Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Jagga Jasoos  

Tintin-esque Adventure

If a film aims at being a musical romantic action comedy then it is biting off more than it can chew, to begin with. The attempt behind Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos is admirable—he started out wanting to make a Tintin and Harry Potter like kiddie-pleasing adventure, using a derivative Broadway-style musical format and bright comic-book colour palette. Somewhere down the line, he forgot about a coherent plot.

The story is narrated by Katrina Kaif, out of Jagga Jasoos comics, being performed and watched by a bunch of kids. After a prologue about an arms drop at Purulia in the 1990s, we see orphan Jagga (an utterly cute young actor) adopted by a man whose life he saved. The stuttering Jagga calls his foster father Badal Bagchi (Saswata Chatterjee) Tutti Futti, because of his accident prone ways—later described in a song as “bad-lucky.”

Since Jagga has a painful stutter, Bagchi advises him to sing, so he does, and everybody around him does too, which gets tedious after a point. The father vanishes one day, leaving Jagga in a boarding school and for years just sends him a Happy Birthday video.

The Manipur town is visited by a reporter Shruti (Katrina Kaif), an equally “bad-lucky” girl, who end up as Jagga’s sidekick, as he goes hunting for his father in lovely African locations, their antics watched by exotic animals looking as befuddled as the audience must be feeling. He is chased all over by a mysterious “intelligence” officer (Saurabh Shukla), but of the actual arms-dealer villain you get just a glimpse, because Basu must have planned a sequel.

The first half has Jagga (Ranbir Kapoor overage as a schoolboy, but you don’t mind that—he is just brilliant), zooming around on a bike that looks like a broom, solving local mysteries. It picks up when the hunt for Bagchi starts, and some action sequences are really well done. But the films does suffer from an overdose of cuteness, lack of humour, and the absence of a real menacing villain for Jagga to fight.

Ranbir Kapoor, throws himself into the role whole-heartedly and drags Katrina Kaif up by the bootstrap—if she can’t act, she can at least take the many pratfalls in good spirit. The film looks gorgeous, but for a musical, Jagga Jasoos does not have that one great number you come out humming from the theatre. It needed to have the pace and madcap spirit of a comic book, instead it is long and laborious.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Mother Knows Best

On the surface Ravi Udyawar’s Mom is fine, it taps into the current outrage over violence against women and then gives the easy solution of movie-style revenge and catharsis.  Maatr did it a few months ago, and dozens of films in the past played out on the same template.

But underneath its pro-women stance is the insidious patriarchy that says women ask for rape; and once raped, a woman cannot be whole again.  To illustrate, when the worried Devaki (Sridevi) goes to the police station to report her daughter Arya (Sajal Ali) missing, the cops coolly say that today’s girls go off with boyfriends on Valentine’s Day, so there’s no need to worry. To which Devki says, “My daughter is not like that.”  Meaning girls who have boyfriends deserve to be kidnapped and raped?

Later, in hospital, the doctor tells Devaki about the girl’s horrific injuries, but she starts howling in agony only when told of the rape. Later, when confronting one of the men, she screams. “How dare you touch my daughter.”  Not injure, not strangle, not attempt to murder, but ‘touch’.

And the worst, the incident takes place when the girl’s father Anand (Adnan Siddiqui) is away, which seems to suggest that once out of the ring of male protection, women are vulnerable.

The film moves on quite predictable lines, with the mother avenging the rape of her daughter, the only added layer being that Devaki is the girl’s stepmother; Arya refuses to acknowledge her desperate attempts at maternal love, and calls her “Ma’am,”  like she does in class where Devaki teaches.

The four men, who commit the gruesome act (the moving car is shot from a top angle leaving the audience to imagine the horror), leave Arya to die in a ditch (a totally gratuitous shot has one kicking her in) but she survives and also testifies against the men. For very flimsy sounding reasons, they get away. Arya inexplicably blames Devaki for what happened, and screams when she tries to console her.  Unlike the nasty husband in Maatr, at least Anand is sympathetic and supportive.

The investigating cop (Akshaye Khanna) looks all huffy, though the cops clearly fudged the investigation. Devaki’s biggest supporter turns out to be a mildly creepy detective called DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, brilliant even in weird get-up), who offers to help because he is also the father of a daughter, so can understand her pain.

The trail of revenge is mostly preposterous-- one of the men is castrated with the help of transgenders—add sensation to social message, shake and stir. 

The film has been designed for Sridevi to Act with a capital A, and she does, often lending hackneyed scenes a sense of dignity. But that’s her star power in action, the same film with an unknown actress and a smaller budget would have been an exploitative B-flick.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


Flicker and Out

After the love-thy-enemy message in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Kabir Khan repeats it in Tubelight, replacing Pakistanis with Chinese, and keeping on his simple-minded hero played by Salman Khan.

Salman had played a taciturn wrestler in Sultan, so the audience got the idea—incorrect as it turns out—that the crowd-pleasing superstar was willing to play mature roles. However in Tubelight, he plays Laxman, as a child-like, slightly retarded man, the townsfolk in his Kumaoni village tease with the chant, “Tubelightjal ja.” The film is based on the English film, Little Boy, in which the protagonist was a child, susceptible to taking simple homilies like “Faith can move mountains” literally.  The Forrest Gump kind of role simply does not suit Salman, who keeps trying different ways of scrunching up his face to cry or popping his eyes out in the attempt to look cute.

