Thursday, July 19, 2018


Where There Is A Will
It’s a good thing that Bollywood is now looking for stories about real life heroes—and hockey player Sandeep Singh is undoubtedly one. His rise-fall-rise is what legends are made of.
Shaad Ali’s film Soorma cannot make up its mind, whether to tell the story in a straight, no-frills manner and risk boring the audience, or to inject high drama to grip them. The result is a mixed bag of a film, with unnecessary fictional flourishes, and then a dull documentary-like portion. If the film is still uplifting, it’s because of the perfect casting of the charismatic Diljit Dosanjh as Sandeep Singh.
In small town Punjab, hockey is a way out of poverty, since it promises a job if the player makes it to the national team--India khelna, they call it.  As a young boy, Sandeep quit the game because of the violence of the coach (Danish Hussain), but his older brother Bikramjeet (Angad Bedi) perseveres and the family’s hopes are pinned on him.
Bikram fails to make the cut, but sees potential in his brother, who stars training again with the same sadistic coach,  because he falls in love with female hockey player Harpreet (Taapsee Pannu).  With a paint-by-numbers approach (and stirring soundtrack), Sandeep’s rise is charted, his selection by the national coach (Vijay Raaz), his entry into the Indian team, and the skill with the drag-flick move earning him the nickname Flicker Singh.
Then, a gun fired accidentally in a train pierces his spine, and his promising career is wrecked. He is paralysed waist downwards, and confined to a wheelchair. Harpreet takes the tough decision to leave him, so that he does not lose the will to recover. The scenes in which is family copes with the devastation, and the brother takes on the double burden of breadwinner and caregiver, are the most moving. The forced confinement and heartbreak make Sandeep irritable and he takes it out on the almost saintly Bikram.
Then, miraculously, help comes from the Hockey Federation, that pays for his treatment and rehab abroad. When he returns on his own feet, his brother takes over to coach him back to international form. Of course, it would have made for more engaging cinema if the odds were upped, if he fought back with just his family’s support, if the authorities were as apathetic as they usually are, but Soorma is a biopic, so it follows what really happened.
In spite of the mostly bland, made-for-TV kind of approach, if the film still works, it is because of the performances by Dosanjh, Pannu, Bedi (outstanding) and Satish Kaushik as Sandeep’s father, so cowed by misfortune that all he can do is hope.  It is an inspiring story that deserved to be told to a country that has let cricket overpower the achievements of all other sportspersons.

Sunday, July 01, 2018


Fictionalised Reality

There are problems inherent in making a biopic of a movie star who is still active, and young enough for all his many shenanigans to have been meticulously reported by the then brazen film press, and a lot by the mainstream media. If the said biopic is made by a successful filmmaker who is also a friend, and obviously with his subject’s approval, the bits selected to be presented are the ones that make him look either a victim of fate and circumstances or a brave hero.
Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju could have been, but is not a warts-and-all biopic. It is a highly fictionalized and sanitized version of the Bollywood hellraiser. From all accounts, Sanjay Dutt has lived his life openly—all his misdemeanours, affairs and problems with the law are all documented, and he has come out of it, to now lead a stable family life; why would he want to apologize for his past now, or have Hirani do it for him? The fact that he has been forgiven and the slate almost wiped clean is proved by  armies of fans, who call him “Baba” with familiarity and a certain admiration.
See it as a film about the rise, fall and rise of a spoilt rich brat, as a story of love and loyalty, and the film works—because Ranbir Kapoor is a terrific actor, and Hirani as much of a master storyteller as he is a manipulator of emotions. Still, he cannot resist using a very clumsy framing device of a writer (the “world’s best biographer” first seen photographing a museum!) Winnie (Anushka Sharma), who is desperately sought by Sanjay Dutt and his wife Maanyata (Dia Mirza) to write a book on him. She is skeptical, but when he starts telling her chapters of his life, she is reduced to tears and ostensibly writes a book that tells the truth about him, perhaps standing in for the filmmaker himself, or even the audience that wants to see a true story and get a full emotional family drama. 
The first half is about the launch of his career by his doting father Sunil Dutt (Paresh Rawal, terribly miscast), his drug addiction, his mother’s (Manisha Koirala as Nargis) death, the break-up with his girlfriend Ruby (Sonam Kapoor), his genuine friendship with the devoted Kamlesh (Vicky Kaushal--outstanding!), his fight against addiction and bashing the two-faced drug-peddling buddy (Jim Sarbh). His career highs and lows or the various affairs that the gossip mags reported, are pointedly ignored.
The second half gets grim, when he is caught for getting a gun from the underworld, accused of being a terrorist and sent to jail. His father and Kamlesh resolutely stand by him, the former sleeping on the floor, without a fan, because his son suffers prison travails.
In the end, the blame for all the trauma the family faced is laid at the doorstep of a sensation-seeking media; there’s even a song to that effect with the end credits, when the real Sanjay shakes a leg with his screen avatar.
There’s a lot that’s debatable about the film, but if the dramatic scenes with the father are really moving, there are also distasteful comic sequences, especially two involving Ruby (the awful toilet seat around her neck scene is in the promo) and her family, and one when Sanjay seduces Kamlesh’s girlfriend.  One supposes, Hirani had to serve a cocktail to suit every palate and he has made a film that will appeal to the masses.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Race 3  

