Monday, September 18, 2017


Patel in Dullsville

For a young woman who thinks she is very smart, Praful Patel (Kangana Ranaut) is rather dumb, and that is a fatal flaw in Hansal Mehta’s Simran, a film about an Indian woman in the US, who is forced to take to life of petty crime.

Praful is a divorcee, who works as a chambermaid in a hotel, a dead end job if ever there was one.  Her constantly nagging father (Hiten Kumar) runs a small business in snacks; her mother (Kishori Shahane), looks beaten by fate. This is the dark side of the American dream—not the ‘Potel’ kind of Gujarati success story. At the most Praful can dream of a ‘Minority Housing’ flat to escape the stifling atmosphere at home, but her father knows she is hopeless with money.

A chance visit to Las Vegas with her cousin, gets Praful into gambling, and suddenly, as she gets off the high, she has run up huge gambling debts, and has a couple of loan sharks after her.  In desperation, she takes to robbing banks, and at least some of the humour comes out of the hysteria of the media, and the exaggeration of the people robbed, as they spin a legend around what looks like a teenage prank.

It seems strange than in this age of CCTV cameras, she gets away using minimal disguise and her own car. The cops in Atlanta are incapable of even lifting prints from her glove-less hands?

Praful knows that she cannot get away without paying the sharks, but there does not seem to be much of urgency or despair in her manner; when she should be scared and jittery, she has a flirtation going with sweet-natured Indian suitor, Sameer (Soham Shah).

This is by no means a ‘feminist’ tale; it does not evoke much sympathy for the leading lady, and not a shred of admiration. In spite of some stabs at humour, the film never reaches the level of screwball comedy it could have, with a protagonist as ditzy as Praful. Mostly without make-up, Kangana Ranaut acts the hell out of every frame she is in—too bad she is saddled with a damp squib part.

Lucknow Central 

Jailhouse Band Baaja

It would be truly amusing if a Chief Minister of UP were as funny and aspiring-to-coolth as Ravi Kishen in Lucknow Central.  He wants to project his state as progressive; he also wants to be ‘trending’ and has with him two buttoned up sidekicks to advise him on social media. (Too bad that in real life, kids are dying in the state and crime is unmanageable.) So, he wants to hold a competition of jail bands, that will go viral, and impress Trump!

In Ranjit Tiwari’s debut film, Kishan Girhotra (Farhan Akhtar), an aspiring singer, who dreams of having his own band (“towns may be small, but dreams are big”), lands up in jail on a trumped up murder charge. He gets himself transferred to Lucknow Central, the venue for the big Independence Day inter-prison competition.  Hovering around, looking like she has wandered into the wrong film, is Gayatri Kashyap (Diana Penty), a social worker looking into the welfare of prisoners, and constantly being told to drop it and get married

The jailor at Lucknow Central is a nasty fellow (Ronit Roy), who suspects that the so-called band is just an excuse for Kishan and his cronies to escape and he is right. Kishan’s resilience gets him through the gangs and violence of prison life, as he goes about putting together his band of unmusical men--Dikkat (Inaamulhaq), Victor (Deepak Dobriyal), Parminder (Gippy Grewal), Pandit (Rajesh Sharma), all of whom have a special skill that would help in the escape.

Shot in dark, filthy cells, the film’s realism ends there—Tiwari is not interested in showing the true state of Indian prisons. Watching this film, you’d think all the prisoners were innocent victims of the system, and the jailor, who is only doing his job, is the villain. He is cruel, but he is also the product of the same inhumane system; if a prisoner escapes, it is his neck on the line. Strangely, Tiwari paints life outside prison as unbearable for the men; inside they find friendship, trust and a kind of normalcy.

The camaraderie between the five band-mates works, as they move towards the rousing, if predictable finale. The film is loosely based on a real prison band that also inspired the recent Qaidi Band; this one is better, has decent music, and solid performances, even if Farhan Akhtar looks too polished to be an ordinary UP lad.

With a little more effort, Lucknow Central could have been meaningful as well as entertaining--  as it is, the film is just ‘timepass’.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Poster Boys 

The Dreaded Cut

The Marathi original of this film was out in 2014, but the Hindi Poster Boys comes out at a time when Bollywood is discovering a tone of frankness about matters sexual. And it has the Deol brothers lending it their muscle; probably for the first time they are doing a film like this. Unfortunately that also means that the film is peppered with references to their old hits.

So, what happens is that a retired armyman Jagaavar (Sunny Deol), a timid teacher Vinay (Bobby Deol) and a recovery agent Arjun (Sheyas Talpade, also the director) find themselves in a poster about the benefit of vasectomy. They are understandably appalled, because in an Indian village (or a city for that matter) ‘nasbandi’ means loss of manhood.

Actually, such a thing should not be cause of laughter for more than half an hour—dragging it over a full length feature means padding with tasteless gags, shriek women and generally ear-splitting decibel levels.

