Monday, January 16, 2017

Ok Jaanu 

Much Ado About Nothing

For capturing the lifestyles of the young, ambitious and restless in Mumbai, Ok Jaanu is at least a decade too late. A remake of Mani Ratnam’s hit O  Kadhal Kanmani, that possibly scandalized Chennai or perhaps woke up the conservatives to how the young view love and marriage, fits rather easily in Mumbai. (When would you find trains and buses so empty, for one!)

In Mumbai, a live-in relationship would not shock many, nor would such a big deal be made about a choice between love and career. This is the age of long-distance and also open relationships, and a couple can decide how much time or ‘bandwidth’ they wish to allot to various aspects of their lives. As for marriage, it is not going out of style in a hurry, even among those who see themselves as modern.

There is something quite phony in this love story from the unimaginative meet-cute to the production design. In Mumbai, it would be tough if not impossible for a judge to have such a huge Malabar Hill bungalow; if he did live in a palace, he would not have to keep a paying guest. Then, the paying guest room in the home of an old couple would not be painted red and made to look like a bordello. For that matter, a seedy guest-house room in Ahmedabad looks quite vulgarly ornate too, where the young couple in question – game designer Adi (Aditya Roy Kapur) and architect Tara (Shraddha Kapoor) --make steamy moves to a Hamma Hamma remix, but don’t sleep in the same bed.

Tara’s aversion to marriage is vaguely explained – her parents’ marriage broke up; her mother (Kitu Gidwani) is Bollywood’s idea of a successful career woman—short-hair, brusque manner.  Adi has no such excuse—his brother is happily married from the look of it, and his wife delivers the most sensible lines in the film, about why Adi and Tara’s bubble is bound to burst. Because the two may be working professionals but behave like giddy teens.

The contrast to their “figure out kar lenge” kind of love is contrasted with the ploddingly tender, almost fifty-year-old marriage of their landlords, played with complete sincerity by Naseeruddin Shah and Leela Samson.  If marriage, according to writer Mani Ratnam and remake director Shaad Ali, means that one partner cares for the ailing one, then they make it look like a burdensome chore or weight to be dragged.

In the end, Ok Jaanu for all its contemporary posturing bares its conservative heart. The actors are charming enough, but  Naseeruddin Shah even on a bad day could out-act Aditya Roy Kapur and Shraddha Kapoor.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Dreams of Gold

When Mahavir Singh Phogat’s wife gives birth to a daughter, the entire village gives the couple supposedly failsafe tips on how to beget a son next. After four daughters, he looks crushed, his wife perennially stricken and the villagers feel sorry for them. The national wrestling champ could not win an international medal for India, and everybody knows of his dream of having his son win that gold.

Haryana is brutal to its girls provided they are even allowed to be born. In that sense Phogat (Aamir Khan) --the hero of Nitesh Tiwari's film--and his placid wife Daya (Sakshi Tanwar) are mildly progressive. But when Phogat sees that his two older daughters have roundly thrashed two local boys for teasing them, his eyes get that mad gleam.  A medal is a medal, whether a girl wins it or a boy, he reasons, and going against the whole village (the girls or the tearful wife have no say), he starts training Geeta and Babita  (Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar as kids, Fatima Sana Shaikh as and Sanya Malhotra as grown-ups—all of them giving sympathetic performances) to become wrestlers.

He wakes the up at the crack of dawn to feed them paani-puri, telling them it’s the last time they eat junk food. He compels them to eat chicken for protein, chops off their hair and deprives them of anything ‘feminine.’

This is the uncomfortable part of the film—the edge of patriarchy is not dulled just because the girls are being pushed into achievement. It’s not as if Phogat encourages them to pursue their own dreams, he forces his own ambition upon them and also on his hapless nephew (Aparshakti Khurana), who is dragged along to help the girls. Eventually, as they start winning the local wresting bouts, they revel in the sense of achievement (though surprisingly, there isn’t a bruise on their clear skins).

Because the film is based on a true story, the audience admires the dedication of the girls—any sport requires a punishing discipline and wrestling even more so.  Add a large pinch of patriotism to a story of an unlikely hero(ine) and the film is bound to work. It is well-directed and pushes all the right emotional buttons. The conflict is relatable—rebellion, pride, jealous national coach (Girish Kulkarni), who pronounces the father’s methods old-fashioned; Geeta and Babita’s winning spree is remarkable. 

