Dilwale Review

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Rating – 1 out of 5 stars

Dilwale is akin a faux-John Constable work whose restoration efforts are handed to an age-11 gen-Z kiddo whose fancies include va-va-voom Hot-wheels cars, hunky-dory send-dem-enemies-flying-outta-buildingz superheroes & ‘cool’ romanchic-magnets. The yellows-glowing petals and gleeful-green meadows from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge, the original malady that struck the Indian audiences’ hearts back in 95 and affected them with symptoms that most prominently include an affinity to idealistic romance, have found a much bigger, more life-sapping derivative in the form of Dilwale. And its Dr. Strangelove/Mogambo is none other than Golmaal trilogy/Chennai Express master-of-the-mindless Rohit Shetty.

You’d find more excesses in this Shetty wreckage than you’d get to see if you creep into a Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz concert. At least the liberally-louche Cyrus, despite drowned in a glitter, goo and dildos, gets (most of her) her songs just right. Conversely, Shetty puts on a spectacle as slipshod as that recent TOI headline referring to Modi’s surprise Pak sojourn.

He reunites Kajol and Shahrukh Khan, the superstar screen couple who reigned over Indian screens as Simran and Raj in DDLJ. Queen K looks as gorgeous as ever, and with cryogenically frozen features she struts through the film like it’s her runway. Her costume designers pull out all the stops to drape her like she’s the star of the most expensive ad for a 4K resolution Samsung TV. (Watch the Gerua video to catch snippets of the couple claiming unknown icebergs, crashed airplanes and practically any unfound corner of the earth like Columbuses’ Indian counterparts). Well, who wouldn’t be psyched to get paid in crores for flittering around the streets of Bulgaria in florals? Later, when a plot twist requires her to shift base to Goa, she gets in Charlie’s Angels mode for a moment to bash up Johnny Lever in a fake-Tamilian getup. And when the big baddies come into picture, she comfortably steps back like an obedient Bollywood heroine and lets King K take charge.

King K goes through the motions, bumping off enemies like a Masterchef chopping veggies, posing shirtless with his arms spread wide, and staking claim on Kajol with a momentary Bolly-gaze (‘hero spots heroine. Looks into her eyes. And she’s bought!’). He has aged, and suitably plays a peacable garage-owner in Goa who goes by the name Raj. Except his face very clearly shows he’s got a past and he needs to revisit it because if he doesn’t… no shirtless scenes, and no frontin with Kajol in his arms, right? And for this, he needs a trigger.

And the mention of ‘Kaali’ does the trick. Who’s this mystery person ‘Kaali’? Well, guess who? It needs Varun Dhawan, playing his younger bro Veer and hamming his way to glory, and his brawly antics with local drug dealers to threaten Raj’s hidden identity from tumbling out of the closet. Till then, the plot revolves around Veer perving on Ishita Malik (newbie Kriti Sanon) until she’s head over heels in love with him (Bollywood lesson-on-romance 101 – Act inappropriate until the girl finds it cute). But once Kaali’s subplot takes over, the films switches to a lengthy flashback in Bulgaria that extends until interval.

We learn Raj was actually Kaali, the son of a underworld don living in Bulgaria. He’s in a speedy car chase until it takes an untimely halt when Kajol is sighted. And then begins the predictable romance track between Kajol’s Meera and Kaali as they romp around cafes, lakes and in case of Gerua song, Windows wallpapers. But wait – there’s a bigger twist. There’s more to Meera than meets the eye; she turns out to be the daughter of the rival crime-lord. The betrayal is a high point in this otherwise tepid affair. But for how long can one see SRK and KJ in rivalry mode? So, by the next two scenes, Shetty has them patch up. And then there’s family opposition. And finally a gunshot that sends Kaali to Goa, where he resigns from his former life.

The film gets back to Dhawan’s run ins with drug baron King (played by Boman Irani) and his henchmen. But that’s all fluff. There’s nothing much that can be done to this tale, so Shetty adds Sanjay Mishra as unauthorized dealer Oscar Bhai and Varun Sharma as Dhawan’s friend Sidhu. The padding done is so glaring it embarrasses. By the time Sharma ended his Pyaar Ka Punchnama inspired rattle about the fairer sex, I scuttled out of the theatre. My greatest regret – paying Rs. 320 for this busted product.

RESTORING DELETED REVIEWS (PART 3) – JAI HO, MISS LOVELY, DEDH ISHQIYA

Note: These reviews got deleted from ourvadodara.in, a site I no longer work for. So am posting the missing reviews here.  

