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 | Leave a comment

Movie Preview : Te3n (Releases June 10th, 2016)

From Ribhu Dasgupta, the director of the TV series Yudh, comes Te3n – a mystery. If the trailer is any indication this should be good.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, mystery, Previews, suspense | Leave a comment

Kaifi Aur Mein

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Recently saw Kaifi Aur Mein, the play based on Shaukat Azmi’s book and memories of Kaifi. The “play” is performed by Shabana Azmi and her husband Javed Akhtar. And I put the “play” in double quotes, because it is less of a play and more of a poetry/memoir reading, with Shabana reading her mother’s parts, and Javed Akhtar giving voice to Kaifi’s thoughts and shayari. Interspersed with the reading is music, i.e.; songs which have as lyrics Kaifi Azmi’s poetry.

Since this was advertised as a play, I hadn’t actually expected that the two “performers” would sit at desks the whole 2 hours. They do. Their desks were arranged close to each other, on the left side of the stage. To the right, on a low platform, sat the musicians with their instruments, and singer Jaswinder Singh. The reading itself was interesting, and the book probably would be a pleasant read. Shabana Azmi looked really pretty in her pink sari and done-up hair, and she made the lines she spoke come to life; such is her artistry! Her reading was also more fun because Shaukat’s lines were lively, playful and humorous.

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Javed Akhtar is a better scriptwriter than actor; Farhan probably gets his acting chops from his mother :-). I didn’t care much for Akhtar’s reading. At times he spoke too fast, and remember that this is chaste Urdu, which in his hurried and garbled reading, whizzed right by me without sinking in. Post-interval (they broke for 10 minutes) his reading got better; am assuming Shabana had gotten to him.

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The music was provided by singer Jaswinder Singh and a handful of other musicians. Singh is a good singer and the songs he sung were beautiful in themselves. The event venue, which also doubles as a banquet hall (i.e.; no stadium seating), hadn’t the best acoustics, so we didn’t quite get the full benefit of his voice. There were a few more annoyances – the show started an hour later than advertised, which was pretty tiresome considering I’d rushed straight from work to make it in time! Then there was the fact that they decided to charge us for parking, parking that was in the middle of a strip mall and essentially free.

In theory, I look forward to hatke events of this kind, which don’t give you the standard Bollywoodian singing/dancing. Post-watch though, I’ve got to say, that although nice and a refreshing change from the usual “show”, this was a little too static and lacking in energy for me.

Posted in 2012, 2016, bollywood, event | 2 Comments

Movie Review : Ki and Ka (2016)

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Rating : 3/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 6 minutes
Director : R. Balki
Cast : Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Swarup Sampat, Rajit Kapoor
Kid rating: PG

Ki and Ka is the Bollywoodian take on what is traditionally thought of as “women’s work” – the unpaid 24×7 work that women do at home, when they are considered to be “doing nothing”. Here the guy, Kabir, wants to be like his mom, i.e.; a home-maker, while the girl, Kia, is only interested in her career. Thus they see no problems when Kabir stays home to cook and clean, and Kia goes outside the home to work. Kia’s mom (Sampat) is just as liberal, but Kabir’s dad (Rajit Kapoor) has massive problems with this situation. The young couple must take it all in stride, and patch up the cracks they see appearing in their relationship, as society bears down on their household arrangement.

For the most part the film does a decent job on portraying how it is. Kabir’s dad is ashamed of him and considers him a “namard”. Kia’s smart officemates wonder what her husband does – doesn’t he have a real job? Kabir has his insecure moments and Kia has hers. Although Kia exhorts Kabir to “chill” initially, once she gets used to the home-cooked khana, and clean household, expectations from Kabir rise. This is kind of the situation with female home-makers, except no-one ever asks them to “chill”.

But for all its liberal attitude and horn-tooting, this film is still half-baked when it comes to showing actual progressiveness. I like that Kabir adores his home-making duties, and has no qualms getting the home-running funds from the wife. But why does he have to be shown as the macho man beating up the baddies who dare cast leering glances on the Mrs.? Is a man without the biceps not a “real” man? Or does he have to balance out his kitchen-y sensibilities with a little fist action to still be considered male?

