Jul 31, 2015

Drishyam (Hindi) Movie Review: Much Ado, Little Impact

Drishyam is like a steam engine that runs out of steam right before it is about to reach the destination. Enough tension is built, a few thrills are thrown in between but the finale is rather underwhelming and somewhat predictable. The fact that I could pre-empt Nishikant Kamat’s ‘ace in the pack’ well 15-20 minutes before the climax, left me with a bad taste in the mouth.

Drishyam arrives in theaters this weekend with a huge baggage on its back. The film is a remake of a much-acclaimed and commercially successful Malayalam film with the same name that starred Mohanlal. It was subsequently remade in other three Dravidian languages – Tamil (with the legendary Kamal Hassan in lead), Telugu and Kannada. Also, I am told that the original story of the film (credited to Jeethu Joseph, who also directed the original Malayalam version) is actually inspired from a Japanese thriller, The Devotion of Suspect X. So, if you closely look at it, Drishyam is actually an ‘Inception’ of remakes – remakes of remakes and that too featuring some actors of great caliber. So, the makers did show some guts when they decided to remake the film in Hindi.

The film traces the life of Vijay Salgaonkar (Ajay Devgn), an ordinary cable TV network owner in a Goa village, and his family comprising of his wife Nandini (Shriya Saran) and two daughters. We are repeatedly told Vijay is a 4th grade dropout and an orphan. We are also frequently reminded that Vijay is a movie buff and watches films in his office almost every other night. Also, whenever he watches a Sunny Leone film, he quickly heads back home to be with his wife. Hmm!
In fact, the first half of the film tries a bit too hard to ‘establish’ the character of Vijay for us. You are almost forced to memorize that Vijay is a miserly man but he also loves his family. He is fond of hanging out at a local cafĂ© and does not have a great equation with a local corrupt policeman. In between all this groundwork for the supposed master cover-up that surfaces later in the film, we are also exposed to a freak accident cum crime that Vijay and his family must cover up. Frankly, the circumstances that lead to the crime seem too juvenile to be true and the family’s way of dealing with it is outlandish to say the least.

Despite its conveniences and ordinariness, Drishyam’s first half does have some tense moments that ignite the hope for a riveting second half. The entire sequence where Vijay disposes off a crucial evidence of crime is fascinating and the overall mood is nicely pepped up by an excellent background score (Sameer Phatarpekar). Right before the interval, IG Meera Deshmukh (Tabu) makes an entrance and the stage is set for a promising cat and mouse game.

The second half does have some thrills and a few well-executed sequences. The sequence where IG Meera and officer Gaitonde (Kamlesh Sawant) threaten and beat up Vijay and his family is impactful and chilling. But the eventual finale is a big letdown in terms of impact and compactness. After a long drawn chessboard game between the police and Vijay’s family, the ‘revelation’ at the end does not excite. I obviously cannot divulge much details about the climax but there are ample loose ends which leave you unsatisfied.

Also, Drishyam is undone by a unidimensional style of storytelling and treatment. You know the answer to that coveted question – whodunit, all along. The twists and turns in between the narrative do not match up to the hype or tension that film promises through its premise and background score. IG Meera’s and the entire police department’s virtual surrender in front of the ‘visuals’ shown by Vijay is unfathomable. They know it all along, move in the right direction, dig up all the right evidences and suddenly give up on the suspected culprits. Strange!

In the acting department, Ajay Devgn is his usual brooding and glaring self. There are occasions where he looks uninterested, especially in the stretched and length second half. Tabu is caught in the cauldron of playing a tough cop and a sobbing mother. She does a better job of the later and her endeavor to project herself as a super cop does not create much impact. Shriya Saran as Ajay Devgn’s wife emotes pretty well and there are some scenes where you can almost feel the fear in her eyes. Rajat Kapoor, who plays Tabu’s husband, makes an impact with his restrained and calculated performance.

Drishyam is simply not the film that thrills, excites or surprises you. It is lethargic, lengthy and unidimensional. I have not seen any of its other remakes or the alleged Japanese inspiration, but I do have certain reservations even with the otherwise ‘acclaimed’ and supposedly ‘mind blowing’ story of the film. 

