Talking Movies

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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijaan review: Salman Khan is so good as an innocent Hanuman bhakt, you'll be shocked

(This was first published on Firstpost)
When Salman Khan folds his hands in a namaste pose and says, “Jai Shree Ram” in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, he  takes his 'Being Human' image to the next level. He says these three words with such sincerity, that it actually shows him in the most unimaginable role : that of a fine actor.
Now why would a simple greeting would be termed as acting? Because this is no Aamir Khan with the Mr Holier-Than-Roast image or attitude. This is the Dabangg cop, who shakes his shoulders and cackles like a teenager after cracking crass jokes. Silly behaviour, along with a pair of glares, a moustache, a popular pelvic move and most importantly, his muscles ripping his shirt open — this is what has made Khan an unmatched superstar. No one has expected acting from Khan in years. Instead, his fans were more than happy to watch Khan simply being himself.
Then, with Kick, Khan took a step towards being human in a way that made him the new King Uncle. He continued to crack silly jokes and play the action hero. But, he also cried and he saved little children.
Director Kabir Khan has been sharp enough to spot the soft boy in the tough guy image and has given Khan a complete makeover as the innocent Hanuman bhakt who never lies. Raj Kumar Hirani made bad boy Sanjay Dutt a Munnabhai and the ambassador of Gandhigiri, but Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi may well be the one who takes Gandhi’s peaceful ways across Indo-Pak borders.And to give Kabir Khan credit, Bajrangi Bhaijaan far less preachy and more effective than PK.
Since truth is his policy, Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi aka Bajrangi (Salman Khan), tells every Pakistani man and soldier how he has crossed the border from under a tunnel hidden underneath the border gate. Fortunately for him, this earns him the title of ‘Bhaijaan’, from a Pakistani journalist, Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).
Bajrangi never lies because he is a devotee of Hanuman.This means he takes selfies and dances around Hanuman’s statues in loose clothes that make him look like he has tucked into a dozen laddoos first. He doesn’t even bother with Salman Khan's trademark pelvic moves. He simply slaps his thigh and kicks up some gulaal, which gives cinematographer Aseem Mishra some great photographic moments. Lo and behold, our man is a hero.
At least the cute little girl staring at him believes in this hero, even though his RSS member dad called him a “zero”. She doesn't care that the 50-year-old actor is playing a schoolboy who continues to fail his 10th class.
So, the cute and mute girl, whom Bajrangi christens Munni (Harshaali Malhotra), happens to be a Pakistani, by the name of Shahida. (Cricketer Shahid Afridi has something to do with her name.) What we know about Shahida is that she was born mute and has a tendency to fall off cliffs, get miraculously saved by trees or jump off trains to save little lambs and land up on Indian soil. She needs a miracle to help her back to her sobbing mother, who is somewhere in Sultanpur.
Our Bajrangi, being Hanuman bhakt believes in miracles, but first, he must dilly-dally. How else can we see him win over Rasika (Kareena Kapoor, delightful with her kohl laden eyes), by calling her a “behenji”. He must express shock over little Munni gorging chicken legs. Why? Because he was happy assuming that she is a Brahmin going by her fair skin. The biggest shock to the Hanuman bhakt is when Munni runs into mosques to pray.
Behenji girlfriend rightly lectures him about not judging little children by their faiths. Toss in a couple of songs and Kapoor's role is over. It is now time for Bajrangi to become Bhaijaan.
So begins a walk across the border, which is more like a stroll in the park and what can only be described as child’s play over snow-clad peaks. There is some entertainment, thanks to Nawazuddin Siddiqui's comic act, which includes Siddiqui calling a burkha-clad Bajrangi his “begum”.
The two together make a great team. Instead of performing typical fight stunts, Khan cries and bows with hands folded. The whistle-and-clap moment comes when he finally changes from this greeting to a salaam.
Does this simple story bordering on the dumb with a simpleton character work? Strangely, yes. Thanks to Khan’s uncharacteristic convincing performance and intelligent direction by the Ek Tha Tiger director who seemed to have forgotten his craft after his first film, Kabul Express.
If Salman Khan and Kabir Khan were politicians, they would certainly win both the Hindu and Muslim vote banks. Prime Minister Modi, are you listening? If not, just watch the next hottest potential secular BJP candidate say in all humility, ”Jai Shri Ram”.
Oh and by the way, Khan keeps his shirt on.

Baahubali review: Forget story, watch Rajamouli's film for jaw-dropping VFX

Once upon a time, there lived a mother. Her hair was matted and grey. Her eyes were wild and bloodshot. Her chants were wild and hopeful. “Mera beta aayega…,” she kept saying, while shuffling around. Her feet were in thick chains for 25 years. It sounds a little bit like Karan Arjun, but this is SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali. And despite how clichéd some of its elements may be, this film is the work of South Indian cinema’s wildest imagination and it takes steps towards of mythic proportions in Indian fantasy.
Baahubali is about sheer, jaw-dropping, hypnotic spectacle. Released simultaneously in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam, the film’s budget is a whopping Rs 200 crores, making it the most expensive film made in India. Going by the sheer grandeur, it is little wonder that Karan Johar snapped up the Hindi version.
The hero’s real name is Shiva (Prabhas Raju). He has the strength to carry a huge Shiva lingam and to pull up a 450-foot tall, gold statue. He can dislodge huge boulders and use one as a luge when there’s an avalanche chasing him and his lady love. No wonder then that the greatest warrior of the land does a Michael Jackson-esque slide on his knees and bows before Shiva with a worshipful cry of “Baahubali!”
But first, Shiva must show off his awesomeness. So he makes the perilous climb up to the kingdom of Mahismati to woo Avanthika (Tamannaah). She is a vision in white. No, she is not Raj Kapoor’s Mandakini, but a wuxia-inspired heroine, beautifully framed in captivating shots under waterfalls. When Shiva does find her, she attacks him with a sword. This leads to a dance-like duel, which begins with him disrobing her and ends with her falling in love. Naturally.
But Shiva has more ordained for him than simply getting the girl. He doesn’t know this, but the old woman waiting for her son is actually his mother, Devasena (Anushka Shetty).Devasena is held captive by the well-oiled, evil king, Bhallala Dev(Rana Daggubati), whom she had once rejected and who just happens to be Shiva’s uncle. Bhallala delights in torturing Devasena. She collects wood for his pyre.
Initially, Baahubali works like a musical, setting Shiva and Avanthika’s romance in the most outlandish of lands and exotic sets. The real fun and action begins afterwards, when Shiva is told of his father, Amarendra Baahubali and the plot rewinds to a world of palace intrigue and war.
We see a majestic Sivagami refuse throne but rule like queen, while sitting on the regent’s seat with two babies suckling under her pallu. One is her own son, Bhallala. The other is Shiva’s father. Years roll on, the boys grow into well-matched, powerful princes. A ferocious tribal enemy attacks and a spectacular battle follows.
This is the point where you forget the story. It’s not weak, but it doesn’t really matter Watch Baahubali for the moves. The hero gets on a horse in the middle of a crowded battlefiend, the camera takes the shot up-close, and it’s VFX techno power at its most awesome. The soundtrack by M.M. Kreem, one of his finest, sets the mood and matches the soaring, balletic action movements.
Action, camera, VFX, sound – that’s Baahubali’s magic formula. Particularly during the war with the primitive and terrible Kalakeyas (for whom Rajamouli has concocted a new language. Take that Dothraki-fans), the technological sophistication is worth applause. The camera plays eagle to reveal an enormous aerial view of men on horses racing against men on feet. A stunning side angle shot of silver arrows in a line sets the ball rolling. The background score continues to add to the magical visual display.
And there are the haunting shots that Rajamouli weaves into his storytelling, like the sight of a headless body stumbling on a cliff, against a backdrop of apocalyptic thunderclouds.
But really, forget the story. In Baahubali, watch the moves.

