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

October 30, 2015

Can’t choose your family!

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

October 30, 2015

Cast: Shashank Arora, Ranvir Shorey, Amit Sial, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Lalit Behl, Prashant Singh

Director: Kanu Behl

Titli, co-written and directed by Kanu Behl, is a hard film to shake off. I’ve watched it thrice now since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May last year, and it still manages to get under my skin. It’s not just the brutality that always and inevitably affects me, but also the haunting performances of its cast, and the fascinating portrait of a family raised amidst a tradition of violence and female subjugation.

Shashank Arora is Titli, the youngest of three brothers, living together with their father in a small, cramped home near a sewer in one of East Delhi’s squalid neighborhoods. Titli has been plotting to break away from the family and ditch the life of crime and violence they’re so deeply entrenched in. Oldest brother Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) is hotheaded and prone to cruel outbursts. Middle brother Bawla (Amit Sial) has a kinder manner, but is fiercely loyal to Vikram. Armed with a hammer, and little by way of conscience or pity, the two brothers routinely hijack cars on the highway, and often recruit the youngest to assist them in their ‘job’.

When they learn of Titli’s plan to flee the nest, the brothers get him married, hopeful that a wife will ground him, and optimistic that she could be a worthy accomplice in their work. But Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi) has an agenda of her own, and Titli makes a deal with her that could help them both get what they want.

Behl and co-writer Sharat Katariya’s sharply observed screenplay shines a light on an endemically cynical world. Everyone here is corrupt or lying, and hope is in short supply. The beauty of the script is that none of this feels manufactured or fake; you can smell the rank desperation in the air.

It’s also a meticulously detailed film, and Bahl urges viewers to look and listen for themselves, and not merely wait to be spoon-fed. From Bawla’s sexual orientation to their father’s own violent past, Behl asks you to read between the lines, never overstressing or simplifying the facts.

Titli unravels briskly, and it’s riveting from start to finish. Much credit for that must go to a fine ensemble of actors who really sink their teeth into these parts. Ranvir Shorey leads the way with a terrifying, terrific performance that doesn’t miss a beat. His Vikram is the kind of guy you’ll hope you never have to encounter.

Watching the film earlier this week, a whole year after I’d last watched it, the violence still felt stomach churning, and I still came away impressed by the unexpected moments of humor that Behl had managed to sneak into this intense drama. Titli is relentlessly grim and yet unmistakably powerful and moving. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea – it’s especially not for the squeamish – but it’s an unflinching study of family in the way that the movies rarely provide.

I’m going with four out of five for Titli. Brace yourself, you will be rewarded.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Thrills over chills!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 8:35 pm

October 30, 2015

Cast: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell

Director: Rob Letterman

You needn’t have read RL Stine’s immensely popular kiddie horror series in order to enjoy Goosebumps, the new Jack Black film that it’s spawned. But it’ll help to know that the movie isn’t an adaptation of any of Stine’s individual stories – it’s a clever ‘horror comedy’ that brings to life the entire series, and many of its monsters, all at once.

New York teenager Zach (Dylan Minnette) is less than thrilled about having to move to a new town when his mum (Amy Ryan) gets a job there. Things look up when he gets chatting with Hannah (Odeya Rush), a pretty young girl who lives next door. But her over-protective and unfriendly father (Jack Black) keeps her locked inside their home, and forbids them from becoming friends. While attempting to rescue Hannah from house arrest, Zach and his new friend Champ (Ryan Lee) discover that her dad is horror author RL Stine, when they stumble upon a bookshelf full of Goosebumps manuscripts and accidentally unlock one, releasing the Abominable Snowman in Hannah’s living room.

Director Rob Letterman delivers more thrills than chills, keeping the pace brisk and the tone never too scary so as to turn off the young ones. When another of Stine’s literary creations, Slappy, the evil ventriloquist’s doll, escapes from his leatherbound jail, he unlocks every one of the books and unleashes every monster the author ever created into the unsuspecting town. This is a cue for some cool set-pieces, including an attack by a seemingly innocent army of garden gnomes. There’s also a car chase involving a giant praying mantis, and a narrow escape from a bloodthirsty werewolf.

