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.

25 Sep 2017

Padmavati Shahid Kapoor Movie Posters

Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati promotions seem to be carefully planned to build steady anticipation. Last week's first look posters of Padmavati, featured Deepika Padukone as a graceful, bejeweled queen. Today, Shahid Kapoor unveiled his look as Maharawal Ratan Singh on his Instagram account.

This is Shahid Kapoor's first collaboration with Bhansali. Apart from Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh shares the lead cast credits for Padmavati. 

We do not know how much the film script and screenplay borrows from the epic 1540 poem Padmavat. But it is most likely that Kapoor's Ratan Singh plays husband to Padukone's Rani Padmini. Singh plays Alauddin Khilji, the powerful Delhi ruler who craves for Padmini.

Puzzling Protests
In the light that Padmavati is a work of fiction, the rampant, goon-like protests are even more puzzling. The main objection seems to be that Bhansali has distorted 'facts' in the movie. That is, the movie that the protestors haven't watched as yet.

A fresh wave of protests claims that Bhansali had promised a screening of the film to the Shri Rajput Karni Sena before release. So in a 'polite' manner of demanding a screening, the film's posters were burnt. There is some talk of a no objection certificate. We hope that ultimately, reason and courage have its way.  

No Piracy Please
A special note to all movie lovers. Do not download or view Padmavati or any other movie illegally online. 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.             

23 Sep 2017

Padmavati Deepika Padukone Movie Posters

Padmavati, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's long-awaited magnum opus will release on December 1, 2017. Starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, and Shahid Kapoor as the lead cast, Padmavati's release date is a pleasant surprise. As per film magazine reports, the film was supposed to release in 2018. Supposedly, many days of shooting were still left. But all those rumours were proved wrong with the first look posters creating ripples on the Internet.

Padmavati, contrary to a widespread misinformed perception is not a true story. It is based on an epic 600-year-old poem Padmavat by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Sanjay Leela Bhansali has also created the music for this movie. We expect a rousing soundtrack at par with his previously created music for Guzaarish (2010), Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram Leela (2013) and Bajirao Mastani (2015).

15 Sep 2017

Movie Review: Simran: A Little Gem, But Doesn't Pack a Punch

Praful Patel (Kangana Ranaut) works as a housekeeper at a five-star hotel in the US. A divorcee, she lives with her orthodox Gujarati parents, saving up for her own apartment. But a gambling spree at Las Vegas puts Praful in a tight corner.

In a desperate run to win back her lost money, freedom, and ward off remarriage, Praful gambles again and gets into trouble with mobsters. With an adamant father and no help at sight, Praful takes extreme measures to pay off her threatening creditors.

The Missing Ingredient  
You taste it like the missing salt in your food in Simran. An intangible feeling of loss. Few films have a better second half. Simran has that rare pedigree, yet doesn't burst out of the screen in wicked glee.

Film writer Apurva Asrani's premise is hilarious, wicked and rich with possibilities. But Hansal Mehta's strength is clearly gritty, realistic, stark drama rather than a comedy drama. So the uproarious laughter moments just don't happen.

Comic Genre, Wrong Approach
The missing ingredient then is the directorial approach. A director more versed in black comedy could have made an insane roller coaster out of this. Probably Anurag Kashyap would have worked wonders here?  

Told in a snappily edited, non-fussy style, Simran does end up as an engaging life-mirroring drama. It is not always convincing though. The lack of humor and of any major set piece or lingering moment is an issue. It makes the film feel disconnected at times.

Kangana Ranaut Rocks! 
Kangana Ranaut is the life and soul of the movie. She keeps us invested all through, taking us along through her joy, sadness, despair, and frustrations. A fine actress and an icon in the making, she rises above the film's weak spots with talent-rich ease.

Why Simran? 
The revelation of the film title's origin is one of Simran's few high points. Though the flaws stick out all over the place, and it doesn't pack a punch, Simran is different enough to appeal to an off-the-block audience.

Thanks to the editing, performances and great premise, you should glide over its flaws, relent and enjoy it. Without giving much away, Simran is a little steal of a movie! Ranaut is one big reason to not miss it on the big screen, movie lovers! A potential movie of the year, but not to be, not to be.

8 Sep 2017

Movie Review: Daddy: Cautious, Doctored Gangster Biopic

Daddy is a tampered, mildly-impressive recreation of key events in the life of the dreaded Dagdi Chawl don, Arun Gawli (Arjun Rampal). From the closure of mills to youngsters taking to crime, Gawli is depicted as an unwitting victim of circumstance.

Arun Gawli becomes a reluctant BRA gang member, teaming with the notorious Babu (Anand Ingale) and his close friend Rama (Rajesh Shringarpore). The wannabe big gangster Maqsood (Farhan Akhtar! in a Dawood Ibrahim-inspired role) tries to rein in BRA. A bloodbath follows, and as Gawli finds himself alone and cornered, he plots a desperate escape.

Safe and Low-Impact 
Despite the authenticity and grittiness powdered into each scene, Daddy doesn't offer any relief from the dark, violent proceedings. Post two hours the constant grimness makes the film a slog in its final hour.

The film was understandably made in consultation with the Gawlis. The abundant source material makes for rich detailing, but also clearly favors Arun Gawli as a misunderstood murderer-turned-social worker. A vengeful police inspector (Nishikant Kamat, stand out act) is blamed for Gawli's enduring criminal reputation.

