Movie Review : Raazi (2018)

Rating : Watchable (3/5)
Genre : Spy thriller
Year : 2018
Running time : 2 hours 18 minutes
Director : Meghna Gulzar
Cast : Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal, Jaideep Ahlawat, Rajit Kapoor, Soni Razdan, Arif Zakaria
Kid rating : PG-13

Raazi is a spy thriller, of which there have been a few in Bollywood – Agent Vinod, Ek Tha Tiger etc. It’s still a matter of pulling it off well, which few do. The last well-done Hindi spy thriller was D-Day, and before that . . . there really were none. Raazi is a decent watch, but as an espionage thriller still lands somewhere in the middle of well-done and half-baked.

Raazi is based on the book “Calling Sehmat” by Harinder Sikka (he also has writing credits for the movie), where he describes the real life story of an Indian undercover spy operative, who on her father’s wishes married the son of an important Pakistani general and, once married and ensconced in her in-laws home in Pakistan, sent military intelligence to RAW agents. Alia Bhatt plays gently brought up Sehmat Khan, who full of the fervor of patriotic duty and inspired by her spy father (Rajit Kapoor), agrees to embark on this dangerous mission. She is hastily trained by RAW agents, and married into enemy lines, where she manages to send back critical information. However, the mission soon becomes dangerous, and Sehmat is sorely tested.

Vicky Kaushal (of Masaan fame) plays her husband Iqbal Syed, a decent, considerate kinda guy, and he is quite fabulous here in Iqbal’s serious, soft-spoken persona. Do recall my review of “Love per Square Foot” where he just didn’t seem to fit the role; although he’s wonderful in subtle serious characters, like Iqbal’s. Jaideep Ahlawat (you might remember him from Gangs of Wasseypur) plays Khalid Mir, Sehmat’s chief RAW trainer and handler, and he is just about perfect. Alia’s real-life mom plays her screen-mom, Teji, in a short role.

I did like Raazi, but like most of Meghna Gulzar’s work this doesn’t quite hit the spot. It is not that the film is not interesting; the ups and downs of Sehmat’s life as a covert operative makes interesting viewing. However, even with such a suspenseful subject, director Gulzar fails to build up momentum or a real connection to our intrepid heroine. Alia, who is a superlative actress (Udta Punjab, Kapoor & Sons) looks the part, all innocence and light, but doesn’t do as well as expected – her character seems extra diffident, and not well-defined. Also, getting a look-see into the personal tribulations and conflicts of a female spy practicing a very intimate deception, would have been interesting, but other than a speech from Sehmat about the country being foremost in her affections, we get little in that regard. Since Alia is the lead character here, and she seems a tad removed, it lessens the emotional impact; I do not feel for her like I could have had this character been better etched.

In the end, Raazi remains a story we watch from afar. We care, but not too much. Films which leave a lasting impact have characters that impress themselves upon you, you either hate them or love them, but feeling for them is a must. Raazi does not succeed in that regard, but still remains a decent one-time watch.

Kidwise: Some tepid love-making scenes between Sehmat and Iqbal, filmed very delicately, and shouldn’t hurt any juvenile sensibilities. Some scenes depicting violence.

Posted in 2018, bio-pic, bollywood, directors, rating-PG13, real-life-based, spy movie, thriller, watchable | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Love Per Square Foot (2018)

Rating : Average (3/5)
Genre : Romance
Year : 2018
Running time : 2 hours 13 minutes
Director : Anand Tiwari
Cast : Vicky Kaushal, Angira Dhar, Ratna Pathak Shah, Supriya Pathak Kapur, Raghuvir Yadav
Kid rating : G

For folks in the US, Netflix India’s original content is showing up on here now. Love Per Square Foot is Netflix’s first movie in India. Its a rom-com with non-commercial, not-so-well-known faces : Vicky Kaushal and Angira Dhar. Kaushal was the male lead in Masaan and is set to appear in the Alia Bhatt starrer Raazi, while Dhar is debuting.

Here’s the setup: Sanjay Chaturvedi and Karina D’Souza work at the same company, and long for homes of their own. Neither has enough money to afford one on their own in expensive Mumbai, so when they hear of a housing scheme for married couples, they decide to apply for it together – after all what are the chances that they will indeed get it (its a semi-lottery), and then marital details can be decided upon (or so they think). Their friendship/love fizzles, but the housing scheme contract still binds them. Uncomfortable situation this.

