Hard-nosed Ranveer Singh plays the central character of Murad - dreamer, boyfriend of aspiring surgeon and rough-and-tough human being Safeena (Alia Bhatt), Engineering student, and a member of an extended family where the guardian and sole breadwinner (Vijay Raaz) has just recently married for the second time. In that order. Although, if it was for Safeena to decide, she would change that order and maybe even murder a woman or two. But since the screenplay is written for the masses by Akhtar and co-writer Reema Kagti, with substantial support from dialogue writer of the year Vijay Maurya, Gully Boy flows like a rap song. The poetry is very good and "hard" considering the rhythm by an ensemble of musicians including Divine and Raezy (Mumbai-based rappers on whose story the film is based), Raghu Dixit, and Mickey McCleary makes the viewers get out of their seats and dance like Murad does sometime during the slow-paced second half of the film.
At first glance, the short slices of scenes made me believe that I was watching the trailer of Gully Boy. And then the screenplay started to bring long shots into the mix and made me laugh my stomach off. As I have noted earlier, writer Maurya vomits knowledge and experience of street language into the screenplay, not only surprising you at the rawness of the sequences that it complements but also amusing you to a level that you fall in love with the characters. Although I am not a fan of Murad or his ambitions, I was blown away by newcomer Siddhant Chaturvedi and his introductory character of MC Sher. It almost felt like I was watching a real-life street rapper spread wisdom about hip hop and the real world among his peers. And whenever he spoke - which is akin to how he raps - it felt like I was experiencing an experience that I had never experienced in Hindi cinema. Sure, films about street urchins - down and out - but dreaming big and humming "apna time aayega" ("our time will come"), have been presented before, but not with so much energy and finesse. A good look at the scenes involving the slums of Mumbai and their people will enthrall you like only a few films have in the history of Hindi cinema.
If the music comes in first in this race (with "Apna Time Aayega" sung by Ranveer Singh and Divine taking the pie by at least eight miles from the second track Doori also by Singh), then the cast performance definitely gets the silver medal. Both Singh and Bhatt are phenomenal in what they do, especially enacting the appearance and behaviour of the poor. The latter just hits the roof with her enactment of Safeena, a ferocious true bred and highbrow, independent woman in mad love with the man of her life. Even if the film's energy as a whole gets compared with Singh's and the latter wins, there is much more to relish about the rest of the cast. Performances by everyone, notably including Vijay Raaz, Chaturvedi, Vijay Varma, Kalki Koechlin, and Amruta Subhash are a treat to watch. It won't be surprising if you wonder if these actors were made for the roles that they portray so effectively, uplifting the understanding of the social issues that I mentioned earlier.
Yet there is a pungent, uncomfortable element about Gully Boy that prevents you from calling it extraordinary. The story of a guy stricken with poverty trying to make it big in the millennium city is as common as a piece of garbage lying around in the same city. How perseverance and patience gets you ahead is another point that Akhtar brings into the fore, all the more making me question the point of such a film. Of course, the musicians have done a splendid work writing the songs and producing them, but I am not seeing any special reason or a special factor that would differentiate Gully Boy from an ordinary biopic about a person who tries to make it big in life. And that is what restrains me from singing any more praises of Gully Boy and avoiding the peak-end rule. Because those final 10 minutes are manically fantastic. But I will definitely say this: the music will uplift your mood like no other film has in a long, long time. And if that's your cue, then Gully Boy should be in front of your eyes this weekend.
Director Zoya Akhtar somehow always manages to make even the most humdrum of stories into ravishing pieces of art. Gully Boy is no different even if you look at it from the perspective of a person who hopes to see social issues being addressed through cinema. For it also marvelously hints at issues such as social status and inequality and wealth and even (Islamic) polygamy to an extent. The excellent camera work by Jay Oza will make you want to watch it for the second time on the big screen despite of this review. And that is the kind of movies that Akhtar makes, only to find them being watched and rewatched by cinephiles years from now.
Gully Boy gets everything right and pumps up your mood regardless of what position you are in in your own life, but just thinking about it a few hours after you have seen it will make you realize that it just falls short of becoming something that can be dubbed as extraordinary. TN.
