Mubarakan – And how Singh is still King

There’s nothing more demonic than two bored twins

– Signed Tamaki

INTRO

Almost all Bollywood films revolving around identical twins take inspiration from two seminal works. Alexander Dumas’s Corsican Brothers and Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Incidentally the Bard himself had twins in real life. And be it #DilipKumar (RAM AUR SHYAM) #DevAnand (HUM DONO) #SanjeevKumar (ANGOOR) #RajeshKhanna (ARADHANA) or #AmitabhBachchan (DON) they have all done these roles. The leading ladies are not too far behind either. From #Nargis (ANHONEE) to #SharmilaTagore (MAUSAM) #HemaMalini (SEETA AUR GEETA) and #Sridevi (CHAALBAAZ) to the recent #KanganaRanaut (TANU WEDS MANU RETURNS) playing two roles is a temptation they clearly cannot resist. Films with mistaken identity as the theme are generally considered a safe bet as long as they are written well. Writer & director #AneesBazmee is another filmmaker to try his hand at this genre with his latest offering, MUBAKARAN. Will it sink or swim?

STORY

Karan & Charan (Arjun Kapoor) are twins who lose their parents at a young age. Their uncle Kartar Singh (#AnilKapoor) decides that one should grow with a sister (#RatnaPathakShah) in London while another grows in sadda Punjab with a brother (#PavanMalhotra) Don’t ask why though. Cut to when they grow old enough to be married. Their uncle messes up things (One has a pagdi and yet confusion reigns. Don’t ask how) by getting the boys engaged to the wrong girl. From which point all hell breaks loose.

SCRIPT, SCREENPLAY & DIALOGUES

Marriage is a recurring theme in all the recent films of Anees Bazmee (NO ENTRY, WELCOME, SINGH IS KING). And #Mubarakan is no exception. And if you have suffered the ignominy of watching his previous films there is actually a set formula to the madness. Though one cannot quite understand why Bazmee who is no lesser writer of slapstick himself(SHOLA AUR SHABNAM, BOL RADHA BOL, AANKHEN, RAJA BABU, DEEWANA MASTANA) has left the writing to others. Having said that relatively unknown Balwinder Singh Janjua who is credited with both the story & screenplay (23 March 1931:SHAHEED,AB TUMHARE HAWALE WATAN SATHIYO ?) and dialogue writer #RajeshChawla (DELHI HEIGHTS, WARNING, SHARAFAT GAYI TEL LENE ??) seem to work well under Bazmee’s tutelage. The scene in which all three Kapoors come together (Sanjay Kapoor as the ghost in a friendly appearance) is inspired writing. And though the film is over two and a half hours long it has enough to keep the masses entertained. There are too many songs (almost all of which are loud, garish and strictly average) and like most films of Bazmee the wheels start to come off by the time the film stumbles it’s way to a botched up climax.

TECHNICAL CREDITS

Like in most slapstick comedies the music of MUBARAKAN by Amaal Malik, Rishi Rich & Gourov-Roshin is passable (but only just) The background score that goes from loud & louder to are you nuts? (Sorry Michael Jackson) can be jarring to begin with but after a while your ears gets adjusted to the noise. The DOP Himman Dhamija (I,ME AUR MAIN, CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA, DAWAAT-E-ISHQ ???) does what is expected of him – make every frame as bright & larger than life as possible. Veteran editor Rameshwar Bhagat (SULTAN, BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN, DHOOM 2) does a good job of keeping a tight lid on things, especially in the pre interval portions.

PERFORMANCES

One thing that Bazmee knows is the value of good actors and however inane his films might be the one thing that salvages them and makes these farcical comedies bearable are the actors. MUBARAKAN is no different. Where Ratna Pathak Shah does what is expected of her as the sophisticated caretaker aunt of the London bred Arjun, Pavan Malhotra hams away to glory as the uncle bringing up the Punjabi Arjun. Rahul ‘The Body’ Dev is wasted in a silly special appearance. Of the three heroines #NehaSharma is strictly average. #AthiyaShetty clearly has inherited her father’s acting genes and is as wooden as wood itself. Ileana who has a meatier role is somewhat better.

Arjun Kapoor has already done a dud called AURANGZEB where he played two roles before. Bazmee saves him the blushes here by giving a ‘pagdi’ to one of the twins. Here is a non actor who has neither the acting chops nor the looks that his uncle had and still does. And his weight issues show that he does not have the discipline either. But hey this is Bollywood where blood is thicker than talent. As expected all the heavy lifting in MUBARAKAN is done by the ageless wonder Anil Kapoor. If you have seen him in Bazmee’s previous ventures like NO ENTRY & WELCOME you know exactly what to expect. And that is exactly what you will get in MUBARAKAN. A jhakaaass performance.

DIRECTION

Anees Bazmee has been doing #Slapstick for so long and been making a success of it that one should probably anoint him the ‘Master of the Absurd’ To his credit he knows his audience and sticks to what he is good at. Making life very uncomplicated for himself and those watching his films. And with MUBARAKAN he again scores. The first half itself has enough punches to do the needful. Though he falters in the second half he uses his trump card (read Anil Kapoor) well to keep the viewer hooked.

VERDICT

MUBARAKAN is not for those who like to ask stupid questions about the absence of logic in the film. Nor is it for those who ask smart questions about the stereotyping of a race like the Punjabis. In fact MUBARAKAN is not for those who ask any questions. If you can resist the temptation to do so you might actually find yourself breaking into a smile every now & then. This one is sure to rake in the moolah and knowing Bazmee that can only mean one thing. A sequel.

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha – Bollywood succumbs to political propoganda

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

– M.K.Gandhi

INTRO

For the last couple of years the going has been good for the ‘Khiladi’ Akshay Kumar in Bollywood. His choice of films (AIRLIFT, RUSTOM, JOLLY LLB2, BABY) have found resonance with the masses and the discerning (to a lesser extent) even garnering him his first National award. That it has created it’s own share of controversy is another matter. With his latest venture TOILET: EK PREM KATHA he joins hands with ace editor Sree Narayan Singh on a subject of great importance to our country. #OpenDefecation. Understandably expectations are high. Does the film meet them? Read on.