This is the kind of movie that should appeal to me – decent plot, good actors, reasonable pacing etc., but unfortunately I’m kind of wishy-washy about it. A rom-com need a personable (read good-looking; yes, I’m being shallow  🙂 ) hero and heroine. While Dhar is peppy and cute and easy on the eyes, why are we (the female viewers) stuck with Kaushal? He’s a great actor, and was fabulous in Masaan (where he was well-cast), but here he just doesn’t fit into the romantic hero mould. I would liken him, in physical looks, to Ajay Devgan, but Devgan has the force of his personality to carry him through.

Also I had major issues with his character: Sanjay is having an affair on the side with his whiny, self-serving, already-in-a-relationship boss. He comes across as a bit of a calculating opportunist, not as one would wish he would, i.e.; a dependable, reliable kind of guy. Karina on the other hand I really liked – a nice, sweet girl – too good for Sanjay.

So, you get it – I didn’t like the romantic pairing in this romance. But here are somethings that I did: both the fabulous Pathak sisters – Ratna Pathak Shah and Supriya are in this film as the moms. There is also Raghuvir Yada (we saw him in Newton recently) in a small role as Sanjay’s harmonium-playing dad, facing imminent retirement from his Indian Railways job. The music is pretty decent – I especially liked the song Aashiyana.

“Love Per Square Foot” is tepid at best; watch only in desperate circumstances.

Kidwise: Clean.

Posted in 2018, All Netflix, bollywood, Hindi movies on Netflix, humor, rating-G, romance | 2 Comments

Movie Preview: Veere di Wedding (releases June 1st, 2018)

We’ve had Bollywood bromance movies galore: Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara etc. Finally, here’s a womance about 4 friends played by Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar (whom we saw most recently in Anaarkali of Aarah) and Shikha Talsania (remember her as Sid’s supportive friend in Wake Up Sid?).

Veere di Wedding is helmed by Shashanka Ghosh who also directed the Sonam Kapoor-Fawad Khan romance “Khoobsurat”.

Thanks to the trailer, I know one more Hindi word that I didn’t know yesterday. Indeed, life is a journey of learning 🙂

Posted in 2018, bollywood, New Films, Previews, women | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Padmaavat

Rating : Average (3/5)
Genre : Historical
Year : 2018
Running time : 2 hours 44 minutes
Director : Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast : Deepika Padukone, Ranvir Singh, Shahid Kapoor, Aditi Rao Hydari, Raza Murad, Jim Sarbh, Anupriya Goenka
Kid rating : G

I’ve finally seen Padmaavat, and post-these-3-hours of my life, I remember why I didn’t want to watch this film in the first place. I do think director and film-maker Bhansali is very talented – Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is one of my favorites. That film had a plot, romance, humor, ups and downs. Not so with his more recent products; the “style” seems to have swallowed up the substance in his films. Plus he also seems to be in love with his own work. Ergo, problems with the editing. The film goes on forever (e.g. Ram Leela); 2.5 hours or more.

Padmaavat follows a similar pattern – long, long film full of exquisitely designed sets, intricate costumes and jewelry and grand, sweeping locales. There is however only so much stupendousness that the eye can take before you start to zone it out, and long for a real film sans the fripperies. Bhansali seems to be missing the forest for the trees.

You’ll know that this film is loosely based on Queen of Chittor, Rani Padmavati’s Jauhar upon Alauddin Khilji’s attack and Chittor’s imminent defeat. Gorgeous Deepika Padukone plays Padmaavati, Shahid Kapoor plays her husband Maharaja Ratan Singh and Ranvir Singh is the marauding, savage invader Alauddin Khilji. While Padukone and Singh are well suited to their characters, Kapoor is miscast, because he appears to not have the stature or the commanding presence which you’d think he’d have as this brave warrior king. He seems so much better suited to “modern” films like Kaminey. Singh is all kohl-laden eyes, scarred face, clad in shaggy fur, and brings a ferociousness to this role.

