Review: BAZAAR


Bore Bazaar
2 stars


Mini Review:


A young, small town ambitious lad reaches Bombay with just one goal. To be noticed by and work with Shakun Kothari. And he rises to such instant money and fame that it takes one move by the master to bring the apprentice down. Or does he? This beautifully produced film falls flat on its face because it has very little substance. So many films to be inspired from – Wall Street to The Big Short and even Margin Call – and the story is like Gaflat Bollywood’s first attempt to make a film on the Stock Market scam. Should have gone straight to Netflix or Amazon, perhaps.


Main Review:


The production value of this film are high. They make you believe there are places in the city where the men’s restrooms are fancy enough to have conversations, that rich people in Bombay have swimming pools, that people are still using Blackberry phones, that the Jains chant the forgiveness chant ‘Micchami Dukhdam’ all the time instead of the last day of their holy month of Paryushan (like Lent), that the only way to get to Bombay from Allahabad is by a flight…


The rest, is a horrendous bunch of cliches: a small town chap making it in the big bad city, against all odds. That a gorgeous girl at work suddenly takes interest in the small town lad, gets hot and heavy with him and even falls in love with him. He’s so smart with the stocks that he falls for ‘tips’ that come his way and he is suddenly doing ‘insider trading’ without ever being an ‘insider’. Trouble is that we have seen such fabulous films like Margin Call, The Big Short and even the old but gold Wall Street, that we just cannot buy Rizwan Ahmad as someone with street smarts. In fact, this film has practically the same story as the Bollywood film called Gaflat, made on the scandal connected with Harshad Mehta.


It’s hard to swallow that a gorgeous woman like Radhika Apte (who is made to wear strangest, the most inappropriate clothes at work) will suddenly get hot and heavy with a lad who has just had a coffee someone spat into. Why? Because she’s so impressed with his intelligence. By that logic, the boss (Denzil Smith) who gives him a job should also be getting hot and heavy with him, no? It’s such a cliched fantasy of the writer and it has failed the Bechdel test on many levels…


What’s awful is that the character breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience ever so often. And it’s not like Kevin Spacey in the TV show House of Cards. It just comes at you to explain things like, ‘This is where it all started’ or something just as mundane. And the poor small town chap Rizwan Ahmad (played by Rohan Mehra, who looks mostly unwashed through the film) makes a serious face to talk to the audience. The inanities are so groan-worthy, you actually wait for Chitrangada Singh – who can barely move her face when she speaks – to say anything, so you can guffaw.


Saif Ali Khan plays Shakun Kothari, a ruthless money hungry Gujjubhai who doesn’t care for ethics because he knows everyone has a price. Despite his horrible attempt to speak in a Gujarati accent, to his credit, Saif Ali Khan does the best he can. His dialogue too is rife with cliches, including him calling his wife ‘ben’ (sister). Manish Choudhary gets to play the SEBI guy investigating the economic crimes and is made to run a red thread through pins on a board (connecting the dots literally, and done to death by crime shows) where articles about Shakun Kothari and pictures are placed. Ugh! Think of something else!


If you can forget how polished Saif Ali Khan really comes across, his casting is actually spot on. He wears his clothes well. But ever so often you wish you were watching him play Sartaj Singh instead and that this film had more substance and could be seen as a Netflix or an Amazon show instead. Even the Korean shows like Stranger where there is an obvious nexus between real estate tycoons and the politicians is unraveled by the good cops/prosecutors unearths the plot slowly and with surprises. Misaeng is about a guy who plays a board game (who does that?!) and applies the lessons to the stock trading. If they had to there is enough fodder for thought and to be inspired by. Alas, they just stick to writing a cliched film of which only the last twenty minutes of the hurt apprentice avenging his wrongs to bring the master down actually mean something. In fact the movie which is narrated from the open window where the lad stands on the ledge wondering whether to jump or not to jump is so boring, you wish someone from the audience could enter his space (fourth wall be damned and all that) and just push him off. It would save us the cliched, tedious watch.

(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com )

Review: BADHAI HO

Boriyat Ho!

2 stars

Mini Review:

The film is about middle class Delhi at its weirdest best: nosey neighbours, judgemental relatives, small claustrophobic homes, quirky characters… And funny one liners about life that make you smile. Yes, there’s grown up parents who are freshly pregnant and the son is embarrassed. But if you’ve seen the trailer, nothing more happens in the film. It drags on and on until you lose the smiles. Surekha Sikri, Gajraj Rao, Neena Gupta are such phenomenal actors they carry the film, but everything else, including their grown up son Ayushman Khurana lets this film down.