Wanted: Sharper, Edgier Take
Daddy needed a courageous, straight take rather than a doctored one. It could have been a more free-flowing movie if the film makers had the dare to call a spade a spade. For Miss Lovely director Ashim Ahluwalia has the atmosphere, characters, and realism cut right in. The 1980's streets and Mumbai bylanes come alive on the big screen. This could have been stellar cinema. But clearly, a lot more was at stake here.

Performances, Music 
Arjun Rampal has a little whiff of his urban mannerisms as a young Gawli but in the final hour, he plays Gawli with a haunting Xerox similarity. A grounded, and sincere performance, easily Rampal's career best.

Farhan Akhtar as Maqsood is a big casting misfire. Akhtar tries propping up his voice with help of repartee dialogues and sunglasses-aided menace, but it doesn't hold. Aishwarya Rajesh as Gawli's wife is rusty and real. The rest of the cast stands out as flesh and blood characters. The hair styling reminded me of countless, hilarious bad hair days. The art design is solid.

But Daddy fatally reeks of a starch stiff crampiness. The script and screenplay stand charged as guilty.Almost no humor, barely any insights, and a disturbing murder scene that needed a teeny-weeny trim courtesy the censors.

Sajid-Wajid's background score is a joy, drumming in the 80's mood with celebratory zest. Very commendable stuff.

Good in Scraps 
Daddy's held-back compromised approach brings it down as a notch-above-ordinary Hindi gangster flick. But barely anything redeeming here, nothing stand-out memorable.

Meanwhile, we hope Ashim Ahluwalia will put his mercurial talent in evoking timelines, spaces, and achingly real people in a better, braver endeavor.  

1 Sep 2017

Movie Review: Baadshaho: No Fun, No Fireworks

Gitanjali (Ileana D'Cruz), a Rajasthani royal princess refuses to be bedded by powerful political leader Sanjeev (A villainous Sanjay Gandhi take by Priyanshu Chatterjee). Two years later, the 1975 emergency provides Sanjeev the opportunity to get back at Gitanjali. He orders the seizure of Gitanjali's hidden royal treasure, coercing an army officer to lead the charge. Clearly, it is the victors who write and rewrite history, down to tampering film scripts now.

Cornered, Gitanjali seeks the help of 'loyal-to-royal family' bodyguard Bhavani Singh (Ajay Devgn). Bhavani enlists the help of Dalia (Emraan Hashmi), a local crook and his 'guru' and master safe-cracker Tikla (Sanjay Mishra). Sanjana (Esha Gupta) passed off as Gitanjali's trusted aide, is clearly cast for decoration.

The rustic men go taaro, maaro, tiharo in exaggerated dialect. Camels mandatorily sway in and out of the movie.

Off-Beat, Lazy, Dumb  
Director Milan Luthria has directed similar unpretentious Hindi film entertainers, notably the very engaging Taxi No 9211 (2006) and the deliciously filmy don saga Once Upon a Time in Mumbai (2010). 

But here the rhythm, pitch, and attempted comic book fun are all on a holiday. Despite the hoot-inducing mass audience dialogues, a lot of it cringe-inducing, the mistiming, repetition and uneven flow makes it awkward and unintentionally laughable and irritating. The rough predominantly male audience wasn't complaining though.    

The potential remains on paper here. Gitanjali's cold-hearted turn is lost to an underwritten role. Bhavani redundantly mouths wisdom about 'four days of life', Dalia cracks weird jokes, at least one heroine falls in love instantly, because hey, it's a Hindi film. Neither the love nor the betrayal gets through. It all seems cardboard-strong, artificial and rushed.  

Everything hinges then on the robbery, which ends up lame and contrived. For a heist film, barely anything is clever or witty, to any measurable degree. Did they want to make this film or not? Puzzling indeed. Everything on screen seems an alarmingly half-hearted directorial attempt.    

Tear gas can't make me cry! I am the Hindi film hero!

What the F! Moments
Bhavani drives a jeep into a river with Gitanjali, just because she feels like dying. They survive, not a scratch on them, and a camp fire, (that lit itself to flames?) is waiting for them at the bank?! An entire troop of army men can't shoot down four robbers, everyone seems to be firing to miss! Bullets just don't run out. 

Robbers make away with an armored truck, with relative ease. The police conveniently doze off while prisoners use a bra pin (!) to flee. Armed police officers are dismissed with a slight push. They don't dare return to screen again. The bad guys just get lost in a sandstorm leaving our heroes alive and smooth-talking in a strange last scene. What was that about? Did the film makers run out of budget? Did they just give up? 

What Works in Baadshaho? 
There is a brief moment when Bhavani and company discuss how will they stop an armored truck that is 20-25 seconds of genuine fun. The only laugh out loud moment belongs to Tikla played by Sanjay Mishra. When he finally reveals why Dalia is 'not alone', he nails the joke right in. A couple of credible love/lust twists don't build up. If bare-backed Sunny Leone and Ileana D'Cruz is your thing, well, forget you are watching a movie. 

Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Vidyut Jammwal, Sanjay Mishra and Ileana D'Cruz (Esha Gupta tries) are all competent. But they can't salvage a movie that has cracks in its every frame.   

Can't Make it Worse
Baadshaho is way, way, way below expectation for a Milan Luthria film. To make a worse film will take some doing. 

