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

July 26, 2019

Where the wild things are

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:32 pm

July 26, 2018

Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao, Satish Kaushik, Brijendra Kala, Hussain Dalal, Amyra Dastur, Amrita Puri, Jimmy Shergill

Director: Prakash Kovelamudi

Judgementall Hai Kya, starring Kangana Ranaut, is something of a mixed bag…not unlike its protagonist. The film is alternately a black comedy, a whodunit, a trippy mind-bender, but also frequently a slog. It is both wildly original and frustratingly bizarre.

Kangana plays Bobby, a young woman with unresolved childhood trauma, who has been diagnosed with acute psychosis. I’m no expert on the condition so I can’t confirm or question the veracity of its symptoms. But Bobby is prone to bouts of paranoia and hysterical outbursts, she hears voices in her head, and displays erratic behaviour. Working as a dubbing artiste for B-movies, she immerses herself (literally!) into the characters she voices, dreaming up scenarios, and photoshopping her face into film stills.

Pretty soon her fantasies extend to include Keshav (Rajkummar Rao), a tenant who moves into the flat next door with his wife. Before you know it Bobby is spying on the couple in their private moments, crashing their weekend getaway, and stalking him in the dead of the night. Then someone is killed, and Keshav and Bobby are both suspects.

It’s an interesting premise that leads one to ponder the matter of Bobby as an unreliable narrator, and the tendency of men to undermine strong women by raising questions about their sanity. The film’s first hour, although choppy, is nevertheless intriguing. Kangana, who is no stranger to unhinged characters, is immensely watchable even if she’s aced this shtick before in films like Gangster, Woh Lamhe, and Fashion. To be fair though, the characters she played in each of those films were marked by a delicate fragility; Bobby is driven by single-minded conviction.

It helps also that director Prakash Kovelamudi and writer Kanika Dhillon use a generous serving of humour to ensure that the proceedings seldom become too grim. Satish Kaushik as a bhujia-chomping inspector and Brijendra Kala as his sidekick bring plenty laughs, as does Hussain Dalal in the role of Bobby’s frustrated boyfriend.

But Judgementall Hai Kya hits the proverbial iceberg immediately after intermission. The story moves to London, barely held together by a coincidence that never feels convincing. Bobby and Keshav cross paths again, but at this point the script asks that you suspend not only disbelief but also even basic common sense.

Bobby takes a job as an understudy for Sita in a stage production of Ramayana 2.0, a modern reimagining of the classic story. This plot device labours to make a point about looking at the Sita v Ravana situation with new eyes. It’s all very confusing, and frankly very confused. By now the script has come completely undone, leading to a lets-throw-everything-at-the-wall bonkers climax that felt like it went on forever.

That’s true of the film too. At only two hours, Judgementall Hai Kya feels overlong and overstretched. The film’s second half is so weak, it makes you forget a lot of what you enjoyed in the first half. Which is a real shame because it’s shot and scored imaginatively, and makes a strong case for inclusion and empathy. Kangana Ranaut is solid, and Rajkummar Rao brings a real element of mystery to his character, never allowing us to feel like we’ve entirely figured the guy out. But the film falls way short of greatness on account of a muddled script that loses steam halfway.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Judgementall Hai Kya. While you admire the attempt at originality, you can’t help feeling frustrated at just how it all comes apart in the end.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

July 19, 2019

Jungle awe!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 1:05 pm

July 19, 2019

Cast: Voices of Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen (In Hindi: Shah Rukh Khan, Aryan Khan, Ashish Vidyarthi, Asrani, Sanjay Mishra, Shreyas Talpade)

Director: Jon Favreau

Anyone asking why we needed a new version of The Lion King only has to look as far as the film’s stunning opening sequence to reconsider that question. Herds of animals – zebras, elephants, antelope – stride across the screen majestically against a wide African vista in what appears to be footage culled from a wildlife documentary…except that it’s not. This incredible sequence, like the rest of the film, is a marvel of modern technology, of computer-generated photorealism. The birds, the beasts, the sceneries, and frankly everything you see on screen has been conceived and crafted through advanced, sophisticated visual effects. It’s amazing how far cinema has come!

In terms of plot, director Jon Favreau sticks closely to the original 1994 animation film. You know the beats: jealous lion Scar, plots to kill his brother, the Lion King Mufasa, and his little nephew Simba so he can claim the throne. It’s a dark story, especially by Disney standards; one that involves a child watching his parent die violently in front of his eyes, the cub being hunted by ravenous predators, and being manipulated into running away from his home. There are echoes of Hamlet, but the overarching themes are those of bravery and learning responsibility.

