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 na├»ve 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)

Nov 2, 2015

Happy Birthday Shah Rukh, Thank You for Being a Great Friend

This is not an open letter, Shah Rukh. I do not know what to call it – or wait, I can perhaps label it as a thank you note. One tiny bit of the many millions that you must be receiving every day.
Before I begin to thank you, let me admit that I can’t thank you enough. Did that sound like a hyperbole? This is what happens to me when I try and thank you, or when I try and explain it to myself and to others that why I need to thank you. But, today on your birthday, I think it is imperative that you know how you have touched, influenced and molded not just my life but also the lives of your millions of fans. I also write on their behalf.
Neither am I going to praise you for your films, your acting prowess, your box office clout nor am I going to stake claim to the title of being your Sabse Bada Fan (I know Gaurav is already out there). I am just grateful for how you and your films have stood by my side, almost like an imperceptible friend, through joys and sorrows. I am grateful because you epitomize happiness, dream, love, hope and miracle. For me. For all of us.
Happiness: I was merely 7-year old when I watched Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in a theater – perhaps the first time I went out to watch a film with my family. That little mischievous twinkle in your eye, spring in your feet and sincerity in your words, made me genuinely happy as a child. It was perhaps the first time cinema made a lasting impression on my young mind as I found myself seamlessly fitting in the world of Raj.
But, DDLJ was not just about happiness. I remember stealing a glance at my family members and others in the audience as you innocently pulled out a bra from Simran’s rucksack. Those were my first lessons in knowing the opposite sex and their ways. No one ever really tells you what a bra is and how it functions. In your own playful way, you educated quite a few young, curious Indian minds who are otherwise devoid of any sort of formal gender sensitization. Thank you.
Dream: I also remember repeatedly watching Yes Boss and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman on Doordarshan. Those were the days when DD aired movies every Friday and Saturday in the late night slot, so I battled familial displeasure to watch your films on TV. Yes Boss and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman were my first lessons in dreaming, daydreaming and dreaming it big.
As an ordinary teenager from a small town, with deeply imbibed middle-class values, your films taught me to dream and be shamelessly open and assertive about it. Success, money, love, family, we all want a slice of these but those who finally get there are perhaps the ones who are not shy of dreaming. You were the voice of my middle class dreams – that is if dreams could ever speak – you were my easiest and most reliable source of motivation, long before motivational speakers and their quotes started to invade our lives. Thank you.
Love: Meanwhile, you rose the ranks of Bollywood and firmly established yourself as the industry’s biggest star and most importantly, as the greatest icon of love and romance. Roughly around the same time, my hormones started to go on a rampage with teenage paving way into adolescence and eventually adulthood. Call me hopelessly filmy, but I sought inspiration from your films and life as I tried to understand love and its different shades.
Your body of work was my Bible, Gita and Quran when I first fell in love. From serenading my girl to never losing hope even when the going got tough to eventually managing to win over her heart (a la Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa), you were always there like an invisible friend. Raj and Rahul are cheesy names to be frank, but these characters were an open repository of dos and don’ts of romance. For almost every relationship scenario, you had a film and hence, I knew I will have you every time I faltered or needed advice or simply needed some inspiration. Not to mention, your own fairy tale romance with your wife and how it continues to be a landmark for anyone and everyone who has ever fallen in love and never given up on each other. No matter what. Thank you.
Hope: As they say, life is not a bed of roses and we all have our share of setbacks, heartbreaks and failures. Life is a little more challenging than how it appears in the movies and there isn’t always a happy ending. For every DDLJ, there is a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. For every Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, there is a Kal Ho Na Ho.
And, there is also Darr and Baazigar lurking around the corner all the time. I have had my trysts with obsessive, compulsive and revengeful behavior when things did not go how I had wished or planned for. It is tough to let go, accept defeat or face rejection. It is even worse when you completely immerse in your failures and become a modern day manifestation of Devdas.
But, you have also been a light of hope at the end of an abysmal tunnel. If I still in believe in love, it is because of you told us to. If I now believe that life is all about second chances, rising to the challenges and finding completeness by joining the dots and putting together the pieces, it is because of you. A bit like how you did it in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and My Name is Khan.
Miracle: Picture Abhi Baaki Hai Mere Dost, I tell this to myself sometimes. I believe in miracles because I know what almighty has in store for us is the probably the best. Rab Ne Bana De Jodi explored this divine angle so profusely and I believed in you so diligently. I still do. Your own life, your journey has been nothing less than a miracle – it is not every day that an ordinary Delhi boy with funny hair goes on to conquer big, bad Bollywood. And he does not stop there. Not even at 50. He continues to inspire, enthuse and entertain a billion people.
And, he continues to be friends with them without ever really asking for anything in return.
Thank you, Shah Rukh. Dil Se.