Also problematic are the stereotypical, kittie-partying aunties with whom Kabir, as house-husband, hob-nobs. Plus what’s with the song with Kabir dancing in women’s high heels? Subtlety, anyone?

This was just about an average film. Felt a little jaded and simplified. I couldn’t quite connect with either of the two leads, because I couldn’t tell what they were thinking. Kabir and Kia seemed out there with this gender-reversal thinking – which was great, but we didn’t get any sense of they whys and hows that made them think that way, except a few lines about how much Kabir loves his mom.

Kabir’s character was more like-able than Kia’s; she felt a little glossed over. I wish that Kia’s progressive mom had had more of a back-story – how did she get this way and why? I wish the film itself had had more depth.

Kidwise: Lots of kissing and canoodling, which IMHO, looked pretty fake. Ergo, kids will remain unscarred. Although probably bored.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, drama, rating-PG | 2 Comments

Movie Preview : Udta Punjab (releases 17th June)

Long and meandering trailer, but the film looks good. Director Abhishek Chaubey has also made “Ishqiya” and “Dedh Ishqiya”.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, Previews, social issues | Leave a comment

What To Watch On Netflix Instant – Edition #28

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Katiyabaaz (2013, India)
Directors: Deepti Kakkar, Fahad Mustafa

In India, electric wires supplying electricity to homes run above ground. Illegal connections and electricity theft is commonplace, and done by calling in a “katiyabaaz” who will splice up a connection to your home, by hooking a “katiya” or wire, to an existing connection.

So yes, the film is about a “katiyabaaz” but it is also about the electricity/energy crisis in Kanpur, a city in Uttar Pradesh, India. We see Loha Singh, a runt of a man, busy providing katiyas to the folks of Kanpur. Then there is Ritu Maheshwari, an IAS officer, posted as the MD of KESCO (Kanpur Electricity Supply Company) who wants to end the illegal tampering and theft of electricity.

The problem is this – there is limited electricity and too many people who want it but don’t want to pay for it. So Loha Singh and the folks of Kanpur who utilize his services see KESCO and Maheshwari as the problem, citing the corruption of the state. Adding fuel to the fire is the vote-seeking local MLA, Irfan Solanki, who “sides” with the people and opposes Ms. Maheshwari.

The Netflix synopsis of this film touts it as a battle between the CEO (Maheshwari) and a modern-day Robinhood (Loha Singh), and that comparison is wrong and extremely troubling. The “evil CEO” is an honest Government officer (a rarity in itself, in India) and the “Robinhood” is aiding people in using electricity for which they do not want to pay. Yes, there is more to it than that, and yes, all-pervading corruption is a big reason why the people of Kanpur are in this mess in the first place.

For a detailed analysis on the actual problem Katiyabaaz exposes, see this article.

Posted in 2013, All Netflix, documentary, Hindi movies on Netflix, Netflix Recommendations, rating-PG13, real-life-based, recommended, social issues, WhaTWON | 2 Comments

Movie Review : Masaan (2015)

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Rating : 4.5/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2015
Running time : 2 hours
Director : Neeraj Ghaywan
Cast : Richa Chadda, Sanjay Mishra, Vicky Kaushal, Bhagwan Tiwari, Pankaj Tripathi, Nikhil Sahni
Kid rating: PG-15

Devi Pathak (Chaddha) is a computer instructor at a local coaching institute. Her life is turned upside down when a carefully planned sexual tryst goes awry. The police rush in to the hotel room where she and her partner are ensconced, beat up the guy, film her in a state of undress, and take them to the police station, threatening to “expose” them for their “indecency”.

In a parallel storyline, we see Deepak (Kaushal), son of a lower-caste Dom family, trying to break free of the caste-ordained profession (cremating bodies on the banks of the Ganges). He is in love with a higher-caste girl, but that love-story is destined to fail.

Both stories are located in Banaras, a small town in Uttar Pradesh known chiefly for its religious bent and cultural orthodoxy. Devi and Deepak are caught up in fighting this orthodoxy, in their own ways. She seems almost rebellious and unashamed of her sexual proclivities (unlike a “good girl”), while he dares to defy the caste system.

