Movie Preview : M. S. Dhoni (releases September 30, 2016)

Neeraj Pandey (of Special 26, A Wednesday fame) directs this bio-pic of Mahindra Singh Dhoni. Sushant Singh Rajput plays the lead role.

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Movie Review : Baar Baar Dekho (2016)

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Rating : 3.5/5
Genre : Romance
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 27 minutes
Director : Nitya Mehra
Cast : Katrina Kaif, Siddharth Malhotra, Sarika, Rajit Kapoor, Ram Kapoor, Sayani Gupta
Kid rating: PG

I heard someone say that this was like The Time Traveller’s Wife, but know that it is not. Yes, there is time-travel in this Bollywood film – the mind boggles – but it is inserted in here in a very desi fashion; there is a moral to the story.

Jai Verma (Malhotra) and Diya Kapoor (Kaif) are childhood friends turned sweethearts. They do the expected thing and get hitched, more on her insistence than on his. When he, overwhelmed with the wedding festivities and the ultra-protective Punjabi Papa, threatens a break-up pre-wedding ceremony, she storms off in a huff. Is this the start to a rocky relationship, husband-wifely though it may be?

Post-tiff, we hop, skip and jump through time with Jai, who has an uncanny, uncontrollable knack for time-travel. Along the way, he relates actions to consequences – the question is: will he be able to fix the life problems he can now foresee?

Director Mehra does a pretty decent job with this ambitious project, because this film does move around quite a bit, timewise – so keeping it straight and all tied together and flowing smoothly is an accomplishment in itself. There are a few hiccups, like the long, stretchy, overdone scenes pre-interval where the film almost stood still. But then there were also some beautiful, heart-string-pulling scenes like the one where Jai, in the midst of a chaotic morning, finally gives in to his little daughter who’s tugging at his pant-leg wanting to be picked up. The camera lingers over the happy father-daughter smiling beatifically at each other as the morning sun streams in. Very nicely done; I teared up bigtime.

The big flaw in the film is the acting, or lack thereof. Kaif and Malhotra are probably the most attractive specimens in the Hindi film industry, but they can’t act, she more than he. While Kaif’s performance in this film is probably one of her best, she is still atrocious at actually emoting. Plus, even when apparently in the thick of it, she gives off this Ice-Maidenly, detached vibe. Malhotra has gotten better, and while passable here, can’t get us to care about him as much as we should. Since the film is really about the romance, the unbreakable bond between the two, it was imperative that we feel their chemistry. Sadly, we don’t.

Mehra has tried to compensate with a strong supporting cast – Sarika, Rajit and Ram Kapoor, but it doesn’t quite suffice; they are called “supporting” for a reason. The songs are pretty nice – loved “Kho Gaye Hum Kahan”.

Baar Baar Dekho started off with such a whiff of freshness that I had high hopes. It is a pleasant watch, but with a Anushka or Deepika instead this film would have been a class apart.

Kidwise: Almost family-friendly. A few (lame) lip-locks here and there, but nothing to scar the kids with.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, rating-PG, romance, sci-fi, watchable | Leave a comment

Movie Preview : Baar Baar Dekho

From Nitya Mehra, the director of 24: India (television series) comes Bollywood’s foray into time-travel: Baar Baar Dekho.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, Previews, romance, sci-fi | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Margarita with a Straw (2014)

 photo mwas_zpsalvuzmoh.jpgRating : 3.5/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2014
Running time : 1 hour 40 minutes
Director : Shonali Bose
Cast : Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Kuljeet Singh, Sayani Gupta, Hussain Dalal, Tenzing Dalha, William Moseley, Malhar Khushu
Kid rating: R, A

This is Shonali Bose’s second directorial venture after Amu, which I wan’t a raving fan of. I’d heard so much about Margerita With A Straw that I had to watch once it became available to watch here, courtesy Netflix. Post-watch, I have to conclude that MWAS suffers from some of the same problems that Amu had; it is an important tale to tell, but dithers its way towards the end.

The lead character of this film is agile-minded Laila. Laila suffers from cerebral palsy, so while her mind runs free, her body doesn’t quite cooperate. Laila, luckily, has her supportive family around her. Her mother (Revathy), who is only referred to as “Aai” in the film is a tower of strength. We see her immersed in the care-taking, driving Laila around in a van fitted with a wheelchair ramp.

