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.
Main-Aur-Charles (1)
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)