“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”

Mild Spoiler alert

Once-Upon-A-Time-In-Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s [QT] latest might be his mildest and one of his most light-hearted movies in terms of execution since, mainly, it starts off as a love-affair with the golden age of Hollywood. The year is 1969, and ‘‘Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood’’ [OUATIH] starts off with its intent crystal clear – nostalgia is the word, and Hollywood at the cusp of its golden age is the gaze. That gaze is quite explicit and pulls you into that age through neon-lit street signs, the clothes, fashion, cars without seat-belts speeding down the narrow roads and the inter-state, cinema theater signs, throw-back to TV interviews, voice-overs, posters of TV shows, the drive-ins,  and movies and television shows (shot in news-reel grain to boot) post WW-II and what have you. And at the center of it all, he places two very interesting middle-aged; winding-down artists – one an actor [Leo’s Rick Dalton] and one his stunt-double [Brad’s Cliff Booth] and concocts a slow-burning, languid tale of their personal/professional relationship shaped mainly by the common profession they are in. While they represent the wane of Hollywood at its grandest, Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate represents that link – through her husband, Roman Polanski— between the pre- ‘70s studio-Hollywood and the more personalized shape that Hollywood had begun to take in terms of story-choices, story-telling, and execution, or even relations, friendly or other-wise. [There’s a scene in which Rick rues that he has Polanski as his neighbor but still can’t get to act in one of his movies!]

The film ambles its way through these set-ups and characters and spans only a few days. One of the awe-inspiring scenes of OUATIH is a terrific stretch that has its eyes, distinctly, on the 3 main characters’ and it’s all in a day’s work. It’s here that, once-again, QT’s enviable skills at placing a longish scene comes into full fire-power. It’s not just the length of this stretch, but the vast amount of incoherence and differences in the lead characters’ lives that’s imprinted on the viewer’s mind. It’s a pathetic day at work for the down-ward spiraling career – he’s now reduced to playing episodic villains in TV shows— of Rick Dalton. He has a hang-over, his stammer is hindering his performance, he isn’t able to get his lines right, and then he has the show’s main lead , Timothy Olyphant, rubbing it into him – though inadvertently of course – making him remember and retell the fact that he lost James Sturges’ THE GREAT ESCAPE to Steve McQueen by a narrow margin. And then, he has an intimidating conversation with the terrific kid Julia Butters who teaches him, or rather, reminds him, of a thing or two about the ‘art’ in acting and staying true to character! It’s both a hilarious and meaningful conversation at the same time, and it’s a credit to terrific writing and acts by Leo and Julia. At the same time, a matrimonially-satisfied Sharon Tate ventures out and decides to visit a theater screening movie in which she plays one of the roles; a ‘klutz’ as she puts it and gets only the ticket-seller and the usher—after her pursuit to force-fully recognize her— to get to take a picture with her. She walks into the theater, takes off her shoes and places her feet on the seat the next row, and watches the audiences’ reactions to her appearances on the screen and just soaks in the radiance, and reveals it through her ever-widening eyes and her smiling countenance. We might look at it as silly; as-in the folks are laughing at such silly scenes of physical comedy, but she’s enjoying it, and so are the audience of that film. That, for us, the audience, is Tarantino’s love-affair with the movies. We are  then reminded of Tarantino’s controversial snide at the critics and public alike who categorize films as A-GRADE or B-GRADE movies. [Hell, here he showers even the B-grade movies made in Italy with a meaning!]. Sharon Tate’s scene, is then, a great homage to the withering grand-standing Hollywood and its wistfulness through the eyes of an audience that loved this Hollywood. Now far-removed from the cinematic world, on the sunny streets of California, you see Clifton giving a ride to an under-age hippie with a hairy arm-pit nonetheless who offers oral sex to Clifton while ‘driving.’ He is tempted, but still has the wits and ‘decency’ about him to ask her age, and gently snubs her offer. He then enters the Spahn Ranch and smells something fishy with the way the former studio has been dilapidated and is now the ‘hang-out’ for these hippies. As he ventures to discover more regarding the owner, George Spahn’s condition, the hippies’ turn from, ‘Charles will dig you’ to an unkempt hippie stabbing Leo’s vehicle’s tire with a knife. Clifton lets loose his fists on the hippie, gives a bloody nose and broken teeth in full-force and forces him to fix the flat tire. It is a remarkable scene not for the violence, but for the way QT builds up the tempo to reveal Clifton’s hidden tendency for violence. He is  earlier shown driving the vehicle recklessly at break-neck speed with scant respect for safety of others on the road; then a scene indicating he might have killed his nagging wife, and then this scene. After that, there’s no stopping him, and under the influence of a joint, he goes on a violent spree in the last one hour of the movie, revealing himself to be not any-less violent than the frenzied cult-absorbed murderers. [Even his dog, Brandy, is well-trained in violence!]

And that is the cinematic form of QT, and he revisits his penchant for ‘revisionism’ as in Inglourious Bastards and Django Unchained in which he metes out justice per his view. Just as Brad’s Clifton reveals his temperament later in the day, so does QT building a sea of seemingly still waters, but later, in the climax he drowns you in turbulent, violent waters that you had all along sensed, but never thought could actually happen, because you were so absorbed in the idyllic love-affair that QT was having with vintage Hollywood!

It’s wonderful to see Leo and Brad contrast each other with exuberance and minimalism respectively in their roles. Leo is always on the edge, external in emotionalism, and always a step closer to his nihilistic doom: Brad, on the other hand, as the ‘more a brother than a wife’, is laconic, with a wry-smile, still not comfortable giving up, and used-to-his trailer-defined life. This is the best one has seen this star use his stardom. He has adjusted himself to the choir-boy routines he has to run for Leo and manages to find some good in it. It’s a treat to see these two being in a frame and brining out the best in each other.

It’s also great to see that QT conceives only these two characters as imaginary ones, while all other film personalities are true film-personalities like Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, Bruce Lee. [The fight-scene between Bruce Lee and Clifton Booth is hilarious and the conversation about martial-arts and manslaughter is up the roof; while Mike Moh as Bruce Lee is superb!].

And then, as notoriously famous as QT is for his revisionist and anachronistic fetishes, which are nothing short of a cultural war through the eyes of history,  one wonders, through-out the film, or maybe after, why is his stand so much in support of a stable culture, an almost tacit approval of sorts to a hierarchy, whether in cinema or society and against counter-culture?

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SUPER 30

Pleasantly surprised by SUPER 30’s first half. It’s a 70% effective movie, and Anand Kumar and Hrithik Roshan (HR) have more to do with it than Vikas Bahl. Vikas takes the age-old template of masala and shoves Anand’s story into it, with remarkable ease in the first half and then goes hay-wire in the 2nd half.

 

This story is known to one and all; with AK’s appearance in KBC and news et. al. What one — I — wasn’t prepared for was the unabashed embracing of ‘masala’ tics that the likes of Kashyap’s buddy Bahl and Co., always vented on. The first half is an unabashedly masala movie; it doesn’t matter if Anand Kumar as real life person existed or not, with due respect to him and his condition. You could very well play-out Anand Kumar as a fictional character and it would still pierce one’s hearts; depending on-course, on the heart-hardened-quotient embodied in life’s turns and twists.

So, you can watch the movie for its proceedings and its known denouement; but the path – until the intermission; is damn arresting, and it should be mainly credited to HR’s consistency. He looks remarkably young with no stooping skin when he wins the Ramanujan award and is courting a rich guy’s dancing daughter. He is utterly convincing when he just slaps his ‘gamcha’ on the floor of his terrace when his post-man father [an exuberantly effective Virendra Saxena] announces that he’s been gifted an admission to CAMBRIDGE. And as he goes on with his mission of identifying his ‘task’ in life—unbeknownst to him of course –he takes us along a roller-coaster ride. He makes us believe in him when he rejects a kid nonchalantly saying there’s no provision for ‘socialism’ in EXCEL coaching classes [an inherent taunt to Mr. Akhtar’s nepotism-riddled production house?]. He them comes out of a party hosted by politicians and the education-mafias, a.k.a. coaching classes’ honchos, tries to turn on his motor-bike ignition and fails: He then ventures to a kid who he thinks is reading ‘MANOHAR KAHANIAYAN’, and then realizes the kid is solving equations. And then, right then, the borrowed masala-exuberance of Bahl’s kicks in and there’s a cycle-rick-shaw wallah who asks him: साब, आप को मंज़िल पहुँचा दे? And as HR goes through a tunnel, it hammers into his mind, and that encounter with the kid nudges him toward his true ‘MANZIL’! What else can be more masala than this? Everything, every action that HR takes going forward, has a root-cause to this encounter with the kid and the ride with this cycle rick-shaw wallah!

And what’s stunning to discover, more rightly, to re-iterate is the impact of masala movies on movies rather than the masala in life!! SHOLAY is literally re-lived here, in broken English, in a sequence that is profound in ideation and a bit of execution when it begins but loses its steam at the end. This ENTIRE scene, is again, equivalent in spirit to that talk in LAGAAN that Aamir has with one of his batsmen/bowlers and I paraphrase here – इन गोरों के लिए यह तो खेल है! हमारे लिए अपनी ज़िंदगी है! 3 सांल का लगान माफ़ – सोचो! And then HR’s Anand Kumar is convincing the kids when they are ready to leave in the face of a competition and inferiority complex by the ‘English’ language: खोने को क्या है तुम्हारे पास?

There are terrific masala moments, like when HR hood-winks the restaurant-owner with ‘numbers’: Remember Soorma Bhoopali? And when HR is first knocked-down by an ‘air-conditioned’ Contessa belonging to Aditya Shrivastav’s (AS) character, it’s a hoot! The scene has HR picking up coins and rupee notes, with the utmost concentration that even the trio of Rambha, Uravashi, and Menaka can’t dilute, and AS’s characters places HR in that car and asks his assistant to ride the ‘papad-laden’ bi-cycle to its destination: HR ejects his head for a moment outside into the heat, there’s the car’s exhaust billowing, and then, the windows roll-down, and he is in an AC car, and then, an AC room: From a smoke-billowing, heat-laden atmosphere to an AC room [And AS makes it very, very external – He keeps using the AC remote at every chance he gets!!] And a few scenes later, he’s on the cycle-rickshaw-waalah’s vehicle, who’s asked him, ‘साब, आप को मंज़िल पहुँचा दे? You get the cyclical/cynical drift? There’s घनन from LAGAAN and then there’s HR’S AK telling Aditya Shrivastav’s Lallan Singh, लगता है बहूत बड़ा तूफान आने वाला है, संभाल के रहिएगा लल्लन सिंग जी| The corrugated tin-roofs tremble in unison! Lallan Singh takes his ‘geometry-box’ offerings and just…leaves!