Favreau, who employed similar technology to remake The Jungle Book in 2016, assembles a first-rate voice cast to dazzle the viewer: James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, and Beyonce among others. But I decided to watch the Hindi dubbed version, which is in no way short of star power. Shah Rukh Khan, aptly cast as the noble Mufasa, brings commanding authority to the part. In a clever move, the superstar’s son Aryan is recruited to play Simba, nicely modulating his voice to convey the cub’s coming of age. Ashish Vidyarthi too is in excellent form as the mangy, sinister Scar, delivering his lines with a growl. But it’s the sidekicks who get some of the best moments in the film, namely Zazu the hornbill, is voiced with fitting humour by Asrani, and also the warthog-meerkat duo Pumbba and Timon who steal every scene they’re in, thanks in no small part to the tapori approach of Sanjay Mishra and Shreyas Talpade who voice them. A word here for Mayur Puri who’s done a terrific job with the Hindi script and dialogues, never reducing the film to a mere ‘translation job’.

The original Lion King, you might remember, was a musical, and the remake revisits classic numbers like Circle of Life, dubbed Zindagi dor si and belted out with full lung-bursting power by Sunayana Sarkar. Sunidhi Chauhan and Armaan Mallik bring their velvet voices to the desi version of Can you feel the love tonight? and Armaan puts a playful spin on Hakuna Matata.

But the film truly works because it’s an unmatchable sensory experience. Little things like the movement of the fur on an animal’s back, or the cloud of dust that rises when a paw hits the ground, are rendered in minute, amazing, authentic detail. A stampede sequence is one of the big eye-popping set pieces in the film. Meanwhile other characters like Scar’s hyena army, or Simba’s childhood friend, the lioness Nala, also get considerable screen time.

If you loved the original animation film from 25 years ago, there’s a chance this remake might feel redundant, since it doesn’t put a fresh spin on a beloved story. But it’s hard to deny the thrill of watching these gorgeous creatures realise the same story in the closest we may ever come to watching a live action version of the film.

I found myself transported to Pride Rock, reliving many of my favourite moments from the earlier film. The chief reason to give this film a chance is to marvel at the sheer artistry at display. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The Lion King. Did you know hyenas were called lakkad bhagge in Hindi? You’ll chuckle each time Sanjay Mishra’s Pumbaa takes a wry shot at them.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

July 12, 2019

Course correction

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:51 pm

July 12, 2019

Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Mrunal Thakur, Pankaj Tripathi, Nandish Sandhu, Virendra Saxena, Aditya Srivastava, Amit Sadh

Director: Vikas Bahl

Well intentioned? Yes. Sincere? To some degree. Super? Don’t push it.

The word super might be a stretch to describe Hrithik Roshan’s new film Super 30, even if it does chronicle the inspiring true story of Anand Kumar, the mathematician and educationist from Bihar who has helped hundreds of poor students crack the rigorous IIT entrance exams. It’s a remarkable achievement – Anand Kumar’s commitment to ensure that education does not remain the exclusive privilege of those with deep pockets – and it’s one that deserves to be celebrated. But director Vikas Bahl and writer Sanjeev Dutta don’t seem convinced about the inherent dramatic potential of their protagonist’s story, choosing therefore to exaggerate details, omit crucial facts, and dial up the melodrama in order to raise the stakes.

Hrithik, who looks nothing like the real Anand Kumar, is slathered with brown face and body paint, thus reinforcing the embarrassing Bollywood stereotype of the dark-skinned ‘poor Indian’. The actor nevertheless imbues the character, especially in the film’s early bits, with charming innocence. We first meet him as a young math genius, the son of a humble postman in Patna, who lands then loses a scholarship to Cambridge because his family can’t afford to send him to England. In one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes, Anand desperately appeals to an unscrupulous minister to make good on his promise for financial support.

There are plenty bleeding-heart moments including one in which his Cambridge acceptance letter becomes wrapping paper for the papad that he must sell door to door after tragedy befalls the family. Things look up temporarily when he is recruited as a teacher by Lallan Singh (Aditya Srivastava) to train students at his fancy-schmancy coaching institute.

The bulk of the film, however, details Anand’s struggle to set up his own centre to provide free of cost coaching to 30 promising but underprivileged students who can’t afford expensive tuition. We watch as Anand faces up to jealous rivals and bullies, and the students fight starvation. It’s classic underdog narrative, but the filmmakers leave out the bit where Anand founded a parallel ‘for-profit’ coaching centre that helped him keep the Super 30 program funded.