STORY

36 year old cycle shop owner Keshav (Akshay Kumar) is desperate to settle down (read get married) but his extremely orthodox family headed by the patriarch, Keshav’s father (Sudhir Pandey) and their age old beliefs are a big hindrance. As luck would have it he falls in love with Jaya (Bhoomi Pednekar) a fairly well educated girl from a neighbouring village and woos her in typical Bollywood style. But their joy is short lived for soon Jaya discovers that her husband’s home does not have a toilet. The young bride gives Keshav an ultimatum – Biwi paas chahiye toh ghar me sandaas chahiye and leaves his house. How Keshav brings her back forms the rest of the narrative.

SCRIPT, SCREENPLAY & DIALOGUES

The writer duo of Siddharth Singh & Garima Wahal whose claim to fame is the work that they have done for director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s hit ventures (GOLIYON KI RAASLEELA RAM-LEELA & BAJIRAO MASTANI) have written this film. Frankly a subject as complex as this required deft handling which is clearly missing. Also that the film unabashedly pays an ode to the beloved #SwachBharatAbhiyaan campaign of our Prime Minister is annoying. Not only is it preachy but seeks to put the onus of tackling this problem on us, the people. There are parts which are actually well done but at over 150 minutes of running time the film seems too long and has too many songs that could have been chopped off.

TECHNICAL CREDITS

The music of #ToiletEkPremKatha is scored by Vickey Prasad, Manas-Shikhar, Sachet-Parampara all newbies and inspite of a couple of them being rendered with great earnestness by singer Sonu Nigam they are far from impressive. At best they are average and that is about it. The DOP Anshuman Mahaley who showed great promise in Jolly LLB, GIPPI is all right here. Shree Narayan Singh who is an ace editor himself gets a tad self indulgent with his directorial debut.

PERFORMANCES

The film is salvaged to a great extent by it’s performances. Veteran actor Sudhir Pandey is excellent as the regressive minded patriarch who is outraged at the very thought of having a toilet in the same vicinity as the #Tulsi plant (that is worshipped by Hindus) Divyendu Sharma who showed some promise in his debut film #PYAARKAPUNCHNAMA is very likeable as Akshay Kumar’s younger brother here. Another person who lives up to the promise of her first film is actress #BhumiPednekar. Having lost loads of weight and looking quite fetching she is very good as a wife who is unafraid to speak the truth.

The role of Keshav is tailor made for actor #AkshayKumar who exudes just the right amount of sincerity that is required to pull it off. His choice of roles (of late) which seem to suffer from a overdose of patriotism makes one fear he might just be reduced to becoming a poster boy of the current government and TOILET: EK PREM KATHA only reinforces this. One only hopes that the Khiladi Kumar does not yield to this and spoil what is clearly the best phase of his acting career.

DIRECTION

Considering that this film is the directorial debut of editor Shree Narayan Singh it is a laudable effort. He has been able to extract good work from his actors and the film does have an important message. What is not laudable but rather worrying is how he has left himself and the film be used as a vehicle to wax eloquent about the present government. There is no attempt to delve deeper into issues like #Casteism in the Hindu community or the shocking practice of #HumanScavenging. Instead a wishy washy solution is provided and the government is absolved of any wrongdoings. Worse the film even sings paeans to #Demonetisation which is hard to digest. And if this film makes big bucks at the box office which seems very likely it might just set an unhealthy trend.

VERDICT

In the end TOILET:EK PREM KATHA is an all right one time watch with enough moments to keep the masses entertained. And it is sure to rake in the moolah. For those expecting a satire or a black comedy (on the lines of a JAANE BHI DO YAARON) this one will disappoint.

Dunkirk – Nolan’s stirring ode to the indefatigable human spirit

War does not determine who is right – only who is left

– Anonymous

INTRO

Still remember thinking that this bloke has finally lost it on hearing that auteur filmmaker #ChristopherNolan was next making a war film. Not that his last few films were not good. DARK KNIGHT RISES, INCEPTION or INTERSTELLAR were all very good, extraordinary in parts even. But then with MEMENTO, PRESTIGE and THE DARK KNIGHT, Nolan had set lofty standards. Nolan’s competition was Nolan himself. And why, pray a #War film? From #DavidLean (BRIDGE ON RIVER KWAI) and #Coppola (APOCALYPSE NOW) to #Kubrick (FULL METAL JACKET) and #Spielberg (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) not to forget #Tarantino (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) the greatest in Hollywood had explored all there was to. What new perspective could Nolan possibly bring to this genre? The English-American director answers this emphatically with DUNKIRK. And then some.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

STORY

Sir #WinstonChurchill is regarded as one of the tallest leaders in world history and not without reason. He became the British #PrimeMinister an year after the Second World War began in the year 1940. And the #BattleOfDunkirk that took place almost as soon as he assumed power was a trial by fire for Churchill, so to speak. Nolan’s film is about the evacuation of more than 3,00,000 #AlliedForces holed up in the French port of Dunkirk. If the Germans who had succeeded Europe would have fallen and who knows, the War itself would have perhaps taken a whole different course. To this day the British take inspiration from what is referred to in local parlance as the #DunkirkSpirit.

SCRIPT, SCREENPLAY & DIALOGUES

Remember the final act in THE DARK KNIGHT? Where multiple tracks (of the two ferries, Two-Face and the #Joker) all run parallel to each other building up to a deafening crescendo in the climax? Nolan uses this very edgy style of narration throughout the one half forty minutes duration of DUNKIRK. Here the nerve wracking real life incident is told through three different stories. The land, the air and the sea. Here is the catch. The battle on the beach lasts a week while action in the sea got over in a day and the air battle? That got over in an hour. The locations and the time frames are also completely varied. But Nolan, the master of the #NonLinearNarrative weaves all three so seamlessly into the narrative that you would need to pay real close attention to notice. For those who haven’t watched Nolan’s films he is considerate enough to put up the various locations & time frames on the screen.

