Saturday, 8 March 2014

Movies Review: Shaadi Ke Side Effects

Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Vidya Balan, Ram Kapoor, Vir Das, Purab Kohli
Direction: Saket Chaudhury

Rating: ***

Saket Chaudhury’s ‘Shaadi Ke Side Effects’ is a classic example of a director approaching a topic that he is quite obviously not convinced about. The narrative is peppered with genuine humour but the plot baffles you with the many theories it throws up and immediately debunks.
Gender roles are being redefined daily, and contemporary marriages are complex entities. Throw into it a metrosexual male, who is not the traditional MCP husband but one who wants to make an honest attempt at becoming a good father. Instead of making an example out of a man who is trying so hard, the director makes him apologise for the lifestyle choices he makes, which is merely to also seek private space in a marriage.
We are handed this ridiculous notion that pursuing your own passion/hobby/alone-time is tantamount to adultery. Unless your marriage is this all-consuming entity where every bit of your time is spent with your spouse and child, you are actually CHEATING.
You would initially think that the director is attempting satire but he actually romanticizes notions of marriage and parenthood. He makes it look like a sin to merely want to seek happiness in small things that are not related to marriage at all. It reminds me of the film ‘Shall We Dance’, where a workaholic lawyer, Richard Gere signs-up for ballroom dance classes and hides it from his family for the longest time. He is guilty because the time he is spending at the classes is time away from his wife and children.
‘Shaadi Ke Side Effects’ raises very pertinent issues that every modern married couple face. How do we create work-life balance? After a child, how do couples find time for themselves, even though they are trying hard to spend quality time with the child? After, you have made time for wife and child, when do you make time for yourself, for your friends?
All these are valid concerns but the way they are addressed is flippant and shoddy. Add to this the main leads, who are completely flawed characters.
Trisha Roy (Vidya Balan) is a career woman who is the primary breadwinner of the family. Come pregnancy, she decides to become a full-time mother, which is fine but she decides to do this with no help at all. When you can afford it, why won’t you hire a nanny, avail of a daycare facility or ask your parents to help every once in a while? Instead, she chooses to become a stay-at-home mom, who is always critical of the husband who is completely new to fatherhood. Later, after she hires a full-time help, she is in no hurry to get into shape but is busy eating ice-cream out of a tub and complaining how it distresses her that she doesn’t look good and can’t spend time with her husband.
It is exactly this notion of trying to be a perfect parent that is problematic. She decides to give up her identity of her own accord but holds her husband responsible for it. If an individual decides to make sacrifices for their marriage or child, they alone are responsible for it. Why blackmail the husband who never asked you to give it up in the first place but instead offered you alternatives?
The husband, Siddharth Roy (Farhan Akhtar) isn’t someone you will look up to either. He is quick to take advice from friends (played by Ram Kapoor and Vir Das) without really thinking it through. What works for your friends might not work for you. He is right when he says that marriage doesn’t need a strategy. But all marriage needs is complete truth? Really? Anyone who has been married for long enough knows that is not true. Marriage needs a clear understanding of realistic expectations from both parties.
Siddharth can never communicate to his wife what he really wants. He is almost emotionally blackmailed into making the ‘practical’ decisions. None of his decisions have been thought through; even the decision to have a child is completely impulsive. You are bound to have problems if you have no control over your decisions.
You can’t blame marriage as an institution if as individuals, the husband and wife have no clarity on the way ahead.
There is a lot of fun to be had while watching ‘Shaadi Ke Side Effects’ if you are not drawing any real-life lessons from the film. Farhan is superb as he pitches a perfect portrayal. Vidya’s character is more linear but nagging and the extra post-preganancy weight seems to come naturally to her.
The film also fails to establish a father-daughter bond; I guess that stems from the fact that the mother is so overbearing. But my main grudge continues to be the fact that the director really has no clue about modern marriages.
The complete lack of conviction translates on screen as a story that is half-baked and tepid at best.
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Movies Review: Highway

Cast: Alia Bhatt,Randeep Hooda

Direction: Imtiaz Ali

Rating: ****

Is this Imtiaz Ali’s best film till date? While the answer to that is open to debate and discussion, there is no doubt that ‘Highway’ is Ali’s boldest film. He makes no concessions in his storytelling, he doesn’t attempt to play to the gallery and he definitely doesn’t try to adhere to any Bollywood formula.
Right at the onset when we see preparations are underway for an impending wedding, there isn’t a colourful song-and-dance number covertly inserted into the plot. Instead the scenes play out like a home video, handheld shots taken by a video camera that probably wasn’t even high-definition.
The abduction is not premeditated but once it’s done we have no option but to flee. Our road trip is initially through the arid, dusty roads of North India. The landscape is much like the relationship between the captor and the hostage – a strange apathy emanating from the barren lands.

