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10/10
Bollywood' Coming of Age
2 February 2019
'Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga' is the most apt and well used title for a movie I've ever seen. The beautiful history of the original song and the new composition and its meaning is incredible. The tagline reads: the most unexpected romance of the year. Year? A lifetime, I'd say. If you've seen the trailer I'm sure you have an inkling of what the story will be about. I won't go into detail because I implore you to experience it for yourself. But I can guarantee you've never seen anything like this before.

A father is trying to get his daughter married. An unsuccessful writer is looking for inspiration. And a daughter is living with a life altering and defining secret. It's all wrapped in traditional Bollywood attire. Dance numbers, a soothing love track, hilarious supporting characters, popular stars. The makers want everything to be the same expect the one thing. It's a commendable approach. You're shown a familiar world and are told to just open your eyes and heart a bit. Really, it doesn't take a lot.

Writer Gazal Dhaliwal and director Shelly Chopra Dhar have purposefully chosen a straightforward narrative which works to a great extent but takes some time to get to the point. But I imagine that's by design because they want you to know these people before making assumptions. As such, the writing in the 1st half isn't as sharp and engaging as you'd like it to be since it's the interval point that really gets you. You sit up and take notice here and are hooked for the rest of the journey.

Endearing characters make all the difference in this powerful ode to acceptance. Anil Kapoor is wonderful as the patriarch wanting to follow his own passion while trying to understand a brave new world. Juhi Chawla has a few lovely scenes and her chemistry with Mr. Kapoor will make you say aww. The always dependable Rajkummar Rao is the backbone for the story and its characters. He does a fine job and we expect nothing less from him. And Sonam K Ahuja, what do I say? You've won me over. She portrays a quiet pain with such few words. Her expressions and body language do most of the work. It's a touching performance. Seeing real-life father and daughter on screen for the first time is special. And even more so considering they chose to come together for this film.

Music is smartly integrated into the narrative and certain moments will surely haunt you. The visual of standing in a glass box looking outside but not being able to get out was heartbreakingly moving. How do you shatter lifelong prejudices, perceptions held by generations, and peoples' skewed views on what's right? And to make it mainstream, without hesitation, for a culture that has a hard time understanding anything different than their own normal is impressive.

This is Bollywood's coming of age film. An entire society is told to grow up. It says it gently with sensitive words for the hardheaded but it says it all the same. Its truth is its greatest strength. The kind of acceptance portrayed here is truly heartening. It was unheard of before now. I'm proud. Be that friend. Be that father. Be that cheering spectator. I've always said art can spark change and if one person rethinks their biases after watching this movie, mission accomplished. 'Lo karli humne jurat hai.' Indeed and kudos for it.
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9/10
A Brilliant Lead, An Inspiring Epic
26 January 2019
A year ago to the day, another historical epic 'Padmaavat' released among much controversy. I'm sure you remember. And here we are again when a certain political party has threatened Ms. Ranaut's life for a movie. The controversies don't end there. Actors quit. The budget went to hell. And we're told more than 50% of the movie was reshot with a new director; the leading actress herself took on the job. After all that I was a tad concerned about the state of this movie but she doesn't fail. Never as an actor. And now, not as a filmmaker either.

General Hugh Rose of the British army once said that the Queen of Jhansi, "remarkable for her beauty, cleverness and perseverance had been the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders." Now if your enemies can praise you, you must be special. Also then, when you make a film on such a woman it better live up the myth, the enigma, the persona. And live up to the hype it does on the immensely talented shoulders of Kangana Ranaut.

The film begins with Manikarnika fighting a tiger. She's a proud and confident warrior who a couple of scenes later marries the king of Jhansi and becomes a queen. A queen unlike any other. She impresses her people. Stands up for the little guy. Saves animals. Oh and then eventually takes on the British who have their hearts set on Jhansi. The first half chronicles her marriage and the deaths that impact her being. It's not an entirely captivating plot up to this point and moves a little slower than one would like. See, when your focus is on one character and one character alone it's natural for us to not care about anyone else. But a small price to pay because the second half more than makes up for it.

A queen becomes a leader, a leader becomes a rebel, a rebel becomes a legend. It's a thoroughly enjoyable ride to the finish line with heads flying and dialogues on sacrifice and country being thrown in every direction. There's a particularly brilliant sequence where Manikarnika yields a sword with so much determination that she kills everyone in her path. I was convinced. And then there are scenes like a young widow being given kumkum (red powder) by the queen during a ceremony breaking tradition and that vile mindset that widows should perform jauhar for their rights. I'm looking at you, Mr. Bhansali. Speaking of, no this isn't like any of those historicals which I also love, as you know. This is an entirely different take on an epic (done in half the budget, mind you) so comparisons wouldn't be fair.

Kangana Ranaut is in a league of her own. She stands tall even when the narrative falters. There's power, passion, and a hint of arrogance in her performance. It's an actor saying, hey I got this. You believe everything she tells and shows you. It's incredible. Frankly, there's no room for anyone else in this story but Danny Denzongpa, Ankita Lokhande, and Atul Kularni are competent in their respective roles.

It's not all perfect. The first half should've been more engaging and crisper. And the music doesn't evoke the necessary emotions required in such a historical drama. Also, a better thought out villain would've enhanced our hatred for the British but once again, no one else was given any importance in this saga. A double-edged sword, you might say.

She had to direct her own film, people. I guess it's true- when you want to do something right you have to do it yourself. I don't know how exactly the directing credit is shared but the result is an entertaining and inspiring movie about a woman who could do it all. Both in the film and behind the camera. Khoob ladi mardaani woh toh Jhansi wali Rani thi.
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Zero (III) (2018)
7/10
Ambitious and Flawed with Terrific Performances
22 December 2018
When I walked out of the theatre after watching 'Zero' I wasn't sure how I felt about the movie. To be honest, I still don't. What I can say for sure is that it's the best Shah Rukh Khan movie to come out in the last many years. That's not much of a compliment considering the disasters we've been subjected to for so long. But it's a welcome change.

Bauaa Singh, a 4 foot 6 inch tall man with the confidence of a rockstar, lives life grandly. The world is cruel to people like him, he knows this and owns it. He's arrogant, cocky, and a heartbreaker. What then makes the brilliant Aafia fall for him...well, no one romances like Mr. Khan. We've known that for decades. Bauaa uses everything in his power to woo the girl and us along with her. But can a man of his nature really change...

At times it felt like I was watching two different movies. One in the streets of Meerut where songs like mere naam tu can woo the most stubborn of hearts and one where a single planet isn't enough to express your sorrow. We also have a heartbroken diva in the mix who is amused and eventually saved by this short and unforgettable man. A lot of things work in this concoction. The supporting cast is spot on. The belt wielding father, the doting but mouthy mother, the ride or die best friend. Everyone has a part to play and they play it well. And the best is kept for the stars. No pun intended.

Anushka Sharma has had a terrific year and she caps it off with her best performance. You feel for her but not out of pity; she's no pushover. Her wheelchair and disability are treated like character traits not hindrances and Ms. Sharma nails it as the strong willed Aafia. I was pleasantly surprised by Katrina Kaif's act. Ms. Kaif puts up a strong performance, one that hits close to home. Her Babita Kumari quickly won me over and I was rooting for her in that cracker of a last scene she had. Shah Rukh Khan is excellent and at his very best. Height aside, he's a man with many flaws. You like him and hate him at the same time and Mr. Khan plays to his audience like only he can.

Aanand L. Rai's previous projects, particularly 'Tanu Weds Manu Returns', were better than this but what he lacks in coherence he makes up for in vision. It's an unusual idea with a ton of potential but the writing isn't up to the mark. The screenplay is erratic. There are several memorable moments but the overall package isn't as impactful as you'd like.

