Monday, June 27, 2016

Udta Punjab - flying high!

Thanks to all the controversy surrounding it, Udta Punjab was assured of above average viewership ratings. Indeed I can barely type the name of the movie without feeling like I need to put a hashtag before it! However, I did wonder whether it would also manage to live up to the hype.Whether it would also be a decent watch once all the expletives were laid aside.

Short answer: it is a great watch.

Long answer follows...

Udta Punjab is not the Punjab that Bollywood has so far instilled in our collective consciousness. It is a Punjab where substance abuse is all pervasive. Where truant schoolboys are injecting deadly chemical cocktails into their veins, where genial old men who call people "puttar" deal in drugs as a family business, where the local policemen are turning a blind eye to the drug transportation for a bribe, where the politicians exchange drugs for votes. It is a truly horrific tale that shows just how deep the problem runs. And how 'say NO to drugs'was not just a slogan for the late 80's.

We are plunged right into the middle of this crisis through the four lead characters: Tommy (Shahid Kapoor) is a party-loving, coke snorting maniac of a rockstar who has lost his "mojo". His life takes a turn when he meets Alia Bhatt, a Bihari labourer who chances upon a packet of drugs in the fields where she works, setting in motion a heartbreaking chain of events for her. Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) is a corrupt cop who gets a wakeup call when his own brother overdoses. He then teams up with the feisty activist Doctor Preet (Kareena Kapoor Khan) in an investigation to expose the kingpins of the drug trade.

The hard-hitting and gritty nature of the movie never glamourises either drugs or the expletive laden language. The anti-drug message is loud and clear and the language is as expected from the characters. It's hard to see why this movie was about to be banned. If the situation in Punjab is not as dire, then that's great news. And if it is, then surely, highlighting it can only bring more help to eliminate the problem.

The Sartaj and Preet angle is a bit weak and the Tommy and Alia connection feels a bit forced but overall, these work well in giving a breather from the otherwise suffocating grimness. Despite the subject matter, the movie is gripping and ends on a note of strength. After a long time, I felt I saw a movie, where I didn't get bored at all and didn't now what to expect.

The acting was top notch, especially from Shahid and Alia, who have put their heart and soul into every scene. Diljit Dosanjh was refreshing and charming. His rendition of "Ïk Kudi" (sung by Tommy in the movie), was beautiful. Kareena, rather surprisingly, was a bit weak - her performance seemed inconsistent to me. One moment she is cool to the point of being smug, the next she is all excited and channelling her inner Geet (from Jab We Met). Perhaps one could have done with a little more fleshing out of the characters - a little more of Alia's backstory, a little more on Preet might have been interesting. But then again, perhaps its just as well the characters don't overshadow the real protagonist - Udta Punjab.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel - the review

I have always been a huge fan of superheroes. Every superhero has an alter ego who is an ordinary man guarding from the world his extraordinary nature. I love the idea that there could be amongst us people who have special powers and who unbeknownst to anyone, help the world become a better place. It makes common everyday life that much more exciting if you think that the man passing you in the street could be a hero. Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker or Clark Kent, billionaire playboy, high school student or shy reporter, they have the potential to be a Batman, Spiderman or Superman. It is the ultimate breakdown of stereotypes.

While not all superheroes are genetically enhanced – take for example Batman or Iron Man – my favourite Superman has a whole array of biological superiorities to choose from. Super strength, speed, flight, X-ray vision, heat vision…he’s almost invincible. As a kid, I often imagined what I would do with the powers that Superman had! So when the new Superman movie, "Man of Steel", released last week, I was at the theatre as soon as possible.

"Man of Steel" is essentially an origin story for Superman. How his planet, Krypton, is on the verge of collapse because they have been harvesting the ‘core’ instead of looking to newer worlds. The mutiny it faces from General Zod (Michael Shannon) who is eventually subdued and sentenced. How Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara send away their only son Kal-El to Earth to save his life before their planet explodes. Kal-El is found by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and grows up as their son, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). When we first see him, he is a troubled man moving from one odd job to another – on a fishing vessel, in a small town diner – however he never manages to fully escape his destiny saving lives even as he conceals his true identity.

