Review: MANTO

There’s Only One Manto. He Belongs To All.
Even The Unwanted

3.5 stars

Mini Review:

A magical mystery tour into the life and works of writer Saadat Hasan Manto who was born in British India, moved to Pakistan after the Partition and yet lived for Bombay that was in his heart. Manto was an iconoclast and his anguished life celebrated the vile and the forgotten. This film neatly weaves the stories he wrote into the life he lived and leave us wondering: is he the better storyteller or is God? Not commercial at all, but what a brilliant cinematic experience.

Main Review:

Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Saadat Hasan Manto, a celebrated writer of his time (and ours), quick to anger, but his observations about the life around him, the Bombay he lived in right before India gained independence were faultless. He laughed at progressive writers who wanted him to write about hope when all he could see and feel the pain of the prostitutes, the men who could trade honesty for a bottle of alcohol and the reeking humanity that had given up on life.

He loved Bombay for what it was: the glamour and the intellectual give and take with famous writers like Ismat Chughtai, singer Jaddan Bai, actors Ashok Kumar and his best friend actor Shyam. All shown in delightful cameos. In the film, the period costumes and the settings feel so authentic, you are automatically transported to the time.

The short fused Manto realises that his best friend Shyam, has spoken the truth in anger: I could kill you too. He packs his bags and leaves for Lahore, and no matter how much Shyam apologises, Manto knows that the divide between Hindus and Muslims cannot be filled.

Rasika Duggal, a fine actor, plays Manto’s wife Safiya with so much gentleness you are torn between the brilliant alcoholic writer and his ever supporting wife. Nawazuddin is acknowledged even in Pakistan, but his heart remained in Bombay. This tore him apart. And the more he witnessed the aftermath of the Partition, the darker his writings became. Nandita Das has made excellent directorial choices in the film, whether it is with the cast or with the writing. Zakir Hussain’s music is haunting. Yes, including the most popular of his stories in the film is like taking the easy way out, but the result is fabulous two hour watch.

(this review appears on    

Review: PAKHI

Producers Of Pornography Have More Honesty
When They Make Their Films

0.5 stars

Mini Review:

Pakhi, a young girl is sold off to a bad guy who runs a brothel. In a year, she becomes the head of the girls. Another poor girl, with a young brother and sister are sold to the same bad guy. The bad guy sells the little girl to an old man. Pakhi poisons the bad guy and all the girls escape the brothel. The production values are ghastly, the acting is hilarious and you know they wanted to make an exploitative film but did not have the cojones.

Main Review:

The official synopsis says that the film is based on a harrowing true story of a ten year old being sold off to a brothel… You have seen this before in crime shows on TV and they have a better technique both in terms of the writing and filming these tales. You don’t know whether to thank the Gods that loud music takes over dialog or wait to hear dialog that is as trite as, ‘Take her to the special room.’

You have seen many movies about girls being sold off to brothels and so on (the last terrible one being a week ago: Love Sonia). None of the movies who want to exploit either the bodies of the girls ‘acting’ in the film or use the stories to shock the audience with subject that is chosen to titillate in the hope of getting to see more than just skin. This film fails to titillate on any level. Anamika Shukla who plays Pakhi has an long suffering expression all through the film, whether she is getting ready for a date with Bali, the bad guy or poisoning him. Speaking of Bali, the bad guy, Sumeet Kant Kaul literally goes deep into his role. He wears terrible leather jackets to look like he’s boss of other ridiculous bad guys, and channels his inner Gulshan Grover with super enthusiastic snarls mostly misplaced. The poor script writer perhaps was not paid enough, or the actor was unable to remember lines of dialog, hence we are forced to hear, ‘Am I Joker?!’ at least fifteen times. The worst part is, none of us sitting in the theater heard the young boy accused of calling the bad guy ‘Joker’ heard it. Edited out? Who knows!

The tea and food guy Ali looks like a schoolkid brought in to play a grown up in the high school play. And the lunch boxes he hands over to everyone look too light to contain any food. In fact when the young lad pushes the lunch box away, it clatters open and there is no food in it.

When Bali and his boys kidnap the little girl from the village fair, her young brother chases the speeding SUV and actually catches up to the car! Superman?! The little girl is first offered to a politician who says, ‘Bay-beee!’ and approaches the girl as if he were a zombie. Acting school dropouts? But the little boy and girl make up for all the bad acting by adults by overdoing the crying and the panting when they escape the bad guys. Through all the running and chasing SUVs and jumping the young lad’s hair remains shampooed and anti-gravity. And yes, budgetary constraints probably stopped them from showing why and how the older sister who was sold along with the young lad and the little girl committed suicide.