Originally appeared in the Little India Directory (Singapore).
In the comedy drama, Anil Kapoor's goofy character is busy casual-fighting with his mother in the kitchen, trying to live his dream of becoming a chef, an activity that she is against of him doing both privately and publicly. This, in turn, has given him less or no time to focus on the upbringing of his daughter Sweety (Sonam Kapoor), who grows into a beautiful (and independent?) woman with her own set of principles and likes. Trouble ensues when her brother (Abhishek Duhan) finds out that Sweety is seeing someone outside of their own religion, sending the whole family's domestic foundation in a tizzy. Rajkummar Rao enters as a theater playwright, along with a bunch of supporting characters, to bolster this conflict into a mesmerizing mess that climaxes so prematurely the whole thing destroys the legacy of the original song by R D Burman from the 1994 classic 1942 - A Love Story. But I will still give some brownie points to Dhar and her team for re-imagining the meaning of the song and forcibly neutralizing it.
Apart from wondering throughout the film what happened to Sweety's dear mother, I was painfully smitten by the tepid screenplay written by Gazal Dhaliwal. It is a damp celebration of cliched plot points attached together to create an effect that would have been novel in the previous century. It highlights the amateurish construction of the film by Dhar who uses all the tricks in the book to hide the incoming twist till the intermission. And when the twist unfolds in the most uncinematic way possible, Dhar does not let her film admit its ordinary shades, and keeps on going to reach the final destination: the sermon. All attempts at standing out as a groundbreaking plot falls flat because of the ending which looks like the lead paragraph of that workplace handbook you often see these days that talks about neutrality, diversity, and inclusiveness.
I am also not fascinated by Sonam's performance which she evidently follows-up from her Khoobsurat (2014) days albeit with a lot of gloom here, perhaps because she is characterized like an actress from the 1980s. Does not suit in a film that aspires to be progressive and forward-thinking. And add to that the thoughtless and insensitive references in the dialogues (mainly those performed by Brijendra Kala), the film has enough evidence to show that it is a single-cause gimmick. Nonetheless, some of these funny dialogues are what makes Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga at least bearable, further thanks to Anil and his co-actors Seema Pahwa and Kala. There are no two words other than "not mindshattering" to describe Juhi Chawla's comeback performance as this overacting singleton trying and failing to impress everyone around her. Rajkummar Rao looks out of place here, but he still manages to impress with enough screen space slightly more than what is given to Regina Cassandra for her blink-and-you-miss role.
The songs are the opposite of charming, their choreography made to look forced, giving me the impression that each and every crew member only focused on the main theme and not on getting their own thing right. The overall camera work and the editing are partners in crime making me nominate them together for the second place in the long list of things that go wrong in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga. There are scenes where you can clearly see the actors and extras in their post-character make-up, giving me a very bad taste in the mouth. All my attempt at trying to enjoy the show failed because what I was seeing on the screen was not entirely honest and only a plastic mask of what the makers wanted to convey. All that I can call impressive in the film, however, is that they were brave enough to sample a topic still so taboo-ed in India while attracting some of the top talent in the industry right now. That none of these were utilized well is why everyone attached to the film should move on right away.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga could have been revolutionary for its basic idea definitely is, but in its current form, owing to an amateur handling by director Dhar and her co-writer Dhaliwal, it "just feels okay" to watch and get it done with. TN.
Originally appeared in the Little India Directory (Singapore).
Kangana Ranaut acts (in the titular role) and directs here, often giving her a lot of screen space to help her elucidate her character's rebellious nature against the British Raj in the mid-1800s. Rani Laxmi Bai (nee Manikarnika) is automatically given the tough task of removing the kingdom of Jhansi from the clutches of the Raj after a series of fateful events happen in her marital life. Only pivoting on this central character while disregarding most of the supporting ones, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi starts abruptly and then goes on and on making it a tad shorter than the original Indian fight for freedom of 200+ years. Nonetheless, it makes for an entertaining watch if you supply patience and wait for that one humorous sequence to unfold itself.
