Category Archives: Entertainment

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil – Soggy, Miserable, Romance

The best thing that could have happened to Karan Johar’s latest movie, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was the controversy surrounding Fawad Khan, the Pakistani actor who makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in this bloated 2 hour 35 minute-long weep fest. Even among Johar loyalists like me who were enthralled by the escapist glossiness of Riverdale romance Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and manipulative melodrama Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, the bloom was wearing off, thanks to clunkers like My Name is Khan and Student of the Year. Without the hype surrounding the movie and a trailer featuring the glorious title song, I wonder how many of us would have dragged ourselves to this throwback of a movie, featuring foreign locations and playback singing, features that have become passé even in formula-driven Bollywood.

Johar sets this tale of unrequited love in his usual upper crust milieu, where transportation is by private jet and the credit cards are bottomless, but it has always been his forte to focus on the emotional anxieties of the rich and famous. If that lends his movies a sheen of inauthenticity, that is usually overcome by the clever lines, the crisp editing, and the attractiveness and chemistry of his lead actors.

In ADHM, though, his charm runs out, and what we are left with is a pastiche of countless movies of the 90s and 00s, including Johar’s own, which have fermented in his gut a tad too long before being regurgitated into a stinky mess that reeks of desperation. Every line of dialogue is either from another movie, or sounds like it should be. Plenty of old classic songs are replayed constantly, as are tunes from old KJ movies. Even the scenes are repurposed. A scene of the actors cavorting in a Swiss-like mountain meadow is obviously a Yash Chopra homage, but feels dreadfully like the director has run out of ideas, especially since the actors begin the scene in Paris.

Even the actors inhabit multiple personalities from their previous movies. Ranbir Kapoor, who is surely a better actor than on display here, senses the fakery of the premise and decides to recycle responsibly. He is Ved from Tamasha for the first half hour or so, before seguing into Barfi and then Janardhan/Jordan from Rockstar. Anushka Sharma looks like Zaara from Veer Zaara and acts like Taani from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Since the two are not even supposed to be in love with each other, even the Shahrukh/Kajol kind of chemistry cannot be relied on to prop up the movie, though the Khan gamely makes a Botoxed-cameo to help out his friend,

Aishwarya Rai, Ranbir’s other love interest, seems to be in this movie to triumphantly prove to her detractors that she is back in shape and drop-dead gorgeous again, so take that, you haters. Every scene is an audition for a future perfume commercial or a jewelry line, with popping lip color and artfully waved hair framing those luscious features. It’s possible she has a no-kissing clause in her movie contracts because her love-making scenes with Ranbir are positively anemic, which are such a disservice to the story, given that their relationship is supposed to be one of sensuous physicality.

The one redeeming factor of KJ’s movies has always been the pleasant sense of satiation one gets from consuming buttered popcorn but, sad to say, it’s time to admit that the butter has gone rancid and the popcorn is soggy. Mainstream Bollywood has been coming out with very interesting movies lately, like Pink, and Badlapur, and Kahaani, where the emphasis is rightly on strong narratives, indigenous themes, and meaty roles. The era of Karan Johar’s fantasies may have finally passed, it seems. I think I’ll miss it, but I’m glad it’s done.

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya – Lacking a Core

Humpty_Sharma_Ki_Dulhania_PosterI blame Farah Khan. After the huge success of Main Hoon Na filmmakers realized that they could just slap a coat of fresh paint on old Bollywood hits, add a tribute scene or two, repackage the tried and tested formula with some contemporary flavor and thrust it on unsuspecting audiences too young to remember the original.

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya makes no bones about the fact that it is a DDLJ remake. The opening credits show the tapori hero Humpty Sharma unashamedly crying to the final train scene from the original movie. To this hackneyed plot are added updates that are supposed to represent modernity, namely,
– Hero with a funny name (Barfi, Bunny, Humpty)
– Heroine who smokes, drinks, and swears (Tanu Weds Manu, Shuddh Desi Romance)
– Guilt-free premarital sex
– Sympathetic family
– 2 sidekicks for the hero (young unknowns who have replaced the comic relief characters Johnny Lever etc. used to play)
– Loose, street banter
– Side plot where everybody demonstrates how cool they are with someone being gay by making jokes about homosexuality.