I Love NY review: The film takes its own time to bore you and it's as bad as surviving surgery

Thank God, Kangana Ranaut has a sense of humour. She has reportedly joked about T-Series producer, Bhushan Kumar’s belief that the film I Love NY “nikal jayegi”. She said, “He is talking just like a doctor who tells a patient to close his or her eyes before giving him an injection, saying ‘nikal jayegi’.”
Well, one could easily keep the eyes shut during half of I Love NY without missing a thing.
Randhir Singh (Sunny Deol, let’s forget that he is 57 according to Wikipedia) has been leading the same boring life each day, as some kind of office executive (rather unclear in the film) in Chicago. The film opens to his voiceover explaining how bored he is and one day, for no reason, he decides to kick his daily, non-happening routine. No more working Sundays. Next to go: his “favourite coffee” (vanilla mocha, if you please). Now, why would anyone chuck anything that is their favourite? Only the writer/director duo, Radhika Rao and Vinay Sapru would know.
Rao and Sapru’s concept behind the film is decent, but unfortunately, it’s released two years too late. Made before Queen, this small film appears to be a refreshing change when released along with action-packed Bahubali. Unfortunately, the difference in tone isn’t enough to make up for how the story gets stretched to eternity.
Still, if you are a Sunny Deol fan, rather than a Ranaut fan, you may just stick it out. After all, it’s been a while since he was last seen on screen. It doesn’t matter that he and Ranaut are a miscast as a romantic pair. Deol tries his best to be subtle and plays it simple as Randhir.Randhir’s life may be routine, but it’s not boring. He has an entertaining dad (Prem Chopra) at home. He has a girlfriend, Riya (Tannishtha Chatterjee, another miscast) who wants to party a deux with him on New Year’s Eve. Mr. Bachelor decides he will finally pop the big question of marriage that night.
Before that, he goes to the gym and hangs out with his middle-aged friends. They sit around in towels in the steam room and get drunk to celebrate his impending matrimony. Deol even manages some cute jumping moves in the song, Gud Naal.
The bottle-happy guys drink so much that they end up sending Randhir to New York by mistake. Randhir ends up getting carried in trolleys and lands as a drunken heap on Tikku’s (Ranaut) bed. Apparently, he and Tikku have the same address -- in different cities.
As luck and screenplay would have it, Randhir’s home key can open Tikku’s lock! Who would believe this yarn? Certainly not Tikku’s boyfriend, Ishaan (Navin Chowdhry, of an irritating accent). Not when Randhir gets bolder by the hour as New Year’s Eve unfolds. To Ishaan’s chagrin, Randhir keeps coming back to the apartment and Tikku happily helps him.
All night, Ishaan and Randhir come and go, in and out of Tikku’s apartment, leaving her one confused and pretty mess in a pink saree and golden curls.
I Love NY takes its own sweet time coming to its predictable end, and you can only sit back and note irrelevant details — like Ranaut’s three costumes and debate over Deol wearing a wig, counting his age and wishing him more suitable roles. It is to their credit that both Ranaut and Deol give their unconvincing parts their own best.
Maybe, Mr Kumar is right. Film “nikal jayegi”. Just maybe.

Papanasam review: Kamal Haasan steals the show in this gritty remake of Malayalam film Drishyam

(This was first published on Firstpost)
There is a crime which is far from perfect. There is a family of an illiterate man, his loving wife and two young daughters trapped in the crime case.There is a hard as nails, a lady cop whose son is missing. And hell hath no fury than this khaki clad mother who believes the simple family to be responsible.
Two parents, two points of view and a single incident: this is potent stuff called Papanasam.
Jeetu Joseph,the writer and director of this Tamil remake of his own Malayalam super hit blockbuster, Drishyam;is clearly a mastermind at creating a plot centered around true lies
First he takes his time creating Suyambulingam’s (Kamal Haasan) little world. Every location shown and every character written, has significance.When you see it all coming together in the last shot, including the title’s relevance,the three plus hours spent, are most gratifying.
Suyam has a lovely house tucked away on a five acre plot in a small town called Papanasam in Tamil Nadu.The place is named after a river where people wash away their sins. Suyam is a simple, uneducated, self made businessman who runs a cable TV company. When he is not glued to the movies on his TV in his office, he visits a local restaurant for his daily tea. He inevitably crosses paths regularly, with a local corrupt cop. When home, he spends the most endearing time with his lovely wife, Raani (Gautami, also Haasan’s wife) and two daughters, Selvi (Niveda Thomas) and Meena (Esther Anil). When with them, he surrenders his miserly ways to their constant demands of shopping and outings.All is well until Selvi goes on a school trip.She meets Varun ( Roshan Basheer),the spoilt, bratty son of IG officer, Geetha Prabhakar (Asha Sarath).