Baadshaho also showcases how going off-pitch can wreck a film, despite the makings of a solid action thriller. 

In cricketing terms, films like Baadshaho happen when a decent batsman can't time anything right, neither can he get out. He plods on, indifferent.  

31 Aug 2017

Hindi Film Songs: Javed Akhtar and War Movies: Border (1997)

jung toh chandd roz hotee hai
zindagi barson talak rotee hai 
(a war lasts for a few days 
life weeps for a lifetime)  

So go the balm-like lines to Anu Malik music at the fag end of the otherwise jingoistic Border. The song Mere Dushman, Mere Bhai (my enemy, my brother) deservingly won singer Hariharan and lyricist Javed Akhtar their respective 1998 National Film Awards. The movie was the first of the Anu Malik-Javed Akhtar-JP Dutta collaborations.

Movie Memories 
My college mate always turned up to the playground with moist eyes after watching Border in its umpteenth TV run. For the next five minutes, he was adamant about joining the army. The incident occurred at every Border rerun. He also joked about how the actress in the wedding night song Ae Jaatein Huve Lamhon momentarily made him forget all patriotism.

War Movies and JP Dutta 
Dutta dealt with war again in the 2003 multi-starter LOC Kargil. That we have only one warring neighbor didn't help Dutta if he was looking for variety. The director's tried and tested approach also threatened to make the music redundant. Just how many times can you have soldiers singing songs at the border in all abandon with the surety that the trigger-happy enemy never attacks mid-song?

Among Anu Malik's Best 
Yet singularly, solely concerned with the audio, we have to say that Border was a very good soundtrack. It can certainly be counted among Anu Malik's finest works.Though the musical treatment follows the Hindi film template norms, the sincere effort shows. (If someone were to brand Malik with the plagiarism taint, he can always shoot back with, "Hey, but I made the songs for Border, all by myself!")

Sandeshe Aate Hai highlights the exchange of letters between the soldiers and their family members. The song never seems to be ten minutes long. The language is of the every day - nostalgia rants the air as the letters are read. Akhtar nails it in the last paragraph. The soldiers hailing their heartfelt replies back to their loved ones completes the song's story curve. The final refrain main wapas aaunga...(I will be back) is strangely touching. Out at the middle of nowhere, with only desert sand as the view, why wouldn't you yearn to return home?The robust male chorus (ooh-oho-ho...) is another evocative highlight. One epic emotive spill of a song. Contemporary Hindi film music classic.

Hamein Jab Se Mohabbat is an extended love duet with lyrics that adds luster to an Indian village setting. There are beautiful references to the setting sun, a still, silent river, the paths that run between fields, and the lingering of love. Nigam is a fresh, calming companion to Yagnik's honeyed voice.

Ae Jaatein Huve Lamhon makes poetry out of a wedding night, as the groom yearns to relish every moment with the bride.His heartbreak: War is looming and he is a soldier who may not return. Check the very apt guitar here. The eternally underrated Roopkumar Rathod hits the right mood and pitch.

But the most somber and lasting song of the soundtrack is Mere Dushman, Mere Bhai. Akhtar writes sincere, thought-provoking lines, asks the right questions. Hariharan is in his element,while the humming chorus now sounds overwrought and strained.

Hum apne apne khetoh mein, 
ghehu ki jagah, chawal ki jagah, 
yeh bondooke kyun bote hai? 
Jab dono hi ki galiyon mein 
kuch bhooke bachhe rote hai 
kuch bhooke bacche rote hai..    
(Why do we sow guns instead
of rice and maize in our fields?
when in the bylanes 
of both our countries,
some hungry children cry...)       

The Venus audio cassette also featured in its playlist a monologue laden section that goes to the refrain of Hindustan, Hindustan, Meri Jaan, Meri Shaan. The military drill like song plays out mostly in the chorus, beginning with a Sonali Rathod intonation of a Sanskrit sloka. Shankar Mahadevan yet to establish himself in the Bollywood music league, accompanies her. The song refrain is a backdrop to actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda's (who plays the Indian army cook in the movie) 'India glorified' commentary. It is at best a passing listen.

Two decades later, though many interlude portions of the Border soundtrack sound dated, much of its lyrical resonance, chorus, and love vibes still stick. The struggling 'Mohd. Rafi clone' Sonu Nigam made his mark with Border. He was to further establish himself as a distinct voice that year with the breakthrough Yeh Dil Deewana in Pardes (1997).

That Aadesh Shrivastava Soundtrack 
Also featured on the fag end of 'SIDE A' Border audio cassette was a promotional audio for the late Aadesh Shrivastava's Humko Ishq Ne Mara (1997) soundtrack. The featured singers were winners of a popular Doordarshan music contest show Meri Awaaz Suno. Check the soundtrack on youtube.com sometime, interesting, formulaic Bollywood first love scenarios. Humko Ishq Ne Mara never got a theatrical release.

Trivia: Sunidhi Chauhan had won an edition of Meri Awaaz Suno in 1996 as a 13-year old, her talent clearly towering over older singers. Lata Mangeshkar was one of the judges in the final.

25 Aug 2017

Movie Review: Babumoshai Bandookbaaz: Dark Comedy Works, Not the Revenge Tale

Babu Bihari (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a contract killer somewhere in small-town North India, a pawn in the bloody chessboard of local politicians. Between hits, Babu cooks chicken, beds prostitutes and snoozes away to All India Radio. He falls for a village cobbler Phulwa (Bidita Bag) who accepts and moves in with him after Babu obeys her wish and kills her tormentors.