Goosebumps evokes memories of the Robin Williams starrer Jumanji, in which wild animals escape from a board game to wreak havoc on the real world. The CGI and visual effects in this film are far superior, and Black strikes just the right balance between creepy and funny. There’s a great running joke about Stine’s contempt for Stephen King that slightly older viewers will get.

There’s nothing path-breaking about Goosebumps, but it never bores. There’s an old-fashioned playfulness to the ‘horror’ scenes, and frankly I thought there were more laughs than scares. I’m going with three out of five. It’s one of those films that the family can watch together. Not a bad way to spend two hours.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 22, 2015

Pass the joint!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:35 pm

October 22, 2015

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Pankaj Kapoor, Sanah Kapoor, Vikas Verma, Sushma Seth, Sanjay Kapoor, Nikki Aneja

Director: Vikas Bahl

There’s a scene in Shaandaar during which an entire wedding party, high on magic mushrooms and pot brownies, lose their minds temporarily and start doing strange things. It’s a fitting scene in a film that appears to have been made under similarly mind-altering influences. Yes, there’s no polite way to say this: Shandaar is a bizarre film.

All sorts of madness and mayhem ensues when two families – one headed by coldhearted and kooky Mummyji (Sushma Seth), the other by garish Sindhi tycoon Harry Fundwani (Sanjay Kapoor) – descend upon a mansion in the English countryside for a week of festivities to celebrate the marriage of Isha (Sanah Kapoor), the rotund granddaughter of Mummyji and Robin (Vikas Verma), Harry’s beefy, boorish younger brother. Borrowing a page straight out of the Rajshri Productions handbook, the marriage also serves as the perfect backdrop for a blossoming romance…between the bride’s spirited sister Alia (Alia Bhatt), and charming wedding planner Jagjinger Joginder (Shahid Kapoor).

Director Vikas Bahl creates a purposefully exaggerated world with mostly whacked out characters. Mummyji herself is a hell-raiser in a motorized wheelchair, barking orders and bullying her grown-up children. Her older son and father-of-the-bride Bipin (Pankaj Kapur) is a meek soul who pretends to be tough, thus prompting someone to describe him as: “Baahar Nana Patekar, andar Amol Palekar.”  His adoptive daughter Alia is the sort of insomniac that goes skinny-dipping in the dead of the night. The Fundwanis take their love for bling a little too far, brandishing gold-plated guns and showing up in gold-painted limos. And the groom is a vain, self-worshipping beefcake with little interest in anything beyond his eight-and-a-half-pack abs.

Some of this is funny, but Bahl’s script quickly runs out of both plot and wit. There’s a lot going on in this crowded film, but not a lot of it makes sense. Scenes like one in which Shahid and Pankaj Kapoor’s characters go paragliding for no reason at all, or the previously mentioned drug-haze, stick out in the narrative as do repeated animation and VFX-aided sequences. Karan Johar pops up for a cameo too, and while that scene sure evokes a laugh, it further adds to the “anything goes” attitude that hangs over this film. The feeling I got watching Shaandaar was that everyone on screen appeared to be doing exactly what they wanted, and not necessarily performing to a script.

Still, buried somewhere beneath all the loony characters, the overstyled songs, and way too many indulgent, often incoherent scenes are some nice touches. Like the relationship between Alia and her father Pankaj Kapoor, whose one dream is to find a man who can introduce her to the comfort of sleep. There’s an easy chemistry also between Alia (refreshingly natural) and Shahid, who look good together and lift the film to some extent on the strength of their charm. Debutant Sanah Kapoor (who’s Pankaj Kapoor’s real-life daughter and Shahid’s half-sister) brings both grace and spunk to the part of the plus-sized bride whose marriage is really a business deal between the two families.

