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

January 10, 2020

Face and foremost

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:46 pm

January 10, 2020

Cast: Deepika Padukone, Vikrant Massey, Madhurjeet Sarghi, Ankit Bisht, Anand Tiwari, Vishal Dahiya

Director: Meghna Gulzar

Chhapaak, directed by Meghna Gulzar, gets its title from the sound of a splash. Sadly this is no splash from children jumping into puddles of rain, or the splash of coloured water when squirted on friends during Holi. You already know that the splash in question is the sound and the force of acid flung to the face.

Co-written by Meghna and Atika Chohan, the film is based on the true story of Laxmi Agarwal, who in 2005 at the age of 15 became the victim of an acid attack…one of over 200 women in India each year who are at the receiving end of this heinous crime, a closing slate tells us. But it takes the deeply evocative lyrics of the film’s title song, written by Meghna’s father Gulzar, to grasp the complete magnitude and implication of the crime: “Koi chehra mita ke aur aankh se hata ke chandd chheente uda ke jo gaya, chhapaak se pehchaan le gaya.” Indeed it’s not just about disfiguring someone or erasing their face; it’s about destroying their very soul.

Laxmi, however, refused to let the incident crush her. She underwent multiple reconstructive surgeries, she fought the case against her attacker over years, filed a PIL against the sale of acid, and worked with an NGO dedicated to helping acid attack survivors. Chhapaak not only celebrates Laxmi’s will to survive and overcome the tragedy, it also asks important questions. Why doesn’t our legal system treat acid attacks as gravely as rape? Is 10 years of imprisonment an adequate punishment for scarring someone’s face and life permanently? Why is acid so easily available across the counter?

The film sticks closely to Laxmi’s story but changes the names of characters and minor details, presumably for legal reasons. Deepika Padukone plays the protagonist Malti, a 19-year-old from a working class family in Delhi, whose perfectly ordinary life comes undone when a family friend whose romantic overtures she ignored decides to teach her a lesson.

Deepika brings a quiet dignity to the role. She doesn’t merely apply the prosthetic to her face, she slips under it to become the character. This is not one of those actor-sheds-her-beauty-for-street-cred projects; this is a fully realised performance. Watch as she lets out that visceral scream after looking at her face in the mirror for the first time since the attack. Her performance reveals both vulnerability and determination as Malti goes through painful medical treatment, or struggles to find a job, or deals with social rejection.

Admirably Meghna treats these scenes with great sensitivity, but without ever soft-peddling the gravity of Malti’s experience. Melodrama is minimal here. A longer-than-usual stare, a mother diverting her child’s face on a bus, a casual comment about the need for beauty in a beauty parlour when she shows up seeking a job. The point is made.

The thoughtful, unflashy writing extends also to the character of Amol (Vikrant Massey), who is the head of the NGO where Malti finally gets a job. Their relationship is handled nicely, and Vikrant, who is a wonderful actor, conveys the frustrations and the despair of a committed activist with piercing honesty. He has no time to celebrate small victories; he has his eye on the big picture. In one lovely scene after an irritable outburst on his part Malti reminds him that acid was thrown on her, not him.

The film benefits from casting relatively unknown actors in key supporting roles. It helps ground the film in realism. It’s fitting also that Malti’s attacker doesn’t dominate the story, because it’s really not important who he is. What is important is why he did it. Meghna also doesn’t make a big deal about his religion. That’s not important either.

The weak spot here is the sluggish screenplay. There isn’t a lot going on when Malti isn’t on screen, and the back and forth nature of its narrative only gives it an episodic feel. Good thing then that the film is only two hours in duration, so that feeling that it’s running out of steam doesn’t last too long.

The filmmakers deserve credit for never seeking our pity. They have too much respect for the women who’ve survived these horrible attacks that they don’t manipulate us into shedding tears. If you’re choked it’s because the reality of what it depicts is frequently overwhelming.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Chhapaak. Its strength is in its quietude. It goes about its business with minimal fuss. The film is both moving and important. And its leading lady is in very fine form.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

December 27, 2019

Who’s baby is it anyway?

