Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

October 27, 2017

Death, lies, and betrayal

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:52 pm

October 27, 2017

Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Smita Tambe, Adarsh Gourav, Kumud Mishra

Director: Atanu Mukherjee

The new Manoj Bajpayee starrer Rukh is a story about letting go of a loved one while accepting the person that you’ve become. It deals with the familiar theme of a young man’s coming of age, but it’s told through the grief of a young son struggling to wrap his head around the mysterious circumstances behind the death of his father.

There’s a quietude that pervades this film, which emanates from the seemingly depressed state of Divakar (Bajpayee) and his wife Nandini (Smita Tambe). When Divakar is killed in an accident, his 18-year-old son Dhruv (Adarsh Gourav) returns from boarding school to complete the last rites. He finds a pile of secrets – his father was bankrupt, their factory had shut down on account of his partner’s malpractices, and his mother is keeping something from him. Dhruv is convinced that his father was murdered and wants to get to the bottom of it, even as he struggles with a violent incident from his own past.

Confidently directed by debutant Atanu Mukherjee, the film encourages the viewer to peel away at the layers of the story to arrive at the truth, just like Dhruv does. Slowly he discovers a father he never knew and it helps him resolve his own issues. But the narrative unfolds leisurely – what the heck, I’m just going to say it – it moves at a snail’s pace. It has the elements of a thriller with the mystery surrounding Divakar’s death, but you do find yourself wishing that the makers would get on with it.

Despite the overwhelming heaviness, and frankly a cop-out ending, the film is powered by its performances. Bajpayee and Tambe both have a melancholic stillness, while Gourav conveys angst and grief through restlessness.

I’m going with three out of five for Rukh. This is a heartbreaking indie about saying goodbye that nevertheless ends on the high note of hope.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Swedish slog

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 1:45 pm

October 27, 2017

Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Richa Chadda, Arslan Goni, Sudhanshu Pandey

Director: Howard Rosemeyer

Any promise that Jia aur Jia may have held of taking a fresh, original approach to the idea of a ‘girl-bonding’ story is dispelled literally minutes into the film. Make no mistake, this is your standard odd-couple narrative disguised as a road-trip movie, and it’s crammed with every cliché you can possibly think of.

Kalki Koechlin is free-spirited Jia Grewal, and Richa Chadda is uptight Jia Venkatram. Owing to a lazy script contrivance, the two women – perfect strangers – are paired up for the duration of a Swedish holiday, and predictably the bickering starts from the moment they first meet.

Sadly, director Howard Rosemeyer and writer Mudassar Aziz have no interest beyond stating the obvious. The beats are familiar, and the shading mostly superficial. We’re in 2017, but the idea of women letting their hair down and having a good time is still limited to things like smoking a joint, getting drunk, flirting openly with men, and referring to each other affectionately as “saali daayen”. It’s not hard to see what the problem is. This is a girl-bonding story as imagined by men. What’s missing is an honest female perspective that might have brought nuance and some depth.

Like in most films of this genre, the road-trip in Jia aur Jia is a metaphor for a journey of self-discovery. Prejudices are overcome, dark secrets are revealed, and life lessons are learnt, but there isn’t an iota of freshness in the way that the narrative unfolds. Some bits are promising, like a scene in which the two women and a male friend they make on the trip watch a foreign film without subtitles at a drive-in cinema. Unable to follow what’s going on, they make up their own dialogues and plot as they go.

But charming moments are in short supply here. Kalki and Richa, both talented actors, are wasted in a film that frankly doesn’t know what to do with them. Kalki is in Energizer Bunny mode, and Richa appears uncharacteristically stiff.