All said and done, Zero is an ambitious film with impressive performances and some quality CGI. There are a couple of melodious musical numbers and some inspired dialogue writing. And it's all packaged in shining wrapping paper. Yet there's something missing. A touch of brilliance, perhaps...or a dash of charm. Maybe the ache of a breaking heart. The 'X' factor, as they say, is just not there.

And Mr. Khan, the hurt caused by years of disappointment won't be easily forgotten. There was a time when one waited with bated breath for an SRK movie, now we walk in with fingers crossed. This one paid off more than the rest. I guess that's saying something.
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Kedarnath (2018)
7/10
Worth a Watch
8 December 2018
I've said it before but I am a sucker for star-crossed romance. And an interfaith relationship is icing on the cake. 'Kedarnath' is just that in a natural disaster setup. For those who are not aware, Kedarnath is a town in the Himalayas that suffered massive destruction in 2013. It was a horrific tragedy that director Abhishek Kapoor has managed to capture on the big screen.

Mansoor (Sushant Singh Rajput) is a porter who helps tourists visit temples and go on pilgrimages. He is immensely proud of what he does despite religious opposition. Mukku, a daughter of a respectable Pandit, happens upon him and is instantly fascinated by this young man. Refreshingly, she is the one who pursues him and their relationship blossoms into a gentle romance. An obnoxious fiancé, conservative parents, nothing seems to stop this couple...except impending doom. You know how the story will play out yet the last 20 minutes will still leave you awestruck and are the highlight of the movie.

Sushant Singh Rajput plays Mansoor with a quiet strength that's endearing and equally admirable. But frankly, he doesn't have much heavy lifting (metaphorically speaking, of course, since he carries a tremendous amount of weight in reality) to do. In an almost shocking turn of events a lot of the burden falls to Ms. Khan. Sara Ali Khan's Mukku is foulmouthed, stubborn, rebellious, and gets to display a range of emotions. She impresses with a confidence and attitude rarely seen in a debut film. Welcome to the movies, Ms. Khan; we're glad you're here!

Abhishek Kapoor is an unpredictable filmmaker. While he has delivered great wonders like 'Rock On' and 'Kai Po Che', his last release 'Fitoor' was painfully dull. Thankfully this time around he ups his game. He has chosen the right subject and does justice to the disaster. The romance could've used a little more time and stronger music was definitely needed. Songs are an imperative part of any good Bollywood romance and better ones would've helped heighten the emotions here. Nevertheless, the film has a Titanic-like quality that works for it.

I quite enjoyed this movie. The couple is sweet and there are some incredible shots of the valley. And seeing it fall apart is painfully effective. If nothing else, it's worth a watch for Sara Ali Khan who will walk away with all the glory.
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9/10
The Spinoff Fans Deserve!
14 November 2018
Now that's how you do a spinoff! In a surprising turn of events, 'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald' truly lives up to its name. If you recall my review of 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' from a couple of years ago, I asked for more depth and meatier backstories and boy does this film deliver. I appreciate you taking my words to heart, Ms. Rowling. Too cheeky? Ah well, can't blame me for trying.

The sequel picks up a few months after the events of the first movie. Newt Scamander is given the difficult task of finding Credence, the mysterious boy from the previous film, before Grindelwald gets his hands on him for his own sinister agenda. We already know Credence is special but how special...only time will tell. I can't reveal more of the plot without going into spoiler zone but trust me there's a whole lot of story and a whole lot at stake. A significantly darker film than its predecessor, this one talks about the beast in all of us. We encounter new and unpredictable faces but the greatest joy is seeing characters we already know come back to life on the big screen.

Our beloved Dumbledore. What fun it is to meet a young Albus Dumbledore, all charm and wit, hiding many secrets and only just beginning to scratch at the surface of greatness. Jude Law is spectacular and my one complaint here is that his role is too short. I know there will be more in the movies to come but for now I'm impatient. Johnny Depp's Grindelwald is characteristically evil but there is a depth below the surface here as well. Tidbits of his relationship with Dumbledore are shown to keep the audience intrigued. So much is left to be explored of this fascinating and ultimately tragic bond.

The original cast is still spot on. Eddie Redmayne's Newt is just as wacky and sweet as the first film as is Dan Fogler's Jacob. The Goldstein sisters played by Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol do a fine job. I particularly enjoyed Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange. That surname means a lot in the Potter World and Ms. Kravitz does it justice. There are a lot of characters in this movie and a lot of subplots but they all come together seamlessly. I am in awe yet again.

J.K. Rowling has furthered her own world beautifully by digging up the past. Twists and turns are aplenty. Some reveals are delicious and others heartbreaking. It's top-notch writing which I hope stays on course and doesn't mess up the original story we've all been besotted with for years. Once again, David Yates shows off his directing chops with a flourish. The scale is grand, the characters grander, and it's all so magical.

I got goosebumps when certain locations and characters were shown. Such is the power of this world. This is what fans wanted and we're practically left salivating for more.
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4/10
The Biggest Disappointment of the Year
10 November 2018
Picture this: the British army, surrounded and under attack, decide that it is better to watch Katrina Kaif dance than retaliate. It's an absurd and laughable moment, much like most of the movie. It pains me to say it but what should've been an epic entertainer turns out to be an epic disappointment. What hype. What a cast. What scale. And what a grand mess. Aamir Khan's first release as a leading man after 'Dangal' is a wasted opportunity through and through. Of course, the blame lies with the writer and director but we expect the world from Mr. Khan and trust his instincts. Dhoka saubhav hai mera. It didn't need to be literal.

The year is 1795. The British are slowly taking over Hindostan. A few rebels, aka Thugs, aren't having it and fight back. Another thug is brought, or rather bought, in to fight those thugs. Con upon con. Battle upon battle. Time is wasted, plot holes are dug deeper, and my patience continued to be tested. The film takes a solid start. Character introductions are well thought out and Firangi (Aamir Khan) is a real treat for the first few minutes. Suraiyya is an enjoyable song and things were looking good. I was starting to believe that the story would go to great heights but it all came to a screeching halt 15 minutes before the interval. You know exactly when things go wrong and it's a sinking ship from that moment on.

As I mentioned, the blame lies completely with the writer and director, Vijay Krishna Acharya. This is the same man that made 'Tashan' and 'Dhoom 3' for Yash Raj Films. Why was he allowed to lead this project? I'm looking at you, Aditya Chopra. Dhoom 3, the weakest of the Dhooms, was still a fun ride. Plagued with childish and uneven writing, this one is definitely not fun. Every twist is unconvincing and, after a point, exhausting. And other than Firangi the characters are one tone. Post interval I kept wondering how the script was okayed...by Aamir Khan of all people.

Amitabh Bachchan's Khudabaksh is irritating. Even Mr. Bachchan can't save him and, honestly, it doesn't seem like he tries. His acting is surface level and when he's missing for a chunk of the movie I shrugged and said 'meh'. Fatima Sana Shaikh has only a few moments to show emotions and she's all right. I genuinely cringed at the thought of Firangi romancing Zafira. Yes, I know they're actors but give us a break! Dangal is still fresh on our minds. Do you remember Katrina Kaif's role in Dhoom 3? No? Oh because she didn't have one. She danced to a few songs and said maybe 3 sentences. Here, she doesn't even do that much. It should've been called a special appearance. The deceit keeps getting worse. Katrina looks lovely and dances like a dream in two songs but that's it. Ugh, I can't believe I am actually upset at the length of her role.

Naturally the sole saving grace is Aamir Khan. He breathes life into Firangi's many layers and makes you laugh even when you want to cry from boredom. Aamir gets the tone right most of the time and is thankfully used without shame in the movie. But why does the accent slip in the confrontation scene with Khudabaksh? Surely Mr. Bachchan isn't that intimidating. In 18 years, since 'Mela', Aamir Khan hasn't faulted. He hasn't taken one step wrong hence the immense trust the audience has in him. I guess you're allowed this one mistake, Mr. Khan. But please don't repeat it.

