DANGAL – Movie Review

There’s no drama like wrestling – Andy Kaufmann

STORY : True life story of Indian Olympics wrestling coach, Mahavir Singh Phogat who coached two of his daughters, Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari to international glory in the same sport.

WARNING : SPOILERS GALORE !!!

Right from the very first scene where a relatively young Aamir and a colleague at work literally turn the office into a wrestling ka ‘Akhaada’ DANGAL goes for the jugular and hardly lets go. The challenge for the writers (and there are four of them no less) is to make the cliched interesting for the audience knows exactly how things are going to pan out. And it must be said that the screenplay is the best we have seen in a Hindi film all year round. Which is why not once during the running time of a 161 minutes does the film ever lag. The state of Haryana that is infamous for it’s male dominated society makes for the perfect backdrop. Credit must also go to the makers for their style of narration where they make scathing comments on the chauvinistic attitude of the people and the apathy of sports officials in a lighter vein without ever getting overbearing. Case in point being the scene where Aamir watches his daughter’s wrestling videos in a soft porn movie parlour.

Lensman Sethu Sriram has done good to middling work in both the South and Hindi films with the Paresh Rawal starrer OMG – OH MY GOD being his last Hindi film. Nothing earth shattering thus far. But having worked as assistant to Maniratnam DANGAL was perhaps the chance that he was waiting for. As much as one loves the soundtrack set to tune by the maverick Pritam (who rocked earlier this year with Karan Johar’s AE DIL HAI MUSHKIL) it is the superb lyrics by the gifted Amitabh Bhattacharya that takes the music of DANGAL to another level. Be it the rustic yet boisterous ‘Dhaakkad’ the awe inspiring title song rendered in the inimitable style of Daler Mehndi or best of them all the tongue-in-cheek ‘Haanikaarak Bapu’ each song is a treat to listen as much as it is to watch on the big screen.

The supporting cast has done it’s bit and very well too. The two young girls Zaira Wasim as young Geeta and Suhani Bhatnagar as young Babita are incredibly spontaneous and a treat to watch. Sanya Malhotra plays the older Babita Kumari with just the right amount of sincerity. Sakshi Tanwar plays Aamir’s wife and does what is expected of her. Aparshakti Khurana (the more famous Ayushman’s own brother) who plays the cousin of the two wrestler girls is very endearing and brings much needed comic relief every time things get too heavy. National award winning Marathi actor Girish Kulkarni plays the arrogant wrestling coach who just cannot get along with Aamir’s character perfectly. Every time he appears on screen, you want to just smack him.

After Aamir, the biggest role is of Fatima Sana Shaikh (the child actor from Kamal Hassan’s CHACHI 420) who plays Geeta Phogat. Eerily similar looking to Priyanka Gandhi (down to the dimples)hers is a superlative performance that is pitch perfect

andher wrestling bouts in the second half are quite astounding. Watch her angrily wrestle and take downAamir Khan in an intense scene or break down on the phone later while talking to him realising her mistake and you know that an actress has arrived. The spine of DANGAL is Aamir Khan. Be it as the merciless guru who gets the long tresses of his daughters chopped off because they are a distraction or the father who massages their feet while they are sleeping at night this is Aamir at his subtle best. Long after the film has ended the image of a middle aged, pot bellied Aamir standing with his back to us with his hands folded behind stays with you.

Director Nitesh Tiwari’s filmy career so far has been Good (CHILLAR PARTY – Co Director) Bad (BHOOTNATH RETURNS – Director) and Ugly (KILL DIL – Writer) Not exactly impeccable credentials. So it must have taken some doing to convince Aamir Khan to sign on the dotted line. Movies on sports (LAGAAN – Cricket, CHAK DE INDIA – Hockey, MARY KOM – Boxing & BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG – Athletics) are not easy to make but since they usually tell the tale of an underdog winning against insurmountable odds, they are sure to work in a big way. As long as they are made well. And in DANGAL there are a number of wrestling scenes each one breathtakingly shot. The first time a young Geeta fights valiantly and loses to a boy in the first half and her semifinal match against the Nigerian opponent in the second half are the pick of these. DANGAL is also a tribute to girl power. Sample the climax where we all know that Geeta will get that 5 pointer to win. Yet by taking Aamir out of the equation, Tiwari makes it special. And just for effect adds that national anthem bit.

