7 Jul 2018

Sanju: Sympathetic and Undeniably Entertaining Propaganda


Information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause.

"The propaganda brainwashed many people."

(WordWeb Dictionary)

I saw Sanju first day, first show last Friday. The film has kept echoing within me for over a week now. I caught up with the movie again today. Devoid of the excitement I had the first time, the second time was a more studied watch.

Partial, Sly... 
Sanju is clearly a Sanjay Dutt-backed story about his controversial life as a drug-addict, alcoholic and a terror-act accused prisoner. The potentially defaming 350 plus girlfriend list is mentioned and brushed over.

The main contention - Is Sanju a true story? So, how wrong is it to portray a controversial actor in a forgiving light? Does a movie have to be righteous too? How much of the film is a careful image-building exercise for Sanjay Dutt? It is only because of the numerous entertaining moments that these questions are kept at bay, at least while watching the film.

For sheer entertainment value, Sanju is a fictional reinterpretation. There is a lot of heart in it, despite the sly and emotionally manipulative screenplay.

...Yet Supremely Entertaining!
Sanju is a convenient victimization of Sanjay Dutt. Many harsh real-life details are cut out. The film is partisan, but also true to itself. It is sympathetic and unjustified in its news media-bashing stance to a degree. Sanjay Dutt's bad choices are passed on to a drug peddler friend, loss of a mother, weight of expectations and an allegedly harsh media, thus softening our view of the protagonist.

But I can't deny that Sanju is a funny, intense, dramatic, emotional and uplifting exploration of a human zeal for waywardness, self-destruction and for a zest for life too.

Powerful, Influential Screenplay
How Abhijat Joshi and Rajkumar Hirani shape the screenplay to a careful mass audience simplicity is sheer genius. They know what to retain and what to showcase for dramatic and humorous effect.

The screenplay's prime focus is Sanju's (Ranbir Kapoor) equation with his politician/actor father Sunil Dutt (Paresh Rawal) and best friend Kamlesh (Vicky Kaushal). The interplay of this trio brings out the film's most touching, genuine and funniest moments. Sanjay Dutt's tussle with drug addiction is the most touching part of the movie. The second half, I-Am-Not-A-Terrorist act is overdone. The gentle touches and excellent humour cover up most of the glitches.

Ranbir Kapoor & Friends 
Ranbir Kapoor nails the most difficult role of his life yet with uncanny talent and amazing acting skills. Kapoor goes beyond just resembling Dutt (great prosthetics and makeup). He somehow attains the complexity, vulnerability, and self-destructive nature of Dutt. It's a performance of a lifetime. Paresh Rawal (Despite no work by the makers on creating a resemblance), does a superb, dignified take on Sunil Dutt. Vicky Kaushal is mostly first-rate as a loyal Gujarati friend.

Anushka Sharma as a bestselling writer is bad characterization. Her character is at best plastic, forced and reeks the most of propaganda. Her forgiving, awe-struck reactions to Sanju's storytelling is played up for favouritism. Manisha Koirala as Nargis adds charm to her brief role. Boman Irani, Sonam Kapoor, Jimi Mistry do great cameos. Dia Mirza has little to do as Sanju's wife Manyata Dutt.

Dubious Purpose, Surprising Results  
Manipulating facts to dish out entertainment is a new low for Hirani. Sanju is a morally-questionable showcase of his famous audience-influencing powers. Yet Sanju ends up as uplifting, damn funny and intense 161-minute propaganda, thanks to the mercurial Hirani-Ranbir Kapoor collaboration.

There is a strange sunny positive vibe to Sanju. Despite the cover-ups, there are many sparkling trademark Hirani life truths dispensed here.

Go experience Sanju at the theatres, preferably free of any prejudice or blind fan loyalty. You may hate it, you may love it, you can't ignore it.

22 Jun 2018

Incredibles 2: Solid Visual Treat, Witty Entertainment!

Writer and director Brad Bird just loves animation and boy does animation love him back! The Iron Giant (1999), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007) and now Incredibles 2. It is already a staggering body of work in animation movies.

Good Character-Driven Story 
An animated comic drama, Incredibles 2 starts precisely where The Incredibles left off 14 years ago. We meet the fab five, Bob/Mr. Incredible, Helen/Elastigirl and their three children Dash, Violet, and the cute baby, Jack-Jack fighting off the tunneling villain, Underminer. The damage from this battle leads to the closure of the "Super Relocation Program."

Stuck at a motel and doomed to take up regular jobs again, the super family's future seems grim. This is when Winston Deavor, superhero fan and telecommunications millionaire comes to the rescue. Along with genius sister Evelyn Deavor, Winston wants to bring banned superheroes back into the business. His ultimate goal is to rally public support and make supers legal again. Elastigirl is selected as the first choice to fight crime in the public eye.

