Cinema

Garmi Nahi Badha Paye, Bullet Raja: A Review By Amit Upadhyaya

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(Disclosure: The writer is a big fan of the Director owing to their common city of origin: Allahabad.)

The first 5 minutes of Bullet Raja has a song called Don’t touch my body which is so ill-composed, so ill-shot that you know you are in for a long film. Patience levels are alerted at once. Mercifully, the film is bearable.

The story is about Raja Mishra, played by Saif Ali Khan. He is your average ‘UP’ guy. Which means he is jobless; looking for an opportunity. He meets Rudra (Jimmy Sheirgill), who becomes Jai to his Veeru. They are taken as ‘political commandos’ by a politician (played by Raj Babbar). So far, so good.

But the second half is such a disaster that you are taken off-guard. Plotwise, the second half is the last 10 minutes of Sholay.

Tigmanshu Dhulia has a unique style of filmmaking. He mixes heartland politics with a modern-day narrative style; but employs 70s touches in his one-liners. Till now, most of his films have got the balance just right, except Shagird and Charas: A Joint Effort. But this one goes awry.

He tries to bring out caste politics in north India. Fair enough. The film is set in the capital city Lucknow (which is well shot). Every character has a surname to notice, prominently the protagonist who wears his Brahmin-ness on his sleeve. Dhulia has even got a solid ‘buddy’ setting but it doesn’t go too far. One has to read too much because nothing is overt. And unfortunately, too much subtlety is not Dhulia’s strength. Sample this line:

Brahmin jab bhookha toh Sudama, jab rootha toh Raavan.

The film works only when such lines are thrown in, which isn’t too often. That is a big shame, considering Dhulia has flair for writing great one-liners. Watch Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns for that.

Jimmy Sheirgill is the only actor who makes his character work and he does it effortlessly. His ‘achcha achcha theek hai’ is wonderful. All others, including Saif Ali Khan, suffer from indifference. And what worse sign do you need of a film when the title role, played by a senior actor, goes so wrong. Is he the same actor who played the marvellous Langda Tyagi in Omkara? He is never in the film. The coolness doesn’t work. Lesser said about the hairstyle and beard, the better. Continuity, anyone? Sonakshi Sinha was also spotted somewhere.

What could have been a pointed commentary on caste politics in the mainstream is reduced to a simple vengeance tale. And even that doesn’t work. Dhulia can’t be accused of not putting in the effort but the result is too negligible. Time for some fresh air?

Raja Mishra, if only you had delivered on the promise. Garmi nahi badha paye, Bullet Raja. 

 

(Amit Upadhyaya is a student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. By his own admission, however, he tries to spend most of his waking hours over Bollywood – analyzing, watching, and planning future movies.)  

Ram Romeo, SLB and The Drinking Game: Not-a-Review of Ram-Leela by Deepti Chaudhari Sharma

This time Mr Bhansali, you had me at hello. Well, almost, before you lost me at “I am Sanjay.” The moment the lilting strains of a Gujarati folksong (music is credited to the man Bhansali himself) give way to the stunning visual of a group of village belles framed in a grand gateway against the desert sun, I was prepared to forgive this movie anything. This was with almost as much certainty as a decade ago, when the opening visual of an obscenely bedecked and bejewelled Smita Jaikar hopping around in an obscenely lavish haveli told me that it was a mistake to spend money on Devdas. Anyway.

Every frame is as gorgeously mounted as you’d expect an SLB offering to be. In fact, set pieces and elements that felt overbearing and suffocating in his earlier fares, seem to work here. And there are many echoes of his earlier work. So many of the set pieces feel like Sanjay Leela Bhansali is paying a silent tribute to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, that you can make it into a drinking game. The bridge from Saawariya – bottoms up! The Ganga Ghat scene from Devdas – bottoms up! The tree over pond in a courtyard – bottoms up!

Not that I blame Sanjay Leela Bhansali for being heavily inspired by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, seeing as Sanjay Leela Bhansali is one of the very best we have right now. He has the power to transport you to a wonderland of visual delights where you won’t feel surprised to encounter an upside down tree laden with golden kiwi fruit and still somehow believe you are in a remote village in the sands of Kutch. So never mind how Navratri comes close on the heels of Holi, or why people are flying kites in October (Sankranti, the big kite festival of Gujarat, comes in January).

I must also add that of all the recent films set in Gujarat, this is the one that has captured the sounds of Gujarat most beautifully (I won’t say most realistically, for I have never been to that part of Gujarat myself). I melted into a pool of awww… when the room service guy at a cheap motel in a small town shouts “Toowaal, saabu, paaNi?” Ranveer also gets his Gujju accent and swagger pretty close. That is, for nitpickers like me who care about accents when there is so much man-cleavage and shiny man-hair on display.