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 9:52 pm

December 27, 2019

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor, Diljit Dosanjh, Kiara Advani, Adil Hussain, Tisca Chopra

Director: Raj Mehta

Good Newwz, starring Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor, is not the most flattering endorsement of the medical profession. The film rests on the horrifying possibility that a reputed fertility clinic would mix up the sperm samples of two men, while each is undergoing IVF with his respective wife.

It’s an improbable but original premise, and with Akshay Kumar attached as star and producer it plays out as a farcical comedy of errors. If you think about it, currently it would appear that there are only two kinds of Akshay Kumar films – the nationalistic/patriotic film, and the lowbrow comedy. Good Newwz has fart jokes, short people jokes, old people jokes, masturbation jokes, sex jokes, and jokes on every low hanging fruit in plain sight. And yet this is no Housefull 5. The truth is that a lot of it is genuinely funny.
Akshay and Kareena play Varun and Deepti Batra, a swish Mumbai couple who’ve been trying to get pregnant for a while. She is desperate to have a baby, and treats it as a sort of mission for the couple to accomplish. He doesn’t have much of a paternal instinct, and likens the pressure in the bedroom to launching a surgical strike.

They’re referred to a specialist doctor couple, the Joshis (Adil Hussain and Tisca Chopra), who recommend in vitro fertilisation as a potential solution. But they’re not the only couple having trouble in the baby-making department. The doctors are also treating another pair of Batras from Chandigarh, Honey (Diljit Dosanjh) and Monika (Kiara Advani). You already know what happens next.

The film asks you to suspend disbelief, and rewards you when you do. The scenes between the two couples are crackling, much of the humour stemming from how different they are, and from the issue of the oncoming babies’ ‘ownership’ in this kind of situation. I don’t know about you but I’m bored of watching Akshay Kumar play different versions of the honourable patriot or the conscience keeper of the nation in every other film, so it’s especially refreshing to see him play this elitist jerk who, like his wife, wants to have nothing to do with the loud, unsophisticated Batras. Playing into that stereotype of the over-the-top Punjabis, Diljit and Kiara ham it up sportingly as the fashion challenged couple whose mangling of English words is a source of great amusement to the admittedly shallow Varun.

The film’s first hour coasts along breezily, benefitting from sharp dialogue and winning performances. It’s admirable that the writers take a grown up approach when it comes to talking about bodily functions and biological needs. But it also reveals a deeply conservative and frankly regressive worldview observed in its complete rejection of adoption. “Apna khoon toh aakhir apna khoon hota hai,” I heard uttered at least twice, and cringed as this outdated notion of lineage and legacy continue to be perpetuated. Not surprisingly, the conservatism extends also to the issue of abortion, and troublingly in one scene a female doctor no less, makes a point about childbearing being essential to the female experience.

In the second hour as the humour dries up, the film slips into full-blown melodrama and sentimentality. We watch the thawing of Varun, triggered by an impassioned speech by his wife on the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of childbirth and motherhood on a woman. I think the film lets him off too easily.

There is no question that the humour works better than the emotion in Good Newwz, but director Raj Mehta and his writers do make room to raise pertinent questions about whether men can truly understand and empathise what women go through with regards to pregnancy and childbirth. It asks us also to ponder the very meaning of what makes a parent. These are progressive ideas, and they’re frequently in conflict with the film’s otherwise conservative outlook.

If Good Newwz doesn’t go off the rails when the tone shifts, it’s because the actors stay sincere and committed as the narrative evolves. The heart of the film is its cast anyway. Akshay Kumar is in good form, serving up a reminder of just how funny he can be. There isn’t much heavy lifting expected from Kiara Advani, but she matches the comic timing of her co-stars without trouble. It’s Kareena Kapoor who deserves special mention for rooting her character in believability. Looking like she’s walked straight out a fashion glossy, her Deepti is nevertheless grounded, real, and provides the most honest insight into why it’s so important for her to be a mother. I also think Diljit Dosanjh is terrific as Honey Batra, whose loud exterior hides an unmistakably sensitive core. He’s also not far behind Akshay when it comes to comic timing.