The family is also provided a large spacious, luxurious home.Mr. Incredible has to grudgingly stay at home and tend to the kids, while Elastigirl has all the fun. Danger looms as a new mysterious villain called Screenslaver poses serious problems.

Intelligent, Mature, Cute
Incredibles 2 flows in a fabulously witty and comic rhythm and never slackens. Brad Bird's story punches through stereotypes to give us an almost perfect animation picture experience. From fluid action sequences, uproarious yet balanced comedy, stunning visuals, superb background music and voiceovers, Incredibles 2 is a treat.

Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson and Brad Bird reprise voicing their characters. Nelson (as Mr.Incredible), Hunter (as Elastigirl) and Huck Milner (as Dash) especially stand out.

Apart from the world-saving and superpowers, Bird addresses human problems and insecurities and as in The Incredibles, he receives our adorable empathy. Mr. Incredible could be any stressed stay-at-home parent, Violet stands for awkward-in-love teenagers and you have met enthusiastic, restless kids like Dash. Jack-Jack, the unpredictable cute baby with numerous uncontrolled superpowers packs in more fun.

Don't Miss It!   
Towards the end, it does seem that the film impresses, but doesn't go one better than The Incredibles. But that is no complaint, just a passing observation.

At less than 2 hours, Incredibles 2 is very watchable for its incredible creativity, really cool jokes, lovely, light pop reference moments, wonderful connectable characters, and brilliant, justified storytelling. Incredibles 2 is a highly-recommended fun weekend watch at the theaters!

15 Jun 2018

Race 3: An Incredibly Dumb, Partly "So Bad That it is Good" Bhai Movie!

I can't wait to begin, and I don't know where to end. I could write pages and pages today about Race 3. Few movies can be so bad and for the same reason be so good.

The first hour of Race 3 is right down hilarious. Clearly, the director didn't mean it to be so. If the rest of the film had been as consistently lame and yet foolishly entertaining, it would have been so much fun. The filmmakers do try to set new levels of incompetence in the second half. But finally, Race 3 is just plain bad.

Story? What Story? 
Salman Khan aka "Bhai", Anil Kapoor, Jacqueline Fernandez, Bobby Deol, Daisy Shah and Saqib Saleem get together and never get going. The dialogues are childish and incredibly dumb. The action promises much and then just dies down as "Bhai & Friends" take over.

The Race 3 Select LOL Moments 
Bhai sticks out a Swiss knife and shaves off his goatee and moustache mid-song! Jacqueline is clearly impressed. That's my man! Yeah, stop using razor blades today! Wait for a second! Don't! If Bhai can you can't too! Because only Bhai can!

Police? Law and order? Who are they? 

Selfish, Bhai's first attempt at songwriting, or more of a clout disguised as a song is entertainingly bad. 

The Cambodian army can't find a gun to shoot Bhai. Leave the gun-finding to Bhai! And the killing too!

The women are featured in all kinds of undress. Billionaires party and party, because there is nothing else to do.  

The body count in the opening scenes, over 90 armed men shot between Salman, Daisy, and Saqib! Nobody can get one bullet anywhere near the trio though! 

Nobody gets Bhai. Bhai gets everybody. 
Everybody falls through shattered glass in fight scenes! Somebody wanted a lot of glass destroyed! Probably it was the action director's anger management method. "I am angry! Bring more glass!"   

Rajesh Sharma calls up Anil Kapoor in a Bihari accent and suddenly everyone is speaking madcap Bhojpuri. When did that happen and why? The best of the unintentionally hilarious moments are in Bhojpuri. Every time the accent came on, I was like, "Please go Bhojpuri on me! Please! One more time!"

Out of the world dialogues. Salman Khan's character is called Sikander, so one of chaps go, "I am sick of this Sikku, Dad!" How about,"See you later, alligator." There is more, much, much more of priceless alien dialogue-baazi!  

Two guys lose their shirts and then fight in slow-mo. Because it's too hot in the desert, silly! And we got plenty of time and it's a three-hour movie! Chill!   

By the way, Bhai is driving a vehicle in the movie. Just saying.  

Who has the last laugh?
The film's producers will clearly make money despite the absolute topless juvenility. At almost three hours, Race 3 is a punishment you just can't ignore. Ironically, Salman Khan had intelligently mentioned in an interview, how a demi-god hero can end up becoming his own caricature. You can clearly see the caricature Salman Khan has become in Race 3.

The Scary End 
They are planning Race 4! Help! Cinema lovers, notice the shiver down your sensible spine. Bhai lovers! You can't miss what you didn't notice!