Deepika is lithe and luminous as the almost-monastic huntress of deer, when she first encounters Ratan Singh. She succumbs to the charms of this already-married man, and post-marriage prefers to remain safely ensconced in the palace dancing the ghoomar to hunting. Bummer! That’s the other problem with this film – yes, freedom of speech and expression and all, but it is still troubling to think that despite all the disclaimers, this film does glamorize Jauhar/Sati. It does! Indeed, it’s a downer to think that Rani Padmini/Padmavati, well-versed in dance, music, and warfare, fearless and fancy-free ends her life by jumping into a fire, to protect her honor, per social diktat.

However, credit where it is due: Bhansali is a genius. He brings a unique vision, artistry and execution to make larger than life films. Now if only he could go back to his roots and make films which aren’t just grand spectacles steeped in patriarchal story-telling, that would be nice.

Kidwise: Nothing really troubling for the younger set, although I doubt that younger kids could sit through this almost 3 hour long self-indulgent extravaganza.

Posted in 2018, bollywood, book to film, directors, drama, historical, rating-PG, romance | Leave a comment

Movie Preview : Raazi (release 11th May, 2018)

A spy story starring Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal (of Masaan fame), this thriller is directed by Meghna Gulzar.

Posted in 2018, bollywood, drama, New Films, Previews, spy movie, suspense, thriller | 1 Comment

Movie Review : Secret Superstar

Rating : Good (3.85/5)
Genre : Drama
Year : 2017
Running time : 2 hours 35 minutes
Director : Advait Chandan
Cast : Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun, Aamir Khan, Tirth Sharma
Kid rating : G

Insia (Wasim) is a high schooler with a passion for singing. Her conservative father (Arjun) barely tolerates this “frivolous” interest, while her loving mother Najma (Vij) surreptitiously supports Insia. When Insia starts posting her singing videos online, she receives many accolades and an offer of work from flamboyant music director Shakti Kumar (Khan). All her dreams come to naught however, when Insia’s father forbids her singing and decides to ship the family overseas.

Secret Superstar is not just teenage Insia’s story, it is her mother Najma’s story too, and of countless such other mothers and daughters who must keep their desires firmly tied down in the face of “traditional” mores. Underneath it all, Secret Superstar is a story of empowerment, and of breaking oppressive patriarchal shackles. It doesn’t get preachy though, but conveys its emotion with realistic character portrayals (yes, there are some flights of fancy) and by showing us the blow-by-blow, visceral damage that domestic violence does.

You might remember teenage actress Zaira Wasim from Dangal, where she played young Geeta Phogat. Here, she is lovely and luminous as the effervescent Insia, who questions the status quo, and persuades her mother to rebel. Meher Vij, the actress who plays Najma gives a nuanced portrayal of an abused wife, happy and laughing when her husband is away, and mute and subdued when he is around. I really felt for her character, because she is in a bad situation but still tries her level best to shield her kids from it. The really sad thing about that was the fact that she didn’t see, nay imagine, a scenario where things could be different.

Raj Arjun is Farookh, the man of the house, and he veritably exudes rage even as he says little; impressive acting prowess. His sharp, startlingly violent gestures made real the abusive, tension-filled home situation. Aamir is Shakti Kumar, and he is a real trip in that role – fur-clad, blonde-haired, bombastic and full of swagger but still retaining that heart of gold :). Amir makes this film better by just being in it, even in that relatively insignificant role. and And finally there is cute little Chintan (Sharma), Insia’s good school friend, who stands by her and supports her unselfishly; were that all relationships were so free from avarice!

Even though Secret Superstar hinges around domestic violence, it is not all gloom and doom. Kudos to director Chandan for beautifully melding the harsh elements with the sensitive, moving ones. Secret Superstar is a lovely, heartwarming film, and well worth the watch. It makes the #3 spot of my Best Films of 2017 list.

Kidwise: Some disturbing scenes of domestic violence, and (implied) physical abuse. Am recommending this film for older kids though.