It’s a small detail, and doesn’t take away from Anand’s commendable efforts towards the upliftment of the less fortunate. But it’s reflective of a larger malaise that the film suffers from…a tendency to blur fact and fiction, to completely fabricate incidents even, in order to stress the enormity of the protagonist’s struggle and achievement. Which is a shame because his story is extraordinary even without the bizarre skit he makes his students put up to overcome their inferiority complex, and the ludicrous climax in which the students put their learning to use to foil an attack by assassins.

There is no question that Super 30 is a dramatised, ‘Bollywoodised’ version of a true story, complete with too many songs, caricaturish villains, a deafening background score that cues every emotion, and the kind of rousing dialogue intended to elicit cheers. The film is also a khichdi of sorts, borrowing ideas and treatment from A Beautiful Mind, Good Will Hunting, Aarakshan, and Hichki. To be fair, there are things to admire too. Anand Kumar’s tendency to pose mathematical and scientific questions to his students derived from routine scenarios gives the film some of its best moments. The supporting cast is terrific, particularly Aditya Srivastava as Lallan Singh, the sneering dean of Anand’s rival coaching class, Virendra Saxena as Anand’s father, and the always reliable Pankaj Tripathi who makes the most out of a small role as a corrupt minister. Mrunal Thakur, so good in last year’s Love Sonia, shows up as Anand’s love interest, but it’s a tiny role that nevertheless gives her one winning moment that she completely owns.

The film, not surprisingly, rests on the shoulders of its leading man, and Hrithik Roshan brings the earnestness he’s known for. The Bihari accent is wobbly, the skin tone is distracting, and the film frequently gives Anand Kumar a misguided superhero-like treatment. Hrithik does the best he can with the part. It’s the scenes in which he’s meant to tug at your heartstrings that he pulls off most memorably.

What is especially disappointing is that so little attention is paid to the students at the heart of this drama. The film never allows us to spend enough time getting to know them.

Super 30 comes with an important message but the overwrought treatment weighs it down ultimately. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

July 5, 2019

Suit up!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:59 pm

July 05, 2019

Cast: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice

Director: Jon Watts

Spider-Man: Far From Home isn’t a great movie. It isn’t meant to be. Put in the unenviable position of coming out right after Avengers: Endgame, which marked the big, bold finale of the first decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Far From Home is a welcome change of tone and pace. It’s meant to be a fun adventure, a relatively low stakes affair. And it is.

When we first meet him in the new film, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) just wants a break. Can you blame him? The world has changed since the events of Endgame. His mentor, Tony Stark, is dead. It’s little surprise that Peter wants no part of whatever job Nick Fury is trying to recruit him for. He’s focused instead on a school trip to Italy where he hopes to reveal his romantic feelings to MJ (Zendaya).

 Of course, things seldom go according to plan when it comes to Peter, and his hopes for a drama-free vacation are quickly dashed when Venice is attacked by a shape-shifting ‘Elemental’ made of water. The suit must come out and Spidey must save the day, which he does, with the help of a newly arrived superhero, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who sports a cloudy fishbowl for a helmet and claims to have come from a different earth.

There’s a lot going on in the film. The memory of Tony Stark aka Iron Man feels omnipresent even though he’s six feet under. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is getting ‘friendly’ to Happy (Jon Favreau), but it’s not making Peter very happy. There’s also plenty of slick CGI action, including a big climatic battle at London’s Tower Bridge. But the film’s best bits are the ones that remind us that this is basically a teenage drama. It’s the interactions between Peter, his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), obnoxious Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), nice girl Betty (Angourie Rice), and of course spunky MJ, that hold this film together. Awkward moments, shy kisses, even a seemingly straightforward attempt to snag the perfect seat on their overseas flight is mined for laughs.

Tom Holland is terrific as Peter Parker, infusing this teen from Queens with a vulnerability and goofiness that feels completely genuine. Holland brings earnestness to the part of a young boy grappling with his great powers and responsibilities, and makes you care when the odds are stacked against him, or he’s confronted with a particularly difficult decision.

There’s not a lot one can say about Jake Gyllenhaal and the character of Mysterio without slipping into spoiler territory, but this much can be said – the filmmakers exploit Mysterio’s trickeries in inventive, visually exciting ways, and the actor makes a meal of the part.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is relatively lighthearted and breezy even; a far cry from the intense stakes of most of the other films in the Avengers franchise. It’s not a great film because it’s never meant to be. It’s just a very good distraction – enjoyable and funny.

I’m going with three and a half out of five. Don’t miss the end credits. It changes everything.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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