Race 3 is for the brave, foolhardy, loyal Salman Khan fan. Bhai fans, I salute you! Go buy your blue stone bracelet and get through this one! Race 3 is your "Are you a true Bhai fan?" test.

8 Jun 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: Some Good Thrills, Despite More of the Same Old

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is at least better than its more predictable, nostalgia-exploiting, no show predecessor Jurassic World (2015). That's the least we expect from any movie sequel nowadays.

Start Screaming For Help! Another Dinosaur Movie! 
A volcano has (conveniently) erupted at Isla Nublar and the US Senate decides to let the dinosaurs die. Dr. Ian "I-Told-You-So" Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) has an "I-Am-Wisdom" session at the Senate hearing. Cloning dinosaurs was a huge mistake, let nature correct man's mistake, he prophetically states.

The park manager from Jurassic World, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is now a dinosaur protection group head. She and her team are devastated by the Senate's decision. Right on cue, Dearing is contacted by John Hammond's former cloning technology partner Benjamin Lockwood. The old, ailing Lockwood wants Dearing to help save as many dinosaurs as she can with his team. He wants to relocate them to a safe natural reserve. Only things are not as they seem.

Lockwood's aide Eli Mills particularly wants Dearing to locate the last living Velociraptor, Blue. Mills convinces her to reconnect with Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Dearing's former boyfriend and Velociraptor researcher to help in the search.   

Saved by Crisp, Clever Action and VFX      
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are the redeemers in a franchise that is now more dependant on the fluidity of the action sequences. The story and emotional core here (or what's left of it) are pruned from all previous franchise movies, especially Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997).

Old misguided philanthropist, greedy aide, cute children in danger, an indoor dinosaur-humans hide and seek sequence, a couple saving the day, dinosaurs exploited for human pleasure, are all revisited themes. To be fair, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has many impressive action sequences and startling moments.

It is for the VFX and clever heart-stopping action, we still love Steven Speilberg's Jurassic Park (1993). But there was a story of ambition, human capabilities, man vs. nature and an exploration of greed embedded in it. No such moments in this one.

Cool Moments
The opening scenes involving a T.rex attack are nicely done. The Indominus rex attacking the little girl sequence begins masterfully, before falling away to illogical interruptions. A climatic death scene is smart, as is a part-funny jaw-escaping act. A dinosaur calling out, even as volcanic lava swallows its world, is the film's only poetic, poignant moment.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review
Let go of some logic and depth and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has enough well-constructed action sequences and sudden surprises to make for a decent though loose, adventure-filled family entertainer. Yes, they are planning another sequel. Unlike dinosaurs, sequels aren't getting extinct anytime soon.

1 Jun 2018

Veere Di Wedding: A Contrived, Confused and Lost Comedy Drama

Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor), Avni (Sonam Kapoor), Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar) and Meera (Shikha Talsania) are close upper-class friends from school. Money is the least of their worries. They have many other things in their abandoned, hedonistic and free lives to worry about. What those worrisome things are, we never get to know. We do get to know in bits later, but we don't care as much. 

Australia-based Kalindi has just been proposed by Rishabh (Sumeet Vyas, quite good), her live-in partner. She reluctantly agrees. Soon, all the four friends are reunited for the wedding in India. Avni is a single independent divorce lawyer whose mother (Neena Gupta) is hounding her to get married.

Sakshi is a spoilt, partying and swearing drunkard. Meera lives in London with her husband and two-year-old kid. Her fat, flabby character had potential to stand out, but the consistently shallow writing lets everyone down.

Kalindi is pissed off by Rishabh's "do the wedding rituals" family. The rest of the girls are also pissed off about something. This is, believe it or not, the film's theme.

Veere Di Wedding: No Central Story 
After a few initial laughs, Veere Di Wedding never takes off as the girl-bonding, comedy-drama that it intends to be. The f*** word is clearly played up, as is the drinking, swearing, and the supposed display of open sexuality.

People shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes is the film's repeated dialogue. But Veere Di Wedding is a bumpy ride with half-realized ideas and a conventional, what-the-heck-was-the-fuss-about ending.

Performances & Bollywood Cliches 
All the four leading ladies are in top form, so it is a pity that the story and screenplay smash their efforts to bits. There is a whole rainbow of ideas dropped around. Don't let your parents' marriage decide your relationship. Casual sex is OK. Girls totally into drinking and using a vibrator can do so. Finally, if you love someone truly, marriage is good too.