Oct 31, 2015

Main Aur Charles Movie Review: Suave and Stylish, but Where is the Substance?

Director Prawaal Raman’s Main Aur Charles is riddled by an inherent dual conflict. As a viewer, if you are familiar with chronicles of the (in)famous ‘bikini killer’ or ‘the serpent’ Charles Shobhraj, you will find Raman’s film to be devoid of sufficient thrill and excitement. On the other hand, if you are ignorant about Charles Shobhraj, you will find Main Aur Charles to be confused, incoherent and incapable of providing any deep insight into the life and times of perhaps one of the most dreaded serial killers in recent times. It is this ambivalent nature of Main Aur Charles that eventually pulls it down, even if it does have its share of merits and a great degree of style and charm.
Prawaal Raman is a product of the now-defunct but once powerful RGV factory with films like Darna Mana Hai, Gayab and Darna Zaroori Hai to his credit. Expectedly, Raman brings in a definite technical finesse to his latest venture, Main Aur Charles. The film is very well-shot, with a lot of shadow play and close ups, the background score gives you adrenaline rush at times, the production values are neat, and the authenticity of the bygone decades is very much there. But, Raman seems to be struggling to put together different pieces of the remarkably notorious (you may want to call it adventurous) life of a hardened criminal who fooled people across India and Southeast Asia with his charming ways and a sharp mind.
Raman does the smart thing by choosing to focus only on the Tihar jailbreak episode of Charles Shobhraj’s long list of exploits that spelled fear throughout the mid and late 70s. But, the film’s screenplay meanders to a great extent in trying to balance its bid to be both an engaging investigative thriller and some sort of a biopic on a man who can perhaps be best described as a psychopathic genius.
The film narrates the story of Charles (Randeep Hooda), an enigmatic con man and a vicious serial killer, who escapes to India after committing murders in Thailand. After being apprehended and lodged in Delhi’s jail, Charles befriends almost everyone who crosses his path, including fellow inmates, a gullible law student (Richa Chadda) and the prison jailer (Vipin Sharma) himself. A few months before completion of his jail sentence, Charles escapes from the Delhi prison by masterminding an audacious jailbreak that triggers a massive hunt for him by the Indian authorities. Leading the charge is an upright Delhi Police Officer Amod Kanth (Adil Hussain) whose job is not just to bring Charles to justice but also to battle the media fixation and a near-glorification of Charles in general public opinion.
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If Main Aur Charles succeeds in painting a charming and mystical picture of Charles, it is largely because of the man playing Charles Shobhraj on the screen. Randeep Hooda gets the body language right and his mannerisms evoke both charisma and fright. His thick French accent gets time to grow on you but it eventually gels well with the character in question. While Hooda does a good job of character sketching, with his bell bottoms and signature glasses and cap, one wishes there was more in the screenplay that focused on his modus operandi and the inner mechanisms of a dreaded serial killer. All the insight that we get inside the mind of Charles is through a repeated reference by the characters of him being an enigmatic, intelligent man with a troubled childhood.
In fact, the film’s first half spends a fair amount of time in tracing Charles’ journey from Delhi to Bombay to eventually Goa, but it fails to bring anything substantial on the platter. Through this journey, there are too many conduits in the frame and tracking all of them becomes a little tedious. The narrative seems disjointed at several places and there seems to be a constant conflict between glorifying Charles as a ‘hero’ in the film and examining an incident of crime from a neutral eye.
Main Aur Charles gathers some steam in the second half when the focus shifts on the motive of crime and the drama surrounding recapture and trial of Charles. Adil Hussain, who wowed us with his portrayal of Sridevi’s loving but indifferent husband in English Vinglish, does a brilliant job as an honest police officer heading the investigations. His restrained anxiety and frustration that threatens to boil over the brim several times, is a treat to watch. So is the sweet, little track with his wife, played by an ever beautiful Tisca Chopra. Richa Chadda is surprisingly sidelined for a good part of the film and her portrayal of an ‘innocent’, young girl, swayed by a charismatic criminal is definitely not the best that we have seen of her. Rest of the support cast seems to be going through the motions and do not really leave a long lasting impression.
To be fair to Prawaal Raman, making some sort of a biopic on Charles Shobhraj would have been a tough nut to crack for even the best in the business. And I say so because Charles’ is not your typical gun totting, knife wieldingUnderworld ka gunda by any stretch of imagination. While Bollywood does have some pedigree when it comes to making films on the criminals from the Underworld, I cannot remember watching a good Hindi film that dealt with a criminal whose mind is his most treasured weapon. While Raman tries to buck the trend, he eventually falls short of expectations.
Overall, Main Aur Charles gets the style and seduction in right measures but fails to bring in the substance. It leaves you wondering if it would have been wiser to mold the film in the investigative thriller genre – on the lines of the recently released and absolutely riveting Talvar – rather than trying to be and to do too many things at the same time.
Rating: **1/2 (Average)

