19 Oct 2017

Movie Review: Secret Superstar: Great Intentions, Good Treatment


Fifteen-year-old Insia (Zaira Wasim) lives with her mother Najma (Meher Vij), a little brother Guddu (Kabir), a lovely grandmother and an abusive, short-tempered father Farookh (Raj Arjun). Insia loves making her own songs on the guitar while warding off her classmate Chintan's (Tirth Sharma) obvious interest in her.

Insia's father resents Zaira's bent to music. Her mother stands by her. After her mother gifts her a laptop and Internet dongle, Zaira posts her first song video on YouTube clad in a burkha under the name 'Secret Superstar'. As she gains anonymous fame,  infamous music director Shakti Kumaarr notices her. Meanwhile, Insia's dominating father plans to move with the family to Saudi Arabia and marry off Insia. Desperate for her freedom, Insia takes some bold steps.

Taare Zameen Par 2.0?  
There are many parallels to Amole Gupte and Aamir Khan's Taare Zameen Par (2007) and Secret Superstar. Though the latter doesn't deal with autism, both films feature the main child protagonist with daddy issues and creative streaks.

The mom quotient is propelled as the main draw in Secret Superstar, it featured in a prominent song in Taare Zameen Par. Aamir Khan features as a helping friend/angel here too. Both films feature receiving awards as the character's culmination. Emotions are placed out as audience manipulators in both movies. But there is more to Secret Superstar.  


Mommy-Daughter Vibes   
Najma and Insia's relationship has engaging complex literature webs.Insia calling her mother foolish, stupid to her face for taking in her father's abuse is a nice touch. Najma's unsung heroics is effectively understated. She is easily connectable as what Indian mothers go through, not that everyone's trapped in an abusive marriage.

Insia's teenage angst makes a mark because of Wasim's steely interpretation. In her second outing, Zaira Wasim has all the marks of a great actress. Watch Insia slur before her dad's stern queries, her wall-punching anger, mom-daughter outburst, class act.

Pre-Teen Romance, Sibling Revelry, Star Presence 
The Chintan-Insia kiddy love story has its vibes, though it sometimes feels filmy convenience. Guddu (Kabir Sajid) as Insia's little brother is a crackling minimally used character. Aamir Khan's Shakti Kumaarr's seems contrived at the start. Despite some miss, some hit parts, Khan's character gives us great laughs in the second half.

The Amit Trivedi Impact 
Secret Superstar wouldn't have the same 'yearning to be free' impact if not for Amit Trivedi's wonderful, apt soundtrack. The songs may not necessarily be chartbusters. But in 16-year-old Meghna Mishra's vocals, Trivedi finds a great groove and cultivates our empathy for Insia. Main Kaun Hoon, Meri Pyari Ammi, and Nachdi Phira are crucial to the film's storyline, elevating audience-character connect.

On, Off Treatment   
Cinematography and sound design seems lazy here, as is the film's dependence on performances to instill engagement in many scenes. The prolonged climax with the mother repeating her daughter's words, the award function finale, the Shakti Kumaarr flirt angle, would seem all stilted, but for the performances.

Zaira Wasim's wonderful, unaffected turn is ably supported by Meher Vij, Aamir Khan, and Raj Arjun. Tirth Sharma and Kabir Sajid deserve special mention for their performances. Khan is clearly having fun here, though the writing lets him down at times. Raj Arjun is effective as a father, not ending up as a one-tone villain. He deftly conveys the shadow of long-working-hours and a male dominant tradition, in ways you can easily miss. 

Great Intent, Decent Execution 
Secret Superstar didn't completely win me over, but several moments are strong, genuinely affecting, true-to-life and inspiring. From celebrating adolescence, innocence, aspirations and girl power to holding a mirror to domestic violence and marriage dynamics, there is enough to take away here. It skillfully keeps star presence and religion in the background.

Despite the 150-minute running time, Secret Superstar has so much going for it, that it makes for a good, if not overwhelming Diwali family movie watch at the theaters. Some very pertinent questions are asked here.

4 Oct 2017

Padmavati Ranveer Singh Movie Posters


Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati is making the headlines once again this week. Ranveer Singh's look as the Delhi ruler Alauddin Khilji has been unveiled.