We have Hindi cinema's answer to 'Baahubali', they said. Ha! Keep trying, Bollywood. This ain't it. Annoyed, disappointed, and frankly a little pissed off. 'Thugs of Hindostan' made me feel a lot. Sitting there in the theatre, aware that the thugs were robbing us blind, we willingly let it happen. Much like the Brits I called out earlier. Can you say irony?
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8/10
A Gentle and Feel-Good Movie
29 September 2018
Recently a trend has started to make movies about the heartland. Forget urban; rural is the flavor of the day, and year. 2018 has seen many successful films about desi characters from small cities. Keep it authentic, keep it simple and close to home, and you may just have a winner on your hands. Yash Raj Film's 'Sui Dhaaga: Made in India' is very much about people made and mad in India. The characters hilariously and innocently think the words are synonymous and in their case they just might be.

Mamta (Anushka Sharma) and Mauji (Varun Dhawan) are a married couple in a small town who don't really know each other. She takes care of the home while he works for an obnoxious boss in exchange for little money and constant insults. Surrounded by family and numerous dead-end responsibilities their lives are in a rut, but a rut they're used to. Mamta, tired of watching Mauji be belittled, plants a small seed of business and self-reliance in his head. Perhaps they can make their lives better with a sui and a dhaaga. Easier said than done, of course, as the challenges are many. Noble intentions are met with scoffs and opposition from all sides. But the couple's spirit and faith in each other is endearing. And that's what works for their lives and the film.

Sharat Katariya, who made the National Award winning 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha', is back with another tale about common folk. He keeps Mamta and Mauji's world real. Many moments bring a smile to your face. The hospital sequence, the journey and struggle for a sewing machine, Mauji's interactions with his father, and the couple's growing relationship come to mind. There's a constant aura of hope that sets the mood nicely. Sharat pays close attention to everything about his characters from their homes, wardrobe, dialogues, and the little nuances that make them who they are. Music isn't a big part of the narrative but Chaav Laaga by Anu Malik blends in nicely while showing the couple's deepening bond. The film's finale is unrealistic, sure, but everyone needs a win so no harm done. These are genuine people with genuine lives and you want them to succeed.

Anushka Sharma (credited first, as she should be) is lovely as Mamta. Her manner is unassuming and she brings much wisdom to a woman that could easily have been considered submissive. But Anushka knows how to get things done with a few words. She's already a meme, there's no greater achievement than that. Varun Dhawan gets into the skin of his character effortlessly. I only saw Mauji here, a kind and dedicated lad with big dreams. The character and actor both shine. Mauji's parents are wonderful and hilarious. It's funnier because they're not trying to be funny. The serial watching father. The mother who while having a heart attack can't part with her beloved pateela. I thoroughly enjoyed spending a couple of hours with these people. They're a delight.

This is a gentle and feel-good movie with a respectable message at its core. Give it a watch, you'll likely feel surrounded by warmth by the time the end credits roll. Because as Mauji would say, sab badhiya hai.
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Manmarziyaan (2018)
6/10
Love is Messy and Beautiful
17 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Love is messy, complicated, and seldom easy. It's patient and kind but demands the world. Anurag Kashyap's latest 'Manmarziyaan' is an ode to that glorious feeling. A filmmaker known for making dark and twisted cinema (recall 'Dev D', 'Gangs of Wasseypur', and the phenomenal 'Sacred Games') takes a turn for the commercial. An out and out love story that's family friendly. Who would've thought?

Manmarziyaan is a classic love triangle. Think 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' meets 'Silsila' with a modern twist. The lover is still frowned upon and the saint-like outsider is still in vogue. But the object of both of their affections is calling the shots this time around. Aha, we've progressed. Rumi (an apt name) and Vicky are very much in love...or rather fyaar. Replace the P in pyaar with an F and it makes all the difference if you catch my drift. They can't keep their hands off of each other much to their families' dismay but bring marriage into the equation and the strength of their fyaar and pyaar is tested. Enter Robbie, a soft-spoken and reasonable fellow, who falls in love with the brash Rumi appropriately completing the love triangle. The tale is as old as time but its treatment is fresh. Of course with Anurag Kashyap at the helm you expect nothing less.

Kanika Dhillon has written a mostly compelling screenplay with decently fleshed out characters. But how I wish there was a twist in the tale. Something different than what we expect from these people. Everything is resolved in a way that you see coming from a mile away. It's an enjoyable but predictable ride. Set in Punjab to Amit Trivedi's infectious tunes the mood and feel of the film are spot on. The dialogues and supporting characters and actors are terrific, particularly the interaction between Robbie's mother and house help bring the house down. With so much scope for drama, it is a love triangle after all, Anurag carefully avoids melodrama by weaving together humor and emotions in a concoction that generally satisfies.

Much has been made about Bachchan Junior's return to the big screen. He's in good form after a few years and mishaps. There is some genuine effort here but he can still do more. Vicky Kaushal is having an incredible year at the movies with 'Raazi', 'Sanju', and now this. He plays the loud and over the top Vicky with ease and brings a ton of fun to his character. Tapsee Pannu, in an especially challenging role, is the heart of the film. She makes you like and question Rumi without really disliking her. Mr. Kashyap brings out the best in a well cast and committed trio.

Manmarziyaan is an entertaining but not particularly memorable film. But there's enough good here. The voice is new. The music and dialogues are top notch. And the love is as complex as it should be. In a refreshing turn of events, the characters make their own decisions. Good, bad, and ugly. Give it a watch, you'll find enough to like in this world.
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Gold (I) (2018)
8/10
Emotional and Patriotic
19 August 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Bollywood has churned out many successful sports based movies over the years. From 'Lagaan' to 'M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story' and 'Dangal' the list is impressive. Reema Kagti's latest release 'Gold' is here to make a place for itself amongst the champions. While not as great as the three films I mentioned, Gold still has a lot going for it. Think Lagaan mixed with Chak De! India and a dash of Akshay Kumar humor and you'll get a cocktail called Gold.

The year is 1948. A free Indian hockey team led by a pagal Bengali, as he likes to call himself, travels to the London Olympics in hopes of winning their first gold medal as an independent nation. Based on a true story, you already know how the movie will end but it's the long and winding road to victory that makes this a compelling watch. Akshay Kumar plays Tapan Das, an easily triggered alcoholic who loves nothing more than hockey. His goal, and reason for living, is to beat the British at hockey and get do sau saal ka badla. With sentiments like that forming a team and getting support from the officials isn't an arduous task. But then partition happens and a whole lot of drama follows...

Interestingly enough Tapan isn't the captain or coach of the team. He's a lowly manager who gets the players together and talks a lot, much of it nonsense. He's no Kabir Khan who delivers rousing satar minute speeches. It's a perfect fit for Mr. Kumar who brings ample humor to the role and keeps the proceedings from becoming heavy. He's supported by a fine cast of players. Amit Sadh does well as the stuck up royal while Kunal Kapoor plays the legendary Samrat with the right touch of nobility. Mouni Roy, Akshay's wife, excels in a short yet entertaining role. I was particularly impressed by Sunny Kaushal, the brash but well intentioned Himmat Singh. The characters are all well etched but lack a certain gravitas that could've made this an epic outing.

Reema Kagti has mounted a glamorous film that looks the part. The era is grandly portrayed and the screenplay is hardly boring. There's music, drama, and humor in abundance. Like any good sports movie, the last twenty minutes are thrilling and keep you on the edge of your seat. Reema knows her stuff. She pushes the right buttons to evoke patriotic sentiments and keep the viewer's attention. A worthy effort.

