Sunday, February 26, 2017

La La Land - Much Ado about Nothing

Humare Age mein Hollywood Musical? Aww its cute, aww its mushy, aww its so old world set in LA - where dreams come true, isnt it lovely.

Sorry Hollywood, man to man, scene to scene, Bollywood has done it better in its movies. Here's why. Tumhare liye review nahi, mere slides hi kaafi hai :)


Raees : The hunt for an emotional core in a gangster movie

Raees - 3.5/5 -Watchable for the genre ( spoilers ahead)

Finally a gangster movie after a long time. And that too played by Shahrukh Khan who started off playing negative roles. Helmed in the time of prohibition in Gujarat. 

Now in gangster movies - you can make the hero unapologetic about why he is a gangster, usually its the environment that leaves one with no choice - like Tony Montana in Scarface as a Cuban immigrant or a hapless Velu Nayagan facing police atrocity in Dharavi. Or it can be a classic turn of events like Satya where one thing leads to another . This is usually an immigrant turns gangster movie in a big bad city. In some cases its even more casual, the guys sees the riches of the trade and does it Ranbir Kapoor talking 'apne ko big shot banne ka' in the disastrous Bombay Velvet.  

Or you can have a larger than life personality creation where Vijay Dinanath Chauhan in Agneepath has a moral wound of his childhood but no explanation is given why he is a gangster.  Agneepath is a rank bad movie only enhanced because of AB's voice and villainy of Kancha Cheena. 

Or you have the 2 perfect gangster movies made in India. Deewar where a Vijay's emotional core is so strong that it is tattooed on his arm as a brute reminder. He works his way up as a gangster disbelieving the system  and then the second half wow - the moral crisis beautifully written as his brother and mother disown him. Crime doesnt pay internally or externally - as Nirupa Roy says 'Tu aaj bhi utna bada nahi hua ki tu apni maa ka khareed sake'. Dialogues that deliver. Then you have the moral question asked in Nayagan by the gangster's grandchild - ' neengal nalavar aa katavar aa ( are you good or bad). '

The gangster movie usually follows a template - establish emotional core , plot the early years well - wounds should be visible/struggle , a kind benefactor or an introduction to the trade,  the grand heist that establishes the gangster in the trade, then his growth from gangster to don, inter don rivalry, his personal life expansion to wife , moral crisis sets in and then climax. 

Sanjay Dholakia the director of Raees knows that he has to get this emotional core right. So he invents his equivalent where Raees's ragpicker mother whom we have to assume is a widow says to her son ' Dhande se bada koi dharam nahi hota, and adds a weak line when asked - so long as it doesnt produce nuksaan to others'.  

Now in traders paradise Gujarat- I have to interpret this as a where you see a bid-ask spread you should get in irrespective of what is being traded. As a rag pickers son - you can see the value chain - empty liqour bottles get you X  , so the full bottle should get you 100X especially in a state that has imposed prohibition. 

However we dont get such business lessons in our movies. So Raees Mirza is SRK. So his character needs to be built - so using his mothers advice and his mischievousness ( which is Nothing but the SRK real life smart alecness) ,  he climbs up the trade. First he tries to steal Mahatma Gandhis spectacles since his mother cant afford one, then he starts smuggling liquour for the local tradesman ( Atul Kulkarni). By doing this he sets up his persona - ' Baniye ka dimag, Mirzabhai ki daring'. We like this personality - and its SRK in pathani suits strutting around in kohl eyes. Since there is no weak spot , a deliberate one is introduced ' he hates being called chashmis' , so you have a bespectacled bootlegger. This is where the movie sucks you in, you like Raees, you like SRK.