On top of this Nolan chooses to move away from the standard template when it comes to films in this genre. One, there are no back stories told (It is only in the very end that you learn that the sailor Mr Dawson’s elder son died in battle) Instead Nolan simply air drops the audience right in the middle of the action. Two, there are no pitched gun battles, no body parts flying, no blood letting. Heck you don’t get to see the enemy even once. Three, there are no heroes or villains here. All you see is a bunch of men desperately trying to escape death. And finally the minimal dialogues compensated for by a soundtrack that is a character in it’s own right. #HansZimmer, take a bow. The result is a uniquely immersive viewing experience of the kind that one has not had at the movies. Since James Cameron’s AVATAR. Minus the #VFX. 17 years after writing MEMENTO, Nolan finally has written something that has matched up. In thought, ingenuity and execution.

TECHNICAL CREDITS

It was in the extraordinary 2008 Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN that one first came to know of the half Dutch half Swedish lensman #HoyteVanHoytema. And his work in Nolan’s last film INTERSTELLAR was magnificent too (remember the stunning visuals of the new planet where the astronauts led by Matthew McConaughey land?) But without a shred of doubt DUNKIRK is Van Hoytema’s finest hour. The aerial scenes of the fighter planes skimming the surface of the sea are itself worth the price of your cinema ticket. Or the horrifying scene where a ship deck filled with soldiers happily tucking into food attacked by a torpedo and meeting a watery grave. Hoytema’s expert lens is intimate when needed and sweeping at other times. The German maestro Hans Zimmer whose best work till date is arguably THE DARK KNIGHT (though it was a collaboration with #JamesNewtonHoward) has ably shouldered the responsibility given to him by Nolan. In a film where very little is spoken it is the haunting soundtrack by Hans Zimmer that spooks audiences creating a sense of foreboding rarely seen before at the movies.

PERFORMANCES

Nolan’s films usually boast of a stellar cast and have featured some of the greatest actors of our times from #MichaelCaine, #RobinWilliams, #GaryOldman & #MorganFreeman to #HeathLedger and Christian Bale. This time Nolan opts for a relatively new cast of lesser known actors. The only big name here is the Irish actor #KennethBranagh as a Commander of the #RoyalNavy. Watch the scene at the end where looking at the hundreds of small fishing boats (famous in history as the little ships of Dunkirk) arriving to rescue his men, a despondent Branagh becomes hopeful at the chance of being able to get home. And gives the film one of it’s only emotional scenes. Poignant! Tom Hardy does not count simply because there is only so much acting you can do with most of your face covered in a plane’s cockpit. What is it that Nolan has against Hardy, one wonders for this is twice in a row (after DARK KNIGHT RISES) this has happened. English theatre veteran #MarkRylance who won an Oscar a couple of years ago for Spielberg’s BRIDGE OF SPIES is rivetting as the sailor determined to play his part in rescuing as many soldiers as possible.

DUNKIRK really belongs to a bunch of newcomers who all shine. Ex boyband singer Harry Styles is surprisingly good in a role with grey shades and comes into his own in the scene where he is holed up in a trawler used by the Germans for ‘target practice’ Nolan regular Cillian Murphy is effective as a on-the-edge soldier rescued at sea by Mr Dawson and his son but his role is limited. Tom Glynn-Carney is solid as Rylance’s son Peter who must show maturity beyond his years in the face of great adversity. The surprise package of the film is the duo of Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard. In many ways it is through the eyes of these two young lads that the whole action unfolds before the audience. From the incredibly scene right at the start of DUNKIRK where the two carry a wounded man on the stretcher on to a ship about to leave, the narrative follows the various attempts by these two to escape only to end up in a bigger mess. Barnard as the French soldier posing to be a British one named Gibson in order to get to safe shores is outstanding. Inspite of having almost no dialogues in the film you can always sense from his demeanor that something bad is about to happen. Like in the scene where he is monitoring the deck for an escape route while the others are helping themselves to food & drink. The heartbreaking scene where he drowns in the end stays with you long after the film has ended.

DIRECTION

Christopher Nolan has a body of work which other directors can only dream of. His films have grossed upwards of $4 billion in box office receipts. At the same time they are visceral enough to appeal to the most harsh of critics even making him unique in Hollywood. For all those who felt that his last three films did not match up to the gargantuan expectations that a Nolan creation generates DUNKIRK should prove to be a thoroughly invigorating experience. Is this his best film? That is difficult to say given that his films have all traversed a variety of genres but must say that this is his most assured work till date. Watch the way he weaves Winston Churchill’s stirring speech into the narrative at the end and you know that you are watching a master at the peak of his powers. Will end this review with a few lines from that very speech.

” We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds
We shall fight in the fields and in the streets
We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender ”

VERDICT

DUNKIRK is by far the best movie of this year and will be a difficult act to match let alone surpass. It is also among the TOP 3 films of Nolan and it might just get him the nod at the Oscars at the end of the year. If you can, watch it on an IMAX screen for a truly epic viewing experience.

JAB HARRY MET SEJAL – This rom-com is a colossal letdown

Travelling – it leaves you speechless,then turns you into a storyteller

– Ibn Battuta

INTRO

Hollywood is replete with #RoadMovies, so much so that it has become a genre in itself. From the cult #Biking film EASY RIDER to the stunning #Biopic THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, from the #Dystopian adrenaline fest that was MAD MAX – FURY ROAD to the very #Feminist THELMA & LOUISE and of course the bitter-sweet tale of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE road movies are aplenty. Not so with our #Bollywood. Though in recent times with films like ZINDAGI NA MILEGI DOBARA, PIKU, NH-10 and FINDING FANNY this is all set to change. Imtiaz Ali whose own road movie HIGHWAY saw the breakthrough performance of actress #AliaBhatt is in familiar territory with JAB HARRY MET SEJAL.