In real life what the Phogats managed to do, is seen in a throwaway scene in which the father’s makeshift akhada has some more female students.  (And there’s Sakshi Malik emerging from the same feudal social mileu).

The film is undoubtedly Aamir Khan’s best—the star transforms himself into a middle-aged man, and his performance is outstanding in every way.  Every little emotion Mahavir Pogat goes through is reflected on the actor’s face.  His courage in making this film and doing the part cannot be denied.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Care A Damn Love

The film begins with a kissing tutorial in Paris, as couples of all ages and races smooch against picturesque backdrops. Aditya Chopra aims at a target audience of youngsters and does everything he can to keep them hooked, which means Befikreends up a shallow romance between self-obsessed, inconsiderate and badly behaved people. 

The girl tells the guy during a smash-up fight that he may have left Karol Bagh (Delhi), but inside he still belongs there. So, Befikre is a European romcom, with its Karol Bagh roots showing. The Indian origin couple may smooch and make out in public, jump into bed after the first meeting, and be what Bollywood considers “bold,” but they are actually looking for stability and a ‘forever’ relationship.

Shyra (Vaani Kapoor) says she is French, with Indian parents, which means she is what Bollywood describes as “free-spirited”) (read sexually adventurous) and heartless towards her perfectly nice parents. She is a tourist guide for mostly Indian groups, so she can speak in Hindi and the audience gets a good look at beautiful Paris. Dharam (Ranveer Kapoor) has come to Paris to work as a stand-up comedian in a bar called Delhi-Belly, which means he can speak in Hindi and amuse his desi audience. Why not simply set the film in India? Not that one is complaining—the French locations are the best thing about Befikre.

The two get into a no-strings attached relationship, break up, become friends, get engaged to other people and so on. The film would have been really grown-up and ‘today’ if it weren’t so predictable-- just stripping, showing off gym-toned bodies and kissing is no sign of maturity or modernity.

The translation of befikre provided is carefree, but Shyra and Dharam could be described as childish and unfeeling. The  antics of the two—like daring each other to do silly things--or the ‘love is like bungee jumping’ kind of bumper sticker lines would probably go down well with teens, but for all its gloss, Befikre is just a mash up of several Hollywood and Bollywood films. However, romcoms are to be seen as breezy and frothy and in this area, Chopra delivers the goods; just wish it wasn’t so infuriating as well.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Kahaani 2 

Kolkata Konundrum

When a director has made a film as successful and universally liked as Kahaani, an encore is always problematic. Kahaani 2 is not a sequel and has nothing in common with the first film except Vidya Balan and Kolkata. And these two are what lure the audience to the cinema. There are some things Sujoy Ghosh is able to pull off again—the brooding milieu, the authentic locations and attention to detail; what he hasn’t got this time round is the zingy plot he had in Kahaani.  This one is too full of contrivances which show, unlike the first film in which the red herrings were hidden well.

The film opens in a shabby part of Chandan Nagar, described as a town as big as a football field. A town where a cop asking for a ledger to record evidence is told by a junior that the station doesn’t have one, because “nothing ever happens here.”  The cop is Indrajit Singh (Arjun Rampal) on a punishment posting in this hick town, because his “gut instinct” reportedly failed.

Summoned to a dingy hospital to see a “hit but not run” victim, he looks at the comatose blood-soaked face and says “Durga?”  No, the doctor says, she is Vidya Sinha.  Earlier Vidya has been seen as a caring mother to a paralysed daughter Mini (Naisha Singh), saving to take her to the US for treatment. 

A flashback, set in picturesque Kalimpong reveal her to be indeed dowdy Durga, working in the local school--a woman with a mysterious past and an unnatural interest in the fate of a young student who looks traumatised.  By this time, there has been a fair amount of foreshadowing and hints for a viewer to figure out just where Kahaani 2 is going. After a gripping first half the plot unravels and Ghosh resorts to the Bollywood cliché of a wounded woman with bleeding wound and a battered face, playing wonderwoman.  (Getting up from the hospital bed after several days, she doesn’t even have bed hair!)

It is watchable because Vidya Balan and Arjun Rampal make it so—he as the too good-looking sub-inspector with a nagging wife and whiny daughter, who looks perpetually disgruntled. Because even in Chandan Nagar he has no peace and his gut instinct threatens to go awry again. Jugal Hansraj turns up in a role as far from the Masoom moppet as can be.

Had there been no Kahaani, the ‘2’ would have been very impressive despite its faults. But having seen what the director is capable of, the admirer wants more!

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.

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