Movie Preview : Kaabil (releases January 25th, 2017)

Kaabil is a revenge drama with a blind protagonist. The film is directed by Sanjay Gupta, so am not sure how subtle this will be, but looks promising.

Posted in 2017, bollywood, crime, Previews | 1 Comment

Best Hindi Films of 2016

My Top 10 movies for 2016 are below. These are, from my point of view, the best hindi films of 2016. Do let me know if you disagree :-)

10. Wazir

Wazir should have been rated higher, but this revenge drama owes its measly #10 spot to its dithering climax. Still, patches of brilliance, and actors Farhan Akhtar and Aditi Roy Hydari make it a hard-to-forget film.

9. Dhanak

Dhanak is the moving story of a brother-sister pair who journey across the sands of Rajasthan to achieve their almost impossible goal. This is written and directed by US-educated-chemical-engineer-turned-passionate-director and creator of remarkable films like Dor, Nagesh Kukunoor. It takes its time along the journey, but succeeds because of its natural portrayal and the charm of its lead child actors Krrish Chabria and Hetal Gada.

8. Dear Zindagi

Protagonist Kaira is unhappy with her life, only she doesn’t know it. This finding-yourself film stars Shahrukh Khan as a mature, all-knowing psychiatrist, which you wouldn’t think would ever work, but it does. Dear Zindagi is Alia’s film though, through and through.

7. Aligarh

Veteran actor Manoj Bajpayee stars in this sensitive portrayal of a gay professor in disapproving Indian society. Based on real-life, Aligarh depicts the plight of Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, a Marathi professor at Aligarh Muslim University, when he is yanked out of the closet forcibly via an intrusive sting operation.

6. Dangal

Aamir’s Khan’s supposedly feminist film about female wrestling, and specifically about the wrestling champions Geeta and Babita Phogat, and their determined father Mahavir Singh Phogat is a riveting watch. Dramatized from the real life story, Dangal is told well, although it could have been shorter and held back on the cliche-ridden cheesiness.

5. Neerja

Another real-life-based film, Neerja tells the story of brave flight attendant Neerja Bhanot who died trying to save the passengers of her hijacked flight. This is a delicately told tale, and Sonam Kapoor’s and Shabana Azmi’s fabulous portrayal takes this film up several notches.

4. Udta Punjab

Alia Bhatt is in 3 of the Top 10 films for 2016, so she’s had quite a year! In Udta Punjab she plays an unlucky lower class girl who meanders down the wrong alley. Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor and Punjabi film star Diljeet Dosanjh also feature in this hard-hitting look at the Punjab drug problem.

3. Nil Battey Sannatta

This gorgeous film has luminous Swara Bhaskar as Chanda, the uneducated housemaid, who strives hard so that her insouciant daughter can study and make something of her life. In this quest, Chanda has the support of her encouraging employer Dr. Diwan, portrayed by the lovely Ratna Pathak Shah.

2. Kapoor & Sons

This big name starrer has its heart in the right place. Kapoor & Sons has drama, romance, comedy and heartbreak, and spans three generations of the Kapoor clan, whose aging patriarch (played by Rishi Kapoor) is not ready to kick the bucket before bringing together his fractured family.

1. Pink

A pioneering film for Indian cinema, Pink dares to speak the truth and live. In Amitabh Bachchan’s booming voice Pink tells the truth about hypocritical Indian society, which on one hand reveres women as mothers, but then treats them as chattel, when they don’t behave as “good girls” should. Kriti Kulhari, Taapsee Pannu and Andrea Tariang star as the three scared but brave young girls who raise voices against patriarchal attitudes in this magnificent, must-see film.

Posted in 2016, based on true events, Best hindi movies, bio-pic, bollywood, comedy, crime, directors, drama, humor, outstanding, real-life-based, recommended, romance, social issues, suspense, Top 10 | Comments Off on Best Hindi Films of 2016

Movie Preview : OK Jaanu

OK Jaanu starring Aditya Roy Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor releases January 13th. It is the Hindi remake of the Tamil hit “OK Kanmani”, which is on Netflix, and is a pretty cute romance starring Dulquer Salmaan and the perky Nithya Menon. The girl’s an architect who wants to go study in Paris, and the guy, a software game developer wants to make it to the US. Both, while in Bombay, live-in, but separation, when the time comes, is oh so difficult.

Big hopes from this movie, because:

  • The original was none too shabby
  • It is co-produced and written by Mani Ratnam (who directed OK Kanmani)
  • The hindi version is directed by Shaad Ali, yes he of Saathiya and Bunty or Babli fame
  • The music by AR Rehman looks promising. The title track “OK Jaanu” is the same as the “Mental Manadhil” track from the Tamil version (see below), and it has a gorgeous remix of “Humma” from Saathiya.

