Talking Movies

Talking Movies
Talking movies

Friday, 6 October 2017

CHEF: CHICKEN SOUP LESSONS FROM SAIF ALI KHAN



In a film titled “Chef” which strangely makes you miss out on the guilty pleasure of watching some food porn, there is one lovely sequence on the art of making tomato chutney.

 Roshan Kalra (Saif Ali Khan) is visiting Amritsar with his son, Armaan (Svar Kamble). Sharing his own childhood journey of how he became a chef, and having given some great gyaan on how it’s a privilege to feed people like the people doing seva in Langar at the Golden Temple; he takes Arman to a local dhaba. After all, how can a trip to Punjab be complete without gorging on those butter laden parathas and wholesome, thick lassi? As soon as their food is served on the table, Roshan asks why there is no tomato chutney with rightful icredulousness. The dhaba was known for the chutney some 30 years ago. Since the glorious chutney had not been made, our New York return chef gets going to work his magic.

Red, big, juicy tomatoes are stuck on a huge rod and turn gold and black as they are roasted on the big earthen cooking fire inside the dhaba kitchen. The camera transfixes you to the piping hot tomato pulp getting squashed, other ingredients being chopped and Roshan mixing it all on the big, smoking pan with the deftness of the practiced chef that he is.

The scene is the best part of the film for three reasons. Firstly, it deals with the character’s  passion for cooking and traces it to the actual roots of learning. Secondly, it shows the character passing on the quintessential Indian culture to the next twitter hooked generation. Finally, it is all about the good, old, simple, and absolute must food for the soul. That thing called chutney.

However, such moments are far and few. The original Hollywood film, ‘Chef’, too had missed out on those basic ingredients of real moments with food and worse: the lack of a conflict; a more vital requirement of any story. Instead, a massive food truck took centre stage, as in this Indian remake.

Director, Raja Krishna Menon who had shown his refreshing storytelling craft in ‘Airlift”, does a great job of retaining the feel good factor of the original film. He even takes a minor segment of the estranged couple and makes it more Indian and palatable for the audiences unaccustomed to the dynamics of a broken family. Menon turns it into a father- son bonding story with lots of parenting lessons thrown in. One gets to see a Saif not seen before—a kurta pyjama clad guy from Chandni Chowk and one with a temper. Only, it gets unintentionally hilarious at points because Saif’s unconvincing acting wherein he punches a restaurant customer in the beginning, is the most awkward scene. Clearly Saif Ali Khan is no Albert Pinto. You get a glimpse of the old, self effacing Saif-the butt of all jokes-- in a nice tete a tete with his ex wife’s current boyfriend, Milind Soman (who could write a book titled “How to go Grey and Look Fabulous in a Dhoti”). Then, of course, there is that cute little reference to his younger ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ days in Goa when he was robbed by a foreign woman.

While focusing on  Saif in this unassuming, simple role along with his interactions with a lovely fresh cast like the beautiful and ever smiling Padmapriya Janakiraman and the natural Svar Kamble in the lush city of God; Menon overlooks the essential food journey and the cinematography required to bring out that spark in the cooking fire; both visual and metaphorical.

 Here is a beautiful cinematic opportunity of capturing the utter meditative quality of preparing a seven course meal or simply a fine salad which looks like a work of art. Instead we see lots of onion chopping and unappealing, repetitive dishes of pasta. Something that requires a baawarchi, not a chef—a distinction Roshan loves to point out. So, instead of a kitchen journey of a man whose soul is one with aroma and spices; we get a food and culture tour of India. From Kerala to Amritsar. From Goa to Delhi. From Kochi’s idli appam to Chandni Chowk’s chole bhature. Which, actually is a great way to Indianise Jon Favreau’s Chef. After all, India is a land of the most divergent food culture and what better way to show this through a road journey in a food truck? As is the case with a trip through Miami, New Orleans and Texas in the Hollywood original.

The only hitch is that you end up longing for the scenic Kerala roads surrounded by tall, coconut trees and rivers; instead of feasting your eyes on a mouth watering hot, bubbling pot of saambar. To make you fall in love with food and spices and watch the artist create with their knives and hands, one needs more of “Julie and Julia” or “Chocolat”. And less of chicken soup gyaan.