 

The film goes miserably hay-wire in the 2nd half with the over-usage of masala: And it’s terrible to see such a fantastic departure and journey from a railway-station never to reach its destination. There’s of course, a clap-worthy moment mid-way when a hospital assistant psychologically slaps a ‘donation-doctor’ and arranges for the recovery of Anand Kumar!

Of course, the irony is not lost when Hrithik Roshan, himself the advantaged product of a film-family utters, अब राजा का बेटा ही राजा नही बनेगा; राजा वोही बनेगा जो हकदार होगा!!

And what does one have to say in these days of #METOO movement, when a former-lover says, ‘MY TASTE IN MEN HAS ALWAYS BEEN GREAT.!’ And the husband smiles!!

TOH

Mild Spoiler alert

Thugs of Hindostan (TOH), irrespective of whether it goes down as a money-maker or not, will for sure go down in the annals of Hindi cinema as one of the films that divided the critics/audiences to the maximum extent possible. An audience that has grown up on the masala traditions/tropes, and even more so, those who have grown up listening to those stories that one heard from one’s grand-parents as a kid, is bound to like this film; if not love it. More than anything, I was pleasantly surprised that Victor of Doom 3 fame managed to get his bearings almost right and understood and presented the ’70s and ’80s cinema for what it actually represented.

TOH is a simple enough story of rebels versus the Company; of a stoic, metaphorical figure (Amitabh Bachchan) representing freedom; of a turncoat using one’s wittiness (Aamir Khan) to slither toward riches in life and then toward a cause, and more importantly, of achieving poetic justice that is beyond the self’s life or death, all moulded within the masala tropes with the respect the masala-tradition of story-telling of the Hindi films of yore command, not demand.

More than anything, this is a very good tribute to the man who heralded and soared to unconquerable heights in this tradition, Amitabh Bachchan. Both Victor and Aamir have utmost respect toward Amitabh and they show it—Aamir through his eyes—sometimes subtly, mostly unabashedly. There is an Allah-Rakha-esqe falcon as in Coolie—heck, there’s even a throw-back to Oberoi’s cool sun-glasses—that protects the rebels here as a forewarner and flies around whenever Amitabh’s character and/or his gang is on screen; there’s a great tribute to Amitabh’s refusal to pay हफ़्ता from Deewar with Aamir’s introduction shot[very smartly, Victor/Aamir include a sub-tribute to Lagaan via the tax back-drop that’s used as Aamir’s introduction scene right here]; there’s Amitabh’s Bhagwan Dada-inspired steps in the Vashamalle song, there’s Amitabh in shackles as in Kaalia; there’s Amitabh singing a lullaby to Fatima’s Zafira, and of course, there’s his name itself – two of them in fact; Khudabaksh and Aazad.

Aamir salutes [aadab] him in the first scene, and Aamir again does that in one of the pre-climactic scenes—symbolically signifying and accepting that this is what we loved about Bachchan’s films when we saw them the first time; and this is what inspired the masala tradition—where he tries to fall at his feet but then Amitabh asks him to hug instead. The film is sparkled with many such homages and it’s a delight to spot, see, and enjoy them.

Needless to say, with less screen-time but with the most impact, in all probability, with Bachchan’s last outing in a masala avatar, this is a treat. And this is indeed a fine homage. This isn’t the Buddha Hoga Tera Baap collection of scenes project from Amitabh Bachchan’s films’ homage/disguised as postal-stamps stuck in a museum shout-out; it’s a true, sincere, and from-the heart reverence to story-telling in this format and what Amitabh meant to that format. It’s simply thrilling when Bachchan speaks and espouses freedom with the dignity and aura which inspires followers and makes each one of them leaders. His introduction scene is an ultimate ode to his grand entry styles from the ’70s and ’80s flicks and a goose-bumping one at that.

Aamir is truly enjoying this outing, and stays within the ambit of the genre, rarely getting trapped delivering a false note [note, he is on Amitabh’s turf here; age notwithstanding], except for the Chaplin-esque dance during the सुराय्या मेरी जान song. Katrina is wasted but she dances brilliantly and has oomph and lightning rising through the screen till the theater roof [having a lightning rod on the theater roof-tops might be a good idea to prevent getting scorched]. Her dialog-delivery is flat as usual and unfortunately, the British generals speak better Hindi than her. Fatima has a small role and can be called the weakest link but she doesn’t have the lines that’s grand-standing.

The action scenes and battles on the ship are very well-staged in slow-motion–which was the bane of Dhoom 3–are inter-mingled smartly with live-action, coupled with a thundering back-ground score to convey the energy required and to be savored by the audience. Boarding onto the enemy ships by ropes, by ladders, and the usage of a ship’s props in the action sequences are finely used. Frankly, they are on par with the Babhubali’s action scenes: At least, they look better on-screen.

The songs—there are 3 of them—are a big let-down; only the VASHAMALLE song is better but is way too short. Katrina’s introduction song was supposed to be a fire-cracker but it fizzles out. But Manzoor-E-Khuda song again harks back to the usage of a song with the hidden intention of showing some plot happening in the back-ground. [If you notice, the wooden set that is constructed is in the form of a falcon; the leitmotif that’s through-out the film.]

The first half flows like a breeze. It is in the 2nd half where Aamir’s chameleonic act/role gets a bit comedic, monotonous and out-of-sync when it comes to the totality of the movie. His flip-flops get a tad monotonous. But the face-off moments between them are finely staged.

If you don’t understand — don’t want to understand/see– that Bahubali is Chandamama, while TOH is pure Hindi cinema masala, then think twice before watching this movie. And if rather than enjoying the wholesome poetic justice and flow that the film provides/symbolizes, you are going to focus and fret on how Fatima’s eye-brow scar keeps changing its size, or how anybody can survive a ship-collision, then stay at home and watch, as Box Office India puts it, European cinema. Holistic, over-arching emotional crests and troughs are the hall-marks of masala cinema, and if you don’t enjoy this form of story-telling and movie-watching, well, this is not for you. If the navarasas from Natya Shastra are neither your cup of coffee nor tea, drop the idea of watching this. If you have formed an opinion with the preview— that ships floating on high seas means this is a re-hash of Pirates of the Caribbean, well, you clearly missed the boat; and it’s for you to decide whether it was a boat worth riding-on or missing. But if not, this movie is a fun ride.

And no, I don’t feel Aamir has lost it. He’s much smarter than we – the lovers of cinema. This is a true homage, and not a replica of the ‘70s and ‘80s. And if we are not as fond or reverential as him to these tropes, well, the shortcoming is on us; not him.

Rating: 3/5

Sanju: One man; NOT so many lives

Opened: 29 June 2018
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Vicky Kaushal, Manisha Koirala, Dia Mirza, Sonam Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Jim Sarbh
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Producers: Rajkumar Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Rating: ★★★

So Hirani finally writes and directs a movie post his successful Aamir-phase and works with an actor who’s still relevant, but’s coming off of a slew of flops and on the verge of being passed off as another side-effect of ‘nepotism’ in the Hindi film industry. He goes back to the story of the actor with whom he tasted success first, Sanjay Dutt, and tries to portray his life in a reverse mode; reel versus real versus reel. He also attempts to visit the Rashoman effect, in a very diluted way of course, via narratives from different folks, be they the media, his biographer, or a newspaper editor or his father and finally, Sanjay Dutt’s current wife, Manyata Dutt. And in the process, inspite of the known fact and that needle pricking at the brain of the audience’s mind that this movie is being helmed by a guy who’s close to the protagonist, Hirani does prove what everyone wished to be the truth in their hearts, but were skeptical owing to his association with Aamir; that Hirani is, basically, a fine story-teller and that his association with Aamir’s audiences’ pulse-grabbing instincts and respect to the real heart and art of movie-making, that of holding-in the viewers with  the art of marrying story-telling to the visuals, only added to Hirani’s innate strengths, and not hid any weaknesses.

 Ranbir Kapoor is PHENOMENAL in the film nailing each nuance with aplomb

Ranbir Kapoor is PHENOMENAL in the film nailing each nuance with aplomb

Hirani takes the route of tragi-comedy and comes up with an engrossing film – for the most part. At a 168 minutes run-time, there are times when one’s exasperated at the lengths – literally and figuratively— to which the movie tries to depict Sanjay Dutt as an emotional, easily squeezable life-sponge that would pour emotions out at every fate-screwed machination life threw at him, albeit, with a strong exterior of a body-builder that deceptively cried/cries ‘macho.’ (This is a man who supposedly slept with 350 women and never had a case of Herpes or any STD; go figure.)  But then, Hirani also leaves no stone unturned in showing that whatever problems Dutt faced, he was a privileged person when he started out and even during his later years! A scene from the Rocky shoot has the senior Dutt admonishing Sanjay that he’s enjoying life’s riches and privileges since he’s been given that on a platter, and smoking and drinking would, one day, reveal his true self since the camera never lies, and it’s all going to show up on his face. However, Sanjay still smokes thanks to his buddy, a lisping but effective Zubin Mistry played by Jim Sarbh. And Sanjay’s first-world problem is, of course, the fact that his father supposedly humiliated him in front of the entire set due to his poor lip-syncing abilities: Or the fact that his sisters got the praise when he hit sixes while they scored fours in the family cricket match-outing.   (The Rocky shoot scene is actually a brilliant one where Hirani again succumbs to his inherent story-telling capabilities in a tragi-comic mode and makes a spot-boy named Ganpat act literally with feminine movements and reactions.) Hirani scores two goals there: 1) If a spot-boy named Ganpat who obviously is poor can conjure up feminine reactions inspite of his stomach-growling because he has to do whatever the boss tells him to do to retain his job, why can’t a privileged brat like Sanjay act properly? 2) Sanjay Dutt fell prey to drugs/alcohol way sooner and thought he could achieve greater heights professionally  and personally since he was able to romance even Gabbar Singh after a smoke! That made him see God!). Hirani is actually relentless in hitting home the fact that Sanjay’s got chances after chances; life after life— personally, professionally, and politically.

