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Ghawre Bairey Aaj (2019)
Ideologies at war
Ghawre Baire Aaj - is the modern and contemporary adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore's original "Ghare Baire" helmed by Aparna Sen. It is intended to highlight a clash of ideologies of the liberals who believe in the secular India and the hardline right wing Hindus, a subject of much deliberation these days, and hence quite pertinent. Nikhilesh (Anirban Bhattacharya) is the face of the traditional believer of the original identity of the secular nation, preaching and practicing liberalism whilst dedicating himself to social causes. In contrast, Sandeep Jha (Jishu Sengupta) is the hardliner aspiring to be a Rajya Sabha member ready to pull down all full stops to achieve his goals, ruthless, scheming and agenda driven. Between the two childhood friends who coexist in a repressed and untold friction is Brinda (Tuhina Das), the young wife of the former, who unfortunately turns out to be a chessboard pawn in the game of oneupmanship, being used to establish supremacy without her knowledge. The consequences are diabolical and the fire will consume everyone, seemingly a metaphorical representation of what the director believes will be the outcome of the current chasm. Quite possible!
The trio produce a scintillating performance and Anirban in particular must be complimented for an exceptional rendition of Nikhilesh. It's a well nuanced essay that firmly establishes him in the league of the industry's top tier. The adaptation of the novel however, fails to upraise the battle of ideologies to a flashpoint, avoiding direct confrontation. It is kept at a symbolic and indirect exchange of views and that, in my opinion is an opportunity lost to cascade the message. Brinda's character has been designed as brittle too, who at the first available opportunity jumps into infidelity without any remorse and the director provides a meek justification for her actions. Upon being spurned, she immediately terms her dalliance an infatuation, which seemed like an unlikely end to the strong extramarital relationship and being a transformed protege to Sandeep. The film also shows hardliners more as power hungry conspirators than believers of the right wing ideology, which needn't be the case though - after all hardliners exist because they may believe in their cause too.
A Hidden Life (2019)
A silent dissent that defines character and catharsis
A Hidden Life - "..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs." This quote by George Eliot is what summarises A Hidden Life, a selfless and silent act of dissent by the film's hero that is perhaps debatable, yet powerful in it's own way in defining what character is all about.
A Hidden Life is the love story of Franz (August Diehl) and Fani (Valerie Pachner), a couple that leads a blessed and fulfilling life, albeit one of physical hardships, in their village in Austria, with their three angelic daughters. Their lives are turned upside down when Franz is summoned to serve in Hitler's army where he experiences a revolt from within seeing unknown people dying for no rhyme or reason. He returns to his village to refuse loyalty to Hitler at all costs and begins a symbolic protest of not giving in. His act is considered one of treachery and he is taken to prison where he faces immense persecution, but refuses to buck down.
So strong are his principles that absolutely no retribution against him and even the possibility of never returning to his family will deter him. Director Terence Malick handles the subject with sensitivity. The film is perhaps tad too long, but I suppose it was important to reinforce the emotions and a relationship of unflinching love. The cinematography by Jorg Widmer is the film's trump card - fires up a mesmerising backdrop and produces riveting momentum. Valerie Pachner's performance is superlative and worth an award. Her quiet demeanor and strong physicality accentuate her personality that complements Franz's silent protest and indifference to Hitler's threat.
A heinous crime that plunders the soul
Chhapaak - a doggedly determined acid attack survivor Malti Agarwal (Deepika Padukone) braves her physical, mental, social, economic and legal obstacles to ensure that the country becomes a safer place to live for women. She battles against poverty, social insecurity and apathy and government indifference towards her plea to make acid attack a separate crime under the penal code and ban the sale of the corrosive liquid that not just scars the face but also the soul, breaking down the victim's desire to live, confidence and willpower systematically. The attacker commits the crime, the rest of the society exacerbates it.
Succeed she does, with the help of a handful of sympathizers including an NGO and a kindly lawyer who support and lead her in every step, even when she breaks down and wants to quit in her 8 year long wait for justice. However, the statistics of the crime are grim - when acid sale was finally regulated in 2013 there were 113 cases of attack registered, whilst in 2017 with the controlled sales, the number had risen to 252. Imposition of law isn't a deterrent here, the social awareness and education would perhaps make the real difference.
The film directed by Meghna Gulzar is sombre. There's no scope of lighthearted moments here, as the film rarely strays from its path and focus. Malti's retraction from the society in the beginning and gradually regaining her confidence and zeal to bounce back to life has been shown poignantly. Vikrant Massey gives a muted, low brow but strong performance. Deepika I thought was good but often appeared to be herself instead of Malti. Her costumes were simple, but never repeated, which is unusual for the economic strata that the girl belonged to. The music and lyrics are appealing, kudos to Shankar Ehsaan Loy and Gulzar respectively. With a running time of 120 minutes, Chhapaak shuns melodrama, but often adopts a documentary style, and doesn't allow any character other than Deepika's to bloom, reducing everyone else into a mere distraction, rather than build on them.