Laila is an intelligent, curious, plucky girl who enjoys her Delhi college experience despite the peculiar vagaries brought about by the disability-unfriendly environment. We see a prime example of this 10 minutes into the film, as Laila is physically carried up the stairs of her college, wheelchair and all, by 3-4 out-of-breath men, when the elevator is out of service. The camera focuses only on her face as she is hoisted into the air, and it is a study in embarrassment and stoicism.

When Laila gains admission into NYU, she comes to New York with her mother. By the time Aai settles her in and leaves, Laila has gained new friends and even a lover. A new phase of her life has begun.

MWAS is a coming of age story, and addresses 3 issues. One deals with physical disability, and the problems one encounters when living in a city/country where the law does not enforce any conveniences for the differently abled – no ramps, no ramp-equipped public transport etc. The second questions the popular perception that the disabled lead mundane, sexless, desire-less lives. The third touches upon homosexuality. The fact that all three issues are entwined with Laila’s already complicated life, makes this a one-of-kind film, atleast in the Indian context.

Given all that, Kalki is a fabulous choice for Laila. She is tremendous. Then there’s Revathy as Aai – also fantastic. In fact, I can’t fault any actors in the film, they were all so believable.

The film, though, had rough edges. It began pretty well, but as it progressed, the waters got muddier. Bose tries to portray Laila as a young adult finding her footing in the world. And Laila makes mistakes, dithers. Which is natural and realistic, but it does take away from the emphatic impact of the denouement.

Also, at the beginning I could keep up with events in Laila’s life. Towards the second half, events and happenings pile up, and the impact of each on Laila gets blurred. The flow is choppy. Laila is working up to being a free, independent adult in NYC, and she gets there. To a viewer like me, her journey (what is she really thinking?) is not transparent, and that is a problem.

Still, a decent watch.

Kidwise: This is rated R, because of the sex and nudity.

Posted in 2014, All Netflix, bollywood, drama, Hindi movies on Netflix, Netflix Recommendations, rating-A, rating-R, social issues, watchable, WhaTWON, women | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Nil Battey Sannata (2015)

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Rating : 4.5/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2015
Running time : 1 hour 40 minutes
Director : Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari
Cast : Swara Bhaskara, Ratna Pathak Shah, Riya Shukla, Pankaj Tripathi, Sanjay Suri
Kid rating: G

Chanda Sahay (Bhaskara) is a housemaid who works multiple jobs so that she can pay for her daughter Apeksha’s (Shukla) studies and Apeksha can have a better life that she, Chanda, has had. Apeksha is in school but takes little interest in schoolwork, and this has Chanda worried. When Apeksha sneers at her mother’s concern telling her that her ambition is to become a housemaid just like her, Chanda decides that something must be done. Thus she takes a drastic step. Will her gameplan succeed?

Nil Battey Sannata is a lovely film, simple yet earnest. You can’t help liking it. The title comes from the Hindi slang “Nil Battey Sannata” which roughly means “being incompetent”. Here it is used to denote Chanda and her daughter’s difficulty with Math, a subject semi-literate Chanda cannot help Apeksha with because she herself fears it.

This simple story is made appealing by its wonderful direction and marvelous actors. Swara Bhaskar needs no accolades from me; the lady brightens up every film she appears in. Here she portrays Chanda’s hopes and dreams and struggles with such nuance! I really felt for Chanda’s predicament. Lively Ratna Pathak Shah plays Chanda’s sympathetic employer, Dr. Diwan, who encourages Chanda when she loses hope. The fabulous Pankaj Tripathi is Prinicipal Srivastava – he is quite taken aback by Chanda’s plans. Then there is Ria Shukla who plays 15 year old Apeksha with such aplomb – she sure does carry her weight!

Nil Battey Sannata is an extraordinary film. It doesn’t toe the Bollywood line. It isn’t bold or brash or happening even. It doesn’t have a heady star-cast. What it does have is the promise of a heart-tugging tale, told with elegance and dignity.

This one is classiness itself. A must-see!

Kidwise: This is clean and kid-friendly.

Posted in 2015, directors, drama, family-friendly, feel-good, rating-G | Leave a comment

Movie Preview : Mohenjo Daro (releases August 12, 2016)

Director Ashutosh Gowariker (of Jodha Akbar) presents another historical. This one stars Hrithik Roshan and Pooja Hegde, who is a beauty queen and has done several Southie films.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, drama, historical, Previews | 1 Comment

Movie Review : Sultan

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Rating : 3.9/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 50 minutes
Director : Ali Abbas Zafar
Cast : Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma, Randeep Hooda, Amit Sadh, Kumud Mishra, Anant Vidhaat
Kid rating: PG-13

I’m not a big fan of Salman Khan’s films because the lead character has set mannerisms which identify him as Salman Khan first and the protagonist after; i.e.; very Salman Khan-y (Shahrukh has the same problem). So I wasn’t exactly rushing to the theater the moment Sultan released. But post-watch I have to say that it was an enjoyable watch, a little stretched out, milking-it-for-all-its-worth watch, but entertaining anyway.

