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

March 7, 2014

Class act

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:42 pm

March 07, 2014

Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao, Lisa Haydon

Director: Vikas Bahl

There’s a moment towards the end of Queen when our heroine Rani (Kangana Ranaut) sways on the edge of slipping back into her old life. She hesitates, the moment passes, and you feel Rani’s sheer sense of liberation as she turns her back on a selfish man.

It’s been a journey of self-discovery, across oceans and continents for this Rajouri Garden girl, but Rani finally chooses herself. It is a sweet victory and you feel richer for the choice she makes because Queen is that rare, disarming film that has you smiling throughout.

In its very opening scene, we listen in to the unfiltered internal chatter of excited bride-to-be Rani, even as a quartet of elderly grannies rehearse their steps to a popular dance number while wedding preparations continue around them. Rani and her simple mithaiwala family are deliriously happy during the mehendi ceremony, yet even before her henna can darken, the arrogant groom calls off the wedding. “It’s better this way,” the London-returned Vijay (Rajkumar Rao) tells his disbelieving fiancée. He’s that brash wannabe who’s suddenly discovered that he’s bored at the idea of marrying a girl who just doesn’t match up to him. In that one scene set in a coffee shop, director Vikas Bahl conveys volumes. Rani is shattered, while Vijay mutters to her to stop making a scene, then puts on his shades to shut himself out.

Bahl captures the pain and the concern that Rani’s family feels for her, but the film doesn’t linger on the gloomy mood. With a strange resolve, Rani decides to go on her honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam on her own. The tickets are booked and she needs to escape the crushing rejection. At first, she faces a series of typical touristy misadventures, including almost getting mugged. Yet slowly, dealing with a world far different from her own and making unlikely friends, Rani regains her confidence. Bahl is making a case here for opening up your mind – nothing is the end of the world if you just try to step out of your problems.

The hiccups in the film though are that it’s often predictable and sometimes trite, especially when you learn that Rani’s new Japanese friend Taka lost his parents in the tsunami, or when a Pakistani stripper in Amsterdam reveals that she has taken up the profession to help her ammi and her siblings. Even a cooking challenge involving a gol gappa stall at a Dutch promenade comes off as contrived.

Yet these are passing clouds in this sunshine film. You burst out laughing as Rani innocently buys souvenirs at a sex shop, or when she narrates Santa-Banta “non-veg” jokes to foreigners. Amit Trivedi’s music lends a joyful third dimension to this narrative, but the sparkling humor comes from the dialogues, which leading lady Kangana is herself credited with co-writing.

Refreshingly real, the conversations lead you right into the heart and the purpose of the film. Like that identifiable scene when Rani visits her aunt in Paris. Typically the family shows off their ‘firang’ side: uncle relaxing in his massage chair, aunt and grandma speaking broken French, even as they indulge in a pity party over Rani getting jilted at her wedding.

The film benefits as much from its strong casting. It’s hard to find fault with the actors who land even smaller parts, like the flirtatious Italian restaurateur or Rani’s awkward younger brother. Lisa Haydon is a complete revelation in the role of Rani’s bohemian Parisian pal, investing the character with both sultriness and genuine affection. Rajkummar Rao yet again slips into the skin of his part. He plays an egotistical jerk with the right touch of believability, even showing bursts of self-doubt.

Ultimately, it’s Kangana Ranaut who makes you root for Rani from the word go. The best way to describe her fabulous performance is by confessing that I forgot I was watching Kangana. It’s a raw, nuanced, delicately comical performance, and Bahl rightfully builds his film around his fearless, quirky heroine.

I’m going with four out of five for Queen. It’s an extraordinary journey with a Rani who will stay in your heart.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Mad House!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:41 pm

March 07, 2014

Cast: Ali Zafar, Yami Gautam, Kirron Kher, Anupam Kher, Sara Khan, VM Badola

Director: E Niwas

Total Siyapaa, directed by E Niwas, puts a nice little spin on the typical meet-the-parents scenario. Asha (Vicky Donor’s Yami Gautam) is a Punjabi girl living in London. When she brings home her boyfriend Aman (Ali Zafar) for dinner with the folks, fireworks fly from the moment her overbearing mum (Kirron Kher) discovers that he’s Pakistani.