DDLJ was a complete romantic fantasy, but it was Aditya Chopra’s own fantasy, so the movie still had some authenticity despite the caricatured characters and unrealistic plot. HSKD is based on someone else’s fantasy, so the characters, their motivations, their environment are twice removed from reality. It is as if the writers of HSKD lived in a film set their whole lives where they experienced nothing except other Bollywood movies.

Each character is a pastiche of many other Bollywood screen entities and this leads to characters behaving in schizophrenic ways. Ashutosh Rana as the heroine’s father swings wildly between an Anupam Kher-like sympathetic figure and an Amrish Puri tyrant. Alia Bhat channels a firebrand Kajol from DDLJ, a demure Rani from KKHH, and a no-holds-barred Kangana from Tanu Weds Manu, sometimes in the same scene. Varun Dhawan as the titular Humpty tries very hard to create a personality for himself, but his slack-jawed dialogue delivery does no justice to his character, who is a blend of Aamir from Rangeela, Shahrukh from DDLJ and Saif from, well, any Saif movie.

Even the scenes are cut/pasted from other movies. This leads to very jarring juxtapositions. The heroine comes from a fairly conservative family but they seem to be okay with her spending the night with strangers. She and the hero impulsively have sex one night, most likely the first time for her, but the next day she seems cool with it, something her upbringing, as shown in the movie, does not support. The heroine’s father, despite having serious objections to Humpty, agrees to let him stay in his house for five days when the lovebirds koochy-coo every night and exhibit PDAs every day.

It doesn’t help that the music sucks. Music has saved many a bad movie from disaster (I Hate Luv Storys comes to mind) but in this case the soundtrack is a generic 3-wedding-songs, 1-tragic-song package that does nothing except provide bathroom breaks.

The leads are nice looking, especially Alia Bhatt who is bursting with health and vitality but, in the hands of inexperienced director Shashank Khaitan, both she and Varun Dhawan (David Dhawan’s son) just wing it through the movie. Dhawan, in particular, has his mouth open all the time and looks like he is just about to drool. It is an ultra-relaxed style of emoting that is popular these days, but what inexperienced actors don’t realize that it takes a lot of effort to look natural. For pointers I would direct them to Kangana in Queen, who achieved that effortless style after working hard at it in several movies earlier.

Unfortunately these kind of movies have been successful and, judging by the reaction in yesterday’s screening, the audience liked the movie just fine. In a summer drought of light-hearted time-pass fare, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya is a drop of recycled water, not tasty, but relieving thirst all the same.

 

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani – The Joharification of Bollywood

YJHDWe have a saying in our family that “Disney Ruins Everything.” We watched in dismay as the quality of Pixar movies dropped after Disney took over, and now the Disneyfication of Marvel has the die-hard comic fans in my family aghast.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani(YJHD) is an perfect example of the Joharification of mainstream Bollywood. To be fair, Karan Johar himself was inspired by Yash Chopra, whose glossy movies about wealthy Punjabi romances set a certain template for song and dance movies, but Chopra was a romantic at heart, and there was a sincerity in his vision that shone through the mehndis, sangeets, and tulip fields. With Johar, the emotional manipulation in his movies is blatant, from the kid singing Jana Gana Mana in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, to the dupatta handed over by Kajol to Rani in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. There is also something ersatz about all his movies, as if he is incapable of genuine feeling and reconstructs it from the vision and product of other, better directors.

Jawaani is directed by Ayan Mukherjee and stars Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, but it might as well have been helmed by Johar and starred Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. Johar, who produced the movie, seems to have had such a strong influence on the young director that Mukherjee, who previously made the warm-hearted Wake Up Sid with such finesse, goes full-on Bollywood, with ensemble song-and-dances at the drop of a hat and big wedding productions.

Still, Jawaani, the tale of a boy with itchy feet and a girl back home who pines for him, is watchable, and credit for that must go almost entirely to Kapoor and Padukone, who share an incredibly chemistry and light up the screen whenever they are together. The first half, where the shy Naina blossoms under the throwaway affection of the oddly named Bunny and where the lead pair is together on screen most of the time, is quite magical. The aptly named Naina conveys such tender wistfulness to be a part of Bunny’s cool gang and to be loved by the nomadic Bunny that you feel intensely what it’s like to be her. Padukone is perfectly cast and those supercharged moments that promise a budding relationship are beautifully directed and acted.

