4 Nov 2017

Movie Review: Ittefaq: Sluggish, Half-Convincing Thriller

A bestselling writer Vikram Sethi (Sidharth Malhotra) is on the run for allegedly killing his wife. During the chase, his car overturns. Despite injuries, he manages to make a run to a flat, where he encounters Maya (Sonakshi Sinha). As the film begins we catch Vikram standing over a dead man at the house, Maya's husband.

The investigating cop Dev (Akshaye Khanna) is given three days to solve the case by his senior. Why? As Sethi is an NRI and UK citizen with connections, that is the time they have to keep him under custody. Soon Dev is embroiled in two versions of what happened on the night of the double murder. Vikram and Maya convincingly utter varied narratives to how the night unfolded. Who is telling the truth?

No Shred of Dread     
The refreshing thing about Ittefaq, it is not a lazy remake. This is a whole new premise, apart from retaining certain elements of the impressive, if flawed in bits, original Rajesh Khanna starer, Yash Chopra directorial Ittefaq (1969). New characters, new situations, and a whole new ending.

The itch here is the slow pace, the sheer lack of tension and texture for most of its running time. The first half feels stretched and rooted in unnecessary repetition. Somewhere in the final ten minutes, when a white car makes a speedy u-turn, the film fleetingly comes alive. Otherwise, there is no shred of dread or any touch of 'what will happen next' here.

Vikram is not an engrossing, intense character as Rajesh Khanna's mad, unpredictable, danger-oozing fugitive. He seems victimized and straight.That Sinha is off-note as the allegedly devious Maya doesn't help too. It is Akshaye Khanna as Dev who keeps us invested. Here is a character where a lot is intangible and seething beneath the supposedly calm surface.

Final Take   
Though the apt, late climax is part-impressive and decent, it is not watertight. Overall, Ittefaq has its moments, is good in bits and manages to end on a surprising note. It's not a top-notch thriller, but worth a watch.    

20 Oct 2017

Movie Review: Golmaal Again: Lots of Silliness, Lots of Juvenile Laughter!

There is always that one movie that uncannily brings everything that a director does best into a single riotous mesh. Golmaal Again is that Rohit Shetty movie.

Yes, Golmaal Again is juvenile, most of it doesn't make any sense. This is not classic, intelligent, insightful comedy. Yet, the Golmaal films have found a mass audience since 2006.

Golmaal Again appealed to a crazy, wacky, wild, kiddy, illogical part of my heart. Rohit Shetty's comedy genre is more like a David Dhawan film with less crassness and a distant hint of smartness.

Hindi Film Referencing 
The Golmaal franchise has never been about the story and this one is no different. It continues to be a series of humorous skits, playing one after another. Thanks to Shetty's story, dialogue writers Sajid-Farhad, a very wacky screenplay by Yunus Sajawal, and a cast that is so into each other, the laughter keeps coming.  

If you are a fan of the previous three Golmaal films, love Hindi movies on a whole, right from the mediocre eighties, have seen Hindi horror classics like Woh Kaun Thi (1964) and Gumnaam (1965), and like Nana Patekar 90's monologues, you will laugh even louder in recognition.

The much-repeated emotional ghost revenge angle is so "yawn". The song picturizations are also passe, the loud background music is a big downer. The saga of incoherent plots and Rohit Shetty continues here. But when Shetty mines one joke after another here with stubborn earnestness, the flaws are temporarily pushed to the background. 

Everybody from all the first three Golmaal movies gets their fun moments here, except for Sharman Joshi, mysterious cast absentee since Golmaal: Fun Unlimited (2006).

Watch Kunal Khemu rush up painted steps, Ajay Devgn is sporting in self-mockery and nails the spooked up look, Arshad Warsi cracks up in mischief, Shreyas Talpade belts out a hilarious lullaby, Tusshar Kapoor reprises his most memorable character, and Johnny Lever crackles in parts, watch out for the Hyderabadi air hostess act. Tabu, the fine actress that she is, makes most of the only funny finale sequence she gets. Parineeta Chopra, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Prakash Raj, Mukesh Tiwari, and Vrajesh Hirjee are competent and spot on.

Best watched on the big screen. I caught up Golmaal Again at Victory Theatre, Pune this morning with an audience of teenagers, families, young and old and everyone went away clapping, whistling and hooting. 

Clean, nonsensical and uproarious comedy, not necessarily clever! But I am not complaining.      

19 Oct 2017

Movie Review: Secret Superstar: Great Intentions, Good Treatment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite the 150-minute running time, Secret Superstar has enough going for it to make it a good, if not overwhelming, Diwali family movie pick at the theaters. Some very pertinent questions are asked here.

4 Oct 2017

Padmavati Ranveer Singh Movie Posters

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 Sep 2017

Movie Review: Newton: The India We Never See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.