Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Badrinath Ki Dulhania 

The Woman Card

It may be a Bollywood romcom, co-produced by a mainstream production house (Dharma), with popular young stars, but what Shashank Khaitan's Badrinath Ki Dulhania does, is shine a light into India's heart of darkness, where the feudal khap mentality still rules; where men make the rules, women follow. When a young woman escapes this patriarchal hell, the order to is to go find her and bring her back so that she can be publicly lynched, as a warning to other girls with ambition.

That the film waves the feminist flag is good enough reason to cheer, even though it flies half mast-- not quite sure if a full on gender revolution would go down well in the B and C centres. Still it's a lot that in a Hindi film the leading lady says love is not enough, respect is important too, and waits out her suitor’s ardent stalking till he learns to respect her, and she him.

 Badri (Varun Dhawan) is the Jhansi dude, belonging to the feudal Bansal family, controlled by the patriarch’s (Rituraaj Singh) seeming feeble heart that seizes anytime there is a hint of protest. The older son (Yash Sinha) capitulated and married a woman of his father’s choice; Badri falls in love with Vaidehi (Alia Bhatt) and is genuinely puzzled when she does not reciprocate; what’s not to like about a good-looking bloke from a rich family? Badri plots and manoeuvres to get a proposal, with the requisite dowry, approved by his father. The film starts with a disclaimer that it does not endorse dowry, but there will be many amidst its target audience, who will not be converted by the film’s message, but you can’t blame the filmmaker for trying-- even it his approach is simplistic.

The conflict, refreshingly enough, is not rich versus poor (or rather middle-class), but male entitlement versus female ambition. Vaidehi wants to escape the suffocation of a small town with its built-in male chauvinism, Badri is an inherently decent guy who needs to get generations of patriarchal conditioning and its automatic response of violence out of his mind before he can win Vaidehi’s love and respect. If Badri does not come across as a creep, it’s because Varun Dhawan plays him with charm and vulnerability. Even if he breaks out into macho aggression a few times, his heart is not in it. In a funny scene (which would not have been so if it had been a woman), he is saved from molestation by a group of men, by Vaidehi and her friends.

Khaitan’s is observant of small town life, where material progress (swanky car showrooms, shiny new cafes) have not made much of a dent in the mindset as far as women are concerned, but it is equally true that a lot of women who are making their careers in big cities come from just these kinds of towns—Vaidehi is the rebel, her sister is pragmatic enough to realise that for her escape will be via marriage to a good (read mild-mannered) man. It  would also not seem odd to a small-towner, that Badri hugs and hold hands with his best buddy (an energetic Sahil Vaid) rather than with the girl he loves—that’s the way it is in a Jhansi-like town. Badri, with his cheerful innocence, is in fact an aberration in that milieu—as he says to Vaidehi at one point, “I want to marry you, not make you my girlfriend,” quite unaware of the hypocrisy steeped into that declaration.

The combined talent of Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt and Sahil Vaid make the film enjoyable, but the Dhawan instinctively gets the contradictions of Badri’s personality right, and gives a fine-tuned performance.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Commando 2 

Beefcake Parade

If there is a Commando 2, there must have been a Commando, but so generic an action film that it eludes the memory completely.

Vidyut Jamwwal’s muscles undoubtedly inspired this insipid actioner, and more are on the way if the post climax scene of this film is to be believed.

Karan returns as the muscled, parkour-flaunting commando, now in a special intelligence cell-- the kind of patriotic dude, who will get himself shot to justify the ‘encounter’ of a criminal on foreign soil. This film, directed by Deven Bhojani is a great fan of demonetization, because honest intelligence officers are determined to clean up the black money trail (it’s the tagline of the film and makes up its skinny plot). They send  motley gang of cops to Malaysia to nab and transport to India, major money launderer Vicky Chaddha.

So Karan, Bakhtawar (Freddy Darulwala), a chattering female cop (Adah Sharma), and the mandatory computer geek (he is Muslim and gets to make a desh-bhakti speech) land up in Malaysia to nab the shape-shifting Vicky and his precious database of black money deposits.
 But when they land there, things are not what they seem, Vicky claims to be a pawn in the hands of corrupt politicians, and even the home minister (Shefali Shah in exquisite saris) seems to be shielding black money hoarders.

The plot is just an excuse for the many fight sequences, beefcake display and two women --Sharma and the perpetually smirking Esha Gupta--ogling Jammwal and pronouncing him irresistible. Mercifully, there are no songs, but their absence is compensated for with a deafening background score.

If only Mr Muscle paid a little more attention to his acting—on second thoughts, why would he bother; the kind of audience that would go to watch a dumb action movie would hardly be interested in histrionics.

Monday, February 27, 2017


Love In The Time Of War

Rangoon just goes to show that one shouldn’t believe what is given out by Bollywood’s vast publicity machinery.  It is neither about a Fearless Nadia-like star, nor is it a remake of the all-time classic Casablanca. In the age of instant entertainment Vishal Bhardwaj has the gumption to make a love story set during World War II--he shoots it like a grand epic, but to show passion between two lovers, he has them rolling in the mud.

It is that kind of film—in which ambition and narrative seem to be constantly at odds with each other; beautiful looking and boring at the same time.

Julia (Kangana Ranaut) is the Nadia-inspired action star, who is as fierce on screen, as she is confused and little-girly in the presence of her film producer lover Rusi Billimoria (Saif Ali Khan). She dreams of becoming Mrs Billimoria (though he is already married); he calls her “kiddo” and makes her sit in his lap.