STORY

The central character in the whole film is actually this engagement #Ring which a girl called Sejal (Anushka Sharma) has lost on her trip to Europe with her family. Enter Harinder Singh Nehra aka Harry who gets coerced into joining Sejal in this quest for the ring. Thus begins a long and arduous (for the viewers)journey during which they fall in love (Surprise!Surprise!) with each other.

SCRIPT, SCREENPLAY & DIALOGUES

As a writer #ImtiazAli has oscillated from the sublime (SOCHA NA THA, JAB WE MET, HIGHWAY) to the
ridiculous (LOVE AAJ KAL, ROCKSTAR, TAMASHA) with alarming regularity throughout his career. Sadly JAB HARRY MET SEJAL falls under the latter. In fact for most of the 144 minutes of it’s running time, the writing in the film is strictly pedestrian. The basic premise (of the lost ring) itself is flawed and so are the two lead characters of this enterprise. While Shahrukh’s Harry seems like a caricature of what he has played for the last two decades and more it is Anushka’s Sejal who is a huge letdown given that Ali is known to write strong female characters in his film. And the big reason is her overdone ‘Gujju’ accent that annoys and irritates in equal measure. Surely the director & the actress knew this one was going awry. To make matters worse the situations evoke a strong feeling of #DejaVu. The only saving grace are the songs. But after a point even they seem one too many.

TECHNICAL CREDITS

Imtiaz Ali’s movies always deliver when it comes to the soundtrack, the stunning locales and the
fantastic production values. And JAB HARRY MET SEJAL is no exception. The music by #Pritam is the one silver lining and regardless of how the film does songs like SAFAR will be on your playlist for some time yet. KU Mohanan has captured #Amsterdam (and other parts of Europe) extremely well making each song worth a watch on the big screen. The editing by Aarti Bajaj is all right considering that bad films are not particularly easy to cut, chop and snip.

PERFORMANCES

In the 2011 movie ROCKSTAR the writing by Imtiaz Ali was not great either. But it got saved by a
stunning performance by #RanbirKapoor in the lead role and of course, a rousing soundtrack by maestro A.R.Rehman Here there is no such luck. At least as far as the performances go. While the starlet Evelyn Sharma is forgettable in a minor role, it is actor Chandan Roy Sanyal in a negative role who is terrible in a track that could have been edited out of the film even. Sad to see this very talented actor (who wowed us all in KAMINEY and D-DAY) in such inane roles.

Actress #AnushkaSharma who is good even in bad films (and she has had her fair share of them with
BOMBAY VELVET, MATROO KI BIJLEE KA MANDOLA & JAB TAK HI JAAN) looks like a million bucks. Where someone like Deepika Padukone was able to pull off her Tamilian accent character with aplomb in CHENNAI EXPRESS, Anushka’s interpretation of her Gujarati character falls flat on it’s face. For superstar #ShahrukhKhan this film is a setback he could have done without. Especially when it seemed like he was turning things around with his last three films, FAN, DEAR ZINDAGI and RAEES all indicating a resurgence. JAB HARRY MET SEJAL is sure sign that the audience has had enough of the serenading.

DIRECTION

Imtiaz Ali has always made romantic albeit quirky films and that he writes them too gives him a measure of control over how the final product will turn out. So there is no excuse really for the half baked, under cooked enterprise that JAB HARRY MET SEJAL is. To use cricketing analogy it is like an opening batsman getting out to a lazy shot on a belter of a pitch where runs are there for the taking. After his last film TAMASHA turned out to be debacle one expected Imtiaz Ali to pull up his socks for this one. Clearly that was not to be. Bollywood can be a cruel place for those who squander opportunities and one only hopes that this director realises this. Before it is too late.

VERDICT

JAB HARRY MET SEJAL has no redeeming features that can be prove to be a saving grace at the box office. It is a very ordinary film with average performances and above average music. As both the audiences & critics have unequivocally given the film a thumbs down, it’s failure is inevitable. Avoidable.

Jagga Jasoos – Make no galti se mistake, this one is special

There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact

– Sherlock Holmes

INTRO

The last #Detective film that one saw was Dibakar Banerjee’s #DetectiveByomkeshBakshy! where the
otherwise brilliant filmmaker was constrained by having to stick to a set template and as a result was a colossal letdown. Which is a shame really because there are hardly any notable Hindi films in this genre. Unlike in the west where you have the #SherlockHolmes and the #AgathaChristies who have enthralled us for long. The makers of #JaggaJasoos mentioned in a recent interview that the film was really a #Musical with as many as 29 songs in all. That set the alarm bells ringing. And it is with trepidation that one entered the theatres screening Anurag Basu’s latest offering.

WARNING:SPOILERS AHEAD

STORY

Jagga Jasoos is the story of an orphan (#RanbirKapoor) with a stammering problem who comes across a stranger quite by chance. The stranger who is only known as Tooti-Footi to the kid grows close so much so that they become like father and son. But one day this man goes away just as suddenly as he had appeared. Every year on Jagga’s birthday he sends a videotape to the kid until one day the tape does not come. From there begins Jagga’s incredible journey to find this stranger.

SCRIPT, SCREENPLAY & DIALOGUES

Jagga Jasoos is co produced by #Disney and is the maiden venture of director-actor duo Anurag Basu-Ranbir Kapoor’s production house called #PictureShuru. And sure enough the film starts with that very memorable credit rolls song from #Barfi. Before you know it you have all characters singing out their dialogues and dancing (which for some strange reason reminded me of Disney’s classic #MaryPoppins) All of this is a little overwhelming and it takes about five minutes or so to get a grip on things. After which the next hour is an exhilarating ride the kind of which one has not experienced in years.Using the real life incident of the 1995 #Purulia arms drop case as a thread around which the whole screenplay is woven, Anurag Basu’s writing is brilliant. For most parts.