In a hit-and-miss contract, Babu encounters his rival and 'fan' Banke Bihari (Jatin Goswami). Both killers are hired to kill off three men. This leads to a 'who will kill first and most' bet between the killers. The aftermath reels in a vicious circle of revenge and vindication.

Uneven, No Character Background 
There is a lot going for Babumoshai Bandookbaaz in its first hour, from the laugh out dark comedy, editing, great story pacing, and performances. But when a killer returns from the dead, it takes a familiar heavy road to revenge.

Despite the spread, concept, and things coming full-circle, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz has no explanation for its character's actions. How Babu and Banke turn contract killers are given no believable ground. Phulwa's murder-inducing turn, a police inspector's (Bhagwan Tiwari) stubborn yearn for a girl child, crooked politicians (Divya Dutta, Anil George), all lack subtext.

Bullet-Sized Plot Holes
Everybody knows who Babu and Banke are. Nobody is keen to catch them though, police action is non-existent. Powerful politicians are threatened and warned by a small-time contract killer and they take no evasive action. It is a puzzle, that though fully aware of the danger, the victims take no precautions to save themselves. Babu's home is no underground cave or hideout that anyone would have a hard time finding it. Somebody is shot in the head at close range and survives! A lodged bullet is mentioned and explained off.

Cut Above Average
The film premise is exciting and out of turn. Two killers discussing lousy pay is hilarious, as is the Babu-Phulwa-Banke interplay. But once the guns start booming, familiar, tired patterns emerge. That two competing killers are not wary of each other doesn't hold ground. It sticks out numb, as does the second-hour kill-kill-kill proceedings, the many sexual episodes, and betrayals.

Babumoshai Bandookbaaz rests on the ensemble cast's performances, the initial striking dark humor and little else. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is brilliant as ever, ably supported by Bag and Goswami, but the script weighs down the impact. This could have worked as an out-and-out dark comedy. A cut above average, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is still worth a watch for a discerning audience. 

A New, Mature Age of Censorship?
The revamped film censor board needs applause for aptly certifying the film as 'A', instead of cutting out the abuses and love making scenes. Their wise decision keeps the flow of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz intact. They seem to understand that the audience is mature enough to decide what to watch and what not to. Wanted: A well-modulated film certification system that effectively blocks juvenile audiences from explicit content.

19 Aug 2017

James Bond News: Bond 25: Daniel Craig Returns

Daniel Craig, the actor who has played Bond with an edgy, authentic rough and tough scrub, is set to star in his fifth James Bond movie. This was confirmed recently by Craig on a late night show, according to 007.com, the official James Bond website. The movie is presently tentatively titled Bond 25.

Full Circle for Daniel Craig
Craig has come full circle since his first Bond movie Casino Royale (2006). In fact, Craig was hit with widespread public criticism when he was first selected to play the flamboyant British spy. There was even an website called saynotodanielcraig.com to protest against Craig's casting. But over the years, Daniel Craig has proven his mettle, though the films have been largely underwhelming, except for Skyfall (2012).
Bond 25 Release Dates
The evergreen, smooth-talking, playboy spy will return to the big screen in 2019. The US release is set for November 8, 2019. Binding to tradition, the UK, and other countries will get earlier release dates.This will be the 25th official film of the Bond franchise. This is not counting, of course, the only unofficial 1983 Bond movie Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery.

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, collaborators on previous Bond productions including the four movies starring Daniel Craig, return to the helm again. Meanwhile, cheers and let's sip our martini at a beach side of an exotic foreign locale, waiting for Eva Green to turn up, or sip...Ursula Andress.

18 Aug 2017

Movie Review: Bareilly Ki Barfi: Sweet, Satisfying, Romantic Comedy

Bitti Mishra (Kriti Sanon) is the unabated, small-town tomboy, a sly Bareilly electricity board employee, break dancer, occasional smoker and drinker, and part-comprehending viewer of English movies. Her parents (Pankaj Tripathi and Seema Pahwa) are introduced by the off-putting narration as 'not normal' (The old world Hindi novel-like narration is redundant and unnecessary). Unlike typical Indian small-town parents, they don't impose themselves on Bitti.

When the unconventional, free-spirited Bitti gets repeatedly rejected by prospective grooms, she dejectedly decides to leave town. At the railway bookstall, she stumbles upon a novel called 'Bareilly Ki Barfi' by Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao). The female lead is (surprise!surprise!) exactly like Bitti. Mystified, Bitti cancels her fleeing plans, desirous to meet this mysterious writer. Enter Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana).

Love Triangle With Laughs  
Despite the far off echoes of the Sanjay Dutt-Salman Khan-Madhuri Dixit love triangle Saajan (1991), Bareilly Ki Barfi has a now familiar semi-rural authentic zeal, color, clean humor and occasional zing.

Midway, there are clear hints as to how it will go. A lesser director would have delivered this cold and dull. But director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari takes sufficient clever diversions to keep us guessing in this sweet, funny film.

Rajkummar Rao Towers Over the Cast 
Kriti Sanon has matured into a good actor, far cry from her dull-faced Hindi debut Heropanti (2014). Ayushmann Khurrana is competent, dependable and sporty, adding ample conviction to his tortured, selfish lover role. The Chirag-Pritam interactions showcase great male lead chemistry.  

