16 Feb 2018

Movie Review: Aiyaary: Passable Army Drama, Lacks 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

Movie Review: Pad Man: 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.