Khan in this film is the titular character – Sultan Ali Khan, a small-town good-natured idle do-nothing who’s spent his father’s savings in setting up a tv-cable business which he’s not too serious about. When he falls in love with ambitious wrestler Aarfa (Sharma), she challenges him to be goal-oriented, rather than the aimless busybody he is. Apparently the country bumpkin can focus because Sultan soon morphs into a medal-winning pehlwaan. Then, it all comes crashing down. Now Sultan is offered one last chance at redemption. Will he make good?

Sultan exploits 2 tropes very successfully: the underdog trope, and the country-bumpkin-with-a-heart-of-gold one. And we lap it up. Probably because it is done so well and with some very good actors. The magnificent Kumud Mishra plays Aarfa’s dad, wrestling trainer Barkat. Amit Sadh, whom you saw in Kai Po Che, is the big city magnate who offers Sultan his big chance, and here delivers a nice, nuanced performance. Hooda appears in a small role as Mixed Martial Arts trainer Fateh Singh and does a marvelous job. But the big revelation here is Anant Vidhaat as Sultan’s friend Govind. He was in Mardaani and Gunday too, but here he really comes into his own.

And of course the lead characters have to carry their weight. Anushka is always very good. I really liked Salman in this role – he appears strong yet fallible, and an all-around nice guy. Also mad props to him; it takes courage to appear in that little langot :-). The only problematic thing here was the Haryanvi accent, which wasn’t very believable and dropped sometimes.

Sultan is melodramatic – milking above said tropes requires melodrama. And yes, I was rolling my eyes at the logic behind the turn of events that cause Sultan’s world to collapse. But there are also scenes which left me moist-eyed. The characters, even the presumably nasty ones, have hidden goodness, which ordinarily would make me barf, but seems kinda natural here. The great music helps move this predictable story along. At almost 3 hours this is still too long and feels stretched out, but hey, I’ll take it.

Sultan has earnestness and a gentleness of spirit which comes as a surprise given that its director is Ali Abbas Zafar, the director of Gunday, a film best left unseen. Sultan has got to be a humongous feather in his cap. We all want to believe that the world is one big happy place, and this film brings that illusion almost believable. Sultan succeeds because even though it is predictable (like an Indian Rocky) and we know the end, we are willing to go the journey.

Kidwise: Amazingly – no vulgarity. In fact it even had some PSAs for saving the girl-child thrown in, apt given Haryana’s abysmal track record on female foeticide.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, drama, rating-PG13, romance, sports | Leave a comment

Movie Preview : Madaari (releases July 15th, 2016)

From the director of Drishyam, comes this suspenseful, based-on-true-events film. Also Jimmy Shergill after a very long while.

Posted in 2016, based on true events, bollywood, directors, Previews, suspense | 3 Comments

Movie Review : Udta Punjab (2016)

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Rating : 4/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 28 minutes
Director : Abhishek Chaubey
Cast : Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor, Diljeet Dosanjh, Satish Kaushik
Kid rating: PG-15

Udta Punjab is about the prevalence of drugs in Punjab and the lives affected by this menace. There are four main protagonists here: Punjabi rockstar Tommy Singh (Shahid) who’s always high on cocaine, Dr. Preet Sahani (Kareena) who runs a detox-clinic, policeman Sartaj Singh (Dosanjh) who’s younger brother is addicted to a drug-cocktail, and day laborer Pinky (Bhatt) who’s life gets very messy when she tries to sell a packet of drugs she’s found. These four lives weave around and intersect, searching for answers.

The film was interesting although the pace was a little sporadic. The perspective of each of the protagonists is so different that each individual storyline affords us a different view of the drug problem. While the Punjab drug problem has received some news exposure, this film brings out the severity of it in the open. From the easily available and affordable pharmaceutical cocktails, which should be restricted by prescription but aren’t, to the drugs being smuggled from across the border, the drug onslaught is real and rampant because of the complicity of the law and the powers that be.