Nishikant Kamat’s Mumbai Meri Jaan and Force were way more enjoyable and thrilling. Drishyam is simply disappointing.

Rating: ** (Average)

Ghosts of Ganga and the Dazzling Display of Death in Masaan

When I try to paint a picture of the Ganga in my mind, I mostly imagine a pristine river with the rising Sun at the horizon. That’s how we all have been conditioned to imagine the holy river. Ganga stands for purity, tranquility and piousness; a river that may have been abundantly polluted over the centuries but, as per the millions’ belief and reverence, still holds the magical power to purify the polluted. Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan paints such a contrasting picture of the holy river and its mythical home –Varanasi that it shakes your conscience and unravels the ghosts that lie quietly somewhere deep inside the river bed.
Our films mostly shoot on the Varanasi’ Ganga Ghats in the morning. The serenity of the morning light, the splendid sight of the boats sailing on the waters, the believers paying their obedience to the Almighty, and the sound of hymns and bells of devotion; all of these make for a stunning visual. In stark contrast, Masaan (the word means crematorium in English) has a protagonist, Deepak (played by the brilliant Vicky Kaushal), who dives into the Ganga river at night, burns dead bodies at its bank early in the morning, hits the dead body’s skull and limbs back into burning pyre so that the last rites are seamless, and he also cries and howls in seething pain at its bank.
Masaan’s Ganga is dark, its waters black and its banks are abodes of implicit human agony and anguish. And most importantly, Masaan’s Ganga is a means to achieve the greatest closure any living being can wish for – death.
masaan-story_647_072115010130Masaan’s portrayal of the Ganga and its Ghats in Varanasi is innately disturbing but hauntingly beautiful. You are constantly at unease when visuals of burning death pyres hit you at an alarming regularity but never ever you are able to take your eyes off the screen. And that’s the biggest achievement of Masaan and its makers. They throw the greatest reality of life (how ironic that it is nothing but death) on your face but juxtapose it with subtle messaging and a heartwarming story that grips you like a hawk’s claws. Masaan haunts you long after you have left the theater. The visuals stick to your brain.
I have always been intrigued and rather fascinated with themes of death in popular literature and art. JK Rowling brilliantly introduced the beauty of mortality to her young and impressionable readers. Mitch Albom is one of my favorite authors these days as his books throw a different light on death, loss and longing (in no particular order). Neeraj Ghaywan joins the elite list with Masaan. His film takes away the perceived fear and brutality of death and celebrates its inevitability.
That death is often succeeded by a numbing feeling of loss is a universal fact. And loss, either by death or by separation, is succeeded by a strong sense of longing. Masaan’s principal characters epitomize the trinity of death, loss and longing. Here are some excellently conceptualized and seamlessly executed sequences from Masaan that give us ample indication that Neeraj Ghaywan is a man who likes to keep the reality naked:
  1. In a heart wrenching sequence in the second half, Vidyadhar Pathak (played by the ever-reliable Sanjay Mishra) puts his head in his daughter Devi’s (played by a restrained Richa Chaddha) lap, a beautiful role reversal of the man-child relationship, and says sheepishly, “Hum tumhari Maa ko nahin maare hain” in a typically innocent Bihari/Eastern UP accent. Flood gates of his eyes open and the inner guilt of perhaps not having done enough to save his ailing wife shows on his face in form of helplessness and inscrutable pain. This moment of catharsis cements Pathak’s and his daughter’s weakening bond, highlights the everlasting impact of an important death and showcases how loss and longing always go hand in hand.
