19 Feb 2017

Movie Review: Jolly LLB 2: Uneven But Heartfelt

Akshay Kumar plays Jagdishwar Mishra alias Jolly, a Lucknow-based, unscrupulous assistant to Rizvi Sahab, the city's famous lawyer. Desperate to make his mark, Jolly lies (for want of money) to a pregnant prospective client Hina (Sayani Gupta) that Rizvi will take up her case. A resultant suicide hits Jolly like a whiplash, he now tries to vindicate himself.     

Familiar Strands, More Ambitious 
Just like its predecessor, Jolly LLB 2 sets up a crooked-lawyer-now-standing-up-for-truth premise, gives him an intimidating, seemingly invincible adversary (David vs Goliath in ultra-repeat mode), a rooting lover and an endearing small town judge, makes him fight for victimized clients....

This Subhash Kapoor sequel to his (written and directed) Jolly LLB (2013) takes it notches higher in intent, jumbling and stumbling before finally finding its touch.There are several standalone moments, almost cinematic. The lapses in the plot mitigate impact, but these images stay with us. Jolly LLB 2 is patchy, yet top grade black humour.      

Potentially Iconic
That justice delayed is justice denied is no laughing matter. Indian courts are infamous for prolonged cases, witness deaths and occasional sentences. Jolly LLB 2 addresses a pertinent issue. Only Subhash Kapoor doesn't get it as convincingly across like a (similarly social-message-with-entertainment themed) Rajkumar Hirani. Just when it seems to break apart, Kapoor gets us there with two heart-rending monologue moments. 

Monologue: A (usually long) dramatic speech by a single actor

Black Humour: The juxtaposition of morbid and farcical elements (in writing or drama) to give a disturbing effect

Some Astonishing Performances       
We usually have so much praise for stars and so less for actors. Sayani Gupta is astonishing and empathy-provoking as Hina. Watch how she cracks apart in that one heartbreaking scene with Kumar. Saurabh Shukla reprises his judge role and adds nuances to the character. It's a memorable, controlled performance. 

Kumud Mishra (usually laced with goody, goody roles) as a corrupt cop is a wise choice. Annu Kapoor is very good as the devious lawyer. Huma Qureshi is good in whatever little she gets to do. Akshay Kumar is his competent self, he's fits in the accent and look into the small town ethos. He is as good as Arshad Warsi was in Jolly LLB, if not better. Kumar doesn't put a foot wrong.   

The songs add nothing to the story, the background music is good, so is the steady cinematography. Death to lip-syncing songs, unless it is a musical. Certain sections could have done without background music to build impact. But Bollywood goes with overtly emotional high-tuned music so often now. A bad TV serial hangover?  

The Saurabh Shukla Moments 
i.The judge spellchecking his daughter's wedding card sample in court. 'Goon' to 'Groom', 'Wets' to 'Weds'. Chuckle, chuckle.
ii. A heart patient stubbornly makes his dance moves. 
iii. A father squabbles with his daughter over expensive wedding wear. 

Yes, because the film strives with sincere intent, despite the hiccups, it comes together for 15 minutes before the end reels. Jolly's final argument, followed by the judge's quiet lament hit the right chords. That is a long duration of engagement for a film to reel us in. These moments salvage the film, take it a cut above average. Jolly LLB 2 is worth watching because its heart is at the right place. Awaiting Subhash Kapoor's next. 

18 Feb 2017

Kaabil: Lame, Compromised Thriller

A blind man, Rohan (Hrithik Roshan) and a blind woman, Supriya (Yami Gautam) meet up through common friends.Over a course of meetings, dance (inevitably) and a shopping mall lost & found episode, love blooms and they decide to get married. 

Everything is rosy in a lip-synced, well-dressed Hindi film song world until Supriya is raped by two local goons at her residence.One goon is the brother of the local city politician. As we have come to expect in reel-life and real life, the helpless couple is tortured and harassed by our 'social safeguards', the politician and the police. Things seem to simmer down, until tragedy strikes.Pushed to a corner with nowhere to go, Rohan just walks up to a police station and proclaims, "I gonna get my revenge. Catch me, but you can't." Words to that effect. 


You wait for a nice juicy, even fun, vengeful second half. Instead, we get a slow, predictable cathartic conclusion. The director runs over the horror of rape with a body show. How else does one explain the cleavage-dipping Urvashi Rautela item number, post interval? It is a classic drab Hindi film 'escape to your dream moment'. Forget the film's premise, the tension, it says. Jumbling up multiple genres into one film has made bad movies of so many Hindi commercial movies, masala as we call it.  

Rohan's salary-earning talent is put to good plot use, but the rest is oh so filmy and loopholedLittle bits do stand out as impressive. That one clever instance of smelly socks, the safety harness bit... These are ruefully rare moments of smart writing. 

