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.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

#100days100scenes: the encounter cop

If there was a cop segment that was made in India for Indians by Indians , it is the tale of encounter killings by an encounter cop. Heavily used in Mumbai during the notorious gang war between the D-company, Arun Gawli gang  , Amar Naik gang and Chota Rajan gang , it originates from the department created under Mumbai Police called the Detection Unit. The Detection Unit or the encounter squad was instrumental in reducing the crime rate in the 80s and 90s in Mumbai city by surrounding gangsters and then poking them and then opening retaliatory or self-defence fire to eliminate them.

It was used in many situations to send a clear message to the underworld who had smuggled sophisticated weapons that the police was not a portly onlooker with an unusable old rifle but a trained encounter cop who could sharp shoot.

This also solved the Chakravyuh problem since now the police had the tools to take on the mafia. So they created a parallel 'system' that eliminated their moral dilemma. Rather than waiting for the court to try and charge a dreaded criminal, they could provide instant 'insaaf' and it was 'allowed' by the government as the only way to tackle the menace.

Encounter cops like Daya Nayak provided ample fodder for Indian cinema. And it needed an old hand to play the level headedness and guile to play a realistic encounter cop who is not unfazed at the situation. Ab Tak Chhappan was a movie that did complete justice to the aura of an encounter cop.

Titled aptly as Ab Tak Chhappan to show that 56 was the running count of the number of encounters the cop had completed, the movie used realistic Mumbai language with all the abuses you will find in such dealings. Nana Patekar riding a late bloomer hero phase after Krantiveer, played the cop perfectly getting both the Mumbai diction  and the doggedness of the cop right mixed with the manic intensity that he could only muster. Almost the 'sarfira' type who could 'thok daalo' anyone.

#100days100scenes: the angry young man persona

No Indian cop series can be complete without referencing Zanjeer. Marking Amitabhs first entry as an angry young man where the intensity , the voice, his lanky yet determined physicality and the quick movements combine to create an impact that was unseen on Indian cinema.

The earlier actors took too much time nodding or waving whereas Vijay whether he played cop or otherwise was always quicker and meant business. Zanjeer was offered to all these earlier stars - Raaj Kumar, Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna and Deve Anand, before falling on the lap of the man who had shown in a previous movie called Bombay to Goa that when he lands a punch , he punches with the determination of the guy who knows he is punching above his body weight.

Indian cinema changed forever after Zanjeer. What Amitabh brought to the table , yes pun definitely intended if you can guess the scene I am going to talk about, was that ability to connect with you at an emotional level - in Zanjeer he is plagued by the nightmare he gets of his parents death, he was decidedly different - he was deep, contemplated ,sure of himself without a swagger yet conflicted by his emotion -  somewhat of a Batmanish trait  that went unnoticed since no one analyzed it that way. Either a smart or serendipitious manner, Amitabh let his body language do the talking rather than his lanky body.

And that body language is very clear in this scene , on how Amitabh Bachchan without the physique towers over a Pathan and that too played by Pran , a master at carrying himself.  And incidentally Pran was paid more than Amitabh's remuneration for this movie.

Watch in minute 1 the kick of the chair. Watch the simmering intensity from minute 2 onwards, that determined walk,.

Friday, May 06, 2016

#100days100scenes: ArdhSatya

Although we have seen glamorous cops mouthing dialogues and practically taking the law in their hands in the name of law,  the best cop movies are the ones where they are also part of the system and struggle with it despite their sense of duty . Its not just a fight against the criminals but its also with the rotting system around them and also with themselves.  Its that trapped feeling, the nexus between politicians, cops and mafia so strong that you are helpless to fight it alone even if you have the bravery and even if you get one side of this nexus solved , it does nothing to the nexus.

Ardh Satya by Govind Nihalani stars Om Puri as a cop who takes on the wily Sadashiv Amrapurkar. Its one of the most pragmatic cop movies since it also shows the realistic side of the cops actual helplessnness to take on the system. Its not that the cop succumbs immediately but slowly the tentacles get stronger and he is stuck not knowing whats the best path.

My favourite scene in this movie is where Om Puri goes to arrest Sadashiv based on a testimony by a victim . Sadashiv Amrapurkar nonchalantly says ' Kal aana' in such a dismissive way that this scene is still etched in my end. It just shows how crippled the police force really is. A day of bravura cannot save years of systemic erosion. And if you want to act against the system you face a tough dilemma.

And the dilemma perfectly captured in the poem Chakravyuh.

Chakravyuh mein ghusne se pehle,
kaun tha mein aur kaisa tha,
yeh mujhe yaad hi na rahega.
Chakravyuh mein ghusne ke baad,
mere aur chakravyuh ke beech,
sirf ek jaanleva nikat’ta thi,
iska mujhe pata hi na chalega.
Chakravyuh se nikalne ke baad,
main mukt ho jaoon bhale hi,
phir bhi chakravyuh ki rachna mein
farq hi na padega.
Ek palde mein napunsakta,
ek palde mein paurush,
aur theek taraazu ke kaante par
ardh satya.