It is not surprising to see Devi and Deepak’s hapless lives unfold on screen, because that is what small-town India is like. Sexual repression is the norm. Women must be “pure” and keep their “honor” (like their hymen) intact, i.e.; sex and thoughts about sex are taboo. Society enforces tacit rules of caste and class. We know this, and yet it is disturbing to see those visceral images on screen. Devi’s humiliation and her old impoverished father’s (Mishra) helplessness is hard to watch. Deepak’s desperation makes me squirm.

Director Ghaywan tells it like it is. And this is why the film succeeds. I feel for Devi and Deepak, wrapped up in their anger against the all-pervading corruption, system, society which makes living life as you see fit so, so difficult. But there is also courage and hope. And that is quite something.

I highly recommend Masaan for its fabulous truth-telling, great direction and incredible cast. Kudos!

Kidwise: This is obviously not kid-friendly material, although older teens might appreciate the film.

Posted in 2015, bollywood, directors, drama, film festival, outstanding, rating-PG15, recommended, social issues, women | 1 Comment

What To Watch On Netflix Instant – Edition #27

Gangs of Wasseypur NetflixGangs of Wasseypur – This is on Netflix as an 8 part series, each episode approximately 40 minutes or so. This series is actually 2 Bollywood movies (5 hours in total) which have been split up to make them easily palatable.

Gangs of Wasseypur is a tale of the Indian mafia, so to speak. It is immaculate so it needs no comparisons. If you still want to know what it “feels” like, its kinda like The Godfather, but Indian. It has a great storyline and screenplay, a talented cast, adept characterization, and an attention to detail from a director who knows what he is doing.

Here are my reviews for Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2.

Posted in 2016, All Netflix, bollywood, crime, directors, drama, Hindi movies on Netflix, Netflix Recommendations, outstanding, rating-A, rating-R, recommended, WhaTWON | Leave a comment

Movie Preview : Ki & Ka (releases April 1st, 2016)

This challenge to Hindustani “sabhyata” hits theaters April 1st. Given that this comes via R.Balki, it will actually do what it says it will, and not go the usual Bollywood way.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, Previews | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Kapoor and Sons (2016)

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Rating : 4.2/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 12 minutes
Director : Shakun Batra
Cast : Rishi Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Ratna Pathak Shah, Rajat Kapoor, Siddharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan
Kid rating: PG-13

Kapoor & Sons is, as the name suggests, about the patriarch Amarjeet Kapoor (Rishi Kapoor) and his sons, and the rest of the parivaar. There are 2 scions to this clan – the elder Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) and the younger Shashi. Harsh and his wife (Pathak Shah) aren’t quite the happily married couple, and their sons Rahul (Khan) and Arjun (Malhotra) live abroad. When Dadu is hospitalized, the grandsons make a trip back home, and all the hidden jealousies and insecurities come to the forefront. It doesn’t help that they both appear to be in love with the same girl.

Kapoor and Sons is a fine film, with heart and a story and an emotional rollercoaster of a ride. The film is well-paced so there is always something going on. The clan-members are charismatic and vivacious, especially the head, Dadu. Rishi Kapoor plays the role of affectionate, “naughty” grandfather with panache, and belts out the humorous one-liners at regular intervals. Rajat Kapooor and Ratna Pathak are Bollywood veterans with immaculate track records, and they don’t falter here either. Fawad Khan is a superb actor and he shows it in this film. Ditto for Alia Bhatt. As for Siddharth Malhotra, I could see he was really trying to emote here :).

For a Dharma Production movie, “Kapoor & Sons” was a “serious” drama, with few songs. There was little background music and I kinda missed that. The dialog filled scenes without any musical refrains in the background seemed very un-Karan-Johar-ish and gave this film an “arty” feel. The songs were just about OK.

This film shows us the emotional pull-and-tug in a family, the stuff we mask when we go into the outside world. Families have problems, and director Batra shows us the problems of this particular one. I appreciate that he does this with such empathy, building up our hopes with lovely bonding scenes like the one where the family jam together on a golden oldie. We see the issues, but we don’t fault the people; we feel for them.

Ergo, Kapoor & Sons succeeds. Go forth and watch!

Kidwise: There are references to porn (a line or two), Mandakini’s waterfall scene in “Ram Teri Ganga Maili”. A life-size cut-out of Mandakini in a drenched saree features in the film.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, rating-PG13 | Leave a comment