When he discovers the story of his origins, he finds a new meaning in his life. His secret is shared almost from the beginning with intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). General Zod however manages to find him and plans to take over Earth and establish Krypton in its stead, in the process killing off all humankind. Clark knows he cannot let this happen and thereafter begins an orgy of violence with a predictable end.

Okay, so the biggest problem with Man of Steel? It tries to ‘Batman-ize’ Superman. Superman is not dark, he is not brooding, he is not a tortured soul. He is a fairly happy Kansas farm boy who is lucky to have parents who support and ground him while he uses his extra-terrestrial powers to help earthlings. His alter ego is a little extra geeky just to over-compensate for how truly awesome he is in reality! There was really no need for "Man of Steel" to attempt (and fail at) creating dark undertones for this story too. It feels very uneven and most importantly, adds nothing to the tale. Instead it detracts from what could have been a bright, positive tale like the first Spiderman movie. His superpowers are also shown as terrifying revelations and his powers a burden that his father urges him to keep secret even at the cost of losing lives.

They barely call him Superman in this one for chrissakes! 

Second, the self-indulgent special effects and the glut of fight sequences were quite off-putting after a point. There really wasn’t much that we haven’t already seen in this age of Transformers, Thor, Iron Man, Matrix, Avengers and the like. Especially towards the end, the movie felt interminable as there was encounter after encounter between Superman and the same set of villains. Every time a villain was injured, they were carried away to their ship till they came back later for a repeat showdown. The military was given a place of pride in the action sequences leading to more shouted orders and crashing helicopters and making me wonder what exactly this movie was trying to do. 

The good part about the movie? Henry Cavill as Superman. While I went with low expectations, he proved to be quite charming and not as wooden-faced as I had expected. And so much better than Brandon Routh. And…very easy on the eye!

Amy Adams was adequate though I cannot but picture her in a comic role with her retrousse nose. Russell Crowe has seen better days and Kevin Costner was irritating in his self-sacrificing role. The beautiful Diane Lane was sadly deglamourized so that Superman could comfortably have a ‘how-dare-you-threaten-my-mom’ moment with General Zod. And Michael Shannon was just not scary enough as General Zod. He might work well as a Mafia boss during the ‘30’s but not as an extra terrestrial archenemy.

All in all, the movie is watchable if you can ignore the sound and fury and focus on Clark Kent. How he runs through fire to save workers on an oil rig, how he pushes up from the ground with his fists for his first flight into the air, how he bends a fence trying to control his anger as he is taunted by bullies, how he coolly wears handcuffs to let the soldiers feel safe… How he is truly a special man.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani - the review

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani feels schizophrenic. Like the movie has a bipolar disorder. A large part of it is predictable fare- full of Bollywood clichés but there are some parts which are refreshing in their realism. In a way it is exactly what you would expect if Ayan Mukherji and Karan Johar made a movie together!

The movie’s story is pretty much what you see in the trailers – Ranbir Kapoor is Kabir a.k.a. Bunny, a youth bitten by wanderlust who wants to live every moment chasing his dreams of travelling to all corners of the world. Deepika plays Naina, a shy, geeky, ‘scholar’ type who is preparing to be a doctor.  Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur) and Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) are Bunny’s devil-may-care friends. The lives of these four intersect when Naina impulsively decides to go with them to Manali, tired of doing what is expected of her all the time. On the trip, she falls in love with the effervescent Bunny but realizing that their paths are different, she doesn’t tell him and makes her peace with it. 8 years later, the four meet again at Aditi’s wedding in Udaipur – Aditi’s wedding not to Avi as one had been half-expecting but to Taran (Kunal Roy Kapur in a delightful cameo). At this wedding, the friends clash, make up and come to different realizations about themselves and each other. Bunny has to decide whether he will continue on his chosen path or whether his dreams have now changed.