Posted in 2017, Best hindi movies, bollywood, drama, family-friendly, feminism, Hindi movies on Netflix, lists, movies online, Netflix Recommendations, passes Bechdel Test, rating-G, recommended, social issues, women | 1 Comment

Movie Review : Qarib Qarib Singlle

Rating : Good (3.5/5)
Genre : Romance
Year : 2017
Running time : 2 hours 5 minutes
Director : Tanuja Chandra
Cast : Irrfan Khan, Parvathy, Neha Dhupia, Brijendra Kala, Navneet Nishan
Kid rating : PG

Love stories featuring “mature” couples – as in not 20-somethings – are rare; the last one I remember was “Cheeni Kum”. In this mature romance, Qarib Qarib Single, the lonesome twosome are Jaya and Yogi. Jaya (Parvathy) is a middle-aged widow, who, desperate, tries to get out of singledom via online apps. Yogi (Khan) is a freewheeling bachelor, who’s had a string of true loves, all of whom he’s had to forsake. When Yogi posts a half-decent reply to Jaya’s profile on the dating app, they meet. However while he proposes future dates, Jaya is not quite sure. She wings it though and they travel together on a journey around India, visiting Yogi’s past loves, so Jaya can see them swooning in his wake (as he claims they will).

So, that’s the flimsy premise of the film, but fortunately for us, the movie isn’t as weak. Jaya and Yogi are both interesting in their own right. While Jaya is a sensitive people-pleaser who has trouble speaking her mind to so-called friends, Yogi is the opposite. He is out there, says and does out loud, but is a poet at heart. Apparently wealthy, Yogi doesn’t quit look it; he dresses like a roadside ruffian, in rumpled, garish clothing, and his overlong hair, braceleted wrists and ear studs are a turn-off to well-dressed, put-together Jaya. He flies by the seat of his pants, takes pleasure in the journey, at times so much so that he misses trains and flights leaving fuming, by-the-book Jaya to travel alone. Philosophically they are both very different people, but we hope they connect at a deeper level.

Qarib Qarib Singlle is a journey, both literally and metaphorically. The two take buses, taxis, trains and flights, and live in hotels, saris and ashrams. The affection between the two develops organically, or so we presume. I saw little evidence of it. There are a few scenes done beautifully, showing us Jaya’s tight reins on pent-up emotion, but other than that I was left wanting. Going into the film, we know how this will end, so it would have been satisfying to get some anecdotal evidence. There are a couple of very awkward, cringy scenes (these almost brought me to the end of my tether) where Ms.Always-in-control Jaya loses her inhibitions, and proceeds to pass out in the arms of our valiant hero. I’m not sure what director Chandra was trying to do there, but it didn’t work. The end when it comes, feels rushed, and a bit of a non-sequitur.

The film still works to a certain extent because of the two fantastic leads. Characterization wise, there were some holes, but Irrfan Khan is a such a marvelous thespian that he does much with little. His unkempt Yogi reads between the lines, subtly hints at his feelings, and slips in a soulful ditty here and there with ease. There is more to this man than meets the eye. Jaya’s character seemed a little more uneven, like I hadn’t been let in on some information about her. Still, Parvathy is also quite lovely, although at times it seems like she’s trying too hard. She is best in low-key, quiet moments, or as Jaya, quaking in rage (at falling for this thoroughly unsuitable man?).

I have to say that director Chandra gets the female angle down pat. For all the unevenness in Jaya’s characterization, I still think I get her, her insecurity, her being goaded into coupledom, her anger, and yes, her whining. Also, Chandra succeeds in building up Yogi as a man of mystery (I still have questions about him) which is nice from my female POV in a love-story. Yogi is nice but mysterious (where’s the moolah coming from? What does he really do? Why is he the way he is – a diamond in the rough?).

While QQS doesn’t quite fill one up with the warm-fuzzy feel-goodness, that one would be drowning in on watching a really great romance, it does leave us in a pleasant state of hopefulness. A decent one-time watch.

Kidwise: Clean. The kids will remain unscarred.

Posted in 2017, 2018, bollywood, directors, family-friendly, feel-good, rating-PG, romance, watchable | Comments Off on Movie Review : Qarib Qarib Singlle

Movie Review : Raid (2018)

Rating : Good (3.85/5)
Genre : Drama
Year : 2018
Running time : 2 hours 8 minutes
Director : Rajkumar Gupta
Cast : Ajay Devgn, Saurabh Shukla, Ileana D’Cruz
Kid rating : PG

Long time no see! That’s what I wanted to say when hero Ajay Devgan appeared dramatically on screen; director Gupta (Ghanchakkar, No One Killed Jessica) milked it, first his back, then the back of the head, then ever so slowly the familiar face. Devgan has the screen presence of an introverted powerhouse; someone who speaks little but does much. So this role is perfect for him, just as those others, where he played the honest cop (Gangajal, Singham) were, because here he is Amay Patnaik, an upright Income Tax Officer.

