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.

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,.