Human relationships are Anurag Basu’s forte and even in Jagga Jasoos the best parts are the emotional scenes. Like this whole father & son track. Scenes where characters break into song are especially well written (credit to the very talented #AmitabhBhattacharya) The clock tower mystery song, then the scene where Ranbir barges into Katrina’s house, the post interval Nimboo-mirchi number (which is a sarcastic take on the divisive times we live in) and the unexpectedly delightful singing at Katrina’s dead boyfriend’s birthday party are all inspired writing. Then there are the little touches – like the father curling his toe when lying, #Buddha’s theory of #TheRedCircle and Katrina’s clumsiness which results in many laugh-out-loud moments.

What does not work is the adventure bit. The action scenes seem half heartedly written & executed and do not really make your hair stand on end. The role of Jagga’s arch nemesis who is supposed to be this two headed freak does not intrigue the way it should have (even after the last scene where it is revealed that #NawazuddinSiddiqui is this villain) The whole thread of the international arms race is so-so and the only reason you play along is to know what happened to Jagga’s father. Then there is a lot that defies logic. Like Ranbir & Katrina breaking into a song while they are being hounded by authorities. Then there is this huge build up made about a mixed up video tape that is conveniently forgotten in the end.

TECHNICAL CREDITS

This is a bit of a mixed bag. While the DOP #RaviVarman makes sure that each and every scene be it set in the North East or #Morocco is straight out of a post card the action sequences, the post production work and the CGI are all strictly average. The music by Pritam is very good but Barfi will still remain the best from the Anurag Basu-Pritam duo (who also gave us Life in a Metro & #Gangster) The editing by Akiv Ali is excellent in the first half of the film which has a running length of 160 odd minutes.

PERFORMANCES

The actor who plays the local cop is quite good and the scene where he gets a phone call in the station is quite funny. #SaurabhShukla is one of the finest actors we have and was truly memorable in his last film Barfi. Here his role is sketchy and half baked. Same goes for #KatrinaKaif who is supposed to be this investigative journalist but is mostly playing sidekick to Ranbir’s Jagga. All she does is fall and hurt herself at the drop of a hat. Though it has been used well as a plot device especially while reuniting Jagga with his father.

Though Barfi is a tough act to follow Ranbir Kapoor is quite superb in the title role of Jagga Jasoos. Whether he is sauntering through an empty boy’s hostel on his unique design bike or solving a seemingly tricky case Ranbir is the soul of this film. Watch him break down in a stammering fit in front of the friendly, neighbourhood policeman and you know this man can really, really act. The scene stealer of this enterprise is Bengali actor #SaswataChatterjee who gained immense popularity back home playing Topshe the loveable side kick of the legendary Bengali detective #Feluda (created by #SatyajitRay) Last seen in Hindi films playing a brilliant cameo in Sujoy Ghosh’s #Kahaani he is quite extraordinary in every scene that he appears in. Such is his impact that you as an audience hope fervently that he has not died.

DIRECTION

What to make next ? This is the question that has vexed some of the best directors of Bollywood. Ramesh Sippy made #Sholay when he was 27 and could not make anything half as good afterwards. #AdityaChopra made his debut with the smash hit #DDLJ but has made nothing of significance since. Similar thoughts must have run through director Anurag Basu’s mind after making a sublime Barfi. That was five years ago. Jagga Jasoos is a brave film that attempts to use the whole theatre-like musical format to tell a story and almost succeeds. It is not a perfect film but that is perhaps because Basu has too much on his plate. Yet if Jagga Jasoos works and (it does for most part) all credit must go to him. For sticking his neck out and taking such a huge risk. And to think that we had almost lost this man to cancer in the year 2004. After which is when he has made all his best films. More power to you, dada.

VERDICT

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but Jagga Jasoos with it’s unique musical style of narration makes for an invigorating watch. It has great performances, good music and is very entertaining for most parts. It falters at places in the latter half but only just. May be it will not appeal to the masses but the gentry, one suspects will love it. Do yourself a favour this weekend. Go watch Jagga Jasoos.

Sridevi – Fifty glorious years in cinema

In a nationwide #Poll conducted by a leading TV news channel a couple of years ago, Sridevi was voted #India’sGreatestActress in 100 years beating other powerhouse performers like #Nutan, Nargis, Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman and #HemaMalini. For one her career has spanned five decades which in itself is astonishing for a male dominated industry where the heroines have a very short career span and the day an actress gets married in real life it is goodbye to films. In Sridevi’s case neither marriage & children nor a long hiatus from films (of 15 years, no less) made any difference to her army of fans. Her comeback film in 2012, #EnglishVinglish wowed audiences and critics alike making us all realise what we had missed when she was away. Now after five years she is back with a new film MOM which incidentally happens to be her #300th film (which must be a record in itself) Here is a look at five of her most memorable performances:

SADMA: (Moondram Pirai in Tamil) Sridevi has acted in 23 films with actor #KamalHassan and none more memorable than this #BaluMahendra classic. The lilting melodies composed by the maestro #Illayaraja are the proverbial icing on the cake and remain popular to this day. The gutwrenching climax of the film is considered as one of the most memorable scenes in Indian cinema. Inspired supposedly by the tragic real life suicide of Mahendra’s wife (actress #Shoba who died at 17) the film with strong performances, stunning camerawork and a psychosexual theme was vintage Balu. And as the child woman Bhagyalakshmi who is afflicted by #RetrogradeAmnesia Sridevi was surreal. So much so that the image of a child-woman stuck with her throughout her career in Hindi films. Though completely over the top for most part of the film, Sridevi was very believable. Therein lay the genius of the actress.

CHAALBAAZ: It was totally by accident that Sridevi ventured into Hindi films with #Himmatwala. Which is just as well. Otherwise one facet of her acting would have perhaps remained hidden from us all. Her extraordinary comedic abilities. And no film brought this out better than this quirky tale of identical twins separated at birth. Two immensely successful films, Dilip Kumar’s Ram aur Shyam (based on a novel by #AlexanderDumas) and Hema Malini’s Seeta aur Geeta inspired #Chaalbaaz, which in that sense had nothing new to offer. It was Sridevi and her brilliant portrayal that made this a truly memorable film so much so that the leading men of the film #Rajnikant & #SunnyDeol were reduced to playing supporting actors. The spectacular success of Chaalbaaz made the industry anoint Sridevi as the female ‘Amitabh Bachchan’ of Hindi cinema. Not surprisingly Sri and the #BigB have no memorable films together.