In the second half the movie loses steam, mainly because the absence of the romantic pair makes you realize how thin this 2 hour, 40 minute film really is. Kalki Koechlin and Aditya Roy Kapur have an unnecessary amount of screen time, but even all that time is not enough to fully develop their characters or their story lines. The denouement is disappointing, but then I think most romantic movies don’t get it right, so maybe it’s just my opinion.

Mukherjohar’s musical co-conspirator is Pritam, which is why each song reminds you of another composer. There is an Amit Trivedi-style song sung by Rekha Bhardwaj called “Kabira,” a Salim-Suleimanesque number titled “Dilliwali Girlfriend,” and the peppy “Badtameez Dil” feels like it could have been composed by Vishal-Shekhar.

To Pritam’s credit, the songs are all peppy and hummable and well-choreographed, but after the evolution of Bollywood movies to songs being played in the background, the ensemble numbers feel retro. And roping in an ageing Madhuri Dixit for an item number is a classic example of the audience manipulation that Johar is famous for.

If you are a Karan Johar fan, by all means watch YJHD. It will not make you feel any real emotion, or linger in your mind after you return home, but for the nearly three hours you are in the theater you will be entertained. I would have been more depressed by the corruption of a good director like Mukherjee, but the trailers of Lootera and Ranjhaana that I saw left me with hope. And Kapoor and Padukone are so good together that I predict they will be a classic romantic pair in many movies to come.

My rating: 3/5

 

Special Chabbis – The Hype Doesn't Help

special chabbisThe story is quite interesting, though it is not particularly original.

The script is excellent, with small touches that elevate.

The direction is just above mediocre, and does the script a great disservice.

The confounding thing about Special Chabbis (Special 26) is that the story, script, and direction are all in the hands of the same person–Neeraj Pandey–who distinguished himself with A Wednesday, one of the finest thrillers to come out of Bollywood.

Pandey won the Indira Gandhi award for Best First Film of a Director for that gem, and there are moments in Chabbis that justify that praise. But overall, this heist thriller in the mold of Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job does not live up to its pre- and post-release hype.

I wonder if the clue to that disappointment lies in the numerous entities that seemed to be involved with the film – the production acknowledgments run longer than the credits. Was the director pressured to add songs, dances, and a pulsating background score that often detracts from the on-screen action by its inappropriateness? It seems unnecessary, since the crisply edited, songless A Wednesday was such a commercial and critical success.

No matter what the reason, Chabbis is bloated with the trappings of Bollywood – the sangeet, the dream sequence, the judaai song – which add at least 30-40 minutes of unnecessary running time. Yes, it is important to have character development, but that can be done without pandering to the front-seaters – witness how beautifully (and economically) Rani Mukherjee’s character was sculpted in Talaash. And what’s unforgivable is that those extra minutes could have been used to close the gaping holes in the plot, some of which are wide enough to drive a barred police van through.

What saves Chabbis is its terrific script  and its capable cast. This is probably Anupam Kher’s best role in a long, long time – the movie is worth watching just for his role as an ordinary man living an extraordinary secret life. Manoj Bajpayee as a dashing CBI officer is great as ever, and even Akshay Kumar steps up his performance in the company of these masters. There are many delicious morsels of dialogue that will stay with you long after the movie is done and will give the movie longevity both at the box office and on DVD.

Despite its letdowns, Chabbis is worth watching… just go in with realistic expectations, not with the shadow of A Wednesday hovering over the experience. And take the kids, if you want…this is a pretty clean and fun film.

Talaash: Aamir Khan Does it Again!

The overwhelming feeling I had after watching Talaash was relief: A quality Bollywood entertainer need not be an oxymoron anymore.

This Reema Kagti-directed thriller has Aamir’s stamp all over it – it is superbly (ghost?) directed, cast, and acted and the music is to die for, in more ways than one.

The story of the death of a Bollywood celebrity in an inexplicable accident, and the dogged determination of Inspector Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) to resolve it, is interesting but not award-seeking film noir. Rather, Talaash pitches itself as pure paisa vasool entertainment, from its stellar pacing to its full quotient of songs. What elevates it from the Vikram Bhatt, Mohit Suri, body-baring B-movies is the excellent script (by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti) that walks a very fine line between cinematic drama and gritty realism.

