Sunday, June 11, 2017


Twice The Tedium

A strange guy follows a girl home, and though she pretends to be annoyed, she has in him her bed on day two.  Stalkers rejoice! The instant romance between Shiv (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Saira (Kriti Sanon)  in Dinesh Vijan’s Raabta is so dull, their past life connection cannot possibly rescue it. (No spoiler here, it was advertised as a reincarnation story.)

The filmmaker had the budget to shoot in Budapest (and Mauritius), so the viewer gets a touristy look at the beautiful city, where Shiv has exported himself along with best buddy Radha (Varun Sharma); Saira has a swanky chocolate shop, where Shiv spots her when he comes in with his latest conquest. Yes, he sees women—particularly white women—as use-and-throw commodities, and is quite proud of it. She talks to her mirror, has nightmares and is terrified of water.

Like a perfect cad, Shiv crashes Saira’s date, makes her dump her boyfriend, and decides she’s the one to take home to “Bebe” in Punjab.  But to be sure of their feelings, they separate for a week, while he is off for a conference, and what do you know, ditzy Saira is swept off her feet by the rich Zakir (Jim Sarbh), who speaks with a peculiar (South Mumbai) accent and says lines like. “Is gaadi mein tumhari duvidha ke liye jagah hai.”

Zakir is a psycho because he remembers the past life love triangle, where all the characters-- with Rajkummar Rao in layers of old-man make-up added in-- wore bizarre tribal outfits and jewellery belonging to god knows which era and which part of the country; Sushant Singh Rajput’s hairdo is a marvel of styling with what look like bootlaces!

Neither is the past love story exciting, nor is the contemporary romance engaging. Rajput’s efforts to be ‘cute’ are grating and Sanon hasn’t quite mastered acting yet.  Sarbh is miscast, and has as much menace as Dennis. Some old reincarnation films packed an emotional wallop and had the audiences root for the lead pair’sjanam-janam ka pyar; this one just doubles the tedium.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

A Death In The Gunj 

A Tragedy Foretold

Konkona Sensharma’s debut feature, A Death In The Gunjhas a fine ensemble cast, an unhurried pace and enough intrigue seething under a seemingly calm surface.

For some reason, it is set in 1979—so no modern gadgetry on display—in a cottage in McKluskieganj. Based on a story by Mukul Sharma, the film is like a piece of intense theatre, where emotions, motivations are casual cruelty are revealed in layers. There is a needless piece of foreshadowing right at the start, which somewhat takes away from the slow-burning suspense.

The old Bakshi couple (Tanuja-Om Puri) have a bunch of visitors over the Christmas vacation at their large, isolated home—their son Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), his wife Bonnie (Tillotama Shome), daughter Tani (Arya Sharma), shy cousin Shutu (Vikrant Massey) and a friend Mimi (Kalki Koechlin); their friends Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Brian (Jim Sarbh) frequently disrupt the peace with their boisterousness arrival in noisy vehicles. There is some sexual tension between Vikram and Mimi, which the others pointedly ignore.


Shutu, deeply affected by his father’s recent death and failure in exams that he has hidden from the others, becomes the butt of a nasty prank; he is generally treated like a poor country cousin—the only one who befriends him is the bored kid, Tani, and he gets an occasional nod of kindness from his aunt.

Nothing much happens, the usual holiday fun and games, but there is an emotional churning going on that affects Shutu the most. The catalyst for the tragedy (the tile of the film indicated a death) that follows is a New Year’s eve party and Tani’s brief disappearance.

Vikrant Massey is perfectly cast as the vulnerable man-child, “pretty, like a girl,” as Mimi comments before she contributes to his destruction as unfeelingly as the others. The actors are all perfectly natural, and in sync with the others. It is a pleasure to watch Tanuja in one of her infrequent screen appearances

The location, music, cinematography all come together in an assured first film, that looks on Bengali and perhaps European cinema for inspiration, and does not pander to the box-office. There are longeurs and at least a couple of extraneous characters, but it’s the kind of film that requires patience.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hindi Medium 

English Matters

In this age of escapist cinema, a filmmaker takes up a major issue and instead of preaching and has the skill to turn it into satire is cause enough to applaud Saket Chaudhary.

His Hindi Medium is a light-hearted look at the class structure in India, which is defined by the ability to speak English with the right accent, going to the right schools, living in snooty upmarket areas, holidaying in the right spots and so on. (This week’s other release Half Girlfriend also touches upon this English snobbery.)

Raj Batra (Irrfan) owns a large Chandi Chowk boutique selling “original duplicates” of famous designers, and is wealthy enough to live well, which is not enough for his wife Mita (Saba Qamar), who will do anything to belong to the elite (she pronounces it ‘e-light’ which earns her a smirk from the English speaking playground moms) class. The problem is their inability to speak in English.

Mita wants her daughter Pia (Dishita Sehgal) to go to one of the best schools, for which they move to the right locality, subject themselves to the ridicule of uppity neighbours, obey the diktats of a consultant (brilliantly played by Tilottama Shome), try to tap every connection and fail. 

