Noor : Movie Review

Cast: Sonakshi Sinha, Kanan Gill, Shibani Dandekar, Purab Kohli, Smita Tambe, Manish Chaudhari
Direction: Sunhil Sippy (not related to Sholay’s director Ramesh Sippy)
Genre: Drama (adapted from Saba Imtiaz’s  novel, Karachi; You are killing me)
Duration: 1 hour 56 minutes

 

Oh yes! You can spot out the millennial in her from a mile…she embodies the self-absorbed life-style, the organically sourced boho chic outfits, the constant reference to social media, and the text dependence…I can go on and on!

The way we look at movies in 2017 has changed dramatically in the last decade. Move over “Stars”!  That phrase has been replaced indisputably by “Actors”! The success of a movie is more talent driven and doesn’t depend any more on just pure star power. The fact that Sonakshi Sinha is carrying a movie on her young shoulders with no “starry” or well-known supporting cast is proof of the changing times!

When I saw her in the dreamy Lootera(2013) in the avatar of Pakhi Roy Chaudhary, I was bowled over by her soul-stirring depiction, in that masterpiece! So she is perfectly able to carry Noor Roy Chaudhary (yes, the same last name by some twist of fate) and come off her own! She makes binge drinking vodka and being tardy at all times, so cool! I love her cluttered lifestyle where everything is in disarray except her mind, which is crystal clear!

More often than not, older generations have an attitude towards young people.  They see them as entitled and screen-obsessed digital worshipers. To some extent it is true; but also in abundance, is the feeling of doing something meaningful, with their lives! They are not afraid to follow their passion or conviction, if they believe in the cause! Noor is aspirational about her sense of entitlement! She has grandiose plans of being a well-known political journalist at none other than CNN. That’s her dream job! To cover stories that show the marginalized man in a haloed light! To show their courage and heroism in spite of the despair and adversities they face in life! But this is not an ideal world, according to the collective wisdom of the movie-makers of Noor! Instead of tapping her brain power for a noteworthy story, her boss sends her to cover Sunny Leone, chasing TRPs and the bottom line, by playing it safe! Now that is something I found difficult to swallow! Media outlets covers a variety of news so if she is on the political beat, why would they send her to do a feature on Sunny Leone?? Some goof-ups that weren’t expected from a seemingly intelligent director.

The story line is developed well with Sonakshi and her band of loyalist—her 4 am friends who accept her with all her mood swings and swags! Kanan Gill, the software engineer turned stand up comedian gives her stellar support as Saad. His Saad is salty, suave, and and sexy! Shivani, the third wheel in the triangle of childhood friend bonding, gives her unequivocal support as Noor goes up and down in an emotional roller-coaster. As she stumbles upon her “The Big Story”- illegal organ harvesting – she gets busted by her boyfriend who ironically worked for CNN as a war photo journalist. So much for aspiring to work for CNN 🙂

As long as the movie dealt in a lighthearted vein, it chugged along quite seamlessly! But from the moment it changes the course of the plot with a political expose, Noor (the movie) falls in an abyss. It is way out of its depth to carry it through convincingly so it does what people do these days, to garner attention. Or to be heard, or to start a movement, gather momentum for a cause they believe in- whatever! Activism and the quest to unmask the criminal becomes tad too easy over social media.! The plot nosedives but still manages to cruise through the choppy waters  largely  due to Sonakshi. She never lets go of her character and there is one shot right at the end that capitalizes on her blue chip acting capabilities (no doubt the genes come from dad, Shatrughan Sinha).

Purav Kohli and Manish Chaudhary as the two men whose characters give Sonakshi quite a lot of angst. But she moves on and how is the typical life hack of the Y generation! Purav, as always, delivering a top-notch performance without belittling his sleazy character. Manish, as the boss who has lost his edge and appetite for hard lined stories and prefers candy floss to mettle, is a joy to watch! Smita Tambe, as the victim, is terrifyingly real!

The movie has its shortcomings but the acting just flows! The dialogues are catchy and packs in a sharp punch! Yes, I would recommend it for cinema lovers to see it! And if you live in the Raleigh-Durham area, it’s running in only one theater in Morrisville! FYIjise-kehte-pyaar-hai-lyrics-noor-movie-sonakshi 🙂

Rangoon: Movie Review

rangoon_640x480_61483688141Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut
Direction: Vishal Bhardwaj
Genre: Drama
Duration: 2 hours 47 minutes

 

Of  Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose,this is what the Mahatma said “He is patriotic of course but just a misguided one.” Their ideologies may have differed but one can never doubt Netaji’s staunch commitment to free his beloved motherland from the clutches of British reign. Those immortal words by Netaji, “Give me blood and I will give you freedom” were a part of our history textbooks while I was growing up in India.  Indian National Army (INA) was Netaji’s brainchild and even though it couldn’t attain much success  due to a multitude of reasons, it did accelerate the pace of India’s freedom from 200 years of British subjugation. Arguably Netaji is one of our least decorated hero (from the freedom movement) but very few can challenge his unwavering devotion to the cause of obtaining  unconditional freedom for India.