These are small mercies in a wildly inconsistent film that seesaws unevenly between charming and WTF! It’s especially disappointing coming from the very writers and director that gave us last year’s terrific Queen. I’m going with a generous two out of five for Shaandaar. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 16, 2015

Sucker punched…again!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:35 pm

October 16, 2015

Cast: Kartik Aryan, Omkar Kapoor, Sunny Singh, Nushrat Bharucha, Ishita Raj, Sonnalli Seygall, Sharat Saxena, Mona Ambegaonkar

Director: Luv Ranjan

In Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2, co-writer and director Luv Ranjan has essentially remade his own previous film. What’s interesting, however, is that it’s considerably funnier and slightly less misogynistic than 2011’s Pyaar Ka Punchnama. That film gave us a trio of hilarious male protagonists that instantly came off as real and believable. Its female characters, on the other hand, were portrayed as singularly intolerable. The new film makes the same point all over again – that women are often selfish, manipulative, and overbearing, and that they have men wrapped around their little finger – but for the most part, the script employs humor over venom to drive home the message.

The victims, once again, are three best friends and flat-mates in Noida, whose lives are quickly turned upside down and inside out by the women they lose their hearts to. Anshul (Kartik Aryan) is dating bimbo-brained Ruchika (Nushrat Bharucha), whose closeness to her male best friend is driving him crazy. Tarun (Omkar Kapoor) has maxed out his credit cards pampering Kusum (Ishita Raj), but she’s unsupportive and selfish when he’s plotting a career switch. Chauka (Sunny Singh) is reduced to driver, mechanic, and all round errand-boy of his girlfriend Supriya (Sonnalli Seygall) and her parents, although she can’t muster up the courage to tell them she loves him.

Ranjan gets the easy laidback vibe between the boys just right…the ribbing and the riling, the sympathy for each other’s situation, the unconditional solidarity when things take a serious turn. The dialogues, often clever, are sharply delivered by the men who, not surprisingly, come off way more likeable than their female counterparts who have the odds permanently stacked against them. Sure most men will find a few scenarios of ball-busting by the women familiar, but Ranjan makes no effort whatsoever to present anything but a skewed perspective.

Having said that I cannot deny that I laughed a lot while watching the film. Ranjan’s jokes, as facile as they may be, seldom miss their mark, and the actors are in good form too. Sunny Singh is especially endearing as the forever-whining Chauka, who’s embarrassed that he’s being relentlessly exploited and manipulated by his girlfriend. Nushrat Bharucha is a real hoot as the annoying, sing-song-voiced Chiku who thinks nothing of going through her boyfriend’s emails and throwing a tantrum after spotting old exchanges with his then-girlfriend.

For his sheer energy alone, it’s hard not to cheer as Kartik Aryan launches into a 7-minute monologue, in which he basically savages women for the way they treat men. From Kate Winslet’s selfishness at not sharing that plank of wood with Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, to complaining that men aren’t even allowed any quiet time while on the toilet seat or even after sex, that unforgiving diatribe pulls out all stops in the film’s female-bashing agenda.

It’s in the last act that the film throws away any pretence of humor and adopts an especially spiteful tone that’s reminiscent of the earlier film. Until this point the jokes were consistently funny and the stereotyping seldom mean-spirited. I expect, nevertheless, that many people will find Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 very enjoyable. I did too, a lot of it. I laughed guiltily at so many jokes.

For that, I’m going with three out of five. Someday we’ll get a smart film on the battle of the sexes. Until then, perhaps cheap laughs will have to do..?

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 9, 2015

Not without my daughter

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

October 09,2015

Cast: Aishwarya Rai, Irrfan Khan, Shabana Azmi, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Atul Kulkarni,

Director: Sanjay Gupta

Jazbaa, written and directed by Sanjay Gupta, wants to be many things at once. First and foremost, it’s intended as a comeback vehicle for Aishwarya Rai who hasn’t made a movie in five years. It’s also – as we’ve been constantly reminded – Gupta’s first ‘legitimate’ remake of a foreign film (the Korean thriller, Seven Days); yup, we’re told he actually acquired remake rights for a change. Curiously, Jazbaa also positions itself as an anti-rape, woman-empowerment message movie, even if this angle does come across as an afterthought.

Often the problem with trying to satisfy multiple agendas is that telling an interesting story becomes secondary to everything else. Good thing then that Jazbaa has a solid premise: Defense lawyer Anuradha Verma (Aishwarya) must get a murder suspect off the hook in order to save her own kidnapped daughter, thereby wronging the victim’s mother in the process.