Oct 22, 2015

Shaandaar Movie Review: Shahid and Alia Shine, the Film Doesn’t

Shaandaar has many things going right for it. Right from the word go. It is touted to be India’s first destination wedding film, the sets and the canvas look splendid, the songs are quirky and peppy, and most importantly, the film has a refreshing pairing of Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt.
But, sadly despite the aforementioned strengths and pluses, the film’s director, Vikas Bahl, flounders and fumbles several times before the extravagant destination wedding reaches its final destination. Vikas, an able director when it comes to simpler stories and smaller budgets, seems to be binging a bit too much on the producers’ generosity this time around. The covert messaging of the film remains fairly simple and straightforward, like how it was in Vikas’ last directorial venture – the much-appreciated Queen, but the means to the ‘final destination’ seems too convoluted and pointlessly blingy. The director seems to have developed an unexplainable fascination with comic books, fairy tales and animations, and he literally puts all of that in a single film. And the end result is not exactly what he hoped it to be when he chose the title of the film.
Shaandaar tells the story of a once-superrich-now-bankrupt, but forever dysfunctional Indian business family and the lavish wedding it plans for its slightly obese daughter Isha (debutante Sanah Kapoor) in London. Isha’s father (Played by Pankaj Kapur) hires a wedding planner with a curious name – Joginder Jagjinder (Shahid Kapoor) who falls for Isha’s sister Alia (Alia Bhatt). The two hit it off instantly and bond over late night escapades as both of them, we are told, suffer from insomnia. Also in the fray is the groom’s family which has a weird obsession with anything gold – this wolf pack is led by the groom’s elder brother (Sanjay Kapoor). What follows next is a muddled mix of rom-com between Alia and Shahid with Pankaj Kapur playing a protective father with perfection, and a Queen-style sermon via Sanah Kapoor on how it is not a girl’s fault if she is fat.
To be fair, Shaandaar’s first half is fairly enjoyable when you just begin to somewhat like the peculiar characters that the film has to offer. But the director’s grip over the film drops a fair bit in the second half as soon as the screenplay (Anvita Dutt Guptan) starts to meander in a dreamland. A dreamland where there are too many VFXs, cloudy flashbacks and Disney-style animated storytelling.
But, all is not unwell with Shaandaar. Alia Bhatt and Shahid Kapoor share a sparkling chemistry and it will not be an exaggeration to call it the most refreshing pairing to have hit the Hindi films in the last few years. Shahid Kapoor looks dapper and seems to have gotten back his boyish, exuberant charm. Apart from being an eye candy (all females in the film, Alia’s grandmother (Sushma Seth) included, drool over our Kapoor boy), Shahid is also amply funny and suitably restrained throughout the film. Alia Bhatt is her usual sweetened self with a sprinkle of genuineness and beauty. Pankaj Kapur too is on fire, displaying his unique brand of dry, subtle humor. In fact, Kapur/Kapoor father and son share a terrific vibe on-screen and along with Alia, remain the brightest spots of Shaandaar. The trio gives us some genuinely heartwarming and funny moments and you wish they never ceded space to other actors in the film.
Every time a protective Pankaj Kapur and a charming Shahid Kapoor squabble over Alia, you will see a smiley curve emerging on your face. Special mention should be made of a small sequence featuring a little banter over the number ‘36’ – it is a fine display of the trio’s effortless sense of humor and the comfort they share with one another.
Sanah Kapoor also makes a confident debut and shows no nerves in her portrayal of a fatter sibling of the film’s leading lady. Her fine acting talent is letdown by a poorly developed character that struggles to remain relevant throughout the film. Other members of the support cast are almost all too loud and unreal with Sanjay Kapoor easily taking the top prize and ending up looking like Anil Kapoor’s poor comical caricature.
Shaandaar’s production values are quite rich but the intermittent animation seems more distracting and self-indulging than essential. There are also some poor attempts made at invoking dark humor but it simply doesn’t fit well in the lavish backdrop of the film. The film’s soundtrack is pretty solid, courtesy Amit Trivedi, and the songs have also been creatively picturized, especially ‘Gulabo’, which is a visual treat.
Overall, Shaandar is a film full of all the right ingredients but somehow the final serving is not tempting enough. The second half of the film is simply boring at places with the screenplay offering no big challenges to its principle characters. Even that Karan Johar guest appearance fails to register itself as a key moment in the film. It is another matter that after Karan’s cameo is long done and gone, you end up wondering if he would have done a better job in directing this film. After all, big budget and big cast is not everyone’s saddle to handle.
At best, Shaandaar is a lost opportunity. It finds itself suspended between the director’s dream world and the producers’ love for opulent, ‘big and fat’ Indian weddings. Alia Bhatt and Shahid Kapoor almost carry the film through on the strength of their chemistry but they are regularly pulled down by a motley of directorial distractions.
Watch it if you can digest a soup of Karan Johar and Phantom (Anurag Kashyap) styles of filmmaking!
Rating: **1/2 (2.5 out of 5 – Average)

