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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hindi Medium 


English Matters

In this age of escapist cinema, a filmmaker takes up a major issue and instead of preaching and has the skill to turn it into satire is cause enough to applaud Saket Chaudhary.

His Hindi Medium is a light-hearted look at the class structure in India, which is defined by the ability to speak English with the right accent, going to the right schools, living in snooty upmarket areas, holidaying in the right spots and so on. (This week’s other release Half Girlfriend also touches upon this English snobbery.)

Raj Batra (Irrfan) owns a large Chandi Chowk boutique selling “original duplicates” of famous designers, and is wealthy enough to live well, which is not enough for his wife Mita (Saba Qamar), who will do anything to belong to the elite (she pronounces it ‘e-light’ which earns her a smirk from the English speaking playground moms) class. The problem is their inability to speak in English.

Mita wants her daughter Pia (Dishita Sehgal) to go to one of the best schools, for which they move to the right locality, subject themselves to the ridicule of uppity neighbours, obey the diktats of a consultant (brilliantly played by Tilottama Shome), try to tap every connection and fail. 

Raj just wants to please his wife, and decides to get his daughter in through the Right To Education (RTE) quota meant for the poor. For this, they have to move to a stinky, rat-infested slum and pretend to be poor. This is where the film’s sharp humour fails, this part about the nobility and aspirations of the poor ring false and are actually patronizing.

Their friendly, water-sharing neigbour Shyam Prasad (Deepak Dobriyal) trains Raj in poverty and his wife teaches Mita how to battle the water queue. The child, over whom all the drama is generated, is surprisingly placid, adjusting quite easily to slum life.

A slice of Indian life—any number of parents have suffered the dawn queues for forms and the school interviews—some pithy lines and an absolutely award-worthy performance by Irrfan makeHindi Medium watchable. Just paper over the flaws and stop yourself from looking down on Hindi (or any Indian language) speakers.


Half Girlfriend 


Same Old Story


For years and years, it has been a Bollywood formula to have two people from different class backgrounds fall in love. So Mohit Suri’s Half Girlfriend based on Chetan Bhagat’s book is not all that new.

All it does is somewhat modernize the old formula, which still feels strange when a girl who is hanging out, making out and being emotionally dependent on a guy is surprised when he expresses romantic feelings for her. In today’s age, Riya’s (Shraddha Kapoor) simpering seems very out of date.

Her ‘half boyfriend’ is Madhav Jha (Arjun Kapoor), princeling of a small  Bihari village, who manages to get into an elite Delhi college in the sports quota, but cannot speak English. “Even the grass grows in English here,” he despondently tells his mother (Seema Biswas) on the phone, just before spotting a French-braided basketball player who gives him reason to stay on.

Riya is the poor little rich girl, who deals with the domestic violence situation at home by soaking in the rain (hence, baarish song is a must), drowning out the noise by strumming her guitar and singing the same song, or sneaking up to the top of India Gate.  A girl ideally meant for a few sessions with a shrink, but she prefers the slavish devotion of Madhav, bad English and all. With all the romance (on his part) and friendzoning (on her part) when they find the time to study is never established. College, like in so many other films, is just a location to shoot.

Riya dumps him to marry a man of her own social status, bumps into him again in Patna where he is seeking funds for the village school from the Bill Gates Foundation (he actually makes a poor CGI cameo), picks up the romance-friendzone thread again and this goes on and on, till everybody but Madhav can see that he is unhealthily obsessed, and also cannot take no for an answer.

For those who have read better books and seen better romantic films, Half Girlfriend is quite flat.  It is redeemed somewhat by the stars emoting away earnestly, but a supporting actor, Vikrant Massey, as the loyal friend, gets some of the best lines and walks away with every scene he is in.

Mohit Suri and his writers need a crash course in Delhi snobbery for describing a tiny diamond on a chain as “baroque.”


Monday, May 15, 2017

Sarkar 3 

Bulldog In The Room


There is a statue of a bulldog in the sitting room of Subhash ‘Sarkar’ Nagre, that is witness to all the action in the room— the growling, scheming and an occasional murder when Sarkar lures a prey into his den.

One has to admire the bulldog tenacity of Ram Gopal Varma who wanders all over and comes back to his gangster sagas—Sarkar 3 is so grim and contrived, that one notices the weird camera angles and compositions; it is all mostly dark and people are caught in strange poses, through the handle of a cup of the legs of a person, of between the raised hands of a Laughing Buddha statue.

At the start of the film you are told that power is about respect, not fear, and then several times is the line, “Sarkar ek soch hai,” as if Varma is trying to seek the key of the three films in that. But after watching all the films, one has to guess at the “soch.” From this film alone, It isn’t quite clear what Sarkar (Amitabh Bachchan) actually does, except make thunderous speeches, ‘help’ the poor, manipulate the politicians and cops of the state, and plot a few killings to get rid of the bad guys. But you are told to believe he is the good guy and only murders those who, according to him, deserve to die.

The twisty-turny and entirely predictable wheeling-dealing takes place over a project in Dharavi, for which a bunch of wicked businessman (one of them called Gandhi), want to oust the families that live there. Manoj Bajpayee is an aspiring leader, and Jackie Shroff a hilarious villain (Ajit being the obvious inspiration), who is given some loony lines, and a scantily-clad moll. The main difference between him and Sarkar is that he treats the woman with disdain, while the older man looks at his bed-ridden wife (Supriya Pathak) with touching tenderness.