  2. Death forms an ever-lasting and sometimes chilling backdrop of Masaan. In another sequence, a reassured and madly-in-love Deepak, whose confidence is boosted by his beloved Shalu’s (played by the beautiful Shweta Tripathi) acceptance of his supposedly lowly caste and social background, is woken up by his irritable elder brother in the morning. He wants Deepak to help him in burning some of the dead bodies as the volume of work is unexpectedly large. Deepak gets on with the task with an air of nonchalance as burning dead bodies was his family’s daily job and his everyday sight. The sequence goes on and on for good 3-4 minutes with Deepak picking up dry woods, shoving limbs back in the pyre, burning dead bodies and you wonder what could be the significance of this longish sequence. The sequence finally ends when Deepak is helping his brother in lifting a dead body and putting it over the pyre. The right hand of the dead body suddenly comes out of the white shroud and Deepak notices a familiar red ring in one of the fingers. Shalu had died in a bus accident last night.
  3. Deepak, shocked and numbed by the cruel twist of fate and irony of circumstances, somehow manages to pull out the ring from Shalu’s finger – the only memento of their brief but breezy romance. But, that ring becomes an albatross around his neck as it keeps reminding him of his ill-fated love. He cries manically in seething pain while drinking on one of the secluded Ghats along with his bunch of caring and understanding friends. As he lets out bursts of extreme despair and frustration in loud mourning, your eyes become wet and the body shivers by the mere thought of having to face such tragic loss in life.
  4. Deepak eventually throws the ring into the river one fine night. The very next moment, he wants to retrieve it back as he jumps into the dark waters and swims vehemently but fails to locate the tiny ring. Towards the climax, the ring is finally retrieved by Jhonta (played by the little bombshell Nikhil Sahni) who is Vidyadhar Pathak’s tiny partner in his religious business on the Ghats. Jhonta gets his hand on the ring while having dived into the river as a part of a bizarre diving competition on the Ghats where children collect coins from the river bed while elders bet on them. Pathak bets as much as ten thousand rupees on Jhonta as he desperately needs money to pay the policeman’s ransom, but Jhonta drowns mid-way through the competition and is later hospitalized in order to be saved. Pathak loses all his money but Jhonta rekindles his hope by handing him over Shalu’s ring which would fetch some money once it is sold to a jeweler.
One man’s loss is another man’s saving grace in Masaan. Neeraj Ghaywan portrays death both as a tragedy and a symbol of hope. Deepak’s family earns money by burning dead bodies, Deepak has to see his beloved’s dead body burning before his eyes and Pathak’s life is saved by a token of someone’s lost love and tragic death. All of this unfolds in and around Ganga, the river that mostly symbolizes life but also quietly carries the dead in her womb. Masaan is a celebration of death, loss and longing. The kind of celebration that resonates in our heads for long – irrespective of how much we have loved, lost or longed ourselves.
P.S. – I watched Masaan on 27th July at a Delhi multiplex. The 08.35 PM show. Coincidentally, within half an hour or so, a NDTV news flash on my phone informed me about the sudden demise of former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Death and its contours – you can never figure it out completely.