 Jai Ho 

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Rating: 20%

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s Chief Minister, proclaimed himself an anarchist recently. Were Salman Khan elected chief minister (i.e. based on the impression I get watching his character in Jai Ho, which seems like a personal statement from the actor), the capital would’ve been run by a psychopathic animal.

The health care industry would have an overfull demand, with every single room taken up by the hapless victims of his merciless pounding. The municipal corporation would be permanently on its heels, mopping up the literally bloody mess off the streets. Women, unless unattractive or disabled, would be eve-teased in full public view. It’s a fetching Gujarati lass this time who’s the butt of all jokes for wearing pink panties; she’s nicknamed ‘Pinky’, get it? Because she wears “pink” panties? I cracked a smile just once for it was a young kid who coined the name, but the film inexplicably made it a running gag with no variation whatsoever. Severe groaning ensued on my part.

The cabinet would be dolled with beautiful gals and strapping lads, all newcomers from the entertainment industry. The ‘groundbreaking’, ‘humanist’ proposals would be championed greatly whilst campaigning, only to be forgotten during power. Of course, like a quintessential politician, he’d fund reminder ads on television to hoodwink citizens into thinking that progress is taking place.

Other predictions: motocross racing in the midst of traffic would be encouraged. No FIR reports shall be filed for assault and murder of the party’s enemies. With the boost in killings, population shall be reduced to one-third. The military would barge into scene in tanks and stand up for the leader when he’s in trouble, leaving behind its national duties. The capital would turn into a hell-hole.

Cinemarc turned a hellhole for me when they played Jai Ho, an attempt billion times lazier than Prakash Jha’s Satyagraha at raising social consciousness. But a few predictions can be made.

The money would be recovered in the opening weekend itself. Trade analysts would throw their hats in the air when it enters the two-hundred crore club. Taran Adarsh would marvel its ‘ambitions’ and ‘entertainment quotient’, and use ghisa-pita adjectives to extol Salman and his team. Tabu (from Chandni Bar to this) would henceforth appear in similar, masala films and less in quality productions. And Daisy Shah, a talented dancer no doubt, shall find no takers.

Sohail Khan, Salman’s younger brother and the film’s director, remarked in an interview that all hit films need not be good ones, adding that he sincerely worked to ensure that a quality project is begotten. He’s made commercially successful romantic comedies comedies (Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya, Hello Brother) before, and with Jai Ho, he intends to prove himself a ‘serious’ director. Did he seriously think this baasi roti of a project would help foster social awareness and make the world a better place?

I hated the film’s pretentions. Its concept, that one man does a good deed for another and in turn urges three good deeds from him towards others, has trickled down from Kevin Spacey-Helen Hunt starrer Hollywood film Pay It Forward, where a eleven year old ‘kid’ began the movement (one can overlook part of the farfetchedness when the concept revolves around a kid). Then, writer-director AR Murugadoss borrowed the concept for his Telugu film called Stalin, a Chiranjeevi starrer. Dilip Shukla, a writer (he currently has no Wikipedia page, and I bet he wouldn’t in the future), looked to Stalin for inspiration more than Pay It Forward only to retain the dhishoom-dhishoom, maar-kaat, gandi-baat Indianized flavor.

Salman Khan was roped in as protagonist Jai Agnihotri for the film complements his philanthropic image; most would know he’s the founder of the popular ‘Being Human’ charity initiative. That Sohail Khan was appointed director reeks of nepotism. Frankly speaking, it wouldn’t make a difference if one Altaf Ahmed or Chintu Zhaveri was made director, for the script is maddeningly directionless. In marketing, there’s a term called ‘rifle approach’ which refers to accurate market segmenting, targeting and product positioning by marketers. Contrary to this is the ‘shotgun’ approach, where strategies are haphazard and aimed at everyone. Jai Ho splatters the film’s core message every now and then.

One performs a good deed; the other says “Thank You”. The first then says “No Thank You. Instead, help three people and tell them to help three others and so on”. We hear this on ten different occasions in the film, the repeatability reminding us of secondary missions from Spiderman II videogame, where Spidey would say the same damn thing after saving somebody.

The film has little else to say. So it crams in a done-to-death good guy vs corrupt neta angle to fill out its screenplay. The concept itself could’ve been an ad campaign (and maybe an effective one). What else….oh yes, there are about five song and dance sequences – three in the beginning with watchable choreography, a predictable slow romantic number a few minutes post interval and one embarrassingly pointless Gujarati dance number later.