Veere Di Wedding is also a case of a cliched, glamourized Bollywood film, where everyone is well-dressed up, nobody has to worry about a job or earning a rupee or dollar. Nothing sticks, just a teeny-weeny bit between Sonam and Neena Gupta about mothers and daughters. Also, the way a gay couple is not played up for laughs is mildly admirable.

After getting four women together, the makers of Veere Di Wedding just don't know where to go. They end up going round and round. The audience suffers.

If you haven't seen it yet, I would rather recommend the superb, throbbingly real, female-bonding drama Lipstick Under My Burkha.

27 May 2018

Bioscopewala: A Beautiful, Contemporary Tagore Adaptation

Bioscopewala has characters from Kabuliwala, the much-loved 1892 Rabindranath Tagore short story. What the filmmakers admirably do is craft new layers to the classic Tagore tale of pure companionship. In adding these layers, they both enrich and rob the film of the original story's magic. But more on that later.

The Bioscopewala Story 
France-based documentary filmmaker Minnie (Geetanjali Thapa, competent) returns home to Kolkata abruptly. Minnie's father, the famous fashion photographer Robi Basu (Adil Hussain, brief pivotal role) has died in a plane crash, on the way to Afghanistan.

While Minnie is wondering why her father was traveling to the war-torn country, her father's faithful aide Bhola (Brijendra Kala, stand out act) brings home a mysterious old and ailing man (Danny Denzongpa, amazing as usual, underutilized).

An already shaken up Minnie is at first irritated and alarmed at the old man's presence. She gradually remembers that the old man is none other than Rehmat Khan, "the Bioscope man", her dear friend from her long-forgotten childhood. Full of memories and curious, Minnie decides to investigate further.

A Thrilling Suspense Drama with Heart 
At intermission, I was disappointed to see little of the unique friendship that the little girl and Rehmat Khan (the title character) share in the short story. The father-daughter tangle required more exploration.

But things fall together like a fascinating jigsaw puzzle in the second half.

Minnie gradually discovers the man Rehmat Khan is through his old notorious neighbour, two Afghani women, and her father's files. She pieces together facts and rediscovers her past and Rehmat Khan in a new light.

A film that aches with genuine feeling, nostalgia, melancholy, deep human emotions and the balm of cinema. I left the theater with a deeply-affected heart.

Bioscopewala is a Beautiful Adaptation 
Stunning in parts, insightful and subtle in conveying emotions, holding its own as a topical drama, Bioscopewala is a gem of a movie. The filmmakers have courageously reinterpreted a classic tale for a contemporary audience.

Applause for the writers (Deb Medhekar & Sunil Doshi), screenplay writers (Doshi & Radhika Anand), director (Deb Medhekar), and the cast.

A big thumbs up also to the sole title song Bioscopewala, charmingly written by Gulzar, marking the return of Sandesh Shandilya (Socha Na Tha, Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham)  and beautifully sung by K Mohan.

Cinema lovers, don't miss Bioscopewala at the theaters this week.

25 May 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Entertaining Old Wine in New Bottle

Fasten your seatbelts and ride across the galaxy in screaming excitement? Well, not exactly.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a tried and tested, old wine in new bottle, box-office proof rendition of a popular, and lately, make-the-kids-happy franchise.

This one is strictly for the Star Wars franchise fans. Why are they fighting with tubelights? Why does the enemy keep shooting old video game pings and nobody is hurt? Why is the film title in preschool-crayon yellow? These are exactly the things that Star Wars fans love.

My confession, I am not a Star Wars fan. But The Last Jedi impressed me enough to catch Solo: A Star Wars Story in the theaters. Reason #2, the legendary director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, In the Heart of the Sea) is captaining this one.

Solo: A Star Wars Origin Story 
A young Han escapes an exploitative criminal mistress with his teenage lover Qi'ra. Han manages to escape to freedom, while Qi'ra is recaptured.

Years later, aspiring pilot Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is expelled from the Imperial Flight Academy (for having a mind of his own). Fed up of the empire's mindless cruelty, Han chances upon a bunch of criminals, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Despite their hostility, Han manages to charm them to make him an accomplice in stealing coaxium (expensive starship fuel) and earning "retirement" money.

Solo Review 
Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn't disappoint, neither does it scale intergalactic heights. It does have an easy breeziness and atmosphere. The twists are well-etched into the screenplay, though the "surprises" are a set template now. The summation, Solo: A Star Wars Story makes for good, light entertainment, with a couple of impressive action set pieces.

Solo Performances, Music     
Alden Ehrenreich is a chirpy, streetsmart Han Solo, but he lacks the Harrison Ford punch to endearingly dominate proceedings. Emilia Clarke is good as the mysterious Qi'ra, Woody Harrelson is competent as usual. Donald Glover gets some groovy gambling shades to work on and impresses. Paul Bettany oozes menace as Dryden Vos. Joonas Suotamo reprises a thankless costume-overshadowed role of Chewbacca with apt body language.