Sunday, 27 August 2017

Babumoshai Bandookbaaz: Nawazuddin’s Script Choice misfires

(First published in Firstpost.com)

Nawazuddin Siddiqui has mentioned in his interviews that he watched James Bond movies to get into his character, for the film, ‘Babumoshai Bandookbaaz’. After sitting through the absolutely meaningless film, you wonder just where does the similarity lie? Certainly not in the trigger-happy gun in his hand. That bit is ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ part three. Perhaps, it’s those steamy scenes with the gals more smoking hot than the gun;—Bidita Bag and Shraddha Das. And there are plenty of those. Not that they match a James Bond kissing scene which was too hot to handle for Pahlaj Nihalani in the last Hollywood release.

But then, who goes for a Nawazuddin movie for the steamy scenes, vulgar language and violence? Ever since Nawazuddin played the title role in Manjhi- The Mountain Man, in 2015, he has been landed with heavyweight films to carry alone on his talented shoulders. ‘Babumoshai Bandookbaaz’ (the title is as pretentious as the film) is his third such film after ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’ and ‘Haraamkhor’.
Are these script choices along with the forgettable “Munna Michael”, really good enough for Nawazuddin?

 ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’ may suit the darker side explored earlier, with some degree of lighter goggle sporting romance in ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’. However, ‘Babumoshai Bandookbaaz’, directed by Kushan Nandy, is obsessed with copying the mindless killings in GOW rather than providing a cohesive story.

Every character in the film, including the women, is more unscrupulous than the other. Nawaz plays Babu, a contract killer. He finds himself pitted against a younger contract killer, Banke (Jatin Goswami) assigned to kill the same targets.

Lust is as prevalent as gunpowder dust in these UP hinterlands. Be it the wife of a local politician who flirts away at parties under the amused eyes of her husband or Banke’s girlfriend (Shraddha Das) as raunchy as Babu’s wife, Fulwa  (Bidita Bag) or the filthy tongued Jiji (Divya Dutta) ready to do it in the fields; the women are as one dimensional and dark as the men. The only redeeming character is the cop with a dozen children; played with natural ease by the pleasant looking Bhagwan Tiwari.

Surrounded by these characters, Nawaz is always in his element. However, nothing matches the ever-pleasing subordinate in Lunch Box or the comic and sincere Pakistani journalist, Chand Nawab in Bajrangi Bhaijaan; or the shameless bad guy of Badlapur; or the hard nosed cop in ‘Raees’; or the funny detective bantering with Sridevi in Mom.

Nawaz is no doubt, one of the best actors who can carry a film on his shoulders without the star baggage. Leave alone a film; he proved his worth with just a two-minute scene rendered unforgettable with the most moving performance in  “New York”. The scene where he describes his torture at the hands of the Americans, owes its poignance , not to his dialogues, but to it’s well timed , slight pauses and indelible pain in Nawaz’s eyes, which don’t resort to, tears alone. Or take the small part of a journalist in Peepli Live, which is far more memorable than an entire two-hour film like Babumoshai Bandookbaaz; sequenced aimlessly with bullets and sex.

In the story of rampant treachery, it is Nawaz, the actor who suffers the biggest betrayal. Besides, his smaller screen time debut in the past, his real strength lies in his give and take with his co-actors. There is something more magnetic about him, when seen sharing the frame with Irrfan Khan, Shahrukh or Sridevi.  His humour seems more improvised than scripted and hence, raw and delightful. Like the way he reacts to a painting in Mom or the way he sings a Shammi Kapoor song…”Yahoo..chaahe mujhe koi junglee…” in the same film. In Lunchbox, he could easily outweigh Irrfan’s presence but remains controlled and is a perfect foil for Irrfan. Likewise, with Shahrukh in “Raees”, every time they share the frame. The pleasure of watching Nawaz, simply reacting to the moment, with a touch of that Nawaz eccentricity, just doubles.

