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Sachin (2017)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A Charged-up Documentary That Avoids Objectivism. ♦ Grade C-, 28 May 2017

It is not surprising that a British filmmaker who specializes in TV was chosen to make a documentary about someone who is regarded highly by at least 7 out of 10 people in India. We really don't know how James Erskine came on board, but we can be sure that he hasn't watched Azhar (2016) or M S Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016) for then this sports documentary wouldn't have made the same mistakes they did.

Narrating the story of legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar from his childhood when he first picked up a bat to his retirement in 2013, the documentary tries to masquerade as a film and goes on to etch his story into India's history of the last 30 years. How Sachin as a young boy is supported by his family to follow his call, how he met his wife Anjali and got married to her, how he dealt with failure, what his single-biggest dream was, his highs and lows, his health, and his connection with the Indian people is all what the documentary explores. Much how the two biopics mentioned earlier were made, here the idea of the makers is to accentuate Sachin's appeal as a legendary cricketer by avoiding objectivism. It is clear from the first frame that the makers had no idea to go deeper into the specifics, and instead just provide a superficial chronological time-line of his life that is already present in the public domain. Executed with doses of sentiments of peripheral patriotism, this one is as straightforward as it can get.

The biggest problem with the documentary is that it takes "cricket is a religion in India" too seriously and tries to tie Sachin's endeavors as elements that carved India's fate and are reasons why and how India is as it is today - which is first-class drivel. So much that it goes on to exaggerate a couple of events just to prove its point. Statements like "change in the country's luck", "country's fate", and "the power of Indians" are employed to give emphasis to the point.

For people wondering why we cannot call it a film, it's because the film is basically a collection of cricket match footage since the 80s and interviews. Of course, there are emotions attached to certain matches which bring back nostalgia (to Indians), which is why I have to use the word "goosebumps" here, but play any nail-biting match in the history of Indian cricket which was a turning point for the national team, and those pimples are sure to crop up. Former batsmen and bowlers, journalists, celebrities, his family members, and Sachin himself share their thoughts about the subject as the documentary simultaneously moves ahead in the time-line. There are some interesting tidbits that it offers - for example, episodes of match-fixing, rivalry, age-gap between players, and other miscellaneous events that shaped cricket in India - which are the only novel thing an average Indian will find in this feature. For outsiders, it will be much more.

How Sachin changed the essence of cricket in India, and helped it rise from its ashes is what the makers and Sachin himself repeatedly convey in the documentary. The only problem is that it is not entirely convincing. Showing that his dream is synonymous with the country's dream as far as cricket is concerned is bit of an overstatement, and that is what plays with its appeal.

Director Erskine has surely made a recipe that evokes emotions and pulls a cricket fan back to the good old days. The screenplay is crisp and filled with substance, even though most of it is rehash. The problem is that this is not how biopics are made. The characters do a decent job at talking out, and if character performance is really to be mentioned - it should be about the two young actors who played young Sachin. They looked like they were enjoying. Other than that, it's mostly Tendulkar, his wife, and other known players doing the talking.

All in all, it's a well-executed documentary that plays very safe and does not get bowled out. It will not disappoint a fan, but might a cinema enthusiast.

BOTTOM LINE: James Erskine's "Sachin" may have got the tag-line "A Billion Dreams" wrong, but it surely is an enjoyable, one-time affair. Just don't expect Sachin to open his closet. Go for a weekday afternoon show!

Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

Sathya (2017)
The Worst Malayalam Film of 2017. ♦ Grade F, 23 May 2017

I know it's wrong to nominate a film as the worst so early in the year, but I am pretty sure that there's not going to be a failure so grand and perfect int he next seven months. With condolences to slain director Diphan, I would like to note the reasons why the film is what it is: Jayaram's young man play with stunts that defy logic, Roma's presence, ludicrous songs and an even ludicrous story-line, Parvathy Nambiar's presence, and finally, zero imagination. Calling it a mass entertainer would also be a travesty.

