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.