Aug 21, 2015

Manjhi–The Mountain Man Movie Review: Not Perfect but a Significant Film

You can also read this article on Mad About Moviez.
After watching Manjhi – The Mountain Man, I came out of the theater with a buzzing mind. My eyes had turned a bit moist towards the end of the film but I also had a slight ache quietly making its way into my head. I had a lot of questions running through my mind, several visuals were stuck in my head but, also, a strange sense of incompleteness had infiltrated my heart.
Manjhi the Mountain Man Poster 2After a lot of deliberation between my head and heart, I realized that Manjhi is not a great but a very significant film. Significant because you should watch it to believe how a lot of love and a bit of madness can make a man take on the mountain, and how horrifying are the twin social evils of casteism and poverty. Why does it fall short of being a great film? Well, we will dig into that a little later.
If you realize, there is a flip side to Dashrath Manjhi’s otherwise fascinating story. The long and arduous journey of the Mountain Man, as he his fondly and rightly called, can actually be summed up in a couple of sentences- “Dashrath Manjhi, a poor landless laborer from Bihar, worked meticulously for 22 years to carve a road out of a mountain using only a chisel and hammer. Aggrieved by the untimely demise of his wife, who died due to lack of medical attention, Manjhi took it upon himself to wage a lonely war against the mighty mountain that blocked basic amenities from reaching his village.” That’s it.
Yes, Dashrath Manjhi’s story is of ultimate triumph of human spirit and determination against all odds but it’s elements of drama and struggle are watered down because of the huge time period that it covers. How exactly can you bring in the moments of struggle, happiness, dejection, joy and drama in the story of a man who does the same thing for good 22 years? To put it in a few words, Manjhi’s story does not have the typical contours of adventures that we usually associate with biographies and heroic stories. Keeping this aspect of the story in mind, you cannot help but appreciate director Ketan Mehta’s tenacity and honesty in putting together different beads of Dashrath Manjhi’s remarkable life into a singular and mostly cohesive strand.
Manjhi the Mountain Man Still 1At times, Ketan Mehta, who has films like Mangal Pandey and Rang Rasiya to his credit, does go overboard with flashbacks of romance and also meanders a little in a bid to deliver a fitting finale. But, more or less, the soul of Manjhi – The Moutain Man is always blemish free. In fact, the film does a good job of tracing significant events of Indian history through the prism of Manjhi’s life. The sequence where Manjhi actually comes face to face with none other than Indira Gandhi took me by complete surprise and so did his march to Delhi during the times of Emergency. It is these small and rather unknown snippets of Manjhi’s life that the film brings out brilliantly.
The film is crisp at 2 hours and 5 minutes but comes across as a little dragged because of the incoherent screenplay. Taking a non-linear approach of narration, the director shuffles between different time zones in 22 years, and it somehow breaks the rhythm of storytelling. These hiccups in storytelling aside, the film makes an honest bid to showcase the evils of untouchability and caste prejudice that existed in newly independent India.
Manjhi – The Mountain Man has some terrific moments that bring out the horrors of caste oppression and depressing poverty. There are chilling scenes of poor and landless villagers being brutally beaten up, left to live in extreme poverty or worst, left to die in a burning brick furnace. The film is equally efficient at highlighting the systemic issue of corruption and administrative apathy that plagues India and most of its underdeveloped states.
In the acting department, the film is an out and out Nawazuddin Siddiqui show with the talented actor putting up a very restrained and nuanced performance that is very different from what he has been doing so far. When Nawazuddin plays the younger Manjhi, there are elements of his trademark humor and earthy acting, but he actually comes into his own while portraying the much older, aggrieved and almost maniacal version of Manjhi. The pain, the anguish, the tears, the toil – Nawazuddin embodies all of these emotions to bring out a character that is carved with flesh and blood. The actor must have pushed his limits while shooting this film and it is clearly visible in scenes of great human struggle and survival.
Manjhi the Mountain Man Still 2Radhika Apte looks beautiful and gets into the character of Manjhi’s wife, Phagunia, with utmost ease and spontaneity. She is a complete natural and leaves a big impact in a role that is completely deglamorized and required dialogues to be delivered in unadulterated local dialect and Bihari accent. Pankaj Tripathi is fantastic as a cunning son of the village Zamindar and gets his accent and mannerisms spot on. Ditto for Tigmanshu Dhulia who somewhat reprises his Ramadhir Singh act of Gangs of Wasseypur.
The overall impact of the film suffers due to some tacky VFX and excessive use of Chroma in some of the scenes. Similarly, a couple of dream sequences look very unreal and add to the overall randomness of the middle portion of the film. The film’s music (Sandesh Sandilya and Hitesh Sonik) and background score is average while the dialogue are effective, crisp and as per the local flavor of Bihar.
Overall, Manjhi – The Mountain Man is sprinkled with some fine renditions of human struggle, madness and love. The sparkling chemistry of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte lifts the film to a great extent and it is precisely because of this reason that you feel triumphant and joyous when Manjhi finally accomplishes his task. The film could have been much more than what it is, but it is definitely worth a watch for the sheer significance of the story and some honest portrayal of our society’s stark realities.
Rating: *** (Good)