All the actors do very well in their respective roles. I wasn’t too impressed with Dosanjh who I had read a lot about an had had high expectations from, given that he’s such a star of Punjabi films. In some scenes he came across a little over the top and smarmy. Alia’s role was very different from what she usually does. Pinky was from rural Bihar, so the role was of an unglamorous small town kid, who can barely speak grammatical Hindi let alone English. Bhatt did do well, although her Hindi accent seemed a little too urban.

Shahid, playing the weak, drug-addled Tommy, lets his inner monkey loose; Tommy, hopped-up we assume, is prone to a lot of jumping around, scowling, contorting his face this way and that. Kareena as Dr. Sahani was makeup-less and looked quite pretty, fresh and earnest. My favorite was the magnificent Satish Kaushik in his role of Tommy’s wheeling-dealing Tayaji.

I wouldn’t call Udta Punjab a commercial film – it’s got nice characterization and subtle situational humor, but it is on the spare, artsy side of things. A lot of the dialog is in Punjabi, and colorful. The music is apt and varied – theres the hip-hoppy Chitta Ve, the peppy Uddaa Punjab and the soulful Ik Kudi. The The characters in the film are fleshed out well and there is a well-meaning sincerity behind each of them, so I felt for each one. They each have their own mountains to climb and climb they do. Go watch the film to see how.

Kidwise: Some scenes of graphic violence, including rape. Use of knives, guns, etc. Much blood spatter. Also, this one’s obvious – lots of scenes of drug use, both oral and intravenous. Plentiful Punjabi epithets adorn the dialogs.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, drama, rating-PG15, recommended, social issues | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Bajirao Mastani (2015)

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Rating : 3.5/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2015
Running time : 2 hours 38 minutes
Director : Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast : Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Tanvi Azmi, Milind Soman
Kid rating: PG-13

Bajirao Mastani is a very Bhansali-esque film; it has big, lavish sets, gorgeous costumes and plenty of theatrical flourishes. The flourishes are easy to come by given the dramatic story of the film.

Brave warrior Shrimant Peshwa Bajirao Ballal Bhat (Singh) falls in love with Rajput King Chhatrasal’s half-Muslim daughter, the warrior princess Mastani (Padukone). When he leaves her father’s kingdom, Mastani follows him of her own accord knowing that he is already married to Kashibai(Chopra) and already has a son. As expected she is spurned by Bajiao’s powerful mother Radhabai (Azmi) and Bajirao despite his love for her cannot accord her the respect she deserves as his consort. A Bhansali-esque love story is born.

Bajirao Mastani is loosely based on the book Rauu, but is not historically correct. The emphasis is on the love story. Now, I’m all for romance, but historical stuff like this with love and second wives and such sets my teeth on edge. While Bajirao Mastani features some interesting “strong” women, their strength ultimately does not better their circumstances – Mastani is spurned, Kashibai must accept her husband’s infidelity, and Radhabai despite the power she wields in Bajirao’s household cannot prevent him from taking a second wife. Mastani is said to be an intelligent woman, a great warrior, skilled and learned, and yet she chooses to follow a married man because Bajirao gifts her a dagger, a custom which indicated a promise of marriage in the Bundelkhand clan (although Bajirao was unaware of this). Boggles the mind.

But such was history. Not a great time for female empowerment. A lot of historical tales feature powerful kings with multiple wives, some who were “gifted” to them in lieu of war-time favors – so not Bhansali’s fault; he just made the film. And to his credit he portrays the anguish of Mastani, Kashibai and Bajirao in equal measure.

My favorite character of the film was Kashibai. Chopra does a really good job of portraying Kashibai’s trying circumstances with poise and dignity, so you feel her hurt and betrayal and get a sense of her personality. Ranveer Singh nails the Marathi accent and is quite believable as the valiant Bajirao. Mastani’s character was not as finely delineated as the other two, and given that she was this amazing woman, we don’t get the low-down on her personality. What was she really like? What was she thinking?

With all the pomp and bling that Bhansali brings to his projects, Bajiao Mastani didn’t do it for me because it lacked soul, and ended up being little more than a costume drama, a well done costume drama. It aimed to depict this large than life love tale, but faltered. Despite its grandiosity I don’t get a sense of the extraordinary, overwhelming love the two shared. I can’t get behind them because of feminist objections, but it would have helped if Mastani’s character had not been as flat.

Sure, it is a lovely film to watch, with its tasteful, opulent sets and the beautifully pictured song sequences, but 2 months down the line, would I see it again? I think not.

Posted in 2015, bio-pic, bollywood, book to film, directors, drama, historical, rating-PG13, romance, women | 2 Comments