Sunday, August 05, 2018


The Nation Needs To Know

It is heartening to see a mainstream film take up an issue right out of the headlines. Seen as a straightforward drama about one family’s trauma, Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk is a mostly engaging. But then taking up a subject like terrorism and the discrimination of Muslims means there will be some subtext—intentional or not—and the director has to be careful not to let the contrivances show.
The family of Murad Ali Mohammad (Rishi Kapoor) is traditional—going by their clothing and appearance—living cheek-by-jowl with Hindus in Varanasi. They live in complete harmony with others in the mohalla, but there is some unexplained tension in the home, between Murad Ali and his brother Bilal (Manoj Pahwa--brilliant).  Murad Ali’s London-based son has married the Hindu Aarti (Taapsee Pannu-- sincere), and they are having some differences over the religion of their unborn children.
It is possible, but not likely, that a boy from such a family will become a terrorist, but Bilal’s son Shahid (Prateek Babbar) does, and is responsible for a bomb blast that kills many people. It is obvious that in an atmosphere like this, the cops will treat the family harshly. If the investigating officer Danish Javed  (Rajat Kapoor—remarkably effective) happens to be a Muslim himself, he will be even harsher to prove that he is not one of ‘them.’  The main point of the film is about Us and Them, but it is twisted to mean Hindu and Muslim, when it could well mean two factions of Muslims. If a young man kills in the name of religion, how can the family not come under the suspicion? How can the neighbours and friends –of both religions-- not distance themselves?
The one who comes as the family’s savior is the daughter-in-law, and the decision of the director to make her a  Hindu has political connotations too. So do some of the ancillary events. Like, when Shahid’s terrorist links are revealed, the neighbours suddenly start asserting their Hindu identity with a jaagran.
The court scenes, where the sneering prosecutor Santosh Anand (Ashutosh Rana) paints all Muslims with the same brush, it is easy for Aarti to deflect him with sensible arguments, especially when the judge (Kumud Mishra) is amazingly level-headed. These scenes have a kind of dramatic power, but the complexity of the situation is outside the scope of this film, that just wants to noisily proclaim its secularism. It is, undoubtedly, very important to do that, which is why Mulk is worth watching.
Rishi Kapoor towers over the film with a performance that is intensely felt; Manoj Pahwa’s Bilal gets the sympathy because his suffering is there to see, but Murad Ali’s anguish is that of a man whose belief systems are being ripped apart and he does not know whether to hold on or let go. It is very tough part, and Kapoor deserves all the awards there are!


One For The Road

Karwaan is a lightweight road movie, meant to be life-altering for the characters, and amusing for the audience, but the Akarsh Khurana-directed film is neither too funny nor profound enough. It coasts along on the charm of the actors and breathtaking beauty of the Southern landscapes not seen too often in Hindi films. Audiences today are pleased with much less.

Bangalore-based Avinash (Dulquer Salman--earnest) is a leftover from 3 Idiots—he wanted to be a photographer, is forced by his father into a secure IT job. The estranged father is killed in a bus accident, and Avinash want to get the last rites over with quickly, when he discovers, much to his annoyance, that his father’s coffin has been exchanged with that of the mother of a Kochi-based woman, whose rebellious daughter Tanya (Mithila Palkar) joins the trip.
The solemn Avinash, inexplicably, has a friend in an older garage owner Shaukar (Irrfan), who offers to transport the coffin in his van part of the way, but the journey keeps getting extended, and not all diversions are interesting.  (Why, for instance, would Avinash not leave a package to be delivered at the home of the recipient who is not in, and insist on going out of the way to a wedding, where he is to be found!)

Shaukat is a man with too many chips on his shoulder—he takes off on foreigners, scantily clad girls (“my van is not a dance bar”) and people who drink.  But he has been given the best lines (some credit to dialogue writer Hussain Dalal), and even an old-fashioned romance. Tanya is a bit of a caricature too, millennial girl means she smokes, drinks, sneaks out of the boys’ hostel, wears tiny shorts and is so spaced out that she forgets all about her grandmother’s death.