Aug 15, 2015

Brothers Movie Review: Mother of Yawns and False Dawns

The review is also published on Mad About Moviez.
I haven’t yawned this much while watching a film in a long long time. Yes, Brothers is a rare gem of a film in that sense. But, I have had this feeling of ‘when will this film end’ for so many other Hindi films that have released this year. Brothers is truly run-of-mill in that sense.
Karan Malhotra, the director who gave us the commercially successful but perennially boring remake of the 90s cult classic Agneepath, comes back with another remake in form of Brothers (official remake of 2011 Hollywood film Warrior) and does exactly what he has done before – he bores us to death. Okay, near death (conceding the fact that I am still alive to write this review). At times, I struggle to respond to those ever-inquisitive souls who come up to you after you have watched a film and ask you – how was it? A film like Brothers makes your job easier – you can simply say ‘boring’ and the answer shall perfectly suffice.
Brothers is the story of two brothers (yes, you are a genius because you guessed it right), David Fernandes (Akshay Kumar) and Monty Fernandes (Sidharth Malhotra), who are victims of familial conflict courtesy their drunkard father Gary Fernandes (Jackie Shroff), who we are told is an ex-street fighter. Separated by cruel fate of destiny, the two brothers come face to face in a mixed martial arts competition called Right to Fight (R2F). Punches and kicks fly thick and fast as the two face off in a dramatic final leaving behind a trail of broken bones and smoothened emotions.
To be honest, Brothers has a riveting premise and it clearly reflects in the short description of the film that is given above. A drunkard father, a doting mother, two brothers who love each other but eventually fall apart, a tragic accident, street fighting, anger, repentance, forgiveness, redemption, underdog story, family melodrama – Brothers has all the ingredients of a typical Bollywood potboiler. But, sadly all these ingredients boil well over the brim and leave you with a bad taste in the mouth.
So what goes wrong with Brothers?
  1. An unpardonable penchant for theatrics and melodrama: The background score in the film is so loud and boisterous that it almost becomes an overarching character. The director tries to force feed emotions to the audiences and it clearly does not work. There are times when the background score becomes so buoyant that you start searching for validation through visuals on the screen. But sadly, the proceedings on the screen remain dull and never really evoke strong emotions.
  2. Lack of real emotions: Your eyes are never wet either when the brothers separate or predictably reunite towards the end. Much of the film’s first half is dedicated to pump up our emotions around the Fernandes family but you never really root for or hate any of the principal characters. Emotions fall flat on face perhaps because there is no room of subtlety in Brothers. Crucifixes, tattoos, cut marks on the same spot for every fighter, slow motion flashbacks, church shots – all of these stereotypical elements are thrown on your face and you are supposed to sob. Sorry, it does not work.
  3. Marathon Runtime: With a runtime of nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, Brothers is a remarkable snooze fest. The first half goes on and on to establish the characters and plot, while the second half just never stops with its montages of fight sequences and tacky commentary scenes. There are simply too many loo breaks and yawn distractions – a tighter editing would have helped Brothers salvage some of its pride.
  4. An obnoxious ‘item song’: I have never come across a more pointless and lecherous ‘item song’ than ‘Mera Naam Mary Hai’. Principally, I am not opposed to the idea of an item song in a Bollywood potboiler as long as it serves some purpose in the narrative. Karan Malhotra’s Agneepath had an enjoyable item song in Chikni Chameli, but Mary arrives on the scene with no prior warnings and goes out without doing much. An item songs leading up to a film’s intermission? Really? Also, I wonder what made Kareena Kapoor Khan say yes to such a poorly written song with distasteful dance moves.kareena-kapoor-khan-looks-hot-mera-naam-mary-item-song-teaser-released-brothers-movie