What follows is a nightmare for this simple, close-knit family who by the first hour of the 
movie, has made a firm place in your heart. The story and screenplay turns more gripping
 with every single scene that followsA fierce link is established between the relentless lady cop,
 Geetha and Suyam’s family. Both are parents and will go to any length for their children. 
Watch this film just to see how far they will go, how clever each one is and how well every
 detail is weaved in;like a full blown Sherlock Holmes story. Though this is not a detective film
 or a mystery,it would be sacrilege to reveal anything more. While Haasan mesmerizes with his
 emotional big eyes and experienced performance, Asha Sarath as the tough cop with a mother’s nose for trouble, is explosive in her presence and dialogue delivery. Anant Mahadevan as her husband is adequately
Gautami as the simpleton wife and mother,suits the role. The fearful daughters played by
 Niveda and Esther, do complete justice to their pivotal roles in the script.
The film may be in Tamil but is likely to appeal equally to the Hindi cinegoer. Papanasam is a
great reminder of why we go to the movies: to be entertained and stay emotionally engaged.
Regional language should not keep you away, irrespective of upcoming Hindi remake,
Just remember,you might want a hot Molaga Podi(Idli gunpowder) recipe to come back home

Guddu Rangeela Review: The colourless Arshad Warsi film fails to strike a chord

Khap Panchayats and honour killings are scary. And so is Ronit Roy.
In Guddu Rangeela, Roy plays the Khap leader, Billu Pehalwan who makes parents shoot their adult children for daring to love someone outside their caste. If the families err, he kills young lovers himself with great relish. But when he is after one Rangeela (Arshad Warsi) who looks as old as Billu himself, it cuts no ice with the backdrop if you consider the inspiration – a real incident of honor killing involving the case of Manoj and Babli.
The film is based around quite a far-fetched idea. This well over 40 bridegroom, Rangeela, is running away with his young bride called Babli (Shriswara). So you see the two running across a bridge, hand in hand, while Billu stands with a rifle, taking aim. Babli gets shot. She stumbles and falls into the river below.
At this point, one should be weeping for the helpless, newly married couple. But it hardly makes any difference. A newspaper headline would be far more dramatic and effective. If Arnab Goswami were to highlight the incident on his show, you might even feel some outrage. But an entire two hour movie, written and directed by Subhash Kapoor, fails to move even for a minute.
NH10 did a far better job with a more realistic depiction of a young couple getting beaten up in the Haryana hinterland. Kapoor’s previous film, Jolly LLB, won a national award for the best feature film in Hindi and like Guddu Rangeela, had also been inspired by a real hit and run case of Sanjeev Nanda.
Babli’s death is simply a plot point used to make this film a revenge drama between Rangeela and Billu. Later, there is a twist which is completely over the top even by ‘filmy’ standards. There seems to be a parallel revenge tale of another girl called Baby (Aditi Rao Hydari). Baby first appears on screen as a dumb and deaf girl, kidnapped by Rangeela and his buddy Guddu (Amit Sadh of Kai Po Che fame). It's pretty evident that she is far from dumb. Baby is actually out to get her own personal revenge from Billu.
In between all the cat and mouse chase games in Shimla, Baby doesn’t mind sharing space with Guddu who is anything but a gentleman. His idea of romancing her is to ask her, ”degi?” Of course, she tells him to lay off. But once she warms up to him, he asks her again, “legi”? She actually smiles. Sadh is quite unsuitable for this role. Neither his looks or performance make him seem like a small time goon that he is. He cracks not so funny jokes and plays a khabri (informer) of robberies, while his partner in crime –Rangeela, dresses in garish costumes and sings at orchestras, with "maata ka email aaya hai”.
It takes a good half hour to establish the duo is caught between the corrupt cops and conniving paymasters. And quite honestly, the setup length adds more to boredom than to any authenticity.
The film then moves to familiar territory of the hero beating up the villain. The only difference is you don’t root for anyone, and the only good thing about the film is some decent acting by Warsi and Roy. Hydari and Sadh as a couple are quite redundant. Warsi, known for his comic flair, unfortunately does not have a single funny moment.
Meanwhile, the lack of any bro-mance chemistry between him and Sadh, makes the film even more dull. It's nothing like his previous pairing with Sanjay Dutt in Munnabhai MBBS or Naseeruddin Shah in Ishqiya.
It is finally left to Ronit Roy to maintain the tension and he does the villainous barking and glaring quite brilliantly. However, the actors’ brave efforts are not reason enough to watch the lackluster and colourless Guddu Rangeela. Arnab’s show is a better bet.

Labour of Love review: This powerful film transcends spoken languages and engages you

Technically, Labour of Love is a Bengali film. But actually, this debut film by Aditya Vikram Sengupta, transcends all spoken languages and makes a voyeuristic camera a powerful spokesperson.
Initially, the camera tests your patience. A very slow downward pan on a wall with credits rolling in, hints at the somber and calm mood of a long and silent narrative. It doesn’t care about the discomfort of silence.
The camera pauses on the most mundane sights: a melted soap cake, oil simmering in a pan, wet footprints until they dry. At one point, the frame is still on an entire sunset. But it is this very relentlessness of the camera and the director, which ultimately sucks you into a day of a life of a middle class couple.
What seems like just any day, unfolds into a story that shakes you with its deceptive slumberous approach. Deservedly, Labour of Love has won several festival awards, including one in Venice and New York.
A news announcement on a blank screen has informed us of a recession backdrop in Kolkata. Mill workers are on a protest march and their slogans heard off screen, are the only words spoken in the 84-minute film.
There are two pivotal characters in the film, and we are shown bits of their life.
The camera follows the back of a woman in a sari, as she walks fast through narrow spaces between building walls. The first sound heard after what feels like an eternity, is the sound of a tram. The woman reaches a busy road and takes the tram. The camera settles in on her face, as she looks out of the window. The play of sunlight catches her calm demeanor.
We do not know what she is thinking or feeling. She eats something, gets off the tram, crosses the road and takes a bus. Soon she is rushing through the corridors of a building where a bell rings, adding to the urgency of a workday at a leather handbag factory.
Simultaneously, in cross cuts, we see a man drink his tea in his home. He goes about the daily routine of taking a bath with limited water in a bucket and a broken, melted soap. After finishing certain other household activities of going out, buying some fish, encashing a small cheque at a bank, the man returns home and tries to sleep. It is at this point that a certain action displays the director’s eye for detail in the mundane.
The man realizes the fan is too fast and gets up to change the speed. Later when the woman is seen on the bed, also alone, she gets up to increase the fan’s speed.
This humdrum of a mundane life in a middle class household couldn’t be captured better. The transition of the day, shown by the smoothest shot of the woman coming up a staircase, displays great skill in direction.
Here's a couple caught in the drudgery of making a living at a time when the uncertainty of a job is driving people to suicides. Their deliberate calm exteriors, refusing to reveal the inner world, is evocative of millions of people who brave very challenge with quiet acceptance.
So you watch the man wake up at night and start his own. working day at a printing press; and the woman return and cook that meal which he eats when he is back.
Do they ever meet? Watch Labour of Love for its smooth unfolding into a beautiful and surreal ending, which makes the entire story unforgettable in a hard hitting reality of a couple’s life affected by a city’s economic crisis and social milieu.