At a mere 92 minutes Jia Aur Jia still feels overlong and also unmistakably boring. A holiday in Sweden has never felt like such a slog.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

October 20, 2017

Team spirit

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:01 pm

October 20, 2017

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Arshad Warsi, Tusshar Kapoor, Kunal Khemmu, Shreyas Talpade, Tabu, Parineeti Chopra, Sanjay Mishra, Johnny Lever, Sachin Khedekar, Mukesh Tiwari

Director: Rohit Shetty

I suppose it’s true: film critics are entirely unreasonable people. After endlessly complaining that the last two Golmaal films were like a series of jokes strung together with little by way of story, listen to us grumble now that Golmaal Again has too much plot.

That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the plot were particularly compelling. But it’s a standard issue ghost story and the beats are all too familiar.

Rohit Shetty moves the action from Goa to Ooty, but the film is still shot in such bright, pastel colors, it’s as if the cameraman swallowed a box of crayons. The ol’ gang of five is back – Gopal (Ajay Devgan), Madhav (Arshad Warsi), Lucky (Tusshar Kapoor), and the two Laxmans (Shreyas Talpade, Kunal Khemmu) – and for reasons too complicated to go into, they’re all shacked up in a big mansion that just happens to be haunted.


They’re joined, this time, by Tabu, playing a librarian who can see and talk to spirits. There’s also Parineeti Chopra playing the domestic help in that big house. Both ladies, unfortunately, have precious little to do.

To be fair, the film is frequently funny, but in a pedestrian, more-of-the-same sort of way. Johnny Lever can still land a joke better than any of the five ‘heroes’, and Sanjay Mishra pulls off the corniest lines with flair. “Mere fakeeron ke Fawad Khan,” he says to someone at one point. Another person he describes as:  “Mere besuron ke Justin Bieber.”

Some laughs are mined from a running gag involving Ajay’s character falling for the much younger Parineeti Chopra, including a cheeky reference to Cheeni Kum. Ajay, in fact, is in good form, playing Gopal as the alpha male of the group, but who’s nevertheless terrified of ghosts. “Din ko dus dus ko dhota hai. Raat ko dar dar ke sota hai,” Sanjay Mishra says about him. The other recurring joke involves Nana Patekar’s voice, but I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

Mercifully no cars are spun around like tops and exploded this time around, but the characters repeatedly bandy about the film’s message like a disclaimer, as if warning you not to expect any more than they promise to deliver: “No logic, only magic.”

Logic indeed is in short supply here, and frankly the real magic the filmmakers conjure up is the ability to keep this franchise on the road for all these years with such minimal creative investment. Golmaal 5..? Wanna bet it’s on the way?

Meanwhile, because so little of it feels fresh or original, I’m going with two out of five for Golmaal Again.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

October 19, 2017

In tune!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:00 am

October 19, 2017

Cast: Zaira Wasim, Aamir Khan, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun, Tirth Sharma, Kabir Sajid

Director: Advait Chandan

Lost in her own thoughts during an English class, a distracted student is pulled up by the teacher and caned when she fails to explain the meaning of the word ‘irony’. It’s a throwaway moment in the film Secret Superstar, in which a burkha, viewed by many as a symbol of oppression, becomes the very thing that liberates a young girl. Aamir Khan, famous for shunning awards, plays an awards-hungry musician who’s hurting from being repeatedly overlooked for accolades.

How’s that for irony?

Written and directed by debutant Advait Chandan, Secret Superstar is many things at once: an inspiring journey towards empowerment, a case for pursuing one’s passion against all odds, a testament to the deep mother-daughter bond, and a convincing depiction of teenage years.

Zaira Wasim, who played the young Geeta Phogat in Dangal, stars as Insiya, a 15-year-old from a middle-class Muslim family in Vadodara who dreams of becoming a famous singer. Her loving, supportive mother is the wind beneath her wings, but neither can stand up to her controlling, abusive father who refuses to indulge her musical leanings. No wonder she decides to hide her identity and upload YouTube videos belting out melodies in the hopes of being acknowledged for her talent.