Newly transferred, Amay is settling into his posting when he is sent evidence of income tax fraud. The offender is the local well-connected, political bigwig, Rameshwar Singh (Shukla) aka “Tauji”. When Amay broaches the subject of a tax raid with his superiors, he is warned against the dangers of making an enemy out of Tauji, but he proceeds nevertheless. In Tauji however, Amay might have met his match.

While Raid is not unalike the many “good cop-against-corruption” films that we have seen, it is still a very satisfying watch. We know who the good guy is. We also know who the bad guy is. When the two tussle we know who will win. To watch this preordained end come to fruition, is still fun and engaging, primarily because of the two strong leads – Devgan and Shukla. Ajay has an almost surly, no-nonsense face and he puts it to good use in portraying the honest, polite-but-firm Amay. Shukla is a pleasure to watch. As the squat, lungi-kurta clad Tauji, sprawling leisurely on divans, he brings home the relaxed demeanor of the fearlessly corrupt man who is sure he is above the law. Raid is a clash of titans!

Part of the reason why this film succeeds is the depiction of nobility, because what else is altruism, but the highest form of nobility? A hero such as Amay (almost without flaws), an upright officer, a loving husband, and a kind and considerate human being is hard not to root for. Lately we had quite a few films (like Newton) which portray an altruistic, patriotic, dutiful hero well, and they all inspire in us with the same emotion: awe.

Raid’s ending is a bit of a damp squib, but that doesn’t derail this engrossing, well-paced film. Ileana seems wasted in her short role of dutiful wife delivering lunch dabbas to hubby dearest. The music was humdrum.

On the whole, while Raid is not your finesse-filled shiny work of art, it is a great watch, and well worth the time and money.

Posted in 2018, bollywood, directors, drama, rating-G, social issues | Comments Off on Movie Review : Raid (2018)

Movie Preview : Blackmail (releases 6th April, 2018)

From Abhinay Deo, director of Delhi Belly, comes Blackmail. Kirti Kulhari (of the lovely Pink) and Irrfan Khan star in this tangled story of blackmail.

Posted in 2018, bollywood, crime, directors, drama, Previews, suspense | Comments Off on Movie Preview : Blackmail (releases 6th April, 2018)

The Best Hindi Films of 2017

The interesting thing in the below 10 movies is that they actually have a story, an interesting premise, a situation which keeps us interested. The 10 are:

#10: Bareilly ki Barfi

Small-town girl meets small-town boy. Rajkummar Rao and Ayushman Khurana manage to make this one of the better films of the year. Flawed but nice!

#9: Jolly LLB2

The sequel to the much-loved Jolly LLB, this one is a little worse for wear. Akshay Kumar and the lovely Huma Qureishi star.

#8: Mom

A thriller with the late Sridevi in a primetime role. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is an old-school detective, and manages to impress even in relatively little screen time.

#7: Toilet: Ek Prem Katha

Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar star in this social drama touting the many merits of the modern toilet. Progressive and pleasant.

#6: Shubh Mangal Saavdhan

This quirky film about erectile dysfunction stars Bhumi Pednekar (she’s had quite a year) and Ayushmann Khurana. Touchy subject but well-handled.

#5: Anaarkali of Aarah

Swara Bhaskara, as the main lead, does good in this drama where a nautch girl seeks revenge for a perceived dishonor.

#4: Simran

A lady with her own mind, Praful Patel aka Simran, makes some bad decisions. Ergo, rocky life for her. Interesting drama for us.

#3: Secret Superstar

A young schoolgirl wants to sing, and can, sort-of, with the help of her supportive mother.

#2: Newton

An idealistic, honest, incorruptible young man attempts to facilitate free and fair elections in a problematic part of the country. The going for him is not smooth.

#1: Lipstick Under My Burkha

Four women, with inter-connected stories, rebel against the patriarchal status quo.

Posted in 2017, 2018, Best hindi movies, bollywood, lists, recommended, Top 10 | 1 Comment