Many new faces pop up along with a few old-timers and has-beens to decorate the scenery. Shah, Pulkit Sharma (of Fukrey fame), Sana Khan (post Bigg Boss a household name), Bruna Abdullah (post Grand Masti, in my Hall of Shame) are assigned roles of Jai’s girl, good cop, evil politician’s evil beti and… something, I think a friend respectively. Suneil Shetty, Tabu, Danny Denzongpa, Genelia D’Souza, Yash Tonk, Mohnish Behl, Mukul Dev, Nauheed Cyrusi, Varun Badola, Vikas Bhalla, Aditya Pancholi, Sharad Kapoor and a list of other familiar faces (phew!) step into cardboard characters and end up a few lakhs richer.

I’ll tell you what – retain that two hundred rupees you were planning to expend on this film and buy a Being Human t-shirt instead. Pass this message to three others. Everyone’s happy, the charity gets its donations and the society is served.

 Miss Lovely 

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 Rating: 80%

Retro disco beats partnered with matching visualizations play around the opening credits, where we learn that jack-of-all-trades-and-master-too-yay! Ashim Ahluwalia multitasked as director, scriptwriter, editor and sound designer (have I left out anything?). A pair of eyes, large and red, then glares at us. It’s soon established that the scene we’re watching is a B-horror film inside the film. Similarly, Ahluwalia’s debut narrative feature film (having made a feature-length documentary called John & Jane in 2006, and a couple of short films and installation art) is spectator to a variety of tales and themes.

In broad terms, and as hinted perhaps in trailers and the film’s thunder-thigh baring poster, it witnesses the transformation of C-grade film industry between late eighties and early nineties, but it isn’t Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. It glimpses at sex, alcohol, career rivalry, albeit not in a cheesy, caricature-heavy Madhur Bhandarkar manner we’ve grown accustomed to.

It espies almost with cold indifference the gradual depredation of school-girl innocence in rotten company, but it isn’t Raj Purohit’s Sixteen, a film on loss of innocence which surprised everyone after snagging five nominations at the Screen Awards (and stumped me completely for it was picked for best story and editing over Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus).

It occasionally catches a love story in its sleazy setting, but escapes the ‘love triumphing over all odds’ cliché. Ashim Ahluwalia to film commentator and critic Sean Malin in an interview that he wants to ‘drop that recognition the audience inherently has with this kind of (i.e. love) story. Two brothers fighting over a girl it sees, but there are no traces of ‘Meri Brother Ki Dulhan’, the Imran Khan-Ali Zafar-Katrina Kaif starrer. It certainly watches a confluence of two genres: noir and pulp, except it narrowly avoids getting categorized either into a ‘Coen Brothers’ film or a ‘Tarantino’ film. Ahluwalia reveals he drowned himself in works by Japanese New Wave auteurs, including Nagisa Oshima, Shohei Imamura and Seijun Suzuki, about whom I have no idea, and newer artistes such as Takashi Miike (I saw his stomach-churning Odishon when I was sixteen) and Wong Kar Wai (Chungking Express, his dreamy, dazzling work was screened at Fine Arts faculty of MS University during their December film fest). It definitely can’t be termed a satire or parody, even when it’s replete with footage from C-grade movies and happenings behind-the-scenes.

The camera hardly films from a subjective perspective. It films the love story from a distance and at odd angles. In fact, it devotes way lesser screen time to lovey-dovey scenes than any conventional Bollywood or Hollywood movie. Ashim Ahluwalia’s (remember the name) Miss Lovely defiantly speaks ‘Categorize me, I’ll defy every label!’ (borrowed the line from singer Janelle Monae’s single Q.U.E.E.N – check that song too). This film deliberately wants you to feel uncomfortable, like you’ve been kicked by Bruce Lee in the stomach. If you get a bitter aftertaste just as the closing credits spill in, the film has done its job. A brutally cold, detached, and screwed up take on a simplistic storyline, Miss Lovely is the holy s**t film that Ajay Bahl’s BA Pass failed to be last year. And one of the best films you’ll get from the Indian New Wave cinema and absolutely one of the finest that could release in multiplexes this year.

