Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Accidental Prime Minister 

Theatre Of The Absurd

The Accidental Prime Minister, based on Sanjaya Baru’s book of the same title, and directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte, is a clumsy attempt to take potshots at the Gandhi family and the Congress Party, by making former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh appear like a ridiculous puppet.

What could possibly be the reason, otherwise, for Anupam Kher to play Dr Singh as a whiny-voiced man, who shuffles around with his hands stiffly held in front of his bent body? The story, seen from the point of view of journalist Sanjaya Baru (played by Akshaye Khanna), who became Dr Singh’s media adviser, is about the shark tank that politics is, and how he has to keep steering a weak PM to safe waters.
The film shows how Dr Singh was seated on the PM’s chair as the least offensive candidate in the alliance of parties that made up the UPA, since there was stiff opposition to foreign-born Sonia Gandhi (Suzanne Bernert) becoming PM of India, and Rahul was still too raw.
Baru, with smirk always in place, often talks directly to the camera, to explain what is going on, among the nasty bunch of bureaucrats and politicians circling the PMO (the set of the office is so garish, it hurts the eyes). The chief baddie is Ahmed Patel (Vipin Sharma), who is a close confidant of Sonia Gandhi and believes he pulls the strings of the government.
A lot happened during Dr Singh’s ten-year tenure, but everything is perfunctorily dealt with, except for the inordinate time given to the nuclear deal with the US, Rahul Gandhi’s tantrums and some media shenanigans orchestrated by Baru.  Dr Singh is shown to be resisting pressure by ‘The Family’ in his own way, and ultimately retreating into silence (that became a subject for endless lampooning) when made a scapegoat in all the scams and scandals erupting around the UPA that eventually led to the BJP winning the elections.
The film could have been a trenchant look at the murky world of Indian politics with a clean man at the centre, but it ends up as boring, confused and borderline absurd. Audiences can amuse themselves by checking which actor resembles the real-life character he or she plays; strangely, Akshaye Khanna, dressed in a natty new suit for every scene, looks nothing like Sanjaya Baru.

Uri: The Surgical Strike 

Tribute To The Army

The Indian army should not need an endorsement, but the way things are in various troubled parts of the country, a shout out to express admiration and gratitude for their courage is perhaps needed. What Aditya Dhar’s Uri: The Surgical Strike is about, is quite clear from the title. 
The actual military operation  could not have taken so much running time and keep audiences interested, so there are ‘chapters’ before it. The film opens with an ambush on a military convoy by insurgents in Manipur. To avenge that, a small unit let by Major Vihaan Shergill (Vicky Kaushal) goes in and blows up an insurgent camp, without losing any soldiers.
At the celebratory dinner, Vihaan expresses the desire to retire to look after his ailing mother (Swaroop Sampat), but the Prime Minister (Rajit Kapur playing Modi) insists he take a desk job and arranges a nurse at his home.  There are a few scenes of the happy Shergill family, and then in a surprise attack by Pakistani militants (they came in dressed in Indian army uniforms) on the military camp in Uri, Kashmir, where Vihaan’s brother-in-law (Mohit Raina) is killed, along with other soldiers, who were caught unprepared.
The PM and his security advisor, Govind, (Paresh Rawal obviously modelled on Ajit Doval) decide that enough is enough; India will have to assert her national pride and punish the perpetrators of the attack by surgical strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.  The film picks pace and tension from the point the decision is taken till the mission is accomplished.
Govind, with an intelligence officer Pallavi (Yami Gautam) and a team of informers, spies and tech geeks, including a cheeky young drone operator (Akashdeep Arora), map out the hideouts of the terrorists, while Vihaan returns to active duty to plan and lead the attack. He gathers men from the units that lost their colleagues in the Uri killings, and gets their “josh” high to take revenge.
The outcome is known, so Dhar tries to whip up emotions through lines like (“You came into our home and killed our brothers, now we will enter your homes and kill you”), and funnily, a hand-to-hand fight in a mission that’s meant to be quick and stealthy. The scenes of the mission are very reminiscent of Zero Dark Thirty, minus the subtlety. In what could have been an all-male film, Dhar includes small but significant roles for Gautam and Kirti Kulhari as a combat pilot.
The film may be populist and pushing the aggressive agenda of the ruling party, but at a time when terrorism aided by the powers that be hangs over our heads, it serves to reassure people that there is no challenge the Indian Army cannot handle, given a decisive leadership. It is a worthy tribute to the armed forces. The claim of a New India that it pushes forward is debatable.