The movie starts to falter slowly when we reach the first heist. SRK breaks from Atul to set up his independent business , but to get the collateral , he pledges his scooter for a car, uses that to buy goats and enters Mumbai with them in truck hoping to sell it for Ramzan and make a killing. Here he encounters the other traders, whom he fights as an outsider.  Overall this scene felt weak, its not the same impact as the salt trick that Nayagan does or the audacity in which Vijay hits Peters goons. This is a more refined yet dirty fight in a mutton shop of Mohamaed Ali Road. 

Here is where he strikes a friendship with a Mumbai gangster , and this friendship will prove costly later. He rises to the top of the bootlegging trade outwitting even his former boss Atul Kulkarna with schemes like putting liquor in tomatoes and slowly using his entire village as a supply chain of sorts - sewing bags and becoming their main employer of choice. 

In between he falls in love with a ghostly Mahira Khan. One of the worst Pakistani imports, almost like you wanted to smuggle gold but ended with tin. This angle although it gets better in the second half is a dampener - just because SRK can romance even a scarecrow and look good, doesnt mean we need it. 

The angle that works well is the chase by the earnest policeman. Nawazuddin Siddiqui although makes us realize that Raees is just another criminal wanted by the police even if his connections are strong. Nawaazuddin lights up the screen every time and shows that his star value in a SRK movie is nothing to be trifled with. 

Raees suddenly realizes that he is a do gooder - a local Robinhood and while he has to stand for elections to escape arrest , he starts to taking his local do-gooder act more and more seriously - trying to build a housing colony for the poor ( bastiwalas). 

Here the interplay between politicians, police and crime is caught in a realistic roving lens , and its a refreshing one sans too much drama and dialoguebaazi. There are a few smart moves in how Raees avoids arrest. 

As Raees tries to raise more funds, he faces more resistance and then he commits a blunder for money , accepting a task that smuggles RDX into the country. I thought this angle especially when you play a Muslim don is an interesting one. This is where you start to feel for Raees and the movie reaches a magnitude , a certain gooey moral mass but by this time its 2 hours and 15 mins . Yes the emotional question comes up but too late. What follows is a mere cat and mouse game. 

And thats where you feel the movie could have done more. This could have been SRK's rightful crown as what Agneepath did to AB, .  Unfortunately Dholakia ka Dimag,  SRK ki daring did not have Salim Javed ka dialogue stirring dil.

But I am glad that we could watch a decent gangster movie after a long time. This is the genre that made us go to the movies. It cant die , whether we have the Salim Javed one, Scorcesse ones, or RGV's ones, hence my weakness for the genre makes it a watchable 3.5/5.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Rangoon : The need for Nautanki gets ahead of VB

Rangoon - 3.5/5

When you think 1940s , your head turns to World War II intrigue with fighter planes occupying the sky, the stirring of passions when the British occupation of India was coming to a weary end in the Quit India movement and the extreme valour of the man who was now ' His Majesty's opponent' - Subhas Chandra Bose to use the vulnerability of the Empire to raise an Azad Hind Sena. It was also the time when some Burra Sahibs fed on the divide and rule policies of the Empire were going to miss the fine wine if India won independence. This is  the era in which Rangoon is set and evocatively titled.

Russi Billimoria ( Saif Ali Khan) plays one of the Burra Sahibs spoilt son, an action hero who now is a studio owner after breaking his hand. He has a muse - Julia ( Kangana Ranaut in the best hotchpotch of her real and reel personas based on Fearless Nadia) whom he calls kiddo and is basically not just arm candy but also lap candy - a piece of amusement.  She is a free wheeling spirit fed on drunken haze of alcohol,  on screen fame and access to riches. To make sure his studio business flourishes since his supply of print from Germany has dried up and he has to depend on the British, he agrees to an offer made by an English General to use Julia's entertainment troupe to improve the motivation of soldiers in Rangoon fighting  the Japanese. The troupe has someone who is carrying a sword given by  a scorned Indian king  to fund the INA of Subhash Chandra Bose and to complicate further , there is a handsome bodyguard deployed by the British Jamadar Malik ( Shahid Kapoor) to protect Julia .  Russi doesnt join the entourage because his father plays a cruel trick on him by staging a heart attack since he disapproves his relationship with the 'nautch' actress thus giving high chance of Julia getting attracted to her bodyguard.