As mentioned before, Hirani leaves no stone unturned in depicting Sanjay as a troubled-soul but someone who knows his worth; And so, we are hammered with that initial scene where he gets a biographer to write about him and he compares Sanjay with Gandhi – no, not the off-shoots of Gandhi surname, Feroze or Indira Gandhi, but the original Gandhi, the Mahatma. He hits him with chappals and burns the book, and then tries to commit suicide. Takeaway for the audience? Sanjay knows that he is an incomplete and damaged human being, YOU get to know that too and it’s high time you stamp it on your mind.

The first-half of the film is devoted to Sanjay’s troubled life. His devil-may-care attitude and his getting sucked-up into a vortex of his own wrong-doings where he doesn’t see or care for anything beyond his own life of getting high. The second half, finally, deals with the father-son relationship and underlines what Hirani has been talking about: that this’s essentially a father-son story. And that is actually the undoing as well as one of the more honest points of the movie. Sanjay’s relationship with his mother, Nargis, as portrayed by Manisha Koirala is shown so pathetically that it is painful to watch. Hirani makes it painful to watch her, especially when trying to depict her act where she hides her disease by saying that she’s got a role in a Hollywood movie and is going to New York. (Koirala was always a mediocre and continues to be a mediocre actress: She was only hyped up due to her association with the likes of Vinod Chopra, Bhansali, and Mani Ratnam. And to think that once upon a time she was seen as competitor to someone like Madhuri Dixit is laughable to its core.) Half of the blame, of course, lies with Hirani and Joshi who write such a half-baked role for her in order to make this film a ‘father-son’ saga.

 The film loses steam midway and omits important aspects of Sanjay Dutt's story

The film loses steam midway and omits important aspects of Sanjay Dutt’s story

The second half of the film is then devoted to the father-son relationship and keeps focusing on Sunil Dutt’s attempts at fighting for his son to not being labeled a ‘terrorist.’ Here, the film is kind of in the doldrums where it veers between what Kumar Gaurav look-alike Vivek Kaushal’s perspective of Sanjay Dutt would be like and the public’s. Hirani here, literally, after trying the Kurosawa route, tries ‘Sex-Speare’ route via Kaushal’s Kamli hearing only a part of the entire narrative and staying away from Dutt for a decade. Hirani goes into the caricaturist mode and gives Dutt a clean-chit with regard to his dealings with the underworld. It starts with random folks calling him up and threatening him, his ’Dad’, and his sisters. So, he calls up his gansta-friends and tells them that he needs the AK-56 rifle ONLY till the riots last and he doesn’t need the ‘extra’ ones. So you  decide? Was Sanjay dumb, emotional, or simply a crafty criminal? Hirani knows, and wants you ALSO to believe in that; but he deceptively throws up that question to you as though  it is a question!  Hirani also goes down the path of false equivalency—something that he already accomplished in PK where he equated Islamist terrorism with rightwing, ‘Hindu terrorism.’ Here, he tries to again haphazardly bringing onto the screen the ‘wedding’ of the under-world. So you have ‘serious’ criminals like Abu Salem who are equated with cartoonish ‘Hindu’ Dons: One is named Bandu Boss! (Was Hirani trying to rhyme a Hindi-language abuse?). And to top it all, it’s played by Sayaji Shinde – another brilliant actor who we have lost to the horrific Telugu film industry – playing one of his umpteen robotic roles in Tamil and Telugu films with a prominent red ‘tika’ on his fore-head. (Remember the phase in the ‘90s when Chotta Rajan was projected as a ‘Hindu’ underworld answer to the ‘Muslim’  Dawood Ibrahim-Kaskar, whose unknown address was in Clifton Road, Karachi?)

Coming to the technical aspects of this film, this is one of the ‘richest’ Hirani films in terms of technology. Ravi Varman’s cinematography is brilliant in the way it captures and oscillates between Sanjay’s drug-pumped, mind-exploding psychedelic adventures on the neon-lit streets of Bombay of the ‘80s and the normalcy of life in Bombay’s Nargis Dutt Road or the humble abode of Kamlesh in New York’s suburbs. (The title credit-sequence itself has SANJU transcribed over the sea-waters of the Arabian, indicating a wave-flogged, turbulent life.) However, there are some gaffes when one shows NO twin-towers in the ‘80s of New York City while there’s one single-tower standing after 2001! (Varman literally captures beautifully the craziness of a drug and alcohol-drenched mind; the scenes of Sanjay riding a plant or flowers blooming astride his imaginary mind are both reductive and enthralling cognizant of the fact that we are talking of the ‘imagination’ of a drug-induced mind in the ‘80s!)

Coming to the performances, Ranbir is great in the initial portions of the movie when he plays the young Dutt uptil Dutt’s Khal-Nayak phase. He gets everything bang-on; the swag, the accent, the slant-walk, the fake-machismo. Once he starts venturing into the jail-stuff, he lets slip a little, wee-bit little, where the Dutt-skin sheds and the Ranbir skin takes over. Of course, he recovers via mannersims, like the scene when he walks out of Yerwada jail, but by that time, one feels, the audience has noticed some kind of a slip. Overall, after his brilliant turn in Tamasha, this is one of his most recognizable performances. Kudos.

Vicky Kaushal, however, takes the cake here: And may I dare to say, he excels, on an equal, or at an even greater wavelength than Ranbir. I never thought, in my lifetime, I would see an actor as brilliant as Amitabh in a drunken scene. Kaushal here, in one scene, if not better, has definitely equaled Amitabh. His scene where he confronts Sunil Dutt drunkenly begging him to talk to his son as a friend is a master-piece. His mental dislocation, his pain, everything is brilliantly conveyed through his act. This is a masterclass in acting for decades. Paresh Rawal as Sunil Dutt is good, in the sense that he essays a text-book do-gooder. But then, maybe that’s the pressure Sanjay Dutt was under: To be as unblemished and productive as his father. While that might have inspired him in later stages of his life, Sanjay might have wilted under the legacy of Sunil Dutt during his younger days. Anushka Sharma is passable with a fake-British accent. Dia Mirza too, is passable: However, even in her few minutes of screen time, Hirani is good enough a filmmaker to convey that she is someone who has accepted Dutt for who or what he is.

 Vicky Kaushal manages to steal the thunder in a few key scenes

Vicky Kaushal manages to steal the thunder in a few key scenes

The biggest controversy, or the biggest hint that this film is a ‘whitewash’ for Sanjay Dutt would be Hirani’s over-drive in blaming the media for labeling Dutt an anti-national or/and a terrorist. For the last 30 minutes of the movie, Hirani literally goes into an over-drive talking of how the media treated Sanjay Dutt, and how the media IS WRONG. Sanjay Dutt from Yeravda hosts a la-Munnabhai talk-show, where he talks of the ‘masaledar’ news-shows and people passing judgements through small, ‘shouting-windows,’ where folks don’t understand the difference between a question-mark and a full-stop, and where, a certain guy from the media, just because he doesn’t get a picture from Dutt after he walks out from a jail, calls him a ‘terrorist’ to get his attention and a photo. To top it all, rather, to make it worse, Hirani has an item song during the end-credits – I don’t remember Hirani having an end-credit item-song in any of his other movies; do correct me if I am wrong – with ‘white’ women of-course, trashing the media on walls, and well, calling the fourth-estate something that deserves to be dialogued on a potty. After 140 minutes of better film-making, Hirani and Dutt and company decide to go on an over-drive blaming the media for not able to take a decision between a question-mark and a full-stop. And that is where people would – and rightly so – doubt Hirani’s credibility when it comes to portraying an ‘honest’ depiction of Sanjay Dutt! But then, if this is Sanjay Dutt’s ‘perspective’ and Hirani’s absorption after his late-night visits to Sanjay’s house, how can any viewer complain or diagnose?

‘Observations’ on ‘SAIRAT’

In SAIRAT, Nagaraj Manjule is all over the place – but in a damn good way. He gives homage to almost every style of craft exploited through the medium of cinema in the genre of romance and societal/parental opposition; in the milieu of the Montagues and the Capulets: And he does that at different points in his 2 hour 53 minute ode; as an audience one might get a bit frustrated at the rhythm with which his almost-operatic film operates, but the end result as one walks out of a cinema-hall or when one switches off the telly, is the enormity of emotions that are a result of a rich wedding between the screen and one’s personal experiences of life.

Sairat’s like a pizza you order on any pizza web-site; you know, one that has less of jalapenos to the left; more of onions to the right; hell, a plethora mushrooms or onions or what have you on the entire pizza. You choose, and you get it: Here, the director has arranged the permutations, and you have to go with that. You got to devour and experience it the way he has laid out the crust, and the toppings. And it’s in these toppings that Manjule subtly but superlatively puts in all the Dalit references, the upper-lower caste unending fight, the hypocrisy, the Hindu-Muslim unity [the male lead’s neighbor belongs to the Muslim community], and then, the ones who are unluckier within the unlucky group.

This is in complete contrast to the director’s ‘Fandry’, where it was one flavor all over; that of the pain of oppression. Manjule is in love with Hindi cinema and its masala-esque contribution to the Indian traditional story-telling, and it is more than evident in the first and fore-most important tribute to it through films like Mughal-E-Azam—in terms of the ‘royalty’ difference; at parallel is the tribute to the life-buoy fresh ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ [QSQT];one can add ‘Betaab’ or even ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ to the list,  and finally, to Mani Ratnam’s ‘Alaipauthey’, when the rigmarole of joint-living—sorry,  live-in-relationship –  or marriage take-over after the euphoria of first-love.

Right from the first shot, Manjule makes it clear that we are in for an orchestrated roller-coaster ride to a cinematic experience: There’s that part in the beginning, a Bitternagar – no pun intended with the word ‘bitter’ of the English language’— Premier League match [BPL], where, the winner would walk away with 11,111 Rupees, while the second-runner up would walk away with 7,777 which would be sponsored by the ‘esteemed’ citizen of Bitternagar, who is described by the commentator as the one who respectfully owns a HOOCH store! There’s a literal homage to rural Marathi folk-lore as well as R. K. Narayan’s ‘Malgudi Days’, when the grand-mother of a guy—who happens to be the ‘dancing’ umpire; a la Brent Fraser ‘Bowden’ who signals dramatically the fours and sixes and all other decisions—comes and thrashes him with a stick as to who’s going to herd the sheep! And this guy is supposed to be the father of two kids!!