I’m going with three out of five for Good Newwz. There’s a lot to enjoy in the film despite its bumps. I haven’t laughed this hard in weeks. Not a bad way to end the year.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

December 20, 2019

No bang, no buck!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:23 pm

December 20, 2019

Cast: Salman Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Saiee Manjrekar, Kiccha Sudeep, Arbaaz Khan, Dimple Kapadia

Director: Prabhudeva

Watching Dabangg 3 it’s clear that the law of diminishing returns has caught up with this franchise. There is just no polite way to say this – the new film is an excruciating, exhausting bore.

In 2010 under the direction of Abhinav Kashyap, it seemed like Salman Khan had found his superhero alter ego. Charming rogue cop Chulbul Pandey, with his cheeky one-liners, oddball quirks, and cartoonish but effective fight moves was the actor’s best realised character in years. Even 2012’s decidedly mediocre sequel Dabangg 2, directed by Arbaaz Khan, had stray moments of inspired lunacy that suggested some promise. But this third instalment, directed by Prabhudeva and scripted by Salman Khan himself, is irredeemable.

To apply common superhero parlance, the new film tells the origin story of Chulbul Pandey. We learn what his real name is, what led to him become a police officer, and where he swiped his signature line from – the one that goes: “Hum tum mein itne chhed karenge ki confuse ho jaoge ki saans kahan se le aur paadein kahan se.” We also learn about a doomed romance of his with a young girl named Khushi (Saiee Manjrekar), before he met and married Rajjo (Sonakshi Sinha).

Now I don’t know about you but watching a 54-year-old Salman Khan romance the baby-faced 21-year-old newcomer on screen is exactly the reminder we need about Bollywood’s double standards when it comes to gender and age. It’s as if the filmmakers decided Sonakshi Sinha at 32 is already too old to be the film’s sole leading lady, so let’s bring in another one that’s even younger. Salman, meanwhile, thanks to some nifty computer effects, is made to look a tad younger himself in these portions.

I’m only really bringing this up because it’s too much of an irony that the film positions its hero as a poster-child for gender equality and women empowerment. Pandeyji is a model feminist who offers dowry instead of asking for it, who does not recommend that women take their husbands’ surnames after marriage, and who actively encourages Khushi to pursue and complete her education before they can marry.

Chulbul may have a progressive outlook when it comes to women, but the same can’t be said about the film’s unmistakably sexist gaze. It’s in the manner that Prabhudeva frames his women: the camera lingering a little too long on a heroine’s bosom, repeated shots of her bare midriff. You only have to watch some of the earlier films Prabhudeva has directed to spot the pattern. There’s also the matter of the female characters reduced to simpering becharis. In one of the ugliest moments in the film, the villain decides he’s going to kill the girl he loves because it’s no point killing her lover; she’ll continue to pine for him after he’s dead and he still won’t have a shot with her. The women are that dispensable.

Even if you don’t have a problem with these things – and you should – Dabangg 3 is still a slog. The film feels like a string of unimaginative, repetitive action scenes unfolding one after another, pausing every few minutes for an underwhelming song. At 2 hours and 42 minutes, the relentless action gets tiring. How many punches and blows can you watch before your eyes begin to glaze over?

It must also be said that the camera moves rapidly in the action scenes, and the editing is breakneck so that it’s hard to tell who is doing what to whom. At other times there is an over-reliance on slow motion to highlight specific moves and stunts. The makers can try to hide it as much as they want but it’s clear for anyone who cares to notice that age is catching up with our leading man. No shame in that.