Highly recommended!

Dangal movie Trailer

BEFIKRE – Movie Review

Paris is always a good idea – Audrey Hepburn

INTRO

BEFIKRE is a huge film for director Aditya Chopra. The man who created box office history with his epochal debut film DILWALE DULHANIYA LE JAYENGE has belied expectations in his next two films both being average efforts. In fact the last film he directed, RAB NE BANI DI JODI (a banal affair) was eight years ago. In addition, this is the first film he will be making a film after his father the legendary Yash Chopra passed away. And yes, this is also the first time that a Yash Raj film helmed by the father-son duo does not feature superstar Shah Rukh Khan (An association that lasted 23 years) Will Aditya Chopra prove equal to the task? Or is this beginning of the end for the Yash Raj banner?

STORY

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

There is not too much by way of a story in BEFIKRE. The premise is of Dharam (Ranveer Singh) a want-to-be standup comic who lands in Paris(??) in search of a job who bumps into Shyra (Vani Kapoor) and before you know it gets into a relationship with ‘no strings attached’ Predictably they reach a point where they start getting serious and part ways to get engaged with separate partners before reuniting in the end. No rocket science stuffthis.

          For a romantic film to work and work well, music is a key element and who would know this better than the Chopras whose films like DIL TO PAGAL HAI became runaway hits purely on the strength of a chartbuster soundtrack. The duo of Vishal and Shekhar do not disappoint and the soundtrack of BEFIKRE has a lot to like. Aided superbly by lensman Kaname Onoyama, an inspired choice little known apart from his work in Mr X a Japanese docu feature that wowed audiences at Sundance. For apart from Ranveer Singh, Paris is the other hero of the film. National award winning editor Namrata Rao (who is a regular on director Dibakar Banerjee’s films) does a swell job and for most of it’s 150 minutes, the film is a brisk ride. Though the story and screenplay are credited to the director, selecting Sharat Katariya director of last year’s sleeper hit ‘DUM LAGA KE HAISHA’ to write dialogues for the film is a smart move. For Aditya Chopra’s dialogue writing comes across frequently as too verbose and heavy handed (sample MOHABBATEIN) IN BEFIKRE the conversations are like light hearted banter and every day like. Refreshing!

The opening credits with the song ‘Labon ka Karobar’ playing while couples go on a ‘Kissathon’ reminds one of a similar opening sequence in Yash Chopra’s DIL TO PAGAL HAI (with the song Ek Duje Ke Vaaste playing) and pretty much sets the mood for what is to follow. What makes BEFIKRE work and rise above a hackneyed script is the exhilarating screenplay that keeps the audience hooked to the bare-or-dare escapades of the lead pair. With every scene, both Ranveer and Vani seem to be pushing the envelope bit by bit, little at a time. In a tribute to the bold vision of the director, the kissing scenes are so many and done so nonchalantly that after a while they become de rigueur. Which is why the last part of the movie including the messy climax in a church (Aditya Chopra digs them) seems more cliched and sticks out like a sore thumb. If only…

Vani Kapoor as the free spirited, rumbustious Indian lass born and brought up in France is quite superb. From her body language to her perfect French (and the film has a lot of it) accent to the hot curves that she uninhibitedly displays, she does not play Shayra as much as she becomes Shyra. A particularly memorable scene (that pays a tribute to the famous ‘Palat’ scene from DILWALE DULHANIYA LE JAYENGE aka DDLJ) in which Vani admires a guy’s derriere perfectly sums up her character. The Hindi film heroine has truly arrived and how! Ranveer Singh’s Dharam is a far cry from the ‘Rahul’ and the ‘Raj’ characters that have inhabited the world of Yash Raj films in all these years. With shades of a charming Bittoo from BAND BAJA BARAAT and a brash Ram from RAM LEELA, Singh is mad, unapologetic, irreverent and in-your-face all at once. There is really no stopping this man.And if you women out there thought John Abraham in the yellow briefs in DOSTANA or Ranbir Kapoor’s towel scene in SAAWARIYA was jaw dropping stuff, wait till you see what Singh reveals in BEFIKRE.