Riveting investigation drama
Unbelievable (Netflix) - when a rapist is far too aware of the facts that there are inept police officers investigating, that the different states are not connected on the crime reporting & archiving modules, his courage increases manifold. Women of all ages are raped and left traumatised without evidence, not even DNA traces and the police is left scratching heads, until an intelligent, workaholic and empathetic investigator starts piecing some information together. She reaches out to other counties and work painstakingly together to solve this intriguing case.
It was heartbreaking to see the case of an orphaned teenager whose report of a sexual assault meets with a botched investigation where the police almost coerce her to admit that she fabricated the crime and thereafter slap a case of false reporting against her. It all but destroys her life, robbing her of foster care, a job, free counselling and most importantly, of her faith in people.
Unbelievable is based on true events and makes for binge watching, for it's a riveting, intelligent, detailed, humane, thought provoking and effervescent crime drama which leaves you with compassion for those who were violated and reinforces faith in goodness.
Good Newwz (2019)
Meet the Batras!
Good Newwz - is IVF for dummies, almost practically, clearly, painstakingly and with the rationale behind its need. Two Batra couples (from Mumbai and Chandigarh respectively) coincidentally come to the same IVF clinic as traditional methods have failed to yield, and encounter a strange twist of fate as the semen samples are inadvertently switched. That is definitely an original story idea to Bollywood and the precursor and aftermath are dealt with both funnily and emotionally in the two halves of the film by director Raj Mehta.
The first half is rip roaring with Akshay Kumar going hammer and tongs with his comic timing. He and Kareena Kapoor Khan play the urban and sophisticated Varun and Deepti Batra, trying to come to terms with the fact that time is running out for natural conception. Their interpersonal relationship and resultant communication are downright hilarious, even though Kareena appears over the top at times. In contrast, Diljeet Dosanjh and Kiara Advani playing Honey and Monika Batra are more rustic, unpolished and loud, but definitely more endearing. The second half tries to sort out the mess created by the switch, mostly dealing with emotional changes and coming to terms with the catastrophic reality when both women decide to keep the babies. Matters obviously turn serious when Varun's apathy and indifference change for the better with sense prevailing. The foursome is a treat to watch as they are very different people and are given equitable weightage to keep the viewer interest from waning.
Good Newwz makes for an appealing watching for its freshness, diverse characters and performances, fantastic comic timing and high energy. More importantly, the mix of comedy and drama in balance doesn't allow impunity to the subject matter which remains the central theme. Do watch the film for a feel good few hours, dollops of laughter and some social messages to end the year with.
Professor Shanku O El Dorado (2019)
Perhaps somewhat jaded and obsolete a concept for the modern science and technology
Professor Shonku O El Dorado - Based on the original story "Nakur Babu O El Dorado" by Satyajit Ray that featured in Anandamela in 1980, this film doesn't waste any time and gets into the action quite hurriedly. The storyline is almost 4 decades old, but its backdrop is modern (2019, thus giving the adventure a feel of obsolescence, in spite of a glossy presentation. The science fiction that's forty years old fails to create the intended astonishment among the audience as over the last couple of decades, viewers have been exposed to humongous development of science and technology, and western films have created a deep impact already. Now with Netflix and Amazon Prime in our living rooms, Professor Shonku appears jaded, tired and grossly outdated. I am not so certain even if children will be thrilled with this presentation. Nevertheless, Dhritiman Chatterjee is sophisticated and suave, albeit lacking the energy to pull through the film for his own intrinsic value.
Dabangg 3 (2019)
Salmanathon that fails to make any impact
Dabangg 3 - This installment has Salman Khan written all over it, practically. He is the producer, story (ahem) writer, screenplay writer, and of course, the hero. The result is a 150 minute film with him in every frame, more narcissistic than ever before. Actually "main thoda confujiya gaya hoon, ki yeh kis genre ki film hai - comedy, thriller, action, ....", but who cares, it has Salman Khan, the rest can take a walk. Actually, Dabangg 3 was meant to be a prequel to the original - the transformation of Dhaakad Singh Pandey to Chulbul Pandey and the inspiration behind it, Khushi (Saiee Manjrekar), his original love interest. Thereafter, it turns into a revenge saga of epic proportions.
But let's not go into the story as there isn't one. Dabangg 3 has so much of Salman Khan in it that even his die hard fans will pray for a break. Alas, there is no mercy here. There are numerous subplots that refuse to allow focus to the narrative and the film keeps meandering. On top of that, there isn't cohesion within the screenplay which makes it disjointed - a comic scene is quickly followed by an action sequence and then a romantic interlude featuring a song. It's downright disturbing and amateurish. Dabangg 3 is at best a polished 1970's potboiler that aims to drive home a few social messages.