Composer John Powell builds on John Williams' legendary theme music. His background score sets the character and mood of several scenes, an amazing achievement.

Missed Masterstrokes 
The coaxium train robbery sequence could have been a rocking start to the movie. It ends up as effective but not awesome. "How Han and Chewbacca first met" must have been a historic, cinematic moment. Instead, it is watered down to a contrived quick friendship and escape.

The Han-Qi'ra chemistry never fires up, neither does the friendship sparkle between the good guys. An unusual robot-master relation is cut short. The alleged robbers (Enfys Nest) don't get enough impactful screen time

That 3D is barely put to use in the entire movie is just criminal. Lately, 3D has been an audience-attracting gimmick and nothing else.

Kid Audience Limits
That Solo: A Star Wars Story is a slave to a young target audience is too obvious. Nothing is too dangerous, cruel, dark or forbidding. The jokes too are feeble. The deaths seem plastic. Flattering a children's audience means older audiences hardly get any unrestricted fun moments.

Yet Ron Howard steals away, making a quick anti-war statement, a breathless surprise of a kiss, some magic in the Han-Chewbacca friendship and adds sanity to the action sequences. An airborne "yacht" gliding away stoneheartedly is a feeling that only Howard can achieve. Such moments are woefully rare.

Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn't rock as an origin story, it doesn't disappoint either. A passable three out of five stars.

13 May 2018

Raazi: An Engrossing Spy Drama with a Humane Touch

A Daughter. A Wife. A Spy. The Raazi movie posters capture the film's theme in a nutshell.

Based on the novel Calling Sehmat by Harinder Sikka, Raazi is "inspired" by true events surrounding the 1971 Indo-Pak war and the birth of Bangladesh.

The Raazi Storyline 
Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapur) is a dying Indian spy operating from Srinagar while acting as a pseudo-spy and friend for the Pakistani Brigadier Syed (Shishir Sharma). Meanwhile, a revolutionary movement to free East Pakistan begins. Syed mentions to Khan of a plan to obstruct India's support for East Pakistan's liberation. With a tumor in his lungs, Khan has little time to discover what the plan is.

A staunch traditional patriot, Khan calls up his Delhi University studying 20-year-old daughter Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) to perform the ultimate sacrifice. Khan wants Sehmat to marry Brigadier Syed's son Iqbal Syed (Vicky Kaushal). Sehmat would thus move to the Syed household. She would then spy and transmit back vital information. As tough preparation for the mission, Sehmat is trained mercilessly by the passive-faced Indian agent Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat).

Soon Sehmat realizes what she will have to become to serve her country.

Straight-Forward Narration
Director Meghna Gulzar's follow-up to the impressive investigative crime drama Talvar (2015) is nicely built without stylish fast cuts or the self-conscious pace of a commercial spy thriller.

Like her father Gulzar's films, Meghna goes for the humane touch. She tells the story minus lather and patriotic jingoism, with an anti-war stance. This objective approach works in the film's favor. The film is consistently engaging, delivering its message in a non-preachy, effective manner.

Gritty Performances    
Alia Bhatt is at Raazi's core as Sehmat. Her transformation from a caring, sensitive student to a murderous spy is skilfully done. Vicky Kaushal is aptly understated as the good, unsuspecting husband. Jaideep Ahlawat is particularly striking as the dry, stone-hearted Indian agent.

Good Soundtrack 
The criminally underrated music composer trio Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy impress again with a four-track Gulzar's verse-adorned soundtrack that merges well with the movie's tone. Ae Watani especially stands out as reverential and ironic to the film's plot. Listen to both the Sunidhi Chauhan and Arijit Singh versions. The title song Raazi is Gulzar in his masterful element. Dilbaro is another worthy song, the lyrics tenderly matching the traditional ethos of its times.

Loose Ends, High Points    
Sehmat sets up a long transmission wire from the terrace to her room and nobody discovers her doing so. The wire is clearly not hidden unless we are to believe that nobody visits the terrace. When Sehmat kills off a servant who has caught her red-handed, there is not a single eyewitness around. No security personnel at wartime or a single servant around and everybody else conveniently away that too at an Army Brigadier's house? A glaring loophole.

That said, there are many impressive touches to how Sehmat spies and gets the information across. The umbrella episode is tightly done, as is the discovery, getaway and the grenade-exploding twist. The Bhavani Iyer-Meghna Gulzar screenplay cuts away from cliches. The result is a strong message against the futility of war and a note on its living casualties.