This film is a tragedy of such epic howlarious proportions. None of the cast know how to act. And all that attempted exploitation in the name of true story of a ten year old is so bad you want the film to be relegated to the bottom of a well.

(this review appears on


3 Stories: 2 Blah, 1 Superb

2 stars

Mini Review:

Three stories from the North East part of India will try and help you understand the unique social and political place they hold in the universe. The first one tackles how political insurgents are kidnapping young girls and boys, the second story is about drug use and the temptation of easy money. The third one though outshines the other two and should have been a standalone film. It’s about elephant poachers. The first two stories then look trite and unwatchable.

Main Review:

The ploy of getting you to watch three stories from the far away North East corner of the country is not new. They even have guns in each of the stories to sort of give them a reason of being bunged together as one film. Fair enough.

The first story has Indraneil Sengupta driving through the North East, stops to pee and discovers that a young girl with a foul mouth and a gun is asking him to drive fast and straight ahead. We learn how she was kidnapped and forced to kill. He is kind to her and she is grateful and before you know it, he has just dropped her off on the street in the middle of the night. The end is rather abrupt and makes the story pointless.

The second story is even more predictable. Donnie drops out of college and deals drugs at clubs and parties to make money. His mother waits for him to come every night at the dining table and nags him to get himself a proper job like all other young men in the neighborhood. But he does not listen and is fascinated by a gun. He learns new tricks to deal drugs and even learns to smuggle and his boss gives him the gun. One night he dies because there are other men who don’t like him posing with the gun. His long suffering mother then takes refuge at the temple.

It’s the third story that is brilliant. A poor grass cutter Mukhtar (played with mind-blowing ease by Subrat Dutta) wastes all his money in going ganja and in alcohol. He is offered a whole lot of money to kill, and is told there is money for his assistant also. Poverty forces him to find a partner for the killing. The partner is a mute chap called Ikram (brilliantly played by Nalneesh), who conveys more by gestures and his expressions than dialog. These two are set up by a ‘boss’ to poach elephants and are given more money than they have ever seen. Their stakeout in the jungle, their avoiding electrified fences in the forest, their drunken celebration and their complete amoral involvement in the poaching is shown so simply and beautifully that you watch are afraid for them when the elephant chases one. You smile when Mukhtar’s wife complains about him and yet is a wonderful wife (again, played marvelously by Amrita Chattopadhyay), and like how she complains about not having any new clothes… This story is streets ahead of the other two. Could have been a standalone film all on its own.

(This review appears on    

Review: The House With a Clock in its Walls

Gotta Believe They’re Magick!

2.5 stars

Mini Review:

Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, and the resurrected Kyle MacLachlan are fabulous. Everyone in the audience was the little kid who comes to live with Jack Black. The story is so delightful, kids of all ages will want to live in this magical house. 

Main Review:

A shy lad makes a journey what looks like the end of the world called Zebedee where he’s met by an uncle in a kimono. 

He cannot go back. his parents are dead. The house his uncle lives in has many many clocks, ticking away to drown the sound of what seems like a doomsday clock hidden inside the walls of the house. There’s magic everywhere and good spells to ward off evil spells, and you watch slack-jawed as the magic steps off the screen in the form of the beautiful Cate Blanchett (aaah, that elegant chignon!).

Cate Blanchett says she’s lost all her magic, but we don’t believe her because we are collectively bewitched. 

The little boy, yes, the story is his, after all, has joined a new school and needs to make friends and will go to any lengths to do that. Including break the only rule of the magic house: not to open the locked case. Of course the magical book it contains is evil. Of course the lad will use it…

The costumes are so much fun, it makes you look at your own wardrobe and say, ‘Only if it is purple!’

It doesn’t matter how old you are, the magic and the fun is ageless.

The film leaves you wanting a sequel. When has that last happened when you watched a kiddie flick?

Buy lots of popcorn (and you’ll hear Jack Black say, ‘I’ll get butter.’) and watch this delightful film.


Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam Version 2.0

3.5 stars

Mini Review:

Her hair is dyed red and his is blue and they are kindling and fire. Physical and irresistible. Her family would like them to get married but he doesn’t show up. Every single time. She’s as fiery as her hair, and she gets married to another, an exact opposite of her lover. A twisted Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, perhaps, but what a mush, fun ride. Who’d have thunk Anurag Wasseypur Kashyap could be exquisitely drippy in love?!

Main Review:

Manmarziyan sounds like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, but the heroine is not Aishwarya Rai, singing, ‘Nimbuda, nimbuda!’ She’s riding a motorbike with her lover all over Amritsar.

Manmarziyan has the bride wear running shoes, but she’s no Julia Roberts of The Runaway Bride who doesn’t know what kind of eggs she likes best. This heroine is wilful and wants extra Chole with her Aloo Kulcha.

