Sunday, December 24, 2017

Tiger Zinda Hai 

All Guns Blazing

If a Salman Khan movie has many extravagant action set pieces around which a feeble-- and mostly silly—plot is built, at least one shirtless scene, plenty of patriotism and a little bit of romance, his audience wants nothing else. They will whistle and whoop through the film, every time the star looks at the camera, walks in slo-mo or cracks a punchline. Of course he is a superhero without a cape; he can quite literally decimate an army, and not have a bullet even graze him. The only sign of his being human is that he needs reading glasses.

Tiger Zinda Hai, sequel to Kabir Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger, has been directed by Ali Abbas Zafar (Sultan); in the last film RAW agent Avinash Rathod aka Tiger had disappeared, because he fell in love with ISI agent Zoya (Katrina Kaif), and that wouldn’t do at all in the world of espionage. However, when a crisis looms, his former boss Shenoy (Girish Karnad) knows where to find him—in snow clad Austria, where he and his bratty kid have been fighting wolves, while poor Zoya has been relegated to the kitchen. But, to prove that she is not rusty, she is given a scene in which she batters three muggers in a store.

The crisis involves Indian and Pakistani nurses held hostage in an Iraqi hospital by Abu Usman (Sajjaad Delafrooz) leader of militant organization, ISC. The Americans want to launch an air strike, but Shenoy requests seven days for his team to get the Indian nurses out. If this were a Hollywood film, or a Daniel Silva novel, a team of rescuers would have quietly parachuted into Iraq and done the job in less than 24 hours, not hatched an idiotic and far-fetched plot to enter the hospital.

Tiger and his three hand-picked men go to Iraq and get help from the asset there—Paresh Rawal placed there for comic relief, which he delivers. The ISI sends in Zoya and her cohorts to help the Pakistani nurses. So after some talk of ‘us’ and ‘them’ it is decided that RAW Bhai and ISI Bhabhi would launch a joint mission—something that is unheard of. The all-powerful ISC leader is, of course, a cretin, who frowns “Kuchh gadbad hai” where guns and bombs are exploding all over; the Americans are all cartoonish, trigger-happy characters.

The leader of the nurses is Poorna (Anupriya Goenka), who bravely deals with Abu Usman and provides assistance to Tiger’s team when they arrive to save them. (A recent Malayalam film Take Off was a more realistic rendition of the real 2014 incident of the capturing of nurses in Iraq).

For a thriller, the film has a leisurely pace, with needless diversions, like the rescue of a human bomb child, and some other women being used as sex slaves by Usman’s men.  Zoya gets another solid action scene here and Katrina really kicks butt like a trained soldier.

The film is well made and has enough masala to make it a blockbuster; after Salman Khan’s lukewarm Tubelight, this one is meant for the star to please his fans. A part three is undoubtedly on the way.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Monsoon Shootout  

The Way To Go

The wide-eyed rookie cop quoting provisions of the law, is paired with a trigger-happy encounter cop, and the result is an interestingly structured film,Monsoon Shootout, directed by Amit Kumar.  Having done the festival rounds since 2013, the film gets a release now, probably because of the reshuffle caused by the Padmavati postponement. Also, now Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a multiplex star, though the lead actor Vijay Verma’s career has not quite taken off.

The format the film follows is reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blind Chance and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run—in which a small change in perspective alters the narrative. In Monsoon Shootout,  on his first day at work, Adi (Verma) is reminded of his father’s belief that in every situation there is a right way, a wrong way and a middle path. And he has to pick one in his line of work.

 Adi has to pass his field trial under the watchful eye of Inspector Khan (Neeraj Kabi), who is the kind who shoots first and asks questions later. If Adi has to fit into this cynical and amoral system, he has to prove his ‘manhood’ or be confined to a desk job forever. 

The man they are stalking is an axe-wielding psycho Shiva (Siddiqui), who is suspected of having killed a builder on the orders of a slum lord.  On a rainy night, after a stakeout, Adi has Shiva cornered in a dead end street. The film then sees this incident from three points of view, depending on what decision Adi takes in that split second—to shoot or not to shoot.

Around this dilemma is the usual noir film cast of gangsters, hookers, corrupt cops and politicians, a wife, a kid and innocent girlfriend, who may or may not be impacted by Adi’s choice. 

On paper this must have sounded like an interesting script to work with, on screen it is a rushed, choppy hodge-podge; you can’t figure or who is who and what is what, but are taken through the grungy streets, chawls and docks of Mumbai on a ultimately meaningless journey.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fukrey Returns 

Boys Still Boys

The 2013 film Fukrey was mildly amusing and certainly not deserving of a sequel. Anyway, whether we want it or not Fukrey Returns, and it is Mrigdeep Singh Lamba who brings the four Dilli duffers back.

The review of the earlier film stated, “Over a period of time Hollywood has perfected the formula and identified its target audience of young men, who are most likely to flock to a film with slangy risque lines, a hint or promise of sex, a dash of bravado, stupid risks that pay off, and all turning out well in the end. The Hangover got it right--not dark enough to be disturbing, vulgar enough to make men snigger but not put off accompanying females. The same producers made Delhi Belly, an upmarket version of Fukrey. Good-for-nothing young buddies, brush with crime, controlled mayhem, and, throwaway funny lines that sound way better with a Delhi accent. However, keeping in mind Indian censors, not too much vulgarity.”  This applies to Part 2 as well.