Kichcha Sudeepa as Bali Singh, Chulbul's antagonist is the only one who delivers a credible and almost menacing performance. His output is well nuanced and he makes a good hand at acting. Saiee Manjrekar is passable, Sonakshi Sinha constantly pouts and is irritating. The interaction between Salman and Sonakshi has some senseless baby talk (meant to be sweet nothings), completely lacking chemistry. The music by Sajid Wajid is good, but there are too many songs that grate on the nerves. This time director Prabhudeva fails to deliver a taut thriller, but I personally believe that it must be because of Salman's creative dabbling.
3 STARS overall, maybe with a little less of Bhai it could have earned a better rating. Avoid, if you aren't a die hard Sallu fan.
Mardaani 2 (2019)
A racy cat and mouse chase
Mardaani 2 - When you want to kill two birds with one stone, you often risk both. Mardaani 2 packs the twin objectives of highlighting the atrocities & crimes against Indian women (India stands at an appalling 131 among 152 nations for inclusivity and equality of women) and pulling off a high octane chase of a psychopathic criminal and in doing so, chooses a simplistic approach for both.
Shivani Shivaji Roy (a svelte Rani Mukherjee) returns to the screen as the high potential achiever, SP for Kota and almost immediately jumps headlong into the brutal rape and murder of a young girl, and issues a challenge to the unknown perpetrator that she will arrest him within a week. Her prey is a hardened young psychopath Sunny (Vishal Jethwa) who has been employed by a local politician for eliminating his obstacles. Sunny is incidentally on the hunt for women who are achievers or think independently, as they turn him on and are not in congruence with his definition of women who must be confined to domestic chores and kitchens.
Mardaani 2 makes the cat and mouse game quite riveting as Shivani shifts through myriad clues, connecting them together to trace down Sunny, but every investigative discovery seems to be hinging on intelligent hunches and hypotheses which fail to convince viewers who have been exposed to "Criminal Minds". The women empowerment & inclusivity issue is dealt with by Shivani going into a 3-minute long powerful rant against the misogyny, hypocrisy and regressive patriarchal society that is India.
With a short running time of about 105 minutes, Mardaani 2 is still a racy, intense and brisk thriller that doesn't let your interest wane even once. Rani Mukherjee as the sharp speaking, headline grabbing and authoritative investigator is very impressive indeed. Vishal Jethwa is brilliant as the distorted minded, highly expressive psychopath who matches Rani Mukherjee's prowess. Had the criminal investigation been somewhat more intelligent or credible, Mardaani 2 could have matched The Silence of The Lambs.
The Body (2019)
Cleverly balancing the suspense bordering on supernatural
The Body is the official Hindi remake of the highly appreciated 2012 Spanish film El Cuerpo (The Body). Without going into comparisons with the original that I haven't seen or being biased by the unkindly critical comments, I must say that The Body is a taut thriller that often borders on the belief of the supernatural and comes across as eerie. The director Jeethu Joseph (of Drishyam fame) has kept the running time to just above two hours which ensures that the viewer interest remains intact.
Shot fully in Mauritius, The Body deals with the death of a successful business tycoon Maya Puri (Sobhita Dhulipala) aged 29. The cause of death is originally assigned to a massive heart attack, but problems arise for her husband Ajay Puri (Emraan Hashmi) when her body disappears from the mortuary without a trace and he is summoned by the police to the forensic laboratory for an interrogation. The rest of the film is a flashback about the reconstruction of the events leading to her death.
Emraan Hashmi delivers a stereotypical performance and appears disinterested at times, perhaps in a bid to create an alibi for himself. Sobhita Dhulipala is quite impressive, swinging between a controlling wife and boss, and a practical joker who drives her husband to a point of nervousness on several occasions. Vedika Kumar plays the role of Emraan Hashmi's extramarital love interest and has a limited role. But it's Rishi Kapoor in the role of the investigating officer who delivers a punchy and gritty performance. His dialogues are clever and witty too.
The Body had the potential of becoming an extraordinary thriller but falls short in some elements. Emraan Hashmi is partly responsible for it by delivering a disengaged performance and failing to match up to Sobhita Dhulipala's energy. The other aspect is that the film appears low key and fails to build on the supernatural effects it created to take it to a high. Nevertheless, it's a movie that has a fantastic suspense and its finale comes as a load of surprise. Go on, if you are a suspense buff, don't miss it.
The great betrayal is a lavishly mounted affair
Panipat - Three years after the disaster called Mohenjo Daro, Ashutosh Gowariker returns with the period battle drama, Panipat. Based on the 3rd battle of Panipat fought in January 1761, the film has a running length of 180 minutes, a tad too long to endure, but perhaps important to underscore the bravery, intelligence and valour of the Marathas. I am unable to validate the historical accuracy of the story, but the director seems to have researched the subject well enough.