Ranaut and Krish's direction is applaudable, but what works more in her favor in her debut directorial is the extraordinary war choreography that elevates the whole appeal of the film. There are a handful of battle sequences that not only make interesting of what started as a dull narrative about a queen-to-be's greatness in sword-fighting and kindheartedness but also turn the whole 150-minute shindig into something more worthwhile. When you watch the opening sequence dramatizing the central character's thoughtfulness about a hunt, you will feel bad about your decision to have even considered the film. Fortunately, for you as well as for the makers, the film turns itself around soon before the intermission, depending more on its narrative storytelling and some apt song sequences highlighting the queen's hunky-dory life and insurrectionary attitude towards life. For a fan of any of these elements, this makes both the time and money spent on it worthy.
Keeping aside the lukewarm, glossy CGI, the supporting music by Balhara brothers and Shankar-Loy and selective camera work by Kiran Deohans, Sachin Krishn, and Gnanashekar V S improves the viewing experience, sometimes even making you want to become a part of the queen's people's army and show some valor in the battle. No doubt, this collective effect will be entertainment fodder for nationalist film enthusiasts if they are not busy verifying the historical accuracy of the film, that is.
It is clearly evident that Ranaut has no left unturned to be and look like the queen but her frail dialogue delivery (both in Hindi and English) has a counter-effect on her confident performance of the ferocious character. The supporting cast (mainly Danny Denzongpa, Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub, and Ankita Lokhande) - for the smaller roles they enact - do a decent job in supporting Ranaut's endeavor despite having less to no screen space in the longwinded epic. I, for one, enjoyed the battle sequences more than anything else in Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi which, to its credit, hinges on them more than anything else.
However, there is an undertone of opportunistic nature in why and how the film is made, which glorifies the subject to an extent while pressurizing it to make it relevant for the current times we live in. Times where women empowerment is a headline cause and the audience needy to validate its power and effect by finding references in recorded history. Although Ranaut and her team succeed a lot in doing the same, it is only a single statement at the end that just puts mud all over it. A statement that compares the queen with a man amongst indifferent mutineers.
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi definitely has some kinks in it as an epic, packed with some amazing war choreography, resplendent production value, and some good supportive music. But it still qualifies only as an average show thanks to the formulaic approach, tepid storytelling, and some miscasting. TN.
Originally appeared in the Little India Directory (Singapore).
Known as the resident Bollywood serial-kisser, Emraan Hashmi finally sheds his loverboy threads and dresses up as an unscrupulous and sharp-toothed businessman in Why Cheat India. He plays an "examination facilitator" who - along with his small team - exploits the talent and brains of studious, rank-earning students to help those who are not (but whose parents have very deep pockets) crack entrance exams in various streams. What this unabashed exploitation does to all the parties involved is what director Sen highlights in his two-hour long repellent drama that walks on a tight rope with help only from his talented cast.
With a largely insensible plot that constantly tries to exonerate its lead character's actions by blaming the system, Why Cheat India goes on and on, showing how Hashmi's character uses his smart moves and political influence to "help" poor-rich students get a seat in the colleges of their choice not paying heed to the disaster that is becoming of the lives of the bright students who are helping him. The drama does make an effort to show what happens to these students, but I am not at all convinced with its plastic outlining. It is all too easy - or so it is shown - for Hashmi's character to pull things off, which is repeated till just before the end credits, making you feel like cheated of both money and time. And that is something you don't expect after watching a film about examination cheating.
But to give Why Cheat India some credit, it is interesting to see what goes behind the closed curtains in all those news that we read about question papers leaking and cheating racket being busted. There's some insider knowledge poured into the screenplay but even that does not make the film any interesting for its discerning audience. Thankfully, there's no side arcs that the main plot deviates to, concentrating all its focus on the single concept, which Hasmi's character frequently reminds you, he is a master of.
If we ignore such few smart-aleck actions from him, we can completely appreciate Hashmi's role and performance as this confident, fearless businessman. His glamorous appearance - all suave and shaven - is probably the best thing about Why Cheat India, entertaining his fans with rapt dialogs and mesmerizing expressions throughout. He is confident in his character and really shows that he cares for his first production venture. It wouldn't be fair for this review if I don't mention how magnificently entertaining Manuj Sharma is here, not only making you laugh but playing the role of a sidekick in all its glory. Previously seen in Secret Superstar (2017) and indie crime drama Ajji (2017), he adorns each and every sequence he is in like a cherry-top, only second to Hashmi. Newcomer Shreya Dhanwanthary and her supporting cast all do a very good job at enacting the roles without letting the shoddy writing affect them.