Posted in 2017, bollywood, directors, music, Netflix Recommendations, Previews, rating-PG, recommended, remix, romance | 2 Comments

Movie Review : Dangal (2016)

dangalRating : 3.8/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 49 minutes
Director : Nitesh Tiwari
Cast : Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Sheikh, Sanya Malhotra, Girish Kulkarni
Kid rating: G

Dangal is based on the real-life story of Geeta and Babita Phogat, two sisters from a small village in Haryana, who are champion wrestlers today. The credit for much of this goes to their father Mahavir Singh Phogat, who was a wrestler himself.

In the film Phogat (played by Khan) is a National champion, but gives up wrestling to take up a government job and settle into matrimony. He pins his wrestling dreams on the birth of a son, but when his wife (Tanwar) delivers 4 daughters in succession, Phogat puts away his medals and his dreams. When daughters Geeta (Sheikh) and Babita (Malhotra) thrash a neighborhood boy to pulp, Phogat is overjoyed that their fighting skills can be put to good use in the wrestling arena. Thus begins their training.

Dangal is a feel-good, patriotic sort of a film. We know the ending, so it is a tad bit predictable, but it has been dramatized well and showcases the Phogat family achievement nicely. There is an effort to involve the audience – the rules of wrestling are explained, and much of the film has full length dramatized wrestling matches. There is also a feminist angle to Dangal, in that Phogat challenges the norms to push his daughters into the wrestling arena, a domain that in rural Haryana is reserved only for men. The villagers laugh at his long-haired, salwar-kameez clad daughters’ transformation to “knicker”-wearing, short-haired girls wrestling with boys, for want of female sparring partners.

Aamir Khan, per his reputation, brings authenticity to the film. As the stocky, Haryanvi Mahavir Singh Phogat who, to the derision of the orthodox village, trains his daughters to wrestle, Aamir is the backbone of the film. Dangal revolves around Papaji, his resolve and his determination. While that is interesting to watch, it also brings up some troubling points. For a film that talks about female empowerment, Geeta and Babita seem to have no choice in the matter of wrestling. Their father’s wishes are foisted on them – he decides that they will become wrestlers, even going as far as too have their long locks sheared off, against their wishes, when the hair interferes with wrestling.

There is another scene in the film where Geeta, now training at the National Sports Authority Camp, comes home to question Papaji’s theories. Several emotional scenes later she puts aside her own opinion and begs forgiveness from her father. I found this troubling, because it seemed to negate Geeta’s independent thought (whether right or wrong), and forced the “cultural” more of “the parents are always right”.

I understand that Aamir set out to make a commercial film not a documentary, so some “fictionalization” of the story was necessary. However the emotional drama is laid on a bit thick, and some characters like the NSA Coach’s (Kulkarni) are caricaturized to make Phogat the hero by comparison. While I am glad that wrestling is getting its due as a sport, and that the Phogat story will inspire many other young women, and open doors that otherwise would have been slammed shut, I am little disappointed that Dangal does not delve any deeper than surface-level jingoism.

Amir’s character in the film seems a medium-grade liberal, desiring sons, but not blaming his wife for birthing daughters either. He becomes a feminist because of his desire for a wrestling medal, and his daughters are able to flout patriarchal notions of propriety because he stands behind them protectively. Would Geeta and Babita have had freedom to do this, if wrestling had been their desire not their father’s? We’ll never know, and Dangal does not attempt to give Geeta and Babita a voice either.

Still, a decent watch. Be prepared for some cheesiness.

Kidwise: Clean and family-friendly.

Posted in 2016, bio-pic, bollywood, directors, drama, family-friendly, feel-good, feminism, rating-G, real-life-based, social issues, women | 2 Comments

Movie Preview : Dangal (releases December 23rd)

Dangal is an Aamir Khan production and is directed by Nitesh Tiwari, who produced the gorgeous Nil Battey Sannata (his wife directed it). So this’s got to be good.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, Previews | Comments Off on Movie Preview : Dangal (releases December 23rd)

Movie Preview : Befikre (releases December 9th)

Aditya Chopra’s Befikre releases next month. It features the lovely Vaani Kapoor and the chameleon-esque Ranveer Singh. Stuff about living in Paris, loving and living life to the hilt. Hopefully it will live up to the hype.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, Previews | Comments Off on Movie Preview : Befikre (releases December 9th)

Movie Preview : Dear Zindagi (releases November 23)