Manmarziyan smacks of Laila-Majnu (Romeo Juliet) and you see the hero proclaim that he cannot live without the heroine, standing stubbornly under her window as she gets ready to get married to another. But he’s not the kind who’ll tear his Jim Morrison Tee singing ‘Come on baby light my fire’. He removes his tee and wears one which has a middle finger plastered on.

Anurag Kashyap seduces you with this wilful and hotheaded version of every love story you have seen and makes you yearn for all the wrong loves in your own dreary nine to five lives that you could have had. Thanks to the writing by Kanika Dhillon, Bollywood love now reek of sweaty, loud, lusty sex that is unafraid. And I’m glad to hear the heroine say, ‘Honeymoon is going all right I suppose, but he had to run out and get condoms…’ to her nosey aunt.

The surprise element in the love triangle (told ya, it was a Bollywood Dil De Chuke Sanam Ver.2.0) is the good guy –  a banker, no less – who shows up from London for an arranged marriage and promptly falls in love with a hockey-stick wielding heroine with red hair. Since it is Anurag Kashyap helming the project you’d think he probably is the son from Wasseypur you never saw again. And your heart questions your decision of liking him when he stalks her on FaceBook. But you sigh into your seat when he turns out to be awesome when he asks her what side of the bed she prefers. One can imagine women in the theater elbowing their men off the seats after that scene. Yes, the definition of mush has changed.

The cast is mindblowing. Perfect whether it is the heroine’s Grandpa or her sister. Whether it is twins popping and breaking in the city or twins drinking Kahwa observing the honeymoon goings on role of the traditional Greek Chorus or it is the gold toothed Kakaji the marriage bureau chap (wonderful name of the company: Wah Vyaah). But all credit goes to the main lead: Tapsee Pannu who plays the red-headed, wilful heroine, Vicky Kaushal who plays the cockatoo headed, DJ loverboy who can’t keep his hands off her, and the super sharp, ‘Mukhtaar Singh Ka Naam Suna Hai?’ banker played by Abhishek Bachchan. That dialog had even the most cynical person like yours truly choke into the popcorn. Brilliantly written again by Kanika Dhillon.

The first half takes a while to sink into your bloodstream, but not if you have loved all the wrong ones. The second half plays with your heart and you can actually imagine Anurag Kashyap grinning over steak and kidney pie watching you turn into mush. It’s a predictable tale written on your heart with a whip. Go watch it!

(this review appears on


Exploit Sonia

1.5 stars

Mini Review:

What can you say about a movie that has International funding (hence a super strong cast), a director who has helped produce international projects in India, but is so exploitative in the name of the subject: human trafficking? It’s a glorified skin flick that has such distasteful dialog in the name of reality, you will upchuck in your popcorn.

Main Review:

Look at the stellar cast: Rajkummar Rao, Anupam Kher, Adil Hussain, Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadda, Freida Pinto and even Sunny Pawar. What other than the lure of Dollars lured them into acting in this supposedly ‘powerful’ film about the flesh trade? When a little boy in the red-light district makes the gesture and says, ‘Thokam Thoki’ (Indian slang for ‘banging’), it is easy to be put off. And then it gets worse when everything that happens to prostitutes is shown in the name of ‘starkness’ and being ‘gritty’. It is nothing but exploitative when you show anal sex and oral sex aided by dialog like ‘Don’t break her seal. I want to sell her as a virgin.’

Newcomers Mrunal Thakur and Riya Sisodiya play sisters, Sonia and Preeti respectively. Preeti is sold to the thakur of the village (played by Anupam Kher) because her father Adil Hussain cannot repay debts. Sonia is spared because she earns. This is just the beginning of something you see in TV crime shows. But this is a film, so they all out, cashing on sex and nudity and stereotypes you think you will see in and around brothels in order to justify the awfulness playing out on the screen. Manoj Bajpayee is a crass brothel owner trafficking ‘virgin’ girls to Hong Kong to customers and then doctors to ‘make them virgin again’. Freida Pinto is so shrieky as a ‘Wanna have a good time?’ girl on the curb, you wonder if she thought she was doing a Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. You are forced to wonder if she really has any more projects in her kitty. Seriously? You ask aloud when you see Rajkummar Rao in the film. He should know better!

We have seen enough cleavage in Bollywood films and now sex thanks to Netflix India and Sacred Games. This pure crassness is a little too unpalatable to spend multiplex money. Perhaps the foreign audience is gullible and offered funding to what was supposed to be ‘realistic depiction of the horrors of human trafficking’ and they should be disappointed with this skin flick. When Richa Chadda’s character slashes her wrist dramatically, you wish you had done the same as the film progressed.

(this review appears on     

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



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

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


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:


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.


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?’


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