Raazi Verdict 
Constantly watchable, Raazi could have hit harder with its deaths, betrayals, and heartbreak. It needed tenser, adventurous writing and tough questions asked on the Indo-Pak conflict. But this is a story of a young girl and her frightening dark choices, and in that aspect, Raazi succeeds like few films do.

It will be interesting to know what Meghna Gulzar will attempt next.

11 May 2018

The New Big SS Rajamouli Movie Announced

Rajamouli's recent tweet on his upcoming film with  Ram Charan and Jr.NTR 

After the mega mass audience Pan India success of Bahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, we can't wait for SS Rajamouli's next. Well, the wait for the next Rajamouli movie did not end with a recent announcement. By the likes of it, it will be a long time before the film will be shot and released. Basically, the wait has just begun.

The New SS Rajamouli Movie Teaser 
The cast for SS Rajamouli's next features Telugu stars Jr. NTR and Ram Charan. The teaser trailer calls it the RRR movie. This is not the movie title. The temporary title denotes the alphabet R common to the names of the director and the two lead stars. The movie budget is rumored to be 300 crores.

In a recent interview, Ram Charan revealed that shooting for the movie will begin in post-October 2018. It is a confirmed fact that Charan and NTR traveled to Los Angeles for some profile tests, possibly for the film's CGI. There is nothing more known about the film. Charan insisted that he will be hearing the film story narration only by May-end. Charan admitted that he said yes to the Rajamouli project without hearing the story, as it was fun to work with the director previously on Magadheera (2009).


A Long Wait Indeed

Going by the scale and detailing Rajamouli conjures in his movies, we must expect a tentative late 2019 release, or sometime in 2020. But this is coming from a purely optimistic fan. Post-production and special effects add to the long movie-making periods that Rajamouli is now famous for. The two Baahubali movies took five years to make. We are not complaining, as most Rajamouli movies have been worth the wait.

Rajamouli's Best Movie Yet
My favorite Rajamouli movie is still Eega (2012), later dubbed in Hindi as Makkhi. I recall how a colleague of mine had recommended the trailer. The premise was bizarre and unbelievable. An animated fly (previously human) was depicted as avenging his death. This promised to be a laughable and unintentionally spoof-filled experience. It was when I saw the movie at a city theatre that I was pleasantly surprised.

Eega is an out-and-out modern cliched fantasy that played out convincingly as a mass audience entertainer with almost no loose ends. The animated fly needed no language to reach out to any world audience. In comparison, the storyline of the Bahubali movies disappointed me. It was familiar territory for the director and the audience. The treatment was creatively fuelled though, with strong characters, awesome action sequences and believable special effects.

Revisit this blog for the latest updates on the new "RRR" Rajamouli movie.

4 May 2018

102 Not Out: Flawed But Watchable Slice of Life Story

Dattatraya Vakharia (Amitabh Bachchan) is a perky, full-of-life 102-year-old who returns home one day with a declaration. He wants to break the current record (of a late 118-year-old Chinese man) for the oldest person in the world. To achieve this, Dattatraya wants his grim, sullen 75-year-old son Babulal (Rishi Kapoor) to either agree to do some assigned tasks or move to an old age home.

With the part-time (dumb, charming) servant Dhiru (Jimit Trivedi) as a witness, a comical tug-of-war begins between Santa Claus like father and a hard-boiled Humpty Dumpty son.

Sensitive Bright Story, Stuck in Stage Mode
102 Not Out begins with a heavy redundant narration. The scene transitions are terrible, the editing uneven. Adapted from a Saumya Joshi play, director Umesh Shukla retains the stagy, play-like effect. The stunted treatment limits the film's scale and impact.

There is no trace of cinema, this might well be a TV movie. Technical expertise is woefully absent, but for an impressive rain recreation bit. The songs are breezy, but not used effectively with the visuals.

No additional characters add to the crackling celebration 102 Not Out could have been. The screenplay doesn't go adventurous, despite the immense scope. There is no attempt at subtlety, but for a gramophone bit and charming old Hindi film songs (despite product placements). No atmosphere either, Mumbai hardly connects as a city. They could have shot this in an auditorium, for all you know.

Rishi Kapoor Stands Out
The performances, core story and life lessons make this movie watchable. You have seen the same elements better played out in Anand (1971) and Munnabhai M.B.B.S (2003), and to some escapist, contrived extent in Baghban (2003).

There are just three main players here, and mercifully the Bachchan, Kapoor, and Trivedi interplay is lively. Bachchan's legendary expressions are limited by the prosthetics, the dialogue delivery comes off as one-note. His Dattatraya is too unreal and energetic for an ailing 102-year-old.