  5. Uninspiring Support Cast: You have Ashutosh Rana in your support cast and you make him carry bottles in and out of the fighting ring. This is just one of the instances of talented actors being cast in rather insignificant roles in Brothers. Jackie Shroff is impressive in some scenes but accepting him as Akshay Kumar’s father seems a little difficult. True to his age, Shroff looks like Akshay’s elder brother and especially because the director decides not to shave off Akshay’s white beard and chest hair! Shefali Shah makes an impact in some of the emotional scenes and reminds us about her immense acting potential. Sidharth Malhotra looks a complete misfit and does little except for glaring and growling. It’s sad to see him struggle to get his emotions and body language right in a role that required immense intensity and dedication.
  6. Lukewarm Fight Sequences: Let’s not forget that despite its brutal display of contrived emotions and melodrama, Brothers is essentially a sports film. It is perhaps the first time that a film on mixed martial arts (MMA) and street fighting has been attempted in Bollywood. But sadly, despite all the build-up and staged pre-launch media madness, the fight sequences fail to make an impact. The fighters look more comical than menacing, our two heroes look more tired and aggrieved than motivated and driven. Both the opening and final fight scenes are big letdowns with the audience (in the theater) wondering what to do and whom to cheer for!
There are a very few likeable aspects of Brothers. And Akshay Kumar is one of them. The actor comes up with a nuanced and restrained performance that is very different from the mostly comical or out-and-out action-oriented roles that he has been doing off late. Jacqueline Fernandez (the only real Fernandez in a film of Fernandes’) looks believable in a brief role. The film’s cinematography is above average but other technical departments leave you asking for more – especially the editing department, which seems to have gone on a vacation. The film’s music (Ajay Atul) is a letdown with none of the songs registering in your memory.
Overall, Brothers buys an age-old Bollywood formula from a Hollywood film and makes a mega mess of it. The film is a sleep-inducing cocktail of sibling rivalry, familial discord and sports extravaganza that tries to be too many things at the same time. And most worryingly, it tries to pass off exaggerated melodrama via some in-your-face theatrics but ends up with mud on its own face.
This Independence Day, you deserve freedom for this Karan Malhotra sham of a film.
Rating: *1/2 (Poor)

Aug 8, 2015

Bangistan Movie Review: Only if There Were More Laughs

A film critic turning into a film director is a mouthwatering prospect. Karan Anshuman does the courageous act with Bangistan and you expect the nitty gritties of the film to be tightened. After all, those who throw stones at others should know how to save themselves if those stones are tossed back at them!

Interestingly, Karan Anshuman’s directorial debut Bangistan manages to convince us about its well-intentioned core message but fails to keep all its eggs in one basket. The film, although quirky and innovative at places, is bogged down by a wayward screenplay that clearly lacks one essential element that makes satires work – humor. More on this later.

The film is set in the fictional nation of ‘Bangistan’, where Muslims hold sway in the North while the Hindus have South as their stronghold. A small little animation in the beginning shows us the exact location of Bangistan on the world map and the irony of Bangistan’s location being akin to that of India and Pakistan is not lost on us. There are also a few delightful pun-ny references to Star*ucks, FcDonald’s, extremist Mullahs proclaiming their love for diet coke and Hindu and Muslim religious leaders informally referring to the Pope as ‘Popchi’.