Hamari Adhuri Kahani review: This film reduces Vidya Balan to a whimpering mess

O married lady, thy place is at thy lover’s feet,
Worshipping gratitude is thy virtue.
Who else doth uplift you bechari
But the rich boss swooning over your lilies?
Such is the undying faith expressed in the good Indian wife by Mahesh Bhatt, writer and producer of Hamari Adhuri Kahani(HAK) and self-professed woman’s lib advocate turned regressive preacher. In HAK, he has for company the Aashiqui 2 and Ek Villain director, Mohit Suri, and their regular dialogue writer, Shagufta Rafique. The trio’s conviction in a bygone century’s sacrificial feminine lambs and grateful tearjerkers results in in a ridiculous love story that attempts to be a tragedy, but ends up being an unintentional comedy.
How else can you explain or react to Vidya Balan falling at Emraan Hashmi’s feet, shedding tears of helpless gratitude?
The two actors were explosive as enemies in The Dirty Picture. A single night of not-so-dirty conversation between the two in that film was enough to establish them as a couple with promising chemistry. Hashmi proved he can act better than he can kiss. Balan was nicknamed “Vidya Khan” after her delightfully uninhibited “Ooh La La” act, which she followed up with an equally impressive performance in Kahaani.
It was inevitable that Balan and Hashmi would be paired again and both times, they’ve played husband and wife. Both times, it’s been disappointing. Ghanchakkar did not do them justice. In HAK, the perfect duo of The Dirty Picturecouldn’t be more imperfect to tell Bhatt’s parents’ real love story.
When the delightfully bold and supremely clever, pregnant wife from Kahani changes into Vasudha, a whimpering, mangalsutra-clutching wife, it’s nothing short of a casting blasphemy. It’s also a surefire way to kill every acting talent cell in the wonderful Balan, who is reduced to a whimpering mess. As Vasudha keeps palming her mangalsutra — as though doing so makes her a conscientious, dutiful wife with A-plus character certificate — you can’t help but remember Farah Khan’s famous “ek chutki sindoor…” spoof in Om Shanti Om. It was meant to be about the movies in the seventies, but could very much apply to HAK.
Vasudha marries Hari (Rajkummar Rao), who forces her to tattoo his name on her arm. Satisfied with that stamp, he disappears for five years, leaving Vasudha to bring up their son alone. She works as a florist at a five-star hotel owned by business tycoon, Aarav (Hashmi).
The smitten Aarav suddenly turns shy and expresses himself by asking her to send him selfies. The two romance amidst exotic flowers in greenhouses and exotic landscapes that fail to match Yash Chopra’s gorgeous tulip fields in Silsila. Along with the singing twosome, you too might wondering , “yeh kahan aa gaye hum….?” Both the selfies and the flowers repeatedly pop up until the mindblowing significance of the two is written into the oh-so-(not)-clever climax.
How can this flowery love story be without conflict? Of course, the missing husband turns up as a bearded terrorist hiding under a bed in his own house. Here’s a fine example of what a bad script and direction can do to perfectly good actors. Rao is at his worst playing this lunatic, jealous husband, looking like a homeless lunatic, mumbling silly lines and shaking his white-haired head like Shah Rukh Khan in Veer Zara.
HAK moves from Mumbai to Dubai and ends up in the deserted and dangerous roads of terrorist-ridden Bastar in Chattisgarh, which apparently is a dead ringer for South Africa. This is a journey of pain: the pain of watching the talented Balan struggling to justify a badly-written role; the pain of seeing the director of Arth stuck in a time warp and refusing to grow out of a poor-me syndrome; the pain of watching Bhatt kill the memorable Kahaani girl of Ooh La La land with the that mighty Indian weapon: the mangalsutra.

The Duff review: Seen-before teenage story of love that's still fun and charming

Labels stick. Labels suck. Labels crush. Jock, Geek, Rocker, Mean Girl. These are all passé. Here’s another: Designated Ugly, Fat Friend (DUFF). This, of course, is bestowed with typical teenage casual cruelty in the American high school. So, let’s play along with the mothers and grandmothers of teen clichés in The Duff, based on a novel by Kody Keplinger. It’s a seen-before-tale of teenage love — warts, pimples and all — but it turns out to be quite a fun sport.
Hot chicks in high school are either over-sweet (read: dumb) or shameless leggy, blonde bitches. The ugly and fat ones are smart and funny, but invisible. They were given polite terms like plain Janes in pre social networking era. Now, they are called ugly and fat outright, and are the butt of YouTube video pranks.
The same applies to the boys. The dumb studs with six packs fail their Chemistry papers, but are great at flirting in the labs. The cute, curly haired charmers play the guitar rock stars who break hearts with the flick of a guitar string.
A fairy godmother cannot help if you happen to be the best looking girls’ best friend in this unforgiving world of cyber bullies. You simply earn the label ‘DUFF”- the designated ugly fat friend.
So, whose cause will you champion? These are the teams:
The Duff: Bianca (Mae Whitman).
Her Hot Best Friends: Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos).
The Blonde Bitch: Madison (Bella Thorne).
The Dumb Stud: Wesley (Robbie Amell).
The Cute Rock Star: Toby Tucker (Nick Eversman).
The last name is quite aptly reminiscent of another teenage flick, John Tucker Must Die. Our DUFF, Bianca, is a horror film geek and has a massive crush on Tucker. She treats her next-door stud and Tom Cruise lookalike neighbour, Wesley, with the contempt of a lab student towards a cockroach. He points out (in the most friendly manner possible) that she is no less than invisible to those leching at her best friends, Jess and Casey. Bianca reacts by promptly “unfriending” the two on Facebook and every other social networking site: the ultimate insult in today’s world. The two pretties remain kind and forgiving. No drama there.
Then Bianca strikes a deal with Wesley. He can teach her a thing or two about shopping for the right pushup bra while she can share her Chemistry notes. The idea is to get her to gather courage to approach the cute guitarist, Tucker.
Meanwhile, the blonde bitch, Madison, has set her long lashed eyes on Wesley. His closeness to Bianca sets her plotting and scheming and makes her the queen witch of cyber bullydom. The conflict stage is set.
It’s a classic good friend and mean guy triangle. You get the drill. Yet, The Duff charms and disarms you with quick, snappy lines and adorable performances from one and all. A couple of friendly teachers (Korean and Black, for the diversity campaign) and a single mom (Allison Janney) on the dating prowl add a dash of contemporary humour.
You wish that the characters of Madison, Jess and Casey were fleshed out more than their cardboard looks. Their insecurities beneath their skin-deep beauty and the complications that follow in friendships had the makings of a great subplot left undefined. A deeper exploration of cyber bullying might have lent some real meaning to current high school scenarios.
Whitman sparkles and shines with her comic delivery. Her camaraderie with the very likeable Amell is enough to brighten a predictable script. The spirited students win The Duff an A, despite its lazy and easy treatment. So what if there is no one really fat or ugly here and we just have one more label?