The world of C-grade cinema as depicted here seems sad, dismal and drained of humanity. Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddique, yes, the same guy in hits like Gangs of Wasseypur and The Lunch Box. Why aren’t people flocking to see this film?) wants to opt out when elder brother Vicky (Anil George), a director of such films consents to add adult (i.e. porn) content to get wider audience response. He wanders dispiritedly through parties and shooting sessions like a protagonist of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’s film. Pinky (Niharika Singh), an aspiring actress yet in school, leaves him lovestruck. Despite having no money, he promises to cast her as the lead actress in his obviously fictitious film which he calls Miss Lovely. She hangs out with him, but is discomfited by Vicky, who also sets his hungry eyes on her. There is a Bollywood-ish ‘darar’ between the two bhais, but the film repudiates falling into any convention.

Usually, people tend to ask “How were the performances?” but that won’t work here. The characters are depersonalized; they function like objects, set in to fulfill the film’s purpose. Outtakes and real footage have been included into the final product. The soundtrack choice includes scores by Illiyaraaja, disco producer Biddu, as well as rare works by Italian composers Egisto Macchi and Piero Umiliani.

With such violations of conventions, it’s no wonder the audience response as of now has been pathetic. Cinemarc as well as PVR cancelled their shows, and Inox played it to an audience of ten. All ten remained till the end, fixated on the radical work playing in front of their eyes. If you are patient enough to look at how it challenges itself by bending its approach towards the art of filmmaking, genre and narrative, I guarantee you’ll yearn for such films in the future.

Dedh Ishqiya

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Rating: 50%

Before I begin my review, I’d like to tell this: The mellisonant verses of a shaayari won’t appeal to the unaccustomed eyes of a child – that’s one thing parents should consider before bringing a child below ten to a screening of Dedh Ishqiya. The languid pacing coupled with sexual content are two valid reasons to leave them at a day care center instead of letting the little children suffer. A tiny kid sat next to me imploring his parents to take him home. He wasn’t in for Madhuri’s beauty, neither was he moved by the shaayari, nor was he hungry to watch a prostitute humping Arshad Warsi. It was almost inhumane to force him to sit through the entire duration. Okay, now moving on to the review:

Although a good deal of words are spoken, Dedh Ishqiya falls short on exploring its characters’ dilemmas as they betray and double-cross each other without batting an eyelid. The first half dawdles through mildly humorous moments, Urdu poetry and doting proclamations and reserves much of the plot development for post-intermission. While this is a common trait among ‘arty’ or ‘offbeat’ films, i.e. centering on a given situation/scene for unusually long periods of time without moving the plot ahead, the successful ones make their intentions clear from the opening shot. I cannot compute a film that includes a scene of enchanting poetry and then follows it with a ridiculous, almost off-color product placement for Apple IPhone 5. Films low on storyline compensate it with lengthy monologues, impressive repartee and philosophical musings both using dialogues as well as cinematography and editing. Tarantino has forged a career scripting fabulous epic-length monologues for his characters. Dedh Ishqiya’s screenplay, written by Vishal Bharadwaj, Abhishek Chaubey and Gulzar, three notable figures in Bollywood, doesn’t boast of stand-out writing, in spite of its successful endeavor at invoking the poetic lilt of shaayari. Pleasantly unexpected moments do appear, but they’re rare and fleeting; in one scene, the film’s protagonists and antagonists stand in the same spot all through the night pointing their guns at each other without a single fire – its cleverly amusing, but a follow-up ‘awesome’ moment takes a good deal of time to arrive. Until then, it’s either Arshad getting horny on Huma or a puerile castration joke.

Now imagine if the film had spotlighted instead on Madhuri Dixit’s character’s motivations. Her character Begum Para, a reclusive widow residing in an antiquated haveli, could’ve possessed more shades than Paris Hilton’s entire wardrobe (saw Sofia Copolla’s fantastic Bling Ring, which filmed a portion in Hilton’s personal residence). Instead of giving us access to her thoughts throughout the film, Abhishek Chaubey goes for a ‘big reveal’ moment that would ultimately lead to an account of her back story. The reveal is a no-brainer for anyone who’s seen Ishqiya (we learn her companion Muniya, played by Huma Qureshi, is conspiring to kidnap her. Now guess who the main conspirator turns out to be?); in fact, the only major change is the location. Shifting its base to the Mahmudabad, there is much to be admired about the production design. It helps Dixit to ease into the scenery and set hearts on fire as the nawab sahiba hosting a swayamvar for herself. The actress permits the camera to capture the scintillating glow on her expressive face. Her beauty may enchant throughout, but what’s problematic sometimes is her attempt to stand out in every frame, which often works against the character’s nature. Para claims she’s abandoned her passion of dancing, but when left alone in her chamber in one scene, the stimulating mood and music revive her long-lost love and she breaks out in the most graceful fashion, dancing ‘to the cameras’. Unless it’s in a dream sequence, it wouldn’t be easy for anybody to achieve the feat of dancing so well after years of discontinuation. The kalai ka moch, kamar ka dard and cramps will soon show up if dormant muscles are subject to rigorous movements all of a sudden. The scene needed the gradual crescendo of choreography that we saw in the otherwise hopeless 1983 Hollywood hit Flashdance.                    

