Mar 19, 2016

Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921) Movie Review: All Very Real and Heartfelt, Sans the Needless Drama

What if I tell you that Bollywood has been mostly lying to you all these years? Don’t kill me. But, then I guess we all know about it – at least subconsciously, at the back of our heads. The Hindi film world’s portrayal of quintessential ‘Indian family’ and its ‘values’ has been so typical and utopian that it makes you cringe in your seat a little. I mean there is nothing wrong in portraying a ‘happy family’ with set spaces for parents, grannies, children and a puppy may be, but Bollywood should take the blame for serving us more of the same, so much of so that you may start believing that nothing, absolutely nothing can ever go wrong with your parivaar! Really?
Kapoor and SonsAnd someone like Karan Johar has led the pack of storytellers who have insisted that it’s all about loving your family. Johar has mostly caricaturized upper middle-class/urban family settings with his slow-mos, the morning sanskaari prayer session, the hearty laughs on the dining table as the family servant serves mom-made Rajma Chawal, the tears followed by an inevitable happy ending, the group hugging, touching of the feet and stuff. But, all of this is a little corny, ain’t it?
The love, the care, and the bonding apart, families, like any other social institution, do have their fair share of issues, tests and tribulations. So, it is quite refreshing and brave of Karan Johar to produce a film that is almost an antithesis of what his ‘version’ of the family stands for. Shakun Batra, the supremely talented director who was behind Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu – a wonderful rom-com that somehow got lost in the chronicles of Bollywood, turns the table on mainstream Bollywood and dishes out a family drama in that is less of drama and more about family (in real terms).
The Plot:
The Kapoor family’s 90- year old patriarch (Rishi Kapoor) suffers a heart attack that brings his grandsons, Rahul (Fawad Khan) and Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) back to their family mansion in Coonoor. The reunion is great in spirit but a little uncomfortable in reality; Rahul and Arjun’s parents (Rajat Kapoor and Ratna Pathak Shah) are a squabbling couple dealing with long marriage and a looming financial crisis, Arjun has his own issues with being the ‘runner-up’, the forever ‘also-ran’ to his successful and seemingly perfect elder brother. Things complicate further when both the brothers seem to develop feelings for the same girl Tia (Alia Bhatt), who has her own backstory to cope with. As the entire Kapoor family spends some weeks together around a recuperating patriarch, skeletons start to tumble out of the closet. Everyone in the family has their secrets to hide, tragedies to deal with and compromises to make if they want to imagine and live a ‘happy family life’. How the Kapoors tolerate each other and deal with their challenges is the crux of Kapoor and Sons.
The film’s narrative is steady and well-paced throughout but really comes into its own in the second half. The gentle twists and turns in the story (Shakun Batra and Ayesha Devitre Dhillon) keep you hooked and in fact make the film very gripping. There is no unnecessary melodrama in the film with reality and subtlety being the hallmarks of Shakun Batra’s direction. The young director does complete justice to all his characters and lets their stories grow organically. Quite prudently, he steers clear of making heroes and villains in the narrative and states everything quite matter-of-factly. If there’s a slip in the film (at all), it is perhaps towards the climax when there seems to be a compulsion to make it a happy ending, quite ironically something that film take stands against throughout. But, that again is quite subjective, depending on what slice of life you want to binge on.
The Cast:
Kapoor and Sons has perhaps the best ensemble cast to have adorned a Hindi film in recent times. Out of this pack of talented actors, one man who shines like a diamond is the girl eye-candy Fawad Khan. The Pakistani actor steals the show with his brilliant understated portrayal of Rahul Kapoor – a man who is near perfect from the exterior but is simmering with vulnerability within. Fawad’s calmness is well complemented by the quirkiness of Rishi Kapoor who looks almost unrecognizable as a 90-year old. Apart from bringing some comic relief in the film, Rishi Kapoor also succeeds in bringing alive the agony of an old man who helplessly watches his family getting disintegrated in front of his eyes. Ratna Pathak Shah and Rajat Kapoor are effortless as a warring couple with Shah stealing the show in emotional scenes. Her variable equation with her two sons and delicate bond with the husband are perhaps the best written portions of the film.
Siddarth Malhotra, arguably the weakest link in the ensemble, surprises you with a rather polished performance. As the underdog member of the Kapoor family, he manages to get your sympathies, making you completely stand by his insecurities. The actor also manages to hold his own in emotional scenes with better actors and never really looks miscast or overwhelmed. Alia Bhatt, whose character is actually not central to the Kapoor family plot, brings her familiar effervescence to the narrative. Despite being at the risk of becoming a non-important character in the film, Alia is flawless in the emotional scenes and breezy in light-hearted exchanges.
The Technicalities:
Talking of the films’ technicalities, Jeffery Bierman’s camera has a distinct homely feel to it. As if someone was recording everything on a handy cam. A special mention should be made of a sequence where the Kapoor are quarreling while a plumber tries to fix a leaking pipeline. The hilarity of this scene lies not just in the writing and acting, but also in how the camera captures the proceedings in an indulgent way – almost like an invisible audience. The film’s music is quite apt with the songs seamlessly fitted in the narrative. Even the popular ‘Chul’ song is not thrown in the typical “chalo ab hero-heroine ko nachate hain” way. It’s all very real in the film – you get it, right? The background score suits the film’s ambiance and helps keep the melodrama quotient low. Ditto for editing which is very crisp and devoid of any flab.
The Verdict:
So, I will cut the long story short and simply urge you to go and watch Kapoor and Sons. With your entire parivaar. It’s a wonderful, heartfelt film that redefines the family drama genre in Hindi cinema and gives it a much-needed lifelike fillip by making you cry, smile and think. All so effortlessly and without really breaking a sweat.

Mar 5, 2016

Jai Gangaajal Movie Review: A Case of Prakash Jha Spoiling Priyanka Chopra’s Party

Few things are more tragic than a creator becoming the destroyer-in-chief of his own cherished creation. Prakash Jha does exactly that with Jai Gangaajal – the not-so-required and oh-so-underwhelming sequel to his 2003 cop drama Gangaajal, a film that was both gripping and realistic despite its underlying theme of vigilante justice.

