Review: PALTAN

It’s A Miracle, We Didn’t Kill Ourselves…


O.5 stars


Mini Review:


They claim that the film is based on real events following the border skirmishes with China in Nathula Pass region near Sikkim in 1967. Kids in the park have better fights than Indian and Chinese soldiers throwing stones at each other. This is a mockery of the lives of soldiers who are shown to be foolhardy, stupid and crying at the drop of a hat. The dialogues are so trite they have been taken off quote sites. All in all a waste of time.


Main Review:


Chinese and Indian soldiers walking on two sides of a line made with stones. ‘This is Mao’s land of the pure’ Chinese soldier says. The Indian soldier insists, ‘This is our motherland!’ Then all the soldiers begin kicking at the stones that demarcates the two countries and before you can say, ‘Whaa!’ the two sides back off. We are told again and again that the Chinese do this all the time.


You have facepalmed when you were introduced to the brave Indian ‘Paltan’ (Hindi word for Platoon) chiefs. Each one is a perfect trope for a soldier. The son of a farmer in Punjab in love with a gal from his neighborhood is shown to be tilling the farm on furlough instead of resting; a young officer from rural Haryana or is it Bihar or Uttar Pradesh (?) who takes his fiance on a bicycle ride only to proposition her. Yes, the back stories of the lads is that generic. Even when one of the lads gets nightmares about his death, you realise that the treatment is shoddy and frivolous. So whether he is called Attar Singh or Harbhajan Singh or Rai Singh or Bishen Singh it just feels like a sham. Their stories about leaving their kids and wives and parents home alone seem generic. Unfortunately, they are true stories. What a terrible thing to do to brave soldiers who died protecting the borders!


Every member of the Paltan – Arjun Rampal, Sonu Sood, Harshvardhan Rane, Gurmeet Choudhary, Siddhant Kapoor, Luv Sinha and Jackie Shroff – is given at least one patriotic dialog. Every dialog seems to have been scraped from the bottom of the patriotic dialog jar. A truly laughable example: ‘No guts, no glory, no legends no story.’ and ‘Walls are not made by stone, walls are made by brave men’ (this after they’ve decided to build a barbed wire fence on the Indian side of the border!)


Who speaks like this? This chest thumping is so pointless and done so badly, you begin praying that the Chinese guys (they’re generic too! One has a permanently pissed off expression and their ‘Commissar’ speaks pidgin Hindi!) would get on with the war business. They don’t.


Both sides build trenches, fill them after confrontation. Both sides pose angrily then back off. Both sides do childish things like ‘Look! My foot is on your land’ type war game then back off. At one point, the Indian soldiers walk over to the Chinese side and then get chased around by soldiers as though they were playing tag. And you wonder when they are going to begin shooting at each other.


By the time they actually fight, which happens in the last twenty minutes, you have laughed until you choke on your popcorn rather than any emotion.


‘What are the soldiers doing?’ The commanding officer asks one other officer.
‘They are looking at the pictures of their loved ones.’
We see all soldiers looking at pictures of their wives and kids in their wallets longingly. And I mean all.
The commanding officer then says, ‘We should also do the same.’
And before you know it, all the officers are doing the same.


After that scene, you wish fervently that the Chinese would drop a gigantic bomb on them and finish the film. They show these officers blow themselves up on grenades (spelt incorrectly in the subtitles) and their bodies remain intact. They show how Indian military waits for everyone to die before sending help… And you pray that there are no more wars in real life so JP Dutta is not inspired to trivialise the horrors of war by making such trite movies ever again.

(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)

   

Review: GALI GULEIYAN

It Closes In On You, This Maze…


3 stars


Mini Review:


This is not your regular Bollywood offering. It is a claustrophobic tale of a man caught inside a warren of small, dark narrow alleys, where you can barely see the sky, and although he wants to escape, he is caught by the overhead wires. It is also the story of a young lad, abused by his father and brow beaten into accepting his fate that means no escaping from this hell hole… The film is shot beautifully and all characters are brilliantly etched in their pain. You will come away shook.


Main Review:


Manoj Bajpayee is Khuddoos, a man who lives in front of ancient tv screens that feed him camera footage from cameras hidden among the wires that criss cross the alleys. He is unkempt and unbathed and looks like he has not seen sunlight for years. He’s the quintessential rat that scurries about in the dark in a maze.


Khuddoos has a friend Ganeshi (played with great empathy by Ranvir Shorey) who feeds his body and soul, admonishing him at his habit of looking into others lives. Khuddoos is worried about a young boy Idu or Idriss (a brilliant act by young boy Om Singh) who is constantly being beaten by his dad Liakat, the mean kohl eyed Neeraj Kabi. Idriss hates working for his father who is a butcher, but his father says, ‘Everyone hates it in the beginning. You’ll get used to it.’ The young lad loves his pregnant mom who already has a little one. Mom Saira is played by the talented Shahana Goswami whose love offers some respite to the young lad from the incessant browbeating. Idu has a friend Ginny, and the two boys spend time peeping into people’s homes, and watching videos of movies in a seedy video parlour located in one of the alleyways.


The alleys are a major character in the film too. They seem to be endless sometimes. And at others, they seem to closing in on whoever is trying to get home. A great metaphor. Are the characters Idu and Khuddoos really wanting to get home? Are they doomed to be lost in the labyrinth forever? Will Khuddoos save the boy?


Cinematography by Kai Miendendorp is at once rich in details and then dark and broody at the same time. At a point you are overwhelmed by the alleys closing in on you, and wish they had not been so relentless in showing us what it is to live in such burrows… But what an experience.