Pankaj Tripathi, so hilariously brilliant in the director's previous release Nil Battey Sannata (2016) is in his element here. It is Rajkummar Rao's innocent sari salesman and induced-tough guy act that is stand out terrific. Rao battles the character's uneven turns, to create a compelling, laugh-out-loud meek, good-hearted part.    

Sweet Minus Bite  
Bareilly Ki Barfi sticks to its conventional romantic comedy journey, takes its time to crackle, makes us laugh loud and ends tad predictable, without that necessary elevated bite.

For its fluent editing, performances, genre-faithful writing, and assured direction, Bareilly Ki Barfi is a good (*** out of ***** stars) bet at the cinemas this week. It is not a laugh riot, but balanced and intelligently made.

15 Aug 2017

The Best Movies of 2017: As on August 15, 2017

Based on what I have seen in the theaters so far, the best movies of 2017 as on August 15, 2017 are as follows. 
It has been a memorable time at the movie theaters. I have consciously attended single screens, multiplexes, and alleged IMAX theaters to savor movies (more than ever before) on 70mm this calendar year. 
A Death in the Gunj 
Konkana Sen Sharma’s debut directorial is an haunting ode to nostalgia, introverts, bullying and human fragility.
Nolan scores with a minimalist, non-linear, bloodless and sharply edited war movie that digs out a new genre for itself. A war classic in the making.
Lipstick Under My Burkha
Funny, bold, revolutionary, relevant as hell, path-breaking. A serious contender to the TOP THREE BOOM BOX FILMS OF THE YEAR title. A big bear hug to all women who want to live their lives, just like men do and not be sorry for it. Hear, hear. 
A mind-blowing smoking hot X-Men movie that goes against the norm, has gruesome violence, well-coordinated action set-pieces, nice sci-fi mumbo-jumbo to explain the merciless plot. A script that pushes the envelope to mark an important curve in the Wolverine story. Thank you, Hugh Jackman. Thank you steel claws.

Spider-Man: Homecoming 
A refreshing contemporary teenage update, a great commercial punch to take Peter Parker back to school again. The clumsiest, error-prone, raw, clueless Spider-Man ever. This is not great cinema, but the many irreverent, comic touches and quips make this a version just right for the random WhatsApp-indulgent audience.
Moving On: Every film screening has its share of memorable moments. Startling cell phone ringtones, snores, sniggers, ex-colleagues, near-deserted spooky auditoriums, accompanying friends have added to the conversation, laughter, exasperation, and drama. 
Not a dull moment at the cinemas, despite piracy, streaming services, torrent and pen drives. May the big screen live on. Amen!  

11 Aug 2017

Movie Review: Toilet:Ek Prem Katha: Propaganda Unlimited

The well-educated, (I have a toilet at home) Jaya falls for and marries cycle shop owner Keshav. Her joy is short-lived when she discovers that Keshav's village doesn't have a toilet. The village women go on long early morning walks to relieve themselves in the bushes. Jaya refuses to cave into such shaming practices. The marriage begins to crack and the couple's differences lead to a widespread social change.

Preachy Take
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a long-winded, forceful, aggressive government propaganda vaguely disguised as a movie. Open defecation is a relevant issue and large-scale toilet construction an arguably valid solution. Don't throw it up in our faces in a preachy, unmasked tone. At one moment, I felt the film's makers will step out of the screen and build a toilet right there in the cinema hall, and push me in to try it. It's that kind of a movie.

Genuinely Funny First Half
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha does pleasantly surprise when it smells of using the toilet as a metaphor for Keshav (Akshay Kumar) and Jaya's (Bhumi Pednekar) love story. The first half has outrageously funny moments, but you know where this is going.

The unusual love story build up is blown out of the way, as the second half dips into hyper dramatics, wayward monologues, and contrived eye-opening situations. The stink becomes evident.

Akshay Kumar Holds Fort 
Pity, for Akshay Kumar is in top-form be it the humor, drama or maudlin moments. Though clearly looking his age on the screen lately like his contemporaries, Kumar seems a better actor with every new release. Bhumi Pednekar is adequately fiery as the outspoken wife. Divyendu Sharma as Keshav's brother makes his presence felt. The underrated, rarely cast Sudhir Pandey plays the unyielding father with great conviction. Anupam Kher is a hoot.

But this is no free-willed, creative-burst of a film. Leave the undeniably multiple laugh-out moments, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a heavy, infuriated dose of a social-message injection.

6 Aug 2017

Bollywood Specials: Shah Rukh Khan and the Kiss Dilemma

Jab Harry Met Sejal 

Way back in 2004, Neha Dhupia was promoting Julie, her steamy solo-heroine mainstream movie. The makers made no pretense that sex was the film's main selling card. Neha Dhupia then uttered what summed up the status quo,"In Bollywood, either sex sells or Shah Rukh Khan."

Dhupia had unwittingly also rounded up Bollywood, its star system, typecasting and the blatancy of formula in that one brief statement. In commercial Hindi cinema, sex scenes are often filmed in a sleazy and gratifying manner. It has nothing to do with telling a story. Thirteen years later, nothing much has changed, except that Bollywood now tries to sell everything, from stars, sex, cover versions of older hits, younger struggling stars to....Shah Rukh Khan.  