Being the ‘template man’ of Bollywood that he is (along with a certain Madhur Bhandarkar), Prakash Jha goes through the same police-corrupt politicians-pareshan junta rountine in Jai Gangaajal. The only difference here is a female protagonist is kicking some ass (back to Mrityudand days?). While Priyanka Chopra as SP Abha Mathur does her job effortlessly, managing both emotional and action scenes with absolute panache, it is the film’s support cast that bogs her down considerably. There is not a single character who does not come across as a caricature, they all try too hard to play to the galleries. Remember how the troika of Mukesh Tiwari as Bachcha Yadav, Mohan Joshi as Sadhu Yadav and Yashpal Sharma as Sunder Yadav bowled us over in Gangaajal? These characters were not just named realistically (that bit continues even in the sequel) but were also given a huge fillip by some powerhouse acting by the respective actors. Nothing of that sort happens in Jai Gangaajal. The support cast, including the main antagonist Manav Kaul, is extremely thanda. Even Prakash Jha’s own acting debut as a corrupt cop (who eventually has a change of heart) fails to salvage any pride.

To be fair to Prakash Jha, he does a decent job as an actor, what if he maintains the same stoic & constipated expression on his face throughout the film. But, he is clearly sincere, enthusiastic and in some scenes, he actually does impress you. But, the problem begins to creep in when you realize that Jha cannot resist the temptation of being in front of the camera and eats up a lot of screen time unnecessarily. So, he is everywhere (quite literally) even before our supposed protagonist Abha Mathur can enter the scene. He is fighting the goons or getting beaten by them, planning, plotting, thinking, staring at you, trying to cry. He is everywhere. There are times when you wish to tell him to go back to the behind of the camera. The place where he has done some good job to begin with in his career. Sigh.

Jai Gangaajal tries hard to be ‘real’ but does not go much beyond its fake-looking sets and extremely predictable premise. What works though is perhaps the film’s dialogues and Jha’s continued hold over Hindi heartland/Bihari diction and accent. So, Jha has his signature address for Priyanka Chopra, ‘Madam Sir’, he also offers ‘Elaichi’ (cardamom) to everyone and says Aap galti se misguide ho gaye hain. All these little snippets show that Jha still has a clasp over the life and times of Hindi heartland but he is simply not willing to move over the clichés.

Jha’s share of blames does not end here. He is also credited for the film’s story and screenplay which has glaring loopholes and some deeply disturbing elements. In the name of ‘justice’, Jai Gangaajal goes overboard in somewhat patronizing mob lynching and vigilante justice. There’s no serious counter-narrative offered to the dreadful acts of the mob, including that of a young boy, and the film tends to ‘forget’ all of that in the interest of a suitable, whistle-worthy climax. Although, Gangajal itself had a subplot based on the real-life Bhagalpur blinding incidents but there the film’s protagonist (Ajay Devgn) strongly and convincingly stands his ground and denounces those behind it. Nothing of that sort happens in Jai Gangaajal and Priyanka Chopra looks hapless and tired trying to drive home some saner, sober points.

At the end of its marathon 2 hours 39 minutes runtime, you feel that Jai Gangaajal could have easily been a fun ‘lady-cop-going-after-the-bad-guys’ kind of film with Priyanka Chopra pulling off her act quite convincingly. But, it is undone by a cliché-ridden script, patchy screenplay (the kind which is so stretched and disjointed that you have to literally recall ‘who this character was’) and some problematic social messaging.

This is a clear case of PJ (Prakash Jha) spoiling PC’s party. You wish the director goes back to the drawing board, throws that ‘template’ out of the window, curbs his zeal to be an actor and looks at his own impressive repository – Damul, Mrityudand, Gangaajal, Apaharan, Rajneeti and the much-forgotten but my favorite Dil Kya Kare. Turn back the clock and get your mojo back, Jha sahib!

Rating: *1/2 (Poor)

Feb 28, 2016

Aligarh Movie Review: Manoj Bajpayee’s Poignant Performance Leaves You Thinking for Long

The world out there is a mad sprint. Everyone is running. Running to prove a point, to get the numbers, to make money, to impress, to get to the goals. And in the process, quite a few fail to keep up the pace. Ironically, those who lose out in this sprint are advised to make peace with it – and that’s another mad sprint in itself.

Aligarh PosterTherefore, it is quite brave of Hansal Mehta, the national award-winning director of Shahid, to virtually squeeze pace out of his latest biographical drama, Aligarh. The film stays true to its small town namesake and unravels unhurriedly, almost as if it does not care about the madness and the sprint. And it is not just sleepiness of the place ‘Aligarh’ but also the chronicles of Aligarh University Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras that transports the film into a world that seems rather unreal in today’s times.
Professor Siras is fond of his whisky and the rickety music player. He still relies on good old cassettes – Lata Mangeshkar being her overwhelming favorite. Living alone in a university accommodation that is dimly lit and modestly built, Professor Siras is devoid of any modern day trappings. Unassuming, nonchalant and most importantly non-intrusive in the affairs of his neighbors and colleagues. And, the professor is also a homosexual. But, he does not like the word ‘gay’. He does not like being categorized in a 3-letter word, he doesn’t want any identity, he doesn’t want to assert; he simply wants to be left alone. In his own words, he is the man who likes the pauses and the silences. Both in poetry and in life.