What’s genuinely disappointing is that the irreverence, the lightness of touch that was the hallmark of the first film can be spotted but only in flashes. Chulbul Pandey appears to have become a caricature of himself, and Salman Khan makes very little effort to pump fresh oxygen into the part. Sonakshi Sinha, Saiee Manjrekar, and Dimple Kapadia as the protagonist’s mother, show up and go through the motions. The film’s villain, Kichha Sudeep, gets a few moments to make his presence felt. But it’s all in service of a story that’s so outdated you have to wonder how no one associated with the film called it out.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Dabangg 3. I left the cinema with a pounding headache and a moment of silence for a promising character that they all but buried. Chulbul Pandey, Rest in Peace.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

December 13, 2019

Crime files

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:48 pm

December 13, 2019

Cast: Rani Mukerji, Vishal Jethwa, Rajesh Sharma

Director: Gopi Puthran

Mardaani 2 wastes no time in getting straight to the point. In its very opening minutes a young man in a monster’s mask (or the other way around, you might argue) commits a crime so heinous, it makes your skin crawl just taking in the extent of his depravity. No-nonsense, tough-as-nails cop Shivani Shivaji Roy, played by Rani Mukerji, is tasked with ferreting out the perpetrator.

Over a crisp 105 minutes, writer-director Gopi Puthran stages an elaborate cat and mouse chase that is both thrilling, and frequently unconvincing. Sunny, the young fellow Shivani is pursuing is a serial rapist and murderer whose staggering misogyny and propensity for brutal violence, we later learn, is rooted in his own dark past. Vishal Jethwa plays Sunny as a sadistic, unhinged villain who wants to put women in their place, reminding them repeatedly not to rise above their ‘aukaat’.

Like in 2014’s Mardaani, Shivani relies on her gut, her experience, and her intelligence to figure out the villain’s moves and the way that he tends to think. In that film she was pitted against a child trafficker, and Tahir Bhasin played him as educated, smooth, and crafty. The villain here is considerably younger in age and blinded by hate. Somehow Shivani’s gut seems to penetrate the minds of all men.

The film is intended, no doubt, as a wish fulfilment fantasy. It holds up a mirror to our times when crimes against women are an unfortunate reality. Shivani delivers on screen the justice that has proved hard to come by in real life. I’ll leave you to decide how you feel about that messaging – it’s complicated.

Ultimately Mardaani 2 benefits from the strong performances of both Rani Mukerji and her young co-star Vishal Jethwa. It’s brisk, slickly shot, and plays to the gallery. I’m going with three out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

December 6, 2019

Cheat male

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:54 pm

December 06, 2019

Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Bhumi Pednekar, Ananya Pandey, Aparshakti Khurrana, Shubham Kumar

Director: Mudassar Aziz

Any film that’s titled Pati Patni aur Woh is pretty much laying all its cards on the table. How much nuance can you expect from a comedy about a married man who’s carrying on an affair behind his wife’s back?

Kartik Aaryan is Chintu Tyagi, a PWD officer in Kanpur, who falls for a beautiful young girl and lies about his wife to get close to her. In the original film of the same name, directed by BR Chopra in 1978, Sanjeev Kumar played a man who begins an affair with his secretary after winning her sympathy when he concocts a story about his wife having terminal cancer. That film took the position that men will be men; that monogamy just isn’t in their DNA. So even after the hero is confronted by both women, and promises never to stray again, that film ended with a new secretary showing up and the hero feeling a fresh tingle in his groin.

But the makers of the new film seem to recognise that they can’t get away with taking the same position today. So monotony and boredom are cited as the reasons for the man to stray. He’s also not a player; for what it’s worth he’s awkward at the wooing game, and appears genuinely shamefaced when he’s busted. But the most significant update in the remake is giving the female characters more agency, never portraying them as ‘lachaar’ or ‘bechari’. Transporting the story from big metros to the Lucknow-Kanpur belt in Uttar Pradesh gives writer-director Mudassar Aziz an opportunity to bring texture and local flavour to the dialogues and the humour, while also hinting at the sexual revolution taking place in small-town India.