The other side of it: Once a star gets too big an image to be tampered with, the roles are written with an almost platonic, noble flourish. The kisses (lip-to-lip, to be precise) don't make it to the story. The white-sheets draped Maya Memsaab (1993) encounter was shot before Khan's stardom. Ramesh Sippy drenched Khan and Raveena Tandon in sensual colors in the much panned Zamaana Deewana (1995). The body chemistry in both films were at least attempts at conveying emotions. 

The Bollywood Archie-Betty-Veronica Version

Kiss vs Image
The making of the Shah Rukh Khan romantic, charming, good boy image began with Aditya Chopra's Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) and found validation in Karan Johar's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). The closest Khan came to kissing was in Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and by quite a distance in Asoka (2001). He is conveniently interrupted in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas (2002). 

Years after the ridiculous but cute image of two shivering flowers coming together in speculative communion meant sex was on, it was about timely disruptions now. In the new millennium, Bollywood was still conservative about mainstream actors kissing.

Like Helen was the only one supposed to dress down and do the Bollywood cabaret, for years only Emraan Hashmi seemed to have a Supreme Court permission to kiss prolifically onscreen, mostly picturized coarsely and provocatively. 'Serial Kisser' became a Hashmi tag and a played up lame joke on the actor himself in films like The Dirty Picture (2011) and Ungli (2014). 

The 'My Boyfriend is Watching' Kiss
Shah Rukh Khan finally did dare to kiss Katrina Kaif on screen in Yash Chopra's last directorial film Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012). These are strangely brief, reluctant millisecond smooch moments. It was as if Kaif's off-screen boyfriend was close by, with bloated eyeballs and a pair of XXL size censor scissors.

The Sane Bit in Jab Harry Met Sejal 
Shah Rukh Khan does go for a lengthy kiss in culminating Jab Harry Met Sejal's unbelievable premise with some sane sexual release. In a fluffy, soap lather romance it was already alien that lovers detested from making out, that the kiss was a big saving grace in the film's flimsy context. It took two and half decades to tweak a trademark Shah Rukh Khan template, even if mildly. It's a tiny dot of a dare in a safe, redundant movie that Jab Harry Met Sejal is.    

Movie Talk: Why Jab Harry Met Sejal is Imtiaz Ali's Biggest Letdown Yet

Imtiaz Ali's directorial debut Socha Na Tha (2005) was a refreshing, entertaining youngsters film. Travel was seemingly incidental in a lovely sweet film that stood out for its little nudge-away-from-formula writing.

The Unending Journey
The director first won over audience's hearts and the box-office with Jab We Met (2007).Then followed a series of movies with travel as a metaphor.

The beautifully juxtapositioned Love Aaj Kal (2009), wayward but heartfelt Rockstar (2011). The physical journey and the journey within. Chaos, suffering, heartbreak, and self-discovery. The grossly underrated Tamasha (2015) is my favorite Imtiaz Ali film. It is a culmination of all Ali had revealed in earlier films about his side on love, travel and life.

Ali's strength is layering an all-out commercial, Hindi film formulaic story with strong, poetic writing. But isn't it time to move on from travel? How about a film that tells of the time between journeys. The time when a person is still, in transit. I long for out of the box variations from Ali now, not the same loop. As the Tamasha tagline goes: Why always the same story? 

Jab Harry Met Sejal in comparison is a conventional rom-com that banks very hard on its lead stars to pull it off. For the first time, the writing is not wrapped in layers. Here's a list of what else doesn't work:

Creepy Casanova? No Problemo! 
Harry is a self-confessed womanizer, yet Sejal just wants to hang out with him in a distant city, day and night. Who is Sejal, freak or just plain foolish?

Star Power Over Story
Sejal's family is not conservative, they are only pretending to be so, by the looks of it. Why else would a 'strict' family allow an engaged daughter, alone in a distant country, search for a ring with a tour guide they barely know for days? Because he is Shah Rukh Khan. Khan hasn't yet deflowered a woman on screen, at least not when he is romancing one. The family must know.

Ten Second Trivia:In his two-decade filmography, Khan has slept with women on camera occasionally. Memorably in Maya Memsaab (1993) and as part of a brutal revenge and murder in the entertaining, morally ambiguous anti-hero blockbuster Baazigar (1993). 

Beech Beech Mein has no story premise, it just begins, plays and ends

Song After Song After Song

Imtiaz Ali has delved into complexities and contradictions of his main protagonists in all his previous films. It made the predictable 'lovers unite!' endings just a milestone. The fun was in the journey and moments. He makes a startling exception in Jab Harry Met Sejal. The mushy romance has no ground, too many songs and dance bits underline this mush with soap-bubble lather. It's a huge turn-off.

This Sejal Character  
Sejal is free-minded, adventurous and chirpy, a repeat take on Ali's previous female leads. Sejal's casualness stands out weird here. She strangely gives no thought to her fiancee, just because Harry's around. Should we conclude that when Shah Rukh Khan is around, you give in to him. It is a star surrender contrivance, that kills any audience relatability to the romance.  

The Imtiaz Ali Standard
We have expected a certain quality from Imtiaz Ali films. That is where Jab Harry Met Sejal disappoints the most. Did top star presence affect his writing from going all out? Rather play it safe and sugary?

A decade of romance + poetic travel metaphors + good looking lovers + self-discovery songs is not the issue. We have enjoyed those movies. But repeating that same template here with nothing new to add, that killed it.

