to admit that I was largely impressed by it. Give it a shot if you can suspend your judgmental self, or love filmmaking immensely. You can also message me to give you the spoiler if you dont know yet and I believe Roy will definitely work for you then. I wont be surprised if no one else likes the film as well. 

Rating - 3/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bollywood 2014 : The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

At the end of each year, every single tom, dick and harry does an end of the year list for Bollywood, Hollywood, and every other industry. We all get tired and benumbed reading but the lists dont seem to end. So here we go, I will do another one. Although, I am putting up my year end summary quite late into this month and hoping that everyone's mind would be refreshed by now, only to be spammed again. At the onset, let me outline the criteria for this one. I have only included mainstream Hindi films that found a release this year, and not the ones that you saw at some festival or a private screening. So read on and enjoy!

WORST FILMS OF 2014

We make a barrage of very bad films, like terrible films. If you do not believe me, please go to Wikipedia's list of all Hindi films in 2014, the list I used to work this out, and you will see that you will not even have heard of more than 60% films. No kidding. Thus, it is the hardest task to choose the worst films for a year. But here, I have chosen five films that completely disappointed the audience in me, and were also quite in the limelight when they came out. So I am not going to dwell on the scores of them who no one heard of, but rather on the ones that were talked about and were despicable.

5. The Xpose (Dir : Ananth Narayan Mahadevan)
4. Bang Bang (Dir : Siddharth Raj Anand)
3. Mary Kom (Dir : Omung Kumar)
2. Entertainment (Dir : Sajid-Farhad)
1. Ragini MMS 2 (Dir : Bhushan Patel) 

Yes, I found Humshakals and Action Jackson more bearable than these. 

Other dishonorable mentions - Jai Ho, Heartless, Creature 3D, Kaanchi, Samrat and Co, Ungli, Raja Natwarlal and a million more. 

BEST LEAD PERFORMANCES

ACTRESS

3. Parineeti Chopra (Hasee Toh Phasee)
2. Alia Bhatt (Highway) and Tabu (Haider)
1. Kangana Ranaut (Queen)

ACTOR

3. Sanjay Mishra (Ankhon Dekhi)
2. Aamir Khan (PK)
1. Shahid Kapoor (Haider)

Special mentions - Tahir Raj Bhasin (Mardaani), Riteish Deshmukh (Ek Villain), Kay Kay Menon (Haider), Lisa Haydon (Queen), Rani Mukerji (Mardaani), Rajkumar Rao (Citylights)

BEST STORY

A good story or concept may not translate into the best film on screen, as film is a collective enterprise, where a lot of talents and lack of talents have to come together and the final output may not be the one imagined initially. Here are five films that had the best freshest story, irrespective of how they turned out to be.

5. Ugly (Anurag Kashyap)
4. Miss Lovely (Ashim Ahluwalia)
3. PK (Abhijat Joshi, Rajkumar Hirani)
2. Ankhon Dekhi (Rajat Kapoor)
1. Filmistaan (Nitin Kakkar)

BEST SCREENPLAY

We often confuse a good screenplay with a good story, and also with a good film or vice versa. However, the truth is that the same story can be told in a screenplay in 10 different ways at least. Thus, although a film like Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and the classic Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge had the same story, they had very different screenplays. Sometimes, very good screenplays come out of very average storylines as you will see a few surprises here as I have tried to judge which writers made the best use of their story in scripts. 

5. Highway (Imtiaz Ali)
4. Ankhon Dekhi (Rajat Kapoor)
3. Ugly (Anurag Kashyap)
2. Haider (Vishal Bharadwaj, Basharat Peer)
1. Queen (Vikas Bahl, Chaitally Parmar, Perveez Sheikh, Anvita Dutt, Kangana Ranaut) 

TOP 12 FILMS OF 2014

A good story and a good screenplay, or atleast either of those, most probably translates into a good film, unless the director is a dimwit who messes it all up. However, and more commonly in the Hindi Film Industry, directors make decent films out of bad screenplays. And that is where the surprise comes in this list. Every selection has been made keeping in mind the film's overall entertainment value to general audience as well the craft employed to tell it on screen, in the end giving us the best wholesome film experience possible. 