Then come the wooing parts, between Archie [Archana Patil]; and Parshya Kale [‘Parshya’ is common for Prashant as is ‘Narshya’ for Narsimha or ‘Padya’ for Pradeep in Maharashtra]. Come to think of it, in different scenes of the film, Archana keeps mentioning, ’Don’t you understand Marathi, or do you want me to talk to you in English’? This is a case of supremacy-stamping as well as making a classist statement but in a non-derogatory manner. Why is she called Archie? Archana, being a female, cannot be called, Archya! Hence the deceit of ‘Archie’, cleverly symbolizing the gender-difference as well as her arrogance over having been educated in the English medium.

Right from the on-set, Manjule decides to subvert all the gender-stereotypes. His ‘hero’-ine rides a Royal Enfield – although she might sometimes need the help of the hero to kick-start the ‘monster’; she rides a tractor, so much so that Parshya’s mom literally says, in Marathi, ‘लई धाडशी ग बाई तू’, when she’s riding a tractor to go to the farm and making sure that Parshya hears it. When Archi starts staring at Parshya in the class-room, it is Parshya who is embarrassed and makes an excuse to leave the class-room and literally begs her to stop ogling. In another sequence, when the ‘dunce’ like friends of Parshya who are talking about sending love-letters comparing them to letters that Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj sent during his times, Archi stands astride a library card that highlights a book by William O’ Neil. In another sequence, she literally challenges her cousin Mangya to touch Parshya even slightly promising Mangya she would smash his face. And then, later on, in another sequence, she takes the gun and shoots her uncle right in his arm. Throughout the film, she is in the driver’s seat, literally, driving the Bullet, the scooter, or the tractor.

As I mentioned before, there are many parts that add up to the totality of this film. The first part is QSQT at its wooing stage with sweet-nothings et-al and the ‘discovery’ of love till almost the 1 hour mark; then the adults take over and it’s an adventurous escape for the next hour, shot with extreme technical proficiency, and there’s the final act where the film takes the ‘Alaipauthey’ route where the live-in-couple start quarrelling as to who knows how to peel a garlic or how to make proper tea: The difference in the last act being the girl’s difficulty in adjusting to a life of uncertainty and hard-ship owing to her upbringing. [Rinku Rajguru is brilliant in show-casing her torn emotions between her dis-comfort in adjusting to the hard life and her love for Parshya.]

Parshya, on the other hand, is quite happy with his role as Bitternagar team’s cricket captain, as somebody who is madly in love with Archie, and that’s it. He survives within that arc and is quite wiling to be ‘owned’ by Archie. He is the usual happy-go-lucky guy—though with 72% marks in his 12th grade when compared to Archi’s 55% [which she was so proud of till then]. He sometimes helps his father catch the fish, but that’s about it. Other times, he is busy chasing Archi and wooing her. Actually, change that, all the other times he is just wooing her!

The story is as old as the hills; considering, that oppression too is as old as the hills. A lower-caste boy falls in love with an upper-cast, privileged-girl; girl’s influential political family opposes, they elope and finally meet a cruel fate. But where Manjule wins the hearts and also wrings them is the way he brings it to life on screen. As mentioned before, his is a ‘love’ story that’s been attempted numerous times before, but here, he brings the intersection of class and caste and nails that cross in the viewer’s hearts. There’s an arc that he builds with each character that’s so subtle but one that shouldn’t be missed. For instance, the Patil character, the girl’s father, within the first 15 minutes, awards the winning trophy to Parshya and then proceeds to give a talk with regard to district elections and how he’s sure to decimate his rivals electorally: And he says, in his last line, “They can hardly control the women-folk in their family, how can they control a district?” And everybody laughs, including Parshya. Now there’s a woman, a vaguely referenced and named Suman sitting on the dais. Some-where at half-way mark through the film, his son, named ‘Prince’, is disturbing the class playing with his mobile when Mr. Shanbagh, a teacher who we should understand as a Dalit English Professor, comes and pulls him up. Prince slaps the teacher in front of the whole class. [As an add-on, Prof. Shanbagh is talking about modern ‘Dalit’ poets in Marathi like Namdev Dhasal and to his back on the chalk-board, you find scribblings of African-American revolutionary poets and a direct reference to Richard Wright’s ‘I have seen black hands’. An upper-caste boy uninterested in an English class talking of oppression is Manjule’s metaphorical way of telling us the societal neglect, to-this-day, of the overt or covert casteism present amongst us. In a later scene, when the couple has been caught and thrashed, Prof. Shanbagh says, ‘You slept with her, the job’s done; forget her; how many times have they done this with our women?’ This is a Professor speaking! [The sound of one slap, the oppression via a system, echoes a thousand responses when it comes to oppression, and Manjule uses this scene to convey the fact.] Later, Patil slyly tells Prince that he has gone ahead and made his grand-father proud by slapping the Professor! And then, in a veiled but subtle threat, he tells the Principal and the Professor who come to meet him to explain to Prof. Shanbagh – not Prince— as to who’s who in the village so that such mis-understandings do not occur again. In the final parts of the movie, it is revealed that Mr. Patil has lost his candidacy and Suman, the ‘woman’ is now the candidate. The camera pans on a disheveled Patil’s face, as the person commanding the mike goes on talking about the ‘tradition’ of Maharashtra where women like Jijabai and Savitri Bai Phule were equally important figures of authority and morality! It is like Manjule literally takes Patil on a 180-degree testosterone-pumped ride and then thumps him on the ground! Suman is not a candidate now because of her ‘talent’: It’s because Mr. Patil couldn’t control the women-folk in his own back-yard! And note, Mr. Patil is not wearing his ‘shades’ at this function. Or the scene where Parshya’s bow-legged friend— {minority within a minority?}—realizes that he can’t, literally, get the sapna of his life ‘Sapna’, cries for a couple of minutes, and then walks across the street with his bow-legs asking his friends to get up and get going, saying: चलो रे: ज़िंदगी की यही रीत है, हार के बाद ही जीत है! And he sees another crippled man walking across, and asks him, ‘How are you Kaka? All good?’ The guy doesn’t respond. He asks him again. Pradeep wants him to respond! The guy then turns around and says, nonchalantly, everything’s fine! Nothing’s fine here, and Pradeep’s ‘crippled’ character wants an immediate identification and recognition from his ‘type’ that he couldn’t get from Parshya and Salim, though, they themselves identify as minorities! One can go on and on about such references-within-references of Manjule!

Manjule uses Ajay-Atul’s music beautifully. Right from the first beautiful song of ‘Yaad laagla ga mala Yaad laagla ga’ to ‘Sairat Zala Ji’, Manjule makes use of slow-motion-capture of songs fantastically, almost as a tribute to ‘Pehla Nasha’ from ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander.’ And he uses the technology of the medium brilliantly: When a soaped-up Pradeep tells him that Archi and her friends are in the well, Parshya dives from his father’s boat abandoning the help needed by his father almost like a beautiful dolphin over-come with a spirit! And the cinematographer captures it in a slow-motioned manner in such a way that the camera almost doesn’t want the dive to stop; it just wants to hang-in there and capture the beauty of the rushes of first, one-sided love. And then, when he and his friends are escaping on a motor-boat, the camera swirls from a silhouetted-capture of the faces when they are still close to the bank to their sun-lit faces as they get away, signifying an escape to a hopefully brighter life. As soon as the couple are in Hyderabad, the camera stops capturing even the intimate details in slow-motion. It is life, a brutal life where the boy drinks water from a water-jug while the girl keeps complaining of dirty water, stinking rooms and bath-rooms. Reality kicks in, and there’s no more slow-motion. This is the rousing power of cinema, of when technology is fused with emotions and the narrative. When Archi is at the police station, the portrait of Gandhi hangs to the left, that of Indira to the right—what an irony—and Ambedkar’s at the center. In the climactic scene—which is shot as a matter-of-fact without any music, and for a reason— too, Archi is drawing a Rangoli, half-drawn, as soon as the dark shadow of her uncle’s slippers cover the other half. Drawing a rangoli marks the beginning of a day, and her family’s shadow covering it marks the end of a blissful life for the couple. Just before the scene, Archi and her baby keep exchanging ‘byes’ repeatedly, as any parent or kid would do, at any-time, and any day, on a normal day, but only at the end you realize its significance on this day.

Manjule has gifted a movie that is to be devoured for decades. It’s a full-blown, unapologetic, masala movie—the Marathi native who comes to the rescue of the couple in Hyderabad is a direct ode to Sunny Deol-Meenakshi’s Damini’s initial introduction in ‘Damini’— with tremendous respect for our cinema’s masala traditions, our oral history, and our vastly rich historical-cloth with huge holes every-where.

Notes:

‘लई धाडशी ग बाई तू’ – ‘One gutsy girl you are.’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namdeo_Dhasal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAEES

— SPOILERS, MILD or SPICY, depending on your mood–

In one of the pre-release interviews of Dholakia, I had heard that RAEES floated as an idea for an indie film with a few Gujarati US investors who just wanted to make a film on prohibition in Gujarat in the ‘80s. Somewhere, he said, the film grew ‘organically’ into a big-budgeted film with SRK and Sidhwani entering the playground. And I heard this interview after I saw the full-on masala trailer of RAEES. It sounded intriguing, as well as ominous. I didn’t like Dholakia’s PARZANIA for ideological reasons but loved his focused-take on the subject through the mental trauma of a couple. LAMHAA, where he climbed two rungs-up toward commercialism, was a very uneven film and one could feel Dholakia’s uncertainty when it came to welding serious issues with commercial Hindi cinema with stars in their own small galaxies like Basu and Dutt. And then, he decides to leap-frog to one of the Khan triumvirate, Shah Rukh Khan, with a movie that began as an indie! You know, this is no longer the SRK from Mani Kaul’s Dostoevsky’s adaptation of THE IDIOT or even IN WHICH ANNIE GIVES IT TO THOSE ONES: Heck, this is no longer even the SRK form PAHELI: He is someone trying to break desperately into some crore-club. It’s an irony but I don’t know whom to call Dostoevsky’s idiot; Dholakia for trusting that his vision of an indie would remain unfettered with SRK as the hero in his film, or, SRK, for thinking that he would manage to make Dholakia give an ‘engaging’—I am not talking of massy here—film within the commercial diktats of Hindi cinema.