On hindsight, this may be where Imtiaz Ali moves out of the typecast to other genres of cinema. He may yet surprise us. The journey may have just begun for him.

4 Aug 2017

Movie Review: Jab Harry Met Sejal: Fluffy Entertainment, Predictable Rom-Com

Harry (Shah Rukh Khan) is a Europe-based tour guide for Indian tourists, his life churning in similarities and routine like the windmill in the opening scene. Sejal (Anushka Sharma) is one of his customers. A tiff with her fiancee over a lost engagement ring leads Sejal to miss the home-bound flight and stubbornly stay back to retrieve the ring. She coaxes and threatens Harry to accompany her in the search.

You Knowaa What You Gonna Gettaa 
You may see what is coming next, right to the end credits from miles away down the road. This is Imtiaz Ali's most straight, conventional Hindi commercial (an ode to travel, as usual) movie yet. No nonlinear narration, no symbolisms, no live your life talk, just straight out rom-com.

Garam Garam Double 
I will come up with a cheaper, hornier Hinglish subheading soon. But Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma crackle with so much chemistry that they reel in the audience for most of the tad predictable journey. Age differences disappear when they are together.

Khan's bearded look adds to the character's turmoil. He is in subtle form, reining in, letting loose the legendary charm at will. Sharma's once there, once not Gujarati accent doesn't hinder in creating a watchable character, foolish, instinctive and meandering. An echo to Kareena Kapoor's Geet in Jab We Met (2007). Khan and Sharma can take a hell lot of credit for audience engagement. They keep it all afloat and brimming to an amazing, mercurial degree.

Great Locales
The European setting gives the film a beautiful travel-with-me feel. The bridges, cafes, night clubs and cobbled streets add conviction to the characters actions. Why wouldn't you want to hang out in places as charming as these a little longer?! Say, say.

Nice Safar, Some Suffer
Ali is going for the lovers-get-together fun love journey with no complexities here. He shoots down any chances of great cinema right there. It is now about keeping the humor and joy coming. Ali doesn't get there smoothly.

The first half is a breeze, with damn funny interchanges and some danger. By intermission though, you know it is a matter of time. There is nowhere else to go but the bloody arrow through heart wala luv, luv, luv.

Harry's Punjab backstory is hinted at, yet mysteriously never explained. Giving Sejal's backstory a miss adds to the allure. The 'love happens' sections are a bit contrived. When does Sejal end up so casual and easy with Harry, spending nights together all of a sudden? That is Khan's star charm in play rather than Harry's.

No Musical Musical Please 
Despite Harry's louder-than-the-tractor-singer touch, there are just too many songs here, mitigating the impact, underlining the obvious Harry-Sejal romance too many times. This happens in so many Hindi movies. They just go lip-synching and musical without any thought how it may mar the storytelling. Song-and-dance make great celebratory, whistle out moments, but not always. The tiresome sections in the second half are to do with song marathons.  

Pritam's soundtrack is impressive in parts, listenable audio that required judicious use in film.

Before We Part 
Don't expect depth, layers and insight, or a strong, daring take here. Ali digs for travel's most attractive aspect, get together, don't pause and have a great time. Who doesn't want to? Jab Harry Met Sejal is mostly a decent rom-com, somewhere between OK and good.

2 Aug 2017

Movie News: Ready Player One: Forthcoming Spielberg Movie

Steven Spielberg's forthcoming directorial venture is called Ready Player One, based on the Ernest Cline 2011 sci-fi/dystopian novel of the same name. The teaser trailer looks ravishing and visionary.

Think Spielberg revisiting the dark drab atmospherics of Minority Report (2002), the wide ocean spectrum of  A.I.Artificial Intelligence (2001), and the absorbing, addictive world of virtual reality video gaming multiplied by 50. Spielberg is clearly going for the epic, universal spread here like only he can.

The extended trailers provide a sneak peek to popular cultural references, not a usual Spielberg film element. There is the giant robot from Brad Bird's The Iron Giant, The Lord of the Rings, the Back to the Future time machine, the modified Mad Max Ford Falcon, among other recognizable nostalgia elements.

We do yearn for a rollicking experience that a potential Spielberg blockbuster is. Among top-notch contemporary directors, nobody has consistently combined box-office success and cinematic ambition like Steven Spielberg.       

Ready Player One is set for a March 30, 2018, US release. Watch this blog for updates and special features.            

1 Aug 2017

Movie Watch: My 'Dunkirk on IMAX or LieMAX' Experience: Cinepolis, Westend Mall, Aundh, Pune, India Review

Big hello to moviegoers who saw Nolan's Dunkirk on a mammoth IMAX screen

It started with a childish curiosity, gaa-gaa, go-go and other baby sounds. What exactly is the word on IMAX? As a movie regular, an IMAX feel was long overdue.

Life and the movies are best experienced, so I waded the Internet for information. Would you believe it? Pune city, in all its cosmopolitan entirety, has just one IMAX screen! Dunkirk was showing at this sole, haloed screen at Cinepolis, Westend Mall, all day, all week in IMAX 2D. I promptly booked a weekday morning show ticket.

Initial Letdown
The first shock was the screen size. I had half a mind to throw up a baby tantrum there and then. The Cinepolis IMAX screen was barely 10-12% bigger than the regular screen. Waaah! Boo Hoo! IMAX screens are meant to be at least double the size of standard cinema screens.