The film’s best realised character is the ‘patni’, Vedika, a part than benefits considerably from Bhumi Pednekar’s spirited performance. At her very first meeting with him, before they’re married, Vedika speaks candidly to Chintu about her ex-boyfriend, about sex, and the fact that she’s ‘settling’ in agreeing to marry him. When she moves from Lucknow to Kanpur after marriage, she’s a partner to her husband in the true sense of the word. She takes a teaching job, and goads him to aim higher so they can move to a big city. Bhumi invests Vedika with a woman-of-the-world realness and intelligence. Refreshingly, there’s no shrieking melodrama when she learns of her husband’s unfaithfulness, or even when she confronts him.

Ananya Pandey does justice to the role of Tapasya, the big-city girl who catches the hero’s fancy. She’s naïve and innocent without being ditzy, and the filmmakers give her character the respect of having a profession and ambition.

In the hero’s part, Kartik Aaryan sporting a thick moustache and Everyman attire, blends into the small-town surroundings. Bullied by his controlling father who made every important life decision for him, Chintu has grown into your classic Average Joe. Kartik plays the part sincerely and resists any temptation to showboat. Chintu is so vanilla, you have to wonder what it is that attracts these women to him.

One of the film’s winning performances comes from Aparshakti Khurrana in the role of Chintu’s best friend Faheem Rizvi. The actor is in terrific form, and the cheeky dialogues roll off his tongue as if he came up with them in the moment. A word also for Shubham Kumar who is crackling in the role of Vedika’s student and admirer Rakesh Yadav.

Pati Patni aur Woh is too slight and too simplistic to make any deep observations about marriage or companionship. In fact it reveals very old-fashioned notions of what actually constitutes infidelity. But it’s also true that the film sparkles with humour and cleverly timed dialogue. Most of the punch lines are hilarious, and unlike other films of this genre the jokes aren’t just your standard visual gags of the cheating husband repeatedly coming close to being caught. Those gags are there too, but the sharp lines and spunky performances frequently elevate even ordinary scenes.

I’m going with three out of five for Pati Patni aur Woh. In a very roundabout, over-simplistic way, the film is actually progressive. Thank you for small mercies. Plenty laughs are guaranteed.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

War wounds

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 11:43 pm

December 06, 2019

Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Kriti Sanon

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker

Every few years it takes an Ashutosh Gowariker film to appreciate the concept and the existence of the interval in Hindi cinema. Gowariker’s track record with the success of his films has been uneven, but what’s been consistent is his inability to pare them down to a reasonable length. His latest, Panipat, could well be among his shortest at a bladder-bursting 2 hours and 53 minutes.

This film focuses on the third battle of Panipat waged between the Marathas and the Afghans, in which thousands of soldiers are believed to have died. It is significant also because it’s one of those films about a war in which we’re on the side of the vanquished.

Few Hindi filmmakers are as fascinated with the past as Gowariker, and his passion for the subject at hand is ever so visible. But Panipat is also a lumbering epic. The script is dense, packed with too much information, too much research, and too many details. Every alliance, every betrayal, every strategy is dutifully and painstakingly documented…with an emphasis on pain.

Arjun Kapoor stars as Sadashivrao Bhau who leads the Marathas into battle against the marauding Afghans, who in turn are led by Ahmad Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt). It is the story of great valour and courage, of strategy, and ultimately of sacrifice. The film’s agenda is clear – to celebrate the spirit of the great Marathas – and there are plenty rousing speeches to highlight that. But despite the unmistakable hyper-nationalistic tonality, Panipat doesn’t have the slickness of a film like 300, or the kinetic energy of Uri: The Surgical Strike. In fact it has all the excitement of a history lesson from your school textbook.

