Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dear Zindagi 

Life Is Not Always Beautiful

So, for a change, it’s good to see a young woman in a Hindi film with a career she takes seriously. In Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi, Kaira (Alia Bhatt) is a cinematographer and a talented one at that. Unfortunately, that is just to make and her pals look chilled out; her work doesn’t make any difference the plot—she could have been anything. 

What matters is that she is mixed up and needlessly aggressive with everyone, most of all her parents.  Her topsy turvy state of mind is indicated by her deliberately turning things in her flat awry. Her attitude to men is refreshingly un-prissy—photos of her conquests are pinned to a soft board in her messy apartment. Within a few minutes of the film, Kaira has dumped one boyfriend (Angad Bedi) and is keeping another guessing--Raghu (Kunal Kapoor). 

But when Raghu jilts her, she goes to pieces, and not all her pals can put her together again. Getting kicked out of her apartment  at the same time, leads her to Goa reluctantly and immediately get into a nasty spat with her well-meaning parents.  When she can’t sleep, she finally goes to see a shrink, Dr Jahangir (“call me Jug”) Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), whose methods are casual and unorthodox.

The second half of the film is one long therapy session, with corny lines being passed off a life-changing wisdom;  Kaira’s troubles have a cause so obvious that had she would have to be quite brainless not to figure it out for herself. What makes the grating chatter bearable is Shah Rukh Khan’s star charm and Alia Bhatt’s abilty to sporadically channel a very convincing vulnerability that peeks from below the her “hell with love” anger. That she is able to make a not very likeable character sympathetic is to her and Gauri Shinde’s credit.

The big point the film is making is that there is no shame in seeking help from a Dimaag Ka Doctor(DD),  to deal with a mental problem, when there is none in seeing a doctor for a physical ailment—and it would have been significant had Kaira not seemed like a spoilt brat rather than a young woman with a serious emotional disorder.  Gauri Shinde seems to shy away from the ugliness and searing agony of real mental illness, perhaps because audiences would not have been able to bear it. So she opts for the light and trite, which is such a pity.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Force 2 

Bedlam in Budapest

It’s kind of cutely old-fashioned—in this day of sophisticated communication technology, there is much passing of notes in China. Later, in Abhinay Deo’s Force 2, an Indian intelligence (RAW) agent sends his buddy information hidden in code in a book!

It’s that kind of film— believe the cloak-and-dagger or leave it.  John Abraham co-produces the film and reprises his role from Force, that of the surly cop, Yash. Because he can, he takes his shirt off as often as he can, flashes a glimpse of his legs too—no sign of the expressions though. He is even more trigger happy than he was in the last film, and blames his extra craziness on the death of his wife five years ago.

In Force 2, Indian undercover agents in China are being bumped off. There is a mole in their midst, and to give Yash and RAW officer KK (Sonakshi Sinha) a chance to kick about in picturesque locations, the fellow happens to be in that city.  Shiv Sharma (Tahir Raj Bhasin) is a smart, cocky guy with a mission. As he takes Yash and KK on a merry ride, he sneers, “A winner amidst two losers.”

Dressed in shapeless pant suits, KK is given a tough look, but a Miss Kitty kind of sidekick roles, where she is constantly stating the obvious and asking what to do now!  Worse, for all the posing she does with guns, she has a phobia about using them. KK is just the token action heroine we can do without, thank you.

Force 2 is brisk and efficient within its hackneyed frame, and has a villain who chews up the scenery every time.  Setting a film in a pretty place, automatically means one of more of those chase scenes over rooftops, cobbled streets and through people’s laundry lines. It’s all silly, ‘timepass’ fun—even the peculiar instance of a Latina double agent, dancing to a Hindi remix number (Kate nahin kat te) in a Budapest night club, and demanding a night with Yash as payment!  The only funny scene in an otherwise humourless film.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Rock On 2 

Shaky Sequel

The 2008 film Rock On, directed by Abhishek Kapoor (also co-writer) had something to say and said it with flair. 

The review back then said, “Almost every urban, English-speaking, middle to upper middle class person will identity with Rock On completely—at least those who have turned into corporate stuffed shirts, and do the 'air guitar' in a bar,  when they are too drunk to care about keeping up appearances. The rock band in Abhishek Kapoor's film is just a metaphor for lives and dreams sacrificed for winning the rat race.  The four young men who form the band and almost make it big, could be anyone who had non-conformist ambitions he or she could not fulfill.”