Dear Zindagi features Alia Bhatt and Shahrukh Khan, two people who seem incongruous in one frame if romantically linked. This film is directed by Gauri Shinde, who did such a marvelous job with English Vinglish, so there’s hope. The trailers look try-too-hard, but then again (I repeat myself) there’s hope.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, Previews | Comments Off on Movie Preview : Dear Zindagi (releases November 23)

Movie Review : Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016)

Rating : 3.2/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 38 minutes
Director : Karan Johar
Cast : Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Fawad Khan
Kid rating: PG-13

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil reminds me of Jude Law’s “Closer”, which was touted by some as a love story for adults. Ae Dil is then, a love story for adults in the Indian context. I found Closer dispiriting and not a pleasure to watch. Ae Dil fares better, but I’m having trouble gunning up much enthusiasm for it.

Ayaan Sanger (Ranbir) is a super-rich dilettante who meets lovely Alizeh (Anushka) at a party. Neither of them have any compunctions hooking up, despite being in relationships with other people. The anticipated roll in the hay turns into a friendly chat/pub-hopping session, and the two eventually become good friends. In their friendship, Alizeh is the stronger individual, brave and bindaas. Her only weakness, she tells Ayaan, is her ex-boyfriend Ali. When Ali turns up wanting to patch up, Alizeh and Ayaan’s friendship is severely tested.

The first half of the film is spent building up Ayaan and Alizeh’s relationship. It is full of supposedly smart quips, which sadly land only some of the time (hence the supposedly). I think Johar went for sharp and edgy but it just came through as trying too hard. The second half got better, but not by much.

Ae Dil is not your usual Johar-fare. This time he’s gone deeper than before, and me thinks lost that balance of slick and thoughtful that he had had going for him. Still I’m ready to go down the garden-path with this director hoping he’ll taking it somewhere meaningful. He doesn’t. Story-wise, Ae Dil may not be what I wanted, but seemed believable enough, right up until the very end, when Johar shoehorns medical melodrama into the film.

ADHM is a sad film about unrequited love. Ranbir, Anushka, Fawad and Aishwarya are the four coolth-oozing vertices of this narcissistic merry go around, but despite their charismatic star-power, I can’t really feel for any of them. I get that Ayaan, Alizeh and Sabah (Aishwarya) are decent people in their own right, and I feel perfunctory sympathy at the emotional ups and downs each one suffers in their quest for amore. But the sympathy I feel is only skin deep; I haven’t quite connected with any of them. And for this I blame the limited character development. We get to see each of these four only in “love-situations”. We don’t get to see what these people are really like, what they think, what redeeming characteristics they possess if any, and why we should be “on their side”, so to speak.

Ranbir Kapoor has a face made for sad love stories, and he makes good use of it. Anushka always seems honest and real in her portrayals. Fawad is impressive in his little screen time. I don’t consider Aishwarya much of an actress but, all things considered, she did good here in the itty-bitty part she had. Also, she looked gorgeous.

This love-tale featured 4 good-looking charismatic people, and they did what they were asked to do. However Johar has them so wrapped up in their own little love/lust filled worlds that they aren’t humanized enough to be real people we can relate to. There is enough anguish in this film’s situations to power a 100 melodramas, and yet it goes untapped.

Despite all the beauty, the hipness, the slow crooning of love ballads, this film fell short of what I was expecting. Bummer!

Kidwise: Some love-making etc. but nothing explicit.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, directors, drama, rating-PG13, romance | 3 Comments

Movie Review : Parched (2016)

 photo parched_zpsgnrzxisf.jpg Rating : 3/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 27 minutes
Director : Leena Yadav
Cast : Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Riddhi Sen, Mahesh Balraj, Lehar Khan, Sumeet Vyas
Kid rating: R

Parched is about three female friends living in a rural, dusty, desert village, presumably in Rajasthan. Rani (Chatterjee), a young widow of 32 is arranging the marriage of her son Gulaab to Janaki (Khan), a beautiful 15 year old from the neighboring village. Lajjo (Apte) is a childless woman constantly taunted and beaten up by her husband Manoj (Balraj) for being barren. Bijli (Chawla) is a dancer/prostitute who with her touring troupe sets up temporary residence outside the village at regular intervals.

The film focuses on events in these 3 lives, and we gain a sense of the repressive, misogynistic society it is. The men of the village (save one) are all narrow-minded, boozing, womanizing wife-beaters. The women (and this includes our three protagonists) have lived abusive lives and are resigned to their daughters living the same way. There is one scene in which the village panchayat sends back a woman (played by Sayani Gupta) to her husband’s home even when she reports that her husband keeps a mistress, and that she (the woman) is being sexually abused by the other men of the household (father/brother-in-law).