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The problem is that the drama here hits a crescendo one too many times. The story comes frustratingly close to a climax and instead of denouement, you find yourself at the beginning of a whole new Act. This happens over and over again, until you want everyone to shoot each other and die already.

This, of course, applies if you consider the mass of white turbans and red veils, providing the backdrop for our differently-coloured protagonists, as people. For all practical purposes, these are human props, bobbing their heads, jumping in synchrony, or dropping like flies as required by the script, nay, the choreographer. They have no more identity than the faceless storm troopers in a Star Wars movie or the blank ovals in a newspaper cartoon. Even their blood is shed in an aesthetically appealing manner, to provide a nice foreground against all the dull white.

At one point, Ranveer does the daring thing and walks into the lioness’s den – Supriya Pathak playing the matriarch of the Saneda clan, in arguably the best role of her career – to seek an end to the centuries-long enmity between the clans. This he does by first offing more Saneda men than Mithun ever killed in the climax of his most blood-drenched revenge saga in the 90’s. Through all this, Pathak continues chanting her morning mantra, and later coolly chats with the uninvited guest. No mention is made of the dozen or more men who just dropped like flies. None of them has a name.

When a woman from the Rajadi clan later taunts Pathak over the murders of men in her community, her lines fail to invoke any emotion in me as audience. By this time, so many people have been senselessly murdered, one doesn’t care if our Raam and Leela join their ranks sooner rather than later.

(Deepti Chaudhuri Sharma is an editor, writer, blogger and in her own words ‘mad mad cinema fanatic.’ If you ever find Jaani Dushman running on TV, leave her a tweet at @DeeSCJockey. Even though she has watched it a thousand times, she will bless you liberally for that. A longer version of this not-a-review is available on the author’s blog.)

50 Shades of Red: A review of Ram-Leela by Amit Upadhyaya

Goliyon ki Raas Leela Ram Leela

Goliyon ki Raas Leela Ram Leela

The first time we see Ram and Leela together, pointing guns at each other, colours all around them, we know the end is going to be similar.

Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram-Leela is drawn more out of Ramayan and Indian classical art than the bard’s famous tragedy.

Bhansali’s films have increasingly been set outside of any known socio-political context, and even though you hear Twitter somewhere in this film, you know it is all happening in Bhansali-land. The film is based on a romance drama but seems more like a story of hate. Rajadi and Saneda are two warring clans somewhere in Gujarat. Ram is a Rajari and Leela, Saneda. Rest is more or less, Romeo & Juliet.

Only, the characters are more Ram and Sita. Ram (Ranveer Singh), who stayed away from his village for 12 years, is the modern day Krishna. He meets Leela and lust consumes both of them. Leela (Deepika Padukone) flirts with him, responds to his overtures. But midway in the film, the characters become Ram and Sita. Ang Laga De, the most gorgeously shot song of the film starts with a shot of Leela with a lamp in her hand standing in front of a painting of Sita in Lanka. The idea is to show devotion; but then, character progression has never been Bhansali’s forte.

What his forte is is to tell a story visually. And he does it like a craftsman. This story of hatred is told from a woman’s perspective. The film is full of female characters who never succumb to situation but play accordingly, chiefly Baa, played by Supriya Pathak, who owns every frame she appears in. Guns and blood are the instruments Bhansali uses to say this hate story. And consequently, red becomes the colour of the film (much like the earlier Bhansali film Devdas). From ‘Lahu’ Munh Lag Gaya (a brilliantly choreographed-and-shot song) to blood from Leela’s fingers, and finally to Laal Ishq (another wonderful song but underutilised), red is a cleverly used motif in the story. And the question asked by Bhansali in his own auteur-ist style: can love overcome hate?

The answer lies with the women. Baa, at one point, is seen dancing in front of a Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh idol. She is the one who can create as well as destroy. This is the world of Bhansali where women refuse to be used as tools in the hands of men.

Ram and Leela share passionate love and it is that love and devotion that is put to test by Bhansali, something he does in all his films.

That the two leads share a dazzling chemistry helps. Ranveer Singh has the same manic energy that Shah Rukh Khan exhibited in his early films. The voice does creates some problems though. Deepika Padukone is flawless. She is having the time of her life. Ravi Varman’s cinematography is breathtaking to say the least. National award, maybe? Siddhartha-Garima’s dialogues add a lot to the film’s raunchiness, completely consistent with the film’s tone and treatment.