Jul 18, 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijaan Review: Salman Doesn't Play Himself and It Works

Salman Khan is Rambo meets Rajinikanth with a sprinkle of Robin Hood for Bollywood loving populace. The damned shirt that he wears, rips itself off his chiseled body, Munnis swoon over his dance moves, leading ladies blush every time he cracks a not-so-funny joke and most importantly the bad men remember their grannies by a mere mention of our great Indian messiah of the masses. So, it is almost unthinkable to imagine the same irrepressible Salman Khan as a simpleton who is so earnest, sweet and well-behaved that you may consider pinching yourself. Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan takes a great gamble by projecting Salman as not himself but as somebody that he can perhaps never be (in real life) – and boy, the gamble pays, and pays well!
Let me remind you that Salman Khan as a simple and sweet guy is not a discovery of Kabir Khan. Salman of 90s was a shy but charming hero, most notably as portrayed in Sooraj Barjatya films, but it is the Salman of the post Wanted era that the audiences have lapped up with both their hands. The macho image of Bhai who is ‘Dabangg’ enough to ‘Kick’ his enemies but his also ‘Ready’ to have a bit of fun has done wonders to Salman’s career which was going through a rough patch in the mid 2000s. It is in this regard that Bajrangi Bhaijaan is both a clever and risky film for Salman Khan.
Khan plays Pavan Kumar Chaturvedi aka Bajrangi in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, a sweet buffoon who is a great devotee of Lord Hanuman but is actually good for nothing in life. But his life changes when he bumps into a 6-year old Pakistani girl Munni/Shahida (played by the cutest girl child ever – Harshaali Malhotra) who has lost her way in India. Overcoming his initial reluctance and apprehension, Pavan finally decides to take the little girl all the way to Pakistan all alone and that too without any Visa or passport! Did you just imagine Bhaijaan punching the soldiers in green in their face, driving through the roads of Karachi in his sports bike, shooting and mowing bad souls who come in the way? Well, nothing of that sort happens. And, yes I just devoted a paragraph to describe the story of a Salman Khan film! Bajrangi Bhaijaan DOES have a good story!
Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s greatest strength is its simplified, or say oversimplified approach and treatment. Our hero, Bajrangi, is a devout Hanuman bhakt so he never lies, not even to the Pakistani officers who are questioning his presence in their country. Bajrangi is a noble soul, a sweetheart, so he never unnecessarily runs into Pakistani police or army, unlike Sunny Deol of Gadar. In fact, most of the times, Bajrangi is avoiding confrontation, folding hands, greeting people, sharing happiness! Ah! Say hello to new Salman Khan!
Kabir Khan tries to juxtapose formula with social messaging and mostly succeeds. In fact, his simplistic resolutions to Indo-Pak bitterness, religious orthodoxy reminds you of the unbelievable but enjoyable social problem solutions provided by Rajkumar Hirani and his team in PK and 3 Idiots. Kabir Khan does not have the finesse of a Hirani but he is good with the limited scope of story and screenplay which is at disposal. Most interestingly, he manages to extract ‘acting’ of some sorts out of Salman Khan who easily delivers one of the most important performances of his ‘acting’ career. Salman may not be a revelation in the film, he has never been one throughout his career, but he is clearly earnest, sweet and more ‘human’.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan is also catapulted by a strong support cast led by Nawazuddin Siddiqui who plays Chand Nawab, a small time reporter in Pakistan. Nawazuddin brings in his unique brand of humor and a certain earthiness to the entire proceedings. Kareena Kapoor Khan is relegated to a bit role and it is sad to see her play an almost third fiddle in the film. Sharat Saxena and Rajesh Sharma are effective in their support roles but the star of the show is the little girl, Harshaali Malhotra. The girl is brilliant given her tender age and the fact that she has no dialogues to deliver. Her pretty face, lovely smile and occasional tears smoothen the film’s blurred edges and evaporate the audiences’ fatigue, if any. The bonding of Pavan and Munni/Shahida is another high point of Bajrangi Bhaijaan. It is one of the finest rendition of ‘child and his/her protector’ relationship that we have seen in Hindi films of late.
The film’s music (Pritam) is average and some of the songs add little value to the narrative. The film could have easily been trimmed by at least 15-20 minutes to make it more sleek and edgy. Nonetheless, the overall length of the film (154 minutes) never really catches on to your nerves because the narrative is nicely woven into different sequences and sub-plots. The cinematography (Aseem Mishra) captures the essence of Kashmir, Delhi and Rajasthan perfectly and the recreation of the Pakistani hinterland seems to be believable.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan may not be perfect and you may wonder at times that how can somebody be ‘so good’ or ‘so foolish’. But, Salman’s films have always been about the make-believe world. For a change, this is a Salman Khan film that does not ‘force’ you to believe, it simply makes its point in an uncomplicated manner, and you are almost swooned into the utopian world of a simpleton. It has its heart at the right place, emotions tucked in large quantities (keep tissue papers handy), and intentions mostly gentle and nice.
Watch Bajrangi Bhaijaan because it is one of the better Salman Khan films in a long long time. Yes, this one is not just about the affable Bhai but also has a lot of ‘jaan’ or life of its own. Recommended!
Rating: ***1/2 (Very Good)