AligarhManoj Bajpayee comes up with a poignant portrayal of the Aligarh professor. The shabby suit he wears, the gentle demeanor, the chaste Marathi accent, the greying hair – they are all very real and melancholic. In one of the most moving scenes in the film, Bajpayee quietly sheds a tear or two while sipping his drink and listening to an old Lata Mangeshkar favorite. The pathos in his eyes sets the tone for the film’s brilliant portrayal of solitude. It is one of the finest performances by an actor who, I always believed, is terribly underrated. Somehow, in the times of the Irrfans and Nawazuddins, the cine world has not done justice to the talent of Manoj Bajpayee. Hmph.
Bajpayee is ably supported by Rajkummar Rao who plays Deepu Sebastian, a Delhi-based newbie reporter who shares a special bond with the professor. Deepu has his own little issues to deal with in the PG accommodation he lives in. This is the film’s only humorous track where the land ladies give Deepu some tough time for not switching on the ‘motor’. Rajkummar makes the character of Deepu very believable and comes up with a very natural performance.
Apart from the performances, Aligarh is also hugely aided by some nuanced writing. Manoj Bajpayee speaks little, but whenever he does, his words leave behind a deep impact. More than the spoken words, the film is also about the silences and the camera by Satya Rai Nagpaul captures this essence beautifully. The milieu of Aligarh is brought alive, the city becoming a character in the film itself.
I will not say much on how ‘sensitively’ the film portrays the plight of homosexuals in India because the film’s characters and treatment are beyond the labels and stereotyping that Bollywood is so prone to do. Professor Siras happens to be gay and it’s no big deal in the film. The big deal, however, is a person’s right to privacy and right to lead a peaceful, uninterrupted life. It is this layered treatment of the film which makes it a winner. It never asks for your ‘sympathy’ for the homosexual community. It just leaves you thinking and aghast about how the society ostracized a well-meaning, gentle and learned professor.
The fine performances and nuanced writing apart, Aligarh does get a tad too slow at places. The intermission comes abruptly and there are times when the sluggish pace of the film gets overwhelming. But, it is only understandable that a film that is practically about loneliness will have long moments of stillness and discomfort. Moreover, the court proceedings in the film do not come across as very impactful. Clearly, we do not expect a ‘Tareekh Pe Tareekh’ encore here, but the arguments put forward by the lawyers in the court could have perhaps been tighter. There could have been some sense of urgency in how a few people tried to get justice for Professor Siras. It all looks a little tired in the film. But these minor setbacks aside, Aligarh chugs along quietly and, in the end, impressively. Thanks to a superlative lead actor, a fine support cast, deft direction and some fine writing.
Watch Aligarh because it is an important film. There is no in-your-face social messaging here, just a subtle nudge to the society, its morals and how it treats those who are lonely, non-combative and non-conforming to the set ‘norms’. Not just for homosexuals, the film also stands for the ‘bachelors’ who are treated as aliens in ‘family only’ colonies and apartments. The film stands for right to live and let live. A very basic and simple ask that our society somehow finds hard to fulfill.
Rating: ***1/2 (Very Good)

Feb 20, 2016

Neerja Movie Review: An Outstanding Biopic That Gives us the Lovely Shabana Azmi Back

If I would have to bet my life on an actor who could make anyone cry in a matter of two minutes, I will put all my money in Shabana Azmi’s kitty. The veteran actor, who plays Neerja Bhanot’s affable mother in the biopic Neerja, totally steals the show in the last 20 minutes of the film, gently slicing through every emotional chord in your heart, making you root and cry for her brave daughter as if she was one of your own. It is this incredible emotional pull in director Ram Madhvani’s Neerja that makes it an unmissable film in many ways. 

Telling the real-life story of the brave Pan Am Chief Flight Attendant Neerja Bhanot, the film not just provides the harrowing account of that ill-fated flight, it also magically takes you in the life and times of Neerja. So, while Sonam Kapoor enacts Neerja, in what is undoubtedly the most memorable performance of her career, you embrace Neerja lovingly and somewhat forget about the actor enacting the character. Sonam brings out Neerja in flesh and blood, portraying her free spirit, positive personality and even brandishing that unique streak of defiance (tucked behind her otherwise extremely pleasing smile) with aplomb. I have little doubt that Neerja would mark a turning point in Sonam Kapoor’s career with the producers-directors-writers sitting up and taking notice. The pretty fashionista has come of age!
But, if Neerja manages to register a huge impact on your heart and mind, it is considerably due to the terrific Shabana Azmi who lurks beautifully in the background through most of the film, only to come out all guns blazing in the final reels (so good to see her back in form post the tepid Jazbaa last year). She plays the doting mother to Neerja to perfection and makes you go numb at places with her sheer class as an actor. Special mention should be made of the film’s closing sequence where Shabana comes to the airport to receive her beloved daughter’s coffin and the subsequent scene where she delivers a small speech in front of an audience gathered to mark one year of Neerja’s martyrdom. If you manage to hold your tears in these scenes, you are probably either stoned or a stone.
While you may accuse me of being entirely swayed by Shabana Azmi and too an extent by Sonam Kapoor in the film, I intend to take nothing away from Ram Madhvani’s near-perfect retelling of an episode that deserves to be heard, seen and absorbed by everyone. Madhvani merits all the praise for never letting the momentum slip in the film’s 2-hour runtime and also never overplaying the patriotic or emotional cards. In fact, he chooses silence over any sort of background score in some of the film’s key moments and allows you as an audience to grapple with the situation on hand. And it works brilliantly on all occasions – be it when the hijackers unleash their brutalities inside the aircraft, leaving you suitably horrified, or when the brave Neerja sacrifices her life to save her passengers, leaving you in a pool of tears.
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Madhvani has also deftly used intercuts throughout the film to recount Neerja’s experiences from a bad marriage, bringing out sharp contrasts in narrative – hope and despair, love and loss, bravery and cowardice. Apart from the brilliant intercuts, Neerja also boasts of some top class cinematography (handheld, shaky shots inside the aircraft) and effective low-key lighting that make the tension palpable.
Overall, Neerja is a riveting biopic and a worthy tribute – a heartwarming and heartfelt account of the short but extraordinary life of Neerja Bhanot. It is as much an uplifting mother-daughter story as it is about the exemplary courage shown by a dutiful flight attendant. Go watch. And keep some tissue papers handy.
Rating: ****1/2 (Excellent)

