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.   

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.  

16 Feb 2018

Aiyaary: Passable Army Drama Devoid of Pace, Thrill & Tension

Major Jai Bakshi (Sidharth Malhotra) is declared a traitor by his covert army unit headed by Colonel Abhay Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) for conducting unauthorized surveillance on high profile people and disappearing without a trace. Jai flees to London with his girlfriend Sonia (Rakul Preet Singh) with shocking army secrets that threaten to bring down India's government and expose corruption in the Indian army.

Meanwhile, the Indian Army Chief (Vikram Gokhale) is offered a huge bribe by Retd. Lt. General Gurinder Singh (Kumud Mishra) for allowing the purchase of overpriced foreign weapons. On the army chief's refusal, Gurinder threatens to expose Abhay's covert operations and the off-the-books expenditure incurred on the secret unit. Jai is allegedly Gurinder's informer. Abhay must track and kill Jai to save his team and restore Indian army's honor.

No Central Theme 
Considering that the premise takes some explaining, Neeraj Pandey begins Aiyaary on a promising note, dispersing tantalizing clues. But the film never takes off, except as mildly engaging "true events" inspired drama. There are barely any thrills, zero tense moments, and no sense of danger. We barely connect with the characters.

Two Striking Aspects 
Slow-motion dulls the impact in almost every scene where it is so repeatedly and stubbornly used. On a film devoid of any action set-pieces, slo-mo makes for a redundant, irritating effect. The film needed silent bits between the relentless background music to build any kind of tension. The silences are woefully missing. No edge-of-the-seat entertainment here as in Pandey's Special 26 (2013) and Baby (2015).

The ever-competent Manoj Bajpayee does most of the heavy weighting. But there is no engaging story to back his character, a Kashmir army anecdote lacks insight. Siddarth Maholtra lacks intensity and lazily strolls through with his customary cuteness and urban sophistication. His performance is a big letdown.

Rakul Preet Singh is earnest in the teeny bit role. Naseeruddin Shah culminates the movie with a rocking performance, lifting an otherwise sketchily written part. Bit acts by Anupam Kher, Adil Hussian and especially Kumud Mishra are watchable.

Too Many Threads
Aiyaary may be a faithful retelling of true events, but there is no direction at its core. Unlike Pandey's striking debut A Wednesday (2008), Aiyaary goes round in circles without arriving at any strong, resonant conclusions.

Greedy arms dealers, corrupt army men, derby betting watchman, a rogue agent, faithful girlfriend, opportunist media, sly informers...it is the case of too many and too much to be packed into one film.  At best, the film would have worked as a tense action-based thriller with a bit of the present story premise.

As for the fabled shapeshifting form (Aiyaar) that the film title takes after, the symbolic impact barely registers.

Aiyaary is passable, sincerely made, but ends up as a dull thriller that never lifts off the screen.

9 Feb 2018

Pad Man: A Superb, Gripping Social Drama

Based on the incredible life mission of Arunachalam Muruganantham, Pad Man is a largely impressive reinterpretation of single-mindedness in an earthy North Indian setting.

Newly married mechanics-inclined Lakshmikant Chauhan (Akshay Kumar) is appalled at his wife Gayatri (Radhika Apte) using a dirty rag cloth during her periods. He finds buying a branded sanitary pad too expensive, so out of love and deep concern, he sets about making a cheaper sanitary pad from local raw materials. The troubles for Lakshmikant or Lakshmi begin then, as he is up against prejudice, taboo and shame. He is labeled a pervert and an outcast. Will Lakshmi continue to pursue his mad passion, against all odds?

Straight, Sincere, Funny Treatment   
Writer and director R.Balki borrows faithfully from Arunachalam's life and transplants the real Tamil Nadu background to a village in Madhya Pradesh with great conviction. Pity that a superstitious,  outdated and orthodox setting needs no specific Indian geographical setting. Ignorance and prejudice are widespread, more than ever.

Inclined to mix impressive witty comedy, urbanite-engaging drama with an emotional overdose in notable films like Cheeni Kum (2007) and Paa (2009), Balki finds the right story to balance what he does best. The result is an overwhelmingly entertaining social drama that ticks all the right boxes.

One of a Kind
Pad Man towers over last year's similarly themed Toilet: Ek Prem Katha because it doesn't preach and force the message down our throats. It is less of a social loudspeaker and more of a deep, funny,  witty, connecting movie on the larger implications of using something so often ignored - sanitary pads.

Akshay Kumar 3.0!  
How Akshay Kumar has evolved to be one of the finest actors of our time is as much of an inspiration. His take on the mad, passionate Lakshmikant is sincere, grounded, balanced and earnest.

Watch how Kumar nails the modesty, the vacuum of fighting a lonely battle, that single tear flowing down his face, bang on clueless expression to Amitabh Bachchan's English speech and the rocking 10-minute United Nations monologue. It is one, big, skyrocketing performance. I have come to respect Kumar's rise as an actor, in Pad Man he installs himself as a serious acting heavyweight.    

Contrasting Female Vibes 
Balki bridges the rural-urban divide in Radhika Apte's impressive rendering of a vulnerable, teary-eyed, superstitious wife. He offers a tabla player exponent and high-flying MBA graduate in Sonam Kapoor's sporting take on Pari. The contrasts work but the Pari-Lakshmikant love premise could have been handled better.

A Few Misses
The love triangle adds unnecessary lather to the proceedings. Yet Akshay Kumar's sublime touch makes even the love story digestible. A minor quibble is the out of place, synchronized dance sequence celebrating a young girl's puberty. Thankfully, it is a teeny-weeny hiccup.