It is hard to believe that the guy who gave us Puthiya Mugham (2009) could collaborate with the actor who gave us Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal (1999) and create garbage like this. But, it's reality, and the best way to deal with it is to avoid. Skip for life!

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A Fraction of Romance. ♦ Grade F, 23 May 2017

If Mohit Suri's films are known for anything, then it's their soundtrack. The content of the films is usually rundown and uninspiring romance which sometimes even plays with the actors' careers. In this adaptation of Chetan Bhagat's bestselling young adult romantic novel Half Girlfriend, it looks like the thing about soundtrack may also be spiraling down.

Madhav (Arjun Kapoor) is a young student from Bihar who gets admitted to a reputable college in Delhi through sports quota. A skilled basketball player and amateur English speaker, Madhav falls head over heels in love with Riya (Shraddha Kapoor). And starts connecting with her with the hope to make her his girlfriend. Riya, herself an ace basketball player, reciprocates his connection requests, but plays mathematics when he pops the question. She says, "I can be your "half girlfriend"" and that she cannot go full. The story then moves forward to expose its undecipherable convoluted elements as Madhav tries to understand what that term really means.

The film strictly follows the plot of the 2014 book where Madhav is constantly in Riya's spell and is continuously trying to classify the type of relationship he is in (if at all), especially about which "half" he is in. With much attention given to the importance of English-speaking, the plot then suddenly flip flops between Bihar, Delhi, and New York, as the lead characters make rapid life decisions. Even if you do not understand why the characters do what they do, I'm sure you will notice the brand advertisements in every other frame. If one looks closer, the film looks like a 2-hour long advert for MakeMyTrip. And with my mentioning the brand in this review, I am sure the marketing budget of the bludgeoning Indian travels company has paid off.

The basic problem with the film is the character development. Arjun is unable to portray the true loverboy that Madhav is. Instead, he behaves like a magician's rabbit, always appearing where you think it would appear - around Riya. Shraddha, on the other hand - typecast, we call know - dilly dallies around in her scholar, fashionable, and affluent Riya character and exudes confusion. There's not a bit of realism in the proceedings, and in the second half, the degree of improbability hits the roof. One may like to call the story contrived, but there's an even better word for it: convoluted. Other big problem - and this one is crucial - is how the film is executed. This film is more of a musical than a steady romantic film - with a song or a montage appearing every five minutes. That is what wrecks the film's entertainment quotient as it fails to construct a proper, seamless storyline.

Both the Kapoors put up a below average show here, reminding us that Arjun may not be talented at all. Shraddha's previous films may save her, but the validity has definitely shortened. Seems Biswas looked out of character as Madhav's educationist mother, whereas both Vikrant Massey and Rhea Chakraborty do a fairly good job. The music by various artists is hummable, thanks to Arijit Singh and Anushka Sahaney. Rest of the filmmaking factors are best left unreviewed.

All in all, Mohit Suri's latest venture after the 2015 debacle Hamari Adhuri Kahani is worse. The romance is pulpy and unbelievable, for starters, and it's the last thing we are looking for in a year already giving us anxiety through the unpleasant world affairs. It automatically nominates itself to be ranked amongst the worst films of 2017.

BOTTOM LINE: Mohit Suri's "Half Girlfriend" fails to verify the theorem it so proudly boasts of, because modern love may be crooked, but not preposterous. Do not even read the book!

Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO

3 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Concludes With High Drama, Faulty Action, And Authentic Emotions. ♦ Grade C+, 11 May 2017

The frenzy and thirst for more that the first part started and caused in 2015 had to be quenched by content that has more power, more action, and more grandeur. This epic romantic drama, which is South Indian director S S Rajamouli's eleventh feature film, has the combined effect of all these factors, but is unsurprisingly let down by lack of logic.