Raj just wants to please his wife, and decides to get his daughter in through the Right To Education (RTE) quota meant for the poor. For this, they have to move to a stinky, rat-infested slum and pretend to be poor. This is where the film’s sharp humour fails, this part about the nobility and aspirations of the poor ring false and are actually patronizing.

Their friendly, water-sharing neigbour Shyam Prasad (Deepak Dobriyal) trains Raj in poverty and his wife teaches Mita how to battle the water queue. The child, over whom all the drama is generated, is surprisingly placid, adjusting quite easily to slum life.

A slice of Indian life—any number of parents have suffered the dawn queues for forms and the school interviews—some pithy lines and an absolutely award-worthy performance by Irrfan makeHindi Medium watchable. Just paper over the flaws and stop yourself from looking down on Hindi (or any Indian language) speakers.

Half Girlfriend 

Same Old Story

For years and years, it has been a Bollywood formula to have two people from different class backgrounds fall in love. So Mohit Suri’s Half Girlfriend based on Chetan Bhagat’s book is not all that new.

All it does is somewhat modernize the old formula, which still feels strange when a girl who is hanging out, making out and being emotionally dependent on a guy is surprised when he expresses romantic feelings for her. In today’s age, Riya’s (Shraddha Kapoor) simpering seems very out of date.

Her ‘half boyfriend’ is Madhav Jha (Arjun Kapoor), princeling of a small  Bihari village, who manages to get into an elite Delhi college in the sports quota, but cannot speak English. “Even the grass grows in English here,” he despondently tells his mother (Seema Biswas) on the phone, just before spotting a French-braided basketball player who gives him reason to stay on.

Riya is the poor little rich girl, who deals with the domestic violence situation at home by soaking in the rain (hence, baarish song is a must), drowning out the noise by strumming her guitar and singing the same song, or sneaking up to the top of India Gate.  A girl ideally meant for a few sessions with a shrink, but she prefers the slavish devotion of Madhav, bad English and all. With all the romance (on his part) and friendzoning (on her part) when they find the time to study is never established. College, like in so many other films, is just a location to shoot.

Riya dumps him to marry a man of her own social status, bumps into him again in Patna where he is seeking funds for the village school from the Bill Gates Foundation (he actually makes a poor CGI cameo), picks up the romance-friendzone thread again and this goes on and on, till everybody but Madhav can see that he is unhealthily obsessed, and also cannot take no for an answer.

For those who have read better books and seen better romantic films, Half Girlfriend is quite flat.  It is redeemed somewhat by the stars emoting away earnestly, but a supporting actor, Vikrant Massey, as the loyal friend, gets some of the best lines and walks away with every scene he is in.

Mohit Suri and his writers need a crash course in Delhi snobbery for describing a tiny diamond on a chain as “baroque.”

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sarkar 3 

Bulldog In The Room

There is a statue of a bulldog in the sitting room of Subhash ‘Sarkar’ Nagre, that is witness to all the action in the room— the growling, scheming and an occasional murder when Sarkar lures a prey into his den.

One has to admire the bulldog tenacity of Ram Gopal Varma who wanders all over and comes back to his gangster sagas—Sarkar 3 is so grim and contrived, that one notices the weird camera angles and compositions; it is all mostly dark and people are caught in strange poses, through the handle of a cup of the legs of a person, of between the raised hands of a Laughing Buddha statue.

At the start of the film you are told that power is about respect, not fear, and then several times is the line, “Sarkar ek soch hai,” as if Varma is trying to seek the key of the three films in that. But after watching all the films, one has to guess at the “soch.” From this film alone, It isn’t quite clear what Sarkar (Amitabh Bachchan) actually does, except make thunderous speeches, ‘help’ the poor, manipulate the politicians and cops of the state, and plot a few killings to get rid of the bad guys. But you are told to believe he is the good guy and only murders those who, according to him, deserve to die.

The twisty-turny and entirely predictable wheeling-dealing takes place over a project in Dharavi, for which a bunch of wicked businessman (one of them called Gandhi), want to oust the families that live there. Manoj Bajpayee is an aspiring leader, and Jackie Shroff a hilarious villain (Ajit being the obvious inspiration), who is given some loony lines, and a scantily-clad moll. The main difference between him and Sarkar is that he treats the woman with disdain, while the older man looks at his bed-ridden wife (Supriya Pathak) with touching tenderness.

As Sarkar performs an elaborate ritual before a smiling portrait of his dead son (Abhishek Bachchan, killed in the last film), his grandson Shivaji (Amit Sadh) lands up, to offer his services as heir. There is immediate tension between him and Sarkar’s loyal Gokul (Ronit Roy). Shivaji’s choice of girlfriend (Yami Gautam) is unfortunate in that she has a reason to hate Sarkar. So while Dharavi becomes a pawn, the body count of shooters rises.

Varma may be hampered by a lazy script, but he can still pull off a thumping Ganpati sequence, several shootouts and make Amitabh Bachchan give a mesmerizing turn again as Sarkar, in which he can make tea preparing and slurping an act of menace. The other actors have a of catching up to do.

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