When the entourage lands in Rangoon, its met with unpredicted airfire by the Japanese and it could have set the stage for a romance set in a war zone that can provide thrills to anyone. However Vishal Bharadwaj( VB) has other ideas, and many ideas.  VB with so many hit movies to his credit cant just do a romance set in a war zone.  This is probably his attempt at Casablancan type fame.  Casablanca  - also a 1942 classic that was a love triangle set during world war II where a heady blast from the past romance ( Of all the gin joints in the world, she walks into mine) in a crowded marketplace of Casablanca teeming with characters and the need to trump the Nazis provided both a great romance and the sense of urgency for the character to plot their escape from Casablanca.

VB dreams of a similar love triangle set in Rangoon where Azad Hind Sena needs to find both men and money under a British camp. However he is not content with just that, he wants to do a lot more.

He adds class conflict - Russi's father disapproving his sons choices since he still owns the studio.
Actors conflicts with their own selves - Russi's watching his own stunts alongwith his father.
Movie industry melodrama - Julias rise as a state performer  , sold by her mother to Russi to pursue movies and Russi still not commiting to her despite his divorce to his Parsi ex-wife - using her as a Rakhel ( mistress)
Julia's own free spirited ness because of being an action heroine but deep inside she has an overdependence on Russi giving their relationship sanctimony.

So far so good since it gives depth to the characters.

He then adds more masala. His English General is no ordinary one. He speaks Urdu couplets , learns the harmonium, appears soft , seems part of the movie industry guys he hangs out with rather than the scheming British general who is in a war zone.  The actor here looks like a cross between Tom Alter in the first half and Bob Christo in second half - I last saw such a General in Mard.

Then when the entourage lands in Rangoon, they are met with unexpected air fire and the troupe splits. Here the movie turns into a road movie. Julia dances in front of Japanese soldiers so that she doesnt get shot like Basanti by Gabbar, Nawab comes from nowhere , kills two, and takes one as a prisoner so that they can trace a path to the bridge of Rangoon . Actually this passage is one of the highlights of the movie, where VB shows that he can still weave a sub-plot within a larger movie, keep it tense , keep it funny , keep it romantic. This passage has interesting interludes - the Japanese soldier actually wants to be a singer and is trapped in the uniform and the interplay between the three characters. This is also the passage where Julia and Malik get attracted in a muddy romance.

Now as  these two finally get to the English soldier camp where Julia has to perform , VB puts on the hat of a master showman - everyone is there in the camp, the English soldier, Russi arrives hunting for Julia , there are INA spies setting stage for an interesting climax. But here is where VB slowly starts losing the plot. His need to entertain with dramatic flourishes  ( Remember Haiders speech in Kashmir square) and use theater ( in one performance he shows Churchill and Hitler having a conversation) and 2 wonderful songs ( Mere Piya gaye London) gets the better of him.

So instead of charging us with the sheer patriotic valour of what the INA represents for all Indians, he uses that only as a dramatic denouement and this is where he fizzles out burdened by his own ambitious canvas.  He indulges in his penchant for drama, the central characters need ( Julia and Russi) for finding themselves , more characters getting footage ( Julias entourage) , his need for more statesmanship ( The English General saying how they will leave behind one of the most corrupt countries since they spltt Indians via bribery) , to play out the love triangle fully by making Russi a suspicious villain , more drama where Russi and Julia have an on-stage musical faceoff . This leaves less room for the INA angle although the national anthem plays twice.  As the movie moves towards a climax based on the love triangle rather than war zone intrigue , the movie flounders big time leading to a soppy saga and farce of a war zone movie. Also the pace slackens and the movie moves  to a nautanki of sorts given the emphasis on entertainment rather than patriotism.

