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

February 27, 2015

Badlapur director Sriram Raghavan on the film that changed his life

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:44 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddaar director Sriram Raghavan talks about the film that changed his life. Raghavan reveals why the film was a spiritual experience for him, and how it influenced his latest thriller Badlapur.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Think Big!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:38 pm

February 27, 2015

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, Sanjay Mishra, Seema Pahwa, Alka Amin, Sheeba Chaddha, Chandrachoor Rai

Director: Sharat Kataria

The title Dum Laga Ke Haisha has a nice ring to it. These words, commonly chanted when doing any kind of physically strenuous work, evoke an affectionate nostalgia for a time gone by…a time before mobile phones took over our lives, before Google made libraries redundant, and before shiny CDs replaced those double-sided audio cassettes that we inevitably wore out from repeatedly listening to the same track over and over again.

It’s that very nostalgia that writer-director Sharat Kataria’s film so effortlessly taps, set as it is sometime in the mid 90s, and in Haridwar, a relatively smaller town in North India that appears virtually insulated from globalization. Ayushmann Khurrana plays Prem Prakash Tiwari, or Lappu as he’s fondly called at home, a tenth-standard failed 25-year-old who sits at his father’s audio cassette-repair shop listening to Kumar Sanu hits all day. He’s bullied by his family into marrying an educated but rotund girl, Sandhya (newcomer Bhumi Pednekar), but he can’t summon up the slightest affection for his new bride.

Kataria creates believable scenarios and gives us flesh-and-blood characters that never feel less than real. Prem is cruel to his wife, he’s embarrassed to be seen with her in public, and insists that by marrying her he’s ruined his life. Sandhya, refreshingly, is unapologetic about her weight, mostly confident in her own skin, and she knows how to give it right back. There are other characters too: screaming fathers, pushy mothers, opinionated aunts, and assorted friends and relatives that pop up regularly and weigh in on the ‘samasya’. The script gives each of them a reason to be there, mining laughs from unexpected places. In one scene, on hearing the sound of overactive bed springs from her son’s room, Prem’s mother remarks to her husband: “Sayana ho gaya humra Lappu,” then follows it up with the zinger: “Zara Jaya aur Rekha ko bhi bata doon, mann halka ho jayega.” In another scene, a saline drip of all things becomes a source of much amusement.

It’s the relationship between the protagonists however, and how that eventually changes, that is at the heart of this film. Kataria’s script puts them through their paces, never rushing towards a contrived, convenient resolution. Ayushmann and Bhumi have charming chemistry, and each delivers heartfelt performances that ring true. Ayushmann plays it from the gut, never once striking a false note as the insecure young fella, bitter over being dealt an unfair hand, but who nicely transitions when he realizes he’s wrong. Bhumi, meanwhile, steals the film with an assured turn, effortlessly making you care for Sandhya, without ever reducing her to a slobbering, self-pitying caricature.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha sucks you into its world with well-etched characters, beautiful cinematography, perfectly detailed production design, and a host of fine actors – including Sanjay Mishra, Seema Pahwa, and Sheeba Chaddha – who add to the film’s authenticity. Music plays an important role too, as highlighted in one lovely scene where Prem and Sandhya switch between popular Hindi film numbers on the transistor to convey their respective moods. Anu Malik and lyricisit Varun Grover deliver some winning tracks, nicely rendered by Kumar Sanu, who isn’t merely a reference in the film but whose presence hangs over the picture throughout.

Simple and breezy, while at the same time evocative of life in small-town India, Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a charming film that you really shouldn’t miss. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Back, without a bang!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:37 pm

February 27, 2015

Cast: Nana Patekar, Gul Panag, Vikram Gokhale, Ashutosh Rana, Mohan Agashe, Dilip Prabhavarkar

Director: Aejaz Gulab

Ab Tak Chhappan 2 is an entirely pointless sequel, a film that has frankly no business to exist. It has neither plot nor relevance, and even at a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, it feels too long and completely unnecessary. Unlike the earlier film from 2004 that was loosely based on the life and times of encounter specialist Daya Nayak, this sequel doesn’t particularly resonate with the times. Let’s face it, the underworld is no longer the formidable villain that it once was, which makes the very premise of this film outdated.

Sadhu Agashe (Nana Patekar), now retired from the police force and living with his young son in a coastal village, is persuaded to return to Mumbai and help release the city from the stranglehold of two rival underworld factions. As our committed hero goes about his job weeding out shooters and henchmen, it becomes clear both to him and to us in the audience that nothing much has changed. The lives of close ones are once again put at risk, even as those meant to uphold the law are revealed to have close links with law-breakers.