Rock On 2, directed by Shujaat Saudagarsacrifices the relatable emotions of the first film and lays on the phony angst really thick. Five years after their band, Magik, broke up, there’s a guilt-ridden Adi (Farhan Akhtar) playing the do-gooder in a Meghalaya village. Joe (Arjun Rampal)  is a club owner and reality show judge, KD (Purab Kohli) is selling his soul doing ad jingles. The collective self-flagellation is for the death of a music aspirant, who was treated with indifference by the group.

After a fire in the village, when Adi is in a state of shock, he runs into Jiah (Shraddha Kapoor), who is a singer, reluctant to perform live. The film tries to tackle too many issues—relationships breaking up, a classical singer father sneering at modern music his children prefer, the soul crushing demands of the public from popular singers, the problems of the North East and the business of making music for a cause (which sounds ridiculous when they say music banate hain or band ke saath khelte hain).

The people of the Meghalaya village that Adi adopts, seem like lifeless puppets just waiting for the messiah to appear to solve their problems. The concert at the end is a joy to watch, though the music in this film is no patch on Shankar-Ehsan-Loy’s work in the original.

It may have seemed like a good idea to revisit the likeable and somewhat complex characters from Rock On, but the sequel is a let down, because they are no longer all that appealing.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil 

Joharesque Gloss

A word like Joharesque can be coined now, for the kind of films Karan Johar makes, and so do others of his generation and affluent film backgrounds.

Their films are also about people like themselves, for whom traipsing around in picturesque foreign locations is quite normal. They don’t have much to worry about except matters of the heart, and all of them—most certainly Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) in Johar’s latest Ae Dil Hai Mushkil—live in a state of perpetual carefree youth. It has come to the point that Johar references his own and other popular Bollywood films in his movies

Johar’s films are lush looking, with beautiful people wearing designer clothes; they are smart, witty and unabashedly mushy when need be. 

Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) is private jet kind of billionaire, who dream of being a singer. He meets Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) at a nightclub, and hit it off, but there is old heartbreak festering (Fawad Khan in a brief role that caused all that trouble), and the eternal conflict between love and friendship—she prefers it platonic.

Ayan deals with his heartbreak by having an affair with poetess Saba, (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), but that has to be just a temporary balm. There is an interesting romantic dynamic at play, and despite the banality of emotions, and the predictability in the way the narrative proceeds, Johar brings to the film the flair that is expected from his films, and peppers it with hummable music.

Even though Ranbir Kapoor has played the man-child many times before, and the bubbly girl is almost Anushka Sharma’s forte, the two of them are wonderful together. They make the film pleasantly watchable.


Anything But Divine

Ajay Devgn, who directs and stars in Shivaay, wants to portray his character as an indestructible, semi-divine force.  But for an action movie, he wastes a lot of time in setting up a tedious romance.

Shivaay lives in a Himalayan village (which looks suspiciously European) and works as a mountain guide. During an avalanche, he and a Bulgarian woman, Olga (Erika Kaar) take a tumble down the snowy slopes, and end up falling in love. She gets pregnant, but doesn’t want the baby; he emotionally blackmails her into giving birth and leaving the kid behind, which she does, without a backward glance. Eight years later, Gaura (Abigail Eames) discovers that her mother is alive, and throws a right royal tantrum; to save the trouble of teaching one more white actress to speak Hindi, Gaura is conveniently mute.

 In this age of Google, Shivaay and Gaura land up in Bulgaria, only to find that Olga’s last known address is no longer valid. For some strange reason they go to the Indian Embassy to help trace a Bulgarian citizen! Shivaay helps the cops nab a paedophile in his hotel, and pays for his troubles by having his daughter kidnapped. There is a flourishing human and organ trafficking business in the country, to which the local authorities turn a blind eye.

 The rest of the seemingly interminable film is about Shivaay hunting for Gaura, with the help of an embassy employee, Anushka (Sayesha Saigal). She helps him because she has a dad (Girish Karnad) who adores her, and she admires the father in Shivaay!  

The audience knows that he is going to succeed, but Devgn stretches every chase and action scene till they are no longer thrilling— the action scenes are shot beautifully, and all kudos to the stunt team—but all that work is rendered futile due to the overkill.

Devgn is a dependable actor, but he has discovered a gem in young Abigail Eames; when she is being cute, she is annoying, but the scenes of her trauma after the kidnap are stunning.  The weakest point of the film is the lack of a villain as a counterfoil for Shivaay’s power. One of them lies around lazily in a mansion, listening to opera!

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