The metaphorical bridge that separates India and Burma is used both as a metaphor and an enigmatic picture of hope. But it also seems like the bridge of Sholay or was it a Bridge on the River Kwai type ambition  This is why the movie should not have so many elements that dont all add up because despite good intent , it ends up like a farce like mixing soya with khoya . Just because VB can do it , doesnt mean its great cinema. Also when he exhorts his characters to sort out their Lakshya with ' what will you die for' , you want the patriotic angle to be much stronger.

This is where it is not a Casablanca because when the flight takes off in Casablanca , everyone seems to have stayed true to their selves, fought their weakness and the circumstances surrounding them but romance and righteousness prevailed.

What prevails after Rangoon are a lot of good sequences and good performances especially  author written ones for Kangana and Saif. However as a stiff Shahid cannot combine his romantic sensitivity and the tough soldier on a mission,  a Kangana cannot differentiate her need for love and need for self-actualization , a Saif cant distinguish his ruthlessness vs true love , a General cant be taken seriously  if he is mouthing couplets in a battlefield, the movie fails under its own weight.






Monday, January 02, 2017

2016 Bollywood Roundup


Movies that mattered in 2016

1. Udta Punjab - True Grit

Ever since I had read about the drug menace in Punjab and how endemic the rot was, I felt it was prime fodder for a movie that needed to be harsh, black but had to be done in a deprecatory tone of  the over amped Punjabi spirit. It required a Vishal Bharadwaj protege Abhishek Chaubey to get deep yet poke with a riveting screenplay. By taking the first thing that comes to our mind when we say Punjabi - the Gabru Jawan and questioning its very existence through a rap song ' Where is the Gabru' it was self referential to the Punjabi man whose adrenalin is pumped by drugs and dhinchak truck music. With stellar performance by Alia Bhat playing an abused Bihari girl, Shahid Kapoor outdoing himself as the druggie rapper Tommy Singh  , Kareena Kapoor playing the staid doctor and the Punjabi actor Diljit Dosanj helming the cop who wakes up , the movie did justice to the subject both in film making style via dark commentary and  bringing the dystopia of the situation brutally.

2. Kapoor and Sons - The Page Turning book

Breezy yet deep, Dysfunctional family tale well told. A tale that unravels itself giving ample time to focus on each of the central characters and their failings , Kapoor and Sons gave the family saga its modern twist with sparring brothers, failed marriages , social tokenisms and brushing issues in upbringing. Ratna Pathak Shah is splendid as a mother of two extremely handsome sons who dont get along and have an awkward history. Who is the good son and not so good son ? Is it to do with success or something else? Set in Ooty type hill station, the movie is like reading a good book with layers getting revealed slowly in a poignant manner. A great win for a Dharma Production - no sugar coating , no chiffon but very hummable songs in Ladki beautiful and so on.

3. The year of the biopics

Dangal, MSDhoni,  Airlift , Neerja  - all made based on real life heros were great to watch.

Biopics need the following S - Setting has to be realistic, Staging - a singularity of purpose , Spirit - you need to feel for the characters, stand up when they win , Struggle - their struggle needs to pain you and Story Telling has to be lively ( not like a documentary).

Dangal takes the cake - It gets the setting (Haryanvi lingo, realistic portrayal of village), staging ( very clear from the first scene where Aamir Khan says Dangal khoon mein hota hai), spirit (Amazing acting by the 2 girls who play his daughters), storytelling that is never dull and the struggle is good to watch. Central character is played with apblomb by Aamir who gets his body language right to play a 50 year old and in a way wrestles not to use his trademark mannerisms.