There is no doubt in my mind of Vishal Bhardwaj’s multifarious talents. He is a master craftsman of extraordinary vision and passion, mentored by poet extraordinaire, Gulzar. Vishal’s penchant  for adapting  machiavellian Shakespearean plots in the modern context is well-known. Haidar (Hamlet), Omkara (Othello) and Maqbool (MacBeth) have left an indelible impression in our minds almost to the point of reverence. His maverick personality and his steadfast refusal to bow down to any kind of pressure to make stereotypical commercial Bollywood movies (especially since he is an industry outsider) has always set him apart!

He has made movies on his terms without compromising his core values and principles.  Through his lens we have seen Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan being reborn as actors to reckon with. Those who ever doubted Saif Ali Khan’s acting prowess were blown away by his brilliant Langda Tyagi portrayal from Omkara. It is but a tribute to Vishal’s directorial genius. And who would have ever thought the erstwhile ultimate chocolate faced Shiamak  Davar trained danseuse Shahid Kapoor (in spite of his lineage) capable of giving utterly electrifying performances in Haidar, Kaminey, and Udta Punjab!

Vishal Bhardwaj movies have rarely been black and white and often times proudly celebrated the anti hero!  Interestingly enough his forte has been to etch out finely drawn, imperfectly perfect, characters. So in my list of 2017 movies I wanted to watch and review, Rangoon was at the top of my list. More so because of Rangoon’s backdrop. Set in the pre independence era (somewhere in the early 1940s) the movie is a wartime love story. With bated breath I waited for the proverbial Friday night (first day last show) to see the master (Vishal) playing pied piper to his proteges (Saif and Shahid) and Kangna Ranaut (who I am not fond of as an actor sans Queen). After sitting through Rangoon and watching it fall in a deep abyss,  I have to confess, I haven’t seen a movie as aimless as this, in a very long time! Period.

I have always felt Kangna Ranaut’s acting skills have been mediocre and let’s not confuse her off-screen personality with her ability to act. The actor has never been afraid to speak her mind and is devoid of any kind of hypocrisy. She is also exquisitely made, almost like Dresden China. But that’s it. She cannot act or emote, in my humble opinion. Her craft is exaggerated and her speech is spasmodic  and almost feels like she is mimicking a basket full of myriad emotions, picked up from other actors at various occasions. In Rangoon she has way too much screen time and even then her character, Julia,  fails to connect with the audience.

Saif and Shahid get into the skin of their characters but fall prey to a miserable script going nowhere. The movie reaches an impasse very early on and from there it’s straight downhill. The art direction and cinematography is flawless. But the music fails to stir the soul even though there is a song churning out  at every possible opportunity to showcase “Ms Julia’s” considerable dance plus daredevil skills. And this is a not of the norm- Traditionally music is Vishal’s forte and his haunting scores have always integrated well into his storytelling.

By way of a trivia- Did you know Julia’s character was modeled after “Fearless Nadia” who performed all her stunts herself and was a big star of the 1930s-40s black and white Bollywood era.

The movie fails at several levels. To begin with there  is no contextual reference of the INA movement led by Netaji, of which Jamadar Nawab Malik (Shahid Kapoor) is a part of. After all, how many people who are in their 30s or younger have really heard of the INA or their role in the freedom struggle. Secondly it fails to engage the audience. The characters are not etched out sincerely, or at least I found them very hollow. There is no chemistry between Kangna and Shahid or Kangna and Saif,  men who would gladly give up their lives for her!

Acclaimed British actor Richard McCabe plays the role of a British General mouthing lofty dialogues in Hindi is like a cartoon caricature of the stereotypical Brit as they are perceived by Bollywood. It was hilarious to see the same rehash of that kind of loud theatrical acting previously Bollywood was famous for. Amidst all of this, there is a series of snoozer songs that makes an appearance  every 15 minutes. As for me, a Vishal Bhardwaj loyalist, it was a blow on my solar plexus! It left me bewildered, wondering just exactly what happened 🙂rangoon-final-759

 

 

The State vs Jolly LL.B 2: Movie Review

I would love to hear from you. Let me know your thoughts on the movie, and black comedies in general.

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jolly647_120216024407Cast: Akshay Kumar, Huma Qureshi, Anu Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Sayani Gupta
Direction: Subhash Kapoor
Genre: Black Comedy (Dark Comedy)
Duration: 2 hours 19 minute

Reviewed By: Kakoli Roy

Date Reviewed: 10th February,2017

I have a soft spot for movies that treat women with respect and do not objectify them. In Jolly LLB, Huma Qureshi plays the part of Pushpa Pandey, Jolly Mishra’s wife. I found it intriguing to see her character use her maiden name instead of her husband’s last name. It is unusual because she essays a character who is married into a middle class traditional UP  household that is part of a patriarchal society where double standards are a way of life and women are subservient to their spouses. Jolly does not shy away from whipping up a meal for his wife and taking care of their child. He is also the doting husband who vows to dress…

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The State vs Jolly LL.B 2: Movie Review

jolly647_120216024407Cast: Akshay Kumar, Huma Qureshi, Anu Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Sayani Gupta
Direction: Subhash Kapoor
Genre: Black Comedy (Dark Comedy)
Duration: 2 hours 19 minute