Aditya Chopra makes a bold, breezy romance that will have the youngsters going bonkers. There is a certain joie de vivre about BEFIKRE that one cannot miss. Those expecting this to be the new age DDLJ are missing the point. For this is Aditya Chopra 2.0 and we surely ain’t complaining. And no, we did not miss Shah Rukh Khan. Take your lover along and have fun.

Road To The Oscars 2017 – VFX and Animation

Last week, the Academy announced what they like to call the preliminary shortlist of films that have been selected in the category of Visual Effects for the year 2016. This includes twenty films selected by the Academy’s Executive Committee for Visual Effects. In a few weeks the same members of this committee will bring the number of films in this category to 10. Thereafter a voting process involving  all the members of the Academy will decide which five of these 10 films will win a nomination for the 89th Oscar Awards. Though the Academy recognised the importance of special effects in the very first award function in the year 1928 itself, perhaps no other Academy award category has gone through a journey as strange and varied as that of Visual Effects. Call it a roller coaster if you may.

It began with the award being dubbed as ‘Best Engineering Award’ which after a few years got rechristened to ‘Special Achievement Award for Special Effects’ then the Academy changed it again to ‘Best Special Effects’ till in the 1960s when it got renamed yet again to ‘Best Special Visual Effects’ before finally the current name of the awards aka ‘Best Visual Effects’ came into vogue in the late 1970s. It took an incredible four decades for the Academy to actually zero in on the right name for
this category. Then there is this whole story of the number of films that got nominated for the award. Though this number is usually limited to three, there are have been enough instances when there was not even a single nomination in this category and then the rare occasion when up to five films got nods for the purpose of nomination.

 

Yet it is in this category that some of the most celebrated film makers in the history of cinema have been honoured. From Stanley Kubrick to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to James Cameron. In what has been a recent trend, all of the 6 superhero films made in 2016 have made it to the initial list of twenty films. Of these films the best chance has to be that of ‘The Jungle Book’ which is an eclectic mix of animation and live action. The other film which one would consider as a dark horse has to be the Marvel comic hero film ‘Doctor Strange’ that has perhaps more VFX scenes than any other film this year.  And it helped that the film has won over both critics and audiences alike. The only problem is that in all these years, no film based on the Marvel Comics has ever won an Oscar. Not one.

Another record this year has been that of 27 films which have been submitted for the Oscar Awards in the Animated Feature Film category. It is the most recent entrant to the Oscar awards and was presented first in the year 2001. Pixar film studios has been the one to beat with a mind boggling eight wins and ten nominations in this last decade and half. Which is why it is difficult to look beyond Pixar’s ‘Finding Dory’ which is an immensely well received sequel to the original ‘Finding Nemo’ There is an outside chance for Sony’s ‘The Red Turtle’ which won plaudits at all the leading festivals. And one must mention a word about the Disney’s ‘Zootopia’ for the simple reason that it made a billion dollars at the box office this year. Not easy to talk against those kind of numbers.

In the end, who wins will be known only at the end of February next year. All one can wish is ‘Let the best one win.’

Road To The Oscars 2017 – Foreign films making waves

 