Feb 12, 2016

Fitoor Movie Review: Of Katrina’s Red Hair and Dickensian Red Herring


Fitoor roughly translates to ‘obsession’ in English. And, it’s a pity that a film called Fitoor suffers from bouts of directorial indifference throughout its runtime. Director Abhishek Kapoor, who had very good last two outings in form of Kai Po Che and Rock On!!, puts up pretty looking caricatures and canvasses in Fitoor but forgets to infuse soul into them. So, amidst the snow-laden, paradise-like Kashmir and Katrina Kaif’s gorgeousness and red hair, there’s something which is clearly amiss. Throughout. Right from the opening credits till the lights are turned back on in the theater.
Based on Charles Dickens’ iconic novel Great Expectations, Fitoor is the story of a poor but artistically gifted Kashmiri boy, Noor (Aditya Roy Kapur) who falls in love with the beautiful and rich Firdaus (Katrina Kaif), daughter of a lonely, Kashmiri elite Begum Hazrat (Tabu). Stark mismatch in their societal standings does not stop Noor from pursuing Firdaus relentlessly, from Kashmir to Delhi to London, and his obsession is also initially fueled and somewhat supported by Begum herself. Things become complicated when Begum’s own troubled past comes in the way of Noor’s love for Firdaus and soon heartbreaks, betrayal and dejection follow suit.
Fitoor’s biggest lacuna is its failure to justify Kashmir as its backdrop. Well, there is nothing wrong in putting Kashmir in a narrative sans all its heavy political baggage but only if you manage to keep your hands off that ‘baggage’. Fitoor does not do so. There are bomb blasts and terror episodes in the film with none other than Ajay Devgn doing a cameo as a militant, but these sequences simply do not add up to the fairy tale treatment that the film otherwise reserves for itself. The fleeting commentary and remarks on terror, Kashmir’s issues, Azaadi et al seem juvenile and non-serious. It would have been much more prudent if Abhishek Kapoor would have exploited Kashmir’s stunning natural beauty and left the geopolitical commentary to the likes of Haider.
The Kashmir faux pas apart, Fitoor also seems to have missed a few tricks when it comes to adapting a classic while having some meat of your own in the screenplay. The most critical cog in the wheel of Great Expectations is the mystery around the secret sponsor of the boy’s meteoric rise through the social ranks. Fitoor falls flat in this aspect as you are never unaware of who is really behind Noor’s quick claim to fame in the art world. The little twist towards the end, which tries to catch the audiences unaware, seems unbelievable and leaves behind more questions than answers. Abhishek Kapoor, who has also co-written the film with Supratik Sen, will have to take the lion’s share of the blame for presenting an adaption that looks disjointed, undercooked and incomplete at places. In fact, the first half of the film has its moments but it goes completely downhill post intermission when the complexity of the original story starts to takes its toll on the film’s patchy screenplay.
But, there are a few things that go right for Fitoor. Tabu almost single-handedly carries the burden of acting and comes up with a believable version of Miss Havisham. Adorned with designer dresses and jewelry, Tabu is mostly in top form, especially when the dark circles around her eyes and the grey side of her character make an appearance. She looks suitably dreamy and comes out triumphant in the league of actors who are mostly inadequate in the portrayal of their characters. Giving Tabu company in some top-notch acting is the little boy playing young Noor (Mohammed Abrar). Abrar with his distinct Kashmiri features, perfect accent and effortless acting is a treat to the eyes and you completely root for him as and when he gets besotted by the young and pretty Firdaus (Tunisha Sharma). The young actress also does a good job of being a heady blend of arrogance and innocence.
But, same kind words cannot be said for the older Noor and Firdaus. Aditya Roy Kapur’s limitations as an actor is on full display here and you wish the director would have allowed him to play a drunkard version of the Dickensian poor boy so that we could have at least witnessed his Aashiqui brand of acting. Aditya wastes what was easily his best shot at some serious, nuanced acting and does little except for moving around half-naked and looking perpetually stiff. Katrina Kaif, on the other hand, does a good job of looking gorgeous and playing an occasional seductress, but fails to emote well when the scenes badly demand it. The lady needs to learn the art of crying. Simple.
Anay Goswamy’s pitch perfect cinematography is another rare high point of Fitoor. The beauty of Srinagar and the Kashmir valley at large is beautifully captured but it’s not just in the outdoors that the camera manages to weave its magic. The interior shots in Begum’s lavish bungalow and the elaborate art galleries are all very tastefully tense and imaginative. Hitesh Sonik’s background score and Amit Trivedi’s tunes (Pashmina in particular) are quite uplifting in themselves but are eventually dragged down by lackluster proceedings on the screen.
Overall, Fitoor falls well short of Great Expectations. Literally and figuratively. It is let down by a below par screenplay, a lead pair that does not really sparkle and the classic ‘curse of the second half’. You might well chicken out of watching an unworthy tribute to a Dickens’ classic.
Rating: ** (Average)

Jan 23, 2016

Airlift Movie Review: The Film Leaves an Impact Without Much Fuss

There is an innate calmness and simplicity about Airlift. No matter how big the scale or how herculean the task at hand is, Airlift goes about its business with an extraordinary easiness. There is no patriotic chest thumping (may be a little bit towards the end), no heart wrenching portrayal of war and its associated grief, no screeching or shouting. Most of the frames in Airlift are fittingly raw (sometimes eerily ‘still’) and heartwarmingly subtle. And, this is the biggest win for director Raja Krishna Menon and his team. They manage to tell an extraordinary story of courage and survival with an authentic, real-life ordinariness.