Reviewed By: Kakoli Roy

Date Reviewed: 10th February,2017

I have a huge soft spot for movies that treat women with respect and do not objectify them. In Jolly LLB, Huma Qureshi plays the part of Pushpa Pandey, Jolly Mishra’s wife. I found it intriguing to see her character use her maiden name instead of her husband’s last name. It is unusual because she essays a character who is married into a middle class traditional UP  household that is part of a patriarchal society where double standards are a way of life and women are subservient to their spouses. Jolly does not shy away from whipping up a meal for his wife and taking care of their child. He is also the doting husband who vows to dress her up in Gucci (fake or otherwise) and makes a “peg” for her. I viewed this as a  huge departure from usual Bollywood fare where movies are often insidiously sexist.

The other female character, Hina Sidiqqui, played by Sayani Gupta leaves a lasting impression upon you. Hina Siddiqui is pivotal to the plot and once again Sayani (of Margarita with a straw fame)  shows her formidable acting prowess of a powerless woman seeking justice for the murder of her wrongfully accused husband. There was a brilliant scene between her and Akshay which exposed how defenceless we are against the system, the very system that  presumably exists to take care of us.

The movie begins tautly and I love the way lensman, Kamal Jeet Negi, encapsulates the essence of Lucknow and Banaras.  I could almost smell the nawabi kababs and the fragrant phaluda kulfi. The editing is crisp and dialogues keeps you engaged. There are a few hiccups especially one or two instances seem implausible but then again, what is a Bollywood movie without fantasy and realism coexisting parallely? A little make-believe is fine but overall the plot devices does manage to raise awareness of perceptions, stereotypes, and shows how multi-layered and varied real life actually is. The ethos are real, especially in the present context. How helpless we actually are in a society fraught with dogmatism, corruption, and largely black and white thought process.

Akshay Kumar amazes me every time I see him on the celluloid. Here is an actor who has manouvered his career skillfully for the last twenty five years (his debut movie, Khiladi, celebrates its silver jubilee this year) and includes a delightful mix of comedy, drama, action, and even a biopic in his repertoire. In 2015, Forbes magazine ranked him 9th in the list of highest-paid actors in the world. Oh yes, the Padma Shri winner Akshay Kumar aka  Rajiv Bhatia has nothing left to prove to anybody.

Huma Qureshi is in great form but has been marginalized by the script completely. Even in a peripheral role, she shows chutzpah and spunk. Watch out for the on screen chemistry she shares with Akshay. It had an old-worldly, vintage wine like, mellow, and mature feel to it!  Almost like the actor’s real marriage to Twinkle Khanna.  Govind Nihalani once noted her screen presence, comparing the actress to Smita Patil “an earthiness, sincerity, intensity and warmth of personality, qualities that distinguished Smita, apart from the fact that she was a very fine and instinctive actress”. I am glad actors like Huma Qureshi are redefining conventional Bollywood yardstick of the so called “heroines” or female leads in  mainstream commercial movies.

The highlight of the movie undoubtedly were the courtroom scenes where theater veterans, Annu Kapoor and Saurabh Shukla engage in a delightful  dialogue spar and show their histrionics and keep us hooked for 2.5 hours. Honestly, these folks are like institutions and I am glad Subhash Kapoor has given them enough footage in order to showcase their  acting skills. Akshay Kumar doesn’t seize the limelight at all.

The movie struck a cord  with me because I always root for the underdog and it gives me hope when I see them win, against all odds.

Dangal: Movie Review

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Cast: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Aparshakti Khurana

Direction: Nitesh Tiwari

Genre: Biopic

Reviewed By: Kakoli Roy

Date Reviewed: 21st December, 2016

I learnt the most important lesson today- the rainbow arch is the “brahmastra” of wrestling. A sport that traces back its inception some 3,000 years back to the Greeks and still hasn’t lost much of its primal form. Yes, the churned up mud has been replaced with synthetic mats in the sports arena but not in the villages of Haryana where wrestling bouts are still held on a square patch of churned-up mud, and have the rhythm and solemnity of a timeless religious ritual.

With one brilliant sweep of his paint brush, Nitesh Tiwari and Aamir Khan productions have dug out gold from “matti” (the Hindi term for churned up mud).

Easily the best release of 2016 and it was saved for the last!

Dangal dexterously combines the abysmal situation of sports in India, the plight of the girl child, and the mindset of people in a narrative that is power packed but not preachy.

Wrestling is deeply embedded in Hindu epics depicting the mighty wrestling bouts between Krishna and Kamsa. A strictly “for males only” sport for centuries until a wrestler from Babali, Mahavir Singh Phogat,  changed its course of history forever. In the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Geeta Phogat became the first female wrestler from India to win a gold for her country. Her sibling, Babita Kumari Phogat, claimed a silver medal.  So on one level, they brought glory and fame to their family by fulfilling their father’s dream who had been victimized by lack of sports infrastructure and funding. But more significantly in a place like Haryana that is seeped in patriarchal mindsets and regressive value system, it is a paradigm shift to see women succeed in an arena that was historically a male domain. The Phogat sisters paved way for many such aspiring women who were oppressed by their own family members. In the words of Professor Ruth Vanita, an authority on gender politics,  “In India, if your family is hostile, women can end up dead.  “But if your family backs you, there is nothing a girl cannot do or nowhere a girl cannot go”.