Don't Miss It 
Powered by Akshay Kumar's career-best performance to date, and a strikingly different story to tell, Pad Man connects in the most intimate, humorous and empathy-driven manner, like few commercial films do.

29 Jan 2018

Movie Talk: Padmaavat: Surprises and Conflicts

Irrespective of the controversies, Padmaavat had a rocking trailer, showcasing glimpses of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's flair for detailing and sheer beauty. After finally catching up with the film, a lot of things stuck out for me:

Rajputs as Heroes, Khiljis as Villians  
Did Bhansali change the screenplay after the initial protests? The way Rajputs are praised sky high in Padmaavat, you may well believe that Bhansali will join the Karni Sena soon. Contrast it with Khiljis depicted as savage, dishonorable, uncultured and power-hungry. Its a Ram vs Raavan fight, as Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), is made to say in the film.

Star Power Over Story 
Clearly, attempts have been made to balance Shahid Kapoor's and Ranveer Singh's star power, at the expense of story and logic. How else do you explain Alauddin Khilji walking in alone into Chittor, making an atrocious demand and still getting away unhurt? How about Ratan Singh citing honor as a reason to return the favor and visit Alauddin's tent unarmed?

That an escaping king would find time to taunt his tormentor before escaping in elaborate exchange of dialogues is hard to believe. The final sword fight is almost a lazy skirmish, but for some moments. It is a Shahid-Ranveer compensatory fight rather than a Rajput-Khilji faceoff. These clearly compensated elements cut off any chances of a fine film.

Padmavati Appears and Disappears 
This was supposed to be Padmavati's film, right? But for the final 15 minutes, we get little of Deepika Padukone. She is resplendent at the start, followed by the decorous Ghoomar song sequence, and is then reduced to giving Shahid Kapoor loving, faithful glances. We have no hint at Ratan Singh's journey either.

Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) is the only character with an elaborate backstory. We clearly see where he is coming from, unlike Ratan Singh and Padmavati. Add to that Ranveer's madcap performance, no wonder Alauddin's deplorable, menacing character engages and connects to a greater degree.

Mass Suicide as a Brave Act? 
I was stunned by the final mass self-immolation scene. In the context of the movie, it is heart-rending. But as we see Padmavati stepping into the CGI-created flames with a smile, the modern context to it is alarming. So, if all your men are all dead and the enemies are sure to ravish you, the only way out for women is suicide? Mixed, dubious signals here.

The Final Question 
So did Bhansali make major changes to the story and the approach after the initial protests? What role did the mass coercion and Karni Sena threat play in making Padmaavat a lesser movie? We can only wait for the filmmakers to speak out some day in our so-called democratic country.

28 Jan 2018

Padmaavat: All Honour and Grandeur, Weak Story

Padmaavat is a film to be enjoyed on its merit, despite the atrocious demands of covering up Deepika's bare waist, the alleged deleted scenes, and lengthy disclaimers.

The Honourable Tale
Rajput King Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor) falls for Singala Princess Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) and they are soon married. Meanwhile, in distant Afghanistan,  Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) gets his uncle, the reigning Khilji king (Raza Murad) murdered to ascend the throne.

Back at Chittor Fort, Ratan Singh banishes the royal priest Raghav Chetan for playing peeping tom on the couple. Enraged, Chetan travels to Delhi, enticing Alauddin by describing Padmavati's beauty to attack Chittor. War looms and Chittor's fate seems sealed against a larger Khilji army.

Wafer Thin Plot, Hindi Film Dialoguebaazi 
Despite the detailed grandeur, gorgeous set design, and painstaking costume design, Padmaavat lacks a strong story. The face-offs between Ratan Singh and Alauddin plays on the Shahid-Ranveer star status rather than logic. Both kings enter each other's territory unarmed and alone. An escaping king still finds time to part with his subdued rival on a dialogue-laced note, just because he wants to.

The CGI is unimpressive and just about holds, disappointing after what we witnessed in SS Rajamouli's Bahubali (2015) and Baahubali 2 (2017) movies. The mountains, soldiers, the funeral pyre and falling soldiers all look unreal. The action is brief and impressive in bits, though the final Rajput-Khilji fight is mockingly contrived with Shahid-Ranveer trading obligatory blows in turns.

What Works? 
The performances, atmosphere, songs and background score hold the film. Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukone are both compelling, but they don't get as much to work with as Ranveer Singh does. Ranveer, clearly enjoying himself, nails a difficult part with menacing, intruding darkness, his character keeps the film above average.

Jim Sarbh makes a decent act of an underwritten, punishing role as a deviant Khilji slave. Aditi Rao Hydari is lovingly efficient in her bit part as is the baritone veteran Raza Murad. Anupriya Goenka is consistent, though she falters in a key scene.

Rousing Finale
It is in the final dialogue-less 15 minutes that the film comes alive. The film does end up glorifying self-immolation as a heroic tradition. But seen as a fictional film, this part is both poignant and arousing and makes up for the film's many flaws. Takeaways from the Ketan Mehta classic Mirch Masala (1987) add to the stunning climax.

The Controversy, The Irony 
Bhansali is clearly partial in depicting Rajputs as honorable, brave, upright warriors and the Khiljis as murderous, cheating, savage barbarians. So what was the rogue and coercive Karni Sena opposing? Bhansali is totally on their side here.

Padmaavat is a decent historical entertainer that does not build on its premise. It is an attempt in decorated epic-ness but lacks a layered story. Watch it in 2D, the 3D is just a marketing afterthought.
For me, the best Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie is still that classy love triangle Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999).