Mar 19, 2016

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

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

Mar 5, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: *1/2 (Poor)