Resuming exactly where the first part ends, the story follows king- slave Kattappa's (Sathya Raj) narration of the past events that occurred in the Mahishmati kingdom and how they directly led to its degeneration under the rule of the foxy and narcissistic Bhallaladeva (Rana Daggubati). Shiva (Prabhas), upon realizing his lineage, has to save the kingdom now and settle some scores...

Predictability is all over the place as you follow the flashback story involving Bahubali (Prabhas), who uses a method previously sampled by the protagonist in the 2005 Tamil film "Ghajini", to woo Devasena (Anushka Shetty), the fiery queen of a nearby smaller kingdom. Bahubali, with ample help from Kattappa, fool around with Devasena, as humor and borderline slapstick enter the concoction (but do not stay for long), which soon shifts to high drama as the lover boy's brother, Bhallaladeva, now has his eyes on Devasena. It's a ploy actually, which he masterminds with help from his crippled father, Bijjaladeva (Nassar). What ensues is a game of shifting, smarmy egos and value of integrity between Bahubali and his aunt, Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan), whom he regards as his mother. How things take a swift turn to what led to the events in the first part is what essentially the first two hours of this film is. It is up to Shiva to bring back the kingdom's glory by doing what is right: unshackle Devasena, his mother, and take back what is lawfully his.

There is enough substance for an average film-goer to look at and appreciate here. Starting from the opening credits, which poses as a prologue and a visual narration of the first part so that you can brush up, to the high-octane stunts that defy logic and science to derive magic, the good old melodrama, and an obvious yet satisfying answer to the eternal question derived from part one's climax. While Bahubali 1 banked on structural storytelling and a pretentious climax to hook its viewers, Bahubali 2 uses more firepower and style. On that front, it is imperative that we give the makers full marks for efforts and storytelling. Romance between Bahubali and Devasena is strictly martial, but is still palpable to our hungry senses. As is evident from the loads of social media mentions lauding both of these characters' authenticity and idealism, if there is one thing that you will take away from the Bahubali films, it is the virtues that these characters adopt and explicitly endorse. Also, there is this faint sampling of didacticism swaying around in the plot - whether it is trying to erect a feminist character like Devasena or showcasing the brutal kingdom affairs of the bygone era or the sexist nature of things - the pedagogical element is present, making the film overwhelming to some.

Having said that, there cannot be any excuse to the substandard CGI that is at show here. The degree of implausibility blows through the roof, yet it's the heroism that comes to the rescue in every single frame. Why the characters do not succumb to their injuries may be retorted by mythological and religious references, but for a learned viewer, there are going to be issues with the film. Weighing these issues with the grandeur and volumes of melodrama makes us reach to a conclusion which is slightly positive, only if you consider the entertainment value.

Director Rajamouli's storytelling should be lauded, and film students may want to take notes. He directs his cast well, and in order to describe them, we must first appreciate the casting. I cannot imagine anyone else playing these characters with such finesse and fidelity. Prabhas is magnificent in his portrayal as the hero of the people, and puts up a tireless show in both the films. His nuanced performances as Shiva and Bahubali - two characters with little difference - can be counted as one of the biggest defining factors of the franchise's success. Same goes for Daggubati as the classic villain. However, if I had to choose one star who shines like the greatest of all, it is Shetty, with her electric performance as Devasena. Sure, Bahubali supports her as the independent woman that she is, but her idiosyncratic stances on causes that matter to her, and her dialogues are all so defining (and relatable to the recent feminist uprising), it will be harder to not understand why she is the cinema character of the year. Nasser and Krishnan are equally good, but Sathyaraj is the man who will be remembered for his role and portrayal ten years for now, after Prabhas.

Overall, there is enough for viewers to both love and hate here. Which side you delve into more depends on how you perceive the sequences that make up the film. If you are someone who judges a film's watchability on the basis of its score, screenplay, and cast performance - then this is going to be a fun affair. If you aim for the plot holes or the poor CGI, then disappointment is going to be your friend.

