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)

 photo nilbatteysannatta_zpscx5o8u3o.jpg
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 | Leave a comment

Movie Review : Sultan

 photo sultan_zpsrm87gyyz.jpg
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)

 photo udtapunjabposter_zpshk1pvcta.jpg
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)

 photo bajirao_mastani_poster_zpslbgz7ve2.jpg
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

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

 photo kaifaurmein_shabana_zpsuwdofovo.jpg
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.

 photo kaifiaurmein_javed_zpsnjbdpw1e.jpg
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.

 photo kaifiAurMein_zpsgyxcowad.jpg
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)

 photo kika_zpsfrkozvjm.jpg
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