The do sau saal ka badla is indeed sweet. What can I say, we like watching the Brits getting beaten. Gold is patriotic, emotional, and will surely win hearts. It won mine too but I wouldn't give it a gold medal. A silver sure, but when you have films like Lagaan and Chak De! India you have to aspire to greater heights.
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Karwaan (2018)
8/10
A Hilarious and Enriching Ride
4 August 2018
I thoroughly enjoy road trip movies. From 'Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara' to 'Piku', there's something therapeutic about watching characters embark on a journey of self-discovery. I love the genre. I won't say 'Karwaan' is as good as either film I just mentioned but it has a beat of its own. There's a deliberate Rumi-esque tone to the narrative. A character even shares their name with the beloved poet. You're meant to find meaning in words and actions. Sometimes it's subtle and other times it's a hard knock on the head. And it's all done in hilarious fashion. Strap in for the ride, it's a fun one.

Avinash, Shaukat, and Tanya are 3 lost souls who travel across the country with a corpse. In search of another corpse. And themselves. I assure you it's not as morbid as it sounds. In fact, death has never been more refreshing. This is a feel good film that's mostly laughs. It's never heavy even when it tries go below the surface which it doesn't quite manage to do. My main criticism would be the slight lack of depth. Stronger backstories would've made a stronger movie, yet amidst the constant chuckles you're hardly bothered. Director Akarsh Khurana has made Karwaan with a soft touch. The plot is straightforward but engrossing going from funny to emotional back to funny within a matter of seconds. Breezy and real, I'll surely go on this road trip again.

I can't imagine this movie sans Irrfan. The one liners, the dialogue delivery, the straight faced humor, everything would've fallen flat without him. He elevates a scene just by being in it. Interestingly, his character is the least developed. Other than some childhood issues you know nothing about Shaukat's history. He exists only in this plot line and yet Irrfan makes it work effortlessly bringing the house down at several occasions. Newcomer Dulquer Salmaan (who isn't a newcomer at all) is perfectly suited to the character of Avinash. Dulquer, a well known and loved star of Malayalam cinema, has an incredibly likable personality which reflects on screen. Mithila Palkar as Tanya is earnest. It was refreshing to see a male/female friendship on screen that doesn't lead to romance. This is an unlikely trio that gels together wonderfully and has fun even in the darkest of times. You're in great company.

Every once in a while, without much fuss, a film comes your way that entertains you immensely and then leaves just as peacefully as it came. The story may seem bizarre but it makes perfect sense when you watch it unfold. It builds gradually with clever dialogues, textured locations, and soothing songs. And an incomparable Irrfan. He's your ride or die. I could've gone on a longer journey with him, Avinash, and Tanya. I laughed a lot. I smiled throughout. What can I say, I was charmed.
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Dhadak (2018)
9/10
Pure, Charming, and Addictive
21 July 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This is perhaps the only Bollywood movie I have ever seen where the name of the movie is only shown in Hindi. That in itself tells you a a lot. 'Dhadak' is steeped in culture and tradition, both good and bad. Its roots are clear; it's desi to the core. A remake of the Marathi hit 'Sairat', Dhadak is your typical love story complete with opposing families and rebellious leads. There's nothing new here, so to say, but it's a genuine tale that tugs at your heartstrings.

I've heard and read many good things about Sairat but to avoid judgement I purposefully stayed away from it when I knew the Hindi version was in the making. I went in with fresh eyes and left with a lump in my throat. Parthavi and Madhu are college going youngsters in Rajasthan whose lives are uncomplicated and untouched by their surroundings. Parthavi, the daughter of a local politician, has been raised like a princess in an actual castle. A bit of a snob, she knows her role and acts the part well. Madhu spends his time participating in local competitions and obsessing over Parthavi who is anything but oblivious. They're young and in love. The world seems beautiful but sometimes you're just not allowed to be in love. Their naivety can't save them from the harsh realities of caste and family honor.

Shashank Khaitan, of 'Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania' and 'Badrinath ki Dulhania' fame, is a master of the rom-com genre. He knows to how to set a fast paced story in a colorful environment and therefore Dhadak starts off spectacularly. The first half is vidid, full of humor and romance, and features 3 chart busting songs. You're completely engrossed in Parthavi and Madhu's lives before being taken from a fairytale to reality. Here the pace dips slightly but rooting for the couple sees you through. Their goodness is addictive and that finale. Oof! A swift punch to the gut and you're left shocked and appalled. It's a brilliantly executed sequence that will haunt me for some time.

From 'Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak' to 'Ishaqzaade' there hasn't been a better way to launch newcomers than with a star-crossed romance. I'll be the first to admit I'm a sucker for the genre. Much has been made about Janhvi Kapoor's debut. Nepotism. Her mother, Sridevi's, untimely death. But young Ms. Kapoor is a keeper. She's confident, a complete charmer, and handles the emotional bits quite well. Ishaan Khatter (Shahid Kapoor's younger brother), whose first film 'Beyond the Clouds' didn't get enough eyeballs, is a natural. He immerses himself into the character and delivers a fine performance. Perhaps to keep the audience from making comparisons, the two actors are credited in the film with only their first names. Both have some rough edges and you certainly can't deny the lineage but I will say Janhvi and Ishaan, you're here to stay.

As I mentioned earlier, the film doesn't boast of a terribly new concept. Romance has been a Bollywood staple for generations but lately rom-coms and larger than life tales are more sought after. But every few years we get the traditional love story that soothes us and shakes us in equal parts. A gentle and well handled romance, a strong emotional quotient, melodious music, and a couple to root for. There's a lot to like here. The innocence will win you over one beat at a time, one dhadak at a time.
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9/10
A Fun & Funny Ride
6 July 2018
A few months ago, 'Avengers: Infinity War' shocked and forced a tear or two. 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' is here to wipe away those tears. A lighter movie is exactly what was needed after the devastation caused in Infinity War. When 'Ant-Man' was released in 2015 the expectations were minimal. A lot of people, myself included, had never heard of the tiny superhero. It felt like a small (pun not intended) release from Marvel Studios but one that ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable flick, much like this sequel.

Remember the mess our heroes created in 'Captain America: Civil War'? Well, Scott Lang is left dealing with the consequences of running off, or rather flying off, to help Cap and Co. Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym's lives are also in disarray thanks to Ant-Man Jr's (Dr. Pym is the original) actions. But when the team reunites for a new mission the fun flies! Literally. After struggling with her father's decision to make Scott the new Ant-Man in the previous film, Hope has now become a mighty fine superhero in her own right. Together the duo cause a ruckus, deal with some hurt, and do what all good heroes do- wear cool suits.

I would describe this movie as a superhero comedy. It really is all fun and games albeit with an emotional core. Director Peyton Reed has kept the pace brisk and the tone cheerful. He knows his heroes will eventually save the day so might as well make the ride funny. And it is very funny! Humor is generously used throughout the film even in times of crisis. Tense sequences are broken up with quirky one-liners and the characters and actors seem to be having a blast on screen.

This is the first Marvel movie to feature a female superhero in the title- the Wasp. Badass and ready to get the job done, Evangeline Lilly is pitch perfect. Hope has been preparing for her moment to shine and Ms. Lilly makes sure she does. I can't imagine a better cast Ant-Man than Paul Rudd. He's hilarious and genuine. I make a lot of mistakes, he says but you don't really blame him because he's such a lovable goofball. Michael Douglas brings a certain dignity to Hank and the film while Michelle Pfeiffer is a wonderful addition to the cast. On the flip side, Hannah John-Kamen isn't particularly memorable as Ghost. It's a half-baked character that didn't really work for me...but I moved on pretty quickly. Mainly because Michael Peña is a hoot! I'm glad he was given ample screen time since I laughed every time he opened his mouth. Serum or no serum, that's the truth.

Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp deal with personal struggles and battles. For the characters it isn't about saving the world, as most of the other superheroes are doing, it's about what's happening closer to home. It's a unique approach since the stakes aren't earth shattering for humanity; there are plenty of others dealing with that. Here you laugh and have a good time with likable characters, some slick action, and impressive graphics. Mission accomplished.

I shouldn't need to tell you this but stay for the mid credits scene; it all ties together.

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8/10
Haters are gonna hate but a super fun ride!
2 June 2018
'Veere di Wedding' is your typical friendship themed movie complete with raunchy dialogues, bold situations, flawed characters, and underlying heart. The only difference is that it's about 4 women. And that's a big difference and a welcome change. Eyebrows were raised when the trailer was released. People (read: men) scoffed at the idea of women behaving in such an atypical manner. I just hoped for a good movie to silence the critics and boy, I should say girl, did they hit the nail on the head.

Thank God it wasn't censored! That was the first thought that went through my mind when the veeres started swearing like it was going out of fashion. Nothing is off limits in this movie; the makers aim to shock and scandalize...but you know what, nothing that happens in the movie is actually outrageous or obscene. It's just that we've never seen it shown so openly on screen before. There's a particular scene in the 2nd half that literally had the theatre gasping because we couldn't believe the audacity of the filmmakers. A nervous and appreciative chuckle followed the gasp when we realized that this is for real. I hate to state the obvious but women, like men, swear, drink, talk about sex and almost everything else under the sun. So why the hypocrisy? I'm not going to pull at that thread but I will give major kudos to Rhea Kapoor and Ekta Kapoor for backing this project and not shying away from, like I said, the obvious.

Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor Khan), Avni (Sonam K Ahuja), Sakshi (Swara Bhasker), and Meera (Shikha Talsania) are childhood friends who despite the years and distance have remained close. When Kalindi cringingly accepts her boyfriend's proposal the friends come back together to celebrate their veer. Everyone's dealing with something or another but that doesn't stop them from sporting designer outfits, driving around in a Bentley, and going off to Phuket on a whim. I mean it's a Kapoor led film, did you expect anything less? If you don't cry and have a mental breakdown in heels with your hair done up are you really a Kapoor? I think not. Frankly, the characters' problems are superficial, the extravagance is well, extravagant, and the blatant product placement is absurd. But that's the fun of it all. Director Shashanka Ghosh of Khoobsurat fame knows how to keep it light and entertaining. His cast is having a rollicking time and the audience along with it.

Kareena is a born star and she knows how to use it. She headlines the cast with tremendous oomph and might I add looks incredible doing it. The new Ahuja and former Kapoor does what she always does. Sonam's outfits are on point and her acting, while not worthy of her former surname, works fine here. Swara has the challenging role in the bunch which she enacts it with confidence and Shikha delivers her crackling lines with humor keeping the audience in splits. A genuine camaraderie between the veeres helps balance the film nicely.

There is a clear target audience for this movie. Where else will you get to know what charam sukh is? Everything is mounted glamorously giving the actors a chance to be stars instead of characters. And the music is some of the best I've heard in recent times. This veere's wedding is a blast! Have I said enough ya hor das kiniya tareefan chahidi tenu. stuffiwatchblog.wordpress.com
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102 Not Out (2018)
7/10
Bachchan and Kapoor Senior Showing Us How it's Done!
5 May 2018
Imagine a 102 year old father wanting to send his 75 year old son to a senior citizen home because his son's 'old' attitude is keeping him from becoming the oldest man in history. It's a genuinely novel plot that one doesn't come across often. I enjoy gentle movies and for the most part '102 Not Out' is charming enough to keep a smile on your face during its relatively short running time.

The story, as you've already gathered, is about Dattatraya Vakharia who refuses to die until life is ripped from his body. He's a young at heart father who believes in living life to the fullest and his grumpy 75 year old son, Babulal, is the only thing standing in his way. They're joined in their daily squabbles by a young shop clerk who cannot seem to get enough of the duo's banter. It's a simple tale of years lived and forgotten, hearts broken and mended, and life as it was and as it is. The first half is a delightful breeze with Vakharia Senior trying to infuse some excitment into his sour son. Humor is aplenty and you'll laugh out loud at several occasions. Post interval things take a turn for the serious and go down Baghban lane. Feelings are on the emotionally manipulative side and what started off brilliantly becomes a tad routine. Nevertheless, there's enough to like in this film largely due to its terrific leads.

Amitabh Bachchan is excellent as the joyous father who believes in keeping things light. Mujhe marne se sakht nafrat hai, he says mischievously. Mr. Bachchan continues to surprise and impress. The years have only made him better. Is there anything he can't do? Rishi Kapoor is perfect as the ill-tempered son who, as we learn, has many reasons to be bitter. It's a nuanced and real performance. The two actors share a remarkable chemistry that's proof that talent can outlive everything.

Umesh Shukla's direction is crisp and keeps the film from dragging. He's helped immensely by Saumya Joshi who has written this as well as the original Gujarati play the story is based on. Some clever dialogues, particularly the ones in the love letter scene, are hysterical. The music is easy on the ears and flows nicely in the narrative. Bachche ki Jaan Loge Kya is a hoot! The biggest winner, still, is the concept. Full points for originality, Mr. Joshi.

This is a soft spoken movie that'll tug at your heartstrings. Some forced tears aside, you'll cherish your time with these old folk who'll make you laugh, cry, and remind you to live while you can. Life is short...even if you're over a century old. https://stuffiwatchblog.wordpress.com/
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Blackmail (I) (2018)
7/10
Black Comedy Done Right!
7 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Bollywood doesn't do dark comedy often; only a handful of good films come to mind. For me the list is topped by Ishqiya and its sequel. Fortunately, 'Blackmail' will be remembered as one of the good ones. And when the cast is headlined by the always brilliant Irrfan Khan (the Khan seems to back in his name) you know you're in for a treat. This is the kind of treat you chew slowly to savor all the flavors not sure what will hit you next. Should you gasp, cringe, or shake your head...you'll do all three with a chuckle.

When Dev (Irrfan) discovers his wife is cheating on him with a man who's married to a wealthy heiress he decides to blackmail the duo to extract money and revenge. Things don't go quite as planned when other players join the blackmailing game and you're left wondering who is trying to con whom. What works well here is that there are no innocent victims. Everyone deserves a slap on the wrist for something making this a fun watch. Writer Parveez Sheikh doesn't let up on the twists and makes sure the characters don't sit idly by for too long. Our incorrigible bunch find themselves in many hysterical predicaments and the laugher is unstoppable! Ranjit buying a gun was a personal favorite bit of mine.

But like the characters the screenplay is far from perfect. Pacing issues play a bit of a spoilsport and not every twist in the tale works. The movie is also far too long and should've been edited for a more impactful viewing. Thankfully there are enough jokes to keep you entertained even while losing patience. Director Abhinay Deo, of Delhi Belly fame, seems comfortable with the genre. He serves up a mature comedy that doesn't hold back with the cheeky dialogues or insinuations. As one character puts it, this is humor of the 'non-veg' variety. So if you get offended easily maybe sit this one out.

As I said earlier, Irrfan is always brilliant. He deadpans his way through the role showing actual emotion at only a couple of junctures. Such acting would've fallen flat in the hands of a lesser talent but with Irrfan it's all in capable hands. The rest of the cast does very well also. Arunoday Singh springs a pleasant surprise as the useless husband living off of his wife's money. Kirti Kulhari is competent and while Divya Dutta doesn't get much screen time she handles her part nicely. It's an effective ensemble that works in favor of the movie. The other strong point is Amit Trivedi's music which blends into the narrative perfectly. Every tune is acidic and keeps the plot rolling.