Jul 11, 2015

I Love New Year: Canned But Not Devoid of Juice

If you decide to watch Sunny Deol-Kangana Ranaut starrer I Love New Year (stylized as ‘I Love NY’), which in all likelihood you would not, do not enter the theater with any pre-conceived notions. Yes, the film has been delayed for a couple of years and it is definitely not the best Hindi rom-com that you are likely to come across, but it is not unwatchable. In fact, I Love New Year genuinely tries to be different from run-of-the-mill rom-coms and attempts to tell a unbelievable story through believable means. Most of the film’s pitfalls are inflicted by the cruel fact that lost time and momentum makes any product stale and mediocre. Adding salt to the injury is Kangana Ranaut’s decision to mostly disassociate herself from the film and Sunny Deol’s lack of enthusiasm in promoting what is one of his better performances in recent times. More on this later.
I Love NYSunny Deol plays Randhir Singh, an ageing and unmarried Punjabi (no prizes for guessing that), who lives in Chicago with his father (Prem Chopra). A day before the new year, Randhir has a drinking binge with his friends and is in the process transported to New York. In New York, Randhir mistakes Kittu Verma’s (Kangana Ranaut) flat as his own and there begins a series of confusions and misunderstandings that spill well into the upcoming new year.
The film’s story is reportedly based on a popular Russian rom-com. That scope of inspiration aside, the story does have merits of its own. The premise of a drunk ageing bachelor from Chicago landing up straight in the bedroom of a young, vibrant girl in New York is quite tempting. Love as a subject has been so thoroughly explored by all the filmmakers that any innovation in ‘how they actually meet and fall in love’ ends up exciting me. The setting of the story is simple and real with most of the action unfolding inside an apartment. The indoor setting, the smooth flow of one scene into another, quirky and smart dialogues, they all set up a nice little mood for the film.
However, the bright side of the story and screenplay mostly ends here. There’s is too much left to chance and destiny in the whole proceedings. The film’s climax is rather underwhelming and you wonder if the film could have ended good 15-20 minutes before. As the film has seen the light of day after being in cold storage for long, there are some tacky dubbing and visual patches. The climax looks incomplete and the overall film does bear the stain of having a somewhat stale look.
Let;s now talk about the performances. Kangana Ranaut did not want this film to be released. When you will watch I Love New Year, you will exactly know the reasons behind the film’s leading lady’s inhibitions. Miss Ranaut perhaps did not want the film to release because her acting looks very unpolished and poor. In fact, there are some scenes where Kangana makes you laugh unintentionally because of her funny accent and problematic dialogue delivery. It is clear that she has come a long way in these two years and her apprehension about the film was very much related to her own performance. However, I sincerely feel that once a film has been completed, it becomes the producer’s property and the actor has little or no right to try and stall its release. Moreover, no matter how bad you were in your skills in the past or how fine-tuned you are now, an artist must stand by his or her work all the time. Specially, when big money and livelihood of many is at stake.
Sunny Deol gets out of his comfort zone and tries his best to give a sincere and composed performance. His chemistry with Kangana does look a little odd, largely because of the 30-year age canyon that separates the two. Though, Deol does a fine job of the difficult task assigned to him, you end up wondering why would have the makers thought of casting him in this role? Did they want to go for an unusual pairing? Then, why not choose an older actress opposite Deol or a younger actor opposite Kangana? I mean all the good acting talent of Deol and Kangana aside, there are some close-up scenes where the two look like father and daughter! T-Series should fire their casting director (or have they done that by now?).
I Love New Year’s biggest plus is Pritam’s music. From the peppy Gudd Naal Ishq Mitha to sombre Judaai, the film’s soundtrack is soothing and melodious. In fact, you may want to hunt for the film’s songs and download them – a definite good addition to your playlist. The film’s production value, editing, dubbing and sound design aren’t great. That’s most likely because of the huge gap between production and release of the film.
Overall, you feel letdown by I Love New Year, not because it’s a disastrous film, but because it’s been handled disastrously. What could have been a light, little rom-com is eventually a half-baked embarrassment that does more harm than benefit to reputation of everyone involved. Watch it if you want to see how mediocre Kangana was as an actor just a couple of years ago or if you want to see a calm, caring Sunny Deol who still has some acting chops left in him.
Rating: ** (Average)
The review is also published on Mad About Moviez.