It is pretty clear SRK was aiming high here with RAEES. Many have commented and written that the pre-interval parts of RAEES are its strongest, but based on what? I am assuming it is based on the ‘relatable commercial’ aspects. Yes, it’s true that the pre-interval parts are massier where the ‘baniyagiri’ and ‘miyangiri’ are more in display and played to the hilt. There are some great clap-worthy scenes like Raees asking the corrupt cop after bribing him to blow air into one of the punctured tires of truck carrying illicit liquor to his initial face-off scene in the station with Nawaz’s dogged-cop Majumdar. And then there are very poor scenes like Raees’ playing a cricketing shot right into the bedroom of his already-smitten lover Aysa [Mahira Khan] and thus trying to enter a Salman’s domain. It falls flat, and how! And an utterly idiotic scene where Raees carries illicit liquor by boats while Nawaz is standing right on the bridge with a cavalcade hunting for Raees’s merchandise in trucks! It is not the idea per se that I am talking of, it is the way it is depicted that is dis-connecting. [And I understand, it’s an era without mobile-phones, but still, for some-one as sharp as Nawaz, it’s definitely humiliating]. Except for the pre and after-‘Bakrid’ scenes where SRK and his compadre Zeeshan Ayub [what a waste of a talent in this film] sow the germ of ‘jugaad’ to grow a ‘dhanda’, and a carom-board scene where Nawaz takes SRK by the collar and devastatingly demonstrates the role of a police uniform, there’re hardly any scenes that are worth mentioning in terms of impact.

Where I differ from most of the reviews and comments is that the second half is not interesting; it’s actually more interesting, and thus messier: Messier, in the sense that it falls into that black-hole of elevating an ordinary boot-legger via the stardom of SRK and concurrently, trying to cut SRK the star to the size of an ordinary boot-legger. This might be just before or after the interval – correct me if I am wrong – but there’s a scene where he gets to know that his own mentor has paid contract-fee to get rid of him, and he sashays angrily into a liquor-party with a horrendous rendition of LAILA ME LAILA with Sunny trying to do with clothes the same thing she did without clothes—the fault is not hers; the fault is with the current trend in Hindi film industry and US – not the United States, we the people of India; if this is considered ‘promotion’ in life, so be it—and picks a huge hair-clip [or whatever the hell you call it]; stabs a stand-by, picks up his double-barreled gun and goes on blasting all the accomplices of his mentor, and finally, with tears in his eyes, his mentor, Atul Kulkarni’s Jayraj. He then comes back home with Jayraj’s blood splattered on his face and trying to wash it off in front of a bath-room sink. We see Jayraj’s blood in the mirror on his face; Raees sees Jayraj’s blood on his face; his wife doesn’t, she just wipes off the blood from his face? Symbolism? That a wife will wash off blood off her husband’s hard-worked ‘dhanda’ and that ‘gunaah’ might or might not occur or that she will stand-by and wipe-off the blood of her husband, irrespective of whatever it is or whomever it belongs to? Raees’s confession of ‘gunaah’ is confusing since he has already treaded the dangerous path of killing with the murder of Salim Contractor [whom he might have personally killed or got someone else to kill – we don’t know]. Then, in the second-half, there’s a scene where he literally incites a riot and supports killing innocent by-standers and burning houses co-laterally just because he wants to take-on a politician who supports liquor implicitly but wants pro-prohibition votes. When one has reached a point where one can do ‘anything’ for his ‘dhanda’ and doesn’t think twice before inciting a riot where women-folk come out and roll liquor-bottles, then, THEN , the question of ‘repenting’ later on that he was ‘innocent’ of bomb-blasts will surely be an open-ended one? The film fails in continuation of the character.

Raees has now reached a point where he goes to individually murder his opponents, incite carnage, and stand for elections, but the film still tries to show he has a heart. How? When there are riots, he arranges food for folks of his own constituency and blasts his subordinate when he says that he is running short of money to supply food to Hindu areas and one should concentrate only on Muslim areas. ‘धनदा करते वक़्त कभी सोचा था कौन हिंदू कौन मुसलमान? तो अब क्यों?’ And this is where the film starts succumbing to SRK’s star-dom. Out of desperation for money, Raees agrees to get gold smuggled from Doha for Musa [a convenient substitute for Dawood], which has, RDX, a new type of explosive in the ‘90s. Hidden within the gold-stack are the explosives which are used to rock 3-4 North Indian cities – not Bombay –and then Raees’s conscience realizes and he weeps and says to his wife, and I paraphrase, “To save a locality, I unwittingly destroyed a city.” And then there’s the ridiculous APNI DUNIYA project [which has a sign-board completely written in Hindi and NO Gujarati – a minor complaint which I observed] to project him as the messiah. When you compare this to Amitabh’s Vijay in AGNEEPATH taking Madhavi out to the slums after he gets insulted in a 5-star hotel [https://youtu.be/lxpzvnFudMw?list=PLMGlRsiub3t8jxxpSBB27R1mr3yZkmYIz&t=6778], one realizes the trajectory that is missing or isn’t properly conveyed. One has taken the gangster onto a path of egotism, where, one’s business is getting equivalent to one’s ego – then, there cannot be a point of return. But in RAEES, to re-establish SRK as the secular super-star, the director goes above and beyond with instances like the one I mentioned regarding the food-camps. And then, he is shown to be completely un-involved in the blasts. His mother’s ‘addition’ – JAB TAK KISI KI BURAI NA HO- is a really mis-timed act in the end just as a desperate attempt at the end to justify the director’s confusion/admission that it is NOT possible to make a main-stream movie where one can show that SRK, the super-star RAEES could actually have known about RDX. In the penultimate encounter sequence, SRK, not Raees, stands tall and tells Nawaz’s Majumdar to shoot him in the chest and that he wouldn’t die with bullets in his back [again, Agneepath –https://youtu.be/lxpzvnFudMw?list=PLMGlRsiub3t8jxxpSBB27R1mr3yZkmYIz&t=1725%5D. One could carry it off with maybe Bajpai in an indie film but with any major Hindi film star and with SRK mainly, given his controversies, one cannot, and while that may help keep SRK’s stardom intact, it weakens the film. In fact, in this film, it almost makes him the martyr! It’s the producers who should sue Abdul Latif’s son for trying to sue them because his sins – accused or true— are completely washed off in this film!!

Dholakia is in good form in parts of the film, while he struggles in major parts of the film. The scene where Raees takes on the anti-prohibition rally and where he throws one bottle in the air and smashes it with a fueled-bottle is a throw-back to that fantastic, born-and-bred-in-Delhi arrogance-filled dialogue from DIL SE to Manisha’s brothers, “I can still break a bloody bottle by throwing another bottle in the air, don’t mess with me!!” while he is getting beaten to the pulp! Nawaz’s control-room scene is finely displayed. And as I said before, the confrontational scenes between Raees and Majumdar are fantastic.

Nawaz is in terrific form as the bad-ass cop: And we know very well he can be a fantastic pain-in-the-butt cop with his portrayal in KAHAANI. Here, as gauged by me at least, he’s obviously cut-short because he is facing SRK’ stardom. But whatever is given to him, be it the carom-board scene, or the scenes facing-off hands-in-glove ministers, or the face-off sequences with SRK or the corrupt cops, he is a treat to watch. Mahira Khan has little to do other than play his wife, which could have been enacted by ANYBODY, who is a woman and who can act. No doubt she is a good actress and very camera-friendly, but there’s nothing in this film that DEMANDS her presence.

Coming to SRK, he is in fine control here. I have liked his performance after a long time. In DEAR ZINDAGI, it was extremely irritating to watch SRK the actor battling SRK the star, but weirdly, in a more commercial format, he is far better! His best scene and the one that shows his control over craft is the scene where Raees loses control over his business and seethes at his friend and his wife! Great act that is! In the next scene, however, Dholakia destroys the impact by making him weep and sleep on his wife’s lap; a totally un-necessary scene because the impact has already been strongly conveyed by SRK in the previous scene! However, let me enunciate this phrase with a qualifier – he still doesn’t seem very in-the-skin all-the-way with commercial scenes; as I have consumed here. He might be better off opting either the multiplex one or the complete commercial one and then gauge the results.

Finally, coming to that sludge-fest that’s going on in terms of ‘Muslimness’: Yes, SRK’S introduction scene is a self-flagellating ritualistic scene; the following action sequence is in a Bakrid meat-market. Beyond these 2 scenes, there’s hardly anything ‘Muslim-focused’ in terms of depiction of rituals or otherwise. The surroundings, of course, are of a Muslim locality with Hindus in tow. I did close my eyes for that action scene, but of course, opened up later and never closed it again except for a scene where he stabs a character with his glass handle! To me, those scenes represented nothing more than this in terms of uncomfort in the brilliant TAMAS –https://youtu.be/NqRuq3PiR64?t=2769 [Again, I am not saying these 2 scenes are similar; I am just saying, ideologically, the TAMAS scene was a more potent and disturbing scene with layers to it than the graphic representation in RAEES]. And I do know that TAMAS and RAEES are in totally different zones; unless one believes they aren’t.

Talking of ironies, I was wondering, why is it that SRK’s self-flagellating act is his introduction scene in a masala movie while that of Amitabh’s in COOLIE, where he plays a Muslim,that of Iqbal puffing and throwing away a beedi and speeding toward a train compartment to carry folks’ luggages? After all, DHANDE SE BADA KOI DHARM NAHI HOTA…AUR KOI BHI DHANDA CHOTA NAHIN HOTA…

Thoughts on DANGAL

Again, Aamir gifts India with a movie in Christmas and proves why he continues to be the Santa donating gifts in the form of a few hours of magic, yanking your earthly problems out of your mind space for 150 minutes and taking you on an adrenalin ride and making you believe that life, as bleak as it might be, when looked at purely as ups and downs of moments and emotions attached to them, can be livable and be looked back at with sighs and smiles, albeit in different doses. If life were a vehicle, Aamir the driver arranges a journey in which he packs characters that are real, earthy, smelly, and sweaty and lets them be; with him interjecting, commanding, demanding, talking, cajoling – all the while, only as an interlocutor: Throughout, the film is about those moments and characters that are part of Aamir’s Mahaveer Singh Phogat’s life, and they remain so. Aamir remains the root of the movie, but only as the root, always buried beneath but having the huge heart to dirty oneself in mud but let the viewers/audiences/people enjoy the tree, the rings, the leaves, the twigs, the branches, and of course, the shade.