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Love in world cinema: How romance works in Kiarostami, Rohmer and Linklater’s films

“I like it.”
“What do you like about it?”
“I don’t see why I have to try and convince you.”
“I wonder how you can convince yourself.”
“You’re a real art expert, aren’t you?”
“I don’t see it as work of art. I like its subject.”
“Its subject?”
“I like the way she rests her head on his shoulder.”
“I can’t believe you’re so…sentimental.”
“I can’t believe you’re so…irresponsible.”
This is an argument that takes place between an art critic (William Shimell) and an unnamed French woman (Juliette Binoche) in the film Copie Conforme (Certified Copy), by celebrated Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami. In it, a mysterious French woman and the art critic talk about art and copies, while roaming around Tuscany.Gradually, the conversations become personal and intimate. Soon they’re sparring with each other like a married couple. One brilliantly written scene reflects how arguments can get bizarre to show years of suppressed emotions. Binoche has just been to the washroom, dabbed bright red lipstick on and put on long, pretty earrings. She sits at the table, looking at Shimell expectantly. He barely notices and grumbles about his drink.
She: “Look at your wife. She has made herself pretty for you. Open your eyes.”
He: “This is just not the moment. It is five o’clock. I’m hungry. I need a drink.”
[Crestfallen, she pulls off her earrings.]She: “When is the moment? It wasn’t last night either. When is the right moment?”
He: “Look darling, I was tired. Why couldn’t you just think my poor husband is exhausted, he has falling asleep.”
She: “Just say you don’t love me anymore.”
He: “You’d fallen asleep at the wheel going down the motorway. So I’ve a simple question for you."
She: “Simple answer.”
He: “Why did you fall asleep?”
She: “I was tired.”
He: “Did you fall asleep because you stopped loving our son?”
She: ”I dozed off, I didn’t sleep.”
He: “I dozed off too.”
She: “No, you were asleep.”
By the end of the movie, you don’t know if they met in the morning or have been married 15 years. Are they strangers play-acting – or copying – a marriage or are they a couple pretending to be strangers and moving into role-play?
Certified Copy is never really over. Long leisurely takes, still frames, ambiguous endings and talky scenes keep you engaged and engrossed. The tantalizing romance between this couple that you can’t pin down lingers in memory. The lines with which they provoke and woo each other are a seduction aimed at the audience. And it works.
Love is a shape-shifting thing. It’s usually a soaring ballad or a dance number in Bollywood. In Hollywood, it’s sealed with a kiss and some gasp-ridden lovemaking scene that offers flashes of naked skin. And then there’s the love we see in world cinema – a quietly intense thing that is filigreed with words and conceits.
There are only a few filmmakers who can indulge in this sort of love story without becoming annoyingly self-indulgent. French director Eric Rohmer is one of them. His films often follow a pattern. The central plot tends to be about a man who is attracted to one woman, distracted by a second and ultimately chooses to return to the first. It’s almost Biblical in its simplicity – the man chooses virtue over vice.
In Rohmer’s Ma Nuit Chez Maud (My night with Maud), a staunchly Catholic man spends a night with Maud, a single mom and divorcee. She challenges his religious values and he has to defend them while confronting the temptation she embodies. Each conversation in Ma Nuit Chez Maud is a little love story in itself. Intimacy is explored with ruthless honesty and a chaste yet cruel passion.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is a 20-minute conversation between Maud and the Catholic, shot using still frames. Maud lies under an exotic white fur blanket while the man strolls around the room, pontificating and arguing. Maud listens and also provokes him. “You are both a shamefaced Christian and a shamefaced Don Juan,” she tells him.
He tells Maud, “Women have taught me a lot, morally speaking. It would be idiotic to generalize, but each girl I met posed a new moral challenge.” As he bares his soul to Maud, he seems almost unaware of the next moral challenge lying in bed.In Oscar-nominated Richard Linklater’s beloved trilogy of love stories, the challenges are not moral as much as everyday banality. Based on languid conversations, Before SunriseBefore Sunset and Before Midnight goes deep into the viscera of a relationship: the courtship, the breakups, marriage and estrangement. In short: growing up.
The trilogy is a thesis on love, with each film following the lead couple over the span of a single day. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet, fall in love and age over the course of the three films. In Before Sunrise, they walk around in Vienna. In Before Sunset, they explore Paris and in Before Midnight, they’re a married couple on a holiday in Greece.
Their conversations range from the esoteric to the bizarre, like any couple’s. Or perhaps these are the conversations, with their artful mischief and poignant candour, that we wish we could have had.
CELINE: “All right? There could be a revolution any second...”
JESSE: “Don't.”
CELINE: “People eat a lot of feta and olive oil, they act all happy but they actually talk about how ‘angry’ they are... and it confuses me and I don't know what's going to happen in the next few weeks.”
JESSE: “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let me tell you what's going to happen alright. The same thing that always happens: Nothing.”
CELINE: “Alright. You know what? I have had absolutely zero time for myself, I have ten thousand emails I have to answer that I didn't answer... “
JESSE: “And you think I don't?”
CELINE:”I'm happy you have time to contemplate the universe and have existential problems because I don't - I barely have time to think. I work, I baby- sit, I work, I baby-sit. “
CELINE: ”I have realized I’ve just stopped loving you. This is it.”
Except of course, it isn’t. The love stories continue, as we replay scenes and remember moments in our memory, long after the films fade to black.

