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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Badhaai Ho  


Baby Boom
The most remarkable thing about Amit Ravindernath Sharma’s film Badhaai Ho, is the subdued romance between a middle-class, middle-aged couple, surrounded by family and the hassles of routine.
The idea of an older woman finding herself pregnant has been done in a comic way in the popular 1962 Broadway play Never Too Late(also made into a film) and the film Father Of The Bride 2. Sharma and his writer (Akshat Ghildial) have placed their story in a Delhi colony, in the midst of a bustling, tambola-playing neighbourhood.
Railway employee Jitendra ‘Jitu’ Kaushik (Gajraj Rao) is a closet poet (“Gulzar bane phirte ho” a colleague mocks) and when reading poetry to his usually harried wife Priyamvada (Neena Gupta), an unguarded moment of intimacy happens; and a few weeks later, she discovers she is pregnant. In small town India, this is no big deal, quite often a woman and her eldest offspring have kids at the same time, but here, it creates a storm.
The Kaushik sons, Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Gular (Shardul Rana) are shocked and embarrassed. The grandmother (Surekha Sikri) wants to know when they found the time, adding that even in their time they knew of Nirodh. The circle of neighbours, friends and relatives are amused or appalled and find ways to make fun of the two and tease the sons. In a dull subplot, Nakul is dating the posh Renee (Sanya Malhotra) and there is a hitch in their relationship due to this development in his family. Her elegant mother (Sheeba Chaddha) quite rightly wonders how Renee (Priyamvada cannot pronounce her name, and Jitu inexplicably bursts into halting English with her!) will fit into that family, and how they will manage the financial and health burdens of a new child.  Which just serves to make Nakul suddenly appreciate his family more!
The film is neither a comedy nor high drama, but made up of brilliant little moments, subtle expressions caught at just the right moment, and the wonderfully evocative dialogue. Gajraj Rao, with his shy smile, and eyes that shine with tenderness towards his wife has given one of the finest performances of the year; Neena Gupta is marvellous, but not given much to do—instead of focusing on her, the film wanders over to the Nakul-Reene romance that does not have half the spark that the older couple’s comfortably prosaic love does.




Namaste England 

Hello, Goodbye
Mainstream Bollywood cinema of a certain period was happy to throw logic and good taste to the winds, and got scenes written on the sets whenever the stars turned up. Even by those low standards, Namaste England is a dud.
So in a pind in Punjab, Param (Arjun Kapoor) stalks Jasmeet (Parineeti Chopra) over several festivals—in that state, people seem to do nothing but dance—till she comes up to talk to him. His excuse for this creepy behavior is, “Ashiq ghoorte nahin, niharte hain.”  Whatever!  
To facilitate their meeting and allow her to work as a jewellery designer without her conservative grandfather finding out, all her friends call the old man with excuses to invite her over. Eventually, a proposal is made the formal way, and the stern grandpa says yes, provided Jasmeet does not work after marriage.
For some reason, Jasmeet does not think of moving to a big city in India, but gets obsessed with going to London; women in India ostensibly cannot have careers! A friend-turned-foe has such connections that he blocks Param’s visa to every country in the world—even Bangladesh! So Jasmeet has a sham marriage with Sam (Aditya Seal) so that she can go to London on a “marriage visa,” get her residency, then divorce him, go back and fetch Param over!
It can’t get sillier than this!  While Jasmeet changes into Western outfits and looks after Sam’s ailing grandfather, Param goes to London illegally cutting border wires and hiding in shipping containers. Once there, he decides to have a fake marriage with Alisha (Alankrita Sahai) to make Jasmeet jealous… and so it goes, throwing common sense out of the window along with the law.
After showing that Indians—and the token homesick Pakistani—are basically dishonest and have scant respect for British immigration rules, Param has the temerity to give a lecture on the greatness of India, and predict a future when everyone will want to be Indian, because—get this—India sent Mangalayan to Mars at the cost of a rickshaw ride! (What were these guys drinking!)
Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra did their bit to promote this awful movie, and must be fervently wishing it out of their filmography. They should pray, for the sake of their careers, that audiences either don’t watch Namaste England or forget it as soon as they see it!


Monday, October 15, 2018

Helicopter Eela 


Mommie Dearest


The film industry's ageism (applicable only to women) is such that a talented actress like Kajol, who chooses to play the mother of a teenager, is then herself made to behave like a teenager on uppers.

In Pradeep Sarkar's film, Eela's (Kajol) career as a singer fails to take off, so she marries Arun (Tota Roy Chowdhury), has a child and becomes a willing homemaker. Then, the husband does a runner for the flimsiest of reasons, so she concentrates all her energies on her son.

As it happens in films, women without husbands suddenly have no friends, relatives (Eela does have a friendly mother-in-law living elsewhere) or financial needs. She becomes the kind of mother who forces tiffins on to her kid, and turns up at his school trip. 

This 'helicoptering' becomes a problem when Vivan (Riddhi Sen) goes to college, and Eela decides to enroll too. This bit is borrowed from the West, in India, there is such a crush of young students with high percentages that no college would admit a parent.  (In the far superior Nil Batey Sannata, the mother goes to school under different circumstances and in a municipal school, characters speaking in Hindi was believable, not in a posh college.)