Dulquer Salmaan gives an effectively unobtrusive performance as opposed to Irrfan’s show-offy wisecracking. However, the good and bad thing about having Irrfan in the film is that he gets all the laughs, but when he is not on screen, the movie seems to deflate.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3 

Three's A Crowd

This is one series that should have stopped at the first—and best—film. With a Part 3 of Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, director and co-writer Tigmanshu Dhulia overestimates the interest of the audience in a bunch of erstwhile royals, willing to plunge to any depths to hold on to their wealth and power.
The Saheb, Aditya Pratap Singh (Jimmy Shergil) and Biwi, Madhvi (Mahie Gill) remain the same in all three films, the gangster changes from Randeep Hooda to Irrfan Khan to Sanjay Dutt.
This film picks up from where the second part had left off, Saheb is in jail, and Madhavi, now used to her political clout, wants to keep him inside, and his second wife (Soha Ali Khan) supplied with drink to keep her quiet.  Madhavi is a promiscuous and nasty piece of work, who tells her somewhat defanged husband that she got a taste of evil from the rajwada (palace).
Meanwhile, Uday (Sanjay Dutt), who actually made a fortune playing Russian Roulette with drunk idots—he has a “He’s The Baba” soundtrack to announce his arrival-- is ruling over a strip club called House Of Lords in London, because a scandal back home sent him packing. His uncle (Kabir Bedi) and cousin Vijay (Deepak Tijori) run a palace hotel, while his sweetheart Suhani (Chitrangda Singh) coos to him over video chats.
Then Aditya wrangles his way out of jail, Uday is deported after he bashes a white man for being rude, and the power struggles intensify in fictional Devgarh. Only this time round, the script is incoherent, the claws are clipped and the characters as menacing as the animal heads mounted on tacky palace walls.
Out of the lot of bored actors, only Jimmy Shergill looks like he has some stake in the proceedings. Astonishingly, so besotted is Dhulia with his depraved former royals that he has ended the film with scope for a Part 4. Time to beg him to cease and desist!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


No Spark No Fire
There was a reason why Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi film Sairat was such a big hit. It took typical Bollywoodian young love tropes and pushed them into the muck of rural reality, where caste and class differences are so pronounced, that the smallest ember of rebellion can lead to a conflagration.
Karan Johar and his director have pulled out Sairat from that ditch, dusted it down, prettified and made Dhadak so bland and fake, that it is neither a respectful remake of Sairat,  not a blazing departure. Bollywood simply does not know how the other half lives and makes no effort to understand.  Caste was the big issue in the Marathi film, in Dhadak there is a throwaway line about the girl belonging to a higher caste. But how much lower is the boy’s caste, is never explained.
The problem with making a film with star kids is that you can’t show them in really squalid surroundings, and god forbid, they should have to live in a hut even on screen!
So, Madhukar (Khatter) is the lively son of a lakeside restaurant owner in touristy Udaipur (makes for pretty visuals), not poor by any stretch. Parthvi (Janhvi Kapoor) is the daughter of a princely hotel owner (Ashutosh Rana), the stereotyped, bloodthirsty Rajput seen in so many films. He is as aspiring MLA, who does not stop in playing dirty with the opposition candidate.  In that milieu, the women are repositories of the clan’s izzat, and would not be paraded around like Parthvi is; she would be leading a sheltered existence quite aware of her place in the family hierarchy.
But she is seen as a perky, flirty young woman, who has no idea when she proclaims her love for the already bedazzled Madhu, that it will imperil their lives. The two are forced to flee from her father’s murderous goons, including cops on the payroll. But capturing the tragedy of their situation or the despair of exile is beyond the scope of this film. They end up in Kolkata, where an avuncular lodge owner—named Sachin Bhowmik  (Kharaj Mukherjee) for some reason, after a prolific screenwriter-- offers them a tiny room and gets a restaurant job for Madhu; meanwhile his wife gets a call-centre job for Parthvi. (In the original she got work in a factory and he with a roadside stall.)
Far from suffering, they look like they are going through some minor discomfort; to keep them company, his two irritating friends also turn up, not in the last rancorous about the fact that the runaway lovebirds wrecked their lives too. None of them can return to their families in Udaipur, but, hey, no worries, life in Kolkata is a picnic!
There was really no reason for making this watered down film (with some of Ajay-Atul's original music), which is also boring and lacking the spark the fresh leads of Sairat had brought to the screen.  Ishaan Khatter and Janhvi Kapoor seen to have been given no other brief than to look cute and get teens into the multiplex— he at least aims to get some depth into his part, she just pouts and sulks through it all.

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.

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