Chandan sets up his protagonist’s world with remarkable perceptiveness. An ageing grandmother and a doted-upon younger brother complete Insiya’s family, and through only a few telling scenes, we learn a lot about these folks. The film captures nicely the excitement of getting one’s first computer, and even the flush of first love. It is particularly unflinching in its depiction of domestic abuse, and especially rattling as viewed through the eyes of young children.

Frequently I found myself fighting back tears, more often than not in the portions between mother and daughter that cover a whole spectrum of emotions. Meher Vij is exceptional as Najma, Insiya’s ever-smiling Ammi, and their scenes together are some of the best in the film. Meanwhile Raj Arjun plays Farookh, Insiya’s despotic father with such cold, dark efficiency, he casts a pall of doom over the film each time he’s on screen.

Less convincing is the apparent ease with which Insiya becomes a viral sensation and how conveniently she finds favor with washed-up composer Shakti Kumaarr. Aamir Khan is clearly enjoying himself as the flamboyant, sleazy musician, a rare opportunity for the famously restrained actor to let his hair down.

Despite taking a turn for the predictable post-intermission, and despite relying on too many familiar tropes, Secret Superstar doesn’t veer too far off course because – like its protagonist – it never loses sight of its goal. The film is overlong, stuffed with too many subplots, and far from subtle. Yet it keeps us consistently invested in both Insiya and Najma’s journeys.

Standing tall amidst a pitch-perfect ensemble, is Zaira Wasim as Insiya, who comes off as something of an old soul trapped in a teenager’s body. Wise beyond her years, she is riveting on screen, in the manner in which she appears to sing using her entire being, or the little moments of crushing disappointment and excitement that are reflected on the canvas that is her expressive face.

Secret Superstar belongs to its incredible cast that glosses over many of the film’s minor lapses. Advait Chandan makes an assured directing debut, delivering a film that is ultimately heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

October 6, 2017

Half cooked!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:30 pm

October 06, 2017

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Padmapriya Janakiraman, Svar Kamble, Milind Soman, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Sobhita Dhulipala

Director: Raja Krishna Menon

As feel-good films go, Chef, starring Saif Ali Khan, is inoffensive and frequently charming. It’s a decent but far-from-spectacular remake of the Jon Favreau starrer from 2014, about a celebrated culinary genius whose sudden fall from grace leads him to question where his heart truly lies.

Airlift director Raja Menon remains more or less faithful to the blueprint of the original film while ditching its scrappy, indie feel for a broader, glossier approach.

In a case of terrific casting, Saif plays Roshan Kalra, a top New York chef who flips out when a patron criticizes his cooking and is fired when he refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Jobless, and confused about what to do next, Roshan travels to Kochi to visit his ex-wife Radha (Padmapriya Janakiraman) and son Armaan (Svar Kamble) who he hasn’t seen in some time.

One of the best things about the film is the refreshingly mature handling of Roshan and Radha’s post-divorce relationship, even if the reason for their break-up is never explained, barring the frankly lame suggestion that his obsession with his work might have driven a wedge between them. There are some laughs to be had from Roshan’s mixed-but-never-melodramatic response to the presence of a new man in Radha’s life, namely the mild-mannered, salt-and-pepper haired art collector Biju (Milind Soman), who by all accounts appears to be a better catch than Roshan himself.

While in India, Roshan gets a chance to bond with his son when he decides to remodel a rundown double-decker bus into a hip food-truck. Joined by a friend from New York (Chandan Roy Sanyal) and a temperamental driver, father and son hit the road, serving up their exotic roti-pizza concoction at multiple stops between Kochi and Delhi, even as Roshan routinely imparts life lessons to the kid in scenes that come off a little ham-fisted.

The writing, in fact, is the weak link here. There is little surprise or unpredictability in the narrative, and aside from a handful of smart moments – a reference to Saif’s character in Dil Chahta Hai for one – very little flies of the page.