LAMHE/MR INDIA: Apart from Kamal Hassan and Jeetendra Sridevi has done most films opposite actor Anil Kapoor in her career. While on the one hand #Lamhe was intense, bold and ahead of it’s time, #MrIndia was boisterous and fun. If Sridevi’s #Morni song in Lamhe was an instant hit the sensuous ‘Kaate nahin’ in Mr India proved that a saree could also blow one’s mind. Though Lamhe was a commercial failure it is undoubtedly one of the best films of his glorious career. Though actor Anil Kapoor had an author backed role in the title role of Mr India Sridevi stole the thunder right under his nose. Be it the casino scene (where Sridevi pays tribute to #CharlieChaplin in her inimitable way) the parody sequence involving the lead actors with a bunch of kids or even the ‘Hawa Hawai’ song Sridevi simply nailed it. Thirty years later a sequel to Mr India is in the pipeline. Audiences can’t wait.

ENGLISH VINGLISH: Her last film, #Judaai though moderately successful was no masterpiece. By any stretch of the imagination. Worse it had released a decade and a half ago and in an industry where out of sight is out of mind this long a hiatus was almost a cardinal sin. To top it all the film starred relative newcomers including the director #GauriShinde whose first film it was. So to say that the odds were stacked against Sridevi with English Vinglish was to simply state the obvious. But come release day and all the doubting Thomases were forced to eat humble pie. Carrying the entire film on her able shoulders Sridevi proved that time away from the silver screen had only helped her hone her craft. No squeaky voice, no child-woman like or any over the top theatrics. If anything she underplayed her role magnificently. The piece de resistance was her tribute to #MichaelJackson’s famous crotch grabbing step.

Every man’s Actor called Om Puri

  In possibly the zaniest scene from Kundan Shah’s cult film #JaaneBhiDoYaaron, Om Puri’s perpetually drunk builder barges into the middle of a mythological play on stage to serenade the very, fat and dead body of the city’s Mayor (a deadpan Satish Shah) draped in a saree. It was ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ and truly so. In a film that had an ensemble of some of the finest stage actors of the country, Puri stood out with a performance that required him to ham all the way through. The consummate actor that he was, Puri showed that one could go over the top and still make it look nuanced. The year was #1983, significant because it was in the same year that Puri won a #NationalAward for Best Actor. For his role as an upright cop in Govind Nihalani’s gut wrenching ‘Ardh Satya’ That was the genius of this every man’s actor called #OmPuri. From the sublime to the ridiculous he could play it all, with panache.

The first week of this year brought us the sad news. A heart attack had led to the untimely death of the legendary Om Puri and one says untimely simply because the actor was not ailing as such and had, in fact been busy with some acting assignments at the time of death. In a career spanning four decades and over two hundred films Puri wowed audiences the world over and is rightfully called as India’s first crossover actor. It was his marvelous acting in films like ‘City of Joy’ and ‘East is East’ that endeared him to western audiences. One still remembers his haunting cameo as an angry peasant in Richard Attenborough’s Oscar Award winning biopic #Gandhi where appearing for all of 90 seconds running time, Puri leaves a indelible impression on the audience. Regardless of the length, Om Puri had the ability to breathe life into a role and make it memorable.

Coming from a lesser privileged background, Puri had to make ends meet doing odd jobs from a very young age of seven. But what held him in good stead was the education that he managed to complete from respected film institutes like the #NationalSchoolofDrama & #FTII. Though his initial days in films were far from easy due to his ordinary looks, he was also fortunate to be an integral part of what came to be known as #The ParallelCinemaMovement of the late 70s and the 1980s. This in turn was the tail end of the neo-realistic Bengali films of the 1950s & 60s that had roots in Italian neorealism. These were all film known for rejecting the song and dance routine of commercial films and for embracing realism and serious subjects. With directors like Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, MS Sathyu and Mrinal Sen and Mani Kaul and actors (and actresses) like #NaseeruddinShah, Shabana Azmi and #SmitaPatil for company, Puri delivered some stellar performances. Till the movement died.

From the late 80s began another glorious chapter in Puri’s career. Where on one hand he was seen playing stellar roles in ventures in international ventures, he also made a successful crossover to commercial Hindi films. Where the lead role eluded him but the actor in Puri made sure he got the author backed roles in which he shone. From playing the archetypal villain of the piece to essaying goofy characters intended to raise a good laugh Puri did what was expected of him. With aplomb. The greatest contribution of Puri to Indian cinema will be having inspired not so good looking great actors to try their hand in big, bad #Bollywood. From Manoj Bajpai to #IrrfanKhan, #NawazuddinSiddiqui to Rajkumar Rao the list is long. So when the #AcademyAwards paid a warm and touching tribute to the splendid Puri this year but not one of the dozen odd Indian film awards deemed it fit to do so, one feels a little disappointed. Even in death, life is a struggle for Puri.

Return of the Ageing Superstars

In the first month of this year one saw the release of a Telugu film titled ‘Khaidi No 150’ starring the biggest superstar of the industry, Konidela Sivasankara Varaprasada famous as Chiranjeevi. Called the Boss by his adoring fans Chiranjeevi is making a comeback of sorts with this film as it comes a good decade after his last film Shankerdada Zindabad. And that film received a lukewarm response from the paying public. Predictably, even before it released, naysayers were quick to announce it’s demise owing to the superstar devoting more time to his political career in the interim. They were all proven wrong as Khaidi no 150 (named so also as it is #Chiranjeevi’s 150th film) broke all existing records at the box office falling just short of that behemoth called Bahubali. In a industry where ‘out of sight is out of mind’ applies to the biggest of them, it is incredible how #TheBoss has managed to keep his fanbase intact.