Jul 4, 2015

Guddu Rangeela Review: High on Promise, Low on Delivery

Guddu Rangeela is a prominent singer in Bhojpuri music industry, famous or rather infamous for his songs that are laced with sexual innuendos and crass lyrics. Subhash Kapoor’s film Guddu Rangeela, on the contrary, opens with an absolutely riveting ‘modern devotional song’- Mata Ka Email. While many may not be familiar with the Bhojpuri singer Guddu Rangeela, but the irony of the film, with that same notorious name, starting with a hilarious devotional song will not be lost on someone from Bihar. Sadly, despite a funny start and a reasonably exciting mid-point, Subhash Kapoor’s film squanders its potential in a dreary, lost second half.
The film is set in the rural milieu of Haryana, a land known for its notorious Khap panchayats, local political strongmen and a society marred by deep caste divides. Guddu (Amit Sadh) and Rangeela (Arshad Warsi) are brothers who pose as local orchestra players but are in reality petty thieves-cum-informers who tip off organized burglary gangs about potential wealthy households. Circumstances embroil the brothers into a kidnapping incident where it turns out that their supposed victim Baby (Aditi Rao Hydari) has dragged them into a game plan of her own. Also in the frame is Billu Pehelwan (Ronit Roy), a local MLA and Khap strongman who has a past to share with all the three protagonists – Guddu, Rangeela and Baby.
To be fair to the writer-director Subhash Kapoor, Guddu Rangeela does have an enticing premise beaming with great promise. Although, the film is riddled by numerous sub-plots, they never really drag down the film. What pulls the film down is its meandering screenplay and treatment in the second half. You are confused about the intentions of the maker as to what exactly he is trying to dish out – a social commentary, a satire, a crime-thriller, a comedy, or wait, a love story? The tacky Guddu-Baby love song in the second half comes out of nowhere and unnecessarily drags the film’s run time. Similarly, there are some unwanted and long cat-and-mouse sequences where Guddu and Rangeela, or their brethren, land in a soup, only to come out of it unscathed. The film’s climax is also not executed perfectly with the numerous unpolished sub-plots suddenly raising their hands to get noticed. And yes, there’s an attempt to deliver a lecture on futility of Khaps and women empowerment towards the end. That entire scene is so preachy and somewhat embarrassing that you shift in your seat a little.

But at heart, Guddu Rangeela is a harmless comical affair. As pointed earlier, the film has a breezy first half that is sprinkled with ample doses of humor – humor that is overt but also tastefully subtle at times. The camaraderie of brothers, Arshad Warsi and Amit Sadh, is pretty cool and together they look like a team of goons-with-noble-hearts that you feel like rooting for. While Amit Sadh plays the more extrovert and ‘rangeen’ Guddu (I wonder why he was not named Rangeela, given his penchant for flings), Arshad Warsi plays the more restrained but much-wittier Rangeela. Arshad Warsi is in form here after a long time and gets to mouth a bulk of the film’s quirky, excellent dialogues. Amit Sadh is well-suited for his role and Aditi Rao Hydari does a fantastic job of her relatively sizable role in the first half. The romantic angle between the two is little inexplicable and largely untapped. Among the support cast, Rajeev Gupta emerges as a show-stealer in the role of a Haryanawi Police officer whose innocence and superb comic timing belies the stereotypical portrayal of corrupt police officers in Hindi films. Ronit Roy looks menacing as the antagonist and seamlessly picks up a thick but believable Haryanawi accent.
Overall, Guddu Rangeela is one of those films that makes you think – ‘only if they could have done this differently’. A kind of film that you want to laud for its merits but you also cannot ignore its glaring loopholes. Watch this Subhash Kapoor film because it has some genuinely funny dialogues, a tempting premise and a couple of actors with great comic timing. Give it a miss, if you are absolutely averse to complicated subplots and lengthy ‘trapped-and-rescued’ sequences.
Rating: **1/2 (Average)