Main Review:

‘Ayushman Khurana is like yesteryear’s Amol Palekar’, someone commented and had you not watched the film Andhadhun last week, you would have agreed. He’s made the sad sack, the whole world is against me character his dream job.

So Aushman discovers that his parents Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta are going to be parents again. It’s funny when the awesome Surekha Sikri blows her top about ‘Hum do hamare do’ without feeling awkward at all. It’s delightful when the parents read poetry to each other, cannot stop giving each other shy ‘looks’ at a family wedding, and yet manage to fight gently with each other. This kind of a gentle relationship is rarely seen in Bollywood, and you appreciate that. You laugh out loud because the doctor is called ‘Bagga’ (his surname) and his wife (also a doctor) is called ‘Buggy’ instead of the expected ‘Mrs. Bagga’ which in the local Hindi sounds hilarious.

What is so difficult to swallow is that middle class North Indians – where people have many kids – are shown to be so judgemental about having a kid after a gap. Let’s say you buy into the fact that the whole neighborhood is appalled at the idea of an older woman having a baby, then what? How long does the son wander about embarrassed? For two hours plus, of course! While you fall in love with the mother in law played by Surekha Sikri, the parents, you begin hating the son. Why is he so crotchety? It’s not like they stopped him from romancing the girl who obviously comes from a better economic background. It’s not like they did not give them enough freedom. In fact, you idly wonder what the pretty girl (Sanya Malhotra) sees in the morose middle class lad.

The film is so tedious to watch, you wish there were more scenes like how the dad reacts to Sanya visiting their home and begins to speak in English… Apologies for the spoiler, but there is very little in the film to make you spend multiplex money. The lad realises his mistake, and everything’s well and there is that mandatory wedding/engagement dance as you breathe a sigh of relief. But you come away wishing Bollywood would make a movie with Surekha Sikri, Gajraj Singh and Neena Gupta. And that Ayushman Khurana would stop acting in the same out-of-luck-lad role in his films.


(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)  

Review: NAMASTE ENGLAND


Goobye Logic and Sanity.

1 star


Mini Review:


Jasmeet is married to Param. But Jasmeet’s grandpa and brother don’t want her to ever work because women are made to bear children and take care of men. Jasmeet thinks moving to England will give her freedom to work. She will stop at nothing to get to England, including ‘getting married’ in name only to a rich Brit when she realises Param will never get a visa. Param then goes the illegal route to bring her back, pretending to marry another rich Brit when he gets there. Far-fetched, ridiculous and laughable, this film is a poor sequel from the same team that made the 2007 rom-com Namastey London.


Main Review:


In 2007, Katrina Kaif’s independent and very British Jasmeet was tricked by her parents to come visit India and get married to Akshay Kumar’s Param. Param is then tricked by Jasmeet to go to London where she plans to annul the marriage to Param because it is not registered and then she plans to get to a good ole British (read ‘white’) boy. Param’s innocence and gentle goodness, his decency shows up the Brit boy’s entitled racism, and Jasmeet comes back to Param. The film plays on TV even today and it is a decent watch despite the chest-thumping patriotic lesson Param gives a boat load of Brits.


Alas, they tried to fix something that isn’t broken. And their logic is so convoluted and bizarre, that the story trips all over itself, opening itself to unintended, unkind laughter.


Parineeti Chopra plays Jasmeet to Arjun Kapoor’s Param. The chemistry between them is not sexual at all, because they come across like siblings. Despite desperate dialog like,’You know I think dirty thoughts when you hug me like this!’ and staring at each other with supposed seduction, their ‘jodi’ (pairing) is not romantic at all.


Jasmeet wants to work but her grandpa and brother (there are no other women in her family!) won’t let that happen. The old man actually says that men are supposed to work and women are meant to have babies for the men. The old man lets Jasmeet marry Param, but only after getting Param’s dad to promise him that Jasmeet will never work. The trouble is, they all have smartphones and apple computers and talk about email, but Jasmeet has never learnt that she can design jewelry from home… Sigh.


You try to like the one wedding song where everyone dances while making makes horns on head sign (‘Dim Luck Luck’) which begins to sound prophetic for the film. Jasmeet is so enamoured by living abroad that she is willing to go to any extent to get a visa. The one guy with visa connection in that part of rural Punjab is annoyed with Param and will make sure they never get one even to Bangladesh, let alone London. Don’t ask. That drunk guy at the wedding scene is so pathetic, you want to forget it because you’re surprised that Param and Jasmeet are doing the very Hindu ceremony of ‘saat phere’ instead of the four phere (the Lavan ceremony) around the sacred Guru Granth Sahib since they are all shown to be Sikh.