Friday, 5 June 2015


(This has first published on Firstpost.
When a camera does an almost a single-take waltz, around a brilliantly choreographed song with an infectious rhythm, and Ranveer Singh, Farhan Akhtar and Anil Kapoor grooving with hardcore filmi desi gusto, it’s both a treat and a feat. In Dil Dhadakne Do, this is achieved by one of Bollywood’s best directors, Zoya Akhtar.
There are few directors who add meaning to feelgood cinema. Akhtar and Raj Kumar Hirani are the top contenders in that arena. Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara remains the finest in several aspects of filmmaking. There’s unusual casting; a screenplay as smooth as a BMW ride; grand visual imagery and above all, Farhan Akhtar’s witty one-liners, which leave you guffawing along with pranksters who add ‘bwoys’ to the dictionary.
Dil Dhadakne Do is the story of a family celebrating the parents’ 25th wedding anniversary on a luxury cruise around Europe, and it is an ambitious and well-intended attempt to sail around unspoken territories. It’s a sincere attempt to go deep, which in the entire first half ends up dragging under its serious tone and humourless weight. The film just about stays afloat with the help of three winsome actors: Farhan Akhtar, Anushka Sharma and Shefali Shah.
Ranveer Singh’s energy and chemistry with Sharma are welcome sparks and a lifeboat for the boredom that threatens to sink this lavishly-mounted film. His and Sharma’s self-choreographed dance, with its shades of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s wild moves in Silver Lining Playbook, is a joyous, invigorating break from the monotony of a squabbling family.The Mehras are a wealthy Punjabi family of five: Kamal (Anil Kapoor), Neelam (Shefali Shah), Ayesha (Priyanka), Kabir (Ranveer Singh) and Pluto. Pluto is not just a pet. He has a voice (Aamir Khan), he thinks and he gives us the lengthy lowdowns on how this family. The Mehras hide their true feelings and shy away from real communication. As Sharma’s Farah puts it, “Tum log baat nahin karte?” So it is left to Pluto to do all the talking and philosophising. Guess Khan is a pro after preaching his way through PK.
The one who makes brave attempts to talk is Kabir. But first he must fly aircrafts when depressed. And then lie cheerfully to make sure his plane isn’t sold by his dad. His sister, Ayesha, has been married off to the stuck-up Manav (Rahul Bose), so that she does not elope with a manager’s son. Boy and girl discrimination rules both households and Ayesha is the silent victim whose pouty lips are sealed despite her education and business acumen.
Meanwhile, Kamal is on the brink of a bankruptcy and secretly takes anti-anxiety pills. Neelam constantly swallows his insults by stuffing her face with cakes. (Watch out for each of their solo scenes in the privacy of the bathroom. Shah can evoke tears without shedding one herself.)
Kamal and Neelam, stereotyped to a fault, dominate the story with their controlling ways. On board with them are equally stereotype uncles and aunts who also rule over their own children. Except for a nice moment with the aunties sitting in a row at a kitchen table and one of the quipping, “But who will give us a job?”, they all serve as prettily dressed props with identical handbags, lining the deck.
With the middle-aged parents crowding the ensemble plot, Kabir and Ayesha are rendered puppets who entertain when they dance and swing; and engage when they eventually shout and scream. You are left wanting to see more of Akhtar and Sharma, the only outsiders to the rich and closed community. Unfortunately, they remain on the periphery. So does the humour surrounding the film’s issues, which don’t come across as real when flushed with the gloss in costumes, make-up and the locations.
Kapoor is in his full element as the cold and ruthless businessman, husband and dad. Shah takes the cake, literally, with her chin-up act. Singh many not be King but is quite charming as the sulking prince. Chopra tries so hard to be perfectly made up that her looks constantly distract you from her performance. She saves herself with the right submissive expressions of a long-suffering wife in bed. Bose as her husband is decent in his indecency. Zarina Wahab as his controlling mom has some great lines and she delivers them surprisingly well. Sharma sizzles and Akhtar shines in their cameos.
When Dil Dhadakne Do’s chaotic climax comes, the shift in characters and dynamics don’t matter. Not even the lifeboat used in the end can rescue Zoya Akhtar’s brave Titanic cruising on shallow waters. Perhaps Ranveer Singh put it best when he joked in an interview that was the making of Excel Travel and Tours. It’s exotic, but not rejuvenating.


(This has first appeared in Firstpost)
Take the best elements of the delightful 2006 film, Little Miss Sunshine – children, grandfather, warring parents – remove its dark depth and churn it into a larger, crowd-pleasing, feel-good film with a clichéd dash of humour, and you get What We Did On Our Holiday.
This passable summer-holiday watch has Gone Girl’s Oscar-nominated star Rosamund Pike as the everyday wife and mom. Her presence and performance are just as average. The same is true of David Tennant, who plays Pike’s husband.
As it happens with any family in life, the children take centrestage in What We Did… . They are not cute little darlings, but brats who are capable of driving their parents crazy. In the backseat, they’re an annoyance. Put them in the front seat and no parent will survive their antics. Their intrepid and adorable grandfather (Billy Connolly), with his dangerous sense of humour, does exactly that on his supposedly last birthday.
What follows is a Hollywood ride that gives two BBC writers – the writer-director duo of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin – a chance to poke fun at the British. The children’s behaviour is explained to strangers with one line: ”They are from London.”
A London based couple, Aby (Pike) and Doug (David Tennant), drive down to the scenic Scotland Highlands with their three brats. They’ve gone to visit their cancer struck father, Gordie (Connolly) on his 75th birthday. The constantly arguing couple is about to split and decide to keep it a secret for the sake of the ailing dad.
However, Aby and Doug’s brats are the sort who would be more than happy to spill more beans than you can count. And there are many. Like, the parents live in separate houses now. Oh, and pop is having an affair.
The writing goes out of its way to make it clear that this is a dysfunctional family. And if this wasn’t evident to the presumably dimwitted audiences in the course of the film, then Aby gives a last key speech on how its all about loving your family, functional or otherwise. You’d be forgiven for thinking it belongs in the climax of a Karan Johar film. It’s another matter that this speech is one of What We Did…’s big failures since it’s used to breezily wrap up a hasty and lazy third act.
Fortunately, What We Did… has the brats. Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge), 6, worships the Vikings. Ten-year-old Lottie (Emilia Jones) has mastered the art of serious, mature expressions while she jots down every family secret in her notebook. Aby and Doug’s youngest, Jess (Harriet Turnbull), is the cutest and the scene-stealer. She has rocks for pets and shamelessly steals her uncle’s keys.
The uncle is Doug’s elder brother, Gavin (Ben Miller) who is as much a kid as Jess. Keep an eye out for the clapping scene (after a boring violin performance by Gavin’s son) with Gavin and Jess, which is quite chuckle worthy. Gavin’s wife, Margaret (a delightful Amelia Bullmore) is a depressed nutcase in private but utterly composed in drawing rooms. Her character is a stroke of fine writing, in its subtle and funny exploration of the pressure that intensifies from keeping up family appearances.
Between the three little monsters and the two family comedians, there is much fun to be had at grandpa’s birthday.
One thing is guaranteed after watching What We Did On Our Holiday: you may not be keen on brats, but you will be sold on the idea of a holiday in Scotland.