12. Ek Villain 
      Producer - Balaji Motion Pictures
      Director - Mohit Suri
      Starring - Siddharth Malhotra, Riteish Deshmukh, Shraddha Kapoor
        
11. Sulemani Keeda
       Producer - Tulsea Pictures, Mantra/Runaway Entertainment
       Director - Amit V Masurkar
       Starring - Naveen Kasturia, Mayank Tewari

10. Mardaani
        Producer - Yash Raj Films
       Director - Pradeep Sarkar
       Starring - Rani Mukerji

9. Dedh Ishqiya
      Producer - Shemaroo Entertainment, Vishal Bharadwaj Pictures
      Director - Abhishek Chaubey
      Starring - Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi, Madhuri Dixit, Huma Qureshi
      
8. Filmistaan
      Producer - Shringar Films, UTV Spotboy Films
      Director - Nitin Kakkar
      Starring - Sharib Hashmi, Inaamul Haq

7. Miss Lovely
      Producer - Sanjay Shah
      Director - Ashim Ahluwalia
      Starring - Nawaazuddin Siddiqui, Anil George

6. PK
      Producer - UTV Motion Pictures, Vinod Chopra Films
      Director - Rajkumar Hirani
      Starring - Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma

5. Ankhon Dekhi
      Producer - Manish Mundra
      Director - Rajat Kapoor
      Starring - Sanjay Mishra, Seema Pahwa, Rajat Kapoor

4. Ugly
      Producer - DAR Motion Pictures, Phantom Films
      Director - Anurag Kashyap
      Starring - Rahul Bhat, Ronit Roy, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Girish Kulkarni

3. Queen
      Producer - Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, Phantom Films
      Director - Vikas Bahl
      Starring - Kangana Ranaut, Lisa Haydon, Rajkumar Rao

2. Highway
      Producer - UTV Motion Pictures, Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment
      Director - Imtiaz Ali
      Starring - Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda

1. Haider
      Producer - UTV Motion Pictures, Vishal Bharadwaj Pictures
      Director - Vishal Bharadwaj
      Starring - Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Shraddha Kapoor, Kay Kay Menon, Irrfan Khan

Special Mention - Khoobsurat, Hasee Toh Phasee

Strongly recommended documentaries - Katiyabaaz, The World Before Her 

Overall, 2014 was not the greatest year for Bollywood and we can only hope that the selection becomes even more difficult in the upcoming year. Sadly, most of the movies expected to be good have turned out very average in the past year, and filmmakers need to pull up their socks to give out better films. Fingers crossed. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tevar Movie Review : Attitude Not Found

So after watching Tevar, which released today, I came back home and my parents asked me the movie I had gone for, and so I told them. Post my announcement, here is the conversation my parents had. 

Dad : Kaun hai is picture mein?

Mom : Arjun Kapoor. Boney Kapoor ka ladka hai na.

Dad : Toh bekaar hi hogi kyu gaye dekhne fir?

Me : I watch every film

Mom : Uski Ishaqzaade achi thi. Lekin pata hai Comedy Nights mein aaye the woh aur Sonakshi, bilkul hi mare hue. Koi Amitabh ya Shahrukh aate hai toh dekho kya maza lagate hai, yeh toh bakwaas hai. 

Dad : Arre yeh Arjun Kapoor wagarah sirf 2 4 saal chalenge apne baap ke paise pe, phir koi tv show karte dikhenge.

Post that, I found myself singing a song. Not because I was avoiding their delectable conversation, but because I had already seen and heard too much Tevar for the day. And I am neither Superman, nor Salman ka fan. Fun song that, fun film? Meh. 