Scripted from a combination of research and imagination, the film takes many creative liberties, one of which deserves special mention. There’s very little in history about Parvati Bai, Sadashivrao’s wife, played in the film by Kriti Sanon. Gowariker and his co-writers take the decision to flesh her out as a woman with agency. So Parvati Bai accompanies her husband and the troops on the road, she offers to initiate talks with a reluctant ruler whose support the Marathas need, she is her husband’s bouncing board, and a true ally. Kriti realises the character nicely, even if her styling appears a bit modern for those times.

The men are let down by the stilted writing. You don’t get a sense of what’s going on in their heads or hearts beyond the obvious, so they never feel like fully carved out characters. Arjun Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt fill out their costumes, and deliver their lines, but we’re never able to pierce beyond their armour to get a glimpse of the vulnerability of these stony faced men going into battle.

There is no doubt over the commitment and the effort that’s gone into crafting this film. Everywhere you look there are handsome sets, elaborate costumes, busy CGI battle scenes, and immaculate detail. The problem is they’re all in service of a plodding script that seldom rises above its own shortcomings. The film’s first half feels especially dry, but it gathers momentum post interval. The war scenes are impressive but never spectacular.

Panipat ultimately is overlong and unwieldly. It may have its heart in the right place but its other organs are all over the place. Gowariker, who kept us engaged and invested through 3 hours and 40 minutes of Lagaan, or even through the genteel romance of Jodhaa Akbar, can’t seem to recreate the magic of his finest films. I’m going with a generous two out of five for Panipat. You come out feeling like you’ve survived war…just about.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

November 22, 2019

Laboured lunacy

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 9:53 pm

November 22, 2019

Cast: John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Arshad Warsi, Pulkit Samrat, Ileana D’cruz, Kriti Kharbanda, Urvashi Rautela

Director: Anees Bazmee

When a film’s title so brazenly announces its sensibility (or the lack of it), any criticism about its nonsensical nature feels pointless. So Pagalpanti, directed by Anees Bazmee is just that – nearly two-and-a-half hours of brainlessness. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that Bazmee, who has also co-written the film, doesn’t try anything fresh or original. If you are going to make a mad film, pull out all the stops for heaven’s sake. Pagalpanti never does. Don’t get me wrong – it’s way too long and there’s a lot going on. But it feels like a lazier, cheaper, recycled version of Bazmee’s earlier films.

John Abraham stars as Rajkishore, who is the walking-talking embodiment of bad luck. Misfortune follows him everywhere. He can’t hold down a job for this reason, and any business he touches inevitably burns to the ground. One such failed enterprise in partnership with his friends Jaggu (Arshad Warsi) and Chandu (Pulkit Samrat) ends up with the trio deep in debt and left with no choice but to work for gangster brothers-in-law Raja (Saurabh Shukla) and WiFi (Anil Kapoor).

I couldn’t explain the rest of the plot even if I tried, because there isn’t one. Set for no good reason in London, this is a busy film, and every few scenes we’re introduced to new characters. There are rival gangsters (Zakir Hussain and Mukesh Tiwari) plotting to take down Raja and WiFi, there is an uncle and a niece (Brijendra Kala and Ileana D’cruz) in pursuit of Rajkishore for the money he owes them, there is Raja’s pampered daughter (Kriti Kharbanda) who falls for Chandu, there’s also Urvashi Rautela playing a woman whose job is to pretend to be a ghost in order to scare away trespassers from her boss’ property, and – believe it or not – there’s even a character played by Inaamulhaq that’s modelled on fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi.

For the most part the script finds the flimsiest of reasons to cram as many characters in a scene as possible. The jokes are pedestrian, and the gags have no novelty whatsoever. A chandelier falls on a character’s head, cars fly in the air, ram into each other, or simply explode, straight out of a Rohit Shetty film, and at one point, inspired no doubt from Total Dhamaal, that other brainless comedy from earlier this year, a bunch of lions wander into a scene. It’s clear that Bazmee will try anything. He even throws in a patriotic angle for what it’s worth. The stink of desperation can be smelt from a distance.