The movie has none of the subtle nuances that characterized Ayan Mukherji’s earlier work, Wake up Sid. Where that was a growing up story with a beautiful romance woven in and a very relatable set of scenarios and characters, YJHD is much more larger than life. Here you have stunning landscapes, foreign destinations, big fat Indian weddings and the usual KJo style opulence thrown in. This is a movie where the awkward, scholarly, conventional Naina wears hot pants in Manali. She is afraid of attending a party where she doesn’t know everyone but dances like a maniac during a Holi song. And yes, 8 years later she is wearing bikini cholis that look in danger of causing a wardrobe malfunction. Aditi, the tomboyish rebel eventually transforms into a girly girl who wants to have a lavish wedding (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai deja vu). Bunny, I am sorry to say, is the least endearing Ranbir character I have seen so far. He is portrayed as a selfish boy who grows into a selfish man and his decision to make some changes to his lifestyle at the end appear more a sacrifice to the demands of passing time than any real transformation

There is a strong streak of practicality in all characters in the movie – Naina accepts quite calmly that she has fallen in love but lets it go because they both want different things, Bunny understands that time is running out for him and he has to make some changes whether he likes it or not, Aditi realizes that her love for Avi is one-sided and she finds a more meaningful relationship with Kunal and Avi is okay with telling Bunny quite bluntly that they are no longer friends because he was not there for him. This is both refreshing in its honesty and also sometimes a bit depressing in its very transactional nature. Much like relationships today.

Some of the more entertaining sequences and dialogues in the movie – such as when Bunny and Avi try to wake up Aditi by singing Jumma Chumma or when Bunny spies on Kunal’s dance routine and calls him a ‘bhabhi’, or Aditi calling Bunny and Avi ‘Karan Arjun’ - do feel new and real. However there are still several times when it feels like the scenes are falling flat and the actors struggling to convey more than the material they have been given. Deepika has done a fairly good job and come a long way since her flat dialogue delivery days. Ranbir surprisingly was unexceptional and did not stand out as much as one might have expected him to. Kalki did a good job as usual and was helped by getting perhaps the most grounded and interesting character. Sometimes indeed the Aditi-Avi angle was more interesting than the Bunny-Naina one. 

The songs are a clear win for this movie - from the completely gratuitous Ghagra where Madhuri looked fantastic, to the get-up-and-dance-in-the-aisles Balam Pichkari, to the Ranbir showstopper Badtameez Dil to the liquid melody of Kabira and Ilahi.

Overall, YJHD is still a growing up story but more in the vein of an Imtiaz ‘Love Aaj Kal’ Ali than an Ayan ‘Wake up Sid’ Mukherji. Go for it to enjoy some super songs, some decent performances and some genuinely good moments. That's equal to getting a lot from Bollywood these days.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Barfi - the sweetest thing!

In a sense, aptly titled since the movie is as sweet and delicious as a 'barfi' (sweet dish). Barfi is the story of a deaf-mute boy who can't even pronounce his own name properly and as a result becomes 'Barfi' instead of Murphy. The movie is actually more a canvas for the vibrant painting that is Barfi's life.

Instead of dwelling on the tragic aspect of his life, Barfi grows up as a happy go lucky young man in Darjeeling. Shruti (Ileana), the Calcutta girl comes into his town and his life and he is bowled over at first sight. With him Shruti experiences a craziness and freedom that goes beyond her neatly ordered life and makes her fall in love with him. However, when it comes to taking a decision, Shruti is swayed by her mother (Roopa Ganguly) and ditches Barfi for the security offered by her fiance (Jishu Sengupta). Barfi is heartbroken but stoic. Pandemonium erupts once he needs money for his father's operation and decides to kidnap the autistic rich girl, Jhilmil (Priyanka) who he's known since childhood. Inadvertently, he becomes Jhilmil's security blanket and soon finds himself in an emotional bond that leads to surprising consequences.

The first half of the movie follows a light-hearted and often slapstick route. His interactions with the local cop (Saurabh Shukla) chasing him are especially reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin movies. In the second half the story becomes more about relationships though it never abandons its light-heartedness. Instead there are beautiful setpieces such as the one where Barfi traps fireflies in bubbles. The cinematography is excellent and highlights the subtle nuances of Barfi and Jhilmil's relationship. Both Darjeeling wrapped in mist with its steam-puffing train winding along the hillside and Calcutta of the 70's teeming with life and majestic as the Howrah Bridge despite the rain and squalor are well depicted. The music weaves mellifluously in and out of the story and sets the right tone.

