Friday, September 30, 2016


Of Female Bonding

Coming a week after Pink, Leena Yadav’s Parched is like a rural version of the same core idea--  the problems faced by women in a patriarchal society. In the first film, the urban, educated careerwomen are aware of their rights; in the second, there are rural women, who are resigned to their fate, because there is no alternative in sight.

Yadav’s film—with enough exotica to entice foreign festival audiences—seems to suggest a solution, and that is-- women should support other women.

Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is a widow, with a son, Gulab (Riddhi Sen), who is going the way other boys in the village (in Rajasthan), swaggering around, drinking and whoring. Rani and her friend Lajjo (Radhika Apte) select a bride for Gulab, but he does not like Janaki (Leher Khan) and goes back to his dissolute ways. She is in love with another boy, but nobody asked her what she wants; the family decides and she has to submit.

Lajjo has an abusive husband, who throws her childlessness in her face every time he thrashes her. The third friend Bijli (Surveen Chawla) is a dancer with an itinerant company, and entertains clients on the side. Of the three, she seems relatively happy with her lot, at least she is free of family responsibilities and somewhat independent. Her life comes apart when the manager gets a younger woman to replace her.

Rani and Lajjo work on handicrafts for a kind man, Kishan (Sumeet Vyas), who runs an NGO and treats them with respect. This little bit of financial freedom irks the men, who eventually hound him out.

It’s not as if Yadav says anything new, the plight of rural women is known, but she tries to cut back on the bleakness.  For every scene of a woman’s suffering, like the one of the young girl forced by the panchayat to back to the husband and in-laws who torture her, there is one of women enjoying a breather, like the trip Bijli takes the other two on a‘chhakda’ (a three-wheeler), during which, they discover a risqué use of a vibrating mobile phone.

For a film that is pro-women, Yadav has too many scenes of violence against them, plus raunchy dances and nudity that would attract the male gaze but leave women discomfited. For such a conservative society the women’s friendship with Bijli would be frowned upon, Lajjo’s sexual encounter in cave is incredibly cheesy; the ending is also a bit implausible, but the sheer joie de vivre of the women, and the uninhibited performances by Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte and Surveen Chawla make up for the film’s other shortcomings.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


No Means No

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink comes at the right time, when the outrage over violence against women that exploded over the Delhi ‘Nirbhaya’ rape case, is still on simmer.

In spite of all the media coverage and debates, a large section of even progressive people would judge a woman if she put herself in a position that would be considered ‘high risk’.  They will comment on why a woman was out alone at night, drinking with boys, or wearing skimpy clothes.  Like, the stunning Hollywood film, The Accused (Jonathan Kaplan,1988), Pink raises the very significant issue of consent—that when a woman says ‘No’ the man should back off.

In India, as elsewhere, there is a class of entitled men, who may be highly educated, but retain their feudal mindset about how ‘good’ women should behave; ‘bad’ women are up for grabs. 

Set in Delhi, the film opens with three young women in a panic, rushing home in a taxi. In another vehicle, two young men are taking a third, bleeding profusely from a head wound, to the hospital. 

Minal (Taapse Pannu), Falak (Kirti Kulhari) and Andrea (Andrea Tariang) are working girls, sharing a flat in Delhi. After a rock concert they accept the invitation for drinks and dinner from a group of boys. The evening ends badly and to fend off molestation by Rajveer (Angad Bedi), Minal hits him on the head with a bottle and flees.  Rajveer is a politician’s son and powerful enough for the cops to dissuade Minal from making a complaint when Rajveer’s buddies threaten them, and try to bully their kindly landlord into evicting them. They also manage to get Minal arrested for assault and attempt to murder.

 Their strange neighbour, Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan), who was once a great lawyer, comes out of retirement to take their case. In court, as could be expected, the prosecuting lawyer Prashant (Piyush Mishra) tries to prove that they are girls of easy virtue, and when Rajveer refused to be solicited, Minal attacked him.  Sehgal, of course, decimates his arguments and makes a strong statement for the right of women to say no, regardless of their past, their choice of clothes, or the place of encounter.

It’s all very cheer-worthy but also idealistic. In real life, the case would drag for years, the girls’ lives would probably be ruined while Rajveer and his buddies would roam free, build careers, get married and have families. (In the film too, Falak loses her job and is dumped by her much older boyfriend.) They would not get an erudite lawyer for free, nor a sympathetic judge (Dhritimaan Chatterjee).

Still, even with its predictability, Pink is a commendable film. Amitabh Bachchan, is of course, impeccable, but all three actresses have given fabulous performances. Taapsee Pannu’s haunted eyes and Kirti Kulhari’s breakdown scene will stay with the viewer long after the film ends.  There are flaws—like the needless track of Sehgal’s bedridden wife, or Prashant portrayed as a clownish bully. But what the film attempts—to tell the audience to be less judgmental of women—cannot be appreciated enough.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Baar Baar Dekho  

Baar Baar Dekho

Diya and Jai are childhood friends; they grow up to be a mathematician (Sidharth Malhotra) and artist (Katrina Kaif); still friends and presumably lovers. When they start behaving like “an old married couple” she proposes that they marry and he reluctantly agrees.

So far so ‘today’. But at its core, Nitya Mehra’s Baar Baar Dekho is an old-fahioned moral tale about doing the right thing, being a good son, husband, parent and so on; personal talent and ambition be damned!