Saturday, January 05, 2019


Dancing Cop

Nobody does glee as well as Ranveer Singh—on and off screen his personality projects an over-the-top, cheerful demeanour.  Rohit Shetty taps this to lighten up Simmba, which could very well have been Singham 3 if the young actor had a brooding presence like Ajay Devgn, who, incidentally, appears in a cameo in this film to add to the testosterone levels; not that any more was needed when Singh and Sonu Sood are already there.
Making a grand entry, dancing with thousands of extras in colour-coordinated costumes. Sangram Bhalerao aka Simmba, orphaned pickpocket-turned cop, is clear that he has joined the police force to make money, not to be a “Robin Hood helping people.” The irony that Robin Hood was an outlaw not a cop is lost on the character whose catchphrase is “mind ij blown.”  That, and “tell me something I don’t know” when he is called a “kameena.”
The cop from the land of Bajirao Singham—modesty is not one of Shetty’s virtues, so he pays tribute to his own films—is transferred from Shivgadh to the more lucrative (read bigger bribes) Miramar Police Station in Goa. He befriends the local don Durva Ranade (a subdued Sonu Sood), going so far as to ingratiate himself with his wife, mother and kid.
He also looks longingly as Shagun (Sara Ali Khan), the tiffin supplier across the street and appoints himself big brother to Aakruti (Vaidehi Parshurami), a medical student who teaches street kids in her spare time.
Till Simmba plays a cartoon cop the film is entertaining, and you don’t even care that the Marathi-speaking cop sings a romantic song to Shagun in Punjabi. Singh, with gelled hair, big moustache and broad smile whoops it up, merrily teasing the honest colleague Mohile (Ashutosh Rana), who refuses to salute him.
 Then, the worst of the eighties’ angry young man machismo kicks in. Aakruti goes snooping into Durva’s drug den (characters in movies, never seem to watch movies), is raped and killed by his two brothers.
Simmba now breathes fire—how dare anyone touch his sister? That becomes a troublesome and tiresome refrain in the film; the perpetrators need to be punished not so much for what they did, but “what if she was your daughter/sister?”  Women are simply rape-bait or cooks, beating up criminals and gunning down rapists in clumsily-staged encounters is a man’s job. In a film that is supposedly on the side of women, the leading lady is simply shoved aside after her quota of song-and-dance. There is also a female judge (Ashwini Kalsekar), but that is just tokenism.
In this law-is-an-ass world of vigilante action that Shetty’s earlier cop hero Singham (Ajay Devgan) believed in, encounters are the only way to deal with felons. Simmba asks the gaggle of admiring women surrounding him, what is to be done with Aakruti’s rapists (her death is not as important) and they all say “kill them.” 
In the Telugu film, Temper, on which Simmba is loosely based, there is a credible reason for the hero’s change of heart and a rousing scene in court, where he is willing to sacrifice himself, so that the criminals do not get away.
Shetty simply summons Singham (Devgn in a cameo) and the two men in their police uniforms stride in slow motion to deal with the villains. And the woman judge sternly tells Durva’s mother (theatre legend Sarita Joshi wasted in a two-scene role) that she ought to have raised her sons better!
The spirit of Nirbhaya is blasphemously invoked, when Shetty wants his film to have a social message. Unfortunately, he does not handle emotions as comfortably as he does action and comedy, so the film slides into melodrama, hokum and a dangerous support of  lynch mob mentality. This is why Simmba will be a hit—masala entertainment served on high moral ground makes the audience feel less shallow.
Not content with introducing two khaki-clad heroes to Bollywood (that already has Dabangg’s Chulbul Pandey floating around), in the end Rohit Shetty introduces a third star, who will play a cop in his next movie.  Khaki is the haute new shade in Shettyland.