Blackmail is a mostly solid entertainer that delivers what it promises. It might be a while before we see another Irrfan Khan movie or another black comedy done right so enjoy the absurdity while you can and laugh the hurt away.

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7/10
A Fun Visual Treat
31 March 2018
I went into 'Ready Player One' knowing nothing about it. I haven't read the book it's based on and the only thing I knew about the story was what the trailer showed. In a way, I think, that was advantageous. The entire experience felt fresh and unexpected. The trailer piqued my interest and I was curious to see Steven Spielberg's vision come alive on the big screen. I wasn't disappointed! The story is set in a dystopian Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045 where cities look like slums and people rely on a virtual reality world, the OASIS, to escape their everyday lives. On his deathbed James Halliday, the slightly mad and brilliant creator of the OASIS, unveils a contest within the game that will give the winner control of the OASIS and his entire fortune. Naturally, lives and time are wasted (I mean spent) in this pursuit. Teenager Wade Watts is one such hopeful player who spends all of his time learning everything he can about Halliday's life in order to solve the mysterious puzzle. I haven't said much more than what the previews showed and I'll stop here since the movie is worth experiencing for yourself. The movie is a slam-dunk visually- a grand treat for the senses. You're immersed in the OASIS along with the players and feel a strange loss in their 'real world.' It took me a few minutes to get into the narrative but once it clicked I enjoyed the journey thoroughly. There are endless references to other classic movies and pop culture. It's a never-ending joyride for fans of sci-fi and video games. I'm sure I missed hidden gems that I heard some audience members chuckle at...but that's all part of the cheekiness.

The movie isn't really about performances but the actors manage to play their roles just fine. Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, and Lena Waithe bring enough charm to their characters to be relevant. They seem to be having a good time which works well for this film. The plot itself isn't unexpected and the film is a tad too long but its treatment is the real treat here. You can predict the ending but it's a ton of fun along the way.

Steven Spielberg has managed to bring together animation, childhood dreams, and virtual reality to create a movie for the fans that satisfies their wildest fantasies. A man of many talents, he isn't short of ideas or talent at the age of 71. Honestly I don't know how this movie will rank in Mr. Spielberg's career graph. It's not my favorite but it's a dream come true for many. It's an easy movie to lose yourself in for a couple of hours so mission accomplished.
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Black Panther (2018)
10/10
Exhilarating, Emotional, and Impactful
17 February 2018
Every time I think Marvel has produced a great movie the studio outdoes itself. With its latest release, 'Black Panther', it reaches unimaginable heights. I felt extremely proud watching this movie. It changes the conversation and gives us a new hero, a relatable hero. Heroes aren't defined by a certain race or culture and Black Panther embraces its roots while telling a captivating story. Exhilarating, emotional, and impactful- this one is a game changer.

We were introduced to T'Challa, Black Panther, in 'Captain America: Civil War' a couple of years ago. His strength and conviction stood out then and I looked forward to seeing his story. After his father's untimely demise T'Challa takes the throne of Wakanda, a mysterious and isolated country in Africa that is years ahead of the rest of the world. Black Panther works as an origin story, a thriller, a social narrative, and a family saga all rolled into one. There's immense depth and a strong voice leading the film. The action is sharp and eye popping. There's grit and wit in equal measure and it doesn't shy away from hurtful truths. It's exactly what you want from a superhero movie and so much more.

Director Ryan Coogler has shown Wakanda and its people with tremendous admiration. The characters are fully fleshed out and unapologetically black. Their pride is envy worthy. It's deeply gratifying to be able to identify with a character on screen. But an entire nation? It was unheard of before this film. The backbone of the movie, a compelling screenplay, plays out wonderfully on screen and is both moving and amusing. There's never a dull moment with these characters. And what beautiful characters!

Chadwick Boseman leads the pack with his terrific portrayal of T'Challa- a man overcoming obstacles, a king trying to find his way, and a hero who has barely scratched the surface. The supporting cast is equally brilliant. Michael B. Jordan brings the right amount of menace and angst to his character creating a villain you want to root for. Another highlight of the movie, or I should say its strongest attribute, is the powerful women. Warriors, intellectuals, leaders, and spies. Each one stronger than the king, each one deserving of her own movie. Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright are perfect. I am in awe.

Representation matters. We hear it, we say it, and now we see it in action. Never again will a person of color have to wonder what it would be like to look like their heroes. As an avid movie watcher I'm filled with joy. Black Panther is an experience to be treasured. This panther comes at you claws out and rearing to go. Wakanda forever! stuffiwatchblog.wordpress.com
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Padman (2018)
8/10
Brave, Inspiring, and Bloody Good
10 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
There's a scene in Akshay Kumar's latest release, 'Padman', where he runs towards water with bloody pants. He's trying to make sanitary pads for his wife and decides to try one himself with animal blood. It's an incredibly brave scene in an equally brave film. In a country where talking about 'women's issues' is considered taboo one of its so-called 'masculine' superstars taking on the role of a man obsessed with making pads for his wife is nothing short of applaud worthy. He's the same star who was known for his khiladi attitude and rowdy films...and now we see him telling stories about toilets and pads. What a change! There's a lesson in there for all of us.

Padman is inspired by the real life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham who spent 2 years developing a low-cost machine to make pads. Lakshmi's (Arunachalam's) tale in the movie is inspiring to say the least. His subject is shunned, his family disheartened, his wallet empty, yet this dropout from a rural town in India finds a way to succeed against all odds. And it's all done in a fearless manner. I can safely say you haven't seen anything like this at the movies.

R. Balki, credited for directing and co-writing the movie, champions several social causes and entertains the audience with his most unlikely hero. There's gentle humor throughout the story that keeps the tone light albeit slightly preachy. Of course, you can't expect to reform society without some speeches and dialogues about morals and ethics. The first half of the film deals with Lakshmi's home life and you get to see just how unusual this man is even within his own family. For me, the second half is where the narrative scores. We see Lakshmi's innovative mind and his undying spirit which wins him awards, accolades, and even more detractors. The journey is thoughtfully conceived, written, and portrayed.

Akshay takes to the character remarkably well. He infuses Lakshmi with a deep sincerity making you root for him even when the whole world thinks he's mad. Watch him deliver that 7 minute long speech at the UN in his broken english. You'll have a smile on your face the whole time. Radhika Apte plays his wife, Gayatri, who would rather die of a disease than shame. It's a painfully dull and typical character, if you ask me, but Radhika is a fine actress who brings honesty to the role. I wanted more from Gayatri which I didn't get but such is society. Sonam Kapoor's Pari springs a pleasant surprise in the 2nd half. She brings much needed color and hope to Lakshmi's life and infuses liveliness in the film. Their relationship is sweet; Lakshmi makes the invention and Pari makes the inventor.

Padman is courageous, noble, and breaks boundaries one pad a time, one woman at a time. Book yourself a ticket stat. It's bloody good. Period. Yes, yes, I know you're rolling your eyes at the puns. But as the tagline says, superhero hai yeh pagla. Aur heroic hai yeh film.

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Padmaavat (2018)
9/10
I've never loved a villain more
26 January 2018
What's in a name? Everything. After countless struggles, delays, a name change, death threats, and appeals to the Supreme Court Sanjay Leela Bhansali's magnum opus gets to see the light of day. But I have to ask, how is it acceptable to offer a bounty to behead an actor in any civilized society? That too from a politician. On national TV. It's wildly disturbing to think that terrorism is acceptable in the name of protesting. Mall and school buses were recently burned after the Supreme Court banned the ban that some states had imposed. And the movie still hasn't released in certain places. Welcome to the most controversial film in recent memory.