You are still trying to get around the ‘women are born to bear babies’ when you meet an illegal visa guy who suggests Param get married to a ‘mem’ who would then give him residency and a subsequent divorce for a price, after which Param can come back to India, remarry Jasmeet and take her away to London where she could work. What a convoluted way to get to work! They could just move to Bombay or something, and that would work just as well, no? Because they just show Jasmeet work slyly as a salesgirl after all that talk about designing jewelry.


Clearly no one from the filmmaking team has thought things through. The visa cheat annoys Param, so Jasmeet lies to Param and leaves for London after being married to an British Indian lad (Aditya Seal). Param is shocked, but like she says, ‘Only you will understand.’ That’s true because no one in the audience has understood her at all. And no one really cares. But Param decides he is going to bring her back and travels all the way to Bangladesh (dodges bullets by cutting through a fence), gets on to a boat in a shipping container filled with illegal immigrants, travels all the way to Brussels, then by train to Paris and then to London. He gives so many moral science lessons about India has food, and opportunities for work, living abroad has no dignity and so on, you begin to understand why Jasmeet ran away.


Param decides to make Jasmeet jealous (and the movie is well into its second hour) and uses ‘Jasmeet’s new ‘husband’s best friend’ and gets engaged to her. There is the India is best speech given to a sequined jacket wearing uppity Indian Brit (Virginia Woolf would roll in her grave!) and by this time, the rude things you are muttering under your breath, are being heckled aloud by others in the theater. The final nail in the coffin is Arjun Kapoor promising another film of the same kind soon. No, don’t waste your time on this one. If you must say hello to London, watch the Akshay Kumar- Katrina Kaif film again.
      


(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)

Review: TUMBBAD

Greed Is So Good It Is Scary…


4 stars


Mini Review:


In a village that seems to be doomed by the gods, there is one family that lives unafraid. A family that knows the secret hidden inside the womb of the goddess. Gold! As much gold as you can take as long as you are not touched by the beast… The brilliant scary, horrifying film is based on a couple of stories written by Marathi writer Narayan Dharap who in turn was inspired by Stephen King. The writing is practically flawless, the music is haunting and the performances jaw-droppingly good. Brilliant watch.


Review:


‘Greed is good,’ said Gordon Gekko, and this fantasy horror film writers and directors Rahi Anil Barve and Anand Gandhi and two other writers Mitesh Shah and Adesh Prasad take us down the rabbit hole and we watch a fabulous story unfold.


The setting is brilliant. It’s like an old moralistic tale of incessant rain and thunder and all shades of black and grey. It has the reds of blood and widowhood, and the gold of greed glitters beautifully. The background music keeps you from breathing, keeps you from thinking anything other than watch the story unfold on the screen, and you begin to anticipate the pain in the belly of the beast each time Sohum Shah, who plays Vinayak Rao emerge with gold coins for his family.


Greed will curse you to want more and more and you will live for hundreds of years, he tells his son, who wants to become like his dad. But you have seen what happens when you know the secret of the greed, when you have been touched by the beast…


Narayan Dharap wrote creepy tales of witches and cursed moons and the undead, inspired by Stephen King. Based on his tale of a witchy grandmother (and who has not thought their wrinkly grandmothers with pale liquidy eyes and gnarly fingers weren’t a mutant or in the least a witch?), Tumbbad tells a tale of a village so cursed by the gods, it rains incessantly. But Vinayak’s family thrives because they have found the key to the local diety’s gold. The curse of greed is passed on. There is skin touched by the beast, melting and seething with pus and boils, there are hearts beating with greed even though the body has disintegrated, there is a living breathing womb and more to keep horror fans happy. There’s even music that keeps you frozen to the seats. The acting by every character – Sohum Shah as the grown up Vinayak, the little kid Mohammad Samad, Dhundiraj Jogalekar, Deepak Damle, Jyoti Malshe, Anita Date – is just awesome. The period setting is crafted well, the creepy prosthetics and homes in ruins… Everything comes together to scare you into not touching the popcorn.


But you exhale when the lights come on, and you take a minute or two to extricate your nails from your arms because you have hugged yourself in fear. And the consequences of greed – like a living breathing thing is not extinguished, it accompanies you home…


(This review appears on www.nowrunning.com )


   

Review: HELICOPTER EELA

The Story Too Goes Round And Round Like
Helicopter Blades,
But That’s Okay, ‘Cos Kajol Is So Beautiful!