Non-stop Nonsense

Abbas-Mustan had created the Race franchise, with mindless and twisty plots, but their films managed to entertain to some extent. They had glamour, style and a few thrills.

Now the directorial baton has been handed over to Remo D’Souza, and it is clear a few minutes into Race 3, that he dropped it. He has been given Salman Khan and a seemingly unlimited budget, which he has splurged on foreign locations, action sequences that overstay their welcome by several minutes and a script so stoned out of its mind that the film’s characters have to sit down at the end and figure out how it went. And even then, so many strands are left untangled.
Anil Kapoor plays Shamsher Singh, a superrich arms dealer who lives on Al Shifah Island (presumably somewhere in the Middle East), but he comes from a village in Uttar Pradesh, and dreams of returning there in glory some day. Meanwhile he lapses into Bhojpuri whenever he can, mainly with sidekick Raghu (Sharat Saxena) and nephew Sikander (Salman Khan). He has grown-up twins of his own—Sanjana (Daisy Shah) and Suraj (Saqib Saleem), who call each other “bro”, and start fights with rival gangs that are invariably ended by Sikander. Yash (Bobby Deol) and femme fatale Jessica (Jacqueline Fernandez) complete the menagerie. There is also a two-scene villain (Freddy Daruwala), but with a family so evil, who needs baddies?

As it always happens in such movies, everybody is double-crossing everybody, nobody is who they seem to be. In the midst of grimacing at each other, the “bros” have to steal from a bank vault in Cambodia (why? just!) a hard disc containing visuals that can be used to blackmail Indian politicians. The price for the disc, only two billion dollars, half in bearer bonds (seriously!), for which the Singhs have to take a bank loan. When the poor banker quite correctly asks what for, he is given that “our business is our business, none of your business” line. Luckily, in Al Shifah, Aadhar is not mandatory!

Nothing makes sense, the dots do not quite connect, and as the film stretches on, with slow songs (that sound better on radio than they look on screen) to add to the boredom, even Jessica wants to know “Itne jhatke, when is this going to end?

Salman Khan seems to have a defence mechanism to cope with such dumb films, he goes into auto-pilot mode, with a bored expression, and then at some point takes off his shirt—so does Bobby Deol. Anil Kapoor is the only one who tries acting, the others strut around in awful costumes and try to look like they mean business... only they don’t know what business. And then, they actually have the nerve to threaten a Race 4!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Kaala Karikaalan 