Dangal is a massive achievement since it consensually consummates a rare marriage between serious issues of gender inequality and cinematic treatment. The bridge between entertainment and issue-based stories is a serious one to effectively construct but here, it’s one great construction. Dangal took me back to my days with my grand father, who was an accomplished multi-language writer and who would tell me stories every night after dinner, in our family verandah, mainly about Hindu mythologies (he was a master in Sanskrit) and stories regarding kings, queens, ascetics, with ‘rakshasas’ in tow of course. The main thing I looked forward to, and the one I never failed in experiencing, was entertainment and eliciting highs and lows of emotions whenever he narrated those stories. Any complexity in the story; be they of emotions or of constructs, would never be lost to me: And that was his victory in storytelling; not my intelligence in understanding it.

That’s what director Nitish Tiwari and his team of writers accomplish here. The visuals always embellish the writing here and not otherwise. Amitabh, of course, IS the lord of ‘masala’ introductions in Hindi cinema (sorry, couldn’t resist bringing him in), but Aamir’s middle-aged introduction with a chiseled body watching a game of wrestling and then defeating a state champion—as the 1988 Seoul Olympics is broadcast in the background—and then wearing his shirt on while the title-credits roll is a pure masala moment, accomplished with a rousing soundtrack that is pure ecstasy-rush. (The other one I cannot forget, of course, is the one in Haider for Irrfan right before the intermission.) The credits then roll on with ‘akhadas’ being shown along with all the activities that go on in making a wrestler out of a potential. Through the girls’ cousin Aparshakti Khurana’s voiceover, the film takes us through the journey of the sisters, mainly focusing on Geeta Phogat till her winning gold in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Babita, her sister, continues to stay in the background till the end because Geeta is the one competing at the international level.

Ultimately, the story is of Geeta winning an international medal after successive defeats at that level. Everyone is a supporting character, be it Mahaveer’s wife played with restraint by Sakshi Tanwar, the cousin, the chicken-supplier, or even her coach at NSA in Patiala.

I wouldn’t want to write much about the ‘trajectory’ of the movie since that is something to be experienced and enjoyed. Everybody knows the ‘wikipedia’ story of the Phogat sisters by now, especially after Aamir’s own Satyamev Jayate episode. The main strength of the movie is how it inter-laces folksy humor – (Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle, and especially Suppandi and Shikhari Shambhu are the ones that I reminisced about when watching the movie)— with story-line progression. This is a remarkable achievement for the writers. Here’s the difference: In all movies that depict the hinterland, there’s always a ‘glorification’, a ‘pride’ that one doesn’t speak or understand English. And who laughs at such scenes: The English-speaking or English-butchering lucky elite like me. When Dhanush equates forget me with I Love You Too in Raanjhana or when Salman says he can be a ‘soo-soo’ guy to woo Anushka in Sultan, it is clearly addressed to make US (the de-monetization unaffected folks) condescendingly laugh. In such films, the attempt is to make the so-called elite laugh at the ‘attempts’ of the hinterland to ‘equal’ us (which to me as a privileged-person thanks to that phenomenon called accidents of birth is offensive and insulting). But in Dangal, these are the lyrics when Geeta fights ‘men’:

निक्कर और त-शर्ट पहन के आया साइक्लोन
(हन जी)
रे निक्कर और त-शर्ट पहन के आया साइक्लोन
लगा के फोन बता दे सबको
बचके रहियो बघड़ बिल्ली से
चंडीगार्ह से या देल्ही से
तनने चारो खाने चित्त कर देगी
तेरे पुर्ज़े फिट कर देगी
डाट कर देगी तेरे दाँव से बढ़ के
पेंच पलट कर देगी
चित्त कर देगी, चित्त कर देगी

In whatever Haryanvi twang one uses English words like T-shirt, cyclone, or even the word Nikkar, there is a ‘context’ to it by extrapolating it to the Khap-infested Haryana patriarchal mind-set. There is a meaning to those scenes when the girls are made to wear ‘nikkar’; when they complain about not being comfortable running wearing ‘salwar-kameez.’

Going back to what I mentioned about the experience of listening to stories my grandfather narrated to me, I need to re-iterate, it is that singular strength of this movie. Narrating serious events through comical situations or every-day life situations is not an easy feat: That’s where Chaplin scored, and that’s where even here, Nitish Tiwari scores. (I hope nobody is offended; I am NOT comparing Chaplin to Tiwari, but it’s just the thought-process): Some people have the knack of explaining complex life philosophies through simple truths. That one scene contrasting a girl’s life after marriage to Geeta and Babita’s regimen is testimony to the fact: Or the fact that meat is required if you need to compete at international levels— (of course, Javagal Srinath was a fantastic masala-dosa bowler – but as per Phogat, one needs to eat meat or chicken or whatever to give you the requisite protein). It is very humorously conveyed here and such cinematic moment-to- moment depictions are the film’s success: Or the fact that Mahaveer watches and disciplines/tutors Geeta by watching her lost-matches in a seedy theatre where the owner is made to believe that exotic porn movies made with high production values from Atlanta or Jakarta are being watched: Or the wonderfully hilarious scene where each and everyone in the village is an expert on reproductive science and especially the ‘proven’ way to give birth to a baby-boy and not a girl-child. There’s a scene when Geeta wins her first medal. The entire village is celebrating, even the men who ridiculed or were skeptical are dancing away. The director cuts to a shot of an old tooth-less woman who, hesitatingly as well as enthusiastically, blesses her and wishes her good luck: A fantastic scene that, a minutiae, but one that conveys a myriad of emotions of a woman who is just waiting for her death. Did she desire to become Geeta Phogat – or an individual woman of strength— in her younger days? Or is she still confused with the messy churning of traditions and personal desires?

Coming to comparisons with Sultan, surprisingly, Dangal managed to make me completely forget Sultan and hammered my mind the world of a difference that exists between Aamir as an artist, a star-actor and Salman as a super-star. There is a world of difference between these two films thematically, and if Salman, when not drunk, would concur with me immediately. Of course, there are some negatives in this film. The chicken-vendor story is a direct throw-back to Sultan’s Kukreja cookers. The dialogue between Phogat and Geeta regarding women’s emancipation from cooking and baking before her finals is again a copy-paste of Shah Rukh’s from Chak De India — (which of course, is a re-working of Miracle– – but Shah Rukh’s was much more impactful). The second half, technically, for about a period of 10 minutes, does seem stretched, especially since they are coming on the heels of Sultan’s MMA matches. However, the semi-final match with her opponent from an Kenya is a thrilling ride in terms of cinematic execution. The primary one, of course is the one between Geeta and Mahaveer when the all-human emotions creep over. It’s NOT at all a match of strength or wit; it’s just a tussle amongst a myriad of confused emotions of a father’s jealousy, his insecurity, his age, the daughter’s exposure to a new world of fun and enjoyment, her new-found freedom, her own-way of rebellion against a father who comes-off as a dictator. And to the folks that would obviously complain about parents imposing their failures or unfulfilled-dreams on their children, just watch Phogat massaging the girls’ legs and his consequent conversation with his wife.

Regarding the performances, finally, it’s the girls that, both as kids and young-adults, tug at your heart-strings. They are fantastically devoted to their acts: But to me, it is Aamir all the way who wins the show. Why? Just look at the pitch of his performance. He is fantastic whether he is the disciplined and dictatorial father or whether he is someone begging a sports-official to provide some funds. (Fine directorial tactic that! In that scene, when Mahaveer finally, albeit in a controlled-fashion, loses his cool and tells the official that it’s because of him that talents in India suffer, the man simply gets up from his chair and says that he is ready to get up from his chair! “Could you please, then, Mr. Phogat, have some ‘aloo-roti’ with butter”? What a great thoughtful touch that is, in under-lining status quo.) Or the scene when Geeta loses international matches and Aamir so hesitatingly – just as he frustratingly takes time in his real life to approve scripts – just waits, and waits, and waits, and finally answers the phone with a ‘Haan’ to his daughter. I, of course, am biased here since I am an emotional-introvert and it moved me to tears but it’s impossible to lose the hidden love and the sense of belonging in that scene. I can go on and on and on writing about this one: But that would be my failure as a writer/reviewer. If I cannot encapsulate in few words that a mammoth of emotions that’s on display in this film, I need to take a back-seat.

Have a free-mind, and savour this film. It is again Aamir as an artiste and an actor that succeeds: As I said before, he is the root, and the root is always muddy, but the one that gives varied hues and colours of life. That this man Aamir just doesn’t care about super-stardom is evident; and that’s what folks like us care about him.

 

 

Dear Zindagi

[NOT-SO MILD SPOILERS]

Richard Linklater’s influences weigh much — if not heavily — on Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi [DZ]: Particularly, the fantastic BOYHOOD. And the connection is not felt as much cinematically as it is thematically, i.e., the crests and troughs of childhood and their role in shaping one’s adult life. The one startling connection between the two is parenting as viewed through the eyes of children. In BOYHOOD, Mason hears his mom talk to her boyfriend about how parenting leaves little scope for her as a single-mom to pursue her ‘life’ or her interests; in DZ, Alia [Kaira] as a 6 year old over-hears her mother telling her Dad that it’s impossible to take Alia with them to a foreign country due to financial pressures. This forms a marker of an incident in Alia’s life and her subsequent handling of relationships with men in her life.

At first, it’s frustrating to watch Alia’s reactions and her handling of men in her life. There is also a paradox; she is a HOT cinematographer [as constantly indicated by her first beau Kunal Kapoor’s ‘Raghuvendra’] who can get or  ANY man she wants, but seems to let them go; either due to their inadequacy or her lack of commitment. So here we have a cinematographer who is good-looking; who can get ANY man whether he sports a man-bun or not into her heart or her bed but ends up screwing all chances of finding and settling down with that one who can act as a soul-mate. She breaks up with a ‘Prince Charming’ who is good in all respects—[I was so getting tired of this cliched examination of relationships and marriages through Bollywood via KANK or the recently released rash-inducing ADHM where the women apparently keep rejecting men who are frogs to them but PRINCE CHARMING to all else in the universe, irrespective of their sex or orientation; I heaved a sigh of relief at the end that it wasn’t the case here]—by telling him on a dinner date that she slept with Raghuvendra. She meets the singer Ali Zafar who is hilariously named ‘Rumi’! **!$?. [The Bollywood fixation and commercial exoticization of Urdu continues]. She develops attraction to obviously his torn jeans and tattoo and his voice and then gets disillusioned with the VERY art-form that introduced and brought them together in the first place – music. [By the way, Ali Zafar turned out to be a joker in this movie; his attempts at sounding a cool girl-magnet come off so painfully bad that I am getting carpal tunnel syndrome even typing this.] At the end, it is revealed, through therapy sessions, that she is actually being pre-emptive and walking out of relationships so as not to face a disappointment the way she was heart-broken with her mother’s revelation that she hardly read any letters the kid wrote or that there was hardly a right time to take her with them thanks to their financial constraints.