Gupta moves through his screenplay swiftly, the breakneck pace glossing over many of the script’s holes. In Aishwarya he’s cast a famously earnest star who gives the role all she’s got – at times, though, you’ll wish she gave a little less. It’s a “big” performance, if you know what I mean, all bloodshot eyes, flailing arms, and hysterical wailing. It works in the right places, but sticks out when overdone.

Yet nothing hurts the senses more than the sepia-soaked yellow-green lighting that gives the film a post-apocalypse videogame-like effect. Then there’s Amar Mohile’s relentless background score that further swells during dramatic moments. It’s so deafening and intrusive that it’s hard to care for the protagonist’s distress under all that noise.

Irrfan Khan, playing a dishonorably discharged cop and Anuradha’s ally throughout the ordeal, tries to keep a straight face while delivering the sort of corny lines that have become staple in the director’s films over the years. Sample this: “Main toh khud langar ki line mein khada hoon, tere liye daawat kaise arrange karoonga.” Yet he comes away not entirely embarrassed, having managed to bring some credibility to an otherwise overblown melodrama.

My heart wept for poor Shabana Azmi who tries – and occasionally succeeds – in infusing some genuine emotion into the proceedings. Others like Chandan Roy Sanyal (playing the accused), Atul Kulkarni (as a public prosecutor), and Jackie Shroff (as an influential politician) are largely wasted in a script that’s focused single-mindedly on reminding us that Aishwarya Rai looks great when she’s running in heels – in slo-mo. Hurrah!

I’m going with two out of five for Jazbaa. Frankly it delivers more than its awful trailer promised. But good luck protecting your eyes and ears from this sensory overload.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Up in the Air

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

October 09, 2015

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Anyone who suffers from a fear of heights might want to think again before investing in a ticket to watch The Walk, Robert Zemeckis’ dramatized celebration of Frenchman Phillippe Petit’s daring high-wire walk between the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center in 1974. It was a stunning, seemingly impossible feat, and Zemeckis recreates it wondrously – in 3D IMAX, no less – making you feel as if you’re right up there, 1350 feet above the ground, on that wire yourself.

But before that one must trudge through the film’s tedious first hour, in which Petit (played earnestly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, sporting a thick French accent) addresses the viewer directly, taking us back to his early years in France, his apprenticeship with a circus showman (Ben Kingsley), his romance with a street musician (Charlotte Le Bon), and his assembling of an unlikely team of accomplices to help him realize his dream.

It isn’t until Petit arrives in New York City that The Walk really starts to crackle. There’s tension and suspense as our protagonist and his crew navigate extraordinary hurdles – including sneaking into the buildings with loads of heavy equipment, then setting up the wire – in preparation to pull off “the coup”.

But Zemeckis saves the best for the final 30 minutes, when Petit steps on the wire between the towers, 110 stories off the ground. As the camera swoops and soars catching the action from every possible angle, you’ll find yourself clutching your armrest, occasionally shutting your eyes to block out the vertigo. It’s exhilarating, breathtaking stuff, and I promise you’ll be riveted.

It all comes together so well in the end that you’re even willing to forgive the clunky, sometimes whimsical early portions, and the strictly hit-and-miss comedy of the first hour.

Petit’s extraordinary story was also the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, whose slick blend of archival footage, still photographs, dramatic re-enactments and interviews made it an incredibly compelling watch. The only thing missing in that film was video footage of the actual walk itself.

Although recreated, it’s the piece de resistance of Zemeckis’ film.

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

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Grey zone

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

October 09, 2015

Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan

Director: Denis Villenevue

Sicario, directed by Denis Villeneuve, isn’t just one of the best movies about America’s war on drugs since Traffic, it’s also easily one of the best films of the year. Like Villeneuve’s chilling 2013 hit Prisoners, this is a tense, morally ambiguous thriller, but one with significantly higher stakes and far-reaching consequences.

It begins with the horrific discovery of rotting corpses stuffed behind the walls of a nondescript house near the US-Mexico border, the work of a Mexican drug cartel. Soon after, FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) who conducted the raid is drafted into an unnamed government taskforce led by the mysterious Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his even creepier associate Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro).