This spontaneous persona is much missing in Babumoshai Bandukbaaz which was clearly made to encash on Nawaz’s image as the actor who will brighten up the screen with the darkest moment. The film, with its pointless plot, can only highlight Nawazuddin’s bad script choices. Hopefully, he will wisen up and let go of the carrot that once enticed the Zubeida lead, Manoj Bajpai—the desire to be a star hero.


Then perhaps, James Bond will also learn a thing or two from Nawazuddin.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Kajol as the villainous bitch in VIP 2 Lalkar is cinema's female boss stereotype

(First published in DailyO)

 VIP 2 Lalkaar, the Hindi dubbed version of  Tamil film, ‘Velai Illa Pattadhari’, is a cakewalk for Kajol. Literally.

 Every time there is significant scene of victory for her, we see a Mercedes rolling in, along with a fleet of other swanky cars. The car door opens. A pair of high-heeled feet touch the ground. But of course. Our films have always built up that anticipation with the hero’s boots and their sound effects or a child’s feet running and transforming into grown up legs to encompass the time frame. Then, there is the hero sprawling his booted legs atop a table, the feet crossing and uncrossing to provide more drama or rather, heroism. For some reason, cinema has its own idea of power. In VIP 2, it’s in Kajol’s swagger in those stilettoes.

We see those sexy high heels step out of the Mercedes, a toss of the red tinted hair and a slow motion walk. That alone inspires a few appreciative hoots and whistles.

Kajol has clearly mastered the swagger.

 And that’s quite an achievement because the music that accompanies most of her scenes, might make anyone else freeze on the spot. The best unintentional comic part comes with a hilarious music track  when Dhanush sits across her in her office and is about to say something. First, a soundtrack starts playing, something that sounds more like a clap echo replay. Then Dhanush gets up, clearly aping the master—Rajnikanth (the father-in-law), stands leaning on the chair and delivers the lamest of lines: “ Madam, main sher ki dum se zyaada billi kar sar banna pasand karoonga.” Full marks to Kajol for not bursting out giggling .

Instead, she always has a fit when confronted with Dhanush, where she helplessly ends up screeching..”WHAT THE F###?” without even completing the word. The two play rivals in business, where she is the killer shark in designer pants and he is a small Bombil fry in lungi. She is Vasundhara, the chairman of a big construction company and he is an engineer who refuses her job offer. They are well cast in this face-off story. She looks the part of someone dynamic with arrogance that runs in the blood. He looks like any harmless engineer happy enough, driving a moped slower than a bullock cart. Both Kajol and Dhanush perform with full self-awareness of their star appeal and fan following. They are, indeed, the biggest draw in this VIP sequel, which, otherwise does not go beyond dialogues that play to the gallery and song and dance.

Thankfully, there is no love angle in their story. And that’s the real USP here. He is the hero and she is the villain who have the best moment when one rainy night, there is a nice twist in the tale. It comes too easy and too pat. Yet, Kajol makes the most of those 5-10 minutes and makes it as good as her haughty swagger.

The director, Soundarya Rajnikanth, has made the smartest move by tapping the villain in Kajol. Though it does seem like a wasted opportunity when compared to Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada”. Meryl was brilliantly terrifying in her icy cool stares, drop dead softly delivered lines and equally authoritative tilt of her famous white- gray haired head.

Kajol’s Vasundhara is reduced to a caricature, which apparently reflects the way women of power, are perceived, as opposed to men of equal status. A male boss usually has the prerogative to be rude and is shrugged of as—‘He’s the boss’. On the other hand, a female boss is invariably the bitch. Hence Vasundhara here, is unscrupulous in her ways, wins every award in the business besides mega bucks and will not think twice before squashing her rivals under her lovely stilettoes.

Even if Vasundhara is stereotyped here, all it needed was to take a leaf from Ekta Kapoor’s famous temper tantrums. One particular incident comes to mind, involving her chasing someone out of her office AND building with her shoe in her hand. Kajol, with her squarish jawline like Ekta’s would have been a perfect carbon copy, in an off shoulder top and straight hair, mouthing words that went beyond the alphabet F.