Parched has a feminist theme because the three protagonists, despite all the misogynistic brain-washing, begin to question the status quo. There is natural sympathy for them, but I, for all my trying, don’t feel connected enough to feel empathetic. Chatterjee and Apte are very good actors, and their roles are decently fleshed out. Chawla has the difficult job of portraying a female wise-ass, who seems outwardly independent but is abjectly powerless. She doesn’t quite succeed.

Another curious thing about this film is the juxtaposition of crude reality with somewhat fantastical scenery. On one hand, we see Manoj mercilessly batter Lajjo, and on the other there is this surreal love-scene in a golden, glow-lit cave. I imagine a cave in a remote village as being dark, uncomfortable, rife with twittering mice and bats, not quite this golden love-nest. Very unrealistic, and it does take the hard-hitting edge off of the film.

There is a natural progression to this feminist tale, but it didn’t quite flow. At first we see the women subjected to patriarchal horrors. They murmur in subdued tones, mostly amongst themselves, about the injustice of it all but they don’t see a way out. Towards the end of the film, there is flat out liberation, but I’ve missed the self-reflection which brings about the liberation. Showing the anger, the urgency, the driving need for justice (because it must be urgent and driving to bring about the liberation) is essential to connecting the cause and the action – and this is where Parched stumbles. I’m glad that Rani, Lajjo and Bijli reach the point of no return, but am a little sad that I couldn’t be more involved in their journey. I so wanted to be.

Kidwise: This is adults only because of the nudity and sexual imagery.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, drama, feminism, Hindi movies on Netflix | 1 Comment

Movie Review : Pink (2016)

 photo pink_zps9rwnhcxx.jpg Rating : 4.5/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 16 minutes
Director : Aniruddha Roy Chaudhary
Cast : Kirti Kulhari, Taapsee Pannu, Andrea Tariang, Amitabh Bachchan, Piyush Mishra, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Angad Bedi
Kid rating: PG 13

Minal Arora (Pannu), Falak Ali (Kulhari) and Andrea (Tariang) are flatmates living and working in Delhi. On an evening out, the three meet a few friends for dinner and drinks. The evening ends in a violent altercation, and the three rush home in panic. Each day after that day is leaden, and clouded with fearful repercussions from that unpleasant evening. Things come to a head when Minal is arrested. Falak and Andrea at their wits end, sans family and support, seek help from a neighborhood lawyer.

The film starts off with the three girls rushing home from an incident. We, the viewers, have no knowledge of the event that has caused the stir, we only hear references to it. Then we witness the threats and the intimidation the girls face. The film, post-intermission, becomes a courtroom drama as the lawyers from both parties (Bachchan as the girls’ lawyer) battle it out.

Pink is a film that tells it like it is. And this telling has long been overdue. It questions society’s hypocritical morality and double standards, the “boys-will-be-boys” notion that makes Delhi (and India) so unsafe for women. It exposes the blood-curling hypocrisy that resides behind suave, moneyed exteriors. They might talk nice, but scratch the surface and a regressive patriarchal mindset comes oozing out. Pink underscores a woman’s right to her own sexuality, her right to say no and have everyone respect it, regardless of what she is wearing/drinking, or where she is. This goes hand-in-hand with the need for empowerment, the need for law and order and uniform justice for all, unimpeded by the police-politics nexus.

Pink makes all these points well, and movingly. Great acting helps. Versatile actress Kirti Kulhari (you might remember her from Anurag Kashyap’s Shaitaan) is fantastic as Falak, the lovely Pannu veers away from masala films here and does well as the brave and outspoken Minal, and Tariang depicts a Meghalayan bearing the brunt of the “loose, North-Eastern” girl stereotype. Each of them elicit, from us, sympathy for their characters, as they bravely stand their ground inspite of character-besmirching campaigns and threats. Bachchan turns in a decent performance; he is a fine orator and makes his (and Pink’s) point in his booming voice.

The film is well-directed, and keeps up the momentum, sans fripperies. There are 4 songs, and all aptly fit the film in mood and lyrics. I loved the poem in Bachchan’s voice, which is heard as the credits roll (here is a translation).

I highly recommend Pink – this is the must-see Hindi film of 2016.

Kidwise: There is some language here. Violence is referenced and implied but not shown front and center. Courtroom dialog features words like virginity, sex, rape, molestation etc.

Posted in 2016, bollywood, drama, feminism, outstanding, rating-PG13, recommended, social issues, women | 2 Comments