Ranbir proves once again that he is arguably the finest actor of his generation. His performance is at once comic, tragic and believable. See his silent showdown with Shruti after his marriage proposal to know what I mean. Priyanka is surprisingly restrained and subtle in her role and much more likeable than when she is posturing as a diva. Ileana is pretty and adequate though she does tend to look worried for a lot of the second half. But any day a better actress than the over-hyped Diana Penty.
Anurag Basu stitches together a sensitive tale where one can understand how certain things may happen without needing to be convinced about the whys. Barfi and Jhilmil's relationship flows smoothly like the Ganges without inducing the kind of incredulity that movies like My Name is Khan threw up. The movie does seem to be about some very different ingredients - slapstick, a bit of a mystery/intrigue and a refreshing look at love - which Basu manages to turn into a very palatable dish. My only real grouse would be the total copy of a couple of scenes from The Notebook (movie starring Ryan Gosling based on book by Nicholas Sparks) which made me wonder about how much of the rest of the movie had been derived (esp. the comic sequences).

But to enjoy a lovely tale and some wonderful performances, do grab a bite of Barfi. It's pretty original for Bollywood.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ishaqzaade - the review

Film and TV serial makers seem to have suddenly woken up to the charms of the Indian heartland. Ishaqzaade is based in the town of Almora in UP where everyone seems to be born trigger happy.

And if we are talking UP heartland, can elections be far behind? Zoya Qureshi (Parineeti) is the daughter of one ministerial berth hopeful while Parma Chauhan (Arjun) is the grandson of the other. They are naturally extremely hostile towards each other as they canvass for their respective parties. Parma is crude, boorish and Zoya is a slightly more refined version of the same animal. He burns down the local diesel store as punishment and she trades in her jhumkas for a pistol.
After yet another encounter, which ends with Zoya slapping Parma in front of their college mates, things take a different turn. Parma begins wooing the impulsive Zoya who falls for him and secretly marries him too. The story takes a twist here just before the intermission.

After a fairly interesting and fast paced first half, the curse of the second half strikes. The story degenerates into a mish-mash of conventional love story, communalism and honour killings. Parma's character easily seems to swing between conflicting extremes while Zoya's capitulation seems terribly stupid. The director seems suddenly unsure about which thread to follow and how to proceed logically. The tone of the movie veers between amusing and 'dead' serious leaving one confused about what to feel. Quite a waste of solid potential.

The acting was adequate with Arjun Kapoor almost pulling off an Abhishek in Yuva. Parineeti's acting is very good of course but the I-am-a-spunky-babe acting in her second outing too is repetitive.

Be warned: the 'Pareshan' song will stick in your head.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Mausam - review

Hmm...where do I begin? Mausam moves back and forth across so many time periods that it has left one quite confused. Pankaj Kapur's directorial venture is an ambitious one.It spans across continents and across crucial points in India's modern history. It is supposed to be a grand love story that triumphs over the ravages of time. It even includes the Indian Air Force in an attempt to give its hero (and the director's son) that dash of gentlemanly machismo. In trying to be so much, it unfortunately ends up being too little.

Starting off in 1992 in the small village of Mallukot in Punjab, we are introduced to Punjabi munda Harry aka Harinder Singh (Shahid) who soon falls for the new belle in town, Kashmiri Muslim Aayat (Sonam). Before the two can quite finish accepting their love, Aayat is packed off to Mumbai due to the Babri Masjid incident. Don't ask me why. Aayat seems to do a whole lot of really unnecessary gallivanting all over the world so that the plot can move. Harry meanwhile becomes an IAF pilot. The lovers next meet after 7 years in, of all places, Edinburgh in Scotland. Here the shy, demure Aayat is learning ballet apparently and Harry is on some pilot exchange programme (!) Things go better this time and the love story progresses smoothly. But before harry can formally ask for Aayat's hand in marriage, the Kargil war begins and he has to fly out. Like, immediately. Without so much as a 'goodbye and here's my address/phone no'.

And so they pine away and try in various annoyingly vague ways to get in touch with each other. Some minor misunderstandings later, they encounter each other in Ahmedabad now just in time to get trapped in the communal riots. Thankfully for us, they get through this experience agreeing to wed and stay happily ever after. I really don't think I could have tolerated one more moronic separation.