BOTTOM LINE: S S Rajamouli's "Bahubali - The Conclusion" is a tightly-packed doll of goodies about kings, queens, love, and deceit that will entertain you most of the time. Arguably, one of the most entertaining films of 2017, if you choose to watch it, do it on the big screen. Go for a weekday show!

Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

Aby (2017)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Paper Planes. ♦ Grade F, 18 April 2017

To see a talented man like Vineeth Sreenivasan fool around in a film that aspires to be a biography but is instead an embarrassment is an embarrassment. Aby as a film fails in almost all departments - from the plot to the production design to the cast performance. Although the film starts off with a promising dramatic tinge, viewers are going to yawn and may even try to catch forty winks by the first hour. The second half is horrible, with no direction or fuel to keep the story going. Even if the makers had a good intention to picturize the story of the real-life person, what it turns out to be is a contrived hyperbolical spectacle that neither inspires nor entertains.

It's almost as if a badly constructed paper plane was soaked in water and made to fly. We all know what's going to happen to that. Skip for life!

No Man's Island. ♦ Grade F, 10 April 2017

It is disheartening to see veterans like Siddique act in a film like this which looks like it was made without a script or even a basic central idea in mind. Adil Ibrahim and Pearle Maaney made a bad decision to star in this musical period drama which was only seen by the contestants who appeared in the last season of D 4 Dance. Even Priyamani skipped it.

Saheer Ali's "Kappiri Thuruthu" seems very ambitious but is hollow in its depiction as it tries to showcase an old Kochi where religion and crime were still a prime issue. It's not even watchable. Skip for life!

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Better Than An Arranged Marriage. ♦ Grade C+, 8 April 2017

While one cannot call this comedy drama a breath of fresh air in Bollywood, it definitely merits to be called using an adjective like "watchable".

With some great performances by Amit Sadh, Taapsee Pannu, and Brijendra Kala, this comic film about a group of friends running a clandestine marriage bureau where they help people in love elope is engaging. Supported by a thick North Indian accent that is used by almost all characters, it goes on to explore the hardships faced by young men and women who are in love yet fail to live together due to familial and societal pressures. The film couldn't released in better time than when honor killings are rampant in the country. Ample humor and a well-executed second half makes me wanna expect more from debutante director Amit Roy.

BOTTOM LINE: It's on DVD now, and there's no excuse for you to not watch it.

Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO, but you should.

Phillauri (2017)
4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Sporadic Amusement. ♦ Grade C-, 29 March 2017

Successful fantasy dramas in Bollywood are a rare phenomena. With Amol Palekar's Paheli (2005) as a solid benchmark, it can be difficult to create an interesting film, as this ambitious project by a debutante director shows.

Kanan (Suraj Sharma) is a young man who arrives from Canada and is taken by his parents straight to his would-be-fiancée and high school sweetheart Anu's (Mehreen Pirzada) house for their engagement and subsequent wedding which is scheduled a week from now. Already mad with the swift turn of events and unsure about the whole marriage thing, Kanan tries to speak his mind, but it all falls in deaf ears. Things move at a faster rate as he is directed by the family pandit (Hindu scholar) to first marry a tree so that he can get rid of his astrological curse. No prize for guessing, but Kanan soon finds out that the tree that he married the previous day contained the ghost of a woman named Shashi (Anushka Sharma) who now believes and takes him to be her lawfully-wedded husband. A shaken Kanan tries to avoid her, but for how long? And how is he going to explain it to Anu, who now thinks that Kanan has changed from a genteel lover-boy to a weed-smoking hipster who plays around with women's feelings...