MSDhoni gets the setting right ( the Ranchi setting with the railway quarters), staging is good in the first half but weakens in the second half - you feel for Dhoni till he becomes a cricketer - the years of struggle and his calculative spirit comes out ( finishing his exam 30 mins earlier so  that he can catch the train to play the match). The movie loses steam once Dhoni becomes the Dhoni we know and the long second half is only watchable due to  the earnestness of Sushant Singh Rajputs performance. Wish the movie had more of the moments where Yuvraj shows his Ranji performance or we go a bit deeper into the Dhoni's Zen persona.

Airlift - got a lot of things right - especially with Akshay Kumar making it more relatable. Since the story is not so well known , the setting of Kuwait doesnt move you that much in the beginning but its the performance of Akshay and Nikhat that slowly draws us into their world and then the deliberate nature of the screenplay makes us aware of what Indians trapped in Kuwait would have undergone.

Neerja - was the most mediocre of the biopics. I generally hate Sonam Kapoor and her portrayal was better than her previous movies. However the movie didnt make me go and ready about the real Neerja, I would have remembered Neerja the PanAM airhostess without watching this movie. Something failed , cant put a finger to it. Maybe the plot was not so tense as Airlift although the real life situation must have been more harrowing.

Rustom although not a biopic but inspired by some incidents was very watchable - again because it was set in a different time , the staging worked well however the screenplay became a bit predictable and you didnt know whether to feel sufficiently for Rustoms family.

4.  Sultan for sheer entertainment value -a tale about someone who becomes a wrestler to woo a woman wrestler and both go on to win national medals. they get married and wife sacrifices her career for her husband and who gets a second lease at a boxing league. Star power reigned supreme with Salman and Anushka giving no chance for any complaints.

5. Fan delivered when it was about the Fan and not the Star. As the Star takes over the movie to fight a obsessive Fan , it was Shahrukh the star taking over Shahrukh the performer. Shahrukh's Fan act with prosthetic makeup with his very Patpargunj Dilliness was unique and showed what the actor is capable of.

6. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil for the Musical of the Year  even though it struggled as the tangled mess of love and friendship. Its tough in todays world to remember all 6 songs of a movie and hum them. If only the poetry in the songs came alive on the screen more than a few good dialogues scattered here and there.

7. Raman Raghav 2.0 showed the Anurag Kashyap is  the only  director ( and Sriram Raghavan if he can keep the Badlapur form)  who can get into the psyche of crime, murderers and deliver it with spinechilling effect.

8. Pink for a bold subject choice and showing it well on screen.No Means No will be etched as the statement of the year.  However I still feel the movie could have been titled Damini 2.0 and brought back Govind on screen screaming - Kuch bhi to nahi badla! Towards the end Amitabh becomes undistinguishable from the character he is playing and the baritone voice he is delivering. Hence my plea for giving Govind back on celluloid..

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ae dil hai mushkil - Sticks to its title but doesnt knit a new yarn

Karan Johar has a special place in Hindi cinema.

He started Kuch Kuch Hota hai with a hypothesis -' pyar dosti hai' .

He builds on it - in this movie like a master hypothesis builder showing pyar the fragile vs friendship the strength. Using this broad construct, he puts the 'dil' in the middle trying to make the effort for love that can deceive or the safety of friendship that is less risk averse but enjoyable. Whether both are needed as 2 states or they merge at times or they can be treated separately by mature people is the part that is mushkil. Maybe what someone wants in his love maybe different from someone else, since the sufiyana love that can be self destructive or the selfless love that cannot be practical may not be achievable states either. And even if you love someone , there is no reason someone should love you back , so how do you deal with these problems gives it the titular complexity of "Ae dil hai mushkil"