(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)

Review: HALKAA

If It Looks Like Shit, And Talks Like Shit…


0.5 stars


Mini Review:


A little lad called Pichku cannot defecate in the open like everyone else in the slums. He wants privacy which is hard to come by when they live such desperate lives. While grown ups in the slum are trying to scam the government for the money given to build toilets, this little boy with two friends dreams and works hard to save money to build one. An awful tale about shitting told crappily. This is worse than government funded propaganda films…


Main Review:


The song goes on and on about how the lad is the only one with undies in a basti full of naked people… Pichku is that boy who hates the fact that everyone in their slum defecates and showers in the open. When his mum (Paoli Dam, looks the part) and dad (Ranvir Shorey, rough and uncouth rickshaw puller) leave for their day jobs, Pichku comes home, lights incense sticks (to drown out the stink), does the deed on paper, wrapping it in plastic throwing it all out in the drain behind his home. In the name of reality, people are shown defecating on railway tracks, and Pichku’s routine is shown in great detail. You want to say that you get the point, but no. The filmmaker wants to show poverty and what it does to people.


The kids laugh at Pichku because he cannot do it in the open, and his father drags him mid act to the tracks and orders him to finish in front of everyone who gathers to watch.


Disgusted yet?


Pichku meets Gopi doing his business in an abandoned, haunted factory and they become friends because both cannot do it in the open. They find that the factory is not haunted but occupied for the same reason by a medicine man (played by Kumud Mishra). The three decide they need to build a toilet and buy a commode (don’t even ask about plumbing and how just buying a pot will help). They begin to work (the boys work at a recycling dump) and they give money at the shop as payment towards a commode.

The government runs a scheme for the poor to build toilets and give money for the same. But the grown ups as well as the government official pocket that money and continue their set routines. Pichku’s father pockets the money but an honest officer shows up and begins to round up everyone. Then there’s a shameless plug of a school run by a charitable foundation who are producing the film. It’s like watching the promotional video of this international school embedded in the film.The kids build a toilet by the stinky drain that saves the day.  Don’t ask. This film stinks. Literally and figuratively.


(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)

Review: LAILA MAJNU


First Half Is Awful Romance
Second Half is Awesome Tale Of Love


3 stars


Mini Review:


It’s the love story everyone has seen growing up, our very own Romeo and Juliet. A tragedy made popular and unforgettable. But this pair of doomed love birds are modern, cell phone carrying teens. The gal is meh, so the magic of instant love seems to be missing. But the writing is brilliant and the lad is too. Looks like Imtiaz Ali has got his mojo back.


Main Review:

CELL PHONE TOTING LAILA LIVES IN MAINE PYAR KIYA WORLD. EH WHAT?


Set in picturesque Kashmir, this version of the love story of doomed Laila and Majnu is modern in many ways and old fashioned melodramatic in others. A little bit like India. Laila is gutsy, flirty and not shy at all. In fact, she has the local lads chase her all the way from home to college. Not what you expect from your regular Hindi film heroine at all. Alas, Laila (played by Tripti Dimri) is so ‘meh’ you wonder why all the lads are in love with her. You are alarmed at her bed head scene right in the beginning of the film, but she’s sassy with her dad, and you hope she’ll get better. No. Her makeup is ghastly garish (not her fault), and her dialog delivery is just plain odd. Not that Ranjeeta in the 1976 version was a better simpering miss, but she looked beautiful despite those hilarious Disney’s Princess Jasmine clothes. This Laila just doesn’t make an impression even though the director wants us to be in love with her.


Seriously? She’s got cooing pigeons as she lives her Maine Pyar Kiya fantasy. Then you are forced to look at Kais. The rich lad who is stalking her relentlessly. He’s not a pretty lad, this Kais Butt. In fact, he’s a bit of an Anl Kapoor throwback when it comes to body hair. And he’s peeing on Laila and her pretty sister hiding in the bushes in the intro scene. Ugh! You are not going to like this film.

THE 1976 LAILA MAJNU WAS AWFUL COSTUME DRAMA TOO, YOU KNOW…


So who are we to give up on a love story? We sit through the rather tele-novella type first half. Love birds are separated because Shakespeare ordained it, Montagues and the Capulets shall never meet. Thankfully, the director Sajid Ali concentrates on the proud lad who tells her, ‘If you want me, you will have to come and find me.’ But as love will have its way, Kais turns into Majnu, someone who hankers after his Laila. And this hankering is brilliantly written by Imtiaz Ali. Kashmir plays witness to how Laila makes him wait. How that wait drives him crazy. And you forget the old exaggerated song with Rishi Kapoor and Ranjeeta, ‘Koi patthar se na maare mere deewane ko’ because Imtiaz Ali pens the most amazing scene where Majnu – crazed by his waiting and loving can see nothing but Laila everywhere – asks the men sitting for prayers, ‘I was talking to my beloved. I see no one else. You are praying to your beloved, how is it that you noticed me?’

YEAH, WE NOTICE. AND WE NOTICE. AND WE NOTICE…


This is where you realise that Avinash Tiwary, who plays Majnu in the film is something else. His character just grows on you. He is a find. He is so good, it doesn’t matter if his Laila cannot act herself out of a speeding ticket. He is phenomenal. In fact, this film should be called Majnu. His dance of passion, of madness is marvelous and the music draws you in. Mind you, from the many songs not a line or refrain is memorable, but the music is pleasing to the ears. The supporting cast, especially the bewildered house help, Majnu’s younger brother and friends, Laila’s beautiful sister and Laila’s creepy husband make their presence felt. But the film belongs to Imtiaz Ali and Avinash Tiwary.  


(This review appears on www.nowrunning.com)