The constant rant about the unification and solidarity of Hindustan and how foreign invaders must be throttled is finally met with a great betrayal, which also is thematically associated with the title. The film is technically superlative with admirable action, excellent costume design and a great background score. However, Ajay Atul's melodies for the songs aren't as impressive as their previous offerings, and more importantly, there isn't enough space for songs in the film which makes their presence quite irritating. The production values and the movie's mounting are larger than life and therefore the battle drama is pulsating with excitement. On the acting front, there's nothing to boast about - Arjun Kapoor is his usual self appearing uninterested or melancholy at times, Kriti Sanon delivers her role with trademark energy, but it's Sanjay Dutt who adds some gravitas in the character of Ahmad Shah Abdali, in a relatively smaller role. Coincidentally, he features in the film with Padmini Kolhapure and Mohnish Bahl for the first time since they starred together in Bekaraar (1983), albeit he has no interaction with the latter two in Panipat. 6 STARS for this extended documentary drama!
Pati Patni Aur Woh (2019)
The fatal attraction exists forever
Pati, Patni Aur Woh - Abhinav Tyagi aka Chintu (Kartik Aryan) marries Vedika Tripathi (Bhumi Pednekar) and settles down into an exciting married life and soon both get busy with their respective professional lives in Kanpur. However, the spark slowly diminishes and three years hence, Chintu falls for a temptation that dazzles and disarms him, Tapasya Singh (Ananya Pandey), who becomes a project for him. Remade from the original film by the same name (directed by the legendary B R Chopra) that released over 41 years ago, the new avatar is undoubtedly more contemporary and glamorous. With the central theme remaining rooted to an extramarital affair, director Mudassar Aziz flirts with the characters significantly by introducing several new ones with or without any objective other than prolonging the proceedings.
Comparisons with the original reveal that the characters in the new one are somewhat shallow and caricatured. Chintu is usually a bundle of nerves, mostly bumbling, unlike Sanjeev Kumar's middle aged Ranjeet Chaddha in the original who called the shots. The women in the film are more liberated and confident, in line with the times. It does manage to raise a few laughs through the length of 135 minutes, considered far too long for the story that drags after midway. Aparshakti Khurrana must be given credit for his comic timing, and for being the perfect foil to Kartik Aryan. Ananya Pandey infuses a certain freshness with her somewhat vulnerable character. I thought Bhumi Pednekar overacted in several shots or tried too hard to demonstrate superior emotive skills. Consequently, Kartik Aryan and she appear mismatched and lack the romantic chemistry that is meant to bring them back to bonding. K K Raina, Navni Parihar and Rajesh Sharma have minute roles and are largely wasted. The film could easily have been shorter by 20 minutes, making it more compelling.
Knives Out (2019)
Everyone has a motive
Knives Out - When you've been yearning for a murder mystery of substance for years, comes Knives Out to satiate all your hunger. It's intriguing, thick with a plot, has star appeal, is mounted on a lavish scale and is taut. It may not exactly be an edge of the seat thriller, but it has all the commercial aspects that keep the viewers glued on, pretty much like the yesteryear Hitchcock or Agatha Christie novels.
When Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in the morning following a family party, everyone is a suspect because each family member allegedly has a motive. The police however want to believe that it's a case of suicide and move on. Enter detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) who has been hired by an anonymous client interested to solve the case, the investigation starts taking sinister turns and no one is spared. The private nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) remains a central character as in her lies the answer to a number of questions and she can help take Blanc to solve the mystery.
Director Rian Johnson spins an interesting web of lies, smokescreen and deception. There are ample avenues and attempts to steer the viewers away from making intelligent guesses about the real motive and the potential murderer and he is quite successful in achieving the objective. The conclusion and climax are quite unorthodox and uncomfortable. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Don Johnson and Toni Collette in very important roles, Knives Out makes for a compelling watch. It will fill you with an appreciation for the runaway story, depth of characters, detailed scripting and screenplay and the rich backdrop. Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas walk away with the honours in the histrionics department and Nathan Johnson must be applauded for the original music. Must watch film for everyone.
Hair today, gone tomorrow
Bala - Kudos to Ayushman Khurana for doing it again. He seems to slide into roles that other mainstream actors would cringe at, with such fluency that mirrors reality, and Bala is yet another proof of his diverse talent. Bala (Ayushman), the young stud boy in school whose mane was his pride suffers from premature baldness, and this becomes the central issue of his life. He has to address the problem at any cost, but his inability to control the gradual decay throws his life into a disarray first, and then he descends into embarrassment. Unable to come to terms with the situation, he tries scores of remedies until he finds a solution that will give him enough solace to find the love of his life.