Like Sherlock and Watson, Khalujan (Naserruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi) make an interesting pair; you should know, by the way, that Sherlock the series is returning soon on television. Khalujan is naturally charming, eloquent, poetic and gentlemanly while Babban is more coarse-mannered. In spite of knowing this, when a repulsive-looking small-time don named Mushtaq bhai orders them to rob a jewellery store, its Babban who impersonates as a nawab while Khalujan plays his servant. It’s a treat to watch a servant speak so fluently and assertively to the store owner, with the nawab barely uttering a word. After their plan bungles, both make a run for it and Khalujan mysteriously vanishes, leaving Babban to face Mushtaq, who’s itching to cut off his ‘little boy’ (that’s how the subtitles put it). Babban escapes from Mushtaq’s clutches as well, and later finds out Khalujan is perfectly fine and on a trip to woo Para playing a dhongi poetry-loving nawab. Threat in Mahmudabad turns up in the form of Jaan Mohammad (Vijay Raaz), another dhongi poetry-waxing nawab (although this man doesn’t even write his own poetry. He’s kidnapped Noor Mohammad Italvi, an actual Nawab (Manoj Pahwa), and kept him captive to write couplets for him day and night.

Both Shah and Warsi share a magic together that they lack with the leading ladies, especially Warsi, who transforms into Uday Chopra from the Dhoom series in his scenes with Huma. And Raaz is relishing as the villains with toadying hyenas in the form of henchman surrounding him and ‘wah-wahing’ everything he utters. And as the writer is Bharadwaj, the character dynamics echo those of Shakespeare’s plays (Raaz as the love-lorn, reckless lover, Madhuri’s own selfish intentions, Qureshi’s scheme etc). The film still disappoints by failing to depict their inner conflict, and another thing that bothered me was that the characters, including the ones newly introduced for the sequel, play their roles as if they’re continuing from an unknown, unreleased prequel everybody missed. I think a lack of exposition is to be blamed for this. The final product seems like a work still in developmental stage that needs more tweaking, more polishing before it deserves a wah-wah.

RESTORING DELETED REVIEWS (PART 2) – Hasee To Phasee, Gunday, One by Two

Note: These reviews got deleted from ourvadodara.in, a site I no longer work for. So am posting the missing reviews here.  

Hasee To Phasee

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Drug addiction: not exactly an endearing quirk. Kym, played by Anne Hathaway, accidently crashed her car into the lake killing her brother in Rachel Getting Married. For Violet, played by acting titan Meryl Streep, it led to her husband’s suicide and her daughters abandoning her. John Belfort lost his senses popping Quaaludes in Wolf of Wall Street. In the real world, such names as Amy Winehouse and Philip Seymour Hoffman have already succumbed to drugs while Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes are dangerously close. And nearly half the US is gunning for Justin Bieber’s deportation after the arrest and drug raid.

In Hasee To Phasee, Parineeti Chopra gets a sugar rush in one scene and often turns berserk loading herself with antidepressants. Quite an unpleasant case to hang around with, and I guess writer Harshavardhan Kulkarni attached this idiosyncrasy to her character just to steer clear of conventional romantic comedies. He wants us to chuckle as she stares bug-eyed and open-mouthed while sitting in a car or dragging a couple of ladies to her father’s office. Her oddity is so repellant we begin pitying not just her but every hapless soul who crosses path with her. Ranbir Kapoor’s goofiness in Besharam somehow charmed me. Here I desperately wanted a couple of doctors to send Chopra off to a rehab. But since its Bollywood, we are to believe that true love shall cure her addiction once and for all. So a dapper Sidharth Malhotra is brought in to bear with her nonsense for a while and then fall under her creepy spell. Supporting characters playing his relatives remain puzzled by her rather than showing concern. The film expects us to be humored by her antics, and then feel bad when an appropriate ‘sad’ music is cued. It also takes a cruel pleasure by throwing in a plastic Adah Sharma; last seen in the dreadful Hum Hai Rahee Car Ke, she bores us with another forgettable performance as Chopra’s elder sister and Malhotra’s fiancé. There are incredibly annoying subplots involving family members which again, are written with the intention of tickling our funny bone. My bone of contention is that a) Parineeti act was passed off as comedy and b) everybody involved actually thought this film to be funny.