downloadInspired by true events during the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which left lakhs of Indians stranded in the Gulf nation, Airlift mostly centers on the heroic deeds of an influential Indian businessman in Kuwait, Ranjeet Katyal (Akshay Kumar). Caught in the web of unfortunate circumstances, Katyal, originally a hard-bargaining, shrewd businessman, forgoes the opportunity to flee Kuwait with his wife (Nimrat Kaur) and daughter, and engineers and spearheads the near impossible evacuation of over a lakh Indians from the war-ravaged country. Aiding him in this mammoth task is an unassuming Indian bureaucrat Sanjeev Kohli (Kumud Mishra) who has to fight his own battles with political apathy and departmental non-cooperation.
Airlift boasts of authenticity right from the word go when we see Akshay Kumar, with distinct salt & pepper beard, undergoing massive change of fortunes within fifteen minutes of the film’s runtime. A slow-motion sequence where Akshay, a high-flying, politically well-connected businessman in Kuwait, cries in his car as he passes by Kuwait city and witnesses the rampage unleashed by the invading Iraqi soldiers, is truly terrifying and depicts the horrors of Gulf War with chilling finesse. The plight of ordinary Kuwaitis and mercilessness of Iraqi forces, who are visibly drunk on the name of Saddam Hussein, have been captured with sincerity and sensitivity – a trait very rare in most mainstream Hindi films.
akshay-airlift-trailerMuch of Airlift’s sincerity and authenticity is derived out of its director Raja Krishna Menon’s conviction in retelling a piece of history that most of us have forgotten. Menon is in full control of a possibly myriad subject and does not fall prey to the temptations of infusing unrealistic patriotism and Bollywood-ish heroism in the narrative. Apart from a small fist-fight scene towards the climax and a couple of songs, there’s hardly any scene in the film which you think that ‘couldn’t have really happened in real life’. Aiding Menon hugely in his endeavor is the pitch perfect cinematography by Priya Seth that almost transports you to the war-torn Kuwait of 1990.
But, any praise for Airlift would be grossly incomplete without giving due credit to its leading man. Akshay Kumar has rarely underplayed himself as beautifully as he does in Airlift and you almost forget that he is one of the biggest superstars of Hindi cinema. He makes the character of a tired-looking but hugely determined businessman his own and owns every frame that he is a part of. There is no bling, no rowdiness, rather this Akshay Kumar cries and does not look pretty, is not conscious of his greying beard and chest hair, he is simply Ranjeet Katyal in flesh and blood.
Nimrat Kaur plays her part with conviction and excels in a well-crafted monologue where she has to lash out at a suitably annoying Prakash Belawadi for questioning her husband’s efforts to safeguard stranded Indians. Purab Kohli and Inaamulhaq (of Filmistaan fame) do well in their respective roles of a stranded Indian trying to find his lost love in all the chaos and an Iraqi Major who speaks Hindi in an interesting accent. Kumud Mishra as the reluctant bureaucrat, who eventually helps Akshay’s character in his mission, is very believable. In fact, one of the high points of Airlift is how it subtly displays the day-to-day decision-making and functioning of Indian bureaucracy and political class. The way the establishment in Delhi reacts to the continued plea of stranded Indians in Kuwait is so slice-of-life that it hurts.
But, it is not as if Airlift is entirely flawless. The second half seems to meander a bit as it does not have the novelty and grip of the first half. Moreover, the climax of the film does not bring about the required urgency that you usually associate with war thrillers. Lakhs of people are evacuated way too easily in the end and it makes you wonder if the director should have focused a bit more on the hurdles that must have come up in the process. The possible challenges in the way of the big task are perhaps sidelined because the director invests a little too much in building smaller characters and their stories – many of which do not eventually leave a big impact.
But despite these minor flaws, Airlift is a very neat and balanced film that achieves the enormous task of being refreshingly simple yet effective. It never lets itself to be overwhelmed by the critical piece of history it deals with and retells a forgotten story with utmost honesty. Add to it a bravura performance by Akshay Kumar and you have a near-perfect and uplifting weekend deal.
Rating: **** (Excellent)

Jan 10, 2016

Wazir Movie Review: Quite Watchable Despite a Very Predictable Plot


Wazir gets its atmospherics spot on. The chessboard metaphor for real-life shenanigans of loss, longing and revenge is beaming with promise and purpose, the players in the game are up to the task, and the editor on the editing table respects your time for once. But alas, all of this wonderful premise is bogged down by a curiously unidimensional and predictable plot. More on that later. But to begin with, it’s a relief to see a Hindi film with visible signs of a plot after a considerably long time. No, I am not being sarcastic – just look up the list of major releases that you have had in the last couple of months. So, being an eternal optimist that I am, I straightaway declare Wazir to be a decently good omen to begin the New Year. *Touchwood*.
Wazir is the story of coming together of two wounded fathers under peculiar circumstances. Danish Ali (Farhan Akhtar) is a tough ATS officer, happily married to Ruhana (Aditi Rao Hydari) and father of a spunky, cute girl. Danish’s world turns upside down when he loses his daughter in a freak shootout; he eventually finds solace in the company of an unlikely friend – the much older, wheelchair-bound but a chess genius Pandit Omkar Nath Dhar (Amitabh Bachchan). Danish and Omkar’s lives get intertwined and then begins a series of moves, checks and maneuverings that further complicate the lives of all the players involved.
Director Bejoy Nambiar, the man behind smaller but significant films likes Shaitan and David, gets a much bigger canvas with Wazir. Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s overarching impression is evident both in the film’s production values and storyline. Chopra, who along with Abhijat Joshi is credited for story and screenplay of Wazir, teases you with all the metaphors and parables in the writing, but eventually falls short to build a solid, leak-proof thriller. But, at the same time, it is heartening to see a film that’s heavily backed by its writing, if not entirely carried through. If only Chopra and Joshi would have infused an element of unpredictability, or tried to be a little more convoluted rather than relying on the safe bet of straightforwardness, Wazir would have emerged as a riveting thriller.
But despite its flaws, if Wazir is very watchable, it is majorly because of the powerhouse performances by its lead cast. Farhan Akhtar is brilliant as Danish Ali, the ATS cop dealing with a major loss in his life. Wazir is the culmination of the tremendous growth of Farhan Akhtar as an actor and you are amazed by the ease with which Akhtar pulls off difficult emotional scenes with a masterly ease. Amitabh Bachchan does what he does best – wowing you without much effort, as the wheelchair-bound chess genius. Big B also executes the difficult task of infusing light humor in an otherwise dead serious kind of proceedings.
Manav Kaul as the power-hungry Kashmiri politician is sufficiently impressive, so is Aditi Rao Hydari as Farhan Akhtar’s wife. Aditi portrays vulnerability of human emotions with finesse and you wish you could see much more of this truly talented actor. Neil Nitin Mukesh gets all the histrionics right in the title role of Wazir, looking both menacing and intriguing at the same time. John Abraham makes a fleeting appearance, but what really convinced him to play this rather insignificant part (even from a cameo point of view), would be interesting to know.
Wazir’s dialogues are written with an honest simplicity and there is no visible attempt to load the audiences with metaphors that do not make sense, or worse, take time to grow or manifest themselves. The chess analogy, repeated references to pyada, wazir, hathi and ghoda are all part of the ongoing conversations and more of an outcome of Big B’s character’s obvious fixation with the game of chess. But, this welcome simplicity in writing goes overboard when you know ‘what’s going to happen’ all through the game, and guess what, the writers fail to outwit you at almost all crucial junctures in the film.
And that’s why you strongly wish that Wazir should have been a little tighter, a bit smarter than it thought it was. Then, all the good atmospherics, suave cinematography (Sanu Varghese), effective background score (Rohit Kulkarni), and taut editing (Chopra and Joshi themselves), would have ensured that you come out of the theater completely wowed and impressed.
If only. But, still go and watch Wazir. It is, despite all its flaws, an honest and sincere attempt to make a worthy little film. Big B and Farhan are reason enough to like and appreciate Wazir.
Rating – *** (Good)