The hero-villain bashing each other up scene is another irritating Sanjay Gupta trait. Either the villain or hero has a gun, but they still prefer to beat up each other. No easy killings. The hero keeps leaving his fingerprints all over the 70mm screen and nobody cares to check. The law is blind, hence proved.

Contrived, No Thrills
Built on a tantalizing premise of a vengeful blind man, director Sanjay Gupta barely holds the first half together. It is a decent first hour, though, characters and plot connects are set up neatly, surprisingly spread over a thin layer of realism. But the illusion soon gives way to cliches. 

Wanted: Faster, Sharper, Tenser 
A fast-paced format, sharper editing could have heightened the impact. But that is not to be. Again, performances make the film. 

Hrithik Roshan carries the film with all his sincere, stray-eyed dedication. In an average venture, Roshan holds us all through. He is easily among the most underrated, underutilized actors of our times. 

Yami Gautam is good too. Ronit Roy oozes menace in what is becoming a typecast role for him. But nobody is getting more typecast than the mercurial Girish Kulkarni, given another bad cop role here. Rohit Roy is adequate. Narendra Jha could have made more out a meaty top cop act.       

Great Idea, Poor Interpretation 
A great, novel concept on paper comes across as shallow. That Rohan finds peace post revenge is a dangerous concept. You can't be the same calm self after murdering people, surely. That, among many other misplaced life-deviant elements, brings down Kaabil. It never feels immediate and close to the bone, despite a harrowing cruel act and its consequences.

Watch it for Hrithik Roshan, the undoubtedly exciting story premise and a cool first hour that brings out the best in Sanjay Gupta. The rest is a much-traveled tiresome trip down film-reel road.

4 Feb 2017

Movie Review: Raees: Lost in Hero Worship & Mass Appeal

Once upon a time in dry Gujarat of the 1980's and 90's, Raees (Shah Rukh Khan, good act) builds an empire out of selling alcohol illegally. Shrewdly safeguarding his throne on political connections, Raees bypasses murderous competitors and a stubborn police officer Jaideep Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, show stealer). He is finally done in by his lofty ambitions, things fall apart and death looms.

Raees begins breezily enough, overplays that one-line, life defining mother-said-it moment, "No trade is small, and there is no religion bigger than trade." From then on, everything gets larger-than-life and repetitive in tone. From flashy dialogues, tea glasses as a face off metaphor, and the hero-defining,"Don't call me battery!" (Or I will bash you up! Because I am the hero!) moment.  

Safe, Mitigated Treatment
Raees undoubtedly has damn good bio-epic potential in its story, but it remains consigned to paper. Loosely based on the life of notorious Gujarat bootlegger Abdul Latif, Raees goes for Hindi film chutzpah, rather than grittiness. 

Pity, for there are so many quality moments of genuine flair here. Be it Jaideep's Micheal Jackson imitation (potentially rocking set piece), Raees' filmy wooing of Aasiya (Mahira Khan, sketchy role), Raees-Jaideep and politician exchanges, best friend chemistry (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, zesty reprisal of a familiar role) fight scenes...every scene dangles midway between straight storytelling and a brash 'make bad look epic and morally right' appeal.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui Rocks!  
Finally, the acting ropes us in, salvaging the film's loose ends. Shah Rukh Khan sails through with experience, owns a few scenes. That dreary look before shooting down his mentor, breaking down before his wife and the final dialogues. But the film is at its (stunted) zenith in Nawazuddin Siddiqui's no-nonsense police portrayal. In all his sections, you see how good Raees could have been.   

Hero Worship vs Logic 
Hindi film dialogue-baazi rules over content. Also, this is a Shah Rukh Khan package, rather than a character driven protagonist.No surprises then, when:  
  1. Raees thwarts a sniper shooter with impossible aim and range. 
  2. Chases the same shooter across roofs, kicking, flying, ends up largely unhurt. 
  3. Walks through tear gassed streets unblinkingly, stylishly.
  4. Lip syncs through songs, dances (the classic masala film template).  
  5. Shoots down a gang of henchmen without a sweat through a Sunny Leone item song. 
  6. Raees is always neatly-dressed, through it all. 
We expected a lot more apt starkness and realism from director Rahul Dholakia. Especially from the man who made Parzania (2007). Another surrender to our intolerable times?

A bearable one-time watch for the story, performances, flashes of quality cinema. Due to legal tangles, the filmmakers had to declare it fiction, a knowing audience will catch the real-life threads. Just a little, teeny-weeny lump in the throat by the end credits. Rest, as they say of Hindi cinema, we sell dreams, seldom tell stories.