Of the cast, expectedly Saurabh Shukla, Anil Kapoor, and Arshad Warsi – all actors with solid comic timing – make the most they can of the mediocre material. A word also for John Abraham who sportingly plays along with the ‘lunkhead’ stereotype. In one bit, he rattles off a long dialogue without a hitch, even as others in the scene are visibly surprised and break into cheers. It’s a small moment that works because the actor owns the joke.

These are small mercies in an overlong, derivative film that fails to exploit the potential of what its own title promises. The madness feels laboured, where’s the inspired lunacy? I’m going with one-and-a-half of five for Pagalpanti.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

Until we meat

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 9:51 pm

November 22, 2019

Cast: Lima Das, Arghadeep Barua, Neetali Das

Director: Bhaskar Hazarika

For anyone that’s harbouring a taste for the unusual, the excellent Assamese film Aamis may be the best thing on the menu. Directed by Bhaskar Hazarika, the film explores appetites, cravings, desires and morals, until it all blends into a dangerous, thrilling cocktail. Watching the two people at the centre of this film exchanging meals that they’ve lovingly cooked for each other, I was reminded fleetingly of The Lunchbox. But in a clever twist, Aamis moves far away from that tender romance.

Hazarika, who has written the film too, presents us with daring ideas, frequently venturing into dark, even twisted territory. The result is a film that shakes you to the core, even while taking you on a tantalising visual journey.

Nirmali and Sumon are strangers drawn to each other over their shared love for eating unusual meats. Nirmali is a pediatrician in Guwahati; married, with a young son, and whose husband is often away for weeks in remote villages, researching diseases. When he is home, he’s a self-righteous bore, rarely listening to his wife, consumed by his “important” work in the villages. Nirmali is lonely and ripe for companionship when she meets Sumon, a PhD student younger than her, who’s researching meat-eating traditions in the North East.

The two set off on a shared culinary adventure. Over delicious meat dishes and conversations, they are drawn to each other. They quickly fall in love, but are mindful of how society may frown on their relationship. They can more freely explore their feelings in the food that they eat; in the meals that Sumon prepares. But their love for the forbidden takes them down a dark path. To reveal any more would be to spoil the suspense in this wildly unpredictable film.

What one must acknowledge is that Hazarika crafts a narrative that starts off like a sweet romance. Lima Das and Arghadeep Barua are first-time actors, and they bring a shy, fresh energy to their characters Nirmali and Sumon. But as Aamis freefalls into the bizarre, the music and the visuals take on more sinister tones. There is a lot of meat eating; the food shots are lovingly composed. The film suggests that just like we all have different tastes and appetites when it comes to food, we also have varied moral palates and desires. Nirmali, for example, is judgmental of her married friend’s casual affair, repeatedly stressing that she is yet to even touch Sumon. Aamis also looks at love under a microscope, revealing its tiny details, its beauty and its ugliness.

Both written and directed with extraordinary skill and insight, the film seizes your attention as it unfolds, and then leaves you pondering its themes long after the lights come back on. Be warned, it’s not for the squeamish; you’ll need a strong stomach to take it in. Still, I recommend that you make the time for it.

I’m going with an easy four out of five for Aamis. Bhaskar Hazarika reveals a solid filmmaking voice with this staggeringly original film that leaves you with many questions and yet delivers an incomparably satiating experience.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

An unlikely friendship

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 9:49 pm

November 22, 2019

Cast: Mu Ramasamy, Nagavishal

Director: Madhumita

In the charming new Tamil film KD, Karuppu Durai is an 80-year-old man, weighed down by sorrow. Just as he wakes from a coma, he hears his children planning to kill him through a form of euthanasia practiced in his village. It makes the old man leave his home behind and run away. But the day that Karuppu Durai becomes KD, he starts shedding his insecurities and his sadness and sets out to embrace life. It all has to do with meeting a street-smart, 8-year-old orphan Kutty, who nicknames him KD, and teaches him to be ‘jolly’ like him.