It’s a premise ripe with comic potential, and Niwas mines the laughs in the film’s early portions. We’re introduced to Asha’s nut-job family that includes an aggressive younger brother who has it in for their Pakistani neighbors, a bratty older sister who shamelessly flirts with Aman, a precocious niece who walks around with a pillow under her dress pretending she’s pregnant, and a blind grandpa who waves around a loaded rifle, bragging about how many Pakistanis he killed in the war.

As if that weren’t enough for the already nervous Aman to contend with, he inadvertently drops a container of frozen soup from the kitchen window that lands on a passerby’s head, possibly killing the poor man, who may or may not be Asha’s father. Faithfully following the blueprint of the 2004 Spanish film Only Human, on which Total Siyapaa is based, that accident snowballs into a series of mostly contrived misadventures, including a late-night hunt for Asha’s dad (Anupam Kher), who the family suspects is having an affair.

The film doesn’t concern itself with the politics of the India-Pakistan conflict, and neither does it offer an insightful immigrant perspective. When it does rake up the prickly issue of prejudice, it does so in a tacky subplot involving a suspicious British cop who seems convinced that every South Asian is hatching a terror plot. Niwas is evidently more comfortable delivering a screwball comedy, and he does well on that count. A scene in which Aman and the blind grandfather are discovered in a compromising position in the toilet is laugh-out-loud funny. There’s also some inspired dialogue, like that funny exchange between Asha’s mother and her fiancé when the old biddy asks her future son-in-law if she’s indeed so unattractive that her husband might be cheating on her.

Despite the giddy pace, it soon becomes clear that there’s not enough of a story here, merely a string of gags. The thin plot is stretched out until it collapses under the weight of its contrivances, squandering a good cast, particularly Kirron Kher as the shrill Mummyji. Such a shame that the film’s central conflict evaporates conveniently and unconvincingly in a hurried, all-too-neat finale.

I’m going with two out of five for Total Siyapaa. Funny, but in a pedestrian sort of way.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Sucker punched

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

March 07, 2014

Cast: Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Divya Jagdale, Priyanka Bose

Director: Soumik Sen

In a key scene from Gulaab Gang, Madhuri Dixit’s Rajjo leads a group of women dressed in pink saris and wielding lathis, sickles and axes to descend upon a band of thugs who’re smuggling their village ration. Leaping through the air and pouncing on the men, they slice, stab and knock them out until every one of them has been vanquished.

Much of Gulaab Gang unfolds in the same vein. Rajjo, who runs a school for little girls that alternates as a shelter for battered and abandoned women, is a strong advocate of violence as an instrument of justice. “Rod is God,” she proudly declares, as her avenging angels take on corrupt government officers, abusive husbands, and sleazy rapists.

The plot kicks in when Rajjo takes on Juhi Chawla’s mean-spirited, power-hungry politician Sumitra, who we first meet as she’s ordering the suspension of a police officer who failed to bow before her. Cast against type, Juhi is terrific as the lip-biting, clove-chewing neta, who doesn’t once let her smile slip even while issuing threats and ordering killings. In a chilling scene, when it’s brought to her notice that the young man slated to marry her sister has raped a minor, she offers compensation, turning casually to her secretary and asking: “Aaj kal rape ka kya rate chal raha hai, Sharmaji?”

Madhuri, on the other hand, makes the most of her stunt scenes, but appears trapped under the weight of this predictable script, which in the guise of a feminist film offers no more than your standard good vs evil story. It’s particularly hard to take Rajjo seriously when she breaks into choreographed dance sequences each time the women are taking a break from beating up some offender.

A handful of scenes are nicely shot, like one in a lake, where a local politician’s rapist son finds himself surrounded by a few of Rajjo’s revenge-seeking gang members who emerge dramatically from under the water. There’s another bit where Rajjo and a few of her comrades (Vidya Jagdale and Priyanka Bose deserving special mention) share a light moment, bickering and joking among themselves. But such portions are few and far between in this dull film.

Writer-director Soumik Sen and the film’s producers have insisted that Gulaab Gang is a work of pure fiction, and not based on Sampat Pal and the real Gulabi Gang in Bundelkhand, although the inspiration is too obvious to overlook. For an honest portrait of this vigilante women’s group and the work they do, seek out Nishtha Jain’s excellent documentary Gulabi Gang that released in select cinemas across India only two weeks ago.

And if you must watch this film, watch it for Juhi Chawla’s inspired performance; it’s the only bright spot in Gulaab Gang. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five. Muddled and forgettable.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

« Newer Posts

Powered by WordPress