Right from the beginning, reminiscent of Lagaan in parts and Chak De in bits, Dangal seems authentic. Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat is pitch perfect. His Phogat is a man on a mission. A wrestler who was a victim of a flawed system that doesn’t identify or nourish talent. In his quest for a son, he ends up fathering four daughters. This is his journey of making the impossible possible. A man who is short on fortune, resources, or the right connections but big on know-how, unlimited optimism, and unwavering faith on his girls. And a big fat dream of course! Right from his weight gain (which has been a hot topic of discussion on social media) to his dav pench (wrestling moves) Aamir Khan delivers yet another milestone and national award-worthy performance. Throwing aside his vanity, the actor went through an organic diet and exercise regime that saw him pile up a whopping 55 lbs and then losing it to play the younger version of Mahavir Singh Phogat. Bollywood’s Mr Perfectionist continues to inspire in his contextual, socially conscious, morally uplifting, and entertaining movies.  In a career spanning almost 30 years, the QSQT actor has always stood apart from his peers. His hold on his audience has never wavered in spite of keeping a low profile and non-existent marketing gimmicks.

Footage from DDLJ with SRK and Kaajol shows volumes of an actor who is not insecure!

The sister duo played by four set of newcomers speak volumes of the astute casting by Mukesh Chhabra. The girls played their roles with the skill and maturity like they have acting in their souls. As old time actor Tanuja once mentioned in an interview, “You either have it in you or you don’t”! Well, these girls certainly have it in them!

A huge shout out to  Aparshakti Khurana (actor Ayushmann Khurana’s brother). As the fifth wheel in Mahavir Singh’s elaborate strategizations in his quest for wrestling gold for his daughters, he is both an instrument and an much needed accomplice to their success. Playing the role of Omkar, the the former MTV VJ delivers an understated performance with confidence that belies his newcomer status.

Saakshi Tanwar as Mahavir Singh Phogat’s wife turns out a finely etched performance that is subtle and finely nuanced. Her dialogues are to the minimal but her eyes convey the myriad of emotions she is going through; caught between her husband, daughters, and to an extent customs, traditions, and social norms.

I am so proud of this honest actor who is unassuming and so deserving of this role. As Aamir Khan mentioned, “Saakshi was  recommended by my ammi who watched her on television and liked her immensely” By the way, she and I have a common alma mater, Lady Shri Ram College.

The movie is soul food, especially after last week’s nightmarish release, Be Fikrey.

Nitesh Tiwari reinforced our faith in Bollywood after Aditya Chopra’s latest directorial outing. He has his pulse on the movie and is pivotal to the success of Dangal. An extremely well crafted movie from the maker of Bhoothnath Returns and Chillar party!

My take away: An absolute must watch! It’s time to regroup and think of the girl child as a person and not as a burden. And I am not just speaking of villages. It happens in the urban milieu too, and plentiful.

Dear Zindagi:Movie Review

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Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shahrukh Khan, Kunal Kapoor, Yashaswini Dayama, Ira Dubey, and Ali Zafar

Direction: Gauri Shinde

Genre: Drama

Reviewed By: Kakoli Roy

Date Reviewed: 25th November, 2016

I cried with Alia Bhatt in her melt down moment. Trying to look composed and holding on to the last shred of her self-control, Alia Bhatt shines way beyond her young age. Like Jennifer Lawrence, in Silver Lining Playbook, she has the soul of a 40 year old in a 23 year old body.  Gauri Shinde needs to be applauded for her ingenious and brave accomplishment for writing and directing Dear Zindagi. It is never easy to direct a mainstream Bollywood movie that tackles serious issues like mental health and disorder.

And although everything looks dreamy viewed from Laxman Utekar lenses, especially with Shahrukh Khan (in a to die for avatar as Dr Jehangir Khan) the movie focuses on a young professional’s near breakdown journey to regaining back her life and well-being. And yes the plot conventions are fully at work here; the wheels and gears churning within the mainstream machinery, the idyllic locations of Goa, the star-actors looking straight out of a photo shoot at Vogue, yet it is still refreshing to see the velocity and candidness of the dialogue between the actors. Alia Bhatt shares many a conversations with Jehangir Khan (SRK), Jackie (Yashaswini Dayama) Fatima (Ira Dubey), Rumi (Ali Zafar) and you realize casual conversation is never a part of Bollywood mainstream. It doesn’t free flow smoothly.  It is just like the way it happens to actual people; unrehearsed, at time stilted, and uncannily real. And yes, there is no background score to heighten the theaterics.

The movie is not short of flaws. It is not nearly perfect as Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish was. It doesn’t tug your heartstrings the way it did in her debut outing, nonetheless, it manages to engage audience in rapt attention for a whopping 2.5 hours.