It is 1943, when the Indian freedom struggle is in full swing and Gandhi’s pacifism is being questioned by Netaji Bose’s military rhetoric. He allies with the Germans and the Japanese against the British using the logic that the enemy’s enemy is a friend. On the Indo-Burma border the war is particularly intense with the British Indian army fighting the Netaji’s INA, as well as the Japanese.

Billimoria panders to the British—personified by the shayari spouting General Harding (a hammy Richard McCabe)—because of the shortage of raw stock, and pushes Julia to go to the border to entertain the troops. INA spies use the trip to fulfill their own agenda as a priceless sword is smuggled in Julia’s luggage by her effete make-up man and companion Zulfi (Saharsh Shukla).

Following an attack, Julia finds herself in the jungle with Jamadar Nawab Malik as her protector and a Japanese prisoner (Satoru Kawaguchi) they drag around for no reason but to prolong the first half to the point of tedium.

Julia is helpless and petulant by turns, and ends up falling in love with the stoic Nawab, who pays no attention to her tantrums, but also looks out for her.

In the second half, when Rusi and Harding reappear, the triangle simmers and INA intrigues also play out in the background, as Julia, dances for the troops.  Sadly, the romance lacks passion despite all the kissing and a From Here to Eternity-like romp in the sand, and the spy games look juvenile. 

When the backdrop is this complicated and the production design so impresive, the actors seem dwarfed. Only Saif Ali Khan is convincing as the one-armed movie tycoon; the other two look like youngsters trying to act grown up. By the time the film, and Julia, start to make sense it is already too late.

Meanwhile, there is still a movie about a fearless action star waiting to be made.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Ghazi Attack 

Underwater Battle

There have been so few films about the wars India has fought in recent times, that anything seems to be a welcome addition to films on contemporary history.

And, amidst the well-documented reports of the Indo-Pak war of 1971, there is the mostly unknown incident involving an incident at sea (there is a swarm of disclaimers at the beginning), on which Sankalp Reddy’s The Ghazi Attack is based—suitably fictionalised 

The setting is the Bay of Bengal, where the Pakistani submarine Ghazi led by Captain Razzak (Rahul Singh), is sent to sink India’s warship Vikrant. Going by intelligence reports, S-21, an Indian submarine under the command of the hot-headed, Pakistan-hating Captain Rann Vijay Singh (Kay Kay Menon) is assigned the duty of checking on any Pakistani intrusion. His deputies are the calm Lieutenant Commander Arjun Verma (Rana Dagubbati); and Officer Devaraj (Atul Kulkarni) and there is an internecine battle of egos being fought as well.

The sets of the submarines are very well-created and the feeling of claustrophobia is heightened with the tension building inside the testosterone-filled sub (the only female being a redundant Bangladeshi refugee played by Tapsee Pannu) and the exchange of fire power outside.

The main attraction of the film is that it came out with so little advance publicity that audiences do not know what to expect. What they do get is a competently made war film—a little too ambitious for its own good, but keeping the pace brisk, the story-telling interesting and the predictable climax as exciting as can be. The making is lean, without too much melodramatic fat, and no pushing of patriotic buttons over what is built into the story.  A bit of ‘dialoguebaazi’ and simplistic portrayal of the Indian and Pakistani sides could be overlooked in the interest of entertainment.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Jolly LLB 2 

Winning Case

It’s not very often that the Hindi film industry is able to produce a film that is entertaining and meaningful in its own fairytale way. Subash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB had a struggling lawyer take on the rich and powerful. In Part 2, the character of the struggling lawyer is played by Akshay Kumar, which ups the ante a bit. He may not be doing any action, but a star needs a bigger set of obstacles to overcome.

The film is set in Lucknow, where Jagdishwar Mishra Aka Jolly, is the fifteenth assistant of a prominent lawyer, who is made to do menial jobs and never allowed to forget that his father was a clerk in the same office. In his hurry to get his own chambers and go independent, he deceives a client and is left guilt ridden by the tragedy that follows.

He decides to go on a pursuit of justice to bring to book the cop Suryaveer Singh (Kumud Mishra), who killed an innocent man in a fake encounter.  In court he is up against an arrogant and influential lawyer Pramod Mathur (Annu Kapoor--brilliant), whose assistant’s job is to produce a rate card and even bill the client for the tea, biscuits and fan!

Suryaveer Singh’s corruption has also made him almost invincible, which Jolly realizes when he is shot at in a crowded market. That makes him go after the entire corrupt force with a tenacity his enemies did not expect. He meets his match in court—Mathur is experienced, clever and not at all hampered by scruples. The scenes of the trial, like a fight to the finish between Jolly and Mathur, are greatly enlivened by Saurabh Shukla (who won a National Award for the first film) returning as Judge Sunderlal Tripathy, with more quirks than anyone can count. He knows he is called Teddy Bear behind his back, but behind the eccentric behavior and rotund appearance is a man who respects law and makes no compromises.

The film is serious in purpose but has a lot of humour to make the bitter pill go down. The UP ambience and language is perfectly created and the dialogue is sharply witty. There are some implausible script contrivances, and needless songs, but these can be overlooked, because the film does not have any dull moments.

Kapoor has the ability to move and amuse the audience at the same time, which makes Jolly LLB2 such a satisfying watch. In his new ‘serious actor’ avatar, Akshay Kumar excels and effortlessly does the henpecked husband (to Huma Qureshi’s Gucci-craving Pushpa) as well as the committed lawyer role well. His performance is aided and enhanced by the wonderful supporting actors—theatre has obviously become a big hunting ground for talent scouts.

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