Predictable and simplistic, the script of Ab Tak Chhappan 2 offers little by way of freshness or originality, instead piling up the clichés and reinforcing lazy stereotypes. Director Aejaz Gulab stages mostly unimpressive action scenes – like a shootout in a cowshed and a chase through a red-light area – that are sorely lacking in tension or thrills. What you get instead are long, rambling sermons on the politics of power and the difference in perception and reality.

Although peppered with good actors like Ashutosh Rana, Govind Namdeo, Mohan Agashe and Vikram Gokhale, the film gives them little to do, leaving the bulk of heavy lifting to Nana Patekar, who thankfully doesn’t disappoint. Conveying a cynical world-weariness in his performance, Nana plays Sadhu as a man haunted by ghosts from his past, yet steadfast in his commitment to his cause.

Ab Tak Chhappan 2 has neither the benefit of Shimit Amin’s crisp direction nor a script as wholesome and probing as the first one. Even Ramgopal Varma, who produced the earlier film, isn’t involved with this one. What it does have, unfortunately, is the same dizzying camerawork of many of Varma’s recent films. I came out with my head spinning.

I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Ab Tak Chhappan 2. Everything about it feels rehashed and redundant.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Spy high!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:36 pm

February 27, 2015

Cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Strong

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a spectacle of cartoon violence and irreverent humor; it’s exactly the sort of wildly entertaining experience that we go to the movies for. This cheeky send-up of classic James Bond films cements director Matthew Vaughn’s reputation as one of the most inventive filmmakers working today, and one with a gift for subverting popular genres to refreshing effect.

I could quickly run through the plot of Kingsman, but nothing really prepares you for the anything-goes ingenuity that Vaughn brings to this clever pastiche of spy films. Newcomer Taron Egerton plays Eggsy, a street-smart petty criminal who’s taken under the wing of debonair agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and inducted into a super-secret organization of spies known as Kingsman, after the Savile Roy tailor shop that serves as the front to their headquarters. After proving his mettle against a batch of upper class fellow trainees and impressing Kingsman head Arthur (Michael Caine), Eggsy finds himself assigned to his first major mission, where he must help save the world from a nefarious plot by evil billionaire Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L Jackson).

Never a full-on spoof like the Austin Powers or the Johnny English films, Kingsman is very self-aware of the spy movie clichés it plays with. So along with the fast cars, beautiful women, shaken martinis and nifty gadgets, there are the pithy one-liners, double entendres, and winking references to other spies like James Bond and Jason Bourne, including one genius meta scene in which Firth and Jackson’s characters discuss the merits of Bond movies.

Within this set-up, Vaughn choreographs some audacious, thrillingly violent set pieces that are both shocking and hilarious. A scene in which Firth’s character stabs and slices an entire congregation in a church is at once grotesque and oddly entertaining. The same may be said for the sight of a knocked-out tooth flying across the screen in slow motion. My favorite bits, though, involved Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), the villain’s aptly named right-hand girl, whose Pistorius-style prosthetic legs are fitted with razor-sharp blades that she employs to cut her enemies in half.

There’s a lot going on in the film, but Vaughn nicely stitches the multiple narratives together into a cohesive whole, even if the chief conceit – of Valentine plotting to end the human race with lethal SIM cards installed in their mobile phones – is completely bonkers even by the film’s own standards. As he did with superheroes in Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, Vaughn injects some much-needed fun into a genre that had become increasingly predictable.

Plus he turns Oscar-winning, Darcy-embodying Colin Firth into a lean, mean fighting machine, and gives us a charismatic young star in Egerton who confidently holds his own against a cast of pros. That’s plenty to enjoy in one film.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Kingsman: The Secret Service. It’s an unstoppable, gleefully violent comedy that delivers a rollicking good time.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 20, 2015

Anushka Sharma & Neel Bhoopalam: “Actors must do more. Mix it up. Make better movies”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 8:47 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, NH10 stars Anushka Sharma and Neel Bhoopalam explain how their parts in this road-trip movie fell into their laps. Anushka reveals what she learnt about herself from the experience of turning producer on this film, and both actors discuss why the envelope must be pushed in order to make better cinema.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Best served cold!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:40 pm

February 20, 2015

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Huma Qureshi, Vinay Pathak, Radhika Apte, Divya Dutta, Pratima Kazi, Zakir Husain, Yami Gautam

Director: Sriram Raghavan

The sheer thrill of watching a film and not knowing what will happen next is one of the great pleasures offered by director Sriram Raghavan’s unpredictable and deliciously twisted revenge thriller Badlapur. The film stages a chilling battle of wits between hero and villain, but nothing here is plain black or white.