Without further going into the story it's pertinent to mention that Bala is a fantastic narrative of self pity and the process of coming to terms with the reality. The social stigmas associated with premature balding and being dark toned are still a matter of reality and the embarrassment or self pity is a result of shying away from accepting oneself for what he or she is. Director Amar Kaushik allows the problem and the eventual catharsis to slowly but steadily unfold, mostly using humour as a medium that keeps the proceedings light hearted. The purge is a poignant essay by Ayushman and Bhoomi Pednekar, both of whom give firecracker performances, whilst being ably supported by the extraordinary talent pool of Abhishek Banerjee, Javed Jaffrey, Saurabh Shukla and Seema Pahwa. Bala fills you with warmth and wisdom, and may at times seem to drag a little, but you won't mind it as it's not a caricatured treatment of premature balding or a comic take on it, but an in-depth psychoanalysis of a sufferer.
Saand Ki Aankh (2019)
Saand Ki Aankh - amid all the Diwali festivities, make some time to watch this wonderful biopic that's not just about achievements but also about shattering stereotypes and social shackles.
The film is inspired by the lives of Chandro & Prakashi, two sexagenarian women married to two brothers from the Tomar family at the helm of which is Ratan Tomar, the sarpanch of the village. Played by Prakash Jha, the character of Ratan Tomar is a male chauvinist, regressive personality who believes that the women of the family strictly belong to the kitchen and for rearing of children. Such stifling is the environment in the household that the freedom of opinions itself is a far cry, leave aside women's empowerment and liberation. It feels like another place and another time centuries back and urban viewers may not even be able to associate with it. Saand Ki Aankh is the battle cry of Chandro and Prakashi against the regressive male supremacist attitude and their determination to beat the odds to prove that nothing is impossible to achieve.
Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu play the characters perhaps more than twice their age with aplomb. It's a testament to the fact that talent transcends the barrier of age, and the new generation of actors can compete shoulder to shoulder with their more experienced peers. Prakash Jha instills fear and hatred. Although a biopic, the film has an interesting pace that doesn't let the momentum flag. Debutante director Tushar Hiranandani infuses the narrative with enough poignancy and the right dose of emotions to ensure that the viewer sympathy continues to remain with the protagonists. The makeup of the two women could have been better perhaps, for at times they appear a little too sprightly and bright for their age.
Watch Saand Ki Aankh to be reminded that life's still quite tough for a lot of people, but then there are a few among them who are ready to catch the bull by the horn and hit the bullseye.
Crimson Peak (2015)
A chill a minute
Crimson Peak - When Edith Cushing's (Mia Wasikowska) father dies under mysterious circumstances, the aspiring author of ghost stories doesn't have much to hold her back from surrendering to her love for the mysterious Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Now married to Thomas, Edith must leave behind her family estate in Buffalo and head to the Allerdale Hall in England, an age old and secluded mansion standing tall amid red soil. Much as Thomas and his sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastaine) have fancy titles, Edith soon discovers that the family is actually broke and is looking for money to fund a mining project in the estate. She will also discover that the three of them are not the only inhabitants of the mansion, but there are ghosts creeping out of hone woodwork, trying to tell her about a sinister and morbid past and a terrifying plot hatching. The movie is downright eerie and sends shivers down the spine in the beginning, but the horror doesn't hold for long as it transforms into a suspenseful narrative in due course. No love lost - the tale is gripping enough for the viewers to remain at the edge of the seat until the very end when the mystery falls in place. The frigid mansion, the snowstorm outside, the mysterious characters and a-chill-a-minute storytelling are worth every pence. Director Guillermo del Torro spins a masterful horror tale that is disturbing till the very end.
Not for the weak-hearted.
Joker and Joaquin Phoenix justify the need of The Dark Knight
Joker is the character sketch of Arthur Fleck, a young man aspiring to be a stand up comedian but suffering from multiple psychological and physical disorders. One of his serious shortcomings is that when he is nervous, he laughs uncontrollably, thus giving those around him the impression of ridicule and impunity. His strange mannerisms add to the complexity leading to Arthur becoming the cynosure of social ostracism and wholesome rejection, including physical excesses. He lives with his mother Penny, a debilitated woman also with mental issues. Arthur's life is one of an almost invisible and reclusive existence, something that's not acceptable to him. The social repulsion takes its final toll when the psychologist treats him with utter contempt and cuts off his medication. The situation sends him spiralling down into a psychological spin resulting in a social revolt and unbridled violent crimes that he has no remorse for.
That's the birth of Joker for you which will connect with The Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne. Joker is an extremely volatile and complex character for whom your heart may cry out for sympathy in a moment and almost simultaneously look for a social rationale for his return to socially acceptable behaviour. Joaquin Phoenix has gotten under the skin of the character, yearning for sympathy, yet loathsome and abhorrent. Such maniacal is his demonstration of the nadir of his existence that the glorification of which has perhaps no comparison in modern times. Joker justifies the need of a vigilante for the return of control over Gotham, reeling from riotous behaviour of the less fortunate. The intensity of the character, physical nuances, volatility and subterfuge related histrionics of Joaquin Phoenix are in a class seldom witnessed in cinema - he pretty much is the prelude to Heath Ledger's Joker, almost seamlessly justifying the character. This rendition does deserve the standing ovation it got and is worth its weight in gold. Take a bow director Todd Phillips!