On Sunday, February 26th 2017 the Oscar Awards will be televised live on the ABC Television Network and it will be viewed by a mammoth audience in more than 225 countries all over the globe. That should give one a fair idea as to why the Oscars are regarded as the biggest and the most eagerly awaited of all the various awards that will be given out over the next few weeks. In fact the months between November and February are referred to as awards season on account of a dozen and more film awards that are handed out in this very period. Of them awards like the Golden Globe, the BAFTA (British Academy Awards)and the SAG awards (Screen Actors Guild) which are presented before the Oscars are regarded by industry insiders as good indicators of who is likely to emerge as a winner at the Oscars. Not always but a lot many times that is indeed the case.
Though Oscar Awards have been presented since the year 1929, it was only in the year 1956 that the Academy first announced awards in the category of Foreign Language films and it was the legendary Italian director, Federico Fellini’s ‘La Strada’ which had the honour of winning the first ever Oscar in this category. This year in celebration of its 60th anniversary, the Academy has painstakingly made a montage of all past acceptance speeches. Along with it, they have also created a gallery containing posters of all those who won in the Foreign Language Film category. Both of these will surely be a delight for all film aficionados. Last week when the Academy called for submission, a massive eighty five countries submitted films from their respective nations for consideration in the Foreign Language Film category for the 89th Academy Awards.
By the way, 85 is a new record when it comes to the number of countries that have submitted their films in the Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars topping last year’s 81 films. Does this mean that the Oscars are gaining in popularity worldwide year on year. Next you will have a bunch of Academy foreign committees consisting of members from practically every department of film making sitting down to prune this down to a shortlist of nine films before the final five nominations are announced. What makes the Foreign Language Film category unique in comparison to all the other Academy category awards is that it is presented to the country as a whole and not to any one individual related to the film as such. Though normally, it is the film’s producer and/or director who accepts the Oscar award.
One of the criticisms of the Oscars when it comes to foreign language films is that almost nine out of ten winners are all European filmmakers. In this a chunk of the awards and nominations have gone to Italy. Matter of fact, last year’s winner was from Hungary and the film was called ‘Son of Saul’ In an interesting aside, this year will be the first time a film from the country of Yemen has been submitted for the Oscars. Coming to the film which one thinks has a good shot, there are actually a couple worth a mention. First up is the Mexican film ‘Desierto’ that is produced by Oscar award winning director Alfonso Cuaron (of Gravity fame) and is directed by his son Jonas Cuaron. Jonas was incidentally credited with writing Gravity. This violent saga of Mexican migrants trying to illegally cross over into US has wowed the festival circuit and is a good bet this year.
Another film that one fancies is the Spanish film ‘Julieta’ directed by the controversial Oscar winning Pedro Aldomovar. It had the critics mesmerised at Cannes earlier this year. But will it snare the big one? Let us wait and watch.

Road To The Oscars 2017 – And so it begins

  It is that time of the year again. With the beginning of submission for various categories of the coveted Academy Awards popular all over the world as the Oscars. For almost nine decades, the Academy Awards have been considered the last word when it comes to excellence in cinema. And as the one award that every filmmaker the world over dreams of and desires to win some day. In June of this year, the Academy announced the dates for both the nomination process as well as the big day on which the awards will be given away. The 89th Academy Awards will be held this year in a glittering ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles on February 26, 2017 at 8.30 pm (Eastern Time) Formerly known as the Kodak Theatre, this venue has been hosting the prestigious Academy Awards since 2002 and isconsidered the permanent home of the Academy Awards.
In 2016, the ceremony was hosted by popular actor & comedian Chris Rock and interestingly enough when Rock was asked later whether he would be returning to host the show again in 2017 he is supposed to have refused point blank but instead evinced an interest in producing the Academy Awards this time around. Not entirely surprising considering that the producers of the 88th Academy Awards, David Hill
and Reginald Hadlin have decided not to produce the mega event again. Their decision is likely to have been influenced by the fact that the Oscars did not receive the kind of reception that had been expected. To make matters worse, the television ratings of the awards telecast were low too.
So when it was announced that the very well respected and talented duo of Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd had agreed to produce the Oscars early next year, it was seen as a great move. De Luca is a three time Oscar award nominated producer himself who has been in-charge of production at big studios like DreamWorks, Sony and New line Cinema. Seven, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and The Social Network are some of the acclaimed films that De Luca has put his weight behind. And of course, with last year’s smash hit Fifty Shades of Grey he hit the pay dirt. And big time at that. The challenge for De Luca is to try and turn things around after last year’s average outing at the Oscars.
In Jennifer Todd, De Luca has just the person needed to pull off a show of this magnitude and the kind of glitz, glamour and grandeur that the Academy awards have been come to represent. Having served as President of Mark Gordon Company and Pearl Street Films, her most fruitful association has been with her own sister, Suzanne Todd where the two sisters ran a film production company called Team Todd. Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece ‘Memento’ and Tim Burton’s 2010 smash hit ‘Alice in Wonderland’ are among the many successful films that Todd has produced.
Even before the action has hit the ground , the 89th Academy Awards have already run into controversy by inviting a record 683 new members to add to it’s existing tally of 6900 odd members. And just for the record that is twice more than the number of invites that are usually sent out every year. For years the critics of the Oscars have contended that the representation within the Academy is skewed in favor of males and white males at that. This move is part of an attempt by the Academy to ensure that there is equal representation of people from both the genders as well as artists from all parts of the globe. All said and done, seems like the Oscars are going to be great fun this year . Watch this space.