Friday, December 21, 2018


Meerat To Mars

When a director literally shortens a superstar, then the story being told should justify it, or it remains at the level of gimmick—oh, look what the VFX guys can do! But not once in the film do you feel that things would have been different if the character had been of “normal” (a word they use) size.
                                                                                                                                               In Aanand K. Rai’s Zero, Shah Rukh Khan plays Bauua Singh, a dwarf, who makes up for the lack of height and his family’s contempt (though they seem to give him enough money to blow up on frippery), with extra swagger. The thirty-eight-year old Meerut man, with the mandatory sidekick Guddu (Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub) is besotted by film star Babita Kumari (Katrina Kaif) and has his friend refer to her as “bhabhi.”
A photo at the office of a matchmaker leads him to Aafia (Anushka Sharma), a scientist, who is wheelchair-bound because of cerebral palsy.  Since she is a bit affronted by this little man vying for her attention when she is clearly “out of his league,” Bauua makes it a point to persistently woo and win her. This self-confessed middle-class man spends six lakhs on an extravagant Holi bash just to take her to bed? Because after this is done, he changes his number and vanishes. He explains that he is a “koel” that can only lay eggs in other birds’ nests.(Then why has he registered with a matrimonial service?)  Aafia pursues him, however, and on the wedding day, Bauua runs away, because he has a chance to properly meet Babita, who, at an earlier drunken encounter had kissed him.
He has managed to reach the finals of a dance competition (where and when did the elimination rounds happen?) that makes him eligible to have a date with her. The actress, nursing a broken heart, picks up Bauua as a confidant, the reason being totally unconvincing.
But Bauua realizes it is Aafia he really loves and with remarkable ease makes his way to the US and right into NASA, where she is working on a “billion dollar” space programme, to send a manned mission to Mars. The film, not too engaging to begin with, and kept aloft somehow by Khan’s charm, derails completely. Without getting into spoiler territory, all one can say is that the US ought not to hand over its space-conquering plans to unstable Indians.
The VFX that turns Khan into a vertically challenged person reduces him to the size of a child, so instead of looking short, he looks small, which is not the same thing; but still the sequences are not badly done. It’s the pointlessness of the plot and the tepidness of the love story that is so exasperating, because the actors have done their best. Anushka Sharma is a dependably good actress, but even Katrina Kaif has excelled as the emotionally needy Babita. The big question is what did Rai and Khan find so appealing about this script that they ended up making such a disappointing dud.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Bhaiaji Superhittt 

Cloudy Days
Sunny Deol and comedy are not usually uttered in the same breath, in spite of some diversions the always angry star has taken in films likeY amla Pagla Deewana and Poster Boys. So here he is, in the incredibly silly Bhaiaji Superhit, trying to do a Munnabhai, with his own circuit in tow—Arshad Warsi, only called Goldie Kapoor.  Neerraj Pathak’s film was so long in the making that the leading ladies are Preity Zinta and Ameesha Patel.
Deol plays the titular Bhaiaji Dubey, a Banaras don, who spends much of his time beating up people, or, believe it or not, wrecking a building by just clicking a ballpoint pen.  He wants to win his fiery wife Sapna (Preity Zinta) back after she has left him in a fit of jealousy. He gets boastful but failed filmmaker Goldie (Warsi) to make a movie on his love story. Shreyas Talpade plays a luckless writer Tarun Porno Ghosh, Ameesha Patel is, Mallika, the narcissistic actress. And snapping on Bhaiaji’s heels is his rival Helicopter Mishra (Jaideep Ahlawat). 
Considering the time it took to complete, and continuity going off in quite few places, it’s a wonder that the actors managed to keep up their high spirits and the film packs quite a lot of comic talent –Sanjay Mishra, Vijay Raaz, Pankaj Tripathi, Brijendra Kala and of course Warsi, for whom nothing is too lowbrow. The director just has to let the cast loose over the film, and between them they do manage to get a few laughs. Making a spoofy comedy on filmmaking and the clichéd traditions of B-movie-making is low-hanging fruit. It looks like a lot of the tomfoolery is ad-libbed, so one can only imagine what could have been accomplished if the actors had actually been given a coherent script and truly funny lines.  As if one was not bad enough, Sunny Deol has a double role! He has parodied himself enough, about time he did something to rescue his flailing career. Last week’s Mohalla Assi was a brave step for him, maybe he should keep trying till he gets a role with a perfect fit.

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