1.5 stars


Mini Review:


When a mother lives for her son, obsesses over him, she forgets that he’s grown up and needs his space. Kajol – never before so beautiful – plays a helicopter single mom to Vivan and is so involved with his life that she even joins the same college as he, and makes his life miserable. What could have been a humongous parenting film, is just so frivolously written, that even moments of greatness are reduced to froth.


Main Review:


Kajol looks stunning. And that is perhaps the one thing that makes the film tolerable. What should have been a fantastic dive into the depths of obsession that a single mother could show for her only son or a joyful celebration of sarcasm and humor ends up so facile it induces multiple eye-rolls. Montage after mindless montage where ‘mumma’ and ‘viv’ do what some juvenile writer thinks is ‘creating‘ wonderful mother son moments. Cliches like ‘bring back the tupperware’ are used so many times, you want to yell at the screen, ‘We got that! All Indian mothers are obsessed with tupperware. Now show me something more!’ What we get are cameos from everyone who cared enough to show up: Amitabh Bachchan in his Who’s Going To Be A Millionaire avatar, singers Shaan, Ila Arun and even Baba Sehgal show up, as to Anu Malik and Mahesh Bhatt. It begins to smell like a parody…


Eela (the beautiful Kajol) is an aspiring singer, and gets a break in Bollywood when a music director hears her sing an ad film jingle. Pradeep Sarkar, the director of the film, is himself an advertising man, and manages to bring a smile on our faces with the flashback of Eela singing ad film jingles, being ambitious. But suddenly she’s running to the restroom with her child screaming, ‘Viv! Potty!’ and we are expected to believe that it’s just a natural progression of things when you get married… You hope something interesting is going to happen when she finds herself suddenly single. But it’s Bollywood! Everything is vanilla and super nice. She starts earning money by setting up a food service. And follows her kid around everywhere including school trips. There is no depth in the writing at all, or we would have heard better dialog than, ‘I thought you were only nine teachers so I showed up (at the school trip) to help.’ or even telling a skinny college gal, ‘Wear the skirt, it’s loose-fit on me!’ Seriously? A quintessential mommy saying that to a tall, skinny college co-ed?


Obviously the insistent, loud background music covers all this flawed writing. And drown out questions like: if she’s in college all day as a student, what is now her source of income? Why are her school leaving certificates at her mother-in-law’s home? Why do the filmmakers believe that the audience will find Kajol’s over enthusiastic behavior cute?   

As you emerge from this exhausting film you realise one thing: Kajol is so beautiful, so nothing else matters.


(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com )

Review: ANDHADHUN


First, Fab, Fun, Feral,
Then Ye Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum…


3 stars


Mini Review:


A blind piano player, his cat, an ageing has-been Bollywood star, his wife, her lover, and a dark, dark comedy about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This film by Sriram Raghavan has a fabulous first half which makes you want to rate it a notch higher. But in the second half you wonder why the movie gets too clever for its boots, preening about the fact that the director can add more twists at will. Watch because Tabu returns to the big screen once again and proves why she is fabulous. Watch because Ayushmann Khurrana and everyone else balance her talent on the opposite side.


Main Review:


This is not a story for those who want to be politically correct. They’d be horrified to see a visually challenged chap who’s not a nice guy. Remember how everybody rebuked you for sharing a joke about Stevie Wonder swaying his head so much because he cannot see where the mic is? Well, this film takes the political incorrectness to another level. Ayushmann Khurrana is Akash, the blind piano player who makes a living by teaching piano and wants to win a music contest and live in London.


Anil Dhawan, the star of 70s films like Piya Ka Ghar, Chetna, Annadata and cult horror films like Purani Haveli, Aakhri Cheekh plays an ageing star Pramod Sinha who watches his own films at home, promising his young wife a tv series or maybe a film even.


The wife, Simi, of course is the inimitable Tabu, who kills it with the very first dialog,’Crab meat is an aphrodisiac. Don’t ask me to spell aphrodisiac, I can show you what it means…’


Truffaut fans will remember a noir caper with a piano player (Shoot the Piano Player), but you soon forget that comparison when Akash shows up at the star’s home to play the piano on his wedding anniversary.