To watch KD is to be reminded of a whole bunch of such bittersweet films – Pixar’s animated gem Up, Takeshi Kitano’s Kikujiro, even the Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman starrer The Bucket List. The film’s premise is straightforward: an old man regains his zest for life when he takes a journey with a child who helps him tick off entries on his bucket list. But director Madhumita infuses a refreshing touch of originality to that familiar set up…like KD’s sheer gluttony for mutton biryani or his boisterous enthusiasm for Tamil superstar MGR. There’s a lively comic thread, especially through Kutty’s acerbic one-liners. This is a child who talks as if he’s far older than his years, and this is the rare instance where that isn’t irritating; it’s cute.

You’re also transported to scenic, rural Tamil Nadu and its village life, making you want to set off on a road trip yourself, not unlike the odd couple in the film. Madhumita lucks upon a terrific cast, with the excellent Mu Ramasamy playing KD, and Nagavishal playing the little tyke Kutty. The script does subsequently veer down a predictable path, but the tone remains upbeat. It’s one of those sweet, life-affirming, feel-good films that leaves you with a big smile on your face.

Sometimes that’s exactly what you need at the movies. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for KD.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

November 15, 2019

That stinking feeling

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:00 pm

November 15, 2019

Cast: Sidharth Malhotra, Tara Sutaria, Ritesh Deshmukh, Rakul Preet Singh, Nasser

Director: Milap Zaveri

In interviews leading up to the release of Marjaavaan, Milap Zaveri has said it was born out of an angry place inside him. Having watched it I can tell you the anger is contagious. Marjaavaan is a lazy, cynical, cash-grab exercise disguised to look like a movie. It feels like it was made not from a script but from a checklist of Hindi film clichés and tropes from the 80s and 90s. Milap is credited as the writer and director of the film, but there’s little evidence of whatever writing or directing that’s supposedly gone into it.

Sidharth Malhotra stars as Raghu, the trusted right-hand man of a water-mafia don named Anna (Nasser) who took him in when he was abandoned as a child and raised him as his own son. This has led to a lifetime of resentment from Anna’s birth son Vishnu (Ritesh Deshmukh), a three-foot ball of hair and fury. Vishnu, who resembles a shrunken version of Chewbacca, has it in for Raghu; he’s constantly plotting to humiliate him or to eliminate him completely.

All of this unfolds in a basti in Mumbai, a sort of Wasseypur-like badlands where gang wars routinely break out in the street, innocent people are killed in broad daylight, and the police always shows up late. The characters in Milap’s films are ‘types’ and they have all the depth of a potted plant. So Raghu kills people on Anna’s orders but we’re never allowed to forget that he’s basically an empathetic and ‘progressive’ gangster who helps old women and stands for communal harmony. Rakul Preet Singh is Arzoo, your standard hooker with a heart of gold, which means she must stand on the sidelines and watch the man she loves, lose his heart to the ‘virtuous’ girl. Which brings us to Zoya (Tara Sutaria), a mute girl from Kashmir who wanders into Raghu’s orbit; the sort of angelic heroine who exists in a script only as a catalyst to trigger a change in the hero.

I could tell you what happens next, or you could just watch the trailer – they’ve given it away themselves. The second half spirals into a revenge saga with the sort of twists that your six-year-old could easily predict. Watching Marjaavaan, the stench of creative bankruptcy is hard to miss. There’s nothing fresh by way of story or treatment, only one good song stands out in an album crammed with lazy remixes, and throwback tropes like clap-trap dialoguebaazi get very tiring very quickly.

The weight of this mess is too much to carry even for Sidharth Malhotra’s pumped up shoulders. He’s earnest as Raghu, especially in the emotional bits, but action scenes in which he vanquishes ten bad guys at once look unconvincing. Salman Khan he is not.

I came away from Marjaavaan bored and exhausted. It’s literally a film with no perceivable merit, and one that begs two key questions: How did this film get made? And why are we being taken for a ride?

I’m going with one out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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