Slumdog Mumbai

The Rajinikanth mythmaking has gone on for so long and with such vehemence that it would be difficult for any star to live up to it.  And the possibility of disappointing viewers just goes up with every film that fails to match the hype.
Where Pa Ranjith’s Kaala Karikaalan (dubbed into Hindi) is concerned, a non-fan would wonder what the fuss is about, and the fan would wonder where that fire-and-brimstone hero went?  Throughout the film, the talks is much more than the action, in spite of the many slow-mo shots of a black-clad Rajinikanth striding with purpose;  but what exactly is the purpose?
The story of a Tamil don protecting his Dharavi turf has been done with much more power and style in Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan.  Two decades later the same growling and posturing over the rights of the poor does not have any vigour.  For a superstar who is entering politics, it is a mellow kind of part to do—to show that he cares for the poor.
Viewers in the South would get the socio-political and caste references, but the Dharavi setting would not resonate with them; while audiences in Mumbai who would get the significance of Dharavi, are in the midst of a development boom.  How can any slum leader justify the blocking the development, just to prove that the people are with him.  This faux-socialistic glorification of poverty (romance in the toilet line!) is so 1970s, today a slum community would expect their leader to negotiate the best terms for them, and not feed them slogans.
After watching politicians instigate communal riots and plot murders of their rivals while cops look away, in so many films, it has become a cliché. The film goes on in this pro-and-anti-development path interminably, with nothing new to say. It is not even clear why the people of Dharavi worship Kaala (in Nayakan, the don was seen to look after his people), because all he does is talk, stroke his grey beard, dance and romance his wife (Eswari Rao).  There is also an ex-girlfriend, Zarina (Huma Qureshi), who serves no purpose except to provide a small dash of glamour in the film.
Kaala believes builders will steal the rights of the people, while his own son Lenin (Manikadan), his firebrand “Marathi mulgi”  girlfriend (Anjali Patil) and slum rights activist, Zarina are dazzled by white-clad local leader Hari Abhyankar’s (Nana Patekar) plan to rebuild Dharavi.
There is a whole lot of Ram-Raavan, black-white dialogue thrown about, and one truly star-worthy scene in which Abhyankar is unable to leave Dharavi till Kaala allows him to.
The film has great production design and cinematography, but dull music, barely passable performances, and a pace that is sluggish in the extreme. The viewer waits in vain for the superstar work his magic.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Veere Di Wedding  

Delhi Fairy Tale

This is the film about the problems of rich young women who have no problems. They can afford to sit around smoking, drinking, swearing, talking of sex and acting just like badly-behaved boys.  Anyone who expects a real film about female bonding and independent women will have to wait, Shashanka Ghosh’s Veere Di Wedding is not it.
But even as a film about four shallow young women—perfectly made up and coutured—and their relationship issues, it is remarkably superficial, and considering where urban women really are at in terms of achievement, it is very Sex And The City dated.
Mostly set in South Delhi, because where in Mumbai do people like in such lavish homes, it is full of stereotypes of cackling aunties, overfed Punjabi families (with generic Malhotra, Sharma type of surnames), creepy louts, garish weddings and wedding lehengas for which to quote a character, you’d have to sell a kidney.
Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor Khan, the only pitch perfect performance) and Rishabh (Sumeet Vyas) live in Australia and do god-know-what, when he decides that they are so different that they have to get married.  So they move to India, where the couple is crushed under the endless rituals of a family wedding. It’s telling that Rishabh is called “Shishu” (infant) by his mother, because once in the midst of family, he seems to lose his adult spine. “At least I have a family,” he tells the stricken Kalindi, because she comes from broken home; her mother is dead, her aloof father has remarried, and is fighting with his brother over property. If at all there is something ‘today’ about this film is a gay couple living together happily.
Kalindi’s childhood friends are substitute for family – Avni (Sonam K. Ahuja) is a lawyer, whose mother odiously nags her to get married with insults like “we will have to freeze your eggs” though she has no husband in sight. Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar) is the daughter of rich parents who gave her a five crore wedding which is now on the rocks, so she spends her days smoking and drinking alcohol ‘neat’.  Meera (Shikha Talsania) had eloped with a ‘gora’ for which her family disowned her; she has a baby and is the only one with an ‘imperfect’ figure.
They all rally around the dithering Kalindi and desperate Avni. When the singing and dancing and dressing up around the wedding is on, the friends take a trip to Phuket, just so they can parade in resort wear and visit strip clubs.
No matter how bold the talk may be, at heart the film believes in the traditional happily ever after; nothing wrong with that, this is a fairy tale after all, where small suitcases magically eject endless designer outfits, credit cards never max out and the prince does turn up in the end-- mother and aunts in tow.  It’s as watchable as a fashion catalogue is readable.

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