Shrink,therapist, life coach, psychologist- they exist for a reason. To correct your out of sync step when you are at the end of a tunnel or when you are at a point where you lose clarity of thought but this is not to be confused with people who are diagnosed with severe depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, or other psychiatric disorders who need medication and constant psychiatric monitoring.  It is not remotely funny when often times seeing a therapist stigmatizes you. People label you as “mental” or “weird”.  I have been that “someone” who volunteered at a clinic and worked in close proximity with the mental health community during my college days and I know how important it is to be sensitive and treat the patients with dignity. And how laughter and love are the two potential aphrodisiacs to improve their condition.

Dear Zindagi succeeds because it is at the fringes of mental doom without intellectualizing it.  It is still cheerful and chirpy with a gorgeous looking cast. Albeit, they are also magnificently talented. There is method to the madness and meticulous attention has been garnered to the sets to make it look old world (in tangent with SRK’s character), dewy fresh, and in plain English Vinglish, vintage pyari (pretty). Alia Bhatt’s look and style is conceptualized by the talented Anaita Shroff Adajania, an Indian fashion stylist and costume designer as well Fashion Director for Vogue India. SRK looks very fetching in his linen outfits, oversized glasses, and a hint of that famous dimple cheeked grin. Those dimples that made every woman swoon two and half decades back, when he had taken Bollywood by storm. Restrained and understated, Jehangir Khan is every woman’s idea of how a perfect man should be.  Suave and soft-spoken, watch out the way he treats Alia Bhatt’s fleeting romantic overtures. Like the perfect gentleman.

My takeaway from the movie: I wish it was a bit edgier so that would lend the movie more avant garde status. Like I mentioned before, it scratched the surface of something deep but left it at that. Less fairy tale and more hard-hitting is what I would have liked from Gauri Shinde. Like Silver Linings Playbook where the protagonists managed to portray both vulnerability and over the top. Not quite perfect because it is okay to be not perfect. Not the mainstream pretty imperfect but more offbeat imperfect.

The ending was a bit too textbook finish keeping in sync with the fairy tale quality of the movie. A feel good festive season release with a happy ending where every failed relationship turns into a victory lap and the ex lovers turn up in all their splendor to wish Kaira (Alia Bhatt)  well for her new venture. It felt like having a caramel macchiato with an added dash of sugar syrup.

Also I noticed Gauri Shinde has cast  supremely good-looking men to notch up the viewership. And no gender biases here. The female cast  is extremely attractive too- from Alia Bhatt to Yashaswini to Ira and the girl who played Alka, the domestic help. Such bespoke good looks!

Kunal Kapoor as Raghavendra was riveting to watch and I keep wondering why do actors like him don’t get much footage in the industry when lesser talented actors like a Ranveer Singh are repeated by Bollywood bigwigs like Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

One great thing about Dear Zindagi is its use of music to the minimal. And when it does, it is extremely effective.  Once again Amit Tridevi impresses with his original tracks and never letting music take over from the narrative. The music strengthened the story line, adding value to the languid pace and lengthy conversations. Ali Zafar lent his voice to Tu hi tu in his rich baritone and hopefully dissipated some of the tension between the neighbors.

Overall the movie makes strides in the right direction and gives us back SRK in a wonderful new avatar. He is and always will be Bollywood ke Badshah! Koi shaq nehi!

And as Gauri Shinde mentioned in one of her interviews, “I thank Soni Razdan for creating this incredible creature called Alia Bhatt-what is this mix of Mahesh Bhatt and Soni Razdan?  It’s amazing whatever the result is!”  The genes have spoken loud and clear.

A must watch surely!

Movie Review: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

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Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Aishwarya Rai, Lisa Haydon, Fawad Khan

Direction: Karan Johar

Genre: Romance, Drama

Reviewed By: Kakoli Roy

Date Reviewed: 28th October, 2016

   “Ae dil hai mushkil…” the evergreen song from C.I.D., filmed on Johnny Walker, captured million of cine-goers imagination and even to this day remains firmly entrenched in our hearts. From the Bollywood of 1956 (the year C.I.D. was released) to the present day Bollywood, a lot has revolutionized. Nothing remains sacrosanct, yet the melody filled songs of yester-years haunts us even today.

So Karan Johar, a child of Bollywood, a movie buff who grew up on a staple of all aspects of Hindi movies, (on screen, off screen, and behind the scenes) and by his own admission, “lived, breathed, dreamed, and yearned movies” cannot let go of reliving its past while living in the current. Therefore he chose that nostalgia filled title of the movie, namesake to one of the most soulful song even rendered by Mohammad Rafi. And if you look at the movie in totality, you see time and again, he churns out songs and dialogues from the bygone era. Even the hugely inappropriate lyrics of the 80s make a sneaky appearance, fortifying the fact Karan Johar has so much in-depth knowledge of Hindi movies in general. Not just that but his love for movies, all things good or bad. Listening to those corny filmy dialogues from the B graders of the 80s felt like I was in a time warp.