This should be inducted to a special category of films with ‘n/a’ humor. I could not identify it, but positive reviews from a number of other publications suggest presence of wit and hilarity. I left the theatre scratching my head, and so did fellow patrons at Cinemarc. Not one paused to catch the song played during the end credits. I guess we were on the side who thought this was the most unromantic film of the year.

Anurag Kashyap, Karan Johar and Vikramaditya Motwane (director of Lootera) produced this film alongwith Vikas Bahl, which comes as the biggest surprise. Didn’t they find anything amiss in Kulkarni’s script – the lack of humor, the underwhelming characterization, the random subplots? It’s marriage time for Nikhil (Malhotra, and I’d like to note that I referred Wikipedia to get his name even though I saw the film only a few hours before), an event planner who borrows great sums from his future father-in-law. His dad is a retired IPS officer while his mother is a South Indian. His luxurious house teems with guests, including a foreigner. His problem is lack of commitment. He has an on and off relationship with Adah (I’m sorry but I just can’t recollect her character name). That’s Nikhil in a nutshell. Adah is a model and an aspiring actress. That’s just about everything we know about her.

Parineeti’s Meeta is more complicated, and apart from my plaint that this didn’t work as comedy, another problem is that the film gives us little time to understand her. This would’ve made more sense as Meeta’s story, and it’s a pity she’s reduced to a set of tics and sillies instead of a three-dimensional character. We know she’s super intelligent but a weirdo. She’s pampered by her father but kicked out by her family after demanding money for her project work, much to her father’s dismay, who gets a heart-attack after the incident but survives. She goes to China to complete her PhD, sets up a lab there and then gets back to India, this time to steal from her own home. But she’s not welcome by anyone, including elder sister Adah, who prefers dumping her in crappy conditions. We already know she’s a drug addict, but there are other peculiarities: she eats toothpaste, she never blinks, she eats a lot because ‘the pills make her hungry’ etc. She exasperates everyone including the audience, and yet our noble hero, who’s intrigued.

There’s festivity in the air, with much of the scenes taking place during sangeet and sagaai. Relatives camp at both homes, which includes a champu who’s enamored by Chopra. Their presence, leading to inane mini-scenes, bothered me instead of entertaining. Nothing made me laugh. Everyone from Parineeti’s side are Gujaratis, and so were most of the audience at my theatre. Gujaratis usually don’t mind laughing at harmless jokes at their expense, and even Jai Ho’s unfunny caricatures of Gujaratis generated a lot of laughs. Here there were none. Jokes fell flat and the theatre silent. I didn’t expect much from Siddharth, and didn’t much either. Parineeti, whom I absolutely adored in Shuddha Desi Romance, should’ve chosen a better script. The basket case she plays needs more than just love to cure her. Maybe a room at the de-addiction center.

Gunday 

Gunday_(2013_film)

Summary: Arjun Kapoor repeats his Aurangzeb act, Ranveer his Ram albeit hammier while Priyanka brings back jungli billi. Thanda & Thakela.                       

Rating: **

Gunday claims its pehelwan protagonists played by Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor are blood brothers. The dialog ‘Two Dil Ek Jan’ is spoken often to reinforce this. But the audience surely knows better! For whatever it claims, Gunday plays like a love story between two men who cloak their homosexual impulses under feigned macho-giri. The girl here is plainly a temporary yet fatal (and fetching cos it’s the stunning Priyanka Chopra) diversion.

The great American critic Roger Ebert had a similar opinion when he reviewed the unfunny Hollywood film This Means War. It starred Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as two alarmingly close CIA agents and “buddies” who simultaneously seduce Reese Witherspoon. Gunday could be retitled ‘Naughty Munde’ and made more sense!

Ali Abbas Zafar, who debuted with Meri Brother Ki Dulhan, a movie also about two dapper men and an irresistible girl, has unintentionally made a gay love story.