If there is a thing called convenient filmmaking, then this is it. With the setup of a big Indian wedding that reminds me of a yesteryear Malayalam-language film, Anwar Rasheed's Ustad Hotel (2012), used to introduce the characters, the film makes a promising start. Superstitious families, an over-attached girlfriend, and a mysterious ghost from the previous century - the film has everything a Bollywood film could ask for. And for some time, it even manages to entertain. However, the level of quality and entertainment soon falls when you realize that the humor is forced and the drama unceremonious and inconsequential. Kanan is a 26-year old man and his encounters with Shashi are so childish they are cringe-worthy. Suraj's portrayal as the helpless guy does not work either, even when he is supported by a talented supporting cast.

The only positive element that works for the film is that the suspense about Shashi's past stays strong throughout the film, mostly because it is explored non-linearly and is only dug deeper in the final 30 minutes. The base is quite similar to Palekar's 2005 SRK-starrer, with the exception of disappointing performances from the lead cast. Suraj sports a single expression throughout the 2 hours of running time - whether it is him flirting with his would-be or being terrorized by Shashi. Anushka does not do much for her character other than lazing around from point A to B looking like she hasn't a clue. All excuses defending her character should be attributed to bad writing. Pirzada is a cutie, but needs to improve her acting chops if she wants to stay. Diljit Dosanjh is the only main character who gives out an authentic performance, and we cannot thank director Anshai Lal for that. The direction is overall average, with Lal using tried and tested methods to narrate his story and still failing to impress. The fitting and well-crafted background score and few hummable songs further accentuate the film as a one-time watch.

With laudable CGI for a Bollywood film and the fact that the romance in the film is tied to an important part of Indian pre-Independence history, this second production by Anushka Sharma is a watchable but average affair. Go for it if you have nothing else to do.

BOTTOM LINE: Anshai Lal's "Phillauri" is a ghost story that flip flops between romance, fantasy, and comedy with these genres providing entertainment in the descending order. It is high on romance thanks to the backstory set in the 1910s, but is pretty low on comedy, no thanks to the writing. Watch it on TV.

Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

Take Off (2017)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Takes Off. ♦ Grade B-, 26 March 2017

Thrillers in the backdrop of civil wars is relatively new for Malayalam cinema, unless you consider Major Ravi's turkeys as films. This one here by a debutante director thoroughly impresses, mostly because of its gut-wrenching story based on true events that is highly relevant as we move forward in 2017...

Sameera (Parvathy) is a nervy young Muslim woman who is the sole breadwinner of her family. A nurse at a local hospital, she, along with few of her colleagues, has now received an opportunity to go and work for the Iraqi government. Money is the only motivation for her right now, and the fact that she is a divorcée acts as a thorn to her ultimate quest: lead a merry life. Cajoled by her family, she finally reciprocates her love for Shaheed (Kunchacko Boban), a fellow nurse at her hospital. They marry and leave for the Muslim country as a couple, unbeknown to the reality that is waiting to encapsulate and destroy their healing lives...

The story follows Sameera, her husband, and a bunch of Indian nurses who find themselves in the middle of the ongoing civil war in Iraq. Director Mahesh Narayan and writer P V Shajikumar have developed a tight story to drive home few messages, the primary of which involves the existence of hope and how it helps you fight the darkest of fears. With the ISIS controlling their part of Iraq, it is Sameera's leadership and conviction that the writers try to highlight here, referring a lot of relevant, stark social causes along the way.

Director Narayan has crafted his story well, closing all loose ends and narrating the story in an efficient way right from the beginning. Once you ignore and go past the spelling mistakes in the opening credits and a very long preamble, things start catching pace as Sameera spearheads the screen with her absolutely nuanced performance (one of the best of 2017 so far) as the highly-strung woman. The little bits of pulpy storytelling with dashes of fervent realism, humor, and romance makes the first half an engaging experience. Viewers can definitely relate to the characters: be it that of Sameera or one of her in-laws who are torchbearers of suppression.