Frankly, Mausam is a letdown. It's movie with the seed of a great idea (a love story set against the backdrop of recent history) and simply amazing cinematography. But it is far too contrived to strike a chord with the audience. The history seems forced, the lovers separation seems unnecessary, Aayat's travel seems inexplicable since they keep putting her out of Harry's reach. The direction itself feels uneven. The first part in Punjab in natural and sets a nice tone despite again, unnecessary setpieces. The visuals are consistently brilliant and there is poetry in the way the lovers interact. In the Scotland part of the tale, the poetry still remains but becomes caught up in the forced storyline. This also around the time that Shahid begins to get on your nerves. Just when I am thinking how cute he is and how competently he is acting, he goes into his OTT impersonation of how he thinks a fighter pilot should be. That's grim, unsmiling and bordering on rude.

After Scotland, in the second half, it was all mayhem, people went back and forth from India to Scotland. Switzerland and even America were there somewhere in the fray. Shahid flits between 1999 and 2001 (necessary so that the WTC disaster can be shown). The climax was the last straw. People laughed. Yes really. The hero saves the girl, a horse and a child as a riots rage around them! I mean, it was Such a 1980s potboiler finish that one could be pardoned for thinking that this was a separate movie than the one we began watching. Maybe Shahid felt he had to take this chance to show off all his acting chops. Sad.

Points mainly for beautiful visuals and some good music. Okay and also because Shahid was cute in parts. Sonam btw, was pretty and faintly ditzy - much better than one could have hoped for.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mere Brother ki Dulhan - review

'Abandon all logic ye who enter here' - this should be put up at the multiplex gates me thinks. It's a sign of the times that I go to watch movies these days with remarkably low expectations. Its the only way that one can still hope to be pleasantly surprised and get some value for money. Mere Brother ki Dulhan (MBKD) is a mindless, somewhat hypocritical romp through Delhi, Agra in the company of some beautiful people.

The story starts with Luv (Ali Zafar) breaking up with his girlfriend in London. Somewhat to my mystification, he then proceeds to tell his brother Kush (Imran Khan) in India to find a girl for him since he plans to get married very soon. Kush soon realises this is not so simple when he meets several psychotic families with eligible daughters. Finally he chances upon Dimple (Katrina Kaif) who he recalls as a wild child he had known briefly in college. He is impressed by her free-spirited ways, she manages to convince him that she is now suitably ready for an arranged marriage with a London based, good-looking, pound rich man like his brother. While both families get ready with marriage preparations and before Luv can set foot in India, Kush and Dimple have hit it off. From thereon its a short step to finally accepting that they love each other and devising plot after plot to cut out Luv and get hitched to Kush.

The USP of the film are of course its fresh-faced actors. Katrina has made a career out of just looking super pretty. Here, to give her due credit she does give her all to a characterization quite removed from the plastic doll act she is so comfortable with. Imran Khan is cute and insipid as always. It is frankly amazing to see how even Ali Zafar or Katrina have more screen impact than him. See the "Madhubala" song and you will know what I mean. Imran is much better than his Jaane tu... days where only his eyebrows did all the acting. But he is still a long way from being a dashing leading man. Ali Zafar is promising but his acting also seemed to be on a different key - sort of felt as though he was about to spout some romantic Urdu poetry any minute.

The part that gets me irritated if I stop to think about it, is the sheer hypocrisy of the characters. Dimple, a bohemian chick who has even been arrested for holding concerts near the Taj Mahal, is deeply Westernised in her behaviour, admits unabashedly that she is okay with an arranged marriage with a 'package' deal. She interacts with her prospective husband only about once over the web before agreeing. And this way she makes her parents happy and secures her future. The respective sets of parents are from the IFS and from the Army. They are shown to be almost moronically outdated in the way they keep worrying about "badnaami" in the community. The movie is pathetic in its attempt to be modern (with a heroine who gets drunk and loves trouble for the sake of it) and at the same time struggling to depict its essential Indianness (arranged marriage, log kya kahenge syndrome). This is a fine balance not easily achieved. It is inspired by the DDLJ's and Jab we Met's of the world to which almost all movies make a passing nod. In fact I am quite tired of seeing faintly outrageous bubbly heroines in the manner of Geet - Tanu Weds Manu or MBKD, its all a takeoff on Kareena.

Which brings me to the thought of how different the movie would have felt if it had a Kareena, a Shah Rukh, even a Ranbir. Still one must accept what one gets and enjoy the pretty faces and fairly good catchy music. Ignore half-baked plots, uneven acting and mediocre direction. Timepass for the weekend.