The first half of the movie was fun.  Before the interval I laughed a lot. I could connect at one level to Alizeh (Anushka Sharma’s character) and  her wanderlust, her free spiritedness, her oozing bucket list, her carpe diem mentality from yoga to Buddhist chanting. I could feel the vulnerability of the poor little rich kid Ranbir Kapoor was essaying who has little interest in the “phoren” education his dad’s money can buy. A wandering, restless soul who is yet to find a passion that will drive him to excel in life. He has also managed to get entangled with a gorgeous airhead. Lisa Haydon playing the arm candy girl-friend to perfection. She literally stole the show in the brief delightful cameo she starred in. I would love to see her in more meaningful roles where her considerable acting chops could be showcased better.

Anushka Sharma is Alizeh. Her smokey kohl lined eyes, exquisite silver dangling earrings, embroidered kurtis over skinny jeans, and auburn flecked tresses creates an image of a charming, unconventional, care free, live life on her own terms persona. Her witty rejoinders, zest for life, and her love for Bollywood filmi dialogues are heart-warming, funny, and likeable. However my fear is she gets typecast in very indistinguishable roles (her character in PK was similar to this one)  and it’s not fair to over saturate an actor of her caliber and have her churn out a variation of that same medley time and again.

In the first few scenes I thought Alizeh as the hard partying, cool as a cucumber, strong to the point brazen would evolve as a more entitled character but to my disappointment her character withers away as someone weak and a poor judge of character. She stops being the person you would root for, instead she becomes someone who can so easily be molded into becoming an antithesis of the very essence of her character. This would have worked out fine if she was just playing a role on the side and not the protagonist whose fate and feelings we are emotionally invested in.

Both Anushka and Ranbir succeed in holding on to their dignity even as the movie’s credibility goes on a downward spiral. The second half is unfunny and draggy to a point where you heart doesn’t skip a beat  when you hear Alizeh is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. By then, your popcorn and beverage is long finished and you want to head to bed with a couple of Tylenols. Yes, it is two hours and forty minutes long!!

Aishwarya Rai breezes in the second half as Ranbir’s love interest. She writes poetry for a living and leads an opulent lifestyle in the picturesque Vienna. If only writing poetry was that lucrative! I did like watching Aishwarya on-screen though, her beauty is still luminous  and transcends time. Her Urdu pronunciation, on the other hand, is a tad awkward but hey this is a KJo movie, and not Ritwik Ghatak’s so diction lapse or lack thereof is allowed.

Karan Johar’s comfort level is Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam. They were funny, poignant, mushy, and well-etched. The characters stayed with us for aeons.

It means his genre is love  and not unrequited love. It was choking to see Ranbir Kapoor typecast yet again in a role he has played before. His Ved in Tamasha was in the same mold as Ayan. It also felt like in parts Imtiaz Ali has ghost directed the movie. Ranbir needs to make astuter choices or else he will fade away like Hrithik Roshan.

And then this hulla bulla with Fawad Khan, who, by the way, is in a blink and you will miss me role of DJ Ali. I suspect his role was slashed when politicians intervened and the whole thing became much politicized.

A must watch for all Ranbir and Anushka fans. They deliver what they were asked to and shine in their incredulous roles. As all KJo movies, the music score was foot-tapping and soulful.

We all have our favorite genre of movies for various reasons but for me the ones that have a special place in my heart are the ones that are tender. That leaves us yearning for more. Something quite not finished. Yet there is a an element of joie de vivre that transcends a quotidian story.  A plot that I can connect to and feel the emotion the characters are essaying.

However the scenic locales of London and Vienna and the good looking quartet of actors were not enough for me. It failed to stir my emotion or imagination. It couldn’t engage me the way I wished it would have. It tried to be pseudo deep and ended up being hollow. I walked out of the theater with promises made but not kept.

Movie Review: M.S. Dhoni- The Untold Story

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Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anupam Kher, Rajesh Sharma, Kumud Mishra

Direction: Neeraj Pandey

Genre: Biopic

Reviewed By: Kakoli Roy

Date Reviewed: 29th September, 2016

There were many small and big moments in the movie that touched a chord in my heart but when Sushant confides in his boss of his helplessness where his work as a ticket collector ironically leaves him with not enough time to practice his game was the single most defining moment for me. Sushant captures Dhoni’s vulnerability so naturally, so splendidly, never over-dramatising, or under simplifying the role he was chosen for that sets the pattern. The mark of a good actor when he can get into the skin of the role effortlessly like he was born for it.

The signature streaked long hair, the gait, the helicopter shot, and the “my world is falling apart but it doesn’t show on his face” expression…take a bow, Sushant Singh Rajput.

It is never easy to step into a living legend’s shoes but he does it so suavely. It was almost like he was playing himself. Perhaps because his own life parallels to that of Dhoni’s. From a quietly brilliant student to a quietly brilliant actor. He did indeed score record marks in Physics and went to Delhi College of Engineering but dropped out in the third year because he believed he was  destined for bigger things and not just the mundanities of a regular engineering job. Dhoni’s struggles, dogged determination, coolness under immense pressure, and think outside of the box (although he didn’t study beyond high school) is what makes Dhoni, Dhoni!  And more than the physicalities, Sushant  could get into Dhoni’s head and capture the essence of that inner persona without cloning him ad nauseam.