I talked of the paradox in the earlier paragraph. And the paradox is again thanks to the atmospherics of Kaira’s personal life. Thanks to her professional life, of course, she is always surrounded by good looking people and people who are the ‘haves’ and not the ‘have-nots.’ [If one as an audience feels this way, it is the director herself who is responsible for this skewed feeling: When Kaira decides to gobble desi Chinese at a TAJ CHINESE road-side cart after a break-up, Gauri crafts a scene that shows her donating her food to a starved, begging kid. It is as if Gauri is bent upon signing off a sledge-hammer impact: ‘She is rich, first-world in a third-world country, got it?’] She is from a family that is welcome to having whiskey/wine as a family-gathering unifier: [The family that drinks together, well, in this case at least, does not stay together.] She is perfectly fine when it comes to OTHER aspects of her life; having fun with her coke-snorting friends or even breaking some salsa or ketchup bottles or whatever since it has a name resembling her ex and then throwing cash at the counter to cover damages. Gauri spends so much of time in SHOWING these scenes to us that it sends out the wrong signal to the extent that when one sees her talking and reacting to her parents so badly, in an utterly dis-respectful and contemptible way, one feels like slapping her and bringing some sense into her. It is actually miraculous her parents put up with her in spite of all her tantrums and her constant humiliation of them: What else can be a greater humiliation to a parent that his or her kid has to mathematically ‘add-up’ the minutes and count desperately to the sum of 10 total minutes of talk in maybe 1 or 2 weeks? She is perennially rude to her parents. [Not writing a letter to the parents after the over-hearing incident is understandable; being rude and insensitive throughout {in an earlier scene, she tells her friends when she has to go to Goa that it’s a torture to spend even a few hours with parents, let alone few days}]. So she has a degree from some film school in New York in cinematography. How did she pay for that? Did she have a scholarship? [Just imagine the contradiction here; the very thing that turned her against her parents, financial safety-net, is the one that actually enabled her to pursue her out-of-the-mainstream course in cinematography in a damn expensive place!] How did she pay for ALL her expenses in Bombay — let alone New York — with a maid in-tow who kept arranging her turtled auto-rickshaw? When a kid takes all of these materialistic bestowing for granted, isn’t it but natural for an audience – or for some at least – to face resistance in buying-in the concept of ‘blaming the parent’? So one’s got all the time in the world when parents shell out their hard-earned money and send you to a prestigious school in a developed country with a stronger currency but one’s got to think a hundred thousand times to talk for 5 minutes with a parent? This dichotomy is quite baffling to me.

Of course, I understand the central conceit of this movie. It is from the point of view of  Kaira, and not her parents. As a 6-year old, it is but natural and perfectly understandable that one sees the world only from one’s limited understanding. Yes, parents might be talking of financial pressures, but what are they to a 6 year old? What’s the thought-process of a 6 year old? Has any 6-year old been wise enough to understand the financial situations of his or her family and stop asking for toys? It doesn’t matter! A kid sees another kid with a toy, and wants it. If the kid were to ‘understand’ that financial situation of the family doesn’t allow the luxury, the kid would no longer be a kid. One gets that. But how about when the kid grows up to be an adult? And is exposed to life and variants of societal life and folks the way Kaira is? It is difficult, very difficult to fathom that a person who is exposed to the kind of elitist life that Kaira leads is so incapable of understanding that whatever the parents decided at that point in their life was a decision at THAT point; not a universal, know-all, fix-all decision: That one needs a therapist to come to the conclusion that whatever the parents did was right in their mind at that point in time is indeed, to put it mildly, if not laughable, for sure amusing.

Does one need to understand child-psychology or be a psychologist/psychiatrist to understand and appreciate DZ? I am in two minds about that. How is it that Kaira is able to remember and describe what she felt as a 6 year old so convincingly to Khan? If one digs into one’s childhood, yes, one can remember per se the seminal incidents that affected one’s childhood; but how can one remember and articulate the exact emotions, the feelings that one experienced at the time? How can one remember that one felt as though a disgusting TV channel had been turned on and the TV remote was snatched away with no option to change? The scene looked and sounded too artificial to me designed with an attempt to well one’s tear-glands. I just didn’t find Kaira’s problems — in the light of her adult life — convincing; and that might be because of Gauri’s confused handling of the subject; the contradictions that she keeps throwing up: Even if one were to convince oneself that it was her intention, it still doesn’t cut ice. Mani Ratnam’s ‘Anjali’ that dealt with the parents’ handling of a troubled child still works for me — at least on an emotional level.

There are only 2 scenes in the movie that stood-out to me. One is Kaira’s outburst when man-bun Mr. Raghuvendra shows up at her friend’s Goa residence; second, the final therapy session with SRK’s Jahangir Khan. Shinde deserves all the accolades for the final therapy scene. It is a remarkably conceived and shot scene when Kaira wants to have a relationship with Khan outside of the professional boundaries. Shinde fantastically conveys ‘transference’ [http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-transference.htm]

in the scene and seems to be influenced by the brilliant HBO series ‘IN TREATMENT.’ [https://youtu.be/fUpiNh7sTkE]. It’s a team effort and each one shines; SRK with his acknowledgement and his awkwardness {Paul Weston too is going through a difficult marriage} and Alia through her transference buried in her conviction that she is actually in love with her therapist.

Alia Bhatt of course walks off with top honors. This is a fine performance cementing her place as an artist that’s bridging the gap between youth-focused roles and semi-realistic roles like that of the one in UDTA PUNJAB: Kudos to her for pumping life into an other-wise confused character-sketch by the director. SRK plays SRK, albeit restrained. For all the talk of this being a fine SRK performance, I beg to differ – it’s not. There’s too much of SRK’s mannerisms in his portrayal of the therapist. He appears too caught-up to be freely exploring Jehangir Khan as a character. So for me, DIL SE followed by SWADES continue to be SRK’s only redeeming acts in his post-stardom era.

Alia’s friends are exasperatingly vacuous and one of them even belts out a Faulkner quote regarding the past which is never dead. The reactions to this quote by their friends are ludicrous, and the audience is confused as to whether the characters are laughing at the absurdity of the usage of this quote or the quote itself. Curiously, it’s only the dumped beaus that provide some stability and maturity in terms of how the audience perceives Kaira’s relationships with them.

This is definitely quite an interesting film on paper; on the screen, however, it leaves a LOT to be desired.

 

AE DIL HAI MUSHKIL

Mild Spoilers –

AE DIL HAI MUSHKIL [ADHM] is one of the worst, wannabe movies coming out of the Johar stable; and that’s not because the film in totality is bad per se, but because of the disastrous attempts at surrogate-wedding of depth with glamor. All his ‘K’ films and the faux-attempt at capturing xenophobia through MNIK can be considered classics – in terms of cinematic grammar only, by the way – when compared to ADHM.

Johar tries to show his ‘maturity’ in this film but ends up showing his immaturity even more. What Johar is actually attempting here is to be Imtiaz-esqe, but falls flat at that because he is churned between Imtiaz’s high emotional-quotient and his own penchant for designer glamor and an alternative club-hopping world: The resultant is a mess of a movie that just doesn’t know where to stop and what it’s trying to convey. Remember that scene in TALAASH where Aamir questions Nawaz and Nawaz replies, and I paraphrase, ‘साब, दो दिन से खाना नहीं खाया, पानी भी नही पिया|’ And then the cell-phone in his pocket starts ringing prompting a suspicious look from Aamir who’s just trying to understand the contrast between extreme poverty and a fully-charged cell-phone having a high balance. And that’s what I was staring at in ADHM. The gap between the glaring glamor and attempted depth is so huge that one gets lost in that oblivion never to resurface again. Everyone is talking of ‘unrequited’ love. Yes, that’s the theme; and quite a rich one at that in-text but poorly handled here. Johar has been dealing with this ‘can a boy and a girl be just friends like a boy and a boy can be buddies but not gay’ theme since his KKHH days and has yet to come to terms with it: He tried the Archie comics approach way back in the millennium and now he tries to be ‘adult’ about the same theme here. Ranbir’s Ayan loves Anushka’s Alizeh, Alizeh in turn has a weakness for Fawad’s DJing Ali, and Ranbir circumvents these two after Anushka is not willing to graduate to ‘love’ from ‘friend-ship’ with Ayan and moves on to another. He, miraculously after metaphorically doing a ‘Kanyadaan’ meets a शायरा   in Aishwarya’s Saba who, at first sight, hands him her book of नzम along with her phone number. The problem is, the co-incidences, even if one considers them metaphors, don’t quite gel with the atmospherics of this movie [as Lisa Haydon’s hilarious character would have put it, the ‘vatavaran’ is quite deceptive]. It all sounds so un-real; not surreal. In the scene when Ayan meets Saba for the first time, he plays a ‘same-pinch’ scenario with her. Forget somebody Aishwarya-like, I haven’t even had a chance to pinch an over-blown TSA agent at airports! [My luck has been restricted to being ‘padded’, and unfortunately, by men!].

The initial scenes between Ayan and Alizeh just go on and on and one gets irritated. Ayan is a left-over from K3G. He is carrying forward the financial legacy of flying in helicopters and private jets. They can wear shades at night, sleep, and without brushing their teeth after waking up in the morning, can shove raw bread crumbs into toasters and pour milk into their cereal bowl. [Karan, actually, doesn’t waste time here in the sense that he doesn’t dwell on the fact that these are folks that can use Euros or dollars or whatever to wipe their asses; he doesn’t spend time on showing the wealth of Ayan’s parents – Ayan just blasts his credit cards! If that’s maturity for a film-maker, so be it: Just like Trump considers revealing his tax-returns a waste of time, so does Karan believe it’s a waste of time establishing the ‘rich’ history of Ayan’s parents]. The point is established: They can go to Vienna, Paris, or wherever the hell from London in Europe to wherever else just like we try to go from Pune to Amravati.