It's a story. It will not change your history even if it portrays said history in a negative light...which it doesn't. It glorifies it. The movie in an ode to the Rajputana culture. Bhansali makes it abundantly clear who he believes is good and who is evil, such is his prerogative. The plot of the film revolves around a Rajput king, Maharawal Ratan Singh, Rani Padmavati, and the unhinged and ambitious Sultan Alauddin Khilji who develops a manic obsession for the queen without ever laying eyes on her. Wars are raged. Lives are lost. Kingdoms fall. All for an illusion. It's a fascinating concept that Sanjay Leela Bhansali brings to life.

Mr. Bhansali has a knack for making larger than life movies particularly those that take place in eras long gone. He creates lavish sets, adorns his actors with rich costumes, and takes us back to a time of kingdoms and grandeur. There is no doubt that he succeeds in creating a visual masterpiece this time around as well. It's hard to look away. His narrative works for the most part as well. There are some inconsistencies and the pace dips towards the middle of the film but I found myself captivated with what was happening on screen which made it easy to forgive the slight missteps. The dialogues struck a chord...and often a nerve. There's underlying tension and an impending sense of doom in the last hour that's beautifully portrayed. It all came together quite wonderfully but what carried the movie through was the performances. One in particular...

Ranveer Singh's Alauddin Khilji is a villain for the ages. It's one of the most well executed characters I've ever watched on screen. From his body language to his pronunciation and dialogue delivery Ranveer roars with a passion that's hard to fault. He is Khilji from his first scene to his last. He is the menace and beating heart of the movie. It's immensely satisfying to watch an actor lose himself in his performance and Mr. Singh, you're unforgettable! I've never loved a villain more.

Shahid Kapoor is a fine actor, no two words on that, but unfortunately he's not a king. He plays the doting husband well, the emotional lover very well, but his demeanor isn't as royal as one would expect. Or perhaps he's just overshadowed by his wife and nemesis. Maybe that was the idea all along? Not everyone can play royalty as well as Ms. Padukone. Deepika Padukone returns to Indian cinema after two long years and how we've missed her! Frankly she doesn't do much heavy lifting in the 1st half of the film other than appear goddess-like but her act in the 2nd half is noteworthy. Bhansali has written Padmavati with a sense of awe and has captured her like a first love. He prods her gently and Deepika delivers with grace. I particularly enjoyed watching her mind work in the 2nd half. It's easy to see why practically everyone in the movie is in love.

It's grand, bold, and driven by Ranveer's powerful act. That's 'Padmavati' for you. Yes, the name was changed to 'Padmaavat' but in a small act of defiance I'm going with Padmavati. As it should be. And while it isn't Bhansali's best work to date it is still a memorable experience. Love it, hate it, judge it. But watch it. Make up your own mind. Surely we're capable of that much.
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Coco (I) (2017)
9/10
Heartfelt, Moving, and Glorious
25 November 2017
Last week I didn't get a chance to write about 'Justice League' but it didn't matter because the movie didn't evoke any strong feelings. This week after watching Disney and Pixar's latest outing I feel compelled to say a few words. 'Coco' is one of the better films I've seen this year and a home run for a studio that's delivered some gems in the past. Last year's 'Moana' didn't quite work for me…as you might already know if you've been following this blog long enough but Coco, which is more Pixar than Disney, makes up for anything that was lacking in that movie.

Young Miguel is an aspiring musician in Mexico whose family has banned everything related to music because of an incident that tore them apart generations ago. Rebellious, passionate, and determined Miguel is ready to take on the world and his strict grandmother for his dream only to find himself dealing with ghosts from the past…quite literally. A journey to the land of the dead opens his eyes and heart to family and forgiveness. It's a deeply touching tale that surprises you at every turn. What's meant to be a children's movie turns out to be a tearjerker and spirit- lifter for anyone with a soul (the puns are unintended but so fitting). If you've ever felt loss in your life this film will welcome you with open arms.

Perhaps I shouldn't call them children's movies because Pixar has produced stories recently (Inside Out and Zootopia come to mind) that a child might not fully comprehend but a knowing adult would be greatly affected by. Coco follows a similar journey of complexity and emotion. The graphics and art are spellbinding and wonderfully mounted. It's hard to look away from everything going on. It's a towering achievement in animation, no doubt. While the look is refined the heart is where the the movie really scores because believe me, you won't leave the theatre with dry eyes.

Anthony Gonzalez, the young actor behind the voice of Miguel, delivers a genuinely heartfelt performance as do the older actors who enact their parts with aplomb. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina have shown Mexico with extreme care. It's an ode to a glorious and rich culture. Everything from the dialogues to the set pieces and characters feel real and close to life. Art isn't bound by one race or location and this movie is a shining example of that.

Well made movies will speak to you no matter what language they're made in or what genre they fit it. The story deals with death but it's uplifting in its approach. Watch it. You'll be delighted, thrilled, moved, and ready to embrace your loved ones. That's what this movie felt like- a warm hug from your grandmother. The tears will come and so will the smiles. It's a winner all the way.

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7/10
A Light, Feel-Good Romance with Strong Performances
11 November 2017
A film I really enjoyed earlier this year was 'Hindi Medium.' Hilarious, moving, and boasting of strong performances it left a lasting impression. Watching the trailer of 'Qarib Qarib Singlle' reminded me of that in a way. Perhaps because seeing Irrfan in a comic avatar again brought back pleasant memories. So I ventured into the theatre hoping for a similar experience. Though I wasn't as impressed with Qarib Qarib Singlle as I was with Hindi Medium, this movie still managed to make me laugh and leave the theatre smiling.

Jaya is a 35 year old (she will tell you she's 33) widow who has a successful career, a loving family, and an otherwise boring life. On a whim she decides to try online dating and after a few obnoxious messages she connects with Yogi. Yogi, who is in all respects her complete opposite, annoys, surprises, and in his own unique way charms her enough that she continues to put up with him. A spontaneous decision leads them to travel the country in search of past loves. It's a very interesting premise. The characters travel in planes, trains, and taxis to different cities while discovering each other. Specific places aren't given much importance but the journey is still enjoyable.

The tone of the movie is consistently kept light and the dialogues, especially those delivered by Irrfan, are rib tickling. Director Tanuja Chandra strikes a balance between various themes including finding yourself, romance, and letting go of the past. For the most part, she does it successfully. Yogi's backstory seemed a tad weak…perhaps because Jaya's was so heavy. Nevertheless, some connect there would've helped the screenplay. Thankfully, Irrfan more than makes up for Yogi's deficits. His style of humor is one of a kind and doesn't leave any room for boredom. He's in fine form this time around as well. Parvathy, a South Indian actor making her debut in Hindi cinema, is compelling and takes to the character remarkably well. The leads' performances and the couple's banter make this an easy watch.

There wasn't much hype around Qarib Qarib Singlle. It released with little fuss relying on word of mouth to do the trick. So here's my mouth saying the words that this is a pleasant and feel good movie that finds its way into your heart. Give it a shot- and perhaps you'll figure out why 'Singlle' is spelled with 2 l's.

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8/10
A Hilarious and Mighty Movie
3 November 2017
Right from the first scene you know this is a different Thor. Cheeky, colorful, and laced with hilarious dialogue the movie screams fun! The mighty Thor seems to have had no trouble moving on from saving the world with the Avengers. Twice. There's no hidden pain or angst that Tony or Cap are dealing with. He even brushes off a mention of his now ex-girlfriend. It's definitely not a Captain America: Civil War kind of a sequel but more along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy. And if you relish those movies you'll have a blast here as well.