With Ranbir taking the baton as the fragile weak hero astutely ( thus giving it a trilogical continuity from Tamasha and Ae jawani hi diwani) , Karan finds himself directing his mirror image ( or his soul)... Ranbir nails this character, at ease at crying, being the weaker sex who needs support and is somewhat immature. Anushka again shows that not every bubbly girl is the same for the 10th time in her career by being Ranbirs campanion but not his love. Her love as a weakness to has been given to DJ Ali ( Fawad Khan getting hardly anything to work off). Why Ali is never answered so well, is it admiration or him being better than Ranbirs kiddish wimpiness. But it happens, leaving Ranbir so despaired that he finds a relationship again that is not love but his way to stay sane - since he rejected Anushka he needs to find acceptability. And in true KJo the acceptability happens without even Tinderian efforts, its in Shammi Kapoors Dil deke dekho type trade at an airport lounge and the lady happens to be a gorgeous Ash who is a poet !! Ash wants a relationship thats physical not emotional - since ages are not revealed we assume its a cougar type instinct , a necessity.. However its probably deep because she herself is a 'trader' of pain as a poet and she can relate to the pain in him , so as to make better poetry , so half muse .. And the man who has broken her, enters in a cameo preaching selfless love to Ranbir is none other than SRK - the man passing on the baton to Ranvir ( touche KJo- SRK style)

Whenever he stays true to the title, Johar is able to hold this movie together and whenever he is able to get the sharp lyrical dialogues working, he packs a punch. A gorgeous Ash adds that veneer that is glossy but can crack, and the SRK cameo adds the uncrackable.. Its a movie that I am over rating extremely as you can see, but Karan Johar is that emotional maverick who can make us come out of the candyfloss, chiffon saree, karva chauth routine ( that he masterfully spoofs in this movie) and yet pays homage to songs of RD, Rafi and Noor Jehan. Again its a movie where he should have let go more than what he tries to retain , and when he tries to retain - especially the Kal Ho Na Ho ending where he fails and the movie ends flat.

If Cocktail explored an interesting facet of modern day youth relationships and succeeded, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil fails due to the baggage its carrying. By adding the old world shayraana part with Ash's character, it needed to get into the Bollywood gooeyness of emotions where the movie cannot end without you shedding tears. But that doesnt happen and you feel is there a filmmaker who can ever get us there in a modern day tale, till that time watch Deepikas' babe breakdown moment in Cocktail...


Friday, May 13, 2016

#100days100scenes: Shahenshah of comedy also

Its absolutely amazing that the same Amitabh Bachchan who kicks the chair from Sher Khan when he is about to sit in Zanjeer creates rib tickling comedy as a bumbling cop in Shahenshah 17 years later . Combining the Soorma Bhopali style of Sholay into his own manneris, Amitabh plays a different Vijay who just talks a lot but doesnt pack a punch.

Shahenshah was a comeback movie for the superstar who had a tryst with politics and was desperate for a hit. The costume he had for Shahenshah as the vigilante crusader of the night was the highlight alongwith the introduction dialogue ' Rishte main hum tumhare baap lagte hai , naam hai shahenshah'

This scene is just brilliance from Amitabh and how he made all the comedians disappear during his time by doing it himself. Watch the paan led expressions , the buffoonery, the stuttering bumbling dialogue , the hand movements.

Rishte mein to baap , but comedy ka bade baap - Shahenshah.


#100days100scenes: badass pandey

Just like Sanjay Dutt was born to play Munnabhai, Salman Khan was born to play Chulbul Pandey.

Chulbul Pandey is once in a lifetime character written in Indian cinema, creating a cop who was corrupt but likeable because like Robinhood, he takes the money from the rich , puts it in the protection fund to protect the poor. He doesnt mince words , has a flair for pulling peoples leg but can break them if required.

By keeping the setting very UP where harami, kaminey, chor are survival strategies or personality development modules , Chulbul Pandey blended into the environment like a natural chameleon who changed colours based on who was talking to him.

The best part of the movie that it never took itsself serriously but neither was it an unabashed star vehicle. It seemed natural yet provided seeti maar moments. Taking the small town South Indian  template  that are simple vendetta movies with over the top action sequences with the tadka of the UP language and the persona of Salman Khan , the movie was dhaba time.

Love this sequence of dialogues with chaubeji and pandeyji.