And Neeraj Pandey, my respect for you grows! Leaps and bounds! You have focussed on the human side of the story. As with all your other movies (A Wednesday, Special 26, Baby) the detailing is exquisite. The ensemble cast gets ample chance to prove their acting prowess, the story builds brick by brick, and it is the stoic silences and the unsaid words that is the hallmark of a storyteller such as you. The three hours flowed as we saw Mahi’s meteoric rise from a Tier 2 city in the eastern zone, which has markedly been sidelined by the cricketing honchos of our great country.

My eyes were moist when I left the theater. Dhoni’s first love, his romance with Saakshi, his first coach, his mentors, his coterie of friends, the lilting Bihari laced hindi, the wisdom filled one-liners- I lapped them all up and hungered for more. I laughed and cried with Dhoni and the mere mortals who surrounded him. You even made the cliched look cool!

Time magazine included Dhoni in its annual Time 100 List as one of the “Most influential people of the world” in 2011- the year India lifted the World Cup after 28 years under Dhoni’s captaincy. So it was by no coincidence Neeraj Pandey montages the opening shot in the final moments of the World Cup Final  and then takes us back on a journey of this icon who embodies every middle class indian kids who dreams of making it big.

For me, this was a must watch. And I can watch it again. I am a huge MS fan but even otherwise, it is inspirational. It also shows how as a country we have so little regard for sports. Yes, even cricket. And a middle class Indian father would rather have a ticket collector son rather than face the uncertainties and near impoverishment of a sporting career. And how steeped in tradition we are. We are scared to be unconventional and tread on unchartered territories.

 

 

Movie Review: Pink

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Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Andrea Tariang, Angad Bedi

Direction: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury

Genre: Thriller, Courtroom Drama

Date reviewed: 16th September 2016

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury puts things in perspective since many of us have wondered why did he name this ground-breaking game changing no holds barred  brutally honest to the point where you squirm in your seat serious courtroom drama “Pink”!

In an exclusive interview for Ourfrontcover.com (the magazine I work for) he mentioned, “Pink is an attractive color that suggests beauty and youth. But through my film, it also suggests power, freedom, sympathy and strength. It is not the frilly color that is often understood to be fragile and delicate. I think this has come across in the film”.

There, now you know!

Pink is synonymous with femininity but then again pink is bold. Pink is also somber for the color is associated with spreading awareness for breast cancer. This celebrated color can convey all the “being a girl” traits…playful, fun-loving, sassy, somber, dignified, strong, courageous, and chutzpah.

In this movie Pink, pink is vulnerable, oddly defiant, remorseful even, but mostly Pink is about courage. Of a situation that has gone awry and has spiraled out out control. An evening of gaiety that took these three girls (Falak, Minal, and Andrea) to a rock concert. A chance meeting with some boys at the concert and then on to dinner and drinks with them. Sounds pretty harmless, right? But it’s India and these men are dudes and the girls wore short dresses and drank a glass of wine. Oh and yeah, they even cracked a couple of adult jokes (or Minal did) and lo behold, the boy (Rajvir aka Viru, nephew to a politician) thought the girl was easy prey. To be mauled,molested, and even raped (if the occasion arose). It’s his God-given birthright to be presumptuous about the morality of women who dare to bare, crack a joke, or drink a glass of wine with men as equals. That’s akin to blasphemy in the mind of a primitive male chauvinist who view women as nothing more than chattels. Why would the girl dare to say NO? After all what does dressing glamorously, drinking alcohol, joking with men in an easy manner symbolize?

Pink bares the soul and rips through the heart of three girls barely in their twenties. Trust me, they are not portrayed as holier than thou neither are they shrinking violets. Their only fault was to show epic chutzpah in the face of muscle flexing  politically well connected young thugs who thought they could (and in most cases they can) get away with anything.

Pink redefines mainstream movie making process in our archaic Bollywood. It tells you a story of how girls are viewed in our country. The ensemble cast is high on the talent quotient and low on the star value. Sans Mr Bachchan (unless you are a movie buff like moi) you have barely seen these actors. I saw Tapsee Pannu in Neeraj Pandey’s Baby with Akshay Kumar and was impressed with her raw talent  as an undercover agent. Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Andrea Tariang are brilliant in their portrayals. Their fear is tangible real and free of gimmickry. Their spunk comes from within, in their stance, in their attitudes, in the way they become each other’s strength, and is not punchline driven.  National School of Drama alumni, Piyush Mishra, is the counsel for Rajvir and in top form. You want to dive through the screen and punch him in the face as he  paints the character of the three girls in questionable hues.

Angad Bedi is Rajvir. This son of ace Indian cricketer, Bishan Singh Bedi, delivers a superlative performance as well. His Rajvir is not over the top but nonetheless effectively menacing. And in one courtroom scene, you see his true color flash through in an altercation with Amitabh Bachchan. His injured scoundrel act is scene-stealing brilliant at expressing the casually misogynistic ruthlessness we now tragically but inevitably associate with the Delhi mindset.  While watching the movie, it came to my mind how perfectly well cast all the actors were and how effortlessly they fitted into the story line. Be it Vinod Nagpal, or Mamta Malik, or Vijay Varma, they executed their role to a T.