As Sarkar performs an elaborate ritual before a smiling portrait of his dead son (Abhishek Bachchan, killed in the last film), his grandson Shivaji (Amit Sadh) lands up, to offer his services as heir. There is immediate tension between him and Sarkar’s loyal Gokul (Ronit Roy). Shivaji’s choice of girlfriend (Yami Gautam) is unfortunate in that she has a reason to hate Sarkar. So while Dharavi becomes a pawn, the body count of shooters rises.

Varma may be hampered by a lazy script, but he can still pull off a thumping Ganpati sequence, several shootouts and make Amitabh Bachchan give a mesmerizing turn again as Sarkar, in which he can make tea preparing and slurping an act of menace. The other actors have a of catching up to do.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion 


Hollow Spectacle


When the first part of Baahubali was released, the question in the review was, “Rajamouli has made India’s most expensive film so far, and undoubtedly matched the CGI  magic of any Hollywood film. But, one couldn’t help thinking that if so much money could have been spent on the visuals, couldn’t a fraction of it have been spent on content? It has the age-old rivalry between princely brothers story that has been done to death in old films. Rajamouli has just taken the SS Vasan kind of costume drama (Chandralekha—1948, being a prime example) and updated the technology.  It is set in a fictional universe, with no geographical authenticity of any kind—and that doesn’t really matter; because the audience does see it as a comic book on screen.”

Part 2 outdoes the first in excess--everything is so huge and opulent, that it is sometimes ugly. The look is inspired by Amar Chitra Katha comics, but just like our animation films never move beyond mythology, Rajamouli has also stayed within the confines of an old fairy tale.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, is like a prequel and sequel in one; the audience discovers why the infant Mahendra Baahubali was taken away from the kingdom of Maheshmati by his grandmother, and brought up by adoptive parents. Going back into the simple tale, Mahendra’s father, Amarendra (both played by Prabhas) was ousted from the throne by his evil uncle (Nasser) and cousin Bhallaldeva (Rana Daggubatti). The queen, Shivagami (Ramya Krishna--unblinking) is manipulated into agreeing to their plans.  Mahendra fell in love with and married the outspoken princess Devasena (Anushka Shetty), who in the first part, was shown incarcerated in Bhallaldeva’s prison.

The romance between Mahendra and Devasena, with him pretending to be a simpleton, is tedious. The comic track involving the loyal slave Katappa (Sathyaraj) and Devasena’s puffed up cousin Kumar Varma (Subba Raju) is not in the least amusing. It is as if Rajamouli was just padding the film with some dramatic scenes in between the extravagant action set pieces, one of which involved a stampede of cattle with their horns on fire.

There is a lot of jumping from heights, leaping over hurdles, shooting of arrows, slashing with swords, and slaughtering thousands of men; the sets are lavish and the CGI painstakingly done, but nothing that is truly enjoyable. The songs (music by MM Keeravani) drones on accompanying bombastic lyrics. Not much acting is required, so everybody performs in an exaggerated style, like they were on stage in an old melodrama.

The audiences that made Baahubali a hit, might just shower crores on the second part too. What the film does is prove that such over-the-top spectacles can be made in India too. Hopefully, some day, Rajamouli or some other filmmaker with this kind of budget, will make a film that will marry visual splendour with an absorbing plot. Till then, gawking at flying ships, trees turned into catapults, rampaging elephants and bursting dams will have to pass off as entertainment.



Maatr 


Hackneyed Revenge Drama


In the commercial films of 1980-90s, rape was a standard plot device to enable the hero—and sometimes the heroine—to take gory revenge. For some years this formula was buried, but the post Nirbhaya focus on the fight for justice in crimes against women, seems to have brought it right back. However, like Pink, or even NH10, a film should have something to say beyond the obvious.

Ashtar Sayed’s Maatr, is as hackneyed as it possible for a film about rape to be, but it still pushes the right buttons of horror and outrage, because that kind of nightmare is constantly being reported in the media. Vidya (Raveena Tandon) and her daughter Tia (Alisha Khan) are returning late from a school function, and she takes a deserted lane to avoid traffic. Both are violently raped and left for dead by the side of the street.  The daughter dies, and Vidya barely survives, but she is blamed by her callous husband (Rushad Rana) for happened to her; and even the cops are indifferent. The perpetrator is Apoorva (Madhur Mittal), the nasty son of the chief minister, who has a bunch of cronies with him.

Vidya has only her loyal friend Ritu (Divya Jagdale) for support, and she realises that she cannot get justice the legal way. Even the corrupt cop, Jayant Shroff (Anurag Arora) is of the opinion that there is no point in fighting a losing battle. It would be easy for them to prove consent, he says.

Vidya then decides to punish the men her own way. She kills them one by one, but there is too much coincidence and contrivance to how she goes about it. The one thing in the film’s favour is that unlike the Zakhmi Aurat kind of films, there is no shouting or ranting.  Raveena Tandon and Divya Jagdale ably carry the film and make it slightly watchable.  But the takeaway still is, that vigilante justice is right, because the powerful can away with heinous crimes; what makes it worse is that the men are so inhuman in their brutality, it makes you wonder what kind of society breeds such monsters.

  


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