Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain  

Speak Of Love

Taking the partner for granted is a common enough condition that plagues many a marriage, perhaps more so an arranged match, where the gender roles are drawn by tradition; the man goes out to work, the woman looks after the family.  However, in Harish Vyas’s Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain, the husband is inexplicably grumpy, and the wife equally inexplicably docile.

Yashwant Batra (Sanjay Mishra) living in an ancestral mansion on the banks of the Ganga (gives the film a touristy-exotic look), is a postal employee, married to Kiran (a luminous Ekavali Khanna) from a wealthy family. The unattractive groom from a lower economic stratum was chosen for his ‘sharafat’ (decency), not for his looks or temperament. Batra goes to work sullenly demanding his tiffin, comes home, petulantly demands ice for his drink, eats and sleeps. Apparently, they never went on a honeymoon, take no holidays, have no social circle apart from her family, that he dislikes. He never expresses appreciation, never mind love; and for some reason, Kiran puts up with his odiousness.

It’s when he tries to push his daughter Preeti (Shivani Raghuvanshi)  into the same arranged marriage trap, the feelings buried for twenty-four years are articulated by Kiran, and it results in her husband brusquely asking her to leave his house if she is so unhappy, and she does.

The film till this point is engaging enough, it’s when Batra tries to woo his wife, the script becomes laboured and the man a caricature. To contrast with Batra’s crustiness is the jovial neighbour (Brijendra Kala) whose son Jugnu (Anshuman Jha) Preeti loves, and in a small cameo, Pankaj Tripathi in a treacly subplot about a man who believes in “love marriage and marriage love” and tends to his terminally ill wife (Ipshita Chakroberty).  If Tripathi and Mishra’s roles were swapped, the film would have been quite different.  Sanjay Mishra is a good actor, but incapable or portraying romance, whereas Tripathi would have done a better before-and-after personality change.

At its heart, Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain is conservative. A woman is told she cannot exist without a husband, and for all her fiery defiance of her father, Preeti remains a housewife and caregiver to her father. Which leaves the viewer with the thought, will she turn into her mother in twenty-four years, or will Jugnu’s demonstrativeness save their marriage? If the film is unsatisfying it is because it does not expand sufficiently on the potential of the idea.

Khajoor Pe Atke 

Ham Fest

If Harsh Chhaya wanted to take an idea from the award-winning Marathi film Ventilator, he should have simply remade it, instead of turning into a broad, mostly witless, insensitive farce.

When Jeetendra (Manoj Pahwa) gets a midnight call about his brother’s hospitalization, he drags his wife (Seema Pahwa) and two kids (Sanah Kapur, Mayur More) to Mumbai supposedly to help, but actually to keep track of their family’s flat that the brother had been occupying. He tries to prevent the other two brothers and a sister from coming too, and makes much of spending on airfare. The younger brother Ravindra (Vinay Pathak), cancels work meetings and takes his wife (Suneeta Sengupta) and son to Mumbai, more to keep up appearances. The hysterical sister Lalli (Dolly Ahluwalia) lands up too and sends the hospital staff into a tizzy.

The comatose brother’s wife (Alka Amin) is binge-eating out of stress and his son, Alok (Vicky Arora) trying to make sense of the chaos of his “item” family. It’s clear right from the start that nobody really cares about the ill brother, but Jeetu’s hypocrisy is gold-plated.

Some situations are believable—like first timers to Mumbai wanting to see a star’s bungalow on the way to the hospital, go sightseeing, or try to fix a matrimonial alliance in the hospital waiting area, but mostly the situations are either clichéd or exaggerated. Even the talented cast hams—only Alka Amin manages to pitch her performance right. Boys wanting to check out a dance bar is somewhat plausible, but which girl would be stupid enough to think that a lowlife chat buddy Rokky Dilwala (Prathamesh Parab) could make her a “heroine” in films; too much time is wasted on this track.

What the family goes through is tragic—not knowing over a tense two weeks, if the brother will survive or die; so the humour should have been dark and tinged with sorrow, not so obviously over the top. It is admittedly a tough balance, that Ventilator achieved.

The worst thing a comedy can do is poke the viewer in the eye, and shout, “Look how funny this is!”  Most of the time, it isn’t!