The prime objective of the mission is withheld from Kate; hell, she’s not even sure if her rule-bending boss belongs to the CIA or not. But even as harrowing trips are made to Mexico City and back – during one ride, we see dead bodies swinging from bridges, and decapitated heads lined up in a row – things get increasingly murkier and ethics are compromised, leaving Kate unsure of who to trust.

Villeneuve marries robust action scenes into the taut script to create a sense of dread that he douses virtually the entirely film in. It’s like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off any moment. That suspense is further amplified by Roger Deakins’ urgent camerawork and the film’s jittery, ominous score.

Sicario benefits as much from the first-rate performances of its principals, who effectively convey more by what is not said than what is. Brolin does well as the swaggering, wisecracking head spook who is nevertheless impenetrable, and Del Toro’s quiet intensity adds to the film’s overall sense of uneasiness. It’s Blunt though who’s the real star of the film, and the character you’re consistently invested in. So much more than just the-tough-chick-in-an-action-flick, Blunt invests the part with both vulnerability and confidence, giving us a real, flesh-and-blood protagonist not hard to relate to.

The film itself, which suggests that it may be too late to expect that the war on drugs can be won using ‘fair means’, seldom shies from the pessimistic view that there is no triumph and no redemption here. Villeneuve communicates those thoughts compellingly in this relentless film that never lets up.

I’m going with four out of five for Sicario. Don’t miss it.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 3, 2015

Ranbir Kapoor on failure and recovering from it: “The best roles still come to me”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:17 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Ranbir Kapoor talks about his three back-to-back failures (Besharam, Roy and Bombay Velvet) and how they impacted his career and him personally. He also explains why he isn’t particularly stressed out because of these flops, even though others around him appear to be.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

October 2, 2015

Radhika Apte, tell us a joke!

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:17 pm

In this segment produced by Rajeev Masand, Radhika Apte – the breakout star of Badlapur and Hunterrr – tells us a joke.

(This segment first aired on CNN-IBN)

Laugh, a little

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 8:42 pm

October 02, 2015

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Lara Dutta, Kay Kay Menon, Arfi Lamba, Anil Mange

Director: Prabhudheva

Given that Prabhudheva’s last two directorial outings were the excruciating potboilers Action Jackson and R…Rajkumar, you’d be forgiven for approaching his latest with some trepidation. But Singh is Bliing, starring Akshay Kumar, is an improvement over those films. A lot of it – particularly the first half – is laugh-out-loud hilarious. What’s more, the women in the film don’t exist merely to be pinched and groped like in those films – they have reasonably fleshed out roles, and they often steal the show from our hero.

Akshay Kumar is Raftaar Singh, the stereotypical goodhearted-but-dimwitted Sikh who loves his mum, fears his dad, and does precious little with his life. He’s packed off to Goa to work for his father’s friend, and there he meets Sara (Amy Jackson), a young lady from Romania who’s got a crazy gangster (Kay Kay Menon) stalking her. Our hero speaks no English, Sara speaks no Hindi. Enter Lara Dutta playing a translator named Emily.

It’s these portions in Goa, centered on Raftaar, Sara, Emily, and Raftaar’s two bumbling buddies (Arfi Lamba and Anil Mange) that are the most enjoyable bits in the film. Lara Dutta is a real hoot, revealing a terrific flair for physical comedy that one had no idea she possessed. A running joke about her sleepwalking habit will leave you in splits. Amy Jackson too, gets her fair share of screen time as a tough chick who can take on a mini army of bad guys without breaking a sweat. How refreshing to see the woman play the protector for a change!

But hey, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a Prabhudheva film, so there are sexist jokes aplenty including one in which Amy, sitting on Akshay’s lap while driving a car, navigates through a series of bumps. It all goes further downhill in the film’s deathly boring second half, when the comedy makes way for romance and corny melodrama, and then climaxes in the typical “hero-saves-the-day” action routine.

Yet with all its faults, Singh is Bliing isn’t entirely unwatchable also because Akshay Kumar is in great form. He brings a manic energy to the comedy, infusing Raftaar Singh with goofiness and sheer likeability that stays till the end, long after the film has stopped being fun.

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

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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