Thursday, 21 May 2015


(This first published on
Four years ago in Tanu Weds Manu, Tanu won your heart over with her bad girl image and drinking and schmoozing ways. This year Datto will vie as much for your heart with her endearing tomboy innocence, Haryanvi accent and her smashing knockouts handed to anyone who dares misbehave. It’s a tough competition between Tanu and Datto. Or Kangana vs Kangana. How on earth will second time groom, Manu (Madhavan) choose? Plus there is the gun happy, sexy ex boyfriend, Raja Awashti (Deliciously rakish Jimmy Shergill). To top that, there is a new admirer, Chintu (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) smitten with Tanu-the best part of the sequel - Tanu Weds Manu Returns.
It’s all crazy and complicated. So is the impossibly contrived, over the top plot with some good scenes and dialogues which play high and fast to the gallery.
Director Anand Rai, along with a writer, extremely gifted with wit and humour - Himanshu Sharma are experts at creating characters madly and hopelessly in love. Raanjhanaa had Dhanush ,the deewana of Benaras happy to die in Sonam’s arms. Now, in TWMR, there are several of the loony in love characters.
The most dramatic, of course is Tanu. She is seen, a long jacket wrapped around her slim frame, roaming the streets of Kanpur, in the dead of night, a glass of liquor in her hand, lost in the old strains by Geeta Dutt… “ja ja ja bewafaa…” Guru Dutt was definitly smiling from up above, at this haunting tribute.
Then there is Datto, the wisp of an athlete who puts up such a brave fight against her village family rooted in caste beliefs, that you can’t help falling for her, just like Manu. Little wonder, he barely notices the kerosene brought in to burn him alive.
Apparently, Manu’s wedding is never short of death defying adventure. If he almost got shot down during his first wedding in the Tanu Weds Manu, his life is at stake yet again. Not just that, ex-wife (it doesn’t take long on screen for divorces to come through), Tanu, makes sure she dances at his wedding while he watches from atop a ghodi. When Tanu dances here or at a strangers wedding, the fierce rage and anguish in her jhatkas and matkas are enough to win Kangana more admirers and fans.
But another contender for applause is not far behind. When Datto gives a self defiant speech in Haryanvi, fighting for herself respect and says she is an athlete who gets admission in a Delhi college on her own merit and can earn her own living unlike Tanu, writer Himanshu Sharma, has a clear winner. More so, when Kangana sounds like a real Haryanvi. Her fiery spirit, boy cut and big teeth (kudos her stylist)  prove to be tough competition for Tanu’s mad moods, pretty bangles, jhumkas and seductive curls.
Tanu is the proverbial wife who can drive a husband really mad. So mad that he actually lands up in an asylum in London. She thinks nothing of taking off for Kanpur and calling his best friend, Pappy ( Deepak Dobriyal) to come and rescue Manu, more as an afterthought. Once home, she is out to  shock and scandalize and break anyone’s wedding plans in the family. Even if she has to come out in a towel and greet the guests and tell the hapless bride to be to find more adventure in running away, with or without a boyfriend. She herself plans to have an affair and seeks out old flame who she calls Awasthiji.
But there is a twist in the tale, a hilarious blast from the past and TWMR gets wickedly funny at interval point. All hell sets loose but so loose that the director cannot gather it back with conviction.
The film has everything unbelievable, going for it, be it the way Tanu and Manu break up or the way a quick second wedding plans begin for Manu. The ending too has an easy copout.
But the film charms and engages with its insane people riding the streets of Kanpur. There is even a hilarious tug of war between Awasthi and Chintu  with Tanu on the scooter seat. The  art department is visibly efficient all throughout in overcrowded terraced houses and peeling of pea pods by a male family member (Rajendra Gupta). Incidentally, Gupta is Manu’s father who gives a long gyaan on marriage to a running background sound of his wife yelling and nagging. The scene ends with a classic blackout: a solution to marital fights.
The supporting cast is a riot. Swara Bhaskar with a baby related secret, Eijaaz Khan as the Sardar doing dandiya, Zeeshan as the shameless (non) paying guest lawyer and Deepak Dobriyal who squeals out every funny line ,and above all, the gunda charmer who Jimmy Shergill plays suitably subdued with flashes of past behavior. It’s not an easy task to make your presence felt amongst these colourful and talented lot falling over each other to outshine the dynamite packed in wispy Kangana; but Madhavan with his quiet, shy smiles and occasional outbursts, stands his own, comfortable in his 80 kilos presence.
Despite all its mad and hurried, rather unreal wedding drama, Tanu Weds Manu Returns is an entertaining, crazy ride in a double decker with  Kangana as bonus. The queen rocks as drama queen.
With a Geeta Dutt song to boot, who needs band baaja?

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Is Tollywood a graveyard for older Bollywood heroines?

Twenty-one years ago, she was the first Indian to win the Miss Universe crown. Eleven years ago, she had enough oomph to be the dream Chemistry teacher, dancing in sexy chiffon sarees, in Main Hoon Na. Shah Rukh Khan broke into a R D Burman song every time he set eyes on her in the super hit film. Today, hitting 40, that same Sushmita Sen is happy playing a corpse in the Bengali film, Nirbaak.
It's cruel irony that a SRK song pays an ode to Sen's beauty, albeit with a grim twist, in Nirbaak. The Hindi song, “Tujhe dekha to yeh jaana sanam…” plays on her last admirer’s cellphone, as he gazes at her still form inside a morgue, covered in white sheet, her bare shoulders and face gleaming luminous.
As falls from grace go, this is a painful one. Sen had never bagged the best of roles in Hindi cinema, neither was she particularly well-known for her acting skills. However, her vivacious charm and sex appeal were undeniable, and remain so. Yet, there she lies in Tollygunge morgue forgotten by her Main Hoon Na fans and filmmakers.
Sen is not the first to turn to Tollygunge way after being dismissed by Bollywood. Talent and beauty are not enough when age catches up with a Hindi film heroine. Manisha Koirala had to make do with an ungenerous amount of screen time in Rituparno Ghosh’s Khela in 2008. She was 37 at the time. Despite the few scenes, she made her presence felt, as an unhappy wife who wants a baby. You couldn't help feeling, though, that Ghosh had wasted Koirala and valued her only for the superficial gloss, fading as it might be, that she as a Bollywood actress added to Khela's publicity.
When Bipasha Basu's career slumped after flops like Dhan Dhana Dhan, she tried to gain credibility by dropping her “sex symbol” image and going demure in sarees with long sleeve blouses, complete with big, black bindi, in Rituparno Ghosh’sShob Charitro Kalponik in 2009. The film, surprisingly, won a national award for the best feature film in Bengali. Basu, though, didn’t contributed much to its success. Her beautiful face barely twitched with emotion and Ghosh decided to dub her voice. Perhaps that's why Basu is content, screaming and running in high heels, in B-grade horror movies in Bollywood.
It’s difficult to say though, what’s more horrifying: Basu not being scary enough or Sen playing corpse.
By the time Dia Mirza starred in Pratim Dasgupta’s Paanch Adhyay, she was in that uncomfortable situation where her lead roles were for forgettable films like Hum Tum Aur Ghost, but she was carving a niche for herself in memorable cameos, like her role in Lage Raho Munnabhai. In Dasgupta’s Bengali film, she looked stunning and performed earnestly. Wisely perhaps, Mirza, 33, appears to have cut her losses and go behind the camera.  As producer, she brought us a fairly decent Bobby Jaasoos, starring Vidya Balan who incidentally made her debut in Bengali film, Bhalo Theko in 2003. It probably didn’t bother Balan that trees played more crucial roles than her in the film since she was on the threshold of what was to become a very fine career in Hindi cinema.
It’s a huge pity that Sen has to make do in Nirbaak with a role that requires her to say very few lines while her character is alive and the rest of the time, lie around doing nothing.
Oh, she does a solo dance too. Around a lusty tree, which is in love with her. As though Sen is attractive only to a lump of wood, literally. This amorous tree is shown emitting liquid discharge when Sen is asleep in its shade. And guess who is jealous of Sen in the film? A female dog; that is, a bitch.
Nirbaak is Sen’s first Bengali film. She was last seen in a flop Hindi film called No Problem. It’s been precious five years since then. Perhaps this gap explains why Sen has subjected herself to such a deathly role. Or maybe because the director, Srijit Mukherjee, who is this year’s National Award winner, dedicated Nirbaak to Salvador Dali.
Promoting Nirbaak, Sen was all praise for Tollywood and dismissed Bollywood by saying of actors in the Hindi film industry, “We look good and our job is done.” Sen said she appreciated the way actors got into their characters’ skin in Bengali cinema. Was she referring to the tree or the dog or Jisshu Sengupta who just looks handsome or Anjan Dutt who is simply disgusting in the film? Is this reason enough for her to slip into a morgue, professionally? We can only guess, along with marvelling at her being thankful that the director “made sure he made me part of the film in which I had to speak absolutely nothing.”
If Nirbaak fetches some festival (read: pseudo) award for Sen, it might be worth the actress’ time. But it will be no match for her gorgeous million-watt smile and husky voice, which deserves much more. The trophy will be a small consolation prize for the death of the Bollywood heroine.