This is no Dedh Ishqiya, a film with deliberate undertones of lesbianism between its female leads, and that’s what makes Gunday so side-splittingly awkward at times. Before my comments are ranted off as ‘homophobic’, I’d like to clarify that I wholeheartedly support equal rights to love and marry. If a film about homosexuals looks thoroughly unconvincing and ‘straight’, I’d rubbish it too. Now here are my arguments as to why the male leads Bala (Arjun) and Bikram (Ranveer) seem like lovers.

The most hilariously symbolic one –they wear matching PJs with large heart-shaped design on the pichwada. They share the bed. They mud-wrestle in a slow-mo sequence with expressions that hint they’re lovin’ it. Unconvinced? Okay, hear this. There’s a scene in which these angry young men pound each other in an abandoned warehouse after one mistakenly believes he’s been betrayed. After a bout of punching-punching-and-kicking-kicking, they pause and stare into each other’s eyes like raging bulls. Then they charge, the camera going slow-mo again. Now it’s usually the hero who does his own ‘shirt-ripping’. Here the two men rip each other’s shirt to resume fighting bare-chested. It’s more a strip than a rip! And to top it, the instrument supplying background music is a Spanish guitar. It’s the ending that reinforces their dostana, but since I’ll be forced to transgress my no-spoiler rule, I’d rather leave it to your imagination.

The mention of coal-mafia in the film’s promos would’ve brought to your mind Anurag Kashyap’s hard-hitting Gangs of Wasseypur. However, this being a Yash Raj film, there’s hardly any violence that’ll disturb. And if you’re looking forward to learn a thing or to either on partition or the 70s or illegal coal business or the underworld, there are no notes to take. For Gunday is set in the Yash Raj’s fancy fantasy world of Calcutta in the 70s, which means you’ll get a ride through the obvious (a) a durga pooja where each extra has been hired from the modeling industry (b) a dazzling Cabaret number (c) a visit to the machi-mart (with poor dead fishes being used as weapons in one fight), and (d) non-Bengali supporting cast hopelessly attempting the bhalobashi accent. Okay, what else? Oh, yeah ‘partition’ and ‘immigration’. The movie justifies the heroes’ aggression with a backstory of them as ‘underdogs’ wronged and ill-treated in their childhood. Irrfan Khan, playing cop-in-pursuit A.C.P. Satyajit Sarkar, recounts their legend, beginning with the time they were about ten of age.

The child actors take on rough and tough roles, showing more bravado and shaanpatti than Jamal and buddie Salim from Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. They’re supple and strong too, jumping into an open train carriage from a ramp at a distance like record long-jump athletes. The story tells they’ve taken close to ten years to expand their coal business, begun early. And yet, like rookies, they’re still doing the rangdam patti of leaping into carriages and nicking coal.

But we are to blindly accept that they somehow rule over Calcutta. There’s an unconvincing montage sequence showing market diversification as evidence. So whenever they threaten to create tabahi, you can only imagine them shooting a few cops and creating a minor stampede. Kingpins of Calcutta, meri jooti! The production design evinces effort and polish, but it’s noticeably sanitized to get the Yash Raj look. Glitz triumphs over the ordinary, the grime and the ugliness you’d expect from this world.

Arjun repeats his dadagiri, rowdy rascal act from Ishaqzaade and Aurangzeb and makes Bala embarrassingly insipid. When he’s around Priyanka, both he and Ranveer, overbearingly hammy, switch to a puppy dog look in a jiffy. Priyanka plays a cabaret dancer named Nandita but with a dirty little secret of her own. And the film drops this implausible twist like a wet brick. We go “Aah! I knew this crap would happen!” because the film doesn’t even try making her character suspenseful or mysterious until that point. Classic Bollywood masala – loud, wobbly, random and inconsistent. At least Irrfan’s act is a relief; he’s done such roles countless times but he plays it (in his own words) larger-than-life here, which is a change from the somber, brooding character he usually takes. Sadly, everything else in Gunday is thanda and thakela.

One By Two 

One by Two (2014 Hindi film) Poster.jpg

One By Two screams AMATEUR post opening credits until the very end. On a report card, I’d put it this way:

Acting – either mind-numbingly boring, uselessly conventional or brain-scramblingly annoying

Direction – tired, nondescript and passionless

Cinematography – same as above. Also, unnecessary, claustrophobic close-ups and dull, rudimentary framing

Story – another bastard progeny of the ‘Wake Up Protagonist(s)’/‘Follow Your Dreams’/’Find You Real Self’ genre

Comments: A dreadful trailer forewarned me of previously released Yaariyan’s quality, so I avoided it. Two catchy numbers – Khushfehmiyan and I’m Just Pakaoed and promising promos got me excited for One by Two. Just got one likeable  character in the entire film and a satisfactory end that together make ten minutes of the film’s runtime.