Excellent Sound Quality, Uneven Picture Quality  
The film screening finally commenced after a dreary run of advertisements, 15 minutes past schedule. I had already watched Dunkirk at a regular screening, a fortnight ago. The comparisons came easy.

The sound was sharper and balanced. Bomb explosions, fighter plane sound effects made for great acoustics, without hitting high deafening decibel levels. The Hans Zimmer background score stood out, especially the violin set piece and the now famous 'ticking watch'. The picture quality was also a notch higher.

The fighter plane sections stood out with outstanding clarity. IMAX (Oh yeah?) did make the experience more close-in and immediate, but only by a small degree. Certain visuals had a scandalous, shunted look. It was like a magician trying to stuff his stubborn rabbit back into the top hat.

More than the technical glitter, the second viewing of Dunkirk on suspect IMAX revealed a sharp, minimal, cleverly executed, uplifting war movie. It hit me with an enormous wallop. But the screen size dwarfed my thrill. It was just not done. If you don't have a mammoth wide screen, why call it IMAX? At that exorbitant ticket price, a definite con job.

Screen Size Issues     
My experience echoes in similarly ripped off IMAX audiences around the world. They refer to this shrunk screen phenomenon as LieMAX. You may ask, what is that dude?

LieMAX is a term for theater screens pretending to be IMAX when they are just a bit larger than regular screens. So if you are looking for the IMAX experience in Pune, it's clearly not happening as publicized at Cinepolis, Westend Mall, Aundh, Pune.

Last Word
A badly made movie will not elevate you, even on IMAX. The Dunkirk experience is enhanced by a further 20% even on LieMAX. A good movie always gets to you, the format is only a medium then. There goes my concluding self-comforting, false-refuge statement.

29 Jul 2017

Indian Cinema Specials: Lipstick Under My Burkha: A Necessary Revolution

This symbolic, potentially iconic poster released soon after the film was approved by the censors

Post Screening Scribble: I finally caught up with Alankrita Shrivastava's Lipstick Under My Burkha yesterday evening. At the time of viewing, the film was enjoying a second week-run at cinema halls. The evening multiplex show had a sizeable audience, a majority of them young women. As it has been at Pune multiplexes lately, the screening commenced dozen minutes past scheduled time, after the government ads, random advertisements, and the national anthem.

Against the Tide Cinema
I deter from the usual review here, for the release of Lipstick Under My Burkha is a landmark against-the-tide event in Indian cinema. Here is a movie that was crying out to be made. Four women living in the same locality in Bhopal are guilty of the same crime, of living life on their terms. Yes, after 70 years of independence, in our populous conservative sex-taboo society - guilty as hell.

The set boundaries for Indian women are unanimous, traditional and obvious.That the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) refused a certification to the film because "The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life," is itself a reaffirming teaser trailer to the film's intent.

Winged Dreams  
Ratna Pathak plays the older, sexually repressed Usha, a reader of steamy Hindi adult novels, lonesome for a male companion. Konkona Sen Sharma as Shireen is a successful door-to-door saleswoman, married and a mother to three kids. Rehana's Saudi-working husband Rahim (Sushant Singh) savagely dominates his wife with brutal sexual subjugation.

Leela (Aahana Kumra) struggles to convince her wedding photographer lover Arshad (Vikrant Massey) to elope. Her sexual drive and a looming forced arranged marriage drives her to chaos. For college going, Miley Cyrus fan Rehana (Plabita Borthakur), the burkha is a refuge from her conservative, strict household. She uses it as cover to steal lipsticks, expensive attire, and footwear from malls. The burkha also allows her a double life, the college bathroom is where she emerges in her t-shirt and jeans, like a proverbial, everyday superwoman. A woman who has to struggle, scamper and hide to just be herself.

Shades, Colours, Celebrations  
Lipstick Under My Burkha plays out as a hilarious, laugh-out-loud (not just silent keypad LOL, real laughs) black comedy. It swerves from falling into a feminist, protest-ridden commentary. The takeaways are memorable and infectious.

The cheap sex novel narrative gets a tad repetitive after an hour, but Shrivastava gives a purposeful screenplay end to it.

Like, when did a girl last threaten her boyfriend that she would share their love making MMS if he doesn't marry her? Never in an Indian film, N-E-V-E-R by a long distance. How about an older woman anonymously indulging in phone sex with her swimming instructor? The scenes of marital rape are harrowing, uncomfortable revelations. Perhaps, a girl condemned to stitch burkhas as punishment is the most damning of the story threads.

The Cigarette Bonding Finale  
All male characters end up as shallow, judgemental and prejudiced. There is no salvaging there. But it's not a notorious, partial take either.

When the film resorts to pathos in its culmination, it loses some steam. Reinforcing the comic, satirical take would have topped this remarkable film. That said, the climax doesn't mess it up. Four women bonding over cigarettes is at once rebellious, even if mildly misdirected. Each yearned for a sky, but are now against a formidable wall, probably shut out for life. End credits. Excellent. Nothing more is to be told. Amazing how a sharp touch of edit makes/breaks a movie.

Enough Said
Lipstick Under My Burkha is not merely the pick of the week. It stands out, pulls the revolutionary trigger and makes itself heard. It is oh so totally justified and true. Here readers is a brave, undeterred film of our times. Not to be missed.

The main cast give astounding performances