Dec 20, 2015

Dear Huffington Post Reviewer: Slam Dilwale If You Want But Don’t Try and Patronize the Audience


When you come out of a movie theater after watching a film, typically there are two possible reactions. You may have either liked the film or disliked it. Of course, the extent of like and dislike may vary – sometimes you love a film so much that you literally beg people to go out and watch it, or a film leaves such a deep, profound impact on you that you start connecting with it at a different level altogether.
On the other side of spectrum, at times you don’t just dislike a film but rather go on to hate it wholeheartedly. You discourage people from watching the film and feel cheated yourself because your own hard-earned money is seemingly wasted. The various hues of these two reactions – like and dislike – are most natural and in fact the ultimate reward for any filmmaker in the world.
But, there’s a highly stupid third kind of reaction to movies these days where a section of the ‘evolved’ movie enthusiasts tries to patronize rest of the audiences. So, it’s not uncommon to hear verdicts like these – “I don’t understand why these people continue to watch films like Dilwale. No wonder Bollywood continues to be where it is right now and the audience would never come to know what ‘real cinema’ is.”
You can laugh off or simply scoff at this patronizing and preachy behavior of the evolved cinephile community, but the stakes go a few notches up when this kind of reactionary and black-and-white verdict is delivered by a film reviewer – who obviously wields at least some influence over people’s movie watching decisions. Therefore, I was both alarmed and outraged by this review of Dilwale on Huffington Post’s India website which went by the title ‘This Movie Sucks, And We are to Blame for its Existence’.
First up, it does not augur well for a professional reviewer writing for on a global media giant to use an Internet slang like ‘sucks’ to prove his point to the readers. It reminds me of those casual college banters where a guy using the ‘F’ word or its more crude Hindi equivalents several times would think that he has won the argument. Keeping aside my reservations against the use of slang, I really wonder what makes anyone question the sheer ‘existence of a film’. And as if it is not enough, who gives these evolved, elite saviors of cinema the right to blame the audiences for their movie choices!
You want to know why Dilwale exists. It exists because a bunch of people worked really hard to put it up together. Yes, even these rich and ugly 100-crore grossing people sweat and bleed to make their films. You didn’t like the film? Too bad – be careful about your movie choices next time around. Ask your friends to not watch the film, save your family from the horror, rant about it on social media, troll the filmmakers. BUT, do not question the intellect/decision-making ability of crores of other people who choose to watch the film and have the right to like it if they want to!
The saviors of cinema need to realize that not everyone walks into a movie theatre to achieve intellectual orgasms. Some go out there just to have fun, or just to soak up the AC, or watch their favorite star, or worse just to sleep – you have a problem? The audiences willingly go out and watch a film, pass a verdict based on the film’s merits, and in all humility we all should accept it. If Dilwale actually ‘sucks’, it will eventually sink at the box office, but, if it does not, you do not have the right to call names to people who make the film work. Because, it is Dilwale today, was PRDP a few weeks back, Happy New Year last year, Ready few years back and would definitely be some other big monstrous release next year.
Not every mediocre, below par product has to ‘suck’ and stop existing. Yes, I know it is 2015 and the audiences’ cinematic taste is evolving, but there is and will always be mediocrity around the corner. You will have to accept it the same way you accept any and every Superhero or ‘saving-the-word’ kind of garbage that is thrown at you from Hollywood. The Shettys and Khans are recycling ideas from the same old machine that Hollywood does, albeit in a much more Indian and formulaic way. Deal with it.
And lastly, I would really like to see for how long does your cerebral, evolved Bollywood survive once you take out these ‘mindless’ multi-crore grossers. Do not forget that if there is some hope now for smaller, niche films to get theatrical release, it is because production houses and corporates are ready to back them. And this backing comes from the financial cushion provided to these producers by their alternative big-budget money spinners.
So, for Heaven’s sake, let’s treat films like films and not a referendum on humanity and existentialism. The beauty of Bollywood lies in how far and diverse its all ends are – for every Tamasha there is a Nasha, for every Dilwale there is a DDLJ. The way forward lies in coexistence and letting the audiences decide for themselves – these are wise people who know how to differentiate between good and bad, mediocre and poor, profound and artificial. Live and let live.
P.S. – I watched Dilwale yesterday and found it to be a bad film. But, nowhere did I feel that my modesty had been outraged or I should start blaming people sitting in the theater for my misery. 