A little bit of respite is further brought in by occasional humor and a few sequences involving corruption in the system. It's enjoyable to some extent, but it also throws light into another big problem in the film: Why Cheat India has been made like a B-grade drama that has everything it could ask for (an item number, plenty of stereotypes, and a few more useless songs). All of which definitely does not propel its appeal to modern viewers who are tired of watching this enactment of tried and test formulas. Moreover, for a film that demands high attention to details, director Sen directs his supporting cast like a blind man. There are conspicuous errors in the sequences involving extras who are unintentionally laughing, looking at the camera, and just not "in" the scene - further validating my point about the B-gradedness. Even the courtroom sequence towards the end is made to look like a conversation between two people, which eventually turns into a sermon, all the while showing the judge take forty winks. Might have been a reference to how real-life courtroom dramas unfold in India, considering how the film often takes potshots at the Modi government, but it still looks out of place and unreliable.
Why Cheat India could have been a lot better had it focused one or two real-life episodes and really delved into its deepest point rather than just summarizing how the anti-education industry looks like. As it is now, there's no reason for you to waste your time on this. TN.
Originally appeared in the Little India Directory (Singapore).
The talented Anupam Kher restrains himself and his talents from coming out completely as he plays the titular role of Singh who is chosen as the PM of India under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2004 by party chairperson Sonia Gandhi (Suzanne Bernert) after having given a hint by the 'junta' at large that a person with Italian roots will not be welcomed with open arms in a sensitive country like India. But that's a good thing that he restrains himself because there's hardly any other way to play Singh, a shy, taciturn yet stupendously talented finance person, who is thrown into the ring of politics without much thought or self-assurance. The Accidental Prime Minister goes on to emphasize this a lot of times as it takes a novel approach at narration, thankfully comically, through the eyes of his then media advisor Baru (Akshaye Khanna). Why I enjoyed debutante Vijay Ratnakar Gutte's biographical drama despite it being about politics (not a personal favourite) is because Baru and his co-characters often break the fourth wall in the film. It could be alleged that this idea was borrowed from a popular American web show, but it still made for a fascinating two hours, as I often found myself waiting for Khanna to talk to me.
The occasional digs at certain characters, most essentially Rahul Gandhi (Arjun Mathur), also helps The Accidental Prime Minister stray away from being a serious political drama. It can be best perceived as a commentary on the Indian democracy seen from the eyes of a journalist who promises to be objective. And I believe director Gutte because even though the screenplay (adapted from Baru's book of the same name as the title of film) by him and his three co-writers does not potentially demand it, he chooses to show real media feeds of most politicians as recorded by history. There are montages that show these actual persons talk politics during Singh's term and that just elevates the appeal the film has on you regardless of which side you are on (if you follow or are affected by Indian politics).
However, save for Kher and Khanna's fantastic performance and the apt, melodious score (without a single track) that it carries itself on, the film does go too far as it tries to don the "I'm a cool film" hat and overdoes its fourth wall stunt. The jesting first-person narrative gets tired after a while, which is also when things start to become less interesting. What was going to be a chronological narration of Singh's life as PM turns into a real drama that you nowadays see in TRP-loving television news channels. The Accidental Prime Minister does not try to paint a rosy picture of the UPA government; it just tries to exonerate Singh for not acting up, as Baru constantly reminds us in the film. I could even go ahead and say that it is more a film on Baru, and that may be true if you measure the total words spoken by either character. How Singh was a victim of party politics is the highlight of the film and it is up to individual viewer if they want to digest that. The journey, as I have noted, is interesting to see unfold.
There is nothing extraordinary in The Accidental Prime Minister except for how it has been narrated, but I would still recommend it to you because it is at least slightly better than the countless hagiographic biopics we have seen in Bollywood in the past two years alone. This one here is at least honest and occasionally funny. TN.
Originally reviewed for the Little India Directory.