There are actors and then there are actors. Amitabh Bachchan’s presence in the movie was largely to ensure a decent opening for Pink, to garner star presence in this otherwise “artifice free” shockingly real movie, devoid of any song and dance routine, or mellifluous chartbusters. It needed a mighty actor with star power and who better than Mr Bachchan to fill in the shoes of retired lawyer, Deepak Sehgal, diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The role will be yet another feather in his cap after the portrayal of Bhaskar Banerjee in the 2014 Piku. In that baritone voice, he becomes the knight in shining armor for the girls. The silver lining that gives hope to an otherwise “all is lost” cause. And I have to say, Big B convincingly lends dignity to Pink.

Kudos Shoojit Sarcar, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury for Pink. And as the credits roll in, a la Kahani Esque style, Tu khud ki khoj me nikal, penned by Tanveer Ghazi , wafts through your psyche as you leave the theater.

Movie Review: Akira

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Cast: Sonakshi Sinha, Konkona Sen Sharma, Smita Jaykar, Amit Sadh, Anurag Kashyap, Atul Kulkarni

Direction: AR Murugadoss

Genre: Action Drama

Date: September 2016

I was all excited come Friday evening. Finally a movie with a female protagonist. The spunky Sonakshi Sinha in the lead who dares to be herself in this image ridden industry.  And also it is rare to to find women-centric movies in Bollywood. The top billing still goes to the male stars and yes, while there has been a Sridevi or a Tabu, historically  it has been the male superstars like Rajinikanth, Amitabh Bachchan, SRK, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar who have captained the ship for that coveted 100 crore opening . So it is always inspiring to see a director taking a chance on a female actor occasionally and letting her be the pivotal character and not the usual arm candy to the ubiquitous hero.  I always salute directors who made movies like Astitva, Chandni Bar, Who killed Jessica, Kahaani, Dirty Picture, English Vinglish or even a Mardaani to name a few.

And even though I was never  gung ho over Ghajini since I had seen Christopher Nolan’s  mind-bending psychological thriller Memento (on which Ghajini was based ) in my eyes director A.R. Murugadoss (of Ghajini fame) was already a hero.  Full marks on his attempt to make a  woman centric movie  and bring forth issues that are relevant and contextual.   So there you go, I went to watch Akira with some expectation, not a whole lot, but some.

Sonakshi Sinha lives, breathes, and gets into the skin of Akira. Her journey from a ten year old to a twenty something college going girl is obstacle ridden and testing. Her strength of character is beautifully expressed in a measured, held-back style. I was taken aback at her poise and her approach to the  role. True to her cinematic name Akira (meaning graceful strength) she conveyed a myriad of emotions with grace and dignity.  The image of her eyes spitting fire remained with me long after I walked out of the theater.

Konkona Sen Sharma was the other female protagonist in a meaty role. And I will come back to her in the next paragraph.

The movie began with the brush stroked bright town of Jodhpur as a backdrop.  Akira’s father, (luminous actor Atul Kulkarni who resurfaced after a long hiatus) who very early on stressed on her to be to be strong willed and courageous.  Akira witnessed the violent disfigurement of her beautiful neighbor by a local hoodlum. This dastardly act of ultimate victimization made her more resolute to never look away from injustice. And when she took on this serial criminal  (yet again harassing a girl) and accidentally threw  acid on his face, she was put away in a correctional facility for three years which eventually broke her dad’s heart leading to his death. Has no one ever heard of self-defense in our Bollywood dom? Or can we so easily make a mockery of law and order if that aligns with the thought process of the movie maker?  Akira grows up to be different. She cloaks her vulnerability in a hardened exterior and rarely shows her emotions.

The ensemble cast includes Anurag Kashyap. He looks dapper, is quite the lady’s man, and plays the role of a corrupt, immoral, treacherous, cunning, and unlawful cop with relish. And gusto.

Director Murugadoss remains faithful to the story line unwaveringly with no other distractions. No item numbers, no song and gyrating dance routines, no going off to Switzerland and romance in chiffons.  The movie stays on course but the course falls flat and post intermission collapses like a house of cards. The biggest drawback was the poorly written screenplay with zero logic. While we do not expect a 100% logic from Bollywood but when logic and sensibilities are tossed away completely from the story then it becomes rather painful to sit through a charade of something that is  non-sensical.

Coming back to Konkona Sen Sharma (known to essay strong feminist character like Indu Tyagi in Omkara) plays a role nothing short of a caricature. I cannot even fathom why would an actor of her caliber even accept a role like this.  It was heart-breaking to see the movie spiral out of control in such an ungainly manner. And with such a promising cast. What a waste of acting talents.

This was a big let down especially for Sonakshi who worked hard to carry off the role to near perfection. I would strongly urge you to Netflix it when it is made available.  Not even a bag of popcorn or coke can salvage the movie goer from this ludicrous sham of a pain in the wrong place thriller.