Laxman’s beloved younger brother Bharat (Sohail Khan), who looks after him, enlists in the army when the Indo-China hostilities break out. As a kid Laxman was given a lesson in the power of “yakeen” (faith), by none other than Mahatma Gandhi; in the present, a visiting magician (Shah Rukh Khan in a charming cameo), convinces Laxman that he can do anything if he believes he can. So Laxman believes with all his might that his faith will bring his brother back (which rather cruelly implies that those who lost loved ones in the war were lacking in faith!). 

The brothers’ mentor Banne Chacha (Om Puri) gives Laxman a list of Mahatma Gandhi’s sayings and asks him to live by them to get rid of the negativity in his mind. As if to test him, the village gets Chinese residents in the form of the pretty young woman Li Ling (Zhu Zhu) and her precocious son Guo (Matin Rey Tangu). During the war, people of Chinese origin—even those who were Indian citizens-- were imprisoned, and Li Ling came to the remote village to keep her son safe. As the village local Narayan (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub) tries to attack the “Chini” enemies, Laxman befriends Guo and protects the two. Even so, in a discomfiting scene, he forces Guo to shout Bharat Mata Ki Jai to prove that he is a real Hindustani. (Anybody who keeps abreast of the news, would shudder!)

In spite of its overflowing sweetness, and significant message of peace and compassion, Tubelight is repetitive, and after a point, boring. The locations are easy on the eyes, Zhu Zhu is lovely and little Matin is adorable, but the film lacks coherence and has very little by way of entertainment, although the Kumaonis are open to gathering in the square and dancing with Laxman.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Twice The Tedium

A strange guy follows a girl home, and though she pretends to be annoyed, she has in him her bed on day two.  Stalkers rejoice! The instant romance between Shiv (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Saira (Kriti Sanon)  in Dinesh Vijan’s Raabta is so dull, their past life connection cannot possibly rescue it. (No spoiler here, it was advertised as a reincarnation story.)

The filmmaker had the budget to shoot in Budapest (and Mauritius), so the viewer gets a touristy look at the beautiful city, where Shiv has exported himself along with best buddy Radha (Varun Sharma); Saira has a swanky chocolate shop, where Shiv spots her when he comes in with his latest conquest. Yes, he sees women—particularly white women—as use-and-throw commodities, and is quite proud of it. She talks to her mirror, has nightmares and is terrified of water.

Like a perfect cad, Shiv crashes Saira’s date, makes her dump her boyfriend, and decides she’s the one to take home to “Bebe” in Punjab.  But to be sure of their feelings, they separate for a week, while he is off for a conference, and what do you know, ditzy Saira is swept off her feet by the rich Zakir (Jim Sarbh), who speaks with a peculiar (South Mumbai) accent and says lines like. “Is gaadi mein tumhari duvidha ke liye jagah hai.”

Zakir is a psycho because he remembers the past life love triangle, where all the characters-- with Rajkummar Rao in layers of old-man make-up added in-- wore bizarre tribal outfits and jewellery belonging to god knows which era and which part of the country; Sushant Singh Rajput’s hairdo is a marvel of styling with what look like bootlaces!

Neither is the past love story exciting, nor is the contemporary romance engaging. Rajput’s efforts to be ‘cute’ are grating and Sanon hasn’t quite mastered acting yet.  Sarbh is miscast, and has as much menace as Dennis. Some old reincarnation films packed an emotional wallop and had the audiences root for the lead pair’sjanam-janam ka pyar; this one just doubles the tedium.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

A Death In The Gunj 

A Tragedy Foretold

Konkona Sensharma’s debut feature, A Death In The Gunjhas a fine ensemble cast, an unhurried pace and enough intrigue seething under a seemingly calm surface.

For some reason, it is set in 1979—so no modern gadgetry on display—in a cottage in McKluskieganj. Based on a story by Mukul Sharma, the film is like a piece of intense theatre, where emotions, motivations are casual cruelty are revealed in layers. There is a needless piece of foreshadowing right at the start, which somewhat takes away from the slow-burning suspense.

The old Bakshi couple (Tanuja-Om Puri) have a bunch of visitors over the Christmas vacation at their large, isolated home—their son Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), his wife Bonnie (Tillotama Shome), daughter Tani (Arya Sharma), shy cousin Shutu (Vikrant Massey) and a friend Mimi (Kalki Koechlin); their friends Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Brian (Jim Sarbh) frequently disrupt the peace with their boisterousness arrival in noisy vehicles. There is some sexual tension between Vikram and Mimi, which the others pointedly ignore.


Shutu, deeply affected by his father’s recent death and failure in exams that he has hidden from the others, becomes the butt of a nasty prank; he is generally treated like a poor country cousin—the only one who befriends him is the bored kid, Tani, and he gets an occasional nod of kindness from his aunt.

Nothing much happens, the usual holiday fun and games, but there is an emotional churning going on that affects Shutu the most. The catalyst for the tragedy (the tile of the film indicated a death) that follows is a New Year’s eve party and Tani’s brief disappearance.

Vikrant Massey is perfectly cast as the vulnerable man-child, “pretty, like a girl,” as Mimi comments before she contributes to his destruction as unfeelingly as the others. The actors are all perfectly natural, and in sync with the others. It is a pleasure to watch Tanuja in one of her infrequent screen appearances

The location, music, cinematography all come together in an assured first film, that looks on Bengali and perhaps European cinema for inspiration, and does not pander to the box-office. There are longeurs and at least a couple of extraneous characters, but it’s the kind of film that requires patience.

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