Sameera is full of anxiety because she has this bucket of responsibilities over her head that she has to deal with, and at the same time has to sustain the heavy societal pressures that challenge her ambitions as a whole. Feminism is not really the topic here, but the makers definitely hint at the hardships that women have to go through in a conservative society, here, in spite of being the only working person in her family. Sameera is an independent woman and the story focuses on her conviction to stand abreast even when a rifle's barrel is pointed at her forehead. The extents that she goes in the second half to do what she has to do is a powerful rendition of all the strong voices that sway in the air around us, making us all have faith in our world riddle with hate and chaos.

With a powerful score backing the on screen happenings, the bloodshed, the shelling, the horror - the film does not sit idle one single moment. Viewers are bound to see themselves on the edge of their seats, rooting for the characters even as the emotional thriller starts tugging at your vulnerable heart strings. It wouldn't be surprising to see a tear escaping your eye as you follow Sameera's journey through the bullet-ridden streets of Iraq. Moreover, there's some great photography here, depicting the bloodied parchments of Mosul and Tikrit - which all add up to the film's superiority in terms of storytelling and production design. I was not really impressed with the camera work, but the cast performance is so brilliant, you can easily ignore it.

As mentioned above, Parvathy is fabulous as Sameera, the main protagonist of the film. She is well-supported by Boban, Fahadh Faasil, Asif Ali, and Prakash Belawadi. It is the performance and realistic portrayal of the characters that helps one ignore all the minor shortcomings of the film which has something to do with convenience and forced writing. However, the film asks you to look at the brighter side, so that's what we should do. Narayan has directed his actors well, and created a gripping package for the Malayalam audience to watch and get enthralled at after last month's Jay K's groundbreaking horror film, "Ezra".

If you remove the civil war part from the film, it is evident that the focus is on the masterly profession of nurse. And the film as a whole pays ode to that profession, saluting the millions of nurses (White Helmets, Red Cross) who courageously defy the odds and fight for people's good health even in times of absolute despair. A la Raja Krishna Menon's 2016 blockbuster Bollywood film, "Airlift", this one is a real triumph in Malayalam cinema, giving us a great, heart- wrenching take on the ongoing war.

Had there been a meme for this film, the text in it would summarize the story of the film as "Restoring faith in humanity". With an F- word sampled towards the end, this film achieves more things than it originally signed up for and that makes me extremely happy.

BOTTOM LINE: Mahesh Narayan's "Take Off" is a well-crafted story about the power of hope in a world threatened by growing terrorism. It samples a lot of emotions that is so rare in Malayalam cinema, it is like a breath of fresh air. Book a ticket and watch it in your nearest theater now. It's a film that couldn't have released at a better time.

Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Jomon Disappoints! ♦ Grade F, 25 March 2017

It is disheartening to see a veteran director like Sathyan Anthikad making such low-quality family dramas that are not only difficult to watch but also without any substance. Even if one does not compare this cold turkey and the 2015 debacle "Ennum Eppozhum" with the director's past films, there is still the issue of lack of novelty.

Jomon (Dulquer Salmaan) is a carefree young man who has to take care of his father when the latter repeatedly makes few bad business decisions. The film largely talks about Jomon's sugarcoated struggle to be a good and responsible son.

Dulquer Salmaan should be blamed for taking up this project which is driven by a half-baked screenplay. Evidence of the shoddy execution becomes clear in the first half itself where the makers do not have any more things to say, so they introduce new characters, new arcs that just do not add up. With the exception of Mukesh, none of the cast members do a good job. Anupama Parameshwaran cannot act and neither can the newbie Aishwarya Rajesh. Salmaan and rest of the characters engage in blatant overacting (partly because the script demands it).

Lastly, comparing it with Vineeth Sreenivasan's Jacobinte Swargarajyam (2016) shouldn't be a problem as both of them are in the same league: exaggerated family drama that talks about responsibilities and accuses the younger generation of having none. Pure hyperbole.

BOTTOM LINE: I've not even listed the large number of plot-holes and glaring defects in the film. Not recommended!

Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

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