Menon and his writers conceive the film as both a mouth and eye-watering showreel for Indian food and travel. The portions filmed in Kerala are especially evocative, but as a film with food as one of its key themes, Chef leaves you wanting.

The cooking scenes never come alive with passion or flair. They’re adequately shot, but the love and magic is oddly missing. You only have to watch Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox or even Amole Gupte’s Stanley Ka Dabba to see how skillfully those filmmakers elevated the mundane task of cooking into a sumptuous sensory experience. After watching Favreau whip up a pasta in the original film, I wanted to rush out for an Italian meal. This film leaves you with no such cravings.

If the film isn’t completely derailed by its shortcomings, it’s because it’s a light, breezy watch. A big reason for that is clever casting. Saif Ali Khan does some of his best work lately as an angry, insecure, middle-aged fella at the center of this belated coming-of-age tale. He’s flawed and clearly a work-in-progress, and the actor brings out the character’s contradictions and complexities with empathy.

Smartly, the filmmakers surround Saif with an ensemble of mostly unknown faces in order to ground the film in authenticity. The lovely Padmapriya Janakiraman has a luminous presence as Radha, and Svar Kamble has none of the annoying affectations of so many child actors.

Chef isn’t perfect; it lags in places, offers quick-fix solutions to characters’ problems, and feels wholly familiar. But at a little over two hours, it doesn’t ask much of you, and offers some pleasure in Saif Ali Khan’s return to form as an actor hard to look away from. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Sunny Sunday!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:29 pm

October 06, 2017

Cast: Barun Sobti, Shahana Goswami, Vishal Malhotra, Avinash Tiwary, Nakul Bhalla, Jay Upadhyay

Director: Milind Dhaimade

Sunday is just one of those days of the week – it’s sunny, predictable, lazy and lovely, all at once. And so, it’s fitting that a film named after it encapsulates all those things. Tu Hai Mera Sunday is a slice-of-life romantic comedy, but it’s the bromance between five friends at the center of the story that stays with you. That, and their love-hate relationship with the city they call home: Mumbai.

Directed by Milind Dhaimade, the film deftly captures the frustrations of those living in this city through the protagonists, namely Arjun, Rashid, Mehernosh, Domnic and Jayesh. All five are escapists, seeking the dopamine of Sunday football to forget their dreary lives and crippling insecurities. Arjun (Barun Sobti), the do-gooder in this bunch, allows a befuddled old man to join their amateur football team, but this sets off a chain of events.

The players lose the beachside they play at, but the old man also leads Arjun to his daughter Kavya (Shahana Goswami). A busy advertising executive, Kavya gratefully allows Arjun to take ‘Appa’ along every Sunday for their game. The motley bunch searches far and wide in this choking city for a little space for their soccer, even as they are forced to step up to bigger responsibilities.

The film doesn’t throw up many surprises on the script level, but it benefits from a strong cast and a casual, lighthearted tone that never slips. There are several moments that stand out – like when Mehernosh (Nakul Bhalla) erupts in rage and chases his nasty boss through the office, or when Rashid (Avinash Tiwary) looks at the dead rat that tormented him with the fondness of an old friend. You’ll laugh out loud as Domnic (Vishal Malhotra), working part-time as a birthday clown, yells at an annoying boy, and more than a few times with Jayesh (played by a consistently funny Jay Upadhyay). The film demonstrates how urban pressure consumes the friends when they lose their stress-buster – football.

Occasionally the narrative sputters like an old car on account of stray, boring scenes, or when multiple songs eat into the narrative. Yet the performances are charming, and also the romantic moments between the men and their respective partners. Especially Sobti and Goswami who’re self-assured and bring a conversational feel to their lines. Rasika Dugal, meanwhile, delivers a terrific cameo as a captivating neighbor.

I’m going with three out of five for Tu Hai Mera Sunday. Easy and breezy, it’s worth your time on a Sunday, or just about any given day.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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