Oct 16, 2015

Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 Movie Review: Old Template That Still Works Fine

The biggest irony of Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 and its 2011 hit prequel is that it is directed by a man called ‘Luv’ Ranjan. Irony because this man called Luv hits love and its affiliated emotions exactly where it hurts and unabashedly blames the fairer sex for most of the modern day relationship issues. While you may disagree with the notions propagated by him, or even worse, you may call him blatantly misogynistic, utterly frustrated and dismiss him completely if you suffer from bouts of feminism, but you cannot take away the director’s legitimate right to make his point. A point that he so strongly believes in and goes about emphasizing it in a very eloquent, humorous and mostly harmless manner that in most cases, it should not (and does not) offend anyone (from either sexes).
I will not mince words in warning you beforehand that Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 is not for you if you are a devout feminist, a bit too sensitive kinds or devoid of even a gentle dollop of humor. You might consider dropping reading this review right here right now or even if you want to continue to read (in case you are massively impressed by my writing), you should definitely not think of watching the film. Pyar Ka Punchnama 2 is shameless and remorseless in its female condemnation. Be warned!
Using the same old template of its much-appreciated prequel, Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 is about three carefree boys (Kartik Aaryan as Anshul/Gogo, Sunny Singh as Sidharth/Chauka and Omkar Kapoor as Thakur) who share a stunningly luxurious flat, party most of the times and yet never get broke. Enter three petite young women (Nushrat Bharucha as Ruchika/Chiku, Sonalli Sehgall as Supriya and Ishita Raj as Kusum) to turn our boys’ blessed lives upside down. The three couples hit it off initially but problems peep in as soon as the girls’ start to ‘take control’ and ‘domesticate’ our boys. Lusty and romantic background music quickly makes way for Mika Singh’s Ban Gaya Kutta and puppy noises, and you know the real fun has just begun. What follows is a series of comical relationship situations that many of urban, metro-dwelling couples would identify with.
If Pyaar Ka Punchnama was about boys whining over how girls frustrate them with their silly tantrums, unreal expectations and virtual exploitation, Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 goes a step further and seems to be indulging in genuine finger pointing. It pits all the blame of relationship misery on females and in fact smartly picks up three most common issues – money, marriage and mistrust, to drive home its highly opinionated and somewhat prejudiced points.
Like its predecessor, this film also features an 8-minute long ‘monologue of frustration’ by Kartik Aaryan – an improvement of at least 5 minutes from the previous film. Kartik begins his monologue with ‘problem yeh hai ki wo ladki hai’ and you know where it will go. The relentless rant is both a rabble rouser as well as an absolute uproar at places. You find yourself giggling, nodding in agreement (at times) and letting out a haww in disbelief as well. The monologue, which has been fittingly picturized at a signage in the backdrop that reads ‘dead end’, concludes with Kartik arriving at the conclusion that perhaps it’s better for man to marry his hand rather than a woman. Ouch. Get it?

Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 also ups the ante in the oomph department with generous dosage of kissing, bikini and unbuttoning scenes. The film also gets the lingo spot on with ch**iya becoming a synonym for a man in love andch***yapa becoming an expression for every suffering that a man has to undergo because of his bae. Courtesy oursanskaari censor board, there are several beeps in the film but it is no rocket science to figure out what the actors are mouthing. The good part about the film’s dialogues and its overall lingo is that it never seems made up or pretentious and comes across as what it aspires to be – youth-centric and day-to-day. But, overall if you compare Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 with its prequel, the former clearly seems to have an edge – largely because its novelty and originality.
The three male actors in the film are in top form with each of them both living every man’s dream and also venting out every man’s grumbles. Kartik Aaryan, the undisputed veteran of the three when it comes to doing a post-mortem of love, is hilarious in some of the scenes with the frustrated monologue easily topping the charts. Sunny Singh as the affable Sardar is the surprise pack with its innocent looks, charming personality and cheeky sense of humor. His plight seems to be most genuine of the three lads and you feel for the guy most of the times – a true victim of ‘aurat ka atyachaar’ in every sense. Omkar Kapoor as Thakur carries the intense look well and manages to hold his own amongst the three boys. He acts confidently and brings a certain calmness to the madness of Kartik and Sunny.
The leading ladies too pull of their jobs admirably with Nushrat Bharucha coming out with flying colors in her bimbette act. Nushrat steals the show in a sequence where three boys and herself are watching a India Vs Pakistan cricket match. Her dumbness in this sequences, where she innocently confirms with her boyfriend that whether Sachin Tendulkar has actually retired, is so spectacular that you want to roll on the floor laughing. Sonalli Sehgall and Ishita Raj also fit in their roles perfectly, balancing glamour with meanness/dumbness with relative ease.
But, everything is not hunky dory with Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2. Its jokes do look repetitive at times, especially in the second half and the music fails to inspire. The film is also brazen at times while making fun of women and although it never becomes insulting, it definitely goes on to become heavily lopsided on occasions. The screenplay is also dodgy at places with the situations becoming way too predictable and the rants becoming way too obvious.
But, overall Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 is mostly entertaining and consistently enjoyable. It is blatant, bold and buoyant with the sentiments of male victimhood and female bashing. It’s light, comical look and feel makes matters tolerable or else we would have had women protesting on the streets demanding a ban (pun intended).
Watch it if you subscribe to the ideals of ‘Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus’!
Rating: *** (3 out of 5 – Good)

Oct 10, 2015

Jazbaa Movie Review: More Filtered than Instagram, Photoshop and Your Cup of Coffee Combined