Amit Ravindernath Sharma, first time director, is also a successful ad filmmaker. Sanjay Kapoor, first time producer, is also a failed actor. Boney Kapoor, the unlikely husband of the beautiful Sridevi, is also Arjun Kapoor's dad, and much in love with him. Looks like Tevar was destined to happen, after all the son did not get a customary machismo fueled launch from the family. However, he has done fairly well for himself, Arjun, even after having those thunder thighs he does. Yes, go notice them. Well, I expected nothing great out of Tevar, but then there was Manoj Vajpayee, a stalwart who can add copious amounts of spice to any frame. Also, the film looked very true to its roots, that of the hinterlands of Agra and Mathura, so I could expect some crackling dialogue.

The truth is that writer-director Sharma has quite a bit of that, but the shining bits are sparse and the remaining material is laced with excruciating crap. First and foremost, Tevar is unabashedly long, at a runtime of 160 minutes with song frequency that would give a Sooraj Barjatya a run for his money. Secondly, while Sharma uses the backdrop of the setting with much vim, yet he fails to churn up one moment of surprise in the spluttering narrative. Thirdly, even formula can be done well with fleshed out fresh characters, but in Tevar everything is out of the standard stock. No doubt, Sharma has an active taste bud for showing brutality which works, as well as an assured intention to capture the right lingo and milieu. But as an unassuming audience, you do atleast expect a few things from a formula film.

1. The story should not start after 1 plodding hour into the film
2. The hero can be superman, but should carry some distinctive characteristics. Also, he does something on his own and not just reacts to situations. 
3. The heroine has atleast something to do, apart from just doing the dances or getting saved. (Believe you me, Sonakshi's Radhika does not shed a drop of blood even as people around her die or get injured for her)
4. The action, comedy and romance are innovative and well-balanced. 
5. The villain brings the juice to the proceedings. 

Sadly, apart from No. 5, Sharma is unable to manage anything else. Whats good here is some of his one-liners, organic comedy between Pintu (Arjun) and his friends and above all, the way he has staged some scenes with a rare freshness. Such as the scene when Gajinder Singh (Manoj Vajpayee) kills a reporter, or the scene before intermission when Pintu throws Radhika off the roof or the scene when Gajinder walks into the rally. Apart from a wee bit of smartness, an appalling majority of the film is largely hokey. For a film boasting of attitude, they have misunderstood it for misplaced badassery. Technically, Tevar scuttles through most details and no departments stand out as such, save for Cinematography. Laxman Utekar's camera does make everything look palpable, without being acerbic. Aparna Sud can take a bow for efficient Production Design as well. 

Tevar rests on Arjun Kapoor's shoulders but as expected, his shtick only comprises of limited expressions. Frankly, Pintu is an excessive stretch for him, as it is supposed to be a mix of Rambo, Terminator and Salman Khan, as claimed by the film itself. Kapoor may be twee enough for a lover boy, but not for this one so much. Sonakshi Sinha is a champion in sleepwalking through roles in films, and she does not surprise us once again. Thankfully, this one isnt as regressive a character however it is shockingly inconsistent. Subrat Datta and Rajesh Sharma are wasted. Amongst the steadying quality decline all around, Manoj Vajpayee stands like a mammoth, delivering the wisecrack villain with a seemingly innovative spin. His Gajinder Singh is what keeps you going through most of the torture. 

On the whole, Tevar is a dull disappointing fare which bathes the audience in a stinky mud of cliches. For all its worth, it offers a few inspired moments but they fail to leave a fulfilling impact. It has supposedly taken a good start at the Box Office and the makers have left no stone unturned to get the film out there. If not for anything else, it is the length of the film which will lead to ennui, and hence to bad word of mouth. Obviously, a million crazy girlfans of Arjun Kapoor will be following their orgasmic needs. But then Tevar calls for a few more serious questions. Firstly, how many times more will we see the same story in films again? Yes, I can enlist 10 films which have the same story. Secondly, what is Bollywood's obsession with showing Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and surrounding areas as lawless massacre grounds and cradles for open crime? But more on that later. For now, you can completely miss Tevar unless you get a free ticket.

Rating - 1.5/5

Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here