It is Rishi Kapoor's grim-faced, bursting angst that registers. Kapoor is at the top of his game, with great uncanny chemistry with Bachchan. His entire range of expressions and the change he experiences are all endearing and close to the bone. A spontaneous burst of a performance, 102 Not Out is among Kapoor's best work.

Jimit Trivedi is a pleasant surprise as the innocent servant. Trivedi holds his own with two great actors. He deserves more roles.

Great Potential, Partly Impressive   
102 Not Out is consistently watchable for sticking to a straight line and keeping us engaged. There are many heart-rending moments. The issues raised are still as relevant, though depth is not the film's strength.

The humor is bright and the key moment is nicely written, at least on paper. We hardly get movies totally centered on the elderly. On that note, 102 Not Out does hold out as a rare event in Hindi cinema.

What 102 Not Out needed was a lot more madness, tightness in execution, sensitive, artful cinematography, and more layers to Amitabh's underwritten character.

Smile Please!
I left the theatre satisfied, largely due to the cast, the naive simplicity, the 107-minute running time and an astounding Rishi Kapoor, whose face exhibits the disappointments of old age, tenderness, agony, anger, catharsis, coercion, and child-like joy.

Go watch 102 Not Out for an acting masterclass from Kapoor, among other smile-inducing reasons.

23 Mar 2018

Raid: A Good, Engaging Drama That Lacks Edginess

An honest, soft-spoken income tax officer Amey Patnaik (Ajay Devgn) raids powerful and feared politician Rameshwar Singh aka Tauji's (Saurabh Shukla) "White House" with his huge team and police personnel in tow, on an anonymous tip, sometime in 1981. That is the straight-forward plot of the film.

Inspired by true events, Raid has a solid, focused premise for gritty, razor-sharp drama with a huge, largely underutilized ensemble cast. Director Raj Kumar Gupta (No One Killed JessicaAamir) creates many great moments, hero-villain face-offs and decent suspense, and we get a fairly engaging film from start to finish.

Wanted: Trimmed Song Sequences, Better Characterisation, and Editing
If the film doesn't rise to be a potential classic, the pacing, editing, rhythm and a couple of redundant song interruptions are to blame. Sharper editing, especially in the second half, would have given us a far more superior film.

Also, key plot twists are brushed over, and not explained in detail. The raid scenes, the income tax team dynamics, the politician's family, the main plot reveal required greater inventiveness and command in direction and writing.

A couple of plot liberties rankle. Especially the part when Amey allows Tauji to leave the house is so against logic and character, and merely a contrived build-up to the mob climax. The mob attack, the car ambush, the final escape required more bubbling tension.

Solid Lead Performances, Some Hazily Written Roles 
But there is much to admire here. Ajay Devgn is subtle and effectively toned down as Amey, a performance of assured, honed craft. Saurabh Shukla is superb as the arrogant Tauji. But it is Pushpa Joshi as Tauji's undeterred mother who is a surprise, hilarious standout. The talented Amit Sial (of Titli fame) gets little subtext to build on his negative role, his Lallan is played up for laughs. Writing gaps also show up in Ileana D'Cruz's portrayal of Amey's 'angelic', seemingly unaffected, and supportive wife Malini.

At a little over 2 hours, Raid arrives at its main premise too early, doesn't tie the loose ends well, but never loses steam either. It is a decent drama and as an audience, it is surely worth a watch for the sincere, mildly inspired attempt.

28 Feb 2018

Five Amazing Sridevi Songs You Just Can't Miss!

There are many intense memories I possess of the two-month-long summer vacations that we spent down south at my grandmother's village in the early nineties.

One clear recall is my first vacation in 1992 as a ten-year-old. Yash Chopra's Lamhe had released in November 1991 and all through April 1992, on power cut induced candlelit evenings, my similarly-aged cousin sister from Mumbai unfailingly danced to Chudiyan Khanak Gayeen (the bangles clinked...).

For a boy who loves to play cricket and run about, this untiring, enthusiastic dancing began irritating me after a fortnight. Unfazed, the cousin sister kept at it, singing the song and swaying to it at the same time every evening with an unconscious, uninhibited flow that only children possess. Now that I can calmly look back at it, the effect of Sridevi's amazing dancing abilities on a ten-year-old girl was quite phenomenal. Sridevi's onscreen connection with everyone young and old was uncanny.

Madhuri Dixit vs Sridevi? 
Was Madhuri Dixit the better onscreen dancer or was Sridevi the best? Each with their distinct signature steps, timely graceful expressions, and elegant movements, yet so different from the other. It's hard to decide, that debate will never cease. Also, don't forget the choreographers and cinematographers who played a huge part in creating the persona.