First things first. I don’t know why they have called the film ‘Jazbaa’. ‘Jazbaa’ roughly translates to ‘passion’ in English and I am not sure how the theme of passion fits the bill to be this film’s title. Are the makers hinting at the passion of a mother to save her child or is it about the passion to fight against a social evil like sexual harassment? Whatever be might the intent, it does not come out well at the end of the film. The only aspect of the film that showcases true passion is Sanjay Gupta’s weird obsession with green filters that makes at least half of the film look like a series of poorly-edited Instagram posts. More on that later.
Jazbaa Poster 2Let’s start with the positives. First, it’s a relief when we are told that Jazbaa is an official remake of a Korean hit film called Seven Days. This acknowledgment and ‘generosity’ is huge coming from a director who has been in the past guilty of blatant plagiarism, even for a handful of accomplished films that he has directed (Kaante, Musafir and Zinda). Second, Jazbaa is, in all fairness, a neatly executed and a well-crafted thriller for most of its 2-hour long runtime. The film is set on a riveting premise with ample scope of thrill and all the frills attached with it.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan plays Anuradha Verma, a legal eagle and a single mother to her daughter Sanaya. The top lawyer, who has never lost a single case and is seemingly not averse to even defend the guilty as long as she is winning, is forced into defending a rapist-murderer after her daughter Sanaya is abducted. Helping her out in getting to the root of the case and finding her abducted daughter is Inspector Yohaan (Irrfan Khan), a decorated but now suspended cop who also has feelings for Anuradha. Also in the fray is the murder/rape victim’s mother (Shabana Azmi) who is aghast at the idea of a woman lawyer defending a rape accused in the court.
Jazbaa is clearly designed to be a grand comeback vehicle for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and there’s nothing wrong in it. There are ample slow motion shots, lots of solo scenes, close-ups and the mandatory screeching and wailing that has become the hallmark of ‘heroine-oriented’ films in Bollywood. In fact, the film starts with a visibly fit and undoubtedly gorgeous Aishwarya jogging and exercising on Mumbai seaside with a non-descript song playing in the background. Yes, we get it Sanjay Gupta sahib, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is back, back both in shape and reckoning.
Aishwarya is mostly convincing and powerful as a tough lawyer and a doting mother. She does try a bit too hard in some of the scenes, especially in those where it seems the director asked her to screech and forgot to say cut, but overall it’s a fine performance that the former Miss World delivers with appreciable poise and tenacity.
Jazbaa Still 2Jazbaa’s biggest letdown is the poor Irrfan Khan (yes, you read it right) who wowed us in the role of CBI officer in Talvar just a week back. Irrfan is let down by a poorly conceptualized and heavily caricaturized character that relegates him to be an insignificant sidekick to Aishwarya. He gets to deliver some corny dialogues, wear some tacky jackets and misfit sunglasses, in what seems to be Sanjay Gupta’s tribute to the stereotypical cop of Bollywood. His romantic interest in Aishwarya is never fully justified and his attempt to act like a ‘cool’ cop who does ‘cool’ things does not cut an ice with the audience. Perhaps, we are just used to see the real Irrfan Khan all the time. This one is too fake and wannabe to be true.
Similarly, it pains to see Shabana Azmi trying to be all melodramatic and ‘act’ like a mother who is aggrieved by the demise of her daughter. Her conversations with Aishwarya are frivolous and non-serious at times, making you wonder what was the idea of putting those sequences in the film.
Jazbaa has a couple of unexpected and well-disguised twists in the narrative which will make you sit up in your seat and take notice. The film is also well-paced and sharply edited at 2 hours and 2 minutes. However, the director seems to be divulging into too many territories at several points in time. As a result, Jazbaa is neither a compelling courtroom drama, nor a candid commentary on the issue of sexual harassment or even a flawless thriller for that matter. Repeated enactments of the rape scene seems more titillating than heart-wrenching and you can’t help but question the director’s honesty as he delves into a matter as serious as rape. Equally questionable is the eventual finale that seems to have been enacted keeping in mind the current fad for feminism.
Jazbaa Still 3Similarly, the courtroom sequences are not compelling and fiery enough with the talented Atul Kulkarni, who plays public prosecutor arguing his case against Aishwarya, hardly getting any substantial arguments to put forward. All the supposedly ‘good dialogues’, most of which is nothing but 90s style cringe fest, are saved for Irrfan who looks woefully out of place.
But all of the above flaws do not put down Jazbaa as much as those ridiculous filters that Sanjay Gupta is obsessed with. Mumbai skyline has a strange hue of green all the time,  the roads are always damp and the sky always overcast with clouds that look as fake as a wig would on Anupam Kher’s head. Complementing this Instagram-style filtering is a video game-like background music which is so loud and buoyant at places that it hurts your ears.
Overall, Jazbaa could have easily passed off as an average thriller with some interesting twists in between, but it is letdown by the director’s penchant for melodrama and obsession with green filters. It also seems non-serious on serious issues and does the cardinal mistake of miscasting Irrfan Khan in a role that simply does not suit him.
Watch it only if you have waited for Aishwarya to come back all these years!
Rating: ** (2 out of 5 – Average)