23 Mar 2018

Movie Review: 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, Sharper Editing, Better Characterisation 
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 allowing 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, its 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.   

25 Feb 2018

We Will Miss You Sridevi (1963-2018)!

Sridevi (1963-2018)
During my childhood years in the eighties and nineties, Sridevi was already a popular culture comet in the Bollywood sky. Even in those simpler, limited mass communication medium times, her amazing talent was hard to ignore.

The fearless news reporter Seema in Mr.India (1987) is a distinct memory as is the mercurial comic turn in the otherwise exaggerated lost twin sisters tale ChaalBaaz (1989), and the 'classic in parts', Yash Chopra's ode to feminine beauty, Chandni (1989). Lamhe (1991) is Sridevi at her peak, it is arguably her best film, apart from with English Vinglish

Sridevi was simply brilliant and born to make it on the big screen. At her peak, nobody could match her versatility. Be it the absurd requirement to dance, look cute and beautiful in Hindi films, to teary-eyed emoting, Sridevi ticked all the boxes and more. It is her comic timing that makes her legendary. For someone so introvert in real life, the extroverted reel life transformation was pure magic.

The famous wedding dance routine that lights up Chandni (1989)

The Wrong Decade
The eighties is Hindi commercial cinema's worst decade yet. Women came off with the worst treatment with crass, double-meaning dialogue, provocative rape scenes, and body objectification. Yet, this was Sridevi's decade. She easily stood out faultless, engaging and pitch-perfect in mostly average, dreadful and some memorable films.  

My enduring kid memory is of her in shiny contact lenses and bad makeup, dancing to main teri dushman, dushman tu mera in the boisterous Nagina (1986) with exquisite flair. For pure acting gold bookends, see Sadma (1983) and English Vinglish (2012).

With Sunny Deol in ChaalBaaz (1989)

Sridevi: Gone Too Soon
Sridevi's sudden death at 54, at a time when she was making a selective, content-driven return to Hindi films, and looking amazingly timeless on screen is a huge loss. Her best was yet to come, the mini-list of great films she has starred in was steadily expanding, with English Vinglish and to a small extent, Mom (2017), matching up to her towering talent.

In mediocrity ridden Hindi cinema, Sridevi will be remembered as an actress of rare gifts, a spontaneous blaze of talent. It will be difficult not to miss her commanding presence on the big screen. She may be gone, but Manju, Chandni, Seema, and Shashi will continue to live on in our hearts forever.