The cast, with the ever-dependable Khan as the troubled inspector, a luminous Rani Mukherjee as his sad wife and Kareena Kapoor as the mysterious femme fatale, is A-list. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the pivotal character Tehmur (the lame) turns in an award-winning winning performance that fully justifies his prominence in the credits.

It’s hard to say more about Talaash without giving the game away, so I’ll just comment on the peripherals. Ram Sampath of “Bhag Bhag D.K Bose” fame composes both the background score and songs and they are wonderfully melodic, even if they evoke faint recollections of songs gone before. Worth getting the CD.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d07uw3Zn7_o

And Kagti does a really creditable job as director, though the presence of Aamir Khan will surely dilute her reputation. Why is it, I wonder, that no director ever works with Aamir again after giving a super hit? Ashutosh Gowarikar, who directed Aamir in Baazi, never repeated him after the mega-success of Lagaan. John Matthew Matthan did no work with Aamir after Sarfarosh, and Rakeysh Mehra only had Rang De Basanti with the actor. The rancor between director Anusha Rizvi and producer Khan following Peepli [LIVE] is well-documented. Do the Khan’s perfectionist instincts sour these relationships? If so, we as the movie-goers are better for it. Keep at it Aamir, this fan thanks you for yet another satisfying movie. Whatever it is you are doing, you are doing it right!

Gangs of Wasseypur – Part 1

The bad news about GoW is that it doesn’t tread on any new stuff. The good news is that where it does tread, it does so with a sure and deft touch, showcasing director Anurag Kashyap’s now-undeniable talent.

Movies about gangland empires and their bloody turf wars and successions are pretty common ( and, in my opinion, easy to make). Pick almGoWost any of Ram Gopal Varma’s oeuvre and you’ll see what I mean. The difference here is that instead of setting the confrontations in Mumbai’s dank and fecund underground, Kashyap takes on the coal belt towns of Dhanbad and Wasseypur and the gory butchering industry to craft a multi-genrational saga that has more than a passing resemblance to the Godfather series in its delineation of characters and their relationships.

Family rivalries begin in 1940s India between the Qureshis and the Khans and continue unabated as the momentous events of Indian independence simply translate to a changing of the reins of power without any impact of the lives or fortunes of the poor. British oppression gives way to exploitation by the corrupt politicos of the district, as the protagonists quickly figure out new alliances.

GoW is told from the point of view of the Khans, with a bulk of this first movie focusing on Sardar Khan, the second generation of the Khan family as he hard-scrabbles his way to establish himself as the local goonda. As his life story is revealed, we see the complex dynamics in the power play between the two families, and can see the beginnings of the rivalries that will permeate the next generation.

If the plot sounds familiar, it is, and this tends to make the movie a tad predictable. But it is scripted, directed, and acted amazingly well. If mainstream movies aimed for even 50% of the talent that is on display here, the Indian film industry would be ready to take its place in the ranks of global cinema.

Manoj Bajpai as Sardar Khan is as good as ever, and deals with the complex character with nuance. The script and his fine acting are able to give this cold-hearted killer a sympathetic touch, which is quite a feat considering we see him hacking down rivals in the most gory ways possible.

The supporting cast is equally good, and using lesser-known actors really pays off, as they completely inhabit their characters. The women, as often happens in these gangster movies, are the wives, mistresses and victims, but the terrific writing is able to flesh out each character in the limited time she is given. Kudos to Kashyap for making the fearsome Sardar a hen-peckedcoard at home; this makes for the few laugh-out loud moments in this grim and gruesome movie. Richa Chaddha as Nagma, Sardar’s wife, is pitch perfect, and Reema Sen as his mistress is great too.

As I said before, I happen to think that gangland movies are relatively easy to make because there is so much drama to be exploited. RGV’s success with Satya, Sarkar, and Company, and his appalling failure with other genres (except for Rangeela) sort of illustrates my point. But Kashyap has already proven his mettle with such diverse movies as Dev D, a contemporary remake of Devdas, and That Girl With Yellow Boots, where wife Kalki Koechlin play the eponymous role of an expat masseuse looking for her father. Gangs of Wasseypur feels like an experiment in this particular genre,though a wildly successful one. Here’s hoping that after this saga is completed with GoW2 we’ll see another quirky movie in a different genre from this terrific movie maker.