Karan’s idea of poverty, as I alluded to somewhere, is a kid working extra hours and sweating to pay for his Ducati while his idea of wealthy is the same kid graduating to driving a Lamborghini after completing his MBA as SOTY: Be that as it may, I am not too concerned with it: [Just as one can accuse Ramu or Kashyap of excelling ONLY in dark corridors of the heart and mind.] And it’s on full display here.  The trouble is when he tries to tread on Imtiaz’s territory and tries to find depth, and he struggles, and how! The ‘दिल का दर्द; दिल टूटा नहीं’ idea is a direct lift from Ali’s [not DJ’s] ‘Rockstar.’ Ayan sings pathetically and butchers Burman’s ‘गाता रहे मेरा दिल’ from GUIDE and Alizeh retorts saying he sings so badly since he has hardly experienced heart-break; a direct throw-back to Kumud Mishra’s advice to Ranbir in Rockstar

about becoming a great musician only when one’s heart is torn to shreds. ‘Urdu’ and Faiz Ahmed Faiz are used here just as mere instruments of exoticism. Ayan invites Alizeh to the woman’s house he is sleeping with who, of course, happens to be the poetess Aishwarya’s Saba just to make her ‘jealous’ that he has landed a prize ‘better’ than Alizeh! Noor Jehan’s rendition of Faiz’s ‘मुझ से पहली सी मुहब्बत मेरे महबूब ना माँग

मैने समझा था के तू है तो दरख़शां है हयात’ is playing in the background: And we are supposed to be convinced that Saba is a ‘deep’ person, who literally dances like a stripper in a club in one of the previous scenes –and no, this isn’t a sexist comment but a marker to the confusion in Karan’s mind— when she meets Ranbir after her first encounter with him. I am NOT trying to be judgmental here by expecting a शायरा to be someone clothed from head to foot in a burkha. It’s just that KJo’s attempt at wedding modernity with traditions and ‘depth’ is so exasperatingly vacuous here that it boggles the mind.  [Just imagine Amitabh after reciting मैं पल दो पल का शायर हूँ jumping onto a dance-floor gyrating sexually to a Sex Pistol’s number, and you get the drift]. This is not DEDH ISHQIYA where the entire movie was soaked with Lucknowi तहज़ीब: Here, exoticism is used merely as a tool and the artificiality seeps through to the audience. So afraid Karan is of alienating the ‘it’ crowd that he doesn’t even use the originals of the many Hindi oldies but resorts to using the remixed versions!

Of the cast, Ranbir shines in some scenes but he seems clearly uncomfortable acting as the man-child. He is fantastic in the scene where Aliyah calls him from Lucknow and he asks, almost child-like and with his heart in his mouth, whether she agreed to marry Ali. Anushka is fine but is running the risk of repeating herself with her bubbly acts. But this is surely one of her finer performances. Aishwarya is the world’s most beautiful woman and she plays it THAT way; and NOT as a poetess. [Catch her ‘walking’ with her posterior swaying in the scene when she and Alizeh dismiss off as sexist Ayan’s talk  of women being together as dangerous and you can catch her limitations as an actress WITHOUT a micro-scope; I missed Madhuri here, but I am not the casting director]. Fawad continues to the over-rated actor that he is but a devastatingly blessed good-looker.

Except for BULLEYA and the title song, none of the songs merit any attention. The BULLEYA song is shot poorly trying to give it a SADDA HAQ look but falls flat. How I wish the title song focused more on Ranbir’s expressions rather than his rise to fame.

Finally, the trick of using death as a unifier is such an over-used, ironically, done-to-death attempt at welling up the tear-glands that it looks like a mockery here. Even chemo-therapy is painted glamorous in Karan’s films. [In SILSILA, Yash used a plane-crash as a unifier, but that was 1982, and SILSILA was too bold a film for its time! In 2016, if you still want to use death as a unifying tool, then that talks a lot about your story-telling abilities.] Cancer, here, pardon me, sounds like a joke. The last 30 minutes are a hoot. Never ever have I seen in a seemingly ‘mature’ Hindi film a terminal disease being looked at so flippantly.

If you really want to see, in modern-times, why is it that Alizeh cannot come to love Ayan, in spite of his being the PRINCE CHARMING as suggested by Saba, go back to 2006 and watch Rani and Abhishek’s scenes in Johar’s own KANK: They sound more real and far, far better than what’s at display here. And if you want to watch folks struggling with confusions in love, just watch TAMASHA on rewind..

ADHM, then, remains an uneasy cock-tail of Imtiaz’s finer-attempts, KJO’s own cinematic references, and a vague reference to THE FAULT IN OUR STARS..

U-TURN

U-Turn starts with a disclaimer that it’s based on real events. What these real events mean, is revealed only during end-credits. One can consider it a deceit or a conceit by the helmer, depending on how one wishes to consume that information.

There are many scenes in this film that show something but convey something else; mostly hidden, few completely contrary. This is no Lucia, but writer-director Pawan Kumar’s U-Turn is surely an engrossing, above-average, song less thriller. The movie’s premise starts with a mysterious murder/death of a person having marital issues. The same person is shown to have made an illegal U-turn on the busy Double Road fly-over in Bangalore by shifting aside big blocks used as a make-shift median. An intern (a dusky and an extremely attractive Shraddha Srinath with a nose-ring in tow to make hearts go aflutter – at least mine did) at the Indian Express office (in Shivajinagar of course) is preparing a crime-story based on traffic violations/’un-civic’ sense of riders and drivers and has a home-less – well, he has a make-shift tent if you want to call it a home—guy give her the registration numbers of those vehicles for 100 rupees. It’s discovered that the guy who made the illegal U-turn that day dies the same night. It’s also discovered later, that so have many others who have made that U-turn on the fly-over. What’s going on here? What does someone taking a U-turn on some busy fly-over have to do with his or her death? Everyone is looking for answers, including a more-than-helpful and enthusiastic cop, a bereaved husband and a prospective boy-friend.

As mentioned earlier, by Pawan Kumar’s Lucia standards, this might appear, ironically, a ‘conventional’ movie! And the fact that it might hark back referentially to a Hindi movie not more than 4 years old which also dealt with death and its myriad consequences is quite unmissable: Thematically, yes, the two films are threaded but cinematically, Pawan Kumar’s treatment is quite divorced from the Hindi one and seeps with a local, linguistic authenticity. (There is a hilarious scene where a couple of ‘youths’ ask the intern what rights she has to question their ‘right’ to indulge in traffic violations; is she a ‘Kannadiga’? In the next scene, this patriot who considered himself the judge, jury, and executioner of state-citizenry and rights based on ethnicity is busy snorting coke listening to hard-rock with posters of bands from you-know-where! There’s not a single image or poster of even a Hindi album or a movie – let-alone Kannada music. Well, so much for hyper-statehood tongue-lashing.)

The film plays out on two levels but still manages to hold the interest on both the levels – the thriller and the meta-physical. Kumar explores ‘karma’ and its many manifestations through and within the Hindu philosophy. A U-turn, or its diagrammatic representation, in a sense, is symbolically filtered through thriller elements in the movie. The theory that there is a pay-back waiting for you for your deeds is given practice through the eventful life of some and mainly the death of many. [In one of the most cinematically/technically tacky but metaphorically rich scenes, a person dying is stopped and is, in a way, cursed to live and complete the life-time ‘assigned’ to him by the higher power. Now this is ‘karma’ and an understanding of PRABHDAM and AkAmiyam would help one in enriching the scene’s consumption as a viewer. Basically, the fact that you have to settle all the balances on all the deeds and mis-deeds your soul was a part of before achieving salvation; whether it be in this birth or multiple-births, is cemented on celluloid through a U-turn.)

Pawan Kumar, the writer-director gives subtle hints towards classism, regionalism (as I mentioned in the coke-addicted guy’s behavior) and just leaves them at that. (The old man picked up from the bridge is really given no choice; it is, as they say, the norm in India, ‘पहेले लात, फिर बात’ for the poor, while upper middle-class and the ‘educated’ get the boot only on 2nd or 3rd round of questioning – if they are luckier, they get a cutting chai first and then the boot.] Again, in the opening scene, he depicts a fine camaraderie and mother-daughter tidbits’ exchange; but throws in many societal observations, namely (i) Indian parents’ obsession with marriage and kids and age (ii) having a ‘safe’ job (in Bangalore parlance, read/write BOTH as software). And boy oh boy, if you are using an auto-rickshaw ‘service’ in Bangalore, make sure you have somebody with you who can go back or make a return-trip with and mainly, for the driver, from where you boarded, otherwise the poor driver has ABSOLUTELY no other choice but to extort you to pay at least half the ‘return-trip’ fare. There is another scene where the intern is accosted by the cops late in the night right in her apartment parking-basement/entrance and the ‘watch-man’ is sleeping. Well, he’s sleeping right through the entire noisy episode and even after the sirens have stopped blaring. The man believes in status-quo, and how!

Technically, the film does go through schizophrenic quality of savviness throughout. The technology employed in the climax is tacky. The cops trying to desperately break through a jail-cell where two guys are beating the hell out of each other is badly handled. The cops’ ineptitude at trying to break-open a jail-cell lock starts earnestly but borders and proceeds to hilarity. The ‘time-gap’ appears forcefully induced and the audience can easily sense it to the extent that they start thinking maybe they would have done a better job at smashing the lock than any cop! The good things: A fine background score by Poornachandra Tejaswi and fine lighting by the DOP especially in the chamber scenes. (The pre-death cinematographic treatment, however, is really old-school and tacky – the kind that you might have seen and forgotten in Ramsey Bros’ movies.) But for all this tackiness, there is one absolutely fantastic shot of the cop {Roger Narayanan’s G.K. Nayak} standing atop the fly-over trying to figure out the topography. The camera zooms out step-wise in such a spectacular fashion to capture a hawk-eye’s view of Bangalore that it might attract or force the Google behemoths to re-configure their street-view: Marvelous and absolutely superlative. All the action-scenes in Mad-Max to me are the cinematographic scenes par-excellence of this entire decade and a close, a very close-second is this shot from U-Turn.

Performance-wise, Shraddha Srinath does a good job of playing a novice but still needs to notch up in the acting department in terms of dialogue-delivery. (Do please keep the nose-ring on in your next movies). Roger Narayan as the cop has a fine screen-presence but comes across as too earnest. Hebbale Krishna is superb as the superior who wants to dismiss off the cases as suicide and not unnecessarily ‘complicate’ cases as well as one’s life.

In all, this is, a ‘safe’ film by Pawan Kumar’s standards but a ‘radical’ one by the Kannada film industry’s standards that for the past decade or so is quite happy ripping off legally or illegally Tamil and Telugu masala films. This is a surely recommended film but if one’s expecting something on par with Lucia, well, one’s not going to get it.