Tremendous form over substance
WAR - When the best intelligence service agent Kabir (Hrithik Roshan) goes rogue, his most able protege Khalid (Tiger Shroff) must step in to nab him. War is about why Kabir has gone rogue and what point Khalid has to prove, that will dovetail into a mouth watering duel between the industry's two best action heroes, unfolding on screen.
Director Siddharth Anand repeats the feat from Bang Bang, taking us on a globe trotting tour from Delhi to Malta, Morocco, Iraq, Portugal, Italy and finally the Arctic Circle (keeping Australia as the final cherry topping). War showcases some mind numbing, yet prolonged action and chase sequences that often start with us gawking, and then turn into "oh, come on now!" exclamations, testing our patience often. Both male leads put up their smug best faces, and while Hrithik gets a few opportunities to emote, Tiger manages to retain a deadpan expression barring the introduction sequence. But there's nothing to mind as War promised to be a lavishly mounted, high octane, glossy and technically superlative thriller, which it pretty much fulfills, leaving little or no opportunity for emotive skills. The action is exaggerated, but then with Hrithik and Tiger, you obviously didn't expect a love story to take home fond memories either. There's a particular fight sequence that is remarkable, where you can almost draw a comparison with a musical symphony, both the stars complementing each other as if a melifluous duet were being rendered. In contrast, the climax action sequence is gigantic, crude, bloody and violent. Watching them both execute "Jai Jai Shiv Shankar" in a song and dance is like human body in visual poetry, malleable and fluid - it's all paisa vasool stuff.
So coming back to the verdict, War is a superlative action thriller that reinforces Hrithik Roshan's capabilities as the best action hero India has, as well as catapults Tiger Shroff into the big league. It's a treat for fans. On the story front, there's enough spice and suspense as pieces slowly fall into place and characters reveal their true identities. But it isn't impactful enough as neither the characters have any depth nor does the screenplay leave any impression. It's all glitz, action and glamour without substance.
Ties of blood run deeper than sense of loyalty
Prassthanam - set in Maleehabad, Prassthanam is a political thriller with some impressive performances. Baldev Pratap Singh (Sanjay Dutt) inherits a political empire more by default as the scion of the family is felled and in the process, has to marry the latter's widow. As the stepfather, he adores his stepson and grooms him to be eligible for being his worthy heir, much to the disappointment of his own son from the marriage who decides to unleash mayhem. Baldev will have to wither the storm of many twists and turns that will test his love, loyalty, leadership and resilience. The lessons we learnt from our holy scriptures are mere ideals, one's actions in reality are guided more by his needs and desires, and the ties of blood are stronger than these ideals.
Remade from a Telugu film of 2010 by the same name, Prassthanam has a sombre and mature performance from Sanjay Dutt, who returns to a role that he has so often done in the past, that of a leader facing the test of time. Ali Fazal is superlative and Jackie Shroff is silent yet strong. The film isn't your average pot boiler although it has some predictable twists in the tale. The product is slick and shiny with an element of suspense kept alive until the very end. It could have been 20 minutes shorter probably that could have rendered Prassthanam to be faster paced and punchy. But director Deva Katta takes the film the whole nine yards, sucking some effectiveness out of it.
Dream Girl (2019)
A laugh riot diluted by the length of narrative
Dream Girl - there are lonely souls galore in a small town seeking solace from the soothing voices of call centre agents. When one of these agents Pooja goes missing in action, she is replaced by Ayushman Khurana, who is blessed with an inborn talent of speaking in a female voice. He assumes the name Pooja and is the soothing balm to the lovelorn individuals, several of whom happen to first fall the charm and then eventually fall in love with him. Problems start emerging when some of them want to meet Pooja personally and propose marriage.
The first half is absolutely hilarious with a series of peculiar characters being introduced and strange situations arising. In the interim, Ayushman Khurana goes on a flourish, keeping his histrionics effervescent and expressive. He is supported by Vijay Raaz whose comic timing and volatility are exceptional. Then there are Annu Kapoor, Abhishek Banerjee, Rajesh Sharma and Manjot Singh, who add to the melee. The second half turns into a drag, often coming across as repetitive, protracted and moving away from realism, somewhat diluting the easy charm of this laugh riot. Nushrat Bharucha appears comfortable in a different role compared to what she has been entrusted with until now, but her chemistry with Ayushman Khurana is weak, and no effort has been made to fix the problem too. Do watch Dream Girl for some comic relief from the regular tensions of life, you will not exactly remember the works of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee but won't find the presentation as inane as a Rohit Shetty flick too.