Oh, the music? I didn’t particularly care for it, but it seemed to appeal to the guys I know a lot. Maybe a gender thing.:)

Kid Advisory: NOT FOR KIDS OF ANY AGE.

Vicky Donor: A Pleasant Surprise

vickydonorBollywood’s formula has always been to take run-of-the-mill themes and melodramatize the heck out of them – the lovers from different social classes, the son taking revenge on his father’s killer, the love triangle. So when a movie does the exact opposite, taking an outlandish theme and treating it as a normal, everyday phenomenon, it comes as a welcome surprise.

Vicky Donor has an absurd, far-fetched premise; whoever heard of someone making a living off of sperm donation? But Vicky Arora  (Anshumann Khurrana) does, and his story is told with panache and sensitivity. The film could have easily veered into caricature and sexploitation any number of times, but director Shoojit Sircar handles the tough subject with incredible deftness, never once making the audience uncomfortable, even though the word “sperm” is as plentiful in the dialogues as Vicky’s “contributions”. The laughs come from the authentic North Indian dialogues and the situations, not from embarassment. Best of all, everyone in the film seems like an average grounded person, not a star emoting for the camera. In fact, Vicky Donor almost feels like a documentary on the virtues of sperm donation, though one that is genuinely funny and heart-warming.

Sircar achieves this feat by casting relative unknowns who, nevertheless, are completely comfortable with their unusual roles. Khurrana, who debuts in Bollywood with this movie, is a TV host with an engaging boy-next-door appeal. His comic timing is impeccable and his “Lajpat Nagar”  mannerisms are pitch perfect in Vicky Donor. Yaami Gautam, who plays Ashima, Vicky’s Bengali love interest, also comes from TV. Both the leads are restrained, letting the supporting actors chew up the scenery.

Among those is Annu Kapoor as Dr. Chaddha, the infertility specialist who nags Vicky into his occupation. Kapoor seems to be playing a version of himself, so this is an easy role for him. My favorites in the movie were Vicky’s mom Dolly, played by the excellent Dolly Ahluwalia, and Biji, Vicky’s grandmother, played by theater actress Kamlesh Gill. The interactions between the two are the highlight of the movie. The two characters are wonderfully drawn and elicit the most laughs and sympathy; they seem so real that it feels like they were inspired by family members of the script writer.

And that brings us to the real hero of the film – the script written by Juhi Chaturvedi. This is her first script for Hindi movies and I wish there was a way to keep track of her future work because this script is just brilliant. Even though the dialogues may be a bit of a slog for folks not familiar with the Punjabi-heavy Hindi of the north, they are just very, very clever and funny.

The songs (all of which play in the background) are excellent too, and make me want to look them up online. The new Bollywood trend of letting the songs serve as a backdrop to the movie rather than have the actors lip-synch to them is such a relief; for one, it brings a much needed dose of realism to the proceedings. Second, it allows for a variety of singing talents,  not just the conventional hero-heroine voices that dominated most of Bollywood’s history.

I did have a couple of quibbles. First is, of course, the elephant in the room, the premise that someone can actually make money off of getting off. The second is how cavalierly adoption is dismissed as a viable option for infertile couples. Are Indian couples more comfortable with artificial insemination through sperm donation rather than adoption? Aren’t there  many deserving babies already born and waiting for love and attention?

Perhaps there is another movie in that. Vicky Donor, for its part, skates over the issue with a token dialogue or two, but it makes up with wit and charm in the subject it does tackle.

Kudos to actor John Abraham for financing this little gem. Now that the low budget indie comedy genre is finally taking off in India, it may be time to shed the “Bollywood” tag or reserve it for the execrable, derivative big-budget crap that seems to have its own audience. Movies like Vicky Donor, Dhobi Ghat, and even Delhi Belly deserve to be called just Hindi movies or Indian movies.

Can Vicky Donor be seen on DVD? Yes. But it is worth forking over some of your hard-earned cash to check it out in your local multiplex. It may not have special effects or the Bollywood oomph that make for a theater spectacle, but it is a sweet, funny movie that would be great for a couple’s night out.

Kid Advisory: For obvious reasons, DO NOT take your kids to the  movie unless you are aiming for an early birds and bees lesson. There are also a couple of sensitively shot love scenes ( the kissing is getting better and better in Bollywood as actors get over their inhibitions) and the subject matter is much too adult. Older teenagers might enjoy the movie, but not with their parents.:)