Friday, 15 May 2015


(This has first appeared on Firstpost)
There are two shootout sequences in Bombay Velvet. One of them starts with a wonderful drum roll. The camera is on Ranbir Kapoor’s face, which wears the most anticipated expression of determined revenge. Then we see his back as he rises from the floor, armed with a tommy gun in each hand. This is the Scarface moment, the dream action scene every actor loves to play and every Tarantino-struck director loves to shoot.
Kapoor and director Anurag Kashyap are no exceptions. So much so that, Kapoor forgets he is Johnny Balraj here and Kashyap was probably too trigger happy to have his Gangs of Wasseypur moment to care about the timing of the sequence. And so, the only dramatic scene in the movie ends like a gun with a silencer that misfires. The following climax involving Karan Johar, is a unintentionally hilarious version of Gabbar saying, "naach Basanti" in Sholay.
Bombay Velvet follows Balraj (Kapoor) and Rosie’s(Anushka Sharma) stories. She is a nightclub singer and he is a streetfighter turned henchman. Rosie has suffered abuse since she was a little girl and Johnny has survived poverty. He is in a hurry to become a “big shot” and gets picked up by journalist and businessman Kaizad Khambatta (Karan Johar introduced in a yellow jacket). Khambatta sets up a nightclub called Bombay Velvet, where he can entertain clients who need persuasion and where liquor flows despite prohibition. Johnny and his friend Chimman are given the task of running Bombay Velvet.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Mistry (Manish Chowdhary), Khambatta’s childhood friend, current friend and editor of “Glitz”, makes Rosie his mistress. He then sends her to Bombay Velvet to do some digging about Khambatta. She’s supposed to seduce Johnny for information and she does, only to fall in love with him in earnest. And so begins a love story full of betrayals and danger. (That Mistry conveniently disappears later in the plot is another matter).
Consider the elements that Bombay Velvet has been trumpeting (pun intended). It’s supposed to be an epic love story mounted on a grand, lavish scale set in the Bombay of ’50s and ’60s. The sensational promise of jazz, cabaret, nightclubs; a distressed, heavily made up singer with heavy gowns and big red flower bows in coiffured hair; a perpetually beaten up boxer, madly in love with her; a sly Shylock. The big appeal is the backdrop — the city’s post-independence history of mill strikes, rooted in a non-fiction book, Mumbai Fables by Gyan Prakash.
Sadly, the backdrop is also the biggest sham about the film. Bombay Velvet pretends to show a real Bombay, but is actually as pretty and artificial as a Sanjay Leela Bhansali set, only in lovely sepia tones. Real facts are just touched upon and relegated to a few lines at the end of the film. The song “Sylvia” nods at the infamous Nanavati scandal, but the film doesn’t talk about it. There’s banter that could have been meaningful, but doesn’t end up to be. For instance Khambata calls Mistry “Russia ka tutoo”, and Mistry in turn calls Khambata “American agent”. Had their rivalry been developed, it would have made Bombay Velvet a more interesting film and a better testament to the city’s history than Rosie and Johnny’s love story is.
Instead we get passing references to mill strikes, a reference to Russi Karanjia’s Blitz which is Glitz in the film, named after the real publication-Blitz. Manish Chaudhary plays Jimmy Mistry, clearly modelled upon Karanjia. Only, Chowdhary does not come across even remotely as a Parsi, which is something we’re reminded of each time Johnny calls him “Bawa”.
There has been much talk about the use of jazz in the soundtrack. Apparently, there were live recordings by musicians brought in from Prague, England, Chennai and Mumbai. Music director Amit Trivedi also reworked the famous song from CID, sung by Geeta Dutt, ”Jaata kahan hai deewane…”. Back when CID was released, the censor board did not allow the picturised song as it imagined a word “fiffy’ to have a “double meaning”. Trivedi’s revamped “Fiffy” brings back the original song, but ‘jazzed’ up, it loses half its charm.
Bombay Velvet boasts of 13 months of editing, two edits (Thelma Schoonmaker, Prerna Saigal ), one year of pre-production, 25,000 kilos of costumes and eight years of research. Mumbai was recreated in Sri Lanka, which is quite a feat for the art director and despite the challenging camera work by Rajeev Ravi, it doesn’t quite bring alive the magic of Marine Lines or Colaba.
The backdrop and jazz paraphernalia charm and seduce initially, but quickly becomes tiresome. Balraj and Rosie’s love story is predictable and cliched, but despite all the show of passion — tempers flying, slapping, kissing, bathtub scenes et al — there’s little emotional connect between the audience and the couple. The scenes don’t flow smoothly and the intercrossing cuts serve to disconnect rather than involve. This is particularly disappointing, as the edit does not reflect the craftsmanship expected of a Hollywood editor who has worked with Martin Scorsese.
Sharma and Johar try their intense best and manage to sustain interest, to some extent. Sharma’s expressions in the song “Dhadaam” will tug at your heartstrings and Johar’s private moment of sneaky laughter is delightful. Kapoor, in contrast, is like an injured boxer who does not belong in the ring. His Balraj flounders and crumbles. Raveena Tandon Thadani makes a worthy special appearance in one song, with a giant purple peacock feather as her crowning glory. Satyadeep Misra as Johnny’s loyal friend Chimman and Kay Kay Menon as the Bollywood-loving cop do their part with panache.
Yet, all this isn’t enough to redeem Bombay Velvet, which tries too hard to be a Taj Mahal. Ultimately, though, it just ends up feeling like monumental vanity.