For the longest time, Malayalam cinema has led from the front when it comes to original cinema rooted in the culture and ethos unique to Kerala with great filmmakers like Bharatan, #AdoorGopalkrishnan, Ramu Kariat & Sethumadhavan just to name a few. Though formulaic commercial films do not rule the roost in the Kerala industry as much as it’s neighbouring Tamil & Telugu industries there are still some actors whose films are more eagerly awaited than the others. In fact for the longest time (over two decades) Malayalam films have been a two legged race with superstars #Mohanlal and #Mammooty currying favor with the masses and classes alike. In fact be it commercial, middle of the road or even art films both these actors have done it all, encompassing in their respective careers all possible genres of cinema. And in the year 2017 they are not doing too badly for themselves either. Mohanlal’s latest film #Pulimurugan has turned out to be the first #MalayalamFilm to gross a hundred crores at the box office. And this man has done over three hundred odd movies (320 at last count)

Artists from the film industry in #TamilNadu have always enjoyed demi god status among the masses. And not surprisingly some of the tallest politicians of the state have almost all had a glorious first innings as leading actors, actresses and writers. Be it the late MG Ramachandran (MGR) or the recently deceased ‘Amma’ J.Jayalalitha their onscreen persona has had a direct bearing on how they get perceived in real life as well. For the last few decades much like in Kerala, Tamil cinema has come to be known by it’s two marquee stars, #Rajnikanth and #KamalHassan. Interestingly enough inspite to enjoying great popularity among the people at large both have been reluctant to step into politics. Fans of the former have tried to interpret signs in each film of the superstar as proof that Rajni will join politics, but no avail. Rajnikanth whose last film #Kabali is said to have been underwhelmed at the box office yet ended up grossing over 200 crores is perhaps happy doing what he knows best. Wowing the masses.

In the commercial land of Bollywood it is all about numbers. Did the film gross 100 crores? Or was it 200 crores or even 300? At the end of the day, it all boils down to how much a movie can make over the weekend? Not as much about quality of the product itself and considering that box office can be a very fickle item on the menu for an actor,it is quite fascinating to see three actors stand tall for what is a good 25 years now. They are the #KhanTriumvirate of Aamir, Salman and Shahrukh (in order of appearance on the big screen) Call it charm, chutzpah, choice of film or mere talent these three actors have been part of all the most successful films that have ever got made. With all three being a huge draw worldwide, films starring these actors have the potential to make moolah like never before. And they are. Like Aamir’s #P.K. which made a staggering 800 crores worldwide.

And as we mention all these huge stars, how can one forget the biggest of them all, Big B? The evergreen Amitabh Bachchan missed the National Award by a proverbial whisker for his epic performance in the seminal film ‘Pink’ And he is just 75.

Have the National Film Awards become a big farce?

It is that time of the year. Again. When the National Awards for contribution to cinema are given away. Correction, announced. In a curious pattern that has been followed for god knows how many years the National Awards are announced a good two months before they are actually given away, in a glittering ceremony that is held at the Vigyan Bhavan in the national capital. And that the awards are handed to the winners by the honorable President of India in person makes these awards that much more coveted. No wonder that they are sometimes referred to as the Indian equivalent of the Oscar Awards. But (there is always the big, fat BUT) many observers from the industry opine that (in light of the spate of controversies of late) National Film Awards has lost it’s sheen and this ceremony that was conceived by the Indian government to promote Indian art and culture has today become like any of the dozen odd private film awards around. Like this year itself where the award for Best Actor going to popular matinee idol Akshay Kumar has got cynics alleging a fixed match.

There have been murmurs for some time that quality regional cinema has been overlooked in favour of bland Bollywood (that trashy word for commercial Hindi films) cinema. And the murmurs have only got louder in the last ten years. It is these poignant regional films, usually made on a shoe string budget, that showcase the real India and yet ironically, the National Awards which were instituted to encourage such work are ignoring them. As it is regional films have to face the heat in cinema halls in most parts of the country where Bollywood always hogs the limelight (gets the maximum screens) It is no surprise that the general perception internationally of Indian cinema is that it is all song-and dance and mere escapist fare. One is guessing that not many would have seen Oriya, Malayalam, Bengali or Konkani films. Which is perhaps why the country that is the producer of the largest number of films in the world has not won a single Academy Award(for best Foreign Language Film) in 60 years, and counting.

In the year 2003, when actor Ajay Devgan won his second National Award for the title role in a biopic on freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, veteran art filmmaker Adoor Gopalkrishnan was quick to object against the presence of director Prakash Jha as head of the jury deciding on the awards. The reason being that the actor was shooting for an under production film of Jha’s, titled Gangaajal at that time. Then there was the time that actress Raveena Tandon won the National Award for Best Actress in a little seen or appreciated film called Daman. It was alleged that her uncle and veteran actor MacMohan who was on the awarding jury had swung things in her favour. In that sense what is being alleged with this year’s winner is on similar lines. Where the head of the jury, director Priyadarshan who has worked in half a dozen films with Kumar is said to have influenced the final decision.

When one looks at all these controversies surrounding the National Awards it becomes abundantly clear that the issue lies with the jury. One feels strongly that the time has come to do something similar to the Academy has with it’s members. Why does the government have to choose a new jury every year? Instead why not have one permanent one with members from all the major film departments of the country as part of this jury? Let us hold that thought.

BAHUBALI 2 – What is all the fuss about?