Last week’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan had dealt with erectile dysfunction with sympathy and a lot of gentle comedy The problem of miscommunication that these three villagers face could do with some deft humour, even if some of it was crass. But Talpade perhaps believed that our audiences would not be able to appreciate subtlety and never allows for a moment of quiet introspection. Before taking their fight to the indifferent bureaucrats who caused them this embarrassment, they would, for instance, stop to think why their loved ones won’t believe them when they have they haven’t had that dreaded snip. And if they have, it’s hardly the end of the world, the way people around them behave. 

Some gags do raise laughs, but on the whole it is much ado about nothing. If anything Poster Boys might just resurrect Bobby Deol’s dormant career, as a comic actor this time. 


Gangs Of Mumbai

Gangsters had better start doing some interesting things so that filmmakers who pick up their lives for future biopics can get some non-formulaic plot points. Because it does look like every gangster and hitman is eventually going to get a film made on his (or her) life. The really notorious ones like the ‘D’ man will appear multiple times in the movies.

Between Ardh Satya and Satya practically everything that could be said about the Mumbai underworld has been accomplished; Nayakan Indianised The Godfather to create that ineradicale image of the benevolent don; whatever came next was more of the same—corruption, mafia-politician-builder nexus, gang wars and so on.

Ashim Ahluwalia picks Arun Gawli for a biopic, a gangster whose hold was mostly over a small area of central Mumbai. The trajectory of his descent into crime due to poverty and rise to Dagdi Chawl’s ‘Daddy’ is predictable. The big mill strike in the Seventies left a lot of workers jobless and starving. It was very easy to recruit them into criminal gangs. It was undoubtedly a turning point in the city’s history.

For the handsome Arjun Rampal to play the gangster, changing his face with prosthetics must have tickled the actor’s vanity, though he obviously could not shrink himself to Gawli’s slight five feet three inches frame. (In a 2015 Marathi film titled Dagdi Chawl, Makrand Despande was a dead ringer for the don).

All films about the underworld—whether based on real characters or not—tend to white wash the violence and glamorize the world of crime. Daddy is based on the life of a living underworld figure and politician, albeit one serving a life sentence for the murder of a corporator, so there can be no criticism of his methods.

He may be a smuggler, extortionist or killer, the film seems to say, but he is a loving family man, loyal friend, secular, generous-- and all-round good fella.

Ahluwalia has gone into parts of Mumbai not seen before and shot in dimly lit frames; he has also used a back and forth narrative style that can confuse and jar. The enmity with a bespectacled don who flees to Dubai, called Maqsood for some reason and played by Farhan Akhtar, does not quite play out for thrills.

The Seventies-Eighties style—the big hair, broad collars and bell bottoms—is recreated well. Most actors in supporting parts are cast perfectly – Anand Ingale as Babu Reshim, Rajesh Sringarpure as Rama Naik, Nishikant Kamat as an evil cop and Aishwarya Rajesh as Asha Gawli.

Despite all that works for this film, the problem is that somebody has done it before… and better.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan 

That Gents’ Problem

RS Prasanna’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is a Hindi remake of the Tamil hit Kalyana Samayal Saadham, but its antecedents go back to Bill Naugton’s 1963 play All In Good Time, adapted into a 2007 play Rafta Rafta by Ayub Khan-Din.

At the core of it is what the film’s male lead refers to as “gents’ problem.”  Mudit (Ayushmaan Khurrana) falls in love with Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar) and after some mild stalking and an online proposal, the two get engaged.

What is charming about the film --set in Delhi—and its characters is their ordinariness.  And they expect nothing but an mundane life.  Sugandha is more assertive of the two and at one point admits that Mudit was the only one who liked her, while the other boys were chasing glamorous girls.

Then, Mudit discovers his “gents’ problem” and for a while his desperate attempts (goaded by two friends) to deal with it, and Sugandha’s effort (goaded by her friend and a blue film) to seduce him are funny. Soon, as it happens in Indian families, everybody comes to know about the problem, and Mudit is mortified.

But it is clear by the time the second half arrives, and everybody shifts to Haridwar for the wedding, that the director has painted himself into a corner. The film is bold enough to take up the subject of “performance anxiety” but a doctor dismisses it as a trifle, the implication being that Mudit is making much ado about nothing. But in India, the problem of impotence would affect a woman more, because the delay is producing a child would be blamed on her.

Sugandha’s father (Neeraj Sood) wants her to call off the wedding, while Mudit’s father (Chittaranjan Tripathy) refuses to believe his son is deficient in any way. The mothers (Seema Bhargava, Supriya Shukla) hover helplessly. The connection of masculinity with sexual prowess is questioned in the film, but sadly also endorsed.

Still, it is good to see the middle-class reclaim its place in mainstream films, and to see a female lead who is not coy. Khurrana (it was brave of him to do this role) and Pednekar are like the new Amol Palekar and Zarina Wahab who, for a short while, made the ordinary acceptable at the box-office.

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