The Thor films haven't been the strongest in the Marvel Universe. The first two, while fun, were certainly not as memorable as other great Marvel outings. A quick haircut and a giant heaping of humor later we have Thor 2.0. Voila! No spoilers here but as we saw in the trailer even his hammer gets a new look…if you can call it that. Asgard, Thor's home, is under the control of the powerful Hela as he is captured and sold off to the Grandmaster (a terrific Jeff Goldblum) who forces him to fight his all mighty champion. And who might that be? Well we already know it's the Hulk. Taking on his 'friend from work' while worrying about his planet being destroyed Thor has a lot on his plate but as he casually says it's always a mess yet it ends up working out.

Taika Waititi has done a bang on job revamping Thor and making it into an entertainment spectacle. From the graphics and costumes to the never ending laughs (Revengers lol) it's a rollicking ride. Chris Hemsworth lets his hair down (yes, yes, it does get chopped off) and his comic timing fly. He's endearing in the best way and he knows it. Tom Hiddleston's Loki is pretty consistent as usual. I have to point out his reaction to the Hulk which brings the house down. Moments like that remind me how fun it is to have this connected universe. I really enjoyed Mark Ruffalo in both his forms. The Hulk is given a ton of personality, much more than we've seen previously, and Bruce is such a likable guy. Tessa Thompson as the drinking, fighting Valkyrie does a fine job kicking ass. And it's a treat to watch Cate Blanchett playing the big bad Hela. Her power and general villainy is oh so fun!

I willsay that I enjoyed Spider-Man: Homecoming a tad more earlier this year and the Cap/Iron Man showdown was more my jam but this is still a solid outing that holds its own. Marvel has added a new layer to their movies recently. Characters flow in and out of stories and worlds leading to some superb cameos. There's bonding and then there's fighting but seeing superheroes together always gets fans excited. We're leading up to Infinity War. The stage is set and I can't wait!

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Chef (2017)
6/10
Saif Gets his Mojo Back
7 October 2017
In my mind Raja Krishna Menon's 'Chef' will be remembered as the movie that helped Saif Ali Khan get his mojo back. Mr. Khan's acting career has been suffering for the last few years. Some bad luck and some worse decisions have led to some awful films. While his last release 'Rangoon' was decent it didn't help his prospects at the movies. With Chef he finds himself again…much like his character does.

Chef, a remake of Jon Favreau's 2014 movie by the same name, is about Roshan, a chef in New York City going through a midlife crisis. After finally achieving his dreams of running a kitchen he is now in a slump. His work doesn't excite him, he has lost his passion for cooking, and his emotions are out of control. An impulsive decision takes him to Kochi, India where he reunites with his ex-wife and son. While trying to make up for lost time and bonding with his son Roshan gets a new lease on life.

Director Raja Krishna Menon has weaved a simple tale about family, fighting for your dreams, and what it means to find contentment. The tone, throughout the movie, is mellow and soft. While this does make you restless at times it's also why the film works to a certain extent. Moments such as the North Indian father being shocked that his son had never eaten chole bhature bring a smile to your face. I also enjoyed the relationships in the movie. The father-son bond as well as the exes' dynamic was rather refreshing and stayed away from dramatic clichés.

The biggest takeaway from the movie is Saif Ali Khan. He sinks his teeth into the role and delivers a fully realized character complete with faults and dad humor. It's his most restrained and real performance in years. Padmapriya Janakiraman, who plays Roshan's estranged wife Radha, is quite good as well as is the young actor who plays their son. The music is soothing in the moment but not particularly memorable. The camera captures some beautiful shots of Kochi, a place you don't normally see in North Indian films.

This is a slow movie, no two words on that. Solutions to problems are convenient and relationships are mended too easily. But if you enjoy gentle stories about characters finding themselves chances are this will satisfy that craving.
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8/10
Relevant & Entertaining with Topnotch Performances
24 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Watching a good movie is always a joy. Watching a true story that helped shaped history is a greater joy. And watching repugnant male egos being taken down is priceless. 'Battle of the Sexes' tells the real life saga of the iconic tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs that was about so much more than the sport. I'm not old enough to remember the match but I've seen images and read articles about a group of women, and one in particular, who put their all on the line for equal rights. Even though I knew the end result the movie still gave me an immense high thanks to the wonderful storytelling, incredible performances, and the legendary life of Billie Jean herself.

In 1973, Bobby Riggs, a former world champion and full time hustler challenged the number one ranked Billie Jean King to a game that took on a life of its own. Widely considered to be one of the biggest sporting events in history the tennis match signified everything Billie Jean and her colleagues fought so hard for- equality. The actual match doesn't take place until the last 20 minutes of the film and that, for me, is fine storytelling. You spend time with these characters and explore their personal lives. Their frail and failing relationships. Her struggle with her sexuality. His gambling addiction. And then there's the chance to rewrite history. For Bobby it's about showing off and getting the last laugh and dollar. For Billie Jean it's a matter of gaining respect for every woman who has ever been made to feel inferior. The narrative beautifully meshes the coming to terms with one's self storyline with an exhilarating sports drama.

Emma Stone is marvelous as Billie Jean King. One year after her Oscar winning performance in 'La La Land' she shows her strength once more in a role which is easily one of her best yet. Steve Carrell is hysterical as the over-the-top Bobby Riggs. He's unrestrained and seems to be a having a ball playing a chauvinistic pig. Ms. Stone and Mr. Carrell are a solid duo that ground the film with their acts. Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have created an entertaining and upbeat movie that uses humor and heart to tell a tale that's as relevant today as it was decades ago.

A lot has changed in the last 44 years and a lot hasn't. The rules of equality bend far too often. We live in a time when a girl is shot for going to school and a woman's dress is considered more scandalous than…well, anything else. The road to equality and social justice is filled with many such battles. You can watch one of them here.

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Simran (2017)
5/10
A terrific Kangana Ranaut in a sloppy film
16 September 2017
Mark Twain said, 'truth is stranger than fiction.' Indeed it is. Watching Simran reminded me of that as I was left puzzled and, at times, impressed by the lead character's ways. The expectations from a Kangana Ranaut led film are naturally high and if she's in a foreign land dealing with her issues you believe you may get another royal bonanza but, sadly, Simran is no Queen.

More than halfway into the story you finally realize why the movie is called 'Simran.' It's a well executed sequence but I wish there were more of those. Based on the true story of a woman who goes to extreme lengths to pay off her debt, this is a bizarre and astounding tale. Praful Patel is a 30 year old divorcée who, much to her father's dismay, still lives with her parents in Atlanta. She works in housekeeping and has been saving up to buy her dream house. An unplanned trip to Las Vegas blows her world to smithereens. One mistake after another and she's left saying, "mujhe jooye aur chori ki lat hai" (I'm addicted to gambling and stealing) to a hopeless romantic who is trying to court her. He laughs and doesn't believe it for a second. Oh well, she warned you buddy.

This is a highly unusual movie that manages to pack in some surprises. Praful is an antihero who isn't easy to like yet you don't want her to get in trouble. Such a layered and deeply flawed character is a rare treat. And a woman at that, gasp! Ms. Ranuat is a force of nature. She is brilliant and doesn't falter even when the film does. The movie is worth watching for her abilities alone. Because that's what you get. A terrific actor burdened by a sloppy screenplay.

Kangana's alleged involvement in every facet of the film has raised eyebrows since its inception. I don't care who truly wrote and directed the movie but they should've done a better job. The story is delicious but the screenplay needed more weight and the direction required a sharper eye. Many of the dialogues are catchy and delivered with precision. I love a good gray character and watching Praful dig herself into a hole was certainly not boring. A few scenes stay with you but it's mostly underwhelming.

A talent like Ms. Ranaut needs, no demands, a better film. The filmmakers around her need to step up their game. Simran is far from unwatchable but it won't have you jumping for joy…maybe just taking a small hop.
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