Section 375 (2019)
Stunning drama between law and justice
Section 375 - A rape is registered, a woman is violated and trampled by a person in superior position, and for the ease of understanding, it's the film industry that's in focus. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others are people against whom the #MeToo movement began in Hollywood that later spread like a wildfire in India too. The film director in Section 375 played by Rahul Bhat strongly denies the allegations of the junior costume designer but there is almost infallible evidence against him, good enough for his conviction.
With a running time of 125 minutes, the narrative keeps you on the edge of your seat as the courtroom drama swings from one end of the spectrum to the other. Truth is often stranger than fiction and lawyers are in the business of law, not justice. Akshay Khanna delivers yet another superlative performance in the role of the suave, smooth talking and convincing defense lawyer, fighting a case that's all but lost, battling public and media fury on the one hand and opposition at home too. Richa Chadha is not exactly spectacular as the public prosecutor, somewhat undermined by her flawed dialogue delivery that sounds monotonous, but quite formidable in her upright mannerisms and conviction of the rape. The director manages to unfold the suspense slowly and logically, keeping the consequence and judgement open to debate, interpretation and it's for you to take sides.
Section 375 is deeply disturbing with graphic violence, uncomfortable interrogation of the victim in the courtroom, a botched police investigation and a judiciary under social turbulence. The subject is contemporary and of significant relevance in workplace, any for that matter. It has a message that needs to be absorbed amid all the throbbing drama where sympathy may change sides. If you don't enjoy depth and detail or are looking for entertainment, give Section 375 a miss. But if you like serious narrative, in-depth analysis, crevices of law and human psychology, please watch the film for a very rewarding mental stimulus.
It's time to shrug off the underdog tag!
Chhichhore - Indian films have now come of age, they can give a message subtly without being preachy. Chhichhore begins with young Raghav suffering from a massive anxiety about whether he will crack the all India engineering entrance exam as he has invested 18 hours a day for the past many months preparing for it and wants to match the caliber of his parents.
A failure to launch throws him into despair and the occasion brings together six middle aged people into a reunion with the objective of alleviating Raghav from his pain and encouraging him to bring hope back into his fragile life. LOSERS, as these six were known as in their student life, recount their carefree journey initially and the final effort to shrug off the underdog tag, drawing a significant parallel to Raghav's situation.
Director Nitesh Tiwari handles the subject with sensitivity and balances the Losers journey through the undergraduate years well. There was ample temptation available to propel this segment of the film into being an over the top and loud essay, but Tiwari never gives in, thus rising above the ordinary. Sushant Singh Rajput delivers an underrated performance and Tahir Raj Bhasin adds gravitas. Naveen Polishetty, Tushar Pandey and Saharsh Kumar Shukla add to the little masala with their individual contribution, but the star of the Losers union must be Varun Sharma. He is absolutely a laugh riot with his expressions, one liners and an incredible energy, cracking up the theatre on numerous occasions. The weakest link is yet again Shraddha Kapoor, who needs to experiment with diversity of histrionic capabilities and expressions.
Don't miss Chhichhore, it's a fantastic mood lifter and easy on the mind, often drawing you into the proceedings.
It Chapter Two (2019)
Pennywise's terror overshadowed by blood and gore
IT Chapter 2 - The seven survivors from Pennywise's 1989 mayhem have partly forgotten their ordeal and lead their own lives. Only Mike continues to live in Derry and remembers everything. 27 years thence, Mike calls up the other six to return to Derry as they promised in their childhood, as Pennywise has now made his appearance again and struck devastation.
He is terrifying to start with and every encounter of his appearance is startling. Bill Skarsgard continues his impressive and flawless delivery of the role of the tormentor posing greater danger and infusing uninhibited fear among his challengers this time. It's a fight to the finish as the protagonists deal with their individual fears, recounting the childhood events and promise to stick together to banish Pennywise for good.
This is the final installment of Stephen King's novel, thus holding out an unprecedented frenzy and expectation. Chapter 2 unfortunately turns into a repetitive storytelling by replaying scenes from the first part and showcasing Pennywise's encounters with each of his challengers in a quirky way. Its elicits some shrieks and squeals for sure, but enhances its dalliance with an unnecessary overdose of blood and gore. The climax is too long to endure actually, undermining the thrill and fear elements. With a running time of 170 minutes, IT Chapter 2 does get a bit monotonous, stretching our patience. Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy are impressive, but no match to play foil to Skarsgard's Pennywise menace. Watch it you must if you are a fan of the horror genre, or Stephen King or if you've experienced the first part.