Unfortunately and inevitably, this shrew in VIP2, needs to be tamed by the holier than thou hero who worships his mother and her ghost too. And there lies, the ultimate folly of perception of man and woman, thanks to Shakespeare.

Well, this Kajol is more delightful as the shrew than as the virginal Simran too scared to defy her father. It is another matter that she does not get to go beyond the swagger.




Monday, 7 August 2017

Jab Harry Met Sejal: Why SRK's loser act and Anushka's Gujju accent worked for me


 (First published in DailyO )

In the only ever so slightly emotional scene in the otherwise lighter than popcorn movie, JHMS, Harry (Shah Rukh Khan) stands at a seashore and yells out to the horizon—“hello…India..”. He is on European shores and misses his home, his Punjab, his younger turbaned avatar with dreams. Just when he starts telling the deeper truth of his feelings for Sejal (Anushka Sharma), the scene is rudely interrupted by a blow on his head. The spoiler here is not this little detail, but the moment rendered incomplete. This is typically Imtiaz Ali. There is always a gem of an idea, the spark of an insight, which shines and seduces you to the story. But, dare to go close and the plot digresses and heads further into Europe’s trams, with no real purpose.

Like his previous film, ‘Tamasha’, the boy and the girl are on holiday. They met in the beautiful Corsica earlier and indulged in a lot of role-play bordering into a bipolarity of sorts. Thankfully, the characters in JHMS, are more rooted, with just enough complexity to keep us engaged. They are also holidaying. This time, across 5 countries: Prague, Amsterdam, Vienna, Lisbon and Budapest. Tamasha’s Ranbir and Deepika are quite clear that they will strictly have a holiday romance and nothing more. JHMS’s Harry and Sejal have  a somewhat similar pact. Sejal has a fiancĂ© back home amongst rich Gujju diamond merchants. She calls it  fa-i-mily business.

As Harry points out, she is ‘sweet’. And pretty like porcelain vase. The ones you admire but don’t touch. In Harry, she discovers the desire to be desirable…”laayak” as they put it politely. “Laayak” is the kind of girl who is hot. So she tries to do some cool moves.

Again, there is a momentary glimpse of a fun character to explore here. A so called good girl who wants to be selfish and have some ‘bad’ moments before she goes back to the mundane dhokla- paatra, gold and diamond life of a girl who thinks Amsterdam is in France (Gujjus may hate the gentle mockery here but this part is genuinely funny).

But Imtiaz refuses to go into Sejal’s wilder side and plays it safe. Likewise, with Harry. Shahrukh’s Harry is a world weary, seasoned Romeo who is a tour guide in Europe. He would rather drive a tractor across the fields of Punjab and sing louder than the sound of the tractor. Ever since Subhash Ghai’s ‘Pardes’ and Aditya Chopra’s ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, the stories are written with one eye at the NRI box office. Which sadly, has Harry with one foot  and a dimple charming every female client in Europe and the other itching to do bhangra with his only true love as desi as the makhhan or dhokla.

Whenever the real, lonely Harry emerges and allows himself to be vulnerable enough to ask for a simple hug from the sweet Sejal, the duo come closer to a romance more mature than a teenybopper lost-in-the- woods ride.

Shahrukh’s sense of comic timing, his ‘trying to be cheap’ body language, overrides his past work as the typical romantic hero with his arms spread wide. For most part of the film, he is simply engaged in a conversation with the heroine. There is not much of plot here and it would have been one monotonous version of “Before Sunrise” if it wasn’t for the interesting characters and both the actors bringing in a fresh energy that bounces off each other beautifully and the two tango better than “Rab ne bana de Jodi” and “Jab Tak Hai Jaan’.


Hopefully, in Imtiaz’s next film, we will see a wilder Sejal and a more intense Harry in a story that actually has some answers. Where they can go beyond “ tractor se unchi awaaz’ and “ gote kinare ki chunari’ on the Yash Chopra tinted Punjab fields. Until then, Anushka’s dumb Sejal ben and Shahrukh’s loser Harinder charm us enough with all the seeking and soul searching.