The Padmavati marketing team seems to know how to create a healthy, steady buzz.The first look Deepika Padukone poster was released a fortnight ago. A week later, posters featuring Shahid Kapoor as Ratan Singh was revealed.

Another unconfirmed news has been doing the buzz since last week. Ranveer Singh has been reportedly consulting psychiatrists to get out of the negative mind frame he had inhabited for playing Khilji. The authenticity of the news is yet to be confirmed. 

Padmavati posters featuring the main cast, Deepika, Shahid, and Ranveer have been released. It is not yet clear whether the supporting cast will be featured in the posters too. The date of the Padmavati trailer release is also under wraps.

Initially set to release in 2018, Padmavati is now geared up for a surprise December 1 release this year.

No Piracy Please
A special note to all movie lovers. Do not click 'Download Padmavati Movie' links. Free download and viewing of movies online are illegal and unethical practices. Movies are meant to be experienced on the big screen, on legal streaming services or later in TV channel telecasts. Until movie makers and the film industry realize that movies and songs are best distributed on individual single-user limited pen drives, say no to piracy.

27 Sep 2017

Movie Review: Newton: The India We Never See


Newton Kumar (Rajkummar Rao), a newly-appointed government employee, volunteers to be the presiding election officer (the appointed officer refuses. fearing death) at a Naxal-rampant region in Chhattisgarh.

Newton and his team (Raghubir Yadav and co.) are escorted by the army on arrival. To avoid a bullet-proof jacket laden 8 km walk through a forest to the designated pooling booth, army camp leader Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi) suggests fraudulent voting.Newton, upright and dedicated, uses his official authority and insists that they perform their duties instead.

Though the constituency has only 70-odd tribal voters with none likely to turn up, Newton echoes his senior's (Sanjay Mishra) advice. A silent tussle ensues between Singh and Newton, even as a voting booth is installed and an election officer swats away mosquitoes, plays astrologer and falls asleep.

An Inconvenient Truth 
Set up as a black comedy and satire, Newton is about things we Indians know and traditionally, comfortably consent to. India is a democracy only by name. Somewhere in a jungle, between Naxals and politicians, people want to be left alone in peace. But the powerful using the whip on the poor is a tale as old as kingdoms and oppression. We have accepted this fact quietly, without protest for a long time now. Some people like Newton haven't.


The Indian Narrative
The morning show audience laughing off Newton's helplessness is part of the Indian narrative. Giggles come easily to us when a government employee is adamant and eager in his sincerity. Newton represents this stubborn, sole, endangered ideal. Honesty and government jobs don't go together. That simply doesn't happen in India.

Many also laughed at scenes of helpless villagers obeying army orders. Clearly, many were watching Newton with their Bollywood comedy glasses on. Ready to laugh at anything. The rural-urban, well-to-do vs poor disconnect in that cinema hall at some instances was disturbingly evident. 

Pressing Questions
Why do we vote? Why does the electoral process seem lame? Why are we as we are? Are we slaves to the systems of our own creation? Is development necessary? Why can't people live as they like? What is freedom then?

Newton raises questions that few Indian films have dared to ask. It walks a social drama/comedy tightrope, entertaining and making a great impact. The film vindicates by conveying - Nothing knocks you out like the truth.

Oscar Vibes
Don't expect a 'rocking', 'overwhelming', 'ultra-brilliant' movie, just because we are sending Newton to the Oscars. Director Amit Masurkar conveys his message with the right cinematic balance, extracts top-grade performances and doesn't disappoint.

Watch what Rajkummar Rao's nervously blinking eyes convey, as does Raghubir Yadav's free-flowing dialogue delivery. The gifted and uncannily effective Rao is having a well-deserved dream run this year. Pankaj Tripathi is again impressive, this time as the practical, crooked army man. He is certainly an actor for all seasons. Anjali Patil is good too. The background score, soundtrack, and cinematography could have been better.

Excellent, Understated Screenplay
Go with an open mind and heart for Newton. It admirably deals with themes that involve each one of us. Newton will make me think about governance, living, patriotism, consequence, and purpose, for a long time to come. Along with Lipstick Under My Burkha, my co-contender for the Boom Box film of the year.