Varun Dhawan is Raghu, an average Joe in Pune, whose life is turned upside down when his wife (Yami Gautam) and young son are killed in a bank robbery gone wrong. One of the two men involved in the incident, Laik (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), is arrested and promptly sentenced to 20 years in prison. The other, who Laik won’t identify, has taken off with the loot. Consumed by a cocktail of grief, anger and helplessness, Raghu retreats, aptly, to a small town named Badlapur where he simmers with revenge-fueled hate.

Seizing your attention from the moment in, the film’s crisp narrative seldom loosens its grip. You’re on the edge of your seat for virtually the entire first half of Badlapur, as Raghu and Laik’s parallel storylines unravel over the next 15 years, the promise of a volatile confrontation looming large. But, as anyone who’s seen Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddar will agree, Raghavan isn’t interested in violence for the sake of violence, and unlike last year’s similarly themed Ek Villain, this film is more psychological thriller than bloody blast.

Which is not to say that there’s no gore in Badlapur. There is. It’s a pretty brutal film, in fact. But Raghavan uses violence economically, and mines these scenes for maximum impact. It’s the unexpected moments of humor though, that catch you completely unaware. Laik’s repeated taunting of a prison bully inspires chuckles, as does a scene in which a detective introduces herself to Raghu when he shows up at her home. The script gleefully shatters clichés and rejects conventional plot turns to surprise us at every available opportunity.

Raghavan toys also with our traditional expectations from heroes and villains, by turning the accepted template on its head to blur the line between the two. The film’s key wisdom – that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary cruelty – is demonstrated in Raghu’s carefully orchestrated takedown of every single person he holds responsible for his misery. And in a climax that is both stunning and underwhelming at the same time, he uses the film’s most unlikely character to make a point about the futility of violence and revenge.

An ensemble of fine actors is assembled to breathe life into the film’s terrific plot, and each is integral in their own way, despite the length of their parts. Huma Qureshi and particularly Radhika Apte, both playing selfless women who will go to great lengths to defend their men, stand out with impressive turns. But the heavy lifting, expectedly, is left to the two leads.

Varun Dhawan, the star of mostly light-hearted romantic and comedy films, convincingly gets under the skin of the cold, calculating vigilante protagonist, displaying an intensity he hasn’t revealed before. Transforming not merely physically to play the older Raghu, he even somehow brings a distinct world-weariness to these portions. Then there is Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who walks away with all the best lines, and leaves his stamp all over the film. Alternating nicely between maniacal, cunning, and vulnerable, he delivers a performance that is at once internalized and yet playing to the gallery.

Despite all its strengths, Badlapur isn’t a perfect film. The pace slackens post-intermission, plot contrivances are many, and you might say the film is misogynistic in its treatment of women. These are relatively small problems in the larger picture, though. For the most part, the film keeps you on your toes, curious to see where its twists and turns will lead.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Badlapur. Welcome back, Sriram Raghavan; Agent Vinod has been forgotten!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Gender bender

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:39 pm

February 20, 2015

Cast: Irrfan Khan, Tilottama Shome, Tisca Chopra, Rasika Duggal

Director: Anup Singh

Qissa, directed and co-written by Anup Singh, is the haunting tale of a girl who grows up as a boy. The film shows a Partition-displaced Sikh villager Umber Singh (Irrfan Khan), so consumed by his hunger to have a son that he brings up his fourth daughter as a boy. His subjugated wife Mehar (Tisca Chopra) and older daughters live with the theory that Kanwar is male, even as the confused child grows up to be a tortured ‘man’ (Tilottama Shome).

When Kanwar is found flirting with gypsy girl Neeli (Rasika Duggal), Umber forces them to marry, resulting in more gender confusion and tragic consequences. Your attention flags when Qissa goes down a supernatural path, but Singh leaves us with lingering feelings of sadness for the mixed-up Kanwar, and her even more twisted father.

Shome infuses Kanwar’s character with anguish, anger and pain, while there is vulnerability in Khan’s portrayal of Umber, which is at odds with his outward ruthlessness. Chopra is quietly emphatic as the torn mother, while Duggal captivates us as the spirited Neeli, who doesn’t give in till the end.

Both the cinematography and the background score are nicely moody and leave you with a sense of foreboding. Qissa is in the tradition of a compelling folktale that you can’t shake off once you’ve heard it. I’m going with three out of five. I recommend that you watch the film for its unique voice.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

On the beat

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:38 pm

February 20, 2015

Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist

Director: Damien Chazelle

JK Simmons, best remembered for playing impatient Daily Bugle publisher J Jonah Jameson who regularly underpaid Peter Parker for coveted photos of the mysterious web-slinger in Sam Raimi’s Spider-man movies, takes bullying to a whole new level in Whiplash. Bald as a baby’s bottom and clad fully in black, he plays Terence Fletcher, a brutal maestro at a top New York music conservatory, who literally drives his students to blood and tears in his search for artistic excellence.