Dec 5, 2015

Hate Story 3 Movie Review: This One Deserves all the Hatred in Your Heart


There are some films which are so bad and unpalatable that you want to find the makers, hold them by their collars and whisper in their ears, “Thank you! That was so disgusting, I actually kind of liked it!” Hate Story 3 falls under this rare, coveted category – nauseating and headache-inducing to such an extent that you want to thank God for all the good things in your life.
Directed by Vishal Pandya, Hate Story 3 is the third installment of the Hate Story film series, which in fact should not have been conceptualized at first place. Why Pandya, Vikram Bhatt (writer of the series and director of the first film – Hate Story) and T-Series (producers) named this ‘franchise’ as ‘Hate Story’ is unfathomable. There is neither a semblance of a story here nor does the element of hatred makes its presence felt anywhere in the narrative. Oh wait! Is it called Hate Story basis how much the audiences can end up hating the film? Well, if that’s the criteria, then be warned that you may end up hating Hate Story 3 three times more than usual. I am not kidding.
Hate Story 3 is about 4 principal characters with their names so fake that they make botox look real. Aditya Diwan (Sharman Joshi) and Sia Diwan (Zarine Khan) are an industrialist power couple who roam around semi-naked in their house smooching, feeling up each other and singing a parody of a 90s classic. They have a cola company, hotels, telecommunications business, you bloody name it! The surname ‘Diwan’ is just to ensure that you do not ever doubt their clout, which goes up to central ministers and MPs (Aditya tries to buy them off by dispatching a mere 50 Crores rupees in a truck!)
Enter Saurabh Singhania (Karan Singh Grover) who is another insanely rich businessman (Singhanias have been Bollywood’s favorite rich men since ages) with his clout also very much Everest-like. The similarity between Mr. Singhania and Mr. Diwan does not really end here – we also come to know, in crude, explicit Hindi, that Singhania has hots for Sia! Yay!
Wo tumhare saath ek raat sona chahta hai, a visibly disturbed Sharman Joshi later informs Zarine Khan and Miss Khan looks more excited than offended! Also in the fray is Kaya, a fake sexy Daisy Shah with a fake wannabe kind of name, who works for Mr. Diwan but eventually sleeps with Mr. Singhania. That lucky dog Singhania!
This is the crux of Hate Story 3. It is an unintentionally hilarious and disturbingly naïve cocktail of mediocre sleaze, top-class bad acting and outrageous screenplay and direction. It is a shame to watch a rather good actor like Sharman Joshi exposing his not-so-fit body and let Zarine Khan eat it up. On several occasions in the film, Sharman screams out loud and throws things around and you wish you could help the poor guy. On contrary, the other male lead, Karan Singh Grover, is visibly at ease because he knows he is in his territory. In a film like this, he can afford to look pretty, act dumb and yet manage to sleep around with maximum number of girls. Zarine Khan looks like a wax mannequin when she is not kissing or posing like one of those statutes of Khajuraho. Daisy Shah seems hell bent on looking ‘hot and sexy’ and ends up looking extremely out-of-place and pitiable.
Mr. Pandya, the director, makes a mockery of basic tenets of film-making by dishing out a half-baked film that is so nonsensical and superficial that it makes all the Murders, Jisms and Julies look like work of pure art. Pandya does not know his brief at all when he tries to orchestrate a corporate-rivalry kind of drama on the pretext of a thriller. And it seems that whenever he is reminded that the film is supposed to be ‘sleazy’, he simply puts in a song with ample kissing, panting and gyrating.
The only saving grace in the film, if at all, is its soundtrack which has a couple of good tunes. But, most of these songs are undone by on-screen theatrics of the film’s leads who seem to be busy realizing their sexual fantasies. Within the permissible limits of an ‘Adult’ mainstream Hindi film, of course.
Okay, I will not waste much of my precious words on trying to review a film that is a complete waste of time, money and talent (okay, some traces of talent). In a nutshell, Hate Story 3 is a repulsive film that makes fun of its audiences’ intelligence and even ends up hoodwinking their hormones. If I tell you to not watch it at any cost, perhaps even that would be quite charitable and generous.
Rating: ½* (Poor)

Nov 28, 2015

Tamasha Movie Review: Imtiaz Ali’s Mera Naam Joker Moment

If you flip through filmography of accomplished directors, you will find at least one film that goes on to become a symbol of their pedigree. ‘That one film’ may not necessarily be the directors’ most accomplished work or a roaring commercial success, yet it beams with the faith, idea and conviction of its creator.
Imtiaz Ali seems to have invested that kind of energy into Tamasha. The film is Ali’s most complex, ambitious and audacious take on emotions – be it his pet theme of love (Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal) or his relatively recent fascination with identities and personality traits (Rockstar and Highway). Tamasha is resplendent with sumptuous and powerful designs, but sadly it is dragged down by its inconsistent and indulgent treatment.
Destiny conspires to make Ved (Ranbir Kapoor) meet Tara (Deepika Padukone) in the picturesque island of Corsica where the two decide not to divulge their real identities in order to make the most of the moment. They hit it off instantly doing crazy gigs and crisscrossing mighty mountains, leafy forests and clear, blue waters. The fairy tale ends within a week when Tara comes back to India leaving behind much more than her heart at Ved’s disposal. 4 years later, she meets the ‘real’ Ved in Delhi – a regular corporate retard in his impeccable tie and suit. Their attempts to reunite fail as Ved battles to overcome his inner demons and struggles to script his own story.
The film’s first hour is surprisingly wasted and annoyingly drifty where two of the most talented actors of our times are stationed in the picturesque island of Corsica and left to do sweet nothings. While you relish the stunning landscape and marvel at the lead pair’s sparkling chemistry, the stretched ‘Tamasha’ and the callous screenplay put you off. Things change for good from the second hour, when we get to know the real Ved, his inner conflicts and Tara’s late realization of what she just let go off.
Themes and Motifs:
Tamasha makes a fierce attempt to deal with the notions of chasing your dreams, scripting your own story, and how true love can help you achieve all of this. It tries hard to be that vehicle of inspiration, that ray of hope for millions of young and restless people who take up regular, conventional jobs and compromise with their inner calling. But, the means to drive home this message is thoroughly sketchy and even absolutely random at times. There are occasions when the film seems to be going in circles and the director needlessly convolutes simpler messages.
Imtiaz Ali chooses the interesting backdrop of a drama (Tamasha) and tries to examine emotions through the prism of a stage play. Like a typical play, the film is divided into ‘acts’ and things actually go on pretty smooth till here. The complexity level of the narrative goes quite a few notches up as Imtiaz invests a tad too much into flashbacks and tries a bit too hard to connect us to Ved’s childhood. Yes, we get that the bachpan connection is critical to our hero’s overall evolution in the film, but this connection seems too larger than life at times. So does the occasional self-indulgent sojourn of the film where pointed emphasis is laid at a parallel play, stories of famous lovers (including mythological Ram and Sita), clowns and stage-like camera and lighting.
The film also comfortably leaves behind some loose ends , which if tightened, would have given more meat to the screenplay. What were Ved and Tara doing in Corsica? How come ‘role play’ bit of Ved’s personality never manifested itself after he met Tara in India? Also, enough light is not thrown on Ved’s and Tara’s unusual behavior, specially Ved’s, whose antics go beyond the realm of role play and infringe in the territory of psychology.
Despite its inconsistent screenplay, Tamasha manages to sail through because of the riveting performances by its lead actors. It is such a relief and an absolute joy to see Ranbir Kapoor return to form. Wait, he just does not come back to form, he is in fact at the top of his game by literally owning every single frame that he is a part of. The actor comes up with a beautifully restrained and a deliciously nuanced performance that will easily go down as one of his best.
Ranbir’s Ved is tragic, funny, romantic, goofy, vulnerable, exciting – all at the same time. I also believe that actors whose faces ‘talk’ are perhaps heads and shoulders above others. Ranbir’s face can talk, shout, scream, cry, without uttering a single word. Equally impressive is Deepika Padukone as she never really lets Ranbir completely steal the show. Her expressions, body language and emotions look as real as 24-carat gold. Together, Ranbir and Deepika display a cracking chemistry and it’s a pity that they have not been paired together more often.
AR Rahman’s music gels very well with the film’s theme and atmosphere. While Matargashti is quirky and peppy, Agar Tum Saath Ho beautifully depicts melancholy and sadness. The film’s cinematography (Ravi Varman) is too much ‘stage-like’ at places but the camera does roam at the right places in Corsica and even Delhi. The editing of the film (Aarti Bajaj) is impressive given the unusual weaving of the story.
Overall, Tamasha is Imtiaz Ali’s most complex film till date that houses both mediocre and spectacular moments. Add to that an element of complexity in narrative that cripples its overall acceptability and makes it possible for many to actually not like/understand several sequences in the film.
Not easy to like. Not easy to reject. Leaves you thinking for long. Tamasha could well be for Imtiaz Ali what Mera Naam Joker was for Raj Kapoor – his most honest but perhaps the weakest film.
Rating: *** (Good)
P.S. – Half a star extra just for the Kapoor lad.