Arrival – Movie Review

In a land of immigrants, one was not an alien but simply the latest arrival – Rudolph Arnheim

INTRO

It was almost a decade ago that visionary filmmaker Robert Zemeckis helmed CONTACT starring acclaimed actress Jodie Foster. The story (In CONTACT) of a female protagonist trying to establish communication with extra terrestrial life is pretty much what the ARRIVAL is all about. And like it’s erstwhile predecessor which was a deeply introspective film that was more about US and less about THEM, the ARRIVAL is not as much a visual spectacle as it is a visceral experience to behold. ARRIVAL is about human emotions, not computer graphics.

STORY

When a dozen alien spaceships suddenly decide to pay a visit to Planet Earth and start communicating using a language nobody understands, Dr Louise who is a linguistic expert is summoned to try and make sense of what the extra terrestrials are trying to convey. As is usually the case, she is joined by a motley crew of a physicist (Jeremy Renner) a military guy (Forest Whitaker) and a CIA operative (Michael Stuhlbarg) not all of whom are on the same page as her. But things are hardly how they seem. Louise is fighting her own personal demons after her child has died recently. Rival nations like China and Russia seem to be in race with the US to exploit the alien invasion to their advantage.

When it comes to films written in a non linear structure, Akira Kurosawa(RASHOMON) and Jean-Luc Godard(WEEKEND) were the pioneers. In recent years directors like Christopher Nolan(the incredibly complex MEMENTO, THE PRESTIGE) Quentin Tarantino (RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION) and Alejandro Inarritu (AMORES PERROS, BABEL) have wowed discerning audiences worldwide with their unique narrative style. Likewise it is the superb writing in the ARRIVAL that makes it possibly the finest film of 2016. Screen writer Eric Heisserer who has average horror-thrillers to his credit (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – 2010, FINAL DESTINATION 5, THE CONJURING 2) along with director Denis Villeneuve (credited as co-writer) has adapted a short story quite magnificently for the big screen.

The camera work by Bradford Young (the whizkid who won awards at Sundance Film Festival a few years ago) is a surprising choice but turns out to be a wise one. For the ARRIVAL is more about telling a story and telling it well. Not flashy, giddy shots of outer space nor scary in-your-face visuals of gory aliens. Inspite of little gore and a marked absence of CGI, what keeps the ongoing drama riveting is the evocative soundtrack by Johan Johannsson. Nominated in 2015 at the Academys for two of his films, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING and SICARIO, it is quite difficult to imagine anybody else getting a look in this year but him. Forest Whitaker does what is required of him swimmingly well and one looks forward to seeing this actor in the next STAR WARS installation movie soon. Jeremy Renner as the man who brings an element of science to the table is excellent. After shining in THE HURT LOCKER, he has been frittering away his talent in insipid, big budget fare like MISSION IMPOSSIBLE & THE AVENGERS series of films.

ARRIVAL belongs completely to Amy Adams. Here is a role that does not require her to do anything really heroic nor is she needed to show off her histrionics (like Sandra Bullock in GRAVITY) If anything she is very subtle and understated. Yet she plays a mother, a teacher, a linguist and above all a caring human with such natural finesse that all of us will identify with her. From a stripper in the incredibly fun AMERICAN HUSTLE to Lois Lane in the excellent MAN OF STEEL to a working woman who writes a blog about food JULIE & JULIA to a junkie poet in ON THE ROAD, this woman has done it all.