Anyway, here is my list of the best danced, choreographed and picturized Sridevi songs.

Kate Nahin Kat Te Din Ye Raat 
Mr India (1987)
Kishore Kumar, Alisha Chinai / Javed Akhtar / Laxmikant-Pyarelal

It took years of repeat viewing from adolescence to my teenage years to realize what exactly transpired in those five odd minutes. The minutes when Mr.India momentarily transformed into a movie for a "not so young" audience. What magical, seductive moments when Sridevi sways to Kate Nahin Kat Te Din Ye Raat with Anil Kapoor appearing, disappearing at will!

Sridevi has been drenched a lot onscreen in her 80's films, sometimes to vulgar, provocative effect. But here the visuals hold back the lovemaking, with Sridevi having to imagine an invisible Mr.India dancing with her. She pulls it off with a breathless, scintillating burst of youth, pure sensuousness and a touch of scandal. You just can't look away!       

Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyan
Chandni (1989)
Lata Mangeshkar / Anand Bakshi / Shiv-Hari 

The initial minutes of Chandni hold the promise of a cinematic event. The film begins as a subtle, sublime ode to a young woman's beauty before taking off to a disappointing wheelchaired lover angle. It's like the writers didn't know where else to go but the wheelchair, self-pity, separation, and reunion. The film still holds in parts.

The opening song Mere Haathon Mein Nau Nau Choodiyan is more than a dance routine, it sums up all Punjabi marriage folk songs of those undistilled times. Notice how the dance doesn't look choreographed. Sridevi instills believability to proceedings. Nowadays there are 100 dancers on screen and you seldom get a musical vibe or goosebumps as this song still gives us.

Chudiyan Khanak Gayee
Lamhe (1991)
Lata Mangeshkar, Moinuddin and Ila Arun / Anand Bakshi / Shiv-Hari

Another song about clinking bangles echoes through generations of Hindi film song lovers. The song is still referenced and celebrated. In Tanu Weds Manu (2011), Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) sits quietly by a bonfire with Manu (R Madhavan) and then gleefully blurts,"Looking at this lonesome jungle, this fire, this ambience, are you wondering if you are Lamhe's Anil Kapoor and me Sridevi and that I will start dancing to the Peacock song?" 

For all the song and dance I was subjected to by my cousin sister way back in 1992, this is not an out and out dance song. Yash Chopra infuses a solemn silence into it with the desert night setting. The song is all Sridevi, weaved in tradition, a painting-like ambiance to it, apart from the rare sight of a mustache-less Anil Kapoor and folksy Ila Arun. It's an iconic image, Sridevi standing out like a famous statue, a work of sheer art and womanhood at full bloom. 

Sridevi's "waiting for the lover" expressions has its layers, as revealed later in this underrated, unconventional movie. Anil Kapoor's character sees her in another light. Chudiyan khanak gayee is a beautiful palette of longing, simply unforgettable. 

Hawa Hawai 
Mr.India (1987)
Kavita Krishnamurthy/Javed Akhtar / Laxmikant-Pyarelal 

A classic 80's case of strange costumes, outlandish settings, frowning villains, absurd situations and in the middle of it all Sridevi knocking this right out of the cinema hall. No other female lead actress, except for Madhuri Dixit during that era, raised the bar as Sridevi did with her multiple comic expressions and moves.

Playing up a bit of Charlie Chaplin as she does in the film later, echoing of Kishore Kumar's madness, the rest is choreographer Saroj Khan and Sridevi's daredevilry at work. A mad, fun, freaky yet harmless joy of a song sequence. Check out the background dancers' cheeky costumes in this one. A big bumpy kiddy party, going with the film's "for children" theme.   

Chandni O Meri Chandni
Chandni (1989)
Jolly Mukherjee, Sridevi / Anand Bakshi / Shiv-Hari 

The song perks up the film's meandering proceedings in flashback mode and was very popular back then, especially for Sridevi's impish, funny rendition of the female vocals. On screen, the Rishi Kapoor-Sridevi interplay is great, despite the redundant dance routine, even as Yash Chopra pays tribute to his newly found mistress...Switzerland. 

Other Notable Mentions   
The Kamal Haasan - Sridevi brilliance in the songs of Sadma (1983), the rage of hatred and revenge exuded in the songs of the big disaster Roop Ki Rani, Choron Ka Raja (1993), lots of awe-inspiring, superb dancing in ChaalBaaz (1989).

Now that she is suddenly gone at 54, her body reduced to ashes today, the celebration of her talent and apparent timelessness will continue. Sridevi's unexpected death has only assured her immortality in the hearts of millions of Hindi film lovers.