When Veera Tripathi (Alia Bhatt) is held hostage, the director plays with the light and shadow, her face like a blank sheet of paper, reacting spontaneously to this unexpected situation. We see silhouettes of the captive girl desperate to make a dash for freedom. Veera soon realizes that escape is impossible,giving-up on her futile attempts, she returns collapsing in the arms of her oppressor.

And then there is a real chance for Veera – why doesn’t she seize this opportunity? It’s inexplicable why she won’t grasp this quick release? Surely,it can’t be for some twisted romantic notion? And a layer peels off, revealing an undisclosed incident that had left our young protagonist bruised and broken.
In this battered truck she feels more secure than she had ever done in the confines of her protected home. Incomprehensibly she has found safety with a brash truck driver.
Randeep Hooda with his weather-beaten, rugged face and speaking the Gujjar dialect is every bit Mahabir Bhati of ‘Highway’. It’s amazing how Hooda manages to blend the ruthlessness of a brazen abductor with the vulnerability of a man who might be a criminal but is still capable of possessing very human emotions.
After Nargis Fakhri in ‘Rockstar’, I had become a little circumspect of Imtiaz Ali’s casting decisions. But after having watched ‘Highway’, I can’t think of anyone who could essay Veera and Mahabir’s role better than Alia and Randeep.

Alia’s exudes an innocent charm as Veera. Even without a hint of make-up, her battered face emanates a certain glow. While at the onset, she seems to struggle a bit with her monologues; she evolves as the film progresses to belt out a solid performance. Alia is brilliant in a scene where she is sitting by the river and doesn’t know why she is laughing – she laughs and cries, possibly overwhelmed by the absurdity of the situation.

Veera doesn’t have a plan but she wants to be a part of the journey for a little while longer. Aren’t we all so obsessed with the destination, that we often fail to enjoy the beauty of the journey?
In a particular scene before the climax Mahabir has a meltdown when he looks at his temporary home – Randeep’s restrained portrayal is commendable. You look at his character and you realize that he knows that he is too far gone to hope for any kind of redemption. The normalcy of a house and family is an illusion, which he is incapable of even beholding for a little while.
The two of them belong to two very different worlds. There is no way of merging the world of the haves and the have-nots and the director doesn’t even attempt it.

When you look closer at the backstory, you wonder how different really is their world? Poverty keeps the poor silent and the rich have to hide behind the veneer of affluence and normalcy they have created for themselves.

And beneath this façade we suppress the problems that plague every society.Issues of sexual abuse get swept under the carpet, irrespective of class. We are taught to be careful outside but no one prepares us from sexual predators at home.

Imtiaz Ali was considered an ace storyteller when it came to spinning romantic tales. With ‘Highway’ Ali brandishes his craft with flourish and style, even though this is no linear love story.

A R Rahman’s music is a tad disappointing. While ‘Pathaka Guddi’ kicks in as a reprieve from the taut pace of the first half, the song when Veera is trying to flee just doesn’t work. I was expecting a nice qawwali number when they make a brief halt in Ajmer but there was none.

The costume design by Aki Narula is excellent. It’s a welcome change to see our heroine don oversized sweaters and pajamas and not sashay around in chiffon sarees.
It breaks your heart when you hear the sound of the gun pierce the tranquil and peace of the surrounding. You almost hear a silent tear roll down as we watch with bated breath.

This Imtiaz Ali film deserves not just loud applause but a standing ovation.
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Movies Review: Gunday

Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh, Irrfan, Saurabh Shukla

Direction: Ali Abbas Zafar

Rating: ***

Ali Abbas Zafar’s ‘Gunday’ is set in a very 1970-ish mould: destitute boys, who eventually emerge as the messiah of the poor, a tale of friendship, love, betrayal and inevitable reunion. The director does inject a neat twist into this predictable plot but it is the performances that make the film more watchable.
Arjun Kapoor plays the hotheaded Bala who doesn’t think before pulling the trigger. He brings a rare vulnerability to his portrayal. Even though his character is brash, uncouth and reckless, you can’t help but feel for this angst-ridden gunda.
Ranveer’s Bikram, as a character is a lot more linear unlike the layered Bala. There is ample show of their well-sculpted bodies as they indulge in slow motion fistfight sequences and it is a welcome change to see that filmmakers are increasingly aware of the female gaze as well when they are selecting their male protagonists.
The humorous bits where the two heroes try to woo their ladylove in turn also makes for some genuinely funny moments in the film.
For a while, Priyanka’s choice for this role is a little unclear. While she manages to look hot in the ‘Asalaam e Ishqum’ song, you wonder why she keeps sauntering in and out in elegant dhakai sarees and really doesn’t contribute much to the story. Later, after her presence is explained, I still felt that she was the weakest link in the acting department. Even her clothes, especially, her low-back blouses look too contemporary to blend with the old-fashioned canvas of the rest of the film.
Irrfan Khan belts out another brilliant performance. He is effective and impressive as ACP Satyajit Sarkar. As the manipulative top cop he essays a restrained portrayal and has some of the best dialogues in the film or may be it is just his delivery that makes the lines memorable.
The film was touted as one that had recreated the Calcutta of the ‘80s, perhaps that explains the presence of a lot of Bengalis in the theatre. But the film neither romances nor provides a true portrait of the city. A few shots of Howrah Bridge and a sequence shot during Durga Puja hardly do justice to the city. We don’t get a feel of the City of Joy at all. There is a scene that is shot in the Metro Cinema – Metro used to be for the elite in the past, therefore the seating and the crowd looks completely incongruous to the history of the theatre.
The film unsuccessfully tries to address issues of displacement by making the two young coal thieves refugees in this country. It could have been any story about the haves and have-nots, the refugee aspect is mentioned but not developed. It is simply the story of two young boys who in their struggle for survival choose to pick the dark side and get tainted for life. Wearing white clothes in one of the first scenes they remind me of Ajay Devgn in ‘Once Upon A Time In Mumbai’, since his beginning had been tainted with the colour of coal, he would always wear white.
There is very little that is actually original in Ali Abbas Zafar’s ‘Gunday’.
Sohail Sen’s music is immensely catchy; especially the ‘Jiya’ song sung by Arijit Singh has a haunting quality about it.
Despite its flaws, the various elements in ‘Gunday’ somehow come together and bring you a watchable film.
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Movies Review: One By Two

Cast: Abhay Deol, Preeti Desai, Lillete Dubey, Rati Agnihotri
Direction: Devika Bhagat
Rating: *

‘One By Two’ deserves an award for the most uninspired piece of work. This is the kind of experimental film, which should have been probably been a film school project and never made it to the big screen.
Abhay Deol sleepwalks through a film that reeks of shoddy writing and dull characterization. Amit Sharma (Abhay Deol) is a lousy employee, a boring lover and basically a loser who loves to wallow in self-pity after his girlfriend ruthlessly dumps him. Instead of channelizing his energy into something worthwhile, he continues to be obnoxious to people around in more ways than one.
In a parallel world, Samara Patel (Preeti Desai) with a size zero body and very long legs aspires to become a successful dancer. Her mother (Lillete Dubey) is an alcoholic and she has a spate of bad luck before she can realize her dream. Unlike what the trailers would have you believe, the two lead characters actually have little in common.  In fact if you go to the film expecting a real life romance will play out on the big screen, you’ll be super disappointed because our characters don’t even meet till the very last scene in the film.
The supporting cast of the film deserves a special mention for being the most irritating ensemble cast in recent times and Preetika Chawla would sure lead the pack if there was a way to gauge irksomeness. Lillete Dubey is saddled with a clichéd part – single mother, alcoholic and insecure, it’s difficult to rise above that prescription.
Devika Bhagat experiments with the some unusual camera angles and split screen edits and it would have probably worked if there was some meat in the story.  Unfortunately there is no way to make a shabby script work.
Shankar, Ehsan, Loy’s music provides no reprieve.
My one star is for the impressive pieces of choreography performed by Ashley Lobo’s troupe. That was the only sliver of silver lining in the film.
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Movies Review: Jai Ho