Mind numbing and a senseless celebration of action
Saaho - It took me the first 65 minutes to understand what's going on for which an enormous number of characters are all running helter skelter. By the time it's interval, people have changed sides, double crossed one another, assumed different identities and left us thoroughly confused. Abbas Mastan have been made to look like a couple of toddlers in this strange saga of twists and turns, and yet I was wondering what the whole point of the film is. The second half heralded in more mayhem, violence and multitude of characters, and by then I was gawking at this fictional city called Waaji, a snuffed out village called Karana, the mind numbing action that emulates any top of the line Hollywood A-list movie and hoping that the end is near.
Alas that Saaho is actually an assault on the senses for 180 minutes, with rip roaring, high octane action and a plot that's at best reminiscent of a 1970's potboiler which takes a toll on your patience and grit. It's Prabhas all the way with a cool swagger, mysterious personality, top notch action and an awfully poor Hindi dialect. He walks, runs, chases, is chased, fights, shoots, flies, romances, dances, ....... Shraddha Kapoor has the poorest of the roles, and it often appeared that the director Sujeeth was in two minds throughout the film if she should be kept alive for a few more minutes or be bumped off. Chunky Pandey and Mahesh Manjrekar make for villains without a gameplan, they have a two-minute scheme which falls flat soon after in the most elaborate manner. The music of the film is pathetic. The locales are pretty and impressive, but the constant change of geographic locations adds to the confusion. The action is heady and why not? The department boasts of a 40+ strong crew, most of them from Hollywood, making action and stunts the only assets of Saaho, more often than not, mindless though.
If you are a die hard fan of Prabhas, Saaho is for you. The rest can have mercy for the mind and senses, and stick to either watching something on Netflix or catch up on reading a novel.
Mission Mangal (2019)
A spiced up documentary
Mission Mangal - On ISRO's 50th anniversary this year, Mission Mangal, India's foray into sending a satellite into the orbit of Mars is indeed a befitting tribute to the space research agency that has been making the nation proud. The launch of Mangalyaan in 2014 was a landmark event - India became the first country to launch a satellite to Mars on its first attempt. Mission Mangal does evoke national pride, a sense of achievement and belonging, enthusiasm, warmth and appreciation for the scientists all at once, but towards the last half hour or so only.
There's nothing wrong with that, because Mangalyaan is reality and chronicling its development and launch are stuff meant for a documentary, not a drama. Hence the film's makers have thrown in some spice with the intent of creating drama by giving us sneak peeks into each scientist's personal life. These created subplots, each with an independent message that came across as preachy at times. An aged scientist's son doesn't care about the parents, another's husband cheated on her, a third is accused of inability to bear a child, etc. But without these, the film would barely cross 90 minutes and would actually turn into a documentary. These subplots are what you would call necessary commercial evils, but turn Mission Mangal into a typical Bollywood drama. The climax is of course predictable as Mangalyaan is etched in the modern history.
Akshay Kumar as Rakesh Dhawan is his usual self, but for a change allows Vidya Balan to take centre stage and she delivers a brilliant role as Tara. Nithya Menen and Kirti Kulhari are pretty good too. Sharman Joshi and H. G. Dattatrey are impressive. Sonakshi Sinha and Taapsee Pannu are passable. Sanjay Kapoor, Purab Kohli and Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub lend great support. Mission Mangal has a huge technical flourish and the Sound & Special Effects departments must be lauded for the same.
Batla House (2019)
Because truth must prevail
Batla House - inspired by true incidents, Batla House narrates the aftermath of a gun battle between the Delhi Police and alleged members of the terror outfit Indian Mujahideen. This event that was slammed as an encounter operation by political parties and a large part of the society, many media houses and social activists brought the Delhi Police under intense scrutiny for allegedly killing innocent students in the name of terrorists.
Nikkhil Advani starts Batla House on a war footing and the shootout is over in the first 20 minutes. Unlike other encounter films like Shootout at Lokhandwala / Wadala, the focus of the film isn't about the graphic reconstruction of the encounter, but the psychological, social and legal effects of the same and therefore, refreshingly different. Two of the terrorists were killed, one arrested and the key operative escaped. But possibly the only alibi to prove that it was Delhi Police's investigative act and not a planned or planted encounter on innocent students was the fact that it lost a highly decorated inspector in the event who was shot dead too.
Batla House walks a tightrope. So intense is the storytelling, that it generates the same excitement whether there's an internal inquiry or a press coverage or the policemen chasing the dreaded Mujahid who escaped. It's a nail biting, intelligent and heavily charged thriller that promises to keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what's next! John Abraham (also a producer) turns in a superb performance, at par with Madras Cafe in a role that's tailor made for him. Mrunal Thakur as his wife has an interesting role with a major conflict of interest that I thought could be a little more developed. Manish Chaudhary, Rajesh Sharma, Nora Fatehi, Sahidur Rahaman and Ravi Kishan play other important roles well. Soumik Mukherjee's cinematography deserves a special mention, especially for creating almost a live environment during the encounter and the chases. Don't miss Batla House!