Nov 12, 2015

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo Review: Old School Sanskaar Meets New Age Salman Khan


Not everyone can like Sooraj Barjatya. It’s not easy. But, not everyone can really dispute the fact that he is good at what he does. Yes, he takes familial values to astronomical heights, he is too sanskaari and painfully old school in matters of romance, he is too engrossed into the lessons from Ramayana, and he is obsessed and surprisingly comfortable with lengthy soundtracks and lengthier run time. But, he is also extremely successful in retelling stories with same moral messages again and again, he is very aware of his strengths and has never really yet bored us to death with any of his films (given the template in question, death by boredom is a distinct possibility).
Maine Pyar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Koun and Hum Saath Saath Hain are films weaved by the same thread, but I bet you can distinguish between them even while you are asleep. And I also bet that you watch all these films on TV every now and then. On lazy Sundays. From interval point, 20 minutes before the credits roll or half an hour after the film has started – does not really matter. It’s lazy fun.
No, this article is not an ode to Sooraj Barjatya. But, I thought it was pertinent to quash the prejudice that surrounds him and his body of work. With Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, Barjatya achieves nothing spectacular but still manages to hold your attention for good 3 hours. That’s not a mean feat.
Of course, he is hugely aided by a certain Salman Khan who seems to be finally enjoying himself as an actor. Salman is affable as the quintessential Prem even after all these years. Barjatya does a smart job of squeezing out a dual act from him wherein Salman blends the histrionics of Prem with the goofiness of a simpleton with utmost ease. He is charming, restrained, emotive and effective. First Bajrangi Bhaijaan and now this. Salman, it seems, is suddenly a good actor.
To begin with, the backdrop of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is extremely opulent and lavish. From his typical happy Indian family, that eats, prays and sleeps together (err, did that sound wrong?), Barjatya moves to a big, fat royal family that houses a lonely prince Vijay Singh (Salman Khan) who shares uneasy relationship with his siblings. Enter princess Maithali (Sonam Kapoor) and a large-hearted simpleton from Ayodhya (yes, this is a new high in Rajshri’s obsession with Ramayana) Prem (again Salman Khan). Expectedly, there is a lot of song and dance, much of it meaningless, and the sinister plans of the palace insiders begin to fail and the broken bonds start to heal.
Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is different from a typical Rajshri film in some superficial ways. There are some well-shot action sequences, perhaps keeping in mind the current image of Salman, and a lazy attempt to infuse an ingredient of thrill and suspense. That Barjatya is no Abbas Mustan is clear but you got to credit the man for slightly tweaking his otherwise stubborn template. And yes, talking of how PRDP is not-so-typical, there is no official wedding in the film, there is no Samdhi-Samdhan bonding, women are not always in the kitchen (guess what, they are playing football!) and Mohnish Behl and Alok Nath are missing. Okay, I actually kind of missed Alok Nath.
In the acting department, Sonam Kapoor takes time to settle into the shoes of a Barjatya heroine. She looks a little odd while trying her hand at all the ‘shy stuff’ to begin with but eventually Rajshri parampara gets better of her. The actress does well in a couple of emotional scenes and her chemistry with Salman Khan is quite natural. Neil Nitin Mukesh as the half-brother and bete noir of Salman looks as odd as how litti chokha would look in a Gujarati Thali. Armaan Kohli as the cunning palace insider does a good job. So does Anupam Kher in the role of a loyal confidante of the royal family. Swara Bhaskar, as Salman’s step-sister, looks uncomfortable in unfamiliar territory but same can’t be said for Deepak Dobriyal, who does a neat job as Salman’s friend.
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Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is pulled down by a crazy runtime that bothers you at places if not bores you completely. The film also has a lot of unnecessary songs with weird lyrics – there is a song talking about Gujiya and Mathri. I would be keen to find out if the lyricist Irshad Kamil got a certain brief from Barjatya to write these tacky songs or was he himself undergoing some sort of poetic menopause. To Kamil’s and music director Himesh Reshammiya’s credit, there are a couple of hummable songs in an otherwise lackluster soundtrack. The title song, with its signature step being the latest fad for Dubsmash-ers, is very well shot, so has been the romantic track Jalte Diye. But, apart from these two songs, there’s nothing much in the soundtrack that features 10 songs!
In addition to the above mentioned loopholes, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is also riddled by a lackluster screenplay that seems to have suffered at the cost of all the grandiose and bling. Somehow the ‘simplicity’ of Rajshri films seems to have been a bit compromised, what if there are some added toppings on offer.
Overall, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo is far from flawless and not close to being Sooraj Barjatya’s best work. Yet, the film stays afloat due to an in-form Salman Khan and some old school sanskaar. Watch it on a lazy and jobless Sunday afternoon. You might just like it.
Rating: *** (3 out of 5 – Good)