And the rest? Well, to call it dragging is an understatement. Remember those fitness videos in which a lissome, smiling female trainer would pep you up to perform a perfect split the way she’s doing it, and all you can do is widen your legs a bit until you felt a sharp pain shooting through your thunder thighs and then groan. The film seems that stretched, straining to move beyond each scene. By interval, I sighed five times. Placed my cell-phone under my chin to support my head from dropping asleep. By the end, I was hyperventilating and nearly zoned out. 140 minutes have never felt so soul-suckingly tedious.
A stylized representation would’ve helped this story. It’s necessary that we sense the director’s own commentary on the film’s various characters. Sofia Copolla and Harmony Korine shared their perspectives on Generation Y materialism in their films ‘Bling Ring’ and ‘Spring Breakers’ respectively. Sam Mendes’ American Beauty stylized both characters and situations while dealing with themes of loneliness and disconnection. In his directorial debut Don Jon, Joseph Gordon Levitt too successfully explored the subject of loss of intimacy in the Internet-driven world, not exactly unique, by stylizing his characters. Hong Kong Wong Kar-Wai used hypnotic music and camerawork in his debut Chungking Express to enliven sequences that had actors doing trivial stuff. Maneesh Sharma’s Shuddha Desi Romance offered an interesting take on marriage and live-in relationship.

Couldn’t Devika Bhagat, both the director and writer of One By Two, having penned scripts like Manorama Six Feet Under, Aisha and Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl, come up with something original, fresh or flavorful? She films interactions between secondary characters using close ups, shifting the focus to the dialogues than their effect on the protagonists. It seems she’s never heard of such a term as ‘off-screen sound’, which helps in streamlining the various actions of differing importance in scenes. In short, if every character is captured, if every dialogue is spoken in close-up, we assume what’s being said is important. Hence in One By Two, the nameless judges and anchor of a dance competition get to speak (that too complete sentences) in close-up or mid-shots even though their dialogues are of little importance. Why is Bhagat so keen on hearing them? Why does she spend aeons on dance sequences by unknown extras? Her cutaway shots during supposedly humorous sequences barely register a chuckle.

Her storytelling often muddles up as she tries juggling too many things. It opens like this. His name’s Amit Sharma; her name’s Samara Shah. His girlfriend breaks up with him; Samara meanwhile hooks up with her dance instructor. He hates his day job working on computers, and sulks aplenty post breakup; she quits the dance troupe after her instructor confronts her for hitting on other men while maintaining that their relationship remain casual. His mother keeps hunting for prospective bahu; she on the other hand takes looks after her alcoholic single mom. His hidden talent is music; we often find her swimming. He wants his ex-girlfriend back; she wants to win a dance competition. The two never meet face to face until the end, but each’s action affects the other.

For example, Amit rigs and manipulates the dance competition’s voting results so the best dancer is evicted; he does this to get the producer, also his ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend, fired. Unfortunately, Samara gets the best audience response and is evicted through his manipulation. Life lessons such as ‘You are beautiful, you are kind. Never underestimate yourself’ to ‘Share your problems. Don’t get beaten down by life’ are sermonized throughout.

Certain sequences are inexplicable; one has an imaginary crowd following Samara in a herd-like manner as she listens to music on her portable audio player. It reminded me of the song and dance sequence from Amy Adams starrer Enchanted except the crowd here seemed clueless as to why they were following her. Samara befriends a Mumbai-cha-tapori who’s a fellow participant in the dance competition, and he’s a goddamn eyesore throughout. As Amit, Abhay Deol whines and sulks too much, while Preeti Desai, Abhay’s girlfriend in real life, can’t handle Samara’s heavy-duty scenes. I didn’t care for any of the supporting characters (the two playing Amit’s besties especially drove me nuts) except Shishika’s, who is the sole spunky presence in the entire film; she plays Amit Sharma’s marriage prospective arranged by his mummy, and is the only source of oxygen in a film that suffocates us with Amit’s paneer-induced farts. Yes, a hundred years of film, and fart jokes still exist. What a pity!