Cast: Salman Khan, Daisy Shah, Tabu, Danny Denzongpa
Direction: Sohail Khan
Rating: **
Salman Khan’s box-office draw is indisputable but you can’t circumvent every rule in the book and hope to just ride on star power. The least expectation from a Salman film is that despite it’s complete disregard for logic, it will succeed in entertaining but ‘Jai Ho’ fails even on that account.
Jai (Salman Khan), a former army official, espouses fervent humanism and to champion this noble thought he doesn’t refrain from using all forms of violence possible. The problem with a thought like this one is that brutal force is offered as a simplistic solution to many complex issues that plague contemporary Indian society. Impassioned speeches fail to strike a chord, when you realize that the aam aadmi is basically hapless, unless they have someone like Salman to bail them out of their misery.
Salman as the slightly unscrupulous Chulbul Pandey (in ‘Dabangg’) was a treat to watch but Jai Agnihotri, as the upright citizen waging a solitary war on behalf of the wronged citizenry is a linear character incapable of creating a lasting impression. The director fails to capitalize on Salman’s usually reliable comic timing and completely banks on the action sequences, which are full of blood and gore.  We have seen the slo mo Matrix-style action so many times that they are no longer fun to watch, plus, it is a little disturbing to see that our hero not only beats his opponents to a pulp, no matter how many of them are there, he doesn’t refrain from occasionally biting them. Argh!
I guess this was Salman’s valiant attempt to do a good deed not only for his brother Sohail Khan but a lot of other actors in the film industry. Sample this, our hero is always flanked by his two friends Ashmit Patel and Yash Tonk, who have nothing much to do, except reiterate what our protagonist says.
Tabu has a significant role as our hero’s elder sister but her part is so lame that you feel sorry that an actress of her calibre agreed to do it.
Naman Jain plays the most annoying child possible, allowed to tease the heroine about her underwear while indulging parents and Mamu (uncle) look on.
Long forgotten actors like Aditya Pancholi, Mohnish Bahl, Nadira Babbar, Mahesh Manjrekar, Sharad Kapoor, Mahesh Thakur, Sameer Kakkad, Mukul Dev, Vikas Bhalla, Varun Badola, Nauheed Cyrusi and Vatsal Seth all make forgettable appearances in this story.
Daisy Shah’s debut is lacklustre. Broad-shouldered and masculine she fails to make an impression either as an actress or as a dancer. Even her romantic track with Salman fizzles out even before you start to take notice.
There is not a coherent plot trajectory to follow once you realize that Jai is the messiah of the hapless. There is an insipid revenge angle then introduced in the story, which ends pretty much the same way as the rest of the story, where one bloody action sequence leads into another.
There was a time when you thought that the chase sequence with Jai on the bike driving through city traffic would offer a change of pace but unlike in ‘Dhoom 3’ there is nothing wow-worthy in this sequence either.
None of the song-and-dance in the film is worthy of mention. They are inserted into the story almost as an afterthought with no thought to continuity or pace. The music and lyrics lend nothing to the story, failing to provide a respite from the monotony.
Sohail Khan might make an easy entry in to the Rs 100 crore club but if only that could be a yardstick of an entertaining film. Salmantricks galore but this is not a film that even die-hard Salman fans will find easy to lap-up.
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Movies Review: Dedh Ishqiya

Cast: Madhuri Dixit, Naseerudin Shah, Huma Qureshi, Arshad Warsi, Vijay Raaz

Direction: Abhishek Chaubey

Rating: ****
Abhishek Chaubey renders a delectable mystery. He seems to have mastered the art of perfectly executing thrillers laced with dark humour.
I love the way ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ seems to build-up like a romantic story – Begum Para (Madhuri Dixit), a widow, is looking for a suitor to fulfill her dead husband’s last wish. Nawabs from different parts of the country have assembled to display their prowess, especially to brandish their eloquence as poets.  You realize that there is some underlining tension to the prolonged romantic idling but Chaubey never falters on the pace, taking his time to peel the layers and reveal the true nature of his female characters.
Chaubey’s male characters are uncomplicated, their motives crystal clear, almost helpless in their naiveté. Blinded by love or the notion of it, they repeatedly succumb to manipulation even when they are convinced that they are the ones who are calling the shots. The women appear vulnerable and distressed but they are completely focused on their objective, never letting emotion blur their goal.
The mise-en-scène completely corresponds with the characters in the film – a decadent mansion houses the once beautiful proprietress – way past her prime but her legendary charm has managed to lure aging grooms, who only have their declining aristocracy to boast of.
‘Dedh Ishqiya’ has some crackling portrayals – the supporting cast helmed by Vijay Raaz and Manoj Pahwa deliver riveting performances. Raaz is brilliant as Jaan Muhammad, he has power and money but is desperate to find a place in the royalty that seems to continuously elude him.
Khalujaan (Naseeruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi) share an easy camaraderie, abusive and endearing at times. Their repartees makes for the most entertaining part of the film.
Muniya (Huma Qureshi) is a feisty character – bold, determined and manipulative. Hats off to Huma for holding her own in a film that has such senior actors.
Madhuri brings grace and elegance to her portrayal but if we were to compare her with Vidya Balan in ‘Ishqiya’, the latter emerges a clear winner. The ruthlessness that Vidya is capable of is just not becoming of Madhuri.

What actually adds edge to ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ is the writing – it is amazing how the crassness of the dialogue works for the film. You can’t help but suppress a smile during Muniya’s raw explanation of how love and sex are completely separate things.
Abhishek Chaubey’s ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ is entertaining, intriguing and humourous. He sure knows how to tell a gripping story peppered with generous doses of wit.
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