Monday, May 14, 2018


Many Shades Of Patriotism

If  Lt. Commander Harinder S. Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat  was not supposed to be based on a true story, it would have been unbelievable. Never mind how patriotic he may have been, which Indian father would send his young daughter across the border to spy for India?
In Meghna Gulzar’s elegantly mounted and skillfully paced, Raazi, a Kashmiri girl, Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) is thrown into a tough situation. On her dying father’s (Rajit Kapur’s) request, she agrees to marry Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal), the soldier son of a Pakistani brigadier, Parvez Syed (Shishir Sharma).  The time is 1971, and war clouds are hovering, so she would be in the lion’s den, so to say, and privy to classified information. But there is danger, both of being caught, and of the resolve weakening because her husband and in-laws are so kind.
Before the wedding, she is trained in espionage, self-defence and, if it comes to it, murder. Her stone-faced handler, Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat) asks the gentle, naive girl why she agreed to do it, and she gives him a small sermon on patriotism. The girl who ran in front of a car to save a squirrel and felt dizzy at the sight of blood, fearlessly risks her life for her country.
It does stretch credulity a bit, when Sehmat easily sets up a transmitter in a bathroom and finds ways of meeting others in the network, with none except the loyal retainer Mehmood (Arif Zakaria) suspecting her. She steps beyond the line of duty several times, taking undue risks, but what she uncovers—Pakistan’s plans to attack India via the sea—tilts the outcome of the Indo-Pak War for the liberation of Bangladesh, into India’s favour.
 In spite of the film’s premise being jingoistic, Meghna Gulzar portrays the patriotism of both sides—if Sehmat and her network put their lives in danger, so does the other side; she does not demonise the Pakistanis, on the contrary, she portrays them as affectionate and trusting. Iqbal actually apologises to her when dinner-table conversation is anti-India.
One knows how the story will end, but there are several moments of tension that make the viewers hold their breaths. And Alia Bhatt, steely, vulnerable, brave but humane keeps the eyes glued to her face with her quicksilver changes of expression and demeanour.  It’s a convincing performance, and she is surrounded by actors like Kaushal, Ahlawat, Sharma, Ashwath Bhatt (as Sehmat’s brother-in-law), who have entered the skins of their characters.
Raazi is a the story of one brave woman, but also brief history of time in terms of altered Indo-Pak relations and the position of Kashmir then and now.  

Hope Aur Hum 

Slice Of Life

Sometimes, a film just springs up without warning and manages to surprise by not being a total washout. 
Sudip Bandyopadhyay's Hope Aur Hum is a character- driven comedy drama about three generations of the Shrivastav family, living in an old-style bungalow in Mumbai.
The grizzled old patriarch Nagesh (Naseerudin Shah) is obsessed with an old German-made copier, he calls Mr Soennecken, and talks to like a human being. Even though customers grumble of blurred copies, he thinks his work is artistic. Without underlining it, the director makes a point about the insecurity of old age and the fear of redundancy.
The middle generation Nagesh’s older son Neeraj (Aamir Bashir) and daughter-in-law Aditi (Sonali Kulkarni—wasted in a bland role) are more caught up with running the house and looking their two kids, Tanu (Virti Vaghani) and the cricket-obsessed Anu (Kabir Sajid). There is no friction with the father, except over the space being occupied by the non-functional machine. While Neeraj and Anu are visiting Aditi’s mother (Beena) in her Rajpipla palace she wants to convert into a hotel, the younger son Nitin (Naveen Kasuria) arrives from Dubai with gifts for all, including a swanky new Japanese copier for his father. But he loses his cell phone, and much is made of him using a phone with a defective battery and cracked screen. Why he does not simply buy a new phone is never explained.
Something happens at the palace that disturbs Anu and he withdraws into a shell; again this problem was easily solvable by him talking to an adult. These two flaws are more like script conveniences, to drive home a point about destiny.
Hope Aur Hum has some nice moments between the family, and a fine performance by Shah, which is only to be expected, but also from young Kabir Sajid, who chatters away in cricket-ese, and stays endearing.  It’s a pleasant enough slice of life film, that stays on a even keel, without tipping into melodrama. It may not be unmissable, but it is worth a look.

Monday, May 07, 2018

102 Not Out 

Funny Odd Old Men

Saumya Joshi’s Gujarati play on which Umesh Shukla’s film 102 Not Out is based, was funny and had the novelty of a 102-year-old character, who wants to break the world record for longevity. A play turned into a film with very little alteration—except a few scenes shot outdoors—remains static. Three characters can hold up a play, they cannot quite manage that feat in a film, unless, of course, they are Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor and the talented Jimit Trivedi.
Not much is known about Dattatray Vakharia (Bachchan), except that he is 102, lives in an enormous mansion in Mumbai, dresses in colourful costumes and has a wet blanket of a son in 75-year-old Babulal (Kapoor).  The wives are dead, so no women complicate this men’s world, into which only the slow-witted medical store delivery boy Dhiru (Jimit Trivedi) is admitted, for some inexplicable reason. No other relatives or friends around—which, if you ask a real Gujarati family, they’d tell you is very difficult though not impossible, to be so cut off from a clan.
One day Dattatray decides that he will send Babulal to an old people’s home, because his chronic grumpiness is likely shorten his own life, and he wants to live on forever. When Babulal pleads for mercy, because he hates change, and still sleeps clutching a childhood blanket, the father puts forward a set of conditions that must be fulfilled. Dhiru is asked to serve as observer and umpire. Dattatray hopes the conditions will teach his son to get rid of old memories and start enjoying life again.
One wonders why a father as strong-willed as Dattatray waited so long to alter his son’s life—there is a sort of explanation provided, but it’s not too convincing. For 20 years after the death of his wife and emigration of his son to the US, Babulal remained in a shell, and his father did nothing?
A film needs more information and layering, which Shukla is unable to provide. Still, the stars and some witty lines ensure that there is enough for the audience to appreciate. Neither Bachchan nor Kapoor can manage the Gujarati accent required of them, but the former brings his indefatigable energy to his part and the latter, manages perfectly the sullenness and obstinacy of an overgrown child. It’s a wonder Trivedi does not look intimidated by the star power in the same frame as him.
102 Not Out is mildly amusing, but not memorable. Bollywood is yet to make the definite film about coping with age.

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