Eela proceeds to make a complete nuisance of herself, butting in everywhere and interfering not just in his life, but that of his friends too. The eccentric, slipper- throwing drama teacher (Neha Dhupia) casts her in a play, which turns out to be a music show in the ubiquitous inter-college competition.

There was perhaps the seed of a real comedy here-- many Indian mothers do tend to be overbearing-- but Sarkar makes a hash of it. The first half is wasted in establishing Eela's dashed hopes, which is stuffed with guest appearances by film personalities; by the time the entirely predictable climax comes around, the viewer is bored or irritated or both. And wondering why Kajol is over made-up and badly styled, and why the interior of the apartment building looks like the set of a low-budget TV show, and what will happen to the career of National Award-winning Riddhi Sen after such a clunker.

Tumbbad 


Scary As Hell

Most Indian horror films follow a familiar template with ghosts or monsters terrorising people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ominously dark visuals and startling sounds provide the scares; which is why the richly atmospheric Tumbbad, directed by Rahi Anil Barve (co directed by Adesh Prasad) drawing on mythology, history, fable, the work of Marathi horror writer Narayan Dharap and grandma's tales, creates an entirely original horror movie that has a lot more to it than the usual schlock. 

Even though it feels like a fireside telling of frightening tales, Tumbbad does not treat the audience like thrill-seeking teens, but leaves a lot to the imagination and interpretation. There are layers of social commentary if the viewer has an eye out for them, and that gives the film a certain unexpected depth.

After the prologue about the Mother Goddess and her greedy son Hastar, the film goes on to the first of its three parts. Set in 1918 in Tumbbad, where it rains non-stop, a woman (Jyoti Malshe) is burdened with the unpleasant task of caring for a zombie-like female ancestor. There is a treasure hidden in the mansion that belongs to the man who has an illegitimate sons with this woman, one of whom is Vinayak, with an eye on the cache of gold.

Vinayak grows to be a man (Sohum Shah, also the producer and an actor with a fine screen presence), driven entirely by greed and the desire to get his hands on not just a few gold coins, but the entire hidden treasure.

The second part—not too interesting considering what goes before and after --follows Vinayak's life in Pune, his friendship with Raghav (Deepak Damle) an affair, and then jumps to the end of colonial rule  (there is a passing reference to the plot to kill Mahatma Gandhi).
Vinayak returns to the village with his wife (Anita Date) and son  Pandurang (Mohammad Samad), whom he has infected with greed too.

There are recurring motifs of the womb, spooky winding passages and the constant sense of dread and foreboding. Even though Vinayak is a rogue, there is something admirable about his reckless courage.

A large part of the credit for the film's mesmerising visual quality goes to the spectacular production design (Nitin Zihani Choudhary, Rakesh Yadav); Pankaj Kumar’s cinematography and the polished CGI.

Tumbbad is very watchable, but not for the squeamish. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Andhadhun 


 No Shades Of Grey

Sriram Raghavan’s Andhadhun, is inspired by Oliver Trennier’s French short film, L’Accordeur, and dedicated to once popular Doordarshan programmes Chhayageet and Chitrahaar.
The real surprise is the return of 1970s star Anil Dhawan (who disappeared inexplicably from movie scene), playing a former star, Pramod Sinha, so there are posters, clips and songs from the movies Dhawan starred in—the most memorable being Teri galiyon mein na rakhengen kadam from Hawas (1974). 
The protagonist Akash (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a blind pianist, who, while working on a tune for a competition in London, finds employment in a restaurant run by Sophie (Radhika Apte), where he meets Sinha. The star, flattered by his film tunes that Akash plays, invites him to his home to surprise his much younger wife Simi (Tabu) on their wedding anniversary.
Akash’s life goes haywire after that visit, and he gets embroiled in the desperate plots of Simi and her lover, a cop Manohar (Manav Vij). Simi is the perfect femme fatale, cool in a crisis and able to think on her feet.
Till mid-point Raghavan sets-up a nostalgia-laden crime thriller, in which it is impossible to predict what happens next.  Once other characters like an evil doctor and his two cohorts, plus the cop’s wife jump into the fray, the film turns about greed and cruelty, and the script becomes too schematic.
When the film stayed on the problems Akash inadvertently gets into, it was enjoyable; later as it ties itself up into knots and looks for macabre ways to dispatch various characters, it loses some of its wicked charm, and also the emotional empathy built up for Akash.
Still, with KU Mohanan’s moody visuals and Pooja Ladha Surti’s snappy editing (she is also one of the writers), Raghavan keeps a grip on the narrative, dots all I’s and crosses all T’s, so the viewer leaves the hall knowing what happened to the rabbit that appears in the beginning.
Tabu in her “Lady Macbeth” (as a character refers to her) avatar has been perfectly cast—one can’t think of anyone else who could have played this part with such razor’s edge balance. Ayushmann Khurrana’s pick of roles has been remarkable, and his Akash is a wonderful addition to his filmography.
Raghavan is in his element here, as he is with pulp thrillers (Agent Vinod was an unfortunate misstep) that do not bother much about morality or redemption, as long as the audience is kept alert, and nobody can take a second to check their phone.



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