Praveen Chaturvedi (Pulkit Samrat), obviously a Hindu from ‘South Bangistan’ (yes, some of the interpretations and references in the film are way too simplistic) is an aspiring actor who is duped by a local Hindu extremist outfit ‘Maa Ka Dal’ and its head Guru ji (Kumud Mishra) into a suicide mission. On the other side of the spectrum is Hafiz Bin Ali (Riteish Deshmukh) aka Harold of the BPO world, who opts for a similar mission after being coerced by the chief of a wannabe Jihadi outfit ‘Al-Kaam Tamaam’. Interestingly, the chief of Al-Kaam Tamaam is again played by Kumud Mishra and you can’t help but appreciate the subtle messaging behind it. Yes, all the extremists, whether Hindu or Muslim, are basically two sides of the same coin! Good job on that part, Mr. Anshuman.

The action then shifts to Poland where the two bombers arrive to bomb (well, obviously!) a religions’ conference where leaders of their faith are about to give message of peace and harmony. In a film that has a liner and simplistic style of storytelling, you are impressed by the context setting and how the director drives home some sarcastic and satirical points. But while the first half is breezy and crisp, true to the film’s satirical core, the second half meanders a little into the preachy mode. Some sequences on religious tolerance and Hindu-Muslim bonhomie are so preachy and predictable that you feel like yawning. The reason behind why the two suicide bombers decide to ‘become each other’ is also never clear and it comes across more as a ploy to push through the discourse on religious harmony.

Bangistan scores well in the departments of satire and sarcasm. Sample this, a night club in Poland where the two wannabe terrorists hang out is called ‘Bull and Boar’ – a subtle reference to the widely held religious beliefs about these two animals in Hinduism and Islam respectively. Also, the director pays some smart odes to great films and filmmakers of the past through its support cast. For instance, Tamim Hussain (Chandan Roy Sanyal), a Bangladeshi taxi driver in Poland, addresses himself in the third person as ‘Citizen Hussain’. All of this satire and subtle humor is present throughout the film but strangely the laughs are missing!

If Tere Bin Laden and Filmistaan are still remembered and widely regarded as two of the finest satirical films on terror, it is because these two films made us laugh effortlessly. Bangistan does not do that. Most of the jokes or one-liners fall flat, you smile and giggle at times, but never really laugh out loud. Reasons? One, the dialogues could have definitely been funnier. It seems the writers 
invested way too much in setting up satirical situations and references but fell short just a bit when it came to infusing humor in the dialogues. Interestingly, some of the film’s songs are very well-written (lyricist Puneet Krishna is also credited as one of the screenplay writers). Special mention for the well-meaning and brilliant lyrics of ‘Hogi Kraanti Chaaro Or’ and ‘Is Duniya Se Ladna Hai’.

Another reason why Bangistan fails to evoke laughter could be its mediocre casting. Pulkit Samrat overacts sometimes and tries to imitate Salman Khan on occasions. One should definitely not write him off as an actor yet but he certainly can work on improving his comic timing. Kumud Mishra who has the tempting job of playing both the Hindu and Muslim extremist is strictly average and is more stereotypical than natural. Ditto for Chandan Roy Sanyal, who looks slightly disinterested, perhaps put off by the tiny size of his role. Prateek Babbar, who plays one of the jihadis, looks and acts like a buffoon, and makes you laugh unintentionally. Yes, Bangistan should have opted for a better support cast.

But, one actor who holds his ground and in fact comes up with a matured and layered performance is Riteish Deshmukh. You can’t help but get impressed by his natural flair for comedy and the newfound penchant for versatility. He is gawky, sweet, enraged and funny as per the demand of the situations and carries the burden of Bangistan like Hercules. Jacqueline Fernandez appears in a cameo and has nothing much to do apart from gyrating on a wannabe club song.

All said and done, Bangistan is a well-intentioned film with a noble message that is dragged down by lack of humor, a below par support cast and a climax so Bollywood-ish that you cringe in your seat. Watch it if you can digest satire when humor is not served as a side dish or if you are ready to avail discount on entertainment for the sake of the ultimate message.

Rating: *** (Good)