The first thing that strikes a false note in the film is Jai’s horror at the nouveau riche vulgarity of Diya’s father (Ram Kapoor). He has met the dad before, doesn't he know what he is like?  Then he is gobsmacked by the wedding tamasha, as if he were a foreigner not familiar with Indian marriage customs.  He decides to break up with Diya because he has an offer from Cambridge and her father does not want to let his daughter go there due to the cold weather!

Just before this, a pandit with an enigmatic smile (Rajit Kapur) has explained to Jai the significance of the seven pheras, and the pointlessness of his mathematician’s insistence on logic and reason.

After the break-up Jai gets drunk on champagne and wakes up ten days later on his honeymoon in Thailand.  This is a recurring occurrence in the film, he wakes up at different times in the future, gets a glimpse of what his life will be like, how he will mess up and then get chance to rectify his mistakes.

As an idea it is interesting (Hollywood has done this sort of thing many times), but the execution is dull. The film and its locations look great, the actors are good looking, but the film has absolutely no zing. The lives of the lead pair are banal, the emotions are superficial, and if the film sells the concept of happiness as dreary routine, or that the little moments are to be celebrated over the big ones, then what’s the big deal?

Saturday, September 03, 2016


The Lady Fights

It is a rule in films that if a character has a skill, it will come to full use in the script. That’s why the leading lady in Akira is seen learning martial arts (and sign language) as a child.

There is also another rule in Indian films—if a woman is a trained fighter, she cannot just enjoy her power, or put it to good use; she has to go through the full gamut of suffering, a kind of punishment as it were, for not being suitably submissive. In this AG Murugadoss film, everybody seems to strain to give grief to Akira Sharma (Sonakshi Sinha).

Taught by her father (Atul Kulkarni) to fight against molesters of women, she thrashes a bunch of goons, and ends up in a remand home, because nobody is willing to testify on her behalf. What she goes through in there is not deemed important; the film catches up with her fourteen years later, when she unwillingly shifts from Jodhpur to Mumbai along with her mother, to live with her brother and his snippy wife. In her new college, she gets into a fight with the college bullies, but that’s just for starters.

In a parallel plot, the supernasty ACP Rane (Anurag Kashyap) and his loyal cohorts murder a man to steal a bag full of cash. He gets into a blackmail situation that necessitates more killing, and in a very convoluted way, Akira gets involved in the mess. She ends up in a mental asylum from where she has to punch and kick her way out of the traps laid for her by Rane. Konkona Sensharma makes a too brief appearance as a pregnant cop (inspired by Fargo?), who acts as a foil to Rane.

Sonakshi Sinha is competent enough, and does not play Akira as a obvious toughie; unfortunately for her, Rane and his shenanigans result in her being off the screen for long stretches. Kashyap plays the baddie with such relish that he makes everyone else pale in comparison, including Akira, who spends most of her time looking helpless and the remaining in action set pieces that are too quick to leave an impact.  A dash of flamboyance and fire would have made Akira more likeable.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Flying Jatt  

Low-Flying Superhero

We don’t have a culture of superhero comics in India, so when a homegrown character has to be created, a large chunk of the material comes from Hollywood, added to time-tested Bollywood tropes, and in Remo D’Souza’s Flying Jatt, there’s plenty of Sikh religious symbolism.

The result is a mix of very silly comedy and solemn bombast stirred with tacky special effects. The target audience must have been small children, who may not be able to figure out Superman, Batman and the rest, but can appreciate Tiger Shroff dancing and showing off martial arts moves.

He plays Aman, the son of a strong Jatni mother (Amrita Singh), who stands up to a real estate guzzling industrialist, Malhotra (Kay Kay Menon), a man who is polluting the city with smoke and effluents from his factories. Aman is a timid martial arts teacher, and shy around the half-wit, squeaky fellow teacher (Jacqueline Fernandez), whom he loves.

Malhotra summons a white giant Raka (Nathan Jones—from Mad Max: Fury Road to this khichdi) to beat up Aman, and both end up with superpowers—Aman’s are a bit hazy, since he remains scared of heights and dogs, but acquires a mean fist; Raka (a very old Bolly name) survives a toxic dump, gets black blood, a black soul and the ability to thrive on waste and pollutants.

Aman’s mother and brother (Gaurav Pandey) think it is cute that their boy is a superhero—they watch Hollywood films to tutor him in the ways of superheroes, and she stitches him a costume. Now go save the world they say, and it’s a while before Flying Jatt gets his groove, after a few funny false starts.

While the film remains at a silly, spoofy level it’s somewhat bearable; when it starts getting serious and preachy, it goes off the rails. Raka, with his shiny white teeth and black smoke hovering around him, mainly goes around saying “Ha” or “Surprise Surprise” and  makes for a most ineffectual villain—the kind of guy who would lose his powers if the city folk cleaned up the streets and planted more trees. Who would have thought that a superhero film would end up being about Swatchh Bharat? You don’t know whether to giggle or to groan.

It’s all too much for poor Tiger Shroff to hold together—he can dance and he can fight, but he is expected to act too, looking all solemn when he being given sermons (in animation) about brave Sikhs by his mother. Nice to see Amrita Singh chewing up the scenery, but she is not given much to do.  If this is the start of a franchise, the Remo D’Souza needs to get back to the drawing board.

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