And the last word has to be about Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. Even before you could recover from his tense PRISONERS(2013) he delivered a two punch with last year’s crime thriller SICARIO. And this year, he has capped it all with the ARRIVAL. Here is a fantastically written film that has a powerful underlying message. That message is not so much about aliens or about other galaxies where life exists. It is about our world and the dire need to communicate with each other. It is about ‘being human’ Next  up for this director is BLADE RUNNER 2049. Cannot wait.

KAHAANI 2 – Movie Review

Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare – Alfred Hitchcock

INTRO

When it comes to whodunit films, it is a tightrope walk for a filmmaker all along the way. It usually begins with a startling crime after which the director introduces all the usual suspects to the audience. As the movie progresses, there is a gradual buildup making the audience realise that there is more than what meets the eye. If the pace slackens at any point, interest is lost. The piece de resistance is the climax where everything must fall in place satisfactorily while taking the audience completely off guard. One misstep here and the film will fall flat. No wonder that the finest whodunits are the ones with a memorable climax. From Hitchcock’s PSYCHO to David Fincher’s SE7EN and Manoj N. Shyamalan’s SIXTH SENSE to Martin Scorsese’s SHUTTER ISLAND, all are shining examples of clever writing. Closer home in Bollywood, whodunits are a rarity. The last good one was a good four years ago. KAHAANI. By the same director-actor team of Ghosh & Balan. Can they recreate the same magic once again?

STORY

Firstly, KAHAANI 2 is not a sequel in the sense that it is not really about the enigmatic protagonist from the first part, ‘Bidya’ Yes, the film revolves completely around Vidya Balan this time around too and no, she does not disappoint. At the heart of KAHAANI 2 is the poignant relationship between a mother and her troubled child. On another level it is the story of a cop hunting for an elusive criminal and finally there is the third story of the tumultuous childhood of Vidya Balan’s character. To say anything more would be spoiling the fun for a viewer. The problem with KAHAANI 2 is that all these three parts do not come together as a whole. As seamlessly as they should have. Especially the second half which focuses more on the vengeful protagonist is not as effective. But there is still a lot to love about the film. The pre interval portions are so stirring that you will probably be nervously fidgeting with your smartphone till the second half starts.

One must applaud director Sujoy Ghosh for writing a fabulous script which works well for most parts of the film. Yes, the Arjun Rampal track does not quite resonate the way a Nawaz did in the first part. And the novelty value of using Kolkata as a character which worked so well in the first part wears thin in KAHAANI 2. The background score done by Clinton Cerejo(who drew rave reviews for his work in the first one too) is relentless keeping the audience interested even when the onscreen drama wanes. Tapan Basu a veteran lensman when it comes to ad films makes his debut as cinematographer with Kahaani 2 and shows that he belongs here. At a shade over two hours, the film moves at a pace that barely slackens throughout.

Among the supporting actors, Sujoy brings back the quirky cop who was so charming in the first part especially when he mutters ‘Bidya’. Jugal Hansraj who is seen on the big screen after a long time is surprisingly good in a role that is in contrast to his ‘goody boy’ image in Hindi films. Arjun Rampal usually suits roles that need him to be this silent, strong and what is in Mumbaiyya language called ‘Khadoos’ And he does full justice to the cop act though it is one dimensional. The lifeline of KAHAANI 2 is Vidya Balan. In a mysterious yet meaty role, she gamely carries the whole film on the strength of her performance and for most parts, it works. From a caring, sensitive mother to a woman with a torrid past and finally as a hell-hath-no-fury woman in the end she nails each shade of her character. After a few wrong choice of roles, this one impresses. Welcome back Miss Balan.
Sujoy Ghosh’s career has been a mixed bag. He followed up a charming JHANKAAR BEATS with duds like ALADDIN and HOME DELIVERY before KAHAANI (2012) In between that one and KAHAANI 2, he made the brilliant short, AHALYA. The only reason that KAHAANI 2 underwhelms is because Sujoy tries too hard to surpass KAHAANI and it shows. This is true for the audience as well who must try and refrain from incessantly comparing this one to the first part. Easier said than done, though. Watch KAHAANI 2 as a stand alone film and it still is one of the better films of the year. For there are more highs here and less lows. Must watch once.