Miles Teller plays Andrew Neiman, a talented, ambitious young drummer at the school, who catches the eye of Fletcher and is invited to join his elite jazz band. For Andrew, who seems to prefer the company of his drums to fellow humans, this is both a dream and a nightmare. With Fletcher breathing down his neck, hurling abuse, sarcasm, racist slurs, homophobic taunts, and even physical objects in his face, Andrew struggles to meet his teacher’s impossible standards of perfection. “There are no words in the English language more harmful than ‘Good job,’” Fletcher barks at one point.

I know what you’re thinking – that you’ve seen this kind of relationship before. Fletcher is a hardened version of Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid; the teacher who must be tough on his students, cruel even, while pushing them to give their best. No, you’ve got it wrong. Writer-director Damien Chazelle puts an interesting spin on your typical student-mentor relationship, turning in a riveting psychological thriller that’ll stay with you for days.

Unafraid to explore the dark side of artistic obsession, Simmons never plays the role for likeability. Peel away the ugly layers, and there is more unpleasantness to be found. It’s a tour de force performance, one that’s hard to tear your eyes away from. Teller too is in excellent form. He manages to make Andrew both deeply sympathetic and intensely complex, as characterized in a chilling scene in which he breaks up with his girlfriend because he’s convinced she’ll be a distraction to his career.

Shot and edited at a rapid-fire pace, the camera zooming in on Andrew’s drum-kit as his fingers bleed to achieve Fletcher’s desired tempo, the film never lets up or loosens its grip on your attention. Right upto the very end, Chazelle eschews conventional narratives, leaving us with an unexpected and shocking final showdown that’s worthy of a standing ovation.

I’m going with four out of five for Whilpash. It’s tense, consistently compelling, and a dazzlingly original piece of work that you cannot miss.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Such a long journey!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:37 pm

February 20, 2015

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffmann

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Too many metaphors are employed to convey the story of Cheryl Strayed, a young woman who sets off on a grueling 1000-mile hike in order to exorcise personal demons, in Wild. Reese Witherspoon plays the protagonist, who’s shouldering a massive backpack that symbolizes her emotional baggage as she embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail that will likely take three months to complete.

Adapted by Nick Hornby from a book by the real Ms Strayed, this ‘based-on-a-true-story’ movie nevertheless suffers on account of its sheer obviousness. Although less contrived than the similarly themed Eat Pray Love, this film also asks that we celebrate the frankly self-indulgent journey of catharsis undertaken by a relatively privileged woman seeking atonement for her bad decisions.

In the case of Cheryl, she spiraled out of control following the death of her beloved mother and sank into an abyss of dangerous drugs and anonymous sex, which cost her her marriage. This back-story is pieced together through flashbacks, with glimpses of her former ways and also scenes from happier times with her mum, called into her memory throughout the long walk.

The journey itself is not as easy one. Cheryl encounters everything from snakes and wolves, to lecherous hikers and a callous journalist as she traverses the uneven landscape across extreme and varying weather conditions. Mountains must be climbed and streams must be crossed (metaphor alert!) before she can lighten her burdens.

Witherspoon seizes the role, but it’s a case of bad casting if you ask me. Never once was I convinced that I was watching a woman who was broken inside. The actress is way too earnest and self-conscious, and she can’t shake off the feeling that you’re watching a big star slumming it for the sake of her art.

The film’s true emotional core is Laura Dern’s heartbreaking turn as Cheryl’s mother, a woman trying her best to make the most of the raw deal she’s been dealt. Appearing intermittently in the film, Dern survives the corny dialogue and even succeeds in somewhat uplifting the material.

The film benefits also from director Jean-Marc Vallee’s strong eye for visuals, and his ability to put you at the centre of the action. You’ll wince in the opening scene as Cheryl pulls out a bloodied toenail, and just staring ahead at the vast expanse of sand or snow is overwhelming.

In the end, Wild proves to be that rare movie about an epic life-changing journey that leaves you impressed by its scale and ambition, but largely unmoved by the person at the heart of it. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

February 16, 2015

Mallika Sherawat: “Is doing an item number an invitation for rape?”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 2:14 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Mallika Sherawat talks about returning to the movies in Dirty Politics after a short hiatus in Los Angeles. The actress also reveals why it is was uncomfortable filming intimate scenes with Om Puri, and why she doesn’t think Sunny Leone has taken over her niche. Insisting that she has never felt exploited in Bollywood, Mallika also offers a surprisingly mature take on the cleavage controversy that Deepika Padukone was embroiled in recently.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

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