Good and great are seldom in the same man – Winston Churchill

INTRO

It was a good two years ago that a Telugu language film called BAHUBALI released to a tumultuous response from audiences all over the country setting new benchmarks as far as box office collections go. With grandeur of the kind that has never been seen before on the Indian screen, BAHUBALI ended with a twist right at the end leaving a tantalising question in the minds of the audience. A question that in these two years has become as iconic as the film itself. Why did Kattappa kill Bahubali? BAHUBALI – THE CONCLUSION provides all the answers.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

STORY

Not many people know it but it is the superb stories written by veteran writer K.V.Vijayendra Prasad (Prasad is Rajamouli’s father) that form the bedrock of director #SSRajamouli’s films. And BAHUBALI is no exception. Having said that there is nothing extraordinary about the story of BAHUBALI. It is a story of a son avenging his father’s death but it is the style of narration that makes it stand out. Narrated by Kattappa (actor Satyaraj reprising the iconic role) in flashback it explains the circumstances that forced the trusted commander of the fictional kingdom of Mahishmati to kill it’s heir-in-waiting. And thus setting things up for the rousing albeit longish climax.

SCRIPT, DIALOGUES AND SCREENPLAY

Like the first film in the enterprise the script in BAHUBALI 2 is also excellent. Though the film is almost three hours long at 171 mins it keeps you engrossed. Part of the credit for this must go to the visual extravaganza that the film is. The characters of the Rajmata (Ramya Krishna) the evil king Ballala Deva (Rana Dagubati) and his physically handicapped father (Nassar) and of course, Kattappa are all terrifically written. The first half is quite impressive with the right mix of lighter moments, fight sequences and romance thrown in. It is the second half that is a big let down especially the war sequences that are strangely unimaginative and to make matters worse, the CGI is quite ordinary for a film that nurses ambitions of international recognition. Ditto for the climax which except for the incredible man-to-man fight between Ballala and Bahubali is quite bland. Some ideas like the soldiers jumping off palm trees to gain entry into the kingdom’s fortress are downright comical as is the entire sequence with cows that have their heads on fire (Wonder what the Gau rakshaks have to say about it)

TECHNICAL CREDITS

The music for the film is by MM Keeravani who happens to be the director’s uncle and it is fairly all right with the songs sung by Daler Mehandi and Kailash Kher deserving special mention. The costume designers Rama Rajamouli and Prashant Tripuraneni have done a swell job and even small bits like the crown worn by the king, the armour of the warriors and the stunning jewellery all grab eyeballs. Kotagiri Venkateshwara Rao has done a great job in keeping the film tight though the action sequences do carry a lot of extra flab. Ace cameraman K.K.Senthil Kumar who has been a Rajamouli regular has simply outdone himself in scene after scene of the film. BAHUBALI 2 would not have been half the film it is without the masterly lenswork of Kumar. PM Satheesh’s sound design is magnificent setting the mood for the dramatic war scenes to follow.

The real hero of the film is the genius production designing by four time National Award winner Sabu Cyril. From the enthralling sequence at the beginning where an elephant goes berserk before Bahubali saves the day there is not a single set in the film that does not inspire awe. Like the golden statue of the evil king that crumbles in the end or the sets of the court where the king holds his ‘Sabhas’ it is all spectacular. The stunt sequences done by King Solomon, Lee Whitaker, Kecha and Peter Hein are a mixed bag. While some are clap worthy (like the three arrow firing sequence involving Anushka and Bahubali) others are a letdown as they are terribly conceived and totally illogical. Case in example being the awesome fight between Prabhas & Rana where one finds it difficult to digest both the adversaries uprooting entire trees and throwing it at each other like spears. Give us a break! The visual effects supervisor by RC Kamalakannan are quite all right for an Indian film but for those viewers bred on the cutting edge CGI seen in Hollywood films it is difficult to ignore the tacky work here. Some of it is downright embarrassing.

PERFORMANCES

Like in the first part a big plus in BAHUBALI 2 are the strong performances of the entire cast. If Ramya Krishna is superb as the woman torn between her dual roles of the ruthless Rajmata and the loving mother, Nassar is good in a role that is one dimensional in character. Anushka Shetty has a fairly meaty role and she does full justice to her part. #RanaDagubati sinks his teeth into the role of a character which only seems to have grown more evil with age. Sample the perverse joy he experiences every time the character of Anushka grimaces with pain. He comes into his own in the memorable fight towards the end where he uses his powerful mace to devastating effect.

It requires really broad shoulders to be able to carry the weight of a titular role like that of Bahubali and here there are two of them. And must say that #Prabhas brings the character of Bahubali to life in a way that no actor perhaps could have. Especially in the role of the Amarendra Bahubali where he makes the audience believe that he is no lesser than any superhero. Be it the first scene where he climbs on top of an elephant to shoot a bow and arrow to his death scene where he insists on sitting perched on a rock as if on his throne, Prabhas is a big reason why BAHUBALI 2 works inspite of all the glitches. No review of BAHUBALI 2 can ever be complete without mention of Satyaraj. As the loyal slave of the Mahishmati royalty, his is a gut wrenching performance. Be it while fighting alongside Bahubali, admonishing the Rajmata for her callous decisions or carrying the burden of guilt having killed the future king, #Satyaraj is stunning. If is the heart of Bahubali, Satyaraj as #Kattappa is the soul of the film.

DIRECTION

SS Rajamouli again proves that he is the gutsiest filmmaker in India. Making a film on the mammoth scale that the two films have been made, with the kind of visionary direction that he brings to the table is not a joke and hats off to Rajamouli for pulling it off barring minor glitches here and there. Rajamouli confesses to having been inspired by the #AmarChitraKatha comics he read as a kid while making BAHUBALI. One hopes that the stupendous success of these two films inspires other filmmakers to adapt stories from our epics like the #Ramayan & #Mahabaharat. Now that would be really exciting.

VERDICT

BAHUBALI 2 is a must watch especially if you have not watched the first part. The best way to enjoy the film is to simply ignore the parts where the CGI is sub standard. And yes suspension of disbelief is a must too. Once you do that #BAHUBALI 2 will make for an enjoyable and perhaps even exhilarating experience. As one writes this, the film is already racing to the 1000 crore mark in collections. Need one say more?

P.S. As the end credits appear the director teases us with the possibility of a third BAHUBALI in the offing! Will he? Won’t he? Watch this space for more.