Five years later, the four – Choocha (Varum Sharma), Hunny (Pulkit Samrat), Lali (Manjot Singh) and Zafar (Ali Fazal) seem to be in college still, and as good-for-nothing as before. But Bholi Punjaban (Richa Chadda) wrangles her way out of jail by bribing a minister Babulal (Rajv Gupta), collects her two black sidekicks and starts a business in organ trading. Panditji (Pankaj Tripathi) is around like a loose thread, perhaps because the actor now has a fan following; his comic timing is unbeatable.

The premonitions that Choocha used to get in the last film are contrived here, and lead to some very convoluted going-on to do with gambling and treasures in caves. Men get bitten on their bottoms by snakes and Choocha dreams of Bholi Punjaban as a nagin. There are the many cringe-worthy gags and a dash of homophobia. Two of the guys have girlfriends, who have roles smaller than a tiger cub that has a starring part. Don’t ask how or why!

Off screen, it is interesting to note that of the four ‘fukras’ only Ali Fazal has made something of his career, which is perhaps the reason why he looks so uninterested in this film. And who can blame him?

Friday, December 08, 2017


Brown Man’s Burden

There is downside to having a set image, audiences expect their hero to live up to it.  You’d think a film starring Kapil Sharma (also produced by him) would be cheeky and funny. Firangi, somnolently directed by Rajiev Dhingra is a clanger any way you look at it.

There is very little interest in Raj era films now, unless they are entertaining or ultra patriotic or both, eg. Lagaan.  Firangi seems to be inspired by that film, but then Sharma is no Aamir Khan. Worse, he is a bit overage to be playing a gullible young chap who believes the British are not all bad (“they built the railways”) or making gooey eyes at a village belle.

Manga (Sharma) is a happy—go-lucky Punjabi villager who is berated by his father for being jobless.  Which is why is cannot find a girl to marry him.  Then he finds work as an orderly to a Brit, Mark Daniel (Edward Sonnenblick), but the grandfather of the belle named Sargi (Ishita Dutta) won’t accept the proposal because he is a Gandhi-influenced freedom fighter.

Daniel is smart enough to figure out that the British won’t rule forever, so coaxes a nutty Raja (Kumud Mishra) to invest in a booze factory with him. The only problem is that the ideal site is Sargi’s village, and the  Raja orders the people to be evicted. How can the loyal servant of the British allow his beloved to be ousted from her home?
So he comes up with a hare-brained scheme to save the village. The film plods at snail’s pace, and lacks even a smidgen of humour.  Had it  been snappy and funny—which it could well have been—Firangi might  have been rescued.  But its fine supporting cast is wasted on a lethargic movie. At a run time of two hours and forty minutes, it’s akin to torture. Kapil Sharma does have screen presence and could act if he were given a role worth his while.  Better luck next time!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Kadvi Hawa 

Village Woes

In a scene from Nila Madhab Panda’s Kadvi Hawa, a village teacher is giving the kids a lesson on the seasons. According to the books, there are four, but a kid answers that there are two, summer and winter. “What about the monsoon?” the teacher snaps. The boy says, "It does rain two or three days a year, sometimes in winter, sometimes in summer."

Panda’s film is supposed to be about the devastation of climate change, but he approaches the subject in a roundabout way. Most of story is about farmers committing suicide because they are unable to repay bank loans. The audience has to make the connection that the land is arid because of a lack of rain caused by climate change.

Kadvi Hawa focuses on one family—a blind old man Hedu (Sanjay Mishra), his son Mukund (Bhupesh Singh), daughter-in-law Parvati (Tillotama Shome) and two granddaughters. When the film opens, Hedu makes a trip to the bank in town to inquire about his son’s debt and is rudely driven away because he does not have money to pay.

Back in the village, a farmer has hanged himself, and then news comes that a strict recovery agent, Gunu (Ranvir Shorey) has arrived; wherever he goes he causes a couple of suicides, earning him the nickname of Yamdoot. 

Gunu is from Orissawhere floods have destroyed him home and killed his father. He takes an assignment in this hot and dry area because he gets double the commission for recovery.

Hedu makes a kind of Faustian bargain with Gunu—if his son is left alone, he will give the recovery man information about which villager has money. (This gives the impression that some villagers do not want to repay loans.)

The film is more tell than show, a card at the end gives statistics of how many people died in “super cyclones,” and how many suicides have been caused by climate change and how many more people will be pushed into poverty by 2030, but the film itself leaves a lot unsaid.

It’s not as if the viewer is looking for suffering and tragedy, but Hedu’s family seems well fed. They live in a decent house and are not dressed in rags. The granddaughter goes to school, and the family has a cow. There is dialogue about Mukund having to go to the city to work at a construction site, presumably because there is not enough water for farming, but there is no indication of famine or a devastating water crisis.

Kadvi Hawa may have its heart in the right place, but think of films like Dharti Ke Lal, Do Bigha ZameenGodaan, Do Boond Paani about the tragedies of rural India, and one can see how the new film—made for a festival audience—falls short, despite excellent performances by Mishra and Shorey. Gulzar’s poem, Mausam beghar hone lage hain,  recited by him, at the end of the film, is a lot more impactful and thought-provoking.

Films about social issues must be made, and urban audiences must know how the other half lives, but if they do not reach an audience or appeal to them, the effort is wasted.

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