What follows is a series of marvelous unfortunate events which you watch with horror and a smile, like a complicated domino arrangement falling neatly. There is blood and death and manipulation and brilliant writing. Radhika Apte’s Sophie gets Akash a job at her dad Franco’s restaurant and his music wins him a lot of money. There’s Manav Vij (you saw him in Chauthi Koot), Zakir Hussain and two super talented women: Ashwini Kalsekar and Chhaya Kadam (of ‘Redu’ fame) in the film.


The second half alas goes from the original idea into other things which sort of is clever in itself, but you begin to wonder why have live organ donation as dark humor when Monty Python did the gory years and year ago in their film Meaning Of Life.

It’s fun. It’s different. It’s dark as dark can get. And the performances are all ace. But you begin to say, ‘Oh no, not another twist!’ in the meandering second half. The end? Worth waiting for.


(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)

Review: LOVE YATRI

Charmless Spangly Jangly Duo


1 star


Mini Review:


A young Gujarati man named Susu wants to do nothing but Garba. He meets an NRI lass called Michelle aka Manisha. They fall in love with a little help from an uncle and two sidekicks called Rocket and Negative. But there’s nasty NRI dad who wants daughter to get married to white guy. But in the end the garba dancing guy gets the girl. It’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai reversed but without any magic and no charm.


Main Review:


If Salman Khan decides to launch you, it had better be a Dabang style hero or Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam type romance. You’re in for a disappointment with this journey of love or Love Yatri. Even though Ram Kapoor’s mamaji (uncle) gives a long speech about how India learns to love from its movies – how Salman shaves his head in Tere Naam, how Shah Rukh spends years in jail for his love in Veer Zara and so on and so forth, you just don’t buy the fact that this lad is really in love with the girl.


The problem with the lad is that he’s shown to be completely idiotic. Not because his name is Susu (such a juvenile attempt at humor because it means ‘pee’!), but because he’s shown to be so easily tricked by anyone telling him anything. His uncle says, ‘This time you’ll fall in love at Navratri’, we see his eyes glaze over, his friends say, ‘She’s beyond your league’, he’s immediately miserable, her dad tells him, ‘She has a boyfriend’, the lad immediately is rude to the girl, his uncle says, ‘Follow her because you need to apologise in person, the lad immediately takes his scooter and drives off from Baroda to Ahmedabad to say he’s sorry. Really? You want young women in the audience to fall in love with such a fickle-minded lad? And ignore that awful name which means pee?


The movie launches Aayush Sharma, spray tanned and much made up young man (shown wearing only a towel after showers, his hair is never wet) with a gym bod (obviously!) who only wants to do Garba (a traditional Gujarati dance usually performed at the Navratri festival (‘Nav’ is nine, ‘Ratri’ is nights) which falls in the month of October/November accordance with the Hindu calendar. His father tries to get him to think of the future by saying that you go ‘gol gol’ (round and round) in Garba, but what is your goal in life. An awful pun on round and goal sounding the same. You groan, but grit your teeth and carry on watching.               


The girl, Warina Hussain is tall and thin and fair and so foreign, she looks the part of  Gujarati NRI Manisha now called Michelle. She has long hair, can dance, is happy to be in slow motion when she dances. She loves her family and the poor, volunteers at a soup kitchen. She is also shown to be human because she gets an upset stomach from eating all kinds of street food. Don’t ask about acting. She’s pretty, and that’s all that matters.


First Susu, now diarrhoea? Is this supposed to be funny? The family on either side hardly matters, and you remember how the garba dancing family in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was sharply defined. But they assume you have seen all these movies, so family does not really an important part. We know her mother was a saint, running a papad and khakra making NGO, died waiting for her husband to send for her, and her dad has a laundry ‘empire’. This sounds so out of the 80s… And they have to go to passport touts to visit her and apologise? They have never heard of a tourist visa?


It’s very obvious that the lad is trying hard to please Salman Khan, who not only crops up as a reference to love (songs from his films, dialog from his films are liberally used), but he just doesn’t seem to have that zing, the star power that could catapult him into instant fame. He dances like most young men in Bollywood do. He is portrayed at the cool lad among his group. Even his clothes are nicely picked out for him. He can dance too. But there’s something missing… Acting chops, perhaps?

The songs are remixes of traditional garba songs, and so have a ‘hit’ value. And you will groan at the villain dancing garba at the end of the film and wish for Amrish Puri who said,’Ja Simran ja’ and let his daughter go. The film is a mashup of Namaste London and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam but has none of the chemistry, the joy or the spontaneity. It is a manufactured paint by numbers, charmless love story.

(this review appears on www.nowrunning.com)