Two issues, like always, crop up with this Bhansali film. Screenwriting and editing. Both are co-credited to him. Maybe, he needs to let others do this for him. His films crumble under the weight of external logic because he uses the story as means and not the end. A director of his calibre only needs a good script to create something magical. The kind that he demonstrates in this film, albeit in parts. How often does one get to see Ram going away with Sita wrapped in a red sheet?

Till that time, one can hum Ye laal ishq, ye malaal ishq, ye aib ishq, ye bair ishq.

(Amit Upadhyaya is a student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. By his own admission, however, he tries to spend most of his waking hours over Bollywood – analyzing, watching, and planning future movies.)  

Yeh Kaahaani Hai Rahim Aur Anjum Ki by Deepti Chaudhuri Sharma

Or How to Spot a Bollywood Muslim in 5 Seconds

You know what? Secularism sucks. I mean, look at what goes in the name of secularism and freedom of expression in our country – let’s face it, freedom of speech is a one-way street and we, the poor voiceless Hindus, are always at the receiving end of the minority-appeasing Sickulars. Or riddle me this – why are only Hindu Gods and religious text the butt of jokes and no one dares joke about other religions, by which I mean Islam and Muslims?

Well, I don’t know the politics of it, but here’s a fact. Forget jokes, we just don’t see Muslims in our popular culture so much. Just look at our movies. For some reason, Muslims in our films are still ‘special characters’.  So were Sardars, till very recently. At least in Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year, we got a guy-next-door protagonist who just happens to be a turbaned Sardarji. He isn’t there for some Kirpan-aided grandstanding, or to systematically diffuse some Sardar stereotypes. He’s just your average college grad looking for an honest living.

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Ever since the buzz about Shahid, I’ve been racking my brain to remember one mainstream Hindi film in which the protagonist just happens to be Muslim. To be more specific, a Hindi film with a pivotal Muslim character, which is not:

  1. A film about being Muslim or Muslim in India (Shahid, Garm Hawa)
  2. Preaching about communal harmony/diversity in our great country (Amar Akbar Anthony, Aapke Deewane)
  3. About Partition, communal riots of 1993 or 2002, the Kashmir problem, or terrorism in general and 9/11 in particular (Garm Hawa, Mission Kashmir, Bombay, Kurbaan, Hey Ram, Shahid, New York…). Actually, I could go on with examples in this category till the cows come home – and I don’t even have cows.
  4. Preachy in general, with obligatory all-Muslims-are-not-terrorists message (Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye, Dashavataram)
  5. An ensemble film with three or more lead actors, one of whom is the token Muslim (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, 3 Idiots, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd)
  6. A Muslim social shot exclusively in pastel colours/ a Historical (Jodha Akbar, Pakeeza, Nikah, Zubeidaa)
  7. Boring (let’s not go there)
  8. An Indie made on a shoestring budget by an artsy director and exhibited in a handful of multiplexes, earning more rave reviews than revenues (I Am, Mammo)

So far, only Gangs of Wasseypur comes to mind as a film which is not brainy, entertains in a very old-fashioned way, and the events in the film have little to do with the leads being Muslim. They are just a violent lot, and the Hindu Ramadhir is no less of a bastard than the trigger-happy Khans and Qureshis. Ishqiya is another juicy entertainer where two of the three leads just happen to be Muslim, and the widow Krishna couldn’t care less if they were tentacle mutants so long as she gets to use them in her nefarious mind games. Vishal Bharadwaj’s Maqbool comes to mind too. Now would it be nitpicking on my part to exclude one more category of films here?

9. A gangster flick (Gangs of Wasseypur, Ishqiya, Maqbool)

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Not that I have anything against ensemble casts, gangster flicks or patriotic stories, but when I look around at the Muslims I know in real life, I realize that I never see these guys in the movies – my classmates from school and college, my colleagues, my husband’s friends, social media acquaintances. Where are the people from the urban middle class milieu that I know, people with jobs, families, girlfriend/boyfriend issues, who deal with the lofty challenges of reaching office on time and getting the kids to do their homework?

The Muslims in Indian films are almost like the black guys in Hollywood – the hero’s trusted friend, the funny guy, one of the first and almost sure to die in a disaster or climactic showdown with the villains, or better still, the guy who leaps to take the bullet for our hero. You can be almost certain that at some point you’ll see him offering Namaz or serving sevaiyya on Eid. You can be more certain that his/her parents are very conservative, religious folks invoking Allah every now and then.

Namaaz (Photo credit: Sambit Dattachaudhuri)

Marking Time
(Photo credit: Sambit Dattachaudhuri)

You never see Rahim and Anjum playing basketball in a posh South Bombay college; you never see Sajid, the spoilt rich brat without a clue about life; or Ahmed, the vivacious guy with a terminal disease… In fact, most Muslims you come across in our films are in some way a representation of Indian Muslims, not simple everyday humans in their own right.

This is stranger if you consider that even the Khans haven’t played a lot of Muslim roles in their over two decades in the industry – unless the film is called My Name Is Khan.

(Deepti Chaudhuri Sharma is an editor, writer, blogger and in her own words ‘mad mad cinema fanatic.’ If you ever find Jaani Dushman running on TV, leave her a tweet at @DeeSCJockey. Even though she has watched it a thousand times, she will bless you liberally for that.)

Krrish 3: A Review By Amit Upadhyaya

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Krrish 3 (2013, Hindi)

Mere Karan Arjun zarur ayenge.’

Krrish 3 is made in the same tone as this epic line from Karan Arjun. Melodrama that borders on corny.

Roshan Sr.’s strength has always been his control on the narrative – a singular focus on the emotional track. Everything else takes a backseat. This results in clichés as seen galore in Krrish 3 (only God, Allah and Bhagwan know why it is not called Krrish 2).

Set probably 5 years after where Krrish ended, Krrish 3 brings Rohit Mehra, his son Krishna and alter ego Krrrish, all three played by Hrithik Roshan, back. Rohit Mehra, now a scientist, has finally understood the powers of Jaadoo (to the uninitiated, Jaadoo is the friendly alien in Koi Mil Gaya). Krishna roams from one corner to the other inside the most hideous set possible in this big-budget superhero film, looking for a job. It becomes nauseating after a point to count the number of in-film brand placements.

Meanwhile, Krrish and Rohit have to fight Kaal (Vivek Oberoi), an evil scientist who has got the power of telekinesis. He has created a group of cross-species baddies – the Maanvars, including Kaya (Kangana Ranaut) – who try to wreak havoc on the streets of Mumbai by spreading a virus (called just that, Virus) that has naturally been created by Kaal. Rohit makes the antidote to the virus, angering Kaal and thus begins the fight between good and evil.

The number of ‘inspirations’ from Hollywood films should be counted at this point. Just jokily. A few interesting references, however, to Ramayana and Mahabharata make up, to some extent, the lack of any originality from the writers. Interestingly, this has been scripted by five people including the veteran Honey Irani.

Krrish 3 is an apt toolkit for film schools to teach how not to write dialogues. Painful and excruciatingly expository in nature; not one one-liner works and that you would agree is a tragedy of epic proportions in a superhero film.

The film is shot on grey sets in such bright light that it feels like watching a car ad for over two hours. It makes Koi Mil Gaya look like a work of art. S. Tirru, cinematographer, probably didn’t ask any questions of Roshan Sr. They just wanted to make a superhero film. Period. The VFX of the film, done by Red Chillies, is, in some ways an exact mirror to the film. Both alternate between average and ugly.

Fortunately, the climax, which by the way is a riot, is done efficiently. It helps that both the superhero and the supervillain are having fun. The Indian twist, a speciality of Rakesh Roshan, towards the end is solely entertaining, provided ‘Mere Karan Arjun zarur ayenge’ works for you. A special mention to Kangna Ranaut for making more of a character than was assigned to her. Alas, the same can’t be said, unfortunately, for Priyanka Chopra.

An Indian superhero saving Mumbai is entirely welcome. But surely, he could be more entertaining. Roshan Sr. is enterprising as far as the choice of subject is concerned, if only he could get more budget and a better script to work with. It might be hoped that Krrish 5 will be better by the grace of Messrs. Balgopal.

(Amit Upadhyaya is a student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. By his own admission, however, he tries to spend most of his waking hours over Bollywood – analyzing, watching, and planning future movies.)  

Premachi Goshta: A Review by Deepti Chaudhuri Sharma

Premachi Goshta (2013, Marathi)

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Director: Satish Rajwade

Writer: Satish Rajwade

Cast: Atul Kulkarni, Sagarika Ghatge, Sulekha Talvalkar, Rohini Hattangadi, Meera Welankar, Satish Rajwade, Ajay Purkar

Premachi Goshta, as the title makes quite clear, is simply a love story. It is about two recently single people finding each other. Ram (Atul Kulkarni) is a scriptwriter whose divorce from the struggling actress Ragini (Sulekha Talvalkar) is pending in court with only some paperwork and some court-mandated couples counselling sessions remaining. Ragini is keen to move on from what she considers a mistake and focus on her career; Ram is clinging to the hope that with patience and a little effort from both of them, their relationship can still be mended. At the marriage counsellor’s office, he runs into Sonal, who is also going through a bitter divorce and in the very first meeting she makes it clear that she considers marriage to be a big mistake and will have nothing to do with men.

This conversation sets the tone for their later discourse on love and relationships, as Sonal ends up assisting Ram on the script of his next film. Both are quite easily and obviously drawn to each other, but neither can retract from the statements they made during the first meeting – Ram must stand by his commitment to wait for Ragini, and Sonal must feign disinterest in men in general. Things get further complicated when Ragini, as well as Sonal’s ex – Samit (Ajay Purkar), re-enter the scene.

This is a feel-good film about very likeable people. Atul and Sagarika share an easy chemistry so that it is a comfort level, not mere attraction, which makes them the right pair. Mercifully, this doesn’t try too hard to be a certain kind of film. There are some nice chuckles to be had, but no contrivances to make it a romantic comedy. Given that both our leads have a history, it is also refreshingly free of sentimentalism and ex-bashing, and we’re not forced to see our leads as poor little victims (compare this with Madhur Bhandarkar’s Dil Toh Baccha Hai Jee in which a divorce is not too subtly blamed on the working wife). Yes, Ragini the ambitious comes across initially as selfish and more aggressive than anything Ram can handle, but neither Ram nor the film holds her responsible for breaking the marriage. Sonal is less charitable towards her ex, but even he is allowed his moments of redemption.

I must mention, however that, at least for me, this sensitivity is somewhat undone by the fact that in the end, it is the caring and nurturing Sonal and not the ambitious Ragini, who is deemed worthy of Ram’s affection. Also, for a feisty and independent woman like Sonal, she doesn’t seem to have much of a plan or aspirations. She takes up a job to get her mind off the stress of her troubles, and doesn’t ever consider being a writer until Ram drags her into it.

These are minor squabbles, however, in a film that wins you with some clever screenplay writing. Our hero is a writer, and he could almost be a stand-in for the writer himself. As the story of Ram and Sonal’s film takes shape, plot points and dialogue from the story they are writing often punctuate the ‘real’ story taking shape between the two writers. This way, the writer gets to slip in dramatic, even corny lines that do not belong in Ram and Sonal’s world. When tension creeps up between the two, it rears its head in their work as well. References to A Midsummer Night’s Dream are used to further underline the tangles.

The casting and performances are perfect, except for Rohini Hattangdi who’s wasted in a pretty much Nirupa Roy-ish role and writer-director Satish Rajwade, who has cast himself as Ram’s best friend and *almost* steals the title of No.1-Director-Who-Can’t-Act from Farah Khan.

Atul Kulkarni, needless to say, can play just about anything. It might be interesting to someday see him do a Kamal Hassan and play half a dozen roles in a movie. I bet he can pull it without prosthetics. Meera Welankar is pleasant in a small role in which her weight is mercifully never mentioned even in passing. Many a talented actor has wasted a career playing the same role defined by one physical feature, over and over again.

The most interesting bit of casting, though is Sagarika Ghatge as Sonal. I don’t know much about this actress, haven’t seen her since Chak De! India. While her name is very Marathi, her diction hints at a cosmopolitan upbringing, and that actually adds colour to our Sonal. We never delve too deep into her past, but she displays enough shades in her personality to get you drawn to her and before you know it, you are rooting for her. The story is above her about her triumph.

Too often, lately, watching Marathi films gives you a feeling that they are trying to catch up with Hindi films in their production values and cool quotient. Or they go and do right the opposite and assert their vernacular identity with a vengeance. In this again, Premachi Goshta does neither, sitting comfortably in a milieu where its characters feel most at home. I just loved the first scene where we meet Sonal. At the verge of divorce and dragged by the faithful friend to a pub, she is trying (unsuccessfully) not to join Meera on the dance floor. She is a happy person who can’t stay gloomy even when it seems like the appropriate thing to do!

Most importantly, you never really get a sense that their respective past or some kind of trauma is what draws Ram and Sonal towards each other. They are simply right for each other. Isn’t that what you look for in your love stories?

(Deepti Chaudhuri Sharma is an editor, writer, blogger and in her own words ‘mad mad cinema fanatic.’ If you ever find Jaani